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Racegoers to return to tracks in Wales next week

Spectators in Wales will be able to join those in England and Scotland in attending race meetings from next week after the Welsh government announced the public can return to sporting events on Monday.

Racegoers returned to tracks in England and Scotland on May 17, albeit in reduced numbers, and Chepstow’s meeting on June 11 will mark the first occasion Welsh fans can get back on course.

In both England and Wales, a maximum of 4,000 racegoers are permitted – excluding the pilot event at Royal Ascot which allows 12,000 people – while the limits in Scotland vary from track to track, with Ayr having a cap of 250 and up to 1,400 at Hamilton.

Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park
Racegoers watch the action at Haydock Park (Tim Goode/PA)

The next stage of the road map out of Covid-19 restrictions is pencilled in for June 21, although it is not expected to confirm until June 14 if it will go ahead, and what guidelines will apply to sporting events in England.

David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said: “The government said when it published the road map that it wanted Covid restrictions to be lifted from June 21 at the earliest, but it has also said repeatedly that it wants to proceed with caution.

“Racing is pushing hard for the maximum attendance at race meetings from that point and to remove the current rule that has a lower limit for outdoors sports compared to those that take place in stadia with ticketed seating. Our venues have very significant outdoors space, where transmission rates are lower, allowing spectators to be distributed over large areas.

“We may not find out what the guidelines are until a week before this change comes into effect but will be ready to reconfigure racecourses depending on decisions made by national and local authorities, who license each event.”

Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month
Royal Ascot is set to have a crowd of 12,000 on each day of its five-day meeting later this month (Julian Finney/PA)

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, added: “I’m very positive about the ability of racing to take place safely as we’ve demonstrated throughout the long period of racing behind closed doors. I have been able to make that point directly to ministers and am delighted that Royal Ascot has been selected as a pilot event.

“We are now awaiting the government’s review of social distancing rules, which need to be relaxed if we are to welcome back more spectators from June 21.

“There is a lot of speculation in the media, but the government has told us no decision has yet been made. We are working closely alongside other elite sports to seek clarity from government at the earliest possible moment. There are a number of major sporting events shortly after June 21, such as the Euros, Wimbledon, the Open Golf and the British Grand Prix.

“We thank all those owners and spectators attending racing at present for their patience in bearing with restrictions and look forward to the day when these can be safely removed.”

Wetherby switches to Saturday hurdles card

Saturday’s meeting at Wetherby will be an all-hurdles card after the chase track failed an inspection on Friday morning.

The venue was due to stage three chases, highlighted by the Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase.

However, the chase track is not fit for action, with two hurdles now added to the card instead, although the meeting must still pass an 8am inspection on Saturday if it is to go ahead.

The track tweeted: “Sadly, the steeplechase course has not improved enough & with further rain expected tonight, we have decided to cancel all steeplechase races for tomorrow & revert to the pre-planned all hurdle programme.

“The hurdle course has improved greatly & would be fit to race on today (Friday). The ground remains heavy. However, in view of the fact that there is rain forecast for tonight, we will stage a precautionary inspection at 8am on Saturday morning to check conditions again.”

Sandown’s Saturday card is also under threat, with a 3pm inspection scheduled for Friday.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper tweeted: “Following 12mm rain yesterday evening, the chase course is now waterlogged in places in the home straight. There will be an inspection at 3pm this afternoon to assess prospects after what should be a dry day.”

Sunday’s meeting at Musselburgh is subject to a precautionary inspection at 8am on raceday.

No problems are anticipated for the first day of a two-day fixture, but temperatures are expected to drop on Sunday, prompting a morning check.

Friday’s card at Chepstow goes ahead as planned after the track passed an inspection.

Carlisle’s meeting on Monday is already subject to an inspection.

Officials will check conditions at 8am on Saturday as the course is currently waterlogged in places with sub-zero temperatures forecast over the weekend.

Hurdle races abandoned at Sandown on Saturday

Sandown will stage an all-chase card on Saturday after the four scheduled hurdle races were abandoned following an inspection of the course on Wednesday afternoon.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper warned at the start of the week that races over the smaller obstacles were under threat due to the recent heavy rainfall.

And while the hurdle track did survive a first inspection on Tuesday, a further check was initially called for Thursday before being brought forward following rain on Wednesday morning.

Ultimately, officials had no option but to call off the four races, including the Contenders Hurdle, which is a recognised trial for the Champion Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

A post on Sandown’s Twitter feed read: “Following this afternoon’s inspection, the Hurdles course is not raceable due to waterlogging and false ground. All hurdles races will be abandoned and @VirginBet Day this Saturday will be an all-chase card beginning at 1.15pm.

“No further inspection is planned at this stage.”

