As many readers will be aware, there is a crisis brewing over the administration of horse racing in Southern Africa.

A Special General Meeting has been called at which radical changes are being sought by 300 signatories to the Resolutions proposed.

I don’t want to get into the fine detail of what is proposed as it is not necessary – suffice to say that the Resolution proponents – basically it’s SANTA (South African National Trainers Association) and its supporters – want to see, amongst other things:

  1. a completely different Directorate to run the NHA – to include a representative from SANTA and a representative from the South African Jockeys Association
  2. and they want to see the end of the Racing Control Executive – the function to be taken over by the NHA Managing Director

One of the key arguments they make is about “democracy” – that those involved in the sport deserve a right to have a full say.

On the face of it, that all seems fairly reasonable and logical – but let’s go back to first principles and see if the argument stacks up then.

The starting point is to ask “what is the purpose of the NHA?”

Well there are many functions the NHA fulfils but there is only one primary purpose – everything else is way, way subordinate.

In my view, the key purpose of the NHA is to ensure the integrity of the sport and to do so on behalf of owners and punters. End of.

I don’t need to elaborate on the reasons for this – in summary, it’s about the prevention of malpractice,  it’s to make sure every owner has a totally fair chance of seeing his/her horse perform to the best of its ability. It is also to ensure that every punter has a fair and unhindered chance of placing a winning bet.

The pursuance and management of this objective and mission has nothing whatsoever to do with trainers or jockeys. Without wishing to be rude, the reality is that trainers and jockeys are the servants of owners and punters and it is the latter groups or their elected alternates who must rule the roost. The NHA must be independent from secondary interests. End of.

Forget democracy, it’s a red herring.

The SGM resolutions are tantamount to allowing Carson and Bates to takeover Downton Abbey. The interests of these people are covered by Common Law and Statute – as Bob Baffert regularly demonstrates!

Horse racing has far too many problems and challenges to risk shooting ourselves in both feet now. It is vital that racing is both squeaky clean and is perceived to be squeaky clean. To allow those with secondary vested interests – trainers and jockeys – to get involved is suicidal. The negative impact on confidence on the part of most owners and all punters will be devastating.

Perception, perception – we must not poo poo it.

But it gets worse. The SANTA resolution calls for the abandonment of the Racing Control Executive (that would be Arnold Hyde and his team) This is total lunacy. My assessment is that the RCE is probably doing an outstanding job – and my reason for saying this is related to the amount of flak being directed at Mr Hyde and his team. As bomber pilots used to say in World War II “the closer we get to the target, the greater the flak” My astute guess is that Mr Hyde is pretty much on target with everything he is doing.   As an owner and occasional punter I want Mr Hyde in the cockpit of the Lancaster.

My fervent and ardent recommendation to those who are to be asked to vote on this matter is that they vote AGAINST the SANTA resolution, en masse.  

Having said that, for there to be such an attempted coup – there must be gripes other than the efforts of Mr Hyde. These gripes should be fully aired and dealt with properly – I believe the NHA has the will and ability to do that.

I would also ask you to consider how things are run in other racing centres, notably the UK.

Check out the BHA website and see how the Directorate there is structured. To me it looks perfect and not a trainer or jockey in sight. What they do have is impressive people – but only 10 on the Board – and to carry the interests of trainers into Board meetings the have the highly respected and knowledgeable retired trainer, Luca Cumani. That’s how to do it. Independence and sensitivity retained.

These are serious issues, let us not get them wrong. Apathy can’t happen. Vote No.

John Smith MBE

Owner for 45 years, UK, RSA & Zimbabwe

(Emailed to Turf Talk)