DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND NATIONAL DAY
SATURDAY 09 APRIL 2016
My picture of the Festival just has to be Shaneshill and Paul Townend
ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle ... exiting the Parade Ring during a downpour!
I decided to set my alarm for around 05:30 on the final day, to ensure I not only had time to have a shower and put on my make-up before breakfast, but also to pack my belongings too. I took my shoe box down to my car before breakfast, together with one of my coats, my remaining three bags and coats on trips afterwards.
Breakfast was at 07:15; the restaurant opened at 07:00 on Saturday and Sundays, and at 06:30 on weekdays. We were shown to a table in the area overlooking the front car park, this time to the right of the window, as opposed to the left as had been the case yesterday. Predictably, breakfast was very similar to yesterday too; three yoghurts – blueberry, peach, and strawberry or was it raspberry! I also ordered an English breakfast consisting of fried eggs, mushrooms, bacon and a vegetarian sausage. Also cranberry juice.
Today’s outfit was three thermal t-shirts (dark pink, purple and violet), a bright-blue BHS button-to-the- neck cardigan, my wardrobe staple – a grey tweed M&S double-frill skirt, brown tights and burgundy jeggings, bright purple fleece, black fleece gillet, black Hotter ‘Cannes’ boots, black faux sheepskin BHS coat, black/white horse design snood, and my favourite River Island scarf. Rain forecasted, I also put my faux fur trimmed black BHS quilted hat in my handbag. You’d never have known it was Spring!!!
Tweed M&S double-frill skirt
Faux sheepskin BHS coat
Bright-blue BHS cardigan
Bright purple M&S fleece
Thermal T-shirts from M & S –
violet, pink, purple, bright pink, plum
Black M&S fleece gillet
Aintree Hotter footwear -
Danville boots, plum shoes,
Fired Creations jewellery
River Island scarf and M&S snood
Mindful of arriving at the racecourse as early as possible, we set off at 09:15. I drove, and would bring Sandra back to the hotel in the evening before setting off on my 200-mile journey home. We followed our usual route to the racecourse, and checked in through the Steeplechase car park security without any car bonnet issues again today. Hooray!
However, the hand luggage check-in didn’t go so smoothly, as Sandra had left a pair of small scissors in her handbag and these were deemed to be a safety hazard; no sharp objects were permitted to be taken into the racecourse enclosures! As a result, she had to return to my car to leave the scissors therein before being re-checked by security and meeting me on the other side of the check-in area.
Having both gained clearance to the racecourse, we headed to the grandstand enclosures aboard the bus. Once again we collected our wristbands from the kiosk located beside the horse walkway, just outside our Earl of Derby enclosure, before heading to the steppings below the Weighing Room. I have a vague recollection that we may have already purchased our race-cards today, from a kiosk situated within the Steeplechase car park.
Here is an article about the early manifestation of the Grand National, namely the ‘St Albans Grand Steeplechase’:
I mention this because William Lynn, who brought the idea of running the Grand National to Liverpool, was inducted into the Aintree Hall of Fame today.
And to think that, had history been different, I would have been able to stay at home for the duration of the ‘St Albans Festival of Racing’!!! Although a book which I possess states that the St Albans Grand Steeplechase was run in Bedfordshire, between Harlington Church and the obelisk at Wrest Park. Strangely enough, Wrest Park is just around the corner from where my little brother lives, in Silsoe; but that wouldn’t have been far to drive to either.
As usual, the Parade of Champions took place today – this year’s turn out comprised of Lord Gyllene (1997), Red Marauder (2001), Bindaree (2002), Amberleigh House (2004), Hedgehunter (2005), Silver Birch (2007), Comply Or Die (2008), Mon Mome (2009), Don’t Push It (2010), Ballabriggs 2011), Neptune Collonges (2012) and Auroras Encore (2013). The 2014 winner, Pineau De Re failed to make the Grand National ‘cut’, having been outside the top 40 entries and the 2015 winner Many Clouds was taking part in the race again today.
