South Africa, an international breeders market: Is it still a pipe dream?

At this year’s South Africa’s major race meeting, the Vodacom Durban July, the local racing industry might just have another serious goal to contemplate, the final break-through of its tough export quarantine restrictions.

The Durban July is the pinnacle of racing in the country and once again patrons will pour into Durban from all points in South Africa and beyond to pack 50,000 into Greyville on July 1st. It is the height of the season, hugely successfully marketed, yet the industry traditionally has had a cloud over it in that it cannot participate in similar major meetings internationally with the same ease.

South African breeding and racing is locked in an effective straight jacket by export quarantine restrictions due to African horse sickness. Consequently the development of local breeding, and hence racing, has inevitably fallen behind the rest of the thoroughbred world.

For years South African thoroughbred authorities have presented the case that they can export their horses free of the essentially localised and seasonal disease, and that internally their own quarantine protocols isolate known cases very quickly without further impact. All to no avail and the only way thoroughbreds can be exported involves long, arduous and expensive months of travel and quarantine.

The swift air travel of horses the rest of the thoroughbred community takes for granted is a pipe dream for the South African’s. Even Australia’s tough quarantine protocols, tough at least measured against other racing jurisdictions, are light years away from horses spending months in transit.

The breakthrough for all this comes from Asia. The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has taken up the challenge of creating quarantine protocols that will allow, ultimately, the purchase of South African yearlings and tried horses in the same manner as it does everywhere else in the world.
“We have a major ambition which is to open up South Africa to be part of a wider international scene,” said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, Chief Executive Officer, HKJC, recently.

“If we would be able to bring them into the circuit, into the international circuit, that would be a significant enrichment and that is one of our clear targets that within the next two years that we are able to that we find quarantine solutions with them,” he said.
The Asian Racing Federation pushes the rest of the world with globalisation issues, the banning of race day drugs a recent example, but there is natural self-interest in developing South Africa as a source of horses.

Just doing the maths on recent yearling prices in Australia fuelled by significant stakes increases, plus throwing in the task of trying to buy tried horses from the large and popular syndication ownership groups, quickly demonstrates that the ease of procurement of horses for the Asian market is not what it used to be. A similar issues exist in other traditional catchment areas for Hong Kong.

Late last year the HKJC brought back Dr Brian Stewart, who he used to work for the Club from 2002 to 2011, from Victoria to head up veterinary regulation and biosecurity policy, a department within the club’s Racing Authority responsible for anti-doping policies, horse welfare, quarantine policy and international movement of horses.
He is chairman of the International Group of Specialist Racing Veterinarians and chairman of the International Movement of Horses Committee for the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

There has been movement between the South African authorities and World Organisation for Animal Health.
“For the first time, I am optimistic that after a meeting here last December that there is real progress,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges.
“This will be one of our targets as an Asian Racing Federation, we want to support this with the Jockey Club.
“If you look at sources of bloodstock, what is interesting is that prize money has increased all over the world and horses have become more expensive. If you look at syndication, with many horses owned by syndicates, it is more and more difficult to get agreement to sell horses from a sourcing perspective.
“From the Hong Kong Jockey Club perspective I think South Africa breeds wonderful horses and they should become part of the global race,” he said.

When all this comes to fruition the South African’s will need to alter their business models to that of a breeding and trading nation along with a domestic racing industry, as New Zealand has been for a long time. That will mean competition for the top South African buyers at yearling sales and the export of potential tried horses from the racing stock pool.

There will be a period of adjustment, but by staying with a formula for producing what South African breeders are good at, progressive maturing stock, they will prosper.

New Zealand’s forte was breeding stayers and this is swinging back with the recent success over Sydney’s Autumn Carnival of New Zealand Derby winner Gingernuts (NZ) (Iffraaj) winning the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas, Jon Snow (NZ) (Iffraaj) in the Group 1 Australian Derby, and a week later the New Zealand Oaks winner Bonneval (NZ) (Makfi) winning the Group 1 Australian Oaks.

The South African’s have seen hope before only to be shut out again. But this Durban July they can look ahead to perhaps the ‘real progress’ of seeing the HKJC joining the yearling buying bench in Cape Town in January and even in the not too distant future international racing home and abroad.