Much has been written and said about the abject failure of the Eagle Farm course proper during and after what I call the $10 million redevelopment disaster, but as far as I am aware no media outlet has explained in depth to the punters what actually happened (and didn’t happen) to cause the myriad of problems that led to the abandonment of the scheduled Winter Carnival feature races at Eagle Farm and the indefinite closure of the track.
This is how the whole debacle unfolded.
The construction budget was slashed
During 2013 the design for the re-construction of the Eagle Farm track was agreed between Racing Queensland (RQ) and the Brisbane Racing Club (BRC), and a quantity surveying company aptly named Rider Levitt Bailey (RLB) was engaged by RQ to provide detailed cost estimates for the project.
RLB came back with an costs estimate of $12.7 million.
A couple of months later RQ decided in its eternal wisdom that the projected figure was too high, and cut the budget back by just over 25% to $10 million.
In order to find cost savings RQ and the BRC decided variously, and among other things, to:
- Do away with plans for an ambulance track (safety first I guess, not)
- Reduce the proposed width of the track from 40m to 28m
- Not purchase specialised machinery required to maintain sand-based turf tracks (what a stroke of genius)
- Not connect the electricity supply mto irrigation pumps (water? who needs water? we never have droughts in Queensland
- Reduce the successful tenderer’s contract for required maintenance on the new track from 12 months to 3 months (effectively allowing them to hit and run, dumping any problems on the BRC track staff who were sidelined during the construction process)
- Plant the turf using seeds rather than rolls of turf (more on this later)
If you are thinking ‘bloody morons’ then we are both on the same wavelength.
Who exactly were the morons?
Wouldn’t we both like to know.
The contract was issued to the wrong company
The final bidding for the contstuction of the new course proper came down to shortlisted companies, Strathayr and Evergreen.
Strathayr had built both of the excellent Hong Kong tracks, Happy Valley and Sha Tin; the equally superb Kranji track in Singapore that Nifty Nev so loves to travel to at least annually to present trophies on behalf of the BRC at the meetings that his own horses coincidentally are running at; and Mooney Valley, home of course to Australia’s best race the Cox Plate and host in a couple of weeks to Winx’s historic third consecutive win in the race.
Evergreen’s list of achievements includes the Pakenham Racecourse in provincial Victoria, the failed Cluden Park track in Townsville that recently had to be ripped up and relaid, and a horse crossing at Ballarat.
Racing Queensland chose Evergreen.
Who knows? The question has never been properly answered.
It needs to be.
The gravel was wrong
Gravel s laid as the sub-base, or bottom layer, of a track.
To ensure a stable and solid base for the Eagle Farm race track the gravel used should have been 4 – 7 mm aggregate, but instead the gravel laid was only 2 – 7 mm aggregate, with an average fraction at 4 mm, meaning from the very beginning the foundations of the new Farm were at the absolute lower end of the barely acceptable scale.
In other words, and pardon the pun, our hopes of a great racing surface were crushed from the very start.
The sand was wrong.
The under-surface of the track should have been laid with a mix of interlocking angular sand or sandy loam, so that it wouldn’t shift around under the weight of the hooves of a full field of twenty 600 kg thoroughbreds. Instead the base was laid exclusively with rounded sands of the type that have been washed and smoothed for centuries by the sea or flowing water.
Rounded sands such as you would find at the bottom of a river leading into a sea or channel near Nifty Nev Bell the BRC Chairman’s property at Caboolture, near Ningi, when those waterways were dredged as part of the controversial North Harbor development, which apropos of nothing (or maybe not) was headed by a bloke who used to own an even more controversial boys brothel frequented by some well known people in Brisbane in the 1980’s who are these days even better known and hold some of the highest positions of power in the State (more on this later).
Rounded sands are no good because they are unable to interlock, and are therefore highly unstable and become what they call in the Bible shifting sands of the type that Jesus warns you not to build you house on, and would have cautioned against constructing a race track atop as well if he had ever imagined that anyone would be so stupid as to try.
