Eagle Farm fiasco on hold as Racing Queensland step in

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor

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    There was plenty of action this week at Eagle Farm - too bad about the track. (AAP Image/Tertius Pickard).

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    Uproar about the track surface at Eagle Farm has finally resulted in common sense: Group 1 racing this week won’t be held on what is currently a track to avoid.

    The Eagle Farm grass is a fiasco. $55m was spent on the racecourse facilities over 20 months in the last few years, with $10m of that on the track surface.

    It’s politely described as an inferior, shifting surface. More accurate are those who say say it’s bog without a bottom. Form suggests that’s the case.

    The chief reason the track hasn’t been under more scrutiny is that Queensland racing is a distant third to NSW and Victorian racing. But the noise and the complaints about this surface were there, and this mess looks like it was always going to happen. The new surface is crook and the industry knows it.

    This from Racing Queensland in the lead-up said it all:

    A Heavy 8 after no rain and zero irrigation all week. The track was rolled after race four, but that didn’t help either.

    Comments from jockeys who rode on the day included Kerrin McEvoy’s, who simply said, “Worst track I’ve ever ridden on.”

    Evergreen hoop and local Jeff Lloyd at least was at least partly smiling when he said the track was “worse than a Heavy 20.”

    The racing on Saturday was poor, and unusual in the lengths from first to last. Punters across social media tore up their usual form, trying to find a way to back horses that love a bog. Plenty said they’d refuse to bet on the track again until it’s fixed. Owners and trainers said they wouldn’t race if next week was at The Farm again.

    After an initial firm pushback against calls to move meetings by the BRC, Racing Queensland stepped in.

    RQ CEO, Dr Eliot Forbes, issued a statement conceding that the best interests of the industry must come first and that the Group 1 Queensland Oaks meeting will be run elsewhere. The subtext was the controlling body was forced to order the BRC to move the race.

    “Racing Queensland is committed to providing the outcomes that are in the best interests of the industry as a whole and that includes a racing surface befitting the quality of the horses and races being contested,” Forbes said.

    This weekend’s Oaks meet will move to an as-yet undecided location. One issue is the Oaks is a 2400m race at Eagle Farm, with Doomben only capable of holding 2200m races. That Doomben wasn’t immediately suggested is probably because of that, but the list of options is short: Doomben or Caloundra.

    Andrew Bensley tweeted just one of many problems this causes – Eagle Farm attracted a crowd equal to the previous two weekends at Doomben.

    If the Stradbroke Handicap meeting is moved away from Eagle Farm the next weekend, the BRC might not have the money to fix the track given the biggest day of the year is shifted away.

    Monday morning will see a lively discussion between Racing Queensland and the BRC as the replacement track is announced, and future meetings likely decided as well.

    Is there any good news? Concerns from participants for horses are at least being taken seriously, and with the issue coming to a head, something has to be done. Racing Queensland did what it had to do.

    And it’s not just Eagle Farm.

    Randwick Racecourse has had years of problems with its alternate track, with the inner Kensington surface offering no prospects of racing until late 2017 after years of problems, complete rebuilds, and limited racing.

    Flemington has come under pressure for a fast-lane issue in recent times, while the dominance of Winx after the 2015 Cox Plate was debated after a similar fast-lane problem at Moonee Valley.

    There is always more depth to seemingly easy tasks like growing some grass. Punters generally understand that it’s not easy – we’ve all seen a bad track, golf green, or football pitch. Mother Nature is rarely generous.

    Grass is no mere thing. Anecdotally, a student friend I knew did his PhD on turf management here in Australia and was quickly snapped up to manage courses for the USPGA.

    Is there a turf and greenkeeper brain-drain? Does more need to be done? Can we blame golf? Is it the lawn bowlers hogging the green-thumb men and women? I don’t even know where to start with questions here, let alone the answers.

    The right decision was made on Eagle Farm this week, and the BRC need to figure out how to limit the damage of the Stradbroke and beyond.

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