As time has proven, horses are hardy animals that are only too happy to race one another in a wide range of conditions – they don’t care all that much about the rain and mud that is common in the British
summer spring… well, all seasons really!
Even so, horse racing on turf isn’t always possible and grass certainly isn’t infallible to rain, snow and frost – that’s just one of the reasons why all-weather racing was developed.
There are six prominent all-weather tracks in the UK, and these are designed to get racing on in all kinds of weather – well, that’s the idea at least. The reality is somewhat different as we will learn…
Are All-Weather Racetracks Really All Weather?
According to their name, you might think that all-weather racetracks are impervious to anything that the elements can throw at them.
But the reality is that these man-made surfaces can also become waterlogged, frozen or even crack in extreme heat – meaning that all-weather race meetings can also be abandoned; although, admittedly, this happens less frequently than on turf tracks.
All-weather surfaces are designed to be like sponges, soaking up moisture. But as we know, sponges can only suck up so much water before they become full – that’s why all-weather racetracks can flood too.
What are All-Weather Racecourses Made From?
There are, at the time of writing, three different types of all-weather surface at large in UK racing.
Polytrack is the most commonly used. Also deployed at international courses like Chantilly in France and Arlington Park in the United States, polytrack uses rubber and carpet fibres, mixes them with silica and gives them a coat of a wax solution to create what is regarded as one of the safest artificial surfaces in racing.
Tapeta is a material that is commonly used at US racetracks, although it has been embraced by European venues too. Created by former Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer Michael Dickinson, tapeta utilises a mix of fibre, rubber and sand to create a layer which is then laid on top of asphalt foundations.
Fibresand is, as the name suggests, a surface that creates a heavy type of all-weather track – races tend to be slower on this surface. It is constructed from sand and polypropene, and it is yet to achieve the popularity of tapeta and polytrack.
What Surfaces Do All-Weather Racetracks Have?
As you may know, there are six different all-weather horse racing venues on UK soil – at the time of writing, at least.
There is no ‘standard’ as to which type of all-weather track they should use, which perhaps explains why all three artificial surfaces have been deployed:
Are There Jumps Races On All-Weather Tracks?
Once upon a time, both ‘codes’ of UK horse racing – National Hunt and Flat – were contested on all-weather tracks.
But as studies were carried out, it became increasingly more obvious that – at the time at least, and on primitive forms of artificial surfaces – jumps racing was dangerous on all-weather tracks, with more injuries reported.
The artificial surfaces are considered more dangerous for jockeys too – most are laid on top of a solid foundation, rather than more forgiving grass and mud – so it wasn’t a great surprise when jumps racing at all-weather tracks was outlawed in the mid 1990s.
Indeed, it is believed that this hurdle race at Southwell in 1993 was the last jumps renewal to be held on artificial ground.
What is the All-Weather Championships?
The All-Weather Championships were the brainchild of the Arena Racing Company, and was designed to increase the excitement around all-weather racing and boost prize money for those that compete regularly on the artificial surfaces.
Established in 2013, the All-Weather Championships are a series of high profile races that ultimately lead to Finals day, with six broad categories of horses – three-year-olds, sprint, mile, marathon, middle distance and fillies & mares – all represented.
Typically, the Championships are run over the six all-weather tracks in the UK, with the action commencing in October and running through until the Finals in April.
There’s a cool £1 million in prize money available on Finals day, and while it might not attract the same level of media interest as the Cheltenham Festival or the Grand National, for those that decide to campaign on the all-weather this is very much their ultimate target.