Dundalk under pressure as prospect of second all-weather track is raised by HRI
Michael Grassick, the chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, has welcomed the prospect of a second all-weather venue in Ireland amid his members' frustration with the surface at Dundalk.
Although trainers have been reluctant to criticise the surface publicly, the IRTA has expressed disappointment on behalf of its membership that the Polytrack has not been replenished since it was first laid 12 years ago, with some horses said to be returning jarred up due to the surface lacking bounce.
Jim Martin, chief executive at Dundalk, insists options to re-lay the surface are being actively explored.
The issue has been brought sharply into focus after Horse Racing Ireland revealed on Friday it is seeking expressions of interest from existing racecourses and prospective new venues in relation to developing a second all-weather track.
"We'd support the view for a second track and feel the horse population would be there to support it," said Grassick. "In view of the problems we've had with the surface at Dundalk, and that they haven't done anything about it, it's worth exploring now."
Martin on Friday welcomed Michael and Joan Dickinson to Dundalk to discuss the possibility of swapping to their Tapeta surface from Polytrack.
Dundalk usually has 38 fixtures but HRI has withheld its two 2019 summer slots to encourage the venue to complete a €3 million revamp this year.
While Martin didn't rule that out, he wouldn't be drawn on a timeframe, partly due to the difficulty involved in sourcing the 12,000 tonnes of material required.
"We’re investigating options," he said. "The all-weather surface is going to have to be replaced but the timescale will depend on the manufacturers. No decision has been made about the surface."
Martin does not believe the existing horse population is sufficient to support a second all-weather track and the fixtures it would require to justify its existence.
"With 38 fixtures we have less than half what the UK tracks cater for, so we're the most underutilised all-weather track I'm aware of," he said.
"Every time the number of horses being balloted out here goes up we’ve requested extra fixtures, but it’s rare an extra fixture gets put on."
HRI said it would be looking to have a new all-weather venue in place by 2021.
Brian Kavanagh, HRI's chief executive, denied that was an overly ambitious target even though submissions haven't been received yet and that considerable funding and planning permission would need to be secured for an undertaking that totalled €35m for Dundalk's 2007 transformation.
"I think you need to set yourself an ambitious target to see if it can be achieved," he said. "We’re gauging the level of interest and potential for something like this, and we need to do that quickly."
If a second all-weather track were to be approved, the likes of Naas, Tipperary, Cork and Limerick could be suitable options geographically.
"I believe we have the demand and horse population for it, but we’ll look at all that now," added Kavanagh.
"It depends on capital funding and ongoing funding, to be able to maintain our prize-money standards, which would be an important red line for us."
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