After eight months in South Africa Jen and I still hadn’t seen any horseracing and so on Sunday morning I decided to put that right. There are ten tracks across the country with two of them being in the province that we live in, Gauteng.
Turffontein is close to Johannesburg and from what I can discover, hosts a big race in November. This meeting though, was just a run of the mill autumn fixture with a smaller crowd hopefully making it easier to get in and then get around.
We managed to find the track by using the blue dot on the phone, but we had to do an entire circuit before we spotted a gate that was open. It wasn’t clear where we should park and so we followed the cars in front of us and ended up on the grass in front of the grandstand.
I think that by parking where we did, we somehow skipped the turnstiles and whatever admission fee was being charged. We still had to pass through a scanner, just in case we’d forgotten to leave our rocket launchers at home, but that done we were soon inside.
Turffontein dates back to the arse end of the nineteenth century and some of the buildings near to the turnstiles that we didn‘t go through looked reasonably original. The main grandstand is much newer though and is pretty impressive.
We took an escalator up to the second floor and found ourselves a table in an outdoor restaurant overlooking the track. Whilst it seemed quite posh, I had pie, chips and gravy for less than two quid.
We’d missed the first race but by the time the second race went off, I’d estimate that there were around five or six hundred people in attendance. There were tables and benches down by the parade ring and rows of seats in the grandstand below the restaurants.
In contrast to the UK, there wasn’t a great deal of drinking going on. There was an indoor pub on the second level of the grandstand, but apart from the people drinking at their open-air tables in the restaurants, I didn’t see anyone drinking outside.
There were no bookies either, with all of the betting being done on the Tote. I’m not a big fan of that as I think a lot of the fun comes from finding the best price for the horse you want to back, rather than hoping that a late flurry of cash for your selection won’t reduce your potential pay-out.
Whilst there was a dirt track towards the inside of the circuit, the nine races on the card were on grass. All on the flat, they started off at 1200m and progressed through to 1600m and then on to 1800m.
We got a couple of winners including one from Jen at 14/1 before picking up some mutton samosas from a stall on the way out.
Whilst I think that the day was enhanced by the low crowd and the ease of finding a table in the restaurant or a seat in the grandstand, I’m tempted to make a return visit for the big race in November.