DIARY – ASCOT
SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2012
A photocall for Choc and Invictus,
having won the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase
This was my first opportunity to see Choc since he sustained a broken arm when falling at Hereford on 11 December last year; he was cleared to ride from 14 February and returned to action the next day. I’d been racing a couple of times since his accident, to Kempton Park on Boxing Day and to Cheltenham Trials day at the end of last month. I was due to attend Super Saturday at Newbury the previous weekend, but that fixture was abandoned due to frozen ground, combined with a light covering of snow on the protective covers.
The Newbury fixture had actually been re-arranged for the previous day; and was re-named ‘Free Friday’ due to there being no admission charges. I would have liked to have gone to the Berkshire fixture but it was a work day and, with our team at work having been down-sized recently, I was unsure whether my workload would permit me to attend. As it turned out, my day at work was unusually quiet ... so I probably could have gone, but it was now too late.
At Newbury, Choc had ridden Raya Star in the feature Betfair Hurdle to finish 3rd to the Paul Nicholls trained, Ruby Walsh ridden, Zarkandar. He won the Novices’ Hurdle aboard Montbazon, his 34th winner of the season and the first winner since his return, but he finished a disappointing 4th aboard Walkon in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase; the race having been transferred from the abandoned Sandown fixture earlier in the month. Medermit had won The Scilly Isles Chase last season. Did you know that the Scilly Isles Chase is named after an area close to Sandown Park, and not the islands near to Land’s End? More
Not surprisingly, I was very much looking forward to going to Ascot to see Choc and, when I discovered that he would have 6 rides from 7 races, I was even more delighted. Friday evening was spent epilating my legs (you have to make an effort don’t you?) and choosing the outfit I would wear. The latter not being so easy at this time, because I’d put on over a stone in weight during the past year; I’ve not been exercising very much but I’ve been eating lots of sweets, mainly to ease my throat which has been really suffering due to my ongoing sinus problems. Having caught a cold at the end of last November, it actually took two months for the resultant catarrh to clear. Yuck!
Anyway, I choose to wear two thermal vests, a cerise pink cardigan, a black cardigan, a purple fleece and burgundy Per Una cardigan. As the weather had warmed up a little since the previous weekend, I wore my black winter coat which I’d bought for the 2008/2009 winter season, and a black triple-tiered knee length skirt which is also a few seasons old and seems to be a large size 16, plus black wedge shoes, and opaque tights. Instead of wearing one of my extensive collection of wool scarves, I wore a flower patterned scarf made of brushed cotton; it’s really pretty and one of my favourites.
On Saturday morning I awoke before 07:00, showered and washed my hair; watched The Morning Line whilst eating a breakfast of toast and croissants, then applied my make-up. The gates at Ascot opened at 10:45 today but, as I wanted to collect an item from the Argos store in Apsley Hemel Hempstead on my way to the racecourse, I set off at 09:10.
My route took me through my local City centre and along the A4147 to Hemel Hempstead; I joined the A414 to negotiate the infamous ‘Magic Roundabout’. I then headed along Two Waters Way, before turning left to drive through Apsley to reach the retail park.
As it was early, there was no queue at the tills; in fact the cashier went to collect the item from the storeroom too. Five minutes later I was on my way. I had been intending to retrace my steps to join the A41 but, in the event, and because the road through Apsley had been riddled with pot-holes, I decided to turn left outside the retail park and head along the road through Kings Langley.
The condition of the roads in Hertfordshire is diabolical; and Buckinghamshire is bad too. One Easter, my friend Mark and I drove to Mersea Island in Essex to go rambling ... and with the hope of seeing some adders during our walk too ... when we reached the Essex border the condition of the roads dramatically improved, it was amazing. We didn’t see any adders though; they are supposed to bask in the sun along the sea-walls after finishing their hibernation. We were disappointed. We’d hoped to see adders at Lands End too when we went on holiday to Cornwall; but we didn’t see any there either.
I joined the M25 at junction 20; heading anti-clockwise to join the M4. There was still a 50 mph speed limit in operation on the M4 due to roadworks, but I soon reached the Slough Central junction and then headed southwards along the Windsor bypass. I negotiated the roundabout at the far end of the dual carriageway before heading along Imperial Road to join the B3022, driving past Legoland to reach the ‘longabout’. Heading towards Ascot, I turned left at Swinley Bottom, drove through the underpass beneath Ascot racecourse’s straight mile, before reaching Ascot High Street. I turned right, and right again to enter the free car park.
I was directed to park ... about five cars’ distance away from the outstretched branches of the huge cedar tree ... YES!!! Finally, I’ve avoided that damn tree. I dread parking under it, especially on a breezy day like today. It was 10:30. Having put on my coat, I set off to purchase a ticket. Usually I route-march up Ascot High Street but, today, I took it quite steadily. My weight problems had taken their toll and had made me quite sluggish.
Upon reaching the Ticket Office I purchased a grandstand ticket (£18), using my credit card. I was a bit short of cash, as payday was the following Friday and we’d had to wait for 5 weeks since last pay day ... and would have to do so again next month too. Arrrgggggh! Fortunately April would be 4 week period to pay day. Unfortunately the cashier hadn’t checked the credit card equipment and the paper roll was running low; I had to wait while he ‘fought’ with the machine to provide me with a receipt!
When I was eventually issued with a ticket, I headed for the turnstiles to enter the racecourse. I purchased a race-card for £3.50 ... a price increase, typical. Ascot used to charge lower prices for their tickets for National Hunt fixtures than many of the top ranked racecourses, but no longer. Entry prices have increased, as have the race-cards. I can rarely take advantage of reduced prices for pre-booking, because the majority of my racecourse visits depend on Choc being in attendance!
When I arrive at Ascot I usually walk around to the area just above the Weighing Room to wait for proceedings to start; however, today would be different, as I hoped to speak with Choc when he arrived. I therefore headed to the steps opposite the Weighing Room. I wasn’t stalking him; I just wanted to welcome him back from his injury absence and, at Ascot, the only time that the public come into direct contact with the jockeys is when they arrive or leave.
Luckily it was the most sheltered area in the vicinity of the Parade Ring, there being a brisk breeze. Whilst waiting to see if Choc would appear, I made notes for this diary. After waiting for around 20 minutes I heard someone say ‘Choc’, so I glanced to the side and it was the man himself, he was holding a conversation with Colin Bolger as they headed to the Weighing Room. I called to Choc and he stopped on the step below me. I beckoned for him to approach and I was able to bend down to give him a kiss on the cheek. I told him I was very pleased that he was now ‘mended’ and wished him luck with his rides today. I would have loved to have given him a big hug too but, unfortunately, one of the safety barriers prevented this. Never mind, perhaps one day ...
Mission accomplished, I relocated to the steppings opposite, close to the tunnel where the horses enter the Parade Ring. It was quite sheltered there too, but not as sheltered as my earlier location. Whilst I was waiting for the races to begin, a lady came to sit on the steps and struck up a conversation with me.
She asked if I’d placed my bets today; no, I don’t bet, I just enjoy the sport ... and I adore Choc Thornton. I think he’s absolutely gorgeous. She works for Ladbrokes, so she knew about racing. Her favourite jockey is Christian Williams; my friend Lesley likes Christian. She asked how long I’d been following Choc, so I explained about having seen him on the BBC News when he won the Champion Hurdle in 2008 aboard Katchit and being immediately struck by just how cute he is. You know what it’s like when you just can’t get someone out of your head? I was smitten and have been so ever since!
Whilst I was waiting for the racing to begin, I noticed that a group of people were being shown around the Parade Ring and Weighing Room area. The ‘Behind the Scenes Tour’; one day I must partake in that. Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad, Matt Howells, arrived to deliver the silks. The day had begun cloudy with a few light rain showers; but it had then become sunny. However, it started to cloud over at 11:40; heavy rain having been forecast for the afternoon.
Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett fetched Barry Geraghty from the Weighing Room; together with a cameraman, they climbed the steps to reach the area above the Parade Ring. They then walked along the entire length of the concourse behind the grandstand and disappeared from view; presumably they couldn’t decide upon a location backdrop for an interview. When Barry returned, he was accosted by Mick Fitzgerald and Robert Cooper of ATR, who interviewed him before he re-entered the Weighing Room. Andrew Thornton set off for a jog around the course, as is his custom. Having weighed out, Choc didn’t have long to wait before Alan King arrived to collect his saddle.
The first race was at 13:15. The Donald McCain runner, Super Duty was the first into the Parade Ring; he was whinneying as he walked around. Choc’s first ride of the day was aboard Denali Highway in this Novice Hurdle event.
Once the horses had exited the Parade Ring I headed through the grandstand concourse to reach the stands; my preferred vantage point being next to the Owners and Trainers viewing area. The start of this event was in Swinley Bottom, the horses cantering down past the stands to reach it.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Super Duty, followed by Polarbrook, Redbridge Rebel, Western King, Saint Roque, Denali Highway on the inside, The Last Night, Keys, Bold Henry and Zagova.
Into the home straight on the first occasion; Zagova in rear was clumsy at the 3rd and 4th flights. Super Duty continued to lead as the field headed down into Swinley Bottom. Zagova was now detached in rear.
Heading along the back straight there was no change at the head of affairs; Sam Thomas’ mount was followed by Polarbrook, Redbridge Rebel, Denali Highway, Saint Roque and Keys. Saint Roque made an error 4 out.
As the pace increased, Denali Highway began to weaken and lose touch, joining the struggling Redbridge Rebel, The Last Night and Zagova in rear.
Super Duty led around the final turn, Keys soon laying down a challenge. However, despite being strongly pressed for the lead, and jumping the last in unison, Super Duty found more reserves and went on to win by 1¾ lengths.
Keys finished 2nd, Western King 3rd and Polarbrook 4th. Saint Roque had fallen at the last when looking booked for 3rd. Choc had eased Denali Highway and pulled him up before 2 out.
Choc having finished unplaced, I returned to the steppings close to the tunnel to see him return to the Weighing Room. Once he had entered the building, I relocated to the far side of the Parade Ring, which had the benefit of being the most sheltered area.
Choc’s mount in the second race was Invictus, who I’d seen him ride to victory at Ascot back in April last year. Invictus was shaping up to be a very good 3 mile steeplechaser. Once Choc had set off down the walkway to the racecourse, I returned to my preferred vantage point in the grandstand. The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the straight heading down into Swinley Bottom; the horses were cantered down to look at the final fence before they headed there.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Alfie Spinner, from Our Island, Helpston, Silviniaco Conti, Baile Anrai, Bobs Worth on the outside of the field, and Invictus restrained in rear.
Helpston made a mistake at the 2nd fence, then blundered and unseated his jockey, David England, at the third. Heading out of Swinley Bottom on the first occasion, the order was Alfie Spinner, Silviniaco Conti, Bobs Worth, Our Island, Invictus and Baile Anrai. The remaining 6 runners were all jumping well; although Bobs Worth was a little slow at what would be the final fence next time around.
Silvinianco Conti took up the running as the field headed towards Swinley Bottom once more. The lead then alternated between Ruby’s mount and Alfie Spinner. Bobs Worth was less fluent than his rivals over the 5th and 4th last fences. Baile Anrai fell 3 out when close up in 4th.
Silviniaco Conti led into the home straight from Alfie Spinner, Invictus and Bobs Worth. Choc drove his mount to lead after 2 out and soon went clear, staying on strongly to win impressively by 3 lengths. Despite a blunder 2 out, Bobs Worth rallied to take 2nd, Alfie Spinner finished 3rd, with Silviniaco Conti fading to be 4th.
