ALL frost covers were in place at Cheltenham by 2pm yesterday ahead of the four-day Festival.
The operation on the old course, where racing takes place for the first two days of the meeting tomorrow and Wednesday, was completed on Saturday afternoon along with vulnerable areas on the cross country course, used tomorrow only. The new course, used for racing on Thursday and Friday, was covered yesterday.
In total, the area protected by the covers is 65 acres or the equivalent of 45 football pitches and has involved 630 individual covers.
“All the frost covers are now down,” said clerk of the course Simon Claisse. “The forecast remains for some wintry showers over the next couple of days – tonight, tomorrow and maybe a bit on Tuesday morning. There has been no rain since early Saturday morning.
“The ground, though, is unlikely to dry out much under the covers. It is soft everywhere. We are experiencing a wind chill of -3C at the moment, with the temperature being +2C. This cold spell is forecast to last through to Thursday.”
The old course will be uncovered tomorrow morning. It will involve up to 60 people and take around two and a half hours to complete. The frost covers on the new course will remain in place until Thursday morning.
Yesterday afternoon the going was described as soft on all courses.
Last year’s winner Rock On Ruby is among a field of nine for tomorrow’s Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Hurricane Fly and Binocular, the previous two winners of the two-mile blue riband, bid to regain their crown.
Harry Fry’s Rock On Ruby will wear blinkers as he attempts to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005 to retain his title.
Paul Nicholls, who officially trained Rock On Ruby last year, is represented by Zarkandar, who is unbeaten in three starts this season and the mount of Daryl Jacob, with Ruby Walsh electing to ride Hurricane Fly.
As well as Binocular, the 2010 winner, Nicky Henderson saddles Grandouet and Khyber Kim.
The 2011 hero Hurricane Fly, trained by Willie Mullins, is the only Irish representative.
Countrywide Flame and Cinders And Ashes, winners of the Triumph and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle respectively last year, take their chance, while Balder Succes complete the line-up. Cotton Mill was the sole withdrawal at the 48-hour final declaration stage. He is set to run on Friday in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.
Hurricane Fly heads the market at 15-8 with William Hill. Their spokesman Richard Thomas said: “Although only nine are set to go to post, this looks a fascinating and competitive renewal of the Champion Hurdle.
“Three previous winners are set to do battle, together with the 2012 winners of the William Hill Supreme and Triumph Hurdles. It could well be a tactical affair and, with that potential set-up, who knows who will come out on top?”
Meanwhile, Timmy Murphy was not in action at Market Rasen yesterday after feeling “stiff and sore” following a fall at Ayr on Saturday.
He took a tumble from Super Ally at the sixth fence in a three-mile one furlong handicap chase, but rode in the very next race.
“He rode after he had a fall at Ayr yesterday but felt a bit stiff and sore on the way to the races today,” said his agent, Chris Broad. “He told me he got to the races but decided to swerve it. He’s going to have some physio. He’ll be fine for Cheltenham.”
There are due to be two race meetings this afternoon, at Plumpton and Taunton, although both have called for morning inspections.
Officials at Plumpton are “very hopeful” of racing despite calling a precautionary inspection for 8am.
Temperatures dipping overnight to -1C are not expected to present a problem but the potential for some snow means a cautious clerk of the course Mark Cornford will check conditions early today.