MANY South African racing fans would have been shocked by Mike de Kock’s official announcement on Monday that he and son Mathew will be setting up a satellite yard in Australia.

Others will argue that this is no surprise whatsoever, the unavoidable result of progression to a personally safer and more beneficial stage – to be seen in the same perspective as the brain drain, the mass exit of skills and educated knowledge from this troubled land.

Mike has indicated that South Africa will remain his main base, and that this will serve as a platform to export horses to Australia and elsewhere. Perhaps he wants to wait and see how successful he will be in Cranbourne, Victoria, before making any more permanent decisions.

We all know, however, that Mike and Mathew will make it big with this new venture. And that once you inhabit a first-world country with first-world sports and business ethics, patriotism fades. Nobody will blame Mike and his family if they, like David Payne, Jeff Lloyd and their families, eventually decided to break official ties and build a new life Down Under.

The Australian media have accepted as fact that Mike will become an Australian. While it is technically incorrect at this time, there have already been a few world racing headlines stating, in anticipation, ‘Mike de Kock moves to Australia’.

Our eight times national champion is being welcomed with open arms into an industry he described as one with “great organisational acumen and integrity”, where the prize money is extremely lucrative and punctually increased and where the citizens are racing mad. One in every 12 Australians owns a racehorse, or a share of one!

“For somebody of Mike de Kock’s standard to come to Victoria and base himself at Cranbourne is great news for everybody in the Victorian racing industry – it’s a great vote of confidence,” said Cranbourne Turf Club chief executive Neil Bainbridge. Victorian racing really is a sought-after place to race.”

By now, most racing enthusiasts are aware that a steering committee into South African racing is presently at work, investigating the most viable options and trying to steady the ship. There have been cries for a leader, a single person to step forward and take control.

All of this is taking place to the background of a volatile political scenario. We’re witnessing battles for control and cash, and the constant seepage and mismanagement of funds from institutions across the spectrum – in itself a growing concern for the racing industry which is starting to rely more and more on sponsorships and support from Business South Africa.

“Corporate South Africa — once a shining exemplar of well-regulated capital accumulation that for decades quietly off-shored its profits — has gone full drunken pimp,” wrote Richard Poplak on Daily Maverick today. “This country can no longer sustain several large warring factions, to say nothing of their off-shoots, adjuncts and spin-offs. It’s a zero-sum game.”

So it is, with racing. With the imminent departure of Mike de Kock and Joey Ramsden we’re seeing the fabric of our sport systematically ripped apart, with pressing issues in a state of uncertainty. How long before the likes of Justin Snaith and Sean Tarry start to entertain similar ideas?

It is not for us, or anybody, to finger-point at this juncture. The damage has been done. Like the religious awaiting the coming of a saviour, we await the emergence of a true leader who can take this game by the balls and run it.

For the sake of all of us, we hope that the individuals charged with securing the future of racing will, for once, put the interests of the game before self-interest. Our wonderful industry lies in their hands and they only have this one chance left.

Image per illustration (www.summerhill.co.za)

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