Posts

Uncertain forecast leaves Epsom officials watching the skies

Epsom’s ground was described as good on Sunday after several drying days – but clerk of the course Andrew Cooper is wary of an uncertain forecast for possible showers closer to Cazoo Derby day.

If there were no further rain, before the start of the showpiece two-day meeting on Friday, Cooper would anticipate the need for some watering.

But updated weather forecasts from Wednesday onwards have put plans up in the air.

“We’ve been dry – the last rain we saw at Epsom was on Monday night of last week,” said Cooper.

“Temperatures have crept up a bit over that time – (but) I don’t think we’ve ever been warmer than about 22 degrees (yet).

“We’ve dried out, as anywhere would, and if we were racing today I’d call it good.

“It produced a GoingStick reading of 7.1 – which I think is bang on, historically, good ground at Epsom.”

The weather had appeared largely set fair for another week, but showers have popped up on the horizon.

“There is uncertainty as to the forecast for the week as a whole – particularly from Wednesday onwards,” added Cooper.

“It looks as if there isn’t any confidence at all, talking to meterologists. I don’t think they’re quite sure what’s going to happen, quite how widespread the showers are going to be at the end of the week, which part of the country.

“It’s unhelpful uncertainty.

Bolshoi Ballet is current market leader to give trainer Aidan O'Brien a ninth success in the Derby
Bolshoi Ballet is current market leader to give trainer Aidan O’Brien a ninth success in the Derby (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Going into this weekend, you’d have said it looked pretty settled – but that’s what happens, with the weather. We accept that, we’ve seen it before – it’s a sort of unhelpful forecast really.

“You’d far rather know you’re either going to see definite rain or none at all – in which case you’re that much more in control of things.”

Asked whether watering will be in order if the dry spell does persist, Cooper said: “The answer probably is yes – but quite when that will be, what volume etcetera it’s impossible to say at the moment.

“We certainly won’t be doing anything in the immediate future. We’ll sit tight, take stock of things early tomorrow, walk it again, look at the latest forecasts and formulate a bit of a plan going forward.

“I have a guiding principle that there’s parts of the course at Epsom you would water the day before but (other) parts that I’d like to give 48 hours to.

“One of the 48-hour parts of the course would be the downhill section – anything from the six (furlong) pole down to the road crossing into the home straight, basically experience has taught us you water that late at your peril.

“It just doesn’t quite settle as you’d like.

“So for Friday’s racing, that would take us back to Wednesday.”

Epsom will aim for a range of going no quicker than good to firm.

Cooper added: “If you’ve got a drying day, wherever you were at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, it will be something quite different at 4.30 that afternoon.

“I’ve always said our preparations are really to ensure we don’t run the Derby on ground quicker than good to firm – bearing in mind, it’s the fifth race of seven at 4.30 on the second day of a two-day meeting.

“What we’ve got to determine is what ground we should aim for on the Friday – as a starting point, you wouldn’t want to be going into racing on ground quicker than good to firm. That would just store up problems for the Saturday.

“So given the uncertainty of a showery forecast, the decision we have over the next 48 hours, is what do we need to do – if anything – to ensure Friday is run on safe, sensible, appropriate ground.

“That doesn’t mean it has to be good, doesn’t mean it has to be slow side of good – it just means that anything between good and good to firm is (fine).”

The early June weather is set to test Cooper a little this year, but it is an occupational hazard he is used to.

“This sort of forecast poses questions for us – but we’ve been there before,” he said.

Serpentine and Emmet McNamara were the big-race heroes on a
Serpentine and Emmet McNamara were the big-race heroes on a “surreal” 2020 Derby day at Epsom (Bill Selwyn/PA)

“It’s not unprecedented weather situation. Some years are very straightforward – but as with any race meeting, you have to work with the weather and you’re at the whim of it really.

“Our overriding aim will be to hope to produce the safe, consistent surfaces where horses can perform to the best of their abilities.”

Off the course, Cooper reports Epsom is all dressed up to welcome back a permitted crowd of up to 4,000 on Friday and Saturday – and he is confident the two Classics and Coronation Cup will deliver too.

He said: “Overall, things are coming together at the racecourse really well – we’re looking forward to welcoming a degree of crowd back to Derby day, after the very surreal one of last year.

“There’s a lot of activity (under way) – because a lot of the stuff on the hill comes later in the day, it almost looks like a normal Derby at the moment.

“With the hospitality marquees and other temporary structures that are in use there (already), it almost feels more normal than it is going to be.

“The crowds on the hill and the outer enclosures will always be the big thing that will be missed – but that’s just the way we have to do it at the moment.

“I think the races are coming together really well (too).

“It looks a fascinating Derby, Oaks and indeed Coronation Cup – I think they all look really good races to me at this stage.”

Sandown team considering all-chase option for Saturday card

Officials at Sandown are pursuing the possibility of staging an all-chase chase card on Saturday should the hurdle track remain unraceable.

The next 24 hours could be crucial as to what form the programme will take, with more rain forecast at the Esher venue.

As a consequence, an inspection has been called for midday on Tuesday with particular emphasis on the hurdles course.

There are currently set to be eight races on the card – four over hurdles and four over fences, following confirmation the Cotswold Chase is to be moved after Cheltenham was abandoned at the weekend.

Before that announcement from the British Horseracing Authority, Sandown clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “The entries closed at midday today on the basis of a seven-race card, including hurdle races.

“Our view is, as it stands, we’d be raceable over fences but not raceable over hurdles.

“We’ve got a week with potentially a couple of spells of rain, which could be appreciable overnight tonight and throughout the course of Wednesday in particular. There is rain certainly in the first half of the week.

“We’re giving some thought to the possibility of going all steeplechase if that seems to be the best way to go to make sure we race in some shape or form on Saturday.

“If we didn’t look at that and stuck to the conventional chase-hurdle card we could come to a point with the latter that we might lose everything later in the week, so we have to develop a contingency option. I think there will be quite a lot happening over the next 24 hours.

“There’s a lot to run its course, and we’d hopeful of getting some racing here on Saturday, but quite what format that meeting would take remains to be seen.

“The Cotswold Chase has been kicked around as a possible race to be rescheduled here from Cheltenham. With the Cotswold, we’d be up to eight races. It is volatile at the moment, and there is a lot of weather to come through.”

The going is described as soft, heavy in places on the chase course but raceable – and heavy, soft in places on the hurdles course with some waterlogging/saturation on the home straight.

The BHA confirmed on Monday afternoon that the Cotswold Chase will be run at Sandown, while the same day’s Wetherby card will feature the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle – which was also initially due to be run at Cheltenham.

The Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase is set to be Sandown’s Grade One feature, with Dan Skelton’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase winner Shan Blue going for a second top-level strike.

He is unbeaten in three starts over fences – while Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux has won both his chases this season, having also scored at Grade One level over hurdles before injury intervened in his career.

Dame De Compagnie, Allart, Hitman and Sporting John also figure among 10 contenders.