DIARY – ASCOT – HALLOWEEN RACEDAY
& FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR
(or should that be spooktacular!)
SATURDAY 31 OCTOBER 2015
Ned Stark in the Parade Ring
ahead of his race
This was my second trip to the races this season, the first having been to Worcester in July to see the Twitterati Syndicate’s horse, Menace, run; I am one of the 140 members of this EPDS syndicate.
I had been planning to attend the Saturday of the Cheltenham Showcase fixture 7 days previously, which I’ve attended for the past three years, but plans fell through when my friend Lesley was unable to come along due to a bad back and I’d also been put off by the promise of rain throughout the day.
Having read the Alan King Stable Tour article in the Racing Post earlier in the month, I was aware of plans to run the Dunkley & Reilly Partnership horse, Ned Stark, at either the first NH fixture at Ascot on 31 October or at Wincanton a week later; Choc is now employed as their Racing Manager and also as Stud Manager for their flat racing concern known as The Apple Tree Stud.
As it turned out, it was decided to run the Alan King-trained Ned Stark at Ascot so, with declarations published online by Friday lunchtime, plans were put in place to go to the Berkshire track. Amazingly, and despite it being my second nearest racecourse, I’d not been to Ascot since December 2012; nearly three years ago.
Having eaten my evening meal and watched the hour long Strictly spin-off show, It Takes Two, I took over an hour to rummage through my wardrobe to decide what to wear. The weather was forecast to be sunny and unseasonably warm for the final day of October, but I’ve been caught out at Ascot before so decided to wear two thermal t-shirts, regardless, cerise pink and purple. I chose a black and grey pencil skirt, with peplum, from Dorothy Perkins which, despite having possessed for a number of years, I’d never worn!
Also a purple sweater which, on Saturday morning, was substituted by my fairly ancient black BHS frill-edged cardigan because the sweater didn’t sit well over the peplum! I also wore a purple fleece, grey tights and new black Hotter Danielle ‘shoe’ boots – another pair I couldn’t resist and was sure would prove useful in autumn and spring. As the weather was due to be dry, I loaded all of my belongings into my large black M & S canvass style bag – I really must waterproof it with a shoe and boot spray I bought from Hotter; evidently it’s also suitable for spraying clothes to make them waterproof ... and hopefully handbags too.
I recall trying on a number of winter coats, and settled for the purple BHS one which I’ve had for a number of years; that’s not my purple anorak or my purple short zip-up jacket. Okay, so I like purple very much and the colour suits me very well too! I also put my clompy burgundy M & S ankle boots in the car, just in case the car park turned out to be too muddy to wear my shoe boots, for the weather had been inclement for most of the previous week. I also wore a purple, mauve and pink scarf purchased from M & S a few years ago. Having chosen grey and black as part of my outfit, I decided to wear a grey hematite ‘circles’ necklace and matching earrings I had created.
I didn’t set my alarm, but recall waking at around 07:00. I showered and washed and dried my hair, then applied my make-up whilst mentally tuning in and out of Channel 4’s The Morning Line presented by Rishi Persad from Ascot; their guests today were trainer Dan Skelton and the currently sidelined Tom Scudamore. Having eaten a breakfast of two croissants, I was ready to depart between 09:15 and 09:30 as planned – the actual time as I backed out onto the road was 09:27. I also had to change the clock prior to departing, as it was still set at BST from the previous weekend.
As it was easier to head east rather than west initially, I took a route via the Highfield Park area; the roadworks of a week earlier were no longer in place, and a new puffin crossing had materialised. Anyway, I’d soon reached the London Colney roundabout and, luckily, had to queue at a red light which enabled me to remove my handbag from the passenger seat and place it in the footwell. I know it’s extremely unlikely I’d encounter a handbag thief at any point during my journey but thought I’d better move it to a place of safety regardless. Once travelling again, I recall that a vehicle at the next set of lights upon the roundabout, was slow in moving away in front of me.
I drove down the dual carriageway to join the M25’s anticlockwise carriageway at Junction 22. Traffic was moving well, until approaching Junction 16 for the M40 when speed limit warnings appeared on the gantries above the motorway; but it was only warnings of 50 and 60 mph, so nothing too restrictive. I ensured I entered the inside lane well before the M4 junction, and remained on the right-hand side of the slip road in order to join the westbound carriageway of the motorway. Surprisingly, a couple of vehicles made a last minute decision whilst on the sliproad to bear to the right, as opposed to the left – don’t they know which is the eastbound and the westbound carriageways?
I drove westwards and left the motorway at the Slough Central junction. I don’t recall seeing the view of Windsor Castle whilst upon the M4, I always used to. Is the view dependent upon the season of the year, in other words leaves on trees? I really don’t know. Having turned left at the roundabout below the M4 and headed down the dual carriageway, I also didn’t think to glance briefly across to the left to view the Castle either!
Having reached the roundabout at the far end of the road, I set off along the B3173; I didn’t get far, as I encountered a long tailback of vehicles from the set of traffic lights situated at the T-junction at the end thereof. A number of presumably local drivers undertook U-turns in order to find a less congested route. It probably took around ten minutes to reach the far end of the road, where I turned right and headed through a further set of lights upon the B3022 and along the road which led to a roundabout outside Legoland. Being the penultimate day of the half-term holiday, the majority of cars turned left into the theme park.
I continued onwards, noting a warning sign regarding roadworks which would soon be taking place upon the route and would result in a total road closure until 21 November; that would throw a spanner in the works as regards to the next Ascot fixture if I were to have plans to attend. The only other route I’ve used is through Egham and Virginia Water which, evidently, is shorter than my usual one; but there would always be the easy option of driving down through Windsor Great Park instead.
Having negotiated a further roundabout, I then headed up Mounts Hill to the longabout at Woodside. I took the third turning; I recall seeing a group of young fit male cyclists standing beside the roadway at the corner of Sunninghill Road. I continued along the B332 to two mini-roundabouts very close to Swinley Bottom; I turned left at the second thereof. My route took me under the racecourse’s straight one mile track.
It was my intention to park in Car Park Number 6, which is free to racegoers. There is a side entrance in the Winkfield Road, but that was signed for coaches only. I turned right at the mini-roundabout at the T-junction with the High Street and right again shortly afterwards to enter the driveway leading to the aforementioned car park. I was directed to park on the grass to the right; there were just two rows of cars at the present time, and I headed to the far end of the second row of vehicles and parked three from the fence as guided by a steward.
