The Kenso Kicks Back
Published: 21 Nov 2018
A home for racing again - The Kensington track re-opened in April 2018 following three and a half years of redevelopment
Four years to the day after the last Kensington meeting on the failed StrathAyr when ‘flying clods of turf’ put to waste $1.7 million of development, we’re starting to see steady progress at Randwick’s much maligned inner track.
Those in horse racing know you should never assume a favourable result. A horse that has won by two lengths one day could miss a place the next time it goes around, caused by anything from a change in conditions to the simple randomness of betting on an animal with a mind of its own.
And as Australian punters have witnessed in recent years, the same applies to the race track turf used at our favourite venues. The disastrous re-surfacing of Eagle Farm in Brisbane and Kensington in Sydney have shown that the green shoots underneath the horse’s hooves can be even more frustrating than an unreliable thoroughbred.
Four years after the last meeting on the failed Kensington StrathAyr surface, the Australian Turf Club are treading carefully as racing on the re-built Kensington track continues this Thursday.
The good news is they’re beginning to get results, but how did it all go wrong and should we be positive about the future?
Early StrathAyr success
As the Randwick stadium was being rebuilt a project commenced to introduce a ‘StrathAyr’ surface to Kensington, similar to that used at Moonee Valley, Kranji and Sha Tin. Starting in November 2012, the $1.7 million construction progressed well, combining grass varieties with a mesh designed to support the roots and enable improved drainage beneath.
Reports from jockeys were good following track gallops leading into the first meeting on 7th October 2013 and the meeting itself were a huge success, industry participants all joining chorus to sing the StrathAyr’s praise.
"It’s up there with the best surfaces I’ve ever ridden on" jockey Hugh Bowman
“It’s world class” jockey Nash Rawiller
“I think we’re off to a great start" track manager Nevesh Ramdhani
Turf begins to fly
As more meetings took place on the track problems began to emerge. Bias was hard to predict for punters, and even worse, clods of turf starting flying up as the horse’s hooves hit the turf, hitting those behind.
Following the first use on 7th October 2013, the StrathAyr hosted another six meetings before the end of the year. Progressively worse results across the fourteen meetings in 2014 led up to a very shifty track on 22nd November 2014, which was enough for the planned meetings to be rescheduled away from Kensington.
Final StrathAyr winner - Speedy leader Senta De Noche leaves the field, and clods of turf, in his wake
It seems the grass wasn’t growing as planned, simply not binding with the mesh and leaving a weak root structure that was torn apart all too easily.
“Quite often you would go there not knowing where barrier one or barrier 14 was the place to be, you didn’t know if it would suit horses at the front or the back.” trainer Chris Waller
“(the Kensington track) is not performing at a standard we are happy to race on" ATC chief executive officer Darren Pearce
"The grass just hasn't knitted and binded with the mesh. The issue was when the horses galloped it was just cutting up and it was the result of the lack of roots.” track manager Nevesh Ramdhani
Back to basics
There were a few failed attempts at fixing the problems before the ATC decided that there was no other solution than to strip the track and start from scratch. Following a detailed review, the agreed strategy was to model an entire new surface on another ATC-run track Canterbury Park, balancing improved drainage with all important durability and resilience.
After the many millions spent on a track that was becoming a white elephant in Sydney racing, and no racing at Kensington for three and a half years, it turns out the solution was only a few kilometres down the road.
"Canterbury is the best racing surface we have in Sydney and one that is the most consistent, we've got a profile that works sitting under our nose so we don't need to go outside the square so to speak.” ATC chief executive officer Darren Pearce
The new track
Following on from the complete overhaul of the Keninsgton turf, a more cautious approach has been taken by the ATC this time. The successful first race meeting back on 18th April 2018 was followed by a two-month break, learning from the mistakes of 2013/14.
Number of meetings in first six months of use
- Kensington StrathAyr - 7
- New Kensington Track - 3
The frequency of racing has only started to increase in the last couple of months and the good news is that the new Kikuyu turf appears to be much more durable than before. As punters, we can be cautiously optimistic and relieved that the turf is staying where it should this time, attached to the ground!
It’s still early days though and some recent bias will be enough to keep the Randwick track management team hard at work. The rail is back in the true position on Thursday and the last time it was there horses out wider performed better, a pattern Nevesh will want to correct quickly.
Let's all hope the progress continues and the new ‘Kenso’ is a winner.