DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
FRIDAY 10 APRIL 2015
Saphir Du Rheu,
winner of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase
I was awake before my alarm sounded; I had a little bit of a headache, but I think it was because I chose to sleep with two pillows, rather than just one. I’ve become accustomed to using a firm support shaped pillow at home, and that has greatly eased the problems I’d been experiencing since last April due to cervical spondylosis; although my neck and shoulders are very creaky and grindy these days. I can actually hear my neck every time I move it!
Standing under a hot shower usually eases the discomfort caused by my neck so, having had a shower and washed my hair I felt better and ready to face the day ahead. I put on my make-up prior to breakfast. But I had a set-back; I couldn’t find my doorkey. I looked everywhere, and was still searching when Sandra called by to collect me on the way to the restaurant.
In the end, she volunteered to go down to reception – the key had been found in my door the previous evening by the night-watch person! I am going senile!
Upon arrival in the restaurant we were shown to the pokey 2-person table in the corridor; the one where I’d sat for my evening meal on the first evening of my stay last year. Along with eating two yoghurts (peach and probably mango, and a raspberry one), I drank a glass of cranberry juice, and also had the full-English breakfast – two fried eggs, two rashers of bacon, a fried tomato, mushrooms and a vegetarian sausage (in preference to a pork one). Also a cup of coffee, because it was far easier than messing about with tea!
Having arrived back at my room following breakfast, I changed from my casual clothes into my Ladies Day outfit; this consisted of a black Per Una top, black cardigan, M&S flowered skirt (white background with a lily design in pink and burgundy shades, plus a velvet waistband), purple tights, black Hotter shoes, black BHS suit-style jacket, plus grey/mauve/pink/black M & S scarf. So that’s no thermal t-shirt again today!
I initially put on a different outfit but, because it looked so nice, I decided to save it for Saturday instead ... just in case I bumped into Choc! You have to make an extra special effort don’t you?
M & S skirt
Black Per Una M & S top
Black BHS jacket
Black M & S peplum cardigan
Today I wore the M & S scarf
pictured on the right
I wore my black Hotter ‘Clarissa’ style shoes today (second from right)
Fired Creations Pendant and Earrings
We set off at 09:15; I decided to hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my room door, as I don’t want anyone rummaging around inside when I’m out for the day! I don’t trust hotel maid service staff; my friend Lesley once lost a necklace that she’d accidently left in her room when she vacated it. She phoned to ask if had been handed in; no sorry. It was a pretty peach-coloured glass pendant with cats-eye beaded necklace which I’d made for her birthday; it had sterling silver findings and spacer beads too. Damn the thief. That’s why I don’t take more than one necklace even if I’m staying for more than one night, and thus never have to leave jewellery in my room.
In light of my recurring car bonnet problems the previous day, it was decided that we’d travel to Aintree racecourse in Sandra’s car today. Since the previous day, the road-works below Junction 23 of the M6 had been re-jigged; vehicles were now required to use the roundabout, rather than the direct route through the middle.
We had arrived at the racecourse by 10:00 and the security check-in went very smoothly; we parked in section 13, next to the grass driveway which ran through the centre of the rows of vehicles, before walking to the Melling Road security gate to have our bags searched and our bodies scanned. As we intended to walk the course, I wore my driving moccasins, and took my black Hotter shoes in a canvas bag; it was a freebie sample obtained by a colleague in our Marketing department! It’s royal blue, but hasn’t got a logo, fortunately!
We took the bus to the grandstands area before purchasing our race-cards and heading back across the ‘outwards’ green carpet to visit Red Rum’s grave, which is situated close to the winning post. A steward directed us to walk down a gravel track which led off to the right of the main cinder pathway; we crossed a stretch of grass and ducked under the plastic rails to reach it. It’s the first time I’ve paid a visit to the grave. A number of those making the pilgrimage had left Polo mints on the surrounding stonework, including one full packet; I presume Red Rum loved polos, as do most horses and ponies.
Having returned to the main pathway, we turned right in order to head out across the racecourse and Melling Road to reach the Grand National fences and begin the course walk. As we crossed the track, we saw Malcolm Jefferson’s horsebox arrive; it was the one and only identifiable horsebox I saw during my entire trip to Merseyside. Another steward directed us along an enclosed alleyway which ran between the Steeplechase Enclosure turnstiles and the racecourse. There were two mounted police officers aboard their horses standing close by; the horses were beautiful, but looked enormous!
