Is all-weather racing no longer the poor relation?

Is all-weather racing no longer the poor relation?

Is All-Weather Racing No Longer The Poor Relation?      For much of 2018, racing fans waited with bated breath for the return of Enable. Musings on when and where the wonder mare would reappear were many and varied, but few predicted that the Arc De Triomphe heroine would make her seasonal debut at Kempton on the polytrack surface.     Almost two years prior, the regal Juddmonte homebred, who had garnered high regard at home, made her very first racecourse appearance on Newcastle’s Tapeta track. That fateful day was the 28th of November 2016, when, of course, flat racing had left the turf for the winter months, narrowing John Gosden’s choice to two: run his future star on the all-weather, or not until March.     Gosden did, however, have turf options in September of 2018, and when quizzed on the decision to run a then five-time Gp1 winner on the all-weather, he had no hesitation: “We had aimed Enable at York, but it came about a week or ten days too early, so Kempton came at exactly the right time. The fact that it was on the all-weather didn’t concern me, as I knew exactly what I was going to get.”     For Enable’s return in the Gp3 September Stakes, the going was described as standard to slow, whereas on the very same day, Ascot raced on good to firm (good in places), while the going at Haydock was heavy. There are few surprises in the going on the all-weather; after all, the clue is in the name, and its consistency is very much appreciated by John Gosden, who says, “When the ground goes too firm in the summer, or during drought, or it becomes bottomless at the end of autumn, the all-weather is a nice place to be. It’s consistent, with bounce, and you can ride a proper race on it.”     It would, however, be unfair to look at all-weather racing as one entity, with “all-weather” encompassing various surfaces, mainly fibresand, polytrack and Tapeta™. Not only this, but each racecourse has its own shape and quirks, as well as its own race programme. Just as on the turf, no two courses are the same.      Surface    Description    Racecourses (In Europe)   Polytrack / Martin Collins  A mixture of silica sand, recycled synthetic fibres and recycled rubber/pvc; the entire mixture is coated with wax.  Cagnes Sur Mer, Chantilly, Chelmsford City, Deauville, Dundalk, Kempton Park, Lingfield Park, Marseille-Vivaux, Pau, Veliefendi  Tapeta™  A mixture of silica sand, wax and fibres.  Newcastle, Wolverhampton  Fibresand  Sand, fibre, rubber and wax makes up the top 4-7 inches of the racing surface, installed on top of either porous asphalt or a geotextile membrane.  Southwell, Wallonie, (Belgium), Zarzuela (Spain)     Other      Capanelle (Italy), Dortmund, Neuss (Germany), Pornichet (France), Varese (Italy)      Gosden is just one trainer who, unsurprisingly, has some favourites, as he shares, “The all-weather track I like the most is Newcastle; it’s very fair and has a good Tapeta surface. It has always been a fair, sweeping course; there are not too many hard luck stories there.” His favour for other all weather tracks is not quite so strong, as he continues, “There’s no doubt that at the likes of Lingfield, you get some unevenly-run races, where they slow the pace down early on and sprint in the straight.”     The opinions of trainers on particular tracks undoubtedly has a great influence on what horses, including what standard of horse, they will run at each. Though he has less hands-on experience with the all-weather racecourses in the UK, French-based trainer John Hammond is impressed by the surface at Lingfield, saying, “I have walked the all-weather track at Lingfield, and it is ‘night and day’ when compared to the all-weather tracks in France.”     When discussing all-weather racing, Hammond is keen to stress the importance of how each track is managed. “All-weather tracks need to be very well maintained and managed by very good groundsmen. I don’t think they pay enough attention to these tracks in France, and they often get too quick.” Hammond could not recommend French all-weather courses’ consistency as Gosden had, as he says, “The all-weather tracks here vary considerably. I wouldn’t mind running a good horse at Lingfield, or Kempton, but Chantilly can be a bit quick.”     All-weather surfaces have been touted for their lack of fatal injuries, but John Hammond sees a different type of injury on all-weather tracks, and this is one of the reasons he does not have many runners on the surface. “I do think young horses suffer from racing on the all-weather,” he says. “I see an increase in bone bruising to the hind cannon bone due to the fact that there is no slippage on synthetic surfaces.” Hammond gained experience in California before taking out his training licence, which has had some effect on his views. “America has torn up most of it’s all-weather tracks. They may have been applauded for fewer fatal injuries, but bone bruising causes intermittent lameness. This can leave a horse runnable but not performing at its best.”     When questioned on potentially running his stable stars on the all-weather, Hammond said, “I wouldn’t be keen on running my top horses on the all-weather in France. If the French all-weather tracks were a bit softer, I might be more keen on it. It didn’t do Enable any harm!”     