CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2019
Day 1 - Tuesday 12 March
Picture of the Day
Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3):
The winner, Beware The Bear, trained by Nicky Henderson
and ridden by Jeremiah McGrath
This year I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to attend the Festival for more than a couple of day trips. I had tickets for all four days, and a hotel room booked too. But, as you may know, I’ve been emotionally distracted since at least the start of 2019! There would also be no chance of seeing Choc and Jennie this year either, as they had departed upon a skiing holiday during this period.
However, despite being undecided in the days leading up to the Festival, I resisted the temptation to cancel my hotel booking ... even though I could think of a far better way of spending £300 on this occasion. Although, saying that, I would need far more than this amount for one particular heart’s desire to be satisfied. L
Anyway, I awake early on Tuesday but not ready to depart until 06:45. This meant that I would encounter traffic issues by the time I reached Bicester; I spent ages in the queue on the A41, leading down to Junction 9 of the M40. There was further congestion on the A34, but this cleared after traffic from the side-roads had assimilated into the main stream.
But, looking on the bright-side, there was barely a delay at the Peartree roundabout; in fact traffic was moving freely around it. The dual carriageway which leads down to the Wolvercote roundabout was clear for the most part too!
The weather hadn’t been too bad either, thus far; although it did start to rain as I approached Cheltenham. As per the past few years, I followed the signs directing me through Prestbury and onwards to the North car park, the entrance of which is situated off Southam Lane. The public area of the car park had been divided into two this year, the upper part of which was reached via the track-way which runs adjacent to the steam railway line. However, I continued ahead to enter the lower part of the car park instead; I showed my pre-purchased parking docket to one of the stewards as I entered.
I arrived at 10:00, and then the heavens opened and I was stuck in my car for ages; it was still raining when I set off for the Northern Entrance turnstiles, but not so heavily. Weather-wise it was not forecast to be a good week, and the going was soft again, similar to last year.
It also became apparent that, with the concerns about plastic, water was being sold in cans via the food outlets this year. That’s fine, but how impractical is that? One wants to carry a bottle of water, and takes sips during the day; one cannot carry around an open can of water!
Having purchased a race-card I headed to the little girls’ room, before sheltering beneath the upper steppings which overlook the Winners’ Enclosure. I also decided to take part in today’s toteplacepot! My selections were:
And, yes, I know I’ve chosen an Irish-based runner and, even worse, one ridden by Ruby Walsh! I’ve totally lost it!!!
As happens on the first day of the Festival, there was a RoR Parade ahead of racing. This year, the twelve taking part were – Annacotty, Balthazar King, Carruthers, Cue Card, Lord Windermere, Master Minded, Monkerty Tunkerty, My Way De Solzen, Saphir Du Rheu, Wayward Prince, What Of It and Zarkandar.
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. However to save the racing surface, the horses headed straight to the starting gates today, instead of cantering up in front of the stands where possible. So there was nothing to photograph prior to the races, unless the horses headed across the course to reach the mid-course chute.
The first race was at 13:30 and, of course, was accompanied by the famous Cheltenham roar as the horses set off, although there was a false start to this and a number of races today!
There were two joint favourites for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Al Dancer trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, along with Fakir D’Oudairies trained by Joseph O’Brien and ridden by JJ Slevin; price 9-2.
The winner turned out to be Klassical Dream, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; Ruby’s 59th Cheltenham Festival winner and I’m not even counting the number of Festival winners trained by Willie Mullins. The 2nd and 3rd, notably, were trained by Olly Murphy, priced at 28-1 and 25-1 respectively!
And I was already knocked out of the toteplacepot, Grand Sancy having finished 11th! Drat.
The horses having returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, I headed back to the upper steppings overlooking it. There seemed little point hanging about beside the rails, with little to see pre-race.
The favourite for the Arkle was the Gordon Elliott-trained Hardline, ridden by Davy Russell; price 10-3.
Three of the other fancied runners, Lalor, Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov departed during the race. Lalor was pulled up having never been travelling, Glen Forsa unseated Jonathan Burke at the 4th fence, and Kalashnikov unseated Jack Quinlan having been hampered when Ornua fell.
And the winner was Duc Des Genievres, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend; he triumphed by 13 lengths.
There were three co-favourites for the third race, a competitive handicap chase – Up For Review trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, Mister Whitaker trained by Mick Channon and ridden by Brian Hughes, also last year’s winner Coo Star Sivola, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by his step-daughter Lizzie Kelly; they were priced 8-1.
