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Hereford abandoned

Hereford’s scheduled meeting on Sunday has been called off because of patches of false ground.

Officials cited “unseasonably high temperatures and strong winds” of late as factors in the condition of the turf.

Recent drying weather, combined with a very wet winter and large number of runners throughout the season, meant parts of the track were unraceable.

Harry Skelton fires Hereford four-timer to narrow title gap

Harry Skelton kept up his title chase with a four-timer at Hereford on Wednesday.

Skelton started the day nine winners behind Brian Hughes and four in front of third-placed Harry Cobden, and he was quick off the mark aboard Real Stone in the opening Central Roofing Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by his brother Dan, Skelton is unlikely to enjoy an many easier winners as the 1-10 favourite dismissed his two rivals without coming out of second gear, cantering home 91 lengths clear of Harlow, with Rogue Male a further nine lengths back in third.

Skelton said: “Although the ground was a bit dead on top, it was fine. It’s always great to get a winner here at Hereford – it’s been a lucky course for me and that’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Skelton returns to the winner's enclosure aboard Ambassador
Skelton returns to the winner’s enclosure aboard Ambassador (PA)

The Skelton team soon made it a double as another favourite, 2-1 chance Ambassador, proved a length too good for Kamaxos in the Central Roofing Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.

Unplaced in five runs on the Flat for Richard Fahey, Ambassador was making it fourth time lucky over obstacles for current connections after undergoing wind surgery since his last start.

The winning rider said: “The wind operation has helped him. He was quite keen and fresh, but he enjoyed the track and better ground.

“He’s a proper Flat horse – strong and not over big – and he loved the going.”

Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony
Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony (PA)

Global Harmony then made it a hat-trick for the Skeltons in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-4 shot was making her handicap debut and despite a mistake at the last, she kept on for a two-and-three-quarter-length verdict.

Stylish Dancer (13-2) then rounded off a fabulous day with victory in the closing Central Roofing Handicap Hurdle.

With Hughes out of luck at Haydock and Cobden failing to strike at Hereford, Skelton was thrilled to have strengthened his championship position.

He added: “I’m delighted to have narrowed the gap with Brian – it’s been a great afternoon. The horses are just in such great form generally, and happily they all seem to be enjoying the ground.”

James Bowen also got in on the riding act, initiating a double aboard To Be Sure (11-4) in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Evan Williams’ charge kept finding a bit extra after jumping the last to reel in the Skelton’s 2-1 favourite Headfullofdreams and win by half a length.

Bowen said: “It took a while for my lad to warm to his task as he wasn’t letting himself down in the early stages and the ground is quick out there.

“Overall he jumped really well and I would like to thank Evan for the ride – he’s been good to me.

“I feel like I’m riding well at the moment and I hope I can keep the strike-rate up.”

James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon
James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon (PA)

Bowen then added to his tally aboard the Toby Lawes-trained Pottlereaghexpress (10-11 favourite) in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Chase.

Lawes, who was also on the mark with Kap Auteuil at Market Rasen, said: “Plan A was to get her head in front after a few near-misses and that’s been achieved.

“She’s a bonny little filly, well put together and I think she’s only once ever been out of the frame.

“I’m pleased for James and the general aim is to build with our team, which includes a number of young horses with bags of potential.”

Beau Haze sprang a 20-1 shock for trainer Philip Dando and jockey Conor Ring in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Market Rasen called off as cold weather causes fixtures headache

Monday’s meeting at Market Rasen has been called off as the current cold snap continues to bite.

An inspection was held at noon on Sunday at the Lincolnshire track, but the course was still frozen from Friday evening’s frost and the temperature also dipped again on Saturday night.

With snow showers forecast for Sunday and a -4C possible overnight, an early call was made.

The course tweeted: “Unfortunately we have had to abandon tomorrow’s meeting to frozen ground. With a further low temperature forecast overnight and into tomorrow, there is no chance for improvement.”

The meeting at Plumpton on Monday is also in doubt as the course in currently frozen in places.

Vulnerable areas are covered, but after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight with another cold night forecast, officials will inspect at 8am.

Sunday’s meetings at both Hereford and Thurles were abandoned due to snow.

The fixture at Thurles was due to feature two Grade Two races, the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase as well as the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase, which was due to see the likes of Battleoverdoyen and Allaho clash.

Battleoverdoyen was due to run at Thurles
Battleoverdoyen was due to run at Thurles (Brian Lawless/PA)

Following a first inspection at 7.30am, a second check was called for 9am with snow beginning to settle on the track. However, with no improvement in the conditions, a decision was taken before the scheduled inspection to call the meeting off.

A statement from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board read: “Following a second track inspection at Thurles this morning, the track remains unfit for racing due to snow.

“With no improvement and further snowfall between inspections, the fixture scheduled to take place this afternoon has been cancelled.”

The card has been rescheduled for Wednesday while Saturday meeting at Navan, which was called off due to frost, will now be staged on Friday.

The decision was taken even earlier at Hereford, with heavy snow leaving officials with no option but to call off the card.

Tuesday’s fixture at Kelso is also in doubt as the track is currently frozen in places. An inspection will be held at midday on Monday to assess the situation.

Wincanton’s meeting on Wednesday is also under threat, with an inspection called for Tuesday at 8am due to snow and ice.

Weather hits Sunday action

Sunday’s meetings at both Hereford and Thurles have been abandoned due to snow.

