DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND NATIONAL DAY
SATURDAY 06 APRIL 2013
The races are over.
The Grand National winner, Auroras Encore,
with his jockey Ryan Mania
Having not returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the previous race, I had first pick of my vantage point ahead of the Grand National. I chose to stand in the corner of the Earl of Derby enclosure; immediately next to the walkway gate, so had a prime view of the competitors as they were led out onto the racecourse.
Following last year’s horse fatalities, a number of changes had been made to both the Grand National fences and the pre-race procedures.
Four newly designed fences had been trialled during the Becher Chase Meeting last December. Having proved successful, all 16 fences in use today would be constructed using this new method. Traditionally the fences had timber frames covered in spruce; this Festival the core had been replaced by a more forgiving plastic structure before being covered with spruce as usual. The theory being that this allows the horse to brush through the fences without falling as was previously the case. The height of the fences remains the same, as does their outward appearance.
This year the horses were paraded prior to the race as usual, but not in number order as in the past, but in the same order in which they had been led out onto the racecourse. This was to prevent any of the more highly-strung horses from getting more worked up than necessary.
The starting gate had been moved closer to the first fence; which shortened the distance of the race by half a furlong. This was to take the horses further away from the cauldron of excitement in the stands; this having been emphasised in recent years with the completion of the Lord Sefton and Earl of Derby grandstands.
A white chalk line had been marked on the turf behind the official starting line; the Starter letting the horses begin just before they reached this point and thus preventing runners from getting caught in the tape and causing a false start. Although it hadn’t worked in the case of Thursday’s Fox Hunters race nor the Topham Chase over the national fences yesterday! It was reported that a number of the horses today jumped the white chalk line as their riders cantered them down to take a look at the first fence.
In addition to the above changes, the landing side of Bechers Brook had been levelled yet again; course undulations had also been levelled out; a further ‘catching’ pen had been created; and ‘out riders’ (I saw three enter the racecourse via the ‘cooling down’ area gate prior to the race) had been employed to catch any loose horses.
With Paddy Brennan currently suspended, Sam Twiston-Davies rode the top weight, Imperial Commander, for this father Nigel. It would be Sam’s fourth ride in the race and the first time he’d not been aboard Hello Bud.
Trainer Martin Keighley had his first runner in the race, Any Currency.
The Starter called them in ... the 40 runners had formed an orderly line stretching across the course ... they approached the chalk and the tape firstly at a walk, then a trot, broke into their stride and they were off; at the first time of asking. Chicago Grey to the innermost of the field.
Prominent heading to the first fence were Becauseicouldntsee, Swing Bill, Ballabriggs, Soll, Cappa Bleu, Rare Bob, Mr Moonshine, Big Fella Thanks and Oscar Time. Two of the Donald McCain runners, Ballabriggs to the nearside and Across The Bay to the centre of the course, led the field over the initial obstacle; the latter then taking up the running together with the Richard Johnson ridden Balthazar King to the wide outside as they travelled to and cleared the second fence.
The third fence is the big open ditch; Across The Bay made an error here, as did Chicago Grey further back in the field. Balthazar King led the runners over the next two fences, from Across The Bay, Oscar Time, Imperial Commander and Quel Esprit. The runners were well spread across the course, with plenty of daylight to see the obstacles; the back marker now was Chicago Grey.
Having watched the horses clear the 6th fence, Bechers Brook, the commentator Darren Owen announced ‘And they are all still standing’; this news was greeted by a massive cheer from the crowds in the grandstand! Even I felt the emotion well-up inside of me ... it was weird! All forty horses then cleared the small but infamous Fionavon fence.
Across The Bay was leading as the horses cleared the Canal Turn, closely pursued by Balthazar King; behind these were Oscar Time, Soll and Quel Esprit. With an unprecedented number of runners still standing, further back in the field three horses unseated their jockeys here – Treacle, Big Fella Thanks and The Rainbow Hunter; RUK’s Olly Bell being one of the syndicate who own the latter. As the field set off toward Valentine’s Brook, jockeys Noel Fehily, Denis O’Regan and Aidan Coleman were left rolled-up on the turf in their wake. One of the Irish raiders, Ninetieth Minute, was already tailing off.
