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Doncaster option for Sprint Cup

CONTINGENCY plans were in place on Thursday to transfer the Betfred Sprint Cup to Doncaster next week as Saturday's card at Haydock was at risk from a severe bout of wet weather.

 The Met Office forecasts 20-30mm of rain in the 24 hours from dawn on Friday for a course where the going was already heavy, soft in places, but despite the gloomy outlook, clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright retained "measured optimism" that the track could stage its biggest Flat meeting of the year.

 By placing covers on the straight course, Haydock has withstood the rain that has fallen so far this week and the whole track was still raceable on Thursday despite a further 9mm of rain overnight, but the worst is still to come, with the Met Office predicting a sustained and uninterrupted period of rain on Friday.

 "It will start at daybreak and continue pretty much all day and through the night," said a spokeswoman.

 "Haydock could easily get 20mm and there are warnings out for up to 50mm, but that is probably reserved for the north-east rather than the north-west. It's going to be a pretty wet two days."

 Tellwright will wait until Friday before deciding whether it will be necessary to announce an inspection but said the track was fit to stageracing on Thursday.

 "The ground that is not under the covers is fit to race," he said. "The ground under the covers is substantially protected. Measured optimism is the continuing message.

 "If we got 20-30mm of rain, that would be a bore. There is going to be a limit but you wouldn't be abandoning at the moment. There would be no grounds to, so we soldier on. We will see what happens tomorrow."

 Despite the testing conditions, the race attracted a full field of 17 runners at Thursday's 48-hour declaration stage, headed by the ante-post favourite Utmost Respect.

 Aidan O'Brien declared three runners as he seeks to extend his Group 1 winning haul, with former Ballydoyle stable jockey Jamie Spencer on US Ranger, Richard Hughes on Astronomer Royal and Darryll Holland on Abraham Lincoln.

 Barry Hills, who saddled Red Clubs to win a year ago, will field two challengers headed by Kings Stand Stakes winner Equiano.

 His son Charlie said: "I think he should handle conditions and I am looking forward to seeing him run over six furlongs. He has won over seven andcame out of his last race really well."

 Equiano is in stall 13, traditionally an advantageous draw, but this time the stalls are positioned on the inside rail to ensure the field enjoy the benefit of the covered area ofthe straight course.

 Tellwright, who has used the position before, said: "I don't think it is a massive issue. In any event the field will bunch to one side or another. The clerks recommendation will be that people don't come down the outside rail."

 The BHA has an established procedure in the event of Group 1 races being lost to the weather.

 Spokesman Paul Struthers said: "If we lose the Betfred Sprint we will save it and in all likelihood it would be run at Doncaster next week."

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