DIARY – AINTREE
FRIDAY 13 APRIL 2012
FESTIVAL DAY 2 – LADIES’ DAY – PART I
Finian’s Rainbow, winner of the Grade 1 Melling Chase, is unsaddled in the rain
This was to be my fourth consecutive year of attending the Aintree Festival; for the second year running I’d booked two days off work, on the second of which (Friday) I’d be heading to Merseyside in time to attend Day 2 in addition to Day 3 of the meeting.
To complicate matters this year, fuel tanker drivers had initially been threatening strike action over the Easter period; this year the holiday being Friday 06 April to Monday 09 April inclusive. Typically, members of the Government had issued a statement that no-one should panic but perhaps should store a limited emergency supply of fuel at home ... so, of course, everyone panicked! This led to queues at petrol stations, some of which ran out of fuel. Problems were beginning to surface on 28 March.
On 29 March I attended an Osmonds concert in Birmingham, travelling with my friend Lesley from Milton Keynes railway station. But I still needed to drive to her home on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire border; leaving me with just half a tank of petrol in reserve. Luckily I don’t need petrol to drive to work, as my employer’s office is just a mile from my home but, by the end of that week, I was beginning to feel uneasy that I’d not yet had the opportunity to purchase petrol to top up my tank ahead of Aintree, two weeks hence.
It was therefore with relief that I drove down to my local Sainsburys petrol station at 06:45 on Saturday 31 March to discover that I was able to fill up my car’s tank with ease; although there were more drivers at the fuel station than would normally be expected at that hour on a Saturday morning and despite a number of the pumps being designated as ‘Sorry Out of Use’. Phew, I had a full tank ahead of Aintree. Not that I was out of the woods yet ... as Aintree is around 200 miles from my home and I also needed enough petrol to drive to and from my choosen Travelodge, which was 17 miles from the racecourse. My car, allegedly, travels 400 miles on one tank of fuel.
I suppose ‘choosen’ wasn’t quite the correct word to describe it, as I would have preferred to stay at the Premier Inn in Golborne as I’d done in 2010 and 2011. However, upon attempting to book with Premier Inn shortly after last year’s Festival, I’d discovered that all their rooms were designated as not available. So I’d searched for a Travelodge instead and initially found the Haydock location, only to read a number of reviews stating how unpleasant that particular one was! I’d quickly cancelled and re-booked at the Warrington Lowton Travelodge located just two miles further east on the A580 than the Golborne Premier Inn.
And I don’t think I should panic for 2013, as it later transpired that a limited number of rooms were still available in Golborne if booked quite close to the date of the Festival. Although Premier Inn had put up their prices from around £50 to £75 for a ‘flexible’ booking. Flexible referring to the fact that the room can be cancelled up to 13:00 on the day of your planned arrival and, I believe, payment is made at that time. Their non-flexible bookings are cheaper but need to be paid for in advance. My Travelodge booking was flexible but also paid for in advance; however, if I cancelled prior to the deadline, I’d get my money back, all bar a very small cancellation fee. My Travelodge room cost only £51 for one night.
This year I had again planned to go to the Lambourn Open Day which takes place on Good Friday, inviting my friend Denise to accompany me. However, as the day approached and in light of the possible threat of strike action by the fuel tanker drivers, I cancelled my trip. The weather on Good Friday turned out to be quite nice, unlike the remainder of the Easter break. And the fuel tanker drivers had entered talks with the hope of resolving their differences with their employers so, in hindsight, I could have gone to Lambourn after all. And I missed the camel racing ... that’s the second time I’ve missed camel racing, the other time being when it took place at Stratford races last year because I didn’t enter the turnstiles early enough.
Easter became a very quiet weekend for me, with no race fixtures to attend as Choc was suspended from riding on Saturday 07, Sunday 08, Monday 09 together with Sunday 15 April due to a final furlong incident which took place at Newbury on Saturday 24 March when he won the Mares’ Listed Hurdle aboard Tante Sissi. In fact the only time I left the house throughout Easter was to drive to my local Marks and Spencer superstore to purchase a pair of navy blue shoes to wear with my Aintree outfit; the weather forecast for the following weekend also being unpromising. Okay, I confess it was two pairs because I couldn’t decide which pair I preferred!
