DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND NATIONAL DAY
SATURDAY 11 APRIL 2015
More important than the Grand National winner ... we’ve found Choc!
Click here to read my Grand National Day Diary Part I
During the interlude between the fourth race and the Grand National, a group of school children performed the National Anthem whilst standing within the corral in front of the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton stands.
This year, fortunately, we were able to defend our position at the corner of the Earl of Derby enclosure next to the walkway. This allowed us to take photos of the competitors as they headed out onto the racecourse; the only slight problem was the angle of the sun by this time of the afternoon; it had cleared the Lord Sefton stand and shone down the camera lense too. But at least it made the area where we stood warmer.
The competitors begin the pre-race parade in random order immediately after exiting onto the racecourse, rather than be organised first into number order within the two holding pens in front of the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton stands respectively. There was no second chance to take photographs.
The starting gate remained in its 2013 position, shortening the distance of the race by half a furlong. This was to take the horses further away from the cauldron of excitement; this having been emphasised in recent years with the completion of the Lord Sefton and Earl of Derby grandstands.
Alan King had one runner in this event; Godsmejudge, winner of the 2013 Scottish Grand National, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. His price 18-1. There were 39 runners, with Carlito Brigante being a late absentee; just too late for a replacement to be promoted – how annoying for the connections of the 41st horse on the entry list.
There were four greys in the race; Unioniste, Ballycasey, Corrin Wood, and Portrait King. One jockey-change, namely Brian O’Connell taking over the ride aboard Lord Windermere. His intended rider, Robbie McNamara, had been seriously injured as a result of a race fall in Ireland the previous evening.
The race favourite was Jonjo O’Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor; priced at 6-1. He was ridden by AP McCoy, having his final ride in the big race before retirement at the end of the season; just two weeks away.
Having completed the parade, the runners headed down the racecourse to take a look at the first fence before returning to the starting gate where they circled for a number of minutes.
And then they were off ... first time. Prominent heading down to the first fence were Bob Ford, St Are, River Choice, Wyck Hill, Portrait King, Gas Line Boy, and Court By Surprise; AP had decided upon a mid-field position aboard the favourite. Bob Ford, to the inside, blundered here; centre line Gas Line Boy fell, fortunately Godsmejudge managed to avoid him, just. There were incidents to the outside of the field, with First Lieutenant blundering, and Ely Brown falling and possibly both contributing to the unseating of Denis O’Regan from Al Co; the latter having made an error and subsequently been hampered.
So, heading down to fence number two, Bob Ford ploughed a lone furrow against the inside rail, with Portrait King clearly leading from St Are within the middle to centre runners, and Court By Surprise, Rubi Light, Soll and Rebel Rebellion amongst those prominent towards the outside of the field. First Lieutenant made an error at the second fence too, which demoted him further, but there were no casualties here.
The big open-ditch claimed two, with Rubi Light clobbering the fence and unseating Andrew Lynch over his near-side shoulder; also Corrin Wood who lost his hind-legs on landing and was quickly pulled up by David Casey. The runners continued over the fourth, where there were no departures. At the rear of the field were Tranquil Sea, Super Duty and Monbeg Dude.
Unioniste departed at the fifth fence when, travelling to the rear of mid-field, he fell. Fence number six was Bechers Brook and the French raider River Choice capsized on landing; Monbeg Dude who had been travelling in the faller’s wake, jumped the prostrate horse and continued although hampered; all that training with Zara Phillips has obviously paid off! Super Duty was a clear last at this point.
Preceded by a loose horse, Rebel Rebellion with Ryan Mahon aboard led the runners over the Fionavon fence and he was followed by Bob Ford, Portrait King and Soll; there were no casualties here. The leader was three or four lengths clear as they jumped the Canal Turn. In mid-field, last year’s runner-up Balthazar King uncharacteristically fell; then, whilst he was lying on the ground, Ballycasey crashed into him and Ruby Walsh was unseated.
