Welcome to Week 24 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Turffontein Racecourse in southern Johannesburg.

My home town, Baltimore, is a horse-racing town. The Preakness, one of the three jewels in the Triple Crown, happens every year at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racecourse. Somehow I never went. I attended a few steeplechase-type races in rural Virginia, but never made it to a legit city racetrack while living in America.

Finally, two weeks ago, I had a real day at the races at Joburg’s Turffontein Racecourse.

Turffontein Racecourse signWelcome to Turffontein, which means “turf fountain” in Afrikaans.

Turffontein is ancient by Joburg standards — founded in 1887 (just a year after the city itself) by the Johannesburg Turf Club. I definitely felt the history there and loved the way the Joburg skyline looms behind the racetrack.

Joburg skyline behind Turffontein RacecourseA view of the city behind Smart Mart (#5), who was warming up before his race. I bet on Smart Mart because I liked his name.

I learned three important things at Turffontein:

1) Photographing horse-racing is hard.
2) Betting on horse-racing (and winning) is even harder.
3) Riding a horse galloping at 50 kilometers an hour, or being a horse galloping 50 kilometers an hour in a race against nine other horses, is hardest of all.

Horse-racing at TurffonteinHorses and jockeys battle it out down the stretch.

A Day at the Turffontein Races

Turffontein is a fun day out. Admission to the course is free (except on special race days, when there is a modest entrance fee), and I saw lots of families enjoying themselves in the public seating areas and down along the track. There is also a special indoor seating area where guests can pay a couple of hundred rand for protection from the elements and a huge buffet lunch.

Father and son at the racesA father and son at the races.

View of the races from the Furious RoomView from the Furious Room, which I believe costs R275 per person for a table by the window and an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Best of all, Turffontein offers race-day tours for free to anyone who enquires at the information desk. The tour includes a shuttle ride out to the starting gate, where you can watch the horses and their jockeys take off. Watching the race start is electrifying.

The race start at TurffonteinAnd, they’re off! I nearly lost my breath at this moment but luckily my shutter finger still worked.

Staging area for horses at TurffonteinA behind-the-scenes look at the staging area where the horses warm up before their races.

There were nine races on the day we went, starting at noon and ending around five. My favorite time of the day was in the late afternoon, when the thoroughbreds’ shadows grew long and the light shimmered over their glossy coats.

Apprentice jockey Calvin NcgoboApprentice jockey Calvin Ncgobo, preparing for his late afternoon race.

I only bet on one race; I think it was the fourth race of the day. (I confess that Turffontein gave me an R100 betting voucher for free because I’m a journalist. How could I refuse?) Smart Mart held on to second place for most of the race, but fell off at the end and came in next-to-last. I didn’t get a photo during that race because I was too excited.

No worries though, because the only thing I really wanted was one decent shot of a race finish. I finally achieved that on the final race of the day.

Neck and neck at Turffontein RacecourseI think the horse on the right was the winner. 

South Africa’s biggest annual horse race, the Durban July, is coming up next month. But if you live in Joburg and can’t afford a trip to Durban, check out the “July in Jozi” at Turffontein on 1 July.

Turffontein is at 14 Turf Club Road, Turffontein.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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