Let’s be honest, there remains something thrilling about throwing open your curtains to see that the world has been covered in a blanket of snow. Perhaps it’s because it reminds us of our youth, when school would be cancelled and we’d get to spend the day making snowmen and having snowball fights. More often than not we’re not that fortunate as adults, with heavy snowfall usually just slowing our day down rather than cancelling it altogether. You have to wear plenty of layers but are immediately sweating buckets once you’ve finished scraping all of the ice off your car or have found a seat on the train, which has its heating turned to full. This year we’ve all experienced it much more readily than we might have expected, thanks to the ‘Beast From The East’ and the ‘Pest From The West’ that have hit the country over the past couple of weeks.
It’s had an affect on our lives in general, but one impact that few of us might not have thought about is the impact it’s having on upcoming sporting events – with one in particular at the forefront of my mind. The Cheltenham Festival has had issues in the past because of inclement weather, with snow and frost causing disruptions in 1931, 1947 and 1949. It’s not as if the bad weather we’re suffering at the moment has never been experienced before, then. Yet it’s also fair to say that we haven’t been through anything like this in recent times, given that the last time snow or frost caused the organisers any problems was nearly seventy years ago. All of which begs the question, how might the current weather problems affect the way the Cheltenham Festival plays out? How are the Jockey Club preparing for the world’s most exciting week of steeplechase racing, given the appalling weather we’ve had recently?
Removing Snow and Preparing The Racecourse
I’m writing this piece on the Thursday of the week before the Festival, meaning that I’ll be hearing the Cheltenham Roar in just five days time, all being well. Right now the organisers of the event are doing everything that they can do to clear the track, with drifts of snow up to six-feet in depth currently being found on the course. They can’t have heavy machinery on the track that horses will be running on as they will cut up the turf too much, so instead all of the snow around the course has to be cleared by hand by a team of around sixty volunteers.
The Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham, Simon Claisse, spoke about the matter and said, “We think there could be 200-plus tons plus of snow to shift manually, where it has drifted up against the fences. The sun tried to poke through this morning, but it’s become very grey and murky now. The thaw is just beginning to start and the temperatures are just a couple of degrees above freezing”.
The good news is that it won’t cause the Festival to be cancelled, thanks to developments over the years in things like drainage and the way that the course is set up in general. There’s no doubt that those in charge of Cheltenham Festival have a job on their hands making sure that the course is as good as it’s possible to be for the first race on Tuesday afternoon, however.
How Will Recent Weather Affect The Going?
The main questions punters will want to know the answer to is what all of this mixed weather will mean for the going. Claisse thinks the snowfall and incoming storms might make the conditions favourable for horses that prefer a bit of slog in their running. He said, “It could possibly get a bit milder this weekend and then into next week. I think the ground will be soft when the snow melts, but it’s hard to tell at the moment while it’s still thawing. We think the snow will have amounted to about 12mm and the forecast is showing it could be 15mm of rain by next Sunday”.
That was a theory confirmed by Ben Rich, a Meteorologist who works for BBC Weather. He said we should expect ‘a mixture of rain and sleet at low levels’. He went on to say that more snow isn’t out of the realms of the possible, though. Rich said, “Perhaps even some snow to lower levels for a time through the central belt. But it will only be snow and shouldn’t cause too many problems”.
Weather Forecast During Cheltenham Festival 2018?
At present, BBC Weather is predicting rainfall every day between now and Tuesday, at which point the clouds are forecast to part and the sun will come out. Seven-day forecasts are notoriously unreliable, but if they’re right this time then there will be sun on Tuesday and Wednesday before the rain starts up again on Thursday. If you’re fortunate enough to have tickets to attend the event then you’d do well to wrap up warm, make sure you’ve got your waterproofs on and, if nothing else, wear a pair of wellies.
Whatever happens to the grounds around Cheltenham Racecourse between now and the start of the Festival, it’s unlikely to be particularly dry. Even if the forecast is right and we get a couple of days of sun, it’s not going to be anywhere near strong enough to dry it out. If you’re there towards the end of the week then you can expect the heavy footfall to have turned the public areas and footpaths into muddy bogs, more akin to Glastonbury Festival than this one that takes place in a corner of Gloucestershire. You’re still as good as guaranteed to have an amazing time, of course. You’d also do well to have a look at the blogs I’ve written about the Big Five races and get some ante-post bets in on horses that run well on soft ground. Make sure you research which horses favour the going when it’s heavy.