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Hollywoodbets become the third sponsor of the Durban July and made an immediate impact by announcing a new record stake for the race of R5 million, R750,000 more than the previous highest and an increase of R3.5 million from the stake in the two Covid-19 lockdown renewals.
The announcement saw the last chapter of a true rags-to-riches fairytale story being completed.
Hollywoodbets founder Owen Heffer arrived in Durban from Zimbabwe in 1984 with a wife and a young kid and possessions of a mattress, two deck chairs and R4 in his pocket.
He had always had a passion for horseracing and spent the R4 printing out 100 tipping sheets which he sold at Greyville racecourse.
From there he took a computer programming course and founded the Winning Form racing guide and from that, after may years of toil, sprouted the ever-burgeoning Hollywoodbets bookmaking company.
The latter have proved over the last few years their commitment to horseracing.
Owen’s son Devin, who is Hollywoodbets’ Brand and Communications Executive, said simply being the sponsor of the country’s biggest race was the chief source of pride for the Heffer family and admitted it the announcement had been an emotional moment.
However, the money they are injecting into horseracing will be the chief source of applause from the racing public and industry men and women.
Hollywoodbets and Gold Circle simultaneously announced an increase in the awards for the Grooms of winning horses from R1 000 to R2 000 per race, for the months of March, April and May.
This joint venture known as the Grooms Initiative has already put almost R2 million into the pockets of a key sector of the industry since the launch in 2019.
Furthermore, there will be an overall increase in prize money for the SA Champions Season, which applies to both feature and minor races run in the province from March 1 to August 31, of R13 million.
Devin said Hollywoodbets had originally believed the sponsorship opportunity would only be available for the 2023 renewal of the Durban July but upon learning Vodacom’s twenty year sponsorship had ended they jumped.
Gold Circle, who hosted the announcement of their flagship event in the huge Silver Ring conference room at Hollywoodbets Greyville last night, were thrilled to have one of Durban’s biggest companies as sponsor.
However, the identity of the new sponsor was the worst kept secret considering the burgeoning relationship between the operator and the country’s biggest bookmaking firm.
A panel hosted by well-known broadcasting personality and Hollywoodbets Brand Ambassador Carol Tshabalala, consisted of Events and Marketing Executive at Gold Circle, Stephen Marshall, Brand and Communications Manager Devin Heffer and Commercial Manager for Hollywoodbets, Sandisiwe Bhengu.
Marshall said, “The Durban July is perhaps the most unique South African event in the manner it has mirrored our country’s own national journey. It has gone from strength-to-strength over the past 20 years because the social profile of the participants, attendees and audiences have undergone transformation on a parallel path with our society as a whole.
Bhengu said, “This is a watershed moment for Hollywoodbets as we proudly take the reins of this unique event. The success of our business was built on the foundation of horseracing, and now we are able to continue this legacy with the assistance of a powerful platform. It is a huge honour for us. We aim to be more than just a title sponsor. We align ourselves with projects we truly believe in, and the Hollywoodbets Durban July has the potential to spawn incredible opportunities and transformation.”
Ms Bhengu said the vision for this era of the Hollywoodbets Durban July is to open the thrills and benefits of the racing industry to a wider demographic.
She added, “The magnitude of this event extends way beyond just horse racing, covering tourism, entertainment, fashion and small to medium businesses. The reach and influence, both brand wise and economically, provides employment for thousands of people.”
This will be the 126th renewal of “The July”. The inaugural race run over 1600m in 1897 was won by Campanajo, who retained his crown the following year.
The Rothmans and Vodacom sponsorships had covered 59 years, although there was a gap of one year between their support of Durban’s sporting and economic jewel.
Hollywoodbets and Gold Circle plan a huge build-up to the big race day with showstopping entertainment and events planned around the city for the whole week, as well as after the event, which will support a wide range of commerce.
4Racing CEO Fundi Sithebe was among the hundreds of invited guests along with other prominent members of the new operator, and the NHRA CEO Vee Moodley was also there.
Also present were last year’s winning connections, trainer Michelle Rix and owner Ashwin Reynolds together with his wife Rene and son Brandon. The stake money will be an enticement for Kommetdieding to travel down to Durban to defend his July crown after the completion of his intended Johannesburg Autumn campaign.
Picture: Stephen Marshall, Carol Tshabalala, Sandisiwe Bhengu and Devin Heffer in celebratory mood after the announcement last night (Candiese Lenferna Photography).