The British Horseracing Authority had already made contingency plans to add two further chases to make a six-race card.

The meeting features the Grade One Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, as well as the Grade Two Cotswold Chase, which was saved from last Saturday’s abandoned meeting at Cheltenham.

Conversely, Wetherby’s fixture could be confined to hurdle contests with the chase track due to be inspected at 8am on Friday.

There three races planned over fences, including the Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase, but the BHA has programmed a provisional all-hurdle card in case the course is not fit for action.

The track is already staging the rescheduled Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle, so two additional hurdle races would be added to create a seven-race card culminating with the scheduled bumper.

Declarations for the existing card will be taken at the usual 48-hour stage on Thursday, with entries for the two additional races closing at noon and declaring at the 24-hour stage on Friday.

Thursday’s meeting at Down Royal is subject to a precautionary inspection at 7.30am, while officials at Chepstow have called an inspection for 4pm on Thursday ahead of Friday’s fixture.

The meeting at Bangor on Friday week has already been abandoned due to damage caused by Storm Christoph.

The storm, which hit last week, brought an immense amount of water into the area and the course sits next to the River Dee.

As the river burst its banks, the infrastructure around the course suffered severe damage, so much so that the meeting next week will come too soon while the repairs are being carried out.

A tweet from the course read: “Due to significant damage from flooding caused by Storm Christoph, we have unfortunately had to abandon our fixture at Bangor-on-Dee next Friday 12th February.”

Saturday’s Haydock card hinges on Thursday inspection

Haydock’s classy card on Saturday is already under severe threat with an inspection called for 8am on Thursday.

The Merseyside venue, which is due to host four Grade Two contests including The New One Unibet Hurdle and the Peter Marsh Chase, has been in the “eye” of Storm Christoph, according to clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright.

Conditions at the track are reported to be heavy, waterlogged in places following 18 millimetres of rain on Monday and a further 22mm on Tuesday, with another deluge forecast for Wednesday.

Temperatures are then set to drop markedly on Friday evening with a frost forecast.

Tellwright said: “We’ve called an early inspection, before declarations, and we’ll take it from there.

“We’ve had two very wet days and we’ve got another one coming.

“We seem to have hit the eye of the storm, having had two very wet days and another to come. If that’s not enough, we’re then expecting a frost on Saturday morning yet it is extraordinary how mild it is today.”

Friday’s meeting at Ffos Las hinges on an 8.30am inspection on Thursday.

The track survived an initial inspection on Wednesday afternoon and conditions have marginally improved at the Welsh venue.

The track tweeted: “We’ll be having another course inspection at 8.30am tomorrow morning ahead of Friday’s race day. Rain is forecast to ease tonight with a dry day ahead tomorrow.”

Wednesday’s card at Chepstow went ahead as planned after the track passed a precautionary inspection.

Nicholls celebrating following magnificent seven winners

Paul Nicholls reflected on another memorable Saturday after saddling seven winners across the three jump meetings in Britain.

Fixtures at Chepstow, Kempton and Wincanton were in doubt at the start of the morning following the recent cold snap, but Nicholls will have been relieved to see all three go ahead, allowing him to send out 18 runners in total from his Ditcheat base.

Nicholls was at Kempton, where he saw Barbados Buck’s (2-1 favourite) land a novice hurdle, before claiming Grade Two honours with both McFabulous (10-11 favourite) in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle and Master Tommytucker (2-1) in the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase.

All three Kempton winners were partnered by Harry Cobden.

On Coral Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow, Bryony Frost was seen to excellent effect aboard the Nicholls-trained Pozo Emery (7-2) in the opening maiden hurdle, before doubling her tally for the 11-times champion trainer with Storm Arising (6-1) in a handicap hurdle.

Nicholls also claimed a double at his local track of Wincanton, with Harry Skelton steering Flash Collonges (7-4) to success in a novice hurdle and Capeland (6-1) striking gold under Daryl Jacob, who enjoyed a five-timer on the card.

Speaking after the conclusion of racing at Kempton, Nicholls said: “We hadn’t had a winner in 2021 and now we’ve had seven in one day!

“We hadn’t had many runners so far this year, before today. It’s good to keep the strike-rate going.

“If you run 18, you would like to think four of them would win and we’ve had seven, so we are chuffed. If they are fit, healthy and well, you want them to perform well.

“All of these that have run today will have a flu jab on Monday and won’t run for three weeks to a month. We are never that busy in January. We still have a few to run, but we will be selective.

“The team will be readied and revved up to run from February through into March and April.”

Assessing some of his winners, he added: “I thought McFabulous ought to win and I was sweet on Master Tommytucker. I know he was lucky with the favourite (Imperial Aura) coming down, but our horse is a nice horse when he is right.