Anyway, the winner was the 10-1 shot Beware The Bear, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Jeremiah McGrath; a 10-1 shot. It was great to see Jerry ride his second Festival winner, having been just touched off on a number of occasions, including the Novices’ Listed Handicap Chase last year.
And, of course, he was in my placepot. Trust me to select the winner of possibly the most difficult selection-wise race of the day. And why didn’t I have just an each-way bet on him instead, we ask?
Being the feature race of the day, there was a pre-race parade ahead of the Champion Hurdle.
The favourite for the event was the Gordon Elliot-trained Apple’s Jade, ridden by Jack Kennedy; price 7-4.
The 2017/2018 winner Buveur D’Air was taking part again, ridden by Barry Geraghty. However, he fell at the third flight, and brought down Sharjah in the process.
But the race was still won by owner JP McManus; with 5-year-old Espoir D’Allen, trained by Gavin Cromwell and ridden by Mark Walsh, triumphing by 15 lengths over Melon. The fancied Laurina finished only 4th, and the favourite 6th.
The favourite for the next event was Benie Des Dieux, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; odds-on price 10-11. The winner of last year’s renewal.
Alan King’s Mia’s Storm was a non-runner due to unsuitable ground conditions.
However, with the race evidently in the bag, the favourite fell at the last! This left the Dan Skelton-trained Roksana, ridden by brother Harry, to claim the prize; although she wasn’t an easy ride! Dan’s first Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival winner.
I decided to leave after the fifth race; I couldn’t face being stuck for ages in traffic queues.
This year, the final two races had been transposed on the card.
The favourite for the penultimate race of the day was A Plus Tard, trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore; price 5-1.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Good Man Pat ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, but he pulled up before two out.
And the favourite claimed the prize; a runaway win by 16 lengths over his nearest rival.
The favourite for the marathon event of the Festival was Ballyward, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by son Mr Patrick Mullins; price 9-4.
There was one runner of interest; namely the tongue-less Skipthecuddles, trained by Graeme McPherson and ridden by Miss Lilly Pinchin.
The race became extremely controversial, with only four of the 18 runners completing the course. Five were pulled up, eight fell and one unseated its rider. It was carnage; in fact, the favourite Ballyward lost its life as a result of a fall at the 17th fence. Stewards’ enquiries were held into a number of incidents.
The race was won by the Ben Pauling-trained Le Breuil, ridden by Mr Jamie Codd. Skipthecuddles unseated his rider at the 4th fence but returned home safe.
The scores on the doors for the Prestbury Cup showed that Ireland currently had a narrow lead over the home team:
And my placepot results:
As already confessed, I left early today; in fact early every day. Having left after the 5th race, and thus exiting the car park before 17:00, there were no holdups whatsoever!
Despite it being the start of the rush-hour, I had a completely clear run through Prestbury and out of Cheltenham; via my favoured route of Harp Hill and Greenway Lane. Normally, I’d head along the A40 all the way to the Minster Lovell roundabout before taking a left turn and heading through the town of Witney to reach my hotel which is situated on the A4095. However, today, I decided to take a left-turn, at the traffic-lights junction upon the Andoversford bypass, following the A436 towards Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold beyond. My Magical Mystery Tour was nothing to do with Choc I hasten to add; I was just curious about something else!!!
Anyway, having found what I was seeking, without a hitch, I headed back down the A44, through Woodstock, before taking a right-hand turn at a roundabout to continue upon the A4095 through Bladon (which is where Winston Churchill is buried) and Long Hanborough to reach my hotel. It was almost dark by now but, despite approaching the entrance driveway from the opposite direction to usual, and bearing in mind that I don’t have a satnav, it still proved easy to find!
Having booked in, I headed to the Lodge where my room was located; the same room as last year. I had to take a bit of a detour around the grounds, as a coach was blocking the direct route to the Lodge car park!
As always, it took a number of journeys to transport my worldly belongings from my car, including my muddy Hotter boots. I was already embarrassed by the filth stuck to my car – however I’d finally learnt my lesson – never clean one’s car prior to going to the races, and especially not Cheltenham races! Cleaning it when I get home is a far more sensible solution!
My evening meal was a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle; so that’s £300 for three nights’ stay including ‘as much as you want to eat’ breakfasts, and £3 for three evening meals of Pot Noodle!
There were also warnings of high winds overnight; this meant a course inspection early on Wednesday morning. It didn’t prove an issue for me, tucked up snugly in my hotel room; although I did read on social media that one racing fan found it difficult to sleep due to rattling windowpanes whilst staying at a country pub!