DIARY – AINTREE
SATURDAY 09 APRIL 2011
GRAND NATIONAL DAY – PART I
Bob Champion and Jonjo O’Neill
lead out the Legends Charity Race competitors
Get here early, it’s a ‘Sell Out’!
Grand National Day had arrived. After a fairly restful night, staying at the Premier Inn in Golborne, I awoke early ... at just gone 05:00! Knowing that I’d probably not sleep on, I decided to shower, wash and dry my hair, apply my make-up and make a final decision on my outfit. Today I wore my mono-coloured flowered skirt, black top, mink coloured jacket, plus flowered scarf, and black ‘footglove’ sandals. To kill time until breakfast, I tuned into Breakfast TV.
At 07:50 my friend Lesley and I went down to the restaurant to eat. It was ‘eat all you can’ for a set price – although I didn’t overdo it – just 2 croissants, 3 yogurts and a cup of black coffee. Having taken to the car the two grocery bags filled with my possessions on my way to breakfast, I had only to collect my suitcase from the hotel room before we checked out. It was 09:00.
Having filled-up the petrol tank yesterday, we drove straight to Aintree, crossing over Anchor Bridge and the Grand National track to park in the Steeplechase car park located in the centre of the course. Today, unsurprisingly, the queues waiting for their vehicles to be searched were longer than the previous day; with a number of vehicles switching lanes as it become apparent that one or tother of the queues was being processed more quickly.
A hold-up. Apparently a VIP vehicle was due to arrive at any moment so, in order to quickly clear the centre lane to permit the VIP to pass through unhindered, I was put ‘on hold’ at the head of the left-hand queue whilst around 3 or 4, or possibly more, vehicles were re-directed to the search area in front of me. Damn!
Their organisation wasn’t very good, as vehicles were still being permitted to join the central queue! Get those traffic cones sorted out! Anyway, eventually it was my turn to proceed, the security guy apologised for the delay and, as a reward for my patience(!) I was waived straight through without a check!!!
Having left the vehicle, we purchased two race-cards (today costing £5 each) from the kiosk and then set off for the entrance. Unlike yesterday, my ticket was checked and the stub removed. Security staff examined the contents of our handbags and we then passed through the ‘airport’ style arch before walking across the Melling Road and ‘park course’ to reach the shuttle bus. A short journey saw us reach the course crossing point (between the water jump and the Chair) and we were soon across the green carpet and had safely arrived in the enclosures.
Following a quick trip to the loo (I know, too much information), we bought two bottles of water and then went to take a look around the marquee stalls. We visited the Grand National memorabilia store; a store selling prints and pictures – there was one of Choc and Katchit to commemorate their victory in the 2008 Champion Hurdle - £95; over budget at the moment! We then took a look around the Grand National Legends/Trophies marquee; the trophies being guarded by members of the Household Cavalry.
Then it was onward to pay a visit to the Matalan stand, outside of which were two full racks of flip-flops; presumably for those who had worn killer-heels and would be flagging by day end. My black M & S ‘Footglove’ sandals are called this for a reason but, yes, they do have a heels – 3½ inches to be precise, although this is negated (very slightly) by a ½ inch platform. My advice is never wear sandals with very thin straps over the toes if any distance walking is involved; I learnt my lesson at the tender age of 21, when I ripped my toes to shreds by wearing a pair matching this description having walked at least three miles in them. Come to think of it, perhaps I didn’t learn a lesson, as I recall arriving back from the 1999 Wimbledon tournament with open blisters on the insides of my feet, having worn mules which tore into the skin – flip-flops and plasters were the order of the day for over a week afterwards!
Finally we retired to the Parade Ring area, to relax in the warm sunshine and to select our bets for the big race, and for others too in Lesley’s case! My Grand National selections were Quinz, ridden by Richard Johnson; Bluesea Cracker (having discovered this was the James Motherway trained runner – had the horse transporter parked at the Premier Inn where I was staying been a ‘sign’?) and, of course, West End Rocker, ridden by the lovely Choc.