However, we had already left the Paddock area prior to the initial Parade of Champions, in order to reserve our favourite spot beside the walkway exit gate ahead of racing. But we did get our chance to see these previous winners, as latterly they paraded on the racecourse itself. Making an appearance during the Festival was a Shetland pony named Mini Clouds, with his jockey dressed in the Trevor Hemmings silks.
After two days of racing, the turfed area outside the exit gateway was a muddy mess; a couple of the ground staff were tasked with improving this situation. However they weren’t doing a particularly good job as, despite shovelling sand from one of their maintenance vehicles onto the offending area, there was little change in its appearance! At one point a rubber mat was placed over the worst part, and eventually they stomped on this to flatten the earth around the hoof indentations. Finally, the mat was removed, presumably because that was a safety issue as someone, man or beast, might have tripped up on it!
There were a number of well-known faces who passed us by on their way to and from walking the course. However, at the time of writing I cannot remember who they were; apart from former jockey Mark Bradburne and, more than likely, Sam Waley-Cohen and his entourage ... we always spot him at some point! And, why is it that people always choose to walk across the mudiest ground, when a fairly short diversion would avoid it all together? One group included a girl wearing high espadrille wedges and they were covered with mud by the time she returned; shoes ruined!
The favourite for the first race of the days was If In Doubt, trained by Philip Hobbs, ridden by Barry Geraghty, and sporting the silks of JP McManus; price 9-2. David Mullins was deputising for the side-lined Ruby Walsh aboard Childrens List; this was the third time the latter would miss his Grand National engagement in recent years due to an injury sustained earlier in the Festival. My personal fancy was Ubak, because he’d run so well at the Cheltenham Festival; I didn’t place a bet, because I rarely do!
The nineteen runners circled out upon the home straight, ready for the off; a big field but not the maximum 22, as there were three non-runners. Having just the final flight to jump of the three in the aforementioned home straight, the horses were required to squeeze through quite a narrow gap between the previous flight and the running rail; in this instance they failed to comply with the stringent instructions. Upon his rostrum, the Starter waved his yellow flag, as did the flag-man standing in front of the first hurdle. No-one had broken away from the group, having been just jogging and ‘bouncing’ a little too fast; it would now be a standing start.
The tape was re-strung across the course, with Brian Hughes manoeuvring Urban Hymn in order to face in the right direction; the starter remained unhappy and the jockeys were asked to take another turn in order to line up again. They didn’t walk away very far before turning towards the tape once more, but the Starter decided to let them go anyway.
So they were off … the runners were led away by Rock The Kasbah to the inside of Urban Hymn; the latter had been keen to get started, having been off the racecourse for 464 days. However, he caught his near foreleg on the first hurdle and knuckled over on landing. Brian Hughes was thrown clear, but then had to face the prospect of numerous hooves heading in his direction with no time to move out of the way.
A number of horses were hampered by the prostrate horse; Silsol collided with Urban Hymn’s head, Minella Daddy had to jump over his body and, worst of all, Ubak not only got kicked by his hind-legs, but he also trampled over Brian Hughes shortly afterwards. A horse will endeavour to avoid standing on people if possible, but Ubak was lucky just to remain on his feet; further back in the field, Saddlers Encore was also slightly hampered. Urban Hymn was okay too and soon got to his feet; his jockey less so, as it later transpired that Brian Hughes had suffered a broken collarbone.
Meanwhile, Rock The Kasbah continued to lead from At Fishers Cross as the remaining runners headed down past the winning post with two complete circuits now to travel; the latter sported the red cap with JP McManus silks. Behind these travelled Murrayana and Silsol, then the grey Squouateur (sporting the quartered cap JP silks), with Ubak, Ruacana and the also grey Arpege D’Alene. The chestnut Mydor travelled to the wide outside of Pinnacle Panda, Join The Clan (sporting the starred-cap JP silks) and Ballycross; after these were JP’s If In Doubt (sporting the white cap and silks) with, to the wide outside the red-blinkered Tiger Roll representing Gigginstown. Between these were Saddlers Encore and Minella Daddy and, bringing up the rear, Childrens List and Kings Palace.
