What caused the fiasco at Callaghan Park?
Jockeys were wrongly blamed for the abandonment of six races at Rockhampton’s Callaghan Park racecourse last Saturday when in fact they had “collectively agreed to continue riding”.
Following the running of the first race at 1.07pm, jockeys raised concerns with a section of the track near the 250 metres in the straight relating to a wet patch on the racing surface.
After chief steward Josh Adams consulted with track officials (course curator Trent Williams and RJC CEO Tony Fenlon) and inspected the troublesome section with jockeys, an explanation surfaced.
Adams reported that the wet patch estimated by Fenlon to measure an area of six metres just on the track side of the running rail to a width of about four metres was the result of an irrigation mishap.
“The section was caused by an irrigation sprinkler contacting the running rail and causing an isolated wet patch,” Adams said.
“Stewards were of the opinion that that raised serious safety and integrity concerns for
riders and horses and because it was not feasible to shift in place running rail (movable) for 600 metres (length of straight) the meeting was abandoned at 2.19pm.”
However, jockeys who had held a meeting on the issue during what could only be described as an extraordinary lengthy delay of at least an hour pending a decision, had agreed to continue riding.
Senior jockey Chris Whiteley said on Sunday that the jockeys were “happy to proceed and just avoid the inside problem section”.
“The stewards weren’t happy about us being prepared to fan out wide into the middle of the track,” he said.
This has become a common occurrence whereby jockeys scout (ride) out wide on metropolitan
tracks regularly to get the best possible racing surface.
Whiteley concurred saying “happens at the Gold Coast (Aquis Park) about every Saturday”.
Whiteley and other jockeys were adamant that the stewards called the meeting off and they had been wrongly blamed following an announcement at the racecourse and off course that they had made the decision.
“It was the stewards call – not ours,” Whiteley said to which Adams agreed on Sunday.
When asked why he was not in agreement with the jockey’s suggestion to “fan out wide” Adams said: “it was a safety issue with us because a horse may have still hung-in and had to race on the wet patch. We (stewards) considered that would have been unsafe”.
Fenlon said he was “very disappointed with the steward’s decision” while being frustrated that he and curator Williams were not allowed to be present during parts of the meetings stewards
“Look there is no denying that our track curator Trent Williams missed seeing the wet patch when he walked the track at 6.15am. He is very upset with himself but it can happen as track walkers (inspectors) conduct a zig-zag walk so to get the best guide of a wider cross section of track,” Fenlon said.
“Trent simply missed the wet patch and put his hand up to that. The stewards called it off not the jockeys.
“This (wet patch) may have been detected had a steward walked the track when they arrived. “The last steward I saw doing that at Callaghan Park was the chief Luke Collins and he has been gone for years,” Fenlon said.
He added “we believe it (cause) was an irrigation issue but further investigations will be made after the barrier trials on Monday’’.
In a stark and rather surprising admission from where I sit, Adams admitted that stewards had not walked the Callaghan Park track pre-race.
“We got out of the car and looked at certain sections of the track,” Adams said.
It was put to him had they done (walked) the “unsafe” section may have been detected to which he replied “we may have to meet and speak with superiors (Queensland Racing Integrity Commission) about doing that”.
Adams would not state definitely that, as a result of what can only be branded a fiasco at Callaghan Park last Saturday, that the practice of stewards inspecting a track by completely walking it would be implemented forthwith.
This practice should be made policy immediately by QRIC in keeping with its principles of the “safety and integrity of racing”.
This report is not a critique of the steward’s decision to abandon the races nor in any way a criticism of Josh Adams, a competent, responsible, professional steward but more so on current policy and need for reform.
However, as this author was for years a chief steward in New South Wales who without fail walked racetracks on race mornings, I feel genuinely concerned after Saturday’s occurrence that this is not policy in 2021.
I consider it unsatisfactory that competitors, in this case jockeys, had to raise concerns about an unsafe section of a track from a pre-existing problem, after they had unwittingly ridden on it.
As it was, Adams’ stewards report noted Moonlit Rose, a runner in the first and only race, dipping and becoming awkward in its stride passing the 250 metres (unsafe section).
While the steward’s utmost priority is safety so too is it mine whereby had more stringent protocols in relation to pre-race commencement walking track inspections being mandatory by QRIC, Saturday’s unfortunate situation may have been averted.
The good news is three extra races have been programmed to next Saturday’s Callaghan Park race meeting making it a mammoth 10-race card.
All eyes will be watching to see if stewards walk the track.