Ruby’s plan had been thwarted; his pre-race decision had been to follow the Philip Hobbs runner believing him to be a safe conveyance. Initially, Richard Johnson’s mount had raised his head and appeared to be about to rise ... but then he just lay down again and didn’t move. Everyone feared the worst for this popular racing stalwart. The yellow-coated race marshals were quickly on the scene with the green screens and, whilst his jockey was still on the ground, Ruby rushed across to attend the horse.
Meanwhile the race continued, with Rebel Rebellion continuing at the head of affairs from the grey Portrait King as the thirty remaining runners cleared Valentines and also jumped the next three fences without incident. Currently travelling behind the leaders were Across The Bay, St Are, Soll, and The Rainbow Hunter; just behind these Shutthefrontdoor, Court By Surprise, Rocky Creek, then Bob Ford, Many Clouds, Godsmejudge, The Druids Nephew, Oscar Time, Mon Parrain, Alvarado, Dolatulo, Royale Knight, Spring Heeled, Wyck Hill, Pineau De Re, Chance Du Roy, Lord Windermere, First Lieutenant, Owega Star, Monbeg Dude, Night In Milan, Cause Of Causes, Tranquil Sea and Super Duty.
The runners headed back across the Melling Road led by one of the loose horses, Al Co, and over the next two plain fences; St Are made an error at the second of these. The following obstacle is the Chair, where the rider-less horse saw an opportunity to bypass this one and headed across in front of the leaders; fortunately he didn’t hamper any of them in the process. Everyone seemed to jump this without bother, apart from the very slow Super Duty in rear, although he did continue under Will Kennedy.
Rebel Rebellion led the runners over the water-jump, with Soll now almost upsides. Al Co decided to depart the race at this point and headed for the plastic rails around the outside of the bend which separate the steeplechase course from the hurdles course; attempting to jump them too. There’s always one, every year!
The runners continued over the Melling Road and out into the country once more. Heading over the next, in the leading group were Rebel Rebellion, St Are, Across The Bay, The Rainbow Hunter, The Druids Nephew and Rocky Creek; they travelled mid to outer on the track. Having been prominent early in the race, Court By Surprise just fizzled out after the fence and was pulled up; he was discovered to have bled from his nose so presumably had broken a blood vessel. Across The Bay began to fade quickly from this point; Rocky Creek started to lose his place also.
Both Saint Are and Rebel Rebellion got a little bit close to the next fence; the latter more so and he landed awkwardly too. This enabled The Rainbow Hunter and The Druids Nephew to take the advantage as they headed to the next, which was an open-ditch; none of the runners experienced any jumping issues here. Saint Are continued in third position, from Soll, Rebel Rebellion, Shutthefrontdoor, Portrait King, Many Clouds Royale Knight and Godsmejudge.
Again there were no casualties as the horses cleared the next two plain fences and arrived at Becher’s Brook for the second time. Having crept up the inside once more, Soll jumped into a narrow lead at this fence. Apart from a blunder by St Are and a nod on landing from Bob Ford, this once notorious fence caused little problem; it’s so innocuous now! Soll and The Druids Nephew disputed the lead as they cleared Foinavon; close behind were Many Clouds, Shutthefrontdoor and The Rainbow Hunter. They were followed by St Are, Portrait King, Oscar Time, Royale Knight, Rocky Creek, Night In Milan, Mon Parrain, Alvarado, Pineau De Re, Owega Star, Godsmejudge and Donatulo.
Having reached this point of the race, the surviving runners were directed around the outside of the Canal Turn, the corral having been removed to allow for safe passage; this was in order for them to avoid the green screened obstacle which was the prostrate Balthazar King. Upon later inspection, it was noticed that the first flag-bearing marshal was, in fact, Ruby Walsh!
The sixth fence from home was Valentine’s Brook; prior to the fence the trailing Across The Bay, Lord Windermere, Rebel Rebellion and Super Duty were pulled up. Meanwhile, up front, The Druids Nephew was travelling so well that he jumped into a clear lead; he was followed through by Many Clouds. However, he was obviously going too well for, at the next, he over-jumped and capsized on landing. This left Oliver Sherwood’s charge narrowly ahead from Shutthefrontdoor, Soll and St Are.
