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Upping their game

Eight years after setting up a racing yard at his parents Craig Farm in Langholm, in the Borders, James Ewart has taken another step up the ladder and installed Scotland's first Tapeta gallop.

The state-of-the-art surface – only the fourth in Britain and the first in a National Hunt trainer – was designed by Michael Dickinson, who is most famous for saddling the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

"I wanted to create a safe surface to remove the need for dirt tracks in Amercia. I thought it would take three months, but it took four years," said Michael, who was a successful jockey before training and moved to America 25 years ago.

"I wanted to keep horses sound, there's a lot of unsound horses in America. The surface had to be stable, tight on top and stable underneath, and not be too hard or soft.

"The surface is a special mix of sand, fibre, rubber and wax, and is designed to a safe, consistent surface all the way round the track. Being waxed it takes the rain very well, the fibres hold it together and blended with the wax after being heated to 200 degrees. It is able to withstand all types of weather, even extreme temperatures," explained Michael.

"Underneath the track is a drainage system, on top of which is six inches of stone and a membrane which avoids the dirt making its way to the surface. We then lay two inches of porous tarmac and on top of that we then lay the Tapeta surface itself. It's very versatile – harrow it deep for deep going or roll for firm going. It's a kind surface and the horses can move up a gear, but it will not make a slow horse fast!" laughed Michael, who has installed the surfaces in racetracks across 10 countries as well as some equestrian arenas.

The new oval gallop sits inside the existing sand gallops and measures five furlong (1000m). With heavy rain preceeding the press day, the sand gallops were lying in water and it was clear to see they would have been unusable that day as James explained: "The sand is fabulous for resistance training but what we see today shows what happens in this part of the country and today we couldn't have used either the turf or sand gallops.

"Previously I didn't have a choice, but now we have the Tapeta gallops it offers a safe, consistent environment, the horse will last longer and there's lots of positives.

"I don't need to work the horses over very testing, sticky, inconsistent surfaces now, which was happening last season as a result of all the rain. The heavy ground meant the horses had to work harder in-between races than I'd have liked, but there was little choice if I was to keep their fitness levels up," adds James.

"The horses adore this surface because it rides so easily. It's regarded as the 'Rolls Royce of synthetic training surfaces' and I don't think you'd find a racing professional who'd disagree with that."

Work started in August and the gallops was finished last month.

"I'm always wanting to make this place better, I'm never satisfied," admitted James. "This is only the fourth Tapeta track in the UK – two are at Godolphin in Newmarket and the other is Mark Johnston's in Middleham. For us to have the fourth is a massive thing for us."

James had previously worked for Nicky Henderson, Ferdy Murphy and multiple French champion trainer Guillaume Macaire before moving back to the Borders and starting out on his own in 2004 with his wife Briony.

Last year James saddled 23 winners, stable stars were Quicuyo and Time Out who both won four times apiece, and this season he's set his sights on 25 winners, so far he's had two winners and most recently Civil Unrest won at Musselburgh.

"I think there's a few young horses to look out for. We have a very nice novice chaser called Lets Get Serious, who won his bumper at Cheltenham for Nicky Henderson. He'll run at Doncaster on November 30," said James.

"We have an exceptionally nice novice hurdler called Lord Wishes, who won his two bumpers from two starts. He might go to Doncaster as well.

"Rockawango is a very exciting recruit from France who won his only start over hurdles. The handicapper to watch is Beneficial Reform, he was second to Air Force One at Doncaster last season and set the track record there over three miles as a novice – he's very exciting."

With 35 horses in training, James is keen to make his £350,000 Tapeta investment work and with a team of hardworking staff at Craig Farm, James is determined to succeed and take on the trainers in the south.

"It's nice to think we'll now be able to compete on a level playing field and it shows the determination and drive of the yard to take us to the next level," concluded James.