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Expect small fields even if races do go ahead as conditions disrupt training

When Horse Racing Ireland revealed that the cancelled Naas feature, the Grade Two Slaney Hurdle, had been redirected to Leopardstown on Sunday, there was a glimmer of hope that yet again the Foxrock venue would be a saving grace for the racing fraternity.

However, with tomorrow's meeting at Thurles abandoned since Monday and Saturday's Punchestown fixture looking desperately unlikely, the big MCR Hurdle meeting this weekend at Leopardstown looks set to be the latest to fall foul of this current cold snap.

Already this year the New Year's Day meeting at Fairyhouse had to be postponed, while Cork on the following day went ahead without the chases and with a skeleton card to what had been declared, while Naas last Sunday was another to fall by the wayside.

Leopardstown, amazingly, produced good ground in September to lure connections of Sea The Stars in for the Irish Champion Stakes when racecourses around the country were dealing with heavy rain and softer underfoot descriptions. But it looks like this latest snow and frost is going to be too much for the powers at the venue.

Regarding prospects for Sunday, racecourse manager at Leopardstown Tom Burke said yesterday: "It's been a very cold morning here. We had a light dusting of snow again last night and quite a severe frost. At the moment the course is not raceable. It had improved a bit over the weekend but last night's frost put us back a bit.


"Our night-time temperature is going down to minus two or minus three, and day time getting up to two or three at best. Unfortunately, the forecast going forward is not great, this is supposed to continue well into next week. At the moment, we are monitoring on a daily basis and taking it from there, as such."

However, even if a minor miracle sees racing go ahead on Sunday, expect the number of runners in fields to be significantly smaller than usual as trainers the length and breadth of the country continue to struggle to maintain a routine training schedule for their string.

While the top trainers in the country are getting by with difficulty, some of the country's less elite, with smaller staff and lower number of horses, have been failing to get their horses out for a canter with sand gallops freezing over and grass being too solid to risk horses on.

All the while, Ireland's only all-weather surface at Dundalk remains closed for racing. A particular sore point among some of the country's Flat trainers who are unhappy with the decision to have the ideal venue closed from December to February.

Yes, it surely is the only all-weather racecourse to be closed in both the summer and the winter and the logic is probably hard to understand but, let's face it, Dundalk is not going to solve our jump racing problem.

This is the jumps season and the decision to have Dundalk open at this time of year is irrelevant as we face into the prospect of a week without any Irish racing. It may well be something that is looked at, opening Dundalk for longer, but ask most people on the Flat and they will tell you their season is long enough.

However, Dundalk is nowhere near the solution, as the real problem for trainers at the moment is training in the first place.