But, on the bright side, I was able to complete my diary for Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival and almost complete that for Day 4 too. I finished and uploaded the latter on Tuesday 10 April.
As the Aintree fixture approached, it became apparent that Choc would almost certainly not have a ride in the Grand National again this year; 2010 was the only previous year he’d missed since his first ride in 1997. West End Rocker, who he’d ridden last year when he was brought down at Bechers Brook, was now to be ridden by Alan King’s second jockey Wayne Hutchinson. Having won Aintree’s Becher Chase aboard the horse in December, the owners had promised the ride to Wayne for the remainder of the season. Choc’s best hope of a Grand National ride had been Hold On Julio who had held an entry until running disappointingly at the Cheltenham Festival.
At the start of the week, I suppose I thought Choc may have rides in other races on the Saturday. However, as the declarations began to appear, it became apparent that Alan’s only runners on Saturday would be West End Rocker in the National and Arabian Heights in the Charity race at the beginning of the card. Then, to add insult to injury, on the day before the Festival began, it was confirmed that Choc would have 4 rides on Thursday; which would be his busiest day of the Festival. I would still be at home on that day, preparing for departure early Friday. Damn. Mind you, I have to say, Thursday often turns out to be his busiest and most profitable day so I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Wednesday was not a good day for me ... I was in two minds. Do I try to find a hotel room for overnight Thursday and drive up early on Thursday to watch the day’s racing? If so, where would I park my car? I know, the park and ride ... but, upon further investigation, it became apparent there was to be no park and ride this year. An alternative would be to park at my chosen hotel and travel to the racecourse by public transport. It was possible, but my chosen hotel would need to be near to a railway station and it might take a long time to get to the racecourse ... but I’d been concentrating so much on getting my Cheltenham Day 4 diary completed before I set off for Aintree that I’d neglected my packing and my pre-race beauty regime too. There was just not enough time to get everything, including myself, ready for a 05:30 departure time on Thursday. I would have to forego the pleasure of seeing Choc on Thursday; perhaps next year.
Thursday at home permitted me to get everything ready in plenty of time, and to watch the racing on TV too. For the record, Choc was unseated from Smad Place 4 flights from home in the Liverpool Hurdle, although there was no way he could have survived the blunder, it being so severe. The race was won by Big Buck’s; setting a new record of 17 consecutive wins. Choc had then won the Grade 1 Anniversary 4-year-old Juvenile Hurdle aboard Grumeti; who was driven out to beat the Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame, both horses drawing well clear of the remaining runners. Medermit finished a very close 4th in the Grade 1 Bowl Chase, trying the 3 miles 1 furlong trip for the first time. Finally, Kumbeshwar had finished 4th in the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase.
I’d missed one important winner, Grumeti, but was hopeful Choc might make it to the Winners’ Enclosure again on Friday when he had 2 riding engagements; Lovcen in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and Call Me A Star in the Mares’ Listed Standard Open NH Flat Race. The latter was considered his best chance of a winner on Friday.
Having set my alarm for 03:30, giving me two hours to prepare for departure, I went to bed before 21:00. However, foolishly, I scanned the channels on my bedroom TV and got hooked on Long Lost Family, so didn’t actually go to sleep until after 22:00. In the event I was awake by 03:00, rising at 03:30 to take a shower, wash and dry my hair. I ate Weetabix for breakfast and drank a cup of black coffee; the latter having become an addiction since I was diagnosed with sinus problems the previous summer. Dairy products definitely make catarrgh issues worse, so I put soya milk on my breakfast cereal and drink far less tea than I used to. Hopefully I will drink more tea once my sinus operation had taken place on 19 April, just 6 days’ time.
