HRI to consider extra turf meetings amid concerns over Dundalk surface

Trainers say 12-year-old Polytrack is too fast, leading to horses returning stiff and sore

Concerns have been raised that Dundalk racecourse’s  12-year-old Polytrack is too fast and that horses are returning stiff and sore after racing.  Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Concerns have been raised that Dundalk racecourse’s 12-year-old Polytrack is too fast and that horses are returning stiff and sore after racing. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) will consider running extra turf fixtures amid continuing unease among trainers and jockeys about the state of the all-weather surface at Dundalk.

Concerns about the 12-year-old Polytrack being too fast, and horses returning stiff and sore after running on it, have been recently expressed by many racing professionals.

One trainer, Sheila Lavery, has said she is boycotting Dundalk over safety concerns for her horses.

There have been widespread calls for the surface to be replaced, a process that could take up to six months and cost an estimated €2.5 million.

Just 64 horses were declared to run at Dundalk on Sunday. There were 109 runners at the turf fixture in Naas on Saturday.

On Sunday the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) said there is no issue with Dundalk in front of its licensing committee at the moment.

The IHRB’s senior veterinary officer, Dr Lynn Hillyer, added: “Dundalk, along with all other racecourses on the island, are part of our work looking at injury statistics and fatal injury statistics.

“We are looking at trends and patterns and the fatal injury rate at Dundalk has not changed significantly over the last few years. That is fatal injuries, not ones who go home and are reported jarred up.”

Discussions between Dundalk officials, HRI and the IHRB took place last week. Racing’s ruling body is awaiting details of plans to install a new surface at Ireland’s sole all-weather circuit which it hopes to put before the HRI board at the end of this month.

“Dundalk have indicated a commitment to replace the surface there. These things are a lot more straightforward when you have a timetable, and a final plan for replacement, and we haven’t seen that yet,” HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday.

“It has to be in the next week to 10 days because we have a board meeting on the 29th where we will need to make some decisions on it.”

Kavanagh indicated the rest of Dundalk’s spring programme will be run off, following which there will be a gap until September with two fixtures having been removed from the track to allow work to be done there this summer.

Should that occur it could have an extensive impact on the autumn fixture programme, although the more immediate priority appears to be providing opportunities to owners and trainers who may be reluctant to run horses at Dundalk.

“I’ve written twice to HRI in the last two weeks looking for extra grass fixtures. But I’m told HRI are constrained by the deal with SIS and Racing TV,” Michael Grassick of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) said on Sunday.

“We can always get an extra fixture on the all-weather but for some reason it’s very, very difficult to get an extra fixture on the grass,” he added.

As for the situation in Dundalk, the IRTA chief executive said: “It needs to be replaced and the sooner the better. It needs to be done this year. And we have to accept we might lose some meetings at the back end of the year. But it needs to be done now, not next year.”

Kavanagh agreed that replacing the surface at Dundalk needs to be done sooner rather than later and said the issue with runners illustrates how vital the circuit is to racing here.

He also said the provision of more turf fixtures in the short term will be looked at.

“The first purpose of a race programme is to satisfy the need of the horse population. So if the programme isn’t satisfying it I would consider that an exceptional circumstance that we need to take a long hard look at.

“I think you’d have to [look at extra turf fixtures]. That’s not straightforward because of prizemoney criteria and because of technical costs and fixtures already allocated to Dundalk.

“There is concern now if races aren’t filling and there is a need to look at providing adequate opportunities for those horses that had previously been satisfied by Dundalk.

“There’s an acceptance the surface needs to be replaced at Dundalk. We would encourage Dundalk to do that sooner rather than later.

“The Turf Club [IHRB] have a responsibility to insure tracks are safe and fit for racing and there’s no issue from that point of view.

“The most important thing is when they do replace it, they get it right, and get a surface that’s right for next nine to 10 years.

“They need to commit to a regular programme, a bit like changing your car, when people change every four years even though it might be properly roadworthy; these surfaces need to be replaced at a particular time.”

Dundalk is set to race for the next two Wednesdays and also on the first Friday of next month. It’s next scheduled fixture after that is in mid-September.

Last month HRI confirmed it is seeking expressions of interests about establishing a second all-weather track in Ireland by 2021.

Naas and the HRI-owned Tipperary tracks are among the front-runners but Kavanagh said on Sunday: “There’s been interest from a handful of tracks, both existing and potential greenfield.

“They’ve contacted us and expressed interest so we will sit down with some of the parties and bring a report to the HRI board on the 29th [of April].”

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