A fond memory after being sold eight years ago for over R400 million, Clairwood Racecourse came out tops in a fun poll participated in with enthusiasm by our readers over the past week.
The new lockdown pursuits of reminiscing and voting for sentimental favourites has kept us occupied over the 47 days of lockdown so far, and it was hardly surprising to see the ‘Garden Course’ take the verdict with a 29% share of the votes.
Interestingly, the exacta was filled by defunct tracks, with Newmarket a rather distant second on 14%.
Top of the current venues in use, Hollywoodbets Greyville was in third on 12% with Kenilworth rounding off the quartet on 10%.
Clairwood Racecourse, in the heart of Durban’s industrial area, was built on land that was originally nothing but a swamp.
It was the brainchild of the late Jack Hollis and was established as a proprietary raceclub – a public company with shareholders who had invested in the club with the expectation of a return on their money.
The first racemeeting was held on 25 May 1921, attended by a crowd of almost ten thousand people.
Later during that decade, grass track motorcycle racing became highly popular, and in the early thirties a one mile grass motor cycling track was built inside the horse race track.
All the greats of the time competed there, but as cartoonist Jock Leyden recalls “one of the greatest characters was Alan Herschell, an ex-jockey who’d won the 1928 Durban July on Glen Albyn. Herschell crashed so often that whenever the spectators saw a cloud of dust rising during a race, the cry went up: Hershcell’s off again!”
Horseracing, however, kept developing and the equine machines eventually had the track to themselves again.
On four occasions during the Sixties, Clairwood was threatened with closure and matters finally came to a head in 1975.
The year before Clairwood had made a net profit of over R600 000, of which just under R400 000 was paid in shareholder dividends.
As the paid up capital of the shareholders was R150 000, and a Jockey Club Rule stated that not more than 10% of this amount could be paid in dividends per annum, Clairwood was in breach of Jockey Club Rules. The Jockey Club thus had every right to withhold Clairwood Park a license to race the following season.
In racing circles it was felt that the profits generated should at least be used to improve facilities and stakes, and that the shareholders should agree to Clairwood being changed into a non-proprietary raceclub.
A controversial period followed, but in the end Clairwood shareholders were bought out by the Racecourse Development Fund, and the track’s future assured – for a period, anyway.
After the change in ownership in the mid-Seventies, Clairwood developed out of all recognition.
A new stand was built in 1982 at a cost of R8 million.
Two years later the novel concept of having a winner’s enclosure in front of the grandstand was added.
This rather American idea added further to Clairwood’s drive to involve racegoers as much as possible in the goings on at a racetrack.
Another major step, but in a different sphere, was taken in 1986 when Bridget Oppenheimer and Doreen Rowles became the first full non-male members of the Clairwood Turf Club.
Interestingly, SP poster Donald recalled that the late George Rowles loved Clairwood so much that after it was closed he drifted away from attending race meetings in KZN.
But back to the ladies. Mesdames Oppenheimer and Rowles had been on the waiting list for a year and a half, after club members had voted in favour of full female members in 1984. And that had been after a four-year struggle to change the club’s constitution!
Gold Circle chairman Robert Mauvis said at the time of the sale in 2012 that the market in the province did not warrant the maintenance of three tracks.
The last race was run on 2 August 2014.
What some of the SP posters had to say:
My first ever Pick 6 bagged on June 8, 1994, I collected R70,000 odd for a R20 outlay, and If my memory plays along, I think there’s one particular single win bet on Bushmanland at 33/1 during those June/July months at Clairwood that summed up a great 1994. Great days!
As an owner my first winner was at Clairwood – trained by Paul Lafferty 27 years ago. My first Gr1 winner as at Scottsville trained by Paul Matchett – as for courses Clairwood was my all time favourite
Secure parking within the racecourse. Restaurant upstairs served fantastic meals. Short distance from Parade ring to Grand Stand to view the horses.Well maintained gardens.
Donald lamented the sale:
Clairwood would have been the ideal location for the all weather track as it could have been built without affecting the grass track and been wider to allow for fields of possibly sixteen horses with a 1200 metre straight as they would have had all the room in the world as this is a massive site with excellent road access from the N3 / N2 / M4 freeways along with many other pros for the location of a world class racecourse.
My late father never enjoyed racing, but whenever I went to Clairwood he loved the fried kingklip and chips for about R2,50! Later, we used to race from the Panoramique. That was rated the best on-course restaurant in South Africa and rated in the top six world-wide. Besides all of that the track was always in immaculate condition. To have the planes take off from Louis Botha International about 500m away was also spectacular. I have raced at all of the courses in South Africa. Whenever I drive past today, I weep. It was not called the Garden Course for nothing.
Louis Goosen said that Clairwood just had something special as a course – ‘not to mention the unbelievable Training tracks’.
How they ranked:
- Turffontein 9%
- Gosforth Park 9%
- Milnerton 5%
- Hollywoodbets Scottsville 4%
- Fairview 2%
- Arlington 2%
- Bloemfontein 1%
- Flamingo Park 1%
- Vaal 1%
- Durbanville (less than) 1%