Picture: 123RF/CHRIS VAN LENNEP
Picture: 123RF/CHRIS VAN LENNEP

As far as attacks in 2021 are concerned, the one on the National Horseracing Authority (NHA) by owners and trainers rates way behind the riots in SA and the assault on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6.

Nevertheless, there are raised eyebrows in racing circles that the fortress-like NHA should be the target of the SA National Trainers Association (Santa). More than 300 have signed a demand for major changes.

In a nutshell, Santa has two main objectives: to get representation on the NHA board for trainers, owners, operators and grooms and not just have the board selected from the old boys’ club; and to get rid of the position of racing control executive, which costs the industry thousands of rand per year.

Racing newspaper Sporting Post has quoted both sides on this issue. One Santa supporter commented on the website: “We would welcome a forensic audit. Let the NHA explain to the operator why they are once again wasting industry money.

“They must just remember that any forensic request is inevitably coupled with allegations of impropriety and fraudulent activity, so it should flow therefrom that when they find nothing untoward there must be consequences for those that called for such audit.

“I’m sure that all signatories, in addition to those who are involved in this process, feel slighted and insulted by such boorish behaviour.”

He added: “If I were advising the NHA I would recommend that they urgently meet with disgruntled Santa representatives instead of merely endeavouring to stall matters, although from our perspective we don’t see any necessity or obligation in having to meet with them at all.

“We have a formidable legal team advising us, limitless finances through benevolent benefactors, which the NHA does not have, and the support of the industry across all spectrums. They do themselves no favours in merely trying to fight the inevitable all in the name of a precious few desperately clinging to power.”

Business Day reached out to NHA chair Susan Rowett to answer our questions. To her credit, she responded within a few hours. We asked:

1. In what can only be termed an unprecedented “revolt” against the National Horseracing Authority, was there any indication in recent months that this confrontation was on the horizon?

2. According to Sporting Post, heavyweight people in the racing industry such as Mary Slack, Bernard Kantor and Wayne Kieswetter have signed the Santa proposal for amendments to the constitution. This news must be a bit like Hitler learning that the US has entered World War 2. Is it a concern that heavyweights support the change?

3. One of your comments in your statement — reported in Sporting Post — says: “The board now comprises neutral and independent directors with a blend of knowledge and skills all of whom are committed to the best interests of the horse racing industry.”

The proposed move of new stakeholders would essentially infiltrate the autonomy and integrity of the board. This suggests you will vehemently oppose any such infiltration. Is this correct? 

4. Regarding the role of the racing control executive, you appear to feel he is an important cog in the NHA set-up and appear to be firmly in his corner. Santa’s assertion that Mr Hyde costs “10 bar a year” looks a bit over the top, but it begs the question whether he has ruffled the feathers of some trainers who are now keen to stick the knife in.

In a podcast, racing and legal guru Robert Bloomberg states that trainers are “being treated like common criminals” when it comes to doping investigations. He says that under the current rules they are “automatically guilty, which is unlike anywhere else in the world”. 

Do you feel this is something that needs addressing?

Rowett replied as follows:

Dear Mr Mollett,

I really cannot comment or speculate on these items on social media that you ask about.

As regards the upcoming SGM, I refer you to my letter to members. There are about 2,500 members of the NHA in total, including all trainers, jockeys and owners, and every vote counts the same. As per the constitution, it is the members who decide on any changes to the constitution.  As you can see from my letter, the board are urging members to cast their votes for the best interest of racing as a whole.  

I hope members will consider the impact these two proposed resolutions would have on the NHA’s independence and integrity. Members need to remember that these factors (both actual and perceived) are absolutely essential for the industry’s longevity and sustainability. They should think about what the consequences would be on [the] independence and integrity of the NHA if (1) the policed were to become the police and (2) regulatory capabilities were reduced.  

Would owners want to participate in a sport with poor integrity? Would punters (local and international) want to bet on events with dubious regulation and policing? Would international broadcasters want to buy broadcast rights of such events? Would government and gambling boards intervene to ensure the integrity of the industry and thus the economic value? Would international buyers want to buy horses based on performance in a substandard racing jurisdiction?

SA is part of the respected higher tier of the global racing industry; and, in order to remain there, it needs to retain the standards commensurate with those jurisdictions. Members who see the value of that reputation should act to ensure that the actual and perceived integrity of the regulator remains in place.

The board will in due course be circulating documents to members covering the various aspects of the proposed changes in greater detail and highlighting pertinent issues.

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