IN recent months, racing has given the impression of a terminally-ill patient. Happily, there are signs it will not have to be taken off Life Support.

The reason for this thinking is two events in the first month of the new season – the Equus awards held at Emperors Palace (as usual wonderfully organised by the RA and Bob Yearham) and – the following day – the launch of the promotion for the Gauteng Summer Cup, writes DAVID MOLLETT.

One couldn’t have a better venue for racing’s annual Oscars and it was the words from some of the sport’s leading role players which really hit home to many of those present.

It was an evening of immense celebration for Snaith Racing – they captured an astonishing seven awards – as well as for champion trainer, Sean Tarry, and leading owner, Chris van Niekerk.

I was happy to learn from Justin Snaith that rumours of a move to the UK for his outstanding operation were just that – rumours. “Unless things change dramatically here, we’re staying.”

Quite the most delightful quote on the night came from Robin Bruss, breeder of the “Horse-of-the-Year”. Robin commented that his son, Greg, had said: “Hey Dad, if you’re such a racing genius, how come you sold Do It Again as a yearling?”

Little did Robin know as he made several trips to the winner’s rostrum was that his much-loved brother, Neil, would pass away a few hours later.

What really gave racing some hope at the banquet were the views expressed by Chris Van Niekerk and
Sean Tarry, the country’s most successful racing partnership.

Anyone who heard the speech Chris gave at the 2018 CTS cocktail party – not long after the Steinhoff bombshell – will know the highly-respected businessman is an orator of note.

In that speech he made no bones about his friendship with Markus Jooste and – at the Equus – he didn’t flinch from saying the industry is in deep water but needed a more positive perspective.

“We seem to find it difficult to be positive – especially when things are not so good. The reality is that they are never so bad as they seem.”

“We humans seem to have got this unfortunate trait – we think negative and, as a result, what transpires is only negative. We need to get to the real issues – there are always solutions to be found. We need a sustainable future and must not pull in 10 different directions,” he said.

Sean Tarry, who then deservedly took a fortnight’s break in Durban, made sure the evening wasn’t completely dominated by Snaith Racing when accepting the Champion Trainer award. He echoed his chief patron’s words by saying “forget the blame game – we need to focus on the end game.”

There never has been an Equus awards without some sort of controversy, but no-one seemed to have any argument about Do It Again being voted “Horse of The Year” for a second time. Clyde Basel, who never put a foot wrong as the evening’s MC, explained that co-owner Bernard Kantor, a man passionate about racing, couldn’t attend the banquet due to ill health but watched from London by video-link.

At my table, which consisted of two journos and a commentator, the one award they disagreed with was Magnificent Seven taking the Champion Stayer trophy.

They pointed to Samurai Warrior’s Gr 1 Derby win, the Gold Cup victory of Dynasty’s Blossom and the excellent season enjoyed by Stuart Pettigrew’s stayer, Walter Smoothie.

Trainer Eric Sands, trainer of Sun Met victor Rainbow Bridge, made the trip from the Cape and will be disappointed that he returned without a trophy in his luggage. Sands will have been aware that he faced a daunting rival in Do It Again in the “Horse Of The Year” category, but must have felt Rainbow Bridge had a big shout in the Champion Middle Distance category.

The Sporting Post has no doubt that the panel erred with their choice of Do It Again. It stated: “It is difficult to understand how they reached this decision.”

“Snaith’s runner won one race – the 2200m Vodacom July which is a handicap/conditions event where he beat Rainbow Bridge. His other two G1 successes were over a mile.”

“Rainbow Bridge won the Gr 1 Sun Met over 2000m as well as the Gr 1 Champions Cup over 1800m. We can’t expect the voting panel to justify the call, but they certainly seem to have messed up here.”

The second plus factor for racing was the media launch of the Gauteng Summer Cup scheduled for Saturday November 30. In my four decades as a journo, I couldn’t put a number on the media launches I’ve attended, but this one was right up there with the best. The venue (Rockets in Hobart Centre) was top-class and older-timers like myself, Charl Pretorius and Dave Scott could only marvel at the enthusiasm of the young crowd.

One had to like the positive message of “forget the July and Met – we’re going to make the Gauteng Summer Cup a day people will never forget and pencil it in their diary.” Yes, as we entered a fresh campaign, the “blame game” was forgotten at two important racing events. For the time being, we can hold switching off the Life Support button.


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