AN OVERVIEW OF CHOC’S WEEKLY RACING POST COLUMN

 

(FROM 30 AUGUST 2010 TO 25 APRIL 2011)

 

Monday 25 April 2011

With the 2010 / 2011 National Hunt season ending last Saturday and flat racing now taking centre stage, today was Choc’s last Racing Post column.  This being the case, he took the opportunity to look back on the past year, which he describes as both ‘challenging’ and ‘rewarding’.

 

Not surprisingly, his lowest point was the bad knee injury he suffered last July; and being told that it was unlikely that he’d be able to ride for a year.  But, looking on the bright side, it allowed him the opportunity to write a weekly column for the Racing Post, which he has thoroughly enjoyed doing and for which he thanks the newspaper.

 

His second best event of the year was being legged up onto Causeway King at Exeter on 05 December 2010, a mere 5 months to the day since his injury, rather than the year which had been predicted.  The most important event of the year being the birth of his son William Robert. 

 

Reflecting, his 5 months on the sidelines flew by, although it didn’t seem like it at the time; and he thanks the team of medical and fitness staff which helped him to make an early return.  He mentions the other challenges undertaken during his time off, such as media training arranged through JETS, although he doesn’t expect to put John Francome or Mick Fitzgerald out of a job just yet!

 

Choc mentions that he really enjoyed his PR role as the Face of Jump Racing at Kempton Park; he also had fun doing some male modelling with a few other jockeys. 

 

Although his return to the saddle in December wasn’t quite the dream return, he finished 2nd aboard Causeway King, he was very pleased that his first winner, although slightly delayed by the bad weather, was for Alan King at Plumpton aboard Jetnova; a day he also rode Medermit to win. 

 

He was delighted to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, aboard Bensalem; with all the other Alan King representatives running well despite not winning. 

 

His next high of the season was riding his 1000th career winner on 28 March aboard Araldur at Towcester; although this was followed closely by his next low, when West End Rocker was brought down at the 6th in the Grand National. 

 

He also mentions that his column has given him the opportunity to discuss issues such as the ‘ludicrous’ 10-day break for jump jockeys which takes place in September; the need for stewards to use greater discretion when awarding suspensions; and his strong defence of whip use. 

 

Although there have been a few moments when he’s been unsure what to write in his column, overall it’s been a very enjoyable experience and he hopes that all those who have read his column have enjoyed it too.  (Yes, Choc, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your weekly column and will miss it so much L)

 

Choc also takes the opportunity to wish all the currently injury sidelined jockeys a speedy recovery.

 

And, finally, he looks ahead with excitement to the prospects for the forthcoming season. 

Choc mentions Salden Licht, who he believes will make a good chaser and might be an Arkle prospect;

He believes there is plenty more to come from Walkon when he goes chasing;

Jetnova who will probably start chasing over a distance of 2 miles 4 furlongs but should get 3 miles in time;

Mentioning Habbie Simpson, he says he ‘loves him to bits’ and believes that, despite being disappointing on his last couple of runs, he should show real class when he goes chasing. 

Also mentioned is their best bumper horse Montbazon, who is a great hurdling prospect and they expect to run him in the Supreme Novices’ or Neptune Investment at the next Cheltenham Festival. 

Mille Chief will remain hurdling next season. Choc’s believes that the race against Celestial Halo at Wincanton in February took its toll. 

Kumbeshwar is an ‘outstanding prospect’ as he is only four; if he runs at Punchestown he will have a great chance of winning. 

Choc also likes Pantxoa, who he believes has the potential to make up into a good horse next year.  

Finally he mentions that Alan King will also be bringing a lot of new horses into the yard for the season ahead, and he’s very much looking forward to it.

 

Monday 18 April 2011

Several weeks ago, Choc wrote about a study currently being carried out at Liverpool’s John Moores University’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences; in his column published today he explains in detail all about his recent visit, when he participated as one of their ‘guinea pigs’!  The aim behind the study is to find a healthier way in which jockeys can lose weight and retain that weight loss; as opposed to their current regimes of starvation diets, long runs and sweating in the bath or sauna.

 

Choc informs us that more than 30 jockeys have signed up to take part in the study, both from the flat and jumps codes.  Evidently, one unnamed jockey has lost more than 13lbs and the weight hasn’t been put back on again.  (I think we could all do with a little assistance from this diet ... not that I’ve ever consciously dieted in my life!) 

 

The study is being conducted by a former stable lad and amateur jockey, George Wilson, who is now working towards his PhD. 

 

The jockeys taking part undergo an extensive health check before being pushed to their limit on the horse simulator (donated by the firm which produced the first ever Equiciser) and then on the treadmill.  Following this, they are asked to keep a detailed food diary covering a one week period before they are then issued with a tailor-made diet plan that they must following for a further eight weeks.  The jockeys then return to the Institute for re-assessment.

 

The tests carried out on Choc, and the other participants, included a scan to test their bone density, body fat and muscle mass.  Low bone density increases the risk of fractures and can be caused by an inadequate diet and a lack of vitamin D.  Low bone density has been discovered among some of those jockeys tested but it can be corrected through dietary changes and vitamin D supplements.  [Note from Jane: my mum takes vitamin D supplements as part of her treatment for osteoporosis, which is the thinning of the bones following the menopause.]

 

Fortunately Choc’s bone density was one of the best they’d seen and his body fat was 14.3%.  As the latter can be reduced to between 8 to 10%, with the right diet, Choc may be able to lose 5 to 6lbs.  Blood and urine samples were taken for detailed analysis; evidently his dehydration level was higher than normal, but he thinks that may be because he’d had a sauna beforehand.  Dehydration is a common problem suffered by jockeys.

 

His heart rate, energy expenditure and oxygen exchange were measured, firstly on the Equiciser and then on the treadmill.  Results showed that Choc has a similar fitness profile to some of the top footballers and rugby players who have been tested. 

 

He’s currently keeping the one week food diary prior to returning it to the team; then he will receive his personal eight week diet plan.  Choc says he’s lucky that he doesn’t have major weight problems but hopes that a revised diet will mean less time sweating off weight.  The new diet plans have also aided some jockeys resolve their weight related mood swings!

 

Choc also requests that more jockeys volunteer, and also asks for extra funding too. 

 

As an additional comment, Choc mentions the bans awarded to Jason Maguire and Richard Johnson for ‘marking’ their horses with a whip and asks if the length of such bans should be reviewed.  His argument is that despite the fact that their mounts were not mistreated, the horses were still marked; it all seems to depend on the horse, not the treatment thereof.   

Monday 11 April 2011

Following the Grand National, in his Racing Post column this week, Choc describes his day at Aintree.

 

Choc said he could not have been more pleased with the way that his mount, West End Rocker, coped with the fences, he was loving the ground and was travelling really well.  But, having soared over Becher’s Brook, he was confronted by Barry Geraghty’s mount, Or Noir De Somoza, lying on the ground in his path; there was nowhere for them to go and they were brought down.  Choc said he had a ‘Wayne Rooney’ moment (a tear or two were shed) when he realised that his dream was over for another year.  (Bless his little cotton socks.)

 

He writes about the excitement of Grand National day; from the moment he wakes up he hopes that it might be his year.  He had ridden a few placed horses on the Thursday and Friday of the meeting but, as winning is everything, he was focused on that as he sweated off the weight in the bath on Saturday morning.

 

He said Salden Licht ran an excellent race to finish 3rd in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle; but he was disappointed by Bensalem’s showing in the Handicap Chase, the horse having made quite a few mistakes on the second circuit.  He believes the Cheltenham Festival victory may have taken its toll on the horse.

 

Choc was pleased to ride in the race prior to the National, as it gave him little time to sit and think about the big race.  He mentions the pre-race photograph – evidently someone accused him of chewing gum during the photo-shoot – he points out that he was sucking on an ice cube to ease dehydration. 

 

He says he was relaxed in the Parade Ring, West End Rocker was fine with all the razzmatazz and, unusually, there was no false start.  The gallop to the first fence was steady, and he had a fair amount of space around him as he reached it; his mount ‘winged’ the open-ditch (the third) and Choc thought he was in for one hell of a good ride.  He cleared the fourth, although another horse bumped into him.  The fifth was fine.  He was happy with his approach to Becher’s and with the take-off. 

 

But there is no way of knowing what you will find on the other side of the fence and, unfortunately for him, he discovered Barry Geraghty’s fallen mount in his path.  To protect himself, Choc curled up into a ball as he hit the deck, and saw West End Rocker get up and gallop away uninjured.  Thankfully, he says, both Barry and his mount were fine too.

 

Once the field had cleared the area, Choc checked that the other fallen jockeys were okay; then he and Ryan Mahon (who had fallen on The Tother One) found a TV cameraman nearby and watched the remainder of the race on his monitor.  Choc said he felt gutted, especially as he had been going so well. 

 

He said the fence was dolled off, which had never happened at Becher’s before, and the field headed back in their direction.  Evidently one of the loose horses jumped the fence, frightening a lady vet or medic who was stood in the landing side ditch at the time!

 

Choc was absolutely delighted for the winning jockey Jason Maguire and trainer Donald McCain Jnr, who he describes as great lads.  Following the race, one of the groundstaff gave Choc and his colleagues a lift back in a minibus.  When Choc spoke to one of West End Rocker’s owners he joked that he would have won had he not been brought down.  Back in the Weighing Room Choc congratulated Jason, and repeated his joke that he would have won had his luck held out. 

 

And Choc says he was only half joking, because he believes that if luck had been on his side, he just might have won!

 

Choc then sends his condolences to the connections of the horses who sadly died during Saturday’s race (Dooneys Gate and Ornais).  He knows it is heartbreaking for all those concerned.  He also takes time to defend his sport against the animal rights groups; although he accepts their right to hold a different view.  But he says it would be nice if they could also respect his and others right to have their own opinion and beliefs too.  And he points out that, evidently, there were 40 activists demonstrating outside Aintree on Saturday; whilst more than 70,000 spectators were inside watching and enjoying the racing!

 

Choc sends his best wishes for a speedy recovery to injured jockey Peter Toole.

 

He looks forward to the Scottish Grand National next Saturday; he hopes to be riding Blazing Bailey in the race.  He’d love to win in Scotland to help ease his disappointment in the Aintree Grand National.

 

Finally he asks everyone to support a couple of his colleagues by sponsoring them for the London Marathon which takes place next Sunday.  Leighton Aspell and David Dennis are the runners, the former competing in his first marathon, a racing fall injury having put paid to his intended effort last year.  David Dennis ran last year, completing in a time of 4 hours and 40 seconds.  Funds raised will be donated to Racing Welfare.  He gives the website sponsorship addresses too:  uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/daviddennis or justgiving.com/Leighton-Aspell.

