23rd May 2019
Before continueing further on the watering debate can I stress again that I am not having a go at any particular racetrack or clerk of the course. This issue is a problem for racing as a whole and, perhaps, even for the future strength and development of the thoroughbred breed: we should be colectively looking for a policy that can be implemented, and enforced, by the BHA to address it. But maybe we don’t do ‘collectively’ too well in racing.
York have, this morning, in their usual super-efficient way, sent out a going update in advance of their Saturday meeting. It states that the ground is Good to Firm and that there has been no rain since the Dante. They then state that they are watering each night ‘to replace moisture’.
They are clearly aiming for Good to Firm ground, as BHA guidlines suggest, and doing their best to produce it, to order, on the day. But I don’t think I need to be an agronomist, or even a gardener, to know that there is nothing natural about watering every night to replace moisture lost. Surely it is this approach to grass management – perhaps forced on racecourses by BHA guidlines and trainer pressure – that is causing many of the problems we encounter on tracks in recent years with a loose surface and sand filler flying even on ground that is described as Good to Firm. Is it not fairly obvious that, if a small amount of water is applied to grass on a daily basis, the roots will always be near to the surface and that constant supply of moisture.
We have, perhaps, forgotten what it was like under the old Jockey Club instructions – or were they just guidlines? – which said courses should only water to promote grass growth and not to alter the state of the going. In those days, if I remember rightly, Firm ground was much more common and we raced on Hard at times. Is the new system better? Do we get more or less non-runners due to going? Are the horses sounder than they were? My gut feeling is that that was a better and certainly fairer system. Back then the clerks of the courses could quite simply blame nature and the weather: two things which we all accept are outwith their control.