MY THOUGHTS FOR SA’S RACING AND BREEDING YEAR: Turf Talk – 9 January 2017
THE clarion call of betting interests is for full fields. This translates to a continuous need for a minimum number of thoroughbred foals to be pro-duced, grown and offered for sale. If the production line sends out fewer foals, the goal of filling fields is threatened or unfulfilled.
So SA breeders must breed enough thoroughbreds right? Right. But there is a paradox. Most of them have to be bought to be candidates for full fields and there is a shortage of buyers.
Clearance rates at sales are not always clear. An original purpose of a declared buy-back internation-ally was transparency –to take such transactions (along with ―not solds‖) out of sales statistics which they would otherwise corrupt. Much was made of the latter benefit to the extent that in Europe, if not Australia, the buy-backers are charged half commissions as a reward for the declaration.
By meticulously going through SA sales results, fair analysis can be made up to a point. However sometimes a buy-backer will use someone to do the bidding and leave his or her name published. The saving in commission here is very small, not 50%. Alternatively, experienced observers at some of the sales with small catalogues can see clearly enough what is (and is not) happening.
In South Africa if the bought back (failed to sell) youngster is to go into training, either the unfulfilled vendor must pay to have the horse trained – thus becoming an extremely valuable per-son to the industry in being able to do so – or a second wave of searching for ownership takes place via trainers through leasing or ―putting the horse together‖, through syndicators, clubs and through personal contacts of the vendor.
Those people making that effort have little support from the industry in providing an ―image‖ for ownership as a recreational activity. The principal motivation for many international owners is ―to go racing with my horse‖, not to go punting.
There is also a different form of buy-back: the intentional buy-back. Qualification for sales races here generates this practice and in some theatres of selling begs the regular question ―is this horse actually for sale?‖ a syndrome that inevitably has impact on the credibility of the process.
All this leaves the bloodstock industry recycling the majority of the necessary ownership of racehorses amongst existing owners who – whether on the large scale or individual own-ers of a few or partners in several or syndicate members – are gold dust. Without them, no fields at all.
In the current climate of fallen sales prices at all but the elite end and of too many small sales fragmenting, the buying and consigning resources of the country across a far longer span of time than elsewhere, we cry out for new blood so that the trickle of breeder/vendors giving up or cutting back significantly does not turn into a faster flowing river of retrenchment.
There might be a tough but fair argument that a lot of mares being bred are of insufficient quality and should drop out of the Stud Book. Sure. But well
intentioned breeders who recognise a ropey pedigree when they have one would like to replace with something newer and fresher whether from at home or abroad. But if the end-user buying power for their products is limited, will they risk it?
There are two factors that would serve to ―sort this out‖.
One, as this column has said before and is not unique in so doing, is the consolidation of the sales programme back to something manageable: two jewels in the crown (Cape Premier Yearling Sale and National Yearling Sales), one important sale in the Cape in March in the old Vintage slot, the KZN Sale which has had some good years if not every time; then one 2 year old sale regaining historical importance and reliability.
Much thought must be put into the ReadytoRun situation where Summerhill’s numbers remain high but Balmoral’s have now gone completely. To fill a large gap, other consigners would have to increase capacity greatly which is a massive staffing, stabling and logistical challenge (and risk) in this form of trading.
Let us fervently hope for consolidation in 2017 in such a way that makes sense to the sales organisations as well as generating three rousing cheers from the breeding community.
The other factor is achieving a substantial injection of fresh ownership from outside the existing well. Day to day racing is promoted as a punting exercise. Not many punters want to be owners and not many people completely ―outside‖ are enamoured by punting.
But South Africa has a wonderful history of horse racing being a sport for many to attend and participate in…..to ―Go racing with my horse‖ not only to superb occasions like Saturday’s L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Day but also to Durbanville having a new track at a lovely place to go racing on an ordinary race day or balmy evening. And elsewhere.
If ―the industry‖ has not the administrators with the will or wherewithal to create a department of people to beat the bushes in a systematic, modern attempt, surely the betting interests have. Maybe they could submerge the punting aspects – with ultimate benefit to themselves – in a new form of marketing ownership that emphasises the magnificent animals, the sport and its people and history, with punting as a fun add-on.
We (AllanBloodlines) tried to take this forward in 2015/16 but found industry interests unwilling to cooperate with each other. We must keep trying, as with the consolidation of sales. Logic dictates that if there is a shortage of buyers but betting interests need more horses in training, then betting interests may help themselves — and racing at large — by broadening the language of their outreach. –tt