Saturday 11 April 2015


Here is my round-up of Day Three of this year’s Aintree Festival, and post-Festival statistics.

Auroras Encore.jpg

Nichols Canyon.jpg


The Parade of Champions;

it was good to see the 2013 winner

Auroras Encore back to health following

his career-ending injury; also pictured are Neptune Collonges, and Ballabriggs’ bottom!


Race 1 – the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle;

The winner is Nichols Canyon, trained by

Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh

Sizing Granite.jpg



Race 2 – the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase;

The winner is Sizing Granite,

trained by Henry de Bromhead and

ridden by Jonathan Burke



Race 3 – the Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle

(aka Liverpool Hurdle); the winner Whisper,

trained by Nicky Henderson and

ridden by Nico de Boinville

Duke of Lucca.jpg



Race 4 – the Listed Handicap Chase;

The winner is Duke Of Lucca, trained by

Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson


Race 5 – the Grand National;

exiting the Parade Ring is the Alan King-trained

Godsmejudge, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson;

Also pictured is Court By Surprise


Saint Are.jpg



Race 5 – the Grand National;

The runner up, Saint Are, trained by Tom George

 and ridden by Paddy Brennan



Race 5 – the Grand National;

Ruby Walsh returns aboard River Choice ...

he rode Ballycasey in the race!

Race 6.jpg

Angel Face.jpg


Race 6 – the Conditional Jockeys and

Amateur Riders Handicap Hurdle;

it was won by Astre De La Cour, trained by

Robert Walford and ridden by David Mullins



Race 7 – the listed Mares’ Standard Open National

Hunt Flat Race; in the Parade Ring, the

Alan King-trained, Angel Face,

to be ridden by Paul Moloney

Miss Crick.jpg

Katie Too.jpg


Race 7 – the listed Mares’ Standard Open National

Hunt Flat Race; in the Parade Ring, the

Alan King-trained, Miss Crick,

to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson



Race 7 – the listed Mares’ Standard Open National

Hunt Flat Race; in the Parade Ring, the

Alan King-trained, Katie Too,

to be ridden by Aidan Coleman

Briery Queen.jpg

Hollies Pearl.jpg


Race 7 – the listed Mares’ Standard Open National

Hunt Flat Race; exiting the Parade Ring

is the Noel Williams-trained,

James Banks-ridden, Briery Queen



Race 7 – the listed Mares’ Standard Open National

Hunt Flat Race; the winner is Hollies Pearl,

trained by Peter Bowen and ridden

by his son Sean Bowen

Choc 1.jpg

Choc 2.jpg


I’ve found my quarry ... the lovely Choc Thornton!



And again ... but this time also pictured with

fellow Choc fan and my companion during

the Festival, Sandra Stewart


Many Clouds.jpg 


The Grand National winner – Many Clouds,

who is trained by Oliver Sherwood and was ridden by Leighton Aspell




I woke up at 02:00 ... and couldn’t get back to sleep until 03:30.  I’d set my alarm for 05:45, so didn’t get a whole lot of rest overnight.  And I have to confess I experienced a strange dream too – I was looking for Choc but couldn’t find him.  I can only assume he had been my dream’s subject because I was hopeful I’d bump into him at some point during my forthcoming day at Aintree. 


In my dream even Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett had found and interviewed him but, by the time I arrived, Choc was nowhere to be seen.  I didn’t discover whether I would have eventually met up with my favourite jockey, because the alarm sounded and woke me up!  


Having gone to breakfast at 07:00, Sandra and I were seated in the main part of the restaurant overlooking the car park; I’ve sat there for breakfast before too.  I also took a couple of my bags down to my car on the way to breakfast, as I wasn’t staying for a third night and had too many for one journey.  It was raining this morning, but with the promise of a fine day ahead, although windy.  


With all of my belongings packed in the car we were ready to go.  Sandra and I set off for Aintree at around 09:15; I’d drop her back at the hotel tonight before then heading home.  We arrived at the racecourse at around 10:00, and I persuaded the security staff that they really didn’t want to open the bonnet of my car after Friday’s problems – the guy vaguely remembered the incident and didn’t insist. 


