And they’re off...

2011-10-29 11:35

Although events like the Durban July have grown in popularity, particularly among the black middle class, ask many of them which horse won the race this year and you’ll probably get a blank stare.

This is because not enough is being done to develop the sport among the new market, according to Phindi Kema.

She says: “Instead, they’ve marketed the event more as a fashion event rather than a horseracing event.

Right now all that we are, are just consumers. We are not part of the event. We can’t develop the new market when we continue to package horseracing as another fashion event.”

As South Africa’s first and only black, woman thoroughbred horse breeder, Kema is working hard to change that.

She is developing an edutainment TV series which will address all facets of horse breeding to expose the industry to the new market.

In addition, her company Africa Race International (ARI) has partnered with two world-class horseracing companies involved in the Dubai World Cup and the Melbourne Cup to create the biggest thoroughbred horseracing event in Africa – a R1.3-billion project that carries prize money of R25 million.

Asia has the Japan Cub, which is rated the world’s most prestigious and lucrative international thoroughbred horseracing competition, while Europe has the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which takes place every October in Paris.

Kema believes it’s about time Africa had its own race too.

She is adamant the goal is achievable, and the challenge is dealing with the old ways of thinking that still permeate the industry.

Kema is the first to admit that there are many challenges, a critical one being horse movement due to African horse sickness.

In addition to ensuring that we boost the necessary and relevant world-class infrastructure that runners have become accustomed to, “the National Horseracing Authority has to contend with the new thinking and change its backward approach to allow growth to happen”, she emphasises.

“We are aware of the challenges facing us but our focus is on the value and opportunities we see in this industry. I believe there’s enough room for more players to come in.”

Part of ARI’s strategy is to use the company’s strong links with the UK and the Middle East to foster support for the initiative.

Last month, Kema made headlines when she wrote a complaint to the Competition Commission accusing Gold Circle Horse Racing and Gambling, and Phumelela Gaming and Leisure – South Africa’s only two racing operators – of anti-competitive behaviour including price-fixing and bullying.

Her complaint followed her failure to reach an agreement with Phumelela over the sale of Arlington racecourse in Port Elizabeth, which the operator owns.

She has also written to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to complain about the lack of transformation in the industry.

The winner of The Herald, Absa Corporate and Business Bank, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School Business Person of the Year award in 2008, Kema got into horse breeding by default after she fell in love with her neighbour’s horse.

Her neighbour, the owner of a stud farm, had asked to meet her after hearing that there was a black woman farmer in the area. “I guess he was intrigued,” says Kema, bursting into laughter.

However, it was during her visit to Joburg to sell some of her horses that Kema decided to get into the commercial side of the business on a more permanent basis after realising there were no black players in the market.

A mother of three teenage daughters, Kema jokes that one of the things that horse breeding has taught her is “patience and pedigree”.

An avid reader of biographies and a keen Formula 1 and Lewis Hamilton fan, she says among her favourite pastimes is spending weekends at home with her children and fiancé.

She credits her late grandfather for her entrepreneurial genes, saying despite having no formal education he was able to start a dry-cleaning service and later a general dealer, which he ran successfully.

“If he could achieve all of this when the odds were against him at the time, why would I fail to realise my dream with all these great possibilities?” she says.

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