York’s big races saved for weekend meetings

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The Independent Online

Every flood has its Ararat. By noon yesterday the York executive had conceded that the Knavesmire would not become raceable today or tomorrow, and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) wasted no time in loading precious prizes up the ramps, pretty well two by two. The dove did not take long to return with an olive leaf.

The Juddmonte International Stakes will now be added to the card at Newmarket on Saturday, while a series of other Group races have found sanctuary elsewhere. After three days of starvation, indeed, the betting public will now be offered a bewildering banquet.

Two more Group One prizes, the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes and the Darley Yorkshire Oaks, will be contested at Newmarket tomorrow, while the Ebor Handicap – renamed for one year only as the Totesport Newburgh Handicap – goes to Newbury the same afternoon along with the Gimcrack. The Ladbrokes Great Voltigeur will be run at Goodwood on Saturday

Nowadays, happily, the sport is safe to assume that its best races will be salvaged, reliably and resourcefully, from bad weather. It was not ever thus, of course, and certainly the authorities have never previously been obliged to rescue quite so many Flat races.

The loss of all four days of the North's most prestigious Flat meeting will have required the BHA to bang plenty of heads together, in the hope of persuading any obstinate racecourses, broadcasters and sponsors to see the bigger picture. In some cases, inevitably, they will have failed, but they have certainly done their duty to the racing public. Whether the York management can say the same of their own performance this week is another matter. Their interpretation of the weather forecast on the eve of the meeting proved recklessly optimistic, which was always going to invite suspicion in view of the fact that they had insured their projected profits for the meeting.

At least they have recognised that the racing surface itself has become the one hole in York's otherwise watertight credentials as an outstanding venue, with an admirable clerk of the course in William Derby. By a bitter irony, the track was already scheduled to close until the Dante meeting next May, for a £2.5m redevelopment, incorporating extensive new drainage.

Nicholas Wrigley, the course chairman, resented some of the criticisms made yesterday. "We are very sorry for everybody, but I feel especially sorry for William and his team as they have worked incredibly hard," he said.

"It is also very disappointing to hear suggestions about our motives for racing to be abandoned. There is no financial incentive for us to abandon. We are here to race, we want to race, and in the sense that we are a not-for-profit organisation then the whole committee does want to race.

"The decision we had today was if the track was raceable on Thursday and whether it was worth going through the agonies of prolonging it for another day, and the possibility of racing Friday and Saturday. You only have to look at the level of the river and the water table, and the further severe weather warning we have just received for more rain. In life you always have difficult decisions but this one was quite straightforward."

As it happens, with the obvious exception of York's taverns and taxi drivers, many will be very satisfied by the way things have turned out. Chief among these will be trainers, not least Aidan O'Brien, who is understood to be eager to run Duke Of Marmalade on better going in the rescheduled Juddmonte International Stakes. Jim Bolger had meanwhile been reluctant to run New Approach in bad ground following his lay-off.

Punters, too, will know that they have probably been spared a bloodbath. The betting industry was reckoning on a dip in turnover of £100m from the loss of the Ebor meeting. In heavy ground, much of that would have been clear profit.

l Tomorrow's evening meetings at Newcastle and Hamilton are both subject to inspections today at noon and 2.00 respectively.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Lagavulin

(Fontwell 5.25)

NB: Soviet Sceptre

(Stratford 2.30)