DIARY – ASCOT – LADBROKE HURDLE DAY
SATURDAY 22 DECEMBER 2012
Jane’s jumper, knitted by yours truly ...
Another opportunity to go racing presented itself today. Choc had three riding engagements at Ascot, all of which were fancied runners – Smad Place, Hold On Julio and Balder Succes.
And I’d been hoping that Choc would guest on Channel 4’s Morning Line having not appeared since the final day of last year; on that occasion he’d been on the sidelines due to a broken upper right arm. Come to think of it, his three previous appearances had all been during injury timeouts. I’d checked the Morning Line’s twitter account the previous evening, but no mention of the identity of their guest but, having tuned into the programme at 07:55 on Saturday I’d not been in the least bit surprised when it turned out to be Choc! Lesley Graham, making her final appearance before the Racing Team’s 2013 restructure, also pointed out the injury coincidence saying it was a change for him to be fit and healthy! And Choc scored 8 in the ‘Guest Test’, an improvement of one point over his previous effort. And the questions have been a lot more difficult this year.
After a cold end to November and beginning of December, the rain had returned with a vengence. Meetings had been abandoned due to waterlogging, the Peterborough Chase had been lost twice; first at its usual Huntingdon base and then again at its re-arranged Exeter venue. At the time of writing, I gather its now due to take place at Kempton Park on 27 December; the second day of their Winter Festival.
Towcester’s fixture a couple of days ago had gone ahead, but flippers and snorkels were in order that day! The first day of the Ascot meeting had been dry, but the going was heavy, soft in places. Today, Saturday, when it rained overnight and continued until lunchtime, resulted in the heavy ground description remaining and three fences on the steeplechase course being omitted due to standing water on the take off and landing sides of these obstacles. They were the first and third fences down the side of the racecourse, the latter being an open-ditch, and the final fence in the back straight. In addition, there would be no pre-race parades so as to preserve the racing surface as much as possible.
Having showered, washed and dried my hair before the Morning Line had begun, I’d eaten my breakfast of toast and croissants whilst watching TV, then applied my make-up and decided what to wear. As it was raining I would take my purple anorak, as I really don’t wish to ruin my best coats by getting them wet. I wore my grey treggings, so that I could tuck them into my recently purchased black waterproof boots. Yes, bought from M & S and, being ‘thinsulate’ lined, they keep my feet roasty toasty too. I also wore a pair of purple tights under my treggings.
Temperatures were quite mild, but I still wore three thermal vests, a purple sweater and my Capricorn sweater, which I must have knitted at least 20 years ago but rarely wear. Not because I don’t like it, but because it’s usually sealed in a bin bag at the bottom of my wardrobe, protected from Woolley Bear carpet beetles – it would be susceptible to damage due to its high wool content! I chose to wear a black gillet over the sweater and a Rico Can Can scarf in shades of red. To protect my hair from the rain, I wore my Australian bush hat; although I also had a umbrella for the heavier periods of rain.
Gates opened at 10:45 and, today, I actually left home at the planned time of 09:45. My journey took me to Junction 22 of the M25, conditions on the motorway were quite treachorous, with much surface water and spray. I kept to the inside lane for much of the journey, travelling at around 55 mph for the main part. Even so, just past the Kings Langley junction I felt the car aquaplane for a short distance, which was a bit scary. Having reached Junction 15, I turned westwards along the M4, leaving at the Slough Central junction. I had been worried that people would begin their Christmas journeys during the morning, but the roads where no busier than on a normal Saturday.
My route then took me southwards down the A355/A332 to the large roundabout, at which I got delayed by one of the sets of traffic lights before proceeding along Imperial Road. At the far end, I turned right and took the road past Legoland, the theme park now closed for the winter. It was straight ahead at the next roundabout, then up Mounts Hill to the longabout. I took the third exit heading for Ascot. Upon reaching two miniroundabouts, it was a left turn at the second of these, close to Swinley Bottom.
With all the recent rain, I’d half been expecting a flood on the underpass beneath Ascot’s straight mile, but was pleased and surprised to find no standing water whatsoever! The side entrance to the free car park was still closed, so I continued to the High Street before turning right, then right again to pass through its main entrance. Cars are normally instructed to park on the area close to the large cedar tree but today, due to the wet conditions, I was guided to the area over to the far right, beside the nearby houses.
