Festival meetings forced into Plan B
The combined effects of continuing snow and frosty nights dealt jump-racing a severe blow yesterday when both the Leopardstown and Limerick glamour meetings on St Stephen's Day joined Down Royal on an ever-growing cancellation list.
Indeed, such was the state of the Foxrock track -- where the blanket of snow remains quite deep -- that Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and Leopardstown general manager Tom Burke drew up comprehensive contingency plans in an attempt to preserve the best races.
A revised forecast for a delay of the eagerly awaited thaw until Sunday at the earliest prompted the Turf Club to announce the twin postponements, with Limerick due to hold an inspection then of their now-frozen course in the hope of racing on Monday.
A transfer of their entire high-profile, lucrative St Stephen's Day programme to next Thursday, December 30, was the initial bout of disappointment for Leopardstown festival regulars and the management alike before the Limerick fixture also bit the dust.
At least the confirmation of RTE extending their live television coverage of Sunday's intended fare for that new date was something to be thankful for, despite the apprehension that next Monday's Paddy Power-backed card might have to be postponed by 48 hours.
If the first two days prove to be lost to the elements at Leopardstown, the hope is that the Lexus Chase meeting next Tuesday would proceed as planned with eight races on the following afternoon inclusive of five Paddy Power-sponsored events.
The Grade One Dial-A-Bet Chase and the Future Champions Novice Hurdle as well as the Paddy Power Handicap Chase thus would be backed up by the Golf Centre Festival Hurdle, the ITBA Mares Hurdle at Listed level and the Grade Two Future Champions bumper.
Apart from the problems at Leopardstown -- where a normal four-day gathering would account for over a third of their annual income -- and Limerick, the tracks at Punchestown (December 31) and Fairyhouse (January 1) are also unraceable now due to the snow.
The principal events lost at Limerick on St Stephen's Day, the Grade Two Greenmount Park Novice Chase and the O'Kelly Bros Hurdle, have both been transferred to next Wednesday's concluding session there with eight races now down for decision.
There's more encouraging news from Tramore where the course is snow-free but partly frozen as manager Sue Phelan prepares to welcome patrons on both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, with the latter schedule inclusive of their most valuable contest.
Mullinavat, Kilkenny-based Holden Plant Rentals are the new sponsors of the Waterford venue's ¿32,000 Listed chase, won most recently by The Fonze for Eoin Doyle's Mooncoin stable of which that firm's managing director, Paul Holden, is a successful supporter.
Across the water, Kempton are still determined to give their big King George meeting every chance. There was an improvement in conditions at the track yesterday and while clerk of the course Barney Clifford describes the chances of racing on Sunday as "50-50" he said they would pull out all the stops to try to ensure the meeting goes ahead as scheduled.
However, most of the other fixtures will not be going ahead.
Officials at Wetherby, Wincanton and Huntingdon will all stage inspections today to assess the prospects of their St Stephen's Day meetings going ahead. The three courses are currently covered in snow.
Monday's Welsh National fixture at Chepstow is subject to a midday inspection today. Although the track was covered with fleece covers a week ago, there is now up to 10 centimetres of snow on top of the protective sheeting.
Kelso's meeting next Wednesday is already under threat with an inspection called for noon tomorrow.