Getting to know the ARC All-Weather Clerks of the Course with Lingfield Park’s Edward Arkell, Wolverhampton’s Fergus Cameron and Southwell’s Roderick Duncan
As we approach the half way point of the All-Weather Championship with a little over two months to go until Good Friday’s £1.1 million Finals Day we caught up with the Clerks of the Course at ARC’s three all-weather racecourses to find out more about managing racing surfaces and all-weather racedays.
How many days are you racing this year??
Lingfield Park’s Edward Arkell (EA): 83 fixtures across jumping and flat (both turf and all-weather)
Wolverhampton’s Fergus Cameron (FC): 77
Southwell’s Roderick Duncan (RD): 52 fixtures (32 all-weather and 20 jump fixtures)
What surface is your racecourse and when was it put in place?
EA: Polytrack. It was replaced in 2012
FC: Tapeta. It was laid in early 2014 with racing commencing in August 2014 and has proved popular with horsemen since.
RD: Fibresand which has been in place since 1989 with parts of the track have been relayed after flooding in 2007 and 2012.
How big is your team of groundstaff to manage the racing surface and racecourse?
EA: We have a groundstaff team of 8. But on the whole George Ash looks after the all-weather track day to day. He was the first groundsman in the UK ever to look after an all weather racing surface and 25 years later he’s still going strong.
FC: 8 including the Estates Manager.
RD: 5 full time, 3 part time and 3 green keepers (who work on the racecourse for jump meetings but not all-weather).
What are the greatest challenges of managing the racing surface at your racecourse?
EA: Probably the number of times we race and the amount of gallopers we have throughout the year (trainers bring their horses, normally in the morning, to work on the track to boost their fitness). It can make it difficult to find windows to carry out the more significant maintenance work.
FC: The greatest two challenges are to ensure that the surface is maintained to a consistent and safe standard throughout the year and that in extremes of weather the surface and other periphery areas remain safe for racing.
RD: Frost protection in the winter as the fibresand surface contains no wax to stop it freezing so the surface is worked 24 hours a day while the temperature drops below freezing. During a meeting it requires levelling after each race with chain harrows and rolls unlike the other artificial tracks. In addition in dry conditions it requires water to be applied.
As clerks that also manage turf tracks how does managing an all-weather surface compare?
EA: They are obviously very different and machinery used on one isn’t used on the other. They both react to the weather although in opposite ways. Hot and dry on the turf creates fast ground but causes the all-weather track to ride slower. Equally cold and wet causes turf to become soft but quickens up the all-weather so you have to alter the maintenance regime to account for that. It’s easy to become complacent that the all-weather track is an inert surface but it’s not. I find the race times are an excellent indicator of how the surface is quickening, much more so than on the turf.
FC: Tapeta is the fourth synthetic surface that I have worked with, all of which have been different to each other. The main aims for both turf and all weather are to remain safe and to achieve consistent going. Each require different methodology. You nurture and maintain the grass on a turf course and nurture and maintain the pad on an all-weather course. They require as much maintenance as each other though.
RD: As with turf the work with fibresand is weather dependent but generally straight forward as there are no issues with pests or turf related diseases.
What’s been the star performance on your racecourse this All-Weather Championships season?
EA: The Godolphin two-year-old Brave Hero broke the track record in November and has now been quoted for the Derby.
FC: It is difficult to pick out any one individual performance with so many top class performers to choose from. That said, a star of the future may be Every Chance, a 2 year-old Colt trained by Jamie Osborne that walked up over the extended 9 furlongs in quick time.
RD: Too many to pick one. Southwell appears had some very good horses running this year in our maiden and two year old races with top yards like Richard Hannon’s sending more runners. Saeed Bin Suroor’s two year olds Good Trip and Yaddwee both look like very nice prospects
Who are the jockeys why ride your racecourse the best and why in your opinion?
EA: Luke Morris, Adam Kirby, Jim Crowley, George Baker in no particular order.
FC: We see some great rides at Wolverhampton and anyone prepared to ride within a tight pack of up to 13 horses, at speed, at or below freezing when under lights would be worthy of a mention. But as the horse will always play a part in any jockey winning and there are many who are an excellent judge of pace so unfair to highlight any one individual!
RD: All of the Northern based Jockeys are good on this surface as they understand the best lines to race and ask the Clerk the right questions with regard to the work that has been done to the track.
And finally, given much of your racing takes place during the winter have you got any tips for racegoers about how best to keep warm? Stay at home and enjoy watching the action on At The Races is not an answer!
EA: Shoes that keep your feet warm. If you’ve got cold feet it doesn’t matter how many pints or winners you have you’ll still feel miserable!
FC: As someone who feels the cold, please let me know when someone has found out. Seriously, though, the key is plenty of layers that can come off easily when moving from outside to inside frequently. Importantly, GOOD WATERPROOFS & a hat are essential!
RD: Bring a driver as Whisky is a great help.