LEADING Australian racing writer ROB BURNET reflects on his recent trip to South Africa in this article lifted from his website, www.thoroughbrednews.com.au, and reproduced here with permission.
He reports: Just over a week ago Gold Circle Racing held the 2011 Vodacom Durban July meeting at Greyville Racecourse in Durban, promoted as Africa’s greatest horseracing event. There are local comparisons with Flemington’s famed Melbourne Cup, but perhaps it is more Brisbane than Melbourne.
The warmth of the midday sun in the middle of winter is very similar to Brisbane’s Winter Racing Carnival, and it too brings out racegoers who are once a year attendees, and perhaps more party than racegoers, but certainly everyone wants to get in on what is definitely Durban’s biggest party in July.
Greyville’s home straight on Durban July night. (Liesl King).
The course capacity is 55,000 but to the casual eye there seemed rather more packed into the course and vast tented hospitality area in the mid-field around the golf course in the centre of the course.
The complexity of South African life with extraordinary variations on every aspect of life shows through clearly in racing as it does with every activity in this huge vibrant country, a very similar sunburnt brown country to Australia.
The lost, wasted years of wilderness are taking the inevitable time to overcome, but the generations coming through with all their different backgrounds, colours, races and creeds are stimulating, energetic, and immensely proud of themselves and their nation.
Rob rather enjoyed himself at dinner with his local counterparts.
Horses are bred, owned, trained and ridden by an immense variety of people and the racing industry’s undeniable ability to transcend international boundaries works its magic in Africa as it does everywhere else in the world.
The winner of the feature R3m (approx A$465,000) Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July (2200m) around the triangle shaped course was the Australian-bred Igugu, sired by the Irish super stallion Galileo, bred by Malaysian owned Kia Ora Stud in the NSW Hunter valley, trained by South African Mike De Kock for his client Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and South African couple Mr and Mrs AJ Macdonald and ridden by Anthony Delpech who polished his substantial skills in Hong Kong before returning to be De Kock’s number one rider.
De Kock’s South African grooms danced in the mounting yard after the filly’s win with pure joy and delight that was very special, very African, and definitely not Melbourne, and all the better for it. It is a very tangible gift that South African racing has to offer.
Igugu’s trek to South African began when Summerhill Stud’s Mick Goss purchased her out of Melbourne’s Premier Sale and then resold her in South Africa at a Horses-In-Training Sale.
Igugu: SA racing’s queen of the turf.
The difficulty now for De Kock is a particular South African one, quarantine, that makes Australia’s present debate on shifting horses between Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan look infinitely less of an ultimate problem.
Because of the quarantine regulations around African horse sickness for De Kock to take Igugu to Dubai for the Sheikh to race his Maktoum cousins, the filly would have to spend six months clearing quarantine in Cape Town, Mauritius and the UK.
De Kock’s stable would be very welcome in Victoria in the spring, and indeed in Sydney in the autumn, and any time anywhere in Australia, but unless he can send suitable horses already in his Newmarket stable resting after racing in Dubai, any that would come from South Africa would have to undertake the same arduous quarantine period.
With the accepted standard of preparing horses to be race ready before they travel, and that is a gamble as with all preparations, it is quite another matter, and a very costly one, to send a team out six months in advance and then have to start a race preparation for racing some three months hence.
But back to Greyville.
Racing’s problems are international and South Africa does not escape and it was on show underneath the glamour and party atmosphere.
Rob with Mike de Kock and Liesl King at the Press Conference held after the Durban July.
Relations between the racing jurisdictions of Durban and Cape Town had reached a low tidal mark with both going their separate administrative ways. The flotsam left behind made relations between Australia’s states seem positively serene in comparison. Instead of working hard at the national model they had, it was exploding back to state rivalry. It made Sydney’s recent merger of the metropolitan clubs look even more enlightening.
All racing facilities are under pressure from either a lack of upkeep in infrastructure due to declining revenues or competition from the cash cows of casinos. Only France, Hong Kong and Japan escape.
Sydney’s club merger will bring an outstanding and very necessary improvement to Randwick in the next two years. Considerable work is going into track management of Sydney’s four tracks at the same time, with tangible results already. Greyville will have to follow.
But for all the inward looking aspect of administrative ructions there are views looking at, and over, the horizon as South Africa looks to support its racing on the international stage, leverage the broadcasting of its racing and co-mingling of pools particularly into Australia. There will soon be much more South African news content available on both ThoroughbredNEWS and Racingandsports to complement the already available form.
Not only does racing have similar problems around the world, so does the breeding industry. A visit after the Durban July to Summerhill Stud two hours out of Durban, and an earlier visit to the Rupert’s beautiful, pristine Drakenstein Stud in the Cape, emphasised that the South African’s have the common problems of falling foal crops, the economics of domestic racing, and pursuit of export markets.
That did not stop the mercurial Mick Goss from showcasing his magnificent Summerhill Stud for some 800 visitors for the day to view his stallions, and share a lunch, as the stud also proudly opened a business school to add to their community of generational development.\
The Zulu Dancers at Summerhill Stud. (Liesl King).
There was no doubting as well that while the sire bloodlines on display are international, this is a very special place in the heart of Zulu country. The welcome from the Zulu dancers, all employed on the stud, was magnificent and poignant.
Quite why the then colonials from New Zealand and Australia came to this rolling country, so similar to many parts of their own countries, to fight against the locals belongs to a distant past thankfully left behind.
For now racing is giving these rising generations of South Africans their natural expression in their own land, and both they and racing will benefit immensely. It is worth the trek to see.