The Christmas-card look is all very well, but not for racecourse officials. The snow that blanketed most of the country yesterday has put paid to this afternoon's low-grade Flat fixture at Kempton; even a track styled all-weather cannot cope with nearly a foot of the white stuff.
But potentially more seriously, the Sunbury track's midwinter showpiece, the King George VI Chase a week today, is under threat from the weather. The jump circuit has been under frost-guard covers for a week, but those covers are now themselves covered, and the thaw forecast for later in the week is an imperative if Kauto Star is to get his chance for his tilt at a record-breaking fifth victory.
Since its inauguration in 1937 the King George, second only to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in prestige for staying chasers, has been lost only four times to the elements, most recently in 1981. Arctic conditions intervened 15 years ago, but the race was staged 11 days later at Kempton'ssister track, Sandown.
"The good thing is that there is no frost in the ground under the covers," said Kempton's clerk of the course, Barney Clifford, yesterday, "but we've got at least four inches of snow on the covers and more forecast. Temperatures are due to stay cold until Friday, but into Christmas Day and Boxing Day are due to rise, up to around 3C. If that thaw comes, we are in a good position, and at the moment time is in our side, we are still a week away. But we need that forecast to work for us."
There has been no jumping in Britain since Thursday, and there will be none until Tuesday at the earliest, when there is a card scheduled at Sedgefield. But despite a sprinkling of snow in Co Meath yesterday, sport went ahead at Navan, where the progressive five-year-old Oscars Well presented perfectly credible credentials for the Cheltenham festival.
Competition for the afternoon's top prize, the Grade One Navan Novice Hurdle, was seen as devalued by the defection of the unbeatenHidden Cyclone, but Oscars Well could hardly have been more impressive, cruising among his rivals before powering clear to win, hard-held by Robbie Power, by eight lengths.
The two-and-a-half mile contest is one that has been taken by a host of horses who have subsequently proved themselves high-class performers ina variety of divisions, such as Harbour Pilot, Solerina, Newmill and Mikael d'Haguenet.
"I know the one that would have been favourite didn't run," said the winning trainer, Jessica Harrington, "but mine couldn't have done it better, on tacky ground Robbie said he hated. He'll have to carry a penalty next time for the Grade One win, and then we'll find out how good he is."
Tony McCoy will bear a metaphorical extra weight – that of the racing world's expectation – when he lines up for tonight's BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. He has ridden more than 3,300 winners; yesterday at lowly Southwell a young man at the very start of his career, the 18-year-old George Chaloner, brought home Dunmore Boy with a well-judged swoop for his secondvictory from only 10 rides.