AS quickly as the snow arrived, it has melted again, and we were lucky to have no racing fixtures during the cold spell.

The racecourse did look beautiful under a carpet of snow, but we would have been unable to race for most of the last week! Other courses have been less lucky, with multiple race meetings lost to frozen ground, snow on the tracks and now waterlogging over the last few days as the snow melts.

This would have been a worrying time for Cheltenham Racecourse because their flagship meeting, the Cheltenham Festival, takes place next week. Although the snow is now melting, the grounds team there will have missed several important days of preparation on the track. It looks fairly likely that the meeting will be run on soft ground. The racing surface is crucial, and can make a huge difference to the chances of the various horses, and consequently to the betting markets.

The Cheltenham Festival brings the best quality racing of the year. There are championship races over hurdles and fences for novices and older horses; and lots of the leading contenders will be meeting for the first time this season. We’ll be particularly interested in the several horses with Chepstow form, including last year’s Coral Welsh Grand National hero Native River.

The likelihood of soft ground is definitely in Native River’s favour, and he is now second favourite behind Might Bite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in which he finished third last year. He showed when he won at Chepstow that he has endless stamina, and this will come into play around 3 ¼ miles on soft ground. Hopefully he’ll be powering up the Cheltenham hill when other horses are running out of steam! He is ridden by our racecourse ambassador, champion jockey Richard Johnson, so there will be a double celebration if he can become the first Welsh National winner since Synchronised in 2012 to take the Gold Cup.

Incidentally, this year’s Welsh National hero Raz De Maree bypasses Cheltenham but holds an entry in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter next Saturday. He is also entered in the Aintree Grand National on 14th April.

Altior is at the head of the betting for my favourite race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. This is a chase run over the big fences but over the minimum trip of 2 miles, so speed and accurate jumping are crucial. Altior won his first hurdle race at Chepstow by a huge 34 lengths in 2015, and he is unbeaten in 11 races over hurdles/fences. Hopefully the Irish star Douvan, who has been off injured, will be fit to run so we can finally see these two big names fight it out.

The highlight on Thursday is the stayers hurdle and the second favourite behind the Irish horse Supasundae is Sam Spinner. This horse finished second in the Tote Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October. He has subsequently won two valuable handicaps and seems to improve for every run. He has earned himself plenty of fans of his brave frontrunning style and would be a popular winner.

Other horses in action at Cheltenham with Chepstow form include Elgin, running in the Champion Hurdle (placed at the Jump Season Opener meeting in October), Poetic Rhythm in a novice hurdle (won the Persian War Novices Hurdle in October) and We Have A Dream and Sussex Ranger in the Triumph Hurdle (1st and 2nd in the Coral Future Champions Finale Hurdle on Welsh National day). Also in action will be bumper horse Good Boy Bobby which really impressed when winning at Chepstow, the Colin Tizzard trio of chasers Cue Card, Finian’s Oscar and Elegant Escape, all Chepstow winners, plus The Worlds End, Dolos, Diego du Charmil and more.

The Cheltenham Festival takes place Tuesday to Friday next week. It gets incredibly busy but it is a fantastic day out, and it is so easy to get to on the train from Chepstow. A shuttle bus service runs between the station and the course.

Chepstow’s next meetings are on Wednesday 21st (Newport County raceday) and Thursday 22nd March. Our Circus Big Top Family Day takes place on Easter Monday.