An overview of the South African Racing and Breeding Industry
The history of horse breeding in South Africa began shortly after the arrival in 1652, of the Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck, who imported horses from as far afield as Java, South America and Persia. But it was not until 1792 that the first horses deemed thoroughbreds were imported.
However a thriving export market had already begun with one stallion and three mares sent to Sydney with the First Fleet in 1788, another 41 in 1795 and 15 more before 1800. South Africa thus lays claim to the origin of the Australasian thoroughbred!
Racing began in Cape Town on the Green Point Common in September 1797. One of the first champions was Tumbler, born in 1824, who stood only 14.3 hands high. After dominating the local racing scene, he was exported to India were he won races against blue blooded British imports from 4 furlongs to 3 miles!
Although our horses have improved in size since then, Tumbler embodies the South African thoroughbred perfectly, tough horses with enduring soundness and strength. Just look back at the recent Dubai World Cup where a number of our stars were still competing on the international stage at 6 years and older!
Since that first race on the Green Point Common our racing has expanded to 10 tracks country wide, where roughly 440 meetings are held a year. Racing is predominantly on turf with the exception of two polytracks and one sand track in Kimberley. The average field size is 12 horses, while the yearly prize money totals about €29.5 million. Racing fixtures are set by the three racing operators, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, Kenilworth Racing (Pty) Ltd and Gold Circle (Pty) Ltd. With 32 Grade 1 races there is plenty of excitement about and the two biggest race days are the Sun Met and the Vodacom Durban July.
The Sun Met, which dates from 1883, is run in a carnival atmosphere on the last Saturday in January, when thousands of trendy Capetonians and visitors alike, converge on Kenilworth Race Course. The fashion stakes are hot, as is the racing, with three Grade 1 races and a Grade 2 race on the card.
The Durban July is an annual event held on the first Saturday of July. The July is considered as South Africa’s greatest horse race, both in terms of past winners and the excitement that it generates. Here fashionistas vie to be chosen as the best dressed couple and 4 Grade 1 races fill the card.
Johannesburg is the other major racing centre in South Africa. The testing Turffontein Racecourse is home to two major races, the Gr.1 Summer Cup run on the last Saturday in November and the Gr.1 Champions Challenge which closes their season in late April.
Domestic and international broadcast and information rights are owned by Phumelela Gold Enterprises (PGE), a joint venture between the three operators. PGE also owns and manages Tellytrack, South Africa’s domestic horseracing TV channel which is found on Channel 239 and has recently launched an online streaming service via their website: www.tellytrack.com
All tote bets taken in South Africa are commingled into national tote pools, with the total tote turnover for the 2015/2016 year being in the region of €480 million. South African players can bet into established foreign tote pools with their bets being included into the host country’s tote pool. PGE currently bets into the tote pools of five different countries and tests are being conducted with both France and New Zealand to increase that number shortly.
South African horseracing is beamed live to 46 countries as a supplementary betting product through PGE’s other TV channel, Racing International, which has satellite capacity over four-fifths of the globe. PGE also offers commingling of tote bets on South African racing. Currently 13 different countries are able to bet into tote pools hosted by PGE. Commingling (combining of tote bets into a single national or international pool) is a key element of the Racing International service.
South Africa also has a thriving breeding industry. Despite the restrictions imposed on the country due to the existence of African horse sickness, there are currently over 500 registered breeders, with 131 stallions active during the 2016 season. Roughly 3000 foals are produced annually. Not having access to champion shuttle stallions, our breeders have to rely on their deep and abiding passion of pedigrees and to be creative in their matings. Most of the sires used are imported stallions, mainly from the United States, yet interestingly the top three sires on the log are South African bred.