DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
FRIDAY 08 APRIL 2016
winner of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase
I had intended to rise at 05:30 but, in the event and having suffered from a restless night, I reset my alarm clock to 06:15. In fact I was so laid back that I only just managed to get ready in time for our agreed breakfast rendezvous at 07:15. I’d also chosen the wrong pillow (there is always a choice of one soft and one slightly harder) – it was too soft, so I ended up with a ‘clampy’ head.
Breakfast was bacon, fried egg and mushrooms, plus three yoghurts – blueberry, peach, and raspberry. Perhaps that should be Yeogurt, as they were manufactured by Yeo Valley. Also a glass of apple juice.
Having not had time to apply my make-up before breakfast, I did so after. Sandra drove us today, whilst I acted as navigator. She’d gone slightly ‘off piste’ on her inward journey the previous morning and again in the evening when negotiating the ‘weird’ junction at the northern termination of the M57, so today I acted as navigator; geographical directions being one of my specialities!
She had parked out the front of the Premier Inn, although her room was at the back, and I’d parked at the back and my room was at the front! I recall going to my car to collect something, possibly sweets and my scarf, and she picked me up near the entrance to the car park. I was on auto-pilot and, having got into her car, decided that I had to go back to check that I’d locked the doors! We set off at 09:30; I decided to hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my room door.
Friday is Ladies Day for some, but it is course-walk day for us. Today I wore three thermal vests, a lagoon-coloured BHS cardigan, floaty handkerchief hem M & S skirt over beige jeggings, purple fleece and black fleece gillet, my favourite River Island scarf, black and white horse design M & S snood, and dark teal-coloured BHS jacket. I wore my flint-coloured ‘Danville’ Hotter boots, as the grass is always damp early in the day, even when it’s not raining. Sandra wore boots too.
Lagoon BHS cardigan
Beige and burgundy
M & S jeggings
hem M & S skirt
Black fleece gillet
Dark-teal coloured BHS jacket
Fired Creations necklace
M & S snood
and River Island scarf
Danville Hotter boots, left
Having arrived at Aintree, we parked in the steeplechase car park as always; today immediately behind a group of bushes close to the Melling Road; security checks went smoothly and we were soon on the shuttle bus to the grandstand side of the racecourse. We purchased our race-cards from the same kiosk as the previous day, before collecting our wristbands. The wristband ‘operation’ went more smoothly than the day before, although it was staffed by different people today.
We then set off for the course-walk. We briefly diverted to Red Rum’s grave, although it was less than easy to get close to. Firstly you had to head down a track, duck under rails to cross the all-weather track, and then duck under another set of rails before reaching the grave itself. We stayed to the nearside of the rails on this occasion.
A new feature is the opportunity for those less fit, or just plain lazy, people to have a close up look at the Grand National fences; a multi-person buggy left at regular intervals to take them around the inner-perimeter road. A number of people were queued at a marquee waiting for the next buggy to depart; we set off on foot to walk the course.
Our route took us out over the Mildmay/Grand National course, past a row of turnstiles and into Saturday’s Steeplechase enclosure, a little further along we passed through a gate which led to a roped- off pathway across the Grand National course between fences one and two, and onto the inner perimeter road. It always seems odd that we go through security, only to return to the same general area as the steeplechase car park when undertaking the course walk.
Anyway, we headed along the roadway towards Becher’s Brook, stopping off adjacent to the fence to take photographs of ourselves at this point. We then headed past the Fionavon fence, to the Canal Turn. As we were taking pictures of the latter, Barry Geraghty appeared around the side of the fence; he was busy chatting on his mobile phone. Having finished his conversation by the time he’d passed Valentines, he started to jog again, but that didn’t last very long before he’d given up and was walking once more!
We completed our tour of the remaining fences before heading along the roadway and back to the racecourse crossing point again; only owners, trainers and jockeys are permitted to go beyond the third last fence. The route took us close to the heliport area, where a number of helicopters were flying in and out. However, unlike the helicopter passengers, we didn’t have a vehicle to pick us up to take us to the grandstand area; we retraced our steps via the sign-posted route.
Having arrived back, we headed to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
The pre-race Parade Ring attraction was a side-saddle riding demonstration ... as it had been in previous years! Mindful of reserving our favourite spot beside the course-side rails, next to the exit walk-way, we set off in plenty of time to reserve it.