The driver of the car to my far side was disagreeable, moaning about not being allowed to park immediately beside the driveway; he wanted to leave early and was afraid of being trapped by parked vehicles. What an idiot, his car was small and he must have been a pretty awful driver if he could not back out and manoeurvre his transport along the space between the rows! And, as for me, I was very pleased that I didn’t have to park anywhere near the enormous cedar tree which dominates that area of the car park! I’m always paranoid that a large branch will break off and hit my car whilst parked beneath it! My memory tells me that it was 10:25 when I arrived but, with the delay in Windsor, that seems a little quick!
I sat in my vehicle for a while, and ate two of the cheese rolls I’d brought with me. It was then time to put on my shoe boots and coat and scarf and head up the High Street to the east ticket office. It’s quite a long trek but, you know me, I love a nice walk! The gates had opened at 10:45 but there was no-one in the queue when I arrived to purchase a ticket. Grandstand tickets cost £25 on the day, as opposed to £20 in advance; all premier tickets were sold out ... but there’s no point buying one of those at Ascot anyway! However, the price did include a firework display after racing – I hate fireworks, I didn’t even particularly like them as a child either.
It’s strange the things you remember – I decided to pack my credit card away prior to heading out of the ticket office and noticed a wasp crawling on the floor and also a squashed worm! Anyway, I then headed to the entrance turnstiles; there were three members of the security staff standing behind tressle tables checking the contents of handbags. I apologised for the large size of my bag and the numerous items therein for him to check.
Having got the all clear, I entered through the turnstiles and then headed across the tarmac to a kiosk to purchase a racecard for £3.50. As I had to wait for a while, a steward approached and took my money instead; to save having to wait for change, I purchased another Ascot pen for 50p too. I then headed around the sunken Parade Ring, towards the grandstand, pausing briefly before deciding to head inside the latter to visit the little girls room. A creature of habit with a good memory, I knew exactly where it was along the concourse therein!
Having paid a visit to the little girls’ room, I decided to head along to the far end of the building as, despite this being my 16th visit to the racecourse, I’d never ventured far from any of my now very familiar haunts. I think I was intending to find the Old Paddock but it appeared I was heading towards Car Park No.1 instead. As it transpired, the Old Paddock area was reached by way of steps behind the main grandstand; I thus did a U-turn, re-entered the building and then headed out through another of the exit points and onto the raised concourse behind the grandstand, opposite the Pre-Parade Ring.
I’ve often seen ‘behind-the-scenes’ tours taking place pre-race and, according to the Ascot website these set out from the Old Paddock Lawn, today due at 11:30. I loitered for a while but could see no steward or group of people who looked likely to be part of a tour. Yes, I know, I should ask at one of the information points ... but I never do! I did, however, venture across to the bronze statutes of a young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, with a group of bronze race-goers and race workers situated at the edge of the lawn. There’s also a large galloping statue of Derby winner Motivator, close to the Pre-Parade Ring.
Having been unsuccessful in my mission, I climbed back up the steps and headed along the concourse overlooking the Unsaddling Enclosure to reach the area between the Parade Ring and the rear of the main grandstand. I passed another equine statue en route, a number of race-goers were admiring it; I didn’t stop to take a look ... but, evidently, it was Frankel! With a statue of Yeats taking pride of place in the Parade Ring, it seems almost ‘second-class’ to locate a bronze of the great Frankel in such a strange position outside of the entrance to ‘Core 2’, described as overlooking the Parade Ring ... but I guess the racecourse is running out of suitable spaces!
It was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm in fact for the final day of October. There were a few moments during the day when I felt a little too hot but I didn’t think it was sleeveless weather like a number of women I saw! The downside to sunshine at this time of the year was the fact that the sun is low in the sky and caused problems with my photographs when I was standing in the area immediately behind the grandstand.
Whilst I was loitering ahead of the first race, which had an off-time of 12:45, I saw jockey Nick Scholfield arrive at 11:30, and trainer Chris Gordon along with his wife at noon; he had arrived to collect two saddles ahead of saddling his runners Do We Like Him and Noble Friend for the first race. I also noticed what appeared to be a behind-the-scenes tour, although there were not many people in the tour group. Racing UK’s Olly Bell was the sole presenter from the satellite channel at the track; their main broadcast being from Wetherby today.
Anyway, the horses soon began arriving in the Parade Ring ahead of the first race. Once the runners had begun to head out to the track, I set off through the grandstand concourse to reach the steppings from where I would view the race. The access to my chosen viewing area has been extended since my previous visit, with now four side-by-side doors; two sets of sliding doors with two sets of normal doors in the middle. The thoroughfare of steps leading down to the betting ring are now painted green; the stewards were keen for spectators not to obstruct the area just outside the doors, at the top of the steps – unless you had a pram or pushchair evidently! However, during the afternoon, they didn’t appear to mind if even large groups of people blocked the actual steps themselves. Having exited through the aforementioned doors, I was able to stand in the area I’ve always stood in to view the races when at the Berkshire track; it’s on the opposite side of the steps from the Owners’ and Trainers’ section over to my left.
The starting gate for the first race was located in Swinley Bottom; this being the case, the horses cantered down past the grandstands to reach it. Having had the girths checked the runners formed a group, headed by the Charlie Longsdon-trained Masterplan and the Oliver Sherwood-trained Romulus Du Donjon; it was thus evident that one of these two was likely to make the running. The latter was ridden by Daryl Jacob who, when available, has presumably been contracted to ride the Munir and Souede horses at the present time, having ridden an Alan King-trained runner at Chepstow just recently.
The favourite for this event was Amidon, trained by Lucy Wadham and ridden by Gavin Sheehan; price 9-2. According to Olly Bell, he thought the favourite was the ‘most interesting’ of the runners, but also mentioned that Singlefarmpayment would probably give its backers a ‘run for their money’.
And then they were off and it was no surprise that Masterplan led the field away, followed by the grey Romulus Du Donjon; the latter sported a pale blue hood. Second from the rear, the sole chestnut Looks Like Power was a little ungainly at the first flight; the final horse was the also hooded, dark brown Tanit River.
The second flight followed shortly upon the first; all the horses cleared this without incident and they soon entered the home turn with Masterplan continuing to bowl along at the head of affairs. Galloping in a well-organised group, although a number were keen to go faster, the field headed into the straight and jumped flight number three.
Masterplan continued to lead the way, from Romulus Du Donjon, Bilbrook Blaze, Amidon, Anthony, probably the keenest of all the JP McManus-owned, I’dliketheoption under Barry Geraghty, then Chris Gordon stable mates Noble Friend and Do We Like Him, Eminent Poet, the hooded Singlefarmpayment, Charlie Cook, Looks Like Power, Kings Cross, Bekkensfirth and Tanit River.