The Rainbow Hunter, which had been travelling in around 7th position, also fell here. But at least he had got further than on his two previous attempts when unlucky on both occasions at the first Canal Turn; he’s part-owned by RUK’s Oli Bell. Aidan Coleman, who had been piloting The Druids Nephew in the absence of injured Barry Geraghty, was soon on his feet and walked away; he was probably gutted.
There were no departures as the remaining 23 runners cleared the fifth last fence. Then, at the third last, Portrait King fell when in fifth position; help soon arrived on the scene for the prostrate Davy Condon. At the rear of the field, Bob Ford was pulled up. The horses then headed back across the Melling Road towards the final turn, with just two more fences to negotiate. Many Clouds was still leading, from Shutthefrontdoor, St Are, Royale Knight, Oscar Time, Soll, Pineau De Re, Night In Milan and Monbeg Dude; it would be no repeat performance for last year’s winner as he soon began to fade. Both Wyck Hill and Godsmejudge were pulled up before jumping two out.
Many Clouds continued to lead, from St Are and Shutthefrontdoor as they cleared two out. AP was now becoming more and more animated aboard his mount; it appeared now very unlikely to be a second Grand National win for the Champ in his last Grand National. The runners headed over the final fence, Many Clouds still ahead of St Are and the now tired and wandering Shutthefrontdoor. Monbeg Dude had stayed on into fourth position at this point, followed by Royale Knight under strong pressure, the white-faced Alvarado staying on behind him, Soll was fading, Cause Of Causes behind him.
Exiting the elbow, Many Clouds was four lengths clear of his nearest rival but, as the line approached, St Are began to gain upon him. However, the Oliver Sherwood runner managed to hold on to win by 1¾ lengths at the line. Monbeg Dude completed in 3rd place, 6 lengths back, and Alvarado in 4th; Shutthefrontdoor completed in 5th.
Jockey Leighton Aspell had doubled up, having ridden last year’s winner, Pineau De Re, too. It was trainer Oliver Sherwood’s first Grand National winner; owner Trevor Hemmings’ third! The class horse in the race had shouldered 11 stone 9 pounds to victory; only Lord Windermere had carried one pound more.
As has happened on previous occasions post-race, Many Clouds became a little bit wobbly on his feet so was dismounted, many buckets of water applied, and he was then led back to the stables, rather than entering the Winners’ Enclosure; the winning jockey was escorted in on foot.
Ruby Walsh arrived back aboard a different horse to the one he’d rode in the race; we identified it as the French-raider River Choice. The horse having been checked over by a member of the veterinary staff out on the track, clearance had been given for him the ride the animal back. He rode into the farthest corral and handed the horse back to its connections. That’s so typically Ruby!
Here is the full result for all those runners which finished the race:
And those which did not finish:
We returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure area, eventually; although we did miss the presentations.
Oliver Sherwood revealed that it had been the owner’s decision to run the horse; the trainer having thought it a year too soon, especially after the disappointing run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Veterans, 13-year-old Tranquil Sea which had finished 7th and 14-year-old Oscar Time which had finished 15th were retired at the end of the season having served their connections well.
Race 5 - 4:15pm
THE CRABBIE'S GRAND NATIONAL STEEPLE CHASE (HANDICAP) (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
No Stewards Enquiry.
Paul Nicholls, the trainer of ROCKY CREEK (IRE),
unplaced, reported that the gelding was never travelling. The Veterinary
Officer reported that a post-race examination of ROCKY CREEK (IRE) during routine
testing failed to reveal any abnormalities.
Having looked to be in a really bad way, veterinary staff finally persuaded Balthazar King to stand up having been in receipt of emergency treatment and painkillers; he was then transported to the University of Liverpool’s Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital. The initial diagnosis was that the horse had fractured a number of ribs and was having difficulty breathing. Having damaged his lungs and ruptured some blood vessels, his chest was full of gas and blood so the medical team had to drain this to give the horse’s lungs a chance to expand; he was sedated as opposed to anaesthetised, because it’s too risky to do the latter when breathing is already compromised. A blood transfusion was considered but found not to be necessary.