Monday 04 April 2011

Not surprisingly, the main topic in Choc’s column this week is his achievement of riding 1000 British career winners.  He says how delighted and proud he is at joining an elite band of jockeys – Stan Mellor, John Francome, Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody, Adrian Maguire, Tony Dobbin, Peter Niven and Timmy Murphy.  Although he does put AP McCoy and Richard Johnson is a ‘Superhuman’ league of their own!

 

Choc has no intention of retiring in the foreseeable future and hopes to ride many more winners.  But he also reflects upon the special moments during his career so far.  Choc knew from an early age that he wanted to be a jockey; he far preferred riding to studying.  He left school at 16 with a few moderate GCSEs, then attended college with the intention of doing his A levels but had had enough after 3 months.  He recalls riding one of his mother’s point-to-pointers, a horse called Philipintown Lad, in his first hunter chase on 19 April 1995 at Southwell.  Despite being 50-1, he finished 4th of 12.

 

Having spent most of his school holidays at David Nicholson’s yard, he was began employment at the yard in early July 1995.  Adrian Maguire and Richard Johnson were the yard’s main jockeys; Alan King was an Assistant Trainer; he also mentions Gordon Clarkson, who is now trainer Richard Philips’ Assistant, the man who nicknamed him ‘Chocolate’.

 

After 20 unsuccessful rides, Choc finally rode a winner, aboard the Robin Dickin trained K C’s Dancer in an amateur riders 3 mile 2 furlong handicap chase at Cheltenham on 25 October 1995.  However, a couple of races later, he was leading up a horse for Adrian Maguire to ride.  He rode 3 winners during his first season; 30 the next. 

 

His first big race winner was aboard King Lucifer in the Kim Muir at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, and he also won the following race of the day (now the Pertemps Final) aboard Pharanear; both horses trained by David Nicholson.  Other milestone winners were his 100th aboard Prizefighter for Bernard Llewellyn in a handicap hurdle at Southwell in June 1998; and his 500th aboard the Alan King trained Wyldello at Fakenham in February 2006.  By then he had already set his sights on reaching 1000 winners.

 

He was champion amateur, followed by champion conditional when working for David Nicholson; however he moved on after 4 years as he would always be playing ‘third fiddle’ to Adrian Maguire and Richard Johnson.  He spent just over a year with Geoff Hubbard, followed by Kim Bailey in 2000.  Then within two years he was riding a few horses for Alan King and, after a while, he was asked to become stable jockey.  He jumped at the chance and has never looked back.

 

Memorable horses he has ridden have included the ‘wonderful’ Katchit and Voy Por Ustedes; but his absolute favourite was My Way De Solzen, who won 10 times including an Arkle Chase and World Hurdle.

 

His personal highlight was winning on his first two rides on the first day of the 2008 Cheltenham Festival with Captain Cee Bee and Katchit.  And he’s confident there will be a lot more winners to come in the years ahead; he’s especially looking forward to the young horses from Alan King’s yard which will coming through in the next couple of seasons.  And he still has the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National to add to his CV.

 

So, until he retires and has to get a ‘proper job’ he’ll continue to count down to his 2000th winner!

 

Choc also looks ahead to the Aintree Festival.  Again he mentions West End Rocker who he is due to ride in the Grand National.  Medermit is due to run in a 2 mile 4 furlong novices’ chase, and Choc hopes that he will well and truly put the disappointment of the Arkle behind him.   Montbazon runs in the bumper, Choc thinks he has an outstanding chance, especially as he was beaten just one length by the subsequent Cheltenham bumper winner, Cheltenian, on his first outing at Kempton in February.  Tante Sissi runs in the mares’ bumper, and he expects another good run following her second to Swincombe Flame at Sandown.  Salden Licht and Jetnova are also likely to run.  Bensalem’s target has not yet been decided.  Choc also mentions rides aboard John Quinn’s Recession Proof and Henrietta Knight’s Somersby.

 

Last but not least, Choc confirms that his long blond locks are no more.  (There’s a new photograph of Choc to accompany his column which proves this to be the case.)   Long hair has been his trademark since leaving the David Nicholson yard, but after seeing a post-race video of his win aboard Bensalem he decided it was time for his long hair to go.  He mentions that he has shaved off his hair for charity on two occasions, which raised over £20,000, but felt he couldn’t expect people to sponsor his hair cut on a further occasion.  But, now his hair is gone, he hopes David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson would be proud of him!  

Monday 28 March 2011

The main topic of Choc’s column this week is his hope for the upcoming Grand National.  Choc says that he’d like to win both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National but, if he had to choose between them, it would have to be the latter; he thinks it would be most jockeys’ choice too.

 

He’s keeping his fingers crossed that both he and his intended mount, West End Rocker, make it safe and sound to the big race which takes place in just 12 days’ time.  West End Rocker won at Newbury over 3 miles 3 furlongs in December, and then at Warwick in January on heavy ground over 3 miles 5 furlongs.  His next race was at Haydock in February, in bottomless ground, over 3 miles 4 furlongs; that day he was pulled up having blundered at the second-last.  His mount is due to carry just 10 stone 5 pounds in the National. 

 

Choc then goes on to say he hated every moment of Grand National day last year, which he spent at Chepstow, riding none from four.  Although the National has not been his lucky race thus far, he recalls his first ride in 1997, which took place on the Monday following an IRA bomb threat on the Saturday when the course had to be evacuated.  Choc recalls leaving the course dressed in a jacket, boots and breeches; and that evening the jockeys went clubbing in Liverpool before bedding down for the night at the Adelphi Hotel, with a dozen lads in one room!

 

Choc returned to the David Nicholson yard the next day, and travelled back to Aintree on Monday.  His ride that year was the Venetia Williams trained Don’t Light Up; he loved his first ride in the race, but fell at the 13th.  He’d been really excited before the race, having already won the Foxhunters race over the Grand National fences and the Cordon Bleu Handicap Hurdle earlier in the meeting.  

 

The following year his mount fell at the first; and he’s been aboard 6 fallers since then.  His best finish was aboard Supreme Charm in 2002, when he finished 5th.  This year he’s hoping for better luck, but it means a lot to him just to take part.  His first memory, as a 10-year-old watching TV, was seeing Jimmy Frost win the race aboard Little Polveir.  (Note from Jane: I remember seeing my first Grand National finish at the age of 6; and my first complete race at the age of 7 ... but I’m not going to divulge which years they were!)

 

Choc’s next topic was his hope to realise an ambition of reaching 1000th career winners; he was on 999 as he wrote the column (as 3 Irish winners don’t count towards his total; but his 6 flat race winners do).  He was looking forward to becoming a member of this elite group of jockeys, fewer than a dozen in number; including Stan Mellor, John Francome, Peter Scudamore, Richard Johnson, Timmy Murphy and AP McCoy. 

 

He only realised a couple of weeks ago that he was just a few winners shy of this magic total.  He then recounts his rides last week – a fall and a 3rd at Kempton; three winners and a 2nd at Warwick; 2 runner-ups at Chepstow; 2 more runner-ups at Newbury, plus a 4th and pulled up on Friday; and another 2nd on Saturday at Newbury.  He congratulated Alan King on 900 winners when Pouvoir won at Bangor; then Choc rode a winner, Turbo Du Ranch, in the bumper for Warren Greatrex.  So, starting the week, he needed just one more winner to join the 1000 club, and is hoping to report on his success next week.

 

(Note from Jane:  Choc rode his 1000th winner aboard Araldur in a Novices’ Hurdle at Towcester on Monday 28 March ... and I was there to see it!)  

 

Choc’s third and final topic was My Way De Solzen’s victory in a Hunter Chase at Hereford last week.  It made him even more pleased than riding a treble on the same day.  He’s very happy for the horse and his new connections; My Way having retired two years ago.  Choc rode the horse on all of his 24 starts in Britain under rules; he won 10 times, most notably the World Hurdle in 2006 and the Arkle in 2007.  Choc believes My Way would have won the latter race, regardless of Twist Magic and Don’t Push It falling. 

 

Choc thought My Way would win the 2008 Gold Cup, but he just lost his form; they could find no explanation, but it sometimes happens with French bred horses.  The horse was retired at the age of 9, and has been pointing and hunting with Gabe Mahon, whose son Ryan rode him to success at Hereford.  There are no plans to return him to full training, but Choc says it’s great to see him win again.

Monday 21 March 2011

Today, Choc recounted his memories from this year’s Cheltenham Festival.  He says that time drags as the fixture approaches but, once it arrives, time flies by. 

 

Choc says it was a fantastic week and, not surprisingly, his highlight was his win aboard Bensalem in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase; he’s also taking away many positives from the performances of his stable’s other runners and feels their futures are bright.

 

Choc then outlines what will become his abiding memories from this year’s Festival.  (Note from Jane: a number of these memories feature in my photo gallery, as these are the ones which seemed significant to me too.) 

 

He mentions Conor O’Farrell’s victory aboard Buena Vista in the Pertemps Final, and recalls that the young jockey had a very similar experience to his own (Invictus at Leicester) when unseated at Taunton a few weeks ago.  Conor is 21 and it was his first ride at Cheltenham.  Choc also mentions that the young jockey went on to win the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday too!

 

Then he mentions poor Willie Twiston-Davies, who was in tears after Baby Run blundered and unseated him two out in the Foxhunter Chase; Choc is sure the experience will make him a stronger person and he will go on to far bigger and better things.

 

He then writes about Colin Tizzard, who suffered disappointment with Cue Card in the first race of the Festival; but who was rewarded with a victory in the final race of the Festival when Oiseau De Nuit won at 40-1, ridden by 7lb claimer Steven Clements.

 

He mentions that a number of jockeys had horrendous falls, including him aboard Jetnova; he writes about the escape of the week – Charlie Huxley whose mount fell on the flat in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle.  Choc can’t believe that both horse and jockey returned unscathed. 

 

Great training performances, from Irish trainers, Willie Mullins, Henry De Bromhead and Gordon Elliott.  And he gives a special mention to Pat Rodford and jockey Kieran Burke; for their victory with Holmwood Legend, their other runner Sparky May having competed well to finish runner-up to the exceptional Quevega. 

 

He was also delighted for Irish trainer, Paul Nolan, who had his second Cheltenham winner with Noble Prince.  Both Choc and Paul attended a preview night at the Royal Oak in Prestbury on the eve of the meeting, and Choc thought Paul was an extremely funny guy. 

