Trials and tribulations at Cheltenham

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The Independent Online

Saturday's fixture at Cheltenham, the last scheduled action at the track before the Festival in March, was described today as "in the balance" by officials. But such prospects are judged to be heavily weighted the wrong way by bookmakers; Coral make it 1-2 that the meeting is off and 6-4 that it is on.

The track is currently raceable under its protective covers, but they in turn are covered with snow, with more to come and temperatures below freezing. Conditions tomorrow morning could be the decider. "We need the help of not too much more snow and the forecast milder air at the end of the week," said the clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, yesterday. "We will only be able to remove the covers when most of the snow has thawed and we should have an idea of where it's all heading by Wednesday morning."

Saturday offers a significant day of trials before the sport's showcase occasion and would be a frustrating loss to trainers. Among those due to complete their Festival preparations are the Nicky Henderson stablemates Sprinter Sacre, in the Victor Chandler Chase, and Bobs Worth, in the Argento Chase. The pair are favourites for, respectively, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Argento Chase attracted 14 entries yesterday; the others include Grands Crus, Tidal Bay, Hunt Ball and the 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, poised to return after nearly two years off. The Cleeve Hurdle, which provides pointers to the World Hurdle, has a line-up of 16 pretenders to the stayers' crown left vacant by injured Big Buck's, among them Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap: Vhujon (3.40 Wolverhampton)

Needs it all to drop just right but is handicapped to take advantage.

Next best: Sewn Up (4.10 Wolverhampton)

Has threatened to win in his last two placed efforts over course and distance and perhaps first-time cheekpieces will make the difference.

One To Watch: Catch juvenile hurdler Fisher (Gordon Elliott) once the ground dries out. Has plenty of experience and is one for the Fred Winter at the Festival.