“We’d had three lovely novice hurdlers win in Pozo Emery, Flash Collonges and Barbados Buck’s and they are for the future. Whatever they achieve over hurdles is a bonus as they will all be great chasers.

“It is exciting times. We have a great team working behind the scenes at home and a great team of patient owners.”

Nicholls usually enjoys some winter sun in the Caribbean early in the new year, but those plans have gone by the wayside this season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “Normally I’m away for a couple of weeks, but obviously we can’t go this year. I’d rather be here than watching the racing on television, though.

“I’d usually have gone to Barbados on Wednesday and I’m always there this weekend watching it with Andy Stewart over one or two glasses of champagne! He’s had two winners today with Barbados Buck’s and Pozo Emery, so it would have been riotous!

“With everything that’s going on in the country, I’d have been mortified if I was out there and there was a problem back home and I couldn’t get back, so I’m better off at home making sure we all keep safe and everyone keeps on top of things.

“This is a lovely start to the new year. If we can keep going until the end of the season, we ought be able to crack the 172 (171 is the record number of winners in a season for Nicholls).

“Although me and Clifford (Baker, head lad) might be 58 and 60, we are still as enthusiastic as ever and we absolutely love it – long may it continue.”

Secret Reprieve lands Welsh National gamble in style

Secret Reprieve provided proud Welshman Evan Williams with victory in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

An impressive winner of the Welsh Grand National Trial at the Monmouthshire circuit in early December, the Flemensfirth gelding had been strongly fancied for the big race itself ever since.

And while the three-mile-five-furlong contest had to be abandoned due to a waterlogged track over the Christmas period, he was still allowed to line up under a 4lb penalty, meaning he was 8lb well-in at the weights.

With just 10st 1lb on his back, Secret Reprieve was all the rage as the 5-2 favourite, and his supporters will have had few concerns throughout the stamina-sapping feature, with the lightly-raced seven-year-old always travelling strongly and jumped accurately.

Despite having suffered two heavy falls earlier in the day, Adam Wedge cut a confident figure in the saddle rounding the home turn – and while The Two Amigos refused to go down without a fight and made a race of it, the market leader proved three lengths too strong.

Just as he was in 2019, top-weight Yala Enki was third.

Victory was going to a Welsh-trained runner for the second season in succession, with Potters Corner, trained by Christian Williams, becoming the first Welsh winner since Norther in 1965 when triumphing last term.

Evan Williams said: “It’s more relief than anything else, which is a terrible thing to say. It means an awful lot to us.

“It’s nice tension to have (being the favourite) – that’s what we do it for. That was never a worry as far as I was concerned.

“The worry came today when Adam was on the floor. They patched him up absolutely unbelievably well and Adam deserves the plaudits – how he can ride after having two crunching falls like he’s had, I just take my hat off to him.

“The horse is a joy to deal with. You can never be confident when you’re going over this sort of trip, but in the pit of my stomach I though it would bring out further improvement and it looked to me like he galloped right through the line.”

Evan Williams (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow
Evan Williams (left) with Secret Reprieve at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

The Llancarfan-based trainer confirmed afterwards that Secret Reprieve’s girth had broken in the latter part of the race.

He added: “It’s mad how it works out. After the day ‘Wedgey’ has had, I was thinking ‘oh no, he can’t jump the last and then Adam falls off’. It must have happened later on in the race.

“You’ve got the girth with two buckles, which basically keeps the saddle on. Then you have an over-girth with elastic on that goes round the whole lot and without that, Adam would have fallen off.”

Adam Wedge celebrates his Welsh Grand National success
Adam Wedge celebrates his Welsh Grand National success (David Davies/PA)

The winner received quotes of around 25-1 for the Grand National at Aintree in April, but Williams warned he is not certain to head for the world’s most famous steeplechase.

He said: “The race that really comes to mind is the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That is only because he’s a novice.

“The reality is that the Grand National would be higher on my list, but I’ll have to talk to Mr and Mrs Rucker (owners) and see which way they want to go and see how the horse comes out of this race.”

Adagio strikes Grade One gold with Finale success

Adagio proved too strong for hot favourite Nassalam in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Having won by 59 and 49 lengths respectively on his first two starts in Britain at Fontwell, Gary Moore’s Nassalam was the even-money favourite to complete his hat-trick on his step up to Grade One level.

However, David Pipe’s Adagio also brought strong form to the table – winning two of his first three starts over obstacles, including a short-priced victory at Cheltenham last month.

With long-time lead Bannister beginning to falter from the home turn, it turned into a three-way fight between Nassalam, Adagio and the Paul Nicholls-trained French recruit Houx Gris, before the former pair turned the screw and drew clear.

