All-weather under the weather again

Richard Edmondson on another day when just about the only winner was the elements
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The Independent Online
All-weather racing again became a contradiction in terms when Southwell was abandoned yesterday because of dense fog. It was the third such fixture to be claimed by the weather in three days.

Since Christmas, 36 meetings have been lost to the elements and only Exeter yesterday staged some red-blooded fare after the fixture at Lingfield on 21 December.

Fighting through the mist like Peter Cushing in a Hammer number, Patrick Hibbert-Foy, the stewards' secretary, did the Michael Fish bit at Southwell yesterday.

"The big problem is safety, and the rules are that the judge must be able to see the furlong marker," he said. "Unfortunately, he's only been able to see half a furlong at most.

"We've got 16 horses going round in one race and if there is a faller or a horse getting loose coming the other way out of the fog that would be alarming. This is all very frustrating indeed, and if the fog had just lifted at 1pm we could have got through the majority of the card."

Ashley Bealby, the clerk of the course, had just fended off the public snowballs from a previous incursion when Wolverhampton, Southwell's sister track, where he performs a similar function, had been called off on Saturday. "As I've said before, I don't think you can call it all-weather racing now," he said.

"Unfortunately, the officials would just not have been able to do their job properly. One of the main problems was that the stewards' integrity service would have been very much in question. They looked at the television monitors but they were no better."

Jimmy Fitzgerald, the Malton trainer, was perhaps the least surprised that action had been suspended. "I think my horse Uncle Ernie must be something of a jinx," he said. "I've had him entered three times now and it's been off each time."

Jason Weaver has spent a substantial break in Australia, the Gold Coast and the Virgin Islands and had been looking forward to his launchpad for the 1996 campaign. "I went to bed early and didn't even see the New Year in," he said. "If I'd known, I could have had a few drinks last night." Whatever he consumed would not have made Weaver any more silly than he was when sober on Breeders' Cup eve in New York.

Travelling expenses to Southwell went west, but trainers were given the dubious opportunity of working their horses on the track free of charge. Bealby warmed himself up sufficiently to express the belief that Wolverhampton will be able to stage its all-weather fixture tomorrow. "It's thawed out there now and everything should be fine unless we get more fog," he said.

Cheltenham's rescheduled meeting succumbed to frost after an inspection yesterday afternoon. "We have made very little progress due to the conditions," Edward "Mr Inspection" Gillespie, the course's managing director, said.

The card had been due to feature two races designed to accommodate entrants for Kempton's abandoned Christmas Hurdle among others, and some considerations for that contest will now be switched to the weekend. "The race has been saved," Gillespie said. ''It reverts to the entry stage and will be run at Sandown on Saturday."

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