DIARY – ASCOT – SATURDAY 20 DECEMBER 2008
Another day out at Ascot races, this time for the second day of BGC Christmas meeting. As it is so easy to drive to and park at Ascot, I decided to go by car again, especially as I wanted to reach home in time to watch the final of Strictly Come Dancing.
Expecting the car park to be a lot busier on the Saturday of the meeting, I left home at around 09:30 to drive to the course. My route took me around the M25, leaving at the Maple Cross junction, through Denham, Gerrards Cross, Stoke Poges, Slough, and Windsor, past Legoland (which is closed at this time of the year), around the ‘long-about’, this time heading towards Bracknell, and turning left at Swinley Bottom, through the under-pass, and into the free car park – no traffic holdups – yippee!
I sat in my car for a few minutes, as I didn’t wish to enter the course too early, but as it approached 11:00 I locked up my vehicle and walked up past the shops to the eastern ticket office, where I purchased my £15 ticket, exiting the building again and entering the grounds via the electronic turnstiles. I purchased my £3 race-card and positioned myself above the Parade Ring, overlooking the Weighing Room. At 11:45 Father Christmas and his pony-drawn sleigh did a double circuit of the terrace above the ring.
Alan King collected one saddle from the Weighing Room, and Anita Cusack the other, as Alan had two horses competing in the first race, a Graduation Steeplechase, Pur De Sivola and Penzance. Choc rode the former again, with Jack Doyle taking the ride on the latter. Choc had ridden Pur De Sivola on Hennessy Gold Cup Day at Newbury but the horse had been pulled up on that occasion. I remained in position until the horses for the first race had arrived, the jockeys had mounted and were heading out onto the course. The race was starting over to our left, one fence before Swinley Bottom, as it was a 2 mile 5½ furlong event.
Choc set off on the inside and it took a couple of fences for his mount to ‘warm-up’. Mattie Batchelor on Cossack Dancer led them off. Penzance made a bad blunder at the third fence but Jack Doyle recovered his position in the saddle to continue. Pur De Sivola was kept up to his work in 2nd and 3rd place for most of the first circuit, but Choc had to give him reminders after the 9th fence, and he had weakened by the 13th fence. As they turned into the home straight three horses were in with a chance, Miss Mitch, My Petra and Gwanako, with the latter going on to win, holding off the persistent challenge of My Petra. A winner for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls. Cossack Dancer finished 4th behind Miss Mitch, then came Pur De Silova, who just held off Penzance as they galloped to the line.
No placing for Choc, so he returned to the Unsaddling Enclosure for unplaced horses and walked back through the underpass to the Weighing Room.
No ride for Choc in the second race, a Handicap Steeplechase. The winner was Niche Market trained by Bob Butler and ridden by Harry Skelton (son of Nick Skelton the show-jumper). The winner ran 4lb out of the handicap, and held off a late challenge from Monkerhostin under Richard Johnson, who ran his best race since winning the Bet365 Chase last April. Alderburn was third and Out of the Black fourth.
It was then time for the Boylesport International Hurdle, which had been transferred from last Saturday’s abandoned Cheltenham meeting. Choc was riding Katchit. I decided it was time to take some photos of the Parade Ring from a different angle, so I walked around to my left to reach the far-side steppings and wandered along casually glancing over in the direction of the Weighing Room. And strangely enough, I caught a glimpse of Choc leaning up against the counter, dressed in his pink and green ‘Katchit’ silks. I quickly moved on. I was rewarded with a good view as Choc mounted and exited the paddock. I then walked clockwise around the top of the Parade Ring to reach the grandstand, although people exiting the Parade Ring and steppings wandered aimlessly across my path.
The 2 mile start is at the beginning of the home straight. When the race started Celestial Halo under Ruby Walsh lead them off, with Katchit in second, and the remaining 3 runners disputing the other places. Katchit jumped the 3rd hurdle quite slowly, permitting Chomba Womba, Crack Away Jack and Binocular to close up on him slightly. However he retained his position in second until the other horses gained on him as they climbed uphill. Celestial Halo still held a good lead, with Binocular chasing him up as they turned into the straight, and then disputing the lead over the 2nd last flight. Binocular and AP McCoy went on to win effortlessly, Celestial Halo finished second, the remaining runners jumping the last fence almost in line, with Chomba Womba taking third, Katchit fourth and Crack Away Jack weakening to finish last. Binocular is trained by Nicky Henderson.
