CHAIRMAN Neville Bell’s message to members of the Brisbane Racing Club about the enforced closure of the Eagle Farm track has prompted a host of responses on social media and to this website which could best be described as less than complimentary.

Rather than comment further on the situation LETSGOHORSERACING reproduces the newsletter which we hope will allow stakeholders and the racing public to make up their own minds about this less than ideal situation.

You be the judge on where the blame should be directed and who should foot the bill for this costly mess:


Dear Member,

Thank you to the Members who have contacted the BRC this week for information on the Eagle Farm course proper. It's been a challenging time for all who love Eagle Farm - a track that has hosted the likes of Tulloch, Kingston Town, Strawberry Road and Rough Habit. However, we must accept Racing Queensland's decision to move the remainder of the Brisbane Racing Carnival to Doomben. In response to some queries from Members this week, here is a summary of the key questions around the Eagle Farm track redevelopment.

Why is Eagle Farm not suitable for racing?
The Eagle Farm track is safe for racing but we note industry feedback that the track is not performing as it should for an event as prestigious as the Brisbane Racing Carnival. The track has been built with kikuyu grass and a sand profile that requires frequent watering to keep it firm. That's complemented by a drainage system that is designed to enable frequent watering while presenting a good racing surface. However, the turf has been affected by a thatch problem. The thatch is a layer of thick organic matter that retains moisture and prevents it from getting into the sand profile. That means the Eagle Farm track retains moisture in the top 100mm layer and races as a heavy track even without rain. For example, in the last 14 days prior to the Kingsford Smith Cup meeting we added no irrigation and had only 23mm of rain eight days before.
Is this the wrong track for Eagle Farm?
Racing Queensland and the BRC board are working closely on that question. We'll know more as we seek guidance from experts around the country in the next week or so. Racing Queensland is the principal who contracted with track builder Evergreen for the redevelopment. In August 2014, the then Racing Queensland administration closed Eagle Farm for a major track redevelopment that was expected to be ready for the 2015 Brisbane Racing Carnival. Racing Queensland funded the redevelopment and, as project manager, oversaw the design and building of the track and the subsequent handover to the BRC. Due to funding delays, the tender for the redevelopment was not awarded until two months after racing ended at Eagle Farm.
Why has this not worked out given that the Eagle Farm track took almost two years to build?
The closure was not about giving the track time to bed down - it was caused by funding delays that meant Racing Queensland could not proceed as planned. The course proper was to be redeveloped at the same time two tunnels were built beneath the track. When the funding for both projects could not be secured by Racing Queensland as planned, it was decided to begin work on 80 per cent of the course proper leaving the areas required for tunnel construction for a later date. This meant that the track could not re-open for the 2015 Brisbane Racing Carnival. It re-opened one year later.
At about the same time, the original scope for the track was trimmed from $12.7 million to meet the available funding of $10 million. To meet this reduction, Racing Queensland's changes included the narrowing of the course proper from a width of 40m to 28m, the sprigging of turf instead of laying turf and the reduction of a maintenance period with the track builder, Evergreen, from 12 months to three months. These would have been difficult decisions at the time.  While establishing the track by sprigging/stolonizing was cost-effective, it had never been done on a major Australian track. This meant that Evergreen's three-month maintenance period expired before racing resumed. Contractors would normally maintain a track project such as this for between one and two years.
The BRC was handed the track by Racing Queensland nine days before the return to racing at the Oaks meeting in 2016. That meeting was cancelled due to an extreme weather event. The BRC understands Racing Queensland accepted the practical completion of the track by Evergreen just prior to the handover to the Club. At the time, the BRC voiced its concerns with Racing Queensland that the track had not been tested under race conditions.
Were sub-standard materials used in the construction of the track?
Racing Queensland is the principal under the contract. Factors such as the cost, type of grass and profile were determined by a Tender Evaluation Panel run by Racing Queensland. The BRC had one position on that panel. The BRC has seen no evidence of sub-standard materials having been used in building the new track. The concern has been more about the thatch issue. There is a growing school of thought that sand-profile tracks with kikuyu grass are more susceptible to thatch build-up.
