THE CENTAURIAN TAKES AIM…

  A MESSAGE TO OWNERS – RESPECT THE STATS

So you don’t own War Of Athena or Malmoos – and your investment in horses is basically sunk capital – though you may get a bit back if you own a well performed or related filly, or a potential stallion.

Worse than that, it may be that you own one of the 3,760 maidens stabled in South Africa (65% of runners) – costing you circa R10k per month in training fees. Or you may be slightly better off in that you may own one of the 1,400 one-time winners that are still in training (24% of runners) but still costing you ten thousand a month.

(NB these stats are from the pre-Covid era of 2019)

There are no real surprises here – racing is a sport, and any profit is a bonsella – we all get that.

But can we find a way to beat the odds and give ourselves a bit of chance to not only have a winner or two but to defray some of the expenses?

By my reckoning some 5,760 horses took part in 2,049 races in South Africa in 2019 for cumulative purses of around R255 million at a cost of R700 million in training fees.

Setting aside the capital cost of buying the horses in the first place, what do these stats tell us?

a)    65% of horses in training are maidens offering little fun to the owners and no reward

b)     the races to horses ratio is 36%

c)      the purses to costs ratio is 36%

With the National Yearling Sales coming up shortly, owners need to reappraise their positions and investments – to redirect their strings to other training centres or to just get rid, or not to buy, this year, or maybe buy fewer. Only they can know their own circumstances but there are some stats which may assist their decision-making process (despite the age of the stats being 2019 – the arguments are still considered totally valid).

Racing Centre

          Horses   Maidens   %           Races   Ratio         Purses     Costs    Ratio

South Africa       5,760      3,760     65%         2,049    36%          R255m    R700m   36%

Durbanville            715         592     83%           129     18%         R10m      R72m     14%

Kenilworth           1,051         776     74%          365     35%          R40m      R126m   32%

Turffontein            1,887     1,496     79%          478     25%          R60m      R226m   27%

Vaal                       1,802     1,427     79%          457     25%          R40m      R216m   19%

Borrowdale           155          74      48%         146     94%          R5.2m     R10m      52%

(Source: NHRA of South Africa)  

Owner readers will be ahead of me on these stats!

Borrowdale Park in Zimbabwe gives more chances to race, more chances to win and a far better ratio between risk and reward than anywhere in Southern Africa. This is the place to send your maidens and one-time winners horses if you are going to keep them in training – it’s pretty much a no brainer.

In addition to the stats, it has to be said that Borrowdale has a world-class turf racecourse, some fine trainers (with fees about half those of SA) and access to both local and SA jockeys.

Above all this is the legendary hospitality of Zimbabweans – giving a ready welcome to all owners and trainers making the short flight to Harare, and then after racing maybe a bite to eat at Wombles at Amanzi (now back from SA!) or the equally famous Fishmongers restaurant, both on the Enterprise Road.

What is there not to like about all this?

7th April 2021

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“THANK YOU MR HYDE”

Borrowdale Park – Into The Future – Positive Horizons


I don’t normally do post mortems on race meetings but Guineas Day was a bit special. Not only did we see a return to normal pre and post-race activity in the parade ring – after a very long break – but despite fields being decimated by a virus sweeping all the yards there were some very good races and tight finishes – not least being the Guineas itself.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to put a “columnist curse” on Dindingwe, I have to say that this is a special filly – as is True Beauty. I had thought the boys might give the girls a run for their money but this proved not to be the case – and this despite them being ridden by SA jockeys and notably the champion Gavin Lerena. Local lads, *Satombo and Derere drove their charges to a very tight finish, way ahead of Jubilee and Magnus Maximus – with Dindingwe securing the honours. She now heads for the Silver Slipper, the Triple Tiara and the Triple Crown.

I know we don’t have the depth of quality that we used to have years ago but should Dindingwe pull off the Double Triples then she should go down in legend, and become a big draw card for all racing enthusiasts at Borrowdale Park in the future. And living legends are important for racing – as well as for the noisy boys who own the great filly!

International interest in Borrowdale – i.e. Tellytrack time – increased on Guineas Day and I put that down to the involvement of Gavin Lerena. Whilst he didn’t ride a winner (Calvin Habib from RSA rode four!) he is clearly a jockey who prompts punters and media moguls to leave the pub to watch him ride.

In our efforts to put Borrowdale back on the map, these are the sort of jockeys we need to attract again. To do that, we need to persuade the SA racing authorities to allow Zim winning rides to be included again in the log of the South African jockey championship – that this is not currently the case is a bit of a disincentive to the likes of Gavin Lerena – especially at a time when copious volumes of paperwork are needed in this COVID era in order to travel to Zim.

We also welcomed Arnold Hyde and his team to Zimbabwe on Guineas Day. Mr Hyde is the NHRA Racing Control Executive whose responsibility is to ensure the integrity of racing in Southern Africa – at all levels. My guess is that this is a tough job and one which does not attract too many friends. Such is the integrity of the man himself that I doubt if this downside element is of much consequence to Mr Hyde – and that is a very good thing indeed.

I have often spoken about the essentiality of racing being squeaky clean and it being perceived to be so – without that, all will be lost. Not only would punters and betting melt away but so too would owner numbers.

How blessed are we to be part of the Southern Africa racing community as managed by the NHRA. This stamp of authority is vital to the credibility of racing at Borrowdale Park both now and in the future. But it’s more than that. The NHRA sorts out key racing elements for us such as colours, the Merit Rating system (handicapping), horse registration, Stipendiary stewarding, rules, regulations, disciplinary affairs and dope testing – to mention just a few issues. What a complete dog’s breakfast it would be at Borrowdale Park without this valuable input.

The good news for me, the Board of Stewards, and all racing enthusiasts at Borrowdale Park. is that the NHRA sentiment about us is strongly in favour of continued close involvement in the years ahead.

Be in no doubt about how important that key bit of information is.

For me, the NHRA involvement is one of the cornerstones of the long term viability of racing at Borrowdale Park – there are other cornerstones which the Board of Stewards are busy crafting and casting but it is good to know that the essential, long-term backing of the NHRA is firmly in place.

Thank you, Mr Hyde and the NHRA.
 
The Centaurian 26 March 2021

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Photograph by Gavin MacLeod: 2015 Zimbabwe Guineas winner Print The Pounds. owned by Sunmark Syndicate, trained by Bridget Stidolph, Derrick David in the irons.

THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE

Despite the many economic challenges which have plagued Borrowdale Park for the past twenty years or so, successful generations of Stewards have carefully navigated a way to ensure the survival of both the Triple Tiara for fillies and the Triple Crown in which both fillies and colts can compete. This achievement is all the more laudable as neither series has had any material sponsorship for some considerable time – and still doesn’t.

Both the Tiara and the Crown are races confined to three-year-olds and run over 1600, 2000 and 2400 metres – true Classic distances. The races in each group are set about four weeks apart, giving every participant plenty of opportunity to win all three races and hence claim the highly esteemed title/s. Contenders carry the same weights but in the Crown, fillies get a 2.5kg edge. This means the races are true tests of excellence on the part of the horses, but the three distances also require skills sets on the part of both the trainers and the jockeys.  

Whilst winning the Tiara is no mean feat, winning the Triple Crown is, in my view, the ultimate challenge for racehorse owners in Zimbabwe.

The jewel in the crown of these six races is undoubtedly the Derby – run over 2400 metres – scheduled for 23rd May 2021. Not only do runners have to be supremely fit and distance suited – this is where the trainer must do her/his bit – but in the running of the race, the jockey needs to be a master tactician and a superbly talented horseman – position and knowing when to press the “GO” button are vital.

(Just as a by the by – any race run over less than 2400 cannot be called a Derby – but often is – which, to my view, is utter rubbish.) 

There has been racing in Zimbabwe for well over a hundred years – but if my memory serves me correctly, there have only been seven Triple Crown winners. Readers are invited to name them.

Sunday sees the running of the first leg of the Triple Crown – the Guineas – a mile Classic. I will leave other fundis to provide you with tips on the race but this year there are six most worthy contenders thus making it a truly exciting contest and rather unpredictable in terms of outcome.

To add even greater excitement and tension is the presence of South African Champion Jockey (2014/15 – 221 wins) Gavin Lerena – retained by Centaur Syndicate to ride their Jackson gelding, Magnus Maximus in the Guineas and Bugatti Blue in a Merit Rated 90 Handicap over 1800 metres

Gavin is a hugely talented jockey with 1,865 wins to his name including 13 Group 1s, 33 Group 2s and 29 Group 3s. In recent times he rode the great Hawaam – now exported from South Africa. He has won big races around the world, from Hong Kong to the UK, and is well loved and respected in Zimbabwe where he used to ride with much success for Lisa Harris, partnering such stars as Earl of Surrey.

In different COVID-free circumstances, he is the sort of jockey all racing enthusiasts would leave their sofas for to witness live at Borrowdale Park.

But there should be other opportunities to see a star jockey in action. Centaur has retained Gavin for all three legs of the 2021 Triple Crown, the ultimate challenge at Borrowdale Park.   

ZIMFUN IS BACK

Following the exploits of Tricky Business, ZimFun has had a bit of dry spell but now its new filly, Karoo Winter has accepted to race at Borrowdale Park on Sunday 21st March in a Maiden Plate over 1800 metres.

Thomas Mason has had the task of preparing “Roo” for the race and has opted to bring up SA jockey J Gates to ride her.

Karoo Winter (Futura – Arabian Winter) came up from the Cape at the end of 2020 and settled in well. This will be her first run – and first on a clockwise track.

The meeting takes place behind closed doors to a degree – which means no ZimFunner can enter the parade ring before or after the race – and max fifty to attend the balcony gathering. Don’t be tempted!

Should she win!? Well, there is a draw on the ZimFunners WhatsApp Group – one lucky number between 1 and 100 will give the picker the right to lead her in – go there and learn how to take part.

It’s going to be great to see those fun silks back at Borrowdale – but will the imogi be a smiley one or a sad one? Obviously a smiley one would be much preferred.

HOOFNOTE 1

If you would like to get in on the ZimFun action, there are plenty of shares left in the pot.

E mail your pledges to either spencer@virtrust.com or cjohnsmith1@aol.com

It’s just US$100 per share – a paltry price for the ZimFun to be had.

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RACE DISTANCES
The Centaurian says: Time to rationalise at all levels…

If ever there were racing policy papers at Borrowdale Park, they have been lost in the mist of time. Current policy is perhaps best described as inherited, ad hoc, on the hoof and subject to various unwanted pressures.

As we see a hint of dawn on the Borrowdale economic horizon, it is useful to step back and consider again just what a whole range of policies are or perhaps should be.

Policy development should have at its core a range of strategic objectives, carefully considered purposes and should be agreed unanimously, if possible, by the Board of Stewards whose task it is the ensure the long term viability of racing at Borrowdale Park.

One such policy is that of Race Distances.

On reflection, it would seem that the current distance format has evolved to reflect the needs of the horse population and its lobbyists. There is considerable pragmatic merit in this approach, i.e. to optimise field size and to ensure races hold up. However, the fact that the racing programme is structured to match the equine resources which exist at any one time smacks very much of the “tail wagging the dog”.

In this regard, there is considerable conflict with the principle of Merit Rating formulation – the mechanism which has, at its core, the principle causing all competitors in a handicap race to cross the finishing line together.

By introducing a multiplicity of distances, vis, 800m; 900m; 1,000m; 1,100m; 1,200m; 1,260; 1,300m; 1,450m; 1,500m; 1,600m, 1,700m; 1,800m; 1,900m; 2,000m; 2,200m; 2,400m; 2,700; and 3,000m (and 3,200m in years gone by) – 18 distances in all – it is possible to juggle nominations to give horses a better chance of competing and to provide for undue influence to be exerted on those formulating the racing programme by interested parties (trainers and racing managers) thus giving their charges a better chance of competing.

The concept is widely understood thus there is no need for further elaboration here. However, in acquiescing to the pressures from interested racing parties it is clear that the practice distorts the principal of impartiality on the part of the programme formulator, confounds the efforts of the handicapper, but very much more importantly, confuses the serious punter – especially in South Africa where the MTC hopes to secure increased revenue streams from betting turnover.

It is submitted that anything which confuses the potential punter in his/her search for a winner is bad for business – MTC business.

In assessing collateral form, it is essential to be able to compare like for like. In pursuing a multiplicity of race distances such comparisons become difficult if not impossible. Serious punters drill into times, distances, weights and draws, in some detail. Fractions for similar distances can be materially different – e.g. 1450m; 1500m; 1600m and 1700m. When the algorithms are executed the data generated tends to conflict and become rather unreliable thus prejudicing long term interest in a course – meaning punters look elsewhere to place their bets. The said unreliability increases inversely in relation to the quality of the horses competing. In Zimbabwe, the horse population – though welcome – has a good many modest performers, thus at best, such form is already rather unreliable, meaning that such unreliability should not be added to.

Whilst there are compelling reasons to structure racing programmes to suit the existing horse population and the proclivities of trainers, racing managers and owners, it is submitted that the practice is fundamentally bad for Borrowdale Park.

To repeat, in a slightly different way, if race distances are carved in stone, vis: 800m (for early 2-year-olds only); 1000m or 5 furlongs; 1200m (6f); 1400m if possible (7f); 1600m (a mile); 1800m (9f); 1900m for the Republic Cup only; 2000m (10f); 2200m (11f); 2400m (a mile and half) and 2700m (13f and 100 m) – 11 distances only, then the programme formulator can remain totally impartial on the subject of distance – lobbyists would have to confine their efforts to issues relating to other matters.

Clearly, the handicapper’s role would be simpler and more clear cut.

Finally, punters would once again be able to compare collateral form effectively and thus increase the likelihood that they would renew their interest in Borrowdale Park for betting purposes – and for the long term

It is recommended that, with immediate effect, the race distances at Borrowdale are rationalised to those set out above – in perpetuity

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WHAT PRICE EXPEDIENCY?

Here is a hypothetical scenario – almost

You are a highly successful trainer in the UK but also a wo/man of high principle. You have worked very hard to get to where you are amongst the leaders in your chosen profession. Your yard is full of racing blue bloods – half of which are sent to you each year by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the boss man of Dubai.

Your patron pays you in advance, so cash flow is never an issue and you are able to plan exciting campaigns for his string, the Classics – including the Derby, days at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, Champions Day and maybe even the Arc and the Breeders Cup. These are what dreams are made of.

Your successes on the track made you a TV personality – always being interviewed and having your opinion sought. Success also brings financial security – in bucket loads. You are able to forget your modest beginnings and really enjoy the good things of life, spectacular cars of great speed and style, a luxurious home and exotic holidays. You are everybody’s friend, they hang on your every word and you have the luxury of being able to spout your opinions volubly – “not always right, but never in doubt”.

You are a renowned champion of the underdog and speak passionately on the subject whenever the opportunity arises.

You have a top TV – a Beovision 4-103 – 103 inch screen – a snip and tax deductible expense of $140,000 – essential for the watching of your sport, in detail and with perfect sound.

One winter’s night, you have finished dinner, downed a good bottle of Chateau Lafite 2000  –  not the 1787 vintage at $150,000 – but a $76 bottle and have made your way to your TV room with a bottle of Laphroaig Lore – part of a winning purse from Hamilton Park. You pick up the remote and the TV springs into life – it’s Panorama, the authoritative BBC news programme. This episode is called “Hostage” and concerns the alleged ordeal of the Dubai ruler’s daughter – Princess Latifa (35 years). She tried to flee Dubai in 2018 but was picked up/kidnapped by Maktoum’s commandos whilst escaping to India in a small yacht – she had just reached the Indian coast. In the TV programme she alleges, via secretly filmed video, the following:

  • she fought back against the soldiers taking her off the boat, “kicking and fighting” and biting one Emirati commando’s arms until he screamed
  • after being tranquilised she lost consciousness as she was being carried on to a private jet, and didn’t wake up until it landed in Dubai
  • she was being held alone without access to medical or legal help in a villa with windows and doors barred shut and guarded by police. 

She is now in her third year of confinement.

If ever there was an underdog it would seem Princess Latifa is one. The Sheik is one of the richest men on the planet and has done much to lift Dubai from being a dusty backwater into a major international centre for trade and travel. But what has Latifa done wrong? Why does she deserve such harsh treatment – especially form her father? It’s all incomprehensible to you as you watch the tragedy unfold on Panorama.

To get an understanding of what might be going on in Dubai, one only needs to Google reports of Princess Haya (the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan), the Sheik’s sixth wife, who successfully extricated herself and her two children from Dubai in 2019. She confirms that Latifa had been imprisoned and subject to physical abuse after another unsuccessful attempt to escape in 2002.

In May 2019, Haya said that the Sheik had warned her that “you and the children will never be safe in England” and it is doubted if he was referring to skinheads.

So there you have it – a huge quandary.

Do you ignore what your most important patron is alleged to be inflicting on his own daughters (Latifa’s sister, Shamsa, is also allegedly incarcerated somewhere in Dubai too) – to do so would be tantamount to condoning such behaviour – or do you advise the Sheik’s racing manager that you can no longer train for him – despite the three million in training fees you earn from the hundred horses consigned to your care?

It’s a tough one isn’t it!

Is there a plan B?

Could you have a chat with him when next he visits your stables? I would suggest that such an approach would go down like a lead balloon and you would lose his horses anyway – for the temerity of even raising the subject. I would guess that the Sheik does not give two figs for what others think of him – even at the highest level of society.

Or do you console yourself by saying that every electrical item and more that you have bought is made in China, and look what they are doing to the Uighurs – not just one girl incarcerated. There, incarceration involves 1.5 million people with a further 497,000 children in special boarding schools. You are not going to alter your buying habits where origin is of only passing interest.

Or you could argue that what goes on in other cultures and nations is none of your business

Or could you just say to yourself that this is a matter for the British government to handle?

But you are a wo/man of high principle – you have to live by your values – if you don’t, then you are a hypocrite and are unworthy of your position in society.

Mmmmm – very tricky indeed. Suggestions please. Just what is the price of expediency?

21 February 2021

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VIOLENCE – KICK IT OUT

If grown men and women favour sorting out their differences with violence then it should be in a park at dawn, with seconds in attendance.

Fisticuffs, pistols, sabres, or handbags might be the weapons of choice – or even wet lettuce. But on the racecourse there is no place for any sort of violence whatsoever. Unfortunately in the last few months there have been at least three unpleasant incidents reported by the Stipes.

The first involved former South African jockey, Andrew Fortune, who is alleged to have physically assaulted jockey Gavin Lerena in the weighing room at Turffontein last October. He claimed Gavin had deliberately caused interference to the Ashley Fortune trained Captain Morisco. Fortune was charged with contravention of Rules 72.1.26, 26 and 43 for physically assaulting Lerena – which he pleaded guilty to – and was issued with a fine – but no suspension or warning off.

The second incident occurred at Borrowdale Park on 17th January. In the Pinnacle Plate, run over 1700 metres. About 800 metres from home, Nicky Sibanda’s horse, Mr Greenlight, was squeezed for galloping room by Apprentice Walter Shumba on Wantage as it shifted in slightly. After the finishing line, Sibanda attacked Shumba with his whip and then continued physical and verbal abuse in the trot back to the parade ring. Sibanda was charged in contravention of Rule 72.1.25. He signed an admission of guilt and was suspended from riding for three race meetings.

The third incident occurred on 28th January at the Vaal and involved Muzi Yeni and Pierre Strydom. In the closing stages of Race 4, the jockeys’ mounts were involved in a very unsightly coming together. Yeni appeared to lean across to his inside taking his mount with him in an aggressive and dangerous manner. Strydom lived up to his nickname “Striker” as he raises his whip and attacks Yeni with it. Yeni crossed the line first on Netta but following an objection, was demoted to second and Strydom’s mount, Fort Anne, was placed first. I am yet to hear what punishments are to be meted out to both jockeys.

I don’t know which of these three incidents was the most reprehensible – maybe Strydom’s behaviour as it was in the full glare of the public, and this jockey is a major personality in South African racing – he should have known much better.

My question is, have or will the miscreants be given adequate punishments? I personally believe Fortune and Sibanda have gotten off lightly, very lightly.

Let us not forget that each event involved “criminal assault” and if the victims so chose, the offenders could have ended up in court, been found guilty, and been given harsher sentences and criminal records. I am not sure that Anthony Quayle’s defence in the movie HMS Defiant – “an impulse of anger, instantly regretted” would cut any ice in the courts of Southern Africa.

Jockeys can have no cause whatsoever to take the law into their own hands – not only are they protected by statute at the macro level, they are protected at the micro level by the close scrutiny of the Stipendiary Stewards. It is also the case that their behaviour impacts directly on the image and reputation of racing as all actions can be subject to the detailed scrutiny of all forms of media.

It is for these reasons that I believe we should throw the book at all miscreants in racing – and not just jockeys. I would go further and make the example harshest for those like Strydom and Yeni who should not only know far better, but these jockeys are also the exemplars for their peers and for those who aspire to greater heights in the riding profession. To pre-empt further incidents, I would give them no quarter.

11th February 2021

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I have been called plenty of things in my time! Fortunately, I couldn’t give a toss – so for me, personally, a name calling has no relevance or interest at all.

However, for a racehorse I think choosing a name, a really good name, is vitally important and part of the fun of owning and racing such a fine type of animal.

In Southern Africa there is still a propensity by breeders to give names to the stock that they breed – as if they will have some long-term love and affection for their breeding efforts – even some sort of eternal stewardship.  This is of course total rubbish. Moreover, such a policy can actually detract from the value of the product they are trying to market. Who would buy a yearling with a name they disliked?

As I said,  one of the great pleasures of selecting, bidding on and then going on to own a racehorse is the task of giving the purchase a name – something which then binds the acquisition more closely to the buyers psyche for good.

The other thing about breeders and names is that their choices are invariably rubbish too – based loosely on the sire and the dam line names. Look through the yearling and two-year-old sales catalogues and you discover the practice is rampant and just how bad many names are.

Then of course there is all the nonsense about changing a horse’s name after purchase…...”it will bring you bad luck…. don’t do it!”. More rubbish – indeed I make a point of changing the name of any horse I buy or have an interest in – if I can.

The only time you can’t change a racehorse’s name is after it has actually raced.

So let me say if you are going to buy a racehorse, you choose its name yourself and make it a good one, a strong one, or one that means something to you.

When you chose a name, it has to be approved by the NHRA – which has a sound set of rules and regulations to guide you. All this can be found on the excellent NHRA website. Go to the site, find the name register and type in your idea. You will be promptly told whether it is available or not. If it is, you can reserve that name for two years – you don’t have to give your horse a name until it is about to race. If in training it shows little ability then you might not want to assign it one of your favourite choices – you may even choose to leave it with the name the breeder may have given it and thus save the re-registration fee.

Perhaps the best exponents of naming horses are the lads at Coolmore – and they completely ignore ancestry – without ill effect. Just reflect on some of their inspirational choices, Galileo, Australia, Love, Mogul, Serpentine, Gleneagles, Camelot, Magical, Churchill, Sovereign to mention just a few.

I wonder if you the reader can post any names that you consider to be really bad. Let me give you one from Zimbabwe – it was some time ago but it has stuck with me as an acute national embarrassment – Snoogle Boogle – who the hell came up with that one?

Also, can you provide some examples of good name changes? Again, I will suggest one I think is a huge improvement on the original – Oldsmobile became Bugatti Blue (by Traffic Guard out of Vintage Event)– no bad luck there, he is a seven-time winner with twenty places – so far.

HOOFNOTE 1

Next week I am going to explore the issue of discipline on the racecourses of Southern Africa and why this is an important matter.

HOOFNOTE 2

At the time of writing, there was still no news from the Sports and Recreation Council of Zimbabwe in respect of racing resuming – albeit behind closed doors – at Borrowdale Park. Given that all horses are currently trained and groomed in the Borrowdale Park environs, I am sure such approval will be forthcoming as by doing so, there can be no risk to the health of current participants – they are all involved whether racing occurs or not. Watch this space.

5th February 2021

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Teofilo courtesty of Pininterest

YOU CAN’T KNOW IT ALL

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to be involved with horse racing, I have been privileged to have come to know many knowledgeable personalities – beginning with my grandfather who was a big mate of Willie Nevett (who rode the 1945 Derby winner, Dante) to Raymond Schur, Roy Magner, Peter Lovemore, Robin Bruss, Lawford Sutton-Pryce, Geoff Armitage, Vanessa Nicolle, Mark Johnston, James Tate, Sharon Paterson, Jackie Cocksedge, John Koumides… to mention just a few.

