DIARY – ASCOT – SATURDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2009
Choc had 5 rides at Ascot today, 3 for Alan King, 1 for Francois Doumen, and 1 for Anthony Honeyball. The major race at the meeting was the Betfair Ascot Chase, in which Voy Por Ustedes was to run.
Choc was unable to ride last Saturday at Kempton Park as Alan King’s horses were snowed in at Barbury Castle. Choc went to his friend’s wedding instead, where he acted as usher.
As I intended to drive to Ascot and the first race was at 13:05, I knew I didn’t need to set out until around 10:30. In the event it was 10:45 when I left home, with my first intention to journey via the M25 and M4, then down the Windsor bypass, past Legoland, to the course. However, traffic was building up on the M25 near Maple Cross, so I changed my mind and travelled via Denham, and Gerrards Cross. However, as I approached Stoke Poges, there was a police roadblock preventing me from entering the village, so I had to take a right turn into the unknown! But, as with the majority of my road journeys, I had a rough idea where I was going despite no satnav or map! So in due course I reached the Beaconsfield/Slough Road at Farnham Common.
I turned left and drove down through Farnham Royal, then Slough, under the M4, down the Windsor bypass, although I was held up because of road-works at the traffic lights/roundabout junction just before Legoland. Having eventually negotiated this problem, I drove on to Ascot, turning left at Swinley Bottom, through the underpass and into the free car park situated on my right. I must have arrived later than usual, as I had to park on the back row, under a large tree. Luckily it wasn’t a breezy day, as I would have been very upset if my 08 registration Fiesta had been scratched by falling debris from the tree!
I changed from my driving shoes into my grey pull-on high-heeled boots and walked up the road to the Eastern Ticket office to purchase a £15 grandstand ticket. Then I entered via the turnstiles and purchased a race-card before walking around the Parade Ring amphitheatre to position myself overlooking the Weighing Room area in preparation for the first race. At 12:30 there was a Tipster Panel presentation given by Richard Hoiles, with Paddy Brennan being today’s guest from the Weighing Room.
As Choc was riding in the first race, Alan King arrived to collect his saddle prior to the race. I saw Alan drop a piece of the kit as he walked away from the Weighing Room, but he noticed almost immediately and returned to pick it up before proceeding to the saddling boxes. Once the horses had entered the Parade Ring I walked around to the ‘bridge’ area over the underpass to get a better view of the horses as they exited the paddock.
The first race of the day was the Reynoldstown Novices’ Steeplechase, over approximately 3 miles, with 4 runners. Choc’s mount in the event was Turkish Surprise, although he was the 12-1 outsider of the field, with Paul Nicholls’ runner, Breedsbreeze, going off as favourite.
Due to the heavy ground the first fence in the straight was being omitted today, with the running rail dolling it off. The start of the race was at the beginning of the straight which headed down to Swinley Bottom, so the horses cantered straight to the start without passing the stands. When the race began, Mattie Batchelor sent the Lord Oaksey bred and owned runner, Carruthers, into the lead. Choc held up Turkish Surprise, travelling on the outside at the rear of the field. He was going okay until he began to lose touch with his rivals as they galloped away from the stands at the end of the first circuit. Turkish Surprise jumped a fence slowly as they headed for Swinley Bottom, and then breasted the next, so Choc administered a slap down his neck. But he began to tail off. Ballyfitz wasn’t jumping very well either. Carruthers was still in the lead and going well.
Ruby drove Breedsbreeze up to get within striking distance of the leader as they approached the final straight, but was soon under pressure and crumpled on landing after clearing the final fence. As his mount was tired he lay on the ground for some while, so Ruby stood up and gesticulated to Paddy Brennan and Choc that they should steer towards the outside so as to avoid the stricken horse. Breedsbreeze rose to his feet unharmed once he had recovered. Carruthers had won very nicely indeed.
As Choc had finished in 3rd position, he returned to the Winner’s Enclosure to unsaddle. Lord Oaksey was presented with the race trophy and Mattie Batchelor a memento consisting of Valentine’s Day chocolates.
I remained standing above the Weighing Room awaiting the arrival of the competitors for the second event. Choc’s mount in this race, a 2 mile 3½ furlong Handicap Hurdle, was Onnix for trainer Francois Doumen. Francois was not at the track today, as I presume he was at Haydock Park for Kasbah Bliss’ run (and win). The race would begin at Swinley Bottom, so the runners cantered past the grandstand as they headed for the start.
Then they were off, with Tom Scudamore sending Lough Derg into his customary position at the head of the field. Choc held up his mount on the outside, near the rear of the pack. Dave’s Dream made a mistake at the last flight in the straight first time around and lost his position. Lough Derg held the lead, going clear by 4 to 5 lengths as they completed the first circuit and headed back towards the finish. Unfortunately Onnix, still in rear, was struggling after 3 out. As they turned into the straight for the final time, Serabad, Mamlook, Chief Yeoman and Belcantista were lining up to take Lough Derg on.
But Lough Derg is very game, and still had his head just in front as they cleared the last flight. However, Paddy Brennan then took a narrow lead aboard Serabad and, although Lough Derg rallied, he just failed to get back up to win. Dancing Tornado finished 3rd and Mamlook 4th. Choc finished 10th of the 14 runners, easing down.
I returned to the Parade Ring area and watched as Choc walked back to the Weighing Room having unsaddled outside. From my position above the Parade Ring I noticed Alan collect the saddle from Choc once he had weighed out for the next event. It was now time for the big race of the day, the 2 miles 5½ furlongs Betfair Ascot Chase. There were just 4 runners, Knowhere having been withdrawn, Choc was aboard stable star Voy Por Ustedes. Being the feature race, the horses were asked to parade in front of the grandstand before cantering to the start – this instruction being relayed to the jockeys when they entered the Parade Ring.