It was clear on the run to the final flight that Adagio had more to give than the market leader and he galloped all the way to the line to score by two and a half lengths under Tom Scudamore.

Pipe said: “It was a very good performance and the first two were favourite and second-favourite, so it’s rock solid form.

“I think we learnt a lot when he got beaten by Duffle Coat at Cheltenham in November. Last time at Cheltenham we rode him with more restraint and we did again today.

“We hadn’t declared him for this race when it was originally due to be run over Christmas. We came here today hoping it wouldn’t be quite as bad, it’s only soft ground rather than heavy and he’s handled that well.”

Coral cut Adagio to 12-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Pipe added: “We were coming here today to find out whether we were going for the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter. It will be the Triumph Hurdle now.

“He’s always gone well at home – he’s got an engine. He was a bit quirky early on, but he’s improved since he’s been gelded.

“We’ll see how he comes out of today. Maybe he’ll go straight to Cheltenham, or maybe he’ll have one more run somewhere.

“We’ll enjoy today and have a think about it next week.”

Green light for British jump fixtures

There will be a full programme of racing in Britain on Saturday after National Hunt meetings at Chepstow, Kempton and Wincanton all survived morning inspections.

After passing an initial check on Friday afternoon, a further inspection was announced for 8am ahead of the rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National fixture at Chepstow.

And following a frost-free night, clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty was thrilled to be able to give the green light.

She said: “We had no frost overnight or this morning. I’m so delighted we’re going ahead.”

Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle card is also headlined by two Grade Two events – the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase and the rescheduled Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle.

Clerk of the course Barney Clifford called an 8am inspection due to a continued risk of snow showers and low overnight temperatures, but said shortly afterwards: “Racing goes ahead.

“We got down to minus 1C overnight. It was more the threat of snow that I was worried about, but we’re good to go.”

Wincanton’s fixture, which features the rearranged Grade Two Paddy Power Dipper Novices’ Chase, was also given the all-clear just before the scheduled 8am inspection time.

Moore eager to assess Nassalam’s Grade One credentials

Gary Moore is delighted to have a second chance with Nassalam in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.

The four-year-old gelding would have missed the Grade One contest had it been run when originally planned over Christmas as he was under a cloud.

The meeting was abandoned but was rescheduled, subject to an 8am inspection, giving Nassalam the opportunity to show just how good he is.

The French import has won his two starts for Moore, both at Fontwell, by 59 and 49 lengths. The opposition may have been moderate, but Nassalam could not have been more impressive.

Moore is as keen as anyone to see how the horse fares against much better rivals.

“He wasn’t right when it was meant to be run,” the West Sussex trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“With the Irish not being able to come over, he might have a decent chance, hopefully.

“He’s quite a big horse and strong as well with a fantastic mind. He’s very straightforward to train.

“He is just a very nice horse. Hopefully they will be able to run on Saturday so we can see how good he is.”

Adagio has made a good start to his hurdling career with two victories and a second from three starts.

His trainer David Pipe is just hoping he can cope with the likely heavy ground.

“He’s done well this season. He might not want the ground as easy as it what it will probably will be, but he goes there with a good chance, hopefully,” said the Nicholashayne handler.

Adagio clears the last to win at Cheltenham and now tries his hand at Grade One level at Chepstow
Adagio clears the last to win at Cheltenham and now tries his hand at Grade One level at Chepstow (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Fergal O’Brien is happy to give Elham Valley his chance in a Grade One after making a successful hurdling debut at Sandown last month.

The Cheltenham trainer has been happy with the horse in the meantime and has no concerns about the ground.

“He had his Sandown form franked as the horse of Gary Moore’s (Hudson De Grugy) has come out and won since,” said O’Brien.

“It wasn’t until speaking to you boys (press) that we thought about this race but, having spoken to both Paddy (Brennan) and the owners, we know he will love the ground and track, so we decided to give it a go.

“He is a lovely little horse and is a joy to do anything with. He loves his jumping and we schooled him on Thursday and he was electric from one side to the other.

“Where he will finish I don’t know, but we will let him take his chance and he will give it his best.”

Paul Nicholls has a fascinating runner in Houx Gris, who is being pitched at a high level on his first start in the UK.

The four-year-old won at the second attempt over hurdles in France for Sylvain Dehez begore joining the Ditcheat handler.

Paul Nicholls gives Haux Gris his UK debut in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow
Paul Nicholls gives Houx Gris his UK debut in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

“He is an interesting recruit from France who has been pleasing us since he arrived early last month. We bought him at the sales early in November shortly after winning at Auteuil,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I don’t normally run newcomers so quickly, but he settled in straight away and has adapted beautifully to our routine.

“He is working great, seems to be improving and looks to be a smart juvenile. I really like what I see and just hope he has acclimatised enough to give a good account of himself.”