And there is also my big mate, Jim McDermott (founder member of Centaur) in the Cape – a veritable mine of information. If I need pointers on just about anything equine – he is always ready to oblige. This week he pointed me in the direction of Teofilo, a sire I was aware of – but not what he achieved in 2020.

This son of 12-time champion international sire, Galileo, came closest to the living legend’s tally of Group 1 winners by being responsible for six of his own, in France, Germany, Australia and Hong Kong.

Teolfilo – now 17 – came from Galileo’s second crop and raced only as a two-year-old – he had knee trouble. In that short career he raced just five times but won all five for Irish breeding and training legend, Jim Bolger. Maybe the shortness of his career is why he may not have been high on the list of preferred sires in his early years. I suppose it’s easy in hindsight to say this, but just look what he beat as a juvenile. Impressive. He perhaps should have been more popular.

Notably he beat Holy Roman Emperor twice – in the National Stakes and the Darley Dewhurst over seven furlongs. Interestingly, ninth in the latter race was Traffic Guard which ended up as a sire in South Africa – and again by pure chance and according to Racing Post data, he was a failure as a sire – except for one horse, now racing in Zimbabwe. How jammy is Centaur to get him? Bugatti Blue the seven-time winner, so far.

Teofilo also beat Eagle Mountain from the O’Brien yard which ran second to Authorised in the 2007 Epsom Derby and which went on to give Mike de Kock much glory, including the Hong Kong Cup in Sha Tin.

Amongst Teofilo’s current crop of young three-year-olds is a half-sister to Pinatubo (Sharmadal) who has been assigned to Charlie Appleby. But the standout offspring was bred by Jim Bolger and sold to Mark Johnston – a colt called Gear Up. This is a seriously good horse.

He ran four times as a two-year-old, winning three of them, notably the Group 3 Acomb Stakes over seven furlongs at York and then – impressively – the Group 1 Criterium de Saint Cloud over ten furlongs (2000m) in heavy going when ridden by James Doyle, beating a decent field.

Jim Bolger must have bought the mare, Gearanai, in America but she only raced in Ireland – and she really was rubbish! Six starts and no places over six, seven and eight furlongs. Did Jim chuck in the towel and cut his losses? Not a bit of it. He knew what he had and sent her to stud – covered five times by Teofilo and once by New Approach (another Galileo sire) – and bang, five winners, four of them over ground.

Bolger and Magnier (Coolmore) both have an amazing talent for spotting something special in a horse. I stand in awe of them – they know it all.

Gear Up is now entered for the 2021 Epsom Derby – and whilst he is not fancied in the early betting – and of course he may not run – this is just the sort of horse that could give the O’Brien juggernaut some cheek – and a first Derby winner for the north of England since Dante in 1945.

If anyone deserves to pick up this final trophy for his c.v., it’s Mark Johnston – a man who probably does know it all too!

HOOFNOTE 1

Now I have been elected a Steward for Mashonaland Turf Club, I recognise my responsibilities very clearly. I must do all in my power to ensure we can continue to race long into the future based on sound economic and commercial principles. I am also aware that supporters have views and opinions which need to be heard and considered by the Board. At the same time, I also want to continue to enjoy my days at Borrowdale Park. These objectives need to be reconciled.

Accordingly, when the COVID pandemic is passed and we can all get back to something that resembles normality, it is my intention to run “surgeries” at Borrowdale Park – as often as necessary, probably once a month to start with.

At these “surgeries” any interested party will be able to present their ideas, views, opinions, complaints, and solutions to me in person. I will then consider each matter and where found to be valid and reasonable, I will convey them to the Board of Stewards for its consideration – and if necessary, action.

I will also be inviting interested parties to email their thoughts to me too – for the same level of consideration.

None of us has a monopoly of ideas and I want the MTC to be an increasingly inclusive body – where we are all batting on the same side. We may not always agree with each other, but it is important that our motives, intentions and actions are based on the highest of principles and common purpose.

1st February 2021

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FAREWELL TO A HELLUVA FELLAPrince Khalid bin Abdullah

There have been a few legends who have shaped the world of horseracing in the last half century, John Magnier, Robert Sangster, Vincent O’Brien, Henry Cecil, Michael Stoute, Sheik Mohammed to mention a few, but right there in the highest echelon is Prince Khalid bin Abdullah,  the Saudi businessman who has just passed away aged 83 years.

I suppose anything is possible if you have a bottomless pit of cash but Khalid Abdullah could have blown fortunes if he hadn’t proved to be an astute student of the turf – and we are collectively thankful for his life and successes.

Racing pundits will already have reminded themselves of what this great and unassuming man achieved in his life but let me just mention a few of his legendary racehorses: Known Fact, Dancing Brave, Twice Over, Workforce, Frankel, and the best since Brigadier Gerard – the fabulous Enable. In fact, the list is almost endless and includes 500 stakes winners and 118 at Group 1 level.

Then there was his breeding empire, Juddmonte. An awesome contribution.

The question for me is, will his family show equal interest or was Prince Khalid a one off, I suspect he was.

 THE BIG PICTURE

When I researched last week’s column, I was rather surprised at the scale of what I found – that the vast majority of sponsored races are over distance greater than 1,800m (9 furlongs). My conclusion was that we as a turf club should now look to engineer our racing programme, over time, to reinvigorate existing sponsors and provide a sound platform for recruiting others by biasing that programme to distance races.

In line with that, I am convinced that ZimFun must do its bit. Accordingly I have questioned our plans to race horses across a variety of distances from 1000m upwards. I feel we must do our bit to make sure races over ground have the best chance of filling – ZimFun will be trying to play its part in the coming years.

THE EPSOM DERBY

And finally…  I found myself looking at the entries for this years’ Epsom Derby – the greatest race on the planet – except maybe for last year…. Serpentine? I don’t think so.

There at the top of the list of 375 entries as favourite for the race is High Definition. Well, well, it’s from the Aiden O’Brien yard, owned by the usual suspects and is by Galileo, out of the modest two- time winner Palace (by Fastnet Rock) – you can back it now at 7 to 1.

Second favourite (16/1) in the early betting is the same combination but this time the horse is called Wembley – Galileo out of the Holy Roman Emperor mare, Inca Princess.

Third favourite at 20 to 1 comes from the John Gosden yard. This one looks the business to me. Uncle Bryn is by Sea the Stars out of the Singspiel mare Wall of Sound – very nice breeding and should easily see out the 2400m.  

5th June is not so far away! Let’s hope COVID is history by then.

16 January 2021  

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THE BIG PICTURE

I am 100% certain that there is not a single racing community anywhere in the world where the total value of purses exceeds the cost of buying the race horses of that location and then having them trained. I am guessing, but I suspect Zim’s horse population of about 150 thoroughbreds might have cost no more than around $300,000 or say $75,000 per annum in investment terms. Keeping them in training probably costs a further $750,000 per annum.

Current purses probably total $250,000. 

If we succeed in increasing the horse population to over 200, then the maths look commensurately worse – but such a mission has already been established as vital to the long term future of Zim racing.

Apart from concluding that participants must love their sport a great deal, what else is clear? Well, we sorely need sponsors and lots of them with plenty of cash to enhance the viability of horse ownership. We also need bigger basic purses. That is a function of horse numbers per race and the consequential increased amount of funds derived from punters losses – but for now let me concentrate on sponsorship issues.

Of course, we can blame Covid for the virtual lack of scale sponsors right now but the haemorrhaging of such support has been going on for some time – in line with many factors and not really anybody’s fault but we need to reverse the trend – it’s another key brick in the wall of rebuilding the prosperity of Zimbabwe racing.

In order to address the issue properly – for post Covid times – we need to understand the needs of any racing sponsor. To do that, all we need to do is to see what sort of races attract the biggest type of sponsorship around the world and why.

Leaving aside the toy track racing we see in such places as America, who are the big sponsors and what are they sponsoring?

Let’s list a few – and their details, and in no particular order:

World

The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe                       2,400m                        Euro 3,000,000

Sponsor: QATAR        

The Epsom Derby                                           2,400m                        £1,900,000                                                              

Sponsor: Investec

The Melbourne Cup                                       3,200m                        Au$8,000,000

Sponsor: Lexus

The Everest                                                     1,200m                        Au$15,000,000

Sponsor: Tote Agency Board                      

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes  2,400m                        £227,000

Sponsor: QIPCO

2000 Guineas                                                 2,000m                        £523,750

Sponsor: QIPCO

1000 Guineas                                                 1,600m                        £500,000

Sponsor: QUIPCO

The Oaks                                                         2,400m                        £250,000

Sponsor: Investec

Kings Stand                                                     1,000m                        £148,000

Sponsor: QUIPCO

The Eclipse Stakes                                          2,000m                        £250,000

Sponsor: Coral

Champion Stakes Ascot                                  2,000m                        £750,000

Sponsor: QIPCO

St Leger                                                           2,900m                        £700,000

Sponsor: William Hill

Irish Derby                                                      2,400m                        Euro 690,000

Sponsor: Dubai Duty Free

Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby)                2,100m                        Euro 900,000

Sponsor: QIPCO

Prix de Diane (French Oaks)                           2,100m                        Euro 600,000

Sponsor: Longines

Dubai World Cup                                            2,000m                        US$12,000,000

Sponsor: Emirates

The Sun Met                                                   2,000m                        R5,000,000

Sponsor: Sun International

Durban July                                                     2,200m                        £148,898

Sponsor: Vodacom

Queen’s Plate                                                   1,600m                        R1,500,000

Sponsor: L’Ormarins

Summer Cup                                                   2,000m                        R1,000,000

Sponsor: World Sport Betting

Zimbabwe

The Tankard                                                   2,000m                        suspended

Sponsor: Delta                                                                        US$50,000

OK Grand Challenge                                       1,800m                        suspended

Sponsor: OK

Ipi Tombe                                                        1,600m                        ————–

Sponsor: none

Zimbabwe Derby                                            2,400m                        ————–

Sponsor: none

Zimbabwe Oaks                                              2,000m                        ————–

Sponsor: none

Gold Cup                                                         1,200m                        US$3,000

            Sponsor: National Foods

That is an impressive list of races, sponsors and purses – but more so than anything it tells an important story as far as sponsors are concerned. Have you spotted it?

Yes, the reality is that sponsors want the biggest possible bang for their bucks – the biggest possible spectacle.

It is very clear that sponsors favour distance races over sprints – by a long, long way. Indeed if you list the top hundred Group 1s in the world (source: HKJC), on all surfaces, there are only 10 sprints – 1,000m to 1,200m. In fact there is only one sprint in the top twenty.

And so it is here in Zimbabwe – sponsors favour distance races – with the exception of the Gold Cup.

I would also suggest that punters and racegoers prefer to watch races over a bit of ground – such races heighten the tension and pleasure of watching, they last longer, more of each race can be seen and some may even be started in front of the stands thus providing extra spectacle – and distance races delay the onset of disappointment when you find you have backed the wrong one!

A key tenet to recognise is that horse racing is a spectator spectacle where betting can take place, NOT a gambling event where spectators might attend or watch on TV.

If we are to restore suspended sponsorship and attract new sponsors we need to recognise what the sponsorship market really demands and then we must provide it. But it’s more than that, we can programme as many distance races as you like for sponsors to back but they will need to be confident and assured that those races will fill – and not just with South African raiders. They need spectacle and for that we need fields of up to 20 runners. For that to happen, our horse population will need to be significantly different to the one we have now. Not only will it have to be very much bigger,  that is obvious, but it will have to be full of horses that can get the required distances – concentrated around 2,000m runners.

For this to happen our racing programme will have to change significantly. We need our owners, over time, to populate their strings with the requisite type of stock. Let me illustrate what I mean.

If we just confine our analysis to the January 2021 programme, we find there are 22 races, of these 10 are sprint races (900 to 1,260m), 10 are middle distance races (1,500m to 1,700m), there is one race over 1,800m, one over 2,000m and none beyond.

In my view this is completely misskewed and exactly the opposite of what it should be. My guess is that the programme is made to match the horse population we have, not the one we should be striving for.

How do we encourage owners to pursue the path of righteousness? Well, I suggest it’s obvious – they, we and I will always follow the money! Over a period of time we make the rewards to 2,000m type horses (or say 1,800m to 2,400m) better than those for all other distances. It can’t be done overnight but it’s not like we have breeding industry steeped in turning out sprinters that we need to be sensitive to – it doesn’t exist anymore. In the main, we buy horses from South Africa and thus we can easily tweak our preferences to the reward packages on offer.

Frankly we don’t have much choice – if we are serious about the journey we are on as a racing community and the goals we hope to achieve in the next three to five years – the big picture of required action is pretty much a no brainer.  

11 January 2021                

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THE BEST BETTING OPTION – HORSERACING

The advent of the internet and algorithms has spawned a massive gambling industry – way beyond anything which might have been conceived a hundred years ago.

Back then betting would be confined to cock fights, horse racing and cards. Today you can have a punt on anything, who will score the next goal in a football match, who will win an election, who will win some competition or what Meghan’s next baby might be called.

The common thread in all these gambling options is that basically there is no “form” to go on – decisions are made purely by a “feeling in the punter’s waters” – in other words, absolute rubbish. And yet such gambling options have swept away billions of dollars’ worth of interest in horse racing where, with a bit of thought the punter actually has a chance to make a profit.

It’s a remarkable story of success and failure. The success is how the marketeers have attracted the brain dead into punting on completely random events and the failure is how the racing authorities have failed to use the massive influence of modern media to sell the idea that gambling on horses goes beyond a game of chance.

But it’s more than that, much more. Horse racing is a huge spectacle with processes, procedures, personalities and several climaxes at each meeting – way superior to any other gambling opportunity, at least in my mind. This massive resource has been inadequately exploited for years – indeed I think the whole thing has just been taken far too much for granted by those involved.

Horses are the most beautiful and majestic animals on the planet – way ahead of dogs, cats and elephants!

Therein lies the opportunity. The opportunity to market horse racing anew, and in doing so seek to take a share of the punter’s losses which in turn can serve to promote further the long term viability of racing.

The re-invigoration process needs to be carefully crafted and implemented – around the world and also at Borrowdale Park. It’s a very big subject and not one which can be covered in a column such as this but I would like to give an example of an element which is basically low hanging fruit, at least in Zim – something we can do tomorrow and at no cost.

In order to retain the interest of existing punters and to attract the attention of new gamblers we need to focus our mind on the issue of “form”.

To me, it is a horse’s form and the ease with which it is possible to interpret that form which separates and elevates gambling on horse racing to way above that of any other form of gambling.

Horse racing authorities need to recognise this issue as a key element of their marketing strategy, and do everything possible to underpin its primacy in their product offer.

Of course we all know that a horse’s form and performances vary in accordance with a wide range of factors, and that such variances tend to be magnified in the lower echelons of merit rating. However, we still need to do all we can to minimise the causes of such variances and eliminate any factor which arbitrarily may influence them.

The Merit Rating or Handicapping system has at its core the idea that weight is a great leveller – in other words, if all horses are properly handicapped they will all cross the finishing line as one. Of course this rarely happens and therein lies another column! (Admiral Henry Rous circa 1860!)

But the factors which influence results include, amongst other things, course, weight, draw, jockey, trainer, the trajectory of a horse’s development, the going and the distance travelled.

Whilst far from an exact science, the art of reading form and picking a winner does exist. It’s all about algorithms – it really is.  We know lots of things, rules of thumb to guide us. We know that half a kilo means a length or in my algorithm, 0.12 secs. I reckon its 8 lengths per second though some argue it’s more like 5 or 6 (this varies with distance raced). So 3 to 4kg can slow a horse down by a second. We know what a good time is for a 5 furlong race – that’s 1000m and we have the same information for the other distances to 2400 metres. And we know that past race times are more important pointers for races up to a mile or 1600m – less so for longer races. Indeed, anyone who can do maths can create their own algorithms – it’s not rocket science.

We can then apply this information to our personal algorithms in our search for a winner – but there is one thing we can do without – something which totally confounds any semblance of form or consistent appraisal and as such acts as a gambling deterrent. It is a multiplicity of random race distances, especially where the horse population is low, such as in Zimbabwe.

In this country we have the following distances: 800m; 900m; 1000m; 1100m; 1200m; 1260m, 1450m 1500m; 1600m, 1700m; 1800m, 1900m; 2000m, 2200m; 2400m and 2700m – a total of 16 race distances. This is ludicrous and highly confusing for any punter, let alone the big players. It smacks of us trying to create distances to suit horses – which is total rubbish. We need to rationalise these dramatically, allow the balancing to be effected by the handicapper and give our punters a break.

For me, this is the format we should be sticking to:

800m        (4 furlongs and unique to Zim) for 2-year-old maidens only

1000m     (5 furlongs)

1200m     (6 furlongs)

1450m – if we really have to and are unable to engineer a suitable 1,400m start

1600m     (a mile)

1800m     (9 furlongs)

1900m     (only for the Republic Cup)

2000m     (10 furlongs)

2400m     (12 furlongs – the Derby Distance)

2700m (for starts right in front of the stands)

In total that is just 10 distances – more than enough for Borrowdale Park.

Then, point number two, somehow we need a pundits TV session before each race meeting – a half hour tipping session during which we quietly provide viewers with something of a tutorial on how to read form. We have an opportunity to do more between races – especially since Clocking the Gallop has time and space for us.

This aspect of educating the punter is vital if we are to lift our sport to where it should be, that is, head and shoulders above the brain dead gambling options we must compete with.

HOOFNOTE 1

Whilst it might not seem like a big deal, the question of race timing is critical to the formulation of form algorithms. We must make sure we take this aspect of racing seriously.

HOOFNOTE 2

Just as getting the times of races right, it is equally important to get the location of the starting stalls right – a metre or two either side of the published distance can clearly effect race times and thus the validity of our algorithms.  

HOOFNOTE 3

On a completely different subject – I would like to pay tribute to a great Zimbabwean exile – trainer Mike Clements. He became Singapore’s champion trainer for 2020. Very well done Mike – we are very proud of you.  

HOOFNOTE 4

And it’s well done all round for those who ensured racing could continue “behind closed doors” on Sunday. We all support the government’s efforts to control the spread of COVID – so it makes sense to limit the opportunities for cross infection. Whilst owners, punters and racegoers miss the excitement of race day, the SRC are right to impose the people ban and right to allow racing to continue in this rather surreal fashion. The reality is that “racing behind closed doors” is no different to a normal day of conditioning livestock – horses need to be fed, groomed, exercised, vetted and shod every day – and all this happens at Borrowdale Park anyway. By being pragmatic the SRC can protect the public and sustain the viability of an industry and all the jobs involved. It’s good to see common sense prevail.

4 January 2021 Photograph ex Pixabay

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HOPES AND DREAMS

Last week I focussed my attention on what we had managed to achieve in 2020 – and whilst the challenges have been severe, I was able to point to some laudable successes. This week I thought I would draw up a wish list of what we might like to achieve in 2021 – more random musings but ideas which have merit in their own way.

1. See the back of COVID and all its variants. In this regard, I believe our long- term salvation is very much in the hands of others – the scientists who have brought the world a range of effective vaccines, sure, but for Zimbabwe we need to be able to get our hands on a supply. With the rest of the world having the same ambitions, the scramble for supplies will be hectic and those with the deepest pockets or most political influence will come out top. I suspect we might be some way down the pecking order and so my hope that we can begin to see the end of COVID by Easter might be more of a dream than a reality – but lets us hope I am wrong. Until then, let us all do what we can to stay safe – and we all know by now what those measures are.

2. With the end of COVID, the health of our racing industry should improve dramatically. I hope the sponsors return in even greater numbers than before and we can see the renewal of such great races such as the Tankard, OK Grand Challlenge and the Republic Cup. I really hope progress can be made in time for us to find sponsors for the Triple Crown – or at least the Zimbabwe Derby. The latter is such an important race and has been without a sponsor for some years.  I hope we can find one.

3. One area which is an essential if the long-term viability of racing is to be secured is the minimum Zim horse population. Whilst I believe the worst is now past us, I feel our horse numbers are still way below the required critical mass. We need more horses to create bigger fields and prompt a more attractive betting proposition. We also need more horses to avoid us seeing the same horses racing against each other at most race meetings. Achieving such an outcome is not easy but there are some options we need to consider. Firstly, we need to attract many more owners and to do so we need to focus our attention on a broader target audience. Our friends in the Far East, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China are fanatical about horse racing and gambling – why do we not see the same level of interest from our local colleagues? We need to find a way of attracting them to Borrowdale Park.

Secondly, I wonder, if, and when, the MTC resolves it financial challenges – which I believe we are well on the way to achieving – whether it should take up the role of “rebooting” the horse population. Should the MTC go out and buy 20 or 30 horses and race them in Club Colours – why not? I like this idea a lot.

Thirdly, what might we do to reinvigorate the interest of South African owners to send some of their horses here. It happens now with Newbury Racing and with Colin Bird. Why don’t we push this option harder? Training costs in Zimbabwe are about half what they are in South Africa and because of the aforementioned horse population issue, the chances of winning a purse are much higher than in SA.

4. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the Embassies involved in sponsoring a whole race meeting? The Independence Day meeting might suit – a day which was celebrated by the international community some forty years ago – let’s see if they could be persuaded to celebrate with us again – but at Borrowdale Park

5. We need a sponsor to help us re open the Jockey Academy – not sure of the cost – but a very worthy cause.

6. Sadly I am unable to see any semblance of a return of the horse breeding industry in Zimbabwe as it used to be. The foundation of this industry is well gone. But I wonder if there might be a place for a National Stud.  A place where one or more high quality stallions might be sourced to stand in Zimbabwe – to cover our better fillies as they retire from racing, and bloodlines which might be good enough to attract a few mares from South Africa. I am aware of the dire straits of the industry south of the border but so what? Their problems could enable us to secure some inexpensive mares too. The key to this hope has to be an international benefactor, because whilst Zimbabwe has a fair few wealthy individuals, these people have not demonstrated a love for racing and breeding – we need to look elsewhere.

7. Penultimately, my great hope! That on the third-floor balcony, just along from the Park View Club, we are able to establish a  “pop up” fine dining restaurant – bookings only.  That would be a first for Zimbabwe… no such restaurant exists in the whole country. There is a huge gap in the market for such an eatery and I would like to see it at Borrowdale Park

8. Finally, on a bit of a personal note – I would like ZimFun to be able to sell another couple of hundred shares thus allowing this novel racing club to add a few more horses to its small string.

Readers, this is your chance to make a difference. Send an email to spencer@virtrust.com – at US$100 per share or just $2 per week, I am not asking much of you.

In closing, may I once again wish you all a very healthy and prosperous 2021 – and plead with you to get your hand in your pocket or purse for that loose change – a $100 note!

28 December 2020

Photograph by Zimbabwe Equine News

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2020 – ACHIEVEMENTS

As we hurtle enthusiastically to the end of 2020, I guess we are all thinking what a year it has been – and how little has been achieved.

To all intents and purposes 2020 was the year of World War III.  Collectively, for the first time maybe, all of mankind were on the same side – the common enemy being an invisible virus which may, in the end, bring about the premature deaths of more than two million people. Sadly, the bulk of those casualties will have been the old and infirm – the gogos and sekurus of the many who loved them.

But mankind is resourceful – amazingly so – and the war was waged with bravery and brains on all fronts. The front-line troops were the millions of doctors, nurses and health professionals around the world who risked their lives to protect the lives of others – exactly what all soldiers must do for people they would never know.

In taking their risks, many lost their own lives and for their sacrifices we will be indebted forever. Fortunately, most of these troops will come home safe – scarred, battered, bruised and tired – yes, they will all be safe soon.

The brains of the world have, in double quick time, engineered a series of weapons which now seem likely to bring an end to the conflagration and a return to something akin to normality. Effective vaccines approved within 12 months goes to show what can be achieved. It is also a warning that our great leaders should take note of – if history is not to repeat itself.

The origin of the virus is fairly well-known, and husbandry practices in that country need to be rectified. For the rest of the world, we need to invest more enthusiastically in the sort of research which can lead to the fast-track production of vaccines for when the next pandemic happens – because, for sure, it will happen again. 

