“I suppose the biggest lesson I have learned is that despite it not being widely recognised among people with no direct knowledge, track-staff work tremendously hard and are very dedicated to what they do. They really don’t get enough credit.”
It is roughly four months since Director of Stadia, Ian Smyth introduced a new enhanced injury monitoring scheme at the four Ladbrokes/Corals tracks.
At the same time, he set out to learn all he could about track preparation. Despite acknowledging the limited length of his study period, he took full advantage of long established expertise.
He said: “The STRI were a great steer. Some of their research was 20 years old, but the principles are still applicable. I also learned a great deal speaking to Gordon Bissett and Bill Glass. They talked about the problems that they had encountered and how they had overcome them.
“When we looked to apply them to our tracks, we were basically dealing with the same issues at all four though more at some than others. For example at Hove, it was obvious that we had to work hard on consistently maintaining the camber of the bends. At Crayford, in particular, we were keen to slow down the pace of the track.
“At Monmore, it was more a case of doing certain things regularly and on a more consistent basis. Romford was obviously a new surface.”
Although conceding “very positive feedback from trainers at all four venues”, Smyth is cautious about making too many claims of significantly reduced injury rates.
He said: “We have just come through a tough summer and I would expect everybody’s injury rates to show improvements at this time of year. But we can now take these figures as benchmark and make comparisons in a year’s time to see how effective they have been.
“Overall though, we will certainly be trying to keep the tracks slower. I am aware that some owners want to see fast times and track records, but if the cost is more injuries, it isn’t a price worth paying.
“I was also like to acknowledge the professionalism of the track staff. They are often working until 1am and when necessary, in at 5.30am. They really do understand the importance of their role.”
STADIUM ROUND UP
“I would hope we could flip the track at some stage in June. We are on target to complete the demolition of the old stand by the end of February and finish the building work by the end of June. Switching the circuit around will be one of the last jobs with the new judge’s box already in place.
“It will certainly be done before next year’s TV Trophy which will be over the 925 metres when we have a capacity of 1,500.
“I am very pleased with the new racing surface. It is now so well drained that despite all the rain we have had in the last week, we are still having to use the bowser. But putting extra water on is a lot easier than taking it off.”
“Crayford is another track with excellent drainage and takes a lot of water. It has run very fast in the past and we have had very positive feedback from the locals about the recent improvements.
“To be honest, I think there was always a lot of unfair noise about Crayford. That has eased and we are getting many more outside entries for the opens. I was delighted with the TV Trophy and there is tremendous interest in the Boxing Day Marathon Final.”
“I think the introduction of the 490 metre distance has gone particularly well and we had our first graded race this week. Though I have been approached by a number of owners who point out that they have bought dogs with the 515 metres in mind. The net result is that we will probably have a more gradual introduction of the 490s.”
“I am conscious that compared to the two Coral tracks in particular, Monmore has been a bit neglected in terms of my time. I think it is a testament to the legacy of Richard Brankley that the place was left in such good order. But I am conscious of looking at Monmore again in the new year.”