The leader was setting a steady pace on the soft ground, besides the race was over 3 miles in distance. The first four were travelling in almost Indian file as they jumped the first flight in the back straight before heading to the next; Squouateur was a little awkward at this one. The horses headed across the sanded track prior to reaching the final flight in the back straight; again there were no incidents here. The field had closed upon the leader by the time they entered the top bend, with Rock The Kasbah holding just a length’s advantage at this point; Saddlers Encore and Kings Palace brought up the rear as they entered the home straight once more.
The runners continued at a sensible pace as they headed over the fifth flight; Ubak was a little clumsy at the next and received a slap down the neck from jockey Joshua Moore shortly afterwards. The runners had now completed one circuit. They headed over the next with Rock The Kasbah still holding the advantage from Murrayana, At Fishers Cross and Silsol; at the rear of the field travelled Saddlers Encore. My fancy, Ubak, was travelling in fifth position as they galloped down past the winning post and around the bottom bend for the final time.
Having entered the back straight, Saddlers Encore began to lose touch with the others. They headed over the eighth flight without incident. However, at this point, Kings Palace was pulled up abruptly by Tom Scudamore; he’d gone lame. Meanwhile Richard Johnson’s mount continued to set the pace as they jumped the next flight, before heading across the sanded track once more; Silsol and Murrayana disputed a close-up second.
The leader wandered off a straight course as they approached four out but remained ahead and led the now seventeen-strong field into the top bend. Saddlers Encore continued, but a number of lengths adrift of the field, with both Minella Daddy and Pinnacle Panda being scrubbed along at the rear of the main group. The favourite, If In Doubt, was also being pushed along in an endeavour to hold his place not far from the back of the field.
Having entered the home straight, the runners fanned out on the approach to three out; Rock The Kasbah still led but only marginally as they jumped it, from Silsol and At Fishers Cross. Not far behind them, Mydor was particularly awkward at this flight, jumping out to his right and colliding with Tiger Roll as a result.
Continuing their journey down the home straight, Silsol led narrowly over two out, with Ubak now laying down a challenge between him and Rock The Kasbah, and Murrayana plugging on to their inside; At Fishers Cross was still prominent to the nearside. As they headed down to the last, the long-time leader quickly weakened, with Silsol and Ubak continuing their battle for the lead. The latter held a narrow advantage as they jumped the last, from Murrayana to the far side.
The JP McManus ‘massive’ was on the offensive behind the leading trio, with Squouateur, At Fishers Cross and Join The Clan plugging on, and If In Doubt staying on under a strong drive from Barry Geraghty. However, Ubak was putting his best hooves forward and had soon set up a four length lead over his nearest rival. Would this prove unassailable?
If In Doubt continued to make progress as they headed down to the winning post and he was gaining on the leader with every stride; however, Ubak wasn’t to be denied and held on to win by 1¾ lengths at the line. Silsol kept on at one pace to claim 3rd, 3¼ lengths further away, with Murrayana 1½ lengths behind in 4th.
The remainder of the McManus ‘massive’, At Fishers Cross, Squouateir and Join The Clan, finished 5th, 6th and 7th respectively, with Minella Daddy in 8th.
Considering that both the first and the third were severely hampered when Urban Hymn fell at the first flight, they did remarkably well!
It transpired that Kings Palace had struck into himself so badly that he could not be saved.
The winner’s stable-lass greeted her charge with pats and hugs; isn’t that nice? He’d been off the track for two and a half years before returning this season but failing to convince as a novice chaser – he’d also run extremely well at the Cheltenham Festival last month when finishing 3rd in the Coral Cup. And I would have won a tidy sum because his starting price was 16-1!!!
We remained beside the walkway exit gate following completion of the race.
Race 1 - 1:45pm
THE GASKELLS WASTE MANAGEMENT HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The odds-on favourite for the second race was Yorkhill, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend substituting for Ruby Walsh; price 30/100. It was the first time Paul had piloted the Wylie-owned horse in a race. Yorkhill had beaten Alan King’s ‘banker’ Yanworth in the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival.
