DIARY – AINTREE – FRIDAY 03 APRIL 2009
I set my alarm for 04:00, but in the event I didn’t sleep very well and was awake well before that. I got up at 04:15, showered and washed my hair, ate breakfast, loaded my suitcase and bags into the car, and at 06:08 set off to pick Lesley up. It was a misty morning. My route took me via Harpenden and Dunstable, before heading out west towards her village on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire border.
Having texted her before I left home, she was ready to go when I arrived, so I loaded her suitcase into the boot of my car, and we set off along the Leighton Buzzard by-pass to join the A5, then headed northwards, by-passing Milton Keynes, before taking the road towards Northampton to join the M1 at junction 15. As I don’t particularly enjoy motorway driving (I become mesmerised by the endless miles of straight road), we headed for junction 23A, before turning westwards along the dual carriageway of the A50, passing Uttoxeter on route. We drove through Stoke before joining the M6 northbound carriageway at junction 15.
As we drove north, we passed Martin Pipe’s horsebox heading up from Wellington in Somerset and also Brendan Powell’s horsebox coming up from Lambourn. Soon we drove over the Mersey valley and then turned westwards along the M62 towards Liverpool, before taking the M57 northwards to Aintree. At the end of the motorway we turned left, drove down past Asda and were then directed left to reach the car park. It was at this point that we took a wrong turning, but soon realised our mistake so retraced our route to find the entrance to the mid-course parking area.
Having driven over the canal bridge, and over a section of the ‘Grand National’ course, we were directed down a driveway to the security check area. My car was searched, as were our suitcases, and we were even asked to open the bonnet too. The underside of my car was checked, and I joked that the only thing they’d find under there were fragments of the badger I’d driven over on my way back from Newbury a couple of weeks ago! It was already dead I hasten to add. Having been given clearance, we drove on to park in the field beyond.
Having left the car, we purchased race-cards, and then went through further security checks before being allowed to walk to the shuttle bus for our trip to the stand-side of the course. Having worn my flat ‘car driving’ shoes up to this point, I changed into my high-heeled shoes, popping my flat ones into my capacious handbag. As it was our first ever trip to Aintree, we then spent time getting our bearings.
Friday at Aintree is Ladies Day, and the locals had turned out in their ‘finery’. There was a Matalan fashion show in progress, but we gave that a miss. Lesley was cold so she bought some gloves to wear, and we then went to buy coffees.
At some point during the morning we walked past a guy who looked faintly familiar to me – it then dawned on me that it was Ruby’s England-based valet who we had met at Cheltenham in December!
The mist finally cleared and the sun came out, which was a relief as it had been overcast and a little misty up to that point, with quite a stiff breeze.
Finally we settled beside the Parade Ring in preparation for the first race, which was due to be off at 14:00.
Choc’s mount in this race was Silk Hall, the horse which had given him his 100th success of the current campaign when winning at Stratford Upon Avon on 09 March 2009. The actor James Nesbitt was in the Parade Ring, as he is an owner of the Nicky Henderson trained Riverside Theatre which was also competing in this event.
Having seen the horses parading in the ring and exiting onto the course, we made our way to the Earl of Derby Terrace to watch the race. The start of this event was at the top end of the course, so the race took place over one and a half circuits of the track. Then they were off.
The field was led off by the iron grey, Benfleet Boy, followed by McMurrough. In close attendance were El Dancer and Alfie Flits. Choc aboard Silk Hall was positioned next to the inside rail, in 5th place. The horses held these positions as they passed the winning post for the first time. As the field galloped up the back straight, Candle and Punta Galera brought up the rear, with Riverside Theatre being pushed along by Barry Geraghty for a few strides. El Dancer also lost his place, dropping back to dispute 3rd last. Ruby Walsh rode the blinkered lighter grey horse, American Trilogy, at the back of the main pack.
Silk Hall was pushed for room as they came around the top bend and had to drop back for a few strides. The Henrietta Knight runner, Somersby, ridden by AP McCoy led into the final straight, and Choc drove Silk Hall back up into contention. At the final flight, AP’s mount was still in the lead, American Trilogy challenging , with Silk Hall a close 3rd. However, the Dominic Elsworth ridden El Dancer came from 6th place at the last flight to triumph ahead of Ruby’s mount, with Somersby holding on for 3rd. Silk Hall faded into 5th place behind Riverside Theatre.
As he passed the line, Dominic saluted the crowd and pointed to his shoulder – he was making the point that he was fully recovered from a shoulder injury which had resulted in him being ‘jocked-off’ of Darkness, his intended ride in the Grand National. Darkness’ trainer, Charlie Egerton, had booked Wayne Hutchinson to take the ride instead.
