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Time To Say Goodbye

Vaal sand - a casualty of arrogance and incompetence?

Vaal tracks

At 17h15 today the last race ever is scheduled to be run on the Vaal sand track. There are unlikely to be any fireworks, champagne or tears shed – but many questions remain about poor management, the lack of consultation and the rather rude manner in which the decision was ultimately made.

The need for an alternative racing surface to turf on the Highveld during winter was the reason for the introduction of the Vaal sand track in the first place in 2001.

Patrick Davis - questions to answer?

Patrick Davis – questions to answer?

Turf is the best racing surface in summer, but on the Highveld during winter grass tracks become hard and divot repairs cause inconsistencies.

Unfortunately, the sand track was dogged by a range of opinions and criticisms, and replacing the top layer of washed river sand with unwashed river sand a few years back at the request of horsemen had exacerbated, rather than resolved, the problems – that is according to former Phumelela Racing Executive Patrick Davis, who has moved on to another job in the UK.

In the July announcement, to further justify the decision to remove the track, questions were raised as to whether it was environmentally or commercially sustainable into the future. The track requires ‘copious volumes of water’ that are currently freely available from the Vaal River, but that may not be the case in years to come.

While the racing programme was adjusted in August with the introduction of lowly rated handicaps to cater for the horse population that now lose the sand, some trainers and owners are unhappy that an alternative surface was not put in  place first to facilitate the transition.

Surely this option was a business courtesy owed to the owners and trainers by the operator?

While Flamingo Park is an alternative, it is not just down the road and the stakes in Kimberley are considerably lower.

We know that many jockeys are happy to see the sand disappearing into the sunset – but trainers and owners of genuine sand horses have basically had the rug pulled out from underneath them in the wink of an eye – and it certainly seems like a harsh move by Phumelela, whose own failure, both practically and publically, to manage the Vaal issues, was at the core of it.

Once the sand is lifted from the 60,000 square metre track, work will begin on creating a suitable medium for grass to grow in. The new grass has apparently already been ordered and is scheduled to be laid in January.

RA CEO Larry Wainstein - where is the official view?

Larry Wainstein – where is the official RA view?

The configuration of the track will remain unchanged and, all going well, the first race meeting on the track will be held in May next year.

The Racing Association should have been barking – yet we haven’t even heard a whimper from them.

Are there no sand owners or trainers that are members of this organisation, who should have been batting for a better deal and keeping the operator on their toes?

And right now, the introduction of a synthetic surface looks to be years away.

Unless you know something we don’t?

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5 comments on “Time To Say Goodbye

  1. Rob Faux says:

    The only argument that appears to have been offered in favour of sand is the demise of opportunity for sand horses!
    However,there is another side to the argument…………
    a)it is fair to say that the introduction of sand racing was a FAILED attempt at all weather racing(the original spin was that racing would move to sand when the turf was adversely rain affected – in hindsight ,even if that had worked it would have been a disaster as turf and sand ratings are not remotely interchangeable)
    b)I am sure that no breeding stock were imported to cater for dirt racing ,nor were horses bred locally with one sand track in mind! It is then fair to say that,in the main,success on sand was merely a welcome compensation for being unfit for purpose,as it is unlikely yearlings were ever purchased with the initial intent to by- pass a successful turf career.
    c)It could then be argued that owners of relatively successful turf horses,could justifiably feel aggrieved at the amount of stakes diverted to sand racing.Closure will redirect those stakes back to the benefit of turf racing(or Poly as that has proven to be ,in the main,interchangeable with turf)

    What does boggle the mind is the decision to direct available funds to a 5th turf track instead of an all weather surface (either at Vaal or Turf inside track)
    That decision means that, during adverse weather conditions we will just have another surface,unfit for racing ,instead of an all weather alternative ………who on earth decided on that priority………….I find it strange that the RA have accepted that decision!

  2. JessK says:

    The unceremonious dumping of the Vaal sand track must rank right up there in the this industry’s history of the Master dishing it out to its cowaring subservients !
    A sizable chunk of our racing industry has been laid to rest without so much as a whimper by those empowered or obligated to protect it, let alone grow it. From breeders investing in “sand” stallions, to owners buying, at substantial cost these majestic creatures who perform on sand, to trainers who’s pupils excel on the surface, to the clients/punters who enjoy a flutter on sand, to the employees whose jobs are made redundant or threatened in the future, as this loss filters through the industry, so many will be affected.
    Where are those non-corporate horse people, such as the RA, to represent, to consult the owners, to use it’s muscle via the Racing Trust shareholding, to either have a replacement track in place or fixing the current sand track, as the stakeholders see fit ? Where are the trainers, who so many paying owners rely on for information and guidance, and whose livelihoods even depend on this alternative surface ? Where are the breeders ? Where are those representing employees who’s jobs are on the line ? Where is the NHA ? Surely, with their role to protect the sport and its integrity, they should be involved ?
    While the victims cower, the vultures circle overhead, barely able to contain themselves till Monday, when they can dig up and feast, absolutely delighted at the non-resistance of their prey !

  3. Ian Jayes says:

    The original idea was to have turf and sand racing seasons. The Vaal sand track could have been 1/3 narrower and 1/3 shorter with a maximum 500 metre run-in. One Vaal trainer objected to the training tracks not having a 1000 metre straight so we ended up with the horses having to cope with a 1000 metre run-in on heavy sand at Highveld altitude.
    They went from a sand track to race on in Winter, to a so-called all-weather surface that was no good when it rained anyway. The natural soil at the Vaal was not used and washed sand from outside has been bought on at least three occasions.
    The reason why the first sand was changed was because the horse were breaking down on it.
    Derek Wiid is no longer with us so he cannot explain this decision, but Robert Garner should certainly be called upon to do so.

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