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– Article courtesy of Sporting Post

Introducing The Country Championships!

Another winner! Ray Charles – or is it Ray Danielson – singing the blues, and the whites, on L’Ormarins King’s Plate day (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

As part of Cape Racing’s long-term vision to increase its horse population with the ultimate aim of hosting more race meetings, the forward-thinking operator has introduced The Country Championships with effect 1 January 2024.
This championship is aimed at the lower merit-rated horses in the province, which race predominantly in Class 4 and Class 5 races.

Class 4 races are for horses with merit ratings of 62 – 78, while Class 5 races are for horses with merit ratings of 66 and below.

A diverse horse population is key to sustained future growth, and while programme innovation, vastly boosted stakes, and the RaceCape Incentive has seen significantly increased field sizes and a vibrant new energy and buzz in the off-season and the Cape Summer Festival of Champions, the need to cater for a wider spread of talent has been identified as an important medium-term driver of growth.

According to Justin Vermaak, Cape Racing’s Executive – Racing & Bloodstock, there is an incorrect perception in the Cape that weaker horses must leave the province to earn or need to be sold or retired, often prematurely.

The intent of the new initiative is to shine a spotlight on the meaningful race and earnings opportunities for the so-called “weaker horses” and to illustrate that lower-rated horses in the Cape have the ability to earn considerably in the province, making the ownership experience economically attractive while allowing the owners to continue experiencing the thrills of racing in the Cape.

The ultimate point is that if an owner’s horse is not competitive at the higher levels, it should continue to race in the Cape against horses of a similar calibre while enjoying all the economic incentives the Cape’s owners have come to enjoy.

The Country Championships gains further momentum as it will run parallel to the RaceCape initiative’s ‘Runs Bonus’ incentive, which creates further incentives for all horses.

With RaceCape, horses that run twelve times in the season earn a R25 000 bonus, which increases further to R35 000 with fifteen runs.

Speaking to the Sporting Post after a sellout Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas day recently, Vermaak explained that the current programme structure catered well for the MR 74 and above galloper but not as much for the lower-rated horses.

“A spread and diversity in the horse population is imperative if we are to achieve our goals to increase our number of race meetings still further. We have already made giant strides in this regard – our meetings have increased from fifty-nine per season to seventy scheduled for the current season. Our goal is to get this up to eighty as soon as possible.

We are excited about our high-quality feature programme, but striking a balance is vitally important, and we need to create attractive racing opportunities for lower-division gallopers of a 74 rating and below, too,” added Vermaak.

He explained that The Country Championships, which would incorporate all Class 4 and 5 and C Stakes races, and could be likened to a premiership, with a Summer and Winter Championship set of three finals.

“We are determined to create the environment and platform where it is viable to keep horses of 68 and below ratings, that can race at least three times every two months, on average. Horses will earn points throughout the local racing season, and as long as they have competed in a minimum of six qualifying races, they will be eligible for their position prize (i.e. a prize based on the horse’s position in the league table) as well as the lucrative opportunity to run in a final. The championship table positions will determine qualification for the finals. This certainly creates an interesting sub-plot for owners and trainers as they bid to improve their positions, while being given the opportunity of earning increased stakes. The competition’s gross prize money is around R2 million, although this season we will only hold the Winter Country Championship Final in view of the launch timing,” confirmed Vermaak, who stressed again that the RaceCape incentive, when coupled this new championship series, means that the 74 and below category of horse will be able to pay its way and give owners increased opportunity to enjoy the racing experience at the new Hollywoodbets Kenilworth.

A combination of the RaceCape appearance fee incentives, increased stakes, ride bonuses and the new Country Championships ensures that there has never been a more economically attractive environment for horse ownership.

“Just in closing, there is also the exciting prospect for the connections of further runners and winners on big days as we will hold some of the Country Championship events on the likes of WSB Cape Town Met Day and other big race days going forward,” he concluded.

– Photos by Chase Liebenberg & Cape Racing