On the Mark. Trainer Mark Johnston on when the going gets soft

On the Mark. Trainer Mark Johnston on when the going gets soft

Horse Racing - The 2013 John Smith's Grand National - Preview Day - Aintree RacecourseThe watering of racecourses has been one of the consistently controversial topics of the past flat season.

Champion jockey Richard Hughes has been critical of courses watering, as has the always frank speaking trainer Mark Johnston.

In his latest missive about this matter, the Yorkshire based Scot says: “Last Thursday, when making declarations for Saturday, I was particularly surprised to see that Chester was Good-Soft and Haydock, just down the road, was Good-Firm and had had 15mm of water applied.

“I asked one of my secretaries Jacqui Connor to call the Clerk of the Course at Chester and ask how this could be possible – I was convinced he must have over-watered – but he was adamant that his ground was Good-Soft and that he hadn’t put a drop of water on it.

“Silly me. I was questioning the wrong clerk. I was shocked on Saturday morning to find that Haydock was also Good-Soft having had just 1mm of rain on the Friday. I went to Haydock and, Clerk of the Course, Kirkland Tellwright was able to lay part of the blame on the current inaccuracy of the Racing Post (another important issue) as he had apparently changed the ground description to Good on Wednesday after rain on Tuesday.


“Nonetheless, the ground at Haydock on Saturday was not as described at declaration time and the change was nothing to do with the weather.”

Johnston went on: “We can’t change the weather and I accept that, sometimes, we can’t even predict it very well but, as Richard Hughes told us earlier in the year, racecourse turf is often damaged by watering and, in my opinion it is particularly suceptible in spring and autumn.

“Unfortunately, it seems that many clerks of courses just cannot accept that they are supposed to be aiming for Good-Firm ground. That BHA instruction simply is not being adhered to and should be changed or enforced.”

Mark Johnston criticises plan to stage jumps racing at Chester

Mark Johnston. Photo by Vernon Grant

For my part, writes Vernon Grant, I agree with every word Johnston and Hughes have said about the watering of racecourses. It happens far too often these days. True ground in summer (Good-Firm) is notable by its absence.

Who is the driving force behind this? Nobody wants to see horses injure themselves on very firm ground. If we have a summer heatwave that lasts for weeks then courses should be watered to prevent injury to thoroughbreds. But so often now we see courses watered to such an extent that it makes life very difficult for trainers.


Good ground becomes Good to Soft, even in summer months. Often courses are watered despite the met office forecast promising heavy downpours on the day of racing.

It is trainers whose horses are bred to race on Good-Firm or Good ground that are losing out. And, as Johnston sums up, it plays havoc with how owners and you, the punter, expect a horse to perform.

Johnston concludes: “Brace yourselves for some dodgy Going reports and inexplicable changes in form. Don’t pass it off as the horses having had enough for the year if the divots are flying from the watered turf.”

It’s perhaps just as well that winter is coming. That National Hunt racing will soon be to the fore and mud – created naturally by the elements – will be prevalent.

The debate over whether to water, or whether to allow the weather do that for you, will be put to bed until next spring when, no doubt, someone will once again turn the tap on.


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