When was all-weather horse racing introduced into Britain?

Horse racing on synthetic surfaces, popularly known as ‘all-weather’ racing, was first mooted in Britain after the very cold, snowy winter of 1984/85, which resulted in a raft of National Hunt fixtures being abandoned. In early 1987, the Jockey Club, which preceded the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), received several proposals for all-weather tracks, but the first to be given an official stamp of approval was Lingfield Park, in late 1988. The first all-weather meeting at Lingfield Park was staged on Equitrack – that is, sand coated with oil-based polymers – on October 30, 1989. Shortly afterwards, Southwell, which had only received permission to install an all-weather track the previous June, staged its first meeting on November 8, 1989. Southwell chose Fibresand – that is, a mixture of sand particles and fine polypropylene fibres – as its racing surface, making it the first racecourse in the world to do so.

Four years later, on December 27, 1993, Wolverhampton had the distinction of staging the first floodlit fixture in Britain, also on Fibresand. On March 26, 2006, Kempton Park staged its first meeting on Polytrack – that is, a wax-coated mixture of sand and recycled synthetic fibres, rubber and PVC – and a year later was joined, albeit briefly, on the all-weather roster by the ill-fated Great Leighs (later renamed Chelmsford City). On August 11, 2015, Wolverhampton had the further distinction of becoming the first racecourse in Britain to install Tapeta – that is, an enhanced vesrion of Polytrack, designed to mimic the root structure of natural turf – and was joined a year later by Newcastle, which staged its first meeting on Tapeta on May 17, 2016.

What’s unique about Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse?

Owned and operated by Chester Race Company Limited – which, unsurprisingly, also owns Chester Racecourse – Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse is a picturesque, rural National Hunt venue situated in Wrexham County Borough in North East Wales. The racecourse enjoys a prestigious location, less than twenty miles south of Chester and less than six miles southeast of Wrexham, but is, nonetheless, set in spectacular countryside on the banks of the River Dee and overlooked by the Berwyn range, a long moorland ridge, to the west.

Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse offers an altogether unique experience, typified by the fact that it has the distinction of being the only racecourse in Britain without a grandstand. However, the racecourse is set in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by an extensive, sloping grass bank, which affords an excellent view of the course from any location, sitting or standing. Spectators can also follow the racing action on a well-positioned large screen television and other smaller screens situated throughout the betting areas.

Obviously, the absence of a grandstand means that limited shelter is available during inclement weather, but all the facilities, including a cafe, restaurant and bar, are in close proximity. Bangor-on-Dee shared the accolade of Small Racecourse of the Year with Musselburgh in 2017 and received the same award, outright, from the Racehorse Owners’ Association (ROA) in 2018.

What is grass sickness in horses?

Grass sickness in horses, technically known as ‘equine dysautonomia’, attracted public attention when, in 2001, it caused the death of the 2000 Dubai World Cup winner, Dubai Millenium, as a five-year-old. In response, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and owner of the Godolphin stables, established the Dubai Millennium Research Foundation (DMRF) with a view to identifying the explicitly defined cause of the disease.

The cause of grass sickness remains unknown, but the disease occurs, almost invariably, in young horses, aged between two and seven years, with access to grass. The main symptom of grass sickness is gut paralysis, caused by damage to the involuntary, or ‘autonomic’, nervous system; the nature of the damage suggests the presence of a toxin and Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that produces lethal botulinum toxins, which block nerve functions, under low-oxygen, or ‘hypoxic’, conditions, has been strongly implicated in cases of grass sickness.

Grass sickness was first identified in Scotland in the early twentieth century, where it was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of horses, predominantly draught horses, annually throughout the Twenties. There is still no dependable, explicit treatment for grass sickness and, in the worst cases, horses die or require euthanasia within 48 hours after contracting the disease. In the United Kingdom, grass sickness is estimated to kill 0.5% of horses, of all breeds, annually.

What factors govern the field size in horse races?

Obviously, the field size of any horse race depends, first and foremost, on the number of horses declared to run. Depending on the nature and timing of the race in question, declarations to run must be made by 10.00am one or two days before the race. However, for safety reasons, the number of runners in any race is limited according to the size and configuration of the racecourse on which the race is run; the Derby at Epsom, for example, has a safety limit of 20, while the Wokingham Stakes at Ascot has a safety limit of 30 and the Grand National has a safety limit of 40.

At the declaration to run stage, if the number of declarations exceeds the safety limit, horses are eliminated to reduce the field size. Horses are eliminated in a specified order, starting with the lowest weighted, in handicap races, or the lowest rated, in Listed or Pattern races, with a ballot if necessary, to restrict the number of runners to the maximum field size. If the number of declarations exceeds the safety limit and is 18 or more, another strategy is to divide the race into two, or possibly more, divisions.

Another consideration is the stabling capacity of the racecourse, which cannot be exceeded if every horse is to have its own stable on arrival. If the declarations for all races at a fixture, including divisions, exceeds the so-called ‘field size limit’, horses are eliminated, race-by-race, as previously described, until those that remain can adequately be accommodated at the racecourse.

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