Once reunited with their stable-hands, the placed horses return down the walkway in front of the main stands before turning and walking between the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton stands to return to the Winners’ Enclosure, which is situated just below the Weighing Room. The unplaced horses are unsaddled in a railed-off area in front of the Earl of Derby/Lord Sefton stands.
Having unsaddled Silk Hall, Choc walked in not far behind Dominic and El Dancer. However, Choc nearly came to grief as he climbed up the steps to the Weighing Room, tripping and almost losing his footing! But I put that down to the fact he was holding a conversation with someone who accompanied him up the steps, so was not paying particular attention to what he was doing. Mind you, I often wonder that the jockeys don’t trip over the dangling girths as they carry their saddles back to the Weighing Room!
Having returned to the Parade Ring, we waited for the horses to enter in preparation for the next race. Choc did not have a ride in this event. My pick of the paddock was the Howard Johnson trained Killyglen and, in light of the result, I should have put my money on him!
As before, once the horses had exited onto the course, we walked through to the Earl of Derby terrace to watch the race. The start was at the beginning of the home straight, meaning it was two and a half circuits of the course in distance. Then they were off.
Ruby Walsh sent Herecomesthetruth into the lead from the start. Richard Johnson’s mount, Massini’s Maguire, made an error at the first obstacle, and Oscar Bay appeared reluctant, carrying his head on one side as he travelled down the outside of the field. Cheating Chance and Coq Hardi brought up the rear. Another mistake by Richard’s horse at the 3rd. Shining Gale and Killyglen were taking close order. Yet another mistake by Massini’s Maguire at the 4th, and then Herecomesthetruth made a very bad blunder at the open-ditch, taking off far too soon and, although he did reach the other side, his hind legs crumpled on landing. However, Ruby did recover, having been shot forwards up the horse’s neck for a few strides. Massini’s Maguire appeared to have warmed to his task at this stage, but it wasn’t the last of his errors.
As the field turned away from the stands for the final time, the first horse to be struggling was Or Jaune. Cheating Chance, with Mark Grant aboard, fell at the final fence in the back straight, and Oscar Bay fell at the cross fence. By the time the field had reached the cross fence, Herecomesthetruth had relinquished the lead, Killyglen having taken over.
As they galloped down the final straight, Killyglen went for home, his nearest challenger and looking very dangerous, was Seigemaster. However Killyglen had plenty in hand, and went on to win well, the triumphant jockey being Denis O’Regan. Shining Gale came through after the last to take 2nd, as Seigemaster faded into 3rd place.
We returned to the Parade Ring in preparation for my highlight of the day – the Melling Steeplechase, in which Choc was riding Alan King’s stable-star, Voy Por Ustedes. Choc was biding to win this Grade 1 race aboard Voy Por for the second year running. The name Voy Por Ustedes translates as ‘I go for you’. Sadly a non-runner in this race was Exotic Dancer, who had run a gallant second in yesterday’s totesport Bowl Chase only to be struck down by a fatal heart attack following the race. Exotic Dancer was also owned by Sir Robert Ogden, as is Voy Por.
Having seen Choc get the leg-up onto Voy Por Ustedes, we headed for the Earl of Derby terrace area, but this time positioned ourselves beside the course-side rails, immediately next to where the gate is closed and the stable-staff wait for their charges to return. The race took place over almost two complete circuits, the horses parading in number order before setting off to the start, which was at the beginning of the back straight. Voy Por was on his toes and raring to go today! Then they were off.
The field was led off by the grey, Nacarat, with Briareus upsides, these two were tracked by Petit Robin. Choc rode wide in 5th position, Tidal Bay also took close order, with Natal bringing up the rear. Schindlers Hunt was prone to a few errors today. At the cross fence, Briareus jumped into the lead, but Nacarat soon took up the running again. At the open-ditch, the second in the home straight first time around, Briareus and Tidal Bay bumped into each other, but neither came to harm.
As they galloped away from the stands to head out on the final circuit, 3 horses were disputing the lead – Nacarat, Briareus and Tidal Bay. Voy Por was still travelling well in 5th position, Natal and Takeroc brought up the rear. However Tidal Bay soon dropped back to 6th. By the end of the back straight, Voy Por had taken 3rd place, although he didn’t jump the 12th obstacle perfectly. He’d moved up to 2nd as the field jumped the cross fence.
