Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PETER HEEGER
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PETER HEEGER

Champion trainer Sean Tarry says the decision by the Oppenheimer family to throw a lifeline to racing is an enormous relief for horse racing, which has been under the cosh in recent months.

Somewhat poetically, it was last Friday (May 8) when many Britons were honouring the part played by Winston Churchill on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War 2, that another famous family, the Oppenheimers, rode to the rescue of SA horse racing.

A Sens announcement late on Friday was made of a business rescue resolution and suspension of listing of Phumelela Gaming & Leisure shares. Phumelela runs racing in Gauteng and the Western and Eastern Cape.

The Phumelela board took the view that the best option to ensure the long-time survival of the company and of horse racing was to implement a business rescue plan as contemplated in the Companies Act, the statement reads.

It reads the board will no longer be in control of the company as it will be placed under supervision of the appointed business rescue practitioner. The JSE has agreed to suspend trade in the company’s shares.

Several conditions

Shortly after this announcement, it was announced that the Oppenheimer family had stepped in with financial assistance for the sport. Some time ago, Charles Savage was mandated by MOD (Mary Oppenheimer Daughters) to engage with Phumelela, and his hard work has paid off.

The primary objective was to create a sustainable strategy specifically for horse racing in SA. The offer by MOD was subject to several conditions including the Phumelela board making the decision to initiate business rescue.

Contacted by Business Day, Tarry, whose horses have earned more than R14m in stakes this season, said: “It is a massive relief to hear of the action that Mary, Jess and the family have taken to help insure the sustainable future of racing. I’m sure all in the racing industry are truly grateful.

“It would be a great boost if government could intervene and lift the racing lockdown over the next few days which, in turn, would further lift the dark cloud over the industry,” said Tarry.

Another trainer, Grant Maroun, posted on the Sporting Post website: “Very positive, racing in good hands”.

Another post reads: “We all hope this involvement by the Oppenheimer family will revive the horse-racing industry in SA and take it forward.”

While the Oppenheimers’ decision to donate R1bn to the Solidarity Fund to help combat Covid-19 understandably was lauded countrywide, the sum given to racing has not been revealed.

What it does mean — most importantly for owners and trainers — is that payment of stakes, albeit reduced, will be paid for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, racing resumes in France on Monday with a 10-race programme at Longchamp racecourse in Paris. Several top performers including Victor Ludorum, Sottsaas, Tropbeau and Khayzavaan will be in action.

Victor Ludorum, a son of Shamardal who died 10 days ago, won his three starts as a juvenile for trainer Andre Fabre and will be a short price to maintain his unbeaten record.

The colt is owned by Godolphin. A spokesperson said: “We are delighted that our season here in Europe will start with Victor Ludorum going in the Prix de Fontainebleau.”

Sottsaas, who runs in the Prix de Harcourt, will be another hot favourite as he won last season’s French Derby and finished third in the Arc De Triomphe in October.