Snow problem for Kauto's history bid
KAUTO star may be an irresistible force but a deep layer of snow represented a fairly immovable object at the beginning of a week that is supposed to end with his historic fifth consecutive success in the King George VI Chase.
Clerk of the course at Kempton Barney Clifford had to cancel the Flat meeting scheduled for his all-weather circuit yesterday and four inches of snow are lying over the frost blankets on the adjacent jumps track. Even so, he was not sounding too downbeat, pinning his hopes on forecasts of somewhat milder weather in time for St Stephen's Day.
"Thank God we could deploy the frost covers when we did, with no frost in the ground," he said. "A few years ago, we'd have had no chance. We might be knocking it on the head already.
"But forecasters reckon we'll be up to plus four (degrees Celsius) on December 26 and if we could get that on Christmas Day we'd have a great chance. At this stage, of course, I'd be worried about what I'm looking at. But time is on our side. And the great thing is that the snow is keeping the track insulated."
Should the thaw prove slow, Clifford would be similarly guarded in his optimism about getting snow off the blankets. "You could move the heaviest of it," he said. "But we've never had this volume to deal with and you could only do a certain amount."
Kerry-based Tom Cooper is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast as he prepares Forpadydeplasterer for a trip to Kempton. The Tralee trainer is looking forward to taking on Kauto Star and Long Run as his charge steps up to three miles for the first time.
"He's doing very well and I'm very happy," said Cooper. "I'm hoping it's going to be on, that we get nice ground and we'll see how we get on over three miles. The ground was on the soft side last year but the three or four years prior to that it was nice ground. The ground is the secret with him."
Forpadydeplasterer has been remarkably consistent. He has finished second in his last seven races and 10 times in his last 12, winning the other two. His last win came in the 2009 Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, while he was runner-up to Big Zeb in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.
Forpadydeplasterer is set to travel over on Thursday, by which time Cooper is likely to have finalised jockey plans. "I've not got a jockey for him yet. I haven't got that far," he added.
Already, all this week's English jumping action has been lost -- bar Sedgefield tomorrow, where an inspection today was preceded by little optimism. Even the one surviving all-weather card today, at Wolverhampton, is threatened by low temperatures.
Much the most positive bulletin came from Leopardstown, where trainers will be desperate to make up for lost time at the four-day Christmas meeting. At present there is only a dusting of snow.
"There is an indication in a lift of temperatures just going into Christmas and on the 26th some charts suggest we could get up to around 10C. The ground is soft at the moment," revealed Leopardstown manager Tom Burke.
That will be welcome news to Willie Mullins, whose stunning treble at Fairyhouse on Wednesday showed that his string has evidently not been held up during the freeze. Yesterday he made the intriguing suggestion that Mikael d'Haguenet, mercifully unscathed by his last-fence fall on the same card, would be given an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.
"He'll be entered in everything at Cheltenham," Mullins said. "We've never been worried about him staying. He's one of those horses that can change gear and go with faster horses as well. He appears to have retained his ability and that's a huge question he answered the other day.
"I'm looking at the entries for Christmas. He's in the two-mile novice (Bord Na Mona Novice Chase) on St Stephen's Day and he's in the three-mile novice later in the week. We might consider giving him another week and come back for a beginners' chase or a Graded chase somewhere."
Yet to win a novice chase, Mikael d'Haguenet has a long way to go before the Gold Cup could be seriously entertained. Having been so patient, however, connections may be tempted to strike while the iron is hot, should he build on the promise of his comeback from an absence of nearly 600 days.
Not that they even know his next target. He does have options over various trips at Leopardstown but Mullins remains wary of the possibility that he may need a longer interval between races. (© Independent News Service)