DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL – DAY 2
– FRIDAY 09 APRIL 2010
A long journey ahead of me today. It is almost 200 miles from my home to Aintree, and this year I was attending the fixture alone. I set my alarm for 04:00, and left home just after 06:00. My journey took me up the A5 to Junction 9 of the M1, then northwards to leave the motorway at junction 23A. As my concentration can waiver on the motorway, I felt I needed a ‘break’ from the monotony, so I then took the A50 dual carriageway past Derby and Uttoxeter and on to Stoke, where I joined the northbound carriageway of the M6. Besides, my route permitted me to miss the Birmingham area during the rush hour period.
Having joined the M6, there were signs warning of delays ahead between junctions 18 and 20. However, in the event, the hold-up wasn’t too bad, being semi-stationary traffic, resulting in a 20 minute delay. The motorway was then clear to Junction 21A, where I turned westwards along the M62 heading for Liverpool. Having drunk a cup of black coffee and a glass fruit juice before leaving home, I was now dying to spend a penny! I therefore visited the Burtonwood Services before continuing on my journey, leaving the M62 and travelling northwards up the M57.
However, at the end of the M57 I missed the sharp left turn onto the Ormskirk Road, taking the A5036 instead. I wasn’t phased by this, and took a left turn as soon as I could, which took me under the railway bridge to rejoin my original route. However, as I wanted to fill up my petrol tank at the nearby Asda store, I turned left again to reach the supermarket. Having purchased petrol, I then set off for the racecourse, turning left onto Aintree Lane, and then a right turn over the canal bridge (which is part of the Melling Road), over the Grand National course itself, and I was directed down one of the traffic lanes in preparation for having my car searched by the security staff.
The search having been completed, I parked on the grass parking area beside the Melling Road, ate a quick snack and set off to buy a race-card, have my ticket checked and undergo a further security search before walking across the Melling Road to catch a bus to the grandstand side of the course.
As I was alone, I went to sit beside the Parade Ring. It was 10:45. Choc had 4 rides today, in the first, third, fifth and sixth races. The first race of the day was at 14:00, so it was a long time to wait but, eventually, the competitors began to arrive in preparation for the Novices’ Hurdle race.
Once Choc was aboard his first mount of the day, I set off to find a vantage point inside the Earl of Derby enclosure. The steppings of the stand were almost packed, so I headed for the corner by the horsewalk gates. Once the horses had all exited onto the course, the gates would be closed, and this permitted me to get a position leaning on the main gates. It also had the advantage that a number of the stable lads and lasses would wait at this point until it was time to collect their charges at the end of each race and you could experience their joy or otherwise at the outcome.
The start of the first race was in the far corner of the track.
The field was led away by Moonstreaker, who was not fluent at the first. Choc’s mount, Captive Audience, having initially tracked the leader, came upside and then took over the running after the third.
Choc led around the home bend, setting off away from the stands followed by Moonstreaker, Menorah, Dan Breen, Washington Irvine, General Miller, La Sarrazine, Inventor and the hard pulling Escort’men. However, Captive Audience did give away ground by jumping away to his right over each of the flights in the back straight. Menorah was travelling well just in behind him.
Although still ahead, Choc administered a few gentle reminders as they turned the far bend. Menorah took up the running at the third last, and General Miller began his challenge, the former still leading over the last. However Barry Geraghty’s mount was gradually gaining and prevailed by a neck on the line.
Choc’s mount weakened to finish 8th of the 9. Escort’men, despite making ground from the rear, failed to make a serious impression and finished in 6th.
The unplaced horses were unsaddled in the railed off enclosure area in front of the Lord Sefton/Earl of Derby stands. The majority of jockeys, having spoken with connections, then exited via the walkway tunnel, but on this occasion Choc departed via the far gate where the unplaced horses were led off the course.
I went to stand on the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure whilst the presentations were being made, before returning to my vantage point beside the course-side rails, there being no need to get close to the main Parade Ring area as Choc didn’t have a ride in the second race of the day.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight. Before the race, it was pointed out on Racing UK that Burton Port was fresher than usual going to the start. Being the only Nicky Henderson runner in the race, his jockey today was Barry Geraghty.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Khachaturian, Take The Breeze hit the first, and in rear was Song Sung Blue. The initial order was Khachaturian, Knockara Beau, Rory Boy, Dance Island, Ogee, Door Boy, Lenabane, Take The Breeze, Burton Port and Song Sung Blue. Knockara Beau assumed the lead having flown the third fence.