The runners cleared the fourth flight, headed up past the winning post, around the top bend and out into the country once more; this section of the track heads downhill to Swinley Bottom. Masterplan was a little less than fluent at the next flight and this enabled the hooded grey, Romulus Du Donjon to join him briefly at the head of affairs. The field cleared hurdle number six with, at the rear of the field, Looks Like Power receiving a few mild reminders down his right shoulder having jumped it, and Tanit River having left his mark upon the panels in the centre of the flight. Heading into the turn at Swinley Bottom, Do We Like Him was being bumped along by his jockey Tom Cannon.
Masterplan continued to lead as the runners headed into the back straight and approached the next flight; he was closely pursued by Romulus Du Donjon and Anthony. Having cleared this and the next without incident, a number of the runners were beginning to struggle; most notably Bekkensfirth and Charlie Cook at the rear of the field, the latter receiving a couple of stern reminders.
The field continued to string out as the leaders headed into the final turn; Masterplan continued to lead from Bilbrook Blaze and Romulus Du Donjon. Singlefarmpayment had made good progress against the inside rail and soon moved into third position; just behind him were I’dliketheoption, Anthony and Amidon, hanging on to their coat-tails was Looks Like Power. The remainder were definitely struggling, apart from Tanit River who had begun to make progress through the tail-enders under a strong drive from Alan Johns.
Having now entered the home straight, Aidan Coleman set sail for home upon the long-time leader; Singlefarmpayment was switched towards the nearside by Robert Dunne to make his challenge. The latter was almost upsides as they cleared two out, although he did hang towards the outside rail as they headed down to the last flight, his jockey switching his whip from his right hand to his left hand, endeavouring to keep his mount straight.
Meanwhile Masterplan continued to gallop on, and the two protagonists jumped the final flight in unison. Singlefarmpayment’s jockey switched his whip back to his right hand after the last but, again, his mount drifted away towards the stand-side rail and he had to switch it quickly back again. Whip in left hand, and now against those aforementioned rails, the Tom Lacey runner stayed on at one pace and was unable to reduce the growing deficit with Masterplan; the latter had thus won by 2 lengths at the line having made all.
Bilbrook Blaze, having been prominent throughout, finished 8 lengths away in 3rd, with Tanit River staying on to complete in 4th, a further 9 lengths away; 5th was the grey Romulus Du Donjon having been collared by a neck close home. The favourite, Amidon, finished a disappointing 8th. One of Olly Bell’s selections had failed to impress, but he was right about Singlefarmpayment! All 15 completed the race, as none fell or pulled up.
Annoyingly, I was trapped amongst spectators on the steppings initially, as for some reason they all appeared hard of hearing when I politely asked them to let me through so that I could return to the steppings above the Weighing Room overlooking the Parade Ring. However, I finally extricated myself and was in time to take photographs as the placed horses arrived back.
With the sun shining directly into my camera lense, I decided to relocate to the steppings on the far side of the Parade Ring to overcome this issue. I returned over the bridge, through the grandstand concourse, to the viewing area once the horses had set off to the race-track ahead of the next race; on this occasion I ensured that I didn’t get trapped within the crowd, remaining beside the green-painted steps, although slightly lower down.
The odds-on favourite for this race was Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 4-5. There was a French-based runner in this one, namely Descartes, trained by Guillaume Macaire and ridden by James Reveley today. Vancouverite was a bit of a ‘tiddler’, as was Ch’Tibello compared to their rivals.
The starting gate for this event was on the home bend, so the horses cantered down past the grandstands to reach it; Britanio Bello was on his toes noticeably at the start. The inexperienced horses were expressing themselves through their twitching ears, swishing tails, and facial expressions; they all appeared to be looking forward to the prospect of the task ahead as they approached the starting line. The jockeys less so however, for despite the starter indicating the commencement of the race, no-one seemed keen to begin!
Eventually they were off, with the flashy chestnut French representative setting off at the head of affairs; the keen Britanio Bello was almost upsides as the runners cleared the first flight. Star Foot landed a little awkwardly over the obstacle, Master Burbidge was at the rear of the field and the second chestnut, Centurius was keen having jumped it and pulled his way through the field to travel just behind the leaders.
Britanio Bello led over the second flight, from Descartes, Centurius, Altior, Vancouverite, Chartbreaker, Ch’Tibello, Star Foot and Master Burbidge. As they headed up past the lollipop with one circuit to go, Centurius pulled his way into second position; having turned the top corner, it appeared that Joshua Moore might be fighting a losing battle against the hard-pulling leader as the runners began their journey down the hill to flight number three. Master Burbidge, still at the rear, was less than fluent at this obstacle.
The leader continued to tank along as the runners safely negotiated the fourth flight, from Centurius, behind him the nose-banded Descartes, followed by the also hard-pulling favourite Altior. Having reached Swinley Bottom, Britanio Bello had set up a five or six lengths advantage over his nearest rival. The runners having jumped the next flight, both Star Foot and Master Burbidge had begun to lose touch at the rear of the field.
Joshua had decided to take his mount wide over three out, and this enabled his nearest challengers to make progress to his inside as he came under pressure. In fact it was Altior which reached the rails first at the commencement of the home turn, from Ch’Tibello, Descartes, the weakening Centurius, then Vancouverite and Britanio Bello; hanging onto the back of this leading group was Chartbreaker under a number of severe reminders from Nick Scholfield.
Upon exiting the bend, a group of four began to pull away from their rivals, led by Altior and Ch’Tibello. Having cleared two out, these two began to put further distance between themselves, Vancouverite and Descartes. The Dan Skelton runner continued to lay down a challenge to the favourite and they were racing neck and neck as they approached the last.
The former put in a better jump, with Altior putting down and flattening a panel as a result. This handed the initiative to Ch’Tibello, but Nico de Boinville’s mount found extra as the jockeys drove their horses towards the winning post, prevailing by 1¼ lengths at the line. Vancouverite finished 20 lengths back in 3rd, with Descartes in 4th just half a length ahead of Chartbreaker.
It was same again, following the race. I initially headed back to the steppings above the Weighing Room in order to take photos of the winning and placed horses as they arrived back, before relocating once more to the far-side of the Parade Ring. Then, once the runners had headed out to the track, I returned through the ground floor concourse to reach the steppings overlooking the racecourse from which to view the race.
Exitas, with Denis O’Regan aboard, had been given special permission to head to the start early. The starting gate for the third race of the day was in Swinley Bottom, with the runners heading down past the grandstands to reach it. The race favourite was the Harry Fry-trained Voix D’Eau, ridden by amateur rider Mr M Legg.
