To whom it may concern…

MIKE de Kock believes that the rivalry between two bloodstock giants could have harmful repercussions for the South African racing industry. He gets a lot of things off his chest in this, his latest blog, addressed to whomever carries the interest of the sport at heart.

Mike writes:
A few weeks ago it was almost inconceivable that South Africa’s two leading bloodstock sales companies would go head-to-head with a pair of Ready To Run Sales staged on the same weekend, in the same city. Now that it’s over and we’ve caught some breath, there is a lot to reflect upon.

The auctions of both the Cape Thoroughbred Sales Company (CTS) and the TBA’s  BloodStock SA (BSA) were successfully concluded despite various misgivings, but there is still cause for concern. If they want to ensure similarly pleasing results in time to come, the leaders of both parties will have to find a way of co-existing within certain parameters.


Illustrative art from “Fire at the Inn”, by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1791. 

There is nothing unusual about opportunism and unconventional ploys when sellers compete for clients, but this saga has already produced elements of the bizarre. If ‘Salesgate’ is allowed to continue unabated, a proportion of buyers will be polarised and further tension in the market could cause dilution. Too much noise could bring the roof crashing down on the entire congregation.

I have good friends and acquaintances at both CTS and the TBA who will be contemplating their approach to the next major calendar clash. If things turn ugly ahead of the sales scheduled for next year, there will be potentially harmful consequences for a number of individuals who serve the breeding industry.

Let’s also not forget that we’re constantly exposed to the rest of the racing world. We have a growing base of international buyers and they’re talking about us. On my travels in recent years I’ve had introductions to and social meetings with influential representatives from racing jurisdictions in Europe, the USA and Asia. They have no time for fragmented groups and respect good order. They open doors for those who speak with one voice.

“…we’ve come to a juncture where there is a pressing need for cooperation and transparency.”

Ours is a racing fraternity not known for its pursuit of cohesion and teamwork, but we’ve come to a juncture where there is a pressing need for cooperation and transparency. CTS and the TBA are probably in the process of weighing up their options, but the relative silence after all the drama implies that neither will be rushing into negotiation or compromise.

I’d like to address a question to the leadership at both sales companies and I will be hoping for replies: Is there any chance, now or in future, that CTS and BSA will amalgamate to manage the breeding industry under a single umbrella?

I see logical sense in the joining of forces from both sides. I will strongly support efforts to combine the considerable skills and talents of both companies that will serve the industry as one. CTS has shown unusual flair and innovation with a strong global vision and the balls to make things happen. The TBA can claim over 90 years of invaluable experience in breeding and bloodstock sales. They are the sole guardians of racing’s rich history and traditions, they bring pride and integrity to their work and enjoy the support of an older, more established group.

If things play out amicably and changes are to be implemented, the racing community will need clarity and support. Racing people are unique and most are accustomed to routine and tradition. Familiar frameworks should not be dismantled hastily and without due consideration. This will erode trust and create confusion.

Before I move on, I’d like to call on CTS and the TBA to steady the boat as soon as they can. Guys, for the sake of everyone in our industry, please sort out your nonsense!

Next I want to share some of my notes on the two Ready To Run sales, followed by a few suggestions I have no doubt will give everyone a better chance of sharing in the massive race sponsorships attached to these targeted auctions.

I have strong views and the luxury of this blog to make them known, but my intentions are sincere and no prejudice is intended. My opinion is, after all, just one of many!

“I’d like to call on CTS and the TBA to steady the boat as soon as they can. Guys, for the sake of everyone in our industry, please sort out your nonsense!”

CTS launched their venture at Sandton’s Inanda Club with their by now trademark pomp and sparkle and a polished professionalism. I must confess, however, to feeling out of place in the designated stable areas. I wasn’t able to shake an awkward sense of having to work in  ‘foreign’ surroundings and couldn’t find my customary focus ahead of the bidding.

Personally, having to drive between Nothern Johannesburg and the TBA’s Headquarters on the other side of town in Germiston was rushed, inconvenient and altogether unpleasant. To my mind, Johannesburg is not big enough to carry these sales at the same time.

My friend and fellow trainer Joey Ramsden, in turn, took like a duck to water. He enjoyed a couple of memorable days in Joburg. Joey praised CTS for their hospitality and organisational skills at the picturesque inner-city venue, a first-class experience all-round.

I touched earlier on the contrasting attributes evident in this matter. Joey put it aptly in an account of his visit to the old faithful, writing on his website: “While Germiston is perhaps not quite as salubrious as Sandton, the TBA complex is reassuringly comfortable and welcoming.  It feels something like the first day back at boarding school, where you can barely wait to dump your bags and rush off to see your mates.”

As noted, I believe that a range of benefits and maximum operating strength can be established in the balance between free-thinking innovation and the stability of knowledge and custom.

