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Time To Scrap Turffontein Night Racing

Why are we persisting with it?

Mike De Kock - saddles Al Hawraa and NikkiMike De Kock – some food for thought

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, unless, of course, you happen to be in the vicinity of Turffontein Racecourse!

Multiple SA Champion trainer writes on www.mikedekockracing.com…

We in Gauteng have had a number of meetings at the city track interrupted or partly abandoned this season due to lightning.

The reasons for taking precautions against the mean Highveld blitzes are obvious, but the stipendiary stewards seem to have found a new ‘toy’ in the lightning detector.

Sadly, like with reading races, they are still learning to interpret the lightning device.

The Right Time! Night racing is very popularNight time – really the Right Time?

There seems to be no clear cut policy and it looks like we have another issue here for NHRA boss Lyndon Barends to deal with  – goodness knows he’s had his share of problems to address over the last few months!

Let’s face a few facts…

In summer, bad weather in Johannesburg normally comes around in the late afternoon. When they do, the age-old Gauteng thunderstorms are known to happen after 3pm.


As it stands these days, we have late starting times to our race programmes, 1pm or even 1:30 seem to be the norm.

When the storms and lightning appear, invariably our race days are interrupted halfway through, just when punters have settled down and the exotic bets are gathering momentum.

On Charity Mile Day, for example, racegoers and a host of invited guests had to wait for almost an hour and a half for approaching lightning to blow over, and they could only have so many more snacks and drinks before boredom set in and some started leaving the racetrack.

This happened before the feature race had been staged.  Last Tuesday evening’s meeting at Turffontein had to be abandoned due to lightning after Race 5.

There are several more examples I can mention but the point is, during weather interruptions it is obvious that betting turnover is lost at the affected meetings.

Punters lose their cool. Industry participants lose nomination fees, staff fees, travel costs and, to be frank, their tempers too!

Are there any good reasons, whatsoever, for our race meetings to start as late as they are?  Does it not make sense to start at 11.30 or 12pm, thereby almost ensuring that most race days are fully completed?

Late starts is one issue, racing at night is another.  Has the time not come for the racing industry to do away with night racing?

This season, night meetings were cut down to nine from last season’s 20 due to dwindling turnovers and dwindling attendance figures.

And, naturally, lightning is an automatic risk at every night meeting. Night racing really has not been near as popular as expected since it moved from Newmarket some years ago.

Chekilli wins at Turffontein 2014-01-21Back in 1996, when night racing was introduced as a novelty at the old Alberton track, we drew consistently big crowds and turnovers were more than good enough to sustain it. That, however, was a different era.

When Newmarket closed down, a number of high-profile owners demanded that the lights be moved to Turffontein for night racing to continue and while Phumelela kept its word on the issue, the owners referred to have hardly raced in Gauteng in recent seasons. They’ve abandoned the ship.

What we have now with night racing is nothing but sheer aggravation and inconvenience to horsemen and their staff.


Late-afternoon traffic in Johannesburg is madness – getting horses and humans to the track from the training centres is a mission on its own.

Pocket Power, Boy Boy Jevu

After races most horses and grooms only get home around midnight, some have to be up again at 4am to start work. Staff and travel costs are higher, operational costs are higher too, it’s a tough night out there for officials, horses and handlers.

Most importantly, we don’t get a fraction of the old Newmarket crowd at Turffontein. There is far less interest in the night events.

Sponsors have never embraced the concept and we have it on good authority that, with moderate turnovers, night racing is being run at a loss.

-A day race meeting normally yields close to R4,5-million, a night meeting up to R1-milion less.

-Ninety percent, yes 90% of off-course outlets close at 6pm.  You read that right.

-Around 75% of punters cannot place a wager after 7pm because they have no access to totalisators or online betting! Interest fades into the evening, and betting activities wane as a result.

PhumelelaFacts are facts, and in this case we have a Listed company losing money by trying to please a minute proportion of racing’s elite.

Surely the time has come for Phumelela to re-consider the viability of night racing. It makes sense to cut losses, perhaps that’ll leave some more cash we can add to the stakes pot, please God?

Night meetings seem to be working pretty well at Greyville, and there’s always been an opportunity to re-introduce the once-popular ‘twilight’ meetings held in the Cape several years ago.

