Cape Town’s got the big studs…and more horseracing trivia

Cape Town — or the Cape of Good Hope as it was known back then — has been the centre of horseracing in South Africa since 1797 and this elite sport is still a money-spinner for the city. Here’s how it all started…

Cape Town, the birthplace of horseracing in South Africa, has been hosting horse races since 1797. Here’s an even cooler fact: the country’s first recorded race, the Turf Club Purse, which was run on Green Point Common on 18 September 1797, was won by the five-year-old Zemman Shaw.

The Cape’s proud horseracing heritage can be seen in the quality of horses bred here. According to Candice Robinson of Mike Bass Racing, Cape Town has the best breeding grounds in the country: “If I mention some, I am probably going to leave others out, but a few of the larger studs in Cape Town are: Highlands Studs, Drakenstein Studs, Maine Chance Farms and Klawervlei Stud. Cape Town is by far the best breeding area in the country. They breed the best horses, and they’ve also go the biggest studs here.”

How Zemman Shaw would fare against the likes of Politician (the horse which won the J&B Met in 1978 and 1979) or Pocket Power (J&B Met winner 2007, 2008, 2009) is up for debate. After all, the industry has come a long way since Lord Charles Somerset first established and developed the sport in the region.

These days, the labour-intensive industry provides employment for around 12 000 people in and around Cape Town and contributes roughly R2.71-billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product — at least those were the numbers in 2009, the last year stats were made available. Between 2002 and 2009, the industry made a cumulative contribution of R16.81-billion to South Africa’s GDP.  Somewhat surprisingly, the industry seems to weather poor financial climates fairly well.

“The racing industry is pretty much dominated by your upper echelon of wealthy people,” explains Robinson. “Racehorses are expensive, so it’s not a sport for any old person in the street. While most of the people involved in the sport are from old money, in recent years we have had some new money coming into racing. The industry has certainly maintained itself through rocky financial times… somehow it seems steady. There are people with less money who have smaller shares who do it for the love of the sport and I guess, in hard times, those are the people who fall away.”

While the industry is fairly robust, Robinson laments the lack of interest from the general public. Enthusiasm for horseracing, she says, is limited to big events such as the J&B Met.

“It’s not what it used to be in the olden days; these days nobody comes to the races anymore, which is really quite sad. I think that there is just not enough marketing, or perhaps not the correct marketing. Obviously people come to the big events and you get people who come for the betting —the backbone of horseracing — but it is much easier to do that via the phone these days. People just don’t seem to come to the racecourse anymore.”

Your Cape Town Weekend: 19 – 21 February 2016

This weekend, Cape Town is jam-packed with beach parties, design events, stage performances and more. We help you plan Your Cape Town Weekend.

Art and Design: Design Indaba Festival

Feast your eyes on cutting-edge design from South Africa and the world at the highly anticipated Design Indaba Festival. Two years after being named World Design capital, Cape Town is only fiercer in its innovative and eclectic design. Read more

Festivals: Summer Sensation Beach Fest

Summer isn’t over yet – far from it. Celebrate the sun with plenty of dancing at this one-day beach festival. Headline act is international duo The Golden Pony, supported by top South African house and techno artists. Read more

Food and drink: Wine-tasting at Rupert & Rothschild Estate

Travel the world by wine. Taste vintages from six different countries at Rupert & Rothschild Estate, just an hour’s drive from Cape Town in the beautiful Franschhoek valley. Complete the taste experience by pairing with taster portions created especially for these fine wines –  after all, Franschhoek is known as South Africa’s “Gourmet Capital”. Read more to find out why this is one of local foodie Abigail Donnelly’s favourite tastings.

Live music: Jack Liebeck and Amandine Savary

Experience exquisite orchestral music played by an award-winning violinist and our sensational Cape Philharmonic orchestra. Romantic and impressionist classics will be on the programme. Read more

Nightlife: Beatenberg and the Kyle Peterson Jazz Trio

Grab the rare opportunity to see Indie and jazz at this double-bill concert at the Artscape Theatre. Mingle with the Design Indaba Festival attendees, who will be at Artscape for the first time this year following the festival’s move from the Cape Town International Convention Centre. But you don’t have to be a Design Indaba Festival attendee to go to this concert; tickets are open to all. Read more

Sport: BEAR Rally and Expo

Watch motorbikes go crazy in the Swellendam countryside for the first British, European and American Racing (BEAR) rally and expo. The town is two and a half hours’ drive from Cape Town’s city centre but worth the trip for its beauty, heritage sites and Cape Dutch architecture. And the motorbikes, of course. Read more

Talks and Expos: Cape Town International Animation Festival

Let your eyes adventure through some of the best animation in the world at the Cape Town International Animation Festival. Read more

Theatre: Sweeny Todd (opening night)

Get the fright of your life at the opening night of Pieter Torien’s Sweeny Todd – the infamous thriller about a demon barber. This is one of the only musicals which is also a thriller, and was recently made famous by the Tim Burton film version starring Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp.  Read more