The RA, whose remit is to protect the ethos of racing and look after the interests of owners, has come in for much criticism in recent years – for being opaque and ineffectual, particularly during the Markus Jooste era when the now-disgraced tycoon held sway in the game.
News that the organisation has given 91 trainers in four provinces R1,000 for each needy horse in their care, for the month of May, has instantly polished the RA’s image.
Horse racing, the sport of kings, carries an image of great wealth and, indeed, some rich people do own horses. But there are also many not-so-rich individuals who have horses in training by the skin of their teeth, scrimping, scraping and praying for the odd bit of prize money to feed their love of the game and their horses (often just the one).
These are the horses now at risk – with no prize money being distributed and the owners possibly losing work and income. Trainers can’t afford to keep, feed and groom horses without being paid to do so.
Top trainer Mike de Kock has warned of the horror of “mass euthanasia” if racing isn’t allowed to start again soon.
The monthly keep-fee for one horse runs from about R3,500 to R10,000, depending on the trainer’s status. So, R1,000 isn’t a solution to the problem, but it might buy a little time for a few animals.
The breakdown is:
KwaZulu-Natal is not included as the province has never been part of the RA and has its own owners’ body.
RA acting chairman Brian Riley’s statement on Monday detailing what the organisation has been doing in the current crisis has been hailed for its transparency and clear sense of benevolence.
The cash dished out to trainers for May comes from a kitty that had been allocated to pad-out prize money – in the wake of ailing operator Phumelela slashing race stakes by 40% as it plummeted towards bankruptcy earlier this year.
That kitty was originally R13.1 million for stakes in May, June and July – “to lessen the dramatic reduction implemented by Phumelela”. But then lockdown turned “dramatic” into catastrophic – with no stake pay outs at all and Phumelela in business rescue.
Theoretically, the RA still has several million available to boost stakes for horses that come out bushy-tailed after their “holidays”, should racing resume on 1 June as hoped. However, the effects of lockdown will be felt in the industry for some time and that precious kitty might still be needed to save horses’ lives.
The RA has also given racehorse grooms around the country R220,000 for sanitizers, masks, thermometers and transport and food subsidies – over and above their normal wages. The conditions at training centres have been inspected by all and sundry and found acceptable.
Various parts of the racing set-up have been trying hard to shake off the Jooste stench over the past year and the RA is one that seems finally to be succeeding. Its new-look leadership, with the likes of Riley and De Kock on the board, is also heavily involved in the Restructuring Task Team that has been charged with making best use of the Oppenheimer family’s R100-million rescue package for racing.
Self-help is happening; what’s now badly needed is state help – in the form of a little signature on a bit of paper saying racing can resume.
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