Cheltenham hopeful of beating freeze

Officials at Cheltenham remain confident this week’s two-day fixture will go ahead as scheduled as the cold weather continues to tighten its grip on National Hunt racing.

Officials at Cheltenham remain confident this week’s two-day fixture will go ahead as scheduled as the cold weather continues to tighten its grip on National Hunt racing.

Barring Sunday’s card at Exeter, there has not been any turf action on British or Irish soil since Newbury’s Hennessy meeting on November 27.

However, Cheltenham covered both their hurdle and chase courses in entirety on Sunday and clerk of the course Simon Claisse is confident racing will go ahead on both Friday and Saturday.

“It was minus 4C on Saturday and we covered the course slightly later than anticipated at 4pm on Sunday,” said Claisse.

“I have received an updated forecast that predicts daytime temperatures of between 2C and 3C on Friday and between 5C and 6C on Saturday.

“Overnight on Friday into Saturday, it is only forecast to get down to a low of minus 2C, so with the current forecast I would be very optimistic of both days going ahead.”

Away from Prestbury Park the picture is not so bright, with seemingly little chance of any National Hunt action taking place before the weekend.

Officials at Fontwell initially called a 2pm inspection for Monday ahead of their scheduled Tuesday fixture but decided to make an early decision and call off the meeting.

“There are areas of the course that are still frozen, including areas under the sheets,” said clerk of the course Ed Arkell.

“We’re forecast anything between minus 4C and minus 7C overnight and it won’t get up to more than 1C on Tuesday, so we’ve had to call it off as there is no point hanging on and upsetting people.”

All-weather racing will also have to fly the flag for Britain on Wednesday after Leicester’s card joined Hexham on the sidelines.

Following an 11am inspection, clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson said: “We got down to minus 7.8C last night and the forecast is awful.

“We are forecast another hard frost tonight, possibly getting down to minus 9C.”

Although a slight thaw is forecast to arrive on Thursday afternoon in many parts of the country, it looks like it will be too late for that day’s meetings.

Ludlow hoped to inspect at noon on Tuesday but then brought that forward and decided to call off proceedings, while officials at Taunton have also conceded defeat and abandoned their Thursday card.

Ludlow’s clerk of the course Bob Davies said: “There’s no point in waiting any longer. We had minus 8C on Sunday night, we’ve had freezing fog all day and the temperatures today only reached minus 5C.

“We’re forecast minus 7C tonight, Tuesday night and Wednesday night, so there is no point messing people around.”

The most high-profile meeting due to take place in Britain on Thursday is at Huntingdon where the feature is the Peterborough Chase.

Although there is still some hope with clerk of the course Andrew Morris announcing an 8am inspection for Wednesday, it looks highly likely that card too will bite the dust.

“The course is frozen in places and although there was a slight thaw over the weekend, we experienced minus 5C on Sunday night,” said Morris.

“We’ll look at 8am on Wednesday morning before declarations and, at this stage, we wouldn’t have much confidence in our ability to race.”

Doncaster’s two-day fixture on Friday and Saturday is already in major doubt with clerk of the course David Williams holding an inspection at Noon on Wednesday.

He said: “It went down to minus 10C on Sunday night and it hasn’t got above minus 2C during the day.

“I’m very pessimistic at this stage.”

It is a similar story here at home, with quality cards at Fairyhouse and Punchestown on Wednesday and Thursday respectively both being cancelled and rearranged.

Fairyhouse’s fixture, which features three Grade One events, replaces a meeting at the track on Saturday, which has now been abandoned.

Punchestown’s John Durkan Memorial Chase meeting is now due to take place on Tuesday, December 14.

Explaining the situation, Turf Club press officer Cliff Noone said: “They are moving Fairyhouse’s Wednesday meeting to Saturday. Fairyhouse were due to race on Saturday anyway and that particular card has been cancelled.

“Punchestown’s Thursday meeting will be moved to next Tuesday, meaning the meeting at Cork next Tuesday will be moved back to the Monday.”

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