Racecourses, Racing and the community

Racecourses, by their very nature, take up large swathes of land, but historically, their use has been restricted to horse racing. However, with growing demands for prime land in urban areas and a changing market for leisure and entertainment consumers, there is a need for racecourses to diversify and adapt.

This provided a focus for the sixth Plenary Session at the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) on Thursday afternoon in Cape Town, South Africa, titled ‘Racecourses, Racing and the Community’, chaired by Dr. Makoto Inoue, Vice-Chair of the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) and Presidential Counsellor for International Affairs of the Japan Racing Association (JRA).

The concept of the racecourse “is truly global, but no two racecourses are the same,” said Mr. Paul Roberts, Director of Turnberry Consulting. Mr. Roberts, who has been involved in capital improvement strategies for international racecourses like Ascot, Flemington, Newmarket, Saratoga, York, The Curragh and Riyadh, examined the past, present and future for racecourses the globe over, from Jerash Hippodrome in Jordan, dating back to the second century AD through to recent developments worldwide. He stated that racecourses survive and develop best if they keep boosting their races.

With the Tokyo Olympics the global sporting headline event this year, the JRA is set to play a pivotal role in the organisation and staging of the equestrian events. The JRA’s Baji Koen Equestrian Park hosted dressage and showjumping when the Olympics were last held in the Japanese capital in 1964, and once again, it is being utilised – with a mix of new temporary and permanent structures including stands and stables – in 2020.

“We are extremely honoured to be recognised as an official contributor and it is important for us that the JRA supports the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” said Mr. Masayuki Goto, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Japan Racing Association. “We must be able to show the value and importance of the horse racing industry to our country through our dedication and support for large national events. It is also a chance to promote our initiatives that we have for our retired racehorses as they continue in their second career.”

The Equestrian Park has undergone a significant redevelopment to prepare the site for its hosting role. Mr. Kenji Takagi, General Manager of Design Division and Deputy General Manager of Construction Management for Yamashita Sekkei, has been in charge of the project since 2015.

“There have been three things we have looked at when renewing this park for use in the Tokyo Olympics,” said Mr. Takagi. “It needed a lot of work as the park is now much more in the metropolis, but it is also on a much smaller space than that used in recent Olympics. We also had to consider the sustainability and universal design of the park – making it environmentally friendly and accessible to all – while the 2011 East Japan earthquake also played a role when considering the specifics of this project.”

Dr. Phumla Mnganga, Vice-Chairperson of Gold Circle Racing and Betting, told delegates about the resurgence of traditional horse racing in South Africa, providing an insight into the primarily rural sport that exists separate to organised thoroughbred racing in the nation.

“Indigenous games have been a part of African culture for centuries,” she explained. “Traditional horse racing is very much a part of this. It was established two centuries ago initially as a form of entertainment, linked to social cohesion, and our heritage. What began as a social gathering is now enjoyed across many regions and provides an opportunity to celebrate African culture through the connection between humans and horses. It is a sociocultural activity that involves its own rules, training styles, horsemanship, and welfare rules. These races involve different styles featuring South African breeds and no organised betting occurs. These are holistic events which we at Gold Circle are proud to support.” Two major events have emerged, the Dundee July, which has experienced phenomenal growth and attracts 25,000 people, and the Berlin November.

South Africa’s traditional scene gave way to the future of Australian horse racing, with Mr. Don Casboult, Chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club, explaining major development plans for the historic Melbourne track, which have been finalised over the last 10 years.

Moonee Valley, home of Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate, will soon be redeveloped – after the 100th Cox Plate in October, 2020, in fact – with Mr. Casboult stating that the project’s vision is to “transform Moonee Valley into a world-class racing, residential, commercial, and lifestyle precinct.”

“This allowed us to have a number of areas in which we could focus,” Mr. Casboult said. “For us, it will mean that we can unlock the value in our freehold land, which should secure the long-term financial viability of the Club. We aim to be the best night racing venue in the world and we hope that our different precincts will entrench the Club in the local community. Essentially, we are creating a mini-suburb."

“As you can imagine, when this was first visualised, there was considerable resistance from members and the community due to the scale of the plan, but many have now become strong advocates. Ten years ago, we embarked on a bold and ambitious plan, and the journey has had many challenges along the way. However, we are confident that the Club and the community, will reap the rewards in the ensuing years.”

For more information on the 38th ARC, visit www.arcsa2020.com