So far this season we’ve welcomed 471 horses to Kelso Racecourse. That’s 1,884 hooves, most of them circumnavigating the track at least twice – so roughly 3,768 hoof prints every five metres or so, which equates to something over 1.5 million hoof-shaped divots on the track.
Given that the grass stopped growing in October, people often wonder how we keep the place green. The answer, of course, is that we’re lucky to have a team of magical elves that we keep locked in the disused stairwell of the old Listed Grandstand. We feed them on potato peelings and let him out only at midnight when, to satisfy a long-standing debt to the ancient unicorns that once grazed the Berrymoss, they rush out on to the racecourse and fix all the divots and mend the sward using tiny needles and a special thread made from living grass.
If you visit the racecourse at night-time you can often hear them singing their sweet elven songs, “We will fix it, we will grow it, we will make it green, green, green…”
Oh, hang on… No. That was the dream I had last night…
Come to think of it, there’s actually a team of dedicated individuals (humans not elves) who work in all weathers, month after month, throughout the seasons. And this core team of full-time employees (named Connor, Logan, Mark, Davey, Danny, Happy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dasher, Donner and Blitzen) is supplemented with additional helpers on racedays, and on the days immediately afterward, who replace as many of the divots as they can with hand-forks and feet.
At this time of year, we start to replace some of the displaced turf with a mix of soil and sand to which we optimistically add grass-seed. The tetraploid rye grass seed that we use is specially engineered to germinate in low temperatures, although getting any plant to grow significantly during the Winter remains a challenge.
Most significantly, after each and every racemeeting, the groundstaff set about moving the white running rail which delineates the track – ensuring that the horses race on a different line to the preceding fixture (running, as they usually do, close to the rail on the inside of the track). And then every so often, because they’ve moved the inside rail bit-by-bit, they have to move the large birch steeplechase fences sideways too. That’s the job they’ll be tacking over the next few days.
Having reached the halfway point of the season, the team will be moving the fences sideways – opening up a lovely strip of fresh ground for all the valuable races that will be staged during the next seven weeks. After the unseasonably dry weather (1mm in the last three weeks) we may soon have to start irrigating too – just as they have at Musselburgh where our selection for the bet365 Scottish County Hurdle is the Brian Hughes ridden Fiveandtwenty.
When conditions suit, the grass will receive a dose of fertilizer too – to kick start growth in the early Spring. And if we’re still not quite satisfied, we’ll feed the elves some more potato peelings and listen out for their sweet song at night: “We will fix it, we will grow it, we will make it green, green, green…”