AP sent his mount, Nacarat, for home as they came into the straight. Petit Robin blundered at the 3rd last, but Schindlers Hunt was stalking the leaders, although he paddled through the 2nd last, the open-ditch. It was time for Nacarat to relinquish his advantage, as Vor Por and Schindlers Hunt took up the challenge and disputed the lead jumping the last. However Voy Por jumped it the better and gamely put his head in front to win. The horse’s 5th Grade 1 victory. Fabulous.
We obviously had Schindlers Hunt’s lad standing behind us, as we were almost deafened by his shouts in support of the horse. Mind you, I gave him plenty of stiff competition as I shouted for Choc as they galloped towards the line!
I would have liked to have stayed by the rails as Choc rode back in, but I felt I should be on the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to welcome him back. I had to make a quick decision as, for Health and Safety reasons, the gates are closed when the winning and placed horses return. It’s horrible when I wish to be in 2 places at once!
Along with the horse’s connections, Choc’s fiancée, Meally, was waiting in the enclosure for Choc to return. Today she was easy to spot, as she was wearing her yellow coat. Choc unsaddled his mount, posed for pictures, and weighed out in the enclosure too. He then returned briefly to the Weighing Room (to drop off his saddle and helmet), before coming back for the presentation ceremony.
Following this he was interviewed by Tom O’Ryan of Racing UK, and was then directed to the press room for a further interview. We decided to wait for him to return, instead of going to the stand or course-side rails to watch the next race.
Eventually Choc returned and jogged up the steps towards the Weighing Room. As he passed I congratulated him “Well done Choc. Fabulous ride”. He acknowledged me, saying thank you.
Having remained by the Winner’s Enclosure following the last race, we watched the Topham Steeplechase on the big screen. The event is run over 18 of the Grand National fences, The Chair being the 3rd fence. There was one non-runner, Mr Pointment. One jockey change too, Wayne Hutchinson replacing Graham Lee aboard Oneway. 14 of the horses were outside the handicap, carrying the minimum weight of 10 stone.
The jockeys were raring to go, the starting tape being broken at the 3rd attempt! Finally they were off. Here is a run-down of the ‘casualties’:
Frankie Figg (10th – Becher’s Brook); Ping Pong Silvola (13th – Valentines); Bible Lord (13th – Valentines); Gwanako (13th – Valentines); The Sawyer (last).
Moncadou (7th); Boomshakalaka (10th).
Soleil Fix (after 10th); Iron Man (after 12th); Bagan (after 12th); Billyvodden (after 12th); Buck the Legend (before 13th).
The winner this year was Irish Raptor ridden by Paddy Brennan, having taken up the running before the 11th obstacle, the Fionavon fence. The horse evidently saves his best races for the Grand National course, his disappointing ‘park fences’ display ruling him out of the Grand National because he didn’t qualify! In last year’s Topham he finished runner-up to Gwanako, who came to grief at the 13th this year. He’s also pictured on the April page of this year’s Racing Post calendar, jumping one of the fences alongside the aforementioned Gwanako.
Paddy was caught unawares after the line, as he fell off the horse and had to scramble back aboard before coming back in to the Winners’ Enclosure.
It was now time for a Novices’ Hurdle event. Again we walked through to the area in front of the Earl of Derby stand to watch the proceedings from beside the course-side rails.
This event started part way down the home straight, and covered just over 2 circuits of the track. AP was riding the JP McManus owned Karabak for Alan King. Also taking part were Cheltenham adversaries Weapon’s Amnesty and Pride of Dulcote. Then they were off.
The race was led off by Pride of Dulcote, followed by Latanier and Honest John. Bringing up the rear was Comhla Ri Coig. Honest John took up the running as the field progressed along the back straight, Karabak blundering at the 4th flight. Down the home straight first time, the first 3 hadn’t changed in running, with Ogee following close behind. 7 lengths covered the field as it headed away from the stands for the final time.
Four flights from home, Latanier made a mistake and dropped back very quickly. On Raglan Road took a very nasty fall at the same obstacle, from which Denis O’Regan limped away. Jack Doyle was almost unseated from Pause and Clause too, when trying to take evasive action, ruining any chance he may have had. Karabak was switched to the outside as they came around the final bend, Pride of Dulcote and Honest John leading them into the home straight. Sadly Moscow Catch took a fatal fall at the second last.
Despite the challenges of Weapon’s Amnesty and Karabak, Ogee (at 25-1) came to take up the running alongside the held up Comhla Ri Coig, with the former going on to win. According to Dick under Richard Johnson followed them home in 3rd, and Karabak held off Weapon’s Amnesty to take 4th.
A Grade 1 victory for freelance journeyman jockey, Jimmy McCarthy, who sometimes takes rides for Alan King. The trainer, Renee Robeson, is the wife of former Olympic show-jumper, Peter Robeson.
