DIARY – ASCOT
– SATURDAY 22 JANUARY 2011
My trip to Ascot came as a complete surprise, even more so than my visit to Sandown Park earlier in the month which, I suppose, had to be classed as a last minute ‘change of heart’. Choc was due to ride Walkon at Haydock Park on this particular Saturday, so I went to bed with absolutely no plans and looking forward to a quiet weekend with plenty of time to complete the ‘extended’ diary of my day at Kempton Park the previous weekend. In fact I’d gone to bed really late, at 01:30 in the morning to be precise, having waited for my laptop to complete its scheduled security scan of all my files, a task which now takes over 4 hours! But, as it found and removed 16 ‘cookies’ (and it rarely finds any) it was a job well done.
I woke up at 08:00 on Saturday, immediately tuning into Channel 4’s The Morning Line (this week’s guest was Nicky Henderson), and having missed the first 5 minutes of the programme. I then noticed a ‘banner’ scrolling along the bottom of the screen informing the viewers that the Haydock Park fixture had been abandoned; that came out of the blue, as the previous day the Clerk of the Course seemed pretty positive that the meeting would go ahead. I believe temperatures had dropped lower than expected, but it appeared that precautions had not been taken were this to happen.
I immediately realised that Walkon would be re-routed to Ascot, having been declared, as 2nd preference, for the Limited Handicap Hurdle race which, of course, meant that Choc would be there to ride him too. An instant decision was made that I would go to the Berkshire course, so I had yet another rush to get ready! So it was goodbye to the bacon rolls I’d planned to eat for my breakfast, and hello to a couple of Weetabix, my food of choice when I’m in a hurry to leave the house of a morning!
Following a shower and washing and drying my hair, I rummaged through my ‘raceday’ clothes to see what I could find; preferably warm, as Ascot always seems colder than your average racecourse! The obligatory thermal vests (one long sleeved, the other sleeveless), turquoise tunic, navy blue cords with thermal tights underneath, black frilly-edged cardigan, purple fleece, and I put my long black faux sheepskin coat and outerwear fleece in the car. The colour of the fleece is described as ‘Sea’, I’d call it viridian, especially as I won’t wear green to the races as it may be unlucky, although viridian is classed as more green than blue! The scarf chosen this week was my neon blue ‘Snowball’ one.
And footwear? My M & S ankle length ‘engineer’ boots which I’d worn last weekend. I love M & S, especially their Per Una collection; but a visit to any of their shops can prove expensive! I’m attracted by colour, especially purples, turquoises and, possibly, berry shades. And I love frills too. But I dislike appliqué on clothes, and Per Una seem to sell a lot of that too!
And I had to pack my raceday handbag too; as I have a raceday handbag and an everyday handbag I take to work. So I needed to transfer my purse and my mobile phone, and find my camera too. I must be getting better at ‘last minute’ racing trips as, today, from stepping into the shower to leaving home it took me a mere 50 minutes, and that included applying my makeup.
I set off at 09:45, deciding to join the M25 at junction 19, Watford. It was a smooth journey around to the M4, where I took the westbound carriageway, leaving at the Slough Central junction. I then headed south down the Windsor bypass, where there was currently a speed restriction of 40 mph, as the central reservation barriers were absent and presumably in the process of being replaced. The roundabout at the far end of the bypass was also subject to roadworks, as the junction was being completely redesigned.
Having negotiated the traffic lights, I headed towards Ascot, the road taking me past Legoland. Then around the ‘longabout’ and on towards Swinley Bottom, where I turned left, drove through the underpass and just before reaching Ascot High Street turned into the free car park on the right-hand side.
It was 10:45, gate opening time. There had been a few showers of light rain on my drive down, and another arrived now, so I waited in my car for a few minutes before setting off on a ‘route march’ up the High Street to purchase a ticket. The lady in the ticket office complimented me on my nice scarf! Tickets were £17 today, with £3 for a racecard. It appears that Ascot increase their winter ticket prices by £1 each year; but they are still cheaper than many Saturday fixtures.
Once inside I popped to the loo (more information than you needed), before taking a look at the paintings displayed at one of the stands situation on the concourse of the main grandstand. Following this I went to stand at the top of the Parade Ring steps overlooking the Weighing Room. It was now 11:40. Young Willie Twiston-Davies was ‘loitering’ nearby; and not long afterwards he would join Assistant Trainer Carl Llewellyn, who was looking after Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horses at the track today.
A few minutes later the jockey changes were announced; notably Choc would replace Wayne Hutchinson aboard Gold Reef and Suburban Bay; although his colleague would retain the ride aboard Mister Stickler in the first.