Having parked, in section 13 again, we walked to the entry point, purchasing our programmes from a kiosk close to the Melling Road entrance.  


Where is the best place to stand when searching for a particular jockey, whether it is one riding today or on the sidelines?  Upon the steppings below the Weighing Room of course!  So, having arrived within the main enclosures by 10:15, we made a beeline for the steppings and stayed put until we thought it wise to seek out our usual viewing location ahead of the first race.  There was no sign of Choc, but we did see his mum and her companions again.  We saw many other jockeys however, with Sandra obtaining Ruby Walsh’s autograph and Sam Waley-Cohen’s too.   


As always on Grand National Day there is a Parade of Champions.  This year’s oldest attendee was Lord Gyllene (1997); also Red Marauder (2001), Bindaree (2002), Amberleigh House (2004), Hedgehunter (2005), Numbersixvalverde (2006), Silver Birch (2007), Comply Or Die (2008), Mon Mome (2009), Don’t Push It (2010), Ballabriggs (2011), Neptune Collonges (2012) and Auroras Encore (2013).  It was good to see the latter in fine health, having suffered an injury in early 2014 which ended his career.  Last year’s victor, Pineau De Re, was competing in this year’s race.  


There is a mistake in the race-card – Numbersixvalverde (2006) has been omitted, instead Hedgehunter is listed as the 2006 winner when he, in fact, won the race in 2005!


And now the racing ...


Race 1: Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

The first race of the day was won by the Willie Mullins-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden, Nichols Canyon; the horse had finished third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.  If I’d had a bet, it would have been on the Dan Skelton-trained Three Musketeers (7-1) ... because I love those Musketeers!  He finished 3rd.


Sadly the Warren Greatrex-trained Seedling fell two out when weakening and was fatally injured:


Race 2: Maghull Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Irish raider Sizing Granite won for Henry de Bromhead and Jonathan Burke.  Second season novice God’s Own ran another good race and finished as runner-up; he had finished 2nd in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase at Cheltenham, behind Un De Sceaux.


Race 3: Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Cole Harden attempted to follow-up his World Hurdle victory but had to give best to last year’s winner, the Nicky Henderson-trained Whisper; this year he was ridden by Nico de Boinville as Barry Geraghty was on the sidelines having sustained a hairline fracture to his shin bone on 22 March. 


Race 4: Handicap Chase (Listed)

The race was won by Duke Of Lucca, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; the horse winning this event for the second year running! 


Race 5: The Grand National (Grade 3)

The race was won by the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds, trained by Oliver Sherwood; the trainer’s first winner in this event.  But not the jockey’s first win, because Leighton Aspell won it for the second year running!  And it was owner Trevor Hemmings third winner of the race, the other two being Hedgehunter (2005) and Ballabriggs (2011). 


It was the first Lambourn-based winner for 20 years - Royal Athlete in 1995; the 1938 winner Battleship was trained at the same yard, Rhonehurst.  More


Alan King had a runner in the race, namely the 2013 Scottish Grand National winner Godsmejudge; he pulled up before two out.   Pineau De Re completed in 12th place this year. 


The story during the race was the fall of last year’s runner-up, the popular Balthazar King, at the Canal Turn on the first circuit.  To spectators it looked very serious and possibly fatal at the time.  However, Ruby Walsh who’d been riding Ballycasey and been brought down in this incident, decided to assist the stewards with the screens; he also removed railings from the holding pen adjacent to the fence to enable the field to pass by to the outside of the fence on the second circuit.  And, in addition, he acted as marshal by waving a chequered flag to warn the jockeys of this detour ... then rode back aboard the French raider River Choice to deliver it to connections!


Balthazar King was okay, but diagnosed as having sustained four fractured ribs; it was unclear whether he had been injured as a result of the fall or if Ballycasey had actually kicked him when brought down.  Here is a link to an article from later in the week regarding the injured horse.