Quite when those weapons will find their way to the battlefields of Zimbabwe is hard to guess but let us hope that by the end of April 2021, enough progress will have been made to enable us all to get our lives back – and we can see the return of the big sponsors at Borrowdale Park.

But before we close the door on 2020 and bury deep in the annals of history let’s just ponder what else has been achieved in the year. For me – and whilst not wishing to tempt fate – I think it is to the vast credit to Zimbabweans, as a whole, that the Covid pandemic has not spread out of control across this country. Maybe we had a few advantages like altitude, latitude, heat, and UV levels – but I think Zimbabweans are not twits – very early on they collectively realised that should the pandemic really take hold, no material help would be forthcoming.  Our nation just does not have that scale of resources.

So, as ever, Zimbos made a plan, observed the rules, covered their faces, sanitised a lot and enjoyed the sun and UV levels.

There may even be something in the argument that BCG jabs at birth supercharged the Zimbo immunity levels. Who knows?

But well done Zimbabwe – a great achievement in a shitty year – less than 500 deaths.

It is also an amazing achievement that we have seen Borrowdale Park and horse racing survive two major challenges – Covid and severe economic pressure – including the suspension of all sponsorship. Not only has racing survived all this nonsense – the Board of Stewards have successfully stopped the financial haemorrhaging and pointed the club towards long-term economic viability through re-purposing the assets and sweating them wherever possible.

In the months and years ahead, you will see an increasing number of trading entities emerge around the stands – both front and back. These achievements will serve to underpin revenue streams which will cover operating costs at Borrowdale Park. Other plans, yet to be revealed, will take us back into positive revenue stream territory – and all that implies.

That we have been able to secure “financial underwriters” for Borrowdale from benefactors is a big achievement and our collective gratitude is extended to them – they know who they are… well done.

ZIMFUN

Whilst we are not out of the woods yet and much structural reform and improvement is required, there are some early signs of important change. In a very modest way, the emergence of ZimFun Racing Club Ltd. has triggered widespread local and international interest in Borrowdale – plus two new racehorses, so far, with more on the way as the club gathers traction and momentum.

As much as anything ZimFun has the potential of bringing back racegoers in significant numbers – those who give racing an important atmosphere – something which has been sorely missing for some time. It is just a matter of time now.

There are two new trainers – well one of which is a returning star, she knows who she is – bringing more horses into our population.  That is a good sign and a positive development.

Another great achievement is the continued quality of the course.  As mentioned in my last column, Gyles Dorward is doing a truly excellent job for our world-class racecourse.

In order to keep racing going through those very difficult early months, we must thank the band of local jockeys – whilst not all will go on to become Smanga Khumalos… there is quality there and the lads have had an excellent opportunity to polish and display their skills. That is some achievement -well done.

The fortitude of Zimbabweans has not gone unnoticed south of the border – who have problems of their own. If I was to choose which problems I would prefer to have, I would choose Zimbo problems first… way ahead of RSA. I wonder how many of our former friends and colleagues would really like to come home? I think plenty.

Normally, I steer clear of anything vaguely political in my columns, but I am going to break my own rule just for once. Who would have thought that in all the world economic turmoil foisted on us all by Covid, and the long history of local economic difficulty, that Zimbabwe’s currency could possibly have stablised? Not me for one. Yet for several months now the Zim dollar has traded at about 82 to the US$. I have no idea how it has happened, or if it will last, but I sense Zimbabwe may at last have turned some sort of corner.  Not that the known problems will go away, they won’t – but a stable currency is the foundation of so many things. This could prove to be a very important national achievement – well done Zimbabwe.

So, there you have it – bucket loads of crap heaped on us all for much of the year – but, despite the challenges, Zimbabwe and its racing community have achieved much. Give yourselves a hearty round of applause, well done. 

It remains only for me to wish readers are Very Happy Christmas and a Covid Free 2021, from next Easter!.

And thank you sincerely for reading my random musings – you are very much appreciated.

23 December 2020

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TRICKY BUSINESS

Who would have thought it? Just nine months ago the concept of the ZimFun Racing Club was conceived, and amazing racing colours applied for – and approved. Strong local and international support flowed in and three months ago ZimFun bought its first horse – Tricky Business – and sent it to Kirk and Debbie Swanson for training.

First time out he ran a short head second, second time out he was third, but on Friday 11 December 2020,  ZimFun won its first race – a Maiden Plate run over 1700 metres with champion jockey, Norbert Takawira, on board.

Noise and spirits in the Park View at Borrowdale were high, very high – and subsequent celebrations continued late into the night – and in one case, the wee hours of the following morning! Des Allison and Anna Androulakis made the journey from Bulawayo to witness the event – praying all the way up that the rain would hold off long enough to allow racing – clearly, they are well connected because the day was glorious – and Borrowdale looked at its very best in the sunshine.

Kirk and Debbie have done wonders with Tricky and he looks so much better than when he first arrived. His prospects for the months ahead, over a bit more ground, look very promising and if his performances improve, he will become more than just a one-time winner. ZimFunners have the Tankard in their sights.

And now there is even more to look forward to. ZimFun has just taken delivery of its second horse, Karoo Winter, a three-year-old filly by upcoming stallion, Futura, out of Western Winter mare, Arabian Winter. ZimFun are to rely on Thomas Mason to prepare KW for next year’s big races – notably the Triple Crown and Triple Tiara.

They don’t prat about at ZimFun – they just get on with it.

Given the tangible record of success for ZimFun there can be no better time to get involved – just US$100 for a share – or $2 per week – and no further costs for a year. Peanuts. And what a great Christmas present for you to give away to friends and family – you also get a collectors’ item – a unique ZimFun Share Certificate.

FIRST WIN FOR TRICKY BUSINESS

 ZimFun needs to sell another FIFTY shares to enable it to buy its third horse – this time for Bridgie Stidolph.

When you buy a share in ZimFun you get a share in every racehorse.

Please email your pledge to spencer@virtrust.com or to cjohnsmith1@aol.com

16 December 2020

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ONE OF THE BEST

Maybe we just take it for granted and maybe don’t think about it very much – but every now and then I think we should. Should what? We should think how lucky we are to have one of the finest racecourses in the world.

The people who agreed to swop the original Belvedere site for the one in Borrowdale must have been true visionaries.

Some sixty odd years ago the City Fathers decided they needed the Belvedere racecourse land for its own purposes and persuaded the MTC Stewards of the day to do a deal which saw the club move to its present site on the Borrowdale Road, with stands and facilities built by the City in part lieu of payment for the site it wanted.

It’s a bit more complicated than that but that will do for this column.

Just about everything about Borrowdale Park racecourse is perfect. The land itself is free draining and fairly flat which is so important – especially now when the heavens can open and deposit a deluge in a short space of time. The straight doesn’t quite run south to north but it is not far off and this means the stands run pretty much parallel to the west of the course.

Why is this important? Well, the stands are always in the shade on race day. Of course, in June and July it means it is a bit chilly – especially on the third floor but it is perfect for the rest of the year.

And the course is big – a proper racecourse of turf. Not one of these toy courses such as you find in America and the Middle East which are pathetically small (1600 metre circumference), tight and of dirt – complete rubbish. Borrowdale Park is about 2700 metres in circumference with a finishing straight (a stretch is something you do in the morning when you get up and has nothing to do with a racecourse) of about 600 metres which gives every horse an opportunity to put in a burst of speed whilst running in a straight line, thus avoiding all the hard luck stories about not having an adequate chance to perform.

Originally there was a 1400 metre straight – something rarely found at any racecourse. For commercial reasons, 200 metres at the start were sold some years ago to help support the club’s finances. In a way it was a bit of a shame, but sometimes commercial decisions are tough to make and given that there were few 1400 metre races, and that substitute races could start on the oval course, it was probably the right decision.

Today our longest sprint race is 1260 metres. As a purest I think that is a daft distance – 1200 should be the norm.

The stands and viewing aprons are vast. Back in the day, big race meetings could see crowds in excess of 30,000 – fantastic atmosphere and noise. Today such numbers are restricted to the Tankard and the OK – which is a shame but that is how it is.

The current Stewards are doing the right thing in repurposing the whole site to include racing and property rentals. Whilst we are not quite self-sufficient as a business, we are getting there fast, and the financial haemorrhaging has been largely stemmed.

The parade ring is a proper size where plenty of horses and their connections can be accommodated. There are two amazing Ficus trees in the middle which afford tremendous shade and visual impact – all thanks to the late, great trainer, Dubbles Draper, who planted them sixty years ago.

As part of the repurposing of the club, the Owners and Trainers facilities have been transformed into a Club Lounge – The Park View – which will be used by others than MTC and MOTA members during the week. The transformation was completed by the talented Bev Jack and when full – especially when ZimFun has runners! – the atmosphere is very good and very reminiscent of days of yore. It is important to sweat all the MTC assets and the Park View concept intends to do just that.


Food – mmmmm best I say nothing. But I have an idea!


Now back to the course. Whilst I have been racing at Borrowdale for many years, I have to say that I don’t think I have ever seen it in better condition. The reason for this is simple. We have a proper farmer in charge of the track.


Gyles Dorward needs special thanks for the work he has done since taking on the mantle. This unassuming and intelligent man has ensured that the course is amongst the best maintained in the world. To repeat, he is a proper farmer and we are lucky to have him.

For me, I think Borrowdale Park is a world-class racecourse with vast latent potential. It might not be an Ascot, Newmarket, York, Epsom, Chantilly or Longchamp – but it’s not far behind. What it really needs now are many more horses, owners, trainers, punters, and racegoers.

In today’s world of internet sport, efforts to reposition horse racing to the top of the rankings is not easy – but Zimbabweans are used to a bit of a challenge and so I have every confidence we are on the right track – in all senses of the word.

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ZIMFUN PUSHES ON

For those who fancy dipping their toes into the world of horse racing – they can now do so very easily and for as little as $100 – and that is for a full years involvement – no other charges for 12 months. There is even better news, ZimFun has just bought its second horse and she is on her way up from the Cape right now.

Karoo Winter (above) was bought on an online auction last week for R40,000. She is a three-year-old filly by the emerging sire, Futura, out of the Western Winter mare, Arabian Winter. With a handy index of 80 she remains a maiden with seven runs for two thirds and two fourths – ZimFun hopes to change that status very soon!

It would seem KW will get a mile and more so, if you fancy having a share in a horse that will have a pop at the Triple Tiara, then now is your chance. The Triple Tiara is the Triple Crown for three-year-old fillies – run over 1600, 2000 and 2400 metres – and this year there are quite a few smart horses in the frame – notably True Beauty and Dindingwe – but ZimFun are still very optimistic about their chances of success.

The Club’s policy is to keep buying horses for as long as the sale of shares allows and to give each trainer a horse in turn. This time it’s the turn of Thomas Mason whose boyish good looks belie his real age and his skill set as a seriously good trainer.

                                                                                                                                                  The Club’s other horse is Tricky Business and he is out this Friday (weather permitting) running in a Maiden over 1700 metres.

If you want to see your potential investment in action, that’s the place to be – and to see his racing colours, now, they are very special and distinctive – and meet some of the ZimFunners. There are nearly 70 shareholders so far – locally and from around the world. Some have bought one share – which is fine – others have bought more – indeed one real enthusiast has 20 shares so far and has offered to buy a further 10. With regard to shareholding and control – you should know – it’s one shareholder one vote – so there can be no cliques in ZimFun – that would not be FUN

So, if you fancy a dabble in something which is now fully up and running – make contact as follows: spencermurray@virtrust.com or cjohnsmith1@aol.com

And make a pledge for how many shares you wish to buy and hand over the requisite sum to either of these people at the races or at their offices – 7 Normandy Road, Alex Park, Harare.  Go on, you know you want to – what’s a hundred bucks? Answer… $2 per week!

Thomas Mason

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THE TIN MAN – AND NELLIE

Last week I provided a summary of the Tin Man’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune as probably the most talented jockey the world has ever seen.

But behind the curtain of great success, fame and fortune, there was a tortured soul – a man who had to wrestle daily with his body – but one who had found love, comfort and immense happiness in his wife Nellie, the niece of his trainer Mat Dawson.

She died in his arms on 7th November 1884 – following the birth of their daughter, also Nellie. Fred’s wife had eclampsia.

Following her death, Fred continued his career as a top jockey but he became more morose and withdrawn by the day, his heart was broken. 

Because of his height (5 ft 10in/1.78 m) Fred Archer had to diet far more than other jockeys. His racing weight was 8st 10lbs in later years, and to keep to it he used Turkish baths, abstained almost totally from solid food, and used alkaline medicines to purge. A Newmarket doctor, J R Wright, created a special purgative which became known as “Archer’s Mixture”, which he drank by the sherry glass.

His diet consisted of half an orange, a sardine and a nip of champagne; or castor oil, a biscuit and a small champagne at midday. Once he left the dining room on catching sight of a steak and kidney pie. He was a poor walker, and could hardly run, which reduced his ability to lose weight through exercise.

In October 1886, he had to lose 6lbs over two days, for his first, and ultimately, only ride in Ireland – Cambusmore for Lord Londonderry in the Lieutenant’s Plate at The Curragh, a race he won easily.

On his return, he wasted down to 8st 7lb for the Cambridgeshire by going three days without food. This was still 1lb overweight and cost him the race on St Mirin, as he was beaten by a head. The afternoon was very cold, and he fell seriously ill.

 He still undertook engagements at Brighton and on the first day at Lewes, on the Thursday… but here he is reported to have “taken a chill” which “developed into fever of a typhoid character”, forcing him to return home. He was declared ill on the Saturday, and by Sunday he was in a state of high fever.

The next day, Monday 8 November 1886, Archer was at his residence, Falmouth House, Newmarket, under medical supervision. At about 2.25pm his sister, Mrs. Colman, visited him in his room and he asked her to send the nurse away. Colman was looking out of the window when Archer got out of bed. She then heard him say “Are they coming?” and saw he had the gun in his hand.

She sprang towards him, and while she was struggling with him, he put the gun in his mouth and fired the revolver. He died bleeding in her arms, the bullet having passed out of the back of his neck. The doctor was on the scene very quickly and pronounced him dead.

The verdict of the jury at the inquest was: “That the deceased committed suicide whilst in a state of unsound mind”. His death at the age of 29 occurred on 8 November 1886; his wife had died on 7 November, two years earlier. 

The death of his wife was a factor. He was also £30,000 in debt on his betting, exacerbated by having heavily backed St Mirin. He had reportedly not been his “old self” for the past year.

The gun had been bought because Falmouth House was in an exposed location and he had had trouble with housebreakers.

He was buried in Newmarket cemetery on 12 November. Wreaths were sent by the Duke of Westminster and the Prince of Wales. His burial plot can be found there to the right of the chapel.

He left a fortune of £66,662 (equal to about £7.3 million today) to his only daughter, the inheritance being looked after by trustees during her minority. At one time, he was rumoured to be worth £250,000. Some of his effects are now on display at the National Horseracing Museum, including the gun with which he shot himself.

The Newmarket museum is well worth a visit – after COVID has become history – you would not be disappointed at any level if you are a racing fan. Indeed I have often thought a museum would be a great addition to Borrowdale Park. We might not have had a Fred Archer but we have had some good ‘uns and some great characters and horses.

News of Archer’s death reached far beyond racing. In London, special editions of the evening newspapers were issued, with crowds queuing in Fleet Street to buy them, and omnibuses stopped to allow commuters to read the billboards. The adoration the public showed for him was close to that shown for Diana, Princess of Wales, over a century later.

He was survived by his second child, Nellie, who was brought up by her grandparents in the Newmarket area. She married shipping magnate, Max Tosetti in 1911.

Now tell me Fred Archer’s Life and Times would not make a dramatic movie – the question is, who could play the part? Suggestions on a post card please – and don’t suggest Quinton Riddle!

Acknowledgement to Wikipedia 

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THE TIN MAN – THE RISE TO GREATNESS

If ever there was a rich vein of material for a movie, it has to be the life and times of Fred Archer – the Tin Man – maybe the greatest jockey of all times, including Lester Piggott.  Indeed, even Lester – the Long Fellow.

Whilst researching my article on jockey weights recently I became re-acquainted with this amazing story and thought you might find it interesting too.

Fred Archer was a Victorian racing legend of giant proportions. He was born on 11th January 1857 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, to a racing family – his father (William) and brothers were jockeys, and his mother came from a family of publicans – where many a betting coup was plotted!

Father William was an interesting man in himself having taken a stud of English horses to Russia in 1842, and ridden Little Charlie to win the Grand National in 1858. On retirement he became landlord of the King Arms pub in Prestbury – but let’s leave this story to a future column.

Fred started riding at a young age and by the age of eight was riding in pony and donkey races – losing his first match on a pony, against a donkey! His father was not impressed.

At around the age of ten, he was apprenticed to Mat Dawson at Heath House in Newmarket (current home of Mark Prescott). He weighed in at 4 stone 11 pounds or, in our money, just over 30 kg. In due course he became the stable jockey (1874) and remained there until 1886.

Although Fred was subject to quite a bit of bullying in his early years at Heath House, the Dawsons – without a family of their own – took him in as something of a surrogate child and his life changed dramatically – indeed Mat treated him very much as a son – but with all the discipline and rules to be found in any Victorian family life. Mrs Dawson was a great cook and was largely to blame for Fred’s growth – to 5 foot 10 inches – and to his life-long battle with the scales. He arrived at the stable as an illiterate but even that changed, thanks to the night school run by Mrs Dawson.

In 1883 Fred married the Dawson’s niece Helen – he loved her totally – but more of that later.

At Heath House, Archer came under the tutelage of Jockey Swift and leading stable jockey, Tom French, who quickly helped him reveal his innate skill and empathy for the horses he rode, as will be seen. Despite the close relationship between trainer and jockey, stable discipline was strictly maintained with, for example, he and other appies and jocks standing to attention for any visitors to the yard – something sorely missed nowadays!

Such was the appie’s reputation in the yard and around the racecourses, Fred quickly secured some riding opportunities – at the tender age of 12. His first win under Rules (1870) was in a two-year-old nursery handicap at Chesterfield on a horse called Atholl Daisy. He was 13 years old and finished that season with two winners.   

Archer began to hit the big time in 1872 winning the Cesarewitch on Salvanos with the “coolness and steadiness of a veteran”.

A year later, with Tom French being sick with TB, he picked up many more rides and recorded 107 winners which put him second in the championship to Harry Constable. Tom French died later that year.

In 1874, Archer recorded his first Classic win when Atlantic won the 2000 Guineas which catapulted him to stardom and onto the radar of Lord Falmouth. The latter put him on a retainer of £100 per annum and in the ensuing decade provided mounts which gave Archer more than half his 21 Classic successes. He rode 147 winners in 1874 (from 503 rides) to take the jockey championship – which he retained, uninterrupted, for the next thirteen years. By now he was 17 years old and riding at 6 stone – 38kg.

In 1877, he won his first Derby on Lord Falmouth’s Silvio. He won it again in 1880 on Bend Or with an “extraordinary rush” to beat Robert The Devil by a head. He took the inside of the turn at Tattenham Corner, along the rails, with a “nerve of iron”.

By the end of the 1870’s he was struggling to make 8 stone 7 pounds or 54kg.

In 1884 he won 241 races from 377 rides – a strike rate of 64% – no wonder he was a jockey superstar.

His most successful year was 1885, when he won the 2000 Guineas on Paradox, The Oaks on Lonely, the Derby and St Leger on Melton, and the Grand Prix, also on Paradox. He rode 246 winners in that year – a record that remained unbroken until 1932 when Gordon Richards managed 259 winners.

During Fred Archer’s truncated career he rode 2,748 winners from just 8,084 rides – a strike rate of 34% – compare that with Oisin Murphy’s rate this year of a remarkable 18%. He won 21 Classic races between 1877 and 1886 – five of those wins were Derbys. Whilst Gordon Richards might have had more winners – he only won one Derby – that of 1953. Remember the giant Pinza beating the Queen’s horse Aureole and the Aga Khan’s horse, Shikampur.

As a man Fred Archer was rather morose and taciturn who, like Lester, was reputed to be miserly – hence the nickname “Tin Man”. He made shrewd investment of most of his income but also squandered a lot – reportedly £250,000 at the time – which would be the equivalent of £33 million in today’s money. Though he was an inveterate gambler he always retained his integrity, sometimes winning against his own money.

The trainer of the time, John Porter, had this to say of him, “His whole heart and soul were in the business he had in hand. He was almost invariably the first to weigh out, the first at the starting post, And, as the records show, very often the first to the winning post.

“I am afraid he was not too scrupulous. Very masterful, he generally had pretty much his own way, especially in minor races. If he did not want a horse to run, he never hesitated to suggest to the owner that he should keep the animal in the stable that day. In short, Fred Archer was a powerful personality as well as a brilliantly successful jockey”

Now back to Rose Helen Dawson – Nellie – Fred’s wife who he married at All Saints Church in Newmarket on 31st January 1883. It was dubbed the celebrity wedding of the decade – aka Beckham and Victoria. The whole town was involved, and it concluded with a spectacular firework display which spelled out “May they be happy”

A year later, in January 1884, the couple’s first child was born – a son they named William after Fred’s brother who had been killed in a hurdle race at Cheltenham. Nellie was left in a critical condition but recovered to fall pregnant again almost immediately. On 6th November 1884, she gave birth to a daughter, also Nellie.

Fred received a telegram about the birth after riding Thebais to victory in the Liverpool Cup, but was advised to hurry home quickly. The mother was again left seriously ill after the birth with symptoms of post-natal eclampsia.

Archer arrived home to find his wife dying in convulsions. Later Archer told a friend “She did not know me and never spoke to me again”.

He went on to say “Poor Nellie, she was my glory, my pride, my life, my all. She was taken from me at the very moment that my happiness really did seem to me to be so great and complete as to leave nothing else in this world that I could wish for”.

Fred Archer was never quite the same again.

Next week … Life after Nellie.

Acknowledgement to “The Life of Fred Archer” by E.M Humphries, Hutchinson 1923.

Photograph: Amazon.com: Historic Photos 1889 Photo Ormonde: Ridden by Fred. Archer: 

23 November 2020

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SENTIMENT IS A FICKLE THING

It was only about six months ago when the world was coming to an end for South African racing; the Phumelela issue was on fire, there was much talk of mass mare and racehorse euthanasia,  many well-known trainers were forecast to be closing their doors, and jockeys were applying for jobs in the circus – en masse. The racing industry was in freefall with no end in sight...

The industry continues to struggle with reduced purses and unfavourable economics for anyone foolish enough to invest. The National Yearling Sales saw many a bargain to be had (tho’ the top end of the market remained very firm), and the expectations and portends for last week’s National Two- Year-Old Sales were not good – indeed vendor carnage was anticipated.

Like a vulture I hovered over the death throes of a fatally wounded South African breeding industry – and I was far from alone in this quest for blood and sustenance – especially for our hungry broods at Borrowdale Park in Harare.

Careful plans were laid to get our hands on the finest carcasses, with transport booked and on hand to whisk our trophies away north and across the Limpopo. The only question was, would there be enough truck space!

Well, it took about an hour to realise that our predatory plans were in tatters and were best consigned to the compost heap of racing history. Despite there being no sign of Jesus, the South African breeding industry rose from its deathbed and walked like Lazarus to what is predicted to be a much brighter future.

Pick after pick exceeded anticipated knock down prices and budgets began to be adjusted upwards – where it was thought that two horses might be secured for R120,000, it quickly became clear that we would be lucky to buy one horse for that sum.

The situation was nicely summed up by veteran horse trader, John Freeman, in Sporting Post:

John said he “considered himself a reasonable judge of value”, but had been pleasantly surprised when a Futura colt he had liked and earmarked, and budgeted at securing for between R300 000 and R400,000, went for R900 000.

We too suffered the same experience, budgeting R100k for Lot 95, an Elusive Fort colt from our favoured Sandown Stud of Peter Pan breeder James Armitage (an ex Zimbo). We were blown away as it was knocked down for R200k – and so it was through the whole two-day catalogue – we were even outbid on the few “roughies” we targeted.

“The hard results clearly underscored the Freeman positivity, with both the aggregate and average price up on last year, the aggregate rising 22% from R32 660 00 to R39 715 000 and the average increasing 18.4 % from R103 028 to R122 957.

“The median price also rose from 2019, increasing by 16.7% from R60 000 to R70 000.”