Trainer Tom George is hoping Bannister gets the chance to run at Chepstow
Trainer Tom George is hoping Bannister gets the chance to run at Chepstow (Simon Cooper/PA)

Bannister’s last two starts have been in France, but he is back running close to home. He has also been declared for the opening juvenile hurdle at Kempton, but trainer Tom George would prefer to run him at the Welsh track.

“The plan is to go Chepstow if it’s on,” said the Slad handler.

“He’s picked up some nice prize money in France. He’s very much a novice chaser for next season, but he has been running well in France on his last couple of runs.”

Secret steps up for Welsh National assignment

Evan Williams is hoping Secret Reprieve can overcome his inexperience and justify favouritism in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday.

The seven-year-old has headed the ante-post market for the long-distance handicap chase since a resounding success in the Rehearsal Chase at the Monmouthshire venue last month.

That was only his fifth run over fences and eighth career start in all, but Secret Reprieve does tick a lot of boxes ahead of the contest, which is subject to an 8am precautionary inspection.

“The positives are he’s well handicapped, he has a good racing weight and he loves the track,” said the Llancarfan trainer.

“The negatives are he’s very inexperienced and he’s got no experience in big fields, so there are positives and negatives but fingers crossed it’s on.”

Williams also saddles Prime Venture, who was fourth behind Potter’s Corner in this race last season and made a winning reappearance at Sedgefield in November.

“Prime Venture is a horse who has to improve because he’s up 4lb, but I think he has improved,” he said.

Prime Venture bids to improve on his fourth place in last season's Coral Welsh Grand National
Prime Venture bids to improve on his fourth place in last season’s Coral Welsh Grand National (Clint Hughes/PA)

“He’s far from straightforward, but on his day he does thrive in races like the Welsh National.

“He’s been placed in a Welsh National, placed in a Midlands National and he’s more than capable on his day.”

Ramses De Teillee, runner-up to Elegant Escape in December 2018, is one of two runners from the David Pipe stable.

The grey has to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Becher Chase at Aintree, over the Grand National fences, won by his stablemate Vieux Lion Rouge.

“Ramses De Teillee didn’t handle the fences at Aintree last time. He’ll be more at home over the park fences. He’s finished second in the race before,” said the Nicholashayne handler.

Vieux Lion Rouge has a 4lb penalty for his Becher success.

“Vieux Lion Rouge is 8lb well in, but going up 12lb for his last win was harsh enough,” Pipe added.

“Both are in good form and will like the ground and hopefully have each-way chances.”

Springfield Fox is expected to relish the testing conditions at Chepstow
Springfield Fox is expected to relish the testing conditions at Chepstow (Simon Cooper/PA)

Tom George feels Springfield Fox will relish the heavy ground and is expecting a big run.

The eight-year-old has not run over fences since unseating his rider in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but had a prep run over hurdles on this course five weeks ago.

“He loves really heavy, testing ground – that’s perfect for him. He gives the impression he just keeps galloping. He’s not a speed horse, he’s an out-and-out stayer,” said the Slad handler.

“I think everything is in his favour, I just hope it goes ahead.”

Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki were second and third 12 months ago and their trainer Paul Nicholls is convinced they will not be far away again.

“Conditions will be ideal for both of ours,” the Ditcheat handler told Betfair.

“Yala Enki stays all day, has gone close in the race for the last two years and is again a big player despite carrying top weight.

“He did brilliantly at Cheltenham in November when he was only just chinned by Ramses De Teillee. That was a career best in my book, but he then over jumped at the first in the Becher Chase at Aintree which was just one of those things. He looks rock solid in a race tailor-made for him.”

Truckers Lodge won the Midlands National last season, but is a lot higher in the handicap and unseated his rider at Kelso on his return.

“He is nice and fresh and was fine after he unluckily unseated Lorcan Williams at Kelso the day I expected him to go close,” said Nicholls.

“He is a relentless galloper and ran clean away with the Midlands Grand National just before lockdown, although the handicapper had his say afterwards by raising him 14lb.

“Truckers Lodge ran a blinder in this race a year ago to be beaten less than two lengths by Potters Corner and will give a good account again, though it will be harder for him from his new handicap mark.”

Nicky Martin has The Two Amigos in tip-top condition for the Coral Welsh Grand National
Nicky Martin has The Two Amigos in tip-top condition for the Coral Welsh Grand National (Clint Hughes/PA)

Nicky Martin reports The Two Amigos to be in better shape than 12 months ago when he was fifth and he made an encouraging reappearance when second to Secret Reprieve last month.

“He doesn’t do a lot when he comes off the bridle and he is a front-runner. That’s where enjoys being, but he does stay all day. Hopefully, he’ll stay a bit better this time,” Martin told Sky Sports Racing.