In order to get to the inside of the Grand National track, you have to walk along the pathway at the bottom of the slope within the Steeplechase Enclosure, past fence number one, to find a gate to the left-hand side. A green carpet was placed across the track to protect it, the course cordoned off by ropes on either side and stewarded by a young lad. Having reached the far side, we turned right in order to walk along the roadway to the inside of the track.
The heliport was buzzing with activity; vehicles were queued up to collect passengers as they arrived. Even if I was a millionaire and could afford to travel by helicopter, I just wouldn’t! I like to keep my feet firmly on the ground, and that includes not riding horses ever again! Especially since being diagnosed with borderline osteoporosis last year; I can’t afford to take any unnecessary risks.
The orange board in front of the open-ditch, fence number 3, had been damaged during yesterday’s Fox Hunters’ event; a group of ground staff were busy digging out the old board in order to replace it ahead of today’s racing. They also had a pot of orange paint to make good the repair.
However we soon encountered Katie Walsh walking the course with a group of women who had been attending today’s Grand Women’s Summit. Further along was Richard Pitman, with another group of same. We stopped to have our photos taken beside Becher’s Brook. And, further along, there was a third group of attendees, escorted by AN Other. Having strayed off the roadway, my moccasins were getting pretty damp because of the wet grass.
Having taken photos of the Fionavon fence, Canal Turn, Valentines, and the following three fences, the roadway veers off to the left and you have to follow it around to reach the exit point; only owners, trainers and jockeys are permitted to continue across the Melling Road to fence 13, etc. Coaches were continuing to arrive, and were beginning to park-up along the roadway beside the nearby golf club enclosure. Helicopters were heading in at very regular intervals as we passed to the side of the heliport area once more.
The horsebox which had brought the police horses to the track was parked just along the roadway too; hay-nets adorned its wall, ready for feed-time later in the day. Having rejoined the roadway which runs alongside the section between fences 1 and 6, we turned right and, a short distance later, a left turn took us back across the racecourse to the Steeplechase Enclosure once more. We stopped mid-track to take photographs of the Earl of Derby and Lord Sefton stands on our way.
Walk over, we retraced our footsteps back across the Melling Road and racecourse, then along the cinder pathway to reach the home straight. There’s an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ green carpeted route across the home straight; we thus took the right-hand one to reach the grandstand enclosures. Whilst visiting the loos, I changed into my black Hotter shoes, placing my damp moccasins in the blue canvas bag; fortunately Sandra had a spare plastic bag for me to put them in first.
I’d forgotten to take a bottle of water with me today, so we visited one of the nearby burger bars to purchase a bottle; Sandra had a cup of coffee. Having then returned to the steppings below the Weighing Room, I noticed Choc’s mum Sally and her usual racing companions in attendance today ... but no sign of Choc, or at least not yet. We also saw Frankie Dettori; he was wearing pink boots! (Or at least I think it was today, but it may have been Saturday!)
The pre-race entertainment was a display of Side Saddle riding; there were two ladies taking part, namely Morgan Schive aboard a black Irish Draught stallion named Cos Me Is Black, and Amy Bryan Dowell riding a grey Irish Draught mare named Ceilis Bouncer. Katie Walsh, sister of Ruby and a very talented rider in her own right who had won the Irish Grand National the previous Monday, was persuaded into the saddle too. It’s supposed to give more stability and security than riding astride ... personally I’d recommend Western style riding, because you don’t get any aches and pains afterwards; although you do need a very good support bra, because you cannot do a rising trot!!!
With the first race fast approaching, we headed into the Earl Of Derby Enclosure to reserve our place beside the horse-walk rails.
The favourite for this race was The Saint James, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by AP McCoy; price 11-2. The second favourite being Theinval, who’d run away with the prize in a Cheltenham Festival consolation race at Kempton in mid-March.
There were three greys in this event, namely Olofi with jockey Paddy Brennan sporting the McNeill Family colours, the hooded Vasco Du Ronceray being the darkest grey recognisable also by the green Munir/Souede colours, and nose-banded Lexi’s Boy carrying the well-known Leslie colours for Donald McCain.
The starting gate for this event was part way down the back straight, two flights therein to jump before the first bend and with one and three quarter circuits to travel.
With a very sedate jog around the outside of the first flight in the back straight, the horses approached the tape and then they were off. There was a cheer from the expectant crowd as the runners broke into a gallop ... but nothing in comparison to the ‘Cheltenham roar’!