The outsider of the six, Prince Of Steal, had been misbehaving in the Parade Ring. As a result he was initially led down the walkway to the racecourse without his jockey, Leighton Aspell, aboard. Having been legged up prior to the gateway and with the horse still overexcited, Leighton kept his feet out of the stirrups as his mount bounded onto the racecourse. Having soon settled under the calming influence of his jockey, the dual Grand National winning rider was able to put his feet in the irons and undertake a controlled canter along the sand track to the inside of the racecourse in order to join his rivals at the starting gate part way up the back straight.
All the horses took a look at the first flight in the back straight, which they wouldn’t jump on this circuit, before having their girths checked prior to milling around waiting for the race to start.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by The Dutchman, from Imperial Cup winner Flying Angel. Bello Conti, sporting the Gigginstown colours, travelled in third ahead of Le Prezien and Prince Of Steal; the latter with a low head carriage as his jockey endeavoured to restrain him. Bringing up the rear was Yorkhill, also very keen.
The Dutchman led the horses over the first flight, which they all hurdled fluently. They continued their journey up the back straight, crossing the sanded track which led to the Steeplechase car park as they did so, before arriving at the next obstacle. Again they all jumped this well. Heading into the top bend, Yorkhill began to fight for his head and he pulled his way through between Prince Of Steal and Le Prezien; there was little Paul Townend could do to stop him.
The pace was still serene as they entered the home straight on the first occasion; The Dutchman continued to lead, from the iron grey Flying Angel, Bello Conti, Yorkhill, Prince Of Steal and Le Prezien. Having cleared the next, Yorkhill lit up again, but his jockey managed to retain some cover in the middle of the pack as they headed towards and over the fourth flight.
They continued their journey down the home straight towards the grandstands, clearing another flight in the process; The Dutchman made a slight error at this one. Jockey Nico de Boinville gave his mount a couple of slaps down the neck to encourage him to remain ahead of his rivals as they headed down to the winning post with one circuit now to travel. The presence of Yorkhill at his quarters seemed to light up Bello Conti too.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed around the bottom turn; Yorkhill continued to cause a problem to his jockey and to his rivals as he fought for his head whilst travelling in fourth place. In fact the horse dived over the next flight and, as a result, Paul Townend gave the horse his head and he quickly assumed the lead. I think everyone was relieved by this development, especially his rivals!
Anyway, with a sudden injection of pace, the field began to string out as they headed over the middle flight in the back straight; Yorkhill actually bunny-hopped it, but this did not affect his momentum. The new leader jumped the final flight in the back straight better, although he did run down it slightly to his left.
Despite taking the lead, the Willie Mullins runner didn’t extend away from his rivals; he remained just a length or so ahead of Flying Angel as they headed around the top turn, with The Dutchman and Bello Conti disputing third, Le Prezien behind these and Prince Of Steal trailing the field. Bello Conti was soon under pressure and The Dutchman began to tail off too.
Having entered the home straight, they headed down to the third last flight; again the leader ran down it to his left but remained in command. Flying Angel currently lying second, soon came under pressure, Bello Conti continued to battle on, with Le Prezien gaining and travelling best of the challengers. Yorkhill led over the penultimate flight, although his jump was ungainly.
Paul Townend glanced over his shoulder briefly as they began their journey down to the final flight. He became a little more animated aboard the leader but appeared to have all eventualities covered. His rivals hadn’t given up and continued to battle on, with Le Prezien assuming second position as they jumped it.
Yorkhill hung away to his left after the flight and, having seemed to have the race in the bag, suddenly had a serious challenger in the form of the Paul Nicholls runner. Paul Townend had to shake up his mount and reach for his whip as they headed down to the line. However, his mount found reserves and went on the win by 2¼ lengths at the line, going away again.
It was a close fought battle for 3rd, with Flying Angel beating Bello Conti by a neck; 1½ lengths behind the 2nd. Prince of Steal claimed 5th, although 52 lengths behind the others, with The Dutchman having been pulled up before the last due to a broken blood vessel.
Again we remained beside the course-side rails following the race.
Race 2 - 2:25pm
THE EZ TRADER MERSEY NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Stewards noted that
PRINCE OF STEAL (IRE), trained by James Evans, would wear earplugs which
would be removed at the start.