From my desk in Harare it is difficult to fathom what happened – why the sudden switch from despair to desire and delight, and whether the surge in positive sentiment is likely to last. Since the sale I have talked to many people and sought their opinions and expectations for the future. Views vary and are based on snippets of intelligence such as a major decline in mares being put in foal, and the consequences of that in future years, to the idea that South African racing economics are now fundamentally flawed, to the view that most people who buy racehorses will continue to do so irrespective of both the micro and macro-economic circumstances.

My guess is that South African racing is still on the way down and so on balance I am going to predict that sentiment and market strength will continue to be fickle, but there will be more downside pressure than upside optimism at future sales. It will just be a question of doing what Zimbabweans do best…. we “make a plan”.

From my point of view, I very much regret the collapse of the Zimbabwe breeding industry from which as many as 400 colts and fillies would have been on offer at the annual Yearling Sales.  Now there are none, zilch. Worse still, there is no prospect whatsoever of that breeding industry returning any time soon.

This is a massive tragedy for Zimbabwe, and the thousands who were employed in the industry. Could the answer be a National Stud? Maybe, but this will take years to happen, lots of capital and much effort on the part of those who might try to establish one. I am not sure who has the appetite for such a challenge.

In the meantime, our choices to replenish the local racehorse population are few. We can continue to buy South African cast-offs, or we can do battle in the various sales of yearlings, two-year-olds and the ready to-run-sales in that country – or a bit of both. If we are to buy young stock in South Africa then we are going to have to roll with the sentiment punches – when the market is down, we fill our boots and buy plenty, but when it is strong we dig deeper and buy what we can.

For me I think Borrowdale is such a special sporting centre and should be supported to the nth degree – so I am going to “average” the fickle nature of sentiment and convince myself that when the market is down I will mentally “bank” my savings, and use them when the market needs more from me.  I will also try to avoid future costly divorces – that should help – a lot.

HOOFNOTE 1

Racing returned to a Saturday at Borrowdale Park on the 14th – and what a good day it was. Some 69 mls of rain had fallen in the week and the track looked magnificent. Much credit there to Gyles Dorward who knows a thing or two about farming and growing grass – and the penetrometer read 25 – on the softer side of good. Park View was busy with its fifty occupants in good humour and I was pleased we started at 13.55 and finished at 17.30 – exactly as it should be. Have an ABF after the last race and then straight out for dinner (pity we have yet to get a proper restaurant at Borrowdale Park – but I am told it will happen soon).  Dindingwe won the Breeders Fillies Mile in fine style – and weren’t the boys pleased that their Futura filly did the job so impressively? Finally, jockey Greyling rode five winners – some effort so well done Hennie. His success does however give me a bit of a sense of unease. Our local jockeys have done us proud in the lockdown and for that we are all eternally grateful, but for Hennie to win five suggests that our lads still have much to learn about proper race riding. You know what I am saying – I am not sure all will make it beyond the COVID era…. which will be a great pity.

HOOFNOTE 2

Racing returns on the 28th November – another Saturday – and I expect the course to be at its very best that day – put it in your diary now.

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CHAMPIONS ALL

The 2020 UK flat season ended on 7th November – though flat racing actually continues to the end of December – yes, I know, don’t ask me why – it just does.

This year Oisin Murphy retained his title in an abbreviated season by winning 142 races – just nine ahead of his closest rival, William Buick. Is that a good result? Well, I think these two jockeys are exceptional for a number of reasons but notably because of their strike rates.

Oisin won 18% of the races he rode in, whilst William had a strike rate of 21%. Imagine, one in five rides result in a win. If you had put a pound on each mount you would be ninety quid up with Oisin, and thirteen up with William. Both ride at 8 stone 6 pounds or 53 kg.

But these jockeys are special for other reasons too – they are both great riders but are highly intelligent men. When interviewed by the media, they actually speak well and articulate their analyses of their wins with great loquacity. Such skills not only assist the trainer but are of immense help to serious punters and their notebooks

Oisin is an ambassador for the QIPCO British Champions Series and he contributes regular blogs for their website. He can speak four languages, including German.  How many jockeys struggle with just one!

He is a self-effacing fellow who has expressed much admiration for older jockeys such as Kieron Fallon (retired), and his contemporaries Sylvestre de Sousa from Brazil (who rides at 51kg), and Jim Crowley who rides at 52kg. However his idol is Frankie Dettori after whom he has named his dog!

For me the most memorable race of 2020 was his victory in the 2,000 Guineas on the very good colt, Kameko (Kitten’s Joy out of the Rock of Gibraltar mare Sweeter Still).

Oisin is only 25 years old and so I think his best years are to come, and I look forward to enjoying his unfolding career. An exemplar for all jockeys – if you are one, take note.

Just off the leader board is someone you should keep an eye on for the future – Hollie Doyle – 94 winners from 655 rides,  If Oisin slips up for any reason, Hollie could become the first female champion jockey in what is basically a man’s world. Hesitate for a moment, ponder, it’s the only sport I can think of where the sexes compete on level terms. Respect, real respect please, for Hollie.    

In the Apprentice category it’s pleasing to see the son of Kieron leading the pack. Cieron Fallon won 43 races from 395 rides – giving a strike rate of 11% – which is pretty good in this category. Another name for the future.

TRAINERS ARE DIFFERENT

Now if you were confused about the jockey log, you will be even more confused with the trainer’s log! Their season does run for the calendar year – so we are six weeks off announcing who the winner is.

The other variance is that the winner will be the trainer who has earned the most prize money, not the one who has won the most races.

At the time of writing, the leading trainer is John Gosden OBE with purses amounting to £2,999,202 from 134 winners, followed by Aidan O’Brien with £2,463,090 from just 13 winners then the wily Laird, Mark Johnston, who has had 157 winners and purses of just over £2 million.

I am not sure what to make of all this – except to say all three have compelling claims on some sort of trainers championship. However, given the lateness of the hour I expect John Gosden to come out tops.

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TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY

The 2020 running of the Melbourne Cup is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons – because Anthony Van Dyck, last year’s Epsom Derby winner broke a fetlock in the home straight and had to be euthanized.

The limp-wrist animal rights activists are going to have a field day – and their lobby is going to be bolstered by the fine meted out to Kieron McEvoy (Au$50,000) for excessive use of the whip. All in the public glare of the media hype at the big Flemington race meeting this week.

Well I will have none of it and I suggest my readers don’t either.

The first point I would make is that racehorses are the most well cared for animals on the planet – bar none, not even a dog or cat have dedicated staff on hand to cater for their every need – 24/7. Racehorses have the best living accommodation, the best food, the best medical care and the best grooming. They are transported safely and securely and ridden by – in the main – highly professional jockeys under strict rules, including whip usage, for owners who love their horses to bits (witness ZimFun owners at Borrowdale Park last week) So don’t give me any of that cruelty crap.

We see, especially in jumps racing, just how keen horses are to race. When a jockey falls off, does the horse suddenly say “ah thank god for that, enough of this chasing around and jumping over fences rubbish, I am stopping and will have a stroll back to base!” No it doesn’t, it continues to relish the gallop and see out the race – and then often becomes difficult to catch at the end.

The next load of rubbish is whip use. Firstly whips are not what they used to be, they are shorter and have a flat end to spread the impact and they may only be used 6 or 7 times in a race. It should also be remembered that a horse’s arse is not covered by the same sort of hide as you or I, it’s thick and hairy and thus can stand a few guiding and encouraging smacks from a pint sized jockey – it would be different if they were all built like Mike Tyson.

Finally I would reiterate, horses are natural gallopers and speedsters – and they tend to want to run in straight lines. This is where I have huge issues – very serious issues. Flemington is a big course, over a mile and a half round with wide sweeping bends and at least a 600 metre straight. No horse need get into to gear on a bend and thus never needs to exert those lateral forces on his leg bone structures. As a result, Anthony van Dyck’s fracture is a freak accident – a total freak – something which might happen to one in ten thousand starters at this racecourse.

Compare now with any American toy racing tracks – like Santa Anita for example which is less than a mile in circumference. On course deaths at Santa Anita in 2019 were something like six per thousand starters – and heaven knows how many more were put down after they got home to their stables – now that really is horrendous. Why does this happen? Well, I site three reasons, very tight tracks where horses have to hit top speed on tight bends and where straights are only 300 metres long; breeding – where stock is bred for speed on the altar of bone strength and finally the surfaces of dirt which is fundamentally unstable for a horse’s foot to land on at 60 kph plus. So I would support activists who wish to get the Yanks to create proper racecourses and proper surfaces. And the same goes for any other country, including Dubai and Saudi, where money should not be problem!

But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, I would argue that the animal rights activist cause has more to do with them having a pop at those who have made a bob or two in their working lives and are expressing their success through the business of owning and racing horses – a bit like the anti -hunting lobby in the UK – yet another bunch of misguided and envious socialists disguised as do-gooders.

Such people should be focussing their attention and media potential on the real areas of equine abuse – the millions of donkeys, asses and mules in third world countries (in the main) where virtually every benefit afforded a racehorse is denied these beasts of burden and whose lives are pretty much a living hell.

So my message is that we should not be in any way ashamed or apologetic about our sport – we should be quite the opposite, robustly defending everything about it and directing our weak-willied critics to causes more worthy of their ire and energy. Or just tell them to get lost. Either option will do for me.  

HOOFNOTE 1

ZimFun Racing Club had its first runner on the 30th October! Tricky Business ridden by champion jockey Norbert Takawira in the smiley face colours came from the clouds over a 1600 m trip but failed by a short head to clinch the big purse. There were plenty of ZimFunners present and they enjoyed a really good shout in the closing stages – a win can’t be far away. And if you would like to join the Fun – including a share in Tricky, you still can – send a pledge to spencer@virtrust.com or to cjohnsmith1@aol.com or drop in to Virgin Management Services at 7 Normandy Road, Alex Park with US$100 or multiples thereof. We are now on the lookout for our second horse – this time to be trained by Thomas Mason. Go on, what’s a $100 for a full year of racing – no extras? 

HOOFNOTE 2

Park View was not packed on Friday 30th but the atmosphere was good. Booze was perhaps a tad expensive but the picnic boxes of snacks were excellent from Graze Me – tho’ again, a tad pricey! Well done MTC

We still need to move the furniture around a bit – though in the main I think Bev Jack has done a really good job of improving the ambience and the acoustics of the room. TV screens need to be made more visible and less obstructed and TV cameramen need to be briefed better on their shot selections – the big four screen facility saw most of each race with the horses hidden behind the horizontal cross bar!

I suppose the biggest bone of contention was and is the lack of ready access to betting options, there was no Tote and Moor World of Sport might better have been described as Less World of Sport. I believe the MTC are on the case but punting is a key element of racing, not the only element for sure, but it is essential.

3 November 2020 

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READY TO RUN – start studying…

It’s that time of the year when we have to consider our next racehorse purchases – and the target is the National Two-Year-Old Sale in Joburg on the 12th and 13th of November

Fortunately the catalogue is available on line and so there is plenty of opportunity to study the bloodlines in detail – which is what I have been doing for a couple of weeks now.


I think desk research is a vital pre-cursor to viewing – tho’ I know there is an argument for looking at all the stock on offer, drawing up a shortlist and then studying the breeding. It’s not for me and never has been. I have always sought likely contenders for the Classic distance races – for me that is proper racing though I have had plenty of sprinters!


After forty years of pretending to know what I am doing and acknowledging that I can’t know everything, I have distilled my searches into particular parameters – of course I won’t tell you what they are, but it’s all about proven sires and dams, proven nicks, distance suited sires and dams, a formula/algorithm for assessing historical breeding performance, a deep disdain and mistrust of American breeding and form, and an empirical assessment of who is offering what – there are good breeders and those that shouldn’t bother trying!


As I understand matters, the Ready to Run sales are not preceded by such rigorous vetting as the National Yearling Sales hence a bit of “Buyer Beware” has to be introduced in to the equation – i.e. after you have generated a short list and your trainer or adviser have given them the green light, you should get each one vetted – worth every penny – bearing in mind if you can’t afford to do it, you can’t afford a racehorse!


This year’s sale involves some 400 horses from close on 70 sires, consigned from some 40 studs. I don’t propose to go through each offering but to provide a taste of my thought processes. My evaluation begins with an assessment of the sires and looking to see if there is any real quality and hidden pointers to be found. Global View is an example of this and as it turns out, I believe he was the leading first season sire in SA last year. Given his modest record in America, how and why could that be?


Well, he is by world leading sire Galileo for a start – remember, Frankel’s sire. Then I noticed Galileo covered an American mare called Egyptian Queen to produce a colt to race in that country – were they barking mad? What buffoon could have thought any Galileo progeny could possibly prosper on the tight toy racetracks the Yanks think are racecourses? In general, Galileo produces bold galloping stock that need time to unwind their withering finishes – ideally up a normal 600 straight – and will stay Classic distances. That he won three races on turf is an immense credit to the bloodline and for me suggests that he is the sort of sire which will suit progeny destined to run on proper racecourses such as found in southern Africa. For me he has to be on my list of sires I should pick from.


Despite having said what I have said, two of the best foundation bloodlines ever were both American – Northern Dancer and Mr Prospector – but that takes us way back in time and can now, to some degree, be discounted a little. For me we need to look for and respect more recent pointers to excellence. The said Galileo is one which clearly falls into this category – but the other living sire of excellence is Dubawi. Both hail back to foundation bloodlines I have mentioned, but for me these are wholly revitalised genetics. I must look for signs of both in my desk research.


Willow Magic is a Dubawi sire – which, remember, sired Ghaiyyath – and has five progeny on offer next month. Bred in Australia, he won four races in South Africa – but only over 1000 to 1600. His progeny should be on my list too, but only from those whose dams could stay a bit – like Galileo mares!


I would also make a general comment about American breeding – their bloodlines and performance ratings are not to be trusted – in my view. US horses not only run on rubbish tracks but are/were allowed to run on Lasix – which in itself is a useful screen for other substance abuse. And then it has been established that many well-known trainers and horses have found drugs which enhance performance without being detectable. Progeny from such bloodlines do not generally prosper in parts of the world where Lasix is forbidden, and drug abuse is more actively deterred – South Africa being one such country. Whilst Mambo In Seattle would tick many boxes for me on paper – the reality is that his progeny’s performance on the track has been well below the promise in the book – so it’s a pass for me.


Finally I would just like to touch on the breeders. Whilst you can trust the big players like Maine Chance, Drakenstein, Klawervlei and Wilgersbosdrif – you can’t always afford their stock! So it’s useful to be able to pick out other studs which are perhaps less high profile but where there is a history of prudent crosses, correct diet and the offerings are of tough and sound stock within your budget.

High on this list for me is Sandown Stud of the Armitage family (formerly of Trelawney in Zimbabwe). During Zim’s glory days of breeding, Geoff Armitage proved to be champion breeder for many years – his horses came to the sale ring looking a tad rough but they always proved to be tough and could run. James Armitage is just as shrewd as his father and has some 21 to choose from this November – he is definitely on my list.


Oh and finally, finally – there is the issue of luck – that indefinable element in racing which you have or you don’t have. It has nothing to do with wealth, it can’t be bought! Look at Snaafi Dancer, bought by the Maktoums at Keeneland in 1983 for US$10.2 million – a record at the time – impeccably bred by Northern Dancer out of My Bupers. Not only could he not get out of his own way on the track but in the breeding barn he only managed to produce four foals in two years, none of which could get out of their own way either!


Conversely, consider Ipi Tombe from humble Zimbabwe. Purchased for tuppence ha’enny two decades ago, she went on to star across the globe for the Sunmark Syndicate. Then of course Centaur Syndicate has had a fair bit of luck over forty years too!


The art of buying a champion racehorse is way beyond the skills needed to run a successful company and to my mind is the ultimate intellectual challenge. If you haven’t tried before, make a start at the Ready to Run Sales next month, or alternatively, find a really lucky racing person and ingratiate yourself with him or her!


Anybody with a few bob can buy a fast car but the ultimate accolade of success is picking a fast horse.

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PINING FOR THE PAST… butters no parsnips

There is nothing wrong with a bit of reminiscing – especially over lunch and dinner parties with old friends and relatives.

Many of us can still remember the glory days of Borrowdale Park, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association (as so poignantly observed by doyen Jackie Cocksedge recently), and all the great characters who frequented the weekly race meetings.  

Racing was flying, four hundred plus yearlings  were offered for sale, the Owners and Trainers bar was packed and buzzing each week, and Ipi Tombe was about to set the world alight with her brave exploits on the global stage and at the highest level. At the turn of the century the MTC was also buzzing too, but not quite like the seventies…. crowds were down and the advent of the internet paved the way for a serious interloper for the discretionary gambling dollar – online betting – on all and everything.

SPILT MILK

Maybe we should have all seen this trend emerging and reacted differently – but we didn’t – or we didn’t react nearly enough or fast enough. There is no point in crying over spilt milk – let it go.

Then as if our own inertia wasn’t enough, our world fell victim to the overriding political imperatives of the time. The Fast Track Land Redistribution programme which saw the wholesale demise of the majority of the commercial farming community and all its supporting infrastructures – and with it, virtually the entire horse breeding industry. We can all argue the merits and demerits of what happened and the consequences which ensued, but what is the point now? We are where we are and horse racing has done amazingly well to survive at all – this being down to a relatively small cohort of passionate supporters. 

But now is the time to accept our lot and understand what the MTC mission is and to get right behind its efforts. Maybe the first thing to do is to just understand that the MTC sits on assets which are worth a few bob and these assets are enjoyed by a relatively small and diminishing number in the multiracial racing community – though many scores of jobs are dependent on the Club’s return to full commercial viability. Worse still, the physical structures are actually enjoyed by nobody for the vast majority of the year. What am I talking about? Well, take the Silver Ring and stand for example – 134 metres long and capable of holding 10,000 fans – it is only busy on about two days each year – Tankard Day and OK day! Pitiful. The rest of the time they are just gathering dust. And so it is with many more of the MTC assets.

A NEW LIGHT

What the new team are trying to do is to ‘repurpose’ all its assets – and that is the right and proper thing to be doing. In my view, we all need to see Borrowdale Park in a completely new light – it can no longer be what it was.  I don’t know if the guys are knowingly repurposing our facilities as a major leisure and retail centre – but that is what they are actually doing and I am right behind them – not only for the long term viability of an important Zimbabwean industry – racing – but for the vast number of new jobs that are planned to be created.  

Which brings me to Park View. I have heard some rumblings of discontent about the concept and whilst all the final detail has yet to be worked out I am fairly comfortable that all racegoers should be catered for in the end and any misgivings dispelled.

Significantly, Park View entry on race days will be free to members of the Owners and Trainers community. I can tell you the facilities will be a bit special – I have seen quite a lot of the work which has been done so far and, having been to many Os & Ts facilities around the world, I have to say these might be about the best. Really. Bev Jack has done a cracking job of the old Stewards Bar on the third floor and has more elements to complete before a formal opening.  The 17th October will be a bit of a ‘taster/tester’ day for all of us. Please provide constructive criticism to the MTC team if you have any issues.

The facilities have been transformed from a fairly basic bar with – should we say – uninspiring fayre – to a real destination where in addition to booze there will be a range of gourmet canapes to choose from – though there are ambitions for fine dining to be available there too in the future. (On a personal note, I think this is a great ambition – there is no fine dining to be had anywhere in Harare – and I mean anywhere.)

WHY?

Now some may argue “why do we need such facilities – I am happy to get by with what we have” and there is some merit in this argument. But I feel the mission is bigger, much bigger than where we are now. If we really do need to attract new owners to our ranks – which we certainly do – then we first need to get these potential owners to the track and keep them interested. Our old facilities will never do that.  Moreover, it is important that these facilities get used more than 20 times a year on race day. By doing so, it will facilitate interest in Borrowdale and its racing history – and hopefully lead to an increase in racehorse ownership – if only through ZimFun Racing Club in the first instance.

The idea is that Park View might be used throughout the week by a range of Park View members who will pay an annual subscription. Business breakfasts, lunches, dinners, viewing international sport on the new big TV etc. etc. will all be on offer at Park View

Make no mistake, if we don’t sweat our assets, very soon we won’t have any assets to sweat.

And what sacrifices must Os & Ts make to facilitate these ambitions? As indicated, there is no charge for using the facilities on race day – it’s free to Os & Ts paid up members. But there is one small condition – you have to be dressed at least ‘smart casual’. We all know what that means so, no point in belabouring the issue here. However, it should be pointed out that ties will not be demanded but jackets will be expected – though these can be hung up on entry. This condition will not be a problem for me – only Dave Rosser and I wear ties anyway – but it may seem like retrograde to some. I would urge them think differently and to support the plan given the bigger mission we are on – it really is very little to ask.  

It will be a cash free / card only facility (tho’ not on the 17th), and though I have yet to understand what prices will look like – I expect them to be affordable to anyone who can afford to own and race a horse!

OTHER ISSUES

Having said all these positive things about what is happening on the Third Floor – I do feel we need to address some other issues too. – Curb Appeal – Potential Park View members will not be impressed with the offer if the approaches to the facilities remain as they are. All those areas are just incredibly crap/semi-derelict – and it is not just the road which needs re-surfacing, but a major tidy up is required; some landscaping and water is needed and a start must be made on creating some form of locational corporate identity. And as for existing retail operators, they should be encouraged to use a dab of paint and also tidy their appearances.  

In fact, if you look at all of the Borrowdale Road property developments, it is only the Turf Club that appears to be a dilapidated eyesore – we have to put that right and quickly.   

HOOFNOTE 1

Shame about Enable in the Arc – it could only be the going – or did Frankie mess it up, by accepting a modest pace and then a dash – I don’t think so – but she is still one of the all-time greats… might she still run on Qipco Champions Day…. Mmmm that would be splendid. 

HOOFNOTE 2

Well ZimFun has taken delivery of its first horse.  Tricky Business was safely transported from RSA by Zim old hand, Gavin McLeod, arriving on Wednesday afternoon and now the fun will really begin. We are still selling shares and have begun looking for a second horse – please get involved, US$100 for a full year is “nout” as they say in Yorkshire. Send your pledges to spencer@virtrust.com or cjohnsmith1@aol.com. And the ZimFun fillies are planning plenty for our first runner’s debut… I heard mention of a ‘pop-up’ gin palace and braai with those excellent steaks and ‘wors of Kevin Fallon’s… a fun feast of fetlocks, fillies, firewater and frenzied cheering… go on, get involved.

11 October 2020

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ARC UPDATE

‘So, Aiden reckoned he couldn’t beat Enable in the puddle? Love is scratched but Serpentine is supplemented to run in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

‘I think this means that we have moved on from what should have been a “match” race where the best horse would prevail. I think we are now going to have to look at tactics – or how does O’Brien beat Enable with a phalanx of four Galileo colts ranged against her, two on her inside and two on her outside.

 ‘If I was Aiden I would be saying to my jockeys, “Try and box her in – but do it legally!” Easier said than done, Frankie Dettori at 49 years old is an experienced and talented Italian who will be alive to all shenanigans. He has won the Arc on several occasions, including twice on Enable, and whilst he is bound to be a bit nervous, the absence of Love should take some of the pressure off him.

‘So, what about a relay race, Sovereign taking off, overtaken by Serpentine then leaving Mogul and Japan to fight it out with Enable in the long straight? Frankie won’t fall for that either – I think Frankie will know he has the most firepower in the race and will run his own race – keeping out of danger, tucked in fourth or fifth, one off the rail, until they come off the bend. He will then pull out for a clear drive to the post – timing will be everything.

‘I think he went a tad early last year and got snaffled by Waldgeist (another Galileo) on the line. When should Frankie press the go button? It’s not easy to accelerate in the puddle… so he needs to be in touch right up to the furlong post, then go for home.

‘I have revisited the other runners, especially the French, but I still can’t find one with the taking of Enable. For me, that role can only be taken by Stradivarius with Olivier Pellier on board – or should I say, get a fine tune out of him? Mogul might get third.

‘We all want history to be made on Sunday – the Brits beating the Frogs – as ever!’ 

2 October 2020

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS – THE ARC – A CLASSIC RACE

‘I don’t have very fond memories of Paris. I spent one of my honeymoons there, pretty much a disaster; I once got stranded there on my way to Zim – useless Air France – and then on another occasion I had an altercation with a mad French driver on that crazy Arc de Triomphe roundabout at the end of the Champs Elysee – oh, and one last thing – they tried to serve me horse meat at Maximes, and were a tad upset when I told them I was no cannibal.

