Spring in the air at Lingfield as the beast threatens Saturday racing
Inspections at 8am for all three surviving meetings
In a week when Britain and Ireland have been buffeted, blanketed and brought to a standstill by first the 'Beast from the East' and then Storm Emma, it will be an irony lost on no-one that the ITV-broadcast Lingfield meeting which racing hopes will fly the flag this weekend is headlined by the Spring Cup.
Nothing could be less spring-like than the conditions that have frozen out racing this week, causing a rare blank day on Thursday, when all five British and Irish meetings were cancelled, and leaving yards battling snow drifts and sub-zero temperatures.
Three meetings are scheduled for Saturday but with 8am inspections planned for all three another wipeout is a grim possibility. Prospects of Lingfield's feature card going ahead are on a knife-edge and groundstaff are set to work through the night in a bid to save the meeting.
Clerk of the course George Hill had to cancel the track's Friday fixture due to overnight frost and severe wind chill, which hit punishing lows of -12C, and while temperatures are forecast to rise on Saturday it will be be touch and go whether the improvement materialises in time.
Hill said: "We're not raceable today, we'll keep on working the track to keep it moving, the air temperatures aren't helping as they're below zero, and ideally we need to get above 0C by tomorrow morning, which it has a chance of doing.
"We've got light snow showers this afternoon which aren't going to help but we'll keep going and working the track – we've got three tractors out and we'll be out all night. It was -12C on wind chill last night - it was horrendous - and that's what lost us today, but we're doing our best to try to have a chance tomorrow.
"I've got four ITV lorries parked in the car park and it would be our first time on the main channel so it'd be lovely getting it on – we'll do our best."
If Lingfield does get the all-clear four races will be broadcast on the main ITV channel headlined by the 32Red Spring Cup, in which Gimcrack third Headway is set to take on a field of five, including Super Sprint winner Bengali Boys.
While Lingfield's card hangs in the balance the vibes coming from Newcastle are more positive, although an inspection at 8am is planned for the track's all-weather meeting for jumps horses. Like at Lingfield the groundstaff will be working through the night to keep the surface raceable.
Raceday clerk of the course Paul Barker said: "We're currently raceable and if we get what we're forecast we should be fine. It's been a great effort from the whole team."
Saturday evening's meeting at Chelmsford is also subject to an 8am inspection, with clerk of the course Andy Waitt hoping snow that began falling on Friday afternoon stops in good time for his team to go to work preparing the racecourse.
"If the forecast is right and we get everything cleared we'll be okay, but it's in the lap of the gods," he said.
Bookmakers expect strong turnover on any card that survives, albeit considerably down on what it would have been had the scheduled jumps fixtures at Newbury, Doncaster, Navan and Kelso taken place, and also noted a spike in ante-post betting for Cheltenham.
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "Turnover tomorrow will definitely be significantly reduced. It's fantastic ITV are covering Lingfield though, as it's a very good, strong, competitive card.
"Normal betting activity on Lingfield will vastly increase. However, it still wouldn't make up for lost turnover from the jumps meetings.
"The cancelled meetings have given punters a chance to really get down and study the Cheltenham Festival and that's led to a spike in ante-post turnover. The handicaps have been particularly lively today, with Vieux Morvan in the Plate and Ivanovich Gorbatov in the County proving especially popular."
Coral PR director Simon Clare added: "It's challenging times like these that all-weather racing was invented for, and the fixtures at Lingfield, Newcastle and Chelmsford would see up to three times as much money bet on them in the absence of any jumps meeting."