The rider-less On Raglan Road followed his compatriots home, but was found to be lame in his off-fore when caught by his handlers, the vet examining him before he was led away.
It was now time for the 6th race of the day, a well-contested 21 runner Handicap Hurdle. And this is where Lesley regretted not putting a bet on outsider, Time for Rupert. We had been drawn to the horse’s name (a bear wearing check trousers springs to mind), and I had also pointed out that Ruby’s real name is Rupert!
As this race was taking place over the same distance as Race 5, it started half-way down the home straight. Then they were off.
The race was led off by the blinkered mare, Gaspara, taking her customary place at the head of the field. She was followed by Gunner Jack, Kirbybroguelantern and Giles Cross. Aigle D’Or, Mamlook and Sweetheart brought up the rear. The first flight down the back was flattened by one of the runners. Time for Rupert was handy, running next to the inside rail in around 7th place.
Gaspara was still leading as they galloped down past the stands with one circuit to go, with the favourite, Captain Americo, making a couple of jumping errors. Aigle D’Or began to improve. However, Kayf Aramis made a mistake at the first flight down the back and began to struggle. By the time they reached the end of the back straight, Gaspara had surrended her lead to Kirbybroguelantern. A number of runners began to tail off and were pulled up.
As they turned into the final straight, William Kennedy drove Time for Rupert into the lead. Kawagino, Mirage Dor, Inchidaly Rock, with Andytown on the wide outside, set off in pursuit. Jumping the last, Ruby Walsh’s mount, Inchidaly Rock, had caught Time for Rupert, getting his head narrowly in front. But Time for Rupert fought back bravely to take the spoils by a head. A 50-1 winner! And William’s first Aintree Festival winner too.
As Choc was riding in the final race of the day, we returned to the Parade Ring to see him receive his riding orders and mount. His ride in this race was Polly Potter. Alan King had two other entries – Chilli Rose ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and Miss Overdrive ridden by Gerard Tumulty.
Once the horses had exited the paddock we set off to reserve our place beside the course-side rails. We saw AP exit onto the course and today’s question is ... All the jockeys have the ‘John Smith’ logo sewn on their breeches for the duration of the Aintree Festival, but AP had no logo on his breeches. Why was he the exception?
The start of this race was over in the far corner of the track, which meant the field would be required to race for one and a half circuits. Polly Potter accompanied Chilli Rose to the start, but the former horse was sweating up. Then they were off.
The field was led off by the very keen Morning Supreme. She was followed by Miss Nightshade and Miss Vertical. Ruby Walsh restrained his mount, Candy Creek, at the back. The first Alan King runner was Miss Overdrive, with Chilli Rose and Polly Potter keeping company a little further back in the field. At the end of the back straight, Diklers Oscar had to take evasive action when Lilla Sophia was pulled up after sustaining a broken near hind.
Morning Supreme was still in the lead as they turned into the straight, with Chilli Rose running very wide, and Choc working hard on the inside aboard Polly Potter. Soon horses were queuing up behind the long-time leader – among them Candy Creek, Liss Na Tintri, and Lady Bluesky. Candy Creek took up the running a furlong out and went on the win. Liss Na Tintri finished in 2nd, long time leader Morning Supreme held on for 3rd, with the leading English contender, Lady Bluesky in 4th.
Miss Overdrive was the best of the Alan King runners in 5th, Chilli Rose was 6th and Polly Potter 7th.
Following the race we made our way back to the Parade Ring area.
Choc unsaddled the unplaced Polly Potter on course, and made his way back to the Weighing Room. He stopped on route to converse with his mum as he made his way up the steps to the Weighing Room.
As we were staying in Tarbock at a local Premier Inn and were in no rush to leave, we waited for the crowds to clear before crossing the home straight to catch the shuttle bus back to the car park. Having collected my vehicle, we drove back across the ‘National’ course and headed for the M57 and our hotel. We checked in and took our suitcases to our rooms, stopping to watch the BBC2 Grand National preview programme at 19:00. Their tips were the same ones which I had mentioned to my friend, Mark, on Thursday afternoon. But, as it later turned out, they weren’t very good tips – Rambling Minster, Kilbeggan Blade and Battlecry. What about Choc you ask? Mark had already mentioned that he was going to put some money on him anyway!
At 19:30 we went for dinner at the adjacent Brewers Fayre, as I’d not eaten anything (or barely anything) since before 06:00! We retired to our rooms at 21:00, and I spent some time making a few diary notes before I dozed off to sleep after a long and tiring, but very enjoyable, day!