Kelso and Musselburgh break new ground

Changes ahead to Kelso layout

Kelso racecourse has put in place new measures aimed to rid it of the tag of the course with the highest number of whip offences in the 2011 BHA league tables. Added to that tag were reports from trainers that their horses often took longer to get over a race at Kelso than anywhere else.

Over the summer work to change the layout of the track means that races run on the chase course will no longer finish with the stiff uphill run in of a quarter of a mile. The elbow onto the hurdle course to bypass what were the final two fences on the course won’t be used any more, and additional changes mean the track now has eight fences, one fewer than previously, and just one open ditch rather than the two on the old circuit.

Sunday’s meeting is the first at which the new layout will be used, and with the re-sited fences and the run in reduced to just over a furlong, will bring in a new set of timings for chases, so those who rely on race or sectional times to help identify their bets will need to exercise caution here for a while.

The fences themselves have also undergone construction changes and will now come in six-foot wide sections. This will allow them to be moved during the season if the ground takes a beating, and they’ll also be easier to repair. All in all the package of measures should help horse welfare, reduce problems for jockeys, and enable racing to go ahead on some of the more marginal days when it’s had to be abandoned in the past.

Managing director at Kelso, Richard Landale explained that the changes were introduced after extensive consultation with the BHA and trainers, and both had given their backing to the modernisation programme. Clerk of the course Hazel Peplinski said, “As with any change to a course layout, jockeys will need to adapt to the new rhythm and tempo of the new chase course. But I am hopeful we won’t see so many tired finishers in mid winter, which has to be a good thing.”

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Trainers and jockeys alike welcomed the changes, with the expectation of a reduction in whip bans at the forefront of their thinking.

The top trainer at Kelso, Nicky Richards led the cheering for trainers, saying, “Hopefully, everyone will look back in a year’s time and say it’s been a good thing. It has a few more positives than negatives. Quite often the race changed from the last fence to the line. It might not happen quite as much now but I still think it will be a nice track.

Donald McCain was not wholehearted in his support, but recognised that the alterations were a step in the right direction. He said, “It was a no-brainer. I think they could have gone further and put three hurdles up the straight. I question whether it’s right to have one open ditch but it was a very long run in and more so with the changes to the whip rules.

Ferdy Murphy was also enthusiastic, particularly in relation to shortening the run in, saying, “It was like having a race without a last fence; this way I’ll have a horse to race again the following week. I commend the Kelso team for taking this brave step to modernise the track, especially when welfare is top priority this day and age.”
For the jockeys, Wilson Renwick, who often does well at the circuit, summed up the general feeling. He said, “It’s a good thing. Kelso was notorious for jockeys getting bans before the (whip) rule change and even more so after, as the majority of the racing is in the winter on soft ground and the winning post was such a long way from the last up a fairly stiff finish. It was easy to fall foul of the rules there.”

Meanwhile, work is under way at Musselburgh in an effort to improve safety on one of the bends at the track. When that is finished at the end of the month the track will become the first to use both turf and all weather surfaces in the same race. £100,000 is being spent to lay a strip of Fibresand, the same material used at Southwell. Admittedly, it will only be around 70 metres long and 12 metres wide, but it does break new ground (groan) in racing.

Clerk of the course Harriett Graham explained, “We’ve got very limited room to move as we’ve got the golf course on one side and a road on the other side, and obviously we want to keep the flat course pristine foe the flat season. So the National Hunt bend just past the stand gets really chopped up every year and it’s not ideal. It will start just past the winning line and go round the bend. In an ideal situation you have lots of turf and never run on the same bit of grass again in a season, but we don’t have that luxury.”

Graham claimed that she had spoken to almost all the trainers who regularly send jumpers to the track, and that they supported the move. The work should be completed in time for the season’s first jump meeting on 8 November.

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