Three sports in the spotlight as tumultuous year comes to an end
SA’s rugby and cricket teams have fared well and horse racing is on an upward spiral
As we reach the final six weeks of 2023, three sports — rugby, cricket and racing — have found themselves in the media spotlight of TV and print.
So how have the three sports fared? Pretty good would be the overall verdict.
RUGBY: The Springboks’ win at the Stade De France in Paris resulted in huge celebration throughout the country — it didn’t matter that the last three matches were all won by a single point.
But what was it — in a country where football is miles more popular with the majority of people than rugby — that saw men and women proudly donning the green and gold springbok shirts and waving their scarves?
Perhaps it had something to do with distracting them from serious issues dogging the country such as load-shedding, crime, petrol price increases and visa backlogs.
This win had a different feel to the one won when president Nelson Mandela led the celebrations. There was a more united air of confidence countrywide about SA’s chances and the selectors were able to select a team ready to do their very best for the nation.
CRICKET: Bookies will be hoping Australia beat SA in the World Cup semifinal as they face a hefty payout in doubles on the country to land a unique rugby-cricket World Cup double.
Even if SA win against the Aussies, they have a mountain to climb in beating the home-country favourites, India, who have looked a class above their opponents since the start of the tournament. The current price of 19-20 about India looks generous.
Still, I guess we should take plenty of solace that SA are in contention with big cricket nations such as England and Pakistan falling by the wayside.
While there isn’t the same euphoria with the public surrounding the cricket, the side does have one of the best players on the planet in Quinton de Kock.
RACING: The sport of racing has made great strides in 2023 — no doubt about that.
The promotion of the Betway Summer Cup — Joburg’s Durban July — has been first-class and a bumper crowd is set to descend on Turffontein on November 25.
Importantly, a number of issues have been addressed this year.
Owners: People are always banging the drum that punters are the lifeline of racing, but without owners it would grind to a halt.
Until recently, we had become pretty accustomed to the grade 1 races being plundered by rich owners and breeders and those feeding the more moderate animals were simply the supporting cast. Many fell by the wayside because the monthly cost was too expensive.
Now — rather like special offers at your favourite supermarket — carrots are being dangled to attract new owners to the sport. Syndication is the new name of the game.
A Cape Racing media release before their Ready-To-Run Sale stated “most of the region’s trainers have come on board with customised offers on newly purchased horses designed to attract individuals from all walks of life.”
Some familiar names are getting involved. Ricky Maingard has formed the “Wolf Power Syndicate” named after the best horse I’ve seen here (but not in the world) in 51 years in the sport. Ricky has put together a six-horse package and said: “Our aim is to be a boutique-style training quality rather than quantity”.
Michele Rix and Ashwin Reynolds have launched the “Kommet” syndicate (no prizes for the reason they chose this name) with a professionally designed client brochure and a website. Another top trainer going the syndication route is Glen Kotzen.
The next plus for owners is the “Double Bonus” incentive announced before the Cape Ready-To-Run Sale where 23 lots of 89 lots offered were eligible for this bonus which sees an owner receive R200,000 in prize money if his/her horse wins as a juvenile.
Grooms: Thanks to the Racing Operators and top businessmen, the financial lives of grooms have improved markedly compared with a few years ago. Indeed, some of the older grooms must be shaking their heads in disbelief.
In this month’s Betway Summer Cup, the sponsors will give R20,000 to each groom looking after one of the 20 runners. This is a big payday and, of course, those attached to the winner and placed horses will get their usual percentage.
In August, 4Racing CEO Fundi Sithebe announced the Turffontein grooms accommodation renovation project to ensure their living quarters were improved.
At the time, Turffontein grooms representative Nceba Magazi said: “We can proudly say that we are seen, our voices are heard and we are recognised. Having a voice was all we ever desired.”
Devin Heffer, communications manager at Hollywoodbets, is a young man with his feet on the ground and he said: “The focus of this grooms initiative was always more than just rewarding them over and above their normal earnings. It was about highlighting the importance of their role in the ecosystem.”
Punters: After my recent spell in the UK, I was amazed by the number of special offers advertised daily by bookmakers and the tote to attract clients. Some bookies were paying six places on the Ebor Handicap at York and we’re talking about a quarter the odds a place — not the lesser odds offered here.
However, Betway, a sponsor with big involvment in sport both here and in the UK, have surely attracted new clients by announcing they will pay the 6% government tax usually deducted from a punter’s winnings.
Will this tempt other big firms such as Hollywoodbets and World Sports Betting to follow suit? Punters will certainly hope this is the case.
It’s also worth remembering that entrance to most race meetings in SA is free. This doesn’t happen in the UK, Australia or America. Entrance to the County Stand for their big meeting at York in August was £70 (R1,600). You are very much behind the eight-ball before you place your first bet.
This week I checked out the special offers advertised by some of the leading bookmaker firms. Paddy Power were offering £50 in free bets for new clients while Skybet and Betfair were both offering £30. For new customers, the Tote were offering £30 in free bets once a £10 wager had been placed.
Horses: Of course, the horses are — like footballers in the Premier League — the stars of the show.
Right now, I doubt there has been such excitement about our equine athletes for many a year.
This time in 2022, we were raving about Charles Dickens possibly emerging as good as Horse Chestnut — or for us older guys — as good as Wolf Power or Elevation.
We still have Charles Dickens to look forward to but both Main Defender and Sandringham Summit have put their hands up as possible future champions with their magnificent battle in the Betway Graham Beck Stakes.
The bottom line is the sport of horse racing is on an upward spiral which looked highly unlikely two years ago.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.