Liam loves watching grass grow
As Senior Manager, Flemington Racecourse, Liam O’Keeffe has one of the most important roles at the VRC, with he and his team responsible for maintaining the quality, condition and upkeep of our world-famous track. This year marks 10 years at Flemington for O’Keeffe, and he is still as enthusiastic about watching grass grow as he was in 2013.
Growing up in Warrnambool, it was hard for a young O’Keeffe to escape the pull of horses and the racing industry. O’Keeffe completed his Sports Turf Management Apprenticeship at the Warrnambool Racing Club, then a Sports Turf Management Diploma before taking on the role as Racecourse Manager at the Warrnambool Racing Club in 2010. In 2013, O’Keeffe was offered an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, and moved to Melbourne to take on the role of Assistant Racecourse Manager under Mick Goodie. He took over the reins as Senior Manager Flemington Racecourse in February 2018 after Goodie’s retirement.
It is a move he has never regretted. “I love working outdoors on our lush green turf amongst our equine athletes. All of our hardworking VRC staff enables us to achieve outstanding results and that makes the job very rewarding. It helps that Flemington is also the most beautiful 360-acre site in Melbourne.”
Although the most challenging part of his job is the weather, it also led to one of his favourite moments in his career. “To have the track improve to a Soft 6 on Melbourne Cup Day 2018 after 57mm of rainfall fell on the morning of the race was very rewarding. These kinds of results are testament to our planning and turf renovation practices during the year, enabling the track to perform the way it does.”
As a racing fan himself, O’Keeffe has quite a few memorable moments at Flemington. “It’s a toss-up between Winx coming from last to win the 2018 Turnbull Stakes and Vow And Declare winning the 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup.” When he is not working, he still loves the races. “Whether it’s owning or backing a winner and celebrating with friends – that’s what it’s all about. I cannot think of a better way to spend a day with friends than at Headquarters on a Group 1 race day.”
When asked to recall a favourite horse, however, it is not a Group 1 winner at Flemington, but one closer to his heart. “It was a horse called Regal Heir. He won his first start as a three-year-old at Warrnambool and went on to race until he was nine years old, winning the Kevin Lafferty Hurdle and Thackery Steeplechase along the way. He was special to me, as I owned a small share in him.”
O’Keefe and his team are dedicated to not only assisting the VRC in its vision of becoming a world leader in racing and event entertainment, but also to the welfare of the equine and human stars who grace the Flemington turf every day.
“Our number one goal for both track work and race day is to prepare a safe track for rider and horse.
We spend hours every day measuring, monitoring and preparing various surfaces to ensure they are in the best condition possible prior to racing and training. It is important for us to gather feedback from trainers, riders and vets to assist us with our job.”
2023 CUP WEEK PREPARATIONS
All eyes are on that glorious green track come Cup Week, and O’Keeffe and his team are more than ready, having started preparing for the spring back in August. “The weather is such a big factor of our job, and we have had some great mixed weather coming into Cup Week. If we can keep this up, it will be great.”
In order to turn the track out in the best and safest condition possible, O’Keeffe and his team of 25 turf managers, labourers and apprentices will work around the clock before the Melbourne Cup Carnival, and then put in long days during the week, and after.
“We will work for 21 days straight. Post-Carnival is actually our biggest week. The track needs a complete renovation to bring it back to its best and get it ready for summer racing.”
During the renovation they mow the grass down the track, hollow tine and core the track, sweep up the course, and oversow on Verti-Drain (an aerator).
The team is constantly busy, mowing and whipper-snipping, watering, moving running rails, rolling, harrowing, fertilising, and repairing the grass with sand and seed. You’ll also see them out there between races, filling in the divots left after the horses have run the race.
While he can’t control the fickle Melbourne weather, with ten years at Headquarters under his belt O’Keeffe can almost read it as well as any meteorologist. With confidence in his team and such a passion for perfection, we can be sure that he’ll handle anything that’s thrown at him.