Leopardstown hopes fading
The strong likelihood of a slower-than-expected thaw materialising over the weekend has already claimed Down Royal's fixture on St Stephen's Day and is also threatening a postponement of the same afternoon's glittering Leopardstown card.
Four and five inches of snow lying at both venues, as well as continuing sub-zero temperatures, at best prompted the Down Royal meeting being put back to tomorrow week, with officials at Leopardstown sounding a warning about Sunday's fare.
"The thaw is coming a bit later than was forecast -- it could be delayed now until the second half of Christmas Day, so we're concerned at the moment about racing going ahead on St Stephen's Day. It's a wait-and-see situation and we'll have to take it day by day," explained general manager Tom Burke, who has vast experience of such situations at the Dublin course.
Met Eireann spokesman Gerald Fleming pointed out yesterday that the severe night frosts countrywide are set to persist until later this week with no meaningful rise in daytime temperatures until Sunday at the earliest.
However, such a scenario would probably suffice for Limerick to beat the Arctic weather, according to manager Russell Ferris, who reports that they have escaped the snow completely and that the frost hasn't yet penetrated their ground to any great extent.
"Patches of the track are frozen, but it's only an inch into the ground and hasn't penetrated the soil, although it's minus four this afternoon," he said.
Across the water, Kempton are still keeping their hopes up that they will be able to host the King George on Sunday, even though Towcester have already called off their meeting for the same afternoon.
Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford must now worry mainly about the weather forecast after a peek under the covers on the jumps course revealed good news.
Clifford has kept the grass under wraps for some days now in an attempt to thwart the cold in time for the King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day.
"I had a look with some of the jockeys, including Sam Thomas, and the ground is perfectly raceable," said Clifford. "As a going report, I would say it is just on the slow side of good.
"Now we've got the other problems to deal with, such as the snow, but I would say at least half the volume of snow has melted. We're taking the same approach of taking it day by day, as it's a moveable feast."
It has been reported that the King George, in which Kauto Star bids for a record fifth victory, could be shifted to the following afternoon should Sunday fall victim to the weather.
Kempton was yesterday able to stage an all-weather fixture for jumpers, which saw Paul Nicholls' long absent Noland finish runner-up to stablemate Pepe Simo.
And according to the champion trainer, Noland is now a possible runner in the King George: "He's in on Sunday and could easily run as he's only had a gallop today, but I'll need to discuss it with the owner first. I was thrilled with that as he hasn't even galloped at home. Pepe Simo could run if the ground is good on Monday."
Nicky Henderson, meanwhile, has decided Punchestowns did not quite have the required experience over fences to run in the big Christmas feature. The seven-year-old was a top-class staying hurdler, finding only Big Buck's too strong in the World Hurdle of 2009.
"I'm aiming Punchestowns at the Mandarin at Newbury on December 29," Henderson said. Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead is, by contrast, expecting a big run from Sizing Europe, although he recognises Kauto Star once again represents a formidable foe.
Nicholls' superstar had Sizing Europe behind him when making a winning return to action at Down Royal last month. That was Irish Independent Arkle Trophy hero Sizing Europe's first try at three miles, and De Bromhead has no regrets at stepping up in trip this season.
- With the snow-covered Towcester being abandoned yesterday, Market Rasen will today have a noon inspection to see if they can proceed with their Sunday card.