‘So what are the French famous for, apart from some decent wine and a penchant for surrendering. Well, it has to be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – a spectacular race run over 2,400m under Weight For Age conditions with a purse of £1.452,712 to the winner.

‘This year’s renewal fizzes with excitement and anticipation, I only have to mention Enable and Love to raise the hairs on your neck – but the race is packed with other stars vis: Stradivarius, now ridden by the master jockey; Olivier Pellier; Mogul, the other O’Brien runner that thumped Epsom Derby winner, Serpentine, on the 13th September; Raabihah the Jean-Claude Rouget trained colt by Sea the Stars which has only raced in France so is truly a dark horse, and then there is a possibility that Serpentine will be supplemented.‘

My own guess is that all who truly love racing would very much like to see Enable sweep to triumph under the guidance of top jockey, Frankie Dettori. And I think it is very much on the cards. The early forecast for the going on Sunday is worrying – and suggests it could be a quagmire as it was last year but John Gosden has cannily prepped Enable – who has won on soft going – with that unusual run on the all-weather at Kempton on 5th September in the Unibet Stakes (Group 2) over about the Arc distance – when she was 14 to 1 on to win the race!

‘My guess is that she will be at her very peak on Arc day and if indeed she does get beaten there could be no excuses other than the going being bottomless.

TIMES

‘But I want to give you a bit more info to think about too – times. Whilst every track is different and include hills and holes which jigger direct time comparisons, I would like you to consider the time in which Enable completed the King George VI – just under 2 minutes and 29 seconds, carrying 9 stone 4 pounds. Let me tell you that is fast, and she had no other horses to egg her on either, remember there were only three runners that day. ‘Now look at Love’s win at York – just over 2 minutes and 31 seconds for 30 yards short of 2400 – carrying 8 stone 12 pounds, and then in the Oaks over a full 2400 her time was 2 minutes 34 seconds. Even if you discount the time recorded on the tough Epsom track and focus on the flat track at York – there is getting on for two seconds difference between the two champions – even when Love carries 6 pounds less than Enable – pretty much as per the Arc weight difference.

‘At this distance, two seconds amounts to about 12 lengths. I think the other thing is that Love has yet to beat any superstars – maybe it’s too early to tell I suppose – unless it becomes Enable!

‘For me Enable has the beating of Love on known form. The only misgivings I have are the Arc going and Love’s upward training curve. How much has she improved from her last races? Don’t forget this is a Galileo filly out of a Pivotal mare – perfect nick – and has shown herself to train on strongly since her two-year-old career when she only won four of her seven starts and got beaten three times over 7 furlongs. And, as ever, remember Aiden O’Brien knows a thing or two about training champions.

‘Looking beyond the top two is difficult to do. Whilst they all have merit it is at a lower level than Love and Enable. But racing does throw up new superstars and so we have to have a stab at finding the hidden clues. ‘To me, all but Raabihah are pretty much exposed – but who can tell just how good this French horse might be? By Sea the Stars out of a Kingmambo mare this three-year-old colt is bred in the purple and should be staying on strongly at the end. He’s only had five starts and has won three of them. Has he been targeted at the Arc? My guess is yes. Is he good enough? My guess is no – but I am not 100% sure.

Persian King from the Andre Fabre yard looks a decent sort, but he has yet to run over this distance and in the potential conditions and I suspect he will be found wanting. ‘Mogul (3 years) and Japan (4 years) are full brothers by Galileo out of the Danehill mare, Shastye, and are both very good types. I thought Mogul would win this years’ Epsom Derby – but remember they all made a dog’s breakfast of it and gave the race to front running Serpentine. My guess is that this field will prove a bit hot for both these Aiden O’Brien colts – and Serpentine, if he runs.

‘Finally, I go back to Stradivarius. On the face of it he has no real chance with Love and Enable, but if the going does become a serious issue then 2400 metres in heavy conditions might just allow Strad to show his strength and stamina to great effect. He could be a helluva good each way bet though he has come in from 14s to 7 to 1.

‘The prospects for this year’s Arc are intriguing. I just hope the weather fairs up, the ground is no more than soft, and that history will be made by the amazing Nathaniel race mare, Enable, chased home by Love and Stradivarius.

‘Don’t miss it. A day to remember.’

30 September 2020

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Apprentice Rodgers Satombo modelling the ZIMFUN RACING CLUB silks. This is what they will look like on a good day – when it’s not so good see below.

ZimFun Racing Club Update – WE GOTTA HORSE

Well, we Zimbabweans don’t prat about – when we say we are going to try something – we get on and try that something – and so it is with the ZimFun Racing Club.

It’s been less than six months since the original concept was conceived and here we are on the verge of having our first runner.

Spencer Murray sorted the company and now we are fully registered and operational. Shares were offered and dozens have now been sold or pledged to be purchased.

Our “emoji smiley face” colours were readily accepted by a very supportive Arnold Hyde of the NHRA and are now in the country with our first trainer out of the hat, the smoothie, Kirk Swanson.

Then we had to find a horse that met the criteria we agreed at the first meeting of trainers – namely: a sound horse, ideally a colt, three or four years old, suited to around a mile – plus or minus a couple of furlongs, and with a merit rating of not less than 65 but ideally 70.

After much searching and consultation with our training fraternity and the club’s Encyclopaedia Equitannica, Jim McDermott in Wellington, we decided to bid on the online sale in Jo’burg where about 100 horses went up for auction. Kirk took charge of the bidding and I liaised by Whatsapp as the process commenced. We reckoned that R35,000 might be enough to buy TRICKY BUSINESS as the opening bid was a modest 20k. Bidding was quite lethargic and at one stage it looked like 25k might do the trick, but in the end 35k became our bid – then someone went to 37.5k. So on the basis of going for “budget plus one bid” I told Kirk to go to R40k – and what a good thing he did – Tricky Business is now ours – and what an appropriate name!

Tricky Business is four-year-old maiden gelding by Vercingetorix, out of Zaitoon (by Count Dubois) a Group 1 winner, and he has a merit rating of 67 – ideal!

He has had eight starts over 1000 to 2000 metres and whilst he has not troubled the winning post, he has run three decent places – all over 2,000 metres – the Tankard distance!

It seems the Zimbabwe connection, former jockey Reid Paterson (of Strike it Rich and The Toff fame) knows the horse well and reports he is a big, uncomplicated and sound fellow who should be well suited to a campaign in Zimbabwe.

After purchase Tricky was taken into former Zim trainer, Sharon Paterson’s care – thus maintaining the Zim connection – where he is being kept in light work in preparation for his trip north at the end of the month. Gavin Macleod is another Zimbo and he has been charged with the transport task. I am a great believer in supporting Zimbabwe connections whether they be here or in the Diaspora – we all should.  

Indeed, we should all be supporting ZimFun Racing Club as it is clearly there for all Zimbos.  At US$100 per share for a full year’s racing involvement it is eminently affordable for all. And I want us to be buying another horse soon, but for that we need to sell another 100 shares. So please, now we actually have a horse, get yourself involved, even if it is just one share. Drop Spencer Murray or myself an e mail – to spencer@virtrust.com or cjohnsmith1@aol.com

Also we are just weeks away from our first run – it could even be the 18th October – just four weeks hence. So if you are undecided, you are all invited (COVID regs permitting) to join ZimFun when we have our first runner – and get a feel for what is involved but without a cash commitment. I think you should bring $100 on the day and when you see how much fun it can be, you will want to be part of it – and you will buy a share or ten.

 Be there – I will say when.


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WEIGHTY MATTERS

Well, they must all be barking mad – diminutive in stature, weighing bugger all – with matchsticks for bones, and invariably sporting gaunt features.  Yet they climb aboard 500 kgs of toned muscle, trained to the peak of fitness, and then hurtle around racecourses all over the world at 40 miles an hour.
 

And we expect them to be in total control of events, at all times. Donne moi une break. 

That is all before I mention the mental battles, dietary disciplines, propensity to struggle with alcohol, and the knowledge that it is a relatively short career with little chance of earning a vast fortune.

That’s why I often reflect, “If jockeys had any brains, they wouldn’t be jockeys!”

Instead, what we have is a band of supremely brave and courageous young sportsmen and sportswomen who dedicate their lives and – more importantly – their lifestyles to further the interests of owners and trainers. We can all sit in the stands and lambast riding cock-ups, and errors in .judgement, calling for heads to roll and fines and suspensions to be meted out.  Diatribes which are usually oiled by failed bets and alcohol! 

Well, I for one, believe that we owners – especially new ones – and trainers, must learn to live with failure and be philosophical about disappointing results – especially where apprentices are concerned. 

That doesn’t mean to say that jockey discipline should be lax, far from it. For example, the full wrath of the regulations should be imposed where dangerous riding takes place or where some jiggery-pokery is proven in respect of the outcome of a race. I think the latter crime is totally unforgivable and should result in a lifetime ban – nothing less.

 I once experienced this calumny when Greg Fairley rode my horses when trained by Mark Johnston in the UK. I could not believe how badly he rode Greyfriars Abbey and Greyfriars Chorista on a number of occasions – ending with Chorista winning a modest race at Kempton Park by fifteen lengths and getting a good hiding in the process when unbeatable a long way from home. Somebody had to have had a big bet on how far he would win by – I wondered – rightly or wrongly. 

Despite Mark’s protestations I told him that Fairley must never ride for me again. I could never have guessed that less than two years later Fairley would receive a 12-year ban for not riding a horse to its merit and for breaching two other rules. All these years later I am still angry – it’s hard enough to get a winner – so when the jockey is plotting agin you, that is almost a capital offence. Gelding is an alternative.
 
MINIMUM WEIGHTS

On the question of minimum jockey weights, I am really a bit of a purist. Whilst I can proffer no scientific basis for my beliefs, I have always maintained that weight stops horses – after all that is what the handicap is all about. But my beliefs go further, I simply do not believe that the “braking effect” of weight is a straight line on the graph – I think it’s hyperbolic – I can’t say precisely which bit of the hyperbolic curve it is, but I believe I am right. 

Put another way, I think a kilo penalty at 50 kg has a far less “braking effect” than a kilo at 60 kg or 64 kg. Yet with all our algorithmic resources to play with, no one has yet bothered to do the research and provide handicappers with a more scientific tool to aid their difficult task of computing merit ratings. 
Which brings me back to that word, minimum. 

Today, minimum weights are 52 kg – forty years ago they were 46 kg. I am pretty sure the evolving adjustments were made to better reflect the changes in the overall average size of humanity and to facilitate less harsh dieting regimes for jockeys. Well, you will not be surprised to learn that I won’t have any it – and at 46 kg or 7 stone 3 lbs – I have already compromised too much. And I take this uncompromising – albeit pointless – stance because of my issue about the “braking effect” of weight being hyperbolic. We need the lowest starting point for a jockey’s weight as possible. 

Back in the day, The Tin Man, Fred Archer (who I will be writing about shortly) and aged just fifteen, won the 1872 Cesarewitch on a horse called Salvanos when carrying 5 stone 7 pounds – or just 35kg. You can’t argue that Fred must have been very short – whilst he maybe wasn’t fully grown at that time, he did race at 5 foot 10 inches when weighing 54 kg. Fred Archer was an amazing jockey winning 2,748 races over 17 years at a strike rate of 34%. 

The Long Fellow, Lester Piggott, was 5 foot 8 inches and could race at 53kg or 8 stone 5 lbs for much of his career. 

My real point is that we should not be raising the bar for jockey weights – quite the reverse. Merely raising the bar attracts marginal “hopers” who then go on to have the same battle with weight as those who would have “taken out papers” at the lower bar. And don’t tell me there wouldn’t be any takers – there would be plenty of diminutive candidates – from two sources. 

In Europe, Holly Doyle is showing the boys a thing or two and could soon be the first woman champion jockey in the UK. Speaking domestically, to augment the ladies pool, our local black community has thrown up some very talented young riders – the very ones who are keeping Borrowdale alive and well right now – and we all applaud the talents of jockeys such as S’manga Khumalo, a champion jockey in South Africa and who rode his first winner at Borrowdale – I think, for the legendary Lisa Harris. 

So I have a number of conclusions:

1.    It’s time the NHRA/Jockey Clubs/BHA did the research to bring the art of handicapping into the 21st Century – it’s time for a proper algorithm to be formulated. 
 
2.    It’s time to reverse the minimum weight rule – I would go further – there should be no minimum riding weight and races should be run on Conditions or strictly on Merit Ratings. If a horse is handicapped to carry 46 kg and a proper jockey can be found who can do such a weight, then so be it – tell me why not.   

3.    Whilst the Zimbabwe Jockey Academy is closed – and seems likely to remain so – then it is up to our training fraternity to take up the reins and use their skills and resources to identify young talent, male or female, black, white or any other hue, gay or straight, of any religion, and develop them into the next generation of young jockeys for Borrowdale Park.  If they don’t do it? Who will? 

 This is Zimbabwe, we must “make a plan” again.

23 September 2020
  
Image from Shutterstock
 

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A WEEKEND OF BROKEN DREAMS AND DASHED HOPES

“I don’t usually concern myself with post-mortems, but this last weekend has been pretty much a bloodbath and thus worthy of some comments.

“Leaving aside the St Leger where Galileo Chrome gave chance rider Tom Marquand a surprise win over Berkshire Rocco, Pyledriver and Santiago there were three surprising results.

“I say surprising but maybe Serpentine’s dismal performance in the Juddmonte Prix de Paris at Longchamp should not have surprised me as I gave it no hope in the Epsom Derby where I thought Mogul might be the winner. Maybe this should have been the Derby result!

“Serpentine’s jockey rode a completely different race in that he didn’t take the field on as happened in the Derby – but when the pressure came on he just didn’t have the kick and finished fourth. So the Derby maybe was a fluke.

“An even bigger surprise was the defeat of Stradivarius by Anthony Van Dyck in the Qatar Prix Foy over a mile and a half at Longchamp. Last year’s Derby winner took a strong hold after the first furlong and try as he may, Frankie just couldn’t get by him. Strad was odds on favourite to win so everyone was confident – but maybe everyone overlooked a key factor – a mile and half is now a tad short for him – he needs a bit more ground and I still think he is unbeatable over two miles.

“Finally, there was much talk before the Champions Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday on how to beat Ghaiyyath – he is such a machine with such great early gate speed and finishing power, it looked impossible. Moreover, this Dubawi colt had already beaten Anthony van Dyck, Enable and Magical this season so it looked a hopeless cause.

“However, Seammie Heffernan is a seriously underrated jockey and plonked Magical just on the backside of Ghaiyyath for pretty much the whole of the trip and Ghaiyyath knew it – and I sense didn’t like it. Maybe he over-raced slightly and when the pressure came on he just didn’t have what it takes. But let’s not take away from Magical – this is a five-year-old mare by no other than the great sire Galileo out of the perfect nick dam line, Halfway to Heaven by Pivotal – and is typically immensely tough and determined – and of course, trained by another great – Aiden O’Brien – the Uriah Heep of the turf.

“So whilst true greatness was not confirmed for three good horses this weekend, the racing was truly outstanding and such a pleasure to watch from the confines of Harare – in fact it was almost as good as watching the Aussies choke in the second ODI against England!”

15 September 2020

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Forget about Doncaster unless you fancy a trip to the St Leger

I don’t know if you have ever been to Doncaster – but if you haven’t – and as a born and bred Tyke it pains me to say this – but it’s a right dump. Don’t bother unless you fancy a trip to the St Leger – a Group 1 race which is to be run on the Town Moor on Saturday 12 September over one mile six furlongs.

Would you believe it’s named after an Irishman called Anthony St Leger, a military man who ended up living in Yorkshire before becoming an MP for Grimsby. And again, if you would like to know about Grimsby, the clue is in the name!

In true Yorkshire fashion, big decisions are taken in the pub. In this case, it was the Golden Lion in Doncaster’s Market Place, in 1776. The choice was between the Marquess of Rockingham or Anthony St Leger. Whilst the Marquess organised the first running, it was he who suggested St Leger and so it was settled.

Imagine – a race that has been run for almost 250 years. 1776 was the year America declared Independence from Great Britain – of course, that was another big mistake for them.

Originally it was run over two miles by colts and geldings but was cut back to one mile and six furlongs in 1800 when a horse called Champion won it, and in doing so was the first horse to complete the Derby – St Leger double.

In 1853, West Australian became the first horse to win the Triple Crown which by then included the Guineas. Only 14 other horses have won the Triple Crown in 170 years with the most notable and recent winner being Nijinsky in 1970 – ridden by the best of the best Lester Piggott.

For a variety of reasons, the St Leger was moved about a bit and was once even run at Thirsk (1940) and no, I wasn’t there, but my family was!

This Saturday’s renewal is a tough call with several worthy candidates for the last Classic of the season. Whilst there seems to be a couple at the top of the boards with some support – Pyledriver from William Muir’s Lambourn yard, and Santiago from the Aiden O’Brien yard – I have my doubts.
A mile and six furlongs for flat horses is tough, and whilst there can be no hard and fast rules about stamina in the bloodlines (witness Logician last year – he won the Leger even tho’ he was by Frankel who never ran above 10 furlongs – I can’t help but believe it helps.

In the case of Pyledriver, his sire was basically a miler so I would be concerned about him seeing out the distance. Santiago is by Authorised so he should be OK on that side but the dam, Wadyhatta, only ran twice and showed little promise – even over a mile.

I have to look elsewhere in the field – but not far. Hukum is by Sea the Stars who can certainly breed stayers – remember Stradivarius – and is out of a Kingmambo mare who could also stay a bit. Hukum has won his last three starts, the last of which was at Newbury in August over pretty much the Leger distance. With Jim Crowley aboard this would be my tip to win.
Looking further down the field, both Galileo Chrome and Subjectivist for the Mark Johnston/Joe Fanning team can stay a bit, but I just don’t feel they have the class here.

Perhaps the one to worry about is the other Aiden O’Brien colt, Dawn Patrol, ridden by youngster P B Beggy. No, I hadn’t heard of him either! He has only had 21 rides so far, and just the one winner, but has earned over a million pounds in prize money – so he must have talent. Let me be the one who introduced you all to him and let us all wish him well in his career.

Dawn Patrol is so well-bred – by Galileo out of a Darshaan mare – pure class and staying power. It has to be there with a bit of a chance despite the inexperience of Beggy.

The rest of the field does not appeal to me so I reconfirm my tip to be Hukum with Santiago the runner-up, and Pyledriver and Dawn Patrol filling the minor places.

HOOFNOTE

ZimFun Racing Club has bought its first horse! Appropriately named Tricky Business. The club clock has now started ticking but it doesn’t mean you can’t still invest.

With Tricky now on board – and with my belief that he ticks all the club’s boxes – I feel confident that shareholders’ optimism will be justified.

It also means that all those who pledged funds should now honour their word and get their loot to Spencer Murray as soon as possible. Remember US$ 100 per share to cover all costs for the year – and the email address spencer@virtrust.com

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ELITISTS AND EGALITARIANS

As we sat masked up on the third floor balcony at Borrowdale Park on a recent race day, enjoying a cleansing gin and tonic, some of that special Kevin Fallon Biltong, and sparring with all the wits on our table, my new PA piped up “and I had been led to believe that racing was an elitist – even racist sport – and it’s not is it?”

You could have knocked me down with a feather. “No, it’s not – what brain-dead bigot told you that?” I promptly replied.

But it got me thinking about how such uneducated views should exist – and why they could exist – and if they do exist, then they needed to be dispelled, robustly, with fact.

For me, horse racing is the epitome of equality, not just because anyone or any group of individuals can own a racehorse, but most importantly, because it doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have to invest – the horses don’t know how much they cost and thus feel no obligation to perform in accordance with their worth!  If only!

Let’s drill into that reality to prove the point.

SNAAFI DANCER

$1 million was a ludicrous amount of money back in 1983 – $10.2 million was absolutely unthinkable. But that’s how much Sheikh Mohammed paid for this colt by Northern Dancer and out of the dam, My Bupers, at Keeneland Sales. It completely demolished the record for the most expensive thoroughbred ever sold at auction and was seen as a future flagship stallion for the Sheikh’s Aston Upthorpe Stud.

Unfortunately for the Sheik, he acquired a genuine dud that couldn’t get out of his own way on the racecourse and never actually made it to the track. Snaafi danced his way to the breeding barn but proved to be a real dud in the sack also, producing just three runners in two years at stud.

IPI TOMBE

This filly was bred in Zimbabwe by PJ Moor and was sold at the 2000 National Yearling Sales at the Harare Showgrounds for the maiden bid of about US$300 to Sunmark Syndicate. I personally thought she looked like a squib, a pit pony, and was grossly over-priced!  Shows how much I know. Ipi Tombe went on to be a global superstar winning such races as the Durban July, the Dubai Duty Free, and the Locust Grove at Churchill Downs in the USA. She won 12 of her 14 starts and earned in excess of US$1.5 million. She was then sold in foal to Sadlers Wells for £850,000.

Now tell me it’s an elitist sport!

SYNDICATES

Racehorses can cost a lot of money to buy and train, but ownership is facilitated through partnerships, syndicates and companies such as the ZimFun Racing Club where costs are spread. In ZimFun’s case, you can race as an owner for one year for US$100.

I joined my first syndicate over forty years ago when I was a civil servant of modest income – membership cost me a month’s salary – one of the best investments in fun I have ever made.

Now tell me it Is an elitist sport!

GLOBAL

Horse racing is a global sport with tremendous support from the Arab States of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia; the Far East has a huge interest in racing with vibrant industries in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. China is building racecourses and a new industry is emerging in Kazakstan. Ireland, the UK and France are the centres of excellence in Europe.  There is much poor racing in America with rubbish tracks and drug scandals – and in Africa the sport can be found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mauritius.
It seems to me that horse racing is enjoyed by all racial groups, and participants are drawn from across every hue, religion and sexual orientation.

Now tell me racing is racist.

ZIMBABWE

In Zimbabwe, the situation is much the same. Owners are black, white and Asian (it would be good to have some Chinese too), and they include men and women. I haven’t checked out their sexual orientation – but who cares anyway!

The real sportsmen at Borrowdale are the jockeys – those brave souls who risk life and limb to partner their 500kg mounts as they hurtle around the racecourse at 60kph. Again, drawn from all races. We have some talented riders – we even had a lady rider, O’Meara Rusike, but she left for South Africa earlier this year. Last year’s champion jockey was Norbert Takawira, and the champion apprentice, Rodgers Satombo.

Now tell me the Zimbabwe industry is either racist or sexist. 

EMPLOYMENT

As a final point, it should be noted that horse racing provides employment opportunities for a great many people, and not only the grooms who look after and ride work on their charges. The linkages go much further to those who provide the feed, vet services, farriers, Borrowdale Park workers and management, and all those involved with betting shops and tote offices – to mention just a few.

I know that bigots don’t like to get confused with the facts, so I know my views will fall on stony ground, but for all open-minded Zimbabweans who are unclear about horse racing and its image, my message to you is very clear. Horse racing is a truly egalitarian sport and the ultimate leveller. So get behind the Zimbabwean horse racing industry – let’s all try and make it great again.

Come racing when the COVID-19 restrictions end. Entry is free, with plenty of parking, and plenty of space in the stands to watch the exciting battles on the track. Eat, drink, be merry with your friends, and back a winner or two.

2 September 2020
 

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Photograph courtesy of Horse Racing Nation

GHAIYYATH  – GOOD OR GREAT?

By winning three Group One races in quick succession this UK summer and beating the likes of Stradivarius, Enable and Magical, Ghaiyyath has been catapulted to the top of rankings for the Cartier Horse of the Year Awards later this year – and this big horse certainly deserves to be there – this year.

But has he done enough to join the ranks of the truly greats such as Frankel, Mill Reef, Sea Bird and my all-time greatest, Brigadier Gerard?  Mmmmm I don’t think so yet.

Ghaiyyath is by the really great sire Dubawi which means his blood goes back to Mr Prospector in the sire line and Shirley Heights and Dancing Brave in Dubawi’s dam line. His own dam is Nightime by Galileo whose description defies superlatives – and thus includes the Blue Blood of Sadlers Wells, Urban Sea and Northern Dancer

I have long praised the value of the Mr Prospector – Northern Dancer crosses, and here Ghaiyyath adds considerable weight to my contentions.  Of course, I might be biased – but since this is my column, I can ignore any criticism!