Lesley put bets on a number of runners for herself, her dad and her son Steve, and for her ex-husband too (he lives in Spain). Being fans of Manchester United, What A Friend was a popular selection for her family; her dad selected Choc’s mount, plus all the greys in the race. It transpired that there were, in fact, 4 greys but we erroneously omitted Character Building – and we later discovered the reason for this - he was described as ‘Chestnut or Grey’ in the race-card! In hindsight, I should have known he ought to be on the list ... but the mystery remains as to why he could possibly be described as ‘Chestnut or Grey’ and, of course, how was it possible for me to overlook him when we looked through the racecard, as I knew he was a grey ... like myself! Although my older brother amusingly refers to it as ‘Saga Blonde’! Both my siblings are ‘Saga Blondes’, premature greyness being a family trait; not helpful when we all originally had dark brown hair.
The first item on today’s agenda was the Parade of Champions, taking place in the Paddock at 11:45. Ten of the eleven horses advertised in the race-card had arrived safely; Monty’s Pass, the winner of the Grand National in 2003, having been thwarted by travel problems. The oldest surviving winner was Miinnehomma (1994), although at the age of 28 he was turning grey around the temples! The others parading were Rough Quest (1996); Lord Gyllene (1997); Papillon (2000); Red Marauder (2001); Bindaree (2002); Amberleigh House (2004); Hedgehunter (2005); Numbersixvalverde (2006); and Silver Birch (2007). The winner in 2008, Comply or Die, would be competing in this year’s race (but retirement beckoned afterwards and he would go to live at jockey Timmy Murphy’s yard); Mon Mome (2009) was at home recovering from injury; and the 2010 winner, Don’t Push It, would also be competing today.
These past winners were accompanied by a replica World War I horse drawn ambulance, which would be undertaking a fund raising trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for the Help for Heroes charity for wounded servicemen.
Following the Parade we re-located to the steps below the Weighing Room, above the Winners’ Enclosure, where at 12:30 a number of Grand National Legends would be inducted. This year the inductees were:
Bob Champion and Aldaniti - it being 30 years since they completed their memorable victory;
West Tip - a consistent runner in the National; he failed to complete in 1985, but won in 1986, finished 4th in 1987 and 1988, 2nd in 1989, and 10th in 1990 aged 13;
Retired jockey Richard Dunwoody who has the best record in recent times, competing 14 years in a row between 1985 and 1999. He won aboard West Tip in 1986 and Miinnehomma in 1994, and was placed on 8 other occasions;
Retired jockey Brian Fletcher, who shares with Jack Anthony the distinction of having ridden 3 Grand National winners during the 20th century. In 1967, at the age of 19, he rode Red Alligator, only to be involved in the melee at the 23rd fence, but he did complete to finish 3rd. He won the race in 1968, when again riding Red Alligator. Then, he won aboard Red Rum in 1973 and 1974. From nine rides, he won 3 times, was runner-up once and completed in third 3 times too.
Vincent O’Brien trained 3 consecutive winners of the big race – Early Mist in 1953; Royal Tan in 1954; Quare Times in 1955. He also trained 4 Cheltenham Gold Cup winners and 3 Champion Hurdle winners before turning his attention to flat racing; training 27 Irish Classic winners, 3 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe winners, 16 English classic winners including 6 Epsom Derbies. He died in June 2009 aged 92; his son Charles and grandson Michael attended today to receive a memento.
In the 19th century, ‘Black Tom’ Olliver rode in the race 19 times; 17 of these consecutively. He was the first jockey to win two Nationals (1842/1843) and the first to win three (1853); and was the first of 7 jockeys to ride the winner in successive years. He also finished runner-up on 3 occasions and third once. His total of three victories was bettered only by George Stevens (five victories) – a jockey who Tom had tutored – and who was inducted last year!
Prince Karel Andreas Kinsky was the first person from outside the British Isles to compete in the Grand National, winning it on his first attempt in 1883, aboard mare Zoedone.
Welsh jockey, Jack Anthony, was the sixth jockey to win three Grand Nationals – aboard Glenside in 1911; Ally Sloper in 1915; and Troytown in 1920; he also finished third in 1925. From a horse racing family, his brother Ivor was also a successful jockey and his brother Owen was a trainer. Jack rode his first winner in 1906 and was an amateur until 1921; he was champion jockey in 1914 and 1928. Retiring in the latter year to become a trainer, his biggest success was training Easter Hero to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1929 and 1930.
