CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018
Day 1 - Tuesday 13 March
Picture of the Day
The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1):
Buveur D’Air (centre) overcomes the challenge of Melon (right) and Mick Jazz
to win the race for the second year running
I awoke at 04:00 and with everything packed, including the kitchen sink, I set off from home at 06:30. My journey took me via the city centre, then to Hemel Hempstead, along the A41 to Aylesbury and onwards to Bicester. Surprisingly, it was already 07:40 by the time I’d arrived at the Oxfordshire town.
There was a tailback of 200 yards from Junction 9 of the M40 and slow moving traffic for a short distance after due to three lanes merging into two, and because of traffic entering the A34 from the subsequent side-roads. By the time I’d reached the Peartree roundabout, traffic was stationary around it. In fact it took until 08:20 to negotiate the Wolvercote roundabout at the far end of the dual-carriageway. So that’s 40 minutes in total, to travel fewer than 10 miles!
Once upon the A40, my journey went smoothly all the way to Cheltenham; apart from the fact it had started to rain by the time I’d reached Burford and there could have been a nasty accident caused by the foolish driver of an oncoming articulated lorry. He’d decided to overtake a vehicle, despite his size, and I had to brake in order for him to complete his manoeuvre; what an idiot?
As suggested by the racecourse, I parked in the northern car park, travelling via Greenway Lane, Harp Hill, Priors Road, Bouncers Lane and Prestbury. I arrived at 09:35 and was directed to park in the area close to the railway crossing and not far from the pedestrian walkway which leads through the car park to the northern entrance. Being heavily loaded, I backed into the parking space to ensure better traction when leaving later in the day; it was a little bit slushy close to the grass bank and my car is front-wheel drive.
I had to be a bit of a contortionist to change into my snow-boots whilst sitting in the driver’s seat, but I couldn’t get out of the car whilst wearing the moccasins I use whilst driving; the ground was far too wet outside. I waited in the car for a while, before setting off to the north entrance; I ate three cheese rolls during this time. The queue was stretched across the car park when I arrived but we were soon on the move, as the gates opened at 10:30.
Having paid a visit to the little girls’ room, I stood overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure for a while, before heading over to view the display of trophies; the majority of these would be presented today. After that, I did a tour of the Shopping Village and then returned to the steppings once more.
Eleven horses were taking part in this year’s Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) Parade – Annacotty, Any Currency, Barbers Shop, Back In Focus, Big Buck’s, Dodging Bullets, Hunt Ball, Punjabi, Silviniaco Conti, Wayward Prince and Wild West.
The race-day interviews having been completed, by presenter Martin Kelly, I headed down to the course-side rails to reserve my place ahead of racing. The first race was at 13:30 and, of course, accompanied by the famous Cheltenham roar as the horses set off.
The favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was Getabird, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; priced at 7-4. No specific runners of interest had made it to the line-up this year.
The winner turned out to be the Tom George-trained Summerville Boy, ridden by Noel Fehily. The horse had won this year’s Tolworth Hurdle, beating the subsequent Betfair winner Kalashnikov on that occasion. He confirmed his form with the Amy Murphy-trained runner again today.
The warm favourite for the Arkle was the Willie Mullins-trained Footpad, ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 5-6. I had no runners of interest in this one, as Sceau Royal, in the same ownership as the favourite but trained by Alan King, didn’t make the line-up due to injury.
Footpad duly obliged, by 14 lengths!
The favourite for the third race, a competitive handicap chase, was Coo Star Sivola, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by his step-daughter Lizzie Kelly; price 5-1. No specific runners of interest in this one, and no Irish runners either!
Anyway, Coo Star Sivola duly obliged for Lizzie Kelly; her first Festival winner.
Being the feature race of the day, there was a pre-race parade ahead of the Champion Hurdle.
The odds-on favourite for the event was the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air, ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 4-6. The 2015 winner, Faugheen, was back but with serious doubts over his form since returning from injury. There was no My Tent Or Yours this year, he’d got a vet’s certificate ... but he’d have hated the ground anyway!
One runner of interest, the Alan King-trained Elgin, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. He’d earned his chance by winning a valuable Ascot Handicap, the Greatwood Hurdle, and also the Kingwell Hurdle this season.
