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There is no turning back … the riveting introductory speech at the Cape Racing and Breeders Awards could be called Greg Bortz’s cross the Rubicon moment. (Picture: Wayne Marks).   

Greg Bortz’s introductory speech at the Cape Racing and Cape Breeders Awards evening overshadowed the awards themselves and has the racing fraternity talking excitedly.

It was well received through most of the industry, although some would not have been happy with one or two of his points.
There is no doubt that Bortz’s visionary business mind and incredible energy has brought positive change to racing of such magnitude that nobody a year ago would have believed it to be possible.
The question has always been whether the upward mobility is sustainable, because Bortz’s and Hollywoodbets’ pockets can only be so big.
This important question was answered when he revealed during the speech that racing will become self-sustaining through some of the big projects planned ahead.
Bortz began the speech by saying awards were important to celebrate the champions we all have a passion for and he added that sitting back during awards ceremonies and watching the “spine-tingling” highlights of a past season regenerates the passion for the season that lies ahead.
He then dropped his first bombshell by saying he had insisted the awards around the country were no longer put on by the ROA (Racehorse Owners Association). He said Cape Racing had severed ties with the ROA after he had done his due diligence and it was not for “some petty reason but for a substantial reason.” He explained that the operators had agreed with his stance and he then revealed that the Equus Awards in future would be held on a rotational basis between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
He promised “an absolutely stupendous show next year” when the national awards will be held in Cape Town at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth.
Bortz recalled the Thursday before last year’s Hollywoodbets Durban July when he stepped in with a loan after Kenilworth Racing could not pay its salaries. The next day “the deal” was signed.
He spoke of having a feeling of walking into a “morgue” that day as there was no energy coupled with a bad culture.
However, he said the Cape Racing team he had assembled was the aspect of the ensuing changes which had made him most proud … and not just at executive level but at all levels. He spoke of “the freshness, passion and energy” this team had brought.
He said owners were pivotal to the racing industry and it is always in the plans to continue increasing stakes. He said if was easier financially for owners it would have the knock on effect of stimulating the breeders.
Then came some exciting news as he explained that some mind blowing changes in store for Hollywoodbets Kenilworth would make it into a hub that “will be active all the time.” 
“It won’t be just a case of saying we are going to Hollywoodbets Kenilworth to watch racing, families are going to be saying ‘we are going to Hollywoodbets Kenilworth because of all the activities going on.’ It is very, very exciting stuff.”
He said he could not share everything about these changes yet, because of all the city planning permissions etc which had to be okayed, but he added that new parking lots will be required around the property because of the developments in store.
Every inch of Kenilworth’s railing will shortly be replaced with top of the range rails. They will be horse friendly rails and “beautiful” looking.
There will also be state of the art finish lines and posts to match the like of Flemington and Churchill Downs.
The new winners circle will be enlarged so that all the placed horses and not just the winner can be celebrated in front of the grandstands. He is hopeful that this and a new studio and new winner’s podium will be ready in time for the cape Summer Season.
Racing will go on at Hollywoodbets Durbanville for longer this season because of the furiously paced developments going on at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth.
“A very big residential development” will be taking place at Hollywoodbets Durbanville in the middle of the track and around the outsides of the track.
He said, “It is a multi-billion rand development and that is going to be very profitable for us. One hundred percent of the profits are going to stay within racing.”
He then made possibly his most significant point, saying, “The whole purpose is I need to stop working here. This was never meant to be a job, this was meant to be just to resuscitate the patient and move out. But this entity needs to be self-sustaining. That is the way that is going to create permanent capital for this business to enable it to go from strength to strength, so that every year we can come here and celebrate our successes and not worry about where the next stakes cheque is coming from.”
He said more and more people were wanting to come to Cape Town to race. Therefore expansions would be taking place at Milnerton with more boxes and new tractors and technology to prepare the tracks to enable them to handle the increased traffic. However, he hinted that a new training facility is also being sought to cater for the increased numbers.
He dropped his next bombshell when saying it was madness for Cape Breeders to be sending some of their best horses up to the Johannesburg Sales. He pointed out that with a crowded international calendar overseas buyers would only want to be coming to one sale in South Africa and with Cape Town being in the African Horse Sickness Free Zone, with it’s state of the art quarantine station, it made sense that “when the EU process (exports) is complete” they would want to come to the Cape Sale. He encouraged the Cape Breeders to therefore send their best horses to the Cape Sale (Cape Premier Yearling Sale).
He mentioned the well documented Gold Circle R500 million takeover process which would go to a Gold Circle members vote on September 19.
He said the plan was for Hollywoodbets and himself to do in Durban what they had done in the Cape.   
He said “Coastal Racing” in Durban and Cape Town had the pre-eminent races the country had to offer and he hoped to bring to KZN the same excitement which had been happening in Cape Town.
He then dropped his biggest bombshell by saying the biggest challenge facing South African racing at present was an integrity issue. He said as Cape Racing was a funder of the NHA he had the opportunity to ask certain questions and he said, “It is absolutely clear to me we have a doping issue.”
He said the integrity of racing was fundamental, “otherwise what are we building.”
He said a recent rule change disallowing intra articular injections within seven days of a race would be followed by more rules changes.
He said if other racing jurisdictions did not agree with his zero tolerance stance there would be a line drawn between racing jurisdictions, because he felt there should be a unilateral declaration of war against “those that cheat”.
He said the intra articular injections taken close to or on race day allowed horses to run pain free and masking pain was not in the best interest of the horse. It was that aspect of “the cheating” which irked him the most as one who shared a love of the horse with most in racing.
He said examples of measures which might be taken were: horses being treated by veterinarians not approved by Cape Racing being barred from competing in Cape Town; cameras being installed in saddling boxes and saddling enclosures.
He said in conclusion, “I do not believe in being Switzerland” i.e he does not like to be neutral and liked to tackle problems head on.
He encouraged owners to buy more horses and spread them around more and asked breeders to breed more horses.
He said the years ahead would require team effort and help from all quarters for all aspects of racing would be appreciated from those who were willing.
He received a stirring round of applause.
The ROA were apparently not unhappy with the speech and said in a letter to the Sporting Post, “The ROA Board wishes to state that it agreed with the operators not to host future awards. The emphasis of the ROA as an entity, as determined by its current Board, is not on hosting hospitality functions, but on its non-profit endeavours for the benefit of owners, trainers, grooms and horses.”
Bloodstock South Africa (BSA), who host the National Yearling Sale, might not have been enamoured by the speech.
A strongly worded social media message also surfaced today (Monday) questioning whether it was not a conflict of interest for an owner to be able to see what the NHA were doing. It also questioned whether together Bortz and the NHA had brought racing into disrepute by saying doping was the biggest problem when in fact there was no proof of any rule having been breached and a new rule had to be brought in to stop a practice which had been legal for years. They also pointed out there was nowhere in the racing rules which allowed an operator to prevent  trainers from racing on their courses.
Turf Talk must clarify they are totally opposed to doping and agree there should be zero tolerance, but the above social media message did provide some room for debate over some aspects of Greg’s speech.
Nevertheless, it was a speech which will be remembered in years to come and could be called Bortz’s “cross the Rubicon” moment, because it contained more announcements of exciting plans than anything he has said before.
There is no turning back.
He even said at one point during the speech, “So much for early retirement, it doesn’t seem to be working out too well.”