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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Jump racing weather warning as Thurles cancels and Exeter faces major threat

Exeter racecourse: under threat from the summer-long drought in the West Country
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The drought in the West Country is threatening jump racing's return at Exeter and Wincanton, while in Ireland the dry weather has scuppered Thurles's opening meeting of the season next week.

Exeter's first meeting since a summer break is scheduled for next Thursday, but on Wednesday course officials were painting a bleak picture, describing the meeting as in jeopardy.

Thurles was scheduled to race the same day but on Wednesday its first jumps meeting since March was called off because of firm going and little prospect of rain forecast.

It has been a tough time in the West Country with Bath losing a series of meetings in the summer. The course has no watering system, leaving the ground too firm to race on during the height of the heatwave.

Now jump racing is under threat in the area with Wincanton and Exeter due to resume this month but needing substantial rain to do so.

Barry Johnson, clerk of the course at both tracks, said of Exeter: "The going is currently firm, hard in places, and without substantial rainfall the course’s limited water supply will not enable the course to be prepared in a suitable condition.

"Entries close at midday on Friday but, on the grounds of safety and welfare, should the current forecast prove accurate it is likely the meeting will have to be abandoned."

Johnson added that the local weather forecast is for 6-8mm of rain over the weekend, which would not be enough to save the card.

He added: "We thought we had a glimmer of hope after a couple of inches of rain which left the ground comfortably firm with even good to firm places, but walking the track on Tuesday it had dried out again.

"We will sit tight until Saturday but need rain, a lot of it, and if we got 20mm or an inch of rain then we could be back in business."

The Racing Post highlighted two weeks ago the plight of the West Country jumps courses with Wincanton and Taunton reported in a similar situation.

The latest Met Office forecast for Exeter is for a dry and mostly sunny week leading up to the weekend, with Saturday wet and windy but brightening up later to leave a dry day on Sunday.

Wincanton does not race until October 19 but is also in need of plenty of rain with ground currently similar to Exeter.

Johnson said: "Wincanton has got another week, but early next week is forecast to be dry before uncertainty about the end of the week."

The long hot summer also hit Wincanton's water supplies, levels of which have not recovered since watering for the course's meetings at the end of last season.

Taunton, the other jumping track in the area, does not race until October 31 but course officials warned two weeks ago that substantial rain was needed to ease the hard ground.

Paul Nicholls, who trains a dozen miles from Wincanton, was not surprised about the situation with rock hard turf at home but felt there could be a positive to come from it.

He said: "I don't like to see it happening obviously, but we might reap benefits at the end of the season if we get a winter like last year, with better ground later having let the ground ease with rain rather than heavy watering."

The former champion, who has had just one jumps runner in each of the last three months, added: "Early meetings can be quite dodgy with the ground and I never get going until Chepstow at the end of next week.

"It is a short-term problem and everyone just has to hold their nerve and it usually balances out – it is a long season."  

The BHA is monitoring the situation. Racing operations manager Stuart Middleton said: "As a matter of course we liaise closely with racecourses who are potentially facing challenges in staging a fixture.

"The safety of the racing surface for participants is our number one priority. Our team of racecourse inspectors are on hand to assist with assessing the viability of racing on turf.

"If the surface is deemed unsuitable for racing, the racing department will review potential alternative options for the fixture.”

The Thurles meeting has been rescheduled for Monday, November 12.

Thurles racecourse manager Kate Molony said on Wednesday: "We've had a long dry spell and from September 1 until today we've had only 71 millimetres of rain and none since September 22 when we had only 4.5 millimetres.

"In the same period last year we had 128 millimetres of rain and the ground for our October 12 meeting was good to yielding. We had an eight race card and 124 horses were declared."

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On the grounds of safety and welfare, should the current forecast prove accurate it is likely the meeting will have to be abandoned
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