Upcountry, however, we have run into a brick wall.

Overall, I’d like to have a simple answer to a simple question:  If night racing at Turffontein is fundamentally no good and draining industry funds, why are we persisting with it?

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24 comments on “Time To Scrap Turffontein Night Racing”

  1. Night racing aside, bearing in mind the costly disruptions and annoying delays caused by lightning and rain, why don’t they start racing at Turfontein at 10 am as a rule to avoid the inevitable storms? It would really save a lot of grief.

    As for night racing, take down the lights and send them to Kenilworth, it remains light much later there and their summer weather is ideal. Night racing would be a better bet there.

  2. I miss Newmarket racecourse…badly!! Alberton has never been the same. I was there every tuesday night. I never go to turffontein for its night meetings, i dont know why though…I guess the travel is annoying at night. But i still enjoy night racing, whether on track or sitting on the couch at home. It just has a very cozy feeling to it. The horses always look so damn good at night under the lights. If there is a petition to bring back newmarket, since alberton does not need three or four shopping malls, i will sign in a heartbeat. But thats clearly never going to happen! What a shame. If there is one thing i absolutely agree with in this post, is that racing should start earlier!

  3. I love going to Night Racing at Turffontein but refused to go a few years back when I went and sat on the Grey Grandstand outside the elevation Room adjacent to the Winning Post. My favourite spot. Fresh air , live racing can see the parade ring. Fantastic.
    Until I the lighting started not to be maintained , when you needed to go to the Toilet you had to go to the Toilets under the Elevation Room. No Lights , filthy dirty , stunk and just felt like you were about to be mugged,

    Amusing when at 20h00 at Turffontein Race Course – the bathroom for the public becomes the most dangerous place in the South including Rosetenville. How Ironic.

    Until the Opperators get their act together to look after the publics interest it will never work.

    No wonder no one comes.

  4. Many Years Ago.
    The Late J F Coetzee when he nominated for Newmarket and one of his runners that he fancied ended up in a race after 16:00. He would scr.
    He knew that the heavens would open up between 16:00 and 16:30.
    I am talking about 45 years ago.
    Nothing has changed.
    I agree with Mike.

  5. Totally agree – in the summer months racing must start earlier and brass night racing . As for moving the lights to Cape Town I’m not sure it would be viable as most Cape meeting have less turnover than Kimberly

  6. There is another relevant argument here. One cannot dispute the fact of inclement seasonal weather and lightning. I preferrred Ashley Hughes’s suggestion in a FB post that an alternative season could be considered. Night racing has a glamorous and exciting image, and properly managed is good family entertainment for those who are passionate about horses and do not relish the plastic era. If patrons and the public continue to make suggestions about
    Kenilworth / elsewhere instead of finding a workable solution to promote all racing at Turffontein, the ever – hungry land developers will surely eye this valuable
    Real Estate and begin to seize on every opportunity to undermine this historic
    venue to suit their own agenda. It is nothing new!

  7. im lost for words youve guys have said it all yes have night racing but in the right months st racing sooner in summer day meetings a school leaver with a 21percent pass for maths can work this one out

  8. Partially completed meetings are also a big problem for punters,who invest heavily in exotics,as these abandoned night meetings are “nightlight” robbery!
    The operators take the full 100% takeout on exotics that are only 40-50% completed, and the chances of a positive return for punters is virtually non-existent!