Chest x-rays and ultrasound confirmed that Balthazar had fractured four ribs on his right side and it was presumed these had punctured his lungs. As the injury was located so close to his spine, surgical correction was not possible, instead a pressure dressing was applied around his ribs to make him more comfortable. The horse was kept under very close supervision due to the risk of infection and remained on painkillers and antibiotics. By 15 April he was able to be led out for a pick of grass.
The long-term prognosis is that he will have a slightly deformed chest due to the fact that corrective surgery could not be undertaken and that his breathing capacity may also be slightly reduced. The vet in charge expects that Balthazar King will be able to return to athletic activities, but perhaps not racing. The injured horse was able to return to his owners’ Hampshire farm six weeks after the Grand National.
Having lost a lot of condition due to the inactivity, he was soon undergoing physiotherapy sessions but reported to be sound. His future plans will be decided once he’s ridden again and back in training. Thus the worst case scenario is a good retirement.
There had also been what turned out to be a career-ending fall from Portrait King’s rider Davy Condon; he suffered a second occurrence of spinal concussion and was forced to retire following consultation with a neurologist. More
The favourite for the next race was One For The Guv’nr, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 4-1.
The starting gate for this race was located in the far corner of the track. We did watch the race, although we were too late to see the horses exit onto the racecourse.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by one of the Irish raiders, namely the mare Little King Robin. Behind her travelled Mason Hindmarsh, Thorpe, Astre De La Cour and Fethard Player; at the rear of the field were War Sound and Ruler Of All. The leader was three lengths clear as they headed around the bend and into the home straight on the first occasion and she was slightly awkward jumping the first flight having got in a little bit too close to it.
There was an incident at the second hurdle when War Sound made an error; this resulted in him veering to his left which, in turn, pushed the unlucky Cinders And Ashes out beyond the running rail; the latter was out of the race.
This left the remaining twenty runners to continue their journey down the home straight and over the third flight still led by Little King Robin. Heading down past the winning post with one circuit to go, the field began to stretch out behind the leader; Astre De La Cour travelled in second position, from Fethard Player, Mason Hindmarsh, Chieftain’s Choice and the white-faced Roserrow. Ballyglasheen and War Sound travelled at the rear of the field.
The mare led the runners into the back straight, a couple of lengths ahead of Astre De La Cour and Fethard Player; these three had drawn clear of the remainder who were headed by Chieftain’s Choice. Having cleared flight number four without incident, it was noticeable that Thorpe had now lost so much ground that he was at the rear of the field and being pushed along.
The field continued its journey along the back straight, and over flight number five, where one of the panels was flattened by Oyster Shell in mid-field. And still Little King Robin led the way as they crossed the pathway and jumped four out. At the rear of the field, Ruler Of All, Ballyglasheen and Thorpe were struggling, soon to be joined by Mason Hindmarsh too; these four had lost touch as they turned into the final straight.
The hooded Fethard Player jumped into the lead over the third last flight , and was followed through by Astre De La Cour, as the long-time leader began to drop back through the field. There seemed many horses in with chances as they approached two out, including Chieftain’s Choice, Queen Alphabet, Baltimore Rock and The Game Changer. However, heading down to the final flight, Irish-raider Fethard Player and Astre De La Cour continued to battle for the lead, with another Ireland versus UK battle developing for third place between Gigginstown’s The Game Changer and Baltimore Rock.
The leading duo was still neck and neck as they cleared the last flight, although Astre De La Cour hit it. However, despite this, he took a narrow lead and managed to hold on, winning by a head at the line. The Game Changer and Baltimore Rock had drifted across to the nearside and had carried on their own battle all the way to the line; with the former claiming third prize by a short-head. And, not to be left out, it was a very close thing for fifth and sixth, with Queen Alphabet beating Ruacana by a nose for the honour! Thorpe finished last, with all runners completing the course apart from the unlucky Cinders And Ashes.
Following the race we returned to the Parade Ring, rather than the steppings.
In early June, it was announced that the injury-prone and unlucky in running former Supreme Novices’ winner Cinders And Ashes had been retired.