 

Choc believes the Gold Cup was one of the best ever; incredibly exciting and says it was an astonishing training performance by Paul Nicholls to get Denman and Kauto Star into such good shape, with What A Friend in fourth place too.  And a great ride by Sam Waley-Cohen to win and prove everyone wrong.   

 

Choc also further details his victory aboard the ‘awesome’ Bensalem; or ‘Big Ben’ as he’s known in the yard.  He mentions the fact that a number of vets wanted to put the horse out of its misery when he was struck down by pneumonia and pleurisy last summer.  Fortunately, Alan’s own vet, Jeremy Swan, thought Bensalem should be given the benefit of the doubt; and now he’s rewarded them for their patience.

 

Choc says there’s talk of Big Ben going to Punchestown, but he hopes they’ll put him away for the remainder of the season and bring him back for the Hennessy in November.  Choc says the victory was all the more sweet because he’d been bitterly disappointed with Medermit’s showing in the Arkle just 35 minutes earlier.  In hindsight, Alan King believes they should have run the grey in the Jewson over the longer distance; Choc expects Medermit to run at Aintree over two and a half miles.

 

Trainer and jockey thought that Mille Chief would enjoy the good ground; he travelled and jumped well but Choc believes the Champion Hurdle may have come too soon following the Wincanton race.  After the race Choc described him as a boy amongst men, being only a five year old.  They have great hopes for him next season.

 

Habbie Simpson and Walkon ran well in their respective races, and will be great novice chasers next year.  Choc mentions Alan’s great training performance of having the 2nd, 3rd and 5th placed horses in the Fred Winter (Kumbeshwar, Dhaafer, and Jubail); all of whom they believe will keep on improving next year. 

 

The stable wasn’t surprised by Smad Place’s run in the Triumph, given that the forecasted rain didn’t materialise.  They were pleased with Salden Licht’s 5th place in the County Hurdle, as he was conceding a stone to the winner.  There’s a possibility he may run in the Scottish Champion Hurdle.

 

Had Jetnova not fallen two out, Choc is convinced he would have finished 3rd or 4th.  The horse is fine; Choc escaping with a sore head and a few bruises. 

 

Oh Crick was outpaced in the Grand Annual and will now be tried over 2½ miles; but they hope he will come down in the handicap too! 

 

He sums up by saying that any jockey would be pleased to have ridden a winner at Cheltenham; and, following the event, he knows they have some very good prospects to look forward to next year.

 

Choc would welcome a day’s rest on the Sunday following the Festival, as everyone is exhausted by that stage.

 

Choc asks if everyone saw the 13-year old Irish lad, Mark Boylan, who plays guitar and has written a song about the Festival.  (Note from Jane: strangely enough, yes I did, he performed the song during Friday’s Festival Preview held in the Winners’ Enclosure before racing began – a very precocious youngster!)  Choc says that Mark visited the Weighing Room and seems to be a genuinely nice kid.  Mark received a pair of signed breeches from the guys and, in return, climbed on a table and sang his song to them.

 

And, finally, Choc cringed when he watched the video of himself being interviewed following his win aboard Bensalem.  The reason?  His long hair!  As he’s no longer in his twenties, he’s decided the long hair has to go!

 

Monday 14 March 2011

On the eve of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, there can be only one subject discussed in Choc’s column in the Racing Post this week.

 

Choc knows that many owners, trainers, and even some jockeys just like to ‘take part’ but, for him, nothing can compare to riding a good horse that he knows is in with a chance of winning.  As far as Choc is concerned, winning means everything to him at this showcase event; the feeling he gets when storming up the final hill and reaching the winning post before anyone else he says is ‘indescribable’!

 

He knows that anything might happen during the next four days; but he’s pleased with his ‘book’ of rides, and outlines his hopes and chances:

 

Medermit – Favourite for Tuesday’s Arkle; Choc is very excited by the prospect of riding this horse, and he knows that Alan King has got him in very good shape. Choc schooled Medermit last Thursday and he describes the final session before the big race as ‘electric’.  He says that Medermit has both speed and class, which is what you need for the Arkle.

 

Bensalem – Entered for Tuesday’s Spinal Research Handicap Chase (formerly the William Hill).  The horse fell at the notorious second last (which has been re-positioned and is now in the home straight) during last year’s renewal.  However, Choc is confident that the horse’s jumping issues have been resolved and he would like nothing better than to prove that his mount is a really good horse.

 

Mille Chief – Runs in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.  Choc knows the horse needs to improve, as he will be running against the likes of Hurricane Fly and Menorah; and he believes a top 6 finish will be a good result.  However, Mille Chief has proved that he definitely gets the 2 mile trip and he can also battle it out too, as he did against Celestial Halo at Wincanton recently. 

 

Somersby – Runs in Wednesday’s Champion Chase, having finished runner-up in last year’s Arkle when ridden by Choc.  Choc points out that the horse ran Master Minded to a short-head at Ascot in January; and Henrietta Knight believes that any rain or watering will be in the horse’s favour too.  He feels for Hadden Frost, who has ridden Somersby in his three races this season, but hopes he understands about the trainer wanting a more experienced pilot for the Festival race.  Choc knows how disappointing it can be for a young jockey, having lost rides for the same reason when younger.

 

Bygones In Brid – This horse is owned by Harry Redknapp and runs in Wednesday’s Bumper, and Choc hopes he will display the same fighting spirit as Spurs did in the Champions League last week!

 

Oh Crick – Runs in Friday’s Grand Annual, a race he won in 2009, when Wayne Hutchinson was aboard.  He’s due to carry nearly a stone more than on that occasion, but still 15lb less than when he won the Red Rum Chase at the Aintree Festival a few weeks later.

 

Smad Place – Is due to run in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday.  Choc states that the horse is full of surprises, producing very good form on the racecourse having shown very little at home!  Choc fears Zarkandar, but says the race will be as open as ever and he knows his mount will gallop all the way and will be there at the business end of the race.

 

There are other horses Choc is looking forward to riding this week, but Alan King hadn’t finalised their plans by the time he wrote his column.

 

He says that whatever happens to him on a personal level at the Festival, he knows that the next few days will provide the greatest fun, excitement and thrills that the sport can offer.

 

There’s just one ‘mini topic’ this week, if you can call 11-week old William Robert Thornton a mini-topic!  Choc’s mum and dad, Sally and Martin, and Meally’s parents, Gilly and Peter, have travelled down to Gloucestershire to attend the Festival, as has Meally’s sister Sarah and her partner.  Choc is sure that baby William will be the centre of attention, regardless of whether he rides a winner this week!  Meally will be attending too, on at least a couple of the days, as his mum and mother-in-law have volunteered to take time out to look after William.  With a baby in the house, Choc expects the family to spend each evening at home, rather than everyone venturing out to the Plough Inn; however, should he have a good week, he may be persuaded to take part in a ‘modest’ celebration at the pub!   

Monday 07 March 2011

Not surprisingly, the main topic of Choc’s column this week is the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival, and the build-up of ‘nervous excitement’ as the first day of the fixture approaches.  It is the most stressful period of the season for trainers, jockeys, stable-staff and owners; as everyone counts down the days and prays that nothing goes wrong.

 

Last week the jockeys were ticking off the days until Friday night, with the knowledge that if they got through Tuesday to Friday without picking up a suspension, they would be free to ride on any of the four days of the Festival.  And for the next eight days he knows that it will have crossed every jockeys’ mind that an injury at this stage could rule them out too; although, being professionals, they won’t dwell on it and will continue to do their job to the best of their ability.

 

He feels very sorry for the trainers, who have the responsibility of getting their horses to peak fitness for these four days and, of course, avoid any injuries along the way.  

 

Last week Choc went to Alan King’s yard at Barbury Castle, with a number of colleagues, to do a schooling session with some of their Festival hopes over the point-to-point course (which he’d ridden around a few times as a 16 year-old).  Choc rode Bensalem, Wayne Hutchinson rode Oh Crick, Jimmy McCarthy rode Mister Stickler and Charlie Huxley rode Call Me A Legend.  He couldn’t have wished for a better schooling session and, over the 2 mile course and a dozen fences, Bensalem ‘came out on top’ at the end.

 

Choc had his first ride at the Festival in 1996, as a 17-year-old amateur, on a horse called Leinthall Princess.  She ran in the Kim Muir as a 100-1 shot, and the partnership finished 11th of the 22 runners.  The following year he rode his first two winners at the Festival, both on the same day – King Lucifer in the Kim Muir and Pharanear in the Pertemps Hurdle.

 

Choc has won two Arkle Chases, a Champion Hurdle, and a Champion Chase; and he can’t wait to add to his tally. 

 

Choc’s highlight of last week was his win aboard Montbazon in the bumper at Doncaster last Saturday.  Having ridden the horse on his debut at Kempton on 11 February, he was very keen to ride the horse again.  The horse travelled well during Saturday’s race and Choc was always fairly confident; although he did expect the horse to quicken a little more at the end, but he puts that down to greenness.  He expects Montbazon to now be aimed at the Aintree bumper, although no decision on this has yet been made.

 

Choc was disappointed that Lake Legend didn’t win the Novices’ Chase, but he had to ride the horse as he did, and it was just unfortunate that it didn’t pan out as hoped.  And he was delighted that Gerard Tumelty won Saturday’s Newbury bumper on Medinas, a horse Choc believes is a good prospect.

 

Choc also mentions that he is delighted that Jason Maguire’s ban has been reduced by one day, enabling him to ride Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.  He even mentions that it is a shame that the Colin Tizzard trained Hell’s Bay has been ruled out of the Jewson’s Novices’ Chase; Choc bears no grudge against the horse, despite it being the one which inflicted his serious knee injury at Newton Abbot last July.

 

And, finally, Choc hopes that it is a good omen that his memory failed him when asked by Alan King last week about the state of the going at the meeting he’d ridden at the previous day ... Choc couldn’t even recall where he’d been!  Evidently the same had happen in 1997 when David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson had asked him the same question.  The Duke thought Choc was going senile at the age of 18!

 

Monday 28 February 2011

The main topic of Choc’s Racing Post column this week is whip use or abuse; a topic much in the headlines with Jason Maguire incurring the wrath of the stewards at Doncaster last week which may, subject to an appeal, rule him out for the first day of the Cheltenham Festival and thus the plum ride aboard Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.  

 

Choc, along with many of his Weighing Room colleagues, think that Jason has been harshly treated; he was given 5 days suspension for marking his mount, and 2 additional days for excessive use of the whip.  He believes that stewarding decisions are inconsistent; but would also like each case to be treated on an individual basis.  Choc thinks that the races a jockey might miss should also be taken into consideration.

 

Choc also mentions the animal welfare issues which are constantly being put forward in relation to using a whip; and wonders that if a whip ban was imposed it might be just the beginning of a ‘slippery slope’ which could eventually force National Hunt racing into oblivion.   