Whilst waiting for the horses to appear ahead of the first race I spent time ‘people watching’ – today I saw trainers Nick Williams and Ferdy Murphy; jockeys Andrew Tinkler, Tom Scudamore and Andrew Thornton, the latter was returning from a jog around the course; ATR’s Robert Cooper; retired jockey, and now racing presenter and author, John Francome; and presenter Stewart Machin.
The horses began to arrive in the Parade Ring ahead of the first race; so I went to stand on the ‘bridge’ overlooking the exit walkway. I like to stand in this area, as you get a good view of the horses as they are led out to the course and, prior to races in which he is competing, Choc invariably sits just inside the glass-sided Weighing Room area to await the arrival of the trainer or their representative so that he can hand over his saddle having weighed out! Not only is Choc easy to spot because of his beautiful blonde hair, but also from his racing colours!
Wayne Hutchinson was riding the Trevor Hemmings owned, Alan King trained, Mister Stickler in this event. Having put my racecard away, it was a matter of elimination to identify the horse as, instead of the usual navy blue ‘Schroders Private Banking’ rug, he was wearing a red ‘Blackpool Tower’ rug, a venue which Mr Hemmings owns.
Once the six runners had left the Parade Ring I set off through the grandstand to find a good viewing position on the steppings. It transpired that the upper rows of steps where I usually prefer to stand to watch the races, next to the Owners and Trainers section, have been removed; so they are obviously portable! Never mind, instead I went to stand on the steps in the adjacent section.
The start of this race was down in Swinley Bottom, with one and a half circuits to travel.
Then they were off. Rougham and Frontier Dancer stealing a led on the four remaining runners. They were followed, at some distance, by Kellystown Lad, Osric, Master Stickler and Lordsbridge, the latter having a tendency to jump out to its left (not advantageous on a right-handed track).
Into the home straight for the first time Rougham had established a lead over Frontier Dancer who, in turn, held an even bigger advantage over the other four runners; the latter getting close to the 7th fence. The field progressed down the side of the course, Lordsbridge in rear still jumping out to its left. Osric made a significant mistake at the 10th when in third position. The field had closed up by the time it reached Swinley Bottom; Rougham still leading, Frontier Dancer in second, Osric in third, Mister Stickler in fourth, then Lordsbridge; Kellystown Lad now struggling at the back of the field.
Mister Stickler hit the open-ditch (4 out), briefly shooting Wayne Hutchinson up his neck. Around the final bend Rougham still led, Osric was close up in second and it looked like jockey Barry Geraghty only had to ‘press the button’ for him to overtake the long-time leader. Mister Stickler in third and Frontier Dancer under the whip in fourth.
However, Rougham proved to be very game and kept finding more; both he and Osric jumped the last well, Rougham holding on by ½ a length at the line.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
I was then time for the second race of the day; and when the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point in the stands from which to watch the race.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with just over one circuit to travel.
The field was led away by Two Kisses under AP McCoy, with the grey L’Eminence Gris in second; Plenty Pocket running in the Kauto Star colours was pulling hard in rear; Singapore Storm, also in rear, hit the second.
Down the side of the course and heading towards Swinley Bottom, Two Kisses still led, from Magic Prospect and L’Eminence Gris. These were followed by Grandouet and Plenty Pocket, both now taking closer order, then Looks Like Slim, with Whitby Jack on the inside, and a gap to Ostentation and a bigger one to newcomer Singapore Storm; the latter soon tailing off.
Having pulled hard early in the race, Plenty Pocket lost his place after 3 out. Two Kisses led the field into the home straight, behind her were Magic Prospect, L’Eminence Gris and Grandouet, the latter travelling particularly well. Two Kisses jumped the penultimate flight ahead; however Barry Geraghty’s mount came to cruise alongside the long-time leader, taking over at the final flight and running on well to win by 6 lengths. Two Kisses completed in 2nd, staying on well to take 3rd was the Wayne Hutchinson ridden Looks Like Slim, L’Eminence Gris was 4th having been just headed on the run-in.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure; it would soon be time for Choc’s first ride of the day, aboard the Alan King trained mare, Gold Reef; a flashy chestnut with a broad white blaze.
Whilst I was waiting for the placed horses to arrive back, from my vantage point above the entrance/exit walkway I could see Choc sitting inside the Weighing Room, waiting for Alan King to collect his saddle ahead of the next race. A lady approached Choc and I believe asked him to sign a couple of autographs in a book (presumably on pages on which his photograph was published). Alan soon arrived to collect the saddle, and he chatted with Choc for a few minutes before setting off to the saddling boxes. Choc then returned to the inner sanctum of the changing room.
