Southwell set for delayed first meeting on Tapeta

As Southwell prepares to reopen with a new all-weather track next month executive director Mark Clayton believes one of the pioneers of racing on an artificial surface in Britain can put a "troublesome" few months behind them.

The course's Fibresand track has been removed and replaced with Tapeta, which just needs to be levelled up and come through a BHA trial before the first meeting on December 7.

The track's debut, which will have more than £100,000 in prize-money on offer, is ten days later than originally scheduled and Clayton said: "It's been troublesome with the supply chain problems that everyone has had.

"There was the fuel issue and the Suez Canal issue – not all of the materials come from this country and that meant a logjam at a number of ports.

"And then there was the problem with the shortage of HGV drivers. We've had approximately 800 lorries come and go. But the contractors have managed admirably and we've all pulled together and delivered."

Clayton expects better field sizes now that Tapeta has been laid and revealed an upgrade to the racing programme. Southwell, where no Flat racing has been staged since August, will also stage fast-track qualifiers for the All-Weather Championships for the first time.

Jump racing returned on Tuesday, after a break since July while the Flat track was redeveloped, and Clayton said: "It's been very strange to have three and a half months off, we love racing at Southwell."

Looking to the future, he said: "It is known to be the foremost artificial surface, it's worked at Newcastle and Wolverhampton, and we're really looking forward to having a surface which is not so 'marmite' as Fibresand was.

"There was always a pool of horses that raced on the Flat on the all-weather during the winter and a smaller pool that raced at Southwell because of the surface. Now we're talking a next generation surface.

"We're going to have a far more balanced programme. It used to be bottom-heavy. We'll still have a number of Class 5 and Class 6 races but they'll now be topped off by a few more Class 2s and Class 3s, starting on December 7."

Clayton added: "On January 1 we'll have a Class 2 and two Class 3s, and we'll have our first fast track qualifier. There's another on February 18 – the All-Weather championship has always been going on around us but now we're part of it."

Southwell is keen to stress that its former surface has not simply been dumped. Clayton said: "It has gone to numerous trainers, studs and local farmers. Fibresand lives on!"