“We took a long, hard look at the grass species, because the growing environment at Conghua is slightly different – it is warmer in summer, cooler in winter, and the growing seasons vary slightly too,” Mr Ridley says. “We decided to stay with what we have in Hong Kong, the Tifton 419. We understand its growing pattern and decided it was easier to fine-tune the maintenance practices we have, rather than learn about a whole new species. Our current grass is already grown in China and so it made sense to stay with the 419.
“We will still have to over sow with rye in the winter up there, it will go into dormancy a little longer and come out of it a little later, and we are still learning about the transitional periods between the Bermuda and the rye in Conghua. That was a major advantage of getting the grass laid in May, more than a full yearly cycle before horses will be trained over the surface.”
Where a difference does lie between the turf tracks at Sha Tin and Conghua is in the design, with subtle differences between the two tracks despite their similar characteristics.
“Sha Tin’s turf track was designed some 40 years ago, so there are certain design principles that are different now,” Ridley says. “Sha Tin was designed with a simple radius turn, meaning that horses go directly into a turn. At Conghua, we have introduced a transitional curve – all modern tracks in the last 20 years have been built to include this. Modernised safety standards in course construction have evolved too, and we have adopted those as well.
“One notable change is that we have introduced a one-metre rise from the 400m to the line in Conghua, which was put in after consultation with senior jockeys. Sha Tin is flat once you hit the straight, so that will change things a little bit and offer an extra variant for trainers. However, the back straight is completely level, because we will conduct the 1000m barrier trials down the back straight and the trainers wanted it nice and simple for young horses.
“Other than that, though, it is very similar as a training surface.”
CTC also offers the first uphill gallop available to Hong Kong trainers, an 1100m turf chute above the back straight which is currently under construction.
“The uphill gallop is a 1.5% continuous rise to the 1000-metre mark, with the last 100 metres flat, so rising about 18 metres above the back straight,” Ridley said. “The original design was different – it was going to be more like Japan, where it goes from 1.5% to 3% to 5%, but after some of our jockeys and trainers rode an uphill gallop in Japan, they told us that the continuous rise was more suitable for Hong Kong horses as our racing is different. It is more sprint-oriented in Hong Kong.”
“The uphill gallop was also originally supposed to be synthetic too, but after our trainers reassessed what they wanted to achieve with the uphill gallop, and recognising that we don’t actually race on a synthetic surface, it was switched to turf. It will operate similar to the 1800-metre gallop at Sha Tin, open two days a week with restrictions.”
CTC’s tracks require a management team, separate from the Hong Kong division, and Mr Ridley, who has overseen the project, says the squad is currently expanding its knowledge under the leadership of Jackson Wong, Racing Operations and Tracks Manager (Conghua), who has been based in Conghua since course construction commenced in March 2016.