After two afternoons at its International meeting in December with nearly 2,000 racegoers in attendance, Cheltenham has been forced to return behind closed doors for its valuable card on New Year’s Day after Gloucestershire was raised from tier 2 to tier 3 on Wednesday under the government’s schedule of restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Tickets for the 1 January fixture went on sale on Wednesday morning, just a few hours before the announcement that Cheltenham will be in tier 3 from Saturday. Other changes to affect racing included Herefordshire’s move from tier 1 to tier 2, which will mean that Hereford, previously the only course in the country allowed to admit up to 4,000 spectators, will now be limited to 2,000 racegoers.
The changes, which move several million people in Sussex, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Suffolk into tier 4, will also force the closure of all betting shops in the affected areas, with serious implications for racing’s revenue stream from the betting levy after a year in which the sport has already lost hundreds of millions of pounds in income.
Plumpton, which was hoping to admit up to 2,000 spectators for its popular Sussex National card in early January, and Fontwell Park, which has a scheduled meeting on Monday, are among the other courses to be forced back behind closed doors by the revisions on Wednesday. Fontwell’s card, however, is subject to an early inspection on Saturday due to possible waterlogging after nearly 90mm of rain at the Sussex track in the past nine days.
Monalee was the only name missing from the 10 five-day entries when the final field for the King George VI Chase at Kempton was published on Wednesday, but while Henry de Bromhead’s chaser has fallen victim to heightened travel restrictions between Britain and Ireland, Robbie Power will be free to return from his home to ride Lostintranslation in the big race on Saturday.
Power has spent most of the past three months effectively living in exile in Britain because of the mandatory self-isolation rules for travellers between the two countries. Having returned home over the weekend there were initial fears he might be forced to remain there over Christmas, but his name appeared alongside both Lostintranslation and the leading novice chaser The Big Breakaway, the second-favourite for the Grade One Kauto Star Novice Chase, on Wednesday morning.
“I was worried for no more than two seconds as I spoke to Robbie and he said he had sorted it,” Joe Tizzard, son and assistant to Lostintranslation’s trainer Colin, said on Wednesday. “Jonjo O’Neill junior would probably have been rerouted, but we never had to cross that bridge.”
Lostintranslation was the 15-8 second-favourite for the King George last year but showed none of his usual enthusiasm and was pulled up by Power in the home straight. He also ran poorly on his most recent start in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, and is on offer at around 7-1 for the King George on Saturday behind Clan Des Obeaux (2-1) and Cyrname (9-4), who finished first and second 12 months ago.
“Lostintranslation has got to bounce back,” Power said on Wednesday, “but it won’t be the first time he’s had to bounce back, he bounced back to finish third in the Gold Cup last year [after the King George].
“I think the ground is the key to him and it looks like we’re going to have some nice ground in Kempton. He was probably a bit flat going into the race last year on the back of running at Carlisle and Haydock [in November]. He’s got to put a disappointing run at Haydock behind him, so hopefully he can do that.”
The official going at Kempton Park is good-to-soft, with “sporadic rainfall” amounting to between 10mm and 15mm expected over the next three days which could see the ground change to good-to-soft, soft in place by Boxing Day.
A ground frost is forecast for the track on Christmas Day but there are no concerns at present about the meeting going ahead, and Chepstow is also confident that the Welsh National meeting on Sunday will survive despite persistent rain in south Wales in recent days.
Evan Williams’s Secret Reprieve is the 7-2 favourite for the feature event of Chepstow’s season, which is being run this year in memory of Kim Gingell, Colin Tizzard’s daughter, who died from cancer in May.
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