Heading around the bend and away from the stands for the first time, Knockara Beau led from Khachaturian and Door Boy, the former making an error at the 5th, Khachaturian temporarily re-taking the lead. Song Sung Blue still brought up the rear.
Door Boy took the lead having jumped the cross fence. Khachaturian took a crunching fall at the 11th, badly hampering Ogee in the process. The horse was a little stunned after the fall, which enabled jockey Jason Maguire to catch hold of his reins and lead him away from the fence, permitting the horses to jump it on the final circuit.
Heading up the back straight, Door Boy still led from Knockara Beau, Dance Island in third position ploughed through the 15th. Knockara Beau hit the 16th, the open ditch. Around the top bend Burton Port was on the tail of the two leaders. Take The Breeze, when mounting a challenge, clobbered the third last.
Burton Port took over the lead from Door Boy after the second last and asserted, clearing the last and galloping on to win by 3¼ lengths from field outsider Dance Island, then Take The Breeze and Lenabane. A clear round of jumping from RSA runner-up Burton Port had won the day.
It was nice to see Burton Port win a big race, having spent much of the season in the shadow of his stable-mates Punchestowns and Long Run.
During the race I had been standing next to Burton Port’s lad, who cheered him home, before going to proudly lead his charge back in.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see Choc arrive for his ride aboard Oh Crick in the next race. As soon as he’d left the paddock aboard his mount, I set off to reserve my usual place beside the course exit gate.
The start of this race was at the beginning of the back straight.
The field was led away by the popular grey, Monet’s Garden, followed by Deep Purple, Albertas Run and Pocquelin. Jack The Giant made a mistake at the first fence. Kalahari King, near the rear of the field, fell at the 2nd. Both horse and jockey (Graham Lee) were okay. Schindlers Hunt, who had run so well in last year’s race, stepped through the third, the open-ditch, falling heavily. It transpired that the horse had fractured his near fore when clouting the fence, and was subsequently destroyed humanely.
Choc was holding up Oh Crick near the back of the field. Monet’s Garden retained the lead around the top bend, Albertas Run coasting along in second place. Jack The Giant hit the cross fence. Down the home straight, Monet’s Garden still held the advantage, followed by Albertas Run, Deep Purple, Forpadydeplasterer; Jack The Giant was bringing up the rear.
Around the bottom bend, with one circuit to go, Richard Johnson’s mount Monet’s Garden held advantage from Albertas Run, Deep Purple and Tartak. Pocquelin was dropping back through the field. The field was waived around the open-ditch, where green screens concealed the injured Schindlers Hunt.
Albertas Run hit the final fence in the back straight but still travelled well. Around the top bend the grey retained the lead, from Albertas Run, Tartak and Deep Purple. Jack The Giant began to tail off in rear, Poquelin travelling just in front of him blundered and unseated Ruby Walsh at the cross fence.
Albertas Run was sent into the lead approaching 3 out, Monet’s Garden still close behind along with Forpadydeplasterer. Oh Crick, having made progress, put in his challenge as they approached 2 out, but his stamina soon began to fail and he dropped out.
Albertas Run went on to win by 3¼ lengths from Forpadydeplasterer (who suffers from ‘seconditis’), then the game Monet’s Garden and Tartak. Mahogany Blaze led home the remaining runners, Oh Crick completing in 7th. Jack The Giant completed a tailed off 8th and last.
Paddy Flood, the rider of Schindlers Hunt, was taken to hospital having sustained a broken collarbone and would miss his ride in the following day’s Grand National.
At this point I should mention the on-course staff who, throughout the meeting, would do an excellent job of catching the loose horses before they caused a problem to the other runners.
Having been unplaced, once again Choc unsaddled his mount in the enclosure in front of the Lord Sefton stand, where the horse’s owner and Alan King came out to speak with him before he set off for the Weighing Room. Having taken time to give a detailed explanation about the horse’s run, Choc had to jog to the entrance so as to enter the walkway before the gates were closed!
Coincidently later that afternoon, when I was standing on the steps overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure I overheard a conversation between a group of people in front of me, and I realised that one of them was David Sewell, the owner of Oh Crick. He was saying that he was pleased because Oh Crick had run well, but that the race had confirmed that his horse didn’t stay farther than two miles.
I was now time for the next race of the day, the Topham Chase. This race is competed for over the Grand National fences, starting at the top corner of the track, with the first two fences jumped twice during the course of the race.
