I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told people to stop being so nesh about cold weather on racedays… “Sometimes they even race in the snow you know!”
And it’s true – The Thinker’s Gold Cup was delayed by a snow-storm in 1987; and then Not So Sleepy and Epatante dead-heated during a blizzard for the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in 2021. Most Winter tracks will have experienced something similar but, until Wednesday, I’d never actually staged a racemeeting where there was snow laid on the track before we arrived in the morning.
We briefly joked about letting the jockeys “skikjor” behind their horses – as they do on the ice at St Moritz. We could build ramps in front of the fences…
It would have been the easiest thing in the World to pop a photo of the whitened turf on social media, abandon the fixture, and go home. It might even have spared the racecourse team a bit of abuse, from members of the public anxious for a decision as to whether racing would go ahead or not.
But we have a duty to race if we believe that we safely can and, beneath the fine blanket of snow that had descended overnight, the ground was insulated and completely frost free. The problem with inspecting a track for frost at 7.00am, at this time of year, is that the mercury usually dips further at day-break, so Matthew, Kelso’s Clerk of the Course, opted to look again at 10.00am – by which time the snow had refrozen into larger crystals, raising a fear among some that the snow itself could present a problem. The decision was taken to look again at 11.00am.
Within two hours of the first race taking place, any inspection of the track is performed under the direction of the BHA Stewarding Team and requires the inclusion of a representative delegation of jockeys, racehorse trainers and racecourse staff, plus the Senior Medical Officer and BHA Veterinary Officer. It was soon apparent, on Wednesday, that the jockeys and trainers present were unanimous in their opinion that the snow would melt under the horses’ hooves, not compact into icy clods – so the track was fit for racing.
However, we don’t only need willing participants, we also need medical and veterinary teams who can reach any incident at an obstacle within sixty seconds of a jockey hitting the deck. The thawing snow on the inner-road had refrozen at dawn to create a mile-round ice rink – perfect for speedskating, but not so good for a medical and veterinary convoy. What followed was a rapid redraft of the veterinary and medical standing orders, the redeployment of staff, and an agreement to reduce the number of obstacles to be jumped.
On days like Wednesday, there will have been people who wondered what on earth we were up to. Is the track raceable or not? Why can’t someone make a decision? Wouldn’t it be better if we put a potato in charge? Or a turnip?
With more sub-zero temperatures forecast this weekend, Newbury have already called an inspection for the Coral Gold Cup Meeting where our selection is Stolen Silver. If you’re one of those watching on, keep the faith: for as long as an inspection continues, there is a team of well-intentioned people (no turnips) who believe that there’s a reasonable chance of keeping the show on the road.