Glasses will be raised at Flamingo Park today as those connected with the Kimberley course celebrate Phumelela’s decision to lift the axe that for the past three months has been hanging over the track like the sword of Damocles.
Few are more entitled to celebrate than Cliffie Miller who apparently played a major, and largely unheralded, part in saving the course which has been his life for more than four decades.
Miller, leading trainer at Flamingo Park last season and second on the log at the moment, said: “When they announced at the end of August that the course was to close after this week’s meeting I said ‘Nonsense. It can’t happen like that. We have our houses here, it’s not simply a matter of packing up and going somewhere else. I personally have been at Kimberley for 42 years.’
“I decided to get the ball rolling and I went to see the people who have stepped in to save the course (Gold Circle, Mary Slack and Hollywoodbets) and thankfully they decided to get together to keep us going for at least another year. They are the real heroes of all this.”
Miller is confident that, thanks to the new backers, the course has a future well beyond the next 12 months – “They say that they are looking at much further than a year.”
When Phumelela announced the closure they pointed out that the course was losing R23.5 million a year and had the lowest TAB turnover in the country at around R3 million. But without Flamingo Park’s 36 meetings a year, mostly on a Monday, the country could struggle to race every day in times of bad weather. South Africa would be down to just seven racecourses – at one time there were more than 90 racing clubs, each with their own racecourse.
Miller points out that the course’s importance to the racing industry should not be measured purely in terms of betting turnover, saying: “We are the only sand track left in South Africa and it is one that is very kind to horses. We buy horses that are bred to race on sand and many of those we get here would only win on sand – you can count on the fingers of one hand those that can also compete on grass. Also there is nowhere else that they can race. We couldn’t take them to Johannesburg because many of them come from there and they did nothing at Turffontein or the Vaal.”
By Michael Clower