No cause for concern this time as sun shines on Windsor
It’s a balmy Monday evening, the jazz band is playing and the champagne flutes are clinking – or more like clunking as they’re plastic – and life is grand at Royal Windsor racecourse.
But the whiff of barbecue is not all that lingers in the spring air. Fresh in the memory is last Monday’s debacle, when the party off the track was ended prematurely because the action on it was deemed unsafe.
Seven days on, those soaking up the sun on the lush lawn in front of the annual members’ bar as the opening race approaches are hoping they will at least get a chance to put some colour in their cheeks tonight.
“It was the right thing to do,” says 73-year-old Derek Bullen from Reading, who along with two friends has opted for a pint of lager rather than champagne.
“The jockeys deemed it was unsafe and their word was taken, which is right as they’re the ones who know what the horses are capable of. It rained during racing and with the ground being so hard and dry, it can’t absorb it and it becomes slippy.
"I don’t think the clerk of the course necessarily made a wrong decision, though, and to suspend him seems a knee-jerk reaction.”
Bookmakers are also hoping for a full night’s work and while they also seem generally happy to accept it was just one of those things that the action was halted after just four races last week, when the home bend was deemed too hazardous to negotiate due to its slippy perimeter, there is no denying there is some disenchantment.
“They’ve promised us that we’re going to get something but so far we’ve got nothing, whereas jockeys and owners have already been told about their compensation,” says Pete Houghton from Swindon, standing in the number one pitch.
“We’re a bit disappointed nothing has been done tonight. We lost on the night last week and have had to pay full whack again tonight, which is £156. It’s not cheap. I can’t understand why someone can’t make a decision.”
In contrast, there has been little time wasted sorting out the problematic bends, with some heavy duty remedial work having taken place over the past seven days.
“We’ve cut them very short, especially the top bend,” says Ed Arkell, who despite taking the hottest seat in the house as clerk of the course for the next two fixtures, appears unflustered in designer shades after conducting his last lap of the figure-of-eight circuit before racing.
“We’ve scarified it, it’s been slit, it’s been spiked and had five tons of sand on it, and it’s had a little bit of a drink as well to make sure it didn’t dry too fast.”
Asked whether he is confident about the remedial work providing the solution, he does not hesitate in replying: “Absolutely.”
Along with Arkell, experienced clerk Charlie Moore is on hand, as too are Arena Racing Company bigwigs Stephen Higgins and Susannah Gill, in what is no doubt being treated as an important night for the Thamesside track.
The troublesome home bend gets its first test in the middle-distance fillies’ handicap, the third race on the card, and there is no holding back as Marsh Pride gallops hard into the right-hander with her five opponents chasing her tail.
In the end she is no match for Turning The Table, partnered by Jamie Spencer, who was among the riders to inspect the bend last week before the abandonment.
“The track’s beautiful,” says Spencer on his return, and after Marsh Pride's jockey PJ McDonald declares it “100 per cent”, there is good reason for those at the Windsor coalface to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
A bigger test for the surface comes in the final two races, with a combined 25 runners negotiating the tight bend, but even when a couple of the lightly raced runners in the fillies’ maiden get trapped wide, Arkell’s earlier assessment is proved accurate; there is no cause for concern tonight.
“The bend’s beautiful,” says Adam Beschizza, who was caught widest of all on the green-going Annoushka. “It’s a very tight bend and there’s always been a recurring problem but they’ve done a very good job tonight.”
What a difference a week makes.