Racing to resume at Thurles on Thursday after cold snap
Ruby Walsh keen to return from injury with Cheltenham festival looming
Sizing John: Jessica Harrington’s Gold Cup hero may have a pre-festival workout at Leopardstown on Friday. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Irish racing is set to resume after the recent cold snap with Thurles on Thursday described as “good to go” while the following day at Leopardstown could yet see some late Cheltenham festival clues emerge.
However Thurles will have the day to itself after Navan’s fixture was called off on Tuesday afternoon due to substantial amounts of snow remaining on the track.
Jessica Harrington is hoping Leopardstown’s card on Friday doesn’t suffer a similar fate. She hasn’t ruled out a post-race school by the Gold Cup hero Sizing John while Willie Mullins has indicated his own ‘Blue Riband’ contenders could also use the opportunity for final festival preparations.
All of it depends however on the south Dublin track being raceable in time as parts of the course were unfit for racing on Tuesday.
“We’re not fit for racing just yet. But we’re on the right path. There’s been a significant improvement in the last 24 hours. But we’re not there yet,” he said.
“Thurles is good to go on Thursday. There are no issues. They didn’t have anywhere near the same volume of snow as up here but I was bowled over with the state of the ground. Mind you I don’t think track records are in danger!” Wyer added.
The decision to cancel Navan was made due to snow accumulation and clerk of the course paddy Graffin explained: “There is snow on the take-off and landing sides of both fences and hurdles and there won’t a sufficient thaw in time.”
Nevertheless the prospect of a resumption of racing here for the first time since Sunday week last will be a relief for many, perhaps none more so than Ruby Walsh.
The champion jockey will get an opportunity to get his eye in ahead of next week’s festival action for which he is odds-on to be leading jockey once again. Walsh hasn’t ridden in a race since breaking his leg in November but has resumed riding out at Willie Mullins’s yard.
“I’m ready for action. I was hoping to go last weekend but the weather put a halt to that. Hopefully I’ll be back Thursday or Friday with a bit of luck. I don’t know what I’d be riding at this stage,” Walsh reported.
It’s been all-hands-on-deck at most racing stables during the last week trying to cope with the impact of snow and freezing conditions.
The timing of the extreme weather couldn’t have been much worse in terms of Cheltenham preparations but Willie Mullins believes his massive festival team escaped “reasonably light”.
Nevertheless the champion trainer is keeping his fingers crossed that conditions at Leopardstown recover in time for Friday’s meeting.
“I’d imagine we could definitely send some of the Cheltenham horses there to work after racing, depending on the weather. It’s a bit close [to the festival] but we could send some of the horses running on the Thursday and Friday of Cheltenham,” he said on Tuesday.
The fitness screw is being tightened on Mullins’s hopefuls including Douvan who the trainer said is not finished his work ahead of a first start in a year in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
“I’d say we’ve got away reasonably light with the snow. I’m able to put covers down on the gallop and we were able to get the snow off it.
“The staff were tremendous because there’s a lot of extra work with snow and it was a major effort on their part,” Mullins said.
Mullins is a 6-4 favourite to reclaim Cheltenham’s leading trainer award from his great rival Gordon Elliott who beat him on a countback of placed horses in 2017.
A racecourse gallop has been on Sizing John’s agenda for some time as he prepares to defend his Gold Cup crown on Friday week. Jessica Harrington hasn’t ruled out Leopardstown as an option for that workout.
“We may go to Leopardstown on Friday evening to give him a jump and a gallop. I’m not certain; it will depend on what the weather does. We seem to be on course with him,” she said.
Parts of the track at Naas are still partially covered with snow ahead of their scheduled Sunday card which includes the Grade Three Directors Plate Novice Chase.
A total of 14 entries remain in the two-and-a-half mile contest after Tuesday’s forfeit stage, including five each from Willie Mullins’s yard and Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team.
Mullins’s options include the Grade One-winning hurdler Saturans and the course winner Demi Sang. The latter was fourth to his stable companion Footpad in the Irish Arkle last time after making a bad mistake at the first fence.
Sunday’s feature is the €100,000 Toals Leinster National which has 25 left in it. They include topweight Baie Des Iles and Paul Nolan’s Fine Theatre.
“He ran a respectable race in the Thyestes and I’d be hopeful he could run well at Naas if things go right for him,” said Noland.