The blanket of snow that has covered much of England this week has finally made its way to Cheltenham.
And that, allied with the rain showers in the area this week, has led to the going at the racecourse to be eased to soft in advance of the Festival kick-off on Tuesday.
Although the New Course and the cross-country track have retained their good-to-soft status, the Old Course – which hosts days one and two of the meeting – has now been shifted to soft.
With light rain in the forecast for the town over the weekend, it’s not yet impossible that the Prestbury Park track will be approaching heavy on Wednesday after a day’s racing on Tuesday.
Attempts at amateur meteorology can prove the undoing of punters, but there’s no doubt that the softer ground will impact upon how some of the Cheltenham Festival’s biggest races are run.
And the betting markets have begun to move accordingly….
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Given his pedigree on softer ground – which includes a win on the heavy Prestbury Park deck in last year’s Champion Bumper, Facile Vega has remained steadfast at the head of the market for the Festival’s traditional curtain-raiser.
But second favourite Marine Nationale, whose best work has come on faster ground, has started to lose support.
The big mover in the Supreme could well be Willie Mullin’s Gaelic Warrior, who triumphed in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle on yielding ground at Leopardstown in February. He’s been backed into 6/1 from eights accordingly.
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Punters are concerned about what the soft ground will mean for Honeysuckle’s chances in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
A fine career has largely been enjoyed on good-to-soft ground, although her 2020 victory in this race came on a surface described as heavy in places.
Favouritism has been challenged by Marie’s Rock, while Echoes in Rain has won on heavy ground – she’s shortened to 11/2 from 7/1 in places.
The current Coral Cup favourite Camprond has five career victories from 18 starts – four of them coming on good ground.
Unsurprisingly, money has started to come for others with a stronger CV on softer ground. One of the biggest steamers has been An Epic Song, into 25/1 from 33/1, while others have seen support.
Langer Dan, who won the Imperial Cup at a heavy-in-places Sandown Park before finishing two lengths behind Galopin Des Champs at Cheltenham in 2021, is one of the more fancied.
Shishkin was pulled up at the soft Prestbury Park at last year’s Festival, and his two runs since have come on ground labelled good in places.
So there’s no shortage of punters willing to take on Nicky Henderson’s odds-on favourite for the Ryanair Chase, with Blue Lord – an impressive mud-skipper with Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins since November – most of interest amongst the betting community.
The wetter the better for Teahupoo, who won the Galmoy Hurdle in rather challenging conditions at Gowran Park in January.
His shortening in the market has come at the expense of Blazing Khal, who just about clings on to favouritism.
Can a bit of rain stop Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup?
Perhaps not, but one of the few blots on his copybook came on heavy ground at Leopardstown in 2021, when he was found wanting in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
Noble Yeats, whose staying credentials are not in doubt having won the Grand National last year, is being supported by punters.