Picture: UPSPLASH/SIMON PETROL
Picture: UPSPLASH/SIMON PETROL

Jane Fonda — still going strong at age 82 — had the star role in Sydney Pollack’s 1969 movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Unlike the grim picture painted by trainer Mike de Kock regarding racing’s current crisis, the movie’s title grabbed the attention of film fans.

But, in fact, it had nothing to do with horses. Its theme was that if a horse was in such a miserable shape it would automatically be shot, why should a human being be expected to endure it.

In an outstanding video compiled by racing interviewer Andrew Bon on the effect of Covid-19 on racing, the words of De Kock will send a chill up the spine of every animal lover in the country.

De Kock said: “Jobs and horse welfare are on the line if the government says no [to racing resumption]. Loss of jobs and euthanasia is going to become a grim reality.”

Yes, they do shoot horses would be the dramatic answer to the question which Pollack’s movie poses.

Commissioned by Drakenstein Stud, Bon has put together a YouTube video — it has already had 7,000 hits — which includes some of the major players in the sport. In no particular order, they are Sean Tarry, De Kock, Adrian Todd, Vee Moodley, Hazel Kayiya, Geoff Woodruff, Paul Peter, Michael Azzie and Dean Alexander.

They all make important points and recommendations.

Who — many will ask — is Kayiya? This writer had never heard her name but — having watched her interview — her appointment as executive racing administrator at the National Horseracing Authority (NHRA) can be likened in football terms to “a major signing”.

In my book, Kayiya, who started off with Gold Circle and then attended Mick Goss’s School of Excellence at Summerhill Stud, is the star of the video.

She says she was not really into horses until she spent time at Summerhill, but is now passionate about thoroughbreds.

“Racing is all about passion, our aim must be to get people to fall in love with horse racing.

“The virus has had a ripple effect across the whole industry — we really must hope that government will give us the go-ahead to resume racing. We can prove we are able to put in measures of social distancing,” says Kayiya.

It might be a good move for the NHRA to send this video to the relative ministers adding “please check out Hazel Kayiya’s comments”.

The other interviewees all stress important points: “I don’t want to be putting horses down as this would have a knock-on effect as it would effect the groom’s family.”

“At Randjesfontein training centre grooms live on site and receive food.”

“Money is drying up as horses are a luxury item.”

“We could probably hold out for another month but we don't want that.” And “everything costs the same as if we were racing.”

Bon said: “This is the most indescribably difficult position horse racing has ever confronted. We hope, we pray. More I cannot say though I would love to explode.

“It’s all about the horse and his/her immediate minder, the groom. The thought of mass euthanasia puts the fear of God into me. It’s simply unimaginable.”

Bon’s wife, Sarah, a smart lady who always goes the extra mile for horses in her care, runs a riding school in the north of Johannesburg.

There are a total of 24 horses at present including well-known former racehorses Alimony, Snowdon and Varberg.

“We know that D-Day is coming with some of our old horses but will do everything in our power to save them come hell or high water. We go to the stables every day to muck out and to groom as we now have only two grooms. We have permits from the department of agriculture as primary caregivers.”

There are many sports and industries affected by the coronavirus, but Bon’s video clarifies the picture for horse racing and — if we still had the Equus Racing Journalist award — he would certainly be one of the favourites.

The trouble is the award — at one point worth R80,000 and a trophy — would need a sponsor. The one which springs to mind is Peermont Emperors Palace as their COO, Bob Yearham, is unflinching in his support for the sport.

Unfortunately, casinos are in the same predicament as racing — no customers equals no revenue.