“Obviously the favourite (Secret Reprieve) is well handicapped, but we’re slightly better in at the weights this time round.

“He’s just very consistent. He’s rated 142. He’s off the same mark as he was last year. He’s never won off that mark, but he’s always there or thereabouts.”

Chepstow and Kempton hopeful for Saturday cards

Hopes are rising at both Chepstow and Kempton that they may beat the wintry weather and stage their Graded cards on Saturday.

Both meetings remain subject to 8am inspections, after Chepstow passed an initial check on Friday afternoon.

Clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty reported at that point that none of the snow forecast as possible had yet arrived – and on latest weather advice, she is optimistic the big meeting will survive.

Full frost sheets have been deployed since the start of the week to try to ensure the Coral Welsh Grand National and Grade One Finale Hurdle card, already re-scheduled from its usual date because of waterlogging at Christmas, can belatedly go ahead.

O’Flaherty said: “We’re totally raceable at the moment.

“Looking at (the weather) we’ve had, and what we’ve got to come, I hope it should be fine.

“We’ve had no snow, and it is less likely now from the latest forecasts.”

More wintry weather is still anticipated, however, on ground described as heavy.

“There’s the chance this afternoon and into this evening of sleety stuff, and overnight frost,” she added.

“Then temperatures are looking positive from about 10 tomorrow morning – so I’ll hope to get the covers off from nine, when it starts to get above freezing.”

Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle card is also headlined by two Grade Two events – the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase and the re-scheduled Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle.

Clerk of the course Barney Clifford announced the morning inspection due to a continued risk of snow showers and low overnight temperatures.

He said: “We’re perfectly raceable today. It was -2C overnight, and has been threatening all day with sleet and snow showers – they thankfully haven’t materialised so far, but you can’t rule out that risk.

“We are forecast -2C again overnight, but I hope we might be OK.

“You don’t want to take any chances, and forecasts can swing by a few degrees – so we’ve just got to make sure that we’re in a good position (on Saturday) rather than an embarrassing one.”

Wincanton passed a Friday lunchtime inspection for its Saturday meeting, and will also hold another at 8am on race day – with clerk of the course Daniel Cooper more confident than he has been for much of the week.

Frost sheets on bends, take-offs and landings will remain in place overnight – but unless the forecast changes, hopes are high for the card which features the rearranged Grade Two Paddy Power Dipper Novices’ Chase.

Speaking on Friday afternoon, Cooper said: “We’d be very confident now, because it’s 100% back on track to be raceable ground.

“We could run our race now – and with the forecast of just -1C and then a 0C really early hours, we have to be confident. I’m really optimistic.

“It’s been on a knife edge all week really, but we’ve now finally got to a place where we’re raceable with a really quite kind forecast overnight.

“I expect it to be raceable by mid-morning latest, so I’d hope to be able to see that at 8am and call it going ahead.

“There’s no looming long morning ahead, I don’t think.”

Fairyhouse’s meeting was abandoned after a 12pm check on Friday, and subsequently rescheduled to take place on Tuesday – while a provisional plan is already in place to move Sunday’s Grade One card at Naas back to Wednesday, pending an inspection on Saturday afternoon.

Naas clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan said on Friday morning: “At present the track is currently unfit for racing.

“The forecast is pretty bad over the next 24 to 48 hours, so we’ll have a further update and another inspection at 1.30pm tomorrow to determine whether Sunday’s meeting can go ahead.”

Back in Britain, Sunday’s meeting at Exeter is subject to a 4pm inspection on Saturday – with the track currently frozen in places.

Yala Enki and Truckers Lodge take National chance for Paul Nicholls

The Paul Nicholls-trained duo of Yala Enki and Truckers Lodge remain at the head of the weights for Saturday’s Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow following the final declaration stage.

Yala Enki finished runner-up to Potters Corner 12 months ago under Bryony Frost and the partnership stays intact as the 11-year-old bids to make it third time lucky, having been third in 2018 when trained by Venetia Williams.

There was only one withdrawal from the five-day entries for the marathon chase, with the aforementioned Williams not declaring Didero Vallis. She instead relies on Cloudy Glen.

Evan Williams’ Secret Reprieve has headed the betting since winning the trial for the race and as the original weights stand, he looks well-in off just a 4lb penalty. Williams also runs Prime Venture.

David Pipe saddles Ramses De Teillee and Vieux Lion Rouge, while Springfield Fox represents Tom George.

The Two Amigos, who ran so well last year, a previous Scottish National winner in Joe Farrell and Lord Du Mesnil, second at the Cheltenham Festival in March, are among the other contenders.

Nicky Martin, who trains The Two Amigos, believes the nine-year-old is better shape than he was when fifth in this race last season.

