Racing: Light shed on teething troubles

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The Independent Online
NEVER let yourself be caught in an embarrassing position when the lights come on, is a motto the management at Wolverhampton would have done well to adopt before staging Britain's first floodlit racing yesterday, writes John Cobb.

The historic occasion almost had to be postponed after overnight temperatures as low as minus eight degrees caused parts of the 'all-weather' Fibresand track to freeze. Jockeys and trainers were reluctant to take part and the meeting was only sanctioned by the stewards after they had inspected the track 30 minutes before the first race.

There were not only surface problems and the drop from the main track to the harness-racing course inside also caused consternation. One rider, Lindsay Charnock, said: 'There is a drop on the other side of about six inches, and a horse would come easily come down.'

The jockeys agreed to give the rails a wide berth but John Williams was another rider who was unhappy with the track. 'It is rough, frozen in parts, uneven, and an absolute disgrace. You wouldn't gallop a horse on it at home. The running rail will have to be fixed by tomorrow's meeting.'

That is not a view shared by the man behind the track, Ron Muddle. 'There are still things that need doing but nothing essential,' he said. 'There has been non-stop rain for three weeks and that put us behind.'

Other problems were an absence of roofs on the saddling boxes, no water for washing down horses and animals having to walk down the car park road. Most farcical of all, the winning post is set a yard past the photo-finish equipment and when Petraco and Strip Cartoon fought out the first race run under floodlights their respective jockeys, Steve Williams and Nigel Smith, both thought the verdict had gone against them. Petraco and Williams made it into the quiz books by a short-head.

Cards at Ayr, Hereford and Wincanton were abandoned.