Kirtlington leads the field
Kirtlington Park looks set to lead the field in ground management by becoming the first club in the UK to introduce scientific ground measurement techniques.
The innovation borrows systems originally developed for use in the horseracing industry by Cambridgeshire-based technology company, TurfTrax. Data gathered by the TurfTrax GoingStick will significantly aid ground management programmes and maintenance schedules.
TurfTrax, in collaboration with the Centre for Sports Surface Research at Cranfield University, began development of the GoingStick in the early 2000s in response to the British horseracing industry’s search for more scientific methods of monitoring and measuring going and weather conditions on UK racecourses.
The result is a device which has been designed specifically to measure sports surfaces and help predict how they will respond to the impact of a horse at full gallop. Following a rigorous and painstaking calibration process to account for different soil types at racecourses around the country, a scientifically derived numeric scale was derived that correlates to the traditional ‘going’ descriptions ranging from Heavy to Firm.
The device has since been adopted by the sport’s regulator, the British Horseracing Authority, and is also commonly used at major international racecourses, fast becoming recognised as a global industry standard.
“The GoingStick measures penetration and shear, which are the two forces that the horse’s hoof exerts when it’s in contact with the ground,” explains TurfTrax’ Managing Director, Mike Maher.
Measurements are taken using precision strain gauges which are attached to a probe. The strain gauges feed data up to the GoingStick’s control box where is it recorded. The probe is inserted into the ground vertically to measure penetration, then the stick is pulled back to an angle of about 45 degrees or until the turf tears to measure shear.
Once readings have been taken from pre-determined locations - called waypoints - the GoingStick simply plugs into a laptop or desktop PC and downloads data to a bespoke software platform. From there data can be analysed, archived, published on a website or distributed by email and via any number of social media channels.
The partnership breaks new ground for TurfTrax whose products also include weather stations and the TurfTrax Tracking System which provides real-time speed and positioning data for every horse in a race and is used to enhance broadcast, for training purposes and post-race analysis.
The GoingStick that will be used at Kirtlington Park has be specially re-calibrated because the playing surface is generally firmer than the racing surface, and pitches have been grid mapped to ensure readings are consistent.
“Effective ground management is vital,” say Polo Manager Josh Tuthill. “At Kirtlington we have two sites with a total of 7 pitches and they all drain differently. By recording measurements regularly we can build up an archive of data which will help in scheduling ground maintenance with accuracy to achieve consistency across all our pitches, spread usage more evenly among the grounds with assurance that the grounds are within our parameters and ultimately improve the consistency of ground for our members to enjoy throughout the season.
Footing is key for a horse to be confident and safe, and a ground that doesn’t perform will take more out of horses. Better ground conditions mean better polo and standards improve all round. Allowing our members and away teams to visually see our grounds rating or “going” remotely from the web site will give them more information and information is the key to success. It will also allow assurances when the weather is against playing. For example, rain affects grounds differently as to how quickly it penetrates, so a rain gauge can only tell you so much and a kick of a heal (a common site before a game) is subjective. The Going Stick allows us to make these calls having surveyed the ground quickly and then cross reference them to the archive to help make the call to play or not play from an objective perspective. I hope to see this in other clubs/grounds so we can start to bench mark the pitches against one another to fairly reflect the quality of the different grounds.”