Having said that, I would just point out that Nightime has eight progeny of racing age and fitness with only two having been sired by Dubawi – they being Ghaiyyath and New Kingdom. All the other progeny have been well enough bred but they achieved little on the track. Zhukova by Fastnet Rock did win six modest races but that is about it.

Significantly, New Kingdom is a two-year-old and has yet to race – keep an eye out for this one – is there another Ghaiyyath waiting to emerge? Probably not but you never know with that sort of breeding.

Ghaiyyath himself has had a bit of a chequered racing history since first running (third) at Doncaster way back in September 2017. His career has also seen some significant breaks – 343 days, 197 days, 126 days, 137 days and 106 days – which would suggest he may have had some soundness issues – but these could now be well behind him. He has raced just twelve times for nine wins of which only four were Group Ones. By my own rating system Ghaiyyath has accumulated only 69 points which put him as an “also ran” in the pantheon of greats – well so far. (By the way, Frankel has 117 points, Enable 129 points and the Brigadier has 147 points.)

He failed miserably in last year’s Arc which saw Waldgeist touch off Enable by 1.25 lengths, with Ghaiyyath thirty-two lengths further behind. Given that the race was run in bottomless going, all can be forgiven.

As a five-year-old, Ghaiyyath can still do much to enhance his reputation and I truly hope he does. The Arc will be big test for him this year as he will have to tackle Enable over her best distance and then there is Love – the three-year-old Galileo filly which has swept all before her this year and will have a serious weight advantage.  For me Love will conquer all and overshadow the greatness of Ghaiyyath.

HOOFNOTE

Don’t forget we are still selling shares in ZimFun Racing Club Ltd.  – just US$100 for a full year’s racing – peanuts really – ping pledge or funds to spencer@virtrust.com or cjohnsmith1@aol.com

26 August 2020

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Photo by Kursat Akkoyunlu from Pexels

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE

says The Centaurian writing about the Ebor Festival

It’s a big race week at York’s Knavesmire – with many of the best horses in the country taking centre stage.

I have had runners at many British courses (though not Thirsk where the track is 800 yards from my home there!), and I have to say that after Borrowdale Park, York looks after their owners and trainers best. The facilities across every criterion are excellent – viewing, proximity to the parade ring, bar and most importantly, grub – really the best in the UK.

Why is that? OK punters provide much of the revenue in racing, but it’s the owners in particular who actually stump up vast sums at sales, stables, vets, farriers, insurers, you name it, they pay – and in the certain knowledge that very few will actually make a profit. Owners should be ascribed preferential status at all times.

Apart from the dining experience, Borrowdale Park has gotten things right – though improvement is always possible.

York racing yesterday saw the Group 1, Juddmonte International run over ten furlongs with just five runners – but what class. Ghayyaith, the Dubawi champion, Lord North, the Dubawi gelding, Magical, the Galileo colt out of a Pivotal mare, and Kameko the winner of the 2,000 Guineas – oh and Mark Johnston’s real outsider, Rose of Kildare by Make Believe, a relatively unknown Mafki stallion but which was unbeaten as a two-year-old in France. I could not pick the winner – well not for betting purposes – but I thought Ghaiyyath had all the credentials albeit in a tight finish. And so it proved to be – and at 15/8 it was probably a good bet really.

PILE IN

Thursday’s big race is the Group 1, Yorkshire Oaks run over the classic distance of a mile and a half. There are only six runners and whilst there are some decent sorts taking part, I am not sure it’s worth mentioning any other than 1,000 Guineas winner, Love.

From Aiden O’Brien’s yard. This filly is by Galileo out of the Pivotal mare, Pikaboo – a highly successful nick – and I just can’t see past her – this is pure class – odds will be poor but pile in.

The big race on Friday is the Group 1, Nunthorpe Stakes, which is run over five furlongs and once again we shall see what might be the best sprinter in the world, Battaash. By Dark Angel, this is the bloodline of Acclamation and Royal Applause – sprinting Blue Bloods.

Battaash has won twelve sprints and only disappointed last year in the Prix de l’Abbaye because the ground was bottomless squelch and wholly unsuited to his action. There has been a bit of rain about in the UK but they say the going today is good, good to soft in places – my guess is that Battaash will cream it on Friday – short odds – 8/15 – but pile in again.

Tim Easterby is a shrewd and talented local Malton trainer who targets York and if you don’t like backing odds on favourites, try Art Power, also by Dark Angel – but be warned. I don’t get it within ten lengths of Battaash – it’s that fast.

The last big race of the festival is on Saturday when the Ebor Handicap is run over one mile and six furlongs. This race was first run in 1843 – some 177 years ago – final acceptances are yet to hand but look out for what Mark Johnston declares – his horses are fit, strong and he knows how to train stayers and Joe Fanning knows how to pace them – no pair can do it better.

20 August 2020

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The ZimFun Colours have been registered.

AT THE STARTING STALLS

Well, it’s been a bit more of a mission than I had anticipated but ZimFun is now at the starting stalls and ready for the gates to fly open, and let its first horse thunder over the hallowed turf that is Borrowdale Park.

Key elements are effectively in place:

(1) Zimfun Racing Club (Pvt) Ltd is now a registered company – though because of COVID-19 we still need to be issued with a proper registration number.

(2) In order to keep the admin simple there will only be two formal directors, Spencer Murray and myself – but to demonstrate complete transparency there will be a panel of other directors on a Fun Board.

(3) Excitingly our colours were approved by the NHRA – giving the lie to claims that this body is a stuffy old-fashioned stick in the mud. NHRA could not have been more helpful and I would like to publicly thank Hazel Kayiya, Arnold Hyde and Leigh Bockel for their constructive contributions to getting our club and its colours across the line.

(4) The actual racing silks have arrived at the stables and very impressive they are too – ideal for putting a smile on Zimbabwean faces.

(5) We have had a steady flow of revenue from the sale of shares and the pot is now running to a number of thousands of dollars – but still way off the target of $150,000 – and that is where you, my readers, come in. We need your bucks!

Remember you can e-mail spencer@virtrust.com with a firm pledge of how many shares you might like to buy at US$100 each – or you can drop round and hand over your spondoolies at Virgin Management Services, 7 Normandy Road, Alex Park.

And for the sake of clarity and making no apology for repetition, when you buy one share that is it for the year…. No further calls for cash. You are a shareholder in every horse Zimfun has in its string for 12 months, and can attend every race meeting for free, enter the parade ring (once COVID rules allow), shout our runners home from the members stand for free, and lead our winners in when we hit the jackpot.

You can also apply to become a member of the Owners and Trainers and then use their facilities on the third floor.

I can report that we are now looking to find our first horse to bring north, likely to be a colt or gelding, 3 or 4-year-old, middle distance type of runner with an index above 65, sound but maybe in its place in South Africa rankings. So, if any South African trainers or owners are reading this – and have a suitable candidate for us – please ping details to cjohnsmith1@aol.com

Horse number one for ZimFun will be trained by Kirk Swanson who drew the highest card at the order draw.

Let us hope we can unlock the ZimFun in a tangible way in the very near future – believe me it’s gonna happen and it’s gonna be great Fun – especially for all those who have already bought shares and will have their first leg in a racehorse. Let’s hope we can sell many more and line up an exciting group of runners for what must become famous silks.

HOOFNOTE ONE

In my piece about the Greatest Ever Racehorses, published a few months ago – using The Centaurian assessment system – I had by pure chance gotten colt Frankel and race mare Enable on exactly the same score of 117.

Since that time, Enable has raced on as a six-year-old running second in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse at Sandown over ten furlongs, but then creaming the Group 1 King George at Ascot over a mile and a half.

For those runs, Enable earns herself 11 further points and this takes her to a score of 128 and closes on my all-time great, Brigadier Gerard (146 points)

It was disappointing to see only three runners in the King George but let me remind you that Enable won the race in a time which was faster than her two previous wins of the race. The way she pulled clear of the two Galileo colts, Sovereign and Japan, raised the hair on my neck.

If she goes on to win the Irish Champion Stakes and then the Arc, she will pick up a further 21 points and match the Brigadier’s number of Group 1 wins – 13 – in one less number of outings, and will earn a total of 149 points to make her my best racehorse ever.

Not bad for a filly – and we are all around to witness this greatness.

13 August 2020

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SPEAKING UP AND SPEAKING OUT – ABOUT NICO

I can’t profess to know a great deal about the Phumelela affair – except to say it has been a giant dog’s breakfast which has culminated with the corporate being consigned to Business Rescue, and the involvement of racing icon, Mary Slack – and a very much appreciated intervention too.

Now I shall be generous to those in charge of what is going on now – but I guess like in all distressed company circumstances accountants have gotten involved – just the very last people who should be. In my view, accountants are completely useless in the role of rescuing anything – in fact in my forty years of experience as a company director and chairman, I wouldn’t pay them with washers. I hold them in contempt – just behind lawyers in general, and divorce lawyers in particular!

I am guessing it would be the accountants who decided that the commentator panel should be rationalised – a decision of dubious validity in the first place. Every race needs a commentator so if someone is rationalised, somebody else will get the extra work and the extra pay! Nonsense.

Now for the daftest bit.

It seems Nico Kritsiotis has become the fall guy. Are they completely barking mad? I don’t know any of the South African commentator personally, but have heard them all, often. Now I am sure they are all perfectly nice and good guys – but my assessment of their commentating ability is that at best, most are moderate and at worst many are completely hopeless – except Kritsiotis.

Let me make it very clear – Nico Kritsiotis is a world-class commentator and for me is the voice of South African racing.

Here’s why.

He knows a great deal about horseracing, trainers, jockeys, breeding, rules – indeed the whole shooting match and can speak with complete authority on many topics.

His voice is clear and crisp at all times – just the best.He paces his voice to the race perfectly. He covers the race, pace, structure and participants to a high state of excellence and accuracy.

He has the unique ability and perception to pick up those horses which are going to feature in the finish long before it becomes evident to mere mortals like us. Finally, he never uses naff phrases such as are common in many commentaries you hear – especially in America where this function is an embarrassment.

I would be highly surprised if any regular supporter of racing would disagree with me – and if they do, they are wrong!

When these Business Rescue people sort things out, I would strongly suggest that those who eventually take over Phumelela make a list of phone calls to make. High on that list should be a call to Nico Kritsiotis – apologise and humbly beg him to return to where he belongs – to the asset register of South African racing. 

3rd August 2020

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Photograph: Siskin, courtesy of Racing And Sports.

THE SUSSEX DOWNS – AND UPS

Siskin won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and is favourite for the Qatar Sussex Stakes to be run at Goodwood on Wednesday 29th July.

Kameko won the English 2,000 Guineas beating hot pot favourite, Pinatubo, and another Sussex entry, Wichita, from the Aiden O’Brien stable. These are the three-year-olds which top the boards along with Mohaather from Marcus Tregonning’s yard. But there are also a couple of four-year-olds, notably Circus Maximus, the Galileo colt which is to be ridden by Ryan Moore – but carrying 8lbs more than the three-year-olds.

I think this is another great race with real class involved. On known past form you would have to say that it’s between Siskin and Kameko – but which one. Information suggests that Siskin might not want it to be too soggy underfoot, though he has won all his races in Ireland so far – where sogginess is pretty much the norm and he has won on the soft at the Curragh in June last year. He has only won one race over a mile and that was last time out in June of this year, beating Vatican City by just under two lengths.

Siskin’s sire is a dirt track performer from America, First Defence, which was good over six and seven furlongs. The dam, Bird Flown, only had one win and that was over seven furlongs. On that basis I put a question mark against his ability to stay and compete in such exalted company as Kameko, which is by Kittens Joy – that definitely could stay – and out of miler specialist Sweeter Still.

Kameko’s performance in the 2000 Guineas has been endorsed by the searing win of Pinatubo in the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville on 12th July. He failed in the Derby, however, and I suspect Kameko found that race a tad too far. Having said that, there was no great shame in coming fourth over 2400 metres in the greatest race on the planet – beating the favourite, English King, and my own selection, Russian Emperor.

So of those two, I would suggest that Kameko, ridden by Oisin Murphy, is the one.

Having said that, I was very impressed by the win of Circus Maximus in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes over a mile at Ascot last month. The Ascot mile is a tough mile and this Galileo colt did exactly as a Galileo colt would do, he got headed by Terebellum close home but battled back bravely to win by a head. I think Circus Maximus with the world’s best jockey on board, Ryan Moore, is my idea of the winner of this race and at 13/2 is a decent bet.

As a closing comment, here is another superb race to compete in. First run in 1878, past winners include all the glitterati of the track such as Frankel – twice – Canford Cliffs, Kingman, Too Darn Hot, Rock of Gibraltar, Giants Causeway and even Brigadier Gerard, the best racehorse ever.

So why only seven runners on Wednesday – not as bad as the King George but still a pretty poor showing for Glorious Goodwood.

28 July 2020

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PROPER RACING – WELL ALMOST

As expected, Enable romped home in the 2020 running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last Saturday – beating a pitiful field which included just two other runners. An inexplicable number of runners for such a big purse.

So it’s hard to gauge just how good that run was. In watching, I thought Enable looked well and honed for action. Sovereign made it a genuine pace and I wondered how fast it really was. Frankie knew exactly what he had under him and when asked to kick, she ran on strongly and beat both Sovereign and Japan by many lengths.

Today I checked the time. Under 2 minutes 29 seconds – that is pretty good. At this level, time matters, Group 1 form tends to be robust – Ascot times can vary according to the going but Saturday was decent, good standard going so we can have a stab at assessing how Enable actually did. Well her time on Saturday was considerably faster than both her previous wins – different going but still a good indicator.

She was a second slower than Galileo’s 2001 winning time (or six lengths) but a second faster than Montjeu’s effort in 2000.
Enable’s times were in line with previous winners Dancing Brave, Daylami, Generous, King’s Theatre, Swain and Conduit.

My conclusion is that it was a really good and laudable effort and something all can be genuinely proud of. If she goes for the Arc in this type of form and condition, I think she must have a great chance to further enhance her place in the history books of racing.

27 July 2020

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Photograph courtesy of the BHA: The 2019 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

AND IT’S NOT BORROWDALE – SO NO MORE WHINGING

‘The Group 1 – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – is run over a mile and almost four furlongs at Ascot for a winning purse of £226,840 – place money is pretty hot too.


‘When I checked the entries – of which there were hobbles – I could count that Aiden O’Brien had no less than 13 of which one was this year’s Derby winner, the 3-year-old Galileo colt, Serpentine.

‘When I checked the final acceptances, I saw there were only 8 going to post. I am not saying those that stood their ground are not top-quality thoroughbreds, but all the good 3-year-olds have ducked.

‘Those running are the great race-mare and 13-time winner, Enable (by Nathaniel out of the Sadlers Wells mare Concentric), and Fanny Logan (Sea the Stars out of the Manduro mare Linda Radlet), both from the John Gosden yard. Then there is Magical, Japan, Sovereign, Anthony Van Dyck (the 2019 Derby winner) and Magic Wand – all by Galileo – then finally we have Sir Dragonet by Camelot.

‘Are you ahead of me? I think you are. These last six runners are all from the Ballydoyle yard of Aiden O’Brien. Yes it’s unbelievable!

‘One of the greatest races of the year, just eight runners and only two trainers. Two trainers can happen at Borrowdale Park but surely nowhere else. So let’s not ever whinge again, and accept this Group 1 will be a fascinating race, largely because of the tactics to be employed.

‘For me, under normal circumstances, I would say that I would “eat hay with a donkey” if 8/13 favourite Enable got beaten – especially since Frankie Dettori is aboard and this is a perfect distance for the dual winner of and runner-up in the Arc.

‘But Aiden is not running six horses to pick up most of the place money – Aiden is in it to win it, make no mistake. In order to pull off such a coup, in my view, against such a champion, he can only do so by tactical racing and six runners might just be enough to achieve his goal. I am not sure it matters which jockey rides which of Aiden’s six runners, I think, collectively, they will be looking to see which ends up with the main chance.

‘I guess they will try to assemble a phalanx of horses to box in Enable (drawn 5), but that is going to be really tricky as Fanny Logan, the other Gosden horse, is drawn 6 – on her outside – and will provide some protection from any closing off efforts from Magical (7) and Magic Wand (8). And 49- year-old, Frankie, might be Italian but he is no fool! (joke there for the PC). He is a master tactician and knows Enable so well. Ascot also has a proper straight with a bit of a climb out of the dip, about 600 metres from home – which makes it a stiff finish and I think Enable has the stamina, a fair galloping weight, and the going to suit her.

‘My prediction is that Enable will be ridden to avoid being boxed in by the O’Brien sextet, and will sweep home to win in the centre of the track to a rousing silence from the stands. If she does get boxed in, I think she will sweep home to win in the centre of the track to a rousing silence from the stands!

‘When Frankie does his leaping victory dismount he will be cheered from every armchair around the world – and rightfully so.
It will be Enable 1st, Tactics 2nd – I hope.’

PS – please keep the money coming in for ZimFun Racing Club – existing owners (like me) and those who would like to dip a toe in the trough, it’s just US$100 for the whole year – peanuts really – email spencer@virtrust.com

23 July 2020

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MAYBE NOT SUCH A BAD THING…

With Tellytrack being uncompromising in its stance towards televising Borrowdale Park, I have just begun to wonder if they might actually be doing us a favour, maybe big favour.

‘In my experience and understanding, Tellytrack have not actually covered themselves in glory. I get their commercial imperative of covering as many races as possible but the consequence of this is that we see next to no run-up to each race and precious little afterwards – and this is especially true of racing from Borrowdale – and this even applies to our big sponsored races. Oftentimes they either don’t cover some races at all or they broadcast a recording of a recently run race. In the words of Jim Hacker – this is “round objects”

‘Generally speaking, and if the truth is to be told, Tellytrack coverage of Zim racing has been rubbish for years.

‘So what can modern media offer in its stead? The answer to that is, whatever we want it to offer.

”The Facebook platform can give us an excellent opportunity to showcase Borrowdale in particular and Zimbabwe in general – provided of course our target audience can be properly accessed – that in itself is a real mission but a realisable challenge

‘And another thing – in racing, whilst the gambling element is important, it is not the only element. How many people tune in to watch a football match or a cricket match or Royal Ascot – the answer is millions – and it’s not because they have all got bets on – they turn on to enjoy the sport. Racing is a sporting spectacle and there are guaranteed to be seven or eight climaxes on every race card. So let’s not get hung up on gambling alone.

‘By broadcasting our own days at Borrowdale Park a multiplicity of objectives might be achieved. Firstly we are offering live sport from one of the most beautiful racecourses in the world – that should be able to attract a big audience – maybe not initially but over time. Secondly, we can be on the air for hours and make a proper job of showcasing Borrowdale.

‘To do that we need to have content other than the actual races. I believe with the right anchor persons, we can find all the necessary fillers we need. Fillers can include a variety of topics such as international racing analysis, historical features from Borrowdale, coverage of other events happening at Borrowdale, to mention just a few ideas.

‘As to anchor persons, we have a few good ‘uns, Adrian Nydam, Ngoni Nguruza, and Marc Pozzo – we can also rope in loquacious Thomas Mason and have input from a variety of other characters – of which there are many in our racing community.

‘We can build a reputation for entertainment beyond seven races and this is where the bigger benefit to Borrowdale can emerge. Why can’t we have pop up wine bars, art exhibitions, fashion days, craft market days, al fresco dining events – to mention just a few ideas? All of which can make for good entertainment for those attending the races, for those watching on Facebook and for those who fancy a day out. The more people we get to attend Borrowdale, the greater the potential for reinvigorating the essence of horse racing in Zimbabwe. When visitors experience the real excitement of race-day across the piece, the more likely it is we can get a few to invest in some horses or syndicates.

‘We can also use the Facebook medium to encourage membership of ZimFun Racing Club – the Zim national racing concept – open for everyone with just a hundred bucks.

‘If the social media fundis can do their job well and generate a mass following, then the potential for providing an advertising platform could emerge which in turn could facilitate the recruitment of race sponsors.

‘The Tellytrack hiatus should not be seen as the end of the world – it would be better if they stopped being prats and included Borrowdale on their platform – but let’s not be forlorn. Let’s make our own platform as successful as we can – it’s all highly doable – let’s get a viral cult following, or as close to that as we can. If anyone can do it, Zimbos can.

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THE CENTAURIAN WELCOMES ‘LIVE’ RACING AT BORROWDALE PARK

Video: One of the races which was live on June 26.
Peggson at his best in the last race of the day – the 2000m Pinnacle Plate

VIDEO STARS

‘Before the last race meeting at Borrowdale Park, I received a very welcome email as follows:

Watch on https://www.facebook.com/zimracing/ and, hopefully, on https://zimracing.com/borrowdale-park-videos

‘At last I could watch Borrowdale on video, directly from the races, and not via DSTV or even by the more circuitous routes involving WhatsApp links.

‘In the event, the picture quality was good and there were no interruptions. There is always scope for improvement – notably, we could have done with some analysis and debate from racing fundis – but it was great to see this from Borrowdale – a good start – well done to all concerned.

‘It is my hope this can be the norm of the future as it is vital to use all means possible to promote Zim racing and to penetrate new markets which are so open to Facebook access.

‘I can say our racing was watched in the UK and that was only day one.

ZIMFUN

‘In the case of the ZimFun Racing Club, FB coverage will greatly assist my efforts in raising funds from outside the country – notably from RSA. If you can’t get to the course, it’s great to be able to pick it up on your laptop or mobile phone as well as your desktop.

‘So, if you are reading this column outside Zimbabwe, it is one less excuse to not subscribe to this new venture!

‘With regards to payment routes from RSA, we still have grief from SARS, but I remain on the case. In the meantime, I hope enthusiasts can “make a plan” with pals in Zim. For example, get a locally based friend to buy you your shares and you sort them out in SA – or send them a few cases of wine – its only US$100 per share – just a couple of cases of Fat Bastard – and I need to sell as many as I can.

‘Of course, you can send a serious pledge to spencer@virtrust.com and we can use these pledges to both plan our purchases and to deploy funds in South Africa where vetting and transport have to be paid for locally.

‘Hopefully, in the near future, I will have a bank account number you can send your pledges to – watch this space.

‘And by way of poste scriptum: I still can’t get Serpentine to win the Epsom Derby on form!’

7 July 2020

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I MISSED ‘NOUT’


‘There was no point in re-appraising the Derby result – but I did go back and see what I had missed about Serpentine – and the answer is nout.


‘He broke his maiden at the Curragh on 27th June beating another Galileo colt, Monument Valley by nine lengths – prior to which it had run 5th and 10th of 11. And Monument Valley isn’t up to much either.


‘You could never guess he would win the Derby from that performance.


‘Then I thought I would check out the time of the race – was it slow? The answer is slowish. At 2 minutes 34.43 seconds it’s over three seconds slower than Workforce’s record time of 2 mins 31.33 seconds in 2010 – over this distance, that is about 20 lengths. And it was just over a second slower than Galileo’s own Derby time in 2001 – or about six lengths.


‘The conclusion I reach is that the blue-blood jockeys collectively got it wrong and must have been convinced Serpentine would come back to them – but there again the second and third were outsiders too – so that conclusion is probably rubbish too!


‘I look forward to seeing how all these runners perform in the future – and will Serpentine become the rock he is named after – without the green tinge?

ENABLE


‘Speaking of records, Love who won the Oaks did so in record time – that held by Enable! Let’s see if she can hold the great Ghayaith in the Coral Eclipse.


‘What a great weekend of racing we are all enjoying – and without a mention of the Durban July.’

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AND THIS IS THE ULTIMATE – HE SAYS

It’s the very best horse race on the planet. The English Derby run at Epsom on 4th July over a mile and half (2420m for the modern person) is a proper, proper race – it has everything a racing fan could want.

The ultimate challenge of a course which swings left and right, rises and falls and finishes in long sweeping straight which cambers to the rails – oh on turf. The horses are the crème de la crème of bloodstock three-year-olds, the trainers are the elite in their class (so clearly it excludes any American trainer) and the jockeys are all blue-bloods of immense skill and touch.

This is what racing is all about. If you watched Royal Ascot, this is the next level up – the ultimate spectacle, the ultimate test of a thoroughbred – you must switch on at 5.55 pm Zim time or 4.55 GMT for the English Derby.