And, finally, commentator Peter Bromley, BBC’s voice of racing for 40 years. In 1955 he became one of the first racecourse commentators in Britain; working in this role at every racecourse apart from Cartmel during the following 4 years. He was appointed the BBC’s first racing correspondent in 1959; acting as their main racing commentator from 1961 until 2001. He covered 42 Grand Nationals including those of Red Rum and Aldiniti. Peter retired aged 72.
The next event was the Aintree Legends Charity Race, organised in aid of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust. Eleven ex-jockeys were competing in this flat race, over a distance of one mile and five furlongs; all jockeys carrying 12 stone. The figureheads for the event were Bob Champion himself, dressed in the Aldiniti silks and Jonjo O’Neill, who had also battled and overcome cancer, the latter wearing the JP McManus silks.
Bob and Jonjo led the jockeys down the steps from the Weighing Room and into the Winners’ Enclosure for a photo-call. When interviewed, Bob explained that he’d suffered a ‘minor’ heart attack around a month ago ... but he hadn’t told his doctor that he’d be riding a horse as part of today’s charity event!
The eleven competitors were:
Graham Thorner (1972 - Well To Do) riding Erin Dancer; Charlie Fenwick (1980 - Ben Nevis) riding Sky Calling; Ben De Haan (1983 - Corbiere) riding Shinnecock Bay; Hywel Davies (1985 - Last Suspect) riding Fair Gale; Jimmy Frost (1989 - Little Polveir) riding Art Man; Marcus Armytage (1990 – Mr Frisk) riding Higgy’s Boy; Carl Llewellyn (1992 – Party Politics; 1998 – Earth Summit) riding South O’The Border; Tony Dobbin (1997 – Lord Gyllene) riding Fortuni; Jim Culloty (2002 – Bindaree) riding Dream Catcher; Peter Scudamore (8 time Champion jockey) riding Ormello; Charlie Swan (10 time Irish Champion jockey) riding Plenty Pocket.
The Martin Keighley trained Sky Calling was making her first racecourse appearance since sustaining a tendon injury, following which she had been plagued by corns!
The race distance being one mile and five furlongs meant that the runners began this event half way up the home straight, with just over one circuit to travel. The competitors cantered sedately along the all-weather track to reach the starting gate; they were accompanied by Bob and Jonjo, who cantered their horses back in front of the grandstands to reach the enclosure just in front of us in order to await the runners at the end of the race.
Then they were off. The runners were initially led away by Marcus Armytage; Carl Llewellyn soon taking over; from Tony Dobbin, Marcus now back in third, then Hywel Davies, Charlie Swan, Ben De Haan, Jim Culloty, Charlie Fenwick, Jimmy Frost, Graham Thorner and, in rear, Peter Scudamore. The hard pulling Sky Calling went wide as the field galloped up the back straight, almost carting her jockey into the lead.
Marcus Armytage led into the home straight, from Charlie Fenwick, Carl Llewellyn, Tony Dobbin and Hywel Davies. Tony Dobbin aboard Fortuni came to challenge for the lead, drifting across to the stand-side rails, Hywel Davies switching his mount to the outside of Tony’s as a result. Carl Llewellyn was left to see off Hywel Davies, at one point the latter getting his whip tangled in the reins when swapping hands. Ben De Haan finished 4th; Marcus Armytage 5th; Peter Scudamore 6th. After her long racecourse absence, Sky Calling had tired upon entering the home straight. A ‘family’ victory for Tony Dobbin, as his mount Fortuni was trained by his wife Rose.
Soon it would be time for the first ‘proper’ race of the day. As Choc’s intended mount, Recession Proof, was a non-runner in the first race; we remained in the Earl of Derby enclosure, by the exit gateway, in order to get the best vantage point ahead of the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
Following the Charity Race, there was another Parade of Champions – on this occasion the past winners were paraded up the course in front of the stands; led by 28-year-old Miinnehoma.
The start of this race was in the back straight, with two flights to negotiate before the far turn; one and three quarter circuits of the track. Cue Card went off as favourite.
Then they were off, initially at a steady pace. The field was led away by the Ruby Walsh ridden Sam Winner; followed by Spirit Son, Drive Time, Maringo Bay, Rock On Ruby, Drill Sergeant, Cue Card taking a keep hold with, in rear, Storm Brig and Bold Sir Brian.
Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, Rock On Ruby jumped awkwardly at the third. Around the grandstand bend, Sam Winner continued to lead, from Spirit Son, Drive Time, Drill Sergeant, Maringo Bay, Rock On Ruby, Bold Sir Brian, Cue Card and Storm Brig.
Three from the rear of the field, Cue Card hit the middle flight in the back straight. Sam Winner, Spirit Son and Drive Time still held the advantage. Maringo Bay had dropped out by the time the runners had negotiated the far bend. Turning in, Sam Winner retained the lead from Spirit Son, Drive Time and Drill Sergeant, Storm Brig now on the wide outside. Drive Time fell 3 out when weakening, slightly hampering Bold Sir Brian in the process.
Barry Geraghty’s mount took the lead after 3 out; Cue Card had made progress and was soon his nearest pursuer. However Cue Card hung left under pressure; Spirit Son now had the race under his control. Both Rock On Ruby and Drill Sergeant hit the last flight; as a result the orange protector strips lay mangled on the landing side of the hurdle.
Spirit Son was pushed clear on the run-in and won by an easy 13 lengths; Cue Card completed in second, with Rock On Ruby in third, Drill Sergeant fourth.
We remained in the Earl of Derby enclosure in order to retain our rail side position ahead of the next race.
The start of this event was in the far corner of the track, the first obstacle being the cross-fence.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Finian’s Rainbow, from Ghizao; Classic Fly crashed out at the first, his jockey slammed to the ground, motionless. Close upsides as Peter Toole’s mount fell, Romanesco slithered on landing over this fence, his rider Sam Twiston-Davies almost flung from the saddle too. Sam had lost his irons and was soon tailed off in rear.
Heading down the home straight on the first occasion, Finian’s Rainbow led from Ghizao, Dan Breen disputing third with Starluck, Gilbarry and the tailed off Romanesco; the field was already strung out. Gilbarry hit the 4th fence. Turning into the back straight, Starluck hit the fifth and wasn’t fluent over the sixth fence either; the leader, Finian’s Rainbow, didn’t jump the latter well, and then hit the 7th. Tailed off in rear, Romanesco clambered over the open-ditch.
Upon reaching the far turn, the runners were waived around the cross-fence, jockey Peter Toole being attended on the landing side following his fall from Classic Fly. Turning in, Ghizao was upsides Finian’s Rainbow, Dan Breen 6 lengths behind disputing third with Starluck. However, Ghizao ploughed through 2 out, the open-ditch, leaving his rival well clear. Starluck was slow here too.
Although appearing to tire as they headed over the final fence, and with Ghizao rallying following the error; the latter wasn’t fluent at the last and couldn’t catch Finian’s Rainbow, who won by 2 lengths at the line. Completing in third was Dan Breen, 22 lengths behind, Starluck a further 18 lengths behind in 4th. Gilbarry completed in 5th; Romanesco miles behind in 6th and last, but he did complete the course.
Sadly jockey Peter Toole was seriously injured in the fall; spending time in intensive care as a result of bleeding on the right side of his brain. As I write this diary, the young Irishman had been recently transferred to a Dublin hospital to continue his recovery.
The stable lads and lasses wore badges on their left arms, stating the name of their charges. Once they had led their horses onto the course and ‘let them go’, the badges were placed in a pile upon the ground, from where they were collected by an official. I clearly recall looking at the badges and seeing Classic Fly’s name on top of the pile; I thought how strange it was that I’d never heard of the horse. Well I certainly have now ...
Frightened that we might lose our places beside the rail, we remained in the Earl of Derby enclosure ahead of the next race; in which Choc would be having his first ride of the day, aboard the Alan King trained Salden Licht.
The start of this race was in the back straight, with two flights to negotiate before the far turn; the race took place over one and three quarter circuits of the track.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the blinkered Celestial Halo, followed by Oscar Whisky and Peddlers Cross; Salden Licht, on the outside of the runners, slightly reached for the first flight. These runners were followed by Binocular, the grey Thousand Stars, Oscar Dan Dan, with Ronaldo Des Mottes in rear.
