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Milnerton – Then And Now

117 years ago a village needed a racecourse...

Here’s a wayback Wednesday trip down memory lane as Cape horseracing faces new challenges with 2021 winding down and we move into 2022.

It’s fair reasoning for anybody who has been in this industry for longer than five minutes that the Milnerton racecourse property could again feature into calculations and strategy as the Sport Of Kings looks to balance the books and survive the challenges of a world where there are so many more relevant entertainment options for a new generation.

The Milnertonian blog carried this history piece in 2020, which is reproduced without editing.

Popular Girl, Southern Cross Stakes 1994

Popular Girl (Fareed. Anthony) beats Midgear (Andrew Fortune) and Outstanding Star (Garth Puller) to win the 1994 Southern Cross Stakes

If you have any memories and anectdotes – please share with other readers on our comments platform.

On 18 November 1904, one of the directors of Milnerton Estates, Julius Weil, told a meeting of the board, “It is generally understood that it will be in the interests of Milnerton to have a racecourse.”

An application was made to the Jockey Club for a licence and approaches were also made to the senior body in the country, the South African Turf Club.

The Jockey Club at first refused, but the South African Turf Club responded in an encouraging fashion, even appointing a sub-committee to deal with the proposal.

A sub-committee was also set up at Milnerton, consisting or Messrs. Langerman, Marais and Martin, and the two groups met for a working lunch on 12 December 1904. Agreement in principle was reached and early in 1905 a suitable tract of land was found on the farm Rietvlei.

JWS (Willie) Langerman

Promising though the situation appeared, there were unforeseen hitches. More than a year passed before a notification was received that the Stewards of the South African Turf Club would hold a meeting, at which “the Milnerton Race Course question will be finally settled”.

An economic slump was responsible for the slow progress during 1906. With the revenue of the Cape Colony down by nearly 50 per cent and thousands of people leaving the country, even the South African Turf Club, though already in existence for a century, became hesitant.

At this point a group of businessmen, the most important being JWS (Willie) Langerman, decided to show their confidence by starting on their own account the Milnerton Turf Club.

Mainly through this, the Chairman of Milnerton Eastates, Carl Jeppe, was able to announce, on 13 February 1907, that a Racing Licence had been granted to the Milnerton Turf Club by the Jockey Club of Johannesburg.

Construction began immediately and, although not yet completed, the first meeting on the new Milnerton Race Course took place on 28 May 1908, when Wantage Lass, owned by Mr Whitnall and ridden by jockey Middleton, won the 1400m Inaugural Handicap, which had a stake of £60.

Milnerton also provided stabling for three-quarters of the total racehorse population of the Cape, as well as accommodation for some 500 grooms.

A prominent racing personality once told my dad that he could not be a Christian because Jesus had destroyed a herd of swine.

My dad, who was the Anglican rector of Milnerton, responded that Jesus had done so to restore a man’s sanity.

He added that human lives were more important to God than those of animals, but that the horse racing community had yet to learn that lesson. To illustrate his point, he said that no money was spared to treat a sick racehorse, but that nothing was done for a groom who fell seriously ill. The racegoer had no response.

I distinctly remember the stables that once occupied a plot at the top of Greyton Road. They may have belonged to the famous Cawcutt family, but I am not sure.

Sometimes, the horses would break free at night and I would wake to hear their hoof beats on Park Avenue. In fact, the records of the Municipality include a complaint received about damage done to gardens at night by unattended horses, most of them strays from the racing stables.

To remedy this, the novel step was taken of awarding a bonus of 5/- per head to any labourer who succeeded in impounding any of these animals.

The grooms would ride past our house on their way down to Milnerton beach, where they’d exercise the horses in the shallows.

In 1926, the directors frowned at the Milnerton Turf Club’s offer to buy their racecourse at £15,000. One of the few who recommended such a deal was R. B. Howes, the well-known King’s Counsel, and afterwards judge. Suggesting that this amount could be used to finance a building loan scheme, he proposed that the sale should be conditional on the Company’s repurchasing the ground if racing should ever be discontinued or if it be required for building plots. His argument held sway and the sale was approved.