Most Derby runners are raced sparingly – and this is especially the case this year – so form is not that easy to assess. However, if we link what little form there is to other pointers, such as breeding, trainers and jockeys it is possible to arrive at some reasonable view of the likely outcome.

Favourite for the race is English King from the yard of Ed Walker. I love the breeding of this horse, he is by Camelot (the Montjeu stallion out of a Kingmambo mare), out of Platonic, which goes back to the Minstrel – these are magical links which lead to a grand name for any horse. He is favourite for two reasons, I think. Firstly, by the way, he won the Lingfield Derby Trial on 5th June over 2,300m. He decimated that field and hardly raised a sweat – most impressive indeed.

But. What did he beat? I have to say nout much. None of the runners of that day are in the Derby field. On this basis, it is difficult to say with any clarity that English King is the one. However, Frankie is riding him and not the John Gosden contender, Worthily, (which I understand has been doing some great grass work). It is on this basis that you have to give English King some serious respect.

Perhaps a more credible contender for the big prize is Kameko, the winner of the 2000 Guineas last month. The sire is American! Kitten’s Joy was a decent turf horse and won over a mile to a mile and a half in races such as the Secretariat Stakes and the Turf Classic. The dam is less special. Sweeter Still was bred in Ireland by Rock of Gibraltar, but ran all but once in America – to no great distinction, winning just three out of eighteen starts – but since American racing is rubbish on toy tracks I shall forgive her. Kameko won his 2000 Guineas well and must be in with a realistic chance – especially since Oisin Murphy has the mount.

Then we come to Aidan O’Brien – no Derby is safe with him having runners – and the next three in the betting are all his, Russian Emperor, Mogul and Vatican City – they are all around the 6 or 7 to 1 mark which surprises me a little bit – but there again, they are all by Galileo so maybe I shouldn’t be.

In making my assessment, I am struggling to get past Russian Emperor. He seems to be bred in the purple, not only on the sire side but the dam is Atlantic Jewel who won seven of her eight starts in Australia, culminating in the Group 1 Cathay Pacific Caulfield Stakes over 2000 metres. When she was beaten it was only by a short head so her form is strong – and on proper race tracks too.

If you watched Royal Ascot you will have seen Russian Emperor come home strongly under Ryan Moore to win the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes over 2000 metres. You may also have seen Lord North cream the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes over the same distance. What you may not know is that Russian Emperor completed the last furlong in a faster time than his four-year-old senior.

For me that is a decisive indicator at this level, as it was thus faster than Addeybb, Barney Roy, Japan and Bangkok – and these are serious horses.

I suppose you could argue the Derby is 400 metres further, but we are talking Galileo here. I am sure the Emperor will stay – and so is Ryan Moore otherwise he would be on a different horse.

I accept that all O’Brien’s entries merit their positions but for me none stand out like Russian Emperor. I actually make him my pick for the race – in fact I think it is a pile-in bet at 6 to 1.
For the minor places I think the betting is probably right, though I take Kameko to beat English King, and Worthily to be a decent place bet at 33 to 1.

Interestingly, there are no horses by Sea the Stars, Frankel or Nathaniel – and no runners from ace trainer Mark Johnston… maybe next year?

Then after you have enjoyed the greatest flat race on earth, it’s time to send your US$100 serious pledge to ZimFun Racing Club via spencer@virtrust.com – what is $2 per week?

Photograph courtesy racing.com

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WHAT ARE THE ODDS

Every time we buy a lottery ticket or have a punt on a horse, or forecast who might score first for Liverpool, we are assessing the odds – that is gambling. Buying a share in a racehorse is pretty much the same – but in the case of ZimFun Racing Club Ltd it’s a bit more than a just a gamble.

The total losses or costs are clearly defined for each shareholder – at US$100 for a full year’s involvement – amounts to just $2 per week. There are no more calls for cash for 12 months.

 In return the upsides fall into four categories. Firstly are the purses which might be won at Borrowdale Park and returned to the company coffers. Then there is the information, inside track – provided by the ZimFun WhatsApp social media group – you will get to know better than anyone outside the group just what the chances are for each of our horses and thus help you make up your mind if you want a bet and if so how much.

Thirdly, if we do end up with an above average performer, we retain the right to sell it and again return profits to the company account. Finally, and as important as anything else, there is the FUN – of participating in the whole Sport of Kings – going to the racecourse if you can, fun in the parade ring, shouting from the balcony as the races are run and with a bit of luck, leading a winner in with old mates and the new ones you have yet to make. Priceless.

We have estimated that the total cost of keeping a horse in training, paying for the incidentals, jockeys, airfares as necessary, vets and farrier run to about $6,000 per annum – these are our variable costs and exclude the cost of procurement and transport north to Zim.

To get that back we need to win a few races and get a few places in ordinary races each year. Your guess is as good as mine as to the likelihood of that happening but in Zim, where horse numbers are low and we might have say 120 to 150 races to pop at, the chances are actually above average. Of course winning a feature race like the Tankard or the Ok or the Republic Cup improves the economics significantly – but don’t hold your breath too hard – though it’s not out of the question by any means.

My guess is that each horse will be ready to run when it arrives and so the ZimFun can begin from the first day’s racing.

All it needs is for the other 1470 of my 1500 readers of this column to get their hands in their pockets as the first 30 have done – and send $100 cash to Virgin Management Service at 7 Normandy Road, Alex Park in Harare or send a sincere e mail pledge to spencer@virtrust.comand ideally, do it now

News on colours next…..

Also I should have some payment options for RSA investors too – shortly….

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SELECTION – SELECTION – SELECTION

Since the launch of the ZimFun Racing Club, focus has now shifted to the horse selection process.

Whilst a consideration of horse rescue has been included in our thoughts, it must be stressed that ZimFun was never conceived as a dumping ground for dead beat, no hopers, at the end of their effective racing careers. Instead it was felt ZimFun might be able to take advantage of the shake-up taking place in South African racing by accepting a number of horse offers which are already being received from our neighbour on a free and gratis basis. But only if some strict criteria can be met.

Instead, the main thrust of ZimFun is to buy as many horses as it can afford to keep in training for twelve months.

So, I thought it might be useful to publicise the sort of broad criteria the team has come up with for its selection process, and it should be noted, these criteria have the full backing of the Zimbabwe horse training fraternity.

At the core of our thinking is the need to buy or be gifted horses that can race immediately, as follows:

               *Sound and vetted horses which will improve the overall quality of horses racing at Borrowdale Park

               *Three, four-and-five-year-olds

               * With a bias towards colts and geldings but not to the exclusion of fillies

               *With merit ratings of not less than 65

               * Suited to distances 1000m to 2000m but with an emphasis on horses that might be best at 1200m to 1600 metres

               *Final selection will involve the ZimFun team with advice and assistance of the Zim trainers

               * Stock from the Highveld where transport costs to Zimbabwe are lowest – but not without exceptions.

The intention in allocating acquisitions was to be totally fair and equal – with all trainers who want to participate in the scheme being allocated through a “lot” system, which was determined by a draw of playing cards. First – Debbie Swanson; Second – Gavin Macleod; Third – Thomas Mason; Fourth – Noeline Peech, and Fifth – Bridget Stidolph.

All these trainers will be going out now to help drive their databases to ZimFun…. there is no one who cannot afford to buy at least one share, and so contribute to the return of prosperity to Borrowdale Park, and a return to all the fun which can be had at the racecourse.

For its part, ZimFun intends to make a big deal out of its future winning ways. Our Director of Celebrations, Sandra Mehlomakhulu, and her team, will make sure all shareholders enjoy the maximum out of our certain success. It will be like a successful syndicate on steroids.

My next column will spell out in more detail how ZimFun shareholders could see any financial benefit from corporate success being disbursed. Having said that, as we all know in racing – profitability is very far from a given whereas, fun is a certainty.

That address for funds : Virgin Management Services, Normandy Road, Alex Park – just off Churchill Road.

 And the e mail for pledges mailto:spencer@virtrust.com

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YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE –

Well sort of… Update from THE CENTAURIAN on the ZimFun Racing Club 
 
Despite the handicaps brought on by Covid-19, work behind the scenes to get ZimFun on course and fit for purpose has been going pretty well and has already left the starting stalls.

Virgin Management Services has been cracking on with the incorporation of the company, and working to set up a Trust for RSA funds is underway too – but not without SARS hassle.

A meeting of trainers happened on the 22nd June and their collective wisdom will be included in the thought processes of ZimFun in its efforts to rescue endangered horses in South Africa, and to purchase other stock at forthcoming sales.

Our bespoke racing colours have been designed and now just need the nod from the NHRA of South Africa. I hope they will get right behind this big push. 

Of course, the success of the ZimFun Racing Club (Pvt) Ltd can only be determined by the level of support it receives from those who want to save horses, and those who would like to dip a hoof in the water trough of owning a bit of a thoroughbred – or ten. As I have said many times before I really would like every reader of this and other Centaurian columns to commit to buying at least one share in the ZimFun Racing Club i.e. 1500 readers – thus shareholders and racehorse owners could have a meaningful impact on both the plight of horses in South Africa and the prosperity of Borrowdale Park. I hope I don’t need to convince you that this is potentially a big deal – and a helluva lot of fun to boot. Please act now – our target is $150 000.

For Zimbabwe, the requirement is to provide US$100 – or multiples of that sum – to Virgin Management Services or any member of its staff – for safekeeping and deployment in ZimFun’s mission. I know this approach may not be hassle free – but the cause is worthy enough for you to make an effort. In return, you will get a receipt and your name will be entered onto the ledger of shareholders – and thereafter you will get to hear what’s going on from a big WhatsApp group.

There will be no further call for cash for the first year. At the end of the year we will look to the next call for cash – but for now, $100 is all we need from you – all of you.

I am delighted to say that the first $500 has been deposited and the first five shares issued

Now it is your turn. Please back ZimFun and get your US dollars to Spencer Murray and co – at Virgin Management Services, Normandy Road, Alex Park as soon as possible. mailto:spencer@virtrust.com 

If the next half week is not convenient then you can send Virgin offices an e-mail indicating what your pledge is and when you might expect to honour it – ideally within 14 days. But please do, don’t prevaricate, we do not have the resources or energy to be chasing folk. This way we can plan our campaign and get things moving pronto.

If we can raise $10,000 in the next two weeks we can rescue a couple of horses, get them up here, allot them to their trainers and implement our policy of paying a year’s training fees up front – then get ’em on the course in ZimFun colours.

We don’t intend to mess about – ZimFun will be driven hard and ridden enthusiastically – whips will only be used on slow payers!

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I REFUSE…

To be negative!

Why?

Because there are green shoots appearing in Zimbabwe’s racing industry and they are not weeds!

Photograph: Andrew Philip

BORROWDALE PARK

After much “tooing and froing” the thrusting young guys driving Borrowdale Park eventually got an eleventh-hour green light from the Sport & Recreation Council and the gates flew open at 10.35 on Wednesday 3rd June.

Seven races were carded – ironically to include the Independence Trophy – and all the jockeys were local lads – and I have to say that, despite their general lack of experience, they acquitted themselves very well. There were some good driving finishes and close calls – the 4th, 6th and last races were especially exciting.

There is also further good news – I never doubted Thomas Mason could train winners and he did. Notably, winning the feature Race with his new charge, Holy Land.  The Ideal World four-year-old is leading Thomas to the Promised Land with this and two other winners. Really well done Thomas – even your adversaries were pleased for you – and that is something very special about Zimbabwe – despite the challenges.

Zimbos are amazingly gracious and genuine. 

The course looked really good and the paddock is one of the best in the world – with those big Ficus trees that Dubbles Draper planted in 1960, providing shade for the masked trainers and jockeys. Surreal!

Of course, there were a couple of hitches. The video was a tad disrupted, Sandsportlive was not quite as continuous as we had hoped and Tellytrack made a complete dogs breakfast of the main race – it didn’t televise it live! Oh – and one final thing, mmmm the starter, race 4, white flag? Say no more.

ZIMFUN RACING CLUB (PVT) LTD

There is even better news here. Spencer Murray has incorporated the real Ltd. company we wanted – as above.

I am holding a number of meetings to get this moving at last – the next key thing is to sort where the shareholders and Zimfun Trust monies can be deposited here and in South Africa. To demonstrate my commitment to this plan, I will be the first to buy 5 x $100 shares.

So, as soon as I publish the banking details please get right behind this plan – and join the ZimFun – our target may be ambitious at US$150,000 but that is only $100 for each reader of this column…so I am counting on you.

2000 QIPCO GUINEAS

Although we have had to wait a month longer than usual, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas will be finally upon us at 3.35 pm on Saturday at Newmarket. This year’s edition looks to be all about one horse, last year’s champion juvenile Pinatubo.

Telegraph Betting takes you through the 2,000 Guineas odds.

Pinatubo 5/6

Arizona 11/2

Kameko 7/1

Kinross 12/1

Wichita 12/1

Military March 16/1

Al Suhail 16/1

Mums Tipple 20/1

Royal Dornoch 33/1

Starcat 40/1

Juan Elcano 50/1

Persuasion 66/1

Cepheus 66/1

New World Tapestry 80/1

The favourite is trained by Charlie Appleby and is by the late, great sire Sharmadal. He swept all before him last year, even the second favourite Arizona, from Aidan O’Briens yard.

In my research I was surprised to find no Galileo stock in this year’s race – Arizona is by No Nay Never, the Scat Daddy sire. So, you can’t really say “well Aidan will come good on the day” and win his 11th Guineas.

That doesn’t mean he won’t, the world’s greatest jockey since Lester has the ride but I am less than confident.

Arizona did OK in his 2019 campaign although he blotted his copybook at Santa Anita in November last year – however, since that is not proper racing you can discount the result.

Pinatubo is not a great strapping individual but I am sure he has the beating of all this lot.

Of the rest, the odds must say it all – Pinatubo is odds on! But of the other contenders I think maybe three catch my eye. 

Cepheus – is by Sea the Stars and has only had one outing last year with Oisin Murphy on board – he won at 25/1. Oisin doesn’t ride him on Saturday but Jim Crowley does. At 50/1 he is value for a place.

Oisin has chosen to ride 7/1 bet Kameko from the Andrew Balding yard. By Kitten’s Joy out of a Rock of Gibralter mare (Sweeter Still) he should be ideally suited to the trip. I expect him to be in the place money.

Finally, I can never easily overlook a Dubawi colt. This year its Al Suhail, another from the stable of Charlie Appleby with erudite and skilled James Doyle in the saddle. I would like to see my opinions endorsed!

For the sentimental, Frankel has a runner, Juan Elcano. I will eat hay with a donkey if he wins.

Frankie rides Wichita for the O’Brien yard and tho’ 14/1 must be in with a little chance.

Whichever of my three “also rans” beats Pinatubo will win the race.

IN CONCLUSION

Whilst we are far from normal yet, lets enjoy the racing we can and relish the imminent prospect of being back at the racecourse in person – and for the 1,500 shareholders in the ZimFun Racing Club Ltd. the Owners and Trainers Bar at Borrowdale Park can cope – we have made a plan.

4th June 2020

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THE ZIMFUN RACING CLUB IS ON TRACK

ZimFun Racing Club

It’s been a while since I reported on the progress of the ZimFun Racing Club Ltd. and with the much reported racing crisis in South Africa upon us, I thought it was opportune to provide readers with an update – as there could be a positive link.

As you will recall and in simple terms, ZimFun is being set up as a Limited Company with subscribers invited to invest in US$100 shares with the goal of raising $150,000 in capital. These funds are to be used to purchase as many horses as possible in South Africa for racing in Zimbabwe with a years’ training fees paid in advance for each purchase – all of which is intended to lift horse numbers in Zim to a level where a “critical mass” is assured and with it, the long term future of Borrowdale Park.

Spencer Murray has already assigned one of his shelf companies, Tarali Investments (Pvt) Ltd, to the purpose and this will trade as ZimFun Racing Club. The company accountants will be Virgin Management Services which will provide very favourable terms. Zimbabwean investors will be able to purchase shares in multiples of $100 and to date I am pleased to report considerable local interest with a number of people pledging to purchase $500 worth of shares – including me.

The situation for South African investors is slightly different as it is quite a mission to invest in Zimbabwe companies. But not to be thwarted, the plan is to form the ZimFun Racing Trust which investors can subscribe to and it will be this Trust that will invest in the Limited Company. Virgin Trust Co. (Pvt) Ltd. will be the Trustees to the ZimFun Trust and investors will become beneficiaries of the Trust and will, in effect, be ascribed the same rights as ordinary shareholders.

Oh and one important point – irrespective of shares held, its one shareholder – one vote – there will be no cliques at ZimFun! Cliques are not Fun.

We have a couple of administrative hiccups in that the Registrar of Companies and his team appear to be still on lockdown and thus the requisite paperwork is being held up – but we will get there.

For the time being, the Board of Directors – all of which are to be unpaid – will look like this, with their Fun functions indicated:

            Chairman of Fun                     C John Smith MBE

            Director of Purses                   Spencer Murray

            Director of Celebrations        Sandra Mehlomakhulu

            Director of Chatter                 TBA – dealing with social media matters

            Director of Chilling                 TBA – dealing with shareholder issues – if any!

The mantra of the company is fully reflected in the name – it has to be Fun and lots of it. Whilst our hope is to be profitable, we all know in reality is that a good part of our investment will diminish so it’s best to start off by accepting a worst case scenario.

Remember our racing colours will be based on a Smiley Face Imogi – again to reflect the company racing mantra.

CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS

Whilst the plan was – and indeed still is – to buy horses at the “Ready to Run” and 2-Year-Old Sales in South Africa, I have been wondering if that policy might be flexed to accommodate current developments in yards across our neighbouring country.

On balance I think it should – and for a couple of compelling reasons.

Firstly, I strongly believe that there are many racing enthusiasts in South Africa who are aghast at what is emerging with their horse population – euthanasia has the most awful of connotations. I believe many such enthusiasts wonder if there is anything, any small thing they might be able to do to prevent such occurrences. For those who simply don’t have the means to buy and keep surplus racehorses, a small investment in ZimFun represents a cracking opportunity to do something – and have a bit of Fun at the same time. ZimFun Trust provides the means to achieve this goal in South Africa.

The second reasons is that if many horses are to be shot, would it not be better to give them away – to ZimFun Racing and let them come to Borrowdale Park to run. Gifts to ZimFun mean that its resources can be better spread. In other words, if a horse is given to ZimFun, the company has then only to transport it north and train it for a year. Since our goal is to race as many horses as possible, gifts could be a big help.

Finally,  if South African owners in general see what Zimbabwe is doing and why, they may consider sending some of their “condemned” horses north where training fees are about half what they are in South Africa – this too would be very good news for Zim racing at all levels, Turf Club, jockeys, trainers, vets, farriers, the whole caboodle. 

I just regret that Zimbabwe no longer has a breeding industry since the misfortune of South Africa could have been a meaningful boon to Zimbabwe – such a shame for us.

So in conclusion, please watch this space for news of how the formal subscription process will begin. And I strongly urge South African racing enthusiasts to get right behind ZimFun Racing Club – buy as many $100 units as possible via the Trust – and Save Lives.

Where I have I heard that before?

(To make direct contact with THE CENTAURIAN see below. The mobile number is available on WhattsApp)

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IT IS TIME TO PLAN

Racing fans are all reading with horror and angst about the disasters which have already befallen the South African industry and those still about to hit it. The upshot of all these things is that the industry is destined to contract significantly in the coming months with casualties on all fronts.

The collateral damage of Covid-19 is vast and far reaching and the South African government appears impotent or blind to the consequences of its own inertia.

Horse euthanasia is the big headline but as the industry contracts the ripple effects spread to all levels…reduced demand for yearlings, with consequential contraction of the breeding industry, less horses in training, less trainers, less grooms, less support services, less rides for jockeys, in fact – less of everything equine. All this impacts negatively on the Exchequer – Jeepers it’s not rocket science – the solution is there – racing behind closed doors.

Horses are still being groomed, shod, vetted, fed and exercised – which is tantamount to racing anyway – the only difference being sought now is to extend this activity into proper racing – with a few social distancing rules and regulations.

AHEAD IN THIS REGARD

I am sure the Zimbabwean sporting authorities are ahead of South Africa in this regard – and for two reasons. At Borrowdale Park, none of the horses have to travel to the course – they are already there, together with all their support staff.

The other reason is that if racing behind closed doors at Borrowdale Park is given a green light, whilst the rest of the racing industry in our time zone is closed down, then a huge publicity opportunity presents itself for Zimbabwe.

Racing channels are crying out for live sport – as are online betting companies – as are traditional sponsors.

Zimbabwe can cash in on all these commercial opportunities for its hard-hit industry – but its bigger than that. Four or five hours of free TV publicity – which is not advertising – can do the image of our great country and its people no end of good. We have been the butt of bad international press and negative stories for too long. Here is a golden chance to try and strike a better balance – and quietly tell the other side of the story.

If for no other reason, we should “make a plan” and go racing – safely –  as many times as possible, whilst we have the edge on the rest of our world.

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THE GREATEST

Mohammed Ali was clearly the best heavyweight boxer of all times – not only for his skills, athleticism and durability
but also for his loquacity.

When it comes to horses the picture is less clear and in my current WhatsApp group the debate is raging – and
passionate.

A number of candidates have been proposed – from the UK, Ireland, Australian and America.

Since this is my column, I make the rules! And the first one is that we can’t include any American horses at all.


As you know I don’t regard them as racing properly in America, I wholly disapprove of their drug regime at all levels and I don’t believe there is adequate integrity in their sport to believe in it – so none count – not even Secretariat. Having said that, one American bred was considered – Nijinsky (by Northern Dancer) bred in the US but consigned to the UK where he won the Triple Crown but not the Arc.

Australia is a bit more tricky to discount – especially when to do so would denigrate the virtues of Winx – which won some 33 races, 25 group races, four Cox Plates and won up to 2,200 metres. So I would say she has to be in there in
the mix.

But after much debate, the two which are left in the frame – so to speak and at the moment – are Frankel and Brigadier Gerard.

They raced forty years apart and there is an argument which says you cant compare them. I disagree – they were both thoroughbreds and they raced on many of the same tracks.

So what are the cases for each horse? Well Frankel, (by Galileo) was an awesome galloping machine which ran fourteen times as a two, three and four year old and was never beaten. He won 10 Group one races up to 10 furlongs and on three occasions he beat top class opposition by ten lengths of more – truly awesome power and speed. He won the Juddmonte, Dewhurst, Greenham, the 2000 Guineas spread-eagling that field, St James Palace, Sussex (where I stood next the him in the pre-parade ring as my hopeless specimen was being taken through from a previous race!), the King George, the Lockinge, Queen Anne, the Sussex again the Juddmonte again and finally the Champion Stakes.

Trained by the late master, Sir Henry Cecil, for Kaled Abdullah, Frankel retired to stud in October 2012.

However, he never raced outside the UK – not even Ireland, he never tried beyond 10 furlongs and I have yet to see proof that he beat any course records. Timeform rated him as high as 147. mmmmm a tad generous for me – 142 would be right in my book.

Brigadier Gerard (Queen’s Hussar out of La Paiva), owned and trained by John Hislop, was another stellar performer of 1970 to 1972. Unlike Frankel, the Brigadier was beaten – at 4 – once – in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York over and extended 10 furlongs, by 1972
Derby winner Roberto. But let me put that race in a little perspective – the Brigadier gave Roberto 12 pounds or 12 lengths in my book. More significantly, both horses beat the course record on that day and the third horse in this top class Group 1 field was no less than seventeen lengths third.

Apart from that fluffing of lines, Brigadier won all of his other seventeen races of which 13 were Group Ones vis The 2000 Guineas – beating the mighty Mill Reef, St James Palace, Sussex Stakes, Goodwood Mile, Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Champion Stakes, The
Eclipse, the Lockinge, the Westbury, the Prince of Wales at Ascot, the Eclipse – again, the King George, Queen Elizabeth – again in a new course record time and the Champion Stakes – again. On his retirement, he had won more races than any other English
Classic winner of the twentieth century apart from Bayardo (22 from 25 starts) and his ancestor, Pretty Polly (22 from 24 starts).

He won over five furlongs to twelve furlongs – how many can do that? But like Frankel he never travelled, not even to Ireland – and Timeform gave him a rating of 144 – which I think is about right – stellar.

