- January 15, 2018
15th January 2018
30-Minutes with Ben Hastie
The preparation that goes into a raceday begins as soon as the last one finishes. Last week we were lucky enough to spend time with our Head Groundsman, Ben Hastie. Ben is a familiar face around Cheltenham to horsemen, staff and racegoers alike. A keen and talented photographer, Ben shared with us a few of his snaps over the past couple of months as we were able to gain a little insight into the life of a Groundsman.
With eight weeks to go until The Festival™ Ben describes the buzz that is within their team ahead of four days of racing in March. Ben has always had a keen interest in racing, his Grandfather was Head Lad for Edward Courage, before becoming a gallops man. Having always known that he wanted to work outside, Ben began working on a golf course for almost seven years. He started working at Warwick while taking holiday from his job at the time. He was invited to work at The Festival™ in 2005, before taking a full time job here and moved to Cheltenham which he describes as the best move he ever made.
Ben, what is a typical day for you and your team?
My day starts at 7:15am. I head into the office to make a plan for my team of 12. I try and spend at least a few hours out on the track each day. We have a lot of deadlines, from short to longer term plans, like any job, the team are working to a time scale. A huge part of my job is one of the most unpredictable things – the weather. Is anyone an expert in the weather? Not even the experts are! The weather plays a huge role in our day-to-day work, not just on the lead up to a raceday. Do we need frost covers? Is it too windy for certain machinery? It affects much more than you realise at first thought. The weather is probably the most important part of my job at the moment.
After a raceday, when do you begin preparing for the next?
We begin preparing as soon as we possibly can. For example, the Monday after The November Meeting everything is removed from the course and we begin filling in every single divot and hoof hole on the course – that’s a lot of divots and can take up to three days. For us, a key move between The November Meeting and The International is the change in courses, from the Old course to the New. This involves a lot of rail movement and positioning, we moved almost four miles of rail. We then have to begin repairing the broken hurdles from the previous meeting, after The November Meeting over 50 hurdles needed to be fixed!
The weather ahead of the previous fixtures has been a huge talking point, what does this mean for you?
Simon Claisse (Regional Director of Racing) and I were aware that there could be a hard frost overnight on the Friday before The International so we needed to protect what was out there. There was no need for the team to use frost covers on the Thursday night ahead of Day One as the ground was completely fresh, there were no divots so the grass acts as an insulator. The team were able to start covering certain aspects of the course as the last race was going down on the Friday. With a team of 45 people, all the covers were down just before 8pm on the Friday night. This obviously has a big influence on what happens the next morning. We monitor the temperature very closely throughout to ensure we don’t begin taking the covers off if the temperature is still freezing. What a lot of people don’t realise is that when the sun begins to rise, the temperature drops slightly so you need to ensure the covers are not taken off too early. However, the covers do take around three hours to be completely moved off the course before the first race. We had about 20 minutes to spare on The International Saturday!
Any tips for Festival Trials Day and The Festival™?
My jockey to follow for the season is Harry Cobden, he will be Champion Jockey one day. At this stage for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup I would go with Minella Rocco each-way, I think he has got a big race in him. My favourite horse in training is Yorkhill, I think he will win whatever race he runs in at The Festival™.
Time for the important questions…
As a customer, where would you watch the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup from? The public viewing area by the last fence! It is the place that matters the most in the race. I would want to be somewhere between there and the winning post.
Ant or Dec? Dec – I haven’t really got a reason for that
Henderson or Nicholls? Nicholls
TV or Film? TV
If you weren’t doing your job right now, what would you be doing? I would have liked to be a vet but I don’t know…
Hot holiday or cold holiday? Mmm hot
Early bird or stay up late? I get up early – morning is the best time of day
Flat or jumps? You don’t need me to answer that do you? Jumps definitely.
Sweet or Savoury? I should say savoury but sweet.
Randox Health Grand National or Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup? Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Beer or Wine? Cider
Ben and his team are a vital part in creating the world-class racing that Cheltenham provides. As we look ahead to Festival Trials Day and The Festival™ in March, it is all systems go and full steam ahead for everyone involved.