The horse which I thought was a ‘looker’ in the Parade Ring was Anatol, trained by Paul Nichols and ridden by Nick Scholfield; the French import hadn’t actually run for 588 days due to injury. Nick was riding the Champion Trainer’s runners today because Sam Twiston-Davies was at Down Royal to ride a couple of the yard’s horses in their feature events.
Then they were off, with the blinkered Vikekhal, holding a slight advantage over Astigos and Anatol. The runners headed towards the first obstacle and cleared it without incident; bringing up the rear was Exitas. Joshua Moore continued to cut out the running aboard Vikekhal as the horses jumped the second fence, another plain one. The following obstacle was the first open-ditch; towards the back of mid-field, the favourite jumped out to his left, and Nathans Pride made an error in rear. Mont Royale was a little awkward when clearing the final fence in the back straight.
Heading around the bend and into the home straight, Vikekhal held a clear advantage over Anatol which, in turn, was a number of lengths ahead of the main body of the field. The next group consisted of Le Fin Bois, Gun Shy and Padge, behind these Astigos, King Alfonso, Voix D’Eau, Mont Royale, Nathans Pride and Exitas. There were no incidents as the runners cleared the fifth, although Barry Geraghty’s mount jumped out to his left once more.
The nose-banded Anatol jumped the next fence upsides the leader and, as they galloped up past the winning post, he took the advantage. Nick Scholfield now permitted his mount to bowl along at the head of affairs as they headed downhill towards Swinley Bottom; both Mont Royale and Nathans Pride were beginning to struggle at the rear of the field. Having jumped the seventh, Barry Geraghty decided to pull up Mont Royale; no harm done, the horse was fine and his jockey trotted him back.
The runners headed over the next plain fence without incident, and then headed towards the second open-ditch. Anatol took off miles away from the fence but, with so much momentum, he cleared it almost without interrupting his stride. The horses continued over the final fence before Swinley Bottom; the Paul Nicholls runner extending his advantage to many lengths, whilst Vikekhal was re-joined by the main group led by Padge and Voix D’Eau.
Exiting Swinley Bottom, Anatol continued to jump for fun, pursued at a distance by the main group of runners; Exitas made an error at the next fence. The leader reached for the following obstacle, but again it didn’t affect his momentum; he did the same at the final open-ditch. Continuing in pursuit were Vikekhal, Padge, Voix D’Eau, Astigos, King Alfonso, Le Fin Bois, Exitas, Gun Shy and the tailed off Nathans Pride.
The forerunners of the main group were gaining steadily upon Anatol and, having cleared three out, they were around four lengths behind the leader as they entered the home turn. The margin continued to diminish as the horses approached and cleared the penultimate fence, with Padge and Voix D’Eau now his closest pursuers. The leaders headed down to the last fence, Anatol to the inside, Padge centre and Voix D’Eau nearside; Padge was marginally ahead as they took off.
However, having landed, the leader began to hang to his left, crossing the path of his main rival, Voix D’Eau, despite the best efforts of his jockey to keep Padge straight; this caused what appeared to be mild interference. But Paul Moloney had victory in the bag despite this, and went on to win by three quarters of a length at the line, although his horse did end up on the hurdles track by the time he was pulled up!
The exuberant Anatol finished 4 lengths back in 3rd, with Astigos staying on to claim 4th, a further 5 lengths away. All horses completed the course, apart from Exitas which was pulled up before the second last, and Mont Royale which was pulled up before half way.
It came as no surprise that a Stewards Enquiry was announced. However, Padge kept the race with the following official explanation:
The Stewards held an enquiry under Rule (B)11.6 into possible interference on the run in. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race they found that the winner, PADGE (IRE), ridden by Paul Moloney, had interfered with VOIX D’EAU (FR), placed second, ridden by Mr M Legg, causing the rider to have to check. They found the interference was accidental and had not improved VOIX D’EAU (FR)’s placing in that Moloney had switched his whip to try and prevent the gelding going left and at the time of the interference, Moloney was a length ahead and always appeared to be holding PADGE (IRE) on the run to the line when beating him by three-quarters of a length. They ordered the placings to remain unaltered.
I returned to the steppings above the Weighing Room overlooking the Parade Ring following the race. Having taken photographs of the placed horses, I relocated to the ‘bridge’ to the western end of the paddock until the horses began to exit onto the racecourse ahead of the next event.
The starting gate for the next race was in the back straight, with one fence to be jumped before turning into the home straight; the horses cantered down past the grandstands to reach it. There were two joint favourites for this event, namely Baby Mix and Sgt Reckless; priced 9-2. Olly Bell gave a special mention to Cold March, believing that he’d got more to give than he’d shown on the racecourse so far. And I have a recollection of him running well at Ascot before.
Steering wide of the open-ditch in order to line up behind the tape, the runners were a little bit too keen, so the starter instructed them to line up for a standing start instead.
And then they were off; at the rear of the field Royal Regatta started slowly and swerved to his left, bumping into Cold March as he did so. Meanwhile, at the front of the field, Pearls Legend and Baby Mix led the runners over the first obstacle; all the runners cleared this without incident.
The field then headed around to bend and into the home straight, with Ulck Du Lin sweeping around the outside of the runners to take a narrow lead prior to fence number two; the Paul Nicholls representative extended his lead as they headed to and cleared the next. The main group was led by Pearls Legend and Baby Mix, from Sgt Reckless, Strongly Suggested, Minella Definitely, the white faced Bullet Street, Purple ‘N Gold, Cold March, Aintree Festival winner Surf And Turf, Bellenos and Royal Regatta.
Ulck Du Lin’s lead was cut from five lengths to around two as they headed around the top bend; Pearls Legend was a little awkward at the next fence, having jumped out to his left. Royal Regatta continued to bring up the rear as the runners headed over fence number five. The following obstacle was the first of two open-ditches, where Sgt Reckless made an error. By the time the runners had cleared the final fence before Swinley Bottom, Bellenos had been relegated to last position and was beginning to tail off. Upon exiting the turn, the Dan Skelton representative was steered towards the outside of the track and pulled up by his brother Harry.
Ulck Du Lin had almost lost his advantage as the field jumped the first fence in the back straight without incident. Pearls Legend joined him as they cleared five out; now losing touch at the rear of the runners were Surf And Turf and Minella Definitely. The game was up for Ulck Du Lin as they headed towards the final open-ditch, as a number of runners swept past him. Pearls Legend led, from Purple ‘N Gold, Baby Mix, Sgt Reckless, and the steadily improving Cold March; Bullet Street was also staying on behind these.