Having once been stranded in a field during the Lambourn Open Day due to heavy rain, I checked in my glove compartment just in case I needed to locate my towbar attachment! It’s been in there ever since that day, just in case. Not that it would have been of much use, initially, as the front of my car faced the fence! Anyway, having eaten one of the cheese rolls I’d brought with me and sipped some black coffee, I changed into my waterproof boots, put on my anorak and scarf and set off to purchase a ticket from the office close to the turnstiles. Before I’d left the car, I did notice that mud and grass were plastered along the sills and lower doors. I had a cleaning job for Sunday!
Having bought a grandstand ticket for £18 at the East Ticket Office, I set off for the main entrance. As my black shearling handbag is quite large, I was called over by one of the security guards to have its contents examined before they would permit me to enter the turnstiles. I did, however, refuse to place it on the waterlogged table as I didn’t wish to get its bottom soggy! Having been given the all clear, I entered the racecourse, purchasing a racecard and an Ascot ballpoint pen for £3.50 and £0.50 respectively.
I then walked across the concourse to stand beneath the overhang of the grandstand; being sheltered from the rain I was able to close my umbrella. During fine weather I tend to lean upon the railings at the top of the steppings above the Parade Ring until racing begins. But, as it was very damp today, I remained close to the building, loitering in front of the planters. As the first race was not due to be run until 12:55 it was a very long wait!!! This period is the loneliest when I’m by myself at the races; I like to arrive early to avoid any possible queues or delays but I hate having no-one to talk whilst I’m waiting.
Once the runners had left the Parade Ring ahead of the first race of the day, I set off through the ground floor of the grandstand to find a good vantage point within the ‘Iron Stand’.
The starting gate for this race was in the side straight, with two flights of hurdles to negotiate before Swinley Bottom; a circuit and three quarters in fact.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the yellow and grey silks of Richard Johnson aboard De La Bech, from Cornish Ice, Oscar Papa, Cheat The Cheater and Wings of Icarus; in rear were Bally Sands and Call Me Sir. Cornish Ice made an error at the second flight. Koultas King, having required two handlers when being led around in the Parade Ring, was noticeably keen on the outside of the field.
Heading around the turn at Swinley Bottom the order was De La Bech, Cheat The Cheater, Cornish Ice, Oscar Papa, Wings Of Icarus, Kaylif Aramis, Okafranca, Highland Retreat, Top Dancer; the rear group consisted of Tothemoonandback, Bally Sands, Koultas King and Call Me Sir. Again, Cornish Ice was awkward at the third flight.
Oscar Papa, already being chivvied along, had drifted back through the field. Richard Johnson’s mount led the runners into the home straight on the first occasion; Oscar Papa, having responded to his jockey’s urgings was now travelling in 4th position. The field continued to be closely grouped as it headed up towards the ‘lollipop’ for the first time; De La Bech still at the head of affairs, Call Me Sir remained held up in rear.
The horses and jockeys were already far from pristine, mud flying as the horses galloped through the heavy ground; apart from De La Bech who had not been headed yet! Going out into the country once again, there was no change at the head of affairs; Oscar Papa had begun to drop back through the field once more as the runners headed towards Swinley Bottom, hitting and flattening the 9th flight.
De La Bech led into the back straight, from Cheat The Cheater, Highland Retreat, Wings Of Icarus, Okafranca, Tothemoonandback and Kaylif Aramis; Oscar Papa now struggling at the rear. Cheat The Cheater and Highland Retreat came to dispute it with the long time leader heading over 4 out, but Richard Johnson’s mount was not for passing and the former soon dropped back. Highland Retreat, to the outside, remained upsides the leader, with Kaylif Aramis challenging to the inside as the field headed around the final bend.
However, De La Bech gamely fought off all comers, Okafranca the final challenger beaten by 1¼ lengths at the line. Highland Retreat, although unable to quicken up the home straight, stayed on after the last to finish 3rd. Tothemoonandback claimed 4th close home, Kaylif Aramis fading into 5th, ahead of Cheat The Cheater and Call Me Sir.
