DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND NATIONAL DAY
SATURDAY 06 APRIL 2013
Look who I’ve found ...
the gorgeous Choc Thornton!
Having spent the night at the Golborne Premier Inn, I slept until around 01:30, after which I was fitful for the remainder of the night. I finally gave up at 05:00; deciding to make a cup of tea ... and a cup of coffee too. Perhaps I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal because I had woken with a headache.
A short while later I decided to have a shower and wash my hair; after which I applied my make-up and watched the early morning BBC1 news programme.
Today was due to be positively tropical when compared to recent days ... and weeks ... and months for that matter!
I wasn’t prepared to take too many liberties however, so my outfit today was a black thermal vest, purple long-sleeved thermal vest, black long-sleeved thermal vest, cerise frill-edged cardigan, not so new now purple fleece, purple frill-edged cardigan, black gillet, purple 40 denier tights, grey Dorothy Perkins skirt (the one I wore for the Cheltenham Showcase trip and at Kempton Park on Boxing Day), black wedge shoes, black faux sheepskin coat, black/white horse snood and burgundy M & S scarf. I wore my Magic Branches necklace again today, as it was the only one I’d taken with me. But I still wore a fewer number of layers than yesterday!
At 07:20 I went to the restaurant for breakfast; having been open just 20 minutes, there were only a few customers already there. I ate one pot of raspberry yoghurt and ordered an omelette with two rashers of bacon and mushrooms, and drank orange juice. Having polished this off, I ate a second pot of yoghurt, this time in blueberry flavour. I then returned to my room.
I wasn’t in any particular hurry to set off for the racecourse this year, having been turned away on the first occasion when I arrived early in 2012! So I tuned into the BBC1 morning news again and loaded up twitter on my smart-phone to see if Choc had been tweeting again.
Upon checking through the tweets, there appeared to be one wishing him a good day at ... Aintree! So Choc was due to be at Aintree today; I couldn’t believe my luck. Especially as I’d almost called off my trip on Thursday evening and again early yesterday morning. Phew ... I was now mighty relieved that I’d made the trip. It put a whole new spring in my step.
Having checked that I’d packed all my belongings, I left my room at 09:20 to head to Reception to hand in my key. I had a nice chat with the receptionist, talking about my trip to the Grand National which, of course, I was attending alone this year. She said she often went walking alone, and had even journeyed to Las Vegas alone, only meeting up with a friend once there. If you want to go places, you sometimes have to do it by yourself, otherwise you’d just stay at home and miss out on experiences. I agreed. Even though I’m basically a shy person, I push myself to go to the races alone because I want to see Choc!
Having loaded my suitcase, ‘food’ bag and handbag into the car, I set off for Aintree, retracing my route of yesterday evening. There was a slight delay at the lights on the Ormskirk Road due to weight of traffic. There were people loitering beside the junction, with notepads in hand – were they animal-rights activists I wondered?
I arrived at Anchor Bridge at 10:00; there was no queue on the road outside, unlike last year. Having shown my parking docket to the stewards I was directed to drive over the bridge, over the racecourse and selected the right hand lane again today. Having waited in the queue for a few minutes, the security staff direction me to move into the centre lane in order for the car to be checked.
Unfortunately I wasn’t waved through, but I did explain what had happened the previous day when the bonnet had failed to shut; so they searched the car but permitted it to remain locked on this occasion. Having passed muster, I drove along the roadway and parked my car in the nearest available space; just in front of a group of bushes. Having changed into my shoes and put on extra layers, scarf and coat, I set off for the entrance.
There was no Portakabin kiosk selling race-cards today; the racecourse probably learnt their lesson yesterday when the girls inside didn’t seem particularly keen to sell them to punters; preferring instead to keep the window closed to guard against the elements!
My ticket was scanned (number 001 in the Earl of Derby Terrace again today); my capacious handbag checked, the steward making a joke about having numerous items in a handbag but none which ever see the light of day! He’s right there! It’s solely ‘just in case’ with much of the contents. My body was then scanned before clearance was given for me to cross the deserted Melling Road, the back straight of the park course, followed by the all-weather gallop before catching the awaiting bus. There was a seat available on board for me.
Once the vehicle had its full complement of passengers, we set off around the perimeter road to reach the area in front of the stands ... the lady bus driver drove upon the gravel track to the inside of the tarmaced road today. I alighted from the vehicle and crossed the track, walking upon the green carpet. When I reached the grandstand side, I turned left to walk along to the main enclosures. I showed my badge to a steward and was permitted to enter; I went in search of a race-card. Close to the main entrance, I found a girl selling them; £5 today.
