The unpredictable weather in the UK so far this winter continues to wreak havoc on elite horse racing.
An unseasonably dry start to the National Hunt campaign forced the postponement of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November, and left many trainers bemoaning a lack of opportunities to get their horses out and racing on softer ground at the start of the season.
Some of Nicky Henderson’s charges missed their scheduled returns to action due to the firmness of the ground at most UK racecourses, and a number of high-profile meetings were effected by late withdrawals.
But now the cold snap has hit, and track officials are faced with very different problems to solve.
The turf cards recently have been decimated by frozen ground, with only all-weather tracks at the likes of Kempton and Southwell able to get racing on.
The International Meeting at Cheltenham saw its Saturday card wiped out and another race on the cross-country track cancelled, while scheduled weekend action at Punchestown, Doncaster and Hereford also had to be abandoned due to snow and frost.
The week’s action has also been hit hard, with the highest profile casualty being the Ascot meeting scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday – that, which should have featured the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, has now been cancelled as well.
The Nightmare Before Christmas for Stayers
Temperatures fell to a bone-chilling -6.5˚C at the Berkshire track overnight, and even with time to spare the meeting has had to be abandoned with no let-up in the cold weather expected for a few more days.
Ascot’s clerk of the course, Chris Stickels, has described the conditions as ‘the coldest spell that I’ve seen here for a number of years’, and confirmed that he had no choice but to pull the plug on the meeting.
“The track is still frozen and even the snow that fell on Sunday hasn’t melted away,” Stickels said earlier.
“We thought we better not delay the inevitable and wanted to let everybody know as early as possible. It was a really straightforward decision, we were expecting it.
“It’s a great shame we haven’t been able to get it on as it’s a top-class card.”
The Long Walk Hurdle is considered to be one of the early season highlights for staying sorts, and with the likes of Baracouda, Big Buck’s and Paisley Park having gone on to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, it has been a key race for Festival punters too.
The 2022 edition was expected to see a renewal of the rivalry between Paisley Park and Champ, who have exchanged notable victories in the past year or so. The former defeated the latter in January’s Cleeve Hurdle, before Champ had his revenge in the Long Distance Hurdle in November.
The cancellation of the Ascot meeting means that the top-rated stayers might not be seen again on the track until the end of January – a situation that Paisley Park trainer Emma Lavelle has described as a ‘nightmare’.
However, Kempton’s Boxing Day fixture has stepped in and will now play host to a rearranged Long Walk Hurdle. All involved will be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast in the meantime.