Moe racing season’s premature end

The Moe Cup has been cancelled. It’s a familiar story this time of year, but one that a multi-million dollar upgrade to the racing circuit two years ago was supposed to bookend.

“The reality is the club spent $5 million; we don’t expect not to be racing,” Moe Racing Club chief David McKinnon said yesterday.

“Of course we felt after spending that money… we expected to be racing for the next 30 years without problems, but clearly that hasn’t happened.”

The club’s StrathAyr all weather surface has suffered severe divoting in recent meetings and performed well below expectation throughout the winter season.

Racing Victoria and the Moe Racing Club announced on Friday that on-track operations would cease for the remainder of 2015 to undergo maintenance.

It comes as a huge blow to MRC, which outlaid $3.04 million for the project in 2012 to ensure no further loss of meetings following 20 transferred racedays in a two-year period.

The State Government contributed $1.2 million and Racing Victoria put in $260,000.

StrathAyr, which will lead the renovation, took soil samples from the track during an inspection last week for analysis.

The root of the problem is yet to be identified, but one thing is already certain – wet weather is not to blame.

“The issue is… it’s got nothing to do with the amount of rainfall we had. We had significant rainfall between the last two races and we didn’t lose any race meets because of water on the track or drainage,” Mr McKinnon said.

“The divoting that we’re talking about has got nothing to do with the weather and that’s the thing people struggle to understand.

“It’s a different problem to the one we had before.”

The cup has run just once as scheduled since 2010 – last year – and while the catalyst for the cancellation is new, it is far from foreign territory in the industry at present.

Mr McKinnon said Moe’s woes with its StrathAyr surface were not isolated, with similar issues recently observed in tracks laid by the company at Kensington and Toowoomba.

“We draw from what happens everywhere else and we know what’s happening at Moe is not an isolated incident with a StrathAyr track,” he said.

“They (Kensington) had exactly the same problems that we had (turf coming away) and they’re not racing a year after they closed for renovation.”

Following the track’s installation, which was completed in June 2013, MRC has been responsible for the sand-based surface’s maintenance.

Mr McKinnon said the club had followed StrathAyr’s two-year post completion maintenance schedule to the letter.

The club chief said it was too soon to say where the fault, if any, may lie.

“The problem is with the divoting that’s coming out of the track, that could be related to a whole lot of factors, we don’t know specifically which one it is,” he said.

“We can’t have an unsafe root base for the jockeys and the horses; their welfare and safety is absolutely paramount.”

Mr McKinnon said the financial impact of losing the 15 October Moe Cup, in addition to another four transferred meetings, could be a loss of up to half a million dollars.

He said the club would rely upon performance guarantees within the StrathAyr contract to help offset the losses.

The decision comes after MRC successfully lobbied for the reinstatement of a Moe Cup half-day public holiday.

“The racing club doesn’t take this decision lightly. It weighs heavily on us not to be racing on Moe Cup day, especially since we’ve gone to a lot of effort to get the half day public holiday back,” Mr McKinnon said.

“We’ve got a great relationship with the Moe traders who are focused on the three-hour sale and have been very supportive.

“We see it as a really important community event and there’s a lot of economic benefit that’s driven to the local community through us having a cup day. Us not being able to do that is a very difficult thing for us within the local community.”

Mr McKinnon suggested the likely course of action would be to rip up the track’s top layer to stimulate root growth over the next six months.

RV executive general manager – infrastructure and club support Jamie McGuinness said racing would return to Moe in early 2016.

StrathAyr managing director Frank Casimaty did not respond to messages left by The Express at the time of going to print.