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Claisse planning BHA discussion following light issue

Officials at Cheltenham will consult with the British Horseracing Authority to see if anything can be done to prevent a repeat of the light issues that affected the final race on Saturday’s card.

The closing mares’ bumper was staged in murky conditions and following a thrilling finish, a dead heat was called between Harry Fry’s Ishkhara Lady and the Dan Skelton-trained Elle Est Belle.

However, the dwindling light at the course made the official photo hard to read, prompting some outcry about the result on social media, and clerk of the course Simon Claisse is keen to avoid a repeat of the situation if possible.

“The judge can only do so much in those conditions,” he said.

“We’ll be looking to see if there’s anything we can do to help minimise the risk to stop these things happening.

“Our race schedule is really based around ITV and we’re very lucky to have them here – it’s not the simple matter of starting earlier and getting the racing under way and finished before sunset.

“At the minute the rules say 15 minutes before sundown, which was 4.18pm yesterday, so we were in plenty of time. It was just one of those unfortunate sets of circumstances when it turned very dark because of the heavy rain.”

Claisse said there are a number of issues preventing them from just starting at an earlier time.

He told Racing TV: “There are all sorts of factors to bear in mind and betting turnover increases throughout the afternoon. It’s not as simple as saying ‘why don’t you start earlier’.

“We’ll take a look at it with the British Horseracing Authority in the weeks to come. If there’s anything we can do to reduce the risk of these things happening, we’ll certainly look at it.

“The race times are set by the BHA, in conjunction with the racecourses, but if we started earlier, someone else would be going later, so you may end up just pushing the issue from one racecourse to another.”

Cheltenham about to resume in a much-changed world

Racing returns to Cheltenham on Friday for the first time since the Festival meeting in March.

Exactly 32 weeks since an official crowd of 68,859 witnessed the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo successfully defend his crown in the Gold Cup, the scene at Prestbury Park will be altogether different.

The coronavirus pandemic was still very much in its infancy when the Festival began on March 10. Extra hygiene measures – including banks of hand sanitiser dispensers – were installed, and 251,684 people attended across the four days, although many of those were repeat visitors.

Crowds in the grandstand during Gold Cup day at Cheltenham
Crowds in the grandstand during Gold Cup day at Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

It was clear by midweek a change of approach from Government was imminent – and while the Festival did go ahead in its entirety, within a matter of days the sport was shut down completely until racing resumed behind closed doors on June 1.

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Cheltenham received plenty of criticism in the weeks that followed the Festival, with images of the packed grandstands in the Cotswolds beamed around the world amid a steep rise in positive cases and deaths.

While a couple of crowd pilot events elsewhere in recent months raised brief hope that racegoers would be able to return to Cheltenham by the time this weekend’s Showcase Meeting came around, restrictions are being tightened once more – and just some owners and essential workers will be in attendance.

Simon Claisse, regional head of racing and clerk of the course, points out that all the way through the Festival, Cheltenham followed advice from the Government.

“Whenever the Festival was brought up in the early stages of the pandemic we just had to remind ourselves that we followed the Government’s advice the whole way through. That was all that we could do,” said Claisse.

“We’ve been very busy since March – of course we’ve been able to familiarise ourselves with the protocols needed for racing behind closed doors at other courses.

“We’ve been working with the BHA for the last two months to make sure we are set up appropriately to maintain social distancing and making sure people can do it here.

“Until you’ve been racing on a day with no crowd, it is hard to envisage it, but we’re looking forward to welcoming some owners. We’re not sure how many, because the team are still working on that, but we’re eager to get going again – it’s been a long seven months.”

For Claisse, the condition of the track now becomes his priority with racing set to return.

He said: “We couldn’t be happier with where the ground is. Good, good to soft in places is where we are – with little bits of rain around.

“To be starting on the slow side of good for the first meeting (of the season) is just where you’d want to be.”