 

He explains that a whip is an essential tool for controlling half-a-ton of racehorse and, although he doesn’t always agree with the length of bans which are awarded, part of a stewards’ role is to closely monitor its use.   After a lifetime of working with horses, Choc is convinced that using a whip is not cruel. 

 

Choc’s second topic was his exploits in last Saturday’s Racing Post Chase; Bakbenscher unseating him, although it was virtually a fall!  And he wonders if the winner, Quinz, will take part in this year’s Grand National, despite his novice status.  Choc also mentions that Bensalem will be schooled over fences this week, with the aim of running him in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase on the first day of the Festival or, if conditions are too testing, then he may run in the shorter distance Byrne Bros Chase on the Thursday.

 

And, finally, Choc pays tribute to the staff who work in studs and stables, a number of whom will be honoured at today’s Godolphin awards ceremony.  

Monday 21 February 2011

The main topic of Choc’s Racing Post column this week is his hopes for the upcoming Cheltenham Festival. 

 

Following his treble at Wincanton on Saturday, when he had a 100% strike rate, Choc was extremely happy.  And to top it all, he knows that he has at least 4 good prospects for this year’s Cheltenham Festival. 

 

His main hopes at Medermit in the Arkle; Mille Chief in the Champion Hurdle; Smad Place in the Triumph Hurdle; and Bensalem in the Festival Handicap Chase.  And the fact that all these horses are trained by Alan King makes it extra special.

 

Choc is also hopeful that Walkon will bounce back from his disappointing run in the Totesport Trophy; his most likely Festival target being The Coral Cup. 

 

He was very happy with Mille Chief’s run when winning the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday; despite some people expressing disappointment.  Choc was delighted for both the horse and owner when Jetnova won the Handicap Hurdle; he says that although the horse is probably not quite up to Festival standard as a hurdler, he’s looking forward to going novice chasing on him in the future.  And Smad Place ran all his rivals, bar one, into the ground by setting the pace on Saturday.

 

Choc thought Bensalem ran very well at Haydock Park, as he knew he would need the run; Choc believes his best chance will be in the Festival Handicap Chase (which has now been confirmed by Alan King), just so long as they can get his jumping right.

 

Salden Licht, who was unlucky when brought down in the Totesport Trophy, and The Betchworth Kid who finished 4th in same, are likely to be aimed at the County Hurdle or The Coral Cup.

 

Choc is now focusing on Bakbenscher who is due to run in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton this coming Saturday, and is expecting a big run from the horse.

 

Following Saturday’s Grand National Trial at Haydock, Choc still believes West End Rocker is in with a live chance at Aintree.  His jumping held up well throughout the race, and Choc thinks it was solely the desperately heavy going which took its toll; the horse having been pulled up before the last.

 

And, last but not least, Choc mentions the first of his Festival preview outings, which will take place at the Injured Jockeys’ Fund’s Oaksey House in Lambourn next Monday night, 28 February; raising money for same.  There will be a fork supper, a glass of wine and a free Festival bet, for the princely sum of £15 (sounds like a bargain ... it’s just a pity it’s too far away for me to attend).  The event starts at 19:15 and tickets can be booked by ringing Jackie Porter on 01488 674242.  The other panel members will be ex-jockey now trainer Brendan Powell, journalist Jonathan Powell, and Coral’s Simon Clare.

 

Monday 14 February 2011

With the unfortunate events at Newbury last Saturday, when two horses died in the Parade Ring prior to the first race, with electrocution almost certainly being the cause, there could only be one main topic for Choc’s Racing Post column this week.

 

Choc describes the day as the most tragic and traumatic day he’s ever experienced on a racecourse.  Having entered the Parade Ring he writes about the total shock and confusion when the two horses collapsed on the ground, with no-one having any idea what to do.

 

After a lot of hesitation, they were told to take the remaining horses (five) into the Pre-Parade Ring where they would be legged up.  Word then quickly spread that one or possibly two other horses had been affected and had stumbled but, as it had not appeared to be serious, they had just gone to the post early.  Then they heard that the two horses which had collapsed in the Parade Ring had died.   

 

The jockeys were stunned; the atmosphere eerie.  He’s sure that he was not the only jockey who thought the fixture should be cancelled at that point; and he was astonished that the race went ahead.  But he honestly admits that he did not complain, as so many things happen in racing that you just have to get on with it. 

 

The vets checked the horses, said they were okay, and asked the jockeys if they were happy to continue.  He said they were in a bit of a daze, so agreed to race and went to the start.  AP reported to him later that his mount, Kid Cassidy (who I saw stumble), had bolted to the start but, once there, refused to move, hence the withdrawal.

 

Choc says the race was bizarre, because none of the jockeys could concentrate properly, and he was aware of not being the only one who felt queasy throughout.  He, personally, had his mind focused on what could have caused the two horses to die.   

 

After weighing in, he knew the remainder of the races would be cancelled; and soon this was announced. 

 

Although in fear of sounding harsh, he thought that things had got to continue, so he asked Alan King if he should go to Warwick to ride in the last two races; with AP asking Jonjo O’Neill the same question, so they headed to Warwickshire in Choc’s car.  He’d like to say his trip was successful, but he finished second in both the races.

 

Choc states that, whether or not the card is restaged, he never wants to see another day like it.

 

As a by-line, Choc mentions that he and AP encountered one particularly unpleasant guy who stumbled into the path of the car as they were driving out of the racecourse, determined not to let them pass.   AP even got out of the car to ask him nicely, but received a mouthful of abuse.  So, in the end, Choc edged forward more vigorously and the ‘W and rhymes with banker’ slide over the bonnet before disappearing to the side!  And Choc apologises if he caused any distress. 

 

And last, but not least, Choc wishes poor Phil Kinsella a speedy recovery (and we all second that); the jockey having sustained a double fracture of his skull at Market Rasen last week, which may result in loss of hearing in his left ear; the accident happened just two weeks after he returned from 9 months on the sidelines after breaking a bone in his neck.

Monday 07 February 2011

In his column this week, Choc wrote about his change of fortune; as he’s had a very good week.

 

He rode two winners midweek (Daring Origyn for Richard Lee and Mister Stickler for Alan King); and two further winners at Sandown Park on Saturday, Kumbeshwar in the Juvenile Hurdle and, of course, Medermit in the Grade 1 Novices’ Chase.  He states that Medermit ‘settled well, jumped well and travelled beautifully throughout’.   And he was never worried when Captain Chris gained on him during the final 50 yards, as they had plenty left in hand.  He says the owners have opted to aim the horse for the 2 mile Arkle Chase, rather than the 2 mile 4 furlongs Jewson; but he would have been happy with either choice.

 

Choc was, however, very disappointed with Like A Hurricane, who never gave him a good feel throughout the race; Hong Kong Harry, who ‘stopped’ a mile out having travelled well; and Call Me A Legend who found the 2 miles too short.

 

He’s now looking forward to riding either Walkon or Salden Licht in the Totesport Trophy on Saturday.  He feels it would be difficult to desert Walkon on whom he won a Grade 1; but Salden Licht won well under top weight at Exeter last time out.  Nor does he rule out the chances of the yard’s other runners, Iolith and The Betchworth Kid.  [Note from Jane: personally I’d ride Walkon if he runs, as he’s my favourite racehorse!]

 

Choc also tells how he got into racing; and pays tribute to his three most admired jockeys.  Choc’s parents had no involvement in horseracing; his dad was a professional huntsman and his parents had always kept horses, but Choc enjoyed the riding and the horses, rather than the hounds.  His parents discouraged him from considering a career in the hunt service and then, having attended a couple of point-to-point meetings, he began to watch racing on TV.  And then Desert Orchid appeared on the scene, and all he wanted to do from that time on was to be a jump jockey!

 

His three most admired jockeys are Adrian Maguire, Jamie Osborne and Norman Williamson.  When Choc left school he began working at the yard of David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, which was where he met Adrian.  The lads in the yard called him ‘God’; he rode without a care in the world, with great confidence, and was as brave as a lion, although all his finesse would disappear if it meant getting past the post first!  All Adrian thought about was winning. 

 

In contrast, Jamie Osborne could never be accused of untidy riding, everything appeared effortless, he would present a horse to a fence immaculately, was brilliant at delivering a perfectly timed run, and no-one was better at riding from the front.

 

Norman Williamson rode exceptionally short so was always easy to spot during a race, and had the knack of making horses travel extremely well during a race.  He would never leave it up to the horse to decide upon a stride to a jump, he would always make up the horse’s mind for it.  [Note from Jane:  Choc is always very easy to spot too, even if I can’t remember the colour of his silks, or see the red tops of his boots.  Choc is unique; the one and only!]

 

Choc feels privileged to have ridden against them, and occasionally to have beaten them too!

 

And, finally, he mentions the Horsemen’s Group’s stand against the low levels of prize money in jump racing.  Alan King won’t enter horses in races where the prize money falls below the minimum stipulated levels; and Choc won’t accept any outside rides in them either.   He’s fed up with hearing about France, South Africa and even Barbados offering superior prize money to here.  He sympathises with northern trainers and jockeys who have lost numerous meetings in recent weeks due to the weather, but believes everyone should stick together; especially as prize money is often less than it was 10 years ago. 

Wednesday 02 February 2011

There was an article in this week’s Racing Post ‘Weekender’ newspaper (published today) in which John O’Hara interviewed Choc about his ‘terrific career in the saddle’.

 

Most memorable day’s racing: Choc singled out 11 March 2008 (Cheltenham Festival), when he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle aboard spare ride Captain Cee Bee, beating Binocular in the process; and, of course, winning the Champion Hurdle aboard Katchit an hour later.  [Note from Jane: it was also the day I ‘discovered’ Choc, so it was very special for me too!]

 

Who he most admires in racing: From the past it has to be David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson; colleagues he has huge admiration for are former jockeys Adrian Maguire and Norman Williamson.

 

Has racing always been his passion: Being from a hunting background he has been involved with horses all his life; in addition to hunting, he became involved in point-to-pointing and was hooked.

 

His favourite racehorse of all time is: My Way De Solzen, followed closely by Voy Por Ustedes

 

The biggest disappointment of his career: When My Way De Solzen lost his form after four seasons at the top, because he hoped he might be a Gold Cup horse.

 

How would he improve racing as a day out: He wouldn’t go racing if he wasn’t working!

 

Career highlight: Finishing as top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007 (4 wins); and top rider at the Aintree Festival in 2009.

 

His greatest ambition: To win the Grand National; Alan King has a good prospect this year in West End Rocker.