Race 6 - 5:10pm
THE ONE STOP ENERGY HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 2)
(For Conditional Jockeys and Amateur Riders)
We had now arrived at the final race of the fixture; this year it being the Mares’ Standard Open Flat race having been swapped with the Open Race which now took place on Friday.
The favourite for this race was Babylone Des Motte, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 11-4. The filly had won the Listed Mares’ Bumper at Sandown Park on the Saturday prior to the Cheltenham Festival; that day the Noel Williams-trained Briery Queen had finished as runner-up and re-opposed today; the latter the only 6-year-old in today’s race.
Alan King had three fillies in this race; they were all aged 4, with thoroughbred racehorses not classed as mares until they reach the age of 5 due to their official 01 January birthdays. Firstly, Angel Face who sported the colours of Dai Walters, Katie Too who is a full-sister to The Pirate’s Queen, and Miss Crick who sports the yellow with red spots colours of David Sewell.
Steve Ayres was helping to lead Angel Face around the Parade Ring; Uxizandre’s lass was leading up Miss Crick; and Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells was helping with Katie Too. Wayne Hutchinson had chosen to ride Miss Crick, with Aidan Coleman aboard Katie Too and Paul Moloney riding Angel Face.
My paddock pick of the Alan King runners was Katie Too; Sandra liked Miss Crick best. Perhaps we should have chosen Chocca Wocca because of her name!
We returned to our favoured position beside the horse-walk prior to the horses exiting onto the racecourse. The starting gate for this race was in the far corner of the track.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by Briery Queen, Sea Pride and the keen Innis Shannon; at the rear of the field travelled the nose-banded Isla Fernandos. Of the Alan King runners, Angel Face travelled on the inside in mid-field, with Miss Crick further back and Katie Too just three from the rear.
Having turned into the home straight, the runners headed down past the grandstands with Sea Pride holding the slight advantage over Briery Queen to her inside. They were followed by Lifeboat Mona upsides Innis Shannon, then Babylone Des Motte, with Rose Revived and Hollies Pearl. Behind these Sunshine Corner, Chocca Wocca, and Sherry; after which travelled Angel Face, Whistle Dixie, and Pomme, following these Unbuckled, Miss Crick, Katie Too, Verona Opera, Legend Lady and the slightly detached Isla Fernandos.
Being a sharp bend following the winning post, a number of runners at the rear of the field drifted out wide as they negotiated it; namely Pomme, Katie Too and Verona Opera. Meanwhile Sea Pride continued clear of the field by around three lengths as they began their journey up the back straight. The leader is trained by Sir Mark Prescott who I recall we’d seen walking the course earlier in the day although, at the time, it had taken a few moments for Sandra to recall his name! Briery Queen remained a couple of lengths ahead of the main body of the field in second position.
Innish Shannon began to lose ground to the outside of the field as they continued their journey along beside the Melling Road, and Unbuckled received a few encouraging slaps down her neck as she travelled to the inside of the main group of runners; Pomme too, to the wide outside.
Sea Pride continued to lead as the runners headed into the far turn, she was still a couple of lengths clear of Briery Queen, with Lifeboat Mona three lengths further back and leading the remainder; Isla Fernandos was detached at the rear of the field as she had been throughout the race. The pace was being wound up by the leader as they travelled around the bend, with Innis Shannon soon relegated to last position. Both Pomme and Verona Opera were struggling too.
Katie Too had been steered wide to make her run and she’d soon passed Miss Crick. Sea Pride continued to lead, narrowly, as the runners headed between the wings of the third last flight; Briery Queen was still in second position but had come under pressure. To the far side, Babylone Des Motte was beginning her challenge under Ruby Walsh, with Chocca Wocca and Hollies Pearl making progress to soon join the leaders to the nearside.
Briery Queen had begun to fade as the runners passed between the wings of the second last flight; which left Sea Pride with a slight advantage over Babylone Des Motte, Chocca Wocca and Hollies Pearl. However, as they continued down the home straight, it was the Willie Mullins runner which cracked first, then the long-time leader. This left Chocca Wocca and Hollies Pearl to dispute the lead as they headed between the final set of wings, and the latter to take the advantage as they entered the final furlong.
Then, despite drifting across to the far rail under a right-hand drive, and wavering again to the left when her jockey changed his whip-hand closer home, Hollies Pearl went on to win by 1¾ lengths at the line from Chocca Wocca. Sea Pride had kept on despite being overtaken and had finished 3rd, 2¾ lengths away. Gigginstown’s Whistle Dixie completed in 4th, 1¾ lengths behind her.
The favourite Babylone Des Motte claimed 5th, with Katie Too in 7th, Briery Queen 8th, Angel Face 10th and Miss Crick 14th.
It had been a win for trainer Peter Bowen, ridden by son Sean; Peter has a very good record of producing the winners of this race!
We headed back to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.
Race 7 - 5:40pm
THE PINSENT MASONS MARES' STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
No Stewards Enquiry.
Tom Scudamore, the rider of POMME, unplaced, reported that the filly hung right throughout.
Sandra is a canny punter and had a number of winners during the three days, including Rajdhani Express and Nichols Canyon.
We decided to wait behind on the steppings following the last race ... still hopeful we might see Choc. And that was despite the fact that Many Clouds would shortly be parading on the course! Choc vs. the winner of the Grand National ... no contest, it has to be Choc every time!!!
Whilst loitering, I noticed Choc’s mum Sally and her companions walk along the pathway in front of the steppings and they began to climb them to the far side before stopping. Were they waiting for someone I wondered? I continued to glance across every now and then ... and suddenly there he was, the lovely Choc! I set off in his direction, calling to Sandra for her to follow. I had to wait behind a group of guys heading for the exit, but I’d soon reached Choc and his companions. I presume Choc, his mum and friends were attending an event that evening, for he was handing out plastic wristbands to them as I approached.
“Hi Choc, I hoped that I would see you today.” I gave him a kiss on both cheeks and a little hug too. When asked if he’d had a good day, he said, “I’ve been mooching about all day”. I wish he would have mooched about with us! Anyway, he was pleased to pose for photographs and sign an autograph for Sandra too. Sandra couldn’t believe I’d spotted Choc amongst the crowds ... but this bloodhound always finds her man!
Having said our farewells, we headed out to the racecourse to see Many Clouds who, having recovered from the exertions of the big race, was being paraded on the racecourse. Having suffered a ‘wobbly’ after the race, the Grand National winner was now in fine fettle and we were able to take a few photographs before he was led back to the stables. Many Clouds has been unsteady on his feet following previous races, including the Hennessy; it’s just one of his traits and normal for him.
We popped to the ladies’ loos situated at the back of the Earl of Derby stand before we left; better safe than sorry as I had a long journey home this evening. Having walked back down the concourse, we headed beneath the awnings which marked the entrance to the course-side enclosures, before turning left through the betting-ring. As always on Grand National day, we had to pick our way through the rubbish which had been dropped on the ground as we walked towards the course-crossing point; the mess has to be seen to be believed!
We joined the back of the queue waiting to catch a bus to the Melling Road car park; however, after a few minutes and with the line of people still queued half way the course, we decided to walk instead. Initially our route took us along the same cinder track we’d used to begin the course-walk. A steward standing part way along would not permit us to take a short-cut across the centre of the course; only bookies with their trolleys were allowed to do that evidently.
So we continued further along, before taking a left turn and heading up the roadway to the inside of the park course; eventually we crossed the course and walked along the turf to the outside of the hurdles course. We’d soon reached the gateway, after which we walked across the Melling Road and out through the exit; it’s really strange but, out of habit, I always check for traffic when crossing the aforementioned road, despite it being closed for the duration of the racing. Mind you, having said that, sometimes there have been coaches parked along the road, but not this year.
Today we were running a little later than expected; but we’d soon reached my car and set off to join the queues of traffic waiting to exit over Anchor Bridge. I joined the right-hand queue, which may not have been the best choice; this was because vehicles were joining this queue having exited the Golf Club enclosure further along the drive. An ambulance, with light flashing, also had to weave its way through the queued traffic, heading for the Anchor Bridge exit too. Unfortunately the stewards also give priority to coaches; these entered the queue, from our right, just beyond the Golf Club.
Finally it was our turn; having driven over the Anchor Bridge, we turned left at the T-junction to head back to the Ormskirk Road. Due to weight of traffic, the queue tailed back all the way. Having eventually reached the traffic lights, we turned right, headed past Asda to reach the M57/M58 interchange. Once on the M57, we exited at the second junction to join the eastbound carriageway of the A580. Having arrived at the M6 junction road-works, traffic was again diverted via the roundabout option, as opposed to the direct route through the middle. We arrived back at the Premier Inn at 19:45.
Having said my farewells, I remained in the car park for 10 minutes in order to eat a number of biscuits ahead of my homeward journey. There was a group of boys playing football in the car park; “you’ll be for the high-jump if you hit my car with your football”, I thought! I headed back to Junction 23 of the M6, taking the slip-road to join the southbound carriageway. The initial section of the motorway was quiet, traffic-wise; until vehicles joined it from the M62 interchange, namely 21A.
As happens every time I return from Aintree, the ‘keep your distance’ chevrons on the motorway carriageway drive me crazy; I find them mesmerising. I don’t notice them during daylight hours but, as the light fades, it’s a whole different ball game. There is a section of them prior to Stoke, and another after. And the Government is spending ‘loads of money’ on road repairs and improvements, because the number of road-works being carried out was amazing. There were some small stretches, plus a long-stretch after Stoke; also the ongoing ones where the M6 toll road begins.
Because I was running later than usual, and traffic was thus lighter, it was easier to ensure I was in the correct lane when travelling through Birmingham; in other words I didn’t get stuck in the wrong lane. The worst part of my journey is usually the ‘dark’ section between Birmingham and the M1, but not so this year. As with the outbound journey on Thursday, the major stretch of road-works was between the M6 junction and Northampton; concrete barriers are being installed on the central reservation.
As a result, the outside lanes in both directions were out of use, with the hard-shoulder currently being used as the inside lane. I was not keen on the resultant narrowing of the three carriageway lanes and the headlights of vehicles which dazzled me in the rear-view mirror and wing mirrors too. I did move the rear view mirror for a while, but didn’t like driving without it. I was also pretty tired by this time ... I always think that I’ll stop off in one of the service stations for a break ... but I never do!
I’m back on very familiar territory by the time I reach Junction 12; and there were yet more road-works here! Junction 12 is the one I use when visiting my little brother and his family in nearby Silsoe; I could travel to see them via Luton ... but I’d rather not!!! I left the motorway at Junction 9, and returned via Harpenden Common to St Albans. My trip home had taken me exactly three and a half hours; I arrived back at 23:25.
I set up my Skybox recordings and video player on Wednesday afternoon, and double-checked the planner ... but on Sunday morning I discovered that all three of my RUK Skybox recordings had failed and I had nothing but the Saturday highlights programme which I’d added to the planner on a whim! L There was nothing wrong with the system, as I did have all three Morning Lines and the aforementioned RUK highlights. It should not have been a problem because I had well over 30 hours of free recording time available ... it’s a total mystery.
My one consolation is that RUK re-show their Cheltenham, Aintree and Royal Ascot highlight programmes over Christmas when there’s no live racing; or before that, if they have no live racing on any given day. I just need to be vigilent so that I don’t miss it.
In fact, RUK showed all three of their Aintree Festival highlights programmes on 19 April; they caught me out slightly, but I did manage to record the end of race 4, plus races 5 to 7 on Day 1, and all of Day 2; I already had Day 3. Fortunately Sandra sent me a copy of the Channel 4 race coverage ... so I’m sorted; although I will still keep a look-out for the missing races to complete my 2015 RUK collection!
It transpires, as I write this diary, that I have part of one race missing, namely race 1 on day 1 ... because Channel 4 didn’t broadcast it apart from the race finish; although the RUK pundits did analyse each race the day after the Festival and showed the final circuit.
Click here for photos – Parade of Stars, etc.
Click here for photos – Race 1
Click here for photos – Race 2 & 3
Click here for photos – Race 4
Click here for photos – Race 5 – Grand National
Click here for photos – Race 6 & 7
Click here for photos – Meeting Choc & Many Clouds