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What it takes to tame the most demanding bit of grass in Ipswich

It’s a good thing Sean Tou thrives in the face of a challenge because his role as track manager at Ipswich Turf Club throws up plenty of them.

The centrepiece of any racing club is its track and Ipswich has one of the most demanding in Queensland.

It’s Mr Tou’s job, with the help of a close-knit team, to have the track and facilities in shape for the club’s 46 race meets per year.

None however draw as much attention as the iconic Ipswich Cup which was first run 1866, today draws more than 20,000 spectators and has serious prize money on offer.

“It’s our biggest event of the year. We are on show. We want to try and present the best track as possible and we start preparing for it months out,” Mr Tou said.

“It’s a challenging track to work with, especially because our profile here is a clay profile.

“Having a clay profile track raises a lot of issues. It doesn’t drain well, and you can have poor root growth, especially with the poor quality water we have in this area, and compaction.

“Compaction is one of the hardest things I’ve got to deal with. If the ground gets to a point where it’s heavily compacted the roots won’t grow down and then it’s like trying to grow grass on concrete.”

It’s for this reason that the job of aerating the soil is a constant for Mr Tou and his team, however even their best efforts can be thrown off course by Mother Nature.

“Leading up to this Cup we were looking really, really good but just a fortnight ago the temperatures dropped quite dramatically,” he said.

“We copped two big, massive nights of frost and we all know what happens when you get frost on grass, it just dies right back.

“Everything I had planned went straight out the window, and we had to restart again and change our programs to suit the conditions.

“We can’t fight Mother Nature. Whatever she throws at us, we try to deal with it the best way we can.

“The track has come back well and is all set for this weekend’s Cup. This week has been a fantastic week, the sun is out and the temperatures are really good.”

Mr Tou has been track manager at Ipswich Turf Club for about two years and started working at the club straight out of school in 2004.

He fell into the world of horticulture after beginning a school-based apprenticeship in carpentry as a student at Ipswich State High School.

“The guy I was doing that with was finishing up, he was retiring, so I had to find something else,” he said.

“I had a mate back then whose dad was track manager at the time and I spoke to him and he said there was an opportunity to come here to finish it off.

“It was a different position, going from carpentry to horticulture, but I just jumped on it and ran with it. I never thought I would get this far, but here I am.”

Mr Tou said the family feel about the club, passion among its staff and the constant challenge of preparing a quality track against the odds kept him there.

“There have been opportunities to go elsewhere but what you get with this place is the community side of it,” he said.

“The Ipswich Cup is that one event that brings everyone together and that’s why I like being here.

“We’ve got a really great team, from all the staff right through to our committee members, and the way I see it, we’re not co-workers or workers, we’re family here.

“This track here tests me every day. One day I’d like to come down and say ‘I’ve done a good job’ and knock off and come in the next day and say it’s looking perfect but that doesn’t happen.

“This track is very unique. You can’t walk away from it. This is why I love this job, it’s a challenge every single day.”

Ipswich Cup is on Saturday, 15 June at Ipswich Turf Club, 219 Brisbane Road, Bundamba. Gates open 10am.

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