THE Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) is exploring opportunities in the horse racing sector as it seeks to diversify the province’s economy beyond the automotive sector.
The ECDC recently funded a feasibility study which looked at how horse racing could be developed so as to grow the province’s economy.
ECDC chief executive Sitembele Mase said horse racing had an extensive value chain and was labour intensive. He said it was the fourth largest sport in South Africa.
With two racecourses and a major breeding industry, it was well placed to become a significant contributor to the provincial economy.
“The feasibility report has specifically revealed the job creation prospects and business opportunities for the province. The value chain is extensive and includes activities and services such as farming (horse- breeding), betting, racehorse ownership, training, jockey activity, sport tourism and leisure and other industries,” Mase said.
“Although betting plays a part in horse racing, it will not be our focal point. It is only one small aspect of the sport, but what we really want to push is the breeding, the training of jockeys, veterinary services, the tourism that the sport brings, the exchange of horses which might come from other countries in the world.
“For too long the sport has been exclusive and we think it’s time we open up the market to other players in the country, and so that tourists can come and spend their money in our province,” Mase said.
The goal was for entry barriers to this sector to fall, making it accessible to new markets so it could grow, thereby speeding up job creation.
“In Australia and the United Kingdom, the sector is the third and fourth largest employer respectively,” Mase said. However, these countries had the infrastructure and enjoyed government support. In South Africa, the sector employed about 15000 people yet it remained largely unrecognised.
“We have 10 racecourses but these numbers are in decline. There are only two high-profile racing events a year, neither of which has international status, despite the country’s ability and track record of producing quality horses.”
Ian Robertson, chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of South Africa, said they fully supported the ECDC and its aim of expanding the sector in the province.
“There is huge potential in the Eastern Cape for job creation in the horse racing sector. The Department of Trade and Industry has already identified the province’s potential and has invested R10-million into creating 10 cooperatives with the aim of creating 20 more,” Robertson said.
He said although the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were the country’s main provinces in the breeding industry, the Eastern Cape had an edge with all the stud farms in the Karoo.
“Not only are there previously disadvantaged jockeys making big names for themselves in the sport, but horses from the Eastern Cape are racing in international races in England and Dubai. We could increase these numbers by exporting more horses but for this we need assistance from the government.”
Carol Janse van Rensburg, secretary of the Eastern Cape Stipendiary Board, which controls and regulates horse racing, said the sector was bigger than many realised, employing around 1500 people in the province as well as about 1000 people on stud farms across the province.
“Racing provides a lot of employment but what we need is for our racecourses to remain open and for there to be additional races and additional stables and betting firms.”