The remaining 37 horses all cleared Valentine’s and headed to the next; where Auroras Encore landed awkwardly, probably as a result of Oscar Time jumping across in front of him. The 11th fence is an open-ditch, Across the Bay led over this one, from Soll to his inside, and Balthazar King to his outside. Just behind these were the almost white Swing Bill, another of the greys Quel Esprit and Oscar Time. The trailing Ninetieth Minute was pulled up before this fence.
The first faller was Tatenen, who departed at the 12th fence. Across The Bay led the horses back over the Melling Road and on the long run to fence number 13. Balthazar King and Soll disputed second, with Oscar Time close behind these. There were 35 runners still in the race, although Viking Blond was now tailed off and a few others in rear were beginning to struggle too. Sensibly, Adam Wedge decided to pull up Viking Blond before the Chair!
As an aside, Viking Blond is one of the ‘job lot’ of 21 youngsters purchased in January 2008 by David Minton on behalf of Raymond Mould which included Astracad, Sybarite, Batonnier and, of course, Sprinter Sacre!
Across The Bay and Balthazar King led over the Chair; Soll made a bad error here but survived, unlike Colbert Station who blundered and unseated the Champ, AP McCoy. Having cleared the water-jump, a couple of the loose horses (I believe the culprits were Big Fella Thanks and Treacle – one wearing a ‘single’ number cloth, the other a chestnut) decided that they’d had enough and would head toward the stables! With this intent they veered out to their right, almost taking Across The Bay with them. As it was, Treacle ‘destroyed’ the plastic running rail when attempting to clear it en route!
Despite having been hampered by the loose horses, Across The Bay still managed to keep his head in front as they headed over the Melling Road and out into the country for the final time. One of the JP McManus representatives, Lost Glory, was pulled up before the next having tailed off; Across The Bay and Balthazar King cleared this fence in unison, with Teaforthree now in third position, and Oscar Time in fourth. Just behind these was Ruby Walsh aboard On His Own, together with his sister Katie aboard the favourite Seabass.
Having cleared the second in this line of fences, Sam Thomas decided to call it a day aboard What A Friend, as did Robbie Power aboard Joncol; both of whom had tailed off. The next to be pulled up was Becauseicouldntsee, before the 21st fence, which Seabass hit. Heading down to Becher’s Brook for the final time, Across The Bay still held the advantage, from Teaforthree, Oscar Time and Auroras Encore; Balthazar King having dropped back off the pace. Imperial Commander was pulled up before this fence.
The leader made an error here, but survived; further back in the field both Mumbles Head and Forpadydeplasterer made mistakes too. Weird Al made a bad error at the following fence, the Fionavon. Across The Bay and Teaforthree disputed the lead over the Canal Turn, from Soll, Oscar Time and Auroras Encore. The 2011 winner, Ballabriggs, was pulled up before the fence, as was Quel Esprit.
Three of the stragglers were pulled up either before or after the next, Valentine’s; namely, Weird Al, Forpadydeplasterer and Harry The Viking. On His Own departed at the fence, only the second faller during the race; Ruby’s Grand National record blotted this year! It was a very soft fall and the horse was soon on its feet again.
And there was still no change up front heading towards the final Melling Road crossing, with Across The Bay, Teaforthree, Oscar Time and Auroras Encore remaining at the head of affairs; Balthazar King, Rare Bob, Soll, Cappa Bleu, Seabass and Swing Bill were travelling in behind these. Struggling at the rear of the field, but still continuing, were Roberto Goldback, Quiscover Fontaine, last year’s runner-up Sunnyhillboy, and Any Currency. Mr Moonshine had been pulled up before the 27th.
Having completed the long run towards two out, Teaforthree and Oscar Time now disputed the lead, with Auroras Encore three or four lengths behind these, and Cappa Bleu a further four lengths back. They were followed by Rare Bob, Seabass and Swing Bill; with long-time leader Across the Bay having faded. The leaders jumped two out in unison, Auroras Encore gaining on them as they approached the last, which the latter flew but Teaforthree brushed through; Oscar Time now in third position.
