The Groundsman

June 2012

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18 FEATURE Ascot's crowning glory With prize money of £4.5 million, Royal Ascot is the most valuable racehorse meeting in Europe, and the eyes of the world will be on the Berkshire course during this month's five- day spectacle. Colin Hoskins found out how the preparations were going for this year's event (17 miles of pipework) were installed, as was a state-of-the-art, computerised irrigation system having automatic pop-up sprinklers and boom irrigators. The work on the Straight Mile involved the redevelopment of the Home and Paddock bends to merge into the original Round Course, and making improvements to their camber. A 3-D laser grading system was used to provide accurate shaping of the new track base. The Straight Mile was moved 42 metres to the north and the decision to construct an underpass, diverting the Winkfield Road, eliminated the need for horses to cross the old road during race meetings. Everything the Ascot groundscare team do on an annual basis is focused on this month's five-day Royal Ascot event, when a total of 300,000 visitors will descend on the Berkshire racecourse to enjoy a programme of 30 races that will also be televised in more than 20 countries. The team, headed up by Clerk of the Course Chris Stickels and Head Groundsman Gil Gilford, has an annual groundscare programme that is timed to present the complete venue - not just the track - at its very best, and their expert schedule of preparation cutting, fertilisation, decompaction, the use of wetting agents et al, is geared towards these five days of 'track excellence'. Of course, the weather can play havoc with the groundscare schedule, as evidenced early last month when a race meeting was lost due to the unusual very heavy rain. "Aside from ensuring that all water exits were clear; that water was running away freely (the reservoirs in the middle of the track collect rain water from the grandstand roof and the two tunnels 'beneath' the track), all we could really do was to sit and watch the deluge," reflects Gil. Readers will recall the £220 million redevelopment programme that closed the course for 20 months, from September 2004. The track redevelopment makes interesting reading. After preparing a feasibility study to assess the potential for realigning the Straight Mile, STRI established the most appropriate form of construction and rootzone mixtures. The initial phase of the redevelopment involved the relocation of the Royal Ascot Golf Course, to land adjoining Winkfield Road, east of the racecourse. The new course layout was designed by STRI. White Horse Contractors completed the track reconstruction and re-alignment. Over 90,000 tonnes of materials, sand and aggregates were used in the construction of the track and, in order for the project to meet deadlines, the turf was cultivated and established in advance - 75,000 m² of turf for the flat course. During realignment of the Straight Mile, 80 mm lateral drains spaced at 6 m intervals Royal Ascot comes midway through an annual schedule of flat and jump meetings at the course. The jumps start in January and continue in February and April, then recommence in November and December. The flat racing programme starts in May then embraces Royal Ascot (from Tuesday 19th June through to Saturday 23rd) and continues into July, August, September and October. Racing accounts for 26 race days each year. Ascot has 70 full-time employees; a number that increases by over 6,000 temporary staff during the Royal Ascot meeting. the Groundsman June 2012 Head Groundsman Gill Gilford retires this year

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