Purely on their respective performances on the track, I have to put Brigadier Gerard a head in front of Frankel as the best racehorse of modern times – post 1900.

However, as you know I always say, “you’ve never succeeded until your successors succeed” And here a different picture emerges. Frankel is proving a well above average sire. Conversely, the Brigadier disappointed as a stallion.

Having said that, I don’t think Frankel will turn out to be a better stallion than his own sire, Galileo or one of my other favourites, Dubawi – but that is for another column!

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TRUE CHAMPIONS WITH A CIGARETTE PAPER BETWEEN THEM


As we all fret over when racing will resume – and here I mean properly – on proper courses with proper tracks and proper horses, none of this US rubbish with irritating commentators – my mind reflected on a couple of legends of the track, and then I wondered if I could determine which might have been the better of the two.

The unbeaten colt Frankel (Galileo out of the Danehill mare Kind) or the super filly Enable (Nathaniel out of the Sadlers Well mare Concentric)?

Racing Post statistics provided the basis of my reflections – and it’s a good job I could access them. On the face of it, strong arguments could be made for both horses.

Trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil for Kaled Abdulla, FRANKEL was awesome on the track winning all of his fourteen starts. Of these wins, there were 10 Group Ones, a Group 2 and a Group 3. Significantly three of those successes saw Frankel win by more than ten lengths. Such winning margins, in top company, mark a horse out as having very special quality indeed.

Against these positives are the question marks over his stamina and his flexibility, He never won over more than 2000 metres (10 furlongs) and he never raced outside the UK or faced much international competition. Frankel raced for three seasons – 2010, 2011 and 2012 – earning just under £3 million in purses before retiring to stud and a lifetime of covering the best mares on the planet.

Ironically the brave filly ENABLE was also owned by Kaled Abdulla but this time trained by the great man, John Gosden. So far she has had fifteen outings and has won thirteen of them being beaten on her second outing at Newbury and most recently in the Arc by Waldgeist at Longchamp in testing very soft going.

Ten of her wins were Group ones – just like Frankel – but she never won any race by as far as ten lengths as Frankel did. In terms of class, I believe top stayers must be able to win well over 2400 metres (12 furlongs – the Derby distance) – Enable won ten times over this trip, marking her out to be extra special.

Unlike Frankel, Enable travelled a great deal and demonstrated massive versatility – she ran three times in France, winning two, she won the Irish Oaks at the Curragh and later beat Magical at Churchill Downs in the Breeder’s Cup Turf on a very tight track. Enable is still in training – though when she might race is now very much of an unknown. During her four seasons to date, her earnings have just topped £11,400,000 – a pretty spectacular figure considering she has never raced in Dubai or Saudi.

The empirical evidence covered above suggests that there is not much between them – but for me Enable wins by a short head.

But so as to be fair, I revisited the form and used my previously enunciated formulas (re Ipi Tombe at an impressive 73) to evaluate these champions based on pure maths. And would you believe it … both horses achieved exactly the same point score – 117 – incredible and uncontrived. It was a dead heat – not a cigarette paper thickness between them – and maybe a tie is right – unless Enable comes out again before the end of this season and wins or is placed in a group race in which case she is the better horse.

Future analyses will measure other champions against these two legends of the turf.

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LET’S BRAAI ON THE BALCONY

As we sit around in lockdown, it seems we are all prone to do a lot of reminiscing – thinking back to the times when things were normal – and maybe wondering if things will ever be ‘normal’ again. Who knows?

My guess is that they never will be quite the same – probably because we will all have reached the conclusion that this will not be the last time we encounter such a challenge to our humanity. 

However, I take heart from the ingenuity of mankind and its innate ability to address its problems. In this regard, I am supremely confident that the boffins will come up with an effective vaccine very soon and all will be well for most of us – though we mourn the loss of those who have passed on ahead of their time. 

Then we can get back to doing some of the things we enjoy most – like a really good braai – with mates, meat and plenty of falling-down water. 

When I was pondering this prospect, my mind turned to possible venues – if not at home or at the homes of friends. I thought about locations in the bush, by the roadside on the way to holiday destinations like Nyanga, or at the rock festivals abroad. It’s hard to beat the smell of meat burning on a braai – unless it’s that great panacea for vegetarians – the smell of fried bacon for breakfast!

Then I wondered if Borrowdale Park could be a good venue for public braais.  I do not know the answer, but it was worth a muse. 

We all agree that food at the races is at best – shall we say – filling! And we all know the kitchen facilities on the top floor (where O’s & T’s are now) are not good, so fine dining would be a bit of a challenge. What about a braai?

Maybe we could have a braai set up somewhere along the Members Balcony? All we would need is a physical braai or three, a smoke extraction hood, charcoal, meat, a few forks and a couple of staff who know a bit about the art of burning meat. Then a few plates, knives and forks and a salad bar – oh, and we already have the other sort of bar. I don’t think there is a fire risk amongst all that concrete. 

There can be plenty of tables and chairs, great views, space, and lots of fresh air. There is nothing much else up there at the moment. We have amongst our fraternity a great purveyor of quality meat – on site – in the form of the jovial Kevin Fallon. Then. when the farmers market is open, we might find a source of salads. Not sure what we might do about having the right number of bread buns on hand for burgers – but this should not be a deal breaker. 

The beauty of a braai is that you only cook the meat you are going to eat. Maybe the current caterers should have a go – one try – on race day. That is all that is needed. The model might need tweaking thereafter, but I like the smell of this idea. Braaiing can happen from lunchtime and conclude after the last race. This will save us from going on somewhere else for dinner.

What better way to make new friends and new memories than at a braai?

Pics by ClipDealer

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SO WHICH HORSE TOPS THE ZIMBABWE ROLL OF HONOUR 2020?

I am on a great WhatsApp group of racing aficionados – meaning persons who are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a subject, activity or pastime. Collectively these “WhAppers” know everything there is to know! But when the subject of which might have been the best horse in Zimbabwe since 1892 – debate ensued.

For a viral afternoon of diversion, I suggested a decision could be derived on a points-based system….. more debate!
Despite protestations, I have decided to have a go – and have developed the following matrix. It’s not supposed to be gospel or exhaustive – it’s supposed to be a bit of fun and something we can populate whilst we are locked down and running low on beer, wine and spirits.

Group 1 race win 10 points
Group 1 second 2 points
Group 1 third 1 point

Group 2 race win 7 points
Group 2 second 1 point

Group 3 race win 5 points
Feature or Listed race win 4 points
A division or Equivalent win 3 points
B division or Equivalent win 2 points
C division or Equivalent win 1 point

Wins outside Zimbabwe 1 point extra
Wins by 10 lengths of more 1 point extra if outside Zimbabwe

And use the ranking each race was at the time it was run

I am not going to justify any of this matrix – it’s a Centaurian thing and smells about right.

Despite having a decent horse or two over the last forty years, for me, the best horse to
either be bred or to have raced in Zimbabwe is undoubtedly Ipi Tombe. Now I have to say that this horse appeared at the 2000 Yearling Sales at Harare Showgrounds and had the ideal breeding for my shortlist – you recall, Mr Prospector sire line and Northern Dancer dam line – Manshood out of Carnet De Danse. And yes I did have a good look at her and came to the conclusion is was a piece of utter c**p, small, squibby and might have made a pit pony if there were any coal mines using them at the time. It sold for diddly squat to Sunmark Syndicate – and I think for the maiden bid.

I defy anyone to say they spotted a future champion or Zimbabwean legend on that day – which confirms that horses are both great levellers and are capable of making fools of us all. Perhaps that is why I love racing – running a business is far easier than picking a champion racehorse – just accept it’s the truth.

So to Ipi Tombe’s score. I make it a towering 73 – based on the following information taken from the Racing Post database – plus the brain cells of Doug Jaffray.

Date Course Grade Place Distance Points
23 Sept 01 Borrowdale Park Maiden Plate 1 1
14 Oct 01 Borrowdale Park Allowance 1 1 02 Dec 01 Borrowdale Park Allowance 2 0
16 Dec 01 Borrowdale Park Allowance 1 1
0 2 Jan 02 Borrowdale Park Allowance 1 4 1
3 Mar 02 Turfontein Triple Tiara Gr 1 2 2+1
06 April 02 Newmarket Fillies’ Classic Gr 2 1 3 7+1
04 May 02 Greyville Fillies’ Guineas Gr 1 1 3 10+1
01 June 02 Greyville Woolavington Gr 2 1 2 7+1
06 July 02 Greyville Durban July Gr 1 1 sh 10 +1
06 Feb 03 Nad Al Sheba Al Fahid Fort Listed 1 2 4+1
08 Mar 03 Nad Al Sheba Jebel Jatta Gr 3 1 4 5+1
29 Mar 03 Nad Al Sheba Dubai Duty Fr. Gp 1 1 3 10+1
28 June 03 Churchill Downs Locust Grove Gp 3 1 5+1
TOTAL POINTS 73

It would be good to see if any other horses to have graced Borrowdale Park could get close to this magnificent outcome – I doubt it.

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CONTRIBUTIONS PLEASE…

Lisa Harris and I (The Centaurian) plan to edit a book about happy moments at Borrowdale Park in Harare, and Ascot in Bulawayo. Please submit your contributions to  lisaharrisracing@gmail.com Length is not really an issue but aim for 500 words. Think of all the material we have from Zimbabwe racing over the years, the characters, the jockeys, owners, trainers, punters, breeders, scams, coups, scandals, love affairs, scoundrels etc. We are steeped in it. Go on, put yourself through your paces and write us a story – proceeds from the book will go back to racing 

VIRAL HORSE TAILS

FIRST WIN – FIRST SMILE (AN OLD BUT TRUE STORY)

An example of what we are looking for and better .. please

 “It was the 23rd September 1978 and Centaur hadn’t had a winner yet, but this afternoon, trainer Roy Magner fancied the Syndicate filly called Lunilla (L’Audace out of Vanilla) – probably because the rest of the fillies in this maiden plate field were even worse rubbish. 

The runners paraded in the soft September sunshine but the Syndicate representation  that afternoon was poor due to call ups – just Arthur Ainscow and John Smith. Roy joined them, lit a cigarette and mumbled something about the horse number being squiff – he was a pedant for detail. 

They stood underneath those ficus trees planted by Dubbles Draper in 1960 and pondered the outcome of the race. Noel Riddle was to ride her and little did anyone know just what was to become of Centaur over the next four decades and beyond. 

As the bell rang for horses to be mounted, Arthur made a dash for Lunilla and held out his hand for the filly to eat something from it and hurriedly returned to Roy, John and Noel. 

Roy was aghast, mortified, but never speechless…. “what on earth have you given that horse? The stewards will have a fit, they might think its dope!” he admonished Arthur. 

“It was only a sugar lump, a sugar lump” Arthur protested innocently and proffered one to Roy who refused angrily, he popped one in his own mouth and John did the same with the one he was given.

Roy’s train of thought had been interrupted so he signalled the groom to take the horse round one more time. 

Turning to Noel he said ” Look Noel I think we have a very good chance here with this very weak field, just break and tuck her into about third of fourth, track the leaders into the straight and then at the four hundred metre post, kick on strongly,,, this lot wont catch you” 

Then as he was legging Noel up, by way of an afterthought, he said “and Noel, if you here anything catching up over the last couple of hundred metres,,, don’t worry at all,, it will be either Arthur or John!” Noel creased himself .. 

Roy always had a wry sense of humour. 

And so it was, Lunilla obliged and won by about three lengths, the first of Centaur’s 79 winners to date – and counting – from 42 horses which have raced for them over the past four and a bit decades. 

The famous orange and black silks have been carried by such legends as The Toff, Bayshore Towers, One Last Trick, Glen Monarch and for three of his races by the great Zimbabwe bred, Earl of Surrey. 

PS – Arthur ran second, John was left at the start!

PPS – Roy’s one liner went viral

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IT’S ALL ABOUT PACE

As news came in this morning about the booze ban, my first reaction, and I don’t know why, was to make a B Line to the wine cellar – my basement is proving invaluable after all. I am pleased to report I have adequate stocks to last me three weeks if I ration myself to two bottles per day. If I can’t then I must call upon my reserves of gin, scotch and vodka. So I plan to pace myself just in case the ban goes on for a bit longer. We can all do it and it will be so good for our livers.

VIRAL HORSE TAILS

Then came the news from Lisa Harris that a WhatsApp group is going to write a book during the lockdown – brilliant plan – anecdotes and illustrations of happy racing moments at Borrowdale Park and Ascot (Bulawayo if you have forgotten!). I have even found pics of two different wives looking happy leading a winner in.

Lisa and I will edit this book – so contributors do not need to fear poor grammar or spelling or foul language. You are invited to submit your contributions by email to lisaharrisracing@gmail.com. Ideally, these stories should be at least 500 words or be single pagers but length is not an issue. Just think of all the material we have from Zim racing over the years, the characters, the jockeys, owners, trainers, punters, breeders, scams, coups, scandals, love affairs, scoundrels etc. we are steeped in it. Go on, put yourself through your paces and write us a story – proceeds from the book will go back to racing and we might even get you to appear in the TV series on Netflix (all except Doug Jaffray that is!)

And just to give you a flavour of what we are looking for, I will be publishing the first short story later on our FB page

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ZIMFUN RACING CLUB LTD

Well, I am thrilled to say that the response to this fun idea has been brilliant – initial pledges suggest we will get more than one horse – though the target still remains fifteen. So loyal racing enthusiast and successful owner, Spencer Murray, is using his lockdown holiday to set up the company and once in place we will plan how to receive funds and disburse them.

Just to remind you of the key features of this plan. Shares in the company are to be offered to anyone in single or multiple units of US$100. Its mission will be simple – to own and race as many horses as possible for as long as possible – and ideally for a profit – but with the understanding that this aim is tough to achieve. We want to raise $150,000, which is one share for each of the readers of this column – not a big ask and Zim racing needs your support – even if it is a modest sum to ask for, collectively it will matter.

The US$ 100 will cover all your shareholder costs of being involved for 12 months – that is buying the horses, shipping them north if necessary and keeping them in training for 12 months. Horses will be allotted equally amongst any current Zim trainer who has more than 10 horses in his yard. And his training fees will be paid for a year in advance so we avoid putting about with an accounts department.

Communication will be via WhatsApp groups – so trainers will be responsible for that too.

A small board of unpaid directors will be appointed to run the show and shareholders will be given maximum opportunity to involve themselves in the whole experience. I have in mind a great person to plan and execute celebrations for when we have winners – and we will have plenty. I know this.

Finally, in keeping with the spirit of ZimFun – our colours will basically be a SMILEY FACE Imogi – so pace your current budget and save up your US$ 100 for when the call comes to send it to us or pass it over to our financial director – that will be Spence.

We are in the dwang right now – but think of how much fun is lurking in the near future for us – it’s up to us – I might even find a new wife – anything is possible!

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WHAT ABOUT A ZIMFUN RACING CLUB?

I AM TOLD that some 1,500 people read my occasional columns on horse racing – thank you very much! Very rewarding to know.

Of course, racing is a great sport for all concerned – breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, spectators, punters, bookies, media and of course the taxman. It has a vast number of followers around the world – but it is an expensive sport, very expensive and out of the reach of most of us, even through the medium of syndicates.

Then I thought that the fact you are reading my column must be because you enjoy the sport very much – but maybe you are not in a position to actually go out and buy a horse – or even join a syndicate.

Then I thought maybe you would like an opportunity to have an affordable involvement, and what might that look like.


Then I thought of the ZIMFUN RACING CLUB – that might work.

ZimFun would be a limited company whose mission would be to race as many horses as possible at Borrowdale Park – and if lucky, beyond – and if very lucky, at a profit. Maybe I can persuade PJ Moor to set up the company for us – free of charge!

A limited company circumvents all the hassles associated with changing syndicate memberships – shareholders can change every week without affecting the company’s eligibility to race.


So we need to make shares affordable – how about US$100 per share – and you can buy one or as many as you like – I would buy at least five straight away.

What should be the authorized capital? It doesn’t matter – make it a million – and we can issue shares as pledges come in.

How much do we need? Silly question! I need all readers to buy one share – in which case that would generate $150,000 – mmmm always the optimist but why not?

How many horses would that buy? If we want a lot of horses then we need to buy well and ship them from South Africa – say $5,000 for the purchase and transport. Then $5,000 for a year’s training fees, paid in advance to minimise the paperwork.

So the annual start-up budget is $10,000 per horse – and 15 would be nice.

The company would have a small elected Board of Directors – on annual rotation – all unpaid – and if you liked, I would be happy to Chair the company. I have been considerably luckier with horses than I have with wives – maybe that’s because I have more empathy with the former!

I would be happy to stand as nominee for the Club too.
I would try and persuade Spencer Murray and Grant Littleford to do the accounts for nout.

Horses would be allocated equally to all trainers who are training more than ten horses at the time – and we would let the trainers do what they are paid to do – with no interference unless asked. There is nothing worse than an owner thinking he knows more than a trainer!

With the advent of WhatsApp and emails – our trainers will be able to keep every shareholder fully informed – as necessary – it’s easy.

And there can be stable visits too – albeit these will have to be well planned if 100 people plan to turn up. But even that is no big deal – bring a bottle of red or a six-pack and the jobs a good ‘un.

We would look to buy a range of horse types from sprinters through to stayers. We might favour colts over fillies but the maxim will be to buy horses we think can win races and are within our price range.

As to colours – we need another first here – and I am going to suggest that our colours be based on a big smiley face – to reflect this is fun, but serious fun – so mainly yellow and black.


On race day, lots will be drawn for which thirty shareholders go in the parade ring. Borrowdale Park has a big parade ring with not many horses and not many owners – thirty should be easy peasy.

Wide-angle lenses provide for winning photographs – of which there will be many.

We will try to make our racing club a big personality club – and mirror the success of Centaur Syndicate that has been going for over forty years – well run with at least one great social event each year. Given the scale of our potential membership that will likely be an annual braai and disco – I know just the place for that.

Big race wins like the Tankard or the OK or the Gold Cup Sprint will trigger separate scale celebrations.

At the end of each year – or maybe racing season – we will look to consider the company’s position at an AGM. We might have made a profit but it is more likely that we will not have done so -but we will have had some great fun.

At that point in time, we will have a rights issue to raise more capital to keep going for a further year and hopefully to buy new stock. The annual accounts will tell us what our shares might be worth and we can buy and sell them at that point in time. If individuals wish to sell their shares at other times, there can be no objection if the seller and buyer can agree on a price between themselves.

Ideally, Zimfun should have the structure and resources to run for many years. Zimfun should also have the capacity to reinvent itself each year – as I said before at $100 per share we only need to sell one hundred shares to get the show on the road.

So now I need to have a show of hands – from my 1,500 readers.

Please “Like” this column and let’s see if we can make it happen – actually since I am buying five shares, we only need to sell 95 more.

Racing fans, this is your opportunity to do just your little bit for Borrowdale Park – which collectively could make Zimfun one of the biggest owners at the track. Go on – “Like” the idea and I will get the ball rolling.

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NOT OUR NEMESIS

 

Well you have to take your hat off to Zimbabweans – if not your mask and neoprene gloves – racing is to continue. In this instance the very low attendances at Borrowdale on a Friday, the shortage of horses, trainers, jockeys and owners is a huge plus!

And it is absolutely right that racing continues – albeit behind closed doors and with the people who would be looking after and exercising the horses anyway. Furthermore, all the stables are on the Borrowdale Park estate – so no transport is involved. 

Employment opportunities are desperately short in Zimbabwe and each and everyone must be protected for the long term. Unlike most other countries, Zimbabwe doesn’t have two ‘tikkies’ to rub together let alone billions to offer in national financial support, so where sensible options exist, they must be pursued. -This is just one of them – plus it’s pretty much outdoors in both the sunlight and high Ultraviolet – much disliked by Covid-19.

Also, it should be noted that all racing in the UK has been suspended – my guess is that the whole flat season will be lost…the worst is yet to come and nobody knows how long the worst will last – my guess is a year, at least. 

Now for one of my old adages that I have just made up: “In every adversity there are the seeds of an equal or greater opportunity“. 

In this case, the team is already on the case, we might not succeed but we are having a full go. We are trying to get Borrowdale broadcast on At The Races in the UK – for this Friday – yes this very Friday 27th March. If we don’t crack it this week we will keep going – there must be a chance of success. 

With that success – assuming we achieve it – then we might also be able to get a UK sponsor for our Derby. 

I have already contacted Baileys Horse Feeds that are associated with Mark Johnston and suggested that US$50,000 which would be cheap advertising on UK TV for them – but would go a very long way here.  I am used to rejection (refer ex-wives) so if they say no, there must be others – we will keep trying. 

Well done Zimbabwe – this is all about “making a plan” and “having a go” – just what Zimbabweans are legendary for. 

P.S. and whilst Covid-19 is very serious indeed and every death is to be deeply regretted and genuinely mourned, the very vast majority of us will come through it. Stay safe, wash your hands, keep your distance (about a length will do), don’t touch your face or anybody else’s, sneeze into your elbow or tissue and bin immediately.

We will see this off. 

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ARE THE SPONSORSHIP RULES ‘RIGHT AND PROPER’?

I recently read an excellent article by Borrowdale doyen Jackie Cocksedge in which she explored the whole principle of sponsorship in racing – not the races themselves but the merchandising of the jockeys and the horses.

She then recounted the NHRA rules as they currently apply and this prompted me to wonder if those rules were right and proper – or indeed relevant in today’s industry.

To arrive at a decision, we really have to go back to First Principles and derive proper conclusions from there. So, forget about the rules for now and consider what the policy should be.

As you all know, my starting point is “what is good for the financial prosperity of racing?” Actually nothing much else matters as long as its legal. The numbers just have to stack up for all concerned.

Of course, those in the industry know that horse racing rarely yields owners a profit – but there needs to be a chance that it is more than just a big sinkhole for cash. Interest in owning racehorses is slipping away internationally and so we absolutely must think outside the box if we are to halt or reverse the trend.

Well, for me, if a sponsor has done his homework and has decided that his business interests would benefit from having his logo and brand name on the side of a horse or the backside of the jockey – or anywhere else for that matter – then that is absolutely fine with me. The only provisos are the how and what happens to the sponsor’s spondoolies.

Let’s look at another sport of speed – Formula 1. That could be the model, why not?

Mercedes and Ferrari cars are covered in sponsorship logos, but we still know which car is which so what is holding horse racing back? I guess the answer is tradition and stick in the mud attitudes. Meantime the whole industry is struggling to prosper.

And the amounts of sponsorship money involved can be vast – as explained in Jackie’s report. And this is all new money, new money so badly needed by our sport.

For me there should be no holds barred – a revolution in our sport, why not? Consider all the promo sites – especially a horse’s arse – you could get some cool brand names on there.

Think outside the box and get your advertising agency to come up with some ideas. My guess is that the motor industry could be prime targets for us – think no further than horsepower.

How about a big Mercedes logo on the arse of Lily Blue? Or a Bugatti logo on the arse of Bugatti Blue?

Think even further. If such promotional activity was accepted then new owners could be the sponsors themselves.

Just as a by the by, when I raced horses in England with Mark Johnston, I did so through my company (Gordon Brown the Chancellor paid really!) and all my horse’s names began with the name of my company – Greyfriars. We had a good ‘un or two and it did me no harm at all.

I can see the traditionalist readers’ jaws dropping in horror – but remember I am the archetypal traditionalist and new ideas are sorely needed in our sport, and this is one I think we should push – if only for Zimbabwe.

And who should get the sponsorship money? Well that is a totally daft question. The media owner gets the money – end of story – and that is the racehorse owner.

Remember, TV is an immensely powerful media tool and racing is televised every day. And this is clever advertising too because target audiences are not being attacked directly with a “buy this” message – they are being influenced far more subtly, and thus more effectively, with an indirect message. We can sell that!

I suspect only the best horses will attract sponsors but so what? If owners of such horses recover more of their costs, then they may buy more horses – and so the virtuous circle is established.

Given that Zimbabwe is so far off the world’s beaten track, I think we should be giving this a go, and asking the NHRA for a green light to try.

I would suggest existing NHRA rules are outdated and, in this particular regard, need to be amended to suit the changed and challenging circumstances of racing in Southern Africa.

Jackie Cocksedge’s article is on https://zimracing.wordpress.com/more-hugs-hisses/