I returned to the Parade Ring and took a number of photos as Katchit returned into the 4th place position. Once Choc had disappeared inside the Weighing Room, I walked around to the far side of the Parade Ring again for more photo opportunities ahead of the Long Walk Hurdle.
When Choc entered the Parade Ring for this race, Alan King was nowhere to be seen and Choc stood around looking rather lost. Then finally Alan appeared with Blazing Bailey’s owners. Choc and Alan, as usual, walked over to the side of the Ring in preparation for the horse’s approach, and Choc was legged up into the saddle. The start of this race, being 3 miles and 1 furlong was at the start of the straight leading down to Swinley Bottom – Ascot doesn’t have a ‘back’ straight as such because it is triangular in shape! (Like Kempton Park, in fact.)
I walked around to take my position in the grandstand, just in time to see Choc begin his canter to the start, having paraded down in front of us in number order – his being number 2.
When the race commenced, Choc settled Blazing Bailey in 4th place, steering a course down the centre of the track. Last year’s winner, Lough Derg, took them along. Choc remained in 4th place throughout the first circuit. One Gulp pulled up lame under Dominic Elsworth as they headed down to Swinley Bottom on the second circuit, and Elusive Dream under Sam Thomas fell at a flight as the horses galloped up the hill towards the final straight. As the leaders weakened Choc hit the front 3 out, but was soon ridden along and headed as they came around into the straight. Punchestowns, ridden by Barry Geraghty and trained by Nicky Henderson, took over and was chased home by Duc De Regniere and Mobaasher. Blazing Bailey kept on enough to take 4th place. Again a return to the Winners’ Enclosure and another photo opportunity.
Choc’s ride in the big race of the day, The Ladbroke Hurdle, was Squadron. Unfortunately the horse ran disappointingly, travelling in mid-division and riding in a central position on the track until reaching Swinley Bottom when he started to go back through the field, although this luckily meant he missed two horses falling in front of him, but he then became tailed off and was pulled up before 2 out. I stayed in the grandstand to watch Choc canter back. The race was won by Sentry Duty trained by Nicky Henderson, ridden by Barry Geraghty. Second was Belcantista, third was Songe, and fourth Numide.
I waited above the Winners Enclosure until Choc walked back through, saddle in hand to the Weighing Room, before taking up my ‘photo’ position on the far side of the Parade Ring. Choc’s final ride was Orion D’Oudairies in the 3 mile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle. Alan had two runners in this race, the other being Delays Expected ridden by Christian Williams. Once photo opportunities had been taken, I went anti-clockwise around the Parade Ring to reach my viewing position in the grandstand. The start of this race was away to our left, starting out towards Swinley Bottom.
When the race started Choc steered a middle course, in mid-division. Double Obsession made a bad mistake under Sean Quinlan, latterly pulling up, and AP McCoy riding the favourite, I’m The Decider, fell at the 5th flight. Trainer, Martin Keighley’s charge, Wychwood Legend ran prominently for much of the race. Delays Expected ran to Choc’s outside for the first circuit. Orion D’Oudairies made headway after 4 out, and came into the final straight in 3rd place. The finish was fought out between Theatrical Moment ridden by Barry Geraghty for Jonjo O’Neill, and Richard Johnson on Barnhill Brownie for Philip Hobbs, the latter prevailing. Choc was in 4th place as he cleared the 2nd last but, staying on, gained a place into 3rd as horses tired, and held on from Edgbriar at the line. It was the most exciting race finish of the day! The race with the least prize money fund was the most exciting in fact.
I returned to the Parade Ring to take my final photos of Choc as he returned in 3rd spot, before he disappeared into the Weighing Room. The last race of the day was a NH Flat race, which was won by Red Harbour, ridden by Ruby Walsh and trained by Paul Nicholls. Second was Bushwacker ridden Jamie Moore. Another very exciting finish – for the second least prize money fund of the day.
A brass band had played at Friday’s fixture, and was again in action today when, together with a choir, there was a brief Christmas Carol concert after racing. However, having seen the Winner and placed horses return to unsaddle, it was now time to go home.
I walked down Ascot High Street to the car park, collected my car, and exited left with no sight of any traffic problems, and my journey home was very easy – a reverse of my outward trip. I arrived home at around 17:20, in plenty of time to watch Strictly Come Dancing ... or should that be Strictly a Waste of Viewing Time! What a farce, Tom should have been eliminated last week, he was the worst dancer competing in the final, yet he still won. How ridiculous.