Having seen Choc and Voy Por leave the paddock, I walked through the concourse and climbed down the steps to course side but, by the time I’d reached the rails, Choc and his mount had almost finished the parade and were about to turn and canter to the start. As the viewing area is lower than the track, and the flat course is nearest to the grandstand, I couldn’t get a good view of the horses, so I decided to climb back up the steps to take up my usual position in the stands.
When the race began the David Pipe runner, Tamarinbleu, took the lead, although he jumped a little hesitantly. Choc settled in 3rd place, Voy Por appeared to be thoroughly enjoying it, jumping exuberantly. He was close behind the leader as they passed the winning post for the first time. As they approached Swinley Bottom for the second time, Choc was almost alongside Tamarinbleu. He was going so well that Voy Por took up the running at the 2nd last fence and, despite a late and very brief challenge by Gwanako, Choc went on to win by a distance. The commentator described Voy Por as having run with ‘accuracy, elan and verve’.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back in and receive a very warm welcome from the spectators. He unsaddled his mount, spoke to connections, had his photo taken with Voy Por, and returned to the Weighing Room. Shortly afterwards he reappeared, helmet-less, to take part in the presentation ceremony. Whilst he was waiting he appeared to take part in a number of interviews, including a very brief one for the BBC with ex-jockey Norman Williamson. Choc’s memento for winning was a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates!
Alan King had been concerned that the ground would be very much against Voy Por, so he was very relieved that his charge had handled both the ground and distance extremely well. Mike Cattermole, who with Mick Fitzgerald was presenting the At The Races coverage today, interviewed Alan from the broadcasting area to the side of the Weighing Room.
Choc didn’t have a ride in the 4th event, a Novices’ Hurdle race with 7 runners. As the race began, Noel Fehily stole an advantage of 8 to 10 lengths aboard Wendel. His mount was still in the lead as they turned into the home straight, the only challenger being Chariot Charger. However having made the effort to catch up with the leader, Jack Doyle’s mount dropped tamely away and was beaten 11 lengths at the line. Dreamy Sweeney fell at the last flight when in 3rd place, a tired fall. The green screens were just about to be deployed when the horse got to its feet, uninjured, his stable lad having sprinted down to the horse as it lay prostrate on the turf. Doctor Pat finished 3rd, with Son Histoire in 4th position.
After the race I returned to the Parade Ring to see the placed horses enter the Winner’s Enclosure. It was after this race that Hardeep Singh Kohli (writer/presenter/reporter – often to be seen on The One Show) appeared in the Parade Ring. He was wearing a pink turban in keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme at Ascot today.
Choc’s 4th ride of the day was aboard Santia in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. There were 7 runners in this race. As the race was 2 miles in distance, the runners cantered down past the stands to the start.
When the race began, it was led off by Theft, with Pelican Point in second and Kahsabelle in third, the latter making a mistake or two during the race. Choc positioned Santia on the outside of the field in 5th position, moving up to take 4th place as they approached the final straight. Initially Choc switched his mount to the inside to challenge the leader, Kahsabelle, as they galloped up towards the line, but switched to the stand side as his opponent drifted across in front of him. The two horses crossed the last flight in unison, with Choc driving Santia out to win by ¾ of a length on the line. She needed to be kept up to her work as her ears were pricked, suggesting she may have had a little in hand!
Choc returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, unsaddled, spoke to connections and they all had their photograph taken with his winning mount. Choc returned to the Weighing Room and again reappeared to take part in the trophy presentation ceremony, receiving another box of chocolates!
There was no ride for Choc in the 6th race of the day, a Handicap Steeplechase with 6 runners. When the race began, Baseball Ted took up his preferred position in the lead. The grey, Keepthedreamalive, raced in 2nd spot, with the blinkered Consigliere in 3rd. Venetia Williams’ runner, Coach Lane, was far from enthusiastic, and having blundered at the 3rd fence, made a terrible mistake at the next, with Aiden Coleman almost completely losing hold of the reins. He wisely pulled up his mount and trotted back. Baseball Ted continued to lead, although he made a mistake at the 6th fence. Paddy Brennan seemed to have concerns about Captain Marlon’s soundness having glanced down, but this appeared unfounded although he did tail off to finish last.
Baseball Ted and Consigliere were both in with a chance as they turned into the home straight, and it looked like Baseball Ted would hold on until being collared close home by Tom Scudamore’s mount, which had the advantage of the rails to run beside.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses return and to await Choc’s reappearance for the final race of the day. Choc was aboard the Anthony Honeyball trained, Jau, in the 2 mile bumper race, the start being at the beginning of the home straight.
The race was led off by Western Leader, with amateur rider and owner Barry Connell aboard. Abey M’boy was in second, with Choc a close third. The entire field were taking closer order by the time they had reached Swinley Bottom. As they came into the straight, Western Leader was still in the lead but being stalked by Jamie Moore aboard Vino Griego. Jamie’s mount soon took over and, although running a little green, went on to win by 6 lengths. Western Leader finished 2nd, Choc’s mount galloping up beside the stand side rails to take 4th, just behind Russian Song.
As Choc had finished 4th, he returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to unsaddle his mount. Of course it is always nice when Choc wins, but at Ascot there are definitely advantages to taking photographs when any of Choc’s mounts finish in 4th spot!
Once Choc had disappeared inside the Weighing Room for the final time today, I set off for the exit, walking down the road to the car park to collect my Fiesta and drive home. I decided to take the route back to Windsor, where luckily the temporary traffic lights had been removed so there was no hold-up. I decided to avoid Stoke Poges, so took the eastbound M4, turned onto the clockwise carriageway of the M25 and returned to my home City, arriving home at 17:45.