Being the second day of the Festival, the jockeys paid their regular visit to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to meet the patients; the Hospital had moved to a new site recently. The visitors included the 2012 Grand National winner Neptune Collonges and AP McCoy (he is a patron), Champion-elect Richard Johnson, Andrew Thornton, Sam Twiston-Davies, Nick Scholfield, Nico de Boinvillle, Paddy Brennan, Wayne Hutchinson, Aidan Coleman, Daryl Jacob, Mick Fitzgerald, Harry Skelton, Leighton Aspell, Tom Scudamore, David Bass, Noel Fehily, and Richie McLernon.
It was soon time for the first race of the day. There were two co-favourites for this one, namely Starchitect, trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore and Tycoon Prince, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper; their price 7-1.
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.
And then they were off, with the twenty-two (yes … 22) runners heading towards the first flight. At the head of affairs was one of the two bottom-weights, Party Rock, which had finished 6th in last year’s race. Also prominent were Cardinal Palace, Foxcub, Ma Du Fou and Starchitect. There were no significant jumping errors, although near the back of the field Sky Khan had to be restrained upon landing to ensure he didn’t clip heels with the wall of horses ahead of him.
There was a strange incident as the runners headed towards the second flight; the horse travelling behind the leader, namely Ma Du Fou, attempted to jump the sandy path which crosses the racecourse and leads to the car park! This didn’t affect the order however. All of the horses cleared the flight in their stride, although Melodic Rendezvous at the back of the field received reminders having jumped it. There was a bumping incident as the field entered the far turn, with Tycoon Prince barging through a small gap and hindering Starchitect in the process. The former then tugged his way into the lead.
The horses were now heading along the stretch of track at the top of the racecourse with the Gigginstown runner leading the way. Party Rock travelled at his quarters, from Foxcub, Ma Du Fou, Francis Of Assisi, Starchitect and Curious Carlos grouped behind the leading duo; in mid-field were San Benedeto, Clondaw Kaempfer, Mad Jack Mytton, Whiteout, Cardinal Palace, Box Office, Blazer and Ibis Du Rheu. And in the rear group, Theinval, Qewy, Sky Khan, Champagne At Tara, Buiseness Sivola, Virgilio and Melodic Rendezvous.
Tycoon Prince continued to lead the field as they entered the home straight and jumped flight number three; Melodic Rendezvous had now become slightly detached in rear. As the pace was steady, the still keen Curious Carlos continued to make ground on the outside of the field and joined the leader as they cleared the next hurdle. At the rear of the main group, Buiseness Sivola was a little clumsy here, having got too close to the heels of Virgilio.
Sean Bowen’s mount took the lead as they headed down the final flight in the line of three; Foxcub, which had drifted back through the field, received a number of reminders as the runners continued to the winning post with one circuit now to travel. Curious Carlos continued to lead as the runners headed around the bottom bend, from Tycoon Prince and Party Rock; behind these travelled Ma Du Fou, Francis Of Assisi and Starchitect. Having lost touch with the field, both Whiteout and Melodic Rendezvous were pulled up before the next flight.
The first jump-related departure occurred at the first flight in the back straight; Mad Jack Mytton landed awkwardly and catapulted Richie McLernon out of the saddle. Fortunately the jockey had been travelling to the outside of the field so didn’t get trampled upon by other runners. With the stronger pace, the runners began to string out as they headed to the next flight; the field was still led by Curious Carlos, from Party Rock and Tycoon Prince. There were further departures at this flight, when the outpaced Clondaw Kaempfer fell and he wiped out Qewy in the process. The remaining runners, seventeen, headed across the sand pathway on the journey to the eighth flight; here, Ma Du Fou tried to jump the pathway for a second time!
The loose Mad Jack Mytton stepped on his own reins when he jumped the flight; this jerked his head down as he landed. Behind him, Tycoon Prince blundered badly as he dragged his hind-legs through the hurdle, flattening it. He lost a lot of ground as a result and Bryan Cooper was unable to regain much momentum and the partnership dropped to the rear of the field; having entered the far turn the jockey pulled him up. He was later reported as lame.
Meanwhile, Curious Carlos continued to lead the way, from Party Rock, Starchitect and Sky Khan as they entered the home straight. The Bowen-runner was still ahead as they jumped three out but a number of his rivals were just commencing their challenges; leading this charge remained Party Rock and Starchitect, with Sky Khan, Blazer, Virgilio and last year’s victor, Theinval.
Both Party Rock and Starchitect had swallowed up the tiring Curious Carlos as they cleared two out; but Starchitect has a tendency to throw in the odd jumping error and, although he survived, he blundered at this vital moment. This left Party Rock in the lead as the field headed down towards the final flight although, despite jockey Sean Quinlan using his right hand to administer a number of slaps with his whip, his mount still hung to the right under this pressure.
