Gold Circle crack whip on protesters

Royal Aussie won the Independent on Saturday Drill Hall Stakes on Wednesday. Gold Circle events and marketing executive Stephen Marshall and Independent on Saturday marketing and brand officer Sinethemba Hlela hand over the winner’s spoils to trainer Justin Snaith. | Candiese Lenferna

Royal Aussie won the Independent on Saturday Drill Hall Stakes on Wednesday. Gold Circle events and marketing executive Stephen Marshall and Independent on Saturday marketing and brand officer Sinethemba Hlela hand over the winner’s spoils to trainer Justin Snaith. | Candiese Lenferna

Published May 11, 2024


Durban — Criminal charges and a five-year ban from KwaZulu-Natal racecourses was the punishment meted out to the group of 28 protesters who allegedly caused the abandonment of racing at the Hollywoodbets Greyville racecourse last Saturday.

Gold Circle CEO Michel Nairac confirmed the group, including 10 horse owners, would also be sued for the losses they had since sustained.

The protest erupted when the favourite, Main Defender, in Race 6, the Independent on Saturday Drill Hall Stakes and the opening race of the Champions Season, was scratched minutes before the race after it had failed a mandatory pre-race blood test.

With a series of top-listed horseracing events lined-up for KZN over the next three months, Nairac assured punters they have implemented measures to prevent a repeat of last week’s race-day ruckus.

“We have had a number of meetings in the aftermath and developed an integrated security plan together with the SAPS, metro and Crime Intelligence to ensure the safety of all our racegoers, stakeholders and horses to and from the racecourses,” said Nairac.

He believes heightened security and the sanctions imposed on the protesters will set their “loyal patrons’ minds at ease for the season”.

Nairac said that about 15 minutes before the 6th race, they were informed by the National Horseracing Authority’s (NHA) chief stipendiary steward that after testing the entire field of runners, only Main Defender returned a level above the allowed threshold for TCO² (total carbon dioxide).

The horse, trained by Tony Peter, was scratched.

Internationally, 36.0 mmol/L is the threshold level for TCO² tests; in South Africa the standard was raised to 37.0 mmol/L.

TCO² tests are performed on racehorses’ blood samples to combat the administration of alkalising agents for the purpose of enhancing performance.

Blood specimens are taken from selected horses 50 minutes before a race and immediately analysed using handheld blood gas analysers.

“The NHA is effectively horse racing’s referee. They regulate the sport, which includes random testing of horses before and after racing.

“The TCO² test was introduced in March this year. If a horse’s first result is above the threshold, a second test is conducted. If it is still above the threshold, the NHA will withdraw the horse, according to the rules.”

Nairac said there had been other scratchings at race meetings around the country since March.

He said Main Defender’s scratching resulted in protesters preventing horses from going onto the track and the remaining five races of the day were abandoned out of concern for safety of the horses, jockeys and the public.

“A number of very serious threats were made by some of the protesters,” Nairac said.

“After protracted discussions with the protesters, it was clear the only way to continue would require forcibly removing them. The alternative was to diffuse the situation by cancelling proceedings and deal with the perpetrators in a civilised manner.”

Nairac said their security personnel contained the protesters in an area away from the horses and jockeys, and the SAPS, including Public Order Police, provided backup.

He said they suffered extensive financial losses because of the disruption.

“Gold Circle and the entire South African horse-racing industry suffered reputational damage as our racing product is sold and viewed in many international jurisdictions.”

Nairac said they were grateful to their sponsors, who agreed to the rescheduling of their races to Wednesday, and punters were refunded for the cancelled races.

NHA CEO Vee Moodley confirmed their testing implementation notice was sent to trainers on March 15.

“We followed due process, and it was not the first time we have scratched horses after testing.”

He said the NHA had international standards to abide by as members of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

On Monday, after the Greyville incident, veteran trainer and South African National Trainers Association chairperson Tony Rivalland met the NHA regarding the TCO² testing. Rivalland released a statement confirming his satisfaction and that the 37 mmol/L threshold was the right way to go.

“At this point, no trainers will be fined when their horses are scratched for being 37 or over, maybe because some of these horses are not being intentionally ‘milk-shaked’ (where there is something causing a higher than normal alkalising effect in the horse). There will be roadshows whereby the NHA will convene meetings with trainers to explain why there are no fines at present and the possible reasons for inadvertently high levels of TCO²,” read part of the statement.

Rivalland said many horses had been tested since March but only about six were scratched.

He warned there would be penalties in the future.

He said it was “not easy to catch” trainers who were doping their horses.

“The problem is when you take a blood test, the TCO² level deteriorates very quickly after 12 hours – it dissipates in the blood. Therefore, they are doing real-time testing on-course.”

About the protest, Rivalland said the industry needed the punters, who must feel they are getting a fair deal, and one has to believe the NHA has been doing its job.

“We need to ensure that the integrity of the sport of horse racing is always protected. It is one thing protesting and protesting reasonably but that was an unreasonable protest. Gold Circle’s reaction will send a stern message.”

Peter also released a statement this week after his horse was the centre of the Greyville debacle.

He denied being unavailable to members of the media and involvement in the “fracas” at Greyville.

Peter said his family member made a suggestion at the racecourse last Saturday on the way forward, but it was not accepted.

“Unfortunately, my family and I have been branded as ‘cheats and thieves’ by persons in the industry.”

Peter said at no time had any of his horses been “milkshaked”.

“It is worrying that when one of my horses tested over the limit, we are branded ‘dope artists’ and ‘undesirable’ for the industry, but the very next day, when another trainer has two horses testing over the limit, no such accusations are made against him.

“It is obvious the testing process is severely flawed and needs to be urgently re-looked at.”

He accused the NHA of targeting his horses. He made reference to a YouTube video in which NHA officials visited his Joburg stables in November.

Moodley said he was unable to comment on the allegations Peter made against the NHA as his matter was under investigation.

Independent on Saturday

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