The runners were led over the first flight by Rock On Rocky, to his inside Party Rock, and to his outside Dell’ Arca and Sleepy Haven; Vasco Du Ronceray and Olofi close up on the inside too. Baradari was a little bit awkward over the flight and was pushed away from it on landing; bringing up the rear was Stonebrook. The competitors headed across the pathway and over flight number two without incident.
Rock On Rocky led the runners into the far turn, from Party Rock and Sleepy Haven. Behind these travelled Vasco Du Ronceray and Dell’ Arca, from Enchanted Garden, Mile House, Olofi, Lexi’s Boy, Lyvius, The Saint James, Mijhaar, Baradari, Vulcanite, Nexius, Pearl Swan, Theinval, Some Buckle, Knight’s Parade, Daneking and Stonebrook.
Having rounded the far turn, the runners negotiated flight numbers three and four, where there were no noticeable errors; Rock On Rocky continued at the head of affairs, with Stonebrook remaining at the rear of the field. One of the panels in flight number five took hit as the runners jumped it; the signs were that Baradari was the culprit, for he was ridden away from the obstacle.
The runners then headed down past the winning post with one circuit now to travel and Rocky On Rocky still ahead of his rivals, although by just one length. However Stonebrook had improved his position, thus relegating Knight’s Parade to last place. Turning into the back straight, Dell’ Arca joined the leader as they headed over the sixth flight. There was a bit of argy bargy on landing over the next hurdle, when Olofi became short of room and veered to his left, hampering fellow greys Lexi’s Boy and Vasco Du Ronceray. To their inside The Saint James was also hampered, with AP losing an iron very briefly as a result. Near the rear, Nexius was ridden away from the flight.
The runners headed across the pathway and jumped four from home; Dell’ Arca then took a narrow lead from Rocky On Rocky and Sleepy Haven. This trio were followed by Party Rock, Olofi, the much improved Theinval and Lyvius. Sleepy Haven joined Dell’ Arca at the head of affairs, despite Henry Brooke pushing his mount along, as they turned into the home straight; Rock On Rocky having tired, began to drop back through the field.
Dell’ Arca and Sleepy Haven jumped the next in unison, from Theinval; the latter soon cruised up to dispute the lead with the David Pipe runner. Lexi’s Boy had moved into third place as they cleared the penultimate flight. There was a bit of scrimmaging in behind, with Daneking and The Saint James making contact due to lack of room upon landing over it. The runners then headed down to the last, with Jeremiah McGrath becoming animated aboard the leader, hands and heels as they approached it.
The Saint James, who was in second position now, flattened the flight. The jockeys aboard the first four all resorted to their whips as they headed down towards the winning post; with The Saint James, Daneking and Stonebrook all closing in upon the leader. However Theinval held on to win by half a length at the line, from the mounts of AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Will Kennedy; the other distances being one length and half a length respectively.
Mijhaar finished 5th, with Party Rock 6th; there were no fallers and all twenty-one runners completed the course, even the completely tailed-off Enchanted Garden. The winner wore ear-plugs, and the first four home had all travelled in mid-field or worse during the early stages of the race.
We remained at our viewing point beside the horse-walk exit/entry gateway following the race.
Race 1 - 1:40pm
THE ALDER HEY CHILDREN'S CHARITY HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of PEARL SWAN (FR), unplaced, trained by Paul Nicholls, during routine testing found that the gelding had bled from the nose.
The favourite for the next race was the Nicky Richards-trained Glingerburn, ridden by Brian Harding; price 7-4. Jolly’s Cracked It was full of himself today; his jockey Noel Fehily had to mount the horse once he’d exited onto the racecourse.
The starting gate for this race was at the top corner of the racecourse, with the runners entering the track from within the in-field where they had been circling ahead of the race. This meant they would initially travel along the short stretch of track along the top of the course, before turning into the home straight with that and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by the white-faced three-stocking’ed Endless Credit, from Vago Collonges sporting the beige and black Wylie colours. Cardinal Walter was keen in third, from Jolly’s Cracked It, Cyrus Darius, Glingerburn, Qewy, Commissioned, Montdragon, Dabadiyan and Trader Jack.
The leading duo was clear of their rivals as they jumped the first flight. Cyrus Darius was less than fluent here; he trashed the flight having dislodged the protective orange strip. Trader Jack was also keen at the rear of the field. The runners headed down to flight number two, where the leader was less than fluent. The runners continued along the home straight to the third, where Endless Credit, Vago Collonges and Trader Jack hit it.