The promised rain had now arrived.
The odds-on favourite for this race was Douvan, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend; price 2-13. There were only five runners, with three of them representing Ireland.
The starting gate for the second race was in the far corner of the track; the cross fence being the first obstacle.
There were no histrionics from the horses ahead of this event; they were six and seven year olds accustomed to racecourse surroundings. Alisier D’Irlande jogged into position ready for the off, and Douvan was on his toes too; the other three were totally laid back. All five walked in towards the starting gate and then they were off.
The runners were led away by Alisier D’Irlande, followedg by Douvan, Fox Norton, The Game Changer and Ballybolley. It was a short run to the first obstacle, being the cross-fence. Douvan was a little awkward in mid-air, skewing his hindquarters as he cleared it. The Henry de Bromhead runner held an uncontested lead as they headed into the home straight on the first occasion; he was three lengths clear of Douvan which, in turn, was a number of lengths clear of Gigginstown’s The Game Changer. They cleared the second fence without incident.
The following fence was an open-ditch where, again, Douvan wasn’t fluent; he’d taken off too early over this one. They then headed across the Grand National track before reaching the fourth. The leader flew this one, and the others jumped it well also. The field continued down the home straight to the winning post; one circuit still to travel. The commentator estimated that there was a 15 length distance between first and last at this point!
Alisier D’Irlande led the field around the bottom bend with still a clear advantage over Douvan; the pace was good, but they were not over-racing. All five runners jumped the first in the back straight without a problem and they continued to the next; again no issues, with the leader adjusting his stride to ensure safe passage over it. The following fence was an open-ditch, with Douvan noticeably closer to the leader now. Having all cleared this one, they headed across the sanded track which leads to the Steeplechase car park before arriving at the final fence in the back straight.
Alisier D’Irlande was only a length clear of the Willie Mullins representative as they jumped this one; Ballybolley, who was disputing last place with Fox Norton, hit this fence and lost a length as a result. The runners headed into the top turn and had soon arrived at the cross-fence; birch flew as the leader blundered here. He had also demonstrated a tendency to jump to his left throughout the race.
Heading into the home turn, Paul Townend decided to let Douvan coast into the lead around the outside of Alisier D’Irlande. They galloped down to three out, where Henry de Bromhead’s charge made another error; Fox Norton hit it too. With Douvan clear, The Game Changer overtook Alisier D’Irlande on the run to the final open-ditch; tiring, the latter made a further error.
Having cleared this fence, Paul Townend put his foot on the accelerator and Douvan coasted away from his rivals, all bar The Game Changer, on the long run to the final obstacle. The latter was endeavouring to make a race of it, but he was soon being driven along. So, having jumped the last, Paul Townend’s mount began to draw away from his nearest rival and he won by 14 lengths at the line. Douvan remained unbeaten over fences.
Fox Norton and Ballybolley had overtaken the very tired Alisier D’Irlande between the last two fences, and the former was driven out to take 3rd place, 18 lengths behind The Game Changer. Ballybolley was 1½ lengths away in 4th. Alisier D’Irlande did complete; 21 lengths further back.
Willie Mullins had already mentioned that he liked the sponsor prizes … Crabbies hampers ... so, once more, he would be very pleased!
Obviously there was no need for us to return to the Winners’ Enclosure on this occasion either. And not even the sudden downpour which struck after this race could budge us. The only thing that would have persuaded us is if Choc had ridden a winner which, very sadly, cannot happen anymore. L
Race 3 - 3:00pm
THE DOOM BAR MAGHULL NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Stewards noted that BALLYBOLLEY (IRE), trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, would wear earplugs.
Following an impressive win in the Cheltenham Festival’s World Hurdle, not to mention a number of long distance hurdle events earlier this season and last season’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting too, the Colin Tizzard-trained, Tom Scudamore ridden, Thistlecrack was the odds-on race favourite today; price 2-7.
When the heavens opened, we experienced hail as well as stair-rods rain; it was soggy, soggy, soggy. As I wasn’t giving up my position beside the exit gateway, I got soggy too. Fortunately I’d worn my long faux sheepskin coat so had no worry about the dampness penetrating my outer clothes!
