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The Turffontein Racecourse

Sunday, 02 August 2020

Today's racing is at Turffontein. But did you know that Turffontein has a rich history?

Johannesburg Heritage Foundation

In July 2016, Turffontein Racecourse was awarded a prestigious Blue Plaque, by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.

The foundation's vision is to preserve and protect the rich and varied heritage of Johannesburg and its associated social history, for the use and enjoyment of both current and future generations.

The name of the racecourse

The name of the racecourse is often mistakenly thought to be associated with the grass surface that the horses race on, but the name goes back way further than the beginnings of horseracing.

In fact, all the way back to the original settlers from the Great Trek in 1838. The name "Turffontein," when translated directly from old Afrikaans, means "clay fountain".

The original racecourse

The original racecourse had its finishing line roughly where the intersection of Eloff and Commisioner Streets is today.

And the first Johannesburg Handicap over two miles was run on 17 June 1887 – the winner had the rather ironic name of "SECOND"!

The "Gold Rush"

A monument was erected in 1988, to honour those first families who settled in the area. Abraham Smit owned the original farm called Turffontein, and in 1886, Paul Andries Ras, a descendant of another one of original settler families, bought the farm, when a rich gold reef was discovered in the area.

This new influx of people started to settle in shacks in what is now the Joburg CBD.

Fortunes were made literally overnight, as the rich gold resources were extracted all over the area. With this burgeoning new wealth, gambling was a very popular past time, and with horse racing being already popular in many other mining towns, it was a natural progression for it to start in the new settlement too.

Captain Carl von Brandis

The popularity of racing in the new mining town grew significantly in just a few months. And so, in 1888, under the guidance of the very first president of the Johannesburg Turf Club, Captain Carl von Brandis, a new site was found just a few miles away, on the farm called Turffontein.

Now, directly opposite the main entrance to the racecourse in Turf Club Street, is a road called Von Brandis, named in honour of the captain who was so instrumental in the setup of this new racecourse.

The darkest period of Turffontein

But in 1899, the darkest period of Turffontein’s history began. The Anglo-Boer War broke out, which caused the indefinite postponement of many races, and the British designated the racecourse as a suitable site for what would become the biggest concentration camp on the Witwatersrand.

Want to read more?

The above are but a few extracts from an amazing article written by Ashleigh Hughes.

She has included pictures of the original stand and of some of the key people.

Read the full article by Ashleigh Hughes
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