Mike Dillon: Internal review of Te Rapa track stuff-up better be transparent

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Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

They are two frightening words, "internal review".

In terms of the disgraceful track presented at Te Rapa's massive group one raceday last Saturday, one of those words "review" is admirable.

Applying "internal" to it makes it scarier than Donald Trump running the free world.

What is an internal review? Does it mean this review will follow the path of ALL such inquiries in recent years - dragging on so long all the facts and boundaries become blurred to the point punters lose interest. Unfortunately, the cynical view is that course is deliberate.

Let's hope none of that is the case here because the Waikato Racing Club has a proud recent history of presenting top class racing surfaces.

In the 1960s, 70s and into the 80s Te Rapa threatened Trentham with having New Zealand's worst wet weather surface. Now it's one of the best.

But just as jockeys are only as good as their last winner, points for racing clubs are similarly quickly lost with punters when inaccurate track conditions are posted.

There is absolutely no excuse for it.

The joint Waikato Racing Club statement, issued on Tuesday, said the club wants to know (a) how the surface was so unsatisfactory cutting out after a magnificent spell of weather and (b) how it was rated so appallingly wrong at a Good 3 on race morning then, without rain, was downgraded when racing started.

The statement continued: "The club is concerned at the irrigating of the track between 9pm and midnight on Friday when the surface was broken down into six sections and individually watered at 30 minute intervals. This resulted in an inconsistent racing surface.

"The status of the Te Rapa track on Saturday is highly disappointing to the board and management. There are two significant and quite separate issues surrounding the downgrade of the track. The first is the late Friday night watering by track management. The board and management of the WRC believes that this was an error and has instigated a review of procedures to firstly assess how this occurred and secondly to ensure this is not repeated.

"The second factor is the declaration of the track status as a Good 3 on raceday morning. Officials from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) and the WRC walked and assessed the track at approximately 6.30am and confirmed a Good 3 be declared. The board and management of WRC are also seeking further clarification on this decision-making process. The club believes there is a lack of uniformity and protocol around penetrometer readings and feels that is not acceptable for owners, licence holders or those betting into the meeting."

Trainer Moira Murdoch, not one to complain unnecessarily, stormed into the stewards room on Saturday and, frustrated, asked the question: "Is there or is there not a rule about watering a track within 48 hours of raceday."

"No," she was told, "it's only a guideline", to which she inquired "Then why were the guidelines not followed?"

Better than fair question.

"A guideline to what," might have been another reasonable question.

Only the track manager should have the responsibility of declaring the official track rating on race morning. The WRC press statement clearly points to stipendiary stewards and club officials also being part of that inspection.

What if all three elements disagree on what the rating should be?

And here's a critical point - all three parties who could have contributed to this blight on last weekend's racing were on course after the last race - why was this "internal review" not conducted then and announced, if not overnight, then early Sunday morning.

It would not have taken long to point the bone at someone immediately after the races.

Everyone should take a lead from Flemington track manager Mick Goodie, probably the world's best grass track racecourse manager. Even if he has a magnificent track to work with, Goodie is referred to in Melbourne as "King of the turf". Derby Day in November, one of the world's great racedays, was affected by a fierce speed bias, which Australian punters rate second only to a lingering death.

Goodie couldn't wait to front the media on Sunday morning. Putting his hands in the air he said: "I stuffed up, I'm sorry and it won't happen again." Take note, New Zealand administrators. And track managers.

Be nice if the Waikato Racing Club could come up with the first transparent "internal" inquiry since milk stopped being delivered to the gate.

- NZ Herald

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