On Sunday the official Cheltenham going changed to soft, good to soft in places, on all three tracks.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse expects rain and milder temperatures in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival, which begins a week on Tuesday.
Speaking on Racing UK, Claisse said "It looks as if with this milder weather it's going to stay unsettled, with bits and pieces of rain which will probably keep the ground where it is.
"Friday-Saturday looks like it could be pretty wet, with 10 or 12 millimetres - half an inch of rain.”
The rumour mill was in full swing over the weekend as Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins, had lengthened to 11/8 favourite from even-money for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy on the opening day of The Festival.
Petit Mouchoir, who was beaten by five lengths by Footpad in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Festival a month ago, had gone the other way to 5/2 from 7/2 in the two-mile novice chase feature.
Punters were beginning to think he might instead be switched to the JLT Novices' Chase after his odds for that race halved in places to 5/1 from 10/1.
However connections stepped in to clarify the situation saying there had been no change of heart and that the horse was fit and raring to go.
"Absolutely nothing has changed," said Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
"I've spoken to Willie today. The horse exercised today. He's absolutely fine, no problems with the horse. There's no reason to change from the original plan all winter which has been the Arkle.”
Henry de Bromhead confirmed that the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase is the Cheltenham Festival target for Monalee.
The seven-year-old landed the Flogas Novice Chase at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival a month ago and is a 3/1 chance to take top honours.
Monalee will be part of a strong De Bromhead squad heading over to Prestbury Park.
Special Tiara will defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Petit Mouchoir is set for a rematch with Footpad in the Arkle Trophy.
Balko Des Flos is also well fancied to go well in the Ryanair Chase.
Jessica Harrington sent out three festival winners last season, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John, who returns for another tilt at the race along with stablemate Our Duke.
Speaking about her festival squad on RTE Radio, she said: “I have six entries but I’m likely to bring just five horses to Cheltenham. Unless I can go to Cheltenham with a real good chance of winning or at least being placed, I'll keep my horses in Ireland, because we have fantastic festivals of our own at Fairyhouse and Punchestown later in the spring.
“The one I would be most confident about running a big race is Supasundae in the Stayers’ Hurdle but I saw this morning that there’s a chance of it being a soft-ground festival, which would worry me a little.”
East Is East
Curragh trainer Alan Fleming will be send over a team of five horses for The Festival he said on Sunday.
The runners will be headed by Tully East who won the Close Brothers' Novices' Handicap Chase last March.
This year Tully East is heading for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase after running a promising third to Patricks Park at Leopardstown a month ago.
As You Were (Coral Cup), Foxrock (St James Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase), Hurricane Darwin (Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase) and Champayne Lady (Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle) are the other members of his string heading to Gloucestershire.
Harry Fry is happy for Unowhatimeanharry to be flying under the radar heading into the Festival.
The 10-year-old was the strong favourite to win the Stayers' Hurdle twelve months ago, but he was pipped at the post by Nichols Canyon.
The gelding has struggled to reproduce his form of last season during his last two starts, finishing behind Beer Goggles and Sam Spinner respectively, but Fry believes it could be a good thing for him to head to the Festival as a slightly forgotten horse.
"Unowhatimeanharry is well and very much on target to run in the Stayers'. I'm quite happy for him to go there somewhat under the radar," Fry said. "He's been written off in the market, and although he faces a stiff task as a 10-year-old, he seems in good order."
Here at 888sport we make him a 12/1 chance to land the Stayers’ trophy.
Russell On A Roll
Davy Russell is certainly one jockey to have on your side when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival as he boasts 18 career victories at the meeting.
Since 2006 Russell has had at least a single winner at the Festival which is a remarkable record in itself.
Presenting Percy, who won last year’s Pertemps Hurdle, is favourite for the RSA Chase and looks the pick of Russell’s rides this year which will also include several for the Gigginstown Stud team which famously sacked him as their number one stable jockey in 2013.
Spinning Is In Top Form
Sam Spinner is a general 5/1 shot for the Stayers’ Hurdle, with only Supasundae and Yanworth shorter in the market, and despite an interrupted week due to the Best From The East, Joe Colliver said he was pleased with Sam Spinner when getting the leg-up on Thursday.
Sam Spinner and Colliver were wide margin winners of Haydock’s Stayers Hurdle last November and the same front-running tactics were adopted in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last December, making all the running against a decent field.
The prospect of a possible soft going Cheltenham is just music to the ears of his trainer Jed O’Keeffe.
You can find all the latest Cheltenham odds here: https://www.888sport.com/horse-racing/horse-racing-betting.htm#/racing/horse_racing/ante-post
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*