Both Baby Mix and Purple ‘N Gold made errors at the final fence in the back straight; this enabled Pearls Legend to lead Baby Mix around the home bend, with the latter holding a five lengths advantage over Sgt Reckless. Meanwhile Cold March continued to stay on under pressure against the rails. Pearls Legend was still a length up as he cleared two out, Baby Mix less than a length ahead of Cold March now; a tired Sgt Reckless blundered at this fence.
Meanwhile, the leading trio were now neck and neck as they galloped towards the final fence. Cold March took off ahead of his two rivals and stayed on well all the way to the line to win by 7 lengths. The gallant Pearls Legend claimed 2nd, from Baby Mix which was 3 lengths back in 3rd. Bullet Street was a further 7 lengths away in 4th, and Purple ‘N Gold 5th.
Nick Scholfield had eased Baby Mix at the line, feeling that something was amiss. The grey didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure, instead he was unsaddled on track and taken away in the horse ambulance; he was reported to have sustained a tendon injury.
Fourth race over, I headed back to the steppings above the Weighing Room, overlooking the Parade Ring in order to take photographs as the placed horses arrived back. At one point during the afternoon, someone threw a lit cigar onto the roof of the Weighing Room; it fell from one of the upper floors of the grandstand and smouldered for a while.
Whilst standing on the steppings, I noticed AP McCoy speaking with Jeremy Kyle and David Stevens from Coral. Again I headed back to the ‘bridge’ over the walkway to view the horses ahead of the next race. Once they’d begun to head out to the racecourse, I went back through the grandstand concourse to reach the steppings overlooking the racecourse.
The starting gate for the feature hurdle race was at the far end of the home straight, the runners passing in front of the grandstand to reach it. The race favourite was Nabucco, trained by John Ferguson and ridden by Aidan Coleman; price 7-2. The partnership had paired up during the summer, following AP McCoy’s retirement, experiencing much success, with Aidan currently lying a clear second in the jockey’s championship to Richard Johnson although, due to the background of John’s horses, they would be expected to prefer summer jump racing conditions in the main. Thus the early season success.
It appears that I do know what I’m talking about when interviewed regarding AP’s retirement by local radio when I was at the Cheltenham Festival. I said that I wanted Richard to win this season’s Jump Jockeys’ Championship, and mentioned two other names as future threats – namely Aidan Coleman and Sam Twiston-Davies. I expect the latter to make a bolder showing once Paul Nicholls’ horses begin their winter campaigns.
Also in today’s event was Sign Of A Victory, last year’s winner of this race; he was fresh and well in the Parade Ring. However, as top weight, he was carrying 15 pounds more than number two, Jolly’s Cracked It.
I personally liked the latter, a nice big ‘stamp’ of a horse; fortunately he was calmer than the last time I’d seen him, on Ladies’ Day at Aintree when he took part in Cyrus Darius’ race but disappointed. On that occasion he was so fresh, that he had to be led out through the ‘tunnel’ without a rider, for Noel Fehily to mount once on the racecourse! He was on his toes today, but not scarily so! He was also Olly’s ‘value’ horse today!
With race time approaching, the vast majority of riders took an extra turn to head away from the gate; they ‘picked up’ Aerlite Supreme and Closest Friend on their sedate walk back, although the former was a bit jig joggy.
And then they were off, led by the sole mare Favorite Girl with, almost upside to the nearside Aerlite Supreme and, in between, the white-blazed Wilberdragon. Near the rear of the field, Sign Of A Victory was very keen; the runners cleared the first without incident. Favourite Girl led the runners towards the second, ears pricked in anticipation of the fence; Unanimite jumped it in last position.
The pace was steady as the horses headed up past the winning post with one circuit to go. The mare continued to lead, from Aerlite Supreme, Wilberdragon, Satanic Beat, Closest Friend, Jolly’s Cracked It, to the inside Nabucco, behind these the hard pulling Sign Of A Victory, and bringing up the rear were Cloonacol, My Manekineko and Unanimite.
Having negotiated the top bend, the runners began the journey down the hill towards Swinley Bottom; Aerlite Supreme was almost upsides Favorite Girl as they cleared flight number three, all without incident. Travelling at speed, the Evan Williams runner flattened a panel in the next obstacle; Jolly’s Cracked It had now joined Unanimite at the rear of the field, having been restrained.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the closely grouped runners entered the long sweeping bend at Swinley Bottom. Having cleared the first hurdle in the back straight, Aerlite Supreme began to drift back through the field. Two from the rear, Cloonacool blundered badly at the third last. Heading towards the home turn, Favorite Girl still led, from Wilberdragon, Closest Friend, Nabucco to the inside, Satanic Beat, Sign Of A Victory, My Manekineko, and Jolly’s Cracked It to the outside. Behind these were Aerlite Supreme, Unanimite and Cloonacool.
Entering the final bend, Aerlite Supreme was clinging on to the coat-tails of the field and My Manekineko was receiving stern reminders just ahead of him. As the runners entered the home straight, many runners were lining up to swamp Favorite Girl. Nabucco got a good run up the inside as they headed towards the penultimate flight, Wilberdragon, Closest Friend and Sign Of A Victory all laying down their challenges as they cleared it; however Closest Friend was less than fluent and soon lost his place.
Nabucco appeared to have got first run as they sped down towards the final flight, Sign Of A Victory to the stand-side his closest pursuer from the fast finishing Unanimite to the inside; meanwhile Jolly’s Cracked It was being galvanised in behind the Nicky Henderson runner. However, Daryl Jacob’s mount flattened the last, which did stem some of his momentum.
With Nabucco still ahead, but the gap reducing, initially it appeared that Sign Of A Victory might have his measure but, as the line approached and under top weight, his chance of winning then receded as he weakened on the run in, leaving Jolly’s Cracked It and Unanimite to land the final blows. But the winning line arrived in time and Nabucco held on to win by three quarters of the length, from Unanimite who just pipped the Harry Fry runner for 3rd place by a nose. Sign Of A Victory claimed 4th from the never nearer Cloonacool.
Nabucco had the advantage of race fitness, having run three times already this season, winning the last two having raced just 18 days ago. He had been a smart flat racer, winning a Listed race when trained by John Gosden; definitely no mug! With this victory, jockey Aidan Coleman had ridden a treble today.
After the race I headed back to the steppings above the Weighing Room initially, in order to take photographs of the placed horses.
I recall watching Grumeti’s Hurdle race from Wetherby on the large screen overlooking the Parade Ring earlier in the afternoon, but have little recollection of the Charlie Hall Chase which took place in this time-slot, won this year by Cue Card ... probably because I was excited at the prospect (hopefully) of seeing Choc again! Especially as I’d not seen him in the flesh since Grand National Day in early April. He’d also officially retired from race riding; the decision having been forced upon him for medical reasons that he was unable to overcome.