I headed back through the ground floor of the grandstand to reach the concourse above the Parade Ring. The placed horses soon arrived back in the Winners’ Enclosure; the jockeys covered in mud from head to foot; the horses from ears to hoof! However, Richard Johnson’s grey and yellow silks were barely marked, having led from start to finish!
It was Richard Johnson’s 100th winner of the season; and his 17th consecutive century too. Jason Maguire, riding at Haydock Park today, also rode his 100th winner of the current campaign when scoring a treble.
It was then time for the second race of the day. The starting gate for this event was also in the side straight, with one fence to negotiate before Swinley Bottom.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the AP McCoy ridden Brass Tax, from Cedre Bleu, Solix and On Trend. All the runners were jumping well as they headed along the back straight; a black and white checkered flag waived by one of the course staff to remind them to bypass the last fence in the line of four.
The front three horses were well grouped as they entered the home straight on the first occasion, On Trend slightly off the pace. Ruby’s mount, Cedre Bleu, had a slight preference to jump to his left, and he skewed a little when jumping the next fence. All the runners were going well within themselves.
Another checkered flag was waved as the field proceeded around the top turn, warning them to bypass the first in that straight. Solix made an error at the next one they jumped, their 7th. The runners then steered around the open-ditch; On Trend gaining on the others. However, he hit the next but didn’t lose any ground.
Heading along the back straight for the final time, the order remained unchanged – Brass Tax, Cedre Bleu, Solix and On Trend. Solix hit the open-ditch and soon dropped back. The horses bypassed the next and then turned into the home straight.
Brass Tax and Cedre Bleu jumped the penultimate in unison; Solix overtaken by On Trend on the approach to it, but lengths behind the front two. Both AP and Ruby were working hard on the approach to the last, which again they jumped in unison. However, Cedre Bleu asserted on the run-in, Ruby drawing his whip through deftly from his left to right hand to prevent his horse from interfering with the runner-up close home.
On Trend completed in 3rd, 15 lengths behind these two. Solix was pulled up before the last.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the day, aboard the grey Smad Place. The horse had disappointed at Wetherby on his seasonal re-appearance and had subsequently been an absentee from the long distance hurdle run on Hennessy Gold Cup day. However, he’d since been working well at home and was installed as 15/8 favourite for this race; the king of long distance hurdles, Big Buck’s having been ruled out for the remainder of the season having sustained a leg injury since winning the aforementioned race at Newbury.
Alan King and the connections were late arriving in the Parade Ring, so Choc chatted with Highflyer Bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley whilst they both waited for them to appear.
When I was climbing up the Parade Ring steps, Choc having just departed for the racecourse, I overheard a couple of punters ahead of me talking about Choc. They were saying that he’d been around for years and were trying to guess his age ... despite this they thought he must be in his late twenties. I didn’t tell them he is now 34, bless him. If only I was that young too ...
The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the side straight, with two circuits of the track to race.
The runners circled in an anticlockwise direction at the start; it was obvious that Kayf Aramis’ role was to be that of pacemaker but, initially, he appeared reluctant to set off, preferring to remain with the others. After encouragement from his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, he consented to run, taking an inside line to lead them away. To the outside of the track was Reve De Sivola; Cucumber Run, Master Of The Hall, Trustan Times, Smad Place and Prospect Wells. This group of five also took an outside line, a few lengths behind the Nick Williams trained representative.
Kayf Aramis was at least 10 lengths clear as he galloped around Swinley Bottom on the first occasion, Reve De Sivola, in second position, a bigger distance ahead of the main group. Heading up the home straight Kayf Aramis continued to lead, but Reve De Sivola was now almost upsides. Master Of The Hall led the main group, which was still a number of lengths behind, Cucumber Run and Trustan Times matching strides, then Smad Place and Prospect Wells.
The runners proceeded around the top turn, all bar Kayf Aramis keeping to the better ground on the outside of the track. Prospect Wells made an error at the next flight. By the following flight, Reve De Sivola held a one length advantage over Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount. Choc had encouraged Smad Place to make progress and now joined Master Of The Hall at the head of the pursuing group; they had soon breached the gap between themselves and the leader, as Kayf Aramis began to drop back through the field.
