RACING fans will be looking forward to the popular Friday night racing series which begins this Friday on September 23 and runs all the way through to May 19 next year.
The normal popular facilities at these meetings like the Braai Zone, the Lightning Shot Bar and the Kidzone will be operational. The Durban View restaurant will be open as usual. The Gee Jays will be performing live in the Lightning Shot Bar. A new innovation is a live musician performing on the Paddock Deck situated in the grandstand concourse. At the opening meeting Seb Goldswain will be playing his guitar on The Deck.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of night racing at Greyville. It made its debut at the city track on Friday, February 16, 1996. A large screen conveyed the activities throughout the evening and the meeting proved a great success, attracting a crowd of over 7,300.
However, it was not in fact the first night race meeting in South Africa.
The late great racing doyen Jean Jaffee writes in her book They Raced To Win that in the 1945/1946 racing season Joseph Dorfman formed a syndicate which established the Vereeniging Turf Club, whose main objective was to race horses both by day and night. Dorfman had previously inaugurated night greyhound racing at the Wembley Stadium near Turffontein.
Vereeniging Turf Club soon acquired majority shares in the Auckland Park Racing Club. This club had held highly popular race meetings about 60 days a year at the Auckland Park racecourse, which was on the site where the Helen Joseph Memorial Hospital now stands (the racecourse was disbanded in the early 1960s). The Vereeniging Turf Club also purchased the Germiston Sporting Club. However, their attempts to gain control of the Johannesburg Turf Club and the Clairwood Turf Club failed. Their bid to monopolise racing in the country was thus foiled. However, they did later manage to buy the Eastern Districts Sporting Club at Benoni.
In 1946 Dorfman travelled to the USA to study the methods employed in night racing and to buy the necessary equipment. Shortly thereafter, according to the publication The Centenary of the Durban Turf Club, night race meetings were held at The Vaal racecourse for a few months. The Jockey Club was opposed to the meetings and had consequently brought in a rule stating no racing under Jockey Club rules could go ahead after 7 p.m. Furthermore, any trainer or jockey participating in unauthorised racing risked having their licence withdrawn.
Nevertheless, Dorfman went ahead with his plan. The inaugural meeting was washed out by a violent hailstorm which shattered the floodlights and the next meeting was also washed out. Meetings were subsequently held but came to an end after a few months. Jean Jaffee’s book goes on to say South Africa had its first experience of the photo-finish camera at the Vaal racecourse on March 26, 1947. However, there is no reference to who brought the cameras in and whether they were a by-product of Dorfman’s trip to the USA, which if it was the case would have been a positive outcome of the country’s first foray into night racing.
The person who first put night racing on the table in Durban was the Durban Turf Club Chairman J. Arnand Bestel, who in 1970 suggested they stage midweek night meetings. However, the cost of installing floodlights seemed prohibitive. The idea was raised again in 1982 by Tony Stiebel. Stiebel and Dr. Nic Labuschagne researched the matter between 1984 and 1985. The possibility of staging it was seriously brought to the table again in 1990, but by this time the costs of installing floodlights had escalated. However, despite a further escalation in costs, it was decided in 1995 under the chairmanship of Stiebel to institute night racing at Greyville.
General manager at the time Dave Furness clearly had foresight when he said after the opening meeting in 1996, “[Night racing] has been the catalyst to revive the flagging interest in horse racing and I am confident that the attraction of new patrons through innovative projects will sustain and increase participation in our industry.”