Whilst I was standing on the steppings, I noticed Alan King and two companions arrive to collect jockey Denis O’Regan’s saddle. It was now time for me to make tracks to the Pre-Parade Ring to see if I could spot Choc! My route took me along the walkway behind the main grandstand, passing in front of the Frankel statue, before heading down the second flight of steps I encountered, to my left. This took me to ground level, and I headed up the pathway between the lawns, passing the royal statues I’d seen earlier. By this point my heart rate had increased in anticipation of seeing Choc again; it still happens!
Having arrived at my destination, I climbed up one of the metal temporary steppings to view the proceedings; I soon spotted Choc, waiting with connections under the canopy of trees in the centre of the Pre-Parade Ring. He was dressed in a smart black suit, with white shirt and red tie. Ned Stark was still being led around the perimeter when I arrived, but was soon taken into one of the open stalls along the far side to be saddled by his trainer; I recognised the blonde lady ‘connection’ in attendance too.
Meanwhile Choc headed over in that direction, with the other members of his owners group. He was smoking too ... no change there then, despite having given up riding with no longer a need to keep a check on his weight. Trainer Paul Webber said hello to my favourite former jockey as he walked by; his race representative being the JP McManus-owned Cantlow, who Choc has piloted in the past.
Ned Stark stood very patiently whilst he was saddled by his trainer; ears pricked. He has unusual markings on his face; a large star and what looks like a stroke with a large paintbrush upon his nose, far more than a snip! I’d only recently found out that ‘Ned Stark’ is a character from Game of Thrones, played by Sean Bean. Meanwhile Choc loitered behind an L-shaped shrub feature, which sported a number of standard ‘Red Robin’ Photinias. These shrubs are everywhere these days, usually styled into a hedge.
Once ready to go, the stable lad led his charge out of the box to complete almost one further clockwise circuit of the Pre-Parade Ring before heading along the walkway, under the ‘bridge’ and into the Parade Ring. Choc and Ned Stark’s connections followed. Meanwhile I set off across the lawn to reach the steps leading up to the concourse, the same ones as I’d used just a few minutes earlier.
I reached my viewpoint upon the bridge shortly afterwards and was in time to see Choc and his companions head across to the centre of the Parade Ring to await the arrival of their jockey shortly afterwards. Having issued instructions to the rider, Alan and Denis headed off to locate their charge; the former legging up the latter shortly afterwards.
It was now time for everyone to seek a suitable place from which to view the race. Choc and his group headed through the gap between the hedges, adjacent to the Winners’ Enclosure; one of his companions, who I presume is Paul Dunkley, pointed out the route they should follow. It was quite endearing really, seeing Choc look a little bit lost as a spectator rather than a jockey! Anyway, they climbed the steps which lead out of the Parade Ring and headed across the concourse to enter one of the nearby doors at the rear of the grandstand.
Their route crossed mine, so I held back in order not to bump into him ... otherwise it might have looked like I’d done it accidently on purpose! His group was heading to the Owners’ and Trainers’ viewing area, whilst I headed back along the outside of the concourse and through my usual door into the grandstand and out the other side onto the steppings. This time I ensured that I remained immediately adjacent to the ‘clearway’ area at the top of the steps down to the betting ring. I glanced across to my left and caught a glimpse of Choc within his viewing area before he disappeared into the crowd.
The favourite for this race was the Charlie Longsdon-trained Pendra, owned by JP McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 11-2. Last year’s winner, What A Warrior, was a 13-2 shot; Ned Stark with the Dunkley & Reilly Partnership’s contracted jockey Denis O’Regan aboard was priced at 7-1.
Despite being the feature chase of the day, it was not deemed necessary for the horses to parade in front of the stands before heading to the starting gate which was located at the beginning of the side straight. It was the sole race today where the horses didn’t canter down past the grandstand on their way to the start.
Having had their girths checked, the group of runners jogged away from the starting gate, heading back into the home straight before turning and approaching the tapes; Ned Stark was slightly ahead of the group before Denis O’Regan reined him back between runners.
And then they were off. The runners were led down to the first fence by What A Warrior; three made errors here, namely Virak, Double Ross and Houblon Des Obeaux. Last year’s winner continued to lead over the next from Lost Legend; close behind these were Fox Appeal, Pendra and Bennys Mist. The following fence was the first of the open-ditches, which they all cleared without incident. Bringing up the rear were No Buts, Cantlow, Le Rev and Leo Luna.
Having jumped the fourth fence, the runners headed into Swinley Bottom for the first time. Entering the back straight, Lost Legend began to match strides with the leader. Travelling at a sensible 3-mile pace, the runners were well grouped as they jumped the next two fences with no problem. Fence number seven was the second open-ditch and, again, all fifteen runners were foot perfect. The field continued to the next, where to the rear of the group No Buts shifted to his left as he jumped it and bumped into Cantlow.
The runners then travelled around the bend and into the home straight on the first occasion; still led by What A Warrior and Lost Legend. Following these were Fox Appeal, Pendra, Ned Stark, Bennys Mist, Virak, Royal Player, Double Ross, Houblon Des Obeaux, Present View, Cantlow, No Buts, Le Reve and, finally, Leo Luna. No Buts hit the next fence. There were no departures at the fence which would be the final one on the next circuit, although Double Ross did make a mistake here.
Still fifteen strong, the field continued up the home straight and past the winning post led narrowly by Lost Legend travelling to the outside of What A Warrior. Having turned the top bend, and through their point of departure, the runners headed to fence number eleven; again this was cleared without incident. The joint-leaders pressed on down the hill, now two or three lengths clear of their nearest rival; near the rear of the field, Houblon Des Obeaux made an error at the next.
What A Warrior and Lost Legend continued to stretch their lead over their nearest pursuer, Pendra, as they headed to fence number thirteen, an open-ditch; there were no casualties here. In fourth place at this stage was Fox Appeal, from Ned Stark, Royal Player, Virak, Double Ross, Bennys Mist, No Buts, Cantlow, Present View, Le Reve, Houblon Des Obeaux and Leo Luna.
Having jumped the final fence in the line of four, What A Warrior led Lost Legend by a length, with a four or five lengths advantage over the main group led by Pendra. The others had closed the gap by the time they headed out of Swinley Bottom, wary of letting the pace setters give them the slip. Double Ross made a slight error at the first fence in the back straight, six out. The runners headed over the next, again without incident before approaching the final open-ditch, clearing this too.
Although there had been little change in the order, the field began to string out as the runners near the rear of the field came under pressure and began to struggle. And still What A Warrior held the lead, from Lost Legend, Fox Appeal, Pendra, Ned Stark, Virak and Double Ross. They jumped three out and headed into the final turn, at which point Lost Legend was overtaken by both Fox Appeal and Pendra. Ned Stark was a couple of lengths away in fifth, with Virak and Double Ross four lengths behind the Alan King runner. The only other one improving from the rear was Cantlow under a strong drive from Paul Moloney.
Pendra joined What A Warrior as they jumped two out, with Fox Appeal on their heels. Denis pulled Ned Stark wide, around the weakening Lost Legend, in order to get a good view of the fence. Time was up for last year’s winner as they headed down to the final fence, as Barry Geraghty drove his mount into a clear advantage. Having looked like being in with a chance, Ned Stark’s challenge petered out as he stayed on at one pace.
However, to the wide outside, Ryan Hatch had galvanised Double Ross into action, and he had taken second position by the time he’d jumped the last. Meanwhile, Pendra had flown and, despite closing slightly on the run-in, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge had to settle for runner-up position, beaten 3¼ lengths at the line. Fox Appeal finished a further 3 lengths away in 3rd, with the gallant What A Warrior claiming 4th.
Cantlow collared Ned Stark on the line for 5th, beating Alan King’s runner by a nose. Virak completed in 7th, Lost Legend 8th and the final horse to complete was Houblon Des Obeaux. The remaining six runners were all pulled up before the last fence.
It was a good day for trainer Charlie Longsdon with an across the cards treble at Ascot and Wetherby. Although, sadly, his yard lost Boogie In The Barn at Wetherby; the horse had been returning from an absence of 564 days.
With the completion of the final jumps race of the day, notably there wasn’t a single faller or unseat throughout the afternoon!
Ned Stark having completed in 6th, I knew that he would be unsaddled in the Enclosure which is situated to the right-hand side of the horse-walk which leads back to the Winners’ Enclosure, just behind the grandstand. In my keenness to get there, I got ahead of Choc and his group so, instead of continuing on my chosen route, I diverted briefly to the bridge instead. Having waited a while, I then headed down the steps close to the Frankel statue; Choc, Alan and the owners had already reached their destination to the far side of the horse-walk and I was also in time to take a photograph of the winning horse and jockey, Pendra and Barry Geraghty as they were led by.
At this point I decided that I felt like a stalker, so I climbed back up the steps to reach the main concourse, viewing the unsaddling enclosure from a safe distance ... but still feeling like to stalker! Oh dear ... this is far more difficult than when following him as a jockey! Anyway, debrief complete, and with the horse being led back to the stables, Choc and his companions headed back up the walkway towards the Pre-Parade Ring.
I loitered at the top of the ramp which leads up from the Owners’ and Trainers’ bar for a few minutes, hoping that I might be lucky enough to see Choc again, if he and his connections hadn’t departed already. From this viewpoint I was able to see the horses in the Pre-Parade Ring ahead of the final race. Trainer Chris Gordon was nearby; he shouted down to a lady on the walkway, saying that he was having a bad day and needed some ‘love’ or words to that affect! He later joined trainer Jamie Snowden and companion (wife?) for a chat at a table on the lawn in front of the Owners’ and Trainers’ bar.
The odds-on favourite for the final race of the day was Cultivator, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty; priced 10-11. The starting gate was situated on the home bend and the horses cantered down past the grandstand to reach it.
The start of this race was a little behind schedule, with the dark grey He’s A Charmer kept slightly away from his main group of rivals as they jogged away from the starting gate ahead of turning back to the tapes; Face To Face, sporting the familiar black, white and yellow colours of owner Malcolm Denmark, arrived at the start late. The horse is trained by Mark Pitman, son of Jenny and Richard, who had recently returned to the training ranks.
Face To Face joined the other seven as they headed towards the tape, led by He’s A Charmer; the former soon jogged up to join the grey.
And then they were off. Denis O’Regan sent Face To Face into the lead as the runners began their gallop up the home straight; he was followed by He’s A Charmer, the white faced Henrybrowneyes, Bolister, Brandenburg Gate, The Poodle Faker, the very keen Cultivator sporting the Bobs Worth colours and, finally, Opechee.
Continuing up the home straight, Face To Face soon set up an advantage of three to four lengths over the second; He’s A Charmer, in turn, held more or less the same advantage over the main group of runners. Heading around the top turn, Brandenburg Gate pulled his way into third position. The leader was setting a decent pace as they galloped down the hill towards Swinley Bottom, the Mark Pitman runner continuing to lead the way, ears pricked.
The leader’s advantage had been closed-down by the time they entered the sweeping bend beyond the reservoir. Having left Swinley Bottom behind, the runners began the climb up the back straight; Face To Face still led, from He’s A Charmer, Brandenburg Gate, Henrybrowneyes, Cultivator, The Poodle Faker, Bolister and Opechee. As they entered the home turn, Barry Geraghty allowed the well-travelling favourite to move through into third position, ready to make a challenge when the time was right. Meanwhile, having pulled too hard early in the race, Brandenburg Gate came under pressure and began to drop back through the field.
Having entered the home straight, He’s A Charmer had taken the lead as the runners headed between the empty wings of the penultimate hurdle. However, Cultivator was cruising in his wake. Then, as they galloped between the final set of wings, Barry Geraghty’s mount went upsides the leader and was then driven out to the line to win by 2¼ lengths.
Completing in 3rd place was The Poodle Faker which, although ridden along from two furlongs out, kept on to finish 1½ lengths behind the 2nd. Henrybrowneyes was a further length away in 4th; the long time leader Face To Face finished in 5th.
It was a double on the card for both trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty.
Because I was still in ‘Choc spotting’ mode, I didn’t go to the grandstand steppings to view the final race. Whilst I was loitering on the ‘bridge’ and the horses were at the starting gate for race 7, The Red Arrows flew over; they were heading along the line of the grandstand, in a westerly direction, and I can only presume they’d flown over Twickenham ahead of the Rugby Union World Cup Final which was due to begin at 16:00. For the record, the New Zealand All Blacks beat Australia.
My hopes were raised when I saw the blonde lady from the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership group and her companion appear at the top of the ramp leading from the Owners’ and Trainers’ bar area prior to them leaving via the main gate. Shortly afterwards, Alan King headed up the slope and across the bridge heading towards the main grandstand. I sat upon a wooden bench with clear sight of the area and, a few minutes after that, Choc and the guy who I presume to be Paul Dunkley, appeared; they were on their way to the main gate to depart.
