Cautious optimism for weekend

Racecourses preparing for big meetings at the weekend are reported to have taken the recent heavy soakings better than expected.

The Betfair Hurdle is the centrepiece of the high-profile fixture at Newbury on Saturday and although 'soft' and 'heavy' inevitably appear in the going description at the moment, the track is not in bad condition, according to clerk of the course Richard Osgood.

Osgood, said: "I am pleasantly surprised about the ground at the moment. It is currently soft, heavy in places, but the places are becoming fewer and fewer.

"There is a risk of showers all week and a band of rain overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, which could bring 10 to 15 millimetres. We'll have to see what happens, but we have fresh ground saved for this meeting."

Warwick currently has no serious problems ahead of its programme, featuring the Kingmaker Novices' Chase, which was reopened after insufficient entries were received.

"The forecast does not look too bad. We have got some heavy rain coming in on Tuesday into Wednesday, about six to eight millimetres which won't cause us a problem at all, but we do have strong winds coming as well," said clerk of the course Sulekha Varma.

"We've then got two slightly quieter days on Thursday and Friday with just showers around, but nothing too troublesome. Saturday itself looks like it might be a bit wet, but it's probably a bit too soon to call it. At the moment there's nothing concerning us there so far."

One horse in the Kingmaker is the Paul Nicholls-trained Dodging Bullets, who takes high rank in the ante-post betting on the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

But Nicholls said: "He's entered in the Kingmaker and the Game Spirit (at Newbury and also reopened) but I think he'll go for the Game Spirit as a big galloping track will suit. I've put Fago in as well."

The Hennessy Gold Cup is the centrepiece of Leopardstown's prestigious fixture on Sunday. The forecast at the Dublin venue is mixed but raceday itself is set to be fair.

"We had a good bit of rain over the weekend, but it's eased up now. We are heavy in some parts of the track," said racing and operations manager Nessa Joyce.

"The rest of the week is looking mixed. There are two evenings, Tuesday and Friday, we are keeping an eye on when more wet weather is coming.

"The rest of the days look good and those days give the track the chance to breathe.

"Sunday itself is looking like a pretty decent day. The track is holding up pretty well, although we do have heavy patches at the moment."

One horse not travelling over from England for the Hennessy is Rocky Creek, who has been ruled out by Nicholls.

The Ditcheat trainer said: "He's not going to Ireland, he might just run in the big handicap chase at Kempton (on February 22), especially if Long Run runs off top weight, and then go to Aintree (for the Crabbie's Grand National)."