Frost has caused the cancellation of more than a quarter of abandoned race meetings – a total 174 fixtures – costing the industry and bookmakers significant loss in revenue. Since November, 32 meetings have been lost due to frost making the ground unraceable.
In a project led by the Racecourse Association and funded by Betfair.com, Cranfield University’s Centre for Sports Surface Technology has been investigating the best groundcover system and its deployment and recovery strategy for racecourses in frosty conditions.
The system has been adapted from that used in stadium-based sports, such as football, and research is needed to determine how effective the groundcovers are and how they can best be used by racecourses.
Following initial laboratory studies, researchers at Cranfield University are now undertaking a three-year project testing covers outside. Field tests are in their second year, working with the clerks of the course at Ascot, Cheltenham, Haydock Park and Newbury. The trials focus on the covers’ performance, as well as considering the practicalities of covering and uncovering a whole racecourse which can total around 50 acres.
Dr Mark Bartlett, Academic Fellow in Sports Surface Technology at Cranfield, said: “The cost of cancelling any race meeting can be significant. However, there are also high-cost implications associated with covering an entire racecourse with frost covers so they should only be deployed where there is a benefit.
“Our tests are designed to determine a suitable ground covering system for frozen racecourses – and that is research that depends on freezing weather conditions – which have been more common this year than in recent winters.
“The research is also taking into account the preceding temperature and other weather conditions, allowing us to determine how far in advance the groundcovers need to be deployed prior to a race meeting in order to be effective. The ultimate goal of the research is to give racecourses a clear picture of how groundcovers represent the best odds of minimising cancellations due to frozen ground.”
Racecourses traditionally cover the take-off and landing areas around fences and other vulnerable areas. Racecourse Association services director Caroline Davies said: “As the practice of covering the whole racecourse is relatively new, racecourses are keen to learn more about their deployment to improve efficacy and to understand the short- and long-term effects on the course.
“From the evidence to date, it is clear that the use of frost protection covers does not guarantee that the ground will remain frost free, and we look forward to receiving robust recommendations arising from the research being undertaken by Cranfield.”