Over the last number of years and, in particular during the summer months, the debate surrounding the sand surface for greyhound racing becomes emotive and many views are put forward on what is the best way to maintain sand - or why another alternative should be adopted.
To understand what the problems are, Greyhound Racing Ireland examined what are the critical elements on how a track surface works. There are five areas that must be understood and managed efficiently to ensure the end result is a safe running surface. They are:
1 – Sand Quality
Silica sand has being identified as the most appropriate sand type for use on race tracks. The function of silica sand is to provide purchase for the greyhound, in particular as he negotiates the corners.
The ideal silica sand should have sufficient 'clay content', so it can retain moisture and provide a holding for the greyhound.
The challenge has been to source the perfect mix which contains sufficient clay content as a constituent of the silica sand.
2 - Drainage
A track that is working properly will drain all excess water off the track surface to the in-field. When a track is watered or has endured heavy rain, the sand will fill from the bottom up. When the track has reached saturation point, the excess water should then drain from the outside of the track to the inside.
The cambers on the straight and bends allow for this flow off. Therefore, it is important that the in-field is prepared to allow for this water to exit the track.
3 - Watering
The watering of a track is conducted by using a sprinkler system and/or a water bowser. The requirement is that the surface is uniformly watered and this can be a challenge if using a sprinkler system during windy weather conditions.
The combination of a sprinkler system and a water bowser is the ideal method to ensure appropriate watering of a track. The Board are trialling light-weight polyethylene water tanks with a 1,000 gallon capacity.
The water will be pumped through a spray bar which is divided into four zones and controlled by solenoid switches. This method will ensure that all sections of the track are watered evenly and that the system is in full control of the operator from the tractor cab.
The sprinkler system will then complement the water bowser by topping up at regular intervals. The tank will allow the operator to place three to six thousands gallons of water on a track (depending on weather conditions) in a very efficient and effective manner. View The correct and sufficient watering of a track is a critical element of track maintenance.
4 – Equipment
A sand surface requires certain maintenance procedures to be conducted on a daily and weekly basis to achieve particular results.
To see videos of track maintenance in action - please click on the image below.
(a) Track should be level: A trailing grader blade is being employed to ensure the track surface is level from side to side and around the circumference of the track. The blade is shaped and sits on two wheels. The blade can be moved sideways and tilted to the required position by the operator from the tractor cab. ViewIf the blade is set at track level and pulled around the circumference, it will shave off any humps and fill any hollows. It ensures your cambers are shaped appropriately and will therefore assist a greyhound in entering and exiting a bend.
The blade can also be used to 'turnover' the track surface and cut a new base to ensure the drainage and levels are sufficient to promote a proper working tack. This activity would generally occur once a year.
(b) The 'pan' needs to be broken: Due to racing activity and tractor work, the surface will compact and become firm. A track exhibiting a hard pan an inch or so below the surface needs to be broken. The use of a power harrow has been adopted by a number of tracks in Ireland and the U.K.
The power harrow has the advantage of breaking the hard surface and mixing the sand that may have settled to the bottom. The Board are trialling the power harrow and have found it to perform an efficient job. This activity should normally occur on a weekly basis, unless weather conditions are unfavourable.
On completion of power harrowing, the track must then be tyre packed to ensure the surface is not loose and finally sealed by plating with a rubber mat.
5 – Cambers
The purpose of a camber is to ensure excess water can drain from the track surface and assist the greyhound in cornering a bend. The theory on cambers is the subject of regular debate. It is suggested that the bigger the camber the greater assistance for the greyhound.
A number of racing countries now hold the view that the camber on a bend should not be severe, as it tends to place extra pressure on the joints and forces runners to take the same line into a bend, causing traffic problems. If the camber can be lowered, it will have the advantage of reducing stress on the joints and allow the greyhound to use more of the bend.
If there is a collision on a bend, the greyhound will be in more of an upright position and therefore less likely to be knocked over. The Board have examined how the lowering of cambers may improve entry and exits on bends, observed what other jurisdictions are changing and found the results to be encouraging.
There is no doubt that there are many views on how best to improve the current sand surface - and how the newly developed synthetic surfaces may be the way forward. The decision can only be based on objective analysis of results and what is best for the greyhound.
The one unifying thread among all greyhound enthusiasts is that we are all striving to ensure that the safest surface is provided for these fine 'athletes' and that, through open dialogue and debate, we can ensure we deliver the professional service required to the industry stakeholders.