To make this easy to understand imagine that you have taken the kids or grandkids to Scallywags or one of those similar indoor children’s playgrounds usually located in a huge industrial shed, and that the kids are playing in one of the sunken playpens filled with hundreds of colored plastic balls. See how the kids and slipping and sliding and falling into the sea balls as they cackle with glee? That’s the under-grass surface at Eagle Farm.
If you don’t have any kids imagine trying to run across a court filled with tennis balls. Same thing. Geniuses these track builders aren’t they?
The reason the sand was wrong is that it had been switched
The tender specifications detailed that the sand was to be of the grade GTS2000 (Golf Turf Sand 2000), a high quality sand approved by the US Golf Association and used to build the greens at courses like Augusta and Pebble Beach. This in the premium sand type that Strathayr use as a prerequisite base material for all their tracks, and is one of the reasons that are so consistently outstanding.
GTS 2000 quality sand was incorporated into the contract and signed off. And then somehow without anyone in charge being made aware – presumably anyway – it was switched for the cheaper and poorer grade TS2000 sand.
Who switched it?
Monteith didn’t say.
No-one is putting their hands up to claim responsibility.
Where did the lower grade sand come from?
Monteith didn’t say.
No-one is saying.
But Archie has a suspicion: he suspects that it came from the Caboolture River, up near the mouth of the Bribie Passage near Ningi, and was dredged up during the North Harbour Marina development build on a tidal flood plain and somehow mysteriously approved by the LNP government over vocal objections from local residents and their Regional Council.
Archie suspects that Nifty Nev, and another bloke named Malcolm Hall-Brown who owned the building that housed the infamous Brett’s Boys brothel of the 1980’s that was stacked with under-age boys from Asia and frequented by a future Queensland Governor and a Premier, along with a few later to be judges, might know something about the switched sand, and strongly suggests that the perhaps the CCC might be wise to ask them.
We’ll leave it that. For now, anyway.
Peat moss was cut into the sand
Not content just with making one crooked quid by substituting crap sand for good stuff at the same price, the switchers chucked a whole lot of peat moss in with the sub-grade TS2000 sand as well. How much is not known, but two things are.
One is that peat moss is cheaper than sand, and thus further padded out the profits of the company that was paid for pure GTS 2000 sand and put it there.
The other is that the inclusion of peat moss created a 20-60 mm layer of thick organic material through which neither water nor grass roots could pass.
Picture in your mind using a colander to strain your boiled spaghetti in the sink but forgetting to take the plug out of the sink. The water ain’t going anywhere is it? Well the peat moss is the plug, and the track is the sink.
Understand now how we were getting heavy 9 track ratings after weeks of brilliant autumn sunshine?
The sand testing was dodgy
The sand should have been tested after it had been delivered to the track, to ensure that it was the right high-quality stuff that RQ had paid for.
It was tested at the quarry.
The number of test samples taken was completely under the odds.
Testing was conducted only on every thousand tonnes of sand, meaning that a total of just 36 tests were undertaken.
Monteith is polite and guarded on this issue, and it is obviously for legal reasons as it is clear by inference that he suspects that the fix was in. He says in his report, and I quote, that the 36 tests in total were
… less than testing for tracks with which I was involved. I am not aware if all samples tested satisfied specifications. It is usual for a proportion of samples to fail. This can happen if a very broad range was specified in the testing process.
No tests on the Eagle Farm sand failed.
Monteith goes on to report that
I understand TURFGRASS CONSULTINGS John Neylan, on 18 December 2014, signed off
on the method of producing the sand by the supplier as acceptable, but subject to the
necessary testing. EG did the testing as per John Neylan’s sign off.
John Neylan is the agronomist – turf, dirt and sand scientist – nominated by Evergreen to supervise the scientific aspects of the project. More of him in a moment.
Evergreen did the sand testing themselves. At the quarry site. The tests they conducted were so far below the standard testing requirement that it wasn’t funny. There were no dud samples. No-one tested the sand that arrived at Eagle Farm to make sure it was the same sand that had been tested at the quarry.
The sand was switched.
The fix was in.
Someone made a motza.
Who supplied that f*cking sand?