 

One ride which stands out above all others: A Novices’ Selling Hurdle at Hereford 8 years ago.  He rode a horse called Knightsbridge King for Alan King and the horse was very slow; described in the Racing Post as having a ‘suspect temperament’.  Choc won the race by giving the ride everything and cajoling the horse over the line.  It was very satisfying.

 

If he hadn’t been a jockey, what would he be: He thinks he would have ended up claiming benefits, but he’d have liked to have played in a decent rock band!

 

The best horse he has ever ridden: Voy Por Ustedes

 

The best racehorse he’s ever seen: Master Minded winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2008; beating Choc aboard Voy Por by 19 lengths, and the third placed horse was 16 lengths further back!  Kauto Star ranks up there too.

 

During the winter months, does Choc feel the cold when riding: Sometimes when cantering to the start but not during the race.  Although he recalls that at Taunton one day, he couldn’t feel his hands it was so bitterly cold.

 

Which horse should the Weekender readers follow this season: Bensalem.  The yard was very pleased with last Saturday’s effort at Cheltenham, the horse having returned following serious illness.  He felt the horse would probably have won last year’s William Hill Chase at the Festival but for falling 2 out; he’s still on the same handicap mark and may go chasing again with the same target this season.

 

His favourite racecourse: Cheltenham, if you are riding a good horse!

 

Ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, which horse most excites him: Both Medermit and Mille Chief.

 

His most expensive purchase (apart from his house): His BMW

 

Has he ever had such a bad day that he thought about giving up racing: No. None of his injuries have left him feeling that he wanted to pack the game in.  Although sometimes stewards drive him mad!

 

Favourite hobby outside of racing: Enjoys watching sport on TV; and favourite is boxing.

 

The sportsman he most admires: Boxer Ricky Hatton.

 

The last CD he bought: Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons.

 

The last good film he watched: Taken.

 

Front-row tickets for any concert or show: He’d like to see Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao matched in the ring.

 

Best advice given: By valet Alan Webb - ‘Keep riding for as long as you can, because when you give it up you will have to work for a living!’

 

Does he prefer to be called Robert or ‘Choc’: he doesn’t mind either; he’s been called a lot worse!

 

If he wasn’t ‘Choc’ who would he like to be for a day: He’d like to be in the boy band 1 Direction (from X Factor); because they had so many girls chasing after them!

 

His dream holiday destination: He loves skiing, and would pick Val D’Isere as his favourite resort.  He also loves the sunshine, somewhere quiet, perhaps a return trip to Dubai.  And he’d love to go to Las Vegas to see a major world title fight.  [Note from Jane: strangely enough, Andre Agassi loves boxing too, his father was an Olympic boxer and, as he lives in Vegas, he’s often been to see headline fights.]

 

And, finally, four people he’d like to invite to a dinner party: Jeremy Clarkson (uuuuuummmmmm!); Mohammed Ali (prior to his illness); Cheryl Cole (but solely for Meally to talk to); and Vinnie Jones.  [Note from Jane: Jeremy is an Aries like Meally; Ali a Capricorn like William; Cheryl is a Cancerian like Choc; and last but not least, Vinnie Jones is also a Capricorn ... and shares my birthday too!  And, yes, I approve of Vinnie!]   

Monday 31 January 2011

In this week’s column, Choc recounts the ‘horrors’ of the past 7 days. 

 

The first (and worst) incident was his unseating from Invictus at Leicester on Tuesday, which he describes as one of the most embarrassing moments of his career.  It was the first time he had lost a stirrup iron while merely cantering; and whilst in the process of trying to regain his balance and keep the partnership intact, his mount had sensed this, jinked, and he flew out the side door.  It has been commented upon that perhaps he rides with his leathers too short, and with just the balls of his feet in the stirrups but, he points out, he’s ridden that way for years without a problem.  Fortunately, he said, his colleagues in the Weighing Room didn’t ‘rib’ him about the incident.  And he didn’t get a rollicking from Alan King; but Choc did tell his boss that he felt a complete prat!  

 

As Invictus would have won but for this incident, Choc phoned the owner, Richard Kelvin Hughes, to apologise, and Richard was fine about it, wanting to know all about the horse’s run up to that point.  Choc said the horse was tremendous and he has no doubt that he will win races. 

 

The following day, Wednesday, Choc was beaten a head upon 7-4 favourite Araldur, by a 66-1 shot!   Then, following his ride aboard Raduis Bleu he was awarded a one day suspension (09 February) for careless riding when hampering two horses, including the winner (which was actually ridden by Wayne Hutchinson!).  He mentions his frustration that there’s no consistency when awarding suspensions – one steward may stand a jockey down, whilst another might just issue a caution for a similar level of infringement.  He says it’s a rather unfair to class a bit of accidental ‘bumping’ out in the country as a issue when it was too far out to affect the outcome of the race.

 

He then goes on to mention another couple of falls, Vivarini and Raya Star, the latter who he felt would win at Fontwell.  And also the disappointing run of Batonnier.  But he says, thankfully, all the horses were okay following their mishaps, and so was he.

 

He confesses to being a little superstitious (I thought he’d got over that!) so on Friday night he threw away the new breeches he’d been riding in all week (I could have found a very good home for those!) in the hope of changing his fortune at Cheltenham on Saturday.  However, he then promptly fell at the first on Ravethebrave, finished third on Bakbenscher and Habbie Simpson in their respective races, and pulled up Gilded Age. 

 

However, he’s confident that all these horses will do well in the future, especially Invictus, Araldur and Raya Star.  And, finally, he mentions his win aboard Dhaafer last Thursday. Although by Saturday night he didn’t feel great about the events of the past week, he’s going to put it all behind him and is excited by the prospect of riding Medermit, Mille Chief and Walkon in the next few weeks. 

 

Another topic was horseracing in South Africa; where both car parking and entry are free to a ‘rural’ track; and prize-money ranges from £5,000 to £9,000.  That’s compared to here for an equivalent fixture, where £4,000 to £6,000 would be the maximum offered, and for most races much less.

 

And finally he writes about one of his pet hates – motorway driving.  Whilst he was absent through injury, he says he’d almost forgotten about having to travel miles across country to reach meetings, and the nightmares it involves.  Juggernauts swerving from lane to lane in the driving rain; traffic cones but no sign of any workmen; and, worst of all, the middle-lane morons!   He’s hoping that the motorway police will turn their attention away from speeding motorists and clamp down on all those drivers who hog the middle lane.     

 

I’ve had a close encounter with Choc on the M25, between the M4 and M40 junctions; it happened last February when I was driving back from Kempton Park.  The section has 4 lanes, the inside one reserved for vehicles intending to head west along the M40.  So I was driving in lane 2, as I intended to head around to junction 21A.  I was just minding my own business, when a car pulled over from an outside lane and into the lane in front of me.  I looked at the number plate and realised that it was Choc’s car!  (It’s a fabulous number plate, but my lips are sealed.)  Shortly afterwards the car pulled over to the inside lane, and duly disappeared down the slip-road onto the M40 (although he did overtake in the outside lane around the bend!)  I wonder what the odds are of having such a close encounter with my favourite guy on the motorway.

Monday 24 January 2011

In his column this week, Choc reminisces about and pays tribute to Voy Por Ustedes, a horse which he has ridden 29 times, winning on 11 occasions and being placed in another 11 races.  The horse is in Choc’s thoughts this week, as it is 6 years since he first rode Voy Por on a racecourse, in a Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon on 26 January 2005; winning that day and finishing well clear of the odds-on favourite. 

 

Not surprisingly, Choc says that Voy Por is one of the best horses he has ever ridden, and he puts him in the same league as My Way De Solzen and Katchit.   The horse’s career earnings to date are a mere £6,000 short of £1 million. 

 

Voy Por was originally trained by Guillaume Macaire in France, but fell on his hurdling debut at Compiegne in September 2004.  He ran a further 4 times in France, winning twice and finishing third on the other two occasions, before travelling to England to run at Lingfield Park, where he blundered at the first, unseating his French rider.   

 

On the same day, Choc rode another French bred horse, Massac, at Cheltenham, owned by the Million in Mind Partnership, but sadly the horse died in a fall that day.  Looking for a replacement, Alan King suggested they purchase Voy Por, as he had shown encouraging form, which they did and they sent him to Alan to train.

 

Choc describes Voy Por’s early days as ‘challenging’- he recalls ending up in an open-ditch during a schooling session prior to his first appearance over fences, the horse having suddenly refused for no apparent reason, having already jumped a number of fences with no problem. 

 

Following his first season with the Million in Mind Partnership he went to the sales; this being the syndicate’s standard policy.  So Alan King suggested to Sir Robert Ogden that he purchase the horse, and the rest is history.  He mentions Voy Por’s run of 5 consecutive wins during the 2005/2006 season culminating with the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. 

 

The following season he finished runner-up to Kauto Star in the Tingle Creek Chase; then unseated Choc during the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, but everything was forgiven when he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at that year’s Festival.  He also mentions a ‘wonderful win’ over Master Minded in Aintree’s Melling Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs in 2008, following two devastating defeats at the hooves of this nemesis earlier in the year.   

 

Voy Por scored two high-quality successes in 2008/2009; but fell below his previous best last season, although many of the horses in the Alan King yard were struggling.  However, Choc will always remember Voy Por Ustedes at his glorious best. 

 

Choc mentions that he rode a treble at Huntingdon on 26 January 2005; the other winners being Penzance (Alan King) and Almaydan (Richard Lee).  And he’d love to celebrate the anniversary this coming Wednesday with another treble at the course! 

 

Choc also writes about attendances at the races, which have risen for the second year running; with Saturday attendances up by nearly 8 percent; even Wednesday and Thursday averages showed a rise throughout much of the year.  It’s very encouraging news he says.

 

Choc mentions Walkon’s return to action at Ascot on Saturday.  Having purposely stayed wide of Lough Derg to avoid a battle, Choc was convinced he was going to win aboard Walkon, only to be mugged by Tiger O’Toole on the line.  As the runners pulled up to told Paul Moloney “You’ve robbed me and you didn’t even wear a mask”.  Despite this, he thinks Paul should win the ‘Ride of the Week’ award. 

 

Choc is really pleased with Walkon, who travelled extremely well under a big weight during Saturday’s race; he is a real galloper who can stay in top gear for a very long time.  His main aims this season will be the Champion Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle (and, according to reports from Alan King, possibly taking in the totesport Gold Trophy at Newbury on the way).  Choc says Tiger O’Toole has paid a good compliment to their other Champion Hurdle hope, Mille Chief, who beat Evan Williams’ charge by 15 lengths at Sandown Park earlier this month!