Celestial Halo held a two to three length advantage as the runners turned into the home straight on the first occasion, Oscar Whisky was in second, Peddlers Cross in third, Binocular disputed fourth with Salden Licht, Choc’s mount giving the third flight plenty of air. The leader stumbled slightly after the next. In rear, Oscar Dan Dan made an error at the last flight before setting out onto the final circuit.
Celestial Halo jumped slowly at the first hurdle in the back straight, Oscar Whisky closing and soon disputing the lead. Barry Geraghty’s mount went on around the far bend, from Salden Licht and Peddlers Cross; the latter receiving reminders as they turned in.
Oscar Whisky led over the third last from Salden Licht and Peddlers Cross; Celestial Halo had soon faded into last place. Thousand Stars was travelling well and made progress; staying on after the last under a severe drive from Katie Walsh. However, they failed to catch Oscar Whisky, who prevailed by a neck at the line. Not surprisingly, Katie received a 6 day ban for excessive whip use!
Salden Licht finished a very respectable third, 10 lengths back. Peddlers Cross, having hit the last flight, faded into 7th place.
When Thousand Stars was led back in, it was apparent that he had a cut on one of his hind legs. Blood from the wound dripped onto the rubberised path; one of the handlers threw a bucketful of water onto the path to wash the blood away. The horse was led straight back to the stables; without entering the Winners’ Enclosure.
Still mindful of retaining our places in the Earl of Derby enclosure, we remained there instead of returning to see Choc arrive back in the Winners’ Enclosure having been placed third.
It was now time for Choc’s second ride of the afternoon, aboard his Cheltenham Festival winner, Bensalem. The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Carrickmines, followed by Rare Bob, Reve De Sivola and Saphir Des Bois. Reve De Sivola, jumped to the right over the second fence, the open-ditch, possibly hampering Crescent Island, who fell. In their wake, Take The Breeze, was hampered and unseated Ruby Walsh. Hey Big Spender made a mistake and was hampered too, Silmi was hampered; even Bensalem was slightly hampered, as was Prince De Beauchene!
Carrickmines continued to lead over the third, from Saphir Des Bois, Rare Bob, Reve De Sivola, Prince De Beauchene and Bensalem. Hey Big Spender, confidence shattered by the events at the open-ditch, made a bad error at this fence.
Setting off along the back straight on the first occasion, Carrickmines and Saphir Des Bois disputed the lead; the latter hit the 5th fence; Hey Big Spender was pulled up before the sixth. Bensalem was slightly untidy at the last in this line of fences. Around the far bend Saphir Des Bois went on, from Rare Bob, Reve De Sivola and Carrickmines. Great Endeavour prominent on the outside of the field.
Dropping back, Carrickmines received reminders; and he subsequently hit the last in the home straight and launched jockey Paddy Brennan into space! Heading out onto the final circuit, Prince De Beauchene and Rare Bob disputed the lead, from Saphir Des Bois, Reve De Sivola, Tarablaze, Bensalem, Invisible Man, Great Endeavour and Categorical, with a break to Silmi and Just Smudge. Bensalem was a little clumsy at the 12th. Prince De Beauchene had now gone on; Choc’s mount was also wrong at the 13th. Rare Bob hit the open-ditch.
Prince De Beauchene continued to lead, Tarablaze now in second, from Saphir Des Bois, Bensalem and Reve De Sivola. Great Endeavour, in sixth place, was being urged along on the wide outside. Bensalem was in fourth position as the field entered the home straight.
Rare Bob hit the open ditch, two out, unseating his rider. Bensalem badly blundered at this fence but the partnership survived. Reve De Sivola headed Prince De Beauchene on the run to the last, but the former was tired, and lost ground over the fence, jumping to his right, possibly putting off Bensalem, who made another error. Meanwhile Categorical had run on from the back of the field and came to take second, beaten 1½ lengths by Prince De Beauchene at the line. Reve De Sivola completed in 3rd, Tarablaze in 4th, Bensalem in 5th, and Great Endeavour in 6th.
Presumably Bensalem’s Cheltenham Festival victory had taken its toll. But, looking on the bright side, the horse’s instinct to survive jumping blunders had developed greatly since last season!
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As my diary for Grand National Day is rather large, I decided to split it into two sections: