A beautifully sunny day, although cold, so I wore my ‘rambling’ hat all day.

After the nightmare trip home on Friday I decided to go by train to Ascot today, despite realising traffic would be a lot quieter on a Saturday.  This being the case I drove to the station at around 08:50, parking my car at my work’s car park.  So, having purchased my ticket I caught the 09:20 Brighton train, although it was only 4 carriages in length making it standing room only all the way to London.  There were no engineering works today, which meant the trains were running through the Thameslink tunnel, so I decided to alight at Blackfriars.  I understand the station is being upgraded soon and, evidently, will be out of action from March 2009 to late 2011 – damn, as I find the station very convenient for transferring onto the underground. 

As I hadn’t swiped my ticket at my home station, I had to be let through the National Rail barrier, but the barrier to the underground station did admit me. The electronic train notice-board stated that the next train was out of service, but it wasn’t!  I therefore caught it to Embankment, although it terminated there as all District Line trains were going no further. No Circle Line trains were running.

I transferred to the Northern Line for just one stop to Waterloo.  I checked the electronic timetable, despite probably knowing that my train would leave from platform 19.  It was the 10:20 service, which I’d caught the last time I went to Ascot by train. Unfortunately the train was packed as there was a match at Twickenham between England and South Africa, however I did walk some way down the platform and managed to obtain a seat.

Numerous passengers alighted at Twickenham, but quite a few stayed onboard to Ascot. I trotted (well almost) up the leafy footway to Ascot High Street and the racecourse.  I purchased my ticket for £10, as a kind gentleman had given me his £5 money off voucher on Friday.  Upon entry I bought a race-card and as it was a nice sunny day, and the paddock side was leeward to the wind, I stood on the ‘balcony’ above the ring.  Whilst I was waiting, it was announced that the IJF stand was selling spare copies of Paul Nicholls’ and Alan King’s Owners Open Day brochures in aid of the Fund so, not surprisingly, I went across and purchased a copy of Alan’s brochure for £10, which features lots of photos of the gorgeous Choc!

I wasn’t sure if the brochure would fit in my bag, so I went for a scout around the Christmas stalls but, not surprisingly, everything was very expensive.  But, in the event, the brochure did fit quite well into my fairly spacious Clarke’s handbag. 

Choc wasn’t riding in the first or second race of the day.  It was an early start, 12:10 being the off.  The first race, the Huggies Novices’ Hurdle Race, was won by Toby Belch, ridden by Paddy Brennan.  As the number cloths were sponsored by Huggies, perhaps the horses should have been wearing nappies, and maybe the jockeys too!  Just a thought!

Wilson Renwick aboard Tora Bora won the 2nd race for trainer, Brendan Powell.  I definitely thought the horse looked well in the paddock and, if I had struck a bet, it would have been where I’d have put my money.  After the race Mattie Batchelor went across to pull faces, etc, when Mike Cattermole was trying to interview Wilson.  Mattie is renowned for being the ‘joker’ in the pack.

It was then time for the third race, in which Choc was riding Howle Hill.  I knew the colours as I’d asked Choc for his autograph at Sandown prior to him riding the horse. Howle Hill was again wearing blinkers, and Choc was still limping, but not quite as badly as yesterday. Choc mounted, exited the paddock and cantered down to the start at the beginning of the home straight.  Then they were off.

Howle Hill ran towards the rear of the field, hit the 2nd, which was scary as it was the fence in front of the stands, blundered again at the 3rd, was soon driven, and was behind when pulled up before the 8th fence. As he’d not been placed, Choc unsaddled in the paddock set aside for unplaced horses, which left Choc to limp back from there to the Weighing Room, which he did on the grass rather than the paddock pathway – which might suggest that his foot is the problem.  The race was won by Jack the Giant trained by Nicky Henderson, ridden by Barry Geraghty.

The 4th race of the day was the Coral Ascot Hurdle, in which Choc was riding the JP McManus owned Franchoek.  The horse looked well, tracked the leaders, was driven 4 out, but kept on at one pace from 3 out, finishing 5th.  However he was gaining on the 4th placed runner at the line, so may improve for the run.  Again as an unplaced horse, Choc had to unsaddle outside and limp back to the Weighing Room.  The race was won by Chomba Womba trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Choc didn’t ride in the 5th race, a Novices’ Steeplechase.  Richard Johnson’s mount, Beherayn, led the field, hitting the 1st, and then fell at the 5th fence.  It looked as though he had a nasty fall but he was okay, but I was worried for a while as to which of them might drive home if they had car shared and both were injured!  The race was won by Cheating Chance ridden by Mark Grant.

Choc’s final ride of the day was on The Hairy Lemon in a Limited Intermediate Handicap Chase over approximately 2 miles and 3 furlongs.  The Hairy Lemon was wearing blinkers.  Choc held up the horse, rode him from the 13th fence but made no impression, finishing 6th and last of the runners.  Again a walk in from the ‘unplaced horses’ paddock, accompanied this time by Anita Cusack, who returned with him to pick up the relevant equipment, and I think she had the blinkers in her hand too. It was my last view of Choc for the day.  The winner was My Petra, yet again trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

During the afternoon, when the screen above the paddock was broadcasting the races from Haydock Park, including Kauto Star’s race, Alan King and everyone in the Parade Ring were watching with interest.

Luckily the last race, a bumper which was won by Red Harbour, was off at 15:40 so I was able to leave just before 16:00 and walk down to the station in time to catch the 16:07 train to Waterloo.  I went to the front carriage so there was room to sit down.  As should be expected, the spectators from the rugby match all piled onto the train at Twickenham so it was then definitely standing room only.  I gather England had lost 6 - 42 to the South Africans. 

Once at Waterloo I caught a Northern Line train to Warren Street, changing onto the Piccadilly Line for 2 stops to Kings Cross.  Then the long walk to the Thameslink platform, catching the 17:40, which stopped at all stations to my home station. The following train, although fast, was running slightly late, so I decided it was better to catch the slow train than wait longer at St Pancras Thameslink. 

It was zero degrees when I collected my car to drive the last mile home.  I arrived home at around 18:20, in time to watch all bar one of the competitors on Strictly Come Dancing.   

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