Track surface still a 'sand pit'

ALMOST  two months after the abysmal failure of the newly constructed Callaghan Park sand track as a racing venue, when it was a major embarrassment to Queensland Racing Limited (QRL) on July 25, the track is still unsuitable as a racing venue.

This was patently evident Wednesday when seven jump-outs with just 31 horses were run on the track described by a senior jockey as akin to a “sand pit”.

As a result of a “working committee” meeting immediately after the heats, more experimental work will be carried out on the track which could be closed for training purposes for up to four days from as early as next week.

Despite this and ongoing problems, the Rockhampton Jockey Club's Bruce Slattery referred to the results of yesterday's 400 metres heats as “pretty favourable”.

Slattery said he was “pretty confident” the track would be all right for the Rocky Amateurs offering $47,000 in prizemoney in 17 days time.

“We are moving forward and will be testing the mix of sand from the test pad in the straight on the whole track altogether,” an upbeat Slattery said.

Earlier, Michael Cullen, who has ridden on bush tracks throughout country Queensland was unwavering in his condemnation of the track after riding in four jump-outs down the 400 metres of the straight which had been blended with a new “test pad” expected to improve the going.

“It is a sand pit. The worst dirt or sand track that I have ever ridden on and believe me, I have ridden on plenty,” Cullen, a jockey for over two decades, said with wet sand still on his skull cap.

An equally experienced jockey, John Stephens, was also critical, saying the track was “just so heavy with horses getting right into it” before adding, “It is too wet”.

Of the other three senior Rockhampton riders competing, both Craig Beets and Mark Barnham had negative comments while the other, Shayla Evans said: “I have no problem with it”.

However, Evans's star mount Aspiran certainly did, as in a major shock, the prized open class sprinter was easily beaten by unheralded maidener Final Handout in his 400-metre heat with trainer Vic Vagg saying his mare “didn't handle the sand”.

Neil Boyle, spokesman for trainers present at “working committee” backed jockeys saying the track “was not good enough to race on now”.

Boyle said he believed the track had improved and part of the problem encountered yesterday could have resulted from heavy watering late on Tuesday.

“We have asked for the track to be rolled and then watered in the morning so it can dry out,” Boyle said.

“It does look a lot better. Basically, the sand that is planned to be remixed and spread on the whole track should make it firmer.”

As the clock counts down to scheduled racing on October 3, Slattery admitted barrier trials would have to be run before then to gauge the suitability of the new mix.

The record stands that trials were run at Callaghan Park on the failed sand track on the eve of the fateful July 25 meeting when officials were proved to be embarrassingly wrong in assessing the track as being satisfactory.

Two months down a sad and sorry track, the racing industry will not be as forgiving in this instance should QRL allow the October 3 meeting to proceed on a track that does not allow for an even playing field.



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