The Two Amigos (right) is reported to be in good form ahead of the Coral Welsh Grand National
The Two Amigos (right) is reported to be in good form ahead of the Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“Fingers crossed it’s on which would be amazing,” the Somerset trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“I think he’s in better form this year than he was last year. He’s very fresh and ready to go.

“The softer the ground the better. With it being covered it could be quite holding by the time they take the covers off, that would be my only worry.”

A poignant winner would be Colin Tizzard’s Christmas In April, as this year the race is being run in memory of the trainer’s daughter, Kim Gingell.

There is also Grade One action scheduled with a field of eight set to face the starter in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle.

Not surprisingly Gordon Elliott’s duo of Duffle Coat and Quilixios were not declared after the UK travel ban imposed by the Irish Government was extended until midnight on Friday.

Nassalam has so far looked a smart prospect in the making
Nassalam has so far looked a smart prospect in the making (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gary Moore’s Nassalam has created a big impression in his short hurdling career to date, winning both his starts on these shores, and could be the one to beat.

“He hasn’t actually beaten anything yet. When he won first time he did the best time of the day, which he shouldn’t have done because he wasn’t extended, and also it was the fourth race on the card so he didn’t exactly have the best ground,” Moore said.

“He’s not a flashy work horse at home. His work before his first race was very average, but his work has improved as time has gone on.

“He works like a nice horse now, but before he ran first time he looked very average to me.”

The Pipe-trained Adagio was a winner at Cheltenham last time out and sets a solid standard, while Fergal O’Brien’s Elham Valley was impressive on his only start to date.

Bannister, Houx Gris, Mr Shady, Pyramid Place and Yggdrasil complete the field.

Snow threat prompts Chepstow inspection

Officials at Chepstow have announced a precautionary inspection ahead of the rescheduled Coral Welsh Grand National meeting on Saturday.

The high-profile fixture was originally due to take place on December 27, but was called off due to a waterlogged track.

Two weeks on, it is the threat of frost and snow that is causing issues – and on Thursday morning, clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty called a precautionary check for 2.30pm on Friday.

She said: “We’ve called a precautionary inspection because from midday until mid-afternoon (on Friday) we’ve got snow forecast.

“We’re currently raceable. The course is completely covered and we’ve got great grass cover. There’s a little bit of leaf frost this morning, but there’s no frost in the ground.

“We could get one centimetre of snow (on Friday), we could get 10 or we could get nothing at all.

“We’re just managing expectations.”

Racing at Wincanton on Saturday is also under threat. With the course frozen in places on Thursday morning, an inspection has been called for midday on Friday.

Friday’s Taunton meeting was abandoned shortly before lunchtime on Thursday, with the course frozen and the forecast offering no prospect of sufficient improvement, while Thursday’s Ffos Las card was called off 15 minutes before the first race was due to get underway after four inspections.

The decision was made after a deputation, including trainers, jockeys and racing officials, examined the track.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have the temperatures we were supposed to have and that is the biggest problem we’ve had today,” clerk of the course Dai Jones told Sky Sports Racing.

“There was a representation from the jockeys and, to be fair to them, they felt the racing line was perfectly raceable and they were happy to race on it. There are a couple of areas that we needed more sun on and we were working on it.

“There were a couple of areas we decided we could fence off a little, but the stewards felt if there were any loose horses coming back from those areas, it could cause a problem.

“Safety is paramount for horse and rider. We dragged people down here so we feel bad, but some people are saying what else could we gave done. If the sun had broken out sooner we would have been fine.”

Sunday’s meeting at Exeter will have to pass a 4pm check on Saturday while the cold snap is also being felt in Ireland, with Thursday’s Clonmel card abandoned and Saturday’s meeting at Fairyhouse subject to a Friday inspection at midday.

Covers giving Chepstow encouragement for Welsh National card

Officials at Chepstow are hopeful Saturday’s rescheduled Coral Welsh National meeting will beat freezing temperatures.

Covers have been down since Sunday before the current cold snap kicked in, and clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty is banking on that proving sufficient with a couple of cold nights to come.

O’Flaherty told Sky Sports Racing on Wednesday afternoon: “We’ve covered the whole track, chase and hurdle.

“The cold weather will start to have a greater influence as it starts getting colder from tonight – we’ve done all we can to keep temperatures above freezing.

“The rain isn’t a worry now, it’s cold. Friday we have wintry showers possible. The forecast for Friday into Saturday gives us hope, along with a good grass covering underneath the fleece so fingers are crossed.

“Monday and Tuesday this week we had 25 guys in putting the covers down, but it is easier to take it off. The plan will be to take them off on Saturday morning.

