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Provision in place for course change to be made on Champions Day

A provision has been made to let officials switch to the inner track at Ascot on Qipco British Champions Day should the ground have heavy in the going description.

British Champions Series Limited, the British Horseracing Authority and Ascot have announced revised track plans for the races on the round course – which will remain the default track but the word heavy on the day of racing will mean a switch to the inner track.

That is a change to the current rule, which states that the inner course would only come into plan in an abandonment situation.

The inner course cannot be used as the default as to prepare it to be so (by summer watering) would risk compromising it for Champions Day and for the jumps season, where the risk of waterlogging would increase significantly.

Racegoers shelter from the rain during day four of this year's Royal Ascot
Racegoers shelter from the rain during day four of this year’s Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

Clerk of the course Chris Stickels will give the going on the outer course on the morning of racing as normal. If he gives “heavy” in the going description or indeed chooses not to do so in a marginal call, an independent panel will also assess the ground.

The panel will decide whether there is heavy anywhere on the outer course, which would trigger the switch.

The inner track was used for the fixture in 2019, but went ahead as planned last year despite conditions being very soft.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot, said: “Using the cambered outer course with wider bends is obviously the ideal on QBCD. However, following discussions with the BHA, there is agreement that racing on heavy ground, if it can be avoided, is best for the day as a whole.

“Importantly, we are not setting out to penalise horses that prefer cut in the ground, which more often than not will be the prevailing conditions in autumn. In all likelihood, when heavy is in the going description on the outer course, the inner course will still be predominantly soft.

“Given the potential sensitivity around a switch of surfaces in a marginal situation, Chris has recommended that an independent panel verifies his assessment on the day.”

John Gosden – whose Palace Pier and Stradivarius were both beaten in the 2020 edition – said: “It is important that the executive are given the flexibility to switch to the inner course if it is heavy on the main outer course. The switch was made in 2019 and was a great success resulting in competitive racing.

“It should be noted that unlike the long summer days of June, mid-October does not present much in the way of drying conditions.”

Derby ground set to dry out after unexpected amount of rain on Friday

The ground at Epsom is expected to dry out ahead of the Cazoo Derby on Saturday, but to what extent remains to be seen.

More rain than had been expected fell on Friday – turning the ground officially good to soft, from the good, good to firm in places at the start of Oaks day.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said at the end of racing: “I’ll leave it as good to soft, but it’s going to be dry overnight and then we are due a pleasantly warm day tomorrow, with temperatures of 22 to 23 degrees.

“It will dry to some degree, and I’ll be surprised if at some point in the morning we are not mentioning ‘good in places’. Time will tell to what extent it dries after that, but I’ve known us run a Derby on officially good ground when it’s been like this at the end of the first day. I wouldn’t rule that out again.”

He added: “I think every race today was around six seconds slower than standard, so they weren’t exaggerated soft ground times and it tends to look worse than it actually is here, and invariably walks back well after each race.

Racegoers look on under umbrellas at Epsom
Racegoers look on under umbrellas at Epsom (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“Overnight the last mile of rail will be taken away, as usual, so that opens up around five yards of fresh ground. Today’s racing surface will be repaired to a degree tonight and completed in the morning, when the entire Derby course will also be given a cut.”

Defending the watering that took place earlier in the week, Cooper said: “When I came in this morning at 6am and walked the course I was on the verge of calling it ‘good to firm, good in places’, and if we hadn’t watered during the week it would have been firm, undoubtedly.

“The forecast at that stage, as it had been on Thursday, was for a day that would be damp, but with rainfall in the one millimetre to four millimetre range. We ended up with nearly 11mm, but you accept that as the meteorologists are working with the information that’s available to them.

“We’ve been open about what we’ve done this week, and in putting down 5mm, 5mm and then about 2.5mm that adds up to only about half an inch. Without doing something in the week it would have been firm, with a forecast of 2mm of rain, which would have turned it into an ice rink.

“I can’t believe anybody would think that was a sensible approach.”