Given its rather unsatisfactory moniker and the fact that even now it is relatively new in the grand scheme of things, all-weather racing in the UK and Ireland is often unfairly frowned upon.
Its name comes from the fact that, in theory, there should be no cancellations on all-weather tracks due to the weather, but there is much more to say about AW racing than that.
What is ‘All-Weather’ Racing?
While dirt racing has always been the most popular form of horse racing in the States, all-weather racing first came into play in the UK in 1989 when Lingfield opened its synthetic surface track.
That’s what all-weather surfaces are, synthetic tracks. They can be made of various substances by a number of manufacturers, all having the look of sand about them to the naked eye.
One of the substances these tracks are made from, Fibresand, does indeed mix sand with polypropylene; Tapeta is sand, fibre, rubber and wax; while Polytrack mixes silica, spandex, carpet and other fibres.
While turf going descriptions depend on rain, ranging from ‘heavy’ right up to ‘firm’, descriptions of all-weather tracks tend to simply read as ‘standard’ which knocks a few punters off their stride. In fact, each surface rides differently and so getting to know the makeup of each type is crucial for those looking to bet.
Beginning with Lingfield in 1989, the list of all-weather tracks in Britain and Ireland has steadily grown in number.
As of now, they are:
- Chelmsford – Polytrack, left-handed
- Dundalk – Polytrack, left-handed
- Kempton Park – Polytrack, right-handed
- Lingfield Park – Polytrack, left-handed
- Newcastle – Tapeta, left-handed
- Southwell – Fibresand, left-handed
- Wolverhampton – Tapeta, left-handed
Even now, there is not a good enough spread. Ireland is not set to open a second all-weather track until at least 2022, while Newcastle changed their popular turf flat track (keeping the National Hunt track) in 2016 as there had previously been no all-weather surface situated in the north.
Also, Kempton Park is the only right-handed all-weather track on the circuit, while other than a few bumper races, no National Hunt events currently take place on synthetic tracks.
All-weather meetings take place just about every day, one of the charms of this form of horse racing. Day-to-day races tend to be pretty low-key but are getting better as each season goes by.
Due in part to major tracks like Kempton and Newcastle switching to the all-weather some very important races are not staged on synthetic tracks.
Here are some of the best events staged on Britain’s all-weather surfaces:
The Sirenia Stakes, a Group 3 race over six furlongs for juveniles, and the September Stakes (Group 3) over a mile-and-a-half which was twice won by superstar Enable are both run at Kempton alongside some good handicaps and Listed races.
Lingfield’s Winter Derby, a Group 3 race and once considered the top event on the all-weather, is staged at the end of February each year and has been won by some top horses. Another Group 3, the Chartwell Fillies’ Stakes, takes place in May.
Despite criticism of their year-round prize money, Lingfield also hosts the richest all-weather race day of the year every Easter. On Good Friday, Lingfield holds the All-Weather Championships featuring seven races at varying distances, worth from £75,000 to £100,000 (up to £150,000 in the past).
Once the richest handicap race in Europe and still one of the biggest betting events of the year, the Northumberland Plate at the end of June is now staged on Newcastle’s Tapeta track. Accompanying it at the same meeting are the 1¼-mile Hoppings Stakes for fillies and the Chipchase Stakes over six furlongs, both Group 3 races.
Added to the schedule on Good Friday was the Burradon Stakes, upgraded from a conditions race to a Listed contest. The race is run over a mile for the three-year-olds and is worth a cool £100,000. It can be seen as a 2000 Guineas Trial, and when the timing is right it is listed on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ too.
The only pattern race here is the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes, a seven-furlong event won three times by superstar jockey Ryan Moore. Of even more interest however is Wolverhampton’s Lincoln Handicap Trial which is now used by many contenders for the big race itself at Doncaster in late March.
Why Does Racing Get Cancelled on an All-Weather Course?
One of the main bugbears of casual punters is seeing a meeting called off due to weather on and “all-weather’ track, and to an extent that’s understandable.
However, as we’ve said previously, the all-weather title is not a truly accurate description for a collective of tracks with synthetic surfaces.
The main priority is to make these racing surfaces fairer and safer, something certainly achieved by Newcastle and since supported by top trainers, though the lack of cancellations comes from the fact the heavy rain, unlike on the turf, will not force an abandonment on an AW track.
Severe frost and heavy snow on the other hand, can. With soft fibres, sand, rubber and wax providing a nice cushion for the horses, these particles freezing over and turning hard and uneven can indeed force a meeting to be called off.
It’s unfortunate, but also thankfully rare.
Why Does Britain Not Have More All-Weather Tracks?
Phrases such as “kings and queens of the turf” probably don’t help. Britain’s existing top races moving onto the all-weather just doesn’t sit well with some, so the country not having more all-weather racing probably comes down to tradition, if you’re putting it nicely, or a terribly old-fashioned view if you’re being blunter.
The surfaces are fairer and safer and there are fewer cancellations of major events. In the past, we’ve lost some crucial races to the weather which really should not be an option in future.
Before undersoil heating and innovative lighting systems to keep the grass in great nick, many more top-level football games were lost to the weather which would be unacceptable in the Premier League these days. Racing needs to catch up.
Since moving Champions Day to Ascot, the last three renewals have been in danger due to the state of the track. Indeed, the 2019 Vertem Futurity, the last Group 1 race of the season, was abandoned at Doncaster and forced to move to Newcastle a week later.
That race, won by subsequent 2000 Guineas champ Kameko, became the first Group 1 race to ever be staged on an all-weather track in Britain but more top-level races are needed on these surfaces.
While the tracks are often listed as ‘standard’ or ‘standard to slow’, they do behave differently. Polytrack often rides very fast, in some cases too fast, while the Tapeta is a little deeper. When the weather is warm it actually rides even slower as the fibres expand and provides a lovely surface on which to race.
The likes of Enable, Stradivarius and Without Parole, all Group 1 winners, won their first races at Newcastle and it seems that it’s about time to combine two things that are really needed on the British racing schedule; a Group 1 all-weather race and a Group 1 race staged further north than York.