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Owner: Gold Circle Need To Answer

'The Board needs to be held accountable'

Over recent years, through my interactions with fellow owners, trainers, jockeys and punters in general, there is an ever-growing discontent and despair at the state in which KZN racing finds itself, writes owner and Gold Circle member, Clint Larsson.

History and Tradition. We bid farewell to this magnificent racecourse.

Who remembers Clairwood?

A few years ago our much beloved Clairwood racecourse was sold and a decision was taken to make adjustments to our premier track, Greyville.

Christmas is a good time to remember the Clairwood glory days

Clairwood – glory days

Gone are the days of a wide, lush track with a deep false rail allowing horses to fan across the track in order to get a clear run.

Instead, we have a compromised version allowing for the creation of a poly track on the premise it would enable racing throughout the year, irrespective of weather conditions.

The poly track was to provide an alternative option to the turf and also offered a backstop when heavy rain threatened the abandonment of turf racing. At no stage was it explained that the poly track would become the surface of choice and that the days of a full turf meeting at Greyville, are gone! Instead, if lucky, we are teased with three or four turf races and the rest of the meeting is confined to the scurry of a twelve horse field on the tight poly track.

Perhaps the truth lies in the fact that the Greyville turf is no longer in an acceptable racing condition.

A clue lies in the fact that during the recent winter season, punters had to watch horses canter down on the poly when they were about to contest a Group race on the turf!

Greyville. All seems well again and racing goes on

Greyville – check the crowd!

Many punters make their final decisions based on the way a horse moves to post. Arguably, horses’ actions may vary from one surface to another so punters are now left in a quandary.

Another sign that all is not well at Greyville is the fact that soft conditions are now no longer deemed fit for racing.

On Friday 20th November, the first three races were scheduled to be run on turf and after a penetrometer reading of 28, the races were moved to poly. Since when does a 28 reading make a turf track unfit for racing? The powers that be seemingly justified their decision due to the forecast of more rain during the meeting.

So, on to Sunday 22nd November.

After a wet Friday and Saturday, the penetrometer reading at 7.30am was 31.

It's A Beautiful Day! Racing goes ahead at Greyville today

Blue skies over Greyville

The sky was blue, a stiff southerly breeze was blowing and there was no threat of rain.

There were four races planned on turf, with the first of these races due off at 3.30pm, eight hours later.

Surely, all systems go? Not so fast! A call was immediately made to move the turf races to poly.

At 12 noon the track manager reported that the races were moved due to “heavy underfoot conditions”.

He then went on to say that despite the clear skies and stiff breeze, the track would not dry sufficiently as a Southerly wind does not dry the track, it needs to blow from the North.

Greyville Polytrack Trials - Martin Collins takes clegg-hammer reading

You must be kidding! I am curious to know if a pen reading was taken at 3.30pm?

Consequently, one race was reduced to four runners and another to just six. Is this what racing in KZN has become? I am not a lone voice in asking this.

Spare a thought for owners and trainers who have horses which enjoy some give in the ground. Your chances of racing at Greyville are slim and the threat of a wet Scottsville track is likely to see the meeting moved to the Greyville poly.

Soft and heavy going is an acceptable racing condition around the world but it is deemed unfit for racing in KZN?

One needs to look no further than the Cape in the winter months or Turffontein after a typical Highveld storm to understand that soft tracks are commonplace.

Gold Circle HQ. Greyville Racecourse in Durban

Greyville – before polytrack

Another consideration for KZN owners and trainers is what to do with horses which are staying types?

If your horse is looking for a mile and a half and races keep moving to the poly, the race is limited to 2000m.

Let’s also not forget that the poly is only wide enough for twelve runners, furthermore minimizing opportunities for your horses to run.

Tsogo Sun Golden Horse Casino

Scottsville – Golden Horse Casino

On to Scottsville. The bias down the straight has been around for years so let’s not labour the point that if you are drawn in double digits in a handicap you are better served leaving your horse in the box at home.

This course was excessively used along with the poly throughout the Autumn so that Greyville could be “saved for the winter season”, according to many people in racing circles.

How sad that the big G has been reduced to a few races per annum.

Even in the winter season we are unable to enjoy a full turf meeting, something all racing purists desperately miss.

Now that the season is behind us and Scottsville has its much needed Spring treatment, a decision was also taken to add drainage to the inside track.