  9. I agree with Mike De Kock 100%. However, for racing to survive and for price money to increase we have to come up with new ideas! The problem is that not one of the powers running racing think to open a forum for people to sit and discuss such issues and have people phoning in to give their input on what the panel are busy discussing! Winning ways are a great program. Yes, I find them bias to the bigger players, maybe that is just me….. however, it is a great program!! I have many ideas which I think will get SA racing back on track, but no one will discuss this in the open…. off course some ideas will be shot down, but what about the ideas that will work and the people phoning in can also say their say? Everyone in racing loves the sport, buying the most expensive horses or buying a cheapie can both work, but there are much better ways to make these two extremes working! I won’t say more about my ideas here, because I cannot do it on this forum where there are mostly just negative responses thrown back at the poor writers…..( I am generalising), but please bear with me. My ideas are at this stage JUST MY ideas. James and Paul, get us a evening where we can join you and lets lay these ideas on the table and lets hear from the public what they are agreeing with! By the way, none of my ideas are to criticise or the diminish the turnover of the operators. It will be quite the opposite! Racing HAS TO CHANGE!! Lets listen to the good ideas of all punters, owners, bookies, trainers and have a program where people can phone in and give there input with the panel in the studio. We all love racing, lets listen and debate a future for racing with everyone who cares enough about the game to have a say! Why not make this a weekly program where we can talk and make it better and better for all operators and owners, trainers and punters!? We have blown millions on “it is a rush” My opinion, waisted money! Let’s have one program and lets see if a second progam is not an automatic continuation for a second and third ect…… Just a last word…. please only respond if you have racing at heart, we hwve enough doom and gloom in our country, give positive input, that is how we can all help! Paul and Laff, give us a gap, lets try this and see what happens….. I have a panel for the studio for the first episode…. I will reveal it to you should you guys do this! To all racing fans out there, have a wonderful festive season, see you at the races!!

    1. Danny – I applaud your enthusiasm , however I dont think its as easy as that.

      We are subjected to TV rights with other country’s . Basically P. has sold Horse Racing down the river .

      They make more money on a Wednesday Afternoon showing Singapore Racing in TV Rights than all the profits of the mid week local racing.

      We are on a hiding second to non as much as we all love horse racing , it is out of our control . Just the bottom line.

      I agree lets keep our heads up , go to the race and have fun.

      All the best.

  10. When night racing at Turffontein was mooted I never heard Mike de Kock disagreeing. When night racing was implemented at Turffontein I never heard Mike de Kock complaining. At the time night racing started at Turffontein, Mike de Kock was training horses for these elite owners. He no longer does. No blame can be placed at the feet of Phumelela. The RA and these elite forced the hand of Phumelela to hold night meetings to replace the lost Newmarket night racing. All complaints are 8 or is it 9 years to late. Night racing has got nothing to do with the NHRA. They regulate not dictate. If changes are wanted or needed petition the dictators.

    1. There is a word for this as MD is not the only one there are many and they all know who they are.
      Its called – Turncoat.

      A turncoat is a person who shifts allegiance from one loyalty or ideal to another, betraying or deserting an original cause by switching to the opposing side or party.

      In political and social history, this is distinct from being a traitor, as the switch mostly takes place under the following circumstances:
      In groups, often driven by one or more leaders.

      When the goal that formerly motivated and benefited the person becomes (or is perceived as having become) either no longer feasible or too costly even if success is achieved.

  11. Besides the lighting and thunder…it is not safe to travel to Turfontein. I know of many people who have been hijacked just out side the race course after a night meeting…

    Who would want to go into the middle of Town and return late hours of the night?

    I have many friends who want to come night racing but how can I ask them to take that risk?

    Location is not helping the sport, what an amazing track but unfortunately due to today’s times, it is in the wrong place.

    Just my opinion

    P.S not sure if they have invested into a new lightning detector but the one they had 8 months ago was a absolute joke!

  12. DonMan you say “Besides the lighting and thunder…it is not safe to travel to Turfontein. I know of many people who have been hijacked just out side the race course after a night meeting”…

    If this is fact and i am assuming it is i ask

    Do the operators know about this,, if so why haven’t they warned us who go night racing??

    1. Hi David

      Yes my sister was one who was held gun point at the traffic lights by the 2000m

      My friend had a smash and grab getting onto the M1 highway.

      Nothing the operators can do about it.

      I suppose you right but if they had to warn people about the safety after leaving a night meeting then it would scare people off??

  13. David a pointer to the problem may be the placing of recall security guards on the corners around the big T on race days. They not their to direct traffic ghey

  14. Night racing in the Summer months is at the mercy of the weather. Night racing at other times of the year at our altitude in our climate is not at all good for the horses. When they decided to sell Newmarket and did not use the lighting that was there they should have left night racing to Greyville at sea level. To spend R50 million to put lights at Turffontein was a costly indulgence and sheer folly. Why was Newmarket, that was equipped for night racing, sold for less than it cost to install lights at Turffontein? Makes you think doesn’t it.

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