Jeff Green on SALTEX
Will Collins describes how Grounds Manager Jeff Green copes with the upheaval caused by the IOG SALTEX exhibition at Royal Windsor Racecourse – and why his resident flocks of Canada geese create just as many headaches as the hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors who attend the annual show
While companies like Terrain Aeration continue to play a key role in the annual renovation regime at the IOG SALTEX exhibition – the company has for the past six years been successfully treating the crossing points on the track with its Airforce Terralift aeration machine - Grounds Manager Jeff Green says the race to get the course ready for the next meeting just three weeks after IOG SALTEX “is always a battle against time and circumstances”.
This includes the problem caused by the over-grazing ‘mash’ created by the resident geese, which if left unchecked would devastate the grass cover at the critical cross-over point on the figure-of-eight track - the same location that suffers heavy compaction by the heavy goods vehicles used during the build-up and breakdown of the largest open space management show in the UK.
“The use of the Terrain Aeration service excels in relieving this compaction,” says Jeff, “then we over-seed, of course.
We use pre-germinated seed, topdress with divot mix, applicate a pre-sow fertiliser at 35 gms/m2, water and cover with polythene. But with just three weeks before the next meeting, we have a relatively small time window for the new sward to establish. Aside from the weather conditions, we have to discourage the geese from ‘grazing off’ the new sward, so we have trialled Grazer sprays. Fireworks (timed bangers) are in constant use to actively discourage them from this critical point.
“This is my first year at Windsor – though having been a member if the IOG for 10 years, I knew what to expect from IOG SALTEX - and I’m pleased to say we have achieved a good sward, despite the geese, and racing resumed as scheduled. The only problem to arise at our newly sown crossing points was the colour; new grass shoots are a brighter green. To rectify this, a green colourant was sprayed on prior to racing; this is for the welfare of the horse and jockey; horses can tend to jump the brightly-coloured crossings.” Monday nights are race nights at Windsor, from April through to August, then the course is effectively shut to accommodate IOG SALTEX. After the short series of meeting in October, the course then closes for the winter. With 27 meetings this year, Windsor is probably one of the most frequently raced courses in the UK.
“IOG SALTEX aside, each race track has to have its own peculiar maintenance routine – it really is a case of horses for courses,” continues Jeff. “After a Monday night race meeting, the procedure here on a Tuesday is to tread the divots, cut, roll, then apply a seed and soil divot mix (60 per cent Fen soil, 30 per cent medium sand and 10 per cent organic waste - supplied by Boughton Loam & Turf Management). The need for this change in approach to renovation at Windsor is to give the optimum amount of time of recovery between meetings. Also, racing in the summer means the watering programme has to be resumed (32,292 m3 of irrigation has been applied to date over the 8.5 hectares of racetrack) before the track has its final cut for racing, that is on a Friday. This seems a very regimented approach: racing as often as we do, it needs to be this way.”
Describing how the careful use of fertilisers/seaweed mix and wetting agents (Rigby Taylor supplies a mix of 65% Breaker Advance wetting agent and 35% seaweed supplement) is the classic example of how groundsmanship judgement comes into the maintenance equation on a track that is effectively sited on an island created by the River Thames and the Windsor Marina, Jeff adds that fertilisers used to be applied every four weeks “but now we do it every six weeks – at 35 gms/m2 – to great effect”. The six applications of the seaweed and wetting agent, starting at the end of March for consecutive months, seem to give longevity to the fertiliser along with the obvious benefits of its use,” he says.
Formerly Head Groundsman at Wincanton Racecourse – and before that at Hereford after a temporary summer contract at Worcester Racecourse – Jeff says he left behind his career as a time-served toolmaker to work on racecourses. “I’m lucky that I’m able to do the job I love,” he states – though he confesses that his passion is National Hunt!
“I’ve always been very hands-on, but because I’m now responsible for a team (six full-time staff, plus temporary cover in busy periods) I’m having to learn to stand back a bit and let the guys get on with it,” he says. “That said, I’m sure they’re pleased when I get out there with them!”
The October to April ‘shut down’ does not, however, mean that Jeff and company sit back and enjoy a very long holiday. “Windsor Racecourse is a large operation, it is open all year round for various functions and activities so the whole site has to look its best every day of the year, from the moment you drive in. There are lots of grassed and lawn areas, walkways, running rails and tree work, as well as maintenance on the stables etc, so there’s always something to keep us busy.”
Terrain Aerationwww.terrainaeration.co.uk has been treating the Windsor Racecourse crossing points since 2003 and it aerated the area by the finishing line and where the one mile start feeds the horses across the main track by using the Airforce Terralift machine. This injected compressed air 1 m down via a steel probe.
A wide range of turf maintenance equipment is available to the Windsor Racecourse grounds maintenance team, including:
4 x John Deere tractors – 6230, 5720, 5515 & 4520
9 x gang mowers – seven Ransomes Jacobsen trailling units and two Lloyds outfront units
2 x John Deere Gaters
John Deere 2653A triple mower
John Deere 355D ride-on mower
John Deere 2520 Clamshell mower
Major triple deck rear rotary mowers
Trillo grass collector
KRM fertiliser spreader
3 x Honda Pro pedestrian mowers.