Hopes fading for King George to get Sunday go-ahead.
KEMPTON'S hopes that the track will be fit to stage Kauto Star's bid for a record fifth William Hill King George VI Chase victory on Boxing Day were set back yesterday by a bitterly cold wind that froze the protecting covers to the turf surface.
Having watched conditions improve during a steady thaw over the previous 36 hours, clerk of the course Barney Clifford struck a less optimistic tone as he was forced to schedule a 12pm inspection today to determine the prospects of the meeting going ahead on Sunday.
Confidence in the meeting had ebbed so much that by 5pm, on Betfair, the meeting was 1-5 to be off (1.19) and nearly 5-1 (5.8) to go ahead.
The chief source of concern is the wind-chill factor, which produced an air temperature of -6.5C at Kempton yesterday, is forecast to dip to -9C on Christmas Day night and is not predicted to improve until the following day.
"We were forecast 1C overnight and got -1.5C coupled with a wind chill of -6.5C, and the covers were bonded to the track," said Clifford yesterday.
"If you were racing today you couldn't have lifted the covers. Temperatures have recovered to zero and you could probably move one or two now, but we moved one cover on the wide outside of the hurdle track down the back straight about two to four metres and it's apt to freeze in an hour. If one was to lift the covers today the track would freeze.
"Looking ahead at the forecast, we are due -3C tonight, -4/5C Christmas Eve into Christmas Day and Christmas evening into Boxing Day is forecast to be -6C, with an estimated wind-chill factor of -9C. In view of that, we have decided to inspect tomorrow at 12pm."
A Met Office spokeswoman said: "It will remain very cold, with night time temperatures dipping below freezing and daytime temperatures struggling to get up enough. There could be some light snow showers on Boxing Day evening and through Monday as well. There will still be northerly winds getting up to 25mph, but these will die down when there is a change to a southerly wind on Monday and it won't feel as cold."
Arrangements are in place to transfer the King George and William Hill Christmas Hurdle to Monday's Kempton card, when there is a better chance of the course being fit, but discussions were ongoing on additional contingencies.
Clifford added: "There is an indication that Sunday night could be zero, with some rain or sleet and the wind direction moving round to the south west, which would give us a chance of racing on December 27 if the decision tomorrow is to abandon on Boxing Day.
"We'll give it every chance, but it could be conclusive tomorrow. You can see a lot of the covers now. The snow has melted quite a bit, but the issue this morning was that the covers have stuck to the grass.
"If you didn't have the wind you probably would be okay with a -2C or -3C, but the wind factor is the big problem. It is bitterly disappointing when, yesterday evening walking round, it seemed remarkable that so much snow had melted in 36 hours."
Travel plans for Ireland's King George hopes Forpadydeplasterer and Sizing Europe changed as a result of the weather news.
Sizing Europe did leave his Waterford base with trainer Henry de Bromhead and stablemates House Rules and Loosen My Load, but the team decided to turn back.
De Bromhead said: "I will speak to Barney Clifford again this evening, but we're going to take it that there will be no racing there on Sunday and go with just Europe tomorrow. Loosen My Load might run at Leopardstown."
Trainer Tom Cooper did not allow Forpadydeplasterer even to set off. He said yesterday: "We will review the situation tomorrow. There are no problems for us getting to the boat or to Kempton from there so we can go when we like."
Channel 4 said there will be no Morning Line or alternative racing coverage on Boxing Day if Kempton fails to survive today's inspection, but the network will show the Kempton meeting on Bank Holiday Monday if racing goes ahead, transmitting from 1.55-3.40. There would be no Morning Line on December 27.
Snow covered the jumps course on Tuesday and there are serious doubts about Kempton racing on Sunday