Wintry weather plays havoc with Cheltenham preparations

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SPRINTER Sacre’s Cheltenham Festival reparations could be salvaged if the BHA manages to rearrange today’s Victor Chandler Chase – the latest victim of the Arctic-like weather that is decimating the Turf programme.

The prestigious Grade One Chase was supposed to be the centrepiece of a high-profile Ascot card that became an inevitable victim of the weather yesterday. Haydock and Taunton have also suffered a similar fate.

However, the Victor Chandler could be switched to Cheltenham next Saturday and supplement its Festival Trials Day – provided the Cotswolds track is fit for racing after a challenging winter that has seen its ground no better than desperate on several occasions.

Ahead of a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase at March, trainer Nicky Henderson is becoming increasingly anxious about the Festival preparations for his high-profile string that is headed by the precocious Sprinter Sacre, last year’s Arkle winner.

Henderson said the Victor Chandler was “the obvious race” for Sprinter Sacre before the NH Festival.

“There are others, the Game Spirit (at Newbury on February 9) and such, but they are not quite what this is and the timing is a bit better here,” he added.

“We’ve struggled all winter because it has been so abnormally submerged and an awful lot of horses haven’t been able to do what we want them to because you can’t run them on unsuitable ground when you know they don’t like it.

“That was causing us enough headaches and now we’ve walked into this.”

Snow prompted the abandonment of yesterday’s two all-weather meetings – and today’s meetings at Kempton and Lingfield will have to pass early-morning checks.

Looking ahead, tomorrow’s action is limited to Kempton’s all-weather card following Towcester’s abandonment earlier in the week. Meanwhile inspections tomorrow will determine prospects for Wetherby and Leicester on Tuesday. The omens are not good.

“We have a covering of snow. It’s not heavy, but it’s no longer light,” said chief executive Jonjo Sanderson.

“We are also frozen in one or two places and obviously there is further snow forecast for any time from tonight until Sunday.

“The daytime temperatures are only zero and the night time temperatures are around minus 1C. There is not enough optimism in that forecast to suggest we’ll be racing on Tuesday I’m afraid.”

An additional all-weather meeting will be staged at Wolverhampton on Tuesday, while Ayr hope to host an unscheduled jumps meeting on Wednesday.

Last night, the BHA also indicated that Haydock’s Champion Hurdle trial, which was due to have featured John Quinn’s Countrywide Flame, a dual Grade One winner, could be switched to next Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase card at Doncaster.

As trainers, like the aforementioned Henderson, reassess their plans, Keiran Burke could switch Hunt Ball to Cheltenham next weekend as he attempts to give his stable star some more match practice.

The intention had been for the eight-year-old to run in a chase at Taunton today – until the weather intervened.

After marching right through the handicap scale with seven victories last season, owner Anthony Knott is keen to get the eight-year-old to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“I would say the two-and-a-half-mile handicap at Cheltenham (Murphy Group Chase) would be the most likely one at the moment for us,” said Burke.

n Former Welsh National hero Le Beau Bai was put down yesterday after failing to recover from a cracked pelvis sustained on the gallops at trainer Richard Lee’s yard.

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