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.
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.
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?