Monday 23 October 2017

Calling off meetings can be soul destroying for all concerned

For the non-racing reader, I am the clerk of the course at Leopardstown, Punchestown, Galway, Navan, the Curragh and Fairyhouse racecourses. In a nutshell, it's up to me to make sure that the ground and track facilities are safe to race on at every meeting at those venues.

As you can imagine, I have been kept busy in recent months, yet last Wednesday's meeting at Navan was the first time this year that I actually worked at a race meeting.

To be doing so little racing, just inspecting tracks and calling off meetings, is soul destroying, but it also means a huge loss of revenue for the tracks involved. For example, Fairyhouse lost their New Year's Day fixture last month, and that will now be held next Tuesday.

Now, it's great that they can go ahead with a replacement, but it's not exactly like for like.

And Fairyhouse have only raced once this year. They were due to race last Saturday, but there was a frost forecast, so I scheduled an inspection for 7.30 that morning.

One night's frost wouldn't usually scupper you, but when I walked the track on Saturday morning, the place was frozen. The Met office were telling us that the sun would come up at 9.0 and that it would be a glorious day.

Well, the sun did come up at 9.0 and it was a glorious day, but there was no thaw. When the situation didn't improve by 11.0, I had to make the decision to call it off.

The public can sometimes be fairly unsympathetic when we delay the decision on whether or not to race, but we get great co-operation from everyone in the industry and trainers are happy to let it run to the wire if necessary.

Take Punchestown on Sunday. I travelled down the night before because of the adverse weather forecast and I thought it would just be a matter of calling it early.

Now, if I had to make my decision at 9.0, the meeting wouldn't have gone ahead, but we gave it time and I was able to give it the all-clear just before 11.0. We weren't raceable then, but the thaw had started and the track was fine by 12.0.

My involvement with Galway took me to the Westbury Hotel on Monday for the launch of's sponsorship of the Galway Plate. I love Galway and its people, so it was great to get the sponsorship formalised.

Yesterday I paid my first visit of the week to Leopardstown in advance of Sunday's Hennessy Gold Cup meeting, walking the track with the head groundsman Willie Gibbons. A good drop of rain fell through the day leaving the ground soft, soft to heavy in places on the hurdle track, and soft to heavy, heavy in places on the chase track.

The forecast is clear for the next few days though, so there should be no problems.

Having been in the job as long as I have, you think you've seen everything, but it's amazing how things crop up. The fog that descended on Lexus Chase day, for instance, was a dreadful scenario.

Here's hoping we don't have any such issues on Sunday. The Hennessy meeting is the biggest of the season and it looks like being a top-class card.

I don't bet myself, but If I was to point you in direction of one horse on the day it would be Cousin Vinny in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase. I think the longer trip will bring out the best in him -- see you all there!

Irish Independent

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