Having negotiated Swinley Bottom once more, Reve De Sivola led the runners along the back straight, from Master Of The Hall, Smad Place and Trustan Times. A gap had now opened between these and the struggling Prospect Wells, Cucumber Run and Kayf Aramis; the white blaze of the former almost completed obscured by mud!
Reve De Sivola had a 3-lengths advantage over Smad Place as they turned into the final straight who, in turn, had a couple of lengths advantage over Trustan Times and Master Of The Hall. Having cleared two out the leader continued to extend the distance over his nearest rival, seemingly not inconvenienced by the ground. Choc was now hard at work to maintain his lead over Trustan Times.
Richard Johnson’s mount flew the last and galloped on to win by 14 lengths from Smad Place. Trustan Times was a further 6 lengths back in 3rd. Despite having been tailed off after 3 out, Ruby Walsh rousted his mount to snatch 4th in the last few strides, as Master Of The Hall faded into 5th. Cucumber Run completed in 6th, with Kayf Aramis in 7th.
With Big Buck’s absence, Reve De Sivola’s connections had made the most of this unexpected opportunity. The horse had been a very good juvenile, a double Grade 1 winner in fact, of Newbury’s Challow Hurdle in 2009 and the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in 2010. His chasing career had been patchy, having been error prone, and this was followed by a leg injury. He had returned to racecourse action at Newbury on 01 December, when chasing home Big Buck’s in their long distance hurdle.
It was now time for Choc’s second ride of the afternoon, aboard Hold On Julio. His mount started as 9/4 favourite.
The starting gate for the next race was at the start of the side straight, with two complete circuits to travel. Upon arrival at the start, the jockeys took their mounts to look at the dolled off fence, as it was their nearest one.
Then they were off. The field was led away by bottom weights Wyck Hill and Katenko. These were followed by Hey Big Spender, Hold On Julio, and Ackertac; Roberto Goldback under Barry Geraghty brought up the rear. The runners jumped the second and fourth fences in the side straight before heading around Swinley Bottom. They were all fencing well, and completed clear rounds over the next three obstacles, before being waived around the final fence one in the back straight too.
Travelling well within themselves, the field entered the home straight and cleared the next fence. On the run to the next, both Joe Tizzard and Sam Twiston-Davies pulled down their mud splattered goggles, endeavouring to get a better view of the proceedings. Heading around the top turn there was no change at the head of affairs, Wyck Hill and Katenko still led the way, from Ackertac, Hold On Julio, Hey Big Spender and Roberto Goldback. Again they were waived around the next fence, a checkered flag ensuring the instruction was followed.
Good jumps by all the runners at the initial downhill fence, the jockeys then steering their mounts around the open-ditch. However, at the next, the first horse to make a noticeable error was Hold On Julio. He decided to take an extra stride before take-off, hitting the obstacle and forcing Choc to the buckle end of the reins. In fact, I heard about the error before I saw it on the big screen, as the commentary was broadcast fractionally ahead of the picture!
The front two horses had pressed on and set had up a clear led as they travelled into Swinley Bottom. Choc administered reminders to his mount following the error and Hold On Julio, as always, responded quickly to close the distance. As a result, he was almost upsides as they crossed the next fence; a gap now opening up between these three and the remaining half of the field.
However, to the outside of the Wyck Hill and Katenko, Choc’s mount wasn’t travelling as well as those two and, as a result, Hold On Julio hit the open-ditch, firing Choc over his nearside shoulder as he landed. Fortunately, the ground being heavy meant that my favourite jockey received a relatively soft landing and was soon on his feet.
Roberto Goldback was continuing in the race, but both Ackertac and Hey Big Spender were pulled up before this open-ditch. The remaining runners headed past the final dolled off fence; Hold On Julio, none the worse for his mishap, swerved around the fence too, fortunately he didn’t hamper Barry’s mount in the process.
Wyck Hill held a half length advantage over Katenko as they headed around the final turn, top weight Roberto Goldback initially appearing to gain on them. However, although the leaders were tiring as they cleared two out, their pursuer merely clambered over it, all chance now gone.
