Tuesday 10 March 2015

Here is my round-up of Day One of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.


I took numerous photographs – Day One 255, Day Two 134, Day Three 311 and Day Four 145 – so it’s going to take a while to select the best, although quite a few did suffer due to the poor light conditions during the final three days.  However I have added a number to this Cheltenham blog as a fore-taster. 


Choc interview re blazing bailey for blog.jpg



Choc is interviewed by Colin Brown as part of

the Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) presentation.

Choc spoke about his riding association

with Blazing Bailey.


Douvan (left) under Ruby Walsh wins the

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Un De Sceaux.jpg

Ned Stark.jpg


Un De Sceaux under Ruby Walsh

wins the Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)



Ned Stark, ridden by Denis O’Regan,

ahead of the

Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase

The Druids Nephew.jpg



The Druids Nephew, ridden by Barry Geraghty, 

winner of the

Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase


Faugheen, ridden by Ruby Walsh,

winner of the Champion Hurdle

Annie Power.jpg



Annie Power is saddled by trainer’s son, Patrick Mullins, ahead of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)



The Alan King trained L’Unique ahead of the

OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

The Pirate's Queen.jpg

The Pirate's Queen 2.jpg


The Alan King trained The Pirate’s Queen

ahead of the

OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)



Jockey Denis O’Regan debriefs connections,

including Choc, following his fourth place

in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Bitofapuzzle 2.jpg

Glens Melody.jpg


Bitofapuzzle is unsaddled by Noel Fehily

following her third place in the

OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)



Following the final flight demise of certainty

Annie Power, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

is won by Glens Melody, ridden by Paul Townend

Sego Success.jpg

Cause Of Causes.jpg


The Alan King-trained Sego Success

ahead of the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase

(Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase)



The fifth Irish winner of the day –

the Gordon Elliott trained, Jamie Codd ridden,

Cause Of Causes wins the

Toby Balding National Hunt Chase

Irish Cavalier.jpg


The final race of the day, the Novices’ Handicap Chase,

is won by the Rebecca Curtis-trained, Paul Townend-ridden,

Irish Cavalier (left)




I set off from home at 06:22 today, and parked up in the top field alongside the Evesham Road at 09:13.  As always, the slowest part of my journey was between Bicester and Oxford’s Wolvercote roundabout, 10 miles in distance; this section took 35 minutes.  Presumably from now onwards, it will be more difficult to find space to park in the lower field off Swindon Lane, as a drop-off area was in operation; it took up around a quarter of the total space available in the field.


Today was a beautiful Spring-like day, with warm sunshine. 


I had a feeling that the most likely day to see Choc would be Tuesday.  He’s struck up an association with owners The Dunkley and Reilly Partnership; their horses Ned Stark and The Pirate’s Queen had engagements today.  Medermit, who was retired due to injury at the end of January and also in the same ownership, is recuperating at Choc’s new bloodstock yard. 


So, having entered the gates along with the first wave of punters at 10:30 I headed to the Parade Ring at the first opportunity to see if I could spot him.  And, yes, there he was on the terrace outside the front of the building; his girlfriend Jennie had accompanied him to the races.  I knew she was petite, but she’s even more petite than I ever imagined! 


Anyway, they chatted to friends and acquaintances for a while, including Choc’s valet Phil Taylor and RUK’s Oli Bell, before heading up the steps beside the Weighing Room and out onto the area above the Winners’ Enclosure.  I couldn’t resist saying hello, and I got to kiss Choc on both cheeks too; I also introduced myself to Jennie.  Choc mentioned that he would be at the races on Wednesday and, possibly, Friday too.


I would see Choc on further occasions during the day; the next time was when he was interviewed by Colin Brown about his association with Blazing Bailey during the Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) ‘Parade of Stars’.  When retired, the ex-Alan King-trained horse was gifted to Sarah Welford who used to work at the trainer’s yard; she had looked after him since he arrived at the yard aged three.  Sarah is jockey Gerard Tumelty’s partner, and she now runs a stud where Blazing Bailey leads the young horses on the gallops. 


Anyway, this is how the races unfolded today ...


