Coronavirus

All bets are off as SA horse racing feels the Covid-19 crunch

By Bheki C. Simelane 13 May 2020

According to the horse racing authority, approximately 80% of the industry’s 60,000 jobs are at immediate risk, and most staff had been furloughed. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

SA’s horse racing industry faces a bleak future as the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis start to hit home.

South Africa’s horse racing industry, which has an annual turnover of R12- billion, and hosts Africa’s richest race, faces an uncertain future as the Covid-19 crisis threatens to scupper its plans for the year.

According to the National Horse Racing Authority (NHRA), on Friday 9 May, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure also filed for business rescue.

According to the horse racing authority, approximately 80% of the industry’s 60,000 jobs were at immediate risk, and most staff had been furloughed. 

A quick breakdown of the figures in each category in the industry shows that jockeys were losing approximately R6.5-million monthly, including riding fees and winning stakes.

Trainers are losing nearly R3-million a month with their business reduced by 20% at this stage, and this figure is expected to grow at an alarming rate if racing does not resume, at worst, at Level 3.

“If not, then the racing industry will collapse in its entirety,” NHRA CEO Vee Moodley said.

Racegoers view a race at Kenilworth Race Course, in Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa, 27 October 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA)

According to the NHRA, the President’s Challenge in Johannesburg is at risk of cancellation. But the biggest loss comes in the form of the Durban July, Africa’s biggest race with R4.5-million in prize money and generating turnover of nearly R140-million. 

“With the status of resumption not confirmed, there are other premier races that may be cancelled,” said Moodley.

The Durban July has been postponed to the end of July.

Moodley said SA’s horse racing industry matched the best in the world. 

“We can produce a thoroughbred like anywhere in the world, for at least one-tenth of the price and of above average quality.” 

Moodley said the country’s horses have taken part in international events at the highest level and fared successfully.

An owner, trainer and groom prepare a horse ahead of a race at Kenilworth Race Course, in Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa, 27 October 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA)

In defence of the NHRA’s motivation for resuming operations, Moodley said: 

“As per the Risk Adjusted Strategy guidelines, we are certainly a low-risk sector and have strict health and safety protocols in place. We did race behind closed doors successfully between 15 and 26 March 2020. Furthermore, we are a non-contact sport, and only 65 persons are required for a five-hour period over a 4km area.”

Moodley said the 60,000 people employed by the horse racing industry had specialised skills and operated in a highly labour-intensive industry with 20,000 horses. He said employees would find it difficult to find work elsewhere because of their unique skills, and that the employees were collectively responsible for 750,000 dependants.

“We employ 5,000 grooms and with their unique skills they will find it almost impossible to find work in other sectors of the economy,” said Moodley.

Under the current circumstances, the NHRA said approximately 400 horses had been euthanised. 

The horse racing industry contributes about R3-billion to the country’s GDP, and about R800-million in taxes every year. DM

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