Ridley solves riddle of faster tracks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 12:00am

If you are a form follower wondering why the tracks seem to be running a little slower than usual lately, racing operations manager John Ridley said it was simply seasonal - or perhaps unseasonal. Since the beginning of November, both Happy Valley and Sha Tin have raced faster than average in just one meeting each due to climatic conditions.

'Usually you find that the times change in mid-November when the rye grass takes over,' Ridley explained. 'There is extra cushion and the temperatures start to change. I believe we have 'winter tracks' in Hong Kong, something that is obvious in other places, like where I come from in Australia, but an idea that is not often considered here.

'From December to the end of February, the tracks ride slightly differently. Unlike Australia, the change is not that obvious - we are talking the difference between going 0.05 seconds to every 200m faster than average and changing to 0.05 second slower than average for every 200m, but it is there and we can see [this] in our graphs.'

But due to the unseasonal warmth, the grass on the tracks has also been growing much faster than expected. 'It has been a warm winter, maybe apart from the last day or two,' Ridley said. 'The weather has been more like March weather - warm, high moisture, high condensation. We are already talking about thinning out the grass, something we would not normally think about until mid- to late-February.'

The Jockey Club has many ways to assess the state of the going, some before and others after. One of the more interesting after pictures is the moisture saturation measurement, which involves taking a piece of the track, weighing it, baking it dry for 24 hours, then weighing it again.

Using a standard formula, the Club can then measure the moisture saturation, which has been unusually high lately due to the high humidity. For instance, Ridley explained that the Happy Valley track usually has a moisture saturation of 18-19 per cent, but was at 23 per cent last week when the going appeared to have a significant amount of cut in it despite the lack of rain.

The other guide along those lines is the shear factor - the amount of effort required to shear off the grass. As a penetrometer measures the downward impact into the track and thus its vertical softness, the shear vain measures the horizontal softness of the track.

In September, the shear reading at Happy Valley was about 7.5, and would normally be around seven, but at the track last Wednesday it was down to just over six, showing that the ground was easier to cut into due to the high moisture content. And if any confirmation were needed, the Hong Kong Cricket Club curator is having exactly the same moisture problem, so punters are not the only ones on a sticky wicket.