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More fixtures lost to weather

Arctic conditions have returned with a vengeance to play havoc with the racing programme.

There was no racing in Britain or Ireland yesterday, while Market Rasen's jumps fixture today was also lost due to frost and snow.

Although a slight thaw late on Sunday morning offered a degree of optimism at the Lincolnshire venue, the situation was considered untenable following a mid-afternoon inspection.

Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma reported: "It stopped snowing at around 11.30am and it began to start thawing.

"We thought we might get away with it, but the course is still frozen so we've had to abandon."

Fairyhouse's double-header tomorrow and Wednesday is also under threat following the loss of Naas yesterday.

Irish Turf Club press officer Cliff Noone said: "They were unfit for racing this morning as there was a covering of snow on the course. They will be looking at the situation first thing in the morning."

No problems are envisaged at tomorrow's extra meeting scheduled for Lingfield. However, that day's jumps card at Southwell is under threat following four inches of snow on Sunday that forced the abandonment of today's all-weather fixture.

Clerk of the course Roderick Duncan said: "The roads are treacherous and people are struggling to get to the track so it is a decision on safety grounds."

No frost problems are reported at Taunton, where the going is soft -- though more rain is forecast.

Murphy lining up Zeb jockey

Colm Murphy aims to have a jockey confirmed in the next week for Big Zeb in the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Barry Geraghty has recently been Big Zeb's regular partner, but it is possible he might be claimed by Nicky Henderson to ride Petit Robin in the two-mile feature on March 17.

"I don't know what the story is with Barry at the moment. I believe Petit Robin is going to run, so we don't know at the moment," Murphy said. "I haven't even thought about anybody else yet.

"We'd be hoping it's a hurdle we don't have to jump, but it is something we'll have to get sorted out in the next week or so.

"From what I believe, Tony McCoy hasn't got a ride. There won't be any shortage of top-class jockeys wanting to ride him."

Although Murphy appreciates the stiff task Big Zeb faces against dual Queen Mother winner Master Minded, he is undaunted by the challenge. The Co Wexford trainer added: "We are a lot wiser going this year than we were last year -- we are not going there to make up the numbers.

"I think we'd have a realistic chance in it and have a big shout."

Big Zeb, who fell four out last March before running Master Minded to a head at Punchestown, is 8/1 to win the Champion Chase.

Dessie's pair in Grand form

Dessie Hughes is praying luck will be on his side when Vic Venturi and Black Apalachi go for glory in the John Smith's Grand National.

The Co Kildare trainer's duo completed their public preparation for Aintree by finishing first and second in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Both horses have won the Becher Chase over the National fences, with Saturday's scorer Vic Venturi successful in November and Black Apalachi 12 months earlier before unseating his rider at Becher's on the second circuit when leading in the big one itself.

"They are both perfect this morning and on track for Aintree," said Hughes. "They ran to the pound. Black Apalachi was giving him 5lbs and was beaten eight lengths, there's not much between them.

"I didn't have a horse for the Grand National for 30 years, now I've got two. You need a lot of luck on the first circuit, then you need a lot of ability on the second circuit."

Roger Loughran rode Black Apalachi on Saturday while Denis O'Regan has been in the saddle for the horses' last two runs at Aintree. Paddy Flood was aboard Vic Venturi on Saturday and won the Becher on him. But Hughes added: "It's a bit early to be thinking about jockey plans. We'll just have to wait and see."

Both are on offer at around 16/1 for the April 10 steeplechase.

Nicky: No more prep for Punch

Nicky Henderson has ruled out another run for Punchestowns before the Cheltenham Festival.

Although the gelding is the ante-post favourite for the RSA Chase, he has only raced twice over fences. He missed a potential engagement in Saturday's Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot, won by stablemate Burton Port, and will not have another outing despite some of Henderson's other Festival fancies going to Kempton next weekend.

"Punchestowns and Long Run are now finished," said the trainer. "We'll run some at Kempton next weekend and that will be the end of the Cheltenham horses."