The History of All Weather Racing
The first flat race ever run on the all weather was at Lingfield on 30th October 1989. The winning horse was Niklas Angel - a colt trained by Conrad Allen and ridden by Richard Quinn
All weather racing was originally designed to cater for national hunt racing. During the late 1980's the racing authorities wanted to keep racing going throughout the winter - come rain or frost. They wanted an artificial type of surface which would provide opportunities for jumps horses to keep running whilst turf meetings were abandoned.
The reasoning was sound but things did not quite work out as expected. The surfaces used were Fibresand and Equitrack. Both of those artificial surfaces were designed to be kind to horses when landing after jumping a hurdle. But in practice all weather racing took a turn for the worst.
At the time stats showed that the rate of horses finishing lame more than doubled on the all weather surfaces. This basically put an end to all weather jump racing.
The reason for the increase in horses finishing unsound was debatable. Some said that the surfaces were fine - it was the quality of horses which caused the increase in horses pulling up. All weather racing was attracting cheaper, poorer quality horses who would have probably finished lame on a turf jumps course but were often denied runs on turf due to their lower rating. All weather racing allowed many more lower class horses to run and show how bad they were.
For whatever reason all weather jump racing was cancelled and that gave way to all weather flat racing.
Unfortunately for this type of racing it has taken a very long time to shake off the 'poor quality' racing image. Punters, and more significantly trainers and owners have long held an opinion that horses who run on the all weather are failed plodders who could not win on turf.
It took another twelve years for that opinion to change. Only when the Polytrack surface was installed at Lingfield, and a few years later at Wolverhampton, Kempton and Great Leighs, have connections realised that all weather flat racing can be a viable alternative to turf racing.
There still remains a problem with punters though. Many will not bet on all weather racing because they still perceive the quality as poor. This is despite record prize money, and more quality races including Group and Listed Class races being run on the surface.
The Sand / Different Artificial Surfaces
There are three types of surfaces used for British all weather racing: Fibresand, Polytrack and Tapeta.
Fibresand is now only used at Southwell. Wolverhampton uses Tapeta, whilst all the other courses are using Polytrack.
This is the slowest of the two surfaces and is more demanding of horse and jockey.
The results produced on this surface are similar to the results of turf races on soft ground - runners usually finish strung out and race times are slower compared to the Polytrack surface.
The surface produces a lot of 'kickback' which is not nice to experience if you have a wall of horses in front of you.
Polytrack (Lingfield, Kempton, Great Leighs)
Polytrack is a much fairer surface: there is less jarring and virtually no kickback. Polytrack is so much kinder to horses that some US states have ordered their racecourses to rip up dirt tracks and install Polytrack instead.
Most trainers prefer this surface to Fibresand and certainly to the old Equitrack surface which was previously in use at Lingfield. Polytrack leaves less of an impression when raced on and it quickly regains its orignal shape after hoof penetration. This helps to reduce stress impact on tendons.
Polytrack is a much faster surface than Fibresand. The going will be similar to good / good to firm on the turf.
Both types of surfaces will be worked regularly with machines such as Power Harrows and Rollers and Gallop Masters. Sometimes this can create temporary draw biases but this happens most when there has been a distinct change in the weather such as recent heavy rain or a sharp frost.
Tapeta is like a super Polytrack. The substance is similar in appearance and yet has virtually no kickback. It is even more versatile than Polytrack in that the going can be even more manipulated.
Wolverhampton was the first course to use Tapeta. Other courses are likely to follow at some stage in the future if the Tapeta surface is a success.