MELISSA JONES SAYS: Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Cheltenham we go
7:50am Saturday 26th January 2013 in Sport
ARMED with dozens of shovels, heavy duty blowers and a tractor with a broom on the front, an army of men went to work.
No, this was not a scene out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or any fairytale for that matter, but a huge operation to defy the weather this week.
With Cheltenham Race-course covered in plenty of the 's' word, clerk of the course Simon Claisse was probably more Grumpy than Happy a few days ago.
But a smile will be returning now that the grand effort of about 60 workers is paying dividends.
By Thursday, teams had spent the last 36 hours shovelling, scooping and pushing the white stuff off covers which have been protecting the course.
It has given today's fixture every chance, according to Cheltenham's communications manager Andy Clifton.
Chatting to me on Thursday, he said the massive deployment of manpower meant it was 95% certain to beat the cold snap.
Clifton said the operation is harder than it looks.
“The trick with getting the snow moved is getting the timing right, as if it's frozen hard it's too difficult to shift or it can be too slushy,” he explained.
“So we have had guys with shovels, brooms on the front of tractors and five men with heavy duty blowers similar to the ones that move leaves. In elapsed time it has probably taken about 20 hours.”
And that’s not all of it.
The viewing areas, stands and car park have also had a good sweeping.
Crunch time will be as the covers come off the turf- most of it up and the country has not fared too well.
“That’s one of the reasons why this fixture is so important, there hasn't been much racing in the past ten days. It’s a brilliant fixture in its own right with almost £400,000 in prize money,” added Clifton.
Doncaster’s Skybet Chase was a high profile casualty of today’s original schedule.
A few of the horses due to be engaged there took up the opportunity of a run round Kempton yesterday, in races specifically designed to give horses a competitive stretch of their legs while some gallops are frozen.
I do question use of the term 'all-weather' though, as judged on recent abandonments, such tracks cannot survive copious amounts of snow.
I noticed Chepstow trainer Ron Harris sent Noverre To Go all the way to Lingfield last Friday, only for the meeting to be abandoned not long before it was due to start. The fate of others was reported early, and rightly so, as Huntington and Uttoxeter were called off with at least a day’s notice.
We must give fixtures every chance, but there is a fine line between having false hope and cautious optimism.
Stable lads and lasses work hard enough and wasted journeys in the horse box must be most frustrating.
The Llancarfan team of Evan Williams will be hoping to come away with a slice of prize money in today’s Victor Chandler Chase with the improving William’s Wishes.
There’s one major obstacle in the way though, the mighty Sprinter Sacre.
“He’s grand, everything is good really,” said the trainer. The other highlight of the bumper eight race card is the Argento Chase, where I expect there to be a minor upset.
Wayward Prince, 3rd in the 2011 RSA Chase at the Festival, looks overpriced at 12-1.
It could be that he took longer than expected to get over that run, as he has come back to his old self this season for trainer-owner Hilary Parrott.
The form of the win last time out has been franked by the third Quito De La Roque and his second behind Gold Cup contender Silviniaco Conti was encouraging.
With those under his belt, the 9-year-old is probably reaching peak fitness.
Given Venetia Williams’ red hot form, I’d also be interested in her two runners in the 12.40.
Renard D’irlande would be the pick there, off a light weight with Aidan Coleman in the saddle.
In the 3.00, I can see At Fishers Cross creeping into it under AP McCoy.
Coneygree and The New One set the standard, but it I don't think Rebecca Curtis’ six-year-old is out of it by any means with his progressive profile.
French import Rolling Star should get the day off to a flyer in the 12.10.