Two of Saturday’s three National Hunt fixtures, including the all-chase card at Sandown Park, depend on inspections at 8am on Saturday morning, ahead of a week when snow threatens to replace rain as the biggest threat to the racing programme scarcely a month before the Cheltenham Festival.
The straight at Sandown was reported to be “waterlogged in places” by Andrew Cooper, the track’s clerk of the course, on Friday morning. Conditions improved sufficiently by the time of an initial inspection at 3pm to move a decision to Saturday, although Cooper is also aware of the “potential for overnight rain”.
Sandown’s card is due to include both the Grade One Scilly Isles Novice Chase and the Grade Two Cotswold Chase, rescheduled from the abandoned card at Cheltenham last Saturday. Another race due to be run on that card, the Cleeve Hurdle, has been re-routed to Wetherby on Saturday, but that too is subject to an 8am inspection.
After the first inspection on Friday, clerk of the course Andrew Cooper told the Racing Post: “We’ve made one or two further modifications, narrowed one or two more fences, put up other bits of running rail and we’ve had a look at the course accompanied by the BHA course inspector and we felt as things stand you would give it a go and race on it now.
“It has settled down, improved a bit and lost some of the surface wetness from first thing. It’s been a lovely, dry and sunny day. There is not too much rain forecast overnight, most say there could be the odd light shower around, maybe up to 2mm of rain, and that would be okay.”
“There is the lingering risk of further rain perhaps from late morning or lunchtime which could be a little more persistent and heavier,” warned Cooper.
“That could be 5mm-plus so we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. But we must and will give it every chance. We’ve got ourselves into a position where I think we have a chance of getting it on.”
The first day of Musselburgh’s valuable two-day meeting of Cheltenham trials is the only Saturday card over jumps which does not have an inspection scheduled as yet. The second day, however, which includes trials for the Supreme Novice Hurdle, the Triumph Hurdle and a qualifier for the Pertemps Hurdle Final, is subject to an 8am inspection due to the threat of snow arriving in Scotland on Saturday night.
Snow is a distinct possibility for much of the country in the early part of the week, and the card at Sedgefield next Wednesday has already fallen victim to waterlogging.
The Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, however, is forecast to be run in –relatively – balmy conditions on Saturday and Sunday, with eight Grade One races to fire the enthusiasm of punters on both sides of the water and several of the sport’s biggest names in action.
Chacun Pour Soi, the hot favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on 17 March, is odds-on for the first Grade One of the weekend, the Dublin Chase, while Honeysuckle, the 10-1 third-favourite for the Champion Hurdle, will put her unbeaten career record on the line against course specialist Sharjah in the Irish Champion Hurdle later in the afternoon.