I returned to the Parade Ring, taking up a vantage point above the Weighing Room in order to take photographs of Choc when he arrived back in the Winners’ Enclosure. It had started to rain by now, but it couldn’t dampen my spirits, as I love it when Choc wins. Having unsaddled his mount and posed for photographs, he returned to the Weighing Room to weigh in.
Shortly afterwards he returned; he was accosted by ATR’s Robert Cooper for a brief interview, before he went to the podium to collect his memento. During the interview Choc mentioned that he’d been on ATR’s Get In programme the previous evening (I often watch it but had forgotten to do so yesterday) and had expressed the opinion that Invictus had a very good chance of winning today. He had been proved right.
Choc didn’t have a ride in the next race so, once Choc had returned to the Weighing Room, I sheltered under the canopy at the back of the grandstand until it was time to head through the concourse to view the event.
This race also took place over a distance of 3 miles; the horses travelling two complete circuits of the course.
Then they were off. Crescent Island was in rear and reluctant to race. The field was led away by Chance Du Roy, from Viking Blond, Tullamore Dew, Massini’s Maguire, Exmoor Ranger; towards the rear, The Minack made an error at the 3rd. In rear, Be There In Five was slow at the 4th fence, and was pulled up soon afterwards.
Into the home straight for the first time, Chance Du Roy continued to lead from Viking Blond and Massini’s Maguire. Exmoor Ranger, close up on the outside of the field, fell at the 9th. Pearlysteps blundered and almost unseated his rider at the 10th, the final fence on the first circuit.
Heading out into the country again, Richard Johnson’s mount still held the advantage, from Massini’s Maguire, Tullamore Dew, Viking Blond, Cappa Bleu, The Minack and Hell’s Bay. The always reluctant Crescent Island was pulled up at the end of the first circuit. Pearlysteps and Qhilimar were pulled up before the open-ditch, at which Viking Blond made an error.
The Minack crashed out at the 14th fence; Hell’s Bay blundered badly here too and was soon pulled up. Only 5 horses now continued.
Chance Du Roy led until 4 out, when Massini’s Maguire went on. Cappa Bleu hit the third last fence. Tom Scudamore’s mount led into the final straight, from Chance Du Roy, Tullamore Dew and Cappa Bleu. Despite being challenged by Tullamore Dew and Cappa Bleu, Massini’s Maguire held on gamely to win by just a head from Tullamore Dew. Cappa Bleu was 3¾ lengths back in 3rd, with Chance Du Roy 9 lengths further back in 4th. Viking Blond completed the course, although tailed-off.
I returned to the Parade Ring; after taking a photograph of the winning horse, again I positioned myself on the steppings near to the tunnel.
Choc’s mount in the next event was Medermit; being a Grade 1 event there would be an on-course parade, so the horses were sorted into race-card order before they left the Parade Ring. I returned to my usual vantage point in the grandstand. The horses were paraded before the jockeys took them to look at the final fence; they then cantered down to the start, which was located in the ‘side’ straight, with one fence to negotiate before Swinley Bottom.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Little Josh, from The Sawyer and I’msingingtheblues; Gauvain brought up the rear. Heading along the back straight on the first occasion, the order was Little Josh, The Sawyer, I’msingingtheblues, Tatenen, Riverside Theatre, Kauto Stone, Medermit to the inside, then Gauvain.
Up the home straight, Little Josh still held a narrow advantage, with Gauvain still in rear and receiving a reminder after the 7th. Little Josh was jumping the best, Gauvain the worst. The Sawyer began to lose his position as the runners headed out onto the final circuit.
Kauto Stone was tanking along and soon took the lead; the early leader Little Josh now losing his place. Tatenen blundered at the 9th. Medermit had made good progress and was tracking the leaders when he almost unseated Choc having cleared the open-ditch; my favourite jockey was perched upon his mount’s neck! However, Choc was back in the plate almost immediately, and miraculously no ground was lost.
