This time last year I spent a lovely month in beautiful South Africa - the perfect start to the year! Filming for (my first ever) Winning Post, I visited yearling sales, trainers, breeders and attended two race meetings at Cape Town's Kenilworth Racecourse. I got a real feel for the Cape racing industry which is at the height of it's season in January.
Ahead of the SunMet this weekend, I thought I'd revisit my memories from last year as they appear still to be very much relevant...
Industry in isolation
Going with the rest of the city’s vibe, horse racing appeared to be well supported with a structured industry, however, during the course of the shoot, it became clear that the country's harsh quarantine regulations are having a big impact on the growth of the sport.
Regulations surrounding African Horse Sickness have isolated the country from the easy movement of horses. In takes on average six months for a horse to leave South Africa and then you have to add on any time taken to get the horse back to race fitness. It effectively takes a year for a horse to race again and travel costs are also considerably higher than the rest of the world due to minimal opportunities to share the expenses. As a result, only a handful of horses are exported from South Africa each year.
Recently they have started to explore the option of exporting via New York rather than Mauritius. Although this shortens the time it takes, the horses can only be kept fit via a treadmill whilst in the strict quarantine stables in the US. This is hardly ideal.
The implications of the quarantine rules are felt throughout the industry. Breeders are restricted to using South African-based stallions, the yearling market has fewer foreign buyers and big race meetings have no international runners.
South African thoroughbreds have gained a great reputation internationally and have Group wins in the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. There is no doubt that the horses are good enough to compete around the world.
The industry is working hard on reducing the restrictions but in reality, only when horse movement is made easier will South Africa be a truly global racing nation.
A racing holiday destination
So while quarantine restrictions continue to limit export, the South African racing industry is doing a eye-catching job at promoting itself as a racing destination. Buy a horse in South Africa, race it in South Africa and come and enjoy the beautiful county at the same time. We filmed at the CTS premier yearling sales last year which were again held recently in the centre of Cape Town.
CNN Winning Post video
Last year, Coolmore set a new African yearling sales record when they went to R6 million (£254,538/€326,746) for a colt. That was matched this year whilst the average sale priced increased. There wasn't just interest from local buyers and this year there were more foreign buyers then ever before with the likes of Qatar's Sheikh Fahad and The China Horse Club all busy buying.
The sales are held in the city’s convention centre and whether you had any interest in buying a horse or not, it was a great event. Not many sales include a three-course dinner with a live band following the auction!
Last year, the two race meetings I attended, the L’Ormarins Queen’s plate and Investec ‘Day of Dreams’ were glamorous events. With a small but select crowd, both had a real garden party feel with stylish outdoor bars and hospitality areas, not to mention brilliant after-parties held at the racecourse. Racecourses around the world could learn from their days and the emphasis they put on customer experience. They were crowded enough to feel busy but I never had to queue to pass between enclosures and they crowd stayed on to party and enjoy the warm evening. Some of the hospitality boxes even turned into private parties/night clubs!
All the trainers and owners we interviewed for Winning Post couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. We filmed with leading trainer Justin Snaith on Muizenberg beach.
CNN Winning Post video
As the horses walked through the water, they were joined by a seal who swam alongside them! (Here's the drone footage) No filming request was too much and we were made to feel very welcome wherever we went. If you’re looking for your next racing holiday then head to Cape Town in January. I couldn’t recommend it more. Oh and did I mention the hot weather?