Most people in racing were unaware of this decision or the cost implication.

Nonetheless, the update is that the track has not repaired sufficiently to host the races planned for the turn on the 6th of December. This includes the R200k KZN Summer challenge races which have been brought forward to 4th Dec at Greyville.

Greyville polytrack

Let’s hope Greyville doesn’t get more than a shower or these races will be moved to poly which will really annoy the connections who have been prepping their horses for these races.

For the record, the races around the turn at Scottsville on 13th have been re-scheduled and moved to Greyville on 11th and 16th. We will have to wait till 20th December for the first race around the turn at Scottsville.

One needs to ask how this happens without consultation or explanation. What is the protocol?

Back to Greyville.

Has a policy decision been taken that we will no longer have a full turf meeting?

When will the cause and not the symptom be treated?

Greyville Racecourse

Every racing person I have spoken to says Greyville’s turf track should be dug up and re-laid so as to solve the problem once and for all.

If there is a reason why this cannot be done, please will someone at Gold Circle enlighten the racing public?

Clairwood - 1987 Gr1 Schweppes Natal Administrators Champions Challenge - MODEL MAN - finish2_compressedA large portion of the proceeds of the sale of Clairwood were ring-fenced.

It would be good to know if, when and how these funds are to be utilized. Surely, restoring Greyville to its former glory should be a priority?

An unbiased Scottsville straight would also be welcomed.

There are many unanswered questions and it is time for Gold Circle to be more accountable and vocal about the state of racing in KZN.

Gold Circle logoA sub-committee of trainer and owner representatives would be a good starting point.

This committee should be given the authority to challenge the status quo and hold the board to account for where racing is headed.


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28 comments on “Owner: Gold Circle Need To Answer

  1. Barry Irwin says:

    I have raced in many countries around the world and nowhere does the draw play as important a role in determining the outcome of a race than in South Africa.

    Except in enlightened racing jurisdictions, where racetracks are brilliantly operated by dedicated professionals, by and large the best way forward for racing to both survive and thrive is for owners/trainers to take them over, because they know what is best for their horses and the sport.

    1. Ian Jayes says:

      The Owners & Trainers owned both the Newmarket and Vaal racecourses but were forced to sell them. You are correct while they ran them we had excellent racing all year round.

  2. Retlaw says:

    The worst of both worlds? Why not make the original vision a reality? Oh, now I remember! It was never a shared vision, because in the land of the blind one eye…….I only have one excuse left to myself as to why I still support this game and that is passion, however this is now getting a diluted ratio. Father Time and Mother Casino shall tell. Please take my last pennies so I have no more excuses.

  3. redapple14 says:

    Until this year I had not watched a “July” for about 15 years. I was bitterly disappointed. All the horses dancing around from side to side looking for a place to go. Fire the directors, they are simply not dong their job. mazing to hear the self praise after the July though.

  4. Ian Jayes says:

    When they get away with dyeing the grass rather than fixing the going then what do you expect?

  5. White cross says:

    This is a true case of the Tail wagging the Dog , we as owners have sat back for far too long and should stand up to the powers that be, I for one am more than happy to instruct my trainers not to run any of my horses in protest of the current situation in Natal Racing , this is an absolute joke and it’s name is Graham Hawkins !!!

  6. Cath says:

    Well said Clint, serious action is needed

  7. Concerned racing fan says:

    I have to agree with comment from White cross, the common denominator is Graeme Hawkins, he seems to be a total one man show, Racing Executive, Commentator, TV pundit, Voice over artist, and by the looks of things it seems he makes unilateral decisions without the necessary consultation with the concerned parties. I have gone from an avid, almost fanatical punter, who loved nothing more than the Durban winter season as it attracted the best horses to the best racecourses in the country, that being Greyville and Clairwood, to a person who now takes an occasional interest in the game only because of family who have interests in a few horses. KZN racing has gone to the dogs and I can only lay the blame Mr Hawkins, I am sure Phumelela are thanking there lucky stars he left them for so called greener pastures

  8. digby says:

    i think there are two issues here.

    the first is we are always being told to adapt or die. just read the very informative this day 20 years ago on s p and you could be reading this thread. so there are always doomsayers predicting racings demise yet here we still are. same old same old.

