Grim outlook for jumping fans

Racing enthusiasts are having to face up to the possibility of there being no racing in either Britain or Ireland on St Stephen's Day.

Racing enthusiasts are having to face up to the possibility of there being no racing in either Britain or Ireland on St Stephen's Day.

A combined total of 11 meetings were originally to take place but that number has quickly been whittled down to three – and even they are far from certain to go ahead.

The cards at Down Royal, Leopardstown and Limerick were cancelled earlier in the week, while Towcester and Market Rasen had already made an early decision to abandon.

Today was originally due to be the day the thaw began, but that never materialised and Huntingdon, Wetherby and Wincanton were forced to join the others and draw stumps today.

The three that remain are, of course, headed by the top-class fixture at Kempton, due to play host to Kauto Star and the William Hill King George VI Chase.

Clerk of the course Barney Clifford had been slightly more optimistic on Wednesday, but with temperatures refusing to rise, some of the covers on top of the course have now frozen to the ground.

Clifford announced a noon inspection for Christmas Eve and unfortunately, further severe frosts are forecast.

“Temperatures got up to just above zero today, but it is still bitterly cold,” said Clifford.

“There is more cover visible than there is snow, but in places, the covers are stuck to the grass.

“The wind-chill factor this morning was measured at minus 6.5C. The forecast is not too bad for tonight, getting down to minus 3C.

“It’s then minus 5C going into Christmas Day and minus 6C at dawn on Boxing Day.

“The Met Office tell us we are due an estimated wind-chill factor of minus 9C.

“With the covers stuck to the track, there’s not a lot you can do.”

The story is better at Fontwell, with clerk of the course Ed Arkell declaring the course raceable on Thursday.

The fleece covers have been replaced by heavy duty black frost sheets and Arkell hopes they will save the meeting, with no inspection currently planned.

“We’ve lifted all our fleece covers, which has also removed any remaining snow and ice,” said Arkell.

“The course was and is completely fit to race and we are now re-covering the track with the heavy duty black frost sheets.

“We obviously have an extremely difficult forecast to deal with and we will play it by ear.

“We’ll see how the sheets cope with the first frost tonight and then take a view regarding an inspection.”

Even the all-weather meeting at Wolverhampton is not certain to survive, with the snow that fell on Wednesday giving clerk of the course Fergus Cameron a headache.

After calling a 6.30am precautionary inspection for Sunday morning, he said: “We had snow on Wednesday morning and while we have no lumps in the track, conditions have not improved as much as we would have liked.

“Given the forecast is now looking less favourable than it was, we’ll hold a precautionary inspection on Sunday morning.

“At the moment we’re not raceable but we’ll continue to work the track and do our best to get the meeting on.”

Officials at Wincanton were the first to pull the plug this morning, abandoning after an 8am inspection.

Clerk of the course Barry Johnson said: “It’s game over. We’re forecast minus 10C on Friday and Saturday night – it’s unbelievable.

“It was a foregone conclusion.”

Huntingdon were due to inspect at noon tomorrow, but clerk of the course Andrew Morris saw little point in delaying the inevitable and that meeting too was scratched from the list.

“We have had frost covers down all week, but we suspected frost had crept under the covers,” said Morris.

“We started to remove them first thing in the morning, and it became pretty evident the frost was deep and widespread.”

Wetherby’s clerk Jonjo Sanderson was forced to call off their Rowland Meyrick Chase fixture on Sunday and will inspect at 10am tomorrow for Monday’s card.

“It is supposed to be around minus 5C tonight with negative temperatures all day on Friday,” he warned.

“Christmas night could be as cold as minus 15C and there is no sign of a thaw.”

With the cold weather showing no signs of abating, Bank Holiday Monday’s fare has also been hit hard.

Chepstow’s Coral Welsh National meeting has gone and will now be run on Saturday, January 9.

Leopardstown have also been forced to call off their Monday card, with no less than 12 inches of snow laying on the course.

Irish Turf Club officials will hold another inspection on Monday to assess the prospects of racing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Looking even further ahead, Leicester inspect at 8.30am on Sunday for Tuesday’s meeting, with clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson “hoping for a miracle”.

Catterick inspect at 10.30am on Friday for their card on Tuesday and that too has little chance of going ahead.

Exeter have abandoned their three chases on New Year's Day and will now stage a seven-race card comprising of six hurdle races and a bumper.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox