The unofficial going report at Newbury yesterday, as in most of the country, was crisp and even. But it was not deep, and course officials are by no means downhearted about the prospects of staging what must, this year, be counted much the most important meeting in the run-up to the Cheltenham Festival.
Less than three years after they became the first in the land to beat a heavy frost with a special horticultural fleece, they nowadays feel a good deal less helpless than would previously have been the case.
They could not have a more powerful incentive to save Saturday’s meeting, both Denman and Master Minded having duly appeared among the five-day entries yesterday. The Aon Chase will be Denman’s first start not only since winning the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, but also since receiving treatment for a pulmonary disorder during the autumn. On the face of it, admittedly, the clerk of the course surveyed a bleak panorama as dusk approached yesterday.
“The track is covered with snow,” Richard Osgood said. “But it’s actually not too bad at the moment, just two to three centimetres, nothing like they’ve had elsewhere. And, so far as the temperatures are concerned, I’d like to think we got the covers on early enough. We flicked a couple back earlier today and the ground was still okay underneath.
“The forecast does keep changing, so I’m just going to take it one day at a time.”
Meanwhile, as things stand, Tony McCoy’s most obvious Gold Cup mounts are Exotic Dancer and Alberta’s Run, both trained by Jonjo O’Neill and entered for the Aon Chase.
Exotic Dancer is more likely to return to Leopardstown on Sunday for the Hennessy Gold Cup, where his chief rival is again set to be Neptune Collonges.
McCoy has had to put the champagne on ice, the weather having interrupted his quest for the two winners he needs to become the first jockey to win 3,000 races over jumps. Even the all-weather
meeting at Wolverhampton was eventually abandoned yesterday — much to the disgust of trainers who had sent their horses to the track, the course having initially been declared raceable after three inspections. Sedgefield elected to give their meeting today “every chance” by scheduling a 7.30 am inspection, despite the track being covered in snow. To some, of course, the glass is always half-full. Certainly it must be hoped that optimism will be justified at Newbury – even if one young jockey is probably not just viewing the glass as half-empty, but the bottle as well.