Racing: Musselburgh gives winter comfort

Scottish course optimistic of staging Friday meeting as signs of thaw increase
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The Independent Online

Probably 88-year-old Irish horseman Tim O'Neill had it in ironic perspective. As he lay flat on the ground, thankfully unhurt after a fall in an icy stableyard last week, his reaction was that "it wasn't as bad as this in 1947." Of course, the old days are always better but, in fact, as far as the effect of wintry weather on racing goes, they actually were worse.

The number of so-called big freeze abandonments is now 40 in Britain. In the 1946-47 season, 69 jump cards were called off. But the record is still the 110 meetings lost during the winter of 1962-63. There was no racing in England for the 75 days from 22 December until 8 March, at Newbury.

Times were so hard that a fund, which raised £17,776, was set up to help jump jockeys. The Cheltenham Festival opened on schedule on 12 March after snow had been dug from the course by hand and taken away on lorries. Attendance was down, though, with the BBC's TV coverage held partly to blame.

During the white-out that season, there was a single day's racing, when Ayr staged a six-race card on 5 January. The glimmer at the end of the current icebound tunnel is also at a coastal track in Scotland; little Musselburgh, located east of Edinburgh right where the Esk drains into the Firth of Forth, is favourite to resume the jump programme on Friday.

Yesterday, temperatures there held above freezing for the second successive day. "We were up to four degrees," said the course's operations manager, Robert Hogarth, "and if the thaw continues, we'd be quite hopeful. We're right by the sea and a sandy soil defrosts more quickly than any other."

Musselburgh's racing would be the first on turf since Plumpton nine days ago and the first in the North since Catterick on 15 December and, with Saturday's scheduled fixtures unlikely to survive (Kempton is less pessimistic than Warwick and Wetherby), the East Lothian venue will stage an extra card that day.

The British Horseracing Authority, which had already sanctioned an all-bumper card on the all-weather at Southwell tomorrow, is being pleasingly flexible and, after canvassing jump tracks' opinions of prospects yesterday, gave the go-ahead for a second extra meeting for Saturday at Fontwell, which currently has a covering of snow but is not frozen.

The Welsh Champion Hurdle, though, called off with the Ffos Las card last Saturday, will not take place this season. The Carmarthenshire track is hoping to race on Sunday but without BHA funding could not justify the cost of staging the £50,000 contest, which had been the warm-up target of the champion hurdler Punjabi.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Hard Ball (2.50 Southwell)

Scored decisively over course and distance last month and should be able to cope with a 3lb rise in his rating.


Bella Charlie (2.35 Lingfield)

Showed enough in maidens to indicate a step up in trip, handicap company and cheekpieces could prove the key.


Miami Gator (J R Weymes) caught a real tartar at Wolverhampton yesterday but finished clear of the rest.


Paddy Power noted Champion Hurdle support for Khyber Kim, 10-1 from 12-1.

*CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP Law Of The Jungle (1.20 Southwell).