New flexibility keeps Levy streams flowing

Jumping set to return at weekend after all-weather sanctuary rescues income
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The Independent Online

At last, jump racing is about to emerge from its midwinter purgatory. Hopes that Huntingdon might resume this afternoon proved premature, following an inspection yesterday, but the thaw none the less seems guaranteed to rescue stir-crazy professionals and punters this weekend.

Not that the freeze has been anything like as bleak as would have been the case only a few years ago. The sport's administrators have again proved themselves far more flexible and innovative, nowadays, in keeping some kind of show on the road. Sure enough, Huntingdon were promptly given permission to reschedule their card tomorrow, in turn replacing an emergency fixture itself devised only in anticipation of better conditions at Fontwell. In the end the snow reached Sussex, too, but at least the British Horseracing Board has kept on its frostbitten toes throughout.

In the meantime four all-weather tracks have kept the Levy on drip. Twenty years ago, it would have been cut off altogether. Despite the hostile instincts of many, all-weather racing has unquestionably come of age and warrants respect as legitimate discipline in its own right. There was a time when it was perceived as a threat, but not now that National Hunt has so amply renewed its confidence.

The staple fare can be pretty desperate, but trainers are happy to run good horses on polytrack. Indeed, extremes of going on turf can make the all-weather a sanctuary, especially for young horses. Last year, Ghanaati won the 1,000 Guineas on her first start away from Kempton, where she had contested two juvenile maidens during the turf season. In turn, synthetic surfaces have triggered a revolution in the American sport.

The Levy Board has tried to ensure two all-weather fixtures daily during the freeze. While turnover will diminish, it is critical betting shop punters have British racing to bet on. The board reckons on losing roughly £10,000 every time a British race is not staged.

Little wonder, then, if the thaw is greeted with hearty relief across the industry. Huntingdon must still pass an inspection at 3pm this afternoon while Kempton, likewise confident of staging a jumps card tomorrow, will be checked before declarations are made this morning. There are contingency plans for an alternative fixture on the all-weather. Ffos Las, happily, is "all systems go" for Sunday.

In Ireland, there is the immediate possibility of some genuine quality. Naas and Thurles could race tomorrow, while Fairyhouse's card on Sunday is a likely target for two of Willie Mullins' emerging chasers, Golden Silver and Cousin Vinny. Mullins indicated yesterday that Hurricane Fly is making only "slow" progress after his ligament injury, and "looking doubtful" for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Stonecrabstomorrow (1.45 Southwell) Clear pick of the weights but might be a fair price against two other recent course scorers, ridden as he is by an inexperienced apprentice; she got the job done in a similar race last time.

Next best

Winning Show (2.40 Lingfield) In the form of his life since being fitted with a tongue strap. Excelled off his revised mark when finishing best at Kempton earlier this week.

One to watch

Follow The Flag (A J McCabe) soon had work to do at Southwell the other day, missing the break and circling the field before making ground strongly over 7f – very much his minimum trip.

Where the money's going

Nicky Henderson has a good record in the Totesport Gold Trophy, at Newbury next month, and both Stravinsky Dance and Spirit River are in demand with the sponsors, now sharing 8-1 favouritism from 12-1.