Freezing conditions mean a ‘tight’ call is likely for Sunday’s Punchestown action

Officials examining option of running John Durkan Chase programme on Tuesday if necessary

Punchestown officials admit freezing conditions will make it a “tight” call if Sunday’s John Durkan Chase programme is to go ahead and are provisionally looking at Tuesday as an alternative date if necessary.

With national temperatures expected to plunge to as low as minus five over the coming nights, every effort is being made to try to run off this weekend’s three scheduled National Hunt cards in Ireland.

A noon inspection on Friday has already been called for Navan’s fixture the following day while Sunday’s Cork meeting is subject to a noon inspection on Saturday.

The €85,000 Grade One Durkan is due to see the seasonal debut of the Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs but the weather could yet prove a spoilsport.


Punchestown was perfectly raceable on Thursday according to racing manager Richie Galway after overnight temperatures didn’t dip below freezing.

However, temperatures are expected to reach minus two or three over the coming nights and barely reach over freezing during daytime hours.

“We’re perfectly raceable which is good. It is to get below freezing overnight, potentially minus two, minus three for the next few nights. The thing then will be how much above freezing it gets through the day. A degree or two either way will have an impact,” Galway said.

“If the forecast is correct, it will be tight. It was supposed to get slightly colder last night than we had and it’s good we didn’t have a frost last night. The fact we’re on virgin ground is a huge benefit too. But based on the forecast, we’re obviously a touch anxious,” he added.

Galway stressed the plan is to do everything possible to get the Durkan card run on Sunday. But with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board anticipating temperatures to rise from Monday, the track is already looking at potential contingency plans.

“Worst case scenario, we lose Sunday; provisionally we would like to go as soon as possible, potentially Tuesday, from a staffing point of view, would be an option. We obviously want to run the Durkan as soon as is practicable before Christmas.

“But Plan A is still to run on Sunday. Every effort is being made to run this meeting on Sunday, we’ve not given up on that at all yet,” Galway said.

In 2008 frost meant the Durkan was postponed 48 hours and run on a Tuesday. The race was won by the English trained Noland.

Cork will inspect 24 hours ahead of a card featuring the €100,000 Bar One Hilly Way Chase.

Clerk of the Course, Val O’Connell, reported the course perfectly raceable on Thursday and said: “The track is in great order with a great covering of grass. We will have fresh ground on both the hurdle and chase tracks and have covers down on both the take-off and landing side of the fences.

“Due to the forecast for widespread frost over the coming days there will a precautionary inspection at 12 on Saturday to determine the prospect for racing on Sunday.”

Domestic action at Navan on Saturday is due to feature the Grade Three Klairon Davis Chase if it gets a green light.

Navan’s clerk of the course Paddy Graffin commented: “The ground is yielding to soft. We will have fresh ground on the hurdle track on Saturday. However due to the forecast for widespread frost over the coming days there will be a precautionary inspection to determine the prospects for racing.”

The cold snap continues to play havoc with racing plans on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham’s two-day ‘International’ fixture is due to begin on Friday but will have to pass a 7.30am inspection first.

Already cancelled though is the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase which had been scheduled to begin Friday’s card. Delta Work, a memorable winner over Tiger Roll at the festival cross-country event in March, was due to line up for Gordon Elliott.

If the rest of the meeting gets the go-ahead, there will be Irish interest in a couple of the handicap hurdles including Michael O’Sullivan’s mount Brazos in the finale.

The 5lb claiming jockey won his first Grade One at last weekend’s winter Festival in Fairyhouse aboard the Royal Bond winner Marine Nationale.

O’Sullivan is also pencilled in to ride the sole Irish starter, Sole Pretender, in Saturday’s big handicap at Cheltenham, the AIS December Gold Cup. Norman Lee’s hope is one of 15 declared for the contest.

There won’t be many flies out at Friday night’s eight-race Dundalk programme where champion jockey Colin Keane is currently scheduled for a single ride.

That’s on the course winner Matilda With Me who jumps up in trip to a mile and a half for the concluding handicap. Maura’s Gift is in the same contest and did well to win over course and distance last time, suggesting a 6lb penalty may not stop her.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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