And it was Champion Hurdle master trainer Nicky Henderson who claimed a record 7th victory in the race when the favourite duly obliged. But Melon certainly gave Buveur D’Air a race, defeated by a mere neck. He was the first horse to win consecutive Champion Hurdles since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005, although Hurricane Fly managed non-consecutive victories in 2011 and 2013.
Elgin ran well and was the second GB horse home, in 5th. Faugheen finished 6th.
The favourite for the next event was Apple’s Jade, winner of last year’s event; price 1-2. She’s trained by Gordon Elliott and was ridden by Jack Kennedy today.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Midnight Tour ridden by Davy Russell; she’d finished 6th in this race last year.
But it was the Willie Mullins-trained Benie Des Dieux, ridden by Ruby Walsh, who claimed the prize. Midnight Tour improved on her previous effort and finished 2nd, beaten by only half a length; her trainer was very pleased, and surprised too!
The favourite for the marathon event of the Festival was Jury Duty representing trainer Gordon Elliott and ridden by Mr Jamie Codd; price 4-1.
No specific runners of interest in this race.
The race was won by Rathvinden, ridden by Mr Patrick Mullins, and trained by his father Willie.
A special mention has to go to Will Biddick and Ms Parfois, she ran her heart out having been up with the pace all the way and was beaten by only half a length at the line.
Sadly there was a fatality in this race, namely the Gordon Elliott-trained Mossback; he fell at the 18th fence.
The favourite for the final race on day one was Any Second Now, trained by TM Walsh and ridden by Mark Walsh; price 5-1.
No specific runners of interest in this one.
The Brian Hughes-ridden Mister Whitaker claimed the prize close home for trainer Mick Channon. Jeremiah McGrath, aboard Rather Be, must have been gutted as he lost by just a head. Brian is turning out to be his nemesis – Jerry lost out to him at Aintree last season, beaten aboard Theinval on that occasion ... although he did win a race the following day.
Sadly there was a second fatality today, with the Evan Williams-trained Report To Base losing his life as a result of a fall at the 9th fence, he also brought down Le Rocher but, fortunately the latter was okay. Ruby’s mount fell at the 6th fence – that wouldn’t have helped his recently mended broken leg.
The scores on the doors for the Prestbury Cup showed that GB currently had a narrow lead over the Irish raiders:
Cheltenham can be a lonely place when I’m on my own, but my work colleague Caroline found me today, we chatted whilst the Arkle Chase was in progress. She likes Ruby ...
Exiting the car park on the first day of the Festival is usually a nightmare and today was no exception. I left at around 18:40, or at least I joined the back of the queue to exit at that time. It actually took me until 19:20 to reach Southam Lane! However, this year, the main road through Prestbury was clear by the time I drove along it. I’d reached Six Ways by 19:35 and subsequently headed in the direction of Oxfordshire and my hotel.
I was pleased to discover that, again this year, my night vision was okay as I headed up the Cotswolds escarpment upon the A40. Someone had been driving too close to the vehicle in front as there were currently two stationary and damaged cars just prior to the traffic lights denoting the Gloucester road, and debris lying across the carriageway. Oops! In contrast, my journey continued along the A-road as far as the beginning of the Witney bypass, at which point I took a left turn and headed towards the town.
My accommodation, at Eynsham Hall, was situated to the northeast thereof. Having moaned last year about the state of the road surface on the approach to the centre of Witney, it was a relief to find that resurfacing work was currently in progress; although drivers had to take care in order to negotiate raised ironworks. I continued in the direction sign-posted Bicester and arrived at the driveway entrance at around 20:25. Having checked-in, I was given directions to The Lodge within the grounds. I drove around and parked nearby, before going to find my room; it was on the first floor.
It took me three or four journeys to transport my worldly belongings – including my very muddy snow-boots. I left them to soak in water, in a storage box, overnight. And I was already embarrassed by the filth stuck to my car – it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for months ... when in fact it had been washed the previous day! The car park was rather spooky as, although well lit, creatures could be heard calling and responding within the surrounding countryside. I have no idea what they were!
My evening meal was a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle, followed by a number of chocolate biscuits. I did doze off for a while before waking and turning off the TV and light. I re-charged my camera batteries overnight too.