Soon the mares competing in the next race arrived in the Parade Ring; the jockeys, including Choc, appeared, chatted with their respective connections, mounted their horses and set off down the walkway to the course.
I set off through the grandstand to find a vantage point from which to watch the race.
The start of this race was down the side of the track, with two flights to negotiate before Swinley Bottom.
The field was led away by Fit To Drive and Alverstone; followed by Carole’s Legacy, L’Accordioniste, Gold Reef, Alasi, Seren Cwmtudi, with Sparky May at the back of the field.
L’Accordioniste was awkward at the third. Turning into the home straight with one circuit to go, Sparky May had made ground into fifth. The order into the straight was Alverstone, Fit To Drive, Carole’s Legacy, L’Accordioniste, Sparky May, Gold Reef, Alasi and Seren Cwmtudi.
Another jumping error by L’Accordioniste at the fifth; and Fit to Drive flattened the last flight in the home straight with one circuit to go. A further mistake was made by L’Accordioniste at the first flight down the side of the course; both Sparky May and Alasi were now taking closer order.
Sparky May, going strongly, took up the running as they jumped the flight before Swinley Bottom. Seren Cwmtudi was pulled up. Barry Geraghty, wary that Sparky May was travelling extremely well, soon sent Carole’s Legacy in pursuit. Alasi had now moved up into third. Fit to Drive made a mistake 4 out and L’Accordioniste began to tail off; Gold Reef also struggling by this stage.
Soon Sparky May, Carole’s Legacy and Alasi were well clear of the remaining runners. Sparky May led into the final straight, followed by Carole’s Legacy and Alasi, both under pressure and neither making much impression on the long-time leader.
Jockey Kieren Burke steered Sparky May up the standside rails and jumped the last two flights well, holding on to win by 4 lengths from the relentless challenge of Carole’s Legacy. Winning jockey, Kieran Burke, punching the air as he passed the line.
Alasi finished 3rd, the bandage on her near hind flapping around as she galloped home. Alverstone completed in 4th, Fit To Drive 5th and L’Accordioniste 6th. Choc pulled up Gold Reef before 2 out. A very disappointing run from the Alan King trained mare.
A well-deserved win for a small yard with a cheaply bought horse; and now with the hope of fulfilling a Cheltenham dream at the Festival in March.
As Choc’s mount was unplaced, he returned to the enclosure for the ‘unplaced’ horses; this is located behind the main grandstand, to the right-hand side of the walkway. Having returned through the grandstand concourse, I went across to take a peek as Choc returned to unsaddle, before I went to stand in my favourite spot above the Parade Ring.
After a few minutes Choc returned to the Weighing Room, carrying his saddle over his left arm, and holding his number cloth in his right hand (my memory is not that brilliant ... but I have photos!); however, I’m always worried that he will trip over the trailing girth!
Soon it was time for the feature event, the Victor Chandler Chase ‘starring’ Master Minded! Due to Ruby Walsh’s injury absence, AP McCoy took the ride aboard the Clive Smith owned racehorse. Master Minded had 8 rivals today; last year’s race was won by the late Twist Magic, with Master Minded having won it in 2009.
When the horses had left the Parade Ring, once more I set off to find a good vantage point in the grandstand.
The start of this race was in the back straight, with one fence to negotiate before turning into the home straight for the first time.
The field was led away by I’m So Lucky, a very keen Somersby, and Mad Max; Tchico Polos hit the first fence, Kalahari King brought up the rear. Crack Away Jack made a mistake at the second fence, impeding Gauvain slightly.
Guavain put in a slow jump at the last in the home straight with one circuit to go. Somersby was still keen. Around the top turn, Mad Max led from I’m So Lucky, Somersby, Master Minded, Tchico Polos, Petit Robin, Crack Away Jack, Kalahari King, with Gauvain still in rear.
Heading towards Swinley Bottom, Mad Max still held the advantage, Gauvain jumping to his left and slightly losing touch. Master Minded was racing on the outside of the field, just behind the three leaders, I’m So Lucky, Somersby and Mad Max, following him was Petit Robin. Five lengths back were Crack Away Jack, Tchico Polos, and Kalahari King, with Gauvain alone at the back.
Petit Robin unseated Barry Geraghty 5 out (it was almost a fall rather than an unseat, as the jockey had no chance of survival), the loose horse heading to the outside of the course, almost taking Kalahari King out of the race.