The start of the race was delayed due to an ‘incident’, when a race-goer was reportedly taken ill. Then, one of the runners, Private Be, threw his jockey Tom O’Brien and galloped off towards the Canal Turn. He took advantage of the safety bypasses to the fences but eventually became trapped in a dead-end between the wing and the outside rails by the Canal Turn fence. The horse was caught and brought back to the start, Tom having remounted on the return trip. However, having ‘trotted up’ for the vet, the horse was withdrawn. The race start was now running very late.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the free running Frankie Figg under Wilson Renwick. Garleton blundered badly at the first and the Willie Mullins trained, Katie Walsh ridden, Pomme Tiepy fell. All the runners cleared The Chair, Frankie Figg at the head of affairs, followed by Pasco, Always Waining, Isn’t That Lucky, Gaora Lane, and Dooney’s Gate. Diablo blundered badly at this fence when in rear.
There were no fallers at the water-jump or the next fence. Duers and Garleton departed at the next (6th). Towards the rear of the field, Battlecry unseated Paddy Brennan at the next obstacle, the open-ditch. Magic Sky unseated at the 8th. Frankie Figg was still jumping for fun as he landed over Becher’s Brook, Always Waining going well in behind him. Wee Robbie fell.
No fallers at the ‘Fionavon’ fence, Panjo Bere departing at the Canal Turn. Boomshakalaka unseated his rider at the 13th, Valentines. However, two of the Irish runners weren’t so fortunate at this fence, with Prudent Honour and Plaisir D’Estruval falling independently of each other, both losing their lives having broken their necks.
Pasco, with Ruby Walsh aboard, was not enjoying the experience and continued to drop back through the field. Dooney’s Gate pitched when landing over the 3rd last. Around the final bend, Always Waining had joined Frankie Figg at the head of the affairs and they were well clear of the field. However, Frankie Figg clouted the second last, unseating Wilson Renwick, who had to crawl for cover as the remaining runners jumped the fence.
This left Always Waining with a big advantage over the field and he went on to win by 12 lengths from Scotsirish, who had blundered badly at the last. Isn’t That Lucky finished 3rd, with Dooney’s Gate in 4th. Ruby Walsh pulled up Pasco before 2 out.
As it would shortly be time to for Choc’s third ride of the day, aboard Chamirey in the Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle, I went to stand beside the Parade Ring in preparation for his appearance. Once Choc was aboard his mount, I set off to take up my usual vantage point behind the course exit point gate.
The start of this race was part way down the home straight, with just over two circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by two Irish raiders, the keen running Western Leader, followed by Premier Victory. Cannington Brook and The Giant Bolster both jumped awkwardly at the first flight. Chamirey, with two horses to his inner, was held up near the rear of the field. In rear were the enigmatic Kennel Hill and Midnight Tuesday.
Heading up the back straight, the order was Western Leader, Premier Victory, Cannington Brook, The Minack, Voramar Two, Lord Generous and Chamirey. The Irish runners were still clear around the far bend; Chamirey on and off the bridle. Western Leader made a mistake at the last hurdle in the home straight with one circuit to go.
At this stage, Kennel Hill seemed to have decided that it was not a ‘going’ day; and Chamirey began to drop back despite encouragement. Double Expresso made a mistake at the 9th, and was well behind when pulled up shortly afterwards. Choc pulled up Chamirey before 3 out.
Turning in, Western Leader and Premier Victory still led, followed by Cannington Brook, the latter blundering 3 out. Premier Victory made a mistake 2 out, Wayward Prince now putting in a challenge to the long time leader. With Western Leader hanging to the right on the run-in, he was caught by Wayward Prince, the latter winning by 6 lengths.
As a postscript, Western Leader had suffered an injury during the race and, although not life threatening, this was to be his last race as retirement beckoned for the 6 year old.
It would soon be time for Choc’s final ride of the day, aboard Baddam, so I returned to the Parade Ring to await Choc’s arrival prior to the next race. When Baddam had left the paddock, I set off for the Earl of Derby enclosure once more.
Like the last race, the start of this race was part way down the home straight with just over two circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Ursis. Prominent were According To Peter, Quentin Collonges, and Cheltenham winner, Buena Vista. Travelling in 5th position, Whinstone Boy unseated his jockey at the 2nd flight, the horse ‘kissing’ the turf and giving his pilot absolutely no chance of staying aboard. Carsonstown Boy and second favourite, Ringaroses, were hampered by the mishap. Choc was clear of trouble on the outside of the field in around 7th place.