 

Choc is also looking forward to Bensalem’s return to action in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham this coming weekend.  Although he’s still gutted that the horse’s season as a novice chaser ‘didn’t work out’!  They are hopeful, however, that he will make up into a World Hurdle contender, and they will know a lot more after Saturday.  [Note from Jane: Bensalem suffered a life-threatening bout of pneumonia when returning from his summer break, hence the delay in his seasonal re-appearance.]

 

And, finally, he’s hoping for good runs from two ‘nice’ novice hurdlers, Invictus and Lord Liath, who run at Leicester tomorrow. 

Monday 17 January 2011

The main topic of Choc’s Racing Post column this week was, not surprisingly, Saturday’s King George VI Chase.  Choc knew Kauto Star wasn’t his usual self, as AP was already slapping and niggling at the horse even before Choc pulled up his own mount, Forpadydeplasterer, at the far turn on the second circuit.  Choc was delighted for amateur jockey, and owner’s son Sam Waley-Cohen, who has worked so hard on honing his riding skills, assisted by Yogi Breisner. 

 

As Kauto Star didn’t manage to win five King George’s in a row, Choc felt the race was a bit of an anti-climax after such a build-up.  And he knew that it was more than a stamina issue with Forpadydeplasterer which forced him to pull up early, as he didn’t even see out a mile!  (This was later confirmed in Sunday’s Racing Post).

 

Choc admitted that he had a disappointing day, compounded by The Betchworth Kid’s lacklustre run in the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle, where a third flight error put paid to any chance he might have had.  It was especially galling when Wayne Hutchison rode 2 winners for the stable at Warwick (aboard Call Me A Legend and West End Rocker).  But, as he says, you can’t dwell on what might have been.

 

Choc then looks forward to riding Walkon in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock next Saturday, the horse having been absent through injury since Aintree 2009.  He thinks Walkon will need the run, and in time will probably be better over a longer trip, as he doesn’t have the speed of their Champion Hurdle hope, Mille Chief (who will head to Wincanton for the Kingwell Hurdle).

 

Choc says that ‘Cheltenham fever’ is already beginning to build ... and he also mentions the ‘countdown clock’ on David Pipe’s website.  Choc knows that a number of people get annoyed that the Festival dominates the National Hunt racing calendar but he, personally, loves it!  And it provides a fantastic climax to the jumps season.  And when he is on the gallops or schooling early in the season he can’t help but wonder if his mount will turn out to be a Cheltenham contender.     

 

He’s also looking forward to the preview nights, as a panel member at some and an audience member at others; having had a change of heart a few years ago, when prior to which he’d avoid them as he didn’t like to tempt fate!  But he’s now come to realise that he was missing some very good nights out.   

 

Choc mentions that he has been invited to join the panel again this year at trainer Richard Phillips’ Cheltenham Preview night.  The event takes place at the Village Hall in Adlestrop in the Cotwolds on Monday 07 March 2011, commencing at 19:00; and taking part along with Choc will be John Francome, Andrew Tinkler, Rick Statto Allen and Richard’s Assistant, Gordon Clarkson (the man who bestowed the nickname of ‘Choc’ upon my favourite jockey!)  Here is a link to a map of the area.  Entry price for non-Adlestrop Club members is £20.  Confirmation of the above can be found on Richard’s website.

 

Choc is also very pleased to accept an invitation to join the panel at a charity Cheltenham preview night at the IJF’s Oaksey House in Lambourn.  (I’ve not found any information about this event, but here is the link to the IJF’s website just in case further news appears.)

 

And, finally, Choc thanks everyone for their tremendous response in respect of the Research Project being carried out at Liverpool’s John Moores University (see 10 January 2011 entry below).  However, there is still a requirement for more jockey volunteers and financial donations to help fund the research.  And the Racing Post has reprinted the contact email address g.wilson2@2009.ljmu.ac.uk as there was a misprint last week! 

Monday 10 January 2011

The main topic of Choc’s column this week is a study into the possible long-term effects of weight control amongst jockeys.  A friend of Choc’s, George Wilson, is studying for a PhD and is part of a team based at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool’s John Moores University which is scientifically investigating jockeys’ diets and health.  The aim is to find a better way for the jockeys to lose weight and keep it off and, hopefully, also help with the mood swings often associated with severe weight loss.  George and his team are looking for 100 jockeys to take part in the research, and Choc is going to volunteer to take part.

 

Choc also talks about his riding highlight of the week – Mille Chief’s success in the handicap hurdle at Sandown Park on Saturday under top weight of 11st 12lb.  He speaks about the genuine worry beforehand by trainer and jockey alike, that the heavy ground would seriously affect his chances in the race.  But it was felt that the horse had to run on Saturday as there would be very little opportunity to compete between now and his intended targets later in the season.  However, the horse gave Choc a superb ride and won by 6 lengths. 

 

Choc was also very pleased with Oh Crick, who he sees as a ‘Spring’ horse, for finishing 3rd in the 2 mile Handicap Chase.  He believes the horse’s next target will be the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival, a race which Oh Crick won in 2009. 

 

At the time of writing his column, Choc was unsure about his plans for Saturday’s fixture at Kempton Park – which included the re-scheduled King George VI Chase.  Choc had been engaged to ride Irish raider Forpadytheplasterer in the original race before it was abandoned, although he is hoping to retain the ride for 15 January.  However, if plans go awry, he will divert to Warwick, where West End Rocker and Jetnova may run.  He also looks forward to riding Patsy Finnegan in a Novices’ Chase at Huntingdon on Friday, the horse having been absent due to injury since early 2009.

 

And finally, Choc and his wife send heartfelt thanks to everyone for all their kind wishes, cards and presents following the safe arrival of baby William.  Not only have they come from family and friends, but also everyone at the Barbury Castle yard, owners, trainers, fellow jockeys, racegoers and readers (I guess I fall into the final two categories, as a card was hand delivered to Choc on Saturday by yours truly ... and a special handcrafted present is almost ready for delivery too!)

 

William has allowed his parents to get a few hours unbroken sleep and on days when he is not at the races, Choc is throwing himself into his new role as a father!  However, he says that riding racehorses is a doddle by comparison.  

Monday 03 January 2011

Not surprisingly, the main topic in Choc’s Racing Post column is the arrival of baby William Robert, who was born at 18:04 on Thursday 30 December 2010, and weighed in at 6 lb 13 oz.  And, of course, there was a lovely photo of the very happy (but tired) parents with their new baby.

 

Choc describes the overwhelming sense of pride and joy he experienced when William arrived; although he was 8 days late and had put his wife through more than 40 hours of labour.  The first signs that William was on his way appeared late last Tuesday evening, so they set off for Cheltenham General Hospital just before midnight, but it was a false alarm.  Luckily Meally’s parents have been staying with them over the Christmas and New Year period so were always on hand, so Choc was able to ride at Newbury on Wednesday.  However at 22:30 that evening once more they set off for the Hospital as Meally was by now experiencing frequent contractions.  Choc admits to panicking a little when it was discovered that William was in the wrong position for delivery - head down but ‘back to back’ not ‘front to back’ – but the nursing staff managed to turn the baby and he arrived shortly afterwards.  

 

Choc pays tribute to Meally, especially as she didn’t call him any names or swear during the extremely painful and prolonged labour.  Although, for the present, his wife insists that she’s not having any more children!   

 

Having returned home, Choc was up at 06:00 on Friday to school Medermit ahead of his Cheltenham race, before visiting mother and baby in hospital and then riding in the bumper at Warwick. He reflects on the turbulence of the past 6 months – the initial depths of despair following his injury, followed by an early return to racing and riding winners, followed by the wonderful experience of becoming a father.  And he’s thoroughly looking forward to 2011.

 

Choc sends his best wishes to all injured jockeys and wishes them a speedy return.  And gives one final word on AP McCoy – one of Choc’s friends (who has little interest in racing) who went to Warwick races couldn’t believe how happy AP was to sign endless autographs and have his photo taken with anyone who asked – and described him as a true ‘Sports Personality’.

 

And, finally, Choc gives his overview of Saturday’s racing at Cheltenham – he was very pleased with the Medermit’s run in the Dipper Novices’ Chase, although he did have a wry smile at the irony of being beaten into 2nd by Hell’s Bay.  He confirmed that he leant over and patted Hell’s Bay at the end of the race ... whilst muttering something unprintable under his breath!  Choc believes that Medermit would be suited by both the 2 mile Arkle Chase or the new Jewson Chase over 2 miles 5 furlongs at the Festival ... he says that the horse is still learning and there should be more to come.

 

He also reflects on Blazing Bailey’s win, and it surprised him too; he thinks that Alan will probably be contemplating a race such as the Scottish National for the horse now.  He thinks Habbie Simpson is a lovely horse and did well to finish 3rd in the Novices’ Hurdle, especially as there was a lot of bunching and bumping during the race – he thinks he may have an engagement at the Festival.  Nor was Choc disappointed with Jojabean, as the horse was pitched in at the deep end, being one of only two who had never run before and was also up against seven previous winners.   

Monday 27 December 2010

In his column this week, Choc wrote about spending a ‘normal’ Christmas at home in Gloucestershire due to the abandonment of Kempton Park’s Winter Festival, although he is hoping that he will retain his ride aboard Forpadydeplasterer when the re-arranged King George VI Chase takes place at the track on Saturday 15 January.

 

Choc spent yesterday with his family and his in-laws, supervising his 3-year old nephew Connor sledging down a hill near his home, watching Aston Villa vs. Spurs on TV, and waiting for both the thaw and the baby to arrive!  He is hoping the baby arrives very soon, so that he doesn’t have to turn down any rides having spent so long on the sidelines, and he would prefer not to rush back from some far flung racecourse to be at the birth.  It was small portions for Christmas lunch too, having lost a lot of weight during November and early December and having little exercise over the weekend apart from shovelling snow! 

 

Choc did some schooling at Alan King’s yard last Thursday, and makes special mention of a horse called Invictus which is due to run soon.  The snow is knee deep in Gloucestershire, so Choc had been surprised that Kempton Park showed quite so much optimism that racing would go ahead.  Anyway, for the moment, he’s got his snow shovel at the ready in the 4x4, just in case he needs to tackle the lanes around his village to make a dash to Cheltenham General Hospital for the delivery of their first born.

 

Choc also praises Kempton and Southwell for organising their respective ‘Bumpers’ for Jumpers’ cards, which give everyone the opportunity to continue ‘ticking over’ whilst snow stops play for a prolonged period.

 

He also writes about being in the audience at the BBC Sports Personality Awards show and everyone’s delight when it was announced that AP McCoy had won. 

