Agronomic benchmarking at Flemington racecourse

Strong grass health evident at the famous Flemington winning post

Flemington Racecourse is Australia’s premier racetrack and hosts 25 race meetings a year including the iconic weeklong Melbourne Cup Carnival. With much of the world’s eye on the racecourse every November it is paramount that the track manager has the correct information at hand to make informed decisions for the management of the surface.

The Victorian Racing Club (VRC) appointed STRI Australia as the agronomic consultants for the club, following our involvement in the reconstruction of the Flemington course proper in 2006. STRI provides ongoing agronomic advice to the track manager to deliver a turf surface capable of withstanding the rigours of racing.

Stage 1
Over the last 10 years STRI have developed an annual benchmarking assessment system that has assisted the VRC with benchmarking the agronomic performance of racing surfaces. The benchmarking was instigated when there was a perception of poor track performance.
The benchmarking assessment evenly addresses what is happening in the turf canopy as well as what is going on in the profile. Several measurable turf health and soil factors are assessed at furlong intervals around the track, including:
  • Thatch
  • Root health
  • Root depth
  • Soil temperatures
  • Soil moisture
Stage 1
Other assessments include turf species composition, in situ infiltration, impact of thatch on infiltration, nematode analysis, disease and pest identification and analysis and lab testing of soil and tissue.
Stage 2
Findings and action
Once the data has been collected, the Flemington track team and STRI discuss the findings and formulate a program for future maintenance and renovations. At this time they are able to address any track issues or deficiencies.
At one stage the benchmarking tool helped to indicate the need for a change in grass species in the course proper and amendments to the fertilise program to deliver better growth results.
The benchmarking highlights potential problem areas and can explain why the track is performing in a particular fashion. The Flemington track team managed to identify that excessive devoting in some areas of the track compared to others, can translate to poor root growth and a pest problem.
Stage 3
Future proofing
Ongoing annual benchmarking assessments provide the Flemington track manager with measurable information to ensure his current management practices are successful. It helps to identify areas of potential improvement, whether it be small tweaks or major changes.
The track manager gets an accurate picture of the agronomic performance of their track which can then be discussed at board meetings. Having quantitative data to work with makes decision making at that level much clearer and helps to identify areas which need immediate attention.