So-called “small owners” have quit the racing game in their droves in recent years – chased away by rocketing costs and shrinking financial rewards. The new bosses of Cape Racing are determined to turn that trend around – at least in their neck of the woods.

This week Cape Racing announced an eye-catching set of incentives to encourage owners and trainers to compete at Kenilworth and Durbanville racecourses.

The most startling innovation is connections actually being paid to race their horses in the Cape. Until now, it’s the owners who have been shelling out to race – in the form of entry and declaration fees, ostensibly to cover operators’ admin costs.

Owners will now get a R2,000 “rebate” for every runner they field at a Cape meeting, while trainers will get a R500 “saddling fee” for each runner (with a cap at 10 a day).

A few racing hands of yore will be chuckling in their retirement homes – or their new stables beyond the Pearly Gates. They’ve been talking about owners being paid to race for decades but have been laughed out of town by officialdom.

ALSO READ: The horses know — Paul Peter is a champion

The argument went that owners provide the raw materials for racing – horses – so they should be compensated by the people who make money out of them – operators and betting markets. It’s commercial logic, but never got a look in, thanks partly to owners being so bewitched by the magic of the game that they just went along with the way things had always been.

Other major incentives were announced for Cape-based connections, and a separate set of perks for “raiders” from other centres in the country.

The Cape stakeholders will get R25,000 for a horse making 12 consecutive starts on a Western Cape racecourse in the current season. They’ll also get R35,000 for 15 consecutive starts and R50,000 for 20.

Raiders scoop R10,000 bonuses for winning – and R50,000 for wins in races in the new Summer Festival. Visiting trainers get subsidised transport and free stabling during the Festival.

And there’s more.

Stakes have been hiked no less than 35% for the 2022/23 season, thanks to a R15-million sponsorship from Hollywoodbets, one of the partners in the new ownership structure of Cape Racing.

There have been particularly high increases for lower-level handicaps and Maiden Plates, especially during the “out of season” programme from 1 March 1 to 31 October.

ALSO READ: Rachel Venniker shows the boys how it’s done

The increases also ensure that no race will be run for less than R100,000 during the summer season.

Cape Racing’s executive chairman designate Greg Bortz explained: “It has been very apparent that prize money levels in the Cape have not been of the required standard for some time, especially in comparison to other racing centres in the country. No Cape owner should be racing for R55,000 or R60,000 as we have been in the last few months. 

“This has played a major role in the drop of ownership and the corresponding reduction in horse population in the Cape. Cape Racing has moved to immediately address this by implementing these new increased stakes levels. Thanks to the unparalleled commitment of Hollywoodbets, the Cape will rapidly regain its former racing lustre.

“There has been a major focus on lifting the Maiden Plates and lower-level races to respectable levels. For example, the Classified Stakes have been raised from R55,000 to the new levels of R80,000 out of season, and up to R100,000 in the summer season, almost double the previous stake levels.

“Critically, Maiden Plates will not drop below R100,000 all year. Similarly, also high on the priority list, is the increase of stakes for juvenile racing. We have increased the out of season levels from R70,000 or R80,000 to R110,000, and the summer season levels from R100,000 to R120,000, with R135,000 available at Summer Festival meetings. This is in line with our strategy of pushing more stake money into the programme for younger horses.”

Overall, this makes Western Cape the most lucrative place in the country on a day-to-day basis.

The Highveld, which has always been the richest racing region in the country, has, almost unbelievably, fallen to near the bottom of the pile. Maiden Races at Turffontein and the Vaal racecourses offer just R70,000 in prize money, while the likes of an MR74 handicap are contested for R55,000.

KwaZulu-Natal, which struck a partnership with Durban-based international bookmaker Hollywoodbets a few years ago, now offers a minimum of R100,000 per race.

By editor