Horse Racing with Jason Hall

THE clerk of the course at Plumpton, Mark Cornford, remains optimistic that this Monday’s meeting will go ahead.

This comes after the forecast he received for the weekend predicted an improvement in temperatures and, therefore, opportunity for the frost currently in the ground to thaw.

“There are remnants of the two inches of snow we had still around the course,” he said. “The forecast is encouraging and if it is correct and we get a couple of days of warmer temperatures I am hopeful we will be able to get the meeting on.”

So a positive outlook from Plumpton and tomorrow’s feature meeting at Newbury has also been given every chance of going ahead.

The whole course has been covered since January 31 by fleece frost covers and Sussex trainer Gary Moore will be hoping Newbury’s foresight will enable him to have another shot at winning the prestigious Betfair Hurdle, a race he has won twice in recent years with Wingman and Heathcote.

Gary has three entries at the five-day stage and his decision on who will represent him on the day is subject to the ground conditions as he explained when I spoke with him earlier in the week:

“Sire De Grugy wants it soft. I was delighted with him at Chepstow and he has been working very well since then. Via Gallilei wants good ground and it really comes down to conditions on the day.

“Orzare is too far out of the handicap and won’t run.”

It is encouraging to hear Gary’s positive evaluation of Sire De Grugy’s run on his seasonal debut at Chepstow because at face value it looked a tad disappointing at the time.

With his subsequent work impressing his handler and on the form he showed last term he goes into this valuable handicap as one of the leading contenders.

It certainly will not be easy as amongst a whole stack of quality hurdlers’ are the current favourite Zarkandar, who has Champion Hurdle aspirations, and the novice Darlan who is a rapidly improving young horse with a great pedigree and a big reputation.

Both come from the two most powerful yards in the country and if the former is a realistic Champion Hurdle prospect as his trainer Paul Nicholls believes, he would have to see off his rivals here in good style.

Nicholls is the eternal optimist and always gives a good spin on the horses in his care and after Saturday we will likely know whether his enthusiasm for this horse is justified.

The form of his win in last season’s Triumph Hurdle is standing up well and he will have the invaluable assistance of Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

Darlan is unbeaten in four starts and on the bare bones of his form he should be a much bigger price with the bookmakers than his current one.

However, the course laid out for this horse by the trainer Nicky Henderson is one of steady education and the acquisition of experience.

They seem to have fulfilled those goals and arrived at this point with a workable handicap mark.

It is tricky to know if this race is an afterthought on the way to his long term target, the Supreme Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival or whether it was always a part of the plan.

Considering his connections, the answer to that question will become apparent as we approach post time.

Lewes trainer Jim Best could not send his bumper winner Western High to Uttoxeter’s last meeting but appears keen to get his hurdling career on the road soon.

The gelding has had a stack of recent entries and when the weather breaks his connections will be looking to him to fulfil the continuing promise of his home work.