Soft ground likely at Cheltenham after forecast 12mm of rain
Predicted wind gusts of up to 80km/h on Day Two of festival a worrying reminder of 2008
Champion Hurdle contender Laurina on the gallops at Cheltenham racecourse on Sunday. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Cheltenham’s authorities are bracing for a late winter weather kick with a wind warning in place for Day Two of the festival on Wednesday.
After months of benign climatic conditions, winter is finally rearing its head with up to 12mm of rain expected at Cheltenham on Tuesday. That is likely to produce soft going for the start of National Hunt racing’s most important week of the year.
However, it is forecast wind gusts of up 80km/h the day after that has provoked uncomfortable memories of 2008.
Eleven years ago the second day of the festival had to be postponed due to fears about the impact of high winds on temporary facilities at the track. It forced the dispersal of the cancelled races into the following couple of days.
However on Sunday officials at Cheltenham moved quickly to downplay similarities. They said that forecasts are for high winds to come from a different direction this time and are not expected to produce as many problems for the temporary structures.
“Most of the site is protected when the wind comes in as it is forecast from the west or southwest. So it’s all systems because we’re not exposed to the same vulnerability as in 2008,” said clerk of the course, Simon Claisse.
Final declarations for the first day of the festival contained few surprises with the big three for the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina, all confirmed.
Benie Des Dieux will defend her crown in the OLBG Mares Hurdle while four-year-old Fakir D’Oudairies is among 18 declared for the opening race of the week, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle.
It’s 20 years since Hors La Loi took the novice event as a juvenile and Fakir D’Ouodairies will have his first start for new owner JP McManus in the race.
Despite his new ownership, jockey JJ Slevin maintains the partnership and will have two other Day One rides for his cousin, Joseph O’Brien. They are Tower Bridge in the Close Bros Novices Handicap Chase and Us And Them in the 12-runner Racing Post Arkle Trophy.
In-form Paul Townend
The season’s leading rider has eight festival winners under his belt and with the strength in depth of the Mullins team Townend is as low as 7/1 in some lists to land the week’s Leading Rider award.
He warmed up for Cheltenham with a double at a wintery Naas on Sunday where the impressive Chacun Pour Soi landed the Beginners Chase in a style to justify heavily backed 4/9 favouritism.
The French import, whose name approximates to Every Man For Himself, made all and jumped beautifully to win his first start in three years in a canter.
“He’s very likeable, like riding a handicapper,” reported Townend. “He made one mistake at the ditch down the back but sorted himself out and you couldn’t be any more pleased. He’s really exciting, a good horse.”
Chacun Pouor Soi brought an eventful week to a successful end for owner Rich Ricci. The American came under fire last Tuesday following the closure of the BetBright company – of which he was executive chairman – after its technology was sold to the 888. com firm.
Townend brought his tally for the season to 94 winners when Pairofbrowneyes repeated his 208 success in the €100,000 Toalsbet Leinster National.
The 12/1 winner led home a big priced Willie Mullins Tricast completed by Isleofhopendreams and Bellow Mome. It put Townend 10 clear of his closest rival in the jockey’s table, Rachael Blackmore.
Kasier Black followed up a Grade One second at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival with a smooth success in Sunday’s Naas Directors Plate.
“He wasn’t mad about the ground. It’s probably as soft as he would handle it,” said Doyle of the horse trained by his father, Pat. “I leave the plans up to my father. The Irish National was the plan but he’s probably going to be too high in the handicap now.”