South Africa: Racing in rude health despite African Horse Sickness

Story highlights

  • Aly Vance takes reins from Francesca Cumani
  • Vance an experienced equestrian journalist
  • Raised in South Wales, UK; studied at Oxford University
  • Trained with GB Modern Pentathlon team prior to 2008 Beijing Olympics

Aly Vance is the new host of Winning Post — CNN International's monthly horse racing program. For February's show, Aly traveled to South Africa for Cape Town's J&B Met and the first CTS Million Dollar Race. The views expressed in this blog are entirely those of Aly Vance.

(CNN)Firstly, I want to say hello and welcome to my first blog. I'm really looking forward to being involved with what is a well-established and respected racing program.

For my first Winning Post assignment I traveled to South Africa. We visited yearling sales, trainers, breeders and attended two race meetings at Cape Town's Kenilworth Racecourse -- it's a well-supported and structured industry.
However, during the course of the shoot, it became clear that the country's harsh quarantine regulations are having a big impact on the growth of the sport.

Industry in isolation

Regulations surrounding African Horse Sickness -- a highly infectious and frequently fatal disease -- have isolated the country from the easy movement of horses. It takes, on average, six months for a horse to leave South Africa, according to Chris Van Niekerk, chairman of Cape Thoroughbred Sales, and then you have to add on any time taken to get the horse back to race fitness.
Aly Vance on location in Cape Town, South Africa for February's Winning Post show.
Travel costs are also considerably higher than the rest of the world due to minimal opportunities to share the expenses. As a result, only a handful of horses are exported from South Africa.
The implications of the quarantine rules are felt throughout the industry. Breeders are restricted to using South African-based stallions, the yearling market has fewer foreign buyers and big race meetings have no international runners.
South African thoroughbreds have gained a great reputation internationally and have Group wins in the United States, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. There is no doubt that the horses are good enough to compete around the world.
The industry is working hard on reducing the restrictions but in reality, only when horse movement is made easier will South Africa be a truly global racing nation.

Cape carnival

Despite the quarantine restrictions, the South African racing industry is doing a eye-catching job at promoting itself as a racing destination. Buy a horse in South Africa, race it in South Africa and come and enjoy the beautiful county at the same time.
We filmed at the Cape Thoroughbred Sales -- the premier yearling sales that are attracting more and more foreign owners.
In partnership, Coolmore set a new African yearling sales record when they went to six million South African Rand ($385,000) for a colt this year.
The sales were held in the city's convention center and whether you had any interest in buying a horse or not, it was a great event. Not many sales include a three-course dinner with a live band following the auction.
The two race meetings -- the L'Ormarins Queen's Plate and Investec "Day of Dreams" were glamorous events. With a small but select crowd, both had a real garden party feel with stylish outdoor bars and hospitality areas, not to mention brilliant after-parties held at the racecourse!
All the trainers and owners we interviewed for Winning Post couldn't have been more friendly and helpful.
We filmed with leading trainer Justin Snaith on Muizenberg beach. As the horses walked through the water they were joined by a seal which swam alongside them!
No filming request was too much and we were made to feel very welcome wherever we went. If you're looking for your next racing holiday then head to Cape Town in January. I couldn't recommend it more. Oh, and did I mention the hot weather?
And that's a wrap! See you next month.