The new Eagle Farm track has come through its first major test with flying colours, with rave reviews from senior jockeys after 15 horses galloped on the re-laid surface on Tuesday morning.
Racing is set to return to the Brisbane track on December 22 after a frustrating four-year period which saw the track reconstructed, only to be shut down again, most recently in May last year after the surface deteriorated badly.
With former VRC track manager Mick Goodie called in to consult on the new project, Eagle Farm has been slowly rebuilt with couch grass as opposed to the kikuyu used previously.
Senior jockey Jim Byrne was delighted with what he experienced with the track, which now looks destined to return to racing this month.
"Honestly, without any silver lining, it was absolutely amazing. You could barely hear horses galloping over it," Byrne told TabRadio.
"Honestly, without any silver lining, it was absolutely amazing." - Jockey, Jim Byrne
"The track, you were expecting them to cut in a little bit but they did not. They probably scuffed the grass a little bit, but they were running good times on it on a good 4 track."
"They were bouncing off it, they weren't cutting into the grass, which is something they do do at Doomben. It's a new track, and I couldn’t fault it, and it was absolutely fantastic."
"There was no fault that I could pick up at any stage of the gallops." - Jockey, Dale Smith
Byrne's enthusiasm was backed by another experienced jockey in Dale Smith, who has only relocated to Brisbane in the past 12 months, so had limited previous experience on the old Eagle Farm track.
Goodie sought Smith out to test out the track and give him an unbiased view on the surface.
"It's very nice. The grass cover is very good. They are going up to their fetlocks in the grass and we did a couple of gallops and I had a couple of boys sit off me and there was minimal kickback. The track held together really well," Smith said.
"There was no fault that I could pick up at any stage of the gallops."
Couch call set to pay dividends
Goodie, who has been overseeing the project since earlier this year, had every confidence that the track would get through its first audition.
"I was fairly confident going in, but it was great to get a good report back from the riders," he said.
"I think it’s great for the stakeholders of Queensland racing that Eagle Farm has taken a big step forward. We’ll have a few trials next week and then race on the 22nd and it will be great to get this track back to its halcyon days."
"I was fairly confident going in, but it was great to get a good report back from the riders." - Mike Goodie
Goodie gave some insight on the decision to switch back to couch grass, saying it was a much better solution for a track with a sand profile like Eagle Farm.
"The kikuyu is a very aggressive recovery grass, but in sand it's very weak in structure. Where the couch is the other way, it’s strong in structure. It's going to be a bit of a suck and see to see the recovery time after a meeting, but all signs are positive and I'm happy going forward," he said.
"When I worked at Eagle Farm in the middle 70s it was blue couch and they went to a kikuyu, and it’s been a great servant here, but in sand it doesn’t shoot a straight profile underneath. It won't build up the strength matter in the profile."
"The thing is you can’t take your eye off the ball with sand profiles,.You give them what they need and spend the money and you'll get the money back in turnover." - Mike Goodie
Goodie said the bigger test of the surface will come during the winter time where big fields and heavy rain can test out any track.
"It will drain very well. It will be similar to Kensington, Flemington, Sandown, Caulfield and Moonee Valley, they are all pretty much the same," he said.
"The thing is you can’t take your eye off the ball with sand profiles,.You give them what they need and spend the money and you'll get the money back in turnover."
Huge boost for Queensland racing
Byrne certainly agrees that the new track will be a significant boost for Queensland racing.
"There should be no-one more relieved than the Queensland punters and the Queensland public," he said.
"At the end of the day, the industry needs Eagle Farm up and running. We need to restore confidence back in our racing and get our premier track back up and racing fully so punters are able to bet on it confidently."
"For myself, I just can't wait to get out there and race on it."
Eagle Farm will host four trials next Tuesday after which the final green light for a return to racing on December 22 is likely to be given.