No surprise that the Willie Mullins-trained hotpot, Douvan, ridden by Ruby Walsh, won the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; the first three home were Irish-trained runners.  More


Then Un De Sceaux romped away with the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy; another winner for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh but not a Ricci-owned horse.  Second season novice, God’s Own, belied his odds to finish second; Josses Hill, who has had his jumping problems, completed in third.  More


The Druids Nephew won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase for trainer Neil Mulholland and jockey Barry Geraghty; it was Neil’s first Cheltenham Festival winner.  The second and third placed horses were Irish-based runners.  The Alan King-trained Ned Stark, who had been the favourite, finished 8th.  More


Again no surprise that the Willie Mullins-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden, Faugheen won the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle; with Irish runners filling the remaining three places too – Arctic Fire, Hurricane Fly and Jezki.   The New One was best of the British in 5th.  More


Knowing that the second Dunkley and Reilly Partnership horse, The Pirate’s Queen was running in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, I ventured across to the Pre-Parade Ring to see her and Alan King’s other runner, L’Unique being saddled.  I was thus rewarded with another sighting of Choc!  Then, with him standing in the Parade Ring ahead of and during the race, I didn’t wish to head down to the course-side rails, instead deciding to remain upon the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure. 


The hot favourite for this one, Annie Power, took off too early and fell at the last with the race at her mercy.  There were thoughts that she’d jumped the shadow in front of the flight and thus couldn’t make the distance.  The bookies were saved ... fortunately Annie Power was fine, although could easily have broken her neck in the fall.  It was also a relief that we didn’t have to put up with the sight of Ruby riding back down the horse-walk to chants of ‘Rubeeeeeeeey, Rubeeeeeeeey, Rubeeeeeeeey!  I’m sure I’m not the only one who is fed up with Ruby and his winning grin! 


L’Unique who also fell at the last, independently, got up eventually to the sound of applause from relieved race-goers and was reported to be okay.  Bitofapuzzle, one of my non-Alan King-trained favourites, ran a blinder to finish third. But the bad news was that Willie Mullins still trained the winner, with last year’s runner-up Glens Melody, ridden by Paul Townend; Polly Peachum not quite getting up on the line to claim the title.  More


More good news was that, with Annie Power’s demise, The Pirate’s Queen claimed 4th place and, as such, returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, along with Choc and connections.  Every cloud has a silver lining!


Cause Of Causes, who had not previously won a steeplechase, won the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase.  The third and fourth placed horses were Irish-trained.  And Katie Walsh rode runner-up Broadway Buffalo for David Pipe.  The Alan King representative, Sego Success, completed in fifth.  Sadly Theatre Queen, who was reluctant to start the race, fell and injured herself at the fence in front of the stands; the obstacle had to be bypassed on subsequent circuits.  She was on the course for ages, before being taken back to the veterinary facilities for assessment.  Unfortunately she was diagnosed to have broken her back, so was put to sleep.  Her jockey Mark Wall, who was also her trainer, was distraught; he was consoled by friends as he walked back in.  More


Irish Cavalier swooped late to take the final race of the day, the listed Novices’ Handicap Chase over a distance of 2 miles 4 and a half furlongs.  A victory for Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis and jockey Paul Townend again.  The first six horses were GB runners.  More


My own highlight on Day One was seeing and speaking to Choc! 


My low lights ... the fact that Ireland won 5 of the 7 races today!  And there was an Irish tinge to the GB winners too.  The Druids Nephew trained by an England-based Irish trainer and ridden by a semi-Irish-based jockey ... although I do like Barry Geraghty.  Irish Cavalier was ridden by Irish jockey Paul Townend; even both GB-winning horses were Irish bred!  Poor Theatre Queen was a low point too. L 

The traffic cops were at their absolute best this evening.  I started up my car at 17:50 ... and it took 40 minutes for me to drive what must have been around 200 metres to reach the gate because it appeared that very few vehicles were being permitted to exit onto Swindon Lane.  It was so slow that I actually ate two cheese rolls whilst waiting in the queue, which didn’t move once during consumption!  It’s a right-hand turn only onto Swindon Lane, and I was given no option but to turn down Tommy Taylors Lane.  There was a short queue to exit onto St Paul’s Road, where I turned left. 

Apart from a problem with race-going pedestrians ignoring the green light at the Evesham Road crossing – it happens every Festival – the remainder of my journey out of Cheltenham was clear.  I left Sixways at 18:50.  I returned via the M40/M25 route, dropping in at the local petrol station before I reached home at 20:55.  So that was a journey time of 3 hours and 5 minutes; 60 minutes to escape Cheltenham, and 2 hours and 5 minutes to complete the remaining 96 miles!    

Attendance at the Festival today was recorded as 63,249; a new record for the first day.  No wonder it was difficult to escape from the confines of the car park this evening!



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