Synthetic track action in the Central Districts has shifted up a gear with the first trial meeting successfully held at Awapuni.
The recently completed surface at the Palmerston North course, which opened for trackwork a fortnight ago, hosted eight 1000m heats on Thursday morning and passed with flying colours.
Construction on the $13.5 million track began in January with the bulk of funds from the Provincial Growth Fund with the RACE group contributing $3 million and is the final cab off the rank.
The Cambridge and Riccarton synthetic tracks are up and running and while Awapuni isn't due to stage its first fixture under race day conditions until 2023, it could come into play earlier if required.
“There isn't a race meeting here until May of next year and we haven't had anything confirmed with regards to the day,” Awapuni Racing Centre Racing Manager Kim Treweek said.
“But if the weather continues, the pressure may come on to run a synthetic meeting so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that we could run within the next month if need be.”
Experienced horseman Peter Didham had runners from his local stable in four of today's eight heats and was pleased with the outcome.
“It wasn't the easiest of days, it was raining most of the time but the heats were good and it all went off well,” he said.
“It's going to be a great training asset for Awapuni and they say it's at its best when it's wet and it's wet seven or eight months of the year.
“It will be very good for us next year, to be honest it was difficult training here in the winter when the tracks were very wet and going through the pain of building a new track. It's here now and everyone will be using it.
“I spoke to the riders and they were pretty happy, it's in the early stages and it went very well today.”
His comments were echoed by RACE Track Co-Ordinator Daniel Aimes.
“We had positive feedback from everybody and the jockeys said it was nice to ride on. There was rain on the day and it obviously didn't affect it so it was another positive step forward,” he said.
As has been the case at Cambridge and Riccarton, the synthetic surface isn't to the liking of all horses.
“We have to embrace it and it's not the answer to everything and it's not going to suit every horse,” Didham said.
“I galloped one the other day and she didn't handle it all and then went to the jump-outs on the grass on Tuesday and won.
“We've got other horses that go really well on it and it's a matter of identifying what's handling it and what's not.”
Didham, who enjoyed his best season in 2021/22 with 21 winners, is currently rebuilding a youthful team after losing a number of proven representatives, in particular his flagship performer and two-time stakes winner House Of Cartier.
A daughter of multiple Group One winner Shez Sinsational, the Alamosa mare won five races including the Group 3 Marton Metric Mile (1600m) and the Listed Feilding Cup (2100m).
“We've retired her and we've just sold three other older horses to Singapore and I have got a whole lot of young horses,” Didham said.
“We're going through a change-over period and I've got two barns of 15 and they are full of youngsters.
“I bought nine yearlings and there's a lot of two-year-olds. I'm really excited going forward, but it's going to take a bit of time to rebuild.”