However, Party Rock remained ahead of his rivals as he jumped the last, although he did make an error at this flight. Starchitect continued to hold the runner-up position, but the grey Champagne At Tara was bearing down upon the leading duo. Further back in the field, the tired Curious Carlos capsized on landing over the last.
The leader completed his drift towards the near-side rails as he headed up the long run-in, but stayed on gamely nonetheless to win by 5 lengths at the line. Champagne At Tara had overtaken Starchitect as they headed towards the winning post, although the latter did rally at the death; the grey held onto 2nd by just a head. Sky Khan finished a further 6 lengths away in 4th, with Virgilio just a short-head away in 5th.
Fourteen of the twenty-two runners had completed, as Ma Du Fou was pulled up before the final flight. Party Rock, a stalwart in this particular race, had claimed the prize at 33-1; today was finally his day!
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)
The favourite for the second race was the Willie Mullins-trained, Ruby Walsh ridden, Limini; price 11-10. There were three greys in this race – Bleu Et Rouge, Gwafa and Petit Moucher.
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.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by Potensis Bloodstock’s Marracudja, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies. He was followed by the keen Petit Moucher, from 100-1 outsider Altruism, followed by Argapart and Three Stars. Behind these travelled the JP McManus-owned Bleu Et Rouge, pulling hard, alongside Gwafa; to their outside travelled Limini, with the first string Potensis/Chris Giles-owned Buveur D’Air between North Hill Harvey and Gigginstown’s Ball D’Arc.
Having entered the home straight on the first occasion, the runners cleared the initial flight without incident. The hooded Marracudja maintained a narrow advantage as the runners continued their journey towards and over the second flight. Most of the runners had settled by the time they jumped flight number three and headed down past the winning post with one circuit now to travel.
The Paul Nicholls representative led the runners around the bottom bend and into the back straight, pressed by Petit Moucher; following this duo were Altruism, Agrapart and Three Stars. There were two departures at the fourth flight, with Altruism crashing through the top of it and losing his hindquarters upon landing; this gave Brian Hughes absolutely no hope of remaining in the saddle. Unfortunately Gwafa had been travelling in Altruism’s wake and was so badly hampered in the incident that Richie McLernon also flew out of the saddle. Richie was far from amused, and slammed his whip on the ground; he’d also been unseated from Mad Jack Mytton during the first race.
Meanwhile the remaining nine runners continued their journey to the next, with Marracudja and Petit Moucher still disputing the lead. Having cleared the next, Agrapart was briefly ridden along. The Willie Mullins-trained grey now took a narrow advantage. Bleu Et Rouge lost a little ground as they jumped the final hurdle in the back straight. None the worse for their exit, the two loose horses continued to follow the field. Heading into the far turn, commentator Richard Hoiles pointed out that Petit Moucher means ‘small handkerchief’. I knew it was small something! Both Three Stars and Ball D’Arc had a problem cornering; they both went a little wide.
Agrapart joined Petit Moucher as they headed around the home turn, with Buveur D’Air having improved through the field to take third position; all nine remaining runners were closely grouped, until just after entering the straight where Marracudja quickly tired and dropped away. Petit Moucher led the field over the third last flight, with a length advantage.
The grey remained ahead of Buveur D’Air as they continued down the straight, with the mare Limini having improved into third position on the near side; Ball D’Arc also appeared to be travelling okay in her wake. Agrapart had back-peddled by this stage, with Rouge Et Blanc unable to make any impression upon the leaders. Having jumped two out, North Hill Harvey had plugged on into fourth, as Ball D’Arc’s challenge petered out.
Having appeared a danger earlier in the home straight, Limini’s run began to falter and she was unable to reduce the deficit as the leading duo headed down to the final flight. Buveur D’Air continued to press Petit Mouchoir as they jumped it and the battle continued all the way to the line, with the former finally getting his head in front to win by a close fought neck.
They had pulled well away from the others at the finish, with Limini claiming 3rd 8 lengths away and North Hill Harvey just three quarters’ of a length back in 4th. Bleu Et Blanc was a close 5th, Agrapart 6th, Ball D’Arc 7th and Three Stars a distance back in last place; Marracudja was pulled up before the last.
Meanwhile in the Trainers’ Championship, Willie Mullins had now sneaked ahead of Paul Nicholls; it’s calculated on winnings, but very worrying that a trainer from Ireland can get anywhere near the title when only UK