Newbury clear stage for Denman

The unofficial going report at Newbury yesterday, as in most of the country, was crisp and even. But it was not deep, and course officials are by no means downhearted about the prospects of staging what must, this year, be counted much the most important meeting in the run-up to the Cheltenham Festival. Less than three years after they became the first in the land to beat a heavy frost with a special horticultural fleece, the course officials nowadays feel a good deal less helpless than was previously the case.

They could not have a more powerful incentive to save Saturday's meeting, both Denman and Master Minded having duly appeared among the five-day entries yesterday. The Aon Chase will be Denman's first start not only since winning the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, but also since receiving treatment for a pulmonary disorder during the autumn.

On the face of it, admittedly, the clerk of the course surveyed a bleak panorama as dusk approached yesterday. "The track is covered with snow," Richard Osgood said. "But it's actually not too bad at the moment, just two to three centimetres, nothing like they've had elsewhere. And, so far as the temperatures are concerned, I'd like to think we got the covers on early enough. We flicked a couple back earlier today and the ground was still OK underneath.

"The forecast does keep changing, so I'm just going to take it one day at a time. If anything, however, having snow on the covers improves their efficiency. When you have snow on grass, it acts like a big blanket. If it comes down to it, and there is plenty of snow on them at the weekend, we will just have to chuck labour at it."

In the past Osgood, with 40 men, has managed to roll away the covers in around two hours, but he acknowledges that a bigger gang would be necessary to clear snow as well. "Compared with our situation not so long ago, at least we have another string to our bow," he said. "We've certainly got more of a chance than we would sitting on our backsides, watching."

Sadly for Sam Thomas, that is the brief he is likely to have on Saturday. When Denman won the Aon Chase last year, Thomas was given the mount in anticipation of Ruby Walsh, stable jockey to Paul Nicholls, favouring Kauto Star in the Gold Cup. Walsh could yet persevere with Kauto Star in March, but Nicholls has left Thomas so far out in the cold this winter that there was never the remotest chance of anyone but Walsh riding Denman on Saturday.

Nicholls is breezily presenting the situation as a routine reflection of Walsh's seniority in the yard, but the fact remains that he has repeatedly criticised Thomas's performances when Walsh has been unavailable this winter. Christian Williams, ostensibly below Thomas in the champion trainer's pecking order, has been conspicuously been given better opportunities of late, compounding the impression that Thomas is being frozen out.

Yesterday a resourceful Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power, did make Thomas odds-on to retrieve the mount on Denman at Cheltenham. In a chicken-and-egg scenario, however, Nicholls may yet find himself wondering whether Thomas's confidence has become too perilously eroded. Power quotes Thomas 1-2 to ride Denman in the Gold Cup, and Walsh 5-2. Tony McCoy is 5-1, with Williams and Barry Geraghty 20-1.

As things stand, McCoy's most obvious Gold Cup mounts are Exotic Dancer and Albertas Run, both trained by Jonjo O'Neill and entered for the Aon Chase. Exotic Dancer is more likely to return to Leopardstown on Sunday for the Hennessy Gold Cup, where his chief rival is again set to be Neptune Collonges. Yet another string to Nicholls's bow – and another horse, therefore, needing a jockey at Cheltenham – Neptune Collonges fell two out when Exotic Dancer won at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting.

McCoy has had to put the champagne on ice, the weather having interrupted his quest for the two winners he needs to become the first jockey to win 3,000 races over jumps. Even the all-weather meeting at Wolverhampton was eventually abandoned yesterday – much to the disgust of trainers who had sent horses to the track, the course having initially been declared raceable after three inspections.

Sedgefield elected to give their meeting today "every chance" by scheduling a 7.30am inspection, despite the track being covered in snow. To some, of course, the glass is always half-full. Certainly it must be hoped that optimism will be justified at Newbury – even if one young jockey is probably not just viewing the glass as half-empty, but the bottle as well.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'