THAT huge sigh of relief was half about the booze ban lift, and half about the NHA’s announcement that race meetings in South Africa will restart, June 1st 2020, writes KATHRYN RALPHS.

Hell yes! and Well Done! to the ladies that stepped in to get us going again. In most of their public comments, Mary Oppenheimer Daughters (MOD) have shooed away any applause or assumption of being the outright directors of racing going forward, so all I will say is this: Thank you for loving horses as much as you do.

This is a once in a lifetime, unheard of opportunity. Let’s do them damn proud.

(After the Government’s address on Saturday, the NHA’s announcement may or may not have been a jump of the gun. Very unsurprisingly, there is a detailed and lengthy process in which “non-contact sports” can be approved to conduct themselves under Level 3, by the SA Govt. These details include; industrial cleaning and sanitising of the course’s buildings and of the floats, and the testing of all athletes involved, to name a few. It’s common knowledge that this list of requirements hasn’t been completed and some have scrambled to get a few boxes ticked in the last 48 hours. I personally, think it would be lethal for our industry to race “(with or) without permission” and a massive waste of the MOD investment. I’m as keen as the next guy to start racing again, but I would hope that we would get off on the most legitimate footing possible. Only time will tell.)

Jessica Jell (left) and Mary Slack.
Jessica Jell (left) and Mary Slack.

While the official CEO’s of the racing industry have not yet been appointed, it seems that the feeling of hope has contagiously initiated some camaraderie from the various and diverse areas of racing. From packing it in, to pulling together. It feels like a new day, and there is as much opportunity as there is room for improvement.

The South African Racing Media Association; SARMA (is anyone checking the initialisms?) Or more recently, RMA (I think this one is also taken) so… official nickname to follow shortly, was established last week. Charl Pretorius ‘got it all’ last Monday morning, lighting a fire under the Racing Media, far and wide. It seems that all artistic bodies are happy to move past any issues or bad blood to find support in each other, for ‘the greater good’ and for a unified front, in “an organisation that will enable the media to speak with one voice and earn [us] an equal seat at the table to work with racing’s new dispensation going forward.”

Charl sent out an email to a mere 54 of his best friends, and he asked for feedback. Well.. you know what they say… You don’t ask, You don’t get.

I was in the recipient list for two reasons. The first, is because I’ve written a few puff pieces for Turf Talk, and the second is because I have a VIP dad. I have made absolutely no contribution to “Racing Media” or displayed much seriousness through a few fun
and light-hearted articles, but I got a bee in my bonnet, and decided to reply anyway, and I do have good genetics, so I figured he’d read it.

The document Charl sent out urging the importance of unity amongst the horse racing media and their expected compensation from the “new racing regime”, read more to me like Bon Jovi’s rider before a show. (Okay that was an exaggeration. But you get my point.)

Given the state of Racing pre-COVID, and considering the generosity going into Business Rescue, there needs to be much more of a “what I can do for racing?” rather than “what racing can do for me?” kind of approach.

There is bound to be an influx of opportunists that will follow the massive investment capital that has been pledged to save racing, and given the timing of all these events, there is a fine line between the people that want to better racing, and the piggy-backers who want a slice of the investment.

I would strongly pull for the Media teams to avoid even appearing like the latter, and would hope that the first prospectus of any Media Association that lands on the desks of the “New Racing Regime” would include more about its crucial role to benefit the Industry and less about its list of demands.

So, I couldn’t have been the only person to think: MYFOKMARELIZE another Association! There are too many cooks in this kitchen!

Let’s cut the BS. The previous administrations have had the NHRA, Phumelela, Gold Circle, the RA, Kenilworth Racing, The Jockeys Association, The Coastal Jockeys Association, and the latest SANTA (Trainers Association.) No one knows who is in charge of what, and everyone crosses their arms against their chest and points to the people next to them. 

Most of these Associations don’t even get off the ground. TT gave SANTA a lot of space to rant about how useless trainers are, for not jumping up and joining SANTA. I personally emailed them asking for information on the organisation that I could print for Candice Dawson. It was promised, but never arrived. All talk. All the time. And now the racing media wants a scout leader, too? These entities have a reputation of being very unproductive, and largely, a safe space for people to complain about how little gets done.

“Sometimes you’ve gotta kiss ass, before you can kick it.”

For a big start, I’d like to see an ounce of accountability from the media, a slither of what they are pressuring for, from everyone else. There is no doubt that things have been censored, articles have been handed out as favours, and the journalistic ethics standard bended, on all platforms. Admitting that this has not been a one-sided, unjust war of which the media is the victim, would lay some decent foundation when starting a new relationship. No excuses, no justifications, no ‘sorry, but’s’… just… We have also made mistakes, and we are sorry.

Social media platforms have made print media almost irrelevant. Anyone can write, everyone can publish. Things are no longer verified and they don’t have to be. Popularity and media success isn’t like the old journals that you admire. In fact, most of the time, the more ridiculous, the bigger the audience. Donald Trump is a pearler of an example. And he became PRESIDENT of the free world.

It would bode well for everyone who would like to be part of the official racing media teams to eat some humble pie. Comparatively, If I kak on a jockey to the point where he doesn’t want to ride for me, I’ll quickly learn that there will always be a horse for him to ride, but there won’t always be a jockey to ride for me.

Labour strikes don’t work if other labourers come in at a cheaper rate. Racing has so many sole proprietors. If you don’t show a bit of flexibility and understanding, there will be someone else who will, and probably for cheaper. Negotiations are not about getting what you want, they are about making both sides reach a happy medium. SM is free and instant. If you would like to be recognised and remunerated for an official job position, I would suggest spending a little bit more time on a pitch to “the people who write the cheques” that convinces them of your mutual benefit, leave the greater good to Mother Teresa.

