The grass was wrong
Both the initially selected type of grass and the subsequently seeded one. Both were Kikuyu varieties, and experience at tracks across Australia shows that Kikuyu doesn’t grow or root strongly enough in sand to support the impact of up to twenty six 600 kilogram thoroughbred steeds steaming across it at a full-stretch gallop up to ten times a day.
This deficiency is compounded when the grass seeds are planted in warmer climates like those of places such as Queensland, particularly during the months of January to March when the extreme heat retards the natural ability of Kikuyu to develop and grow at its usual rate.
January and March of course are both the months leading into the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival and the time during which the first set of major problems with the Eagle Farm track became clearly evident for all to see.
No one at either RQ or the BRC sought the views of the numerous other track managers across the country who have had issues trying to grow Kikuyu grass on sand based tracks and have had to rip them up and start again.
If Evergreen had spoken to them – and it seems inconceivable that they would not have – they certainly weren’t telling. After all this was multi-million dollar contract and the profit margin was huge, so why would they?
The drainage was wrong
The track drained too fast, which meant that the water that wasn’t caught and retained on the surface – where it shouldn’t be – drained straight through the core under-layer and the base, where it should be so that the grass roots can take hold and grow.
There is one small ray of good news. The under-track drainage system installed was of a herringbone design – think the David Jones shopping bag pattern – rather than a single straight line drain system that runs along the inside next to the running rail, which means that in the seemingly unlikely event that we ever get a track back it should in theory be bias-free because the drainage is spaced across the entire course proper rather than the water running to the inside and rendering the rail off.
Woo hoo! For ten million and counting at least we have hope of a passage home up the inside that Brenton Avdulla can steer the next time that he decides to slaughter Chautauqua in a race of the same value, not that the Everest is likely to be coming to Queensland any time soon.
The grass was seeded instead of sodded
Trying to grow the course proper turf with seeds rather than taking the more conventional option of laying down rolls of turf was wrong too. It takes 2 years for a seed grown track to set, so if a club intends to (and does) race almost straight away on the freshly grown surface, and plan to (and would have) race 50 or more times a year on their new track, sodding turf rather than chucking down seeds is an absolute, non-negotiable no brainer of an essential requirement.
As I just told you, RQ and the BRC decided to sprig and dig holes and throw in seeds. Seed of the wrong kind of grass. It’s mind-boggling this form of publicly funded stupidity, absolutely unbelievable.
The grass grew sideways, not down
You may find it bewildering that the track can look so lush and green and still be totally rooted (again pardon the pun) but it’s actually quite simple. What we are seeing is a broad cover of rhizomes, which are essentially creeping root stalks that grow horizontally across the surface of the course rather than growing down vertically and forming strong roots.
What has happened – and this is the initial cause of the problems developed in March – is that these creeping root stalks have grown across the sparse properly rooted patches of turf and formed thick clumps or thatches of grass through which water cannot pass. To put it in simple terms these thatches are like sponges with a concrete bottom; all the water runs into them and gets sucked up but it has nowhere to go so simply remains there.
Sideways growing grass creates twin problems
The first is that because the moisture is stuck it creates an almost perpetually heavy track that can only be alleviated by brilliant sunshine and heat that will evaporate the caught water. For obvious reasons this takes time, and lots of it. Stick a bowl of water in your back yard in late autumn and chart the course of how long it takes to completely evaporate. It ain’t quick.
The second problem is that nasty little bugs and diseases grow in the damp recesses and attack the grass in order to feed themselves, and so some parasites called nematodes made their home in the shallow roots of the Eagle Farm turf and attacked what few deeply rooted clumps of turf there were growing in the wrongly shaped sand.
Evergreen before they took a runner instructed the BRC track staff to treat the
The BRC employed insufficient staff to maintain the track
There were simply too few staff employed to perform the intensive work required to maintain and nourish the new racing surface.
28 too few to be precise.
They were subsequently employed after the Winter Carnival debacle, but of course now have no track to actually work on.
