Irish tracks hopeful that forecast freezing weather doesn’t disrupt racing programme

Punchestown planning to put down covers ahead of Sunday’s John Durkan Chase

Fingers are being kept crossed that this week’s cold snap won’t disrupt racing, although Punchestown officials concede there are some concerns ahead of Sunday’s featured Grade One John Durkan Chase.

The €85,000 highlight could see the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs make his eagerly anticipated first start of the season.

However, with overnight frosts of as low as -4 forecast for later in the week, and daytime temperatures not expected to rise far above freezing in some places, the situation is being closely monitored at a number of tracks.

No problems are anticipated at Tramore for Tuesday while Dundalk hosts all-weather fixtures on Wednesday and Friday. In between, though, is a Clonmel programme, while Navan on Saturday is followed by high-profile Sunday cards at Punchestown and Cork.


“Clonmel has a wintry forecast at the moment and is being monitored although there’s nothing of any major concern at present,” an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board spokesman said on Monday. “We will have to see how the next couple of days pan out.”

Cork’s weekend date is scheduled to see the return to action of the two-mile champion Energuemene in the €100,000 Bar One Hilly Way Chase.

Moves are already being made at Punchestown to plan for the worst of any cold weather, including provision to apply covers on parts of the course.

“The best way to deal with a threatened frost is to race on ground that hasn’t been poached,” said Punchestown’s racing manager Richie Galway on Monday.

“Obviously it is to get cold in the middle of the week. Hopefully the temperatures will rise by Sunday, but it is a slight concern at this stage.

“To ensure we have every chance, we are laying out our track on fresh ground, both hurdles and chase, which always maximises your chances of racing in frosty conditions,” he added.

Freezing weather has interfered with the Durkan in the past. In 2008, frost meant the race was delayed by 48 hours with the Paul Nicholls-trained Noland emerging victorious on a Tuesday.

In 2010, a couple of feet of snow saw the Durkan transferred to a re-jigged Fairyhouse ‘Winter Festival’ programme. Edward O’Grady’s Tranquil Sea emerged on top on that occasion.

No dramatic problems on such a scale are expected this time and officials at the Co Kildare track hope temperatures work in their favour this time.

“The problem can be a combination of frost overnight, temperatures not rising, and then cumulative frosts.

“It looks to me like there are a few nights of frost ahead of us. But the best way of dealing with it is racing on ground that hasn’t been poached. That’s when you really run into trouble. Hopefully it is to improve slightly at the weekend, but we will be taking all measures anyway.

“On certain parts of the track, where we have concerns, we will put down covers; on crossing points, adjacent to fences, landing and take-off, any area where there’s a bit of sand that we’re a little bit concerned about, we will,” Galway said.

The weather outlook could also have a bearing on cross-channel weekend action which sees Willie Mullins leave open the option of running topweight Haut En Couleurs in the AIS December Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender is also a possible Irish runner in that.

Mullins, who has won the Durkan six times in the last seven years, has form when it comes to using Tramore for some of his stable stars, most famously the dual-Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo.

On Tuesday he maintains that link as he gives the Champion Hurdle outsider Gaelic Warrior a first start in Ireland.

The Rich Ricci-owned horse boasted a massive reputation going into Cheltenham in March where he had his sole start for Mullins to date.

Having started a warm favourite for the Grade Three juvenile contest, he didn’t help his chance by running free and continually jumping to his right. Ultimately, he was edged out by Brazil who has landed a Grade Three already this season.

Gordon Elliott’s run of form can continue at Tramore with the former course winner Arctic Ambition who can take advantage of a favourable looking rating in a handicap hurdle.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column