Summerveld trainer and former champion jockey Garth Puller’s assessment in a Sporting Post interview in advance of last weekend’s big sprint day at Scottsville that the track was running fair proved to be spot on.
David Thiselton writes on www.goldcircle.co.za that the racing at the Tsogo Sun Sprint day proved there is no longer any draw bias on the sprint course at Scottsville.
Triumphant trainer Sean Tarry had wondered before the event whether his leading Tsogo Sun Sprint contender Chimichuri Run would be disadvantaged by a high draw of 15 but as it happened the three-year-old Trippi colt was able to stick to his station and power through to beat his stable companion Trip To Heaven (drawn 13) and Africa Rising (drawn seven).
Tarry said, “It was a great day and the course being fair, enabling horses to win from all over, helped. There wasn’t bunching and the consequent worrying of getting a run. Well, the Allan Robertson was a bit like that, but the jockeys became more and more confident of spreading out as the day progressed.”
For a long time, starting in the second half of last decade, the going was palpably advantageous towards the inside of the Scottsville sprint course.
Once this problem has set in it is exacerbated by the jockeys doing everything in their power to get to that strip of going.
Consequently, the horses become bunched on that strip, which, due to the repetitive pounding, becomes like a road. It is similar to the way a path is formed in the veld. The constant weight of feet causes compaction of the earth and the path is formed.
It is very difficult to reverse this trend on a racecourse once it has set in.
As one top jockey retorted a few years ago after the riders had been encouraged to use the width of the track at Scottsville, they would risk criticism or even belittling from the connections if they did not at least make an attempt to find the perceived better going.
Various measures were taken to solve the problem.
The inside fence was at one stage moved outward for a few meetings in order to prevent the road effect.
However, as soon as the fence was moved back inward the jockeys made a bee-line for the fresh grass.
The problem became so entrenched that in 2016 that Gold Circle decided to move the inside fence outward for the Tsogo Sun Sprint meeting and limit the Grade 1 field sizes to 14.
However, this caused understandable disgruntlement from connections whose borderline horses missed out on a run.
Yet, despite the aforementioned snowball effect, the ground staff to their credit have somehow slowly but surely managed to solve the draw bias problem.
The improvement was started by the late track manager Inos Majola and continued by the renowned Ralph Smout.
Latterly, the teamwork of the like of Vilasen Pillay, Michael Ndlovu and KZN’s senior track manager Kurt Grunewald have brought the track to its current fair state.
Any regular watcher of racing at the Pietermaritzburg track over the last couple of years would hardly have bothered to check the draw before placing their bets for Saturday’s Grade 1 sprint events.
By the time of the Tsogo Sun Sprint, the last of the Jackpot of Grade 1s, even the jockeys were convinced there was no bias. The 16 runners were spread evenly across the track. In fact the first two home, Chimichuri Run and Trip To Heaven, were among a bunch of four horses who were hugging the outside rail.
Hopefully, that race spelt the end of the mindset which causes bunching towards the inside of the Scottsville sprint course.
If it does the hard luck stories which have tended to accompany the Festival Of Speed meeting will be minimized as they were on Saturday.