The likelihood of severe frost is causing officials at Sandown to be pessimistic about prospects for their high-profile meeting on Saturday.
Although the Esher course was perfectly raceable on Thursday morning, a freezing forecast over the next couple of days is giving them cause for concern ahead of the card featuring the Grade One Blue Square Tolworth Hurdle.
“The worry we have is frost. The weather is clearly getting colder over the next few days,” said clerk of the course Andrew Cooper.
“We are now anticipating some degree of frost tonight – which we weren’t a couple of days ago – of about minus 1C or 2C.
“But Friday night into Saturday looks twice as severe as that – it’s being flagged as minus 3C-4C.
“Of as much concern is the fact there doesn’t look to be any great daytime lift being talked of.
“We are not totally covered because we are not in a position to be and I would have doubts about the practicalities of covers being successful on a Saturday morning when you are having to lift them in sub-zero temperatures.
“You have to start that operation about 9am and the likelihood we are still going to be in sub-zero temperatures at that time.
“It’s not a very positive weather outlook. There’s not a lot of encouragement you can glean from it.
“There’s no point kidding ourselves.
“There is every likelihood we will inspect early Saturday. I don’t think unless tonight is much worse than anticipated there will be any point looking on Friday.”
The return to Arctic conditions has already claimed the New Year’s Day meeting at Catterick, while the fixtures at Fakenham and Exeter are under threat.
Officials at snow-bound Catterick were left with no option but to abandon Friday’s card.
Clerk of the course Fiona Needham said: “We have about 50% of the track still covered in snow and it’s also started freezing again.
“In light of the forecast, there was no way we could have shifted it (the snow) in time.”
Fakenham’s meeting must overcome an 8am inspection on raceday morning.
Although frost covers will be placed upon vulnerable parts of the track, a colder-than-anticipated night has now been forecast.
Clerk of the course David Hunter said: “The forecast has changed since yesterday, so we need to inspect.
“It now looks like it’s going to be colder, with an air temperature of minus 2C and possibly a ground temperature of minus 4C.
“All vulnerable areas will be covered, but we do not have the kit to cover the entire course.”
Exeter’s all-hurdle meeting on New Year’s Day must pass a 2pm inspection today after an early-morning check proved inconclusive.
Although the chase races on the initial card had already been abandoned, officials at the track are prepared to give the fixture every chance.
Clerk of the course Barry Johnson said after inspecting at 8am: “We’ve got two areas on the track that are still holding water and are false patches of ground.
“We’ve been told it will be dry today, though, and if it is we should be OK by 2pm today.
“There is also the threat of overnight frost, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Frost covers have been deployed over the entire racing surface in a bid to ensure Cheltenham’s meeting on New Year’s Day takes place.
The going is soft, heavy in places, and temperatures are expected to expected to dip to minus 4C on Thursday night, with a daytime maximum of 1C on Friday.
Fairyhouse are not so lucky, however, and have already cancelled their New Year’s Day meeting because of a waterlogged track.
Ayr’s meeting on Saturday was also called off on Thursday morning due to frost.
Although a 12pm inspection had been announced for this afternoon, clerk of the course Hazel Peplinski felt it unnecessary in delaying the inevitable.
Course spokesman Iain Ferguson said: “There was a slight thawing on Wednesday so we had to give the meeting every chance.
“But there’s been no let-up through the night so we’ve had to abandon.”