It was then time to apply my make-up. I had a false start here! For the Cheltenham Festival I’d worn Max Factor Miracle Touch Foundation, however this had a tendency to make my skin dry. The same happened today, as soon as I’d applied it. Back to the drawing board; or rather Max Factor Second Skin Foundation in Warm Almond shade. I removed the Miracle Touch, reapplied my sun block, then Second Skin. My skin seemed much better; stick to what you know!
I loaded my trolley suitcase into the boot of my car, plus a bag containing two pairs of shoes and two pairs of sandals, another bag of odds and ends, and a bag containing food. Having laid my purple coat and blue Per Una jacket on the back seat, I was almost ready to go. I needed to put my contact lenses in my eyes. Another false start there, as I dropped one lense on the floor and couldn’t find it initially. I inserted another; finally locating the missing one, which I threw in the bin. They are disposable ones. It was 05:40 when I set off for Aintree.
The prevailing sunshine and showers the previous evening had conspired to create an early morning mist. Although, fortunately, not quite as bad as the dense fog I’d encountered on Day 3 of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Today my route took me via Harpenden to join the M1 at Junction 10, Luton. Taking the northbound carriageway I headed for Liverpool. At this period of time there was a 50 mph limit all the way from Luton to Milton Keynes. The mist prevailed until I reached the Northamptonshire border, after which there were just a few misty patches in low lying areas. As I’d done on all my previous trips to Merseyside, I continued up the M1 until reaching junction 23A, when I headed westwards along the dual carriageway of the A50 past Derby and Uttoxeter to reach Stoke On Trent, where it was a lovely sunny morning.
Having joined the M6 at this point, I proceeded northwards for around 30 miles before then heading westwards along the M62 towards Liverpool. Better to be safe than sorry, I left the motorway at the Burtonwood Services ... I needed a wee!!! Having been to the loo, I then drove along the maze of roads to the service station, filling up my tank, before returning to the car park area once more; I now had enough petrol to last me until the termination of my return journey home the following evening. I ate a couple of cheese rolls; shortly before 09:30 I continued my journey along the M62 and headed northwards up the M57 to Aintree.
At the end of the motorway I took a sharp left turn, drove down the dual carriageway past Asda; the store being my petrol topping up point on all previous three visits to Merseyside. At the traffic lights near the station I turned left, bearing around to the right and driving along Aintree Lane until I reached the ‘Steeplechase’ car park entrance at Anchor Bridge. Once over the bridge and having driven across the racecourse, I was directed down the left-hand lane between traffic cones; further along being re-directed into the right-hand lane for my vehicle to be checked by the security staff.
Having turned off the engine, the bonnet was opened and the engine area checked; the car was examined inside and underneath, as was the boot and the contents of the bags within it. Having been cleared, I was directed to continue along the road and into the car park, pulling up just a few vehicles away from the Melling Road perimeter fence.
I’ve just realised that I’ve not described by outfit today! As Choc would not be at Aintree the following day, I’d decided to wear my first choice outfit today. It consisted of a navy blue M & S skirt, with rear hem detail; a blue/beige flowered top purchased from Wallis; a neon blue cardigan also from Wallis; my blue Per Una jacket; also my purple winter coat; blue Dorothy Perkins scarf; and, having examined the grass in the car park to ensure it wasn’t damp, I decided to wear my blue M & S Footglove sandals.
At 10:10 I headed for the turnstiles. It transpired there was a voucher attached to my ticket, so I handed this into the kiosk in return for a race-card. Bargain. I then headed for the entrance, to have my ticket scanned. A slight problem; it would not scan. However, it was a known problem that the quality of the bar code printed on a number of the tickets was of a sub-standard nature. Once I’d also presented my badge, they issued me with a new ticket ... although it was just a Tattersalls test ticket, not my number 0001 Earl of Derby Stand Terrace ticket, which they confiscated. Damn. I like to keep my tickets and badges for posterity. A Tattersalls ticket is not quite the same.