Mission accomplished, I headed to the ladies loo ... the tea and coffee of 05:00 had worked their way through by this time! Following that I went to stand beside the Parade Ring, very close to the statue of Sir Peter O’Sullevan. Having leafed through the race-card, I decided I’d have a little flutter on the Grand National; two horses this year – Cappa Bleu and the MartinKeighley-trained Any Currency - £2.50 each way. Total cost £10.00.
A single window was occupied at the nearby Tote office and it took a while to be served; as members of the group ahead of me had learning disabilities and decided upon their bets whilst at the window. Having finally placed my bets, I returned to the Parade Ring once more. Whilst standing there, RUK’s Oli Bell interviewed Sam Waley-Cohen and Alex Steedman selected a family (the Ryans) standing closeby, to be interviewed too.
No always, be sometimes, I’ve chosen to walk the Grand National course on the morning of the race; to kill time. But not today as I hoped to see Choc and, to do that, I knew that I should remain close to the Parade Ring area.
At 11:45 the annual Parade of Champions began – surviving winners of the big race being led around the Paddock.
Leading the past winners was 27-year-old Rough Quest (1996) – his jockey that day, Channel 4 presenter Mick Fitzgerald, walked across to pat the horse.
Lord Gyllene (1997), now 25, was fit enough to tackle a 20-mile Endurance Ride last August in aid of Vets United Charity. Evidently, despite his age, the horse jogged the last mile.
Red Marauder (2001) lives at trainer Richard Guest’s Doncaster yard, where he keeps a fond and watchful eye on a filly foal.
Binderee (2002) lives at the yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies and spends his time with two other retired stable stars – Baby Run and Hello Bud.
Monty’s Pass (2003) is based with trainer Jimmy Mangan and just enjoys doing nothing!
Amberleigh House (2004) has lived at Newmarket’s National Stud since 2006; where his next door neighbour is dual Guineas winner Cockney Rebel. He is turned out daily, is popular with visitors and especially fond of Polo mints; these are sent to him by fans from all over Europe!
Hedgehunter (2005) is enjoying retirement at his owner Trevor Hemmings’ Isle of Man home; he gets fit for this annual parade by being ridden out every day as a lead horse. He will soon be joined by the recently retired Albertas Run.
Silver Birch (2007) is based with his trainer Gordon Elliot; the 16-year-old finished third in a Racehorse-to-Riding Horse class at the Royal Dublin show last summer when ridden by Gordon’s partner, Annie.
Comply Or Die (2008) lives at the Cilldara Stud, the home of his winning jockey Timmy Murphy. He is referred to as a monkey, and still tries to beat everyone else on the gallops.
Mon Mome (2009), who has been recently retired, the 4-time Grand National competitor remains at the yard of his trainer, Venetia Williams.
Don’t Push It (2010), presumably retired to owner JP McManus’ stud in Ireland.
Neptune Collonges (2012), known as Nipper, has been trained in dressage since retirement, and is competed by owner John Hales’ daughter Lisa; he has already won a rudimentary dressage test. Nipper appeared at this year’s Good Friday Open Day at Middleham and paraded at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital earlier in the week.
The 2011 winner, Ballabriggs, would be running in today’s Grand National.
Missing this year’s parade were Papillon (2000) who, although fit and well, is too old to make long journeys; and Numbersixvalverde (2006) who had been withdrawn due to ringworm. The oldest surviving Grand National winner, Miinnehoma (1994) passed away last summer aged 29.
Whilst the Legends Parade was in progress I relocated to the steppings below the Weighing Room; standing opposite the Winners’ podium.
Having completed a number of circuits of the Paddock, the old warriors returned to the stables in preparation for undertaking an on-course parade at 13:20.
The next event was the induction of five new the Grand National Legends. Having been chosen following a public vote, this year’s inductees were Richard Pitman, Ruby Walsh, Trevor Hemmings, Dick Francis and Golden Miller.
During his career as a jockey, Richard Pitman won 470 races including the Champion Hurdle, the King George VI Chase and the Hennessy Gold Cup. He had his first ride in the Grand National in 1967 and was involved in one of the most famous runnings when his mount Crisp was denied victory by Red Rum in 1973. Crisp gave 23lbs to his rival and led by 15 lengths at the final fence but tired and was passed just metres from the line in what was, then, a record winning time. Richard worked for the BBC from 1976 onwards and has been involved in some of the Grand National’s most famous events, including the bomb scare and the void race.