However, Endless Credit continued to lead as the field headed past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. Vago Collonges remained in second position, from Cardinal Walter, Jolly’s Cracked It and Cyrus Darius; Trader Jack still brought up the rear. The field was quite strung out as they travelled around the bottom bend and into the back straight. Noel Fehily’s mount was a little awkward at the first flight therein; the horse’s stride momentarily interrupted upon landing over it.
Endless Credit continued to lead from Vago Collonges as they headed to and jumped the middle flight in the back straight; again the leader was less than fluent at this obstacle. The runners galloped across the pathway to reach flight number six. With yet another error from the leader, Vago Collonges took a narrow advantage; however they were clear of their rivals by around five lengths. In turn, Cardinal Walter was three lengths clear of Cyrus Darius, Glingerburn, Jolly’s Cracked It, Qewy, Trader Jack, Montdragon, Commissioned and Dabadiyan. Heading around the top turn, the 100-1 outside Trader Jack received a couple of backhanders from his jockey, Stephen Craine.
Sam Twiston-Davies had sent his mount for home by the time the runners entered the home straight, with Endless Credit losing second spot as Cardinal Walter, Cyrus Darius and Qewy loomed up to begin their challenges. Just behind these, Commissioned ploughed through the third last flight and, despite clinging on to the reins, Richard Johnson finally lost his battle with gravity and fell off over his mount’s off-side. The jockey was fine and immediately got to his feet.
Meanwhile the leaders headed down to the second last, with Vago Collonges still holding a narrow advantage over the closing Cyrus Darius and Qewy. Cardinal Walter cleared the flight in fourth position, but in fifth Endless Credit’s time was up as he tipped the top of the flight and fell; he rolled over on landing but was fine. The loose Commissioned, having also jumped this flight, decided to head off down the chase course.
Cyrus Darius was encouraged into the lead just hands and heels as they approached the final flight. Having cleared it, Brian Hughes gave his mount additional encouragement with his whip and the gentle giant pulled away from his rivals on the run to the line to win by 10 lengths. This left Vago Collonges and Qewy to battle it out for second place, with the former claiming it by 1¾ lengths at the line. Having been outpaced earlier in the race, Glindergurn was able to claim 4th place on the run-in from Cardinal Walter; although 10 lengths behind the 3rd placed horse.
It was Brian’s 2nd win of the Festival, following yesterday’s victory aboard Surf Or Turf. And perhaps our seeing trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s horsebox had been a sign! The trainer had decided to come to Aintree instead of running the horse at Perth for a small prize giving two penalties away; Malcolm thought they had just one to beat on the ratings today.
The trainer also revealed that Cyrus Darius had been purchased at the DBS sales in 2011 for £6,000; a store-horse as they are known. A horse to be watched, all being well, who will be sent chasing next season.
Again we remained beside the course-side rails rather than return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
Race 2 - 2:15pm
THE E-LITES TOP NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1)
The favourite for the next race was Saphir Du Rheu, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; price 13-8. It felt like it was going to be an all or nothing kind of a run, following one win but two failures to complete in novice chases earlier in the season. These efforts had been followed by a win in Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle on Festival trials day and a good runner-up finish to Cole Harden in the World Hurdle. Had the yard found the key to this horse we all wondered? Paul Nicholls also ran Irish Saint.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Carraig Mor to be ridden by Noel Fehily. The horse is owned by Masterson Holdings, like Balder Succes, but Noel had retained the ride following a Grade 2 win at Newbury in November. Also on the horse’s recent CV was an unseating in Coneygree’s Grade 1 Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, a race where Saphir Du Rheu had failed to finish too, a totally out-of-sorts race when he was pulled up at Haydock Park in January, plus a small field win at Exeter.
The starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel.
And then they were off. Carole’s Destrier was urged away from the gate, with AP McCoy keen to take up a prominent position. As a result, he jumped the first upsides of Wakanda, with Saphir Du Rheu and Carraig Mor close up to their outside. In rear Irish Saint was keen and landed a little awkwardly over it.
The runners then headed down to fence number two; the first of the open-ditches, which they all cleared without problem. They traversed the Grand National course to reach the third fence, with Carole’s Destrier jumping into the lead as the horses landed over it. The gallop was steady as the runners headed down the remainder of the home straight and past the winning post with two circuits still to travel. The Neil Mulholland runner held a narrow lead from Wakanda and Saphir Du Rheu. He was followed by Carraig Mor, then Ainsi Fideles, Irish Cavalier, and the Royal runner Close Touch; at the rear of the field Rawnaq and Irish Saint.
