Trainers do not throw dirt on Meydan’s decision to dump Tapeta

Several UAE-based trainers have backed Meydan Group’s move to rip up the Tapeta surface and replace it with dirt, a move that has drawn international attention and stirred controversy.
Meydan Racecourse's decision to switch from Tapeta to dirt will result in half of the Dubai World Cup Carnival programme racing on the organic surface, as well as the Dubai Kahayla Classic, the UAE Derby, the Godolphin Mile and the World Cup itself, a move most trainers support. Lee Hoagland / The National
Meydan Racecourse's decision to switch from Tapeta to dirt will result in half of the Dubai World Cup Carnival programme racing on the organic surface, as well as the Dubai Kahayla Classic, the UAE Derby, the Godolphin Mile and the World Cup itself, a move most trainers support. Lee Hoagland / The National

Several UAE-based trainers have backed Meydan Group’s move to rip up the Tapeta surface and replace it with dirt, a move that has drawn international attention and stirred controversy.

Erwan Charpy, Doug Watson and Satish Seemar have been mainstays of the UAE racing scene for more than 20 years, and the trio believes that dirt is a surface more suited to the unique demands of the region.

Meydan Group on Wednesday confirmed racing’s worst-kept secret, that dirt would be installed at the UAE’s flagship racecourse in time for the start of the 2014/15 domestic racing season.

The move will result in around half of the Dubai World Cup Carnival programme switching to the surface, as well as the Dubai Kahayla Classic, the UAE Derby, the Godolphin Mile and the World Cup itself.

Similar to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s criticism of the surface in the lead-up to the Dubai World Cup in March, Charpy found the synthetic surface too erratic in the desert heat.

“The artificial surface was always unpredictable and was affected far too much by the weather,” Charpy said.

“On World Cup night especially, it was a totally different racetrack from the one for the first race to what the World Cup was staged on.

“Dirt is a better surface for racing. It is a fair surface and the form is more consistent. We are in the desert and dirt is natural – I’ve never seen a Tapeta dune. A well-managed dirt track is a lot better for my horses to train on, too.”

Charpy worked in the United States, where dirt is the major racing surface. Like synthetics, dirt also changes its nature in heat, but not as drastically.

There is a huge body of evidence to suggest that synthetic surfaces are safer than dirt surfaces, whether it be Tapeta, Polytrack or Pro-Ride, as featured in America before the country turned its back on the synthetic revolution recently.

An exhaustive two-year study of the equine injury database by the University of Glasgow in 2010 determined that horses on synthetic surfaces were up to 27.6 per cent less likely to break down than horses racing on dirt.

However, Watson pointed out that, in the UAE, the racing is conducted in a different manner to that in the US and suggested that Meydan could easily produce a dirt surface with different qualities to those in his homeland.

“I won only one race on synthetic this year, so I am extremely biased,” Watson said from Singapore ahead of the International Cup on Sunday.

“I don’t believe that Tapeta is safer than the dirt at Nad Al Sheba. You could count on one hand the amount of catastrophic injuries that there were on Nad Al Sheba’s dirt. Here, it will be a different proposition to dirt tracks in America, because we have to run on it without race-day medication and must be free from all medication a week before the race.”

The move to dirt has caused consternation in Europe, where turf is the elite surface.

Although Jamie Osborne said Wednesday that UAE Derby winner Toast Of New York would return to Meydan in 2015 for a crack at the World Cup, trainers such as Irishman Ger Lyons, a regular visitor to Dubai, were adamant that they would never return to Dubai with horses.

However, for Seemar, European trainers are already well furnished on World Cup night.

“Overall, I think it is the fairest thing to go back,” Seemar said. “We have two excellent grass races for the Europeans in the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Dubai Duty Free, which are now worth US$6million (Dh22m) each.

“I had the biggest win of my career on Tapeta when Reynaldothewizard won the Dubai Golden Shaheen, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture.

“Racing here has to go to another level, and it can’t do that without America.

“The Dubai World Cup Carnival is just as important as the World Cup, but since the news broke, I have had a positive reaction from people I have spoken to out here and they appreciate the move by Meydan.”

However, there was not a unanimous chorus for dirt, and UAE trainer Ernst Oertel is so upset about the removal of Tapeta that he is investigating the possibility of buying the surface from Meydan to install at his Al Asayl gallops in Abu Dhabi.

Oertel wrote to the Dubai Racing Club earlier in the season, imploring them to keep the synthetic surface, and often undertook the long journey to Dubai to train his horses at Meydan.

“I’m devastated,” he said. “Tapeta is not the ultimate surface for racing on and it has its drawbacks, but all the statistics show that there are more injuries on dirt.

“It bothers me and I don’t understand it, especially when there are two Tapeta tracks being laid down in Europe as we speak.

“I think it is a step backwards.”

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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