Saudi Cup interest, How to grow turf grass for racetrack in the desert?

How is grass grown in an arid desert environment, expressly for the purpose of being trampled on? Much like new cities being built such as Dubai, for sure it takes a lot of money, ingenuity and science! Well now if your chance to read about it. Such an interesting website from yesterday’s post, I will put it below again for you to click on. There is so much information on this event, such as how it came to be, what are the most famous horse races around the world, listing of events and the winning purse, and something scientific…how to help grass to grow for a turf track where there is only sand now. If you are into horticulture, or just curious, read on below.

The following excerpt is taken from website.


“All around the world, great sport requires great grass.”

“If you ask Frankie Dettori, he’ll tell you what he told us: Riyadh’s wide, galloping dirt track is the best in the world. Now a turf course is under construction inside King Abdulaziz Racetrack’s sandy oval, on which three valuable new international races will be run as part of the Saudi Cup undercard. And, according to Richard Stuttard, head of consultancy at STRI Group, the British company building it, ‘the goal is to create the best grass track that the jockeys will have seen’.

Preparing the inner training track for the grass. It’s the same team who relaid Ascot’s straight mile, at the top. They have also worked with Churchill Downs, Flemington and Cheltenham racecourse.

It may seem an impossible task to grow turf in a land where the temperature can rise above 50°C. But Stuttard says the job is ‘entirely practical’ because the racing will be held in February, in the depths of what amounts to the Saudi winter, when the temperature drops to a lovely 25°C. Think Derby Day at Epsom in June.

In some ways, the venue will be reminiscent of Belmont Park, stage for the culmination of America’s Triple Crown, which has an emerald ribbon of turf looping inside the golden dirt track. But there is a difference in the constitution – what agronomists call the ‘profile’ – of the root zone of the two tracks. Belmont has a base layer of natural soil, a thick layer of sandy topsoil, and a verdant carpet of Kentucky Bluegrass. By contrast, the Riyadh track will have a sandy profile that befits the climate and geography and which is being ameliorated to produce a rich sward ideal for horseracing.

The foundation layer is compacted limestone. ‘It’s not concrete,’ says Stuttard, ‘but it’s as good as.’ Above this is an 11cm layer of finely-graded gravel, which facilitates not only the drainage of the course but also, by a quirk of physics, the necessary moisture retention in the upper part of the root zone. On top of the gravel layer is a 30cm layer of sand. In each case, the gravel and sand have been scrupulously selected. ‘You can’t just go to the nearest quarry and pick up some gravel and sand,’ explains Stuttard. ‘We have been to various sites across Saudi Arabia, collected samples, and then tested the gravel and sand for their suitability at our laboratories in England.’ In other words, he says, ‘we’ve mixed the best available gravel with the best available sand…and what we now have is a scientifically-designed profile for growing grass in the anticipated climactic conditions of a Saudi winter.’

The experts at STRI Group – which was founded in 1929 and which, among other things, advises Wimbledon on the development of its world-famous grass courts – have mixed the sand with other ingredients: organic material designed to improve the biological activity and moisture retention that facilitate the growth of the grass and some ‘artificial stabilising material’ that ensures the track has a uniform surface traction. Explaining this approach, Stuttard says: ‘You have to make a track that is safe. That’s a given. Of course, it wants to look great – and it will – but the primary thing is safety. It’s critical that you have a consistent surface. For the horse and the rider, they need to have confidence that the track will perform in a uniform manner for the duration of the race.’

STRI Group takes a very scientific approach to everything it does. It has testing facilities in Yorkshire and uses the latest computer-aided design technology to develop a sports venue – whether its a golf course, a football or rugby pitch, or a racecourse. As Stuttard discloses: ‘We work for Wimbledon, and we simulate Wimbledon tennis courts here in Bingley in Yorkshire. We subject those to simulated tennis-player wear so we can determine what the best grasses are for Wimbledon each year.’ It does the same for other sports, including football, rugby, cricket and, of course, horseracing – it worked, for example, on the redevelopment of Ascot racecourse, realigning its straight mile. So it knows all about the impact of 14 horses, each weighing about half a ton, thundering down the King Abdulaziz Racetrack’s home stretch at speeds up to 40 mph towards the winning post. That, and more, is what STRI Group’s turf is designed to withstand.”

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