★ SMILES ALL-AROUND AS ALL-WEATHER SURFACE RECEIVES THUMBS UP ★
THE smiles matched the weather as, on a sunny day for this historic first all-weather meeting and with positive feedback from riders and trainers, there were beaming faces from the Arena Racing Company hierarchy with the course deemed to have passed its first official test with flying colours. It was not the first time horses had galloped on the course there had been a trials day here earlier in the month —but Joey Haynes will go down in history as the first jockey to ride a winner on the new Tapeta surface.
After partnering Tap The Honey to land the opening 1in21 f maiden, he said: &lquo;I couldn’t fault the track. It was the first time I had ridden on it, although the horse came here for the trials day when Dougie Costello rode him. It was very fair and although we went a good gallop we kept going.They were kicking it up a little, but nothing too bad.&rquo;
Arc chief executive Martin Cruddace was all smiles after the opening event. &lquo;The jockeys said it rode really well, and Joey Haynes, who rode the first winner, described it as a very fair track, so I’m delighted," he said. "It’s been quite a feat, but we’ve completed it on time and within budget. But this is only the first stage and we’ll not stop working in order to improve the quality of the racing here. I’ve always said quality and profit go hand in hand — they are not mutually exclusive.&rquo;
Trainer Mark Johnston, who sent out the successful Turbine, was quick with a compliment — even if it came a little qualified. &lquo;I’ve always said it was the best turf course in the country, so it was a great pity they dug it up. However, it’s now the best all-weather track in the country,&rquo; he said.
Former jockey Dale Gibson, representing the Professional Jockeys Association, said: &lquo;It’s great to have an all-weather track in the north at last and it looks in first-class order. It’s amazing what they have achieved here in such a short space of time. It will take time to bed in a little more, but it’s a good, galloping course and looks fair for everyone.&rquo;
Joan Wakefield, the wife of Tapeta inventor Michael Dickinson, was responsible for overseeing the laying of the surface and was also delighted with the reaction of the riders and trainers on the day of its first big test. She said: &lquo;I’ve been over for ten days now, together with my assistant Miguel, and we’ve fine-tuned a few things, but it has bedded down well. It was very cold when we laid it back in the winter so we’ve fluffed it up a bit and it seems to be riding really well.&rquo;
The course’s executive director David Williamson said: &lquo;Today is the result of a lot of hard work by everyone concerned, particularly Stobarts, who were our contractors and worked so hard.&rquo;
The track’s clerk of the course James Armstrong, who has been on site throughout the transition process, said: &lquo;It’s been full on for quite a while but it’s been worthwhile as there’s been so much positive feedback from everyone." However, the first race on the historic day might have been scuppered by, of all things, a gaggle of geese. Armstrong said: "The jockeys saw them close to the course but luckily they weren’t on the racing surface and they flew away after the horses passed them.&rquo;
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