Little Josh blundered at the 11th when in rear, soon tailed off and was pulled up before the 13th fence. The Sawyer and Tatenen soon began to struggle. Kauto Stone led, from Riverside Theatre, Medermit and I’msingingtheblues. Gauvain began to improve his position. Riverside Theatre took the lead at the 13th, Medermit soon becoming his closest pursuer as Kauto Stone dropped back.
Turning in, Barry Geraghty’s mount held a one length advantage over Medermit, with I’msingingtheblues and Gauvain a number of lengths adrift. Choc’s mount was only half a length down as they cleared two out; Medermit was very game but was unable to close further on the leader, who went on to win by 3 lengths at the line. Gauvain was 20 lengths away in 3rd, with I’msingingtheblues a further 8 lengths away in 4th. Kauto Stone faded to finish last of the 7 who completed.
The Nicky Henderson trained runner had won the event for the second year running, despite being off the racecourse for 364 days, in the interim having fractured his pelvis.
Although maybe a little short of top class, Medermit is certainly game and always gives of his best ... and you cannot ask for more than that. Mind you, as mentioned earlier, he is a Grade 1 winner, having won last season’s The Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see Choc arrive back in the Winners’ Enclosure. Having taken photographs before Choc returned to the Weighing Room, I then re-positioned myself on the far side of the Parade Ring. In hindsight I should have waited for actor and winning owner James Nesbitt to accept his prize, but I didn’t!
Choc’s mount in the next event was another grey, Smad Place; the horse having won a similar event at Ascot last month. Today, however, he was top weight. Once Choc had left the Parade Ring I returned to my favoured vantage point in the stands.
The start of this race was in Swinley Bottom, the horses cantering down past the stands to reach it.
Book’em Danno (presumably named after Steve McGarrett’s catchphrase from the Hawaii Five-O TV series) was reluctant to join the others, but eventually consented to race; they were off.
The field was led away by Swincombe Flame, Aimigayle taking over after the 2nd flight and they continued to hold the advantage as the runners headed up the home straight for the first time. Crack Away Jack was in rear.
Galloping past the ‘lollypop’ on the first occasion, the order was Aimigayle, Swincombe Flame, Book’em Danno, King Edmund, Emmaslegend, Mountainous, Eastlake, Smad Place, Vino Griego, Mad Moose, Orzare, Bourne, Art Professor, Sarando, Dunraven Storm, Valid Reason, Helium, with Crack Away Jack still bringing up the rear.
Book’em Danno had taken over the lead as the field set off down the side of the racecourse, and remained there until being headed 3 out. Turning in, the order at the head of affairs was Swincombe Flame, from Smad Place, Eastlake, Bourne, Vino Griego, Helium, Dunraven Storm, Valid Reason, Mountainous and Art Professor.
Bourne came to challenge and led after 2 out, from Smad Place and Swincombe Flame. The former was in command over the last and went on to win by 3½ lengths. Choc’s mount hit the last but stayed on to take 2nd, with Swincombe Flame in 3rd and Dunraven Storm 4th.
The winner sported the colours of the sponsors, the Timeform Betfair Racing Club.
Once more I set off to the Parade Ring to see Choc arrive back and to take photographs before he returned to the Weighing Room.
Having accepted his memento, winning jockey Henry Brooke, was asked to pose for a number of photographs by one of the official photographers. It was rather amusing, as in one photograph he was standing with an arm outstretched above him, holding the First Place ‘pole’. A pole dancer perhaps!
Choc’s mount in the next race was Balder Succes, who had won the Juvenile Hurdle at the previous Ascot fixture.
As I wanted to take photographs ahead of this race, I headed to the walkway tunnel; although it was like a wind-tunnel! The heavens opened shortly afterwards. The horses in the Parade Ring were getting soaked, the owners and trainers crowded onto the podium to avoid the rain and one horse remained in the tunnel, the stable-lass leading him around. He was soon joined by the other 5 runners; everyone seemed amused.
When the bell was sounded for the jockeys to mount, the horses were led out into the Parade Ring once more. As Balder Succes and the other runners headed out onto the track, I returned to the stands to view the race.
