Rain and wind forecast for first festival to be staged after BHA safety review
There will be rain, there will be wind and there will be soft ground for the start of the Cheltenham Festival, in the opinion of clerk of the course Simon Claisse.
A dramatic early-evening snowstorm delivered a further 3mm of moisture to the track on Sunday, but after a dry Monday the official going description remained good to soft, soft in places.
Persistent rain is expected to fall through Tuesday morning, with the day-one wind expected to become even stronger on Wednesday.
Claisse said: "A bout of rain is due between 3am and lunchtime on Tuesday. The nearer to racing that falls the more impact it will have on the ground."
A Cheltenham spokesperson added: "The forecast suggests strong winds will be challenging on Wednesday. Our operations and racing teams are working across the site on measures to minimise any issues, and investments in our facilities over the last decade mean they're able to withstand tougher conditions than previously.
"We'll monitor the situation and act and advise accordingly. In the meantime we encourage racegoers to dress for jump racing weather conditions across the festival."
The festival is being staged with further enhanced safety measures in place following the BHA review that took place after six horses died at the meeting 12 months ago.
Among the new protocols in place is the requirement for all runners to undergo a pre-racing veterinary check, a move BHA director of equine health and welfare David Sykes insists is not a radical one.
Sykes said: "The process of carrying out pre-race checks on certain horses – and indeed of liaising with yards in advance of racing to look at horses with unusual actions – is not a new one. Over 100 horses were checked in this manner at the Cheltenham Festival last year, with all horses passing the examination.
"Checks will begin on horses early each morning by BHA veterinary officers. If a horse is identified which gives vets concern, the trainer will be informed and a time will be set later in the morning for a secondary examination, in order to give the horse and trainer time to address any concerns.
"The second check will be carried out by three BHA vets. If they're unanimous on their decision the horse will either be cleared to run or withdrawn. If there's a split decision, a further opinion will be sought from a racecourse veterinary surgeon."
Sykes added: "We're hopeful no horses have to be withdrawn. However, we won't allow a horse to run if it's exhibiting signs it's not fully fit. We cannot guarantee risk-free racing, but we're doing all we can to prevent any injuries that might have been avoidable."
Jockeys have also been contacted by the BHA, which has reminded them of the need to stick to the sport's whip rule. BHA chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea told them: "It's vital for the image of the sport riders adhere to the guidelines."
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