Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse inspects the trackPICTURE: Edward Whitaker/racingpostpix.com
Opinions split as top card endures three checks
MORE than 25,000 paying customers on Friday enjoyed Cheltenham's traditional New Year's Day fixture, but only after the track survived three inspections - including one after the first race - to stage a meeting held on ground described as frozen in places by one senior rider.
An early morning temperature dip to -7C left Cheltenham with a racing surface that divided weighing room opinion and triggered the withdrawal of more than a third of the meeting's intended runners.
William Kennedy: didn't like groundPICTURE: Mark Cranham
Frost blankets had covered the track in the build-up to the seven-race card, but their protection was not enough to guarantee it was fit for racing at the opening 10am inspection.
A further check between 11am and 11.30am - during which long queues of people were trying to enter the racecourse - was followed by an announcement from clerk of the course Simon Claisse that racing would take place, a decision that surprised some, not least those who had backed abandonment in the Betfair market at odds of 2-9.
Former champion jockey John Francome, on duty for Channel 4, said: "When I walked the track there were lumps and it wasn't remotely raceable. If you're a jockey, you're paid to ride so you ride, but it's the horses you worry about."
It seemed that others were worried about the horses after the opening contest, which was immediately followed by a further inspection of the track, in particular an area at the top of the hill.
Tony McCoy: felt ground was safePICTURE: Edward Whitaker
William Kennedy, who rode in that first race, said: "I did not like the ground. It was inconsistent and though it was meant to be soft and heavy in places, there was no kickback. I wouldn't have called it safe and I wouldn't run a horse on it."
However, Tony McCoy said: "From a jockey's point of view, it's safe, and I think it's safe from a horse's point of view as well. Everyone has their own opinions."
The opinion of most trainers was that Cheltenham was right to race, even if many of those trainers contributed to a non-runner total of 30 horses.