Peter Schiergen is another envious one of the all-weather tracks in Britain and is frustrated by those offered in his base of Germany. He says, “There are currently two all-weather tracks in Germany; Dortmund and Neuss. Unfortunately, the tracks have a surface which was installed back in the days when I was still a jockey. For me, this surface is not contemporary anymore.” Schiergen sees how the surface quality affects the horses running on the all-weather in Germany, adding, “The standard of all-weather racing in Germany is only at a low-level. Years ago, we had black type racing on the all-weather, as well as some valuable prizes, but unfortunately not anymore. I look at Lingfield, Kempton and Newcastle, where they have very good racing and this year alone, hosted such classy horses as Enable and Crystal Ocean.”     Track maintenance and its undeniable influence on the surface is also a concern of Michael Halford, who has been champion trainer at Dundalk Racecourse for the last six years. He has seen a great change in the surface since its installation, as he tells, “As a facility, I’m very happy with Dundalk; it’s well-managed and provides a very helpful service to owners, trainers and jockeys. The only thing I’m unhappy with is that the surface has become tired and needs to be replaced. When first installed, it was the best artificial surface I, along with many other trainers and overseas jockeys, had seen. Like most things, it has deteriorated over time.”     Attempts have been made to turn back the clock, as he continues, “Over the past two years, they have turned the surface over and replenished it with fibre. The benefit of that is coming to an end, and the bounce has gone out of it.” The surface quality has a direct effect on the types of horses running there, as Halford adds, “The standard of trainers and their horses running at Dundalk shows many are willing to run their better horses there. It’s important to keep it that way and is imperative that we update the surface.”     Dundalk, Ireland’s only all-weather track, has a history of hosting top-class racehorses: Gordon Lord Byron, Rich Tapestry, Slade Power and Sole Power are some of the Gp1 winners to have shed their maiden tags at the venue. I choose this quartet in particular for their international and globetrotting reputations, as Dundalk has become an important place to prep horses for international campaigns. Russian Soul was a regular visitor to the Dubai Carnival for Michael Halford in the past, and his first trip to Meydan in 2013 was preceded by a win and two seconds at Dundalk. He followed up with four placed starts at the Carnival, before qualifying for the Gp1 Al Quoz Sprint.     Halford confirms the importance of Dundalk in this respect: “We found that if a horse handled Dundalk, they handled the Tapeta in Dubai. It’s also great to have the option of a prep run or working at Dundalk, as it was always our policy of sending over our horses as fit as possible.” Dundalk was also used as a stepping stone by Aidan O’Brien with Mendelssohn, who progressed from winning the Listed Patton Stakes in Ireland, to annihilating his opposition in the Grade 2 UAE Derby on the Dubai dirt, before travelling stateside for the Kentucky Derby.     The top-class performers mentioned earlier in this article and included in the table below are just some examples of notable all-weather graduates. By no means an all-inclusive list, but they do, however, illustrate the calibre of horses racing on the all-weather surface—something that may not have been believed when the surface was first introduced. In spite of this, these horses are highly regarded for their performances on the turf, rather than the talent they have shown on the all-weather, and this is partly due to the all-weather Stakes programme.      All-Weather Race    Gp1 Graduates   Prix Darshaan,  Staged in March at Chantilly   2018:  Won by Breeders’ Cup Turf hero Talismanic, beating Prix Ganay winner and Arc second Cloth Of Stars   2017:  Heshem finished second, his same placing in the Gp1 Dubai Turf on his next start   2016:  Won by subsequent Gp1 winner Elliptique, chased home by Manatee and Gailo Chop   2015:  Won by Dolniya, with Flintshire in second- positions they mirrored in the Dubai Sheema Classic  September Stakes (Gp3)  Staged at Kempton   2018:  Won by Enable, with Crystal Ocean in second   2015:  Won by Jack Hobbs, winner of the Irish Derby on his previous start   2013 & 2014:  Won both years by   Prince Bishop, a Gp1 winner on dirt and Tapeta in Dubai   2012:  Won by Dandino, who finished 2nd in the Grade 1 Canadian International Stakes on his next start  Diamond Stakes (Gp3)  Staged at Dundalk in September/October   2008:  Won by Muhannak, who followed up in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon a month later   2009:  Won by five-time Gp1 winner Mastercraftsman and was sandwiched between his Irish Champion Stakes third and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile fourth   2010:  Won by Grade 1 winner Gitano Hernando   2012:  Won by Declaration Of War, who went on to win two Gp1’s the following year   2013:  Won by Dewhurst Stakes victor Parish Hall     The first Listed race to be run on the all-weather was the Listed Wulfrun Stakes in 1995, and it took another ten years until a Gp3 would be introduced: the Silver Trophy Stakes at Lingfield. One wonders when the first Gp2 will be staged on the all-weather, given the illustrious winners the surface can boast. Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the European Pattern Committee, is encouraged by the standard of Stakes winners on the all-weather, saying, “I think all-weather racing has made great strides in recent years with the development of co-ordinated programmes including black type races in Britain, France and Ireland. The All-Weather Championships Final on Good Friday has quickly become a highlight of the British flat season.”     Indeed, the All-Weather Championships has boosted the profile and prize money of its namesake surface. In 2019, the All-Weather Finals Day will boast a purse of £1,000,000 while Newcastle also host a quality all-weather fixture worth £250,000. According to the event’s website, “The Championships aims to improve the quality and reputation of all-weather racing and encourage owners and trainers to keep their horses in training during the winter months.” The numbers entered confirm that the event has fulfilled its promise, with Finals Day also attracting runners from Ireland and France; the latter captured three of the Finals races in 2018.     Its appeal reaches even further, with four German raiders taking part in the 2018 running of the Listed Prix Lyphard, a fast-track qualifier for Finals Day. Peter Schiergen was one of those with an entry and he said, “First of all, the All-Weather Championships are a great addition to the European winter programme and makes flat racing more interesting during the winter. I do not usually have horses for the all-weather, as my focus in on the turf and the German season. However, with a horse like Ross, who finished runner-up in the Gp2 Godolphin Mile two years ago, we have been thinking about it, until we got the invitation to Dubai for World Cup day.”     Ralph Beckett has been vocal in his lack of enthusiasm for all-weather racing, and even he is impressed by the event, saying, “I think the quality has improved thanks to the All-Weather Championships.” John Hammond echoes Beckett’s sentiment, saying, “The All-Weather Championships is a great creation for those specialist horses.”     The increase in opportunities brought by all-weather racing is undeniable, and Peter Schiergen is one of undoubtedly many who would take advantage of these, if they were offered. He speaks of the changes he would like to see in order to have more runners on the all-weather. “As a trainer in Germany, the offering of all-weather racing is bad. I would have more runners on it if we had a better programme. For example, on the 30th of November, I had two horses (rated 48 and 53) for the same owner running in a handicap, because it is the only race available for them in the whole of November. I have another mare, who normally runs over ten to fourteen furlongs, who I had to run over nine and a half furlongs in mid-November because the next suitable race would be on the 21st of December. Germany needs a change in all-weather racing.”     Hammond, like most, can see the benefit in all-weather racing, even if he might not run his stable stars on it. He says, “The one thing that really, really surprised everyone, including those who initially criticized the installation of an all-weather track in Deauville, is that there is never more balloting out than the all-weather racing in the middle of the winter. Without a doubt, there is definitely a need for all-weather racing because the races are always full, especially in Deauville.” The popularity of all-weather racing was clear on the 28th of November 2017, when a mile and a half handicap at Deauville was split into seven divisions, each with 15 runners or more—a new record.     Hammond is also very sure of the standard of horse it suits, saying, “For average horses, all-weather racing is very good news during the winter and therefore, good news for owners. All-weather racing definitely has its place, without a doubt, but I wouldn’t support switching any more turf fixtures to the synthetic.”     The opinion that all-weather racing “has its place” is one much shared, as John Gosden comments, “All-weather racing has its place in racing, particularly when you have two-year-olds you want to get out and educate. Whereas before, there were five completely dead months.” Michael Halford, too, celebrates the opportunities it has brought to winter racing: “Dundalk is hugely important to Irish racing—it’s changed the flat industry completely. It’s scary to think that not too long ago, we stopped racing at the end of October and wouldn’t return until March. The winter programme provides a lifeline to a huge amount of trainers.”     So, with the advances of all-weather racing, has it yet measured up to its age-old rival, the turf? “I don’t consider all-weather the poor relation,” answers Gosden. “I think it simply compliments turf racing. I would describe it as more of a younger brother or sister to turf racing.” John Hammond chose his side with his reply: “I’m just a big fan of grass racing.”     But how about the powers that be? “Far from the poor relation, all-weather racing has become a mainstay of flat racing in Britain, France and Ireland,” comments Brian Kavanagh, adding, “It is vital to the survival and development of many trainers and riders.” So does this mean we will see all-weather races upgraded? “I think the path we are on is the right one, and I look forward to the day we are running Gp2 and Gp1 races on the all-weather.”

