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FROM THE SHERIFF'S DESK - TALKING TRADITION AND TRACKS

By John Schreck | Thursday, March 16, 2017

John Schreck, a former Chief Steward in both Sydney and Hong Kong, has seen both the colourful and the dark sides of racing. His wealth of experience and his deep knowledge of racing matters across the board is unquestioned and the reputation he built as a racing ‘lawman’ remains firmly entrenched in racing’s history. Schreck’s personal blog, ‘From the Sheriff’s Desk', appears exclusively on HRO.

There have been some recent press reports about changing the Melbourne Cup date from the first Tuesday in November.

Those reports have been strongly denied by Amanda Elliot, the chair of the Victoria Racing Club. She has said that the tradition of the first Tuesday will remain and I think most racing people will be grateful for that decision.

The Melbourne Cup would be an extreme case of tampering with tradition but, in general terms, the truth about tradition is that from time to time things have to be revisited.

For example, some time ago the day of the week on which the Epsom Derby is run was changed from a Wednesday to a Saturday. There is arguably no race in the world with a greater tradition than the Derby so sometimes schedules are revisited and that can result in change for good reasons.

While the English did find it necessary to make that change for the Derby, which is a pretty big thing really, it looks like the Melbourne Cup idea has been revisited and it will remain exactly as it is.

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There has also been talk about the Caulfield Cup becoming a weight-for-age race.

One of the reasons behind that line of thought, no doubt, is that if it was a weight-for-age race the winner would not attract a penalty for the Melbourne Cup ... because horses that win weight-for-age races are not penalised in handicaps.

That would be part of the reasoning for making it a weight-for-age race ... but that would completely destroy the race in my view. It is one of the best mile-and-a-half handicaps, if not the best, in the world so why muck about with it!

Not that I’m against change where it is due and well thought out. You know people talk about tradition and say such and such a thing has stood the test of time, but prostitution has stood the test of time which doesn’t necessarily make it right.

So you do need to have an open mind to change to some degree but I certainly think there is no need at all for these particular changes to the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup.

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The presentation of the racing surfaces at Flemington and Eagle Farm continue to stir controversy.

The track issue obviously presents a different set of circumstances in different countries.

At Ascot, for example, they will only have half a dozen race meetings a year. At Epsom, I think they have ten or twelve or something like that ... so they can cut the grass back and manicure it for race-day.

In Australia, I have always been a fan of keeping the grass as long as possible ... to preserve it and to provide better going for the horses. I think it is important to have a good length and body of grass which, of course, is often easier said than done.

I don’t know what the optimum is. I’ve heard three inches but I have never managed a racecourse so I don’t have that specific experience. The one thing I have learned over the years, in terms of the cut of grass, is that long is better!

Over the years I have seen some curators in Australia wanting to present the track like a bowling green. Racetracks as we know them with the workload we put on them just won’t last like that.

You have got to remember that track presentation has to be for practical purposes and not for how pretty it looks ... and the long body of grass will always look aright from the stand anyway.

As I’ve mentioned before, we try to have American style racing on English style tracks and it can’t be sustained in the current circumstances.

Try as you might, you cannot get away from the fact that there is too much racing, particularly in metropolitan areas.

The tracks, as we have them now, just can’t take it. It is as simple as that!

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In my view the bottom line on racetracks is that, sooner or later, the Australian racing fan will have to get used to artificial tracks of some sort.

Some of the best racehorses ever born have run on dirt tracks in America and handled it ok but we seem to resist thinking seriously about them in Australia.

There have been failures with some of these track options but when you see good dirt tracks like they have in America and Hong Kong you can appreciate their value.

Of course there are horses that handle dirt it better than others but with the grass, when it is wet or when it is dry, you can make the same argument.

But all of that are just spin off arguments from the main issue.

There is no question that our racetracks are in big trouble.

Of all the multitude of issues that the racing needs to tackle, this one now has to be a ‘must’ for the priority list!

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