On to the generously rich stakes on offer in various races limited to graduates of Ready To Run sales and what can be done to make things as fair as possible to everyone who enters the Ready To Run arena.

For all its promise of pride and glory, racehorse ownership is not a walk in the park. Buyers are faced with different degrees of unfairness from the moment of purchase to the day their runner makes it to the racetrack to show his worth. How can we improve on the initiatives to ensure fairness and a better deal for buyers?

To start, the TBA should revisit the distance of their Ready To Run Cup for November 2015. The present 1400m is a specialized trip with a big draw bias. It is really an extended sprint that creates an imbalance because it favours runners with predominantly ‘speed’ pedigrees over those with scopier pedigrees invariably better suited to middle distances.

A next consideration should be the moving of November’s Ready To Run Cup to a later date. As it stands now, trainers who wish to qualify their young candidates have no option but to push them to fitness much sooner than they’d like to.

“How can we improve on the initiatives to ensure fairness and a better deal for buyers?”

Another limiting factor is that the grass tracks on the Highveld are in their worst condition during August, September and October. The urgency of the Ready to Run chase forces trainers to schedule some of their most essential preparation on sand and the polytrack which is not ideal. If the race is moved to a later date, a number of late developers will also have enough time to strengthen up for race preparation.

As if the TBA’s R2R Cup over 1400m at Turffontein is not enough, CTS has thrown R2,5-million at the Lanzerac R2R at Kenilworth, also over 1400m and also in the month of November!  This is followed in January by a 1200m race for which horses sold at CTS Book 1 will qualify for a dash down the straight and a cool R1-million in the prize pot. In February the action returns to Turffontein for a contest in which R2,5 million can be won by graduates from CTS Book 2. Staggeringly this race, too, will be staged over a distance of 1400m!

I’d like to pose one more question and this one goes to the individuals responsible for brainstorming these events: In your planning of the Ready To Run races, why was no provision made for races over the classic 1600m? Classic horses are the heartbeat of racing and it is beyond belief that our potential classic performers don’t have a chance to reveal themselves in the Ready To Run series or share in its spoils.

Here is a free helping of common sense I’d like to offer, as the salutation goes on a business letter, “To whom it may concern”: The Ready To Run Series should consist of a race over 1200m and a race over 1600m. This will allow 32 horses a chance to compete – 16 sprinters over 1200m and 16 horses with more scope in their pedigrees over 1600m.

Justifiably the entire spectrum of pedigrees will be covered and this will have a bearing on prices paid; possibly even lead to increased turnovers. Think about it. Buyers will have a wider choice and will “tick their boxes” to qualify the potential sprinters as well as stayers on offer at the sales. If the net is cast wider, money will flow in more directions to claim the tickets to the rich-race glory that goes with every secured purchase.

* * *

The resignation of Dave McGillivray, the National Horseracing’s Authority’s Racing Control Executive, is a huge loss to South African racing. Dave was recently described by the Sporting Post as “an innovative breath of fresh air (who introduced) numerous controls and added impetus to service delivery in various areas at the NHA.”

Here’s one individual our industry could not afford to lose, yet we have. Dave will be leaving the NHA at the end of January 2015 and it’s just unacceptable! I can’t believe that the NHA allowed this to happen and I wonder whether we will be informed of the reasons that prompted his decision.


Dave McGillivray. Reasons for his resignation should be revealed.

Dave brought stability and sensibility to his position – I’m afraid we’re going to be left in the hands of mostly inexperienced officials wielding plenty of power with no accountability.

Many owners and trainers in South Africa have suffered losses and sometimes even humiliation at the hands of inexperienced Stipes and matters could get worse. Hopes for level-headedness and consistency in the ranks of racing’s police have been dashed indefinitely by McGillivray’s departure.

Following what I believe was a glaringly erroneous decision involving our runner Akii Bua at Turffontein last week (one of several arguably poor calls made around the country against any number of racing stables this year), it is time to voice opposition against the NHA’s Objection Rule.

There has been widespread condemnation by many an astute judge and I will be campaigning actively for changes to be made to this Rule so that the connections of runners involved in objections are allowed to appeal against questionable rulings made by Stipendiary Boards.

In the past we had a right to such appeals, but some years ago the rule was changed to exclude this privilege, possibly to prevent too many eggs in the face, too many times.


  1. I Put It To You says:

    Food for thought.

  2. Joeboy Rahme says:

    Hi Mike

    I am your top fan and ever since i met you at that long liquid lunch with Les jnr at the French Bistro
    many years ago i have followed your success. You have single handedly changed the face of racing in South Africa for the better and i think your opinion should always be taken seriously. I will support you all the way.
    i luv you
    regards Joeboy

  3. Mike these okes will never stand together.

  4. There are obvious advantages to unity but what about the simple principle of healthy competition in the market, does that not apply here?