There was a slight delay at the start of the race, with Nico de Boinville hopping off of Different Gravey; it was a problem with his mount’s girth. At one point, the jockey jogged across the Starter, as there appeared to be a bag on the ground containing spares! Having returned with a second girth, it proved impossible for Nico and one of the Starter’s Assistants to fix the issue, so a third girth was whisked across the course. Finally everything was sorted; with Different Gravey having waited patiently throughout!
Having had his girth tightened once aboard, Nico trotted his mount to join the others; from the formation of the group, it appeared that Tom Scudamore wanted to make the running, and Different Gravey was slotted in behind him.
The starting gate for this event was situated part way up the home straight, with one flight and then two full circuits of the course to travel.
Finally they were off, with Thistlecrack leading the runners down past the packed grandstands; these were more congested than usual as everyone, apart from us it seemed, had headed for cover during the downpour. Different Gravey and the French raider Serienschock disputed second, with Aqalim, Prince Of Scars and Shaneshill bringing up the rear. They jumped a sole flight on their run down to the winning post; two full circuits now to travel. The pace was sedate and his five rivals seemed happy to lob along behind him; they were all settled, apart from maybe Aqalim. Anyway, having negotiated the bottom bend, they’d soon entered the back straight and jumped flight number two in their stride.
The six runners popped over the third without incident, before heading across the sanded track to reach the fourth. Again they all cleared this in their stride and Thistlecrack led them into the far turn; the runners travelled in almost Indian file, with Different Gravey in second, followed by Serienschock, then Yorkhill, with Aqalim and Prince Of Scars almost matching strides.
The runners continued to travel well within themselves, as they headed into the home straight and had soon reached flight number five, where the leader put in a big leap. The field headed down towards the grandstands with no change in the order; Aqalim was a little clumsy at the next flight. There was another nice jump by the leader at the seventh, which they all cleared well, and they continued down to the winning post once more.
Heading around the bottom turn, Aqalim was being pushed along; he was the first to show any signs of struggling. The pace remained steady as the runners headed over the first flight in the back straight; Prince Of Scars jumped this a little slowly and was thus relegated to last position. Tom Scudamore let the brakes off aboard the leader as they headed towards the middle flight in the back straight; both Different Gravey and Aqalim jumped this one less than fluently and were both pushed along.
The runners headed across the sanded track-way for the final time before reaching the fourth-last flight. Having cleared this one, Aidan Coleman gave Aqalim a couple of reminders, but this was to no avail and he began to lose touch as they headed into the final bend. Meanwhile, Thistlecrack continued to set the pace with no sign of tiring.
Having entered the home straight, Different Gravey was under pressure to retain second position and, having jumped it, Serienschock soon overtook him then, latterly, Shaneshill; Nico administered reminders in an effort to keep his mount going. Thistlecrack hit two out but it did not affect his momentum and he powered on; Tom Scudamore glanced over this shoulder to check upon his rivals shortly afterwards. He needn’t have worried, because all of the others were being ridden along now.
The leader jumped the final flight well; Shaneshill, now in second, was less than fluent here. Thistlecrack continued the relentless gallop as he headed down to the winning post, extending his lead as he did so; he won by 7 lengths officially … but it certainly looked further! The RSA Chase runner-up, Shaneshill, completed in 2nd. Prince Of Scars, who had demonstrated a habit of putting his head on one side and hanging during the latter part of the race, finished 5 lengths back in 3rd. Serienschock was 2¼ lengths away in 4th, Different Gravey 5th and Aqalim a distant last.
That was three races in a row where there was only going to be one winner; the latter two were very impressive, and Yorkhill would have been had he not pulled so hard!!!
Again we remained beside the course-side rails following the race.
Thistlecrack’s connections had decided to switch the horse to chasing the following season; being an 8-year-old, it was now or never – we watch with interest to see how he gets on.
Race 4 - 3:40pm
THE LIVERPOOL STAYERS' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
That’s it for this section of the diary ...
Click here to read my Grand National Day Diary Part II