Dave Whimpey is the Black Caviar of Race Club CEO’s, even though he has never run one and has fast proven he can’t. Just ask Nifty Nev, he’ll tell you how good the jelly-wrestling titty girl promoter turned poker machine poker is.
The BRC didn’t buy the equipment necessary to maintain the track
Due to the budget cuts (see top) machinery required to maintain the new track was not purchased by the BRC.
The club needed ride on vacuum mowers and Rakovacs (essentially automated versions of the common garden rake, with vacuums attached) to remove leaf matter, grass clippings and other debris from the new track surface so that the sun could shine directly on the grass and it could grow.
They didn’t have them, so the track staff were forced to use hand held blowers instead.
Think back to that day you tried to used the blower vac that you always wanted and the missus bought you for Xmas from Bunnings so you could keep the driveway clean. Remember how the damn wind kept turning and blowing the leaves back in your face? Now imagine you are doing the same thing on a wide open racecourse fully exposed to the elements.
Know exactly what happened don’t you? The leaves and grass clippings blew back onto the course proper and inhibited the growth of the grass. What could the track staff do? Stand there 24/7 with blowers in their hand?
The BRC failed to install effective moisture and humidity control technology
Again to cut costs the BRC decided not to install the moisture and humidity control technology required to analyse the track effectively so the maintenance staff could assess the amount of water being retained in the surface and implement appropriate reticulation (watering) strategies to get it to its peak.
The track managers also lacked the tools to measure the heat and humidity in the track, meaning that they were unable to develop proper plans to control the spread of the little minute mites that ate into the sparse roots.
Evergeen gave the BRC track managers the wrong fertilising instructions
Evergreen told the BRC track managers to use dynamic lifter and other quick acting fertilisers on the newly laid turf.
The local blokes raised objections.
Evergreen over-ruled them.
Fast-release fertilisers were used on the track.
It didn’t work because it doesn’t on sand based tracks. These types of fertiliser leach through the track too fast to be of any benefit. All that happened was that the fertiliser joined the rest of the water on the top layer of the peat moss, but there were no roots there to fertilise because they were growing sideways.
The maintenance staff might as well have peed on the track and saved us all a whole lot of money for all the good that it did.
Monteith said only imbeciles use fast-release fertilisers on sand-based tracks. It is antiquated thinking. 21st century managers of sand-based tracks use specially formulated slow-release fertilisers, and do for one simple reason.
Because they work.
The new Eagle Farm track was over raced
Monteith says that new tracks should be raced on a maximum of 20 – 25 times in their first year of establishment.
The BRC conducted 36 meetings at Eagle Farm in the first 11 months after the new track was laid, and had raced on the course 3 times in 9 days prior to the first debacle in March that led to the temporary closure of the track just 2 months prior to the commencement of the 2017 Winter Racing Carnival.
The Evergreen agronomist man got it wrong, or lied
Evergreen’s nominated agronomist John Neylan was paid supervise the scientific aspects of the project, and to monitor the health and state of the track on an ongoing basis.
Neylan first let the sand switch through – I say negligently, without conducting due diligence – and then provided monthly reports on the track that clearly show that he was either grossly incompetent, or that he was hooking the reports.
From May 2016 onward Neylan provided monthly reports to Evergreen and RQ that Monteith describes as consistently positive in nature and then the canny racing specialist drops the clue as to what he really thinks by adding a sentence that reads Mr Neylan was EG’s nominated agronomist for the EF track.
Neylan’s reports were crook.
Monteith confirms it.
It is very clear that at the time of the decision to cease racing an unhealthy layer existed
in the thatch across the EF track. However, this was not evident in John Neylan’s 23
February 2017 advice in which he reported that the grass and root structure were
healthy and thatch was not a problem. This situation changed dramatically on 24 March
2017, when ASTC independently reported that “the turf quality was below that
acceptable with significant variations in colour, density and health and a quantity of grass was under stress.”
The fix was in again.
It must have been obvious to anyone who read the two reports.
So why did the next thing happen?