Seven miles, 65 acres, 130 tennis courts, put it which way you like, that’s the amount of covers that the ground staff at Cheltenham put down yesterday to safeguard the ground for racing this week. At a cost of around £50,000 it doesn’t come cheap, but that investment is nothing compared to the loss of a day of the Festival.
Staff took from first light until the middle of the afternoon to lay the black plastic sheeting down over both the Old and New courses, as well as the paddock, winner’s enclosure and the wash down area for horses. Today they are back putting up an extra mile of plastic running rail, to ensure that any loose horses on the first two days cannot get out onto the blankets that will still be down protecting the New course. There’s no such luxury on the Cross Country circuit; the horses in that race must be hardier types.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse was full of praise for his team, saying, “They’ve been terrific and put everything into the job. When an advertising board that was obviously in their way cropped up I said it could be moved elsewhere, but they insisted no, because ‘that’s you revenue, boss’.”
Tomorrow there is a further two and a half hours of work to take the covers up, and the same again on Thursday.
Claisse anticipated a cold Festival. He said yesterday, “The forecast remains for some wintry showers over the next couple of days – tonight, tomorrow and maybe a bit on Tuesday morning. There has been no rain since early Saturday morning. The ground, though, is unlikely to dry out much under the covers. It is soft everywhere. We are experiencing a wind chill of -3C at the moment, with the temperature being +2C. This cold spell is forecast to last through to Thursday.”
That view was backed up by one of the security guards at the course, who had five layers on for his 12-hour shift, and with delightful understatement said 2013 would not be a fashion Festival.
I do hope the Cheltenham executive have some money set aside to pay the ground staff a decent bonus. It sounds like they are earning it.