Now was my opportunity to briefly say hello and to make my day at the races complete. I’m still tongue-tied after all these years, and don’t say much, but it’s always a pleasure to see him and to get the opportunity to kiss him on the cheek!
I did take a photograph of the bumper winning horse in the Winners’ Enclosure, although I’m not sure whether it was before I saw Choc or afterwards!
Anyway, racing over and my goal of saying hello to Choc attained, it was time to head home. I exited via the main gateway; stewards were scanning the tickets of those who wished to return for the fireworks display which was due to begin in a couple of hours’ time. Prior to that there would be a parade for children who’d turned up in Halloween outfits.
I walked down Ascot High Street in an easterly direction, not quite my usual route march, but I still overtook a number of pedestrians! Having reached the car park, I noticed the front of the field was now in use for vehicles, those which had arrived after I had. This was also the parking area organised for those solely attending the fireworks display; there were quite a few spaces, a number of race-goers having already departed. The final race of the day had taken place at 15:55 and the sun was still shining, so darkness would not fall too early this evening although clocks had been on GMT since the previous Sunday.
Despite the fact that my car was no longer located on the second row, I found it immediately; it’s just a dark blue Fiesta, but I’d noticed there was a house for sale on the opposite side of the Winkfield Road and its location in relation to my vehicle. Having taken off my coat and shoe boots, I sat in the car for a few minutes and ate one of the two remaining cheese rolls before setting off for home at 16:25.
Having turned left upon exiting the gate into the High Street, I turned left again at the mini-roundabout to head along the aforementioned Winkfield Road, through the racecourse underpass and onwards to Swinley Bottom. Along this stretch of the road, someone had lit a large bonfire in their garden and the smoke drifted across the road, and the smell drifted in through the air vents of my car too.
Having reached the double mini-roundabouts beside Swinley Bottom I turned right and headed back to the longabout at Woodside. I then returned along the B383 and B3022, drove past Legoland once more to join a queue of traffic tailing back from the first set of traffic lights on the outskirts of Windsor. It wasn’t too long a delay, as the end of the queue only stretched back to the first of the houses on the right-hand side of the road.
I’d soon negotiated the two sets of lights before heading along the B3173, Imperial Road. When I arrived at the large roundabout at the far end, I was on the front row of the grid ready to head up the A322 dual carriageway once the lights had turned to green. Mind you, the cars heading in from the right certainly had an extended amount of time to negotiate the traffic island.
The route between Swinley Bottom and the slip-road which heads off to the left of the dual carriageway and into Slough is so familiar to me, for I worked in Bracknell during my university work placement year and headed to and from work via these roads during the 15 months I was there; it doesn’t seem possible it was over 20 years ago, back in 1993-1994. In those days I used to avoid the M4 and M25 as much as possible, by travelling via Slough, Stokes Poges, Gerrards Cross, Denham and Maple Cross before usually re-joining the M25 as Junction 17; although, sometimes I’d continue through Rickmansworth and Watford to reach home.
One journey I remember was a snowy day in early January 1994, when I left work at 17:45 and didn’t arrive home until 23:10. I recall one fast travelling idiot who was moving so fast approaching Denham from a northerly direction that he splashed slushy snow all over my windscreen so that I couldn’t see where I was going. I then got stuck in Rickmansworth; on their bypass, on the hill after the railway bridge, because lorries ahead of me couldn’t gain traction up the incline! That was a Thursday and, needless to say, I didn’t go into work the following day.
I also remember the time when I was driving along beside Ascot racecourse and a woodpigeon fell out from one of the trees, hitting my passenger wing mirror in the process and dislodging it; it was hanging by a stalk. I subsequently held it in place with a strong elastic band until it was fixed.
Anyway, back to today’s journey. Once upon the dual carriageway, I had to slow down for vehicles which had just begun to move again having been stopped at the traffic lights where the Windsor slip-road merges from the left. However, I had plenty of time to move into the outside lane in preparation for turning right at the large traffic-light controlled roundabout beneath the M4. I did get stopped by the lights whilst on the roundabout, but was soon on my way up the slip-road to join the eastbound carriageway.
There were no problems on the motorway, although traffic was moving a little slowly on the M25 between Junctions 15 and 16 and, as a result, it took me slightly longer than usual to find a space in lane two so that I could move out prior to the latter junction where the inside lane veers off to join the M40’s westbound carriageway. There was one slightly annoying car travelling directly in front of me, which travelled at erratic speeds whilst remaining in lane two. I wanted to go faster, but I wasn’t going to overtake or undertake. The problem is that I know the road too well; this includes avoiding the inside lane at the Chorleywood turning, where vehicles negotiate a sharp bend to join the motorway, often following each other very closely at quite a low speed.
Further on, at the Kings Langley junction, the inside lane leaves the motorway so, once again, there’s no point being in that lane if you wish to remain on the M25. Having reached the far end of the viaduct over the Gade Valley, I noticed the infrastructure was still visible through cracks in the road surface of the inside lane; I’d noticed that on a previous drive along the motorway and was surprised this had not been repaired yet.
The motorway is once more four lanes wide between Kings Langley and the M1 turning, so I remained in lane two so as to continue past that junction and the first St Albans turning at Junction 21A too. To the east of the interchange the motorway becomes four lanes yet again, so shortly afterwards I moved into the inside lane in preparation for exiting at Junction 22.
This junction is very ‘un-grand’, the slip-road doesn’t incline or decline, it just passes by the exit to a drive-in McDonalds before reaching a large roundabout. I took the second turning and headed up the dual carriageway which bypasses the village of London Colney to reach the outskirts of St Albans and took the ring-road home. I pulled onto the driveway outside my home at 17:30; this meant that I was in plenty of time to eat a meal of spaghetti on toast before settling down for the evening to watch Strictly Come Dancing’s Halloween Special. I’m loving professional dancers Pasha Kovalev and Gleb Savchenko this series, and celebrity Jay McGuiness, from The Wanted, who is a very good dancer and very cute too!
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In Alan King’s first Weekender column of the new season, published on 11 November, he mentioned Choc’s retirement and said that he’s still in contact with the retired jockey two or three times a week, as Choc manages the Paul Dunkley and Danny Reilly horses and, of course, sees him at the races when they run too. Alan also mentioned that there was a surprise retirement party for Choc a week last Saturday evening (31 October), which was the day I saw him at Ascot; Alan said it was quite emotional ... and I know Choc will have been emotional too, being a sensitive Cancerian!
Click here for photos – Races 1, 2 & 3
Click here for photos – Races 4, 5 & 7
Click here for photos – Race 6 (Ned Stark’s event)