Trainers battling the elements to keep festival plans on track
Bowed but not beaten. That was the message from trainers in Britain and Ireland on Thursday as they struggled to keep their stables functioning in the face of a third day of severe weather.
A rare red alert for snow has been issued, with Storm Emma joining forces with the polar vortex dubbed the Beast from the East, and although it was far from business as usual in the build-up to Cheltenham, trainers are steadfastly united in not allowing preparations to be blown off course.
Kim Bailey, who trains close to Cheltenham racecourse at Andoversford, said: "It's snowing and -6C and while you certainly wouldn't race here today it's not enough to stop us doing anything. I can't work horses when it's this cold as it burns their lungs but we've been cantering them.
"It's forecast to come in bad later this afternoon and into tomorrow but we've been on the all-weather gallops today and as long as we can get back to normality next week we'll be fine with our Cheltenham horses."
In Lambourn it was a similar tale with Warren Greatrex heeding the weather warnings in advance to keep his stable stars on track for the festival.
"I'm ahead of the game with the Cheltenham horses and did my faster bits of work earlier in the week," he said. "As long as I can keep getting them out we'll be ahead of schedule, and it's just about keeping them in one piece.
Fellow Lambourn trainer Jamie Snowden said: "It was -6C at the time of first lot but felt more like -15C as the wind chill was bitter. However, we're very lucky as the gallops are always open and every horse did what it would have done in better weather. As for the Cheltenham horses, they're all fit and healthy and it's just a case of ticking them over."
In Ireland, Dublin airport was closed on Thursday afternoon and people were advised to stay indoors due to forecast heavy snow and gale-force winds.
Willie Mullins, who trains in Closutton, County Carlow, was bracing himself for more biting weather as he aims to put the finishing touches to his huge Cheltenham team.
He said: "We were able to do what we wanted today. We didn't get as much snow as we had the previous day but the forecast is bad."
Navan trainer Noel Meade said: "We had only half our staff in because of road conditions but were able to exercise all the horses indoors. We'd plenty of warning the bad weather was coming and the hope now is it won't last much longer."
Sandy Thomson, who trains at Duns in the Borders, said: "We've had ten inches of snow and it's been awful, but we knew it was coming and are well advanced with our Cheltenham horses."
The trainer had been hoping to get stable star Seeyouatmidnight qualified for the Randox Health Grand National with an outing at Kelso on Saturday, but the meeting has been called off.
"Hopefully the BHA will put Kelso on on the following Sunday, like two years ago, as we were planning on running Seeyouatmidnight, who under the new rules needs to run in a chase this season before the National," said Thomson.
Despite bitterly cold temperatures, Cheltenham had received only light snow by Thursday afternoon, but clerk of the course Simon Claisse predicted that was about to change.
"We've had a dusting but are forecast significant snowfall in the next 48 hours, when we could get up to six inches," he said.
"We've probably recorded the lowest temperatures here in 19 years this morning when we touched -16.5C at 7am with the wind chill and we've been below about -3C air temperature all day. However, the outlook is for less cold weather throughout next week."
Lincolnshire has been one of the worst affected areas in Britain and trainer Steve Gollings' location at Scamblesby in the Wolds has borne the brunt of the weather.
"We've had a tremendous amount of snow and trying to clear it is a tough job," he said. "I can remember weather as adverse as this in 2010 but the difference this time is the very low temperatures. Last night it was -6C, we've had wind chills of -12C, and with the 28mph winds the snow is drifting.
"My head man Roy Harrison has been with me 18 years and has never been late once, but today he finally got here at 11am and you can get in and out of the yard only in a 4x4.
"When you've got livestock it's 24/7 and you've got to get stuck in and get on with it."