Wyck Hill drew a few lengths clear of his rival between the final two fences and, although Katenko put in a better leap at the last, Tom Scudamore drove his mount out to win by 4 lengths. A very tired Roberto Goldback trailed home 35 lengths back in 3rd.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see the placed horses return ... and, of course, with the hope of seeing Choc too, following his mishap. He was perfectly fine, and he’d been able to unsaddle Hold On Julio; the horse having been caught by the travelling head lad Matt and/or the stable lass. In fact he jogged back in through the Winners’ Enclosure to return to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for Choc’s third and final ride of the day, aboard Balder Succes in the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle. His mount was a 7/1 shot; the favourite being Cash And Go at odds of 11/2.
Choc having left the Parade Ring, I wasn’t quite quick enough to reach the grandstand steppings before he cantered past aboard Balder Succes; the starting gate for this race being at the far end of the home straight, with this and one full circuit to travel.
The field was ready to depart ahead of time, undertaking a circuit of the corner rail before the starter consented to let them go; Bar De Ligne initially trailing behind the others but soon trotting up to join them.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Double Ross, from Urbain De Sivola, Bar De Ligne who was not fluent at the first, stablemate Into Wain, Bothy and Dan Breen. Balder Succes was two-thirds of the way down the field, hidden amongst runners.
Double Ross continued at the head of affairs around the top bend, from Urbain De Sivola, Dan Breen, Petit Robin, Bothy, Bar De Ligne, Into Wain, Lyvius, Ranjaan, Princeton Plains, Rattan, Balder Succes, It’s A Gimme, Kazlian, First In The Queue, Cause Of Causes, Cash And Go, Olofi, First Avenue, Thomas Edison and last year’s runner-up Rigidity (that’s all 21 of them named!)
Bar De Ligne was again less than fluent as he cleared the 3rd flight. The favourite, Cash And Go, near the rear of the field, blundered and unseated his jockey at the 4th. Barry Geraghty departed out the back door, but he soon got to his feet and walked away.
Double Ross, Dan Breen and Urbain De Sivola were still at the head of affairs as the runners headed around the far turn at Swinley Bottom; Balder Succes already labouring as Choc ‘bumped’ him along now four from the rear of the field. Heading along the back straight, Dan Breen held a narrow advantage from Double Ross and Urbain De Sivola. The leading group of runners were still travelling okay; but 8 runners were detached and struggling in rear, including Balder Succes.
Double Ross and Dan Breen led the field into the home straight, Urbain De Sivola now fading. Having cleared two out, Petit Robin took the advantage from Dan Breen; Irish raider Cause of Causes making noticeable progress on the stand-side as Double Ross steadily faded.
Petit Robin led over the final flight from Dan Breen, but under a strong drive from jockey Davy Condon, for which he would receive a four-day ban, Causes of Causes collared them on the run-in, the latter triumphing by 4 lengths from the very game Nicky Henderson runner. Dan Breen was 1¼ lengths back in 3rd. Double Ross 11 lengths away in 4th.
Having given up the unequal battle, Choc eased Balder Succes and finished 16th. It was reported that his mount had lost a near hind shoe during the race. It was a great shame the day had ended without a winner for Choc, especially as he must have had such high hopes before racing began. L
Whilst I was waiting for the placed horses to return to the Winners’ Enclosure, the commentator Richard Hoiles, asked for quiet amongst the course-side spectators. Evidently the loose horse, Cash And Go, had been spooked by the noise and I believe completed an additional circuit of the course as a result. Quietness now restored, I think the ‘escapee’ was captured close by the second last flight.
A mud-splattered Choc soon trailed in, saddle in hand, and returned to the Weighing Room.
I decided it was time for me to set off home. Although I would miss the possibility of seeing Choc depart, I knew that daylight would soon fail and it was due to commence raining once more as darkness fell. Better safe than sorry, as the journey to the racecourse hadn’t been particularly pleasant.
But I will describe the final race of the day, despite not seeing it, apart from at home on the replay! The starting gate for this event was towards the end of the back straight, their usual first fence was omitted; the initial obstacle now being the first in the home straight, with that and one complete circuit to travel. Although there was no bumper at the end of today’s card, the hurdles had already been removed from the track.
Then they were off. It was now a long run to the ‘new’ first fence. My Brother Sylvest led the way, followed by Falcon Island, Vino Griego, Ulck Du Lin, Gus Macrae and El Lobo; with Nozic bringing up the rear. The latter not particularly fluent at the first, jumping out to his left.
