Is Heavy going form reliable at Cheltenham?

look to horses with form on Soft and Heavy Going.

Being an Englishman it should come as no surprise that I'm going to talk about the weather. In recent years it has often been said that you need to be wary of form in the lead up to the festival because the trial races have usually been run of very Soft or heavy Going and the going has only been Soft twice in the past 15 years at Cheltenham, which has a superb drainage system. Yet time and time again in recent years that pre race form on desperate going has held up at the festival, and especially on the first day, a fact that most pundits have failed to grasp.

The Clerk of the course Simon Claisse reported yesterday: "We had a little light rain this morning but a dry and bright afternoon. The going on the chase and hurdle courses remains soft. The cross-country course is soft, heavy in places. We are expecting some rain, not big quantities. There's maybe 7-11mm due between now and Wednesday, and then it's turning dry."

Looking at that report I would expect the ground to be Soft/Good to Soft in places by Friday and unbelievably given the winter we've had the track may even need watering from Sunday onwards.

A lot has been made of in recent years regarding Cheltenham's watering policy and you often hear the TV pundits saying how the aim is to have Good to Soft going on the opening day, which is perfect jumping ground.

Anyone who knows me will know that the lack of accurate Going reports is one of my real bugbears. If you look at the going reports for the Supreme, which is the opening race of the festival for the last six years they have been given as Soft; Good;Good;G/Soft; G/Soft; G/Soft. However the times of those races and the comments from the racing post race summaries and the jockies suggest that the official Going report is unreliable at worst and incomplete at best.

The conditions were atrocious in the lead up to the Festival last year, a 10.30 inspection was called and the Cross Country race abandoned for the day. Certainly no need to water and the he going was officially Soft, Good/Soft in places, but the jocks said it felt more like Soft ground, which was backed up by the race times on the opening day. Despite the fact that they went at a cracking pace and the Supreme was run in a time almost 4 seconds faster than the Champion hurdle, the official race time was slow by 4.6 seconds. The jocks reported that it was riding soft and all the evidence of the first day suggests it was Soft going.

The 2012 Supreme: The RP comment read: "As usual they were racing on the old course for the first two days. Following the opener, Barry Geraghty felt the ground was good to Soft, and Ruby Walsh said it was "slow". Yet the official going was given as Good

2011 Supreme: The RP comment: "Despite a spate of rain over the weekend, the lead up to this year´s Festival was largely dry and the course was selectively watered. It was dry overnight and also in the morning before racing, but still the ground was officially described as good, good to soft in places."

The classiest Supreme in modern times, Al Ferof, the ill fated Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card filled the first four places. Yet despite a blistering pace from the off the time was still 1.1 seconds off standard. Compared to a decent Champion Hurdle won by Hurricane Flt in his prime, the Supreme was won in a time almost two seconds faster than the Champion Hurdle. Despite that the time was still below standard, which would suggest the ground was on the Soft side.

2010: Supreme: RP comment: "A dry and sunny morning and the ground was officially described as Good / Soft, good in places. It looked to be riding nearer Good, though, after the opener and the winning time backs that up. For the first time at the Festival, this season the final flight had been moved 70 yards closer to the finish, meaning a run-in of just 150 yards."

A strange comment regarding the Going when you consider that the race time was 5 seconds slower than standard, even allowing for the fact that they didn't blaze off, if the early pace isn't great, and the finish should be quicker in comparison.

2009 Supreme: RP comment: "The traditional Festival opener this year was run on good to soft, soft in places thanks to just 2mm of overnight rain after varying forecasts had been predicted. The winning time, although nine seconds slower than standard, would also back that up as the race was run at no more than an average early gallop. The line-up this year appeared to be no more than fair".

Looking at the above comments I get the impression that the official going, at least on the opening day is optimistic.

The hill at Cheltenham and the fact that they go a pace faster at the festival puts the emphasis on stamina anyway, but it would appear that the watering policy of recent years would suggest that the track is also more holding than officially recorded further advantaging those stamina laden runners. Given the opening day circumstances it should come as no surprise to find that the form of the trial races run on desperate ground have done well at Cheltenham on the opening day in the last couple of years.

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