    as far as greyville goes a business decision was made to sell clairwood and upgrade Scottsville greyville ashburton and summerveld. in judging Graeme Hawkins and co one needs to asses how well he has implemented the battle plan. I reckon he has done a very good job

    1. redapple14 says:

      Sorry, I must disagree.There is too much ego here

      1. Editor says:

        Elaborate Redapple please. As the sole ‘dissenter’ so far, your views would be appreciated

    2. White cross says:

      It has been said numerous times that we need more young owners to invest in horse racing but how do you keep them interested when they do accept to take up the challenge and are left with astronomical bills to pay every month and their only just reward being told that there’s no races to suit their particular horses ie. Horses for courses 1. A turf horse that shows potential but only get Polytrack racing. 2. Horses that got out of their Maidens and can not find a race suitable to their Merrit Rating or distance and the owners are left to pay the bills !!! 3. It is a fact that most of our stallions breed horses suitable to the Turf and not the other way around. 4. The programming of meetings needs more food for thought. It is sad to say the least that this wonderful industry is being let down by a few but very crucial individual players! It is time that they listen to our frustrations and not make it out to be an isolated incident .

    3. Blue Peter says:

      Well done Mr Hawkins. Great job. Summerveld is now a world class training centre. Polytrack surface. Ashburton upgrades. Maiden plate stake ok. Trainers support. Grew up watching Clairwood gallops in the mornings. Great days was them.

  9. Retlaw says:

    @digby, are you GT’s avatar by any chance? Perhaps you can share with me, optionally off course, the changes brought about and how these measure against what was the agreed objective? I am not anti anything or anyone, unless it/they stagnate, which in itself is reversing in superslow motion. I may not be sufficiently informed on these progressive initiatives and trust your response will stand me in good stead.

    1. digby says:

      firstly I am not aut fait with the actual strategic plan – I am assuming the proceeds from selling clairwood had to be allocated to certain infrastructural projects such as the poly at greyville summerveld etc, so I would firstly ask
      have the proceeds been spent as envisaged and was the capex within or out of budget. that has to be the first component of gc managements brief. if the set targets have been met then kudos to management.
      secondly the issue of operations is clearly a sore point. personally I think greyville turf is being under utilised and needs to be sorted out. scotsville should first be booted up to full capacity to allow for the necessary downtime greyville obviously needs. rome wasn’t built in a day and I have faith that if the process is followed through natal will flourish,

  10. Nish says:

    A very big thank you to Clint Larsson on writing this very informative article. I must admit that I have been labouring the thought of consulting Gold Circle regarding the state of racing in KZN.
    I pass by the old Clairwood race course daily and cannot stop to think what a bad decision to sell this race course. The new owners have smashed down every single building except for some of the grooms sleeping quarters and a few stables. The rest of the place and racing track is just weeds and rubble.
    Clairwood in my opinion was one of the best race courses for punting. It was very hard for a trainer to pull a job on this race course. The poly track although punted to be a saving grace for KZN racing is the most biased track around. Where is the better going on the poly track? Can Gold Circle tell me! Top jockeys like Marcus always look to go out, why is this the case? I have watched horses getting checked, not finding gaps and eventually running unplaced because all the jockeys are running towards the outside. You get the occassional horse winning down the inside.
    I have tried to beat this track punting wise because I don’t give up that easy. But man, I finally decided not to bet when racing on the poly. One hardly had horses winning at 125/1 on the turf tracks, but this poly track throws them up so frequently and so easy.
    When last have you heard an exacta paying R 7,000? You only get it on the poly track. Fast foward to the turf track-one battles to pick up the finish line and you have to rely on the commentator to say which horse won. I have never been so disillussioned with this game as i’m now.
    As for the racing program!! need i say more?? Gold circle is just dishing out maidens & MR 66-76 handicaps non stop.
    You hardly have MR 90-101 races over a mile up to 2000m on the turf. Is the program set to cater mainly for maiden races? I hope some-one in charge takes note and does something to remedy this situation-and fast. I still cannot believe how we owners could have allowed Clairwood to be sold. Gold Circle does’nt even own Greyville and we are spending money there. What about all the riff-raffs that hassle you when you are trying to park your vehicle? Never had this at Clairwood Park.

  11. digby says:

    remember the decision has been made and there is no going back. it is not fair to criticise management if the original premise was fatally flawed. you cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear. again there are two legs to this – developing the infrastructure and then operating it to the maximum, what would you do differently and would you achieve a better result operationally.

