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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

Claisse has no worries for Tuesday as heavy ground makes festival comeback

Cheltenham: more rain forecast Wednesday into Thursday
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It rained through the night and it rained through the day, but Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse on Monday insisted the opening card of the 2018 festival is in absolutely no danger.

For the first time since 1982 the sport's biggest meeting is set to start with the word heavy in the official going description after 14mm of rain in the space of 24 hours.

The last time any festival day was staged on heavy ground was 1989.

Claisse, who posted an official going description of heavy, soft in places, said: "There is nothing in the forecast that would make us think there is any concern or doubt about the meeting tomorrow. That just doesn't enter our thinking.

"There was actually a temptation when I walked it at lunchtime to reverse the description to soft, heavy in places, because we'd had a drier spell, but the forecast suggested further rain, which has come this afternoon.

"Even so, the description is pretty borderline, so we'll see what happens overnight. It's forecast to be dry and we're then looking forward to a dry Tuesday with temperatures up to 11C or 12C. If we think it has dried out in the morning, or even up to 1.30pm, we can flip it back to soft, heavy in places."

Outlining the longer-term forecast, Claisse added: "We may get up to another 8mm or 9mm as we go from Wednesday into Thursday, but on Thursday we open up the New course and have a wide area of fresh hurdle and chase ground. The two tracks walk very similar, although there is a bit more fresh ground on the New course."

Reflecting on the racing surface being softer than for any festival in modern history, Claisse added: "I have done 19 festivals and we've been incredibly lucky with the weather.

"Some people have said we might not see soft or heavy at the festival again due to our drainage, but I've always held the view that if you get sufficient rain in close proximity to racing you'll get soft or heavy ground. That's what has happened.

"We've had about 45mm of rain in the last ten days on ground that had been frozen in places the week before. When you get frost in the ground it tends to open it up and a smaller amount of rain makes the ground more testing.

"However, we've seen through November, December and January that jockeys are brilliant at riding according to the conditions. We still had wonderful finishes then and I'm sure it will be the same throughout this week."

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We've seen through November, December and January that jockeys are brilliant at riding according to the conditions
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