Monday 18 November 2019

Cracking Smart blow for Elliott

Trainer Gordon Elliott. Photo: Sportsfile
Trainer Gordon Elliott. Photo: Sportsfile

Chris Cook

Cracking Smart has suffered a setback which will keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Trainer Gordon Elliott had been preparing the Grade Two-winning six-year-old for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. But the County Meath handler revealed yesterday: "Unfortunately Cracking Smart had a setback so he is out of the Albert Bartlett and will not run for the remainder of the season."

Cracking Smart has done well this season and won the Navan Novice Hurdle in December, after which he finished a close second to Next Destination in the Grade One Lawlor's of Naas Novice Hurdle.

Meanwhile, it was time to break out the shovels at Cheltenham yesterday as racecourse staff resorted to old-fashioned methods to ensure a consistent racing surface for next week's four-day Festival. Between 50 and 60 staffers will spend the next three days shovelling away drifts of snow that have accumulated around the fences and hurdles, which could otherwise produce boggy patches of ground on the take-off and landing sides.

Simon Claisse, Cheltenham's long-serving clerk of the course, says he has never known snow to be lying on the hallowed turf this close to a Festival in his 18 years in the job. He estimates that about three inches fell in the last few days, though it has since been blown around so much that a precise measure is impossible.

The snow has built up around anything that breaks the wind's path and was a foot deep on Saturday morning on either side of the fences and hurdles in the home straight. It is also deep along the rails and much deeper in several hollows on the cross-country course.

Only a light dusting of snow lies on the turf between the fences and up the famous hill to the winning post. Claisse expects that to melt pretty quickly, now that temperatures are back above freezing and expected to remain so this week. But he added: "The drifts around the fences will take longer to shift and we're just going to look at the practicalities of manually moving it. We don't want all of that precipitation in that one place. But of course we have to be careful, as the thaw sets in. You know what it's like if you stand in one place on wet ground, you could make a mess of it."

That same desire to avoid churning up ground means Claisse will not allow vehicles anywhere near the obstacles and indeed he appeared shocked by the suggestion. "Oh, good gracious, no. Nobody here would think about getting a tractor and loader or a JCB out there to start moving the snow."

Instead, Cheltenham's fleet of 4x4s has been used in recent days to ferry medical personnel around Gloucestershire, from their homes to hospitals and ambulance centres. Claisse himself covered 40 miles to help out a paramedic who would not otherwise have been able to do his 12-hour shift.

With warmer temperatures in the forecast this week, this snowfall should pose no threat to the Festival taking place. But it may have an effect on the going for when racing starts a week on Tuesday, with Claisse making a cautious prediction that it may be softer than the 'good to soft' which normally prevails at the start of the Festival.

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