Having landed running, Ryan Mania’s mount led at the elbow and drew away from his pursuers with ease and, with solely a loose horse (Tatenen?) for company, galloped on to win by 9 lengths at the line. Paul Moloney galvanised Cappa Bleu on the run-in to collar Teaforthree by a neck for second place. Oscar Time completed in 4th; with Rare Bob claiming 5th and Swing Bill 6th.
Any Currency completed last of the finishers in 17th place. There was a small ‘pile-up’ at the last, where Mumbles Head refused, and Sunnyhillboy and Roberto Goldback unseated as a result. Barry Geraghty was a bit miffed that it was described as ‘unseated’, as he ended up standing on top of what remained of the fence because his mount had collided with Mumbles Head with nowhere to go. These jockeys are so proud and hate their departure to be described incorrectly!
Here is the full result for all those runners which finished the race:
And those which did not finish:
No horses had been injured, and no hospitalised jockeys either. The first casualties occurred at the Canal Turn; where three unseated. Just two fallers – Tatenen (Andrew Thornton) at the 12th fence and On His Own (Ruby Walsh) at the 25th fence.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
record of vaccinations in the passport of BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE (IRE), trained
by Noel Glynn, did not comply with the Rules of Racing. The Stewards found
the trainer in breach of Rule (E)18 and fined him
I remained at my ‘station’ whilst the placed horses were led back down the walkway in front of the grandstands before they continued through the gate and returned to the Winners’ Enclosure. Auroras Encore and his jockey posed for pictures in front of the official photographers who had assembled on the course; after which he led back through the gate to join the other horses in the Winners’ Enclosure.
I waited for a short while, allowing the queues to disperse before heading across the walkway and out through the Lord Sefton enclosure exit to reach the steppings below the Weighing Room. I always find that if you are prepared to weave through the spectators who tend to congregate to the nearside of the Winners’ Enclosure, there is often room to stand on the steppings to the far side, opposite the podium. I found a space just in time to see Auroras Encore being led away to return to the stables; but I did see the presentation of the trophy and mementoes.
I found it amusing when a lady standing with a group behind me made the comment ‘they are one of us’ referring to the owners; because they were wearing tweed jackets! The horse is owned by Liverpool-born Jim Beaumont, Scot Douglas Pryde, and South African David van der Hoeven. All three are now based in Scotland. Jim and Douglas were the tweed-wearing owners (they both also own a third-share of Mr Moonshine); David missed the race because he was away on holiday.
A few days later it was announced that the 2011 winner Ballabriggs had run his last race and would join Hedgehunter and Albertas Run in retirement on the Isle Of Man.
I returned to the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The starting gate for this race was located in the far corner of the track. The stable lass had accompanied All The Aces to the starting gate; she led him around prior to the horses being called in and pulled on the reins as he held back reluctantly. The Starter’s Assistant also flicked his whip behind the horse’s heels and he cantered forward to join the others, sweeping around their outside until he was upsides the front runners by the time he reached the tape.
But the problem was that there were two tardy competitors who hadn’t even made it out onto the racecourse yet, Local Hero and Smalib Monterg. And there was a third too, Le Bacardy, who exited from the enclosure even later than these. Alan Berry aboard the JP McManus owned Prince Of Fire had already turned to walk his horse away from the gathered field.
So they were all asked to take a turn and line up again; All The Aces’ lass now leading him in on the wide outside of the field, although she did let go of his reins a little early.
Finally they were off. All The Aces tried to plant himself, but the stable girl grabbed his reins once more and two Starter’s Assistants ran up behind him to crack their whips and finally he consented to set off after the others; jockey Peter Carberry frantically kicking the horse into action, although some lengths in rear.
The main body of the field was led away by Kudu Country, from Shotavodka, Changing The Guard, Meganisi, Lyvius, Prince of Fire and Makbullet. Having cleared the first flight, Shotavodka held a narrow advantage over the field, although he wasn’t particularly fluent at the second flight.
The runners headed down the home straight towards the grandstand turn, clearing the third flight en route. Shotavodka continued to lead, from Kudu Country, Changing The Guard, Lyvius, Meganisi, First In The Queue, Makbullet, Prince Of Fire, Paintball, Jumps Road, Special Catch, Ranjaan, Cry Of Freedom, Kian’s Delight (a very pretty horse!), Canadian Diamond, Cockney Sparrow, Le Bacardy, Smalib Monterg, Zarzal, Distant Memories, All The Aces and Local Hero.
