Dundalk track chief dismisses welfare concerns about all-weather circuit

Chief executive confirms resurfacing contract is out to tender

Dundalk racecourse “There are horses running here almost week in, week out. There are absolutely no welfare concerns,”said Dundalk track chief executive Jim Martin. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dundalk racecourse “There are horses running here almost week in, week out. There are absolutely no welfare concerns,”said Dundalk track chief executive Jim Martin. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The chief executive of Dundalk has insisted there are no welfare concerns about the beleaguered track and stoutly defended Ireland’s sole all-weather racecourse against recent criticism.

There have been widespread calls for the 12 year old Polytrack artificial surface to be replaced, including by Horse Racing Ireland’s boss Brian Kavanagh who has urged replacement take place sooner rather than later.

Some trainers and jockeys have warned the track is riding too fast with horses returning stiff and sore after races. One trainer, Sheila Lavery, has said she is boycotting Dundalk over safety worries.  

The Dundalk management has confirmed the contract for resurfacing has gone out to tender although the surface, which is made up of synthetic fibres, rubber, sand and wax, may take up to six months to install and reportedly cost in the region of €2.5 million.

Dundalk’s CEO Jim Martin said on Monday that course officials are working on detailed plans at the moment with a view to presenting them to the HRI board at the end of the month.

He wouldn’t comment on details or cost, nor in relation to speculation about a likely timeframe even though the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association has said the job needs to be done this year.

However Martin was adamant there are no animal welfare issues about the track which attracted just 64 declarations at its fixture on Sunday.

“There are horses running here almost week in, week out. There are absolutely no welfare concerns, nor have the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board any welfare concerns.

“There’s any amount of them. Noel Kelly’s horse [Wild Shot] that won yesterday, that was his third win in three or four weeks. Ado McGuinness’ horse [Beau Warrior] recently won five in a row in Dundalk, the first time that’s ever happened,” he said.

Martin disputed claims about a ten-year lifespan for Polytrack and argued that the condition of an all-weather surface can vary.  

“The notion that it’s in 12 years and nothing done is absolutely false. Martin Collins [UK-based synthetic surface manufacturer] has inspected the track every year and we’ve done exactly what tracks in the UK did.  

“The reality is that when the track is replaced we will have run 450 fixtures. Kempton, which was installed the year before us, has run over 1,000 fixtures at this stage. So the age is one thing, but actually it’s the use.

Ride differently

“When someone says eight to ten years, when the likes of Wolverhampton and those were replaced after ten years or whatever, they’d also raced close to 1,000 times. Wolverhampton race 80 to 90 times a year,” he said.

“The notion that an all-weather track is the same every day is not correct. Yesterday there was an east wind blowing and it had been dry the week before. So that affects it.

“We always call the all-weather standard. But if we were racing today it would ride differently because it’s lashing now,” Martin added.

He also pointed to recent positive comments about the racing surface at Dundalk by both Ryan Moore and Donnacha O’Brien.

Other riders however have expressed concern about a lack of ‘bounce’ from the circuit, something addressed by the Irish Jockeys Association spokesman, Andrew Coonan.

“There is, and has been for some time, a growing concern about the surface and the jockeys’ view is that it has been consistently riding quicker than it did in the past. There’s been a lot of discussion about the lifespan of these surfaces and they are weather-related etc.

“All I can say is anecdotally the riders are finding the surface is consistently riding quick. That in turn may have an effect on some of the horses. That is the obvious reason as to why some trainers are expressing concerns about that surface and arguably also why numbers are dropping,” Coonan said.

“It’s important to point out Dundalk is a very important facility for jockeys. Winter racing provides an income stream and that needs to be protected,” he added.

Martin said the number of weekend runners is an unfair gauge, pointing to the prevailing good ground conditions on turf.

“It happens at this time of year. If you’ve a good ground horse in January, February and March you can come here. But once the turf comes in, and the turf is good, there are options. So that meeting [Sunday] is an isolated case because of the conditions of the good ground tracks,” he argued.

 Dundalk is set to race again on Wednesday with just over 100 entries left in ahead of the final declaration stage.

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