Snow set to hit course as soft ground on opening day becomes a possibility
Cheltenham is braced for four to six inches of snow towards the end of the week, but clerk of the course Simon Claisse does not anticipate any problems with the racing surface, which has dried out considerably in recent days and is currently "good to soft, good in places on all three courses".
However, Claisse has raised the possibility that the ground might be softer than the usual good to soft for the opening day of the festival on March 13.
He revealed that John Kettley, the weather expert used by Cheltenham and who is reckoned a good judge, has said he would not be betting on the meeting starting on good to soft, the implication being that it will probably start somewhat easier than that.
Mild weather next week should clear any snow from the course, which is largely uncovered, but the forecast is such that Claisse is finding it hard to predict exactly how it might ride when the festival kicks off.
As he cast his eye over a site which had just a light dusting of snow on Wednesday, Claisse said: "John Kettley forewarned us a week or so ago that a weather front moving up from the south might hit the cold air and give us some snow, and the other forecasters have generally become aligned now, with the Met Office having weather warnings out for Gloucestershire through Thursday, Friday and Saturday in terms of probable disruptions to travel.
"They are talking about four to six inches, or 10-15cm, and, while that will present some operational challenges around the site, we are geared up to deal with it. Then all the indications are that from Monday onwards we will be frost free, with temperatures rising to six, seven or eight degrees, so we're pretty confident that the snow will have gone by midweek.
"It looks as if festival week will be quite mild."
Claisse's rule of thumb guide equates 10-15cm of snow to 10-15mm of precipitation, and with that in mind he said: "On what I know now – given that we are 13 days away – it's looking as if conditions will be on the easier side for the start of the meeting. I don't think I'd want to be any more specific than that."
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