Sport » Horses
The reeling horse racing industry has taken another hefty punch with news that leading Highveld trainer Gary Alexander will relocate to Australia in 2021.
Alexander, 61, and his assistant and younger brother Dean, will set up their new base at Murray Bridge training centre in South Australia, where the Liberal Party state government has recently partnered with the racing industry to build a state-of-the-art facility to grow the game, boost employment opportunities and stimulate the economy.
This rosy scenario contrasts starkly with that the Alexanders leave behind in South Africa: an industry in business rescue, a fractious labour situation and all levels of government flat broke.
The news – which emerged on Australian racing websites on Monday – follows the earlier departure Down Under of top trainers Matt de Kock and Joey Ramsden. It also comes after withdrawal from the game of one of South Africa’s pre-eminent female conditioners, Yvette Bremner, following a worker riot at her Fairview yard that saw the killing and maiming of horses.
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When the Alexanders leave their Turffontein stables, scores of jobs will be lost and a South African family racing dynasty will vanish. Gary and Dean are the sons of Duncan, a leading jockey of yesteryear, and grew up in the racing incubator of Johannesburg’s southern suburbs.
The brothers have sent out more than 1500 winners since 1982, with 100-plus feature-race successes – with the likes of Tommy Hotspur, Ruby Clipper, James Jaguar, Drum Star, Icy Air and Pierre Jourdan.
Dean Alexander, quoted by Australian website racing.com, said the development of Murray Bridge as a training centre of excellence was the catalyst for the pair’s decision to relocate.
“Gary and I are looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead and are super excited about the opportunity that has been afforded to us by Thoroughbred Racing South Australia,” he added.
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“It is encouraging and attractive to see the facilities that will be available at Murray Bridge. From what we can gather this will be a world-class training facility and that is exactly where we want to be, in order to give our horses the best opportunity of success.”
Those horses are unlikely to include many of their current string, with trade barriers making equine export a very difficult business.
Adding to the dismal mood are anguished calls from thoroughbred breeding luminaries John Freeman and Lee Scribante for European and South African trade negotiators to get off their backsides and show some progress in breaking this export logjam.
The general feeling of exasperation was exacerbated by watching Hong Kong stage a remarkably successful International Races meeting – amid Covid resurgence and political turmoil, but aided by easy horse and human travel protocols.
Two of the richly endowed festival’s four group 1 races were won by Japanese raiders – Normcore and Danon Smash in the Hong Kong Cup and Hong Kong Sprint respectively – a third by Irish master horseman Aidan O’Brien – Mogul in the Vase – and the fourth by a hometown hero – Golden Sixty in the Mile.
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Earlier, Australian Zac Purton lifted the International Jockeys Challenge trophy after beating opposition from various corners of the globe – including British riding sensation Hollie Doyle and her countryman Ryan Moore – who nonetheless booted home winners in the course of the festival.
“If only we could be a bit more like them,” muttered many a long-suffering South African fan.
One silver lining on the local scene came at Kenilworth on Saturday.
A stunning victory by Durban July champion Belgarion in the 1600m Green Point Stakes – after a four-plus-month rest, over a distance short of optimum and at what trainer Justin Snaith described as 85% fitness – had the makings of a new superstar that could give the game a sorely needed lift.
In the headliner, the grade 1 Cape Fillies Guineas – historically a breed-defining race – Snaith’s charge Captain’s Ransom notched fourth win from five starts and showed that, despite everything, exceptional young horses continue to come from the nation’s stud farms.
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