In rear, on the run to the second, AP McCoy switched his mount out from the inside rail. It was a fortunate manoeuvre, as when Vino Griego fell heavily at this fence; he badly interfered with Gus Macrae who lost a number of lengths as a result, but El Lobo avoided the stricken horse. Fortunately there were no injuries incurred, as the animal galloped away, reins flapping; jockey Jamie Moore was soon on his feet too.
My Brother Sylvest continued to lead as the runners headed down the side straight, missing the first and third in the line of fences. Falcon Island was in second position, followed by Nozic, Ulck Du Lin, and El Lobo; the pennant tailed Gus Macrae playing catch-up in rear, although he did brush through the top of the fence before Swinley Bottom.
Tom Scudamore’s mount led around Swinley Bottom; Falcon Island and Nozic matching strides in second. Ruby aboard Ulck Du Lin a close up 4th, with El Lobo and Gus Macrae alongside each other at the rear. My Brother Sylvest, Nozic and Falcon Island soon shared the lead, Ruby then taking third when the latter drifted off the pace.
My Brother Sylvest and Nozic led into the home straight; Ulck Du Lin seemingly pushed along in third. However, these three cleared the penultimate fence in unison, with Ruby’s mount soon taking the advantage; Nozic making an effort to go with him. Ulck Du Lin cleared the last and was driven out to win by 1½ lengths from Nozic. Falcon Island completed in 3rd, with the unlucky Gus Macrae in 4th.
There were a few groups of people already setting off home as I exited the main gate. It’s always noticeable that punters often leave before the final race, hoping to miss the traffic.
My walk down the High Street was unhindered, as there were very few people milling about. I soon reached the car park and was glad that I’d worn my waterproof boots as they protected me from the mud as I crossed the grass to reach my car. The vehicle next to mine was just warming up ahead of departure and it left shortly before I did. Having changed into my driving shoes I started the car, backed out of the parking space and set off for the side entrance, which was now open. However, there were a series of big puddles on the driveway so I decided to head back to the main entrance instead. I turned left onto the High Street then left again at the mini-roundabout. This took me through the underpass and returned me to Swinley Bottom.
I re-traced my journey to Windsor, and then joined the M4 heading eastwards. As forecast, it did begin to rain once more. I travelled around the M25 to Junction 22; I needed to fill up my car’s petrol tank before the Christmas break but, as it was still only 16:25 and the car park at the adjacent retail park was ‘choc-a-bloc’, I decided against it. I’d undertake that task the following morning instead, when most people were still asleep in bed!
I arrived home at 16:40. I had intended to have spaghetti on toast for tea but, in the event and with plenty of time before the final of Strictly Come Dancing began, I decided upon eggs, chips and cold bake beans instead.
The final was brilliant but, sadly, the wrong person won. Actress Dani Harmer was the first celebrity to be voted off, with Denise van Outen, Kimberley Walsh and Louis Smith then undertaking their final routines. Taking note of their ‘form’ during recent weeks, I thought Kimberly deserved to win but, on the night, Denise was brilliant and I was rooting for her instead. However, as the general public was responsible for casting 100% of today’s votes, as opposed to previous weeks when the judges’ votes also contributed to the scores, it was Louis Smith who was declared the winner. Rubbish. It’s a dance competition not a gymnastics routine or a popularity contest. I hate it when the most accomplished dancer doesn’t win.
Knowing that I’d be heading to Kempton Park on Wednesday, I needed to make the most of my evening and gain a head-start by uploading my Ascot photographs before turning in for the evening. I also wanted to finish the book I was currently reading; The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert. I managed the former but not the latter.
I finished the book early Sunday, before beginning the task of writing this diary. Although not progressing as quickly as hoped, I’d handwritten the race comments by 19:00 and then settled down to top and tail it on my laptop, still minus the typed up race comments, shortly before midnight!
Christmas Eve was a half-day at work, so I was able to come home at 13:00. My afternoon and early evening being spent typing up and proofing this diary before uploading it onto my website. Success; my website was up-to-date prior to my next trip to the races on Boxing Day. Busy, busy, busy ...