Behind The Scenes – Turf

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Behind The Scenes – Turf

Welcome to the first in a series of behind the scenes profiles,
during these articles I hope to cover;

  • Turf
  • Buildings
  • Grounds
  • Multiple usage
  • History
  • Racedays
  • Future developments

But first off we’ll look at one of the key elements of the racecourse,

The Turf

Ripon is a grass flat course with it’s species made up of predominantly perennial ryegrass.
This has a hardy wear tolerance and good rooting structure, ideal for racing horses on as they do quite a lot of damage to the ground, consider what 1/2 – 3/4 ton of animal contacting the ground by 4 square inches at 40 mph can do and the ground has to take quite a pounding.

Our key responsibility is to provide the best available ground possible, with the aim of achieving fast Good – Good to Firm Going. We hope to achieve this by irrigation or drainage, rain is obviously the best form of irrigation but unfortunately you can not manually adjust how much you get, so this is were the drainage element comes in.

Drainage comes in a variety of forms including; aeration/gravel banding/sand slits/chemical, and we have all of these at Ripon. Aeration equipment that we use are; Verti-Drainer(like a row of garden forks heaving the ground) Long Slitter(12″ blades that stab the ground) Chain/Springtine Harrows(scratch the surface)Chemical(Wetting agents that break surface tension of water or that flocculate the ground) These operations will be undertaken throughout the year to keep on top of drainage and compaction from the horses.

Irrigation comes in the form of rain and our watering system, we currently have a computerised pop-up irrigation system that has a couple of hundred heads that are underground and are individually programmed to give a measured amount of water when planned.
Also within the system there is an additive called Quadrop that breaks down the suspended solids in the water which comes from a bore hole, not unlike your water in the kettle, over time Calcium Carbonate(lime scale) builds up and the Quadrop helps to dissolve it.
The Calcium Carbonate(suspended solids) has the same effect in soil as your kettle and it blocks the soil up stopping drainage and making it difficult for the grass to take up nutrients.

Grass on the track is of several species as mentioned and the reason for it’s selection depends on its ability to repair and tolerance of cutting, the track is cut to a length of 3 3/4 inches which gives an ideal cushion for the soil defending it from damage and protecting jar in the horse.
With the amount of races run over the year areas of the track wear excessively so to ease wear we move the rail to protect it(known as Dolling out), also we will put Grow Covers on areas (generally the bends as these take the most punishment)these are like garden fleece that has the effect of being a greenhouse over the grass speeding up recover by increasing temperature.

The cutting regime is a planned operation which will involve a regular number of reverse cuts, which means we cut in the opposite direction to prevent the grass permanently laying on one side like the nap of cloth, if this happens you can get stolonific growth, which can cause slipping.
We do not collect the clippings when cutting so they go into the bottom of the turf and become thatch, in many turf sports this is a problem but is needed in racing as it gives protection and cushion. this does mean that at the end of the season we have to remove a years worth of thatch as if it is left it will cause diseases and poor turf growth.

Damage to the surface is a constant battle generally from the horses but also pests, either weeds/diseases/insects/rabbits/geese/humans, all of these have an impact on the track and have to be managed.

Fertiliser is applied a couple of times through the year. Firstly in spring to start growth and then early summer to help boost the growth and health. various fertilisers can be used from straight chemically made compounds to organic material, the main elements  Nitrogen/Phosphorus/Potassium, but there are a number of smaller elements needed and we will choose what to put on after having regular soil tests.

And for those interested, the course by numbers;

  • 7 Hectares of Racing Surface
  • 3 Miles Running Rail(Duralock/Allsports)
  • 2600 kgs Fertiliser(Terralift TX 11-1-5 and 6-2-8)
  • 5,000,000 litres Irrigation Water(Borehole)
  • 400 litres Quadrop(Terralift Water Conditioner)
  • 100 litres Liquid Fertiliser(Nutri-Pro 24-0-0)
  • 40 litres Herbicide(Holster XL)
  • 40 litres Liquid Seaweed(Surf to Turf Triple 30)
  • 70 bags Grass Seed(20kg bags)(Barenbrug Bar Sprint RPR)

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