Top jockey, Ruby Walsh, has an excellent record in the big race, only once failing to complete the course when he pulled up Shotgun Willy before the 22nd fence in 2003. He has won the race twice, the first occasion being aboard his first ride in the race, Papillon for his father Ted in 2000. His record, up to 2012 was ten rides, two wins, a second and two fourth places. His second victory in the race was aboard the Trevor Hemmings-owned Hedgehunter in 2005. Ruby has ridden 38 winners at the Cheltenham Festival [the race-card states 34 ... but they’ve not included 2013].
Trevor Hemmings is one of the leading owners in the country and a big supporter of Aintree and the Grand National. His best horses in recent years include Albertas Run and Cloudy Lane. Trevor owned the winner of the 2005 renewal, Hedgehunter, and Ballabriggs who won the race in 2011. He’s had at least one runner in the big race every year since 2000.
Dick Francis, who died in 2010, is best known as a very successful writer. He career also included being a RAF pilot, a champion jockey and a racing journalist. As a jockey he won over 350 races; and was champion jockey in the 1953-54 season. He is also remembered for riding the Queen Mother’s horse Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National when, famously, the horse fell on the run-in with the race at his mercy. Having retired from race riding, Dick spent 16 years working as a racing correspondent for the Daily Express before writing his first novel, Dead Cert, in 1962. His sons, Merrick and Felix Francis attended today to pick up their late father’s Hall Of Fame memento.
Finally, Golden Miller; the horse won 5 consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups 1932 to 1936 and remains the only one ever to win both the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year, a feat he completed in 1934. He was trained by Basil Briscoe in Cambridgeshire and owned by the eccentric Dorothy Paget. Gold Miller fell at the canal turn in 1933, but then posted a record time when winning the race the following year. He was retired in 1939 having won 29 of 52 races; he’s buried at the Elsenham Stud. Barry Geraghty, grandson of the horse’s breeder, Laurence Geraghty, received the memento today.
Fellow Hall of Fame member, Bob Champion presented today’s mementos.
It was then time for the Aintree Legends Charity race in aid of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust. The riders taking part in this race were eleven retired turf legends:
Marcus Armitage (riding Kings Destiny trained by Nicky Henderson) – the amateur jockey rode Mr Frisk to victory in a record time in 1990. [I confess to dreaming that the horse would win the race on the eve of the event ... unfortunately this is the only time it has happened!]
Jim Culloty (riding Rosie’s Lady trained by David O’Meara) – won aboard Binderee in 2002, a spare winning ride. He also partnered Best Mate to his three consecutive wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup between 2002 to 2004. Jim trained his first Cheltenham Festival winner this year, Lord Windermere in the RSA Chase.
Kevin Darley (riding Indepub trained by Kevin Ryan) – rode 2,430 domestic winners during the course of his 30-year career on the flat; he was Champion Jockey in 2000. Kevin also held the post of Chief Executive at the Professional Jockeys Association between 2009 to 2011.
Hywel Davies (riding Fred Archer trained by Sue Smith) – rode Last Suspect to win the Grand National in 1985; having made a remarkable recovery from a serious fall in 1984 which resulted in his heart stopping seven times on the way to hospital. Hywel runs a horse feed business in Lambourn and his son James is a successful jockey.
Tony Dobbin (riding War Singer trained by David Pipe) – won the Grand National in 1997 aboard Lord Gyllene. He retired in 2008 having ridden almost 1,200 winners. Aintree was his lucky track, having ridden five winners over the Grand National fences; he also won the inaugural Aintree Legends Race in 2011. He now assists his wife Rose with their jumping horses and is based in Northumberland.
George Duffield (riding Meetings Man trained by Micky Hammond) – his career spanned over 40 years, during which he rode 2,547 flat race winners making him the 9th most successful jockey in the history of British racing. He is now assistant to his trainer wife Ann.
Jimmy Frost (riding Wild Tonto trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies) – the youngest ever winner of a point-to-point race at the age of 13. He rode competitively for over 30 years, partnering over 500 winners including Morley Street in the 1981 Champion Hurdle. Jimmy is now a trainer; son Hadden a successful jockey too.
Michael Hills (riding Perpetually trained by John Ferguson) – member of the Hills racing dynasty with a career which spanned over 30 years. Michael rode over 2,000 winners before retiring in 2012. He won 32 Group races, including the 1996 Derby aboard Shaamit. This is Michael’s first visit to Aintree.
Richard Hills (riding Cool MacAvity trained by Nicky Henderson) – twin brother of Michael. He also retired in 2012, having ridden more than 1,840 domestic winners. Richard spent most of his time riding in the blue and white silks of Hamdan Al Maktoum. He hoped to beat brother Michael today.
