Stage set for Star to shine

Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford is ready to get behind Kauto Star as he bids for a remarkable fourth successive triumph in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford is ready to get behind Kauto Star as he bids for a remarkable fourth successive triumph in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

The popular grey Desert Orchid is the only horse to land the prestigious Festive prize on four separate occasions and Kauto Star is bidding to better him by winning it four years on the bounce.

Clifford is delighted to report there are no problems with the course and he is keeping his fingers crossed Kauto Star can make history tomorrow.

“Everything is absolutely fine this morning, although it feels pretty cold as there is a bit of a breeze,” said Clifford.

“It looks as though we’re going to have a sold-out crowd and obviously everyone is really looking forward to the day.

“Everyone will be behind Kauto Star and he has certainly helped with our advanced ticket sales.

“I’ve been here 10 years now and we’re privileged enough to have Desert Orchid’s ashes. It’s a shame he’s not still around as he was such a public favourite and used to be a big crowd pleaser when he was parading before the race.

“I was never actually on track to see ’Dessie’ when he was winning the King George but I was obviously aware.

“It would be great if Kauto Star wins it again as I think he has really started to capture the public’s imagination.”

The picture at Market Rasen is not so bright as officials have been forced to abandon their Boxing Day fixture due to snow on the track.

The Lincolnshire venue is just the latest victim of the cold snap with Saturday meetings at Sedgefield, Towcester and Wetherby having already fallen by the wayside.

Clerk of the course Nick Patton said: “We brought the inspection forward as there has been no improvement and snow is still covering the track.

“It’s obviously hugely disappointing as it’s a massive fixture for us, but there was no point dragging it on as things are not going to improve sufficiently.”

Huntingdon and Wincanton will stage 8am inspections on Saturday morning and officials at both tracks remain optimistic.

Huntingdon’s clerk of the course Andrew Morris said: “Things are progressing slowly and temperatures got no lower than plus one overnight.

“There are still some areas of snow but it is thawing, although it is a slow old business and will take some shifting. We remain hopeful.”

Barry Johnson, clerk of the course at Wincanton, said: “I’m still very hopeful but the frost isn’t actually shifting as fast we thought.

“It was due to get up to plus six on Thursday and we only reached plus three. It dipped to just below freezing overnight and at the moment I’d say we are 85-90% raceable.

“We do need it to get up to plus six today, which it is forecast to do, but then they did say that on Thursday.

“We’ll all be gathering around the Christmas tree praying temperatures rise!”

Officials at Leopardstown are not anticipating any problems ahead of the first day of their action-packed Christmas Festival, while day one of Limerick’s four-day meeting is also set to go ahead as scheduled.

There are no problems anticipated for the only Boxing Day all-weather fixture at Wolverhampton.

Looking further ahead, Wetherby are hoping to gain some compensation for the abandonment of their St Stephen's Day fixture by racing on Sunday, but that meeting must pass a 9am inspection on Saturday.

Clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson said: “It’s minus two at the moment and nothing has changed really.

“We’ll still look in the morning ahead of Sunday’s meeting and see where we are.”

Officials at Chepstow are confident Monday’s Coral Welsh National meeting will go ahead as temperatures at the Monmouthshire venue continue to rise.

Clerk of the course Tim Long said: “Everything is looking good and we barely got down to freezing overnight.

“There is hardly any frost left and temperatures are due to be higher than they have been recently. We have a few days to go yet but there is no inspection planned at the moment.”

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