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Zim horse numbers dwindle

horse racingOVER the last few years, Zimbabwe has seen a massive drop in the number of local horses competing at Borrowdale Park racetracks with analysts saying this would have long-term effects on horse racing in the country. Although horse breeding which is normally undertaken by the affluent populace is commercially viable, fewer farmers are getting involved in mare procreation at the moment with most of them now preferring tobacco or maize farming which they see as more lucrative.

With declining numbers of Zimbabwean horses, this has in turn resulted in foreign horses especially those from South Africa, taking to the field and dominating at Borrowdale Park Race Course every year. Brian Black, the chairman of Mashonaland Turf Club said there were fears that this would have long term effects on racing in Zimbabwe where the country may in the long run fail to field a single horse at Borrowdale Park race course.

“We need to breed more horses to avoid a field of foreign horses only. But unfortunately the breeders are getting fewer and fewer,” said Black responding to questions from the Financial Gazette Sport.  The Thoroughbred Breeders Champagne Stakes, a race which is meant for Zimbabwean bred horses, attracted as few as five horses on the course last month.

Out of the 14 horses nominated for the Grade Three Zimbabwe Guineas held in February, only four were from Zimbabwe while the rest on the field were from other countries. The same can be said of the Zimbabwe Challenge in which only two Zimbabwean horses- Kitawing and Pleasant Valley took to the field out of 11 horses.

Top horse trainer, Kirk Swanson, said the horse racing industry in Zimbabwe was in bad shape and insists that it was being sustained by horses from South Africa. Most Zimbabwean horses are failing to meet the standards of racing in Grade One or Grade Two races. Grade One races, for which the Castle Tankard is the only one in Zimbabwe, are considered the highest form of competition a horse can take part in.

South Africa’s most popular racing event, the Durban July, falls in this category too. “There are few horses coming through and our racing industry is being sustained by horses from South Africa.  “As you can see, the same old horses we have had in the past three or so years in Grade One and Two, are the same horses that qualify for such top class races,” said Swanson, a former Zimbabwe champion trainer.

Only four Zimbabwean horses, Pleasant Valley, Captain’s Tiger, Forty One and Final Fling qualify for Grade One and Grade Two races. In this year’s Castle Tankard, only two Zimbabwean horses — Captain’s Tiger and Forty One took to the field.The winning horse was Equina from South Africa which took home US$30 000.

In second place was A King Is Born also from South Africa which won US$10 000 while third placed Coltrane also from South Africa was rewarded with US$6 000. Super Trouper won US$3 000 after coming fourth to complete a South African clean sweep while Zimbabwe’s Captain’s Tiger came fifth and took home US$1 000. The OK Grand Challenge, a Grade Two race attracted a field of 18 horses and once again, only Captain’s Tiger, and Forty One from Zimbabwe took to the field.

As she did in the Tankard, four year old filly,Equina, won the title taking with her the US$24 000 winner’s prize money. Lucky Sam and Approval Rating-all from South Africa came second and third respectively. Zimbabwe’s Captain’s Tiger which is trained by Swanson was a distant fourth taking home a meager US$2 400.

Last year,the OK Grand Challenge was won by Argentina bred Ginepri which was also second behind South Africa’s A King Is Born in the Castle Tankard the same year. Racing commentator Adrian Nydam said a lot needs to be done if Zimbabwe is to regain the good old days when the likes of Ipi Tombe, Stay Alert, Gold Panner, Mzilikazi, and others, travelled to South Africa and other parts of the world and won top races there.

He said there was need for today’s farmers to change their attitude as horse breeding was more lucrative than most farmers realised. “There is need to change the attitude of people (farmers) and convince them that there is a lot of money in horse racing. Maybe in that way, we will have more and more people breeding horses,” said Nydam.

The chief operating officer of the Mashonaland Turf Club, Howard Mukundu, said he dreams of a situation in which there are more local horses on the field rather than foreign.  He admitted that South African horses were proving to be superior at Borrowdale Park Race Course but believes the situation will one day change. But it will be interesting to see how this will happen in the near future as horses in Zimbabwe are getting fewer and fewer? – Michael Kariati