Race meeting abandonments
The unusually high number of race meeting abandonments in the first four months of the 2016-17 season has been a concern and a cause of frustration for New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) and our stakeholders.
Seven meetings - at Te Aroha, Waipa, Matamata, Otaki, Oamaru, Gore and Te Rapa - were abandoned without a race being run, though two of the meetings - at Oamaru and Te Rapa - were successfully rescheduled.
The Wanganui meeting on November 26 was abandoned after one race, a Dargaville meeting was abandoned after three races and only eight of a scheduled 11 races were run at Winton in November.
The abandonments, together with the high number of wet tracks in October and November, which further reduced starter numbers, have also had an impact on betting turnover.
NZTR reviews all abandonments and in most cases the recent abandonments were caused by the extremely wet spring throughout the country, resulting in widespread surface water or waterlogged tracks, and were beyond the industry’s control.
Two of the abandonments - at Te Rapa on November 20 and at Wanganui on November 26 - had unusual aspects or were unexpected.
The Wanganui track, which does not have a history of abandonments, was rated as a dead 4 on race morning but a heavy shower shortly before the first race produced a track that was subsequently considered unsafe after race one.
A review of the Wanganui abandonment was undertaken by NZTR National Venue Inspector Garry Foskett, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) and the Wanganui Jockey Club.
There had been 15mm of rain in the week before nomination day and 20mm of water was applied when the track was irrigated on the Tuesday prior to race day. That produced a dead 6 track on Wednesday morning, with a dead 5 reading on Friday morning and a dead 4 reading on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
There had been no concerns over the track on race morning when inspected by the RIU and two horses had also been galloped on the course proper with no concerns raised. The general view was that the track was in excellent condition, with a good sole of grass.
However, following the rain, which had not been forecast, one horse slipped at the 800m mark in the opening race and another momentarily lost footing at the 600m mark. After a track inspection, involving stewards, jockeys, trainers and club officials, it was decided to abandon the meeting.
Consideration was given to delaying the meeting but this was considered impractical in view of an uncertain weather forecast and the uncertainty over whether the track would dry out or not.
It appears that the moisture in the grass, as a result of the rain before the race one was the main cause of the Wanganui abandonment and no fault was found with regard to the track preparation.
The club are however now considering the options around purchasing suitable track machinery that may help in the preparation of the track subject to the prevailing track and forecast weather conditions at the time.
All clubs are being encouraged to be more proactive in the use of machinery such as a groundhog or slicer leading up to their race meeting subject to the prevailing track and forecast weather conditions and NZTR will continue to encourage clubs to irrigate earlier rather than later subject to the particular track subsoil structure, irrigation system that is available and forecast weather conditions.
The Cambridge Jockey Club meeting at Te Rapa on November 11 was abandoned after a substantial portion of the running rail in the front straight was blown over by the high winds. The meeting was originally delayed but then abandoned as the strong wind gusts were forecast to continue.
The plastic running rail used at Te Rapa is manufactured in Australia and is also in use at nine other New Zealand tracks and scheduled to be installed at three more.
An investigation into the Te Rapa incident suggested that it was a result of both design and maintenance issues.
Representatives of the manufacturers have subsequently met with the Waikato Racing Club, NZTR, and RIU representatives and racecourse managers from the other venues that have plastic running rails.
A number of issues were discussed and all parties are now more aware of potential maintenance and wear and tear issues and how to deal with them. A number of boots and pins were replaced at Te Rapa and NZTR has ordered $30,000 of spare parts, which clubs will be able to draw down on as required.
Remedial work will also be carried out at Dargaville, following the abandonment of the November 11 meeting.
Garry Foskett revisted the track this month and met with club representatives and the issue has been identified as an area from the 700m to 800m, that was holding more moisture than the remainder of the track.
The club will install lateral drains across the affected area of the track, into an open drain on the inside of the course proper, with the work to be monitored by NZTR.
Foskett and Turftech’s Jim Murphy had walked the Dargaville track on October 26, which was rated as slow at the time, but there had been nothing to suggest a wetter patch at that stage.
There was 41.5mm of rain at Dargaville in the week leading up to nomination day, Tuesday November 8, including 9mm in the previous 24 hours. The track was rated a slow 7 on nomination day but had dried to a dead 4 on race morning.
The inconsistency over the affected area, which led to the abandonment, was not identified until the horses broke the surface.