When you are at the end of summer you don’t really expect there to be a couple of flat meetings lost in quick succession. Epsom and Salisbury abandoned, plans scuppered, horses’ carefully mapped seasons disrupted, jolly-ups a-plenty and races snatched from the lips of eager racegoers and not to mention livelihoods put on hold. What on Earth is going on?
A tweet from lover of cakes and trainer of note Fergal O’Brien shed some light, it read:
Salisbury also pointed the finger ‘Unfortunately all racing at Salisbury Racecourse for today has been abandoned, due to the discovery of loose turf on the loop section of the course, believed to be as a consequence of chafer grub damage, which has appeared overnight.’
As did Epsom, ‘Due to chafer grubs impacting areas of the racing surface, racing at Epsom Downs Racecourse will not go ahead on Thursday 13th September.’
So, it was Chafer Grubs what did it officer.
It got me wondering, what are these arch-enemies of the turf, infant-insect racecourse disruptors, mini-race wreckers?
Well, it turns out that they are a beetle of the Scarabaeidae family of which there are over 30,000 varieties, Scarab beetles, nasty critters all, at least if you are a racecourse. Before you get angry and reach for the insecticide, spare a thought for Chafer. They only live for about a year and when they emerge from the soil as beetles their days are numbered less than 14. The adult beetles use what time they have left, quite wisely, breeding like there’s no tomorrow, of course it’s only 100/7 that there isn’t. They like to get in it on it trees, go for it hammer and tongs then die, that’s not before the female lays about 40 eggs in the turf from which they emerged.
So how do they do so much damage lounging around as grubs for most of their lives? That’s where you feel even more sorry for their lot, they don’t. Well, they do, a bit, when they emerge from the turf as beetles, but their biggest crime?
They are so tasty.
The damage to Epsom and Salisbury has led to the poor old Chafer getting a real bad rep, remember Fergal’s tweet, ‘Chafer grubs rapidly becoming more unpopular than politicians. Which is some feat’. Well, that’s just the point, the damage is done for precisely the opposite reason, they are very popular, because they are so darn tasty. They are to crows and foxes as a homemade Victoria Sponge is to Fergal, irresistible grub, most of the ‘Chafer’ damage is in fact done by predators digging them up to scoff them.
Imagine that, being born a beetle grub must have its drawbacks, but when you get blamed for racecourse abandonments because you have been eaten by a bird or a fox, nobody blames the bird or fox for digging the turf up to unearth the tasty morsels.
Well, they wouldn’t would they, that would be a bit like bookmakers blaming punters for betting with them because they were the best odds and snapping them up, it would never happen, would it?
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring