Port Elizabeth of Yore: Horse Racing in the Bay

As racing horses is as old as riding these hoofed herbivorous mammals, the exact origins of horse racing are lost in the mists of time. Uitenhage preceded Port Elizabeth in establishing a Turf Club in 1815. However the first authentic records of organised racing give results of racing held in 1817 and include reports of a racing meeting held in the grounds of Cradock Place, the palatial home of Frederick Korsten on the Papenkuils River. Korsten matched his horses with those of the garrison officers from Fort Frederick.  The current Governor, Sir John Cradock, was also a keen racing man and with his support racing naturally flourished.

Main picture: Fairview Race Course 

Fairview Race Course

As time went on Fairview Estate, which was an extensive farm on the old Cape Road, became the accepted venue of horse racing in Port Elizabeth. According to Margaret Harradine, on the 13th July 1857, a meeting was held at Dreyer’s Hotel to revive the Port Elizabeth Turf Club which held its race meetings at Fairview. That implies that the Port Elizabeth Turf Club was originally founded prior to 1857. Once again the Turf Club collapsed and in 1880, it had yet again, to be revived. In order to establish a set rules for racing, in 1882 the Jockey Club of South Africa was also founded in Port Elizabeth. H.B. Christian, who steered the recovery of horse racing, became the first Chairman of the Jockey Club in 1882.  The Fairview Race Course grant­ed use of its facilities to the Turf Club on 10 April 1883. For many years the HB Christian Memorial Race was the premier race in PE pre sponsorship days. After its founding in 1857, the Port Elizabeth Turf Club initially used the race course in Deal Party / New Brighton before relocating to Cape Road where the Greenacres shopping centre is situated today.

Fairview race track

In 1977 the Fairview racecourse was relocated to Greenbushes. A brand new stabling complex was completed at Fairview Greenbushes In October 2007, and all trainers based at Arlington moved over to Fairview. Apart from the new stabling complex, Fairview boasts a number of training tracks and facilities and was also the head office of Phumela Gaming and Leisure in the Eastern Cape.

Fairview consists of a 2700m near oval. Races of up to1200m are run on the straight course. Races beyond 1200m are held clockwise around the round turn with an 800m run-in. High-number draws are favourable in races down the straight (mostly downhill) while lower numbers are favoured over the 1400m and 1600m trips.

The New Brighton race course

On the 6th January 1896. the New Brighton Sporting Club (horse racing) was formed with James Wynne jr as its first President. The race-course at New Brighton, today part of Deal Party, was a popular racing venue until the Second World War. The New Brighton Race Course (The New Brighton Sporting Club), had an oval shape & was a quarter mile in circumference. In 1907 there was also a P.E. Sporting Club, but both were superseded by the Suburban Sporting Club.

The establishment of this race course would result in a Court Case brought by a certain Mr. Thomas O’Brien, in which the plaintiff claimed £50 from the defendants, Hansen & Schrader, as damages, and as well as applying for an interdict restraining the defendants from interfering with the right of hunting and shooting over a certain farm Deal Party. Sarah Berry, the owner of the property, was paid  by O’Brien to have sole and exclusive rights in 1892 (for a period of 5 years) for hunting game which included some buck imported from England, as well as some pheasants and partridges which were released on the New Brighton farm.

Central to O’Brien’s complaint was that when a racecourse was built on the New Brighton farm, apparently a large area of bush and vegetation was removed which made the birds move away to the more attractive and adjacent Deal Party farm. The Deal Party & the New Brighton farms were divided by a wire fence which extended down from the east of main road of Port Elizabeth. To the west of the main road ran the Railway line. To the north – Deal Party farm – was bounded by the Fish Water Flats farm and towards the South in the direction of Port Elizabeth, the farm was bordered by the Papenkuils Creek. A wagon road diverted from the main road where the police barracks were situated, leading to the New Brighton Hotel adjacent to the sea. Near this hotel was another wagon road running at right angles with the railway line coming from the siding. Near the siding was 2 cottages, an old one & a new one.

On the 6th April 1896, a race was held at the New Brighton oval race course where a large number of indigenous people as well as Europeans filled the stand the whole day and the plaintiff O’Brien argued that the race course as well as the crowd attending, infringed on his sole/exclusive rights.  It is said that before this date, that there was a large amount of game on the New Brighton farm.

Arlington race course

In addition to the PE Turf Club yet another club had been established. This Club was named The St Andrews Racing Club had established its course at Arlington in a most attractive setting.

The old parade ring at Arlington
Arlington Racecourse burnt out

New Fairview race course

Only one prominent factor compelled the Fairview Racecourse to be relocated from its central location along Cape Road: Money in developers sticky fingers. As it was centrally located, it could house a substantial shopping mall which developers readily realised. In addition far-sighted residents grasped the fact that the CBD, past its heyday, was in a process of decay. Locked between the sea and steep hill, development was constrained. What Port Elizabeth required was a new CBD which was more centrally situated.

Waterlogged ground of the Fairview Racecourse at Greenbushes

The area chosen for the replacement race course was Greenbushes which was perennially waterlogged. This fact mitigated against its use as a residential area but was suitable as a race track. But that would require the construction of an all-weather circuit.

Fairview Racecourse at Greenbushes

Track owners, gaming corporation Phumelela, have closed Arlington racecourse and invested in the infrastructure at Fairview. They chose a specialised track material after the increasingly extreme weather conditions in South Africa were hampering maintenance of the turf track. They hope to slash the annual maintenance bill by R1.5 million. This material is made out of silica sand and fibres made of recycled carpet, spandex and rubber. 

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).

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