The worst weather of the winter has pushed track staff to their limits. On Saturday, Kinsley trainers had a rare up-close-and-personal glimpse at the massive effort needed to keep the show on the road writes Floyd Amphlett.
Promoter John Curran said: “At lunchtime, as usual, we checked the weather forecast ready for Saturday evening, and it was forecast to be four degrees above freezing for our race meeting. But we had experienced high winds and the track had dried out. That can lead to too much movement in the sand so we decided to put the bowser around during the afternoon to encourage the sand to bind.
“But as we got to late afternoon we checked the track and it seemed a bit firm. We used the temperature probe which is extremely accurate to within a fraction of a degree. Although the track was soft underneath at about four inches down, the probe showed the temperature as minus 1.5 degrees near the surface. It was a game changer that we hadn’t seen coming.
“We could have cancelled the meeting but instead decided to break up the surface to a depth of one inch. Work got underway and we started at 6.30pm. It is a two hour job minimum so we put back the start of racing until 8.30pm and everybody worked like Trojans.
“The whole circuit was harrowed and we sent the two tractors around twice between every race to compact the sand. Conscious that everyone had to get home, we considered dropping the last four races but instead decided to cut down the gaps between races. We told everyone to get their bets on early.
“The track started at .60 slow but by the time we got to the fifth race, the track was running normal and by the sixth race we made up the lost time.
“Normally, the trainers don’t get to see how much work goes into the track preparation, but anybody who was there from 6.30 could see how much effort is put in by the ground staff. We reached the end of the meeting with no injuries recorded, at least nothing major that could be attributed to the going.
“That night we were expecting heavy rain so after racing we then worked until 12.30am to prepare the track for the BAGS meeting the next day. It also went like a dream with again no serious injuries.
“I can’t help thinking how far this industry has come in the last 20 years in terms of track preparation. We now have the necessary equipment – without the two powerful tractors, we simply could not have got the job done. And thanks to John Haynes, whose techniques we now use, the expertise to race in the toughest of conditions.
“No matter how good your preparation, if you get the four extremes of weather within 24 hours – rain, frost, snow and high winds, you WILL be tested to your limits.
“But I have to emphasise that every track is different and every team of ground staff will have worked just as hard as ours. Every track has its own unique set of challenges and sometimes, even with the greatest imaginable effort, nature will beat you.
“We have never lost a BAGS meeting due to weather but it says a great deal about my fellow promoters who have chosen not to risk welfare by cancelling meetings. And when then have decided, like we did, that the track was safe to race, don’t underestimate how much soul searching will have gone into that. These are tough decisions with big repercussions.
“Trainers are often divided as to whether a track is safe of not – but ultimately the track management must make the call on whether to race or not because they carry the responsibility for their actions.”