It is entirely fair to say that the Cheltenham Festival has endured a couple of strange years. Though things went ahead pretty much as normal in 2020, the spectre of an impending world health crisis was looming over the meeting and there was plenty of criticism sent the way of the Jockey Club in the aftermath of the Festival going ahead. The situation last year meant that there was almost silence as the first race got underway, rather than the Cheltenham Roar that we’ve grown used to. For that reason, the Festival in 2022 might be the most ‘normal’ we’ve enjoyed for years.
At the time of writing, we are just one day away from the horse racing industry descending on Prestbury Park as one. Gloucestershire is bracing itself for an invasion, even if not everyone is entirely sure just how many people are actually going to turn up. How big is the Irish invasion likely to be this year, for example? No one really knows, but everyone is hoping that things are as back to normal as its possible for them to be. For bettors, not much has changed against previous years, up to and including how important the weather could yet prove to be.
The Weather Forecast
Anyone that has ever tried to plan any event, from a wedding to a BBQ, will know that weather forecasts are not as accurate as we’d like them to be. You might think that it is going to be sunny, only for the clouds to come over from nowhere. Equally, you can prepare for the rain that has been predicted but find yourself in a situation where you should be weather speedos rather than galoshes. As a result, everything that we say here can be made to look foolish by the time that the Cheltenham Festival actually gets underway.
Even so, having at least a vague idea of what the weather is likely to be like can help us to think about our bets. Horses react differently to different conditions, so knowing that the likelihood is for it to be wet will help you ensure that you place the right wager on the correct horse. As with the weather itself, there is never any guarantee when it comes to your bets, but getting a good sense of what to expect is better than heading into things doing nothing but guessing. We do also know for certain what the weather has already been like.
The days leading up to the Cheltenham Festival have been wet and blustery. Even when days have offered mixed conditions, that still meant that there was some rain mixed in with the sunshine. The weekend before Cheltenham week promised showers, with temperatures hovering just over the ten degrees mark. In other words, the sun wasn’t shining enough to dry the ground out before more rain came. The good news for those actually physically heading to Prestbury Park is that the current forecast is for it to be mostly dry.
There will be some sunshine, peaking out from behind clouds, but the expectation is for it to be a mostly dry week, following on from a mostly wet one. The temperature won’t creep up enough to meant that you can leave your big coat at home, but it will at least begin to feel a little bit like spring is approaching for most of the week. Thursday is likely to be the wettest day, followed by Friday being the driest. Friday will be quite windy, though, with winds forecast of up to nearly 30 miles per hour. That is the sort of thing you at least need to think about.
Sporadic sunshine and highs of 15 degrees are predicted for the Monday of Festival week, though whether that will be enough to help dry out a course that will have seen pretty perpetual rain remains to be seen. There’s a one in four chance that rain will be back at lunchtime on Tuesday, so if the course hasn’t dried out much then that isn’t likely to help. The procedure that measures the Going on a racecourse involves measuring both penetration and ‘shear’, which are the two forces exerted on the ground by the hooves of the horses.
On the Friday before Cheltenham Festival week, the official Going on both the Old Course and the New Course was Good to Soft, Soft In Places. The Cross Country Course, meanwhile, was Good to Soft, Good In Places. The Jockey Club was confident enough in the weather that the New Course was watered on the Friday, with a decision about the need to water the Old Course likely to be made closer to the time. The Going is updated regularly on the Jockey Club’s official website, with the information taken from several places around the courses.
Race organisers want the Going to be Good to Soft, if that can be maintained. That is why they will consider watering the course if the forecast rain doesn’t bring as much as promised, with softer ground being friendlier to the horses. Interestingly, every opening day of the Festival has involved the word Soft or the word Heavy in the Going every year since 2017, so it isn’t a surprise that it will do again this time around. It means that we could be in for a brilliant Festival, given the number of horses that will favour the Going that we’re likely to get.
What It Means For The Horses
Horses are much like humans, insomuch as different ones prefer different types of weather. As an example, Paul Nicholls, who is likely to have about 14 runners at the Festival this year, has said that Frodon didn’t run well in the King George when the ground was Soft. Nicholls believe that, on Soft ground, Frodon needs to have ‘everything in his favour’ in order to be competitive. Most trainers aren’t too worried about admitting such things, so it is absolutely worth looking to see if they’ve been talking about their horses in the build-up to Cheltenham.
As always, the more research you can do, the better placed you’ll be for knowing what is likely to come over the next few days. There is a wealth of information out there about the horses that will be running, complete with stats on how they’ve performed in each type of Going. The best thing that you can do as a punter is have a look to see which horses are likely to do well if the ground is a bit softer than it has been in the past, ensuring that you bear that in mind when it comes time to look at you betting slip and get your wagers in place.