ALBERTON- Those were the days when Alberton and Newmarket were just known for “riding horses”, as the editor aptly described it in the Alberton Record’s Then and Now supplement, published on October 27, 2010.
How have times changed, as the new Mall at Newmarket started a shopping experience where horses are the main attraction.
The beautiful crafted wall panels, statues and emblems of horses and jockeys at the mall, certainly bring back memories of the Newmarket Racecourse which was a landmark in Alberton.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to Newmarket Racecourse, which was established in 1938 out of two race clubs, Rand Race Cub and Newmarket Race Club, with Jack Patience as the first secretary.
The first racehorse in South African horse racing history to win the summer handicap three times, from 1956 to 1958, was Java, a name associated with the small Alberton suburb Java Park, next to Newmarket. The owner, Leonard Hansen Oates, who was born in Australia, chose that name for his horse so it would live on in the history of the suburb.
The then new main pavilion at Newmarket Race course, which was opened on September 13, 1961, was very popular, not only for horse racing, but also for other sports as well, including the Alberante classic cycle race, athletics and road races and stadium golf.
As part of its official 50th anniversary, Newmarket Racecourse staged the 100 000 Newmarket Golden Jubilee Handicap on September 29, 1988.
The introduction of night racing in the second half of the 1990s caused huge excitement, with a turnout of more than 7 000 for the opening night on September 29, 1996. A record R8-million was wagered on the nine race programme.
Those midweek night races were extremely popular. However, the huge flash lights and eventual complaints from nearby residents were a big talking point in those days.
A black day in the history of horse racing for Alberton and the Newmarket Racecourse was, without doubt, May 24, 2001, when it was officially announced that the bell had tolled for horse racing exactly 63 years after it all started in 1938. “The night Newmarket racehorses died”, was the phrase used back then to describe the very last night race at Newmarket.
The Alberton RECORD’s description in an article (as part of 100 years of sport in Alberton, back in 2004), perfectly described how big a part the disestablished Newmarket Racecourse had in the hearts of the people of Alberton:
“Since Newmarket was so geographically central to the extension of Alberton, the horse-racing connection played an important part in the development of the town. The racecourse has, therefore, stayed close to the hearts of the town folk, providing much more than a simple opportunity to bet on the horses.”
That was then, but now Mall at Newmarketl will carry the history of Newmarket for generations to come.