Nicky Henderson yesterday expressed delight at the state of the track at Cheltenham, which I’m rather glad about. As I looked through today’s card again last night, I kept coming to his horses: Tetlami in the opener; Mossley in the first handicap, the JLT Speciality Chase; and Binocular in the Champion Hurdle. Though absolutely not Sprinter Sacre.
Henderson walked the course on Sunday morning on the traditional trainer’s pre-Festival inspection, now in its 25th year. Afterwards he said, “In all that time I don’t think I have seen the course in better condition before a festival as it is now. There is a really good growth of grass. That has not always been the case in some years after more difficult winters with snow and prolonged periods of frost.”
Although he went on to say that he found the ground on the Old Course (Tuesday and Wednesday racing) to be between good to soft and good, it is officially declared as good this morning, something which has been widely anticipated over the last week or so, despite the intensive watering carried out on the track. The Cross Country course, largely inside the main circuit, is good to firm.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said they had used 4m gallons of water on the course during the last three weeks alone, the equivalent of two inches of rainfall. His emphasis was to provide safe conditions for competitive racing, which he explained was not easy to do on an undulating course like Cheltenham.
"There is a clear link between the speed of the ground and the chance of injury for horses," he said. "But another factor that we have to consider when we are watering is the consistency of the ground. We want a consistent surface, we're not just aiming for an easier surface, so that's why we need to be measured in the quantity of water that we're putting on. We have put on 30mm in five days, which is a lot of water, and that's why ideally we'd rather not have to continue watering tomorrow. That is why I'm thinking that we will end up on good ground rather than good to soft.
In particular, you also have to be careful on an undulating site. It's a very different ball game from those courses that are dead flat, because there you can water more consistently and with greater quantities. We have to be really careful."
As far as Nicky Henderson is concerned, Claisse has done his usual first class job.