Racing manager Sulekha Varma explains how much work goes into planning an event at the racecourse.
Thousands of people will flock through the gates of Hamilton Park on Sunday when the 2017 season gets underway with Family Raceday.
But few will have any idea of what is involved in the preparation for an event.
It takes more than 12 months to plan a meeting at the Lanarkshire course and the ground-staff work long hours to have the track in pristine condition for the next meeting.
Every divot caused by each hoof is replaced by hand. Think about that for a moment.
Racing manager Sulekha Varma took time out of her busy schedule to explain how much work is involved.
She said: “The planning for any raceday starts more than 12 months in advance. Now we’re already, in the next couple of weeks, starting to look at fixtures for 2018. We haven’t even started 2017 and we’re already looking at next year.
“The loop on the course is so unusual and having to manage that ground, where horses are running in two directions, is quite unusual.
“In terms of the track itself it’s a year-round plan for fertiliser, mowing started in mid-March so they’re now doing that every two days. We take soil samples regularly to make sure we’re putting the right fertiliser on and any other chemicals we’re using – we use a seaweed-based spray as well, just to keep the plant healthy.
(Track manager Stephen Fyles prepares the track for Sunday's season opener at Hamilton Park (Photo: Norman Inglis/Hamilton Advertiser))
“We have three full-time staff, a track manager and two ground staff, and through the summer we take on a third groundsman who comes in and joins the team just for the racing season.
“We’re a relatively small team for the size of the grounds that they’re managing, because they manage the rugby pitches in the centre of the loop as well.
“It’s a big area, plus they do all the estates, all the flowers, all the planting is their work, and then they look after things like the stable yards, mucking them out after racing and all the saddling boxes are theirs and the lawns as well. It’s a big job but they do it really well.
“The lads through the summer will work their normal 40-hour week and then go over and above that for weekends for racedays.
“The ground staff are very involved in the running of the racedays as well, they don’t just mow the grass and walk away. One of them drives the vets around the course, another is up at the start putting the tape behind the stalls, and another is the flag-man, so if there’s a false start he’s the one waving the flag in front of the horses.
“The track manager is out on course in his vehicle as well, because he will manage if there’s a loose horse or if we have a problem on the course – they’re heavily involved in every step of the way.
“It’s a long winter – because of the weather our season has to be short. We would struggle to race any earlier in the year because it’s too cold to get the turf right and later in the year it just starts to get too wet.
“That does mean it’s very intense through that period, you’re racing every single week through the month and after every race meeting the staff have to go out and fill the track with every single hoof hole.
“Every single divot gets filled by hand after every race meeting and if you think, on that straight, if we’ve got 60 horses running one way up it and 60 horses coming back, each with four legs, that’s a lot of divots.
“If every single one of those is filled by hand it’s a big job.
“After racing there’s a lot to be turned around, every stable has to be mucked out and disinfected, the site has to be cleared and tidied.
“Then you have the routine stuff like the mowing, fertilising, feeding of the turf, so it is busy, it is hectic.
“It is hard work but it’s what you do it for – we wouldn’t all put the work in otherwise –and we’re all itching to get going now.”
First published www.dailyrecord.co.uk, written by Andy McGilvray 5 May 2017
(Main image: Racing manager Sulekha Varma says a load of work by a dedicated team goes into every race meet at Hamilton Park (Photo: Norman Inglis/Hamilton Advertiser))