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Racecourse closing huge blow for city

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'It is a massive blow to those who work and have horses here.'

The Flamingo Park Racecourse.

IN A DEVASTATING blow to the city, Kimberley’s racecourse, Flamingo Park, the only sand track in South Africa, is set to close at the end of the year.

The more than 100 employees at Flamingo Park, as well as trainers and horse owners, were informed yesterday morning by the owners, Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, that the course would be closed at the end of the year due to financial reasons.

“It’s a massive blow to those who work and have horses here,” local trainer Cliff Miller said yesterday, “especially for the 100-odd people who live here with their families.

“The other concern is what is going to happen to the horses here. There must be around 300 horses stabled here. Some will find other places to go but there are a lot that will probably end up having to be euthanised.”

According to Miller, Phumelela Gaming informed employees, trainers and owners yesterday morning of the board’s decision to close Flamingo Park. “They quoted financial constraints, stating that they were making a loss of around
R24 million a year. Horse racing in general has gone down over the years.

“This is a very sad day for Kimberley and our main concern is what this closure will do to the staff, who work and live here, as well as for the animals. For the trainers to relocate is also a big expense. I have been in the game for 43 years already.”

Miller pointed out that the ground was donated by the Oppenheimers in 1957. “Previously we used to race under the banner of the Griqualand West Racing Club.”

After a multimillion-rand refurbishment of the racing surface and the construction of 140 stables in 2005, the Kimberley Racecourse was renamed Flamingo Park.

The racetrack is one of South Africa’s few sand tracks. Thanks to the refurbishment, Flamingo Park offered a dust-free racing surface of international standards.

Flamingo Park’s sand track is renowned for creating course specialists, even horses who have shown little ability on grass tracks elsewhere. This made it an interesting racecourse and one to keep your eye on.

A right-handed course with a circumference of just under 2 200m and a run-in of 600m, Flamingo Park is a 1 000m straight course which joins the round course 600m from the finish. Races run over
1 800m start from a chute extending beyond the back straight.

Punters have noted that the ability to race handy is especially important in Kimberley because of the firm and dusty conditions. The draw is also a particularly important factor here, with high barriers usually favoured over the 1 000m straight course, and low numbers having the advantage over just about any distance on the round course.

Horse racing in South Africa enjoys a long and rich history that can be traced back to 1797. The first recorded race club meeting took place five years later in 1802.

The millionaires from the Kimberley diamond fields became keen supporters of racing and many became thoroughbred breeders, who could afford to spend money on top quality stock.

The national horse racing body is known as the National Horse Racing Authority and previously operated under the name of The Jockey Club of South Africa. It was founded in 1882.

Racing in South Africa is currently controlled by two bodies: Phumelela Gaming and Leisure Limited, and Gold Circle. Phumelela controls racing in the Free State, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, while Gold Circle has the reins in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

One of the highlights on the Kimberley calendar is the Flamingo Park Raceday. The day is headed by the NBT R200 000 RA Flamingo Mile and the supporting features are the NBT R135 000 WSB Sprint over
1 000m and the NBT R100 000 RA Diamond Stayers over 2 200m.

The races attract the best horses from Kimberley as well as a number of riders from other provinces.