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Preparations continue ahead of the start of this year's Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Racecourse - picture credited to Tom Owen

Preparations are well underway for this year's Cheltenham Festival, with many last minute finishing touches being made to arrangements before the racing begins tomorrow.

The excitement's building ahead of the week's racing, with the hashtag 'Cheltenham Eve' trending on social media.

Cheltenham Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse has been discussing the current state of the ground and what he is expecting the weather to do over the next few days:

"I was delighted after Nicky Henderson came in yesterday, having walked the course, saying that it was in lovely nick, Good to Soft, Soft in places. We had a bit of rain overnight - just a millimetre or two - but we expect a dry day through Monday, so we have left the official going description as Good to Soft, Soft in places.

"There is a forecast with strengthening signals for a fairly significant belt of rain coming through in the early hours of Tuesday morning lasting up until about noon, 10-12 millimetres, so the expectation is that that would turn the Hurdle, Chase and the Cross-Country courses soft for tomorrow.

"It should be a breezy but mostly dry afternoon, and beyond that for the rest of the week the winds remain blustery and we get a couple of millimetres of rain a day, so I wouldn't expect much change to the soft ground through the week, with the exception possibly of the chase course on the Friday, which is opened up for the Gold Cup and always sits there marginally quicker. It's not going to be [officially described as] Good ground, that's for sure."

"The mild winter has been fantastic for the course because instead of coming to the end of our first nine fixtures through to the end of January having raced on soft and heavy ground from the October meeting onwards, we have come into the six-week build-up period to The Festival in fantastic condition in terms of wear and tear out there.

"Ninety-five per cent of what we run on at The Festival we haven't set foot on for 12 months. Obviously, where the courses intersect between the Old and New, those are in very different condition to this time last year when they were showing the wear, so we are really pleased with it.

"I've always said, though, that a dry autumn and winter doesn't necessarily mean we will end up with quick conditions in March because things can change very quickly. Just under a fortnight ago when we were experiencing that very warm spell of temperatures up to 18 degrees, the courses were getting near to good to firm. While we were looking forward to rainfall doing the job for us, we thought with irrigation we'd still get to slow, good ground. We've had somewhere between 35-40 millimetres of rain in just that fortnight that has taken the ground to soft, so in many ways the dry winter, when you get that amount of significant rainfall in the build-up, almost becomes irrelevant."

(Pictures credited to Cheltenham Racecourse)

Our reporter Tom Owen is at Cheltenham Racecourse and says staff are busy working to make sure everything's perfect for the busy crowds tomorrow.

Make sure you stay tuned to our bulletins throughout the week for the latest at this year's festival.

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