All eyes on the weather ahead of Cheltenham Festival

Horses working out at the Barbury Castle estate

Horses working out at the Barbury Castle estate

First published in Sport by

WITH less than two weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, champion jockey AP McCoy and local trainers Nicky Henderson and Alan King are monitoring the weather forecasts.

Relentless rain in recent weeks has led to testing conditions at racecourses around the country, and national hunt racing’s Gloucestershire spectacle may be plagued by heavy ground if the bad weather does not subside.

Lambourn-based Henderson, who will take around 30 horses to the Festival, is one of many trainers hoping to see the weather clear up to give his horses preferable ground.

“I think everybody in the country would like to see it dry up, it has been ridiculously wet,” he said.

“It’s amazing what a couple of dry days can do, but we do really need a couple of dry weeks to be honest.

“The weather hasn’t helped us, it’s been ridiculous.”

Such has been the impact of the soft ground that Henderson opted to run the Champion Hurdler contender My Tent Or Yours on the all-weather track at Kempton. The plan seemed to work accordingly, with the hurdler cruising to victory, and Henderson was happy with the performance.

“That was exactly what we wanted really,” he said.

“All the alternative places we could go had very, very bad ground and that’s just what I didn’t want. He didn’t need a hard race, it’s very soft ground at Wincanton and Kelso, so the only thing to do was to run him on the all-weather.

“It was just to get him out, get him some practice and take the fizz out of him a little bit.”

Eighteen-time champion jockey AP McCoy also revealed his concern, saying that heavy conditions can hamper the chances of the best horses.

“When you’ve got testing conditions, you maybe don’t always get the best horses as the winners. It could have an effect on the real championship races,” he said.

“You’d like good to soft ground, because there’s no excuse there and the best horse will probably always win.”

Barbury Castle-based Alan King concurred with their hopes, and is optimistic that just a few dry days could have a big impact on the ground.

“If we have a dry three or four days it will soon dry. It can change very quickly if you get a bright sunny day with a bit of wind,” he said.

“In an ideal world Cheltenham wants to be on good-to-soft or soft, I don’t think we want to be running on the heavy ground they had at the December and January meetings.

“But what will be, will be. It usually dries up around this time of year.”

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