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EQUESTRIAN


The public have constant access to the Downs for air and exercise, including equines!


The shallow soils are testing to renovate - deep aerators could pull the chalk up, so can’t be used. “We have a slitter, but after using a Wiedenmann at Sandown I decided to try it here. We know the soil profile on the track and I’ve got some very good operators who are aware exactly what depths they can work to. The Wiedenmann XF can be set with minimum heave, so it’s kinder to the turf than a slitter.’ Away from the track, turf work is minimal - the Downskeepers prepare the downs, which form the free-to-enter public areas for the Investec Derby, and lawns are compact in size.


The parade ring has its own secret; apart from a small permanent lozenge of turf at the centre, the rest is hard standing parking for most of the year. Turf is laid straight onto the bricks at the start of the season and is fed and watered liberally to keep it green. “We first started using this method in 1996. Before that, the horses walked onto the bricks, and I felt that temporary turf was safer!” says Andrew.


With seven road crossings on the track, it is effectively a series of separate grass


A Wiedenmann Terraspike XF provides effective aeration with minimal heave, giving a gentle action and avoids the risk of pulling up the underlying chalk on shallow soils


areas, so mowing is handled by a Ransomes 493 ride-on, which has not only proved more manoeuvrable, but incorporates three castor wheels on each deck, keeping them level for a high quality cut. “We can be mowing three times a week in the season,” says deputy head groundsman Chris Youngs, “but the Ransomes seems to have less impact on the turf with wheel marks than its predecessor, and the finish is much more even.”


The Duralock rail is moved out for the early meetings and the last mile is finally moved back on the Friday night after the Oaks, ready for the Derby the next day, when twenty runners can span across the track. “Regardless of the conditions, we can always present fresh ground for the main part of the Derby,” Craig comments. There are five full time groundsmen at Epsom, who also do duty at Sandown. “The two courses are so close it’s easy to share staff, and it’s also good for their development. They might experience building jumps at Sandown, for example, which they would not get chance to do here,” comments Andrew.


The multiple narrow crossings mean that transporting equipment around requires a trip out onto the busy surrounding roads with tractors and trailers; the stables are also some distance from the parade ring, so moving horses before and after each race is a complex process. One road crossing on the 5f chute can only be closed for two hours on race days, so it’s a sprint to put mats out and dig them in before reversing the process after the race. All part of Epsom’s quirks which provide a unique working environment for a groundsman. As we go to press, the public continue to enjoy their ‘air and exercise’ on the Downs although, as Craig points out, they are remarkably respectful of the track itself, seemingly unaware of the air of anticipation building as the team prepare one of the world’s most famous racecourses for its day in the spotlight. On 1st June, another Investec Derby champion will be crowned and another racing legend will begin.


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PC April/May 2019


109


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