TURF Talk caught up with South African Equine Health & Protocols (SAEHP) MD Adrian Todd to look at what Covid-19 has meant to the export drive and where we are going from here. Yes, it has obviously been a setback, Todd confirmed. Without Covid-19 the EU audit would have been conducted in late April and SA would currently be eagerly awaiting the audit results and the resumption of normalised trade. But the world is in ‘reset’ mode and we’re having to plan afresh.

TT: How long do you see it taking to get the audit back on track?

AT: “The last couple of months have meant that the world was basically in a total shutdown. From a Government perspective, Ministers and Departmental heads were focused on COVID-19 worldwide. While the pandemic is of course still a very major focus, the world economy is also ramping back up.

“The EU have confirmed their intention to conduct the audit as soon as it is possible to travel. However with all the changes taking place in the world right now, many of the old ways of doing things have had to change. Even more will have to change as we move forward, and not just from a health perspective. To that end we are continuing to explore the
virtual audit. I believe this concept will gain traction as a viable option going forward. This concept is in the early stages of discussion, these sorts of decisions are not something that one person can make. While I am very well aware of the frustrations the process of governmental decision-making bring to the commercial world, there is a process and it is taking place. I am confident that the delay will not be long.

TT: How important do you see direct export being for the industry and has Covid-19 changed that?

AT: “I have always held that a sound export market is vital for the sustainability and growth of the industry. Once the audit was confirmed, I started to see a number of people question if export was good for racing. I’ve heard comments that it will only benefit breeders, or that it will make horses too expensive, or it will be bad for the operators as top horses will leave, etc. The reality, as I have mentioned before is very different. South Africa exists on the periphery of the world thoroughbred industry. With a few notable exceptions foreign investment has been minimal, there has been an increase foreign interest as the goal of exports started to become a reality, but we will only see real interest and development on that front once we can actually deliver the product.

“Many people don’t fully realise how inter dependent the different sectors of the South African thoroughbred industry are. Starting at the source, the breeders, breeders need to be able to expand their market in order to survive. Even pre-covid-19 breeders in South Africa were reaching tipping point. Owners, have been hit with unavoidable stakes reductions and most are now suffering from Covid-19 having negatively impacted their cashflow, exports without any doubt offer owners a market for horses and remembering that the current pandemic won’t last forever a real chance at racing internationally.

“Foreign owners will have a real incentive to buy and race in South Africa, with a view to exporting the best of their string. This will bring added opportunities for trainers to land new owners. The operators will benefit from additional international owners entering the game, but even more so from the opportunity that will be created for international horses to come to SA to race. Major international sponsors have shown interest in SA, but not while it remains isolated. Finally I believe that internationalisation of the industry will bring a real opportunity to attract more people locally to the game.

“So to sum up, I don’t think exports are important for our industry, I believe it is vital to our survival!”

TT: The export drive has given you access to government at a lot of different levels, how is racing viewed and how important was the relationship with Government in getting this far?

AT: “There are many different facets of government, everyone has heard me say, what a great partnership we have developed with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, that has been vital. We have also developed excellent relationships with many other departments. The racing public only hear about the negative interactions and disagreements with gambling boards. There is a lot of goodwill that has been developed with government. We must not always focus on the gambling aspect when we think about interactions with government. There is a genuine will to assist in the development of a strong, sustainable, industry. An industry that is very labour intensive, has the potential to attract foreign investment, and create a solid export market. Government must not be viewed as the enemy.”

TT: What impact has COVID-19 had on SAEHP?

AT: “While movement of horses stopped for a while, that gave us the opportunity to review a lot of areas in depth in preparation for the audit. You can’t let one disease make you take your eye off the ball in the fight to control another, so it has been very much business as usual. As everyone knows we have also been assisting with the Covi-19 risk mitigation measures for racing. So we have been busy.

There have been some good responses to our latest fund raising efforts, however it is understandably very hard to raise money at the moment. SAEHP is always at risk due to funding shortages and it would be a real crisis should we not be able to raise funds. If we stop this close to success, not only will all the money invested be wasted, we can give up any chance to export, ever.”

TT: What is your view on Phumelela entering business rescue and could the operators’ issues impact at all on the export drive?

“I take the view that the Business Rescue Practitioner and the Restructuring Task Team must be given the needed time and support to do their job. I hope the industries participants understand just how fortunate we are to have people like Mary and Jessica in the industry to step in like they did.”

TT: You are also part of the NHA Covid-19 compliance team, how do you see racing over the next few months?

AT: “It must be remembered that throughout lockdown the training centres were able to remain operational. There was not any other option, the horses had to be cared for, there are 100’s of grooms on site at most of the training centres. These people live there and had to be protected. The step from operational training centres to racing was actually not a massive one as the protocols had been developed and implemented at the training centres. The resumption of racing was just one more step and the extension of already implemented protocols. The whole team has done a massive amount of work to ensure that international best practice has been adopted and that racing can be conducted in a safe environment.”

TT: So you see a positive future for South African racing?

AT: It’s not like Covid-19 was the start of a crisis for South African racing we were already well into it, however I am positive that as I have said, we do have a great world class product and also the opportunity to create a world class international industry, we must make sure our vision is wide enough and we don’t allow a parochial view of things to dash our chances. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.