After clerk of the course Simon Claisse changed the going on the morning of day one of the 2019 Festival from good-to-soft to officially soft, conditions were already worsening underfoot for the greatest racing show on earth and now with the spectre of Storm Gareth looming over Prestbury Park there is even a chance Wednesday’s card could be moved.
Should the winds arrive as forecast, there is a provision in place to shift day two of the meeting to Saturday with not just testing conditions for horses and jockeys in mind, but also the safety of the public after it was thought the incoming gusts could be strong enough to dislodge non-permanent fixtures at the course.
11 years after the cancellation of the festival due to storms, there is a feeling of déjà vu around Cheltenham with around 70,000 people expected to turn up on Wednesday to see the likes of Altior in action in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Winds of around 50mph are expected and there will be an inspection at 8am on Wednesday morning, though a final decision on racing taking place will not be made until later in the day.
The clock is therefore ticking for Jockey Club Racecourses administrators with the first race as usual set to jump off at 1.30pm, though what they are hoping for is that the forecast localised gusts miss the racecourse all together and allow racing to continue unaffected.
With around £500million set to be brought in by UK bookmakers alone this week, the natural progression for National Hunt racing to put perhaps too many of its eggs in the Cheltenham Festival basket could now haunt them slightly if Mother Nature doesn’t do them in a favour.
There is a recent precedent for this too. On the Saturday of the December meeting at Cheltenham, 60,000 people were at the track and faced 38mph winds which caused the cancellation of racing so with this storm even more powerful, the risk is very real.
Trainers are aware of the possibility of moving the card and as such, Nicky Henderson would be happy to let Altior run on Saturday if needs be but it is far from ideal for the racecourse who have reminded the public that certain providers, such as caterers, are due to attend other events such as this weekend’s Six Nations Rugby matches and therefore a limited service could be on offer.
All being well, the storm will just about bypass the racecourse and we will still be on for a cracking second day of racing at what has so far been a surprising festival for results.