Cape Town — After tough times, the last two feature events at Kenilworth, the Cape Guineas and the L'Ormarins Queen's Plate have shown that there is a remarkable upturn in the Mother City's horse racing industry.
This upturn will have a significant impact, as Kenilworth prepares to host its most prestigious horse-racing event, the annual Cape Met at the end of January.
With horse racing operator Cape Racing and World Sports Betting in the saddle, the industry has flourished in the Mother City after the fruitful partnership started a few weeks ago.
Former jockey Peter Wrench, a racing aficionado with Life Colours and membership of Cape Racing and the NHA (National Horseracing Authority), is pleased with how the industry handled the challenges of the past few months.
The man, self-described as a "reluctant trainer' but loving it, said horse racing was making significant progress in the Mother City.
"It has been difficult competing with all sports for the leisure rand and other forms for the gambling rand," said Wrench. "It has created a monumental task for the new racing promotional teams, but they have inspired confidence.
"Initial meetings with stakeholders and regular communication since have set out their stall.
"It's commendable that the priority is to get faces back on course to enjoy a spectacle in an ambience of a worthy occasion out.
"Better facilities, broadcast and coverage in a quality environment has attracted favourable comment.
"A childhood friend recently returned after four decades abroad lamented that local racing deteriorated after the relaxation of standards to a point where racing was no longer special or set apart from other spectator sports.
"We agree that increased attendance is the only chance to attract new blood and possibly owners who are the lifeblood of the industry.
"The thoroughbred is the centrepiece to the thrill and excitement, but it wouldn't be there without the commitment and patience of owners.
"We are fully supportive of the present initiatives to offer quality entertainment, which showed encouraging signs at the recent Cape Guineas and L'Ormarins Queen's Plate.
"If this improves the supply of racing stock, we can simultaneously focus on the demand side, being the betting market.
"It is no easy task but optimistic in light of the brave team making progress."
One of the Cape's leading horse-racing personalities, Mark Bass, the Racing Manager and head of Marketing of the famous Bass Racing, said the industry has a reputation of surviving the harshest of times.
Bass is the son of the legendary Mike Bass, one of the country's leading racehorse trainers for almost four decades. He has been at the coalface of the industry for many years.
“Let me start by saying racing is a very resilient sport," said Bass. "It’s been through depressions, wars and many highs and lows since then.
"With the recent pandemic, there is no doubt we are sitting at the lower end of the graph, but as trainers in the industry, we are confident that we are now going in the right direction under 4Racing (South African horse racing's new operator).
"We are under no illusion that this will not happen overnight, but we are confident we have the right personnel and professionals to guide us through to the next phase.
"Stats don’t lie, and as buyers and selectors of thoroughbreds, one only has to attend one of the regional sales to understand our industry buyers and stalwarts have not gone anywhere!
"Sales numbers and averages are creeping up, and there is confidence brewing amongst the breeders, so we have no doubt we are heading towards a healthy industry.
"The last few years have been very tough. Phumelela went into business rescue, and racing was halted for a few months. Stakes were massively reduced, and general uncertainty made it very difficult to keep owners invested in the game.
"We know that 4Racing have not been able to say or do much until getting all the regulatory approvals and their purchase of the racing assets over the line. Having now had the chance to meet people like Fundi Sithebe (4Racing's CEO) and hear about some of the thinking about the future, we are hopeful that better times lie ahead.
"Stakes have also received a much-needed boost and our facilities have been modernised to lure the crowds back at Kenilworth despite the obvious financial pressures.
"There also seems to be a focus on getting the little things right and the on-course experience is much improved.
"All that is needed is some time, and a good marketing boost to bring back the glory days.
"So, we may not be able to turn back the clock, but I feel are certainly winding it up again."