The fixture at Thurles was due to feature two Grade Two races, the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase as well as the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase which was due to see the likes of Battleoverdoyen and Allaho clash.

Following a first inspection at 7.30am a second check was called for 9am with snow beginning to settle on the track. However, with no improvement in the conditions a decision was taken before the scheduled inspection to call the meeting off.

A statement from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board read: “Following a second track inspection at Thurles this morning, the track remains unfit for racing due to snow.

“With no improvement and further snowfall between inspections, the fixture scheduled to take place this afternoon has been cancelled.”

The decision was taken even earlier at Hereford with heavy snow leaving officials with no option.

Frost covers had been placed over the course but a thick covering of snow with no prospect of improvement meant it was an easy decision.

As a result, the sole meeting on Sunday now takes place on the all-weather at Lingfield while Market Rasen’s meeting on Monday must survive a noon inspection.

The meeting at Kelso on Tuesday is also in doubt as the track is currently frozen in places.

An inspection will be held at midday on Monday to assess the situation.

Wincanton’s meeting on Wednesday is already under threat with an inspection called for Tuesday at 8am due to snow and ice.

The meeting at Plumpton on Monday is also in doubt as the course in currently frozen in places.

Vulnerable areas are covered but after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight and another cold night is forecast, officials will inspect at 8am.

Hereford goes ahead

Monday’s meeting at Hereford will go ahead after the course passed an early-morning inspection.

The seven-race card was subject to a 7.30am check on the severity of overnight conditions following the freezing temperatures of late.

But an update on the course’s Twitter feed shortly after 7am read: “Racing goes ahead; Precautionary Inspection passed. Frost covers being removed”.

The ground is heavy.

Hereford to inspect as freeze relents only slowly

Race meetings are still struggling to emerge from the grip of the cold snap – with Hereford’s Monday card set for a precautionary 7.30am inspection.

The going is described as heavy, frozen in places – but frost covers have been laid down.

Temperatures dipped to -4C overnight on Saturday but were slowly thawing on Sunday.

With the forecast suggesting the thermometer will not dip below freezing again overnight, hopes are high the meeting will survive – given temperatures are due to reach 5C on Monday.

There are no reported problems at Doncaster, with temperatures set to hit a tropical 8C in Yorkshire.

There is also an inspection at Fairyhouse at 1pm on Monday for Tuesday’s meeting.

The fixture was originally scheduled for Saturday but was frozen off and moved to Tuesday – but the course is still currently unraceable.

A statement from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board read: “The track at Fairyhouse remains unfit for racing due to a small number of frozen areas.

“There is an improving forecast, with rising temperatures over the coming days, and a further inspection of the track will take place at 1pm on Monday, 11th January, ahead of the fixture scheduled to take place on Tuesday, 12th January.”

Sunday’s meeting at Exeter survived three morning inspections, warming up just in time.

Cheltenham to be held behind closed doors on New Year’s Day

Racing at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day will be staged behind closed doors after the Government announced Gloucestershire will move into Tier 3 of coronavirus restrictions from Boxing Day.

As a Tier 2 area at the time, the Prestbury Park track was able to welcome back crowds of up to 2,000 on each afternoon of its two-day meeting earlier this month – the first spectators at the course since the Festival in March.

However, the latest changes outlined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday mean the track will once again move behind closed doors.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock said: “Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Cheshire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3.

“And I’m afraid that Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen sharply rising rates and need to be escalated to Tier 2.”

Racegoers at Cheltenham during day one of the International Meeting
Racegoers at Cheltenham during day one of the International Meeting (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Ian Renton, the Jockey Club’s managing director for the West Region, which includes Cheltenham and Wincanton, another venue to be affected by the change to Tier 3 and one that is in action on Boxing Day, said: “I’m sure that racing fans who had planned to be with us at our courses over the Christmas and New Year period will be disappointed at this latest news.

“However, it’s important that we all adhere to the restrictions and Government guidelines to help tackle the pandemic. In the meantime we look forward to welcoming racegoers back to our courses as soon as it is safe to do so in 2021.”

Fixtures at Haydock Park will continue to have racegoers as it remains in a Tier 2 area classified as Liverpool City Region and is unaffected by the Cheshire/Warrington change, although anyone with a ticket for the meeting on December 30 whose postcode is now classified as Tier 3 will no longer be able to attend.

The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 for Herefordshire means Hereford’s fixture on January 2 will have its crowd limit halved to 2,000 from 4,000.

Racegoers await the first race at Hereford earlier this month
Racegoers await the first race at Hereford earlier this month (Tim Goode/PA)

Mark Spincer, managing director of Arena Racing Company’s racing division, said: “With this afternoon’s confirmation that Herefordshire has moved into Tier 2, there is an impact on the maximum capacity of the race meeting at Hereford on January 2.

“In addition, the elevation of surrounding areas, such as Gloucestershire, to Tier 3 means that a significant proportion of those booked into the meeting will now no longer be able to attend, and their tickets will be refunded automatically.

“As with all of our events at this time, we will be in touch with all of our customers directly to update them on the latest news and what this means for any of their upcoming bookings.”

In addition to Haydock, the only remaining course able to have a crowd before the new year in Britain is Catterick, with the North Yorkshire circuit, who race on Monday, remaining in Tier 2.

Although 14 of Britain’s racecourses will be in Tier 2 from Boxing Day, only Carlisle, Exeter and Ludlow join Catterick, Haydock and Hereford in racing during the rest of the winter.