Master Minded had been sent on five fences out by AP; and he led around the final bend, 2 lengths up on Somersby, and he looked like he would win. However, Somersby’s stamina kicked in and he gradually gained on AP’s mount as they cleared the final two obstacles until, at the line, Master Minded held on to win by a mere short-head.
I returned to see Master Minded enter to the Winners’ Enclosure; photos were taken, and the prizes presented. But when I went to take up my preferred position on the bridge above the horse walkway, I discovered that all the viewing spaces had already been taken. Not a problem, as I decided to walk around to the far side of the Parade Ring, where hardly anyone stands.
It was now time for my particular highlight of the day (apart from seeing Choc of course) – the return of the talented grey Walkon! He’d been missing from racecourse action since sustaining a serious injury at Aintree in 2009, when he partially severed a tendon. Walkon appeared in the Parade Ring and was looking very well and, the biggest surprise of the day, he’s now got a tail! When previously seen on the racecourse his tail had been threadbare, evidently caused by his habit of rubbing his rear end against the wall of his stable. I think Donna Blake, Paul Nicholls’ Travelling Head Girl, may have commented on his now beautiful and mainly white tail when she spoke briefly with Matt Howells (Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad).
Alan King had a second runner in this race, Shalone, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; returning from an absence of 406 days.
Choc was the first jockey to arrive in the Parade Ring, with no sign of owners or trainer. Whilst he waited, he chatted with one of the official photographers. Alan King then arrived, along with owner Max McNeill (article by Eddie Fremantle from December 2008) and his family, and Choc joined them. Having taken numerous photos today, the battery warning indicator on my camera started to flash ... time to swap it with the fully charged spare which I always carry with me.
Once Walkon had left the Parade Ring I set off at ‘top speed’ in an anti-clockwise direction around the Parade Ring in order to find the best possible vantage point in the stands and before everyone else had taken the best places.
The horses cantered down past the stands to reach the start, which was over in the far corner of the track, heading uphill out of Swinley Bottom.
Then they were off. The 2008/2009 winner of this event, Lough Derg, sporting red blinkers, led them away, followed by the keen Frascati Park, Lucaindubai, Spear Thistle, Warne’s Way wearing blue blinkers, Sophies Trophy, Bygones of Brid, Advisor, Sire Collonges, Shalone on the inside, with Walkon tracking his stablemate, Notus De La Tour, Soldatino and, bringing up the rear Tiger O’Toole.
On the run to the third flight, Frascati Park had assumed the lead. Shalone made an error at the first down the side of the track. Walkon and Soldatino both made progress approaching Swinley Bottom; the former now in around seventh place. At this point, Tom Scudamore sent his mount, Lough Derg, into the lead; Frascati Park now losing his position. Going with the leader were Lucaindubai, Soldatino, Spear Thistle, Sophies Trophy, Walkon eased to the outside of the field to get a clear run, and Notus De La Tour. Tiger O’Toole began to make progress from the back of the field.
Turning into the home straight, Walkon was in fourth position. When still close up, Lucaindubai fell at the penultimate flight; as did Sophies Trophy, independently; Soldatino having to nimbly step over the former’s leg to avoid falling too.
Lough Derg came up the standside rails and still held a narrow advantage at the last, which he flattened, Choc steering his mount to the inside to avoid too much of a battle. It looked certain that Walkon would win but then a fast finishing Tiger O’Toole came through between the two leaders, ‘mugging’ Choc’s mount and winning by half a length.
A brilliant run from Walkon, carrying top weight, and following 660 days off the track. Alan King’s other runner, Shalone, finished a promising fifth.
I returned to the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure to see Walkon and Choc arrive back; and I have to confess I hardly noticed Tiger O’Toole! Once unsaddled, Choc spoke with the McNeills, as Alan King was absent, presumably occupied with unsaddling Shalone. However, he appeared in the Winners’ Enclosure a short while later, and was interviewed by members of the press; Choc was ‘accosted’ by ATR’s Robert Cooper to be interviewed. He said that Walkon ‘felt’ better than ever; the owners were delighted, but he was disappointed not to have won.
Once the brief interview was completed, Choc jogged back to the nearby Weighing Room.
I remained to see the horses arrive ahead of the next race, the jockeys then mounted and set off down the walkway; I headed through the grandstand to find a vantage point from which to watch the race.
The start of this race was down the side of the track, the competitors with their backs to the open ditch; and one fence to negotiate before Swinley Bottom. I recall the jockeys cantered down the course to take a look at what would be the final fence, before heading to the start.
Pickamus set off in front, with Soulard taking over briefly, before The Sawyer assumed the lead. Breedsbreeze hit the first when in rear; Mahogany Blaze hit the fourth (the open ditch), unseating Sam Twiston-Davies.
