Avatar photo

By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent


Greg Bortz: Days of miracle and wonder in Durban

A saviour of horse racing overwhelmed by glory in his hometown.


Greg Bortz was searching for the right word to describe his feelings on Saturday afternoon. He ventured “speechless”, but later said, “Overwhelmed; yes, that’s probably the right word, overwhelmed. Ja…”

As he told his story of growing up in a home on Durban’s Berea in the 1970s and ’80s, with a view of Greyville racecourse from his bedroom window and in earshot of race-day commentaries, and now, more than 40 years later, owning the winner of the Hollywoodbets Durban July, his listeners also searched for a right word.

Serendipity? Fate? Written in the stars?

The scene in the aftermath of the 2024 July, the 128th running of South Africa’s greatest race, seemed uncanny – swirling in time and space, with a hint of quantum entanglement.

‘Mind-blowing’

“I was sick for horse racing from a young age and dreamt that one day I’d own a racehorse. That literally was the dream … this race was the foundation of my youth … to now own a July winner … it’s mind-blowing!”

The interval between nine-year-old Greg seeing his first racehorses, then taking his first 50-cent Place Accumulator bet, and Saturday’s triumph in the R5-million Grade 1 contest has been long and eventful – without and with money.

Bortz told his tale in a highly entertaining interview on Gallop TV a year ago, soon after he’d burst onto the modern-day South African racing scene.

In brief: young Greg graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Cape Town, thanks to peddling Winning Form guides across Western Cape and other dodgy moves. An obsession with Tottenham Hotspur and Jurgen Klinsmann took him to the UK, before an altercation with immigration authorities saw him deported – to Los Angeles, where he’d recently spent his honeymoon. Broke and desperate, he committed an audacious act of “immigration fraud” to get himself a US green card and entrance into the wild world of investment banking … and so it goes…

In the end, Bortz made several shedloads of dollars and decided to semi-retire. He and his family opted for a year’s sabbatical in Cape Town, he reconnected with local racing, he bought a horse – or seven … and so it goes.

Cape Racing

The South African sojourn of one year became two, then more. Most significantly, he was on the spot when racing operator Phumelela went bust and Kenilworth Racing in Cape Town faced closure.

Bortz sprang to the rescue, roping in his old Winning Form boss Owen Heffer – who had in the meantime built Hollywoodbets into one of the world’s biggest online gaming businesses. The pair put up many millions of their own cash to fix Cape racing and instill a new sense of optimism and vigour in the operation.

He has become involved in other local business, with his GMB Investments buying a chunk of Grand Parade Investments, which owns casinos. When he isn’t being chairman of Cape Racing, he’s CEO of Grand Parade. And there’s a variety of other things on the boil.

Bortz does not lack energy. He and his girlfriend Gina Goldsmith continue to buy and enjoy racehorses – like Oriental Charm, the three-year-old colt who won Saturday’s July with the sort of brave front-running tactics that are emblematic of the owner’s style.

Energy and a forthright manner (he candidly admits to “a bit of a swagger”) have brought Bortz into conflict with some elements of the racing ecology – in particular his loud opposition to perceived cheating and doping.

Last year, he was accused of selectively maligning certain trainers and became engaged in a bruising to-and-fro in the racing realm.

But, on Saturday, few would have begrudged the man his moment of wonder, standing on the old vlei below the Berea, dialing back in time to the dreams of a nine-year-old kid.

Read more on these topics

Hollywoodbets Durban July horse racing news

For more news your way

Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.

For more news your way

Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.