Monday 20 December 2010

In his Racing Post column this week, Choc wrote about how pleased he was with his first extended period back in the saddle following injury.  Having just been glad to be back in the saddle again, last week turned out to be all he could have dreamed of, with 2 winners on Monday (Jetnova and Medermit), one on Tuesday (Prince Du Seuil), one of Wednesday (Incentivise) and one of Thursday (De Forgotten Man); the latter being trained by Martin Keighley, who is always a pleasure to ride for.  Choc was also pleased that he’d not lost the art of tucking himself up into a ball to avoid injury, and thus suffered no ill effects from his first fall, apart from a little stiffness the following day. 

 

Having driven to Huntingdon on Sunday 12 December, Choc knew as soon as he got there that the fixture was likely to be frozen off and suggests that courses should call off meetings earlier when chances of racing are minimal. Abandoning late meant that many horses, stable staff, jockeys and race-goers had already arrived, only to have to turn around and go home again.

 

Choc points out that this coming week has a number of interesting events – Christmas Day, the King George on Boxing Day and, most importantly, the birth of his first child which is due this coming Wednesday (22 December).  He has promised his wife that he will be there at the birth come what may ... and he is hoping that he can announce their baby’s safe arrival in the next few days. 

 

Choc advises that, as he has returned to race riding sooner than expected, he won’t be able to play a ‘full part’ as Kempton Park’s ‘Face of Racing’ over Christmas; but he is still looking forward to playing his part on future days when he is riding at the course.  Choc has had great fun taking part in the events organised by Kempton and thanks them for the opportunity to try something different.

 

And, finally, he thanks everyone for their kind wishes upon his return to race riding.  He’s been truly touched by the warmth of everyone’s reception – from gatemen, stewards, owners, trainers, jockeys, ordinary race-goers and racing Post readers alike.  And he wishes everyone a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Monday 13 December 2010

Today Choc recorded his first wins since returning from his injury, with a double aboard Jetnova and Medermit at Plumpton today; his 9th and 10th winners of the 2010/2011 season.

 

In his column today, Choc tries and hopes to ‘put to bed’ the interviews controversy; he’s not boycotting Racing UK; and he explains and defends his stand against giving interviews to Channel 4 immediately post race.  Choc also congratulates Matt Chapman of At The Races on his recent Broadcaster of the Year Award. 

 

Choc implores everyone to vote for AP McCoy to become this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year – voting takes place next Sunday evening ... don’t forget.

 

He also asks everyone to spare a thought for all the stable staff whose jobs are made that more difficult when temperatures fall – clearing snow and ice, gritting the yard, and frozen pipes to name but some of the problems encountered.  Whilst the big freeze has been on, Choc has been carrying on the gym work, physio and riding out.  He mentions that Andrew Thornton and Jimmy McCarthy have been playing golf, whilst Wilson Renwick and Campbell Gillies have been skiing in Scotland, along with Choc’s valet Phil Taylor.  Lots of the jockeys also had a get-together at Choc’s favourite hostelry - The Plough Inn at Ford – Choc declined an invitation as he’s still working on his fitness and he also wants to remain sober should he be required to drive Meally to the maternity unit!  

Monday 06 December 2010

Not surprisingly, in his Racing Post column this week, Choc writes about his joy at being back in the saddle again, and thanks lots of people for their support during his absence – his surgeon Jonathan Webb, the PJA’s Medical Advisor Dr Anna-Louise Mackinnon, and Dr Phil Pritchard who patched Choc up in the middle of the night when one of his operation wounds refused to stop bleeding.  Also Frankie Naylor, Kate Badger and Daloni Lucas at Oaksey House in Lambourn, and John and Jackie Porter who run the IJF establishment.  Trainers Alan King and Paul Nicholls, the Manchester United physio Robert Swires, and Lisa Delany from JETS.  His wife Meally, his parents Sally and Martin, and Meally’s parents Gilly and Peter.  He writes that he owes all these and many others an enormous debt of gratitude that he will never be able to repay.  However, he will endeavour to show his appreciation by riding lots of winners!  

 

Choc also commends the authorities for re-arranging the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and, hopefully, weather conditions will improve and the re-scheduled Tingle Creek Chase will be run at Cheltenham next weekend.  Strangely enough, he mentions the fact that Sam Twiston-Davies will be able to ride in the December Gold Cup next Saturday as a result of the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase being moved to the card, and Twist Magic’s like of Sandown but dislike of Cheltenham ... I mentioned these two facts in my blog last Friday!

 

Although not nervous at returning to race riding, Choc is getting nervous at the prospect of his first child arriving in two or three weeks’ time.  He has been accompanying Meally to antenatal classes ... but confesses that he’s not a ‘modern man’ when it comes to babies!   And he also says he’s going to leave the nappy changing to his wife! 

Sunday 05 December 2010

Exactly five months since the day he sustained his serious knee injury at Newton Abbot, Choc returned to racecourse action (at Exeter) to ride Causeway King in the Exeter Hurdle.  He finished 2nd in the 4 horse contest.

Racing Post story

At The Races Story

The Sporting Life Story

Also a lovely photo of Choc and Causeway King on the ‘Choc Thornton Kempton Park Face of Jump Racing’ Facebook page: Click here to view

Wednesday 01 December 2010

Having visited his surgeon, Jonathan Webb, for a final check-up on Monday, Choc travelled to London today to see the BHA’s (British Horseracing Authority’s) Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Michael Turner.  The very exciting news is that Choc has been passed fit to commence race riding again and will return to action as soon as the current ‘cold snap’ ends.  More

Monday 29 November 2010

In his Racing Post column this week, Choc thanks his wife Meally for her unremitting help and support throughout his ‘injury nightmare’.   He also pays tribute to all those racing-related wives and girlfriends who have to put up with the job related ‘grumpiness’ of their partners.

 

Choc also discusses racing forums, and wonders if they should perhaps be better policed, considering some of the anonymous comments which appear therein.

 

And, of course, he mentions that he was due to visit his surgeon today, with the hope of returning to race riding in the very near future.  Choc’s fitness is good, he’s schooling every Monday and Thursday and riding lots of work in between.  And, of course, he’s had his first fall – coincidently the first part of him to meet the ground was his right knee – and he reports that he suffered no pain whatsoever.

Monday 22 November 2010

In his column this week, Choc mentions how pleased he is for the team at Alan King’s yard now that the horses are showing their true form, after a disappointing 2009/2010 season.  He also wonders why his talented deputy Wayne Hutchinson hasn’t been ‘snapped up’ by another yard to become their stable jockey.  (Note from Jane – Choc did mention something along these lines when I walked the course with him at Newbury last March!) 

 

Choc has been watching lots of racing on TV during his absence and mentions a number of horses to follow, from other yards: Rajamand, Beshabar, Pocket Aces, Whoops A Daisy and Menorah.

 

Choc also praises Channel 4 pundit Jim McGrath, who he met properly for the first time when he (Choc) was a guest in the commentary box at Cheltenham last weekend.  He was very impressed with Jim’s wealth of knowledge and his ability to make a ‘very nervous’ Choc feel more comfortable.  Choc has always had the greatest respect for John Francome - a brilliant jockey and accomplished broadcaster, and he now rates Jim McGrath alongside him who he describes as a man of the highest principles and utmost integrity.

 

Choc also mentions 3 presenters who seem to find something at fault in every race they review – Lydia Hislop, Jonathan Neesom and Steve Mellish on Racing UK – he turns the sound down when they are on!!!

 

And following my visit to Kempton Park today, where I took part in the final furlong course walk (yet again), I have to mention that Choc had his first fall when schooling at the Alan King yard today, but happily his knee came through this mishap perfectly fine.  Choc will be visiting his surgeon next Monday for a final check-up, and hopes to then get clearance from the BHA’s doctor to return to race-riding very soon – the earliest would be mid-week next week, but definitely within the next month.

 

Monday 15 November 2010

In his column this week, Choc writes about his dieting regime ahead of his return to the saddle.  He had been eating a normal diet during his time out of the saddle – 3 meals a day, a cup of tea with a biscuit, sometimes a chocolate bar too, and two pints of lager on a Saturday evening - and his weight crept up to 11 stone 8 lbs, the heaviest he’s been during his time as a jockey.  However, he’s now commenced a weight loss regime and is already down to just under 11 stone.  On an average racing day he will arrive at the course weighing around 10 stone 5 lbs. 

 

He’s been riding out for Alan King, and schooling over fences too during the past few days, so has been up at 05:00, drinking just a cup of tea and maybe eating a banana before leaving home.  He then eats nothing until his main meal of the day, which currently is at around 16:00, although when he returns to racing he will eat a little later, but hopefully no later than 18:00.  His main meal will consist of a lean chicken breast or smoked haddock/poached salmon with vegetables, or a tuna steak with baked potato and salad.  On a Sunday evening, if his Monday weights will allow, he has a roast dinner with vegetables.  He’s then allowed a cup of tea and maybe a piece of fruit before bed.  He cannot overdo taking on fluids during the day, so will just sip water – so Coca Cola has now been banished once more.

 

He wraps up well during training at Oaksey House, and thus can lose up to 3 lbs by sweating.  Riding out is good exercise and it helps with the flexibility in his knee too.  Finally, he’s due to come off his anti-inflammatory pills soon (which he has been taking to reduce the swelling in his knee) and, as these make him retain water, stopping them should help too.  

 

Choc also writes about Medermit’s totally out of character refusal at Huntingdon last week, as he’s never done anything like this on the racecourse or at home before.  However Choc is keeping faith with the horse and they will ensure he gets a lead from another horse during his next race.  And, he says, looking on the bright side, Medermit will probably be a better value bet the next time! 

 

Finally Choc mentions all the recently sidelined jockeys – Ruby Walsh, Christian Williams, Jack Doyle, Sam Jones and Harry Skelton – he empathises with them and wishes them all a very speedy recovery.

Monday 08 November 2010

Not surprisingly, the main topic in Choc’s Racing Post column this week is the fact that he has commenced riding out.  To gain confidence during the initial period, he has been visiting Timmy Murphy’s farm near Cirencester, where Timmy has set up a pre-training and recuperation yard.  Both Jason Maguire and Tom Siddall took this same route when recovering from their recent injuries. 

 

Choc rode retired ex-racehorse Vodka Bleu and has been really enjoying his return to the saddle.  Although he initially encountered a little discomfort when pulling up his irons whilst sitting in the saddle, standing up in the stirrups to canter has been fine.  And, with use, the bend in his knee is slowing returning.  He’s even been a bit naughty ... having given Timmy’s inexperienced mount a lead over a few logs ... and getting a telling off from his wife Meally for his troubles! 