From its early days, Milnerton attracted quality trainers. The legendary Syd Garrett reigned supreme in the Thirties and Forties, and he was followed by his protégés “Cookie” Amos and Syd Laird. Then came Bob Prestage, Leslie Cawcutt, “Baby” Killa and Willie Kleb, and later, Terrance Millard, whose string of winners became a byword. Syd Laird owned a saddlery shop on Koeberg Road, Rugby, with a model horse in the window. My sister and I used to collect leather off-cuts from the bins around the back.

Then there were Milnerton’s jockeys, foremost amongst whom were Stanley Amos (brother of “Cookie”) and Johnny Cawcutt.

Besides being highly successful on the track, both were true gentlemen. Stan and his wife Thel worshipped at St Oswald’s and owned a double-storeyed house overlooking the lagoon. They had a large swimming pool in which Stan trained to keep fit, and he generously invited my dad and us children to use it whenever we wanted.

Many happy days were spent tanning and listening to our transistor radios around that pool.

When I needed somebody to stand surety for my bursary to study at UCT, I approached Stan and he willingly agreed. After graduating, I wrote and thanked him and when he died in 2006, aged 87, I attended his funeral.

Stan won his first Metropolitan Handicap at the tender age of 18 on the back of Moonlit, a horse he always rated the best he had ever ridden. Over the years, he won almost every big race in the country at least once, including the 1941 Durban July Handicap on Sadri II.

By the end of his illustrious career, Amos had ridden over 2,500 winners, breaking the previous record of 2,455 winners held at the time by the great “Tiger” Wright.

Stanley Amos

Johnny Cawcutt (brother of Leslie) lived on the corner of Firgrove and Koeberg Roads with his family. He was Cape champion jockey for 17 successive years and the only rider from this part of the world to have topped the national list, which he did in 1967 with 103 wins from far fewer mounts than his leading rivals from Natal and the Transvaal.

He twice won the Durban July Handicap, South Africa’s premier horse race. A famous quip was “Cawcutt’ll walk it.”

Johnny Cawcutt

Originally founded as much in the hope of encouraging suburban development as for horse racing, Milnerton’s Ascot Racecourse ironically became as much a victim of its own success as its management’s failings.

By the early 1990s, houses and shops had encroached to the perimeter walls, with the inevitable clash between the interests of horse racing and the niceties of suburban living.

The departure of Abe Bloomberg as chairman and of Tommy Loftus as course manager also played their part in the club’s demise. During his reign, Bloomberg had succeeded in keeping the club solvent and Loftus had maintained a splendid track despite challenges.

Within a short space of time, the club found itself in extreme financial difficulties. The construction of a new grandstand (opened in 1990) had cost in the region of R12,5 million.

Within a year or two, the club recorded a loss of R5 million. In 1993, it was decided to have a single management and staffing structure embracing Milnerton and Kenilworth racecourses.

Shortly afterwards, the Milnerton Turf Club was declared insolvent and the racecourse was sold for residential and commercial development.

A new suburb called Royal Ascot was developed on the site.

The suburb now consists of 20 gated residential precincts and six commercial precincts.

The residential precincts total nearly 2,000 units, including free-standing homes, sectional title semi’s and apartments. An estimated 5,000 people live there. The commercial development is known as The Paddocks.

When the Royal Ascot development was approved, both the provincial government and the municipality required that an Operational Environmental Management Plan (OEMP) be established.

An important feature of this plan was the creation and maintenance of what was formerly known as the Royal Ascot Conservation Area, but is now the Milnerton Racecourse Nature Reserve, originally the central open area inside the track.

This is one of the last remaining areas of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos with elements of West Coast Strandveld. The 18ha reserve has over 240 plant species, of which 12 are rare and endangered.

Though the racecourse is no longer used for racing, it is still used for the training and stabling of racehorses.

To the east are the stables and horse training facilities.

Also situated nearby, on Potsdam Road, Killarney Gardens, is the Milnerton Riding Club, which provides a full livery service for horse owners.

