Vital measures to keep Ipswich racing going
DECKED out in protective gear, Sean Tou was more used to getting his hands dirty than spraying disinfectant.
However, the dedicated Ipswich Turf Club racecourse manager quickly embraced his vital roles focused on keeping everyone safe.
"It was definitely an eye-opener,'' Tou said, reflecting on the heightened precautions to protect jockeys, trainers and restricted staff at Easter Monday's meeting at Bundamba.
"We're doing the whole business to support the industry and to minimise the risk between us and whoever we come close to.
"It's definitely something new to us and we're happy that we implemented it here.''
At Ipswich's first race meeting since last October, Tou and his assistant Peter Hughes took on extra responsibilities in addition to preparing the track and monitoring the surface's performance during the nine races.
They became a jockey room attendant and sanitisers while overseeing social distance rules between essential people working on course.
"It was a busy day that's for sure,'' Tou said, having a new appreciation for what previous staff looking after jockeys have to do.
Tou learnt what was required on Monday from Racing Queensland and Brisbane racing authorities.
"We just did our best and followed the guidelines,'' the track manager said.
Under the tight restrictions to keep racing going, the jockeys had their saddles and silks exchanged at a designated area.
Trainers were not allowed in the enclosure, having to discuss tactics and race matters with hoops over the fence at a safe distance. Trainers also had to watch the races from away from the enclosure and grandstand.
"It was more a challenge to keep the trainers and the jockeys separated from each other,'' Tou said. "But also trying to keep everything disinfected around the place as well.
"Everything that they touched or came in contact with, we were coming up behind them and wiping down tables, the fences, rails.
"That definitely kept us on our toes, that part of it.''
Tou, 33, started at the Ipswich Turf Club 15 years ago after completing year 12 at Ipswich State High School.
He instantly impressed ITC general manager Brett Kitching, gaining valuable experience through horticulture courses and learning from other experienced Bundamba track staff.
Having been appointed racecourse manager 18 months ago, Tou appreciates the vast knowledge in his Ipswich team of seven. That includes guidance from long-serving workers like Darrel Bell and Chris Wallace.
"Having these guys with the experience they've had over the years, it's a great learning curve,'' Tou said.
"I take my hat off to these guys. They are the backbone of this place.''
During the extended period without Ipswich racing, Tou and his team were able to complete major track work, including improved irrigation and drainage.
Tou was happy with how the surface performed consistently across the whole day for Monday's racing return. He said the jockeys were "rapt'' with the cushioning in the surface.
"The track was mostly like a good four but it felt like a soft five, which is perfect,'' Tou said.
With a series of Sunday meetings coming up in Ipswich, Tou hopes to maintain a quality track for the all-important jockeys he is eager to please.
"For me, it's challenging myself to better myself each day with different scenarios that may pop up,'' Tou said.