By the end of the back straight, Baddam was already beginning to lose his place. According To Pete took over after the 7th flight and led the field around the bottom bend with one circuit to travel, and was preceded by the loose horse. Buena Vista took over at the 9th, where Alderluck blundered in mid-field. Baddam had now dropped back to second last, with Woolfall Treasure tailed off.
Turning into the home straight, Buena Vista led over the third last, Ringaroses joining him over the penultimate flight. The latter galloped on to win by 6 lengths. Carsonstown Boy and Bob ‘N’ You continued to stay on after the last to finish 2nd and 3rd respectively. The game Buena Vista completed in 4th. Another winner for AP McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill. Choc aboard Baddam completed in 14th.
Having been unplaced again, Choc returned to the enclosure in front of the Earl of Derby stand to unsaddle his mount. Once he’d spoken with the horse’s trainer, Ian Williams, Choc returned via the horse walk tunnel to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for the final race of the day. The start of this race was at the far corner of the ‘Park’ track.
The field was led away by the AP McCoy ridden Mizzurka, chased by Chicklemix, Natural Spring, Up The Style, Risaala, and Big Time Billy. Having rounded the home bend and headed off into the country again, Ferdy Murphy’s grey filly Baba O’Curragh, who had been travelling near the rear of the field, was pulled up having broken down.
Mizzurka held the lead until Chicklemix briefly took up the running, before the latter quickly dropped back through the field. Around the top bend Sam Twiston-Davies sent Risaala into the lead. Big Time Billy, having travelled prominently throughout the race, took over before 3 furlongs out and ran on well to win by 3¼ lengths from the ‘green’ Dare to Doubt and Style of Campile.
The favourite Araucaria (the name being a genus of evergreen conifer trees, one of which is the Monkey Puzzle tree or Chilean pine) was never nearer than at the finish, having been held up in rear she had encountered traffic problems but came through late to finish 4th.
A double on the day for trainer Peter Bowen. It had been a day of doubles. Two winners for trainer Nicky Henderson, and for Jonjo O’Neill. Two winners for owner Trevor Hemmings. Two winning rides for AP McCoy and for Barry Geraghty.
Following the final race of the day, I went to stand on the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure.
Graham Lee, who had ridden Baba O’Curragh, came back in some time after the other jockeys and a spectator went to ask if everything was okay. The way he shook his head suggested that perhaps all was not well; she patted him on the shoulder in consolation before walking away.
Having waited for the majority of the punters to leave, I set off for the racecourse crossing point, and caught a bus back to the mid-course car park. As I walked across the course, I recall glancing to my right, towards the open ditch, and thought of Schindlers Hunt who had lost his life on the landing side of the fence as a result of his fall in the third race of the day.
I returned to my car, and drove to the exit. Luckily it took just 10 minutes to clear the mid-course queue, and all traffic was directed to turn left to reach the Ormskirk Road. There was a further queue back from the traffic lights, and again at the M57 junction but I was soon driving along the southbound carriageway.
I had arranged to stay overnight at the Premier Inn near Golborne. Last year, although booking later, my friend Lesley had booked us into the Tarbock Premier Inn, but at a cost ... as being in the Aintree ‘catchment’ area, we had been charged an extra premium for the privilege (£41 each in fact). This year, I was just ‘surfing’ in mid-September and thought I’d take a look at the Premier Inn website ... only to discover that most of the hotel rooms in the area for the Grand National weekend had already been booked!!! So it wasn’t by choice, it was by necessity that I found myself on the way to Golborne ... but, on the plus side, no ‘Grand National premium’ would be levied!
I left the M57 at its junction with the A580, a road which connects Liverpool with Salford. I then headed eastwards towards Manchester; it was dual carriageway, with a 60 mph limit, and a number of traffic-light controlled junctions and roundabouts. Golborne is just east of the M6 and very near to Haydock Park, in fact. The Inn was immediately next to the A580, and I arrived at 18:50.
Having booked in, I was directed to my room on the first floor. I spent the next hour relaxing, before going to the pub/restaurant, which was next door, to have my evening meal. Having returned to my room, I watched a few minutes of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ on TV before deciding I should get an early night, having set my alarm for 06:00.
I went to sleep wondering if Choc would been riding at Aintree the next day, as I knew Alan King would not have a runner on Saturday, and Choc didn’t have an engagement to ride in the Grand National either.
The following morning I would discover that Choc had gone to Chepstow to ride and, according to his Horse and Hound column, he hated every minute of it! However, even his wife Meally would stay over for Grand National day, as she’d pre-arranged to meet up with her younger sister for the big event.