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‘We’re planning on returning’

South African racing participants could be back at the major Australasian sales

An upswing in confidence about a rejuvenation of racing in South Africa has trainers considering returning to the Australian yearling market for the first time in years.

And those participants suggest that South Africa’s top race fillies and mares should be on the radar of Australian breeders now that the country’s equine border restrictions have been relaxed, making it easier to export horses out of the country via Europe.

Mike de Kock and his clients have been supporting the Australian yearling market in recent years, but those horses – including valuable stakes winner Letsbefrankbaby (Frankel) – have been trained in Victoria by his son Mathew and Robbie Griffiths.

His South African training peers, however, have largely been unsighted at the Australian sales, hindered by a weak exchange rate for the rand (AU$1 = R12.27), which has also been exacerbated by the turbo-charged value of Australian bloodstock, making it increasingly difficult for them to compete.

But a renewed confidence in the local racing industry could prompt a group of South Africa’s owners and trainers to once again use Australia as a source of young horses to supplement its homebred stock.

Their revelation comes as the nation held its greatest race, the Durban July (Gr 1, 2200m), won by the Brett Crawford-trained Oriental Charm (Vercingetorix), a three-year-old co-owned by Cape Racing’s Greg Bortz.

The chairman of Cape Racing, Bortz has been an instrumental figure in a coordinated investment to lift the profile of thoroughbred racing in South Africa.

It includes taking over Cape Racing in partnership with online wagering company Hollywoodbets and in the soon-to-be rubber stamped acquisition of Gold Circle, the operator of racing in the province of KwaZulu-Natal where Durban’s racecourse Greyville is based.

“We’re just going through the final regulatory hurdles. We’re very committed to it, we’ve voted with our feet, we’ve put our money in and I think we’ve seen a remarkable resurgence in the industry and we don’t plan on stopping here,” Bortz said.

“By spending the money on the sport, we’ve stimulated the ownership interest again and we’re starting to see that [pay off]. We’re starting to see [horse] prices go up at the sales, the field sizes go up. They’re all the right signs.”

Prominent Cape Town-based trainer Justin Snaith, who has been operating a satellite stable at Summerveld Training Centre for the Durban racing season, is positive about the future of racing in South Africa.

“Yes, we’re planning on returning now that our racing [is improving]. We were hung up here in South Africa, it became more of a business than a passion for these guys and they actually ran the business into the ground,” said Snaith, whose father Chris bought champion South African sire Gimmethegreenlight (More Than Ready) at the Magic Millions National Weanling Sale in 2009.

“On the back of that, it was very hard to warrant going to another country to bring horses back to South Africa. 

“For the first time, our racing’s on the up, we’re back in the game and it can warrant going overseas and purchasing some horses. Yes, we’re coming back into the international market, for sure.”

Dean Kannemeyer, who trains beaten Durban July favourite Green With Envy (Gimmethegreenlight), had been a regular attendee of the Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale.

“We’ve bought [South African] Classic winners from there, but we haven’t been back for quite some time,” Kannemeyer said.

“Of course, with the local South Africans it’s more and more difficult to buy with the [weak] rand. Australia’s been very, very good. It was always a great time, so we’re keen to go back.”

When Kannemeyer has bought horses in Australia, he has tended to avoid the sharp sprinting types, an approach fellow trainer Michael Roberts has also employed when making the trip Down Under, his first being in the early 2000s.

“When I first started [training], I had a client I went with to the Magic Millions in Perth. [Expatriate South African trainer] David Payne advised us that it was a shorter way home and cheaper to fly them to South Africa from Perth and that the prices were more realistic for South Africa,” Roberts said.

“At the moment, the exchange rate [doesn’t help]. When we went there, I think it was five to one, which was very reasonable for us. 

“My observation when I first went to the Australian sales, you seem to go for your short-coupled horses with speed. I like more the English Classic horse and they were very reasonably priced I thought.”

The relaxing of horse export protocols has played a key role in the rebounding South African industry and South African Equine Health and Protocols managing director Adrian Todd hopes more agreements can be reached.

A determination of the United Kingdom’s audit of South African Horse Sickness protocols is expected to be reached in the near future. A positive outcome would see the UK join the EU while the US also allows the importation of South African horses.

“It’s an opportunity for South Africa to now try and expand negotiations with other potential trade partners and it’s an opportunity for South African horses across the board to now get out of South Africa without the onerous requirements of going through Mauritius which, until this happened, was the only way that you could get out,” Todd said.

“That would be a thing that we would have to engage in negotiations directly with them now. The plan was to always sort out Europe first. 

“If I wanted to take a horse to Hong Kong or Australia, I’d send it to Europe first and complete European residency. 

“To put it in layman’s terms, all horses after a period of residency, they effectively change nationality, so a horse going to Hong Kong or Australia after required time in Europe would be considered a European horse and it would go under the protocol of Europe to Australia.”

Back-to-back Durban July-winning trainer Crawford agrees that there were positive signs within the local racing industry, but he believes the regulations “to be cast in stone to give us exact protocols on what we can and can’t do”.

“But it’s definitely given the industry a bit more enthusiasm and buoyancy,” Crawford said. 

“That’s been shown in the sales results, the changes of racing in the Cape and the increase in prize-money. 

“All those things have contributed to a positive vibe.”

Snaith and his cohorts, meanwhile, believe Australian breeders are entitled to be paying close attention to South Africa’s quality mares considering the relative value they offer when it comes to purchase price and the record they have in producing high-class horses.

Three-time Grade 1 winner Via Africa (Var) was imported to Australia from South Africa and she has since produced Golden Rose (Gr 1, 1400m) winner In The Congo (Snitzel) and 2023 Inglis Australian Easter sales-topper Autumn Glow (The Autumn Sun), while the well-travelled champion sprinter National Colour (National Assembly) also ended up in Australia. She has produced Grade 1 winner Rafeef (Redoute’s Choice), top South African two-year-old Mustaaqeem (Redoute’s Choice) and she is also the second dam of this season’s Randwick Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and Doncaster Mile (Gr 1, 1600m) winner Celestial Legend (Dundeel).

Carry On Alice (Captain Al), another champion South African mare, is also domiciled in Australia and since then her third foal by Snitzel (Redoute’s Choice) sold for $1.1 million and her fourth, a filly by Arrowfield’s champion stallion, made $775,000 at this year’s Inglis Easter sale.

“What buys a filly or mare here in South Africa compared to what that same money will buy you in the UK or Australia, you can’t compare,” Snaith said. 

“I promise you, and I’ve done it the other way around, what you can buy here with let’s say $100,000 … buys some of our best horses here and that amount wouldn’t buy you a below par type of horse in Australia or the UK.”

Trainer Tony Rivalland, who also runs the Summerveld Training Centre and who has bought horses in Australia in the past, backed up Snaith’s assessment of the value of the South African fillies and mares.

He said: “The top mares here offer huge value to the Australian market. You’re buying them at a discounted international price.”

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