FERDY Murphy has challenged Britain’s racecourses “to work together” and rearrange high-profile races after Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase became the latest casualty of snow’s winter wipeout.
Having called off today’s scheduled meeting earlier in the week, it quickly became inevitable that tomorrow’s Sky Bet meeting would suffer the same fate – the Town Moor track is still covered in snow and heavy overnight frosts are forecast for the coming days.
Behind-the-scenes talks were continuing last night to see if the Sky Bet Chase, a key trial for the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National, could be restaged if the weather relents sufficiently at other racetracks. However, there seemed few prospects of other significant races on Doncaster’s card, including a competitive novice chase featuring Donald McCain’s Arkle Trophy prospect Overturn, being saved.
Four jumps meetings have now been lost in Yorkshire this week and West Witton-based Murphy, who had intended to run the consistent De Boitron in the Sky Bet Chase, says contingency plans will be required once the thaw materialises.
“Racecourses have to get together and show a bit more responsibility, especially with Cheltenham and Aintree coming up,” said Murphy, who was instrumental in persuading a snow-free Ayr to host a replacement meeting on Wednesday, where his Hollo Ladies triumphed under an in-form James Reveley.
“There are a lot of horses, and a lot of novices, who haven’t got the races into them. Simonsig and Overturn are the two favourites for the Arkle, but they’ve only raced twice this season – and that’s not enough ahead of Cheltenham.
“The British Horseracing Authority need to try and get the racecourses to pull together. Ayr are to be congratulated for putting on a meeting on Wednesday. When times are hard, everyone needs to pull together for the good of the sport – and forget about self-interest.”
He noted that Newbury had transferred entire cards on two occasions in the past two seasons – and called for Northern racing to receive similar treatment if any opportunities arise.
Doncaster comes under the auspices of the Arena Racing Company whose courses stage 38 per cent of all fixtures.
Its role in the allocation of meetings has come under scrutiny after last month’s closure of Hereford and Folkestone racecourses – while the abandonment of a succession of meetings at flood-hit Southwell has seen countless all-weather meetings switched to Arc-owned Lingfield and Wolverhampton.
Arc’s communications director Kate Hills said the transfer of fixtures were a matter for BHA, but she stressed that the company would not stand in the way of the Sky Bet Chase moving to a racecourse which was outside her firm’s ownership portfolio.
Noting the 2010 and 2011 renewals at Doncaster were also abandoned, she added: “It is very disappointing for Sky Bet because they are such good sponsors.
“We will not stand in the way of any race being restaged elsewhere.”
A BHA spokesman said all options were being investigated – weather permitting – to restage the Sky Bet Chase, and possibly some other contests, next week.
The worry is that the thaw could coincide with heavy rain, leaving frozen tracks waterlogged.
As for the future, Overturn could be rerouted to the Scottish Future Champions Novices’ Chase at Musselburgh on Sunday week. Donald McCain’s Champion Hurdle runner-up has looked electric since switching to fences this season with easy victories at Sandown and Doncaster.
“It’s a shame Doncaster has gone as the race looked ideal for him and he’s been there before,” said McCain.
“There was a cracking card, not just his race, but the one thing you can’t control is the weather. I don’t have many that really need another run, but Overturn would be one of them.”
Despite Sedgefield’s card on Sunday being abandoned, officials at Cheltenham still hope to stage the prestigious Festival Trials Day tomorrow.
The Cotswolds course is covered with special sheeting and work was continuing to sweep snow away.
However, the Argento Chase, one of the last recognised Gold Cup trials, will not feature Bobs Worth – the ante-post favourite for steeplechasing’s blue riband race in March.
The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was found to be not quite 100 per cent following a routine check-up. He will go to the Gold Cup on March 15 without a prep run.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Tidal Bay is likely to be another absentee after the veteran, a winner of Wetherby’s John Smith’s Hurdle, suffered a slight setback.
The field is now headed by 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, who has not raced for 22 months, and David Pipe’s King George third Grands Crus.