Turf Club set to consider watering tracks to maintain ground consistency

Option is part of an overall investigation into how five horses were killed at Friday night’s Clonmel meeting

The option of keeping tracks watered to maintain ground consistently softer than good for National Hunt racing in Ireland is set to be considered as part of an overall Turf Club investigation into how five horses were killed at Friday night's meeting in Clonmel.

A lengthy period of warm weather forecast for the week ahead means the focus on going conditions for upcoming jumps fixtures will be extensive and Ireland’s next National Hunt fixture is scheduled for Wexford on Wednesday.

The Turf Club chief executive pointed out yesterday that faster ground for jump racing automatically results in more horse deaths. "Statistically that is a fact of life. The figures show it. In 2012 we had the lowest number of equine fatalities when the summer ground was bottomless," said Denis Egan, who added that opinions are divided among trainers about artificially watering ground to prevent it getting fast.

‘Under consideration’

“This comes up every year at our safety-review meetings, whether or not ground should be maintained on the slow side of good, and some trainers are for that and others are against it. But it is something that has to be under consideration now. Any day when five horses are killed at a race meeting is a bad day,” Egan said.


One of the five horses, Milan Elite, was killed after a fall on Friday evening but the other four – Ballintotty Boy, Oscar Pearl, Areyouforreal and Lisgreen Lad – were all pulled up after incurring fatal injuries.

In 2011 four horses were killed at a meeting in Tramore, a similarly undulating course to Clonmel, and a report concluded there was no common factor between the incidents and that neither the condition of the layout of the course was a factor.

The five incidents on Friday appear to have occurred at five different locations on the course.  "There had been problems in the past with Tramore but we hadn't had problems with Clonmel before Friday. Lorcan Wyer (clerk of the course) inspected the course on Wednesday and the ground was yielding.

‘Given as good’

“At declaration time on Thursday it had gone good to yielding, and on Friday morning the ground was given as good.

“Significantly I believe there were no complaints from trainers. Some took their horses out because of the change but no one was saying it was unraceable or anything like that.

“But as Friday went on it did look to dry out very, very quickly. What we have to do now is investigate the how, why and where of what happened,” Egan said.

There is also an extensive calendar of summer jumping in Britain where ground conditions for jump horses has also been a focus of debate but in France a soft surface is normally a given for National Hunt meetings, even at the height of summer.

“With the forecast, and the upcoming fixtures, watering is going to be a feature,” Egan added yesterday.

“I remember going to Kilbeggan last year and seeing the tankers out watering the track half an hour before the first race. If that is what is required in the interests of safety then that is what will be done.”

Friday’s death-toll was one of the worst on an Irish racecourse in recent times, although there were six fatalities at Killarney in May of 2009 and Downpatrick in June of that year.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column