Trainers back return of all-weather jumping

AS the National Hunt season once again endures its almost customary loss of meetings due to adverse weather, leading trainers Philip Hobbs and Nicky Henderson have offered their support to a possible re-commencement of all-weather jumps racing in Britain.

The last venture into such a project in Britain came to an end in 1994.

An All-weather Jumps Advisory Group, set up by the Jockey Club, concluded that it should be brought to an end with immediate effect.

The decision followed several months of negative publicity for the sport after the deaths of several horses in falls, both at Lingfield on the Equitrack surface and at Southwell on the Fibresand.

However, the development since then of 'second-generation' all-weather surfaces and the completion late in 2000 of Lingfield's new Polytrack course has led to the issue being reconsidered in some quarters.

Polytrack's wholly different composition should be able to prevent many of the injuries that were experienced by horses and jockeys alike 10 years ago.

Indeed, there is a growing number of trainers who now use Polytrack for galloping and schooling horses, both over hurdles and fences.

Hobbs explained: "It is certainly a very good surface to school on. The question is whether it is a safer or less safe surface to fall on than turf.

"To some extent, it might be better because it is such a consistent surface.

"On grass if it's wet you get false ground which leads to falls and if it is too firm you run the risk of jarring the legs.

"It should be much more suitable than the previous surfaces were for jumping Equitrack is too fast and Fibresand too dry and needs watering.

"There is a Polytrack gallop on Warren Hill in Newmarket that has been there for 11 years and it is exactly the same as when it was put down.

"In my experience using it to school, I don't see why it shouldn't be just as suitable for chases as it is for hurdling."

Hobbs' colleague Henderson supported those views.

"I certainly don't see why we couldn't be racing on it the surface has progressed so much in the last 10 years," Henderson said.

"It's a different ball game now and I would be happy to support it."

But a senior official at Britain's three all-weather racecourses said that no such move was being discussed. Ian Renton, the director of racing at Arena Leisure, the operators of Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton, said that "no consideration" was being given to such a move at any of the three tracks.

Jockey Club public relations director John Maxse said that he considered debate upon the merits of all-weather jumps racing to be "premature".

"Before we look at whether there is a desire or a need for it, the authorities would have to be entirely satisfied that it would not compromise the safety of horse or rider," he said. "We have an open but cautious mind on the subject."

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