Simon Claisse, Head of Racing, South West Region & Clerk of the Course, reported that his groundstaff were able to get on the track with light machinery last week for the first time October and all the courses have had aeration treatment, with fertiliser also applied.
The going is currently soft, good to soft in places and drying out slowly. Without any rain, the going description will change in five or six days to good to soft, soft in places.
Temperatures are set to rise next week, climbing to be between 9C and 12C, while rainfall is forecast between Thursday, March 7 and the start of The Festival on Tuesday, March 12, with between 15 and 18 millimetres due to fall.
He said: “If the rainfall materialises as forecast, then The Festival is likely to start with soft ground. If so, there is a good chance we will get through the four days without having to do any watering.
“Because the weather has been so wet this season, tiny amounts of rain have been making a difference.
“The ground used at The Festival has not been raced on since March of last year so it is fresh ground. On the New Course, which we switch to on the Thursday of the Festival, there is fresh ground then for the chases and again on the Friday for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“The hurdles are the nearest to the stands that we have them during the whole year. All the fences are in place except for second last on the Old Course and the fourth last on the New Course which are both portable obstacles.”
Claisse is encouraged by the 15 race entries for The Festival made for French-trained horses this year and looking forward to welcoming raiders from across the Channel.
Following the fall of Wishfull Thinking on the first circuit in last year’s Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase, the final fence was dolled off and not jumped. Wishfull Thinking and his rider Richard Johnson went over the fence to the left and through the running rail.
There is a now a new layout at that fence, with the running rail moved back so that if a horse went left-handed again over the obstacle, they would not collide with photographers or the crowd.
Also, there will be more directional boards should a fence need to be by-passed.