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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.