Joey Ramsden intends finding a couple of days in his packed next fortnight to make a flying visit to Singapore to determine whether he should make the place the new home for himself, his partner Steph and their small daughter. Sadly for South African racing, he looks like doing so.
He said on Saturday: “The training facilities there are different class, the prize money is huge, owners’ incentives are massive and there is the opportunity to trade which is just not possible here.”
The Singapore Turf Club’s announcement in a press release on Friday – that he was one of three trainers to be allocated boxes – took him by surprise. “I had not been over. I had inquired if there were any availabilities but that was as far as it went. While I have now been given the green light, and they have offered me the opportunity to train there, nothing is signed and I don’t have a licence.
“It is all subject to me going over there, giving everything the OK and signing everything up. Obviously we are very focussed and busy here right up to the end of the season but I am going to try and get over in the next couple of weeks.”
The announcement from Singapore also caused him considerable embarrassment. He had not told his owners that he was considering leaving South Africa and he had to hastily send out an email explaining why he hadn’t and adding: “I have provisionally accepted boxes at the Singapore Turf Club but, until I go to Singapore and discuss things further, it’s business as usual at Goodhope Racing.”
Ramsden, 50, has been hit hard by Markus Jooste’s overnight decision to stop owning horses in South Africa. The troubled business tycoon was by far his biggest owner and he had to move to a smaller yard to cut costs. He and Steph have adopted an attacking policy both in attracting new owners and in trying to win as many races as possible. It has been successful but the yard does not have the same fire power as in the Jooste glory days.
In his email to owners he said: “I have dire concerns about the future of Cape racing and racing in this country in general.” Asked about this on Saturday, he spoke of rumours about one of the country’s biggest owner-breeders (not a Ramsden client) expanding to 150 horses-in-training next season and the numbers his main Cape Town rivals will train. “I estimate that there will be less than 800 horses in Cape Town next season. How many will be left for me?
“I don’t want to come across as a whiner. I love Cape racing and it has been absolutely fabulous to me but stakes are not going to go up. The way fields have been filling (or rather not filling) they are going to cut races, and I don’t blame them. I am not being nasty but it is going to happen.”
He feels that his present rewards are not enough. “I can have six winners in a month and my percentages will come to less than 30 grand. After tax, what is left for me and my operation? This not intended as a bitch but these are the facts and I can’t go on ignoring them. It is sad because I love it here and I always thought I would die in South Africa.”
His reference to the opportunity to trade in Singapore is something that trainers in certain other racing jurisdictions use to exploit their abilities and boost their income. Ramsden is unhappy that it doesn’t apply here. “I can go out and buy a yearling to pinhook for 100 grand and win first or second time up with it but I will then be offered less than it cost. That is the state of the market here. Basically there is no market.”
If he does leave Ramsden will be a big loss to South African racing. He is a world class trainer – he showed that when he won the Godolphin Mile with Variety Club at Meydan five years ago. He has won over 1 750 races, including 26 Grade 1s, most notably the 2016 Vodacom Durban July with The Conglomerate. True, others would take his place but they wouldn’t be the same colourful, larger-than-life character who attracts interest (in racing as well as in himself), believes in calling a spade an effing shovel and will be remembered in racing folklore long after he is gone.
In the meantime – and this is what suggests the visit to Singapore will have to be next week rather than this one – there is the KRA Guineas on Friday and his bid to win the following day’s Computaform Sprint with either Attenborough or Speedpoint, first and third 12 months ago.
“Twist Of Fate has done fabulously. He galloped on Friday at Greyville and Anton rode him. I wasn’t there to see it but Alson was and he pronounced him very happy and very excited for when he goes over a bit further.
“Attenborough has also done great. We galloped him on the grass at Randjesfontein on Friday. He went with Speedpoint and they were magic. I couldn’t be more happy with them.”
By Michael Clower