Cheap shots are not a strong enough vessel to carry a message. The reasons and blame game in the autopsy of the situation we are currently in, is a combination of every person, not just the guys that publicly took a salary. That horse is dead. For the love of God, put the stick down!

Journo Ethics. Remember these? They were intended to protect the truth and the public. Racing publications should not be platforms for personal vendetta’s or witch hunts – whether you are the editor or not. Using them as such is irresponsible to your readers and the people you ask to write for you.

I 100% agree with, endorse, will contribute to, love love love, the suggested concept of conscious and pro-active diversification in Racing. The people of colour in this industry are few and far between, and Black Power, Black Leadership, Black Development, is THE FUTURE of South Africa. You must fit in or fuck off to Aussie.

The MAJOR fault in this plan is that anyone who has ever mentioned the idea, is focusing solely on the Black Ownership diversification. Where is the investment in the education and promotion of Black Trainers? Assistant-trainers? Jockeys? Vets? Medical Staff? Stipes? Journalists, Managers? Commentators? Track Managers? This is HUGE -in my opinion. You cannot expect to attract money into an industry that isn’t investing in and harnessing talent of people that have been previously disadvantaged. The ‘Racing Restructuring Team is made up of 5x WHITE, MALES. This is not progressive.

I also think that EVERYONE needs to stop making the SAME MISTAKES when advertising for investment in horse racing ownership. These “wine and dine” smoke screens to try and ‘trick” people into getting involved is actually just devaluing the experience and the product for sale.

It’s horse athletes and race-days. Too many of these sales pitches have been over-priced hospitality, pretentious booze and dj’s that play kak music over the commentary of a live horse race, which is the reason you are at the track in the fucking first place.

I also 100% agree with, endorse, will contribute to and love the concept of NO MORE NEPOTISM, especially in operators, but please acknowledge the fact that most of the people working in this industry were brought up in it, generationally. Which when embraced can be a very beautiful thing, it also highlights how difficult it can be to get into the industry if you weren’t born in a barn.

It’s ALARMING that there is so much emphasis on promoting new racehorse ownership, when there are such MASSIVE HOLES in the current system.

Trainers have, for YEARS, asked for some help with the collection of unpaid training fees. There is NO authority, record or rules around owners that leave trainers with massive rolling debts. In fact, it’s very easy for delinquent accounts to be overlooked when the person responsible buys another horse at auction, or send a horse to a new trainer. There is no use spending resources on attracting new ownership when the current customers are not being held to their prior commitments. Media publications have “named-and-shamed” trainers who have been fined for failing to abide by the rules, but have never mentioned owners who have refused responsibility of their own animals.

Before being very quick to point out some irregularities and injustices in your own house… Can we address one major issue that has receives the attention of the media and public when there is an illegal strike.

GROOMS

I was pretty put out to be asked by Back-a-Buddy to support the jockeys who haven’t received their R950 riding fee/ride or stakes for nearly 3x months. (Yes, I know not all jockeys earn a fortune, but most are arriving at the racecourses in sports cars.) CK Horse Racing’s assistant trainer even said this morning, “Why don’t the jockeys who are struggling come ride work and we will give them work rider fees?” A very good question from a very clever girl.
Grooms have asked for: – Minimum Wage (at least) -UIF -COVID/Workmens Compensation -Safety Gear and -A seat with a seatbelt when travelling in a float with a horse, to and from races. -Their 1% of winning stakes that is owed to them, and for some level of authority to ensure that this happens. (and is not to be confused with ‘a braai for the team and a crate of black label beers.’)

These are the basic rights of employees by order of the Labour Department. This is only addressed when the EFF causes kak when they need some support in a voting year, or when there is an illegal strike that disrupts racing for the one and only reason that, the grooms are so vital to stable management, horse’s well being, and are the manpower majority, to make everything happen.

Racing. Its a Rush! worked on a VERY impressive documentary in and around the racing community. They hosted two separate, and pretty fancy premieres of the footage that took a year to create. They have since lost all traction and the content is no longer relevant. Why are Racing Journos not offering to be in charge of the promotion of racing? Find the need and meet it.

Then Charl called owners “stingy” in his letter, which would have pissed me off if it wasn’t so ridiculous that it made me laugh. Wake up and smell the roses.

Owners have been screwed over so many times, it’s a borderline dumb to have hung around. They are the only people who deserve a bloody committee. Oh wait.. they do have a committee… and they pay to be part of it for access to a parking space and a pretty mature venue on the 3rd floor of Turffontein Racecourse (which allows no kids under 12 – sorry moms and dads. Oh… and you must pay R300pp for a buffet lunch- which gets cleared away before racing has finished.)

From there I moved onto Charl’s paragraph that suggested that operators should pay a mandatory advertising budget to each media publication. Perhaps there was not enough time to write up what would be given in exchange for this request. Protection of a potential secret sex tape? I’m not sure.

And last but not least… the suggestion for a Racing Media Pension Fund. Good Lawd! Can I be the first to ask… Why haven’t any of these grown-ass adults saved for their own pension? None of you are public servants. None of you are curing cancer.

Charl made a good comparison of the media’s contributions being akin to that of the Jockeys and Trainers, and, the media representatives therefore, being as much entitled to the support of the industry, as the likes of them… but there isn’t a pension fund for retired jockeys and trainers? Is there?

Racing needs good publicity for longevity. I do think there is a valuable place for that. You have to give a little to get a little. If you are feeling vulnerable, be vulnerable, people can relate to that.

Peace, Love & Pitbulls. KR -tt

 

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