The horses set off away from the stands, towards the back straight. Special Catch was a little short of room to the inside, his jockey forced to manoeuvre his mount so as to remain on the hurdles track between two short sections of the guiding rail. He forfeited ground as a result.
Shotavodka, Kudu Country and Changing The Guard continued to cut out the running as the horses headed up the back straight; there were no casualties at any of the three flights therein. All The Aces remained at the rear, and Prince Of Fire had dropped back through the field to join him by the time they reached the far turn.
Turning into the home straight, Shotavodka still led, from Changing The Guard, Meganisi, Lyvius, Jumps Road and Paintball; making progress from the back of the field was Cockney Sparrow. The long-time leader still held a narrow advantage over three out, but a wall of horses had now lined up to mount their challenges. Shotavodka jumped the next slightly ahead, but Meganisi then got his nose in front; Changing The Guard, Zarzal and Jumps Road were also still in the firing line.
However, whilst Meganisi was battling on and holding off his rivals to the centre of the course, the filly Cockney Sparrow, who had been gaining on the leaders all the way down the home straight, made her challenge to the stand-side. Having got her head in front she stormed clear to win by 6 lengths at the line. Meganisi just held off Zarzal, to claim 2nd by a head. Changing The Guard completed in 4th.
Having met trouble in running earlier in the race, Special Catch stayed on to finish 5th; with Jumps Road 6th and long-time leader Shotavodka in 7th.
Cockney Rebel had finished 2nd to the Alan King-trained L’Unique at Aintree earlier in the season; the latter having won the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle on the first day of this year’s Aintree Festival.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. I was still standing on the steppings when the horses for the final race began to parade in the Paddock. The Nigel-Twiston Davies’ runner, Pure Science, was drawn aside as he was led along the path which entered the Winners’ Enclosure area. The vets examined the horse and, following a discussion with the trainer, it was announced that he would be a non-runner.
The horse is a chestnut with a broad white blaze, two stockings on his off-side limbs, a coronet on his near-fore and a very unusual marking on his near-hind; I can only describe it as a leg-warmer! In fact it’s a white leg-warmer on the inside but a chestnut speckled white leg-warmer on the outside!
I set off to the course-side rails before the walkway gates were closed to spectators and was therefore in time to see the Alan King runner, Wilde Blue Yonder, being led out onto the racecourse. The favourite was the Nicky Henderson trained Tistory, a half-brother to Punchestowns.
The starting gate for this race was located in the far corner of the track; with one and a half circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Dance Of Time, from Orchard Boy, Quickpick Vic, Monkey Kingdom, Purple Bay, Spitz, Tistory, Avidity, Master Malt, Wilde Blue Yonder, Fair Loch, Dakar Run, Vago Collonges, Alphabetical Order, Mister Pagan, Sgt Reckless, Killyglass, Une Ace and Caledonia.
Heading down the home straight on the first occasion, Dance Of Time disputed the running with the Irish raider, Quickpick Vic. The runners passed the lollipop and set off on the run away from the stands; Bryan Cooper’s mount now with the advantage over the field.
The horses remained closely grouped as they headed up the back straight, with no change at the head of affairs; Alphabetical Order was the first horse to come under pressure and he began to lose touch as they reached the far turn. Around the top bend, Mister Pagan was the next to feel the pinch; along with Spitz. Dance Of Time had also dropped back through the field and was now at the rear of the main group.
Quickpick Vic led the runners into the home straight, from Purple Bay and Tistory; on their heels were Master Malt, Fair Loch, Wilde Blue Yonder, Dakar Run and Killyglass. The horses had fanned out across the track to make their challenges.
Barry Geraghty’s mount was driven up the inside of Quickpick Vic, with Purple Bay to their right. In the centre of the track Ruby Walsh, sporting the beige and black Wylie colours, was upsides as they passed between the wings of the second last flight, but it was Killyglass to the stand-side who swept past all of them to assume the lead two furlongs out.