Into the home straight for the first time, the runners were led by The Sawyer, then Soulard, the grey Pickamus, with Tatenen on the outside of the field, jumping well. Panjo Bere slowly cleared the last in the home straight and was pushed along, endeavouring to keep in touch with the field.
Down the side of the course, it appeared for a moment that Tatenen might follow the loose Mahogany Blaze around one of the obstacles; however his jockey, Andrew Thornton, was wise to this and ensured he stayed on track, soon going into the lead following a good jump, and travelling very well. In second was Soulard, then I’m A Legend, and Edgbriar.
Tatenen got close to the first in the back straight but it didn’t impede his momentum and he retained the lead. I’m A Legend hit the fourth last.
Andrew Thornton’s mount travelled strongly around the final bend, his only possible dangers being I’m A Legend and Edgbriar. However, between the last two fences, Tatenen was driven even further clear, and he went on to win by 16 lengths from I’m A Legend, Breedsbreeze in 3rd and the grey Piraya in 4th having made moderate headway late in the race.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. Another Saturday winner from Andrew Thornton. However, as a postscript, he was fined £290 for speaking to the absent winning owner, Andy Stewart, on trainer Richard Rowe’s mobile phone outside the designated area.
It was now time for the final race of the day, in which Choc would be riding the Alan King trained Suburban Bay; this particular horse was returning from a 794 day absence!
Again when Choc arrived in the Parade Ring, Alan King was nowhere to be seen. Choc looked lost ... AP McCoy joining him shortly afterwards, his connections having not yet arrived either! However Choc was soon reunited with his trainer, and legged up aboard his mount in due course.
Suburban Bay, a chestnut like his sire Karinga Bay (although I think that all horses with ‘Bay’ as part of their name should be bay in colour too!), was excited and very much on his toes as he exited the Parade Ring and headed for the course.
Once again I headed through the grandstand concourse, to find a vantage point from which to watch the race.
The horses cantered down past the grandstand to reach the start, which was over in the far corner of the track, and heading up the hill out of Swinley Bottom.
Airmen’s Friend was a little reluctant to start and had to be led in. Then they were off. No Secrets took the lead, from Carribs Leap, Amroth Bay pulling hard, Poungach, Master Fiddler, Victoria Rose, Frontier Spirit, Lord Kennedy, Eldred, Wise Move, then Choc aboard a keen Suburban Bay, then Fontano, with Airmen’s Friend and Well Refreshed bringing up the rear.
Victoria Rose lost a little bit of ground at the first down the side of the course. By Swinley Bottom, both Airmen’s Friend and Well Refreshed were losing touch at the rear of the field. Suburban Bay was at the back of the main group as they travelled around the turn.
Climbing up the hill towards the final bend, No Secrets still led from Carribs Leap and Amroth Bay. Lord Kennedy soon lost ground, as did Suburban Bay, Choc pulling him up before 2 out.
Around the final bend, No Secrets led from Carribs Leap; with the Paul Nicholls runner Pounach cruising in third under Daryl Jacob. No Secrets held the lead over the penultimate flight, Pounach soon challenging and taking over the running. He cleared the last and went on to win by 8 lengths from No Secrets, with Victoria Rose a further 15 lengths away in third, having stayed on to beat Carribs Leap on the line.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back following this final race, and to watch for Choc to return to the Weighing Room, which he did shortly afterwards (accompanied by a guy unknown to me). Having had my final glimpse of Choc today, it was now time for me to go home.
After exiting through the gates, I took another route march down Ascot High Street, overtaking numerous people in my quest to reach my car as quickly as possible. There was no queuing whatsoever to leave the car park, so I set off at 16:30 to drive home. My route took me back to Windsor, with just a minor delay at the traffic lights situated at the ‘redesigned’ junction at the southern end of the Windsor bypass. I decided to take the quickest route home – which is M4 eastbound and clockwise M25. There were no delays on either motorway.
I arrived home at 17:30. As I can see to read and type far better when I’m not wearing contact lenses I like to remove them as soon as I can. However, I did have a scary moment, when one of my disposable contact lenses split in half as I was trying to remove it; half came out and half stayed in my left eye, causing discomfort. Fortunately I managed to locate the errant half and removed it too. Whew. In all the years I’ve been using disposable lenses that has only ever happened to me once before.
I decided that my tea today would be the bacon rolls I’d not had time to eat for my breakfast. After which I uploaded my photos, wrote my blog, and finished proofing my Kempton Park diary, before uploading it and turning in for the evening. And it was only just short of midnight! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz