Jimmy Two Hats
By Laurence Gale MSc
Jimmy Stevenson is one of the few people in the horse racing industry with the responsibilities of being both the Clerk of the Course and the Estate Manager.
Jimmy has been involved in the sport for well over 25 years having spent 14 years at Aintree and the last 11 years at Leicester racecourse.
His dual role gives him a varied and interesting insight into racecourse work.
Wearing his Clerk of the Course hat, he has responsibility for the safety of the horses and riders. This is his priority, ensuring that the track is safe for racing. There is always a risk involved in horse racing but Jimmy uses his vast experience and knowledge to minimise those risks.
Declaring the going of the course is one of his main jobs. There is usually a lot at stake, excuse the pun. He inspects a week before a meeting to declare the going, walking the whole course to get a feel for the underlying conditions of the ground. He uses his going stick to penetrate the turf, assessing the depth of hardness/softness.
He has a range of choices from Hard to Heavy going. Based on Jimmy's assessment owners and trainers make a decision on whether to enter their horse for the meeting. If Jimmy gets it wrong, it can be costly.
Each day in the week leading up to the meeting Jimmy will walk the course, updating the situation on the state of the going. If the conditions are unsuitable, he has the responsibility and authority along with the stewardsto cancel a meeting. As you can appreciate this is an onerous responsibility with massive financial implications for the course and everyone connected with the sport, owners, riders, bookmakers etc.
On average, the course has lost 3 days racing each year because of the weather. Fortunately, last winter, Jimmy did not lose a single day.
Leicester is a very undulating sandy clay loam course, which does create a few problems. Some of the lower spots can become softer during wet weather, thus giving an inconsistent going. It is when the going becomes too inconsistent that Jimmy has to make a decision on whether to close the course.
In his other role as Estate Manager, his aim is to make Jimmy the Clerk of Course's job as easy as possible. In this capacity his priority is to maintain the course and do everything possible to get a meeting on.
He has three full time and 15 part time staff to help him.
Leicester Racecourse has one of the busiest racing calendars in the country, with thirty-two race meetings a year, averaging one every eleven days, 21 summer flat meetings and 11 National Hunt jump meetings.
Maintaining the course can be very challenging, the ground can be so varying and conditions change very quickly on sandy clay loam soils. The course is also very undulating.
Mowing and irrigation are the two most time consuming jobs. Generally, the flat course is mown at least three times per week and the jump course twice. Jimmy uses the largest rotary mowers he can lay his hands on, Votex front mounted. Rotary mowers are best suited for the grass heights required, which is 100mm for the flat and anything between 100-150mm for the jumps.
Irrigation is extensive and expensive. An annual extraction licence for 10 million gallons of water is an indication of how much is used during the summer. The course has a pop up system and also mobile spray boom units are used.
Leicester Racecourse was, in fact, the first course in the UK to have a pop up system way back in 1967.
Only the flat course is watered, the jump track has to rely on mother nature. If, when and how much to irrigate is Jimmy's hardest decision. He spends hours listening to the weather forecasts. With meetings scheduled every 11 days, there is little time to keep on top of repairs. He has to use as much information as he possibly can to help plan his maintenance schedules.
The winter and summer meetings each have their own maintenance agendas.
The National Hunt season starts in mid November and runs right through to March. The damage to the grass on this track is more easily managed, the lay out of the course can be varied, thus rotating the wear areas and allowing time for recovery and repair.
The Flat racing track maintenance is more intense, the season runs from April to October. There are more meetings (21) and faster horses on shorter grass (100mm), therefore the wear factors are greater. Consequently there is more grass cutting, watering, feeding and renovations on this track.
The feeding programmes for each course also vary. On the flat Jimmy carries out a straight fertiliser programme using regular spring, summer and autumn products, giving more control on grass growth. On the jumps track only two applications of fertiliser are made in spring and Autumn
In April both courses are vertidrained, chain harrowed and drill seeded with Moores uni-drill. This provides a good start for the growing season ahead. The harrowing, in particular, helps the divotting infill materials settle down.
With crowds improving all the time at each race meeting it is important to have the course looking and performing its best.
Jockey Club Study
During my visit, I met up with Colin Mumford from Cranfield University who is currently carrying out research sponsored by the Jockey Club and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council. The four-year study is looking at the optimization of soil and going management on racecourses with controlled water applications. The study started in October 2002.
By combining soil science with modern technology, in particular Global Positioning Systems (GPS), the study will investigate ways of measuring ground conditions and will identify methods of delivering water accurately and more efficiently to minimize inconsistencies to the surface conditions.
Such a development would be of enormous benefit to racecourses and Course Managers. Jimmy is very supportive of the study knowing that, potentially, there would not only be huge savings in money, time and labour but would also help him provide a consistently safe racing surface for the horses and riders.
The racecourse is owned by Leicester Racecourse Company LTD. Leicester racecourse is well over 100 years old. consisting of over 200 acres of intensively managed land, with Flat and National Hunt courses and an 18-hole golf course. The golf course is managed by the Local authority.
The Flat course is a right handed, undulating oval, about 1m 6f round with a 5f run-in. The National Hunt course is also 1m 6f long and right-handed and very undulating.
Contact Leicester Racecourse
Leicester Racecourse Co Ltd
Phone: 0116 271 6515
Fax: 0116 271 1746