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By Robert Heathcote | Thursday, December 2, 2010

Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.

Can he handle the wet?

The never ending wet just seems to continue with records being broken weekly.

It was already the wettest Spring in the history of weather records in South East Queensland and already summer has commenced with the eastern seaboard of the country copping another drenching and there does not seem to be an end in sight!

The weather this past three to four months has had a huge effect on the thoroughbred industry in just about all facets of racing and it does cost the industry an incalculable amount .

Obviously the already dwindling numbers of race day patrons take a hammering with the perfect example recently being at the midweek meeting at Doomben.

The forecast was grim and they got it right with heavy rains right throughout the day. I don't know the exact figures, but there wouldn't have been many more than a couple of hundred or so race-goers at best.

This also affects the club with their bar and catering takings and logistics and probably even creates a loss when the staffing levels for the day are considered?

Little doubt that the TAB turnover takes a hammering as well and, as this is the lifeblood of the industry, it is critical to our future and the wet tracks do create a lack of confidence for the punters and can create havoc for the form experts?

Sure, there are your genuine mud-larks who will always race well in the wet but, from my perspective as a racehorse trainer, there are far more race horses that don't handle the wet than do!

I would even go as far as to say that there are even different types of 'wet' tracks with some horses able to handle a slow track at say Doomben, but they cannot go a yard on a slow track at Ipswich?

I don't know why this is the case, but I have seen plenty of examples of it.

I have even had some horses that don't handle the wet tracks at their first few attempts and yet through circumstances can adapt quite well later in their career!

So the wet tracks create a huge degree of 'uncertainty' for both the punters and especially so for trainers!

It's a question often asked, 'Can it handle the wet?' This can often be met by the reply, 'I don't know, but there is only one way to find out'!

It's the degree of uncertainty which causes the most havoc to us trainers and our connections!

The circumstances and rules relating to some horses on a wet track are also very important and perhaps these issues are not made as clear to the punting public as they could be.

A horse may be very early in its racing preparation and a mid meeting deluge can cause the downgrade from a Dead 4 to a Heavy 8.

Now there is a rule that exists which not a lot of the public are aware of … if a horse is scratched due to a track downgrade, the horse can no longer compete on the corresponding track rating in the future.

This is not policed by the stewards as much as it was in the past anymore and an application to the stewards can now be made to overturn this ruling which is using common sense!

An example of this rule is the situation which occurred with my horse Cavaliered on Wednesday.

He won well first up over 1200m. He was second-up on Wednesday in a race over 1350. The rains came and the track went from a Good 3, to a Dead 4, then 5, then a Slow 6 and 7 and shortly before his race was due to be run, to a Heavy 8.

This was causing me plenty of angst during the day and a number of phone calls took place between myself and the connections, who in this case are based in Singapore!

It was at this time when the track went to a Heavy 8 and it was still raining that I decided the best thing for the horse was not to run.

I have little doubt it was the best thing for the punters as well as he was the favourite at the time and I do not think he would have run to his best ability under the circumstances.

Whilst the stewards acceded to my request to scratch the horse, I was 'rebuked' for leaving it until twelve minutes before the start time, but in my defence, it had not stopped raining and the track had only just gone to a Heavy 8 rating!

There was conjecture that the meeting may be called off by several senior jockeys due to visibility so I had little option but to wait as long as possible.

This does cause some grey hairs, I can assure you, but I know I made the right decision for both the horse and the punting public.

Cavaliered may well prove to be ok on a heavy track but 2nd up, stepping up in distance, probably wasn't the right time to find out … especially as the skinny favourite?

This would have given the punters time to re-invest in the race, but the decision to pull him out was not taken lightly and he most certainly would have run on a track rated up to a Slow 7.

If he is ever in another race and the track is downgraded to a Heavy 8, I will have to apply to the stewards for permission to run him .

This is just one of many examples that can happen due to persistent rain and a track downgrade. Makes it tough on connections at times and also of course the
welfare of the horse itself!

I also had the favourite in the following race, Jess Sar Belle and I wasn't sure how she would cope in the conditions.

She was third-up and also stepping up in distance, but I was content with where I had her fitness levels and she lived up to my confidence for another strong win!

There was another example of how such conditions can effect a race and an individual horse during the recent Spring carnival.

Whilst I was down in Melbourne for the Group 2 Danehill Stakes with Buffering, the skies opened up and dumped buckets onto the Flemington course.

Our top juvenile, Military Rose was first up and the track went to a heavy rating, but their rules wouldn't allow the horse to be scratched.

The horse subsequently ran below her best on the heavy track, which was expected by her connections … and it's conceivable that the run 'pulled her guts out' and affected the rest of her campaign.

There were no winners in that case and, in my opinion, the connections should have been allowed to scratch if that was the option they wanted to take.

As a trainer, there is little doubt that the incidents of little niggling injuries does increase with muscle tears and strains significantly rising.

Such weather conditions are also tough on all the staff involved on race days from the barrier attendants, the official starters, the clerks of the course, the stewards, the strappers and of course the jockeys themselves.

The track itself also takes a pounding so creating much more work for the groundsmen and a continuing spate of bad weather then downgrades the quality of the tracks.

Yes, there is little doubt that the wet spring and now the start of what's being forecast as a wet summer, does have a huge effect on our industry and I always ask everyone to bear with us as we all brave the conditions and do the best we can.

There will always be the geniuses out there who seem to know everything and when a horse fails on a wet track they want to be critical of its performance.

We all know there are many variables in this game and believe me, they quadruple when the rains come!

More articles

Where's the brolly? Can he handle the wet? Questions that are likely to still be very much in play as we head into summer.
Where's the brolly? Can he handle the wet? Questions that are likely to still be very much in play as we head into summer.
Scenes from a soaked Doomben
on Wednesday.
Scenes from a soaked Doomben
on Wednesday.
Still lucky enough to come away with a winner - Jess Sar Belle gets home in the last.
Still lucky enough to come away with a winner - Jess Sar Belle gets home in the last.
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