Weekend whiteout? Cheltenham Festival Trials Day and Cheltenham Town v Rochdale game in doubt
THE big freeze has put this weekend's sporting action at Prestbury Park and Whaddon Road in serious doubt.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse says the chances of racing going ahead at Cheltenham on Saturday are "hanging in the balance", while Robins groundsman Terry Roberts has already rated Friday night's home clash with Rochdale as doubtful.
Covers to protect the racecourse from snow and freezing conditions were laid down by groundstaff last week, but the star-studded one-day meeting still isn't certain to survive.
Claisse said the prospects of racing going ahead on Saturday hinged upon the track avoiding further snow and benefiting from a rise in temperatures to above freezing.
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Cheltenham officials have already lost one meeting this year, the New Year's Day card being washed out by rain.
With more snow feared today, Claisse said the chances of the Saturday's card becoming another victim of the weather could become clearer tomorrow.
"It's in the balance," he said. "The problem is being able to shift the snow to make the site serviceable.
"We've got snow on our covers, and they're 400 square metre covers, and we need a bit of a thaw to be able to shift them.
"If we don't get any more snow and we get temperatures above freezing at the end of the week then we have a chance.
"I think we'll have a clearer idea of how things are panning out for us on Wednesday, unless by Wednesday they start talking about snow on Thursday.
"It's frustrating but there's still hope."
Bookmakers Coral offered odds of 4-6 for the meeting to be off and 11-10 to be on.
The eight-race card on Saturday is due to start with the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at 12.10pm.
Meanwhile, Cheltenham Town's Abbey Business Stadium surface was last night covered by three to four inches of snow, with Roberts unable to do anything about it.
The frost sheets were not laid down before the snow came due to Roberts having to prepare the pitch for Gloucester City's match against Gainsborough Trinity, which was called off on Friday.
By that time it was already under a blanket of the white stuff and with temperatures not expected to rise above freezing all week, Roberts said things were now out of his hands.
"If the sheets were on we could brush it off, but if we try and remove the snow now it will just turn into a mudbath," he said.
"It's got to go naturally, which will only happen if the temperature goes up, but it's supposed to be -4 tomorrow, which is no help at all."
Even if the snow melts away, it will leave the pitch waterlogged and while a decision will not be made until closer to kick-off, Roberts is already preparing for the worst.
"We can't appeal for volunteers to help us scrape the snow off because it will just destroy the pitch and it's not worth it for one game," he said.
"It's in the lap of the gods and we need it to be warmer, but there is certainly no sign of that at the moment and tonight and tomorrow are supposed to be the coldest nights, so it's not looking good."
Cheltenham are due to play at home the following Saturday against Torquay, followed by the visit of Bristol Rovers three days later.
The groundshare with Gloucester City means there are still 22 matches left to be played at Whaddon Road this season, with the possibility of a play-off semi-final leg too.