Jumps fans have already had plenty to put up with this winter with the adverse weather causing havoc with the fixture list, and the return to freezing temperatures over the last few days meant all of Friday's Jumps meetings were abandoned as well as Haydock's Saturday card which would have featured Champion Hurdle hope Peddler's Cross taking on one-time Triumph Hurdle runner-up Walkon.
It came as a surprise to many that Haydock failed to beat the elements, particularly as much-malinged Clerk of the Course Kirkland Tellwright had issued an upbeat bulletin with regards the meeting going ahead. Predictably there was much criticism of him for Haydock failing to beat the elements but I can't help feeling that on this occasion it was misplaced. The track was reportedly raceable on Friday afternoon, as it had been for nine days prior to that. In fact, had temperatures only got down to the forecast -1, rather than -4.5 which transpired, I've little doubt they would have raced. Could Haydock have used frost covers that have been deployed at other meetings this winter which have enabled them to go ahead? Perhaps, but as big meetings at Kempton and Ascot have already shown, they are not guaranteed to succeed, and Haydock itself has used them five times previously but still had to abandon four of those meetings. Given the forecast, and the cost of such measures, reported to be in the region of £30,000 per fixture, I don't think it was a value punt for the Haydock executive to take.
I'm not saying Clerks of the Course should be above criticism, they still have plenty to answer for with regards to overwatering Flat courses in the summer and I'll be saving my criticism for then.
Fortunately we did get some top-class action at Ascot, another heartwarming performance from Sparky May further delayed the retirement of Pat Rodford with an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Mares Hurdle over 3m. If she continues her progression, she'll surely give some of the bigger yards a scare in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Master Minded also extended his unbeaten run for the season to three but failed to universally impress as he scrambled to a short-head victory over Somersby. Much of the coverage has focussed on the seeming underperformance of Master Minded, but I'm not sure he was that far below form. Forgetting his 2008 Champion Chase win, my take is that Master Minded pretty much ran as well as he's capable of since then. Somersby got much closer than he managed in the Tingle Creek, but that more to do with him improving, pulling 20l clear of the rest after all. Where do Master Minded's Champion Chase claims stand now? Well for me, the same place as they did beforehand, he's the most likely to take advantage, if for some reason, the reigning Champion Big Zeb fails to retain his crown.