Pelly has one track mind
ECHUCA RACECOURSE MANAGER HONOURED FOR OUTSTANDING WORK WITH RACING VICTORIA AWARD
There are micromanagers, general managers and co-managers. There’s even mismanagers.
And then there is that rarer species: award-winning managers.
Such as Echuca Racing Club’s Anthony Pelly.
He has been named Racing Victoria’s 2020-21 Track Manager of the Year (in the category of eight or more yearly meetings).
And he has, just as quickly, said the award was not about him, that he would never win it on his own. It was an award, Pelly insisted, that belonged to everyone who has worked with him for the past decade, turning the track into the gold standard of country racing.
A track so good that in recent years it has often doubled its number of meetings to cover for other racing clubs not fortunate enough to have Pelly on their team.
“My biggest thing with this award is it may be an accolade for myself, but I couldn’t do it without my team,” Pelly said.
“In particular, my 2IC Bailey Wilson. It is just as much his as it is mine.
“We are only a small team here, from the office staff to us boys on the track to the committee, but everyone works really well and gets along really well.
“It’s a good place to work and that is what makes my job easier.”
Rain, hail or shine, Pelly and pals are out there waging war on weeds, grubs, the odd rabbit and, always, the weather.
When you’re in the racetrack business there’s no such thing as a perfect season — in Pelly parlance the only good weather is weather that doesn’t damage his track.
But he said if you loved your job, it could make for a much easier work day.
That’s the magic ingredient for the Echuca racecourse track manager, who did admit, under close questioning, the award came out of the blue.
“I didn’t know it existed to be honest with you,” Pelly said.
“I’ve been here 10 years and the years go on; it’s good to be acknowledged, I suppose.
“When you’re actually out there in rain, hail and shine, it’s nice to know the work doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Not many people have had a chance to see the fruit of Pelly’s labour during the past year, with limited crowds on course throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — but the jockeys, trainers and owners have loved him and his team for it.
Hoping for their return remains at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but one thing it has done is given Pelly and his team the time to concentrate on the main task at hand: the track.
“Because we are a small team, part of our job is keeping the grounds tidy, which we still do,” he said.
“However, there is no infrastructure to set up, no events in particular; we would usually average one a week, so you’re moving chairs and tables.
“It’s given us more time to concentrate on the track.”
That groundwork has come in handy, with Echuca receiving its fair share of transferred meetings during the past two years — all of which Pelly has pulled off with a moment’s notice.
“You’re busy enough as it is and all those meetings are mainly in the wintertime, which is when you don’t particularly want to race because your track gets damaged,” he said.
“The biggest thing is weather and it’s the one thing you don’t know.
“Whether you’re in the middle of winter and you’re trying to get a roller on it because it’s just rained, or it’s summer and it’s 40 degrees and you’re trying to water it but it’s windy.
“That is all the challenges that go with the job.”
This winter has had its own cavalcade of mini crises, according to Pelly.
“We had a very wet winter and we had one meeting transferred away, which is the first since I’ve been here,” he said.
“The rain came on the wrong day; if it’s the day before or day of a meeting, that can be the difference between two or three track ratings, which can be double or triple the damage.
“Some years, it may have been wetter, but it hasn’t rained at that particular time, so we would get through it a bit more unscathed.”
The transferred meeting from Tatura Friday week ago demonstrated exactly how quickly things could take a turn.
“We had the meeting transferred here on the Thursday and we were sitting on a Good 4 and we water that day, but it rained all day during the races, and all of a sudden we are sitting on a Heavy 9,” he said.
“But if it didn’t rain, the track would have been too hard. You just roll the dice and do the best you can.
“You do what you can up until 9 pm the night before and then do the best you can with the weather forecast. After that, it’s up to the weather and whatever happens, happens.
“You make educated guesses.” And while there are always going to be the occasional wrong guess, the pressure rarely recedes to have the track up to scratch.
“It’s changed these days in the 10 years I’ve been doing it, you need to have your tracks pretty spot on particularly because horses are worth a lot of money these days,” Pelly said.
“When you get stables like the big Melbourne trainers come up here and they could have $200,000 to $300,000 or $500,000 yearlings running on your track, you need to make sure it’s pretty right.
“Because if something happens to them they’re going to be asking some serious questions.”
That isn’t the only thing that has changed during Pelly’s tenure at the club, with a major infrastructure spend in 2017 practically changing the game for Pelly.
“A few years ago they put in an automated irrigation system which has made my job a lot easier,” he said.
“I can hit a button on my phone and put irrigation on, whether it be 2 to 3ml the night before at 7 pm. A lot of tracks don’t have that opportunity.”
It has also modernised the operations so the focus isn’t just on upkeep, but instead innovation.
“Back in 2011 we had two apprentices on, merely because of the irrigation in the summertime,” Pelly said.
“Six days a week someone was sitting in an old truck for six hours a day watering.
“A lot of the time it wasn’t about trying to improve the track, it was just maintaining it and keeping it alive and just getting by.
“Now it’s all automated, we can concentrate on improving it and have that f lexibility with the irrigation.”
With a detailed schedule planned out months in advance around spraying, aerating and irrigation, the busiest time of the year is right now for Pelly, with the racecourse set to host up to four meetings within a month.
“That is as busy as it gets, so we’ll be very busy ourselves with irrigation, but also moving the railing,” he said.
“Every week is a rotation of patching the track, moving the rail, racing, then doing it again the next week.
“The busiest time of year is now, but we also have the better weather this time of year.
“You get 10 to 20ml of rain and in a matter of days it’s gone and your track is growing better.
“It’s a busy time, but it’s easier to manage than the winter months, even though we race more.”
But no matter the day-to-day challenges to come, one thing is for certain — Echuca has the best in the business overseeing it all.