“The official going is heavy, but it has dried out since the heavy rain on Christmas week. With it being dry I expect it will ride testing.

“Looking at the forecast there is the potential for a precautionary inspection. There are declarations tomorrow so there’ll be an update first thing.”

It was not good news at Musselburgh, however, where a precautionary inspection for 8am on raceday morning had originally been called ahead of racing on Thursday but was brought forward to 4.30pm on Wednesday, with clear skies giving an indication of what was to come.

The meeting at Ffos Las on Thursday needs to survive an inspection at 8.30am with the prospect of the mercury dipping to -7C in Wales.

A tweet from the course read: “There will be a precautionary inspection at 8.30am tomorrow to assess prospects for racing. Overnight temperatures are due to fall to potentially -7C. The track was raceable at 11am today after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight.”

Racing at Clonmel in Ireland is also in some doubt, too.

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board said in a statement: “Due to a Status Yellow weather warning in place for frost and ice, there will be an 8am precautionary inspection at Clonmel tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place on Thursday 7th January.

“The ground remains heavy, was fit for racing at 8am this morning and remains fit for racing currently.”

Frost confident as Yala Enki tries again at Chepstow

Bryony Frost reports Yala Enki in excellent shape as he bids to make it third time lucky in the rearranged Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

Frost will bid for more big-race glory in Saturday’s extended three-mile-five furlong showpiece – initially scheduled for December 27, the day after she steered Yala Enki’s stablemate Frodon to Grade One glory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

After finishing third in the 2018 renewal when trained by Venetia Williams, Yala Enki filled the same spot under Frost in the Grade Three marathon 12 months ago, on his second start for Paul Nicholls.

Although the pair made an early departure in last month’s Becher Chase at Aintree, Frost points out the evergreen 11-year-old’s second in a Grade Three at Cheltenham in November puts him in the mix once again.

She said: “He has schooled since Aintree – and if anything he is schooling even better than before, so we will ignore the mishap at Aintree.

“The Cheltenham run off top-weight was a mega run for him – and I really do feel he is better this year, in his work at home and just the way that he is.

“His jumping has seriously sharpened up, and Paul and Clifford (Baker, head lad) have been given him lots of schooling sessions which do him the world of good.

“It would have been nice for it to have gone ahead when it was supposed to, but he hasn’t dulled down when he was ready to rock and roll.”

Paul Nicholls will be represented by both Yala Enki and Truckers Lodge in the Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)
Paul Nicholls will be represented by both Yala Enki and Truckers Lodge in the Coral Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

With testing conditions almost certainly guaranteed this weekend, Frost cites another box ticked in favour of Yala Enki, who is one of two runners in the race for Nicholls alongside last year’s runner-up Truckers Lodge.

She added: “The more testing it can become the better it is for him – so fingers are are firmly crossed that it will be on, come hail, rain, snow or whatever.

“If we get there and it’s raceable then I will be really looking forward to it, because he has stamina in abundance.

“It is a long way, but he is tough and he enjoys that sort of challenge.”

Frost is confident Yala Enki will not be out of his comfort zone early on either.

She said: “This race is like a cavalry charge at the start, and you have to find your position really fast.

“He has got plenty of pace on early doors. He likes to get travelling quickly, so he is perfect for that sort of start.

“It is all about a positive start and getting in a quick rhythm and staying out of trouble and trying to find your fences economically.”

Frost believes the switch back to regulation fences will be a positive step too, following Yala Enki’s first-fence fall last time.

She said: “When I say he is economical that was probably the trouble we had at Aintree – because he is used to where the guard rail is and how stiff a regulation fence is, and he knows exactly how much he needs to give respect to it.

“On his normal regulation fences he knows exactly what he has got to do. He doesn’t lose any energy by being too exuberant or giving it too much air.”

Ramses de Teillee and Tom Scudamore (left) get the better of Bryony Frost and Yala Enki in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)
Ramses De Teillee and Tom Scudamore (left) get the better of Bryony Frost and Yala Enki in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA Images)

Frost blames herself for Yala Enki’s defeat on his return at Cheltenham, but she will not make the same mistake again.

“That race at Cheltenham is one I kick myself for – because I should have kicked harder down the hill, and it could have been a different story,” she said.

“But I was riding him from the horse I knew the year before.

“Now I know I can ask even more of him and that my petrol tank will last longer. We’ve got each other sussed now.”

Victory aboard Yala Enki would complete a whirlwind few weeks for Frost, who is still receiving the plaudits for her King George success.

She said: “The amount of love sent our way and for the team and Frodon has just been mad.

“I’m still talking about it and doing stories now. I think I’m blissfully ignorant to quite what we achieved that day.

“There are lots of little twists of fate that have come about. It is just so cool how something can come together in one big hit.”