Having entered the back straight, Carraig Mor was allowed to close up upon the leading duo and now pressed them for the lead. All nine runners cleared the next fence in their stride. The Alan King runner went into the lead as they headed over the next plain fence; Irish Cavalier put in a short one before it and tumbled over on landing. The Cheltenham Festival handicap winning team was out of the race but both horse and jockey were fine and soon got to their feet.
The remaining eight runners continued their journey towards and over the second open-ditch without incident before they crossed the pathway and jumped the last in the back straight. Carraig Mor still led the way from Wakanda and Carole’s Destrier; they were followed by Saphir Du Rheu, Ainsi Fideles and Close Touch; bringing up the rear were Irish Saint and Rawnaq.
The next obstacle is the cross-fence, where both Rawnaq and Irish Saint were slightly slower than their rivals in rear; the former because he put in an extra stride before it, the latter because he hit it. Meanwhile, up front, Carraig Mor continued to bowl along at the head of affairs, from Wakanda, Carole’s Destrier and Saphir Du Rheu. Close Touch hit the first fence in the home straight; fence nine. Rawnaq was again less than fluent and was ridden away from the fence by jockey Andrew Lynch. However, the third-open ditch proved to be of no problem to any of them.
The runners transversed the Grand National course once more, before heading to fence number eleven. All the horses cleared this in their stride; the Alan King runner leading and travelling nicely under Noel Fehily and with Irish Saint at the rear of the field. As they headed down to the winning post, Ainsi Fideles improved his position, whilst Carole’s Destrier, who was the second favourite today, drifted back into fifth position.
Heading into the back straight on the second occasion, Sam Twiston-Davies allowed Saphir Du Rheu to move upsides Carraig Mor. Carole’s Destrier was now being chivvied along by AP McCoy as he approached the next fence. Ainsi Fideles got a little close to this one. Meanwhile, at the back of the field, Close Touch and Irish Saint were a few lengths adrift of their rivals.
The next fence was unlucky thirteen for Rawnaq; he put in a short-stride once again but, this time, he didn’t survive the landing. The horse didn’t actually fully lose his footing, he just skidded severely and there was no way that Andrew Lynch could have stayed in the saddle; it was described as a fall however. Luckily the horse was fine and continued to follow the rest. Close Touch had been slightly hampered by the departure and, having struggled over the next, an open-ditch, David Bass decided to pull him up.
This left just six horses to continue the journey across the pathway to reach the final fence in the back straight; Wakanda blundered here and came under pressure at the rear of the field as they entered the final bend. Saphir Du Rheu led narrowly as the runners jumped the cross-fence; the other Nicholls runner, Irish Saint, took third place as they headed into the home straight. Ainsi Fideles had now been relegated to last position.
Both Saphir Du Rheu and Carraig Mor made minor errors three out. They headed on down to the final open-ditch, with Irish Saint continuing to close down upon the leading duo. The tiring Carraig Mor walked through it having taken off too soon, but he survived the blunder. This left Saphir Du Rheu to be rousted along, clear of his rivals, as they headed across the Grand National course for the final time and towards the last fence. The leader flew the last and galloped on to win by an impressive 15 lengths easing down at the line.
Meanwhile Carraig Mor and Irish Saint, having also safely negotiated the last, continued to battle all the way to the line; Noel Fehily’s mount just holding on by a head from the Paul Nicholls-runner as the latter renewed his challenge close home.
Evidently the key to Saphir Du Rheu is to let him do his own thing; Sam described him as a ‘big horse, small brain’! He said that if you pull him around, he goes numb to the bit and then you run into problems with his jumping; you need ‘soft hands’. Sam said he rode him wide today so that the horse could get a good look at the fences, and the aim had been to get him into a rhythm; he had succeeded in this.
When interview by Tom O’Ryan of RUK, winning owner Andy Stewart said that Saphir Du Rheu would be campaigned next season with the aim of running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup; this race would be his last of the current season and he would not be competing over hurdles again.
Again, following the race, we stayed put beside the horse-walk rather than return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
Race 3 - 2:50pm
THE BETFRED MILDMAY NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Veterinary Officer
reported that a post-race examination of CLOSE TOUCH, which was pulled up,
trained by Nicky Henderson, found that the gelding had bled from the nose.
That’s it for Part One of my Ladies Day diary ...
Click here to read my Ladies’ Day Diary Part II