There are certain events on the South African social calendar that seem to be as much (if not more) about hype than the actual event. I have always felt the Durban July and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Met in Cape Town are two such events. The excitement around these occasions is often focused on marques, fashion and partying. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend either and I have often joked that the first time I attend will probably when I own a horse running in the race.
Growing up in Lesotho, I’ve been exposed to horses – including riding up and down mountains when the snows are melting (as one does) – and have been fascinated the story of the Basotho pony. Learning about the history of the Basotho, I also learnt a bit about the cross breeding of horses – in the early 1970s, the Irish setup a cross breeding project in Lesotho.
I then had the chance some years back to write an article on the breeding of race horses and was given even greater insight into the world of horseracing. But, to be honest, there are a number of stereotypes around the sport, and those who support and are involved in it, that have often created a block. The irony is that the two main ones are on opposite ends – it is elitist and it involves less than savoury characters, particularly on the betting side.
In early August, the horseracing fraternity had the Equus Awards which are the premier awards for horses, jockeys, trainers, breeders and owners and the room was visibly filled with many who have probably been in the space for a couple of decades. This doesn’t bode well for continuity and the growth of the sport, particularly within context of an evolving country where there is a vast array of experiences vying for our time. To work to ensure that horseracing’s evolution is a lot more reflective of us all, the fraternity has brought everything together under the banner of one brand – Racing. It’s A Rush – which was launched mid-August with much fanfair in Joburg at an event hosted by Maps Maponyane.
The reality is we consume experiences. We want to be told, and share in, stories. We want to be able to experience life deeply. We want to be entertained. Any brand that seeks to maintain the status quo will be left behind. Interacting with the people from Racing. It’s A Rush, they do seem to get that their future will depend on turning horseracing into an inclusive and authentic livestyle brand, sport and experience. With races running nearly every day of the year, it is about making the experience compelling enough for you and I to spend our days at the track as a form of entertainment, a place for business interactions and networking, an environment for not just individuals, but families, as well.
Being a liker of things of sorts (depending on what the things are), I’m giving it a shot. I’m going to go out and experience the horseracing world in its entirety from going to races (and not just the major ones) to interacting with owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and the track. I will share that journey on this, and other platforms. I have a friend in Lesotho who has decided he wants to breed stallions – definitely dragging him along. If you’d like to join me on various days at the track, watch this space (and my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook & LinkedIn profiles).