Namibia Horse Racing Association (NHRA) secretary John Wellmann says the small financial pay-off for horse racers is hurting the sport, despite efforts to advance it.
Horse-racing is a rather costly sport. A new horse can cost between N$5000 and N$10000, up to N$40000 for an experienced racing horse and about N$2500 monthly to feed a single horse, not including other maintenance costs.
Put next to the N$3000 prize money for winners of most local races, such as the winners of the Africa Cup which took place this past Saturday at the Rehoboth track, Wellmann feels there is not enough of a financial draw, and only those truly passionate about horse racing will participate.
“We got N$20000 for administrative purposes from the Namibia Sports Commission (NSC), which we are grateful for, but it is not enough to do more,” he stated.
“At the moment, Namibia is behind South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, whose leagues have progressed to a professional level due to corporate sponsorships”, he added.
He lamented that companies in Namibia are reluctant to sponsor the sport.
Another challenge for the sport is the shortage of racing tracks. Rehoboth, Gobabis and Keetmanshoop are the only towns which have their own racing tracks.
“We had one in Windhoek, but it was shut down. When my father was part of the Windhoek Turf Club, opposite the Windhoek Country Club and Resort, they would host races there. They rented the place from the City of Windhoek, but five years ago, the City ended the contract in order to build houses there,” he continued.
As construction has not started on the land, Wellmann told The Villager that the NHRA are in the process of renegotiating with the City to get the usage of that land back.
In the meantime, he says local clubs are having their own leagues in order to build up a strong horse-racing culture in Namibia.
There are four categories of progression. Maiden category, Graduation, D Division and A Division, with the latter being where the best contest in either the 1000 metres’ sprint or 1600-2400 metres for the long distance.
“Most people who join horse racing come from a farming background. It is usually a passion they picked up from their parents, as I did from my father, and I will teach it to my son as well,” Wellmann said.
As he has grown up around horse-racing, he has observed the sport from a young age. The Rehoboth track, where the Africa Cup took place, has been a popular horse-racing turf since 1970.
“We are not far away from our Southern African Development Community (SADC) counterparts. We have dominated the Mascom Derby in Botswana for three years in a row between 2012 and 2014, and finished second this year,” he noted, adding that “Swaairokkies is a very popular and experienced horse in the Omaheke region and often dominates local competitions. Suidwester, the champion horse in Namibia, is also very popular.”
As betting in horse-racing is extremely lucrative overseas, and even in neighbouring South Africa, where horse-racing as a sport is more popular, Wellmann is hoping Namibia can tap into that in future.
The next horse race will be the Winter Cup on 20 June. The venue is yet to be decided.