On the Club House wall, a modest, shiny plaque tells us that 55 years ago on 15 July, Summerveld, what is now the country’s largest equine training centre, was formally opened.
Hub of KwaZulu-Natal Horse Racing
Summerveld, is at the very the hub of KwaZulu-Natal racing in the heart of Shongweni’s beautiful equine district in the 1000 Hills.
We were given a guided tour by the affable Tony Rivalland, (pictred) who is an astonishing walking wiki of South African horse racing, with an unbridled passion for the sport, and evident love of the horses. He wears a multitude of hats including Summerveld Estate Manager and Trainer, so understands every facet of the business of racing and has personally been training horses there for almost 40 years.
We met in the restaurant, which is a lively breakfast spot which a fabulous view, allowing diners to enjoy an awesome breakfast while watching some of the top horses in the country train right in front of you.
Home of Sea Cottage
Most of the July Handicap winners over the years have trained at Summerveld, he tells us – including the iconic Sea Cottage. Framed photos and press cuttings of Sea Cottage adorn the Club House walls. In fact, out of the 21 grade one horses in South Africa currently, 11 come out of KZN.
The winter racing season sees most of them migrate to KZN where they are based at Summerveld typically from March to August, racing at Greyville and Scottsville. Based in Shongweni, about halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, Summerveld is well placed to service both Greyville and Scotsville. Calendar highlights include the sprints in Pietermaritzburg, the Vodacom Durban July and the Gold Cup.
The Centre provides all the necessary facilities, and stabling for 1600 horses (pictured), and accommodation for 600 of the 700 grooms. Currently there are 1300 horses training on site. To accommodate the horses and staff from Clairwood, Summerveld was extensively upgraded with the building of new stables and the laying of a 1200m Polytrack, prior to the closure of the track in 2014.
Summerveld is also home to the jockey academy where the aspirant youngsters train and live in an on-site boarding school.
Vodacom Durban July
We visited just after the Vodacom Durban July – the second year to be held behind closed doors, where owner Ashwin Reynolds, became the first person of colour to own a Durban July winner and Kommetdieding is also seemingly the first horse with an Afrikaans name to grace the winner’s board!.
Typically, the July day generates R55 million worth of turnover. This year, without the supporting hospitality and tourism opportunities, this year’s race brought in substantially less – an estimated R22 million.
“The halcyon days of horse-racing are probably over,” considers Tony. “The prestige has declined, and the market is shrinking – 30 years ago, we were the only game in town. Horse-racing is not a focus of the younger generation, and the industry took a severe knock with the legalising of gaming and developing of casinos.”
You wouldn’t think that though, watching the bustle of activity and purpose. Walking with Tony through his stables, he pets every one of his 40 horses and chats to the grooms as they feed afternoon snacks – which is clearly a highlight of the day.
“It’s beautiful here – on a clear day, I can sit in my office and see the ships off Toti!” How awesome is that!
Good to Know
Visitors to Summerveld can watch the horses in action while enjoying breakfast at the Club House which overlooks the training tracks.
6am until 10.30am
Open daily, closed Sunday
031 769 1155
Summerveld address: 15 J B Mcintosh Dr, Summerveld, Outer West Durban