My capacious ‘Cheltenham’ handbag was then searched; it was purchased from M & S, but came into it’s own at Cheltenham this year, hence the name. My body was then scanned too. Having been given clearance, it was time to cross the Melling Road to catch a bus to take me to the stands-side of the racecourse. Having alighted from the bus I walked along the green carpet laid across the home straight to protect the turf, and then proceeded to the area beside the Parade Ring. Having discovered that the seats surrounding the Paddock were still damp, I went to sit upon one of the benches situated along the side of the concourse, facing the back of the Earl of Derby grandstand.
You certainly see some sights at Aintree, especially on Ladies Day! Actually it’s the most unladylike Ladies Day you’ll find at any racecourse!!! There was an amusing cartoon published in the Sunday Times, featuring a Ladies Day Odds board: Laughing Stock 2/1; Frock Horror 3/2; Wardrobe Malfunction 7/2; Fashion Faux Pas 5/4; Oh Dear! Evens; Lovely Lady 100/1 ... and that just about sums it up!!!
Whilst I was seated on the bench I saw one magpie; hopefully not a bad omen for the day. I was also pleased that I’d worn both my jacket and my coat, as I’d be freezing without them. Temperatures were expected to be lower tomorrow ... perhaps I’d need a thermal vest too; fortunately I’d packed one of those, and a fleece!
Ahead of the first race I went to stand beside the Parade Ring; Choc would be competing in the fifth and seventh races of the day. Once the horses had departed along the walkway, I headed under the stands to take up a position behind the soon to be closed walkway gate; my badge having been checked by one of the security officers at the entrance to the enclosure.
Once their charges have been released, stable lads and lasses headed for a temporary stand which had been constructed to the far side of the Lord Sefton stand. A shame really, as they used to stand behind the gate and shout their charges home. Also this year, a ‘pavilion’ has been constructed to serve as an unsaddling enclosure for the runners, providing the best of facilities for very tired horses; the also-rans used to be unsaddled on course in front of the Derby and Sefton stands, but no longer.
The starting gate for the first race was at the far corner of the track, the horses initially heading along a short stretch of the course before turning into the home straight with that and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off; first time. The crowd cheered as the runners set off. The field was led away by Absolutlyfantastic, from Agent Archie, North Cape, Captain Conan, the keen Prospect Wells, Darlan, Oscara Dara, Theatre Guide, Toughness Danon also keen, Right Step, Vulcanite and, in rear, Seventh Sky.
Agent Archie, under Jason Maguire, took over the lead as the runners cleared the second flight. In rear over the third were Seventh Sky, Vulcanite and Right Step. Heading around the home bend and out into the country once more, Agent Archie continued to lead as the runners cleared the fourth flight, from Absolutlyfantastic, North Cape, Captain Conan, Prospect Wells and Darlan.
Absolutlyfantastic took a narrow advantage before the 5th, from Agent Archie, Prospect Wells, Captain Conan, Darlan to the inside, North Cape, Vulcanite, Oscara Dara, Theatre Guide, Right Step, Toughness Danon and Seventh Sky. Around the top turn Agent Archie received reminders from Jason Maguire but began to drop back through the field.
Absolutlyfantastic led into the home straight from Captain Conan, Prospect Wells, AP McCoy to the inside aboard Darlan close up in 4th position from Oscara Dara, Vulcanite and Theatre Guide. Barry Geraghty’s mount led over 3 out; Darlan coming to challenge the leader over the penultimate flight. AP’s mount was half a length up clearing the last and went on to win by 3¾ lengths going away. Captain Conan finished 2nd, Prospect Wells 3rd and Oscara Dara 4th.
I returned, via the Derby Terrace entrance, to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
As Choc didn’t have a ride in the next race, I then proceeded directly to the area in front of the Derby stand, rather than view the horses in the main area of the Parade Ring. It had started to rain ahead of this second event; so, as such, I was able to find almost unlimited space along the course-side rails from where to view the race! Less hardy souls were huddled at the rear of the terrace, sheltering as best they could in the shadow of the overhanging roof.
The starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel.
Then they were off; first time. The runners were led away by Join Together and Yes Tom; the horses bumping in mid-air as they cleared the first fence. It nearly happened again at the second fence, the open ditch; sensibly, Paddy Brennan switched his mount, Yes Tom, to the inside before the next obstacle, where they assumed the lead.
Yes Tom led around the stands bend, from Join Together, Champion Court, Silviniaco Conti and Solix. Barry Geraghty’s mount made an error at the 4th. Yes Tom hit the 5th, but continued to lead. The field was closely grouped around the far bend; Yes Tom still holding the advantage, from Join Together, Solix, Champion Court and Silviniaco Conti.
Daryl Jacob’s mount led over the open-ditch before Yes Tom went on again over the next, where Solix made an error. The pace increased as the runners headed down the back straight for the final time. Join Together made an error at the open-ditch, before taking the advantage around the final bend from Silviniaco Conti and Champion Court.
Turning in, Champion Court and Silviniaco Conti disputed the lead, soon setting up a three length lead over the remainder of the field. Ruby’s mount had asserted by the time they reached the final obstacle and went on to win by 13 lengths from a weary Champion Court, with Join Together a further 12 lengths away in 3rd. Solix finished 4th, 68 lengths behind him.
Again, following the race, I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, via the Derby entrance, to view the horses arriving back.
Once more, with Choc having no ride in the next, I returned directly to the course-side rails in front of the Derby Stand.
Being the feature event of the day, there was a Parade before the race. However, number 6 Poquelin was led out onto the course ahead of the other runners, Ruby Walsh then waited to be legged into the saddle until after the remaining runners had arrived in the enclosure in front of the Lord Sefton/Earl of Derby stands. They circled just outside the walkway, the lads and lasses sorting the runners into number order. Ruby, now aboard his mount, was led up in front of the stands prior to the other competitors doing the same; the jockey keeping his feet out of the irons in order to calm his mount.
There was one scary moment, when Finian’s Rainbow seemed to spook as he crossed the racecourse and plunged forward towards the plastic railings located at the half furlong pole; he ran straight through them, but jockey Barry Geraghty remained in the saddle and soon collected him.
The runners headed down to the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off; first time. They were led away by Albertas Run and Pocquelin, from Finian’s Rainbow, Pure Faith, Kauto Stone, Forpadydeplasterer, Kalahari King and Wishfull Thinking; Poquelin went on as the runners cleared the third, the open-ditch.
Around the far turn, a group of three consisting of Poquelin, Albertas Run and Finian’s Rainbow had set up a break between themselves and the remainder of the field. Forpadydeplasterer hit the 5th fence.
The order heading down the home straight on the first occasion was Poquelin, Albertas Run, Finian’s Rainbow, Pure Faith, Forpadydeplasterer, Kauto Stone, Kalahari King and Wishfull Thinking. Albertas Run hit both the 8th and 10th fences; Finian’s Rainbow hit the latter obstacle too, as did Wishfull Thinking. No change at the head of affairs as the runners approached the far turn; Kalahari King tailing off.
Albertas Run led over the cross fence as Poquelin began to fade, Finian’s Rainbow now in second position. Wishfull Thinking, having made further headway after this fence, came to challenge Albertas Run for the lead as did Finian’s Rainbow. Forpadydeplasterer made an error at the 3rd last when in fourth position. Richard Johnson’s mount took a narrow lead approaching 2 out, but was headed soon after the fence by Finian’s Rainbow.
The latter cleared the last and galloped on to win by 7 lengths from Wishfull Thinking. Albertas Run weakened before the last but held onto 3rd place, Forpadydeplasterer finished 4th.
I returned, via the Derby enclosure entrance, to see the placed horses arrive back in the Winners’ Enclosure. I then returned to the course-side rails ahead of the next race, the Topham Chase.
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As my diary for this day is rather large, I’ve written two instalments ...
Click here to read my Aintree Diary 13 April 2012 Part II