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How weather affects the outcome of the Festival's key races

23-February-2022
23-February-2022 14:46
in General
by Peter McNeile

The Cheltenham Festival is back from 15th – 18th March this year, and many people are trying to predict who will win the famous races. But how will the weather affect the relative performance of leading fancies? MansionBet has created a blog post with their top tips on how to pick a Cheltenham winner. Here, Ross O’Connor from the brand offers his top tips on how to analyse the weather.

The outcome of a horse race, perhaps more so than any other outdoor sport, can be greatly affected by the weather. This is why the condition and moisture levels of the ground — also called the 'going' — are assessed leading up to a horse racing event. In fact, the topic of "the ground" is the leading factor in almost any discussion about racing! Being able to factor how ground conditions will favour or hinder your choice into your decisions about any bets will mean you can make more accurate guesses about which horses might win. 

So, read through our top tips for Cheltenham this year, and get ready to enjoy a fun day at the races in March!

Ground conditions

It's a pundits' obsession to talk about the one aspect of the races over which no control can be exerted except the Almighty! Cheltenham has been through dry Springs and wet Springs previously, but we know from their track management regime that they aim to start the meeting on no faster ground than Good, even if this means applying watering. 

No recent Festival has run on firm, and even Good To Firm is rare, not least as the use of a wide track never really allows the turf to be badly cut up. Fresh ground is applied for each day, and a brand new course for Thursday and Friday. 

They say that the best horses will run on any ground, and it's true that excellence will often prevail. However, some horses' actions are better suited to different types of ground, or their conformation compensates to give them an advantage. 

By way of example, Royal Pagaille won the Peter Marsh Chase in soft ground at Haydock this January, but whilst he has solid each-way claims in the Boodles Gold Cup, these would be much enhanced by soft underfoot conditions that might impede his rivals better suited to good ground. By contrast, Shiskhin has won on all types of ground, but would likely not run in heavy, despite there only being one Queen Mother Champion Chase.

It's been a while since a Festival was staged on heavy ground. Desert Orchid's victory in 1989 was one that springs to mind, although The Thinker's success after the snowstorm in '87 was in similar conditions, all to prove that March is a changeable month! Given it's not been a very wet winter, starting the festival in soft conditions looks a rank outsider. 

Nevertheless, extraordinary conditions uniformly lead to unanticipated results, so bet with care in soft ground conditions, and favour those with proven form in the wet.

 

Using weather to your advantage

When deciding which horses to select during this year's Cheltenham Festival, the first thing you'll want to do is take a look at the weather forecast — or the Clerk of Course's decision about the 'going' if you are betting closer to the races.

Then, take a look at how your preferred horses have performed on the type of ground that they'll be running on at Cheltenham. This might reaffirm your decision about the horses you're thinking of backing, or it might make you rethink, in which case you can then look for horses who have performed their best under the right weather conditions.

The Jockey Club has used detailed meteorological assessments recently to assist in decision-making over course covering for frost, or watering. The latter can be a highly contentious decision where a Clerk can make as many enemies as friends. Flat-bred speedy types with daisy-cutter leg actions are happiest on "top of ground" conditions, whilst traditional chaser types with rounded knee actions can better make their way through the sloppy conditions. 

The Clerk's task is unenviable, insofar as he faces vested interests at opposing ends of the spectrum, and in Jon Pullin this year, Cheltenham has a new Clerk, less familiar with the course than previously. Will he judge his decisions as objectively as his predecessor?

Weather predictions

There are 3 weeks to go till the Festival opens, and a going report is not generally offered until the 6 day entry stage. This won't stop the racing press agitating over what the likely ground will be, likely starting next week.It's a bizarre contrariness, given how unsettled Spring weather conditions can be, making predictions barely worth the time. 

While it is too early to be able to make specific calls about the ground we can expect for this year's Cheltenham Festival, we can take a look at the long-range weather forecast, with a large pinch of salt in one hand. At the time of writing, the first day of the Festival is set for some mild drizzle and a light breeze, with the remaining days being predicted to be dry with only very small amounts of wind. The temperature is expected to be around 10 °c or just above.

These conditions will be pretty ideal for most of the runners, so it looks like this year's races could more easily be decided by factors such as training, previous records, and the horses' stamina. When weather takes a hand in the races, they are usually the lesser for it being a factor. 

My guess is that it won't just be Jon Pullin praying for a quiet spell of weather over the next 3 weeks.

Event details

When?

 Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)

 

 

 

Where?

6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)

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