Decision taken to water new course ahead of Cheltenham festival

When watering in the past, officials have aimed to start festival on good to soft going

Watering has begun at Cheltenham ahead of next week's festival action.

On Friday officials took the decision to start putting water on the new course at Cheltenham which stages racing on the Thursday and Friday of the festival.

A decision on whether or not to water the old course is likely on Saturday with only 5mm of rainfall anticipated overnight.

A largely dry weather outlook is forecast for next week’s action with temperatures up to 15 degrees for Tuesday’s Day-One action.

Ground conditions at Prestbury Park are described as "good" and "good to soft" in places although new clerk of the course Jon Pullin admitted there aren't many of those places at present.

When watering has been necessary in the past, Cheltenham officials have traditionally aimed to start the festival on good to soft going.

The festival has started on soft ground for the last three years.

The conundrum of whether Sir Gerhard will line up in Tuesday's Supreme or Wednesday's Ballymore Novice Hurdle is not clearcut, but connections appear to be coming down in favour of the longer race.

Willie Mullins is leaving a decision on how to split his top novices Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo as late as possible, perhaps until Sunday's declaration stage for Day One.

Sir Gerhard bulletin

However, a spokesman for Sir Gerhard’s owners, Cheveley Park Stud, said on Friday: “We’re definitely leaning towards the Ballymore but I can’t give you a decision yet as Willie is still mulling it over.”

Director Richard Thompson added: "It looks like the Ballymore on balance, but there's been no final decision yet. It's down to Willie, he'll look at the final shape of each race and see how that's looking in terms of his own stable as he's got other runners. With Sir Gerhard the feeling is he can get the Ballymore trip, and the feeling is that with the quality he has he can compete in both. I think he'd win either, but the Supreme is, at the moment, the stronger race – no question.

“It’s a fine balance, but if we’re told by Willie that he’s a horse that can compete in both and the Ballymore is a slightly weaker race, then of course the Ballymore would be the race we’d go for.”

Ground conditions are sure to be testing for Sunday's two cards in Ireland with up to 20mm of rain forecast for Limerick and Naas.

That should be no trouble to Champagne Platinum who is set to line up in the €100,000 Bar One Leinster National under Mark Walsh.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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