The reconstruction of Turffontein into a night racing venue will begin virtually immediately and it is expected that the first race meeting there under floodlights should take place in October next year, when it will kick off Johannesburg’s night racing season. Racing at Newmarket will continue until January next year.
“It was not our intention for racing to stop at Newmarket,” said Tennant. “In fact, racing was always supposed to be an integral part of Newmarket’s proposed development, which we believed would benefit the sport at a marketing and business level. We even considered becoming an equity partner in the development.
“But the scope and nature of the planned development changed and as time went on, it became increasingly obvious that our vision for racing at the venue was becoming incompatible with that of the developer. In addition, racing at Newmarket was likely to be severely compromised with disruptions and probable cancellations during the construction phase, which will last at least two years. And there was the uncertainty as to whether the development would be conducive to the racing experience once completed.
“Negotiations took place over a lengthy period of time and in consultation with the Racing Association, we did consider enforcing the use agreement because we were loath to lose another racecourse in Gauteng. But after considering every option, Phumelela’s management and board of directors decided to accept the developers’ cash offer to terminate our Use Agreement with effect from 31 January next year,” concluded Tennant.
From February next year, additional race meetings will be programmed at Turffontein, the Vaal and possibly Randjesfontein to accommodate the closure of Newmarket.
The sustainable quality of racing surfaces is obviously of paramount importance to both Phumelela and the Racing Association, and a project to enable the two racetracks at Turffontein to sustain additional fixtures will commence within weeks. The existing common back straight will be widened and separated into two distinct tracks in order to facilitate maintenance of both racing surfaces.
All-weather racing surfaces such as poly track are also being investigated. Poly tracks are gaining popularity world wide due to the kindness of the surface to horses.
Bruce Gardner, chairman of the Racing Association that represents owners in Phumelela racing regions, said: “The Racing Association understands the rationale behind Phumelela’s decision, given the challenges they were faced with. We are encouraged that in agreement with Phumelela the settlement will be used for the benefit of racing and be ploughed into our existing racecourses and their facilities. Turffontein is to be transformed into a venue where our members and the public will be able to enjoy a top-class racing experience.”