Jockeys' praise ends Lingfield's harrowing time

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The Independent Online

The sands of time, or at least four days of mild weather, have been enough to transform Lingfield's under-fire all-weather track from a cursed sod on Saturday to holy ground yesterday.

The sands of time, or at least four days of mild weather, have been enough to transform Lingfield's under-fire all-weather track from a cursed sod on Saturday to holy ground yesterday.

On Saturday, trainers and jockeys were queueing up to condemn the track after racing was called off minutes before the first race when the riders discovered the surface was frozen and dangerous to race on. Yesterday, after passing an inspection by the Jockey Club's inspector, the former jockey Richard Linley, the track provided the only venue for racing in Britain as Musselburgh's turf card was frozen off.

The course, formerly known as "Leafy Lingfield", may have a more industrial look to it these days, but it does provide an opportunity for some of the sport's lesser lights to earn a living and is valued for that.

Gary Moore, the Brighton trainer who had been one of the most vociferous critics on Saturday, walked the course before racing yesterday and admitted: "There's a massive improvement. They've done a really good job and I have no reservations about running my horses on it. I think it was frost that got into the track at the weekend and caused the trouble."

Moore's faith soon had its reward as his Hopeful Henry won the first race on the card, the amateur riders' handicap, at odds of 14-1.

When the professional riders, some of whom had instigated the decision not to race on Saturday, took to the track they were also forgiving of the circuit. Neil Callan, winner of the second race on Parker, said: "I had a perfect ride round about three off the fence. Some of the lads said there was water by the rails, but I didn't see any. It rode perfectly and there is nothing wrong with the track now."

Paul Doe, who partnered the third home, Boldbird, said: "It is a little bit deeper out there and much better. They seem to have pulled more sand back from the outside."

Another jockey to give approval was Steve Drowne, who said: "They must have harrowed deeper and the horses are leaving a print in the sand as they should."

The clerk of the course, Fergus Cameron, added: "I walked the course with the jockeys Tyrone Williams and Chris Rutter before racing and they were completely happy about it.

"We have worked the course quite deep since Saturday and put extra drains in it to cope with the amount of rain we had. Everything has worked out fine."

If indeed the track is again safe to race on then the improvement could not have come at a better time with the weather again threatening to disrupt turf fixtures. Sedgefield's card today is subject to an inspection for frost but, more worryingly, Saturday's programme faces major disruption for the second successive week. If the blank Saturday just before Christmas is included, it has been a very quiet time for turnover through the country's betting shops, call centres and web sites.

Officials at Sandown, which has already lost the Tingle Creek Chase card this season, warned yesterday that the course's Saturday card, featuring the Mildmay Cazalet Memorial Chase and Tolworth Hurdle, will be in doubt if weather predictions are accurate. "They are saying we could have up to 10mm of rain tonight then more wet weather on Thursday and Friday," Andrew Cooper, the clerk of the course, said. "The course has soaked up a lot over the last six weeks and its capacity to take much more would not be great."

Officials at Towcester will inspect at 9am today for tomorrow's programme. "I would rate the prospects at no better than 40 per cent," the clerk of the course, Hugo Bevan, said.

Weights for two of the year's big handicap hurdles came out yesterday, with Master Tern and Grinkov being made 8-1 joint favourites by Paddy Power for the £100,000 Pierse Handicap Hurdle, the race which replaces the Ladbroke, at Leopardstown on Sunday week.

Mr Cool, one of 16 entries by Martin Pipe, has been installed the 6-1 favourite by the sponsors for the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury on 10 February. The seven-year-old has been given 10st 12lb while Geos, last year's winner, heads the weights on 12st among the 81 entries. He is a 14-1 chance for a repeat win.

The smart Flat performer Happy Change, owned by The Winning Line, has only 9st 3lb but is to use the Newbury contest as a stepping stone for the Champion Hurdle.

* Philip Hobbs was out of luck with his runners at Cagnes-sur-Mer yesterday when none of his four horses made the frame, three of them being pulled up.