By Amy Lynam

For much of 2018, racing fans waited with bated breath for the return of Enable. Musings on when and where the wonder mare would reappear were many and varied, but few predicted that the Arc De Triomphe heroine would make her seasonal debut at Kempton on the polytrack surface.

Almost two years prior, the regal Juddmonte homebred, who had garnered high regard at home, made her very first racecourse appearance on Newcastle’s Tapeta track. That fateful day was the 28th of November 2016, when, of course, flat racing had left the turf for the winter months, narrowing John Gosden’s choice to two: run his future star on the all-weather, or not until March.

Enable winning the Arc de Triomphe

Enable winning the Arc de Triomphe

Gosden did, however, have turf options in September of 2018, and when quizzed on the decision to run a then five-time Gp1 winner on the all-weather, he had no hesitation: “We had aimed Enable at York, but it came about a week or ten days too early, so Kempton came at exactly the right time. The fact that it was on the all-weather didn’t concern me, as I knew exactly what I was going to get.”

For Enable’s return in the Gp3 September Stakes, the going was described as standard to slow, whereas on the very same day, Ascot raced on good to firm (good in places), while the going at Haydock was heavy. There are few surprises in the going on the all-weather; after all, the clue is in the name, and its consistency is very much appreciated by John Gosden, who says, “When the ground goes too firm in the summer, or during drought, or it becomes bottomless at the end of autumn, the all-weather is a nice place to be. It’s consistent, with bounce, and you can ride a proper race on it.”

It would, however, be unfair to look at all-weather racing as one entity, with “all-weather” encompassing various surfaces, mainly fibresand, polytrack and Tapeta™. Not only this, but each racecourse has its own shape and quirks, as well as its own race programme. Just as on the turf, no two courses are the same.

INSERT TABLE

CURRAGH

Gosden is just one trainer who, unsurprisingly, has some favourites, as he shares, “The all-weather track I like the most is Newcastle; it’s very fair and has a good Tapeta surface. It has always been a fair, sweeping course; there are not too many hard luck stories there.” His favour for other all weather tracks is not quite so strong, as he continues, “There’s no doubt that at the likes of Lingfield, you get some unevenly-run races, where they slow the pace down early on and sprint in the straight.”

The opinions of trainers on particular tracks undoubtedly has a great influence on what horses, including what standard of horse, they will run at each. Though he has less hands-on experience with the all-weather racecourses in the UK, French-based trainer John Hammond is impressed by the surface at Lingfield, saying, “I have walked the all-weather track at Lingfield, and it is ‘night and day’ when compared to the all-weather tracks in France.”

When discussing all-weather racing, Hammond is keen to stress the importance of how each track is managed. “All-weather tracks need to be very well maintained and managed by very good groundsmen. I don’t think they pay enough attention to these tracks in France, and they often get too quick.” Hammond could not recommend French all-weather courses’ consistency as Gosden had, as he says, “The all-weather tracks here vary considerably. I wouldn’t mind running a good horse at Lingfield, or Kempton, but Chantilly can be a bit quick.”

All-weather surfaces have been touted for their lack of fatal injuries, but John Hammond sees a different type of injury on all-weather tracks, and this is one of the reasons he does not have many runners on the surface. “I do think young horses suffer from racing on the all-weather,” he says. “I see an increase in bone bruising to the hind cannon bone due to the fact that there is no slippage on synthetic surfaces.” Hammond gained experience in California before taking out his training licence, which has had some effect on his views. “America has torn up most of it’s all-weather tracks. They may have been applauded for fewer fatal injuries, but bone bruising causes intermittent lameness. This can leave a horse runnable but not performing at its best.”

When questioned on potentially running his stable stars on the all-weather, Hammond said, “I wouldn’t be keen on running my top horses on the all-weather in France. If the French all-weather tracks were a bit softer, I might be more keen on it. It didn’t do Enable any harm!”


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