We are still trying to catch our breath from the excitement of Cheltenham Festival last month, and the Grand National is already nearly upon us!
On the big day, (8th April), understanding the surface of the race course is crucial, and can make the difference between winning and losing. How the track performs as dozens of horses’ hooves thunder along can determine how fast or how slow the race is run and jockeys, trainers, bookmakers, racegoers and groundsmen will all be paying attention.
The majority of race courses in this country are turf, with just a small number opting to use a surface made from a mixture of sand and synthetic fibres.
When the going gets good…
For turf race courses, the race can be affected by the ‘going’. The going refers to the state of the race course surface and how firm or soft it is. Heavy – Soft – Good to Soft – Good – Good to Firm – Firm, that all depends on the moisture content in the ground, something which has to be closely monitored and maintained by groundsmen.
Generally, the softer the ground, the more water it contains and the slower the pace of the race will be. Some horses prefer it that way, but most prefer a slightly harder ground so that they can run faster. Think of it like running through sand – wet sand can feel like trying to wade through mud and can be far more tiring.
Making sure the surface is not too heavy or too dry depends on year-round work. Aeration, drainage, fertilizing, irrigation, rolling and seeding are just some of the tasks needed to nurture the perfect course.
Maintaining a race course isn’t just about the track; there are parade rings, lawned gardens, hedges, flower beds and hanging baskets to look after as well, all of which require care and attention throughout the year.