Written by: Daria Kurilo
“I’m riding my horse on the track and it’s literally torrential rain. Not only that, there’s lightning and thunder that’s only seconds apart. My horse was on the bit and I had to hold on tight incase the horse spooked and I fell over. Although going against such strong wind, we couldn’t really go very fast. But it was just ridiculous – the fact that they made us ride out in this crazy weather.” – Shane O’Reilly, track rider at Rosehill Racecourse
Trainers at Rosehill Racecourse were warm and dry in the trainer’s stand, where they stood and watched as their riders challenged the storm on Tuesday morning.
Track work riders start work earlier than most, where some are expected to come in at 3.45am according to Shenead Coghill, who works for trainer Lee Curtis. She was one of the lucky ones who did not have to ride out that morning, when the storm was at its peak.
“Lee wasn’t expecting me to ride that morning,” Shenead says. “There isn’t much point training horses in such conditions, it’ll just make them hate the track and not only that, with the lightning it can be very dangerous.”
According to the racing club, Racing NSW, there is a Lightning Safety Procedure which by law you’re supposed to follow. In heavy weather conditions, people at the racecourse must follow the 30/30 rule to determine whether it’s safe to be on the track or not.
“As part of any lightning safety plan, clubs should therefore incorporate a rule which requires all persons to take cover if the flash-to-thunder delay is thirty seconds or less,” states the Lightning Safety Procedure. “The following locations should be avoided: open field/racecourse.”
This relates to the duration between the flash of lightning and clap of thunder, which describes the proximity of a storm cell. The 30 seconds flash-to-thunder time interval suggests that the lightning activity is approximately 10 kilometers away.
“The lightning was definitely less than 10km away,” reports Shenead. “The steward of the racecourse said to close the pool as the lightning was too close, yet they still left the track open.”
Racecourse stewards are officials of the Principal Racing Authority who are authorized to following the Australian Rules of Racing. Failing to do so, specifically failing to comply with health and safety duties, can result in massive fines.
“According to the New South Wales Consolidated Acts, if it’s your average employee who fails to comply then he will be fined of up to $150,000,” reports former lawyer and currently director of iwannaticket, Jonathan Namey.
However according to the same act, if it’s an offence committed by a body corporate such as a racecourse steward, then the fine can be as high as $1.5 million.
“And that’s not taking into account the penalty for not complying with the health and safety of the animals,” says Jonathan Namey.
Rosehill Racecourse was not the only club to continue with their daily routine. Racecourses at Randwick and at Warwick seemed to have done the same. Friends of Shenead who work at Randwick told her that they also had to ride out.
“It [the storm] was probably a lot worse at Randwick than it was here,” says Shenead. “One of my friends who works there was so angry he said that there should be some sort of authoritative figure to represent us, track riders.
“Stewards aren’t really on anybody’s side. But if the horses keep getting ridden, then the money keeps coming in to the racecourse. And if it’s not the storm, then there’s another reason when they put us at risk.”
Several acts under the Safe Work Australia club exist such as the Horse Stables and Track Riding Safety booklet and the Rider Safety Assessment. However these are managed and regulated by the stewards. No track rider authoritative figure has existed in the past and currently there is no governing body, apart from the Racing NSW board, that exists.
Racing stewards oversee horseracing events to ensure all rules and regulations are followed by the participants of the race. Their focus is to assure that there is equality in the training of the horse rather than establish a safe and fair environment for the employees. While there was no risk for the workers who rode out on the day of the storm, they and the horses were still put at risk and in danger. The steward who authorised the track to be open broke the rules and regulations of different acts and policies as listed in this article.
Tell us your view on this in the comments section down below.
Flash floods, record-breaking rainfall, hail and severe thunderstorms.
These were all the factors of the “storm of the century” that took place April 21. What resulted in substantial damage to bridges and buildings and tragically, loss of life, this is one of the worst storms that NSW has seen in 18 years. The Bureau of Meteorology had to issue a severe weather warning advising Sydneysiders to delay unnecessary travel and avoid travelling during peak times. A number of businesses closed down either due to power cuts or simply for the sake of staying home, where they would be safe.
Below is a video of a time lapse of the storm in Randwick. It is clearly visible that there is flooding, and would not be surprising if there was flooding at the racecourse as well.
Facts and Figures
The storm was declared as a natural disaster by the state government, which also promised financial assistance to the worst hit areas. Some areas are still being cleaned-up today.
- Over 200,000 homes had no power
- Over 100 rescues have been issued
- Over $160 million in damage
- Overall rainfall in Sydney was 255mm
- Up to 135km/h of wind gust
- Record-breaking wave at 9 metres
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