News from The Mercury

The proposed sale of Clairwood Racecourse by racing group Gold Circle is being fought by a number of senior members of the racing fraternity who say it is too important a "world-class facility" to be lost to the industry, and all for the "paltry sum of R120-million".

Industry stalwart George Rowles, the Oppenheimer family, retired businessman Chris Saunders and Nic Labuschagne are among some of the high-profile players who oppose the move.

The sale of the 85-year-old course, situated in the prime south Durban industrial heartland, is part of a broad-ranging strategy of the Gold Circle group to rationalise and consolidate its racing and training operation, which monopolises the industry in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

It is understood that Clairwood, now zoned open land, could be used by buyers for a number of purposes - including industry, open space and housing.

Rowles said on Thursday that if the sale went ahead he believed it would be the greatest mistake ever to be made in South African horseracing. The ramifications could be huge for KZN.

"Clairwood Racecourse has the best training facilities in the country and a magnificent group-one straight. It is located on 760 000m² of prime real estate and is world class. It is not easy to simply replace."

According to Rowles, the course has recouped its value 138 times to date. He said the estate, buildings and facilities could be worth as much as R500-million.

Part of Gold Circle's plan, dubbed the Assets Utilisation Strategy, entails disposing of not only its Clairwood and Ashburton properties in KZN, but its Milnerton, Durbanville and Philippi courses in the Western Cape.

Pietermaritzburg's Scottsville Racecourse is set to become a more important venue in KZN. An inside track being built at the course is costing R4,5-million, with the possibility of introducing night racing there in the future.

Greyville will remain KZN's flagship course and has also been earmarked for a multimillion-rand upgrade.

In her opposition to the move, Bridget Oppenheimer sent a letter to a horseracing publication saying she strongly supported the "no sale vote" of Clairwood Racecourse.

Rowles has raised questions of how the process is being executed. He has sent out a letter to members voicing his concerns.

"Gold Circle sent out a glossy booklet to some 3 000 members to notify them for the first time that they intend to sell Clairwood in its entirety. Why was this decision not dealt with as a stand-alone issue?

"Who was the mastermind in sending out the proxy forms prematurely before any meeting with members had taken place? There has been no dialogue with members on the matter."

Rowles said he was concerned that many members had already exercised their proxy without hearing the other side of the story.

He said he believed the proxies should be sent to the auditors.

Responding to questions, Gold Circle CEO Michel Nairac said no decision had been made yet on the sale of the racecourse.

"In terms of our constitution, the sale of property has to be decided by members at general meetings. This special resolution needs the support of 80 percent of the voting members to pass."

While Nairac conceded there were cultural and historic connotations attached to Clairwood Racecourse, he said the economic progress of the region, the province and the horseracing industry had to come first.

A special general meeting is to be held simultaneously in Durban and Cape Town on May 3, when Gold Circle's members will vote on the Asset Utilisation Strategy (including the sale of Clairwood).

  • This article was originally published on page 1 of The Mercury on April 28, 2006

Article by: Suren Naidoo