Founded in 1974, the club operates in conjunction with the Milnerton Riding School, which provides certified tuition.

Thanks to Milnertonian Blogspot.com 

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45 comments on “Milnerton – Then And Now

  1. Anesh says:

    Obviously very sad indeed that the powers that be couldnt or wouldnt do anything to save our racecourses instead just looked for profits

    1. Editor says:

      Hi Anesh
      Thanks for your posts – plse add your surname

  2. Anesh says:

    Billat

    1. Editor says:

      Many thanks!

  3. Jennifer Steyn says:

    We won the last race to be run at Milnerton with Zats Real, I told our jockey Farried Anthony I wanted one of the memorabilia they were handing out to the winners as a memento, and I’m glad he obliged, I still have it. That was a very sad day indeed.

    1. Editor says:

      Hi Jennifer
      We have the jockey group pic from that race in our archive somewhere – will dig it up.
      Interesting.
      Tks

    2. Editor says:

      Just checked – it was 26 July 1997.
      Your horse beat Jungle Blaze (Piet Botha)and Playful Prince (Craig Du Plooy)
      Other jockeys in that race still in the game – Andre Hoffmann (Stipe), Craig Du Plooy (Grooms School), Garth Puller (trainer).
      Still riding after 24 years – Greg Cheyne and Barend Vorster.
      Mark Neisius retired in Mauritius.

  4. Trevor Fortune says:

    I will never forget the last race at Milnerton won by Zatsreal over the 1400m straight course because at 14/1 his win lifted the Pick 6 payout significantly. To this day, I still use [email protected] as one of my email addresses!

  5. Pieta says:

    Wow Mr ED, it brings back fond memories again.

    I was lucky in those days to enter the members bar upstairs and the “local pink eye” downstairs….I really cannot tell you which I enjoyed most…..good laughs all round in a safe environment.

    As you know Milnerton had a short and a long “run in” plus a 1400m straight….could cater for any horse.

    Around the world I’ve yet to find a track with the same on offer.

  6. Brandon de Kock says:

    The best guineas field ever was run there in 1994. Bushmanland beat Special Preview and Amberpondo. we had horses like western rocket, la Mancha, Counter action, Shepherds moon, northern host, wise king, to name but a few. Have you perhaps got footage of that race please?

  7. Mike van Eeden says:

    It was a while ago and like Jennifer Steyn, I also have the decanter that was handed out to owners of the winners on that day. Our winner was Stage Mystery, trained by Terry Lowe. I flew down from Johannesburg for the race, because Terry was super confident. I clearly remember questioning Terry at 07:00 at the stables on the morning of the race, as how can he enter a 2yo in open company and he replied “Are you the F….g trainer. If 3 and 4 yo are still in maiden company, they cannot be too good.” I cannot recall the course photographer’s name, but before the end of the meeting, he had pictures to show us. Shots from the 400m to finish and one of the lead in. Awesome.

  8. Basil says:

    The best race I ever witnessed was the head to head duel in the Guineas between In Full Flight and Sentinel. I even went to the Argus to get a copy of the photo finish which I duly framed and hung it in a prominent position.
    The stands were always full and if you were hungry one could enjoy a pie and pint in the tearoom.
    Most had it with gravy especially in the winter months,

  9. Tim Bassett says:

    Does anyone know the exact spot where the legendry In Full Flight was buried? Would be nice to put a memorial plaque on the spot.

    1. Editor says:

      That’s an interesting question

  10. Basil says:

    He had an enlarged heart which was the reason for his early demise
    I think it happened at Kenilworth where he may be buried.?

    1. Editor says:

      Hi Basil

      Apparently Aidan Lithgow tried to track the burial place for his Legends series. Robyn Louw tells that it is thought that In Full Flight is buried somewhere along the far sde of the Milnerton training track.

  11. Donald Bradshaw says:

    Wonderful article , reflecting the proud history of splendid race course , well done S.P. !

    Does anyone know the reason for all three of the Western Cape race courses being ” left handed ” ?

