Horse racing in the UK has been pushed to the side in the last week as an outbreak of equine influenza has cancelled all meetings until Wednesday 13 February.
Naturally with the Cheltenham Festival just four weeks away, some racing fans need their fears allayed that the showpiece jumps meeting of the season will actually go ahead. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any real danger that the Prestbury Park meeting will be affected.
Looking back on the week that’s just passed, more details are starting to emerge around the makeup of some races and what we can expect come Tuesday 12 March.
We start with the big news that, I at least, was fully expecting and that’s that Sizing John will miss the Festival and the rest of the season after suffering a setback, Jessica Harrington disclosed today.
With the 2017 Gold Cup hero now not seen since a meagre 7th in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in the same year as his Cheltenham triumph, questions over what is best for the nine year-old have surfaced, especially from fans of the chaser who was very much in the frame for this Saturday’s Red Mill’s Chase meeting at Gowran Park.
Retirement now looks like a real possibility and there’s a nervous wait ahead for fans of the Robbie Power mount. Harrington herself today said “We’ll do what is best for him and we’ll speak to our veterinary team over the coming weeks and months. We’ll keep everyone posted on his progress.”
Elsewhere another horse that will miss the Festival is leading Arkle contender Dynamite Dollars, with trainer Paul Nicholls announcing on Monday that the six year-old, who was best priced 7/1 for the two-mile Grade One contest on the opening day, will miss the meeting.
Nicholls told Betfair: “Unfortunately Dynamite Dollars has had a minor setback in training, which will prevent him running again this season. He has taken to fences so well that we had high hopes of him in the Arkle.”
It comes as a big blow for Nicholls’ six year-old who has won four of his first five starts over fences; Le Richebourg now heads the Arkle betting at a general 100/30 shot.
Meanwhile officials at the racecourse are moving a fence to reduce the risks for horses and jockeys. The second last fence on the Old Course, one of the trickiest chase fences, will be moved further into the home straight.
The fence was originally positioned just before the bend onto the run up the hill, before it was moved onto the home straight in 2010. Following October and November meetings and discussions with jockeys, clerk of the course Simon Claisse said “There was just a sense that, if they had a little bit more room after they straightened up, that may just give them a little bit more time to get balanced as they come off the turn.”
We finish this week with news that the leading contender for the Foxhunter’s Chase will be sent straight to the Festival.
Phillip Rowley is going to bypass Haydock with Hazel Hill and the 11 year-old will put his unbeaten record on the line at Prestbury Park on Thursday 15 March.
Rowley said on Monday “The Walrus at Haydock was a possibility, but I think it falls too close and I imagine he won’t run now until Cheltenham. He has come out of the race at Warwick really well and has shown no ill effects. He is in tip-top form.”
The only concern for some is that Rowley is yet to run the outstanding point-to-pointer beyond three miles, however the trainer himself does not share those worries.
“He is quite relaxed so I don’t think the trip should be a problem, but you don’t know for definite until you are there” he said. “He might not take to Cheltenham as some horses don’t. He has never been there before, but fingers crossed he will be fine.”