Dirt ruled out as debate continues over best track for Southwell
Any prospect of Southwell becoming the first track in Britain to race on dirt has been quashed, although a final decision on whether it will be sticking with the existing Fibresand surface or switching to Tapeta when floodlights are installed later this year has yet to be made.
Despite a newspaper report recently that claimed Tapeta will be the new surface, officials at the track are adamant that decision has not been taken, although the idea championed by trainer Mick Appleby to plump for dirt has been discounted.
“Dirt is not being considered,” said clerk of the course Roderick Duncan. “We’ve talked to suppliers of an alternative surface but no decision has been made yet.
"We’re looking at how we take Southwell forward and whether a change of surface is appropriate. We’re consulting on it but we’re in that difficult position at the minute where we’re not able to commit.”
Asked why there might be an appetite to change to Tapeta, already installed at fellow Arena Racing Company tracks Newcastle and Wolverhampton, Duncan added: “Southwell is undoubtedly the best configured of the all-weather tracks, but the reality is we’re not having horses qualifying here for the All-Weather Championships.
"We can’t run those fast-track qualifiers and get the top horses to come here because the trainers won’t run them on Fibresand and it’s not a fair trial for Polytrack either."
He added: “There are several other reasons why it is tempting, and aesthetically it’s undeniable that the general public watching Southwell see the kickback that is not there with the wax surfaces. You’ve got to make an allowance for public perception, but that won’t be allowed to dominate our thoughts.”
Although it would be most cost-effective to replace the surface at the same time as installing the floodlights, there remains the possibility of trialling Fibresand under the floodlights in the first instance – not least to see how the existing surface would cope when the temperature falls during an evening meeting in the winter.
“Following the consultation we’re undertaking at the moment, it's just possible we’ll try the Fibresand under floodlights to see how it works,” said Duncan.
“Whether the Fibresand will remain raceable through an evening fixture under floodlights is something we might need to look at.”
Although approved by planners, the installation of floodlights has not yet been signed off by Southwell’s owners, with Duncan pointing out that the entire process remains subject to future fixture allocation from the BHA.
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