  12. Graham Martin says:

    I still have the race card for the 1994 Cape Guineas!

    1. Editor says:

      Take a few pics plse Graham – send it to [email protected] if you feel inclined.
      Especially cover and feature pages.
      Thanks

  13. Basil says:

    It’s due to the prevailing wind in the summer season being a south easter which you normally face in the final straight.

  14. William Venters says:

    I checked the Milnerton results on the ARO website. Zat’s Real and Stage Mystery did not win on the 29th July 1997. They were both winners at the penultimate Milnerton meeting run on the 26th July 1997 (the last Saturday meeting)

    1. Editor says:

      I did say 26 July last evening in a responding comment.
      Thanks William

  15. Selwyn Elk says:

    Hi Tim, talking of In Full Flight, I was friends with the Australian jockey, George Davies who rode him in his first start. It was at Greyville and he beat a horse called Full Stretch, trained by Herman Brown (senior). At dinner that night he told me that he had ridden next years July winner that afternoon and his prediction was spot on, In Full Flight won the 1972 “ July” with Raymond Rhodes aboard, beating King’s Guard and Pedlar. The word “Champion “ is used very loosely but in my opinion In Full Flight carried that distinction with honour.

  16. Donald Bradshaw says:

    Thanks Basil , do you know that as a fact or is that what you think the reason is ?

    If it is a fact it certainly makes sense , I never thought about the Cape Docter having an influence on the design of the race courses in Cape Town !

  17. Donald Bradshaw says:

    Selwyn , make no mistake In Full Flight ( New South Wales – First Swallow ) was a champion in every sense of the word as you rightly state. His sire , in my opinion , was one of the best ever to stand in South Africa . While he was at stud I had a mate who would only follow and punt race horses sired by him , with a good deal of success I may add ,much to my chagrin as I kept on telling him that that was not the scientific approach to adopt to be successful in the sport and kept on being proved wrong !

    He sold everything he had including his tea room business in Berea Road to punt In Full Fight in that July !

    When New South Wales died my mate packed his bags and emigrated to Australia !

  18. Basil says:

    Donald, New South Wales had a profound affect on our stud book, he bred amongst others Over the Air(July),Kentford, Lagin,The Eliminator,Tribesman (SA Derby), Wagga Wagga (Benoni Guineas) However his greatest influence (albeit that he was quite a nervy horse) was the band of fillies/broodmares that he left us with, viz Wild Ash,Justine,Mildenhall, Mashka, Kendal Green, Halloween and Termoli.
    Brandon, I know that he had an enlarged heart but records say he died from a ruptured lung while prepping at Milnerton for the Met as a four year old. It’s also believed that he was buried at Milnerton and perhaps a veteran trainer like Paddy Kruyer may be able to advise where it was done.

  19. Donald Bradshaw says:

    Basil , in my book what made New South Wales such a great sire was the fact that he threw horses that won from 1000 to 3200 meters on a regular basis in the period he was at stud.

    The easiest way to determine the location of In Full Flights grave is to contact David Payne in Australia !

  20. George McDonald says:

    Donald, from what year did Natal/Kwa-Zulu horses drop from the Champions/Legends list and sit comfortably and permanently in the also run/xxxx list?

  21. Neill de Bruyn says:

    When I read some of the sentimental posts in SP, I think of that old song “where have all the flowers gone …..gone, gone so far away…”
    Natal in its glorious heydays: David Payne, Hernan Brown snr, Brian Cherry, Buller Benton, Michael Roberts, Jeff Lloyd, Basil Marcus ….and another song comes to mind “those were the days my friend, I wish they’d never end…”
    Pardon the nostalgia – but at least we were there. .

    1. Editor says:

      Showing your age Neill 🙂

      This is one to listen to when we go out the last leg of the Pick 6
      https://youtu.be/ZgXNVA9ngx8?t=7

  22. Neill de Bruyn says:

    Hey I’m a golden oldie mr Ed ! Not really a fan of those old folk songs – Pink Floyd still remains my favourite band – if only for David Gilmour’s wizardry on the guitar .

