The last time Cheltenham raced was on 8 December. This has denied top hurdlers a run in events such as the Bula and today's Cleeve Hurdle. Kempton's Christmas Hurdle was also lost. But help is at hand for those searching for a prep race for the Cheltenham Festival.
A new conditions contest, the Levy Board Hurdle, will be held at Ascot a week on Wednesday, it was announced yesterday, while there will be increased funding of three other hurdle races in the next two weeks. In addition, the Great Yorkshire Chase, which was lost in today's abandoned Doncaster card, will now be transferred to the first March meeting at Town Moor.
Those in charge at Cheltenham were left searching for small specks of comfort following an abandonment which came after three weeks of clear weather. They came up with the view that less racing meant less chance for horses to get injured before the Festival, and the thought that National Hunt racing's showpiece will now be run on near virgin turf.
There was little time given to the suggestion that today's card could be moved wholesale to Monday, given the bleak forecast. Lingfield's all- weather fixture stands alone today, as may Southwell on Monday as there are inspections tomorrow for the turf meetings at Ayr and Plumpton.
The abandonment of Cheltenham also took with it the Pillar Property Investments Chase and meant the new upholder of jump racing's appeal, One Man, would not get the opportunity to prove that his excellence extends to the undulating arena at the base of Cleeve Hill.
Indeed, the grey will now go straight to the Gold Cup in an effort to bury the memory of his previous visits to the course.
One Man has run just twice at Prestbury Park, when finishing 30 lengths behind Gaelstrom as a novice hurdler in 1992, and then a poor ninth behind Monsieur Le Cure when favourite for the Sun Alliance (Novices') Chase two years ago. Gordon Richards, the seven-year-old's trainer, does not voice disquiet about this record outside his front door however, and believes he can satisfactorily prepare One Man.
"He won't go anywhere for a race in preparation as we can always use a local course to get him ready," Joanie Richards, the trainer's wife, said yesterday. "It would be between 10 days and a fortnight before Cheltenham, but where will depend on which course offers the best ground and kindest clerk of the course. Touch wood he is fine at the moment, and Gordon had got him just right for Saturday, but unfortunately the situation was always looking hopeless.''
Others with something to look forward to are those who will benefit from the extra funding secured by the BHB. The three novice contests over timber to have their funds swelled are Wetherby's Acomb Hurdle, the Sidney Banks Memorial Hurdle at Huntingdon and Sandown's Ripley Hurdle. The Moet & Chandon Chase at Kelso a week on Tuesday will also receive a transfusion.
The new Ascot hurdle has been made weight for age not because organisers believe it will be more popular than a limited handicap (they think the opposite) but because several conditions events have already been called off this winter. The Levy Board Hurdle, with pounds 15,000 in added prize money, will be over two and a half miles.