This week #AscotAsks Chris Stickels, Clerk of the Course at Ascot, ten questions about his role at the racecourse and what he is most looking forward to at this year’s Royal Ascot.
Name: Chris Stickels
Location: Ascot, Berkshire
Occupation: Clerk of the Course at Ascot Racecourse
1. Chris, as Clerk of the Course at Ascot Racecourse, could you explain what your job role entails?
As Clerk of the Course, my fundamental role is to ensure that the Racecourse and track complies with all of the regulations set by the British Horseracing Authority, making it a safe environment for horses, people around them and jockeys. From about ten days before a meeting, I assess the track and report on the Going and on a raceday I oversee the various racing operations.
2. What was your career path to becoming a Clerk of the Course?
I first started at Folkestone Racecourse as a Groundsman in 1996, then progressed through to Head Groundsman. From here I progressed into the position of, Clerk of the Course. I then joined Ascot Racecourse as Clerk of the Course in 2005.
3. A range of terms can be used to describe the ground conditions on a raceday ranging from heavy to firm/hard in some cases. Could you briefly explain the difference of these terms and how it can affect a race?
The Going is the term used to describe how the track is going to ride, which is important to ascertain as it can definitely influence the outcome of a race. Whether the going is heavy to firm, it will affect a horse’s motion and speed on the track. For Royal Ascot we aim to start the meeting on Good providing the forecast isn’t wet for the coming week.
4. What are the highs and lows of your job?
The highs are definitely seeing some of the top class horses in the world running here at Ascot and unfortunately the low of my job is when a horse or jockey gets injured racing.
5. In extreme weather conditions, is there much that you can do to protect the turf?
As you can expect, conditions can range from very sunny and hot periods to the freezing lows of winter and torrential rain, so I can give a few examples of how we would try to protect the track;
If we are expecting large amounts of rain there isn’t a whole lot that we can do. We have used rain covers in isolated areas on occasion; however they aren’t the most effective as they drive the rain into other areas of the racecourse. It may also be worth noting here that when the weather is very hot, water collected from rain falls in to the top of the grandstand and is pumped into a reservoir. This water is then used and to irrigate the track to stop it drying out and becoming too hard.
In the colder months we can lay down covers on various parts of the track to protect it from the frost. Using this cover then maximizes the opportunity for racing to go ahead in the winter.
6. As the job of looking after the racecourse and specifically the track is so vast, you must have a team who you work with?
Yes, we have a team of 13 full time staff including the Head Groundsman and his staff who impeccably look after the grounds around the racecourse, as well as the Stable Manager and of course myself and my PA. In the summer months we recruit additional staff to help around the racecourse and on a raceday we can have a team of up to 60 ensuring the whole day goes smoothly.
7. Could you give us your daily routine on a Royal Ascot raceday?
I arrive at the racecourse by 5.30am and conduct my first walk of the course to check everything is Ok. I’ll then head back to the office to announce the Going and deal with any racing enquiries that have arisen. I will then go and check all the equine facilities and stables before I have some breakfast ready to walk the track again just before racing.
I will also ensure that everyone who needs to be here is onsite, including the officials, doctors and vets and that racing starts on time, overseeing the movement of horses. Once racing is over, I check the track is fully prepped and repaired for the following day.
8. For someone who is interested in a career in Clerking, could you advise a good way to get into it?
As there are only 60 racecourses in the country, there aren’t too many Clerk of the Course jobs going. However, I would suggest getting a job in racing and learning about how a racecourse operates in many different ways. Your interests may then lead on to other thing – you never know!
9. Briefly, what will be your plan of action in the three week lead up to Royal to make sure the track is perfect? (Weather permitting!)
We will be assessing the track daily, monitoring the forecasts and carrying out the final turf management practises. When we are 10 days out we will water the track accordingly, depending on the forecast and ground conditions, to ensure we have our optimum Going.
10. Finally, what are you most looking forward to at Royal Ascot 2012?
I’m looking forward to seeing last year’s star, Frankel, to start the Royal Meeting with a bang followed by Black Caviar, which will top off what is set to be a fantastic week.