The Kelso racecourse will have a new layout for the forthcoming season after the board decided change was needed to suit the modern day demands of the fixture list.
Managing director Richard Landale explained that the decision to forego tradition for the sake of progress was a “no-brainer”, while clerk of the course Hazel Peplinski the changes will give our racegoers a greater spectacle.
Mr Landale said: “The decision to alter the course has not been taken lightly. We had a series of meetings with racing professionals and long established associates of the racecourse over the prospects of altering the course, the results being an overwhelming decision to modernise”.
Modern day race programmes result in 65 per cent of Kelso runners competing on the hurdle course (including bumper races) and only 35 per cent on the chase course. However, the hurdle course, which also accommodated the finishing straight for the Chasers, was vastly more restricted in width due to the positioning of the Chase fence in front of the main stands, and yet all horses under both codes finished up the hurdle home straight whereas the chase course was relatively under-utilised.
It is thought that the “elbow” on the chase course was first designed because of the original water jump in front of the stands. Subsequently the water jump was replaced with a plain fence which needs to have by-passing space around it for safety and welfare.
The new layout has removed this fence entirely and shall confine Chasers to finishing on their own track with the elbow and long run in being consigned to the history books. The resultant benefits to the track and horse welfare were significant enough to persuade the board to make the change.
Clerk of the course Hazel Peplinski explained: “By prioritising optimum use of the turf and giving the hurdle course so much greater width in the home straight we have created a host of additional benefits for the future at Kelso. We have so many more options as to where to site hurdles and the last obstacles in both chase and hurdle races will be so much nearer the stands, which will give our racegoers a greater spectacle”.
Peplinski continued “Trainers have expressed delight at the reduced length of the run-in from the last fence. As with any change to a course layout, jockeys will need to adapt to the new rhythm and tempo of the new chase course, but I am hopeful we won’t see so many very tired finishers in mid-winter which has to be a good thing.”
When the proposal was canvassed to leading trainers in the north, Donald McCain was unstinting in his praise for the step forward calling the initiative a “no-brainer”, mainly due to the enhanced provision of fresh ground throughout the winter on the hurdle course, “providing the best ground possible is what the game is all about, this is fantastic.”
Ferdy Murphy was excited by the reduction in the long run in which could disappoint a genuine chaser “It was like having a race without a last fence; this way I will have a horse to race again the following week. I commend the Kelso team for taking this brave step to modernise the track especially when welfare is a top priority in this day and age.”
Where welfare is concerned, National statistics suggest that open ditches cause the most number of fallers, unseated riders and injuries. Kelso monitor these statistics very closely with safety and welfare high on the agenda. With this new layout a further advantage is that the number of open ditches per circuit is reduced to just one (from two). The new open ditch will still be the second last but will be resited on to the home straight. The two previous Open ditch sites were cross fences and therefore not on ideal sites, one after a bend and one just before a bend; these will both revert to plain fences.
With fences having to be removed and changed it was the obvious time to review the fence design. The Kelso board have taken the decision to replace their unique and much-heralded style of fences, which had no guard rail but used three times as much birch to fill compared to a more traditional chase fence seen up and down the country.
The new fences for the forthcoming season, which have been built and delivered over the summer, will still be as big and imposing as Kelso’s old fences, but will have greater functionality in that they are designed in 6ft sectional frames. In the future if any of the fences need re-sited or any section suffers excessive wear and tear, there is the option to replace a section or move a fence on to a new site to improve the take offs and landings that can wear out between seasons.
“Part of the brief from the Kelso Board was to retain the long standing reputation Kelso has established over the years as a worthwhile nursery, developing promising championship horses for the major NH festivals. We strive to bring future stars of the game to the home track of our strong NH fan base in the Scottish Borders.
Ms added Peplinski added: “The new fences will not change our established objective that both horse and rider will need to remain respectful of the chase fences at Kelso. Chris Dennis the Northern BHA Course Inspector and Richard Linley have been invaluable in finding a suitable replacement design which will continue what we are all about at Kelso. We are very happy with how it has all come together over the summer.”