CAPE Tribulation, one of two Malcolm Jefferson horses to complete the Cheltenham and Aintree double, heads the field for Boxing Day’s Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby.
Victory would give the Malton trainer a second successive win in the three-mile-plus chase following the success 12 months ago of According To Pete, who later lost his life in the Grand National.
Fifth to Tidal Bay in the John Smith’s Hurdle in early November, Jefferson – like so many trainers – is hoping that the rain relents.
“All being well, Cape Tribulation goes for the Betfair Rowland Meyrick,” he said. “His run on the Flat at York in October, when he was second under top-weight, was all right but nothing went right for him at Wetherby.
“He is in good form now and we’ll just see how things go for him. I just wish the weather would dry up a little bit! There has been so much rain about up here.”
Pam Sly’s Helpston and Neil Mulholland’s Gold Cup contender Midnight Chase, second and third 12 months ago, also feature in the 17 entries along with the Sue Smith pair of Mr Moonshine and Scottish National second Auroras Encore.
Understandably, Wetherby clerk Jonjo Sanderson is encouraged by the quality of entries, even though final plans remain fluid – literally – because of the rain.
He is also looking to re-establish the two-day Christmas meeting, sponsored by Welcome to York, after the big freeze forced its abandonment in both 2009 and 2010.
Sanderson is taking no chances with the weather – hurdles are being moved to higher ground and track staff will use as much fresh turf as possible if the track, currently waterlogged in the back straight, becomes raceable over the next 96 hours.
Yet, with £70,000 of prize money on Boxing Day and a further £40,000 for the Castleford Chase meeting on Thursday, he hopes to be rewarded at the turnstiles.
Noting that prize money is likely to increase significantly next year as new funding arrangements kick in, Sanderson told the Yorkshire Post: “In 2008, we had just over 13,000 racegoers on Boxing Day.
“We were just under 11,500 last season, but that was still encouraging because we had not raced for two Christmases. Advanced ticket sales are on par with 2011. We’re not going to be breaking any records, but we’re ticking over.”
Understandably, spectators are being advised to wear appropriate footwear. “The irony is that we invested in frost covers which we don’t need to use. We could do with a large dome,” added Sanderson after walking the track yesterday to assess conditions.