There was one jockey injured as a result of the race, namely Irish-based Davy Condon, who came to grief late in the race aboard Portrait King.  He suffered spinal concussion which would result in a long spell on the sidelines; his career possibly in jeopardy too.  He was left paralysed for 10 minutes following his fall and a doctor advised him not to ride again until he’d undergone surgery to discover the extent of the damage inside his neck; it has been an ongoing problem. 


Robbie McNamara missed the ride aboard top-weight, and 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Lord Windermere having sustained a very serious injury in Ireland the previous day.  More


But, back to better news, I love this compilation of ‘jockey-cam’ shots from Channel 4’s Grand National coverage – taken from aboard Unioniste, Super Duty, Tranquil Sea and, fortuitously, Many Clouds.


Race 6: Handicap Hurdle (for Conditional Jockeys and Amateur Riders)

The race was won by Astre De la Cour, trained by Robert Walford and ridden by David Mullins. 


Race 7: Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Listed)

There were four runners of interest in this race, namely Briery Queen trained by Noel Williams, and Angel Face, Katie Too and Miss Crick trained by Alan King.  Sandra liked Miss Crick, I preferred Katie Too; the latter being a full-sister to The Pirate’s Queen.  Briery Queen had finished runner-up to the Willie Mullins mare Babylone Des Motte in Sandown’s Listed bumper race; they would re-oppose today.


The race was won by Hollies Pearl, trained by Peter Bowen and ridden by son Sean; the trainer has a good record in this race.  Babylone Des Motte finished 5th, Katie Too 7th, Briery Queen 8th, Angel Face 10th and Miss Crick 14th.


Thinking about it, the horse with the most appropriate name for a bet was Chocca Wocca who finished 2nd.


Sandra is a canny punter and had a number of winners during the three days, including Rajdhani Express and Nichols Canyon. 


We decided to wait behind following the last race ... still hopeful we might see Choc.  And that was despite the fact that Many Clouds would shortly be parading on the course!  Choc vs. the winner of the Grand National ... no contest, it has to be Choc every time!!!


Whilst loitering, I noticed Choc’s mum Sally and her companions walk along the pathway in front of the steppings and they began to climb them to the far side before stopping.  Were they waiting for someone I wondered?  I continued to glance across every now and then ... and suddenly there he was, the lovely Choc!  I set off in his direction, calling to Sandra for her to follow.  I had to wait behind a group of blokes heading for the exit, but I’d soon reached Choc and his companions.  I presume Choc, his mum and friends were attending an event that evening, for he was handing out plastic wristbands to them as I approached.


“Hi Choc, I hoped that I would see you today.”  I gave him a kiss on both cheeks and a little hug too.  When asked if he’d had a good day, he said, “I’ve been mooching about all day”.  I wish he would have mooched about with us!  Anyway, he was pleased to pose for photographs and sign an autograph for Sandra too.  


Having said our farewells, we headed out to the racecourse to see Many Clouds and take a few photographs.  Sandra couldn’t believe I’d spotted Choc amongst the crowds ... but the bloodhound always finds her man! 


Normally I’d catch the bus back to the Melling Road car park, despite a long wait due to weight of numbers; but after waiting in the queue for a few minutes today, we decided we’d walk instead.  We were running later than usual too, as I’d expect to be ‘on the road’, namely the M57, shortly after 19:00; today I got back to the hotel to drop Sandra off at 19:45.  I remained in the car park for 10 minutes in order to eat a number of biscuits ahead of my homeward journey.


My trip home took me exactly three and a half hours; I arrived back at 23:25.  There were no real problems; just road-works on the motorway at very regular intervals resulting in a 50 mph speed limit therein.  The longest section being on the M1 between junction 19 (M6) and Northampton; I was not keen on the narrowed lanes and the headlights of vehicles dazzling me in both the rear-view mirror and wing mirrors too. 


The following day I discovered that none of my RUK recordings had been successful – apart from the Saturday highlights, which I’d recorded on a whim following the day’s main event.  Oh well, I’ll just have to record them when Racing UK decide to re-show their Aintree 2015 highlights programmes ... although it might be Christmas by then!  Nevertheless, I’ll plug-on with my main diaries and upload what I have, filing in the missing details as and when!  



Aintree Festival Statistics








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