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Picture: There should be a another big crowd at the big L’Ormarins King’s Plate meeting on Saturday (Image: capetown.travel)

David Mollett

Amidst looming legal battles which has racing resembling the TV show “Law & Order”, the sport has achieved one notable goal in 2023. The efforts of the racing operators have been rewarded with people returning to the racetracks.

My eyes nearly popped out 48 hours before the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas when a Cape Racing media release arrived stating the “House Full” sign was up for the Saturday meeting at Kenilworth and there would be no tickets for sale online or at the gate.

It meant that the hard work by Greg Bortz and his team had paid off. In a short space of time, the charismatic businessman has everyone in the Cape singing from his hymn sheet and that’s some achievement.

The transfer window in the Premier League only opens in January, but Bortz acted swiftly here to snap up the services of two talented Gauteng-based young men in Alistair Cohen and Brandon Bailie. Social media has revealed the latter has his detractors, but there’s no denying his enthusiasm for the sport.

Prior to the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas, Jonathan Snaith did admit in an interview on this website that “the field has been criticised as not being as strong as in previous years.” He did add that he felt the Guineas winner might be a factor in the King’s Plate and that could be a good call as well-drawn Snow Pilot rates a good each-way chance against See It Again and Charles Dickens.

In Gauteng, 4Racing CEO, Fundi Sithebe, has had many issues to deal with in 2023 but she’s not flinched one inch.

Most recently, she has called for clarification from the NHA as to what is being called the Petergate affair.

Being at York, I missed Fundi’s speech at the Equus awards in August, but the much-missed Jermaine Craig sent me a copy.

The CEO generously praised other provinces in her opening address.

“I would like to commend my colleagues at Cape Racing and Gold Circle for the constructive manner in which we have all worked together this year for the good of racing.”

“Our is a powerful, world class racing product and we need to do everything we possibly can to protect it locally and expand it globally.”

“Ours continues to be an extremely difficult industry and we look to entice punters and patrons in the context of a global Tote industry that remains under considerable economic strain.”

Quite correctly, Fundi praised Mary Slack for her role in the sport. “Mary Slack in her own dignified way has been the biggest champion of transformation. Not only behind the transformation of the grooms lives but importantly transforming this industry as a whole.”

When names changes to some feature races were announced including the Mary Slack SA Fillies Guineas, Mike De Kock was quick out of the blocks with an immediate response. “Without the passion and generosity of Mary Slack, the survival of our industry would simply not be possible.”

“It would be impossible to ever repay her kindness, but honouring her in this way (naming a race after her) was the least we could do.”

De Kock’s contribution was also recognised with the Ipi Tombe Challenge being named after SA’s best-known trainer who has won more than 3400 races, 133 Gr 1’s (possibly more!) and flown this country’s flag in the USA, Hong Kong, the UK, UAE and Singapore.

Before there is too much backslapping for the progress in 2023, it’s worth recalling the words of the world’s best jockey, Ryan Moore. In accepting his fourth Longines “Best Jockey In the World” award three weeks ago, the 40 year-old voiced his opinion that other countries could learn from Hong Kong.

Moore said: “They run racing as well as anyone could and there’s a lot to be learned from it. I think Hong Kong is probably the most competitive racing in the world.”

As we head into the New Year, there are a number of questions that will be answered in the next 12 months.

1. Can Richard Fourie beat Anthony Delpech’s record of 334 winners in a season and pocket the R1 million prize being offered by Hollywoodbets?

My bet would be no – Hollywood will not have to pay out the money. We’ve been down this road before with Warren Kennedy and it proved a bridge too far with the now New Zealand-based rider hitting a total of 263 winners in the 2021/22 season.

That’s not to say the keen fisherman won’t give it a real shot. He told TT editor, David Thiselton, that he hadn’t yet reached his “purple patch” and when he did 300 winners were in sight.

2. Can Charles Dickens get back in the winning groove in the King’s Plate and reward his loyal fans? Those experts who ranked him better than Horse Chestnut and on a par with Sea Cottage have egg on their faces with the son of Trippi beaten at 2-9 in the Queen’s Plate, 1-5 in the Cape Derby and, most recently, 5-10 in the Green Point Stakes.

In media interviews, both Candice Bass-Robinson and Aldo Domeyer have stated they expect a big run in the King’s Plate. Will the See It Again team of Michael Roberts and Piere Strydom be losing any sleep – I doubt it.

3. A horse to follow in 2024: Marauding Horde.

The fact that five breeders – yes five – have each chipped in R150 000 to acquire the son of Vercingtorix at the 2022 National Yearling Sale is an eyeopener. The quintet are Drakenstein, Lammerskraal, Ridgemont, Wilgerbosdrift and Laurence Wernars.

Looking up the pedigree of the colt reveals he’s the ninth produce of the one-time winner, My Lady Bluff, and a half-brother to the eight-time winner, Hard Day’s Night.

These breeders will be more than happy with Marauding Horde’s debut run for Mike De Kock. Drawn wide at Turffontein, the three year-old was given a considerate introduction by Kabelo Matsunyane but was eating up the ground in the closing stages. He should pay to follow in the coming months.