  12. Rob Faux says:

    It amazes me, why it took so long to accept that local racing needed to add “all weather racing” to the menu,however,I am not sure how it was ever envisaged that racing would improve by putting 2 tracks in an area that was barely suited to 1.
    I am,however, interested in the blame being put completely at Graeme Hawkins door!
    Gold Circle has 12 directors,and Hawkins isn’t one of them, and I assume he reports to the board and not the other way around!
    The fiduciary duty lies with the board ,so is this not a case of shooting the messenger? ………………The directors appear happy to handle anything which will earn praise but whenever there are problems seem to delegate to Graeme Hawkins to explain &/or answer the difficult questions.(ironically,often on Laff’s show,who happens to be a director)
    The only way this can be all his fault ,is if the Gold Circle board abdicated (as opposed to delegated)the entire responsibility for the replanning of racetracks and amenities to him!

  13. Racing Al says:

    There once was a golden age of South African racing that included magnificent horses racing on grand courses, like Greyville, and I was thrilled to be part of that.

    The current Greyville (grave-ill is a better description) is but a shadow of what it once was when greats like Syd Laird and Terrence Millard, strutted their stuff, with horses to match.

    South African racing is now in the bronze age of racing and heading for the stone age, in many respects.

    There appears to be little consultation, lesser skills than in the past and big, big egos. What a toxic brew! A renaissance, with a lot of wisdom is needed to save, let alone grow, the industry in South Africa.

    1. A Carlisle says:

      The Annual General Meeting of Gold Circle will be held at 17h30 on Tuesday 8 December 2015 in the Classic Room, Greyville. That is the place to raise issues not a forum such as Sporting Post. If you feel strongly, attend the meeting.

    2. Goldenoldie says:

      Hear Hear, could’nt have put it better !!

      1. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

        Hear what ?

        1. Goldenoldie says:

          Hear hear, ‘little consultation, lesser skills than in the past and big, big, egos’, Racing Al hits the nail on the head!

  14. COCKY says:

    This years july objection,lots of scimmaging ,bumping,the Summer cup at Turfontien objection scimmaging,bumping and danger to horse and rider ANSWER :TRACK TO NARROW.TO MAKE SPACE FOR POLY,WORST DECISION FOR RACING ,I DO NOT PUNT ON POLY BURNT TO OFTEN.

    1. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

      Grey racing, not Greyville….that is so sad.

    2. sechr says:

      True story the main event on July day will never be the same so as long as the poly is there, off that rail into the straight is far too narrow for 20 champion horses to pass through at the same time , in my opinion that is an accident waiting to happen

  15. Chris says:

    Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians

    The Gold Circle Board know too much about one another to oust themselves, cos they would in all probability end up like the blade runner,hence Graeme H is the scapegoat and the voice of the judges , chairperson and ceo, cos that’s his job he’s not a finance man.
    I say get a Independant Auditor , voted by the GC members, Without the so called Gentlemans Club vote. Then you will uncover where the funds and deficiencies lay, George Rowles lobbied against the sale of Clairwood for many years, could this be a clue as to the birth of Track and Ball, and all those multi talented G C Directors lining their pockets with TV shows and all those presenters gone past their sell by date, alias Martin and Kevin hang up your gloves guys, you couldn’t tip a scale, unless it had a double cane in it, as for our dear friend Laff a director who did not see the merit in investing in a medical aid, these type of individuals are running racing at Greyville what do you expect racing pundits.
    Phumelela should step in and prove there worth they owe to the owners and racing public otherwise we will end up with fields with horse like Roy’s Choice, Roys Decision, Joostes Folly, Derek’s Call and Chris’s Call.
    Where is all this heading……..down the drain must be a mug to own horses today unless you after tax write off or on a board to protect your interests, don’t start me off on the Internatinal fiasco

  16. dave says:

    My understanding was Mr hawkins was going to be fired, and was then was moved to durban.
    Another one man show is clyde basel. Also, it must be some racing dominance up gauteng, the fearsome threesome, clyde, vee and the chief RA executive Larry.
    Racing will never move forward when we have people hogging the industry.
    Also, I m led to believe the above 3 is so powerful, 2 of them have their wives in senior positions in the racing industry.
    But the biggest chief of them all is Mr Bruss. He brought in Basel and Pepper.

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