After a raceday with some great racing and tights finishes bathed in sunshine, we must also remember it was a day with a void race which on a circuit of 1 mile 1 furlong means some quick, decisive and difficult decisions must be taken to ensure the best possible safety and welfare of all participants, both equine and human. Yesterday’s incident was impeccably handled by our vets, the raceday stewards, jockeys, but also our own raceday team which is headed by Clerk of the Course Mark Cornford and our Trainee Clerk Marcus Waters.

With this week being #GroundsWeek2021, and seeing first hand how difficult raceday decisions can be yesterday, it seems good timing that Marcus features on the RCA’s GroundsWeek2021 Interview Questions today, which give you a bit of further insight into racecourse preparation.

#GroundsWeek2021 RCA Interview Questions

How many hours does it take to prepare the racecourse for a raceday?

It takes at least two days to repair the course from the previous meeting, this can be with up to 14 casual staff as well as 4 full time staff, we fork and fill the track with rootzone and seed mix. Then repairs on hurdles and fences which can take up to a day each to do. Moving of rail and hurdles for fresh ground can take 2 days with a full quota of full-time staff depending on how much needs to be moved. Watering when required could start at 7am, going through to 7pm if needed to maintain going. For our first fixture of the season watering can start a month before to get the water into the ground. Cutting of the course and collecting rings, when required, takes five hours to do.

Do you do anything differently ahead of major festivals?

More attention is given to lawns and flower beds for our Easter festival, but the priority is always to provide the best racing surface possible for every fixture we hold.

What are the unique challenges of maintaining Plumpton Racecourse?

Racing through the winter months on clay soil provides challenges, but with extensive drainage work carried out, the course has improved dramatically. Being a very narrow course we have little room to move onto fresh ground throughout the season, so planning rail and hurdle movements allows us to give as much fresh ground as possible for each fixture.

Aside from your own, which venues (sports or non-sports) do you look to for inspiration?

The grade 1 tracks are always good to look at. The likes of Cheltenham and Ascot show great skill to get their courses back looking their best, ready for the next day’s racing. Also, the results that some smaller venues achieve with smaller budgets and only a handful of dedicated groundstaff is very impressive.

How have you and the team had to adapt to maintain the racecourse grounds with Covid protocols?

We have had to work as smaller team than usual due to Covid regulations. More lone working, sticking to one job a day helps to not mix machinery use during a day and cleaning off all equipment and vehicles before and after use.

Have you and the team used your skills to support the local community in response to the Covid pandemic?

Any leftover food from race day has gone to homeless shelters.

Has being part of a team and working outdoors had a positive impact on your morale over the past 12 months?

Being able to get out into the fresh air has been a real positive and provided the team with a structure when everything else has been very strange. Also having the responsibility of setting up the site for racing behind closed doors and keeping the track in the best condition has been great. It’s been very satisfying to be a part of keeping racing going through these hard times and providing the public with a small form of escapism from what is going on in the world.

What has been the most rewarding moment in the last 12 months?

For myself, it was being appointed as Head Groundsman/Trainee Clerk of the Course at Plumpton racecourse, a real dream job. Whilst the timing of starting was not ideal, (a week before the first lockdown) it has been brilliant to get stuck into my new role. Although it’s different due to the current circumstances, I am looking forward to maintaining the surface to its best condition and hopefully we will have crowds back in the not too distant future. As a team it would be racing on the 25th January, we had a frost in the morning which came out the ground slower than expected. Last minute rail adjustments were needed as well as getting a slitter on the course to help bring the frost out of the ground. Getting the meeting on was a real buzz and a great effort from all involved.

What is the best part of being groundstaff?

Getting to work outside in beautiful scenery, especially in nice weather. Satisfaction in a job well done, especially the chase fences, as they are a real art. Also being a vital part of getting the sport of racing on and seeing top quality horses running on the track.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the industry?

Take pride in what you do. All jobs matter, even the smaller less glamorous ones. Talk to as many grounds people as possible, there are a lot of very knowledgeable people out there across all sports. Training, the more you can learn and skills you acquire the better.