Being a 2 mile event, the horses cantered down past the grandstand to reach the start, which was at the far end of the home straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Ice ‘N’ Easy, followed by Fairy Rath, Balder Succes, Hazy Tom, Captain Sunshine and Inspector Qics, who jumped slowly in rear. Hazy Tom took a keen hold.
Balder Succes appeared keen too, the pace of the race not hot; Hazy Tom soon pulled his way into third position. Fairy Rath took the lead approaching the 4th flight, but was headed by Hazy Tom 4 out. Balder Succes was travelling extremely well and went 2nd three out, Hazy Tom dropping back as Fairy Rath led again briefly.
Balder Succes held a narrow advantage around the final bend and came readily clear of his rivals, keeping on strongly after the last to win by 7 lengths, easing up. A very impressive winner. Captain Sunshine stayed on to take 2nd, with Fairy Rath 3rd and Hazy Tom 4th.
Once again I returned to see Choc arrive back in the Winners’ Enclosure. Unfortunately there was no memento for the winning jockey, so Choc didn’t return to the podium, but Alan King accepted the prize on behalf of the owners; James Nesbitt doing the honours.
Choc’s final ride of the day was aboard the chestnut Gold Ingot, having his first racecourse appearance. The horse was very nervous and even jinked when the bell was sounded for the jockeys to mount. Once Choc and Gold Ingot had left the Parade Ring, I headed through the grandstand concourse to reach my preferred vantage point within the stands.
The start of this event was at the far end of the home straight, the horses cantering down past the stands to reach it.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Kruseman, from Uncle Jimmy, Theatrelands, Starsky Des Mottes, Atlantic Roller, Pirate’s Gold, Sin Bin, River Maigue, Gold Ingot to the inside, I Shot The Sheriff, Royal Guardsman, Sammyman, Rydon Pynes and King Spirit.
Kruseman held the lead until hanging left around the Swinley Bottom turn, Ruby Walsh aboard Atlantic Roller taking over at the head of affairs. Having pulled too hard, Starsky Des Mottes dropped out rapidly inside the final mile, tailing off.
Having made steady progress from 7 furlongs out, Royal Guardsman challenged between horses two furlongs out, soon overtaking Atlantic Roller and going on to win by 7 lengths. The latter finished 2nd, River Maigue completed in 3rd, just holding on by a head from Choc’s mount.
I returned to the Parade Ring for the final time today. Once Choc had unsaddled his mount, spoken with the connections and returned to the Weighing Room, it was time for me to go home.
As had happened this morning, my route-march was more of a stroll down the High Street, although I did overtake a number of people as I approached the car park. My feet were actually killing me ... despite my shoes normally being very comfortable. It must be the weight gain; I hope I can lose over a stone once my sinus issues have been resolved. A sinus operation was scheduled for 19 April ... I did postpone it slightly, to enable me to go to the Cheltenham Festival and to Aintree beforehand!
Having brought four cheese rolls with me, I ate two of them before setting off back to Hertfordshire. My route took me back via the ‘longabout’, past Legoland, and along the Windsor Bypass to reach the M4. I took the eastbound carriageway towards London; fortunately the accident which was being signed by warnings on the motorway didn’t materialise, there were just two vehicles on the hard-shoulder, one a rescue vehicle.
Upon reaching the M25 I took the clockwise carriageway to reach Junction 21A, before returning to my home city. I arrived back at 06:20.
Having eaten a two poached eggs on toast, and the two remaining cheese rolls, I logged onto my laptop to upload my photographs, update my blog, and to tweet Choc to congratulate him on his two winners! He’d already tweeted that it had been a great day at the races.
Later that evening, Paul Nicholls tweeted to report that The Minack had fractured a knee when he fell during the third race; a career threatening injury.
Following today’s result, it was confirmed that Invictus would run in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, as would Walkon; and Balder Succes was scheduled to run in either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Triumph Hurdle.