Sun and rain, it’s all the same

Balder Succes - blinded by Cheltenham sun

Balder Succes - blinded by Cheltenham sun

Sport will always be subject to the vagaries of the weather. Last night a waterlogged pitch meant Portsmouth’s football match with Wycombe was abandoned at half time. We’ve already seen this week how torrential rain at Bath brought an early conclusion to racing there.

It’s just as likely that the sun is the culprit. I was at Ffos Las in May when the setting sun forced the omission of all four fences and three hurdles in the home straight. I saw a three-mile chase in which eight fences were jumped, and a two and a half mile hurdle race with just four flights and a run in that was even longer than that of the Grand National.

Last Saturday it was the turn of Cheltenham to suffer from a surfeit of sun, as jockeys had major difficulty spotting the second last in the two-mile novice chase, timetabled for 5.00pm. Alan King, trainer of Balder Succes, who was clear when he fell at the fence, put the fall down to the problem. He said on his website, “It was the low sun - it's as simple as that. He never even saw the fence and just walked straight into it. Happily, he emerged unscathed, as did Choc (Thornton),”

The course has encountered problems with low sun before, but never this early in the season, as clerk of the course Simon Claisse explained. “Jockeys said after the event that the sun was hindering their view of the fence as they turned in, but we’ve never had a problem in October before. Some years ago we seemed to have more incidents of problems in November and December than historically and commissioned the Sports Turf Research Institute to do a report of the track of the sun across the horizon. That was after the clocks had gone back as we’d never had a problem in October.”

I’ve no idea what they paid for that research, which came up with a range of options, including using large screens to block off the sun, or flying a balloon for the same purpose. In the end they put into place the simplest, low tech, low cost solution, and changed the times of the steeplechases so that they are not run as the sun goes down.

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