 

Having promised to go steady for a while, he’s looking forward to riding work at Alan King’s yard this week, with the view to taking part in a schooling session in the near future.

 

Choc also writes about the Jets (Jockeys’ Employment and Training Scheme) 15th annual Richard Davis awards which will take place at Cheltenham on Sunday, wishing good luck to all the nominees.  The awards are named in honour of Richard Davis, a jockey who died in a fall at Southwell in 1996 aged just 26.

 

He also congratulates Paul Hanagan for winning the Flat Jockeys’ title on Saturday.

 

Looking forward to the prospect of returning to race-riding, he also mentions a number of Alan King trained horses which he is enthusiastic about – Salden Licht, Stoney’s Treasure, Mille Chief, Franklino, Walkon, Medermit and Pantxoa.

Monday 01 November 2010

There’s very good news in Choc’s Racing Post column this week, as he’s been given the go-ahead to commence riding out (which he did for the first time at Timmy Murphy’s farm last Saturday).  However, he’s not permitted to jump fences for a couple of weeks, just in case there’s a mishap. 

 

Although Choc noticed a massive improvement in his knee following the most recent operation, a bit of swelling has returned, which slightly hinders his ability to fully bend the knee.  The aim is to be able to touch the back of his thigh with his heel, so he is having massage to loosen up his knee, followed by very painful (tearfully painful in fact) brute force to push his leg back.  Ouch!

 

Choc puts forward the idea of splitting the National Hunt season into two phases – summer and winter – and having a Jockeys’ Championship for both ... although he admits that AP would probably win both!

 

Choc’s third topic for discussion is ‘coaching’ for young jockeys.  Choc is of the opinion that the best way to gain experience is to be a conditional jockey based with one trainer and, when not required to race-ride, the jockey would work in that trainer’s yard.

 

And, finally, he mentions the conflict of interest regarding the funding of horseracing ... no names are mentioned but no doubt he is referring to the BHA and Betfair.

Monday 25 October 2010

In his Racing Post column today, Choc’s main topic revolves around the up-and-coming jockeys who he believes will make an impact this season.  His first mention goes to young amateur Robert Jarrett, who rode Kauto The Roc into 3rd place at Exeter last week, his first ride for Alan King.  Two obvious candidates he says are Sam Twiston-Davies (son of Nigel) and Peterjon Carberry (sibling of Paul, Philip and Nina).  He believes it may also be a breakthrough season for Andrew Tinkler, and that Aidan Coleman will continue to develop into a very good jockey.  Last on his list is Brian Hughes, who he says possesses many of the attributes demonstrated by the talented Graham Lee.

 

Choc sings the praises of AP McCoy and is encouraging everyone to vote for the Champion in order to secure him the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. 

 

Finally, Choc is incensed that someone has described him as a ‘jockey-turned-columnist’ this week, thus implying that he is no longer devoting himself 100% to his riding career.  Whilst being grateful to the Racing Post for giving him the opportunity to publicly air his views whilst he’s out because of injury, he cannot wait to get back in the saddle and hopes to be riding for many years to come. 

Monday 18 October 2010

In his Racing Post column today, Choc’s main topic was his visit to Manchester United’s gym and physio facilities last week.  Although many of the players were away on international duty, Choc found himself on the cross-trainer between Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves!  He describes the whole experience over the 2 days as wonderful, a tremendous privilege, and he thanks everyone involved for their help and generous hospitality.  

 

He relates that on Thursday he had keyhole surgery on his knee, the procedure being carried out to scrape out the scar tissue which built up following the initial operation.  He could already feel an improvement by evening and this surgery should delay his recovery by no more than a few days.

 

As all the medical experts are pleased with Choc’s progress, he’s tentatively set the second week of November for his return to riding out and is optimistic that he will have regained his race riding fitness very early in the New Year.

 

Choc also commends Paul Hanagan’s decision to donate all his earnings from the last two weeks of the flat season to charity, regardless of whether he wins the jockeys’ title.  The charities to benefit will be Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and the fund to build a northern equivalent of the IJF’s Oaksey House.

 

Following Cheltenham’s Showcase fixture, there was also more discussion about the ‘notorious’ 2nd last fence.  Choc’s colleagues were impressed by how well it rode, although they did suggest that the take-off board might be moved out a little to make it seem less upright.  Choc is in no doubt there has been an improvement.

Monday 11 October 2010

In his Racing Post column today, Choc wrote in detail about the decision to move the ‘notorious’ second last fence on the Old Course into a new position in the home straight. 

Choc also looks forward to Kempton Park’s fixture on Sunday 17 October, when he will have his first outing as the ‘Face of Jump Racing’. 

Monday 04 October 2010

The sixth edition of Choc’s Racing Post column appeared today.

 

The main article covered Choc’s time (aged 16 to 21) working at Jackdaws Castle for The Duke.  Choc says that although a hard man, the Duke was fair, and you always knew where you stood with him.  Choc learnt such a lot whilst working at David Nicholson’s and, although he didn’t appreciate then, he has now come to understand the value of his time at the yard.  The Duke is second only to Choc’s parents as having the greatest influence upon his career.

 

Tomorrow (05 October) it will be 14 years since Choc rode his first winner for The Duke – Mytton’s Choice in a 2-mile Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow, priced 13-2 and winning by 11 lengths.

 

Choc also writes about his recent holiday, his exercise regime having to continue throughout!  He also looks forward to his upcoming visit to Manchester United.

   

A busy day, as Meally’s latest Eclipse diary also appeared.  She writes about their holiday in Greece (they arrived back last Thursday evening); a visit to Cheltenham racecourse last Friday (01 October) to watch horses being schooled over the last five fences on the old course – the ‘notorious’ second last having now been relocated into the home straight; and yesterday (03 October) they were invited to the ‘Young Event Horse Championships’ 3-day event near Nottingham sponsored by Lycetts – with Choc awarding the prizes at the end of the day. 

http://www.eclipsemagazine.co.uk/NewEclipse/Joomla15/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1725:the-nagwag-diaries-4th-october-2010&catid=55:nagwag-diaries&Itemid=81

Monday 27 September 2010

The fifth edition of Choc’s Racing Post column appeared today. 

The main article covered the fact that he is beginning to seriously miss race-riding ... he misses the horses and the camaraderie of the weighing room too.  And a touch of jealously is creeping in, when having to watch others ride the horses he thinks of as ‘his’.  He mentioned that he can’t wait to achieve his 1,000th winner (having less than 50 to go) as it will mean he’s joined a very select band of jockeys. 

Choc also discussed the upcoming Arc (Sunday 3rd October) and mentioned that he enjoyed his evening as a guest of the London Racing Club!  On the night he was asked to name a horse for a £50 charity bet ... and he selected Alan King’s Franklino, a 25-1 shot for this season’s Triumph Hurdle.  Any winnings go to Choc’s nominated charity, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Choc attended a London Racing Club event last Tuesday evening and, as one of the lucky attendees, I’m very pleased to present my diary about the evening:

‘An Evening with Robert Thornton’

Thursday 23 September 2010

Having attended ‘An Evening with Robert Thornton’ in London on Tuesday evening, I’m now busy drafting my diary ... so watch this space.

 

Meanwhile, check out Choc’s Kempton Park’s Face of Racing facebook webpage (love the photos):

http://en-gb.facebook.com/album.php?aid=20971&id=132432253470907

Monday 20 September 2010

Choc’s fourth weekly column appeared in today’s Racing Post.  This week’s main topic was the jockey championships, both for flat racing and over the jumps.  Choc is a great admirer of Richard Hughes who, this year, is fighting out the flat title with northern-based rival Paul Hanagan.

 

Choc also mentions that the Alan King trained, Jimmy McCarthy ridden, King’s Troop won this year’s Jump Jockeys’ Derby at Epsom.

 

And, last but certainly not least, Choc is the guest of the London Racing Club on Tuesday 21 September when he will be appearing at ‘An Evening with Robert Thornton’, where he will be interviewed by Racing UK’s Nick Luck, answering questions about how he got started in racing, the highlights of his career to date, and revealing stories about his time with trainers David (The Duke) Nicholson and Alan King.  He’ll also suggest a few horses for punters to follow during the coming season, and answering questions from the audience.  The event is to be held at the Kensington Forum Hotel (Holiday Inn) in Cromwell Road in London, the nearest tube station is Gloucester Road, start time 7.30 p.m. Entry is free to London Racing Club Members and £5 to non-members ... sounds like a bargain to me!!!

 

And, following up last week’s news, here is the link to the Kempton Park website, complete with details and photos of this autumn’s ‘Face of Jump Racing’ at the track!

Kempton Park

 

This is old news, however the story of Choc’s impending visit to Manchester United has made it into the Evening Standard:

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-sport/article-23880030-sir-alex-fergusons-help-for-robert-thornton.do

 

Monday 13 September 2010

The third edition of Choc’s Racing Post column appeared today.

Choc reports that his physiotherapy is progressing well and that he can now pedal properly on an exercise bike (ie. complete revolutions) and can also, very importantly, after warming up extend his leg fully when horizontal (a key milestone in his recovery).

And there’s very exciting news on the PR front involving my nearest racecourse – Choc is to be Kempton Park’s ‘Face of Racing’ this autumn and will be attending all their jumps fixtures from Sunday 17 October until the William Hill Winter Festival at Christmas (the arrival of his baby son at Christmas permitting I presume!). 

Kempton Park’s aim is to get people more involved with jump racing – racegoers will be given the opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at racing, as well as autograph and photo sessions.  Choc is looking forward to taking groups for a stroll along the final furlong, talking about the sport and answering any questions! 

Monday 06 September 2010

The second edition of Choc’s new Racing Post column appeared today.

 

Choc and his colleagues, Graham Lee, Paddy Brennan, Mattie Batchelor and Richard Johnson, had a modelling assignment last week for shirt-maker Thomas Pink, which took place at Paul Nicholls’ yard in Ditcheat.  The photo-shoot was arranged by Cheltenham’s Commercial and Operations Manager (Becky Morgan) and the photos will be used throughout the year in various publications.

 

Choc also wrote about his experiences on a Media Training course organised by JETS (Jockeys’ Employment Training Scheme) and the fantastic support network provided to the injured jockeys by PRIS (Professional Riders’ Insurance Scheme) and the IJF.

Monday 30 August 2010

Choc has joined the Racing Post as a columnist, and his first article appeared in today’s issue. 

Choc explained details of his physiotherapy regime, how he is keeping busy during his absence, and his invitation from Sir Alex Ferguson to visit Manchester United in early October.

 

He also named three young horses trained by Alan King that he’s looking forward to seeing run this season – Franklino, Turn Over Sivola and Medinas.

 

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