The track was racing well late in 2016. What's happened since then?
After the BRC was handed the track by Racing Queensland, Evergreen carried out a monthly track report which was sent to Racing Queensland and copied to the BRC. With the valuable knowledge accumulated over recent months, the BRC might have done some things differently in order to prevent the build-up of the thatch layer. We have learned that the maintenance of sand profile tracks is not an exact science. Track performance is affected by seasonal conditions and location. We clearly would not have planned carnival meetings for Eagle Farm had we thought there was a risk that the track would not be ready or safe.
Why did the BRC give Evergreen a three-month maintenance contract in March?
The track raced poorly at a midweek meeting on March 13 - its third race meeting in nine days. Two days later, the BRC convened a meeting of 20 stakeholders including Evergreen, Racing Queensland, turf experts, trainers and jockeys. The intent was to ensure that the Brisbane Racing Carnival could be held as planned on an acceptable racing surface. Two days after the meeting, Evergreen was contracted by the BRC to maintain the track for three months, including the Brisbane Racing Carnival. Since then, Evergreen, Racing Queensland and the BRC have met on a weekly basis to discuss the track's progress against set benchmarks. The BRC was advised that the track was improving gradually and would be ready for the three Group 1 racedays. The track was and is safe but, as we saw last Saturday, it was not up to a standard acceptable to all in the industry. The consensus is that despite the exhaustive work, the thatch problem remains.
Is there any possibility of legal action over the track redevelopment?
The BRC was not a signatory to the original contract for the track redevelopment. Racing Queensland is the principal and, therefore, will have to decide on any redress for the track issues. Racing Queensland holds an extended warranty over the track.
What happens next?
Racing Queensland and the BRC have met several times this week to chart a way forward. We appreciate Racing Queensland's eagerness to work with us on this project. Eagle Farm is Queensland racing's No.1 asset. The track is the most popular for Queensland wagering turnover - the lifeblood of the industry. The BRC has already called on track experts from around the country to provide input into the Eagle Farm racing surface and next steps. These include Evergreen, which has put forward a plan for an improved racing surface.
Eagle Farm will not race again until the track is improved. However, trackwork continues six days a week for more than 500 horses. The length of the closure for racing will be determined by the solution to the track's problems. There is no suggestion that Eagle Farm will be shut down again for more than a year but the exact length of time depends on the solution.
What are the consequences for the BRC and its Members of the shift to Doomben for the Oaks and Stradbroke meetings?
BRC staff have been working tirelessly to ensure that the Doomben track and facilities will be of its usual high standards. We are pleased to report that our corporate sponsors have remained with us in the shift to Doomben. Obviously, there are reduced options for functions, when compared with Eagle Farm.  Members can be assured that there will be no change in space allocation for Members and their guests.  Additional security will be employed to control access to the Members' Reserve.
The BRC appreciates all feedback. We are as passionate about racing as you and share the frustration of being unable to race at Queensland's premier track. Our commitment to the sustainability of the southeast Queensland racing industry is now on show inside Eagle Farm - the outstanding new stabling complex has been fully funded by the BRC. Visiting trainers, including Peter Snowden, have joined the likes of Rob Heathcote and Tony Gollan in praising the new facilities.  
We will get this track right so that Eagle Farm can again be regarded as one of Australia's most outstanding racing precincts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: IT would be interesting to hear the views of the Kevin Dixon Board on the comments above which on the surface seem to level much of the blame for the problem at them as the control body responsible for the track and contracting of work at the time. Just what problems have occurred since the track was handed over to the Brisbane Racing Club is debatable. Question is whether 'Little King Kev' will step up to the square and provide some answers to the industry in view of the 'blame' which seems to have been levelled at his Board. 

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