Friday 22 September 2017

All hands to the pump as chaos reigns

After the winter we have had you would have thought we might be due some more favourable weather.

As manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse, my first duty of the week was a phone call to Met Eireann at 9.0 on Monday morning, and the news from there wasn't encouraging, given that our Easter Festival is due to get under way on Sunday.

Sure enough, the forecast proved accurate. It rained on Monday and snowed on Tuesday, which left parts of the track under water. At this time of year the amount of precipitation we got wouldn't normally be a problem but, as anyone will know from their own back garden, the ground isn't in great condition after the winter. The last thing we needed was another blast of this.

Because of the way the ground has been hammered, there is basically a film of dead soil on top of the track. The turf just hasn't had a chance to recover all year, so there is very little root structure to the grass, which means it isn't draining effectively.

We actually dug a test hole on Wednesday and the ground was dry about six inches down, but the water just wasn't getting down to it. As a result, it has been a case of all hands to the pump this week -- literally.

I set about renting half a dozen pumps, and they were put to use shifting vast quantities of water from the track. Things took a turn for the better on Wednesday though and yesterday, as we got two bright, breezy, drying days.

Joe Collins, our clerk of the course, came to inspect the track yesterday afternoon, and the net result of all our pumping and the drying breeze was that the track was actually raceable when we walked it.

That was some relief. Although there is rain forecast for today, we are optimistic now that we will be able to absorb it, and that everything will be able to go ahead as planned.

To that end, there have been some long days this week trying to finalise all the necessary arrangements.

People who turn up on the day could never appreciate the amount of work and planning that goes into organising an event of this size, and I have to say that the solidarity of other racecourse managers is reassuring.

For example, Jim Ryan, the head groundsman at Punchestown, came over on Wednesday evening to see if there was anything he could do.

It was 10.0 before I left the track that night, though I took some solace from the fact that Jim didn't think there was anything else we ought to be doing.

He said they had another pump all right, but that it was a much bigger one, and that there wasn't enough water here to warrant using it -- that was good to hear given how things were looking at the time!

Over the last couple of days, all the rental equipment, the food concession vans, the RTE outside-broadcast equipment and so on have all been arriving to set up.

Naturally, all these things present their own challenges, as does finalising all the staff.

Between the catering team and the racecourse employees, we'll have over 200 staff here each day, so that takes a bit of managing.

updates

The racing press is constantly in touch for updates, and the Gardai have also been keeping my phone busy to arrange traffic plans.

It's probably worth pointing out to those travelling from the Kildare-Dublin area that there is a change to the M3 road layout, so we are encouraging people to come early to avoid complications.

Thankfully, my phone isn't the only one that has been hopping, as the office lines have been busy, too.

Irish people tend to book late for this kind of thing, so the girls have been flat out dealing with bookings.

We have reduced the admission fee to the Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National on Monday from €30 to €25, and there is further 20pc discount for each of the four days if you book online.

So that's where we are. After all the doom and gloom at the start of the week, everything has started to fall into place, and the rays of sunshine over the past couple of days have sparked a bit of a festive feeling.

When we were under water at the beginning of the week someone did suggest that it might be a good idea to get the track blessed -- I still haven't quite ruled out that option!

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie.

Irish Independent

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