Simon Claisse predicts good to soft for start of Festival

Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse expects the ground at Prestbury Park to be mainly good to soft for the start of the four-day Festival in 13 days’ time.

Claisse’s assessment is the going report will also contain either good or soft in places.

“As things currently stand I have a good sense we are going to start with good to soft and ‘something’ in places – whether it is good in places or soft in places – with the normal caveat based on the current forecast,” he told a press conference zoom call.

Despite a very wet mid-winter, Claisse is happy with conditions on all three courses – the Old, New and Cross Country.

“The track is looking in great nick – and maybe we could be looking for some rain in a week or so’s time, which is ironic in a way,” he said.

“All courses are now set up and ready to go and where we want to be with a fortnight before we start racing.

“The Old course, which is the one we use on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Cross Country on the Wednesday, is currently good to soft, soft in places and the New course too for Thursday and Friday is good to soft, soft in places.

“It’s where we would like to be with 13 days before we start racing.”

The current dry spell has been well-received, after the wettest winter Claisse can recall.

“What a relief after a wet winter we’ve had eight dry days, which have helped ground staff out enormously with their preparations,” he went on.

“We’ve really had unprecedented rainfall over the winter, and particularly over Christmas, that sadly saw us lose the first of January and again at the end of the month when the course was flooded three times across in less than 24 or 25 days – something I’ve never seen here in 20 years.”

As for the forecast – for which Cheltenham have John Kettley as their weather consultant – Claisse said: “It is looking like the dry spell will continue until the early part of next week, so every expectation at the beginning of next week we will be looking at ground as good to soft, good in places.

“There is then a spell of rain which would bring us back to where we are at the moment – good to soft, soft. It might flip it to soft, good to soft – but beyond next Wednesday/Thursday it turns slightly cooler again and is looking like being a dry weekend before the Festival.

“I’m not going to speculate as to what is going to happen the week of the 15th. At the moment everything is in fine shape.

“The ground we use at the Festival is preserved behind rails throughout the season, October to December – so basically what we’re racing on, no horse has set foot on for the best part of 12 months.”

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