22nd May 2019
It is unfortunate that yesterday’s piece in the Racing Post about watering came across as me ‘bashing’ clerks of courses and particularly unfortunate that two individual tracks were singled out. I have the utmost symapthy for clerks of courses over this issue. They are in an invidious position and much of the blame surely sits with trainers who complain about watering but are quick to withdraw horses when they perceive the ground to be too firm. I get the impression that there are more non-runners on Good to Firm ground than there are on Good ground and, if that is the case, it is little wonder that many clerks of courses play safe and aim for Good ground or, at least, water to ensure that there is no chance of the ground going to Firm.
The fault here surely lies with the BHA’s failure to take control of the issue. They are very quick to point out that they provide guidlines, not rules, on what courses should be aiming for and the official going description is left to the, potentially biased, clerk of the course. How can something which will be written in stone in the form book for ever more, as if it were fact, be down to the opinion of one person. Even when going descriptions are changed mid meeting the, clearly wrong, description, in place before the change, remains. Likewise, going descriptions which are shown to be inaccurate based on race times are left unchanged and remain on a horse’s record for life and beyoond.
Stewards are liable to question trainers’ reasoning for withdrawal of horses based on ground and explanations for poor, or improved, performances which refer to ground conditions but the clerk of the course is not subject to sanction in the same way. Surely, the very least the BHA should be doing is to have an independant assement of the ground on raceday and put in place some sanction for courses who regularly get it wrong. It would also help if official going descriptions were checked against race times and could be corrected. Again, some sanction should be in place for those tracks who are consistantly wrong although, where ground is consistantly softer than described on a track, average race times for that track will, of course, be slower than they should be.
We have to somehow remove the incentive for tracks to trickle water on in an attempt to keep the going on that knife edge between Good to Firm and Good. It is, in my opinion, this regular, minimal, watering that does the greatest damage with roots turning to the surface rather than going down in search of water and a consequencially loose surface.