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