  23. Neill de Bruyn says:

    What with music creeping into the conversation mr Ed, I’m off to the tote to back Rock the Globe in race 8. Gav Lerena-Sean Tarry could be value at 14/1.

    1. Editor says:

      Enjoy – but storms delaying the show again?

  24. Basil says:

    Donald, that can happen as his breeding was the speedy Abernant over a staying mare by Alycidon
    New South Wales won a 1000m race at 2 and a stakes race over 2000m at Sandown as a 3yr old.. Querari initially produced a lot of sprinters because he covered a lot of speedy mares to balance his staying ability on the track.What everyone forgot was that he was by a sprinter Oasis Dream who obviously had an effect in the gene pool.. Genetics is so interesting in that if one covers a Merchants winner with an Oaks winner does not necessarily give you a miler. But yes I agree that versatile horses are important, I made a note after a horse won a sprint and ran a place in the Met as a 3yr old. His name is Gimmethegreenlight.

  25. Donald Bradshaw says:

    Hi George , don`t know the exact year but the last top horse in Natal was Beach Beauty , since then we don`t even get a run in the ” also rans ” we just provide the race courses for the all conquering Cape and Highveld horses from May to August and make up the support acts in the curtain raisers ?

  26. Eric Sands says:

    I trained Gay Hussar to win the last ‘feature’ on that final day at Milnerton. He was ridden by Derek Martin for Mr. Ben Braam. Very sad to see Milnerton go

  27. Nicolaas Loubser says:

    Maybe not related, but I came from a family with horses (Vredenburg /Hopefield). I enjoyed reading this and all the replies. Personally, I never saw a race at Milnerton, were way too young and I’m not from CT those years. But ALWAYS when in Koeberg Road I think of those beautiful days…..

    1. Editor says:

      Those were memorable days at Milnerton, Nicolaas

  28. Heather Brenner says:

    Many believe that Laird Leatjerware and saddlery shop belonged to Sid Laird, but the business was actually started by Quinton Mc Pherson (deceased) and passed on to his son Andrew. Andy closed the business about 5 years ago and retired with me (his partner) to Great Brak River. So Laird Leatherware was never anything to do with Sid Laird, Quinton simply liked the name.

    1. Editor says:

      Interesting – thanks for the clarity, Heather

  29. Peter Wrensch says:

    Brandon, that’s the Guineas I referred to that the fanatical Peter Dembitzer made a living from the form. I think it was something like 12 that came out to win next run or soon thereafter.
    Nowadays we’re lucky if anything holds up to the exaggerated merit ratings.

  30. Tony Ridgway says:

    I grew up in Milnerton. Ascot racecourse (as we called it back then) was my playground as a kid. My late Dad was good friends with Syd Laird. We schooled and churched with the Cawcutt kids and I once won a dress up competition at The Martin Adams Hall, dressed in green jockey silks loaned to us by Johnny Cawcutt c/w saddle and all.
    Milnerton was a wonderful race course, but often very windy. I made a lot of friends there and almost never missed a meeting. I attended the last meeting and was heartbroken when the announcement of its closure came. I am still a regular visitor to the stables, still on Koeberg Road. It’s one of my happy places.
    Thanks for this article and the great memories!
    TR.

    1. Editor says:

      Hi Tony
      Thanks for the note.
      We have had many emails and phone calls from sentimental friends (Herman’s Hermits..) with anecdotes and memories of a bygone era.
      Brought the story back on to our home page, in case anybody hasn’t seen it.
      Regards

  31. Barry Katzeff says:

    Thanks for such an interesting article all about the Ascot Race Course Milnerton, I grew up in Milnerton and used to have riding lessons with the late Miss Laura Gordon who stabled her horses at the late Mr Bob Prestage’s stables, my brother and I used to walk from our house in Kildare Rd (down the road from the Lorna Doone cafe) to the stables every Saturday morning for our riding lesson. I’m going to end off as I have tears rolling down my cheeks. Great memories!

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Barry – and happy birthday for your recent milestone

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