The Zimbabwean equine industry – whose first recorded race was in February 1892 – has recently experienced unprecedented challenges in its 121-year history. So says Mashonaland Turf Club’s chief executive Clever Mushangwe, noting that it has been heart-breaking to see an industry almost going down and no one seemingly with a clue of how to arrest the situation.
However, Zimbabwe’s once moribund horseracing scene is slowly staging a comeback as the industry’s status as a playground for the wealthy is once again garnering punter interest and attracting corporate sponsorship.
Although it is still not at the same level as it was when scaling the dizzy heights of the mid-1990s, the MTC is optimistic, determined and appears ready to revive the industry.
The $500,000-a-year industry, now solely centred at Harare’s Borrowdale Racecourse, witnessed massive job-cuts, dwindling yearling sales, stud services almost wiped out, mares and stallions sold off at below cost and even euthanized as breeders rode out of the industry – all hurting the bottom line for breeders.
As the industry is closely linked with farming and the agriculture sector, horseracing experienced harsh times and “a dip due to change in land ownership patterns,” notes the boss of the sport of kings. “In fact, most horse breeders also owned farms,” Mushangwe says, explaining: “As the land reform took its course, most of those who lost their farms also went out of the breeding industry. Our ‘new’ farmers have other priority interests, they are looking at bread and butter issues. We hope things will change in a couple of years.”
While the going is still heavy for the industry, the MTC boss feels Borrowdale is now running on firmer ground.
As shown by the return of some corporate sponsors like Delta Breweries and OK Zimbabwe Limited Holdings, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Horseracing needs racing – “so we need horses, owners and punters,” says Mushangwe. He says that the MTC now runs three business units: Racing, Gaming and Totalisator to keep pace with the changing business environment.
With expectations high that the economy will maintain its recovery and take a northern trajectory, the MTC is creating incentives and partnering with other stakeholders.
And to strongly underline this partnership, OK Zimbabwe Limited has reiterated its continued support for promoting the popular equestrian sport through its sponsorship of The OK Grand Challenge.
The race is widely regarded as the most prestigious event on the local racing calendar – and includes some of the country’s racing champions bred locally and from South Africa.
“As a Zimbabwean corporate with a 25-year partnership legacy with the MTC, we remain firmly committed to support any initiative that promotes Zimbabwe’s rich culture and well-known sporting traditions among the current generation,” commented OK’s marketing manager Chipo Mashingaidze. “As OK, we are intrinsically linked with horse-racing and we are committed to support the industry,” she added.
Caption: King Kahal wins at the 17 November race meeting at Borrowdale Race Course.