Carl Llewellyn (riding Court In Session trained by Martin Keighley) – twice winner of the Grand National; aboard Party Politics in 1992 and Earth Summit in 1998. Carl rode about 995 winners during his career, including the Scottish and Welsh Grand Nationals.
Adrian Maguire (riding King of Dudes trained by Alan King) – won over 1,024 races in the UK, including the 1992 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Cool Ground. Often described as the ‘greatest jockey never to be Champion’ having fought a very close battle with Richard Dunwoody during the 1993/1994 season. Adrian is now a racehorse trainer and is based in County Cork.
Welsh Guardsmen provided a guard of honour as the legends descended the steps from the Weighing Room to the Parade Ring. They were headed by ambassadors Bob Champion and Jonjo O’Neill; the former sporting the silks of Aldaniti, the latter those of JP McManus. A further ambassador, Derek Thompson, greeted the competitors as they were introduced to the waiting crowd. Yet another ambassodor, Frankie Dettori, was on hand for the group photograph.
Pictures having been taken, the riders set off into the main Parade Ring area to meet up with their respective connections before being legged up aboard their mounts.
I left it a little too late to leave the Winners’ Enclosure area, as the walkway gates were already closed by the time I reached them; this prevented me from reaching the Earl of Derby enclosure prior to the runners leaving the Paddock. Bob and Jonjo, also mounted, set off to the starting gate along with the competitors. However, I did arrive at the course-side rails prior to them galloping back down past the grandstands to wait in the ‘pull-up’ area until the race was over.
Having competed in the St Patrick’s Derby on Day Three of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, trainer David O’Meara’s designated ‘charity horse’ Rosie’s Lady was back for more. As noted above, The Martin Keighley trained Court In Session (or ‘Judge’ as he is known by his stable staff) would be ridden by Carl Llewellyn and the Alan King-trained King of Dudes would be the mount of Adrian Maguire.
The starting gate for this event was part way up the home straight.
Then they were off. Court In Session set off at the head of affairs, he was followed by the grey Meetings Man, the keen Rosie’s Lady, Perpetually, King of Dudes, Cool MacAvity, Wild Tonto, Fred Archer, Indepub and War Singer; Marcus Armytage aboard Kings Destiny brought up the rear.
Carl Llewellyn’s mount continued to lead as the runners headed up the back straight; George Duffield, aboard the only grey, Meetings Man, glancing over his shoulder to ascertain how his rivals were travelling.
Court In Session led into the home straight, the first to challenge him were Meetings Man and Rosie’s Lady; the latter soon taking the lead. However, Richard Hills drove his mount up the stand-side, with War Singer cruising into contention to their inside and soon taking a clear lead. He won by four or five lengths at the line. Cool MacAvity held off the persistent Rosie’s Lady for 2nd, with Michael Hills aboard Perpetually taking 4th ahead of King of Dudes. Court In Session, who Martin Keighley mentioned in his blog would need the run, finished 6th.
The finishing order for the remainder was Wild Tonto, Meetings Man, Fred Archer, Indepub and Kings Destiny. Richard Hills had beaten his twin brother as hoped!
This was the third Aintree Legends charity race, with Tony Dobbin also having won it in 2011, finishing as runner-up last year, and winning it again this year.
I thought my best chance of spotting Choc today would be to follow the racing action but also to ensure that I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure/below the Weighing Room at the end of each race. I therefore walked back to this area following the end of the Charity race to see the placed horses arrive back.
I was soon rewarded in my principal quest, when Choc accompanied Andrew Thornton into the Winners’ Enclosure to speak with the media after the Charity race had been completed. And I wasn’t about to move from there until Choc had disappeared into the crowd again; especially as I hoped to speak with him too. This meant that I missed the running of the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, apart from viewing it on the big screen ... but I have my priorities right!
Having finished his chat with Jonathan Powell and Brough Scott, Choc headed out of the Winners’ Enclosure and along the pathway below where I was standing. So I went to say hello to him; greeting Choc with a kiss on the cheek.
He said that he didn’t realise the photographer had taken the picture published in the May issue of FHM until the magazine contacted him to ask for permission to publish it! He thought why not, as he didn’t mind. I did tell him he was looking smart today, with his clothes on ... which made him laugh. And nice without them too. He asked if I’d already got the magazine. No, I said, but I was on the lookout for a copy; and would add it to the picture gallery on my bedroom wall! I’m just a teenager at heart! I said it was lovely to see him and ‘Take care’ before he headed off in the direction of the Owners’ and Trainers’ pavilion.
That’s it for the first part of my Grand National Day diary; please click below to read the next section.