Noel Fehily’s mount edged to his left as he was driven out; Ruby Walsh galvanised Vago Collonges to close on the leader as they headed to the line, but it was too late. Killyglass held on by half a length. Caledonia kept on well to finish 3rd, with Purple Bay 4th. The Alan King representative, Wilde Blue Yonder, completed in 11th.
The winning horse had been won a bumper in Ireland last October when trained by Stuart Crawford, the trainer of yesterday’s Mares’ bumper race winner, Legacy Gold. The horse had subsequently been sold for £68,000. It was his current trainer’s first winner since mid-December!
Whilst I was waiting for the placed horses to be led back down the walkway, it was announced that Auroras Encore would shortly be paraded in the racecourse ‘pull up’ area so that race-goers could take photographs of him by which to remember their day. This was a totally new occurrence, presumably a public relations exercise to prove that the winning horse was none the worse for its experience; but a very good idea none the less. In fact it was an encore ... an Auroras Encore!
So, instead of returning to the Winners’ Enclosure, I remained where I was, the ‘pull up’ area being immediately in front of where I was standing. Whilst waiting, Channel 4’s Rishi Persad decided to stand on the Earl Of Derby Stand terrace to film a round-up segment for their Grand National programme; however, each time he tried to record to camera, an announcement would be broadcast over the sound system, drowning out his attempts!
A few minutes later Auroras Encore was led out onto the racecourse via the stables’ exit by Sue Smith’s Assistant Trainer Ryan Clavin. He spent a few minutes leading the horse around before winning jockey Ryan Mania appeared and took over the task. A while later, Ryan the jockey handed the horse back to Ryan the assistant; the latter leading the horse in the direction of the winning post. Rishi did a further segment to camera, with the horse grazing in the background; then the winner was led to the lollipop where one of the official photographers took a number of photographs. I think three or four spectators also took the opportunity to have their photograph taken whilst posing with the horse.
Auroras Encore was then led back to the ‘pull up’ area before heading to the stables. It was now time for me to collect my winnings; which turned out to be £8.50 ... an overall loss of £1.50. Never mind, I was happy in the knowledge that one of my two selections was a placed horse. Last year I’d selected both the 3rd and 4th places horses, this year the runner-up. Next year ... the winner?
I then walked across to the empty Parade Ring for one last time, spending just a few minutes before deciding it was time to begin my long journey home. I popped to the loo, always advisable before a long trip.
There were only a few people heading for the exit gate which leads across the racecourse as I picked my way through all the discarded paper slips and plastic cups in the betting ring. However, stewards were permitting solely a limited number of spectators to cross the turf at any one time, thus preventing the queue for the buses from becoming too long. I had to wait around five minutes before it was my turn to cross the course.
Having reached the two waiting buses, both were standing room only; just space for a few more aboard the leading one, so I was directed towards it and we soon set off in a clockwise direction around the inner perimeter road. Having alighted, everyone crossed the all-weather gallop, the racecourse, then the Melling Road, taking care when crossing the latter, as the coaches parked along its length were beginning to depart having collected their passengers.
I then returned along the driveway to collect my car; it was easy to find, having been parked in the row in front of a cluster of bushes. I had taken a double-packet of Jaffa cakes with me to Aintree; they were leftovers from my Cheltenham Festival food stash. I ate 12 cakes prior to beginning my journey home; in other words, half the packet!
Vehicles waiting to exit onto Aintree Lane had not been queued back past the gate when I alighted from the bus but, now, it was queued back to the row in which I’d parked my car. I joined the back of it; a steward soon signalling for cars to join the back of a second queue which had formed further up the drive. I was now in the right-hand lane, next to the golf range and camping centre. My particular queue was held up for a few moments whilst vehicles exited from the golf range area in front of us.
Close to Anchor Bridge, coaches were being given the right of way if entering the line of traffic from both the centre of the National course and from the Melling Road, the latter also having been used as a coach park. All lanes of traffic having merged into one, it slowly exited onto Aintree Lane; I was paused on Anchor Bridge at one point; I glanced over the wall to see the canal – it was a lot wider than I’d expected it to be. For some unknown reason, I’d not imagined it to be similar to the Grand Union canal down in my neck of the woods! Perhaps it is because Anchor Bridge is of the narrow hump-back variety.
Having reached the Aintree Lane, all traffic was directed to turn left; although a few vehicles decided to turn around in the road to head back in the opposite direction. It took ages to reach the Ormskirk Road traffic lights, as the queue stretched back from there to the Melling Road. It really doesn’t help that all traffic light controlled junctions in the area seem to be of the 4-phase variety. Finally I was able to drive up past Asda and negotiate the confusing (to newcomers that is) junction where both the M57 and M58 begin; I recall a vehicle travelling in the inside lane pushed its way into the outside lane as I approached the roundabout, having initially chosen wrong one.
I believe it was 19:30 when I began my journey home. Darkness seemed to fall a little earlier than during my previous Aintree trips; I must have been travelling slightly later in the evening.
I was tempted to drive into one of the motorway service stations, as a number have WH Smith outlets, to see if one of them had a copy of FHM; but decided this was unnecessary panicking on my part. I’m sure it must have been published only recently, otherwise Choc would have tweeted the photograph of his very nice naked bottom at an earlier date!
It was dark by the time I reached the section of the motorway between Stoke and Stafford; for a number of miles chevrons have been painted onto the carriageway as a reminder for motorists to keep their distance from the vehicle in front. I found these extremely distracting to drive over; I never drive too close to the vehicle in front and they just played havoc with my eyesight. I found them dangerously mesmerising in fact; it was a great relief when they disappeared again. They are okay in daylight, as an earlier stretch of the M6 had been painted with them too; but not after dark.
The M6 toll road commences further north than I’d realised, just south of Cannock; but I suppose it has to in order to bypass the major connabation which is Birmingham and its adjoining cities and towns. I noticed just one vehicle ahead of me had decided to take the fee paying option. If I’d been travelling an hour later, I would have been forced to go via the toll road as, due to overnight road-works, the M6 was going to close at 22:00 – it was 21:10 when I noticed the information signs reporting this closure.
In hindsight it may have been better to take the almost clear toll road, as the existing M6 was in a poor state on this occasion, with lanes already coned off ahead of the closure. Then, to add insult to injury, just as the motorway was heading down to merge with the toll road once more, east of Birmingham, cones and debris had been knocked across the open carriageway of the motorway.
I thought I’d avoided everything, but then there were a couple of clunks as my car ran over something; I was only travelling at around 60 mph but still didn’t see it coming. Maybe the transit van ahead of me had blocked my view; I saw the debris in the rear view mirror afterwards, but still didn’t know what it was. If damage had been caused to my car that is all I needed ... I was still paying off February’s annual car service and really didn’t need further expense.
Driving along the unlit section between Birmingham and the M1 junction I decided to open the window to get some fresh air; but it was so cold that in the end my teeth began to chatter! I closed the window again, but still couldn’t stop shivering; it took a number of minutes for the interior to warm up again.
Having joined the M1, I headed south towards London; there were still over 60 miles to go to reach my home. It’s such a long journey when you’re counting down the miles and the counties ... Merseyside, Cheshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and, finally, Hertfordshire. There were further after-dark road-works on the motorway near Milton Keynes. Once I reach junction 12 of the M1 I’m in very familiar territory, as this is the junction I take when visiting my younger brother and his family in Silsoe. Fortunately much of the M1 is lit.
I continued to Junction 9, close to Redbourn, before leaving the motorway and taking the A5183 which bypasses the village. I turned left at the first roundabout to reach Harpenden; a right-turn at the roundabout on the Common saw me onto the A1081 to return to St Albans.
I arrived home at 23:05; which was too late for me to make a coherent attempt at writing an extended blog entry before turning in for the night, especially as I needed to eat first!
The following morning I decided that I’d walk down to the local supermarket to buy a copy of the Racing Post and to search the shelves for at least one copy of FHM magazine. In fact I rescued four copies!
Having arrived back from the supermarket, I spent the remainder of Sunday selecting photographs for my website, before formatting them in preparation for uploading. It took all day to complete the task, with Monday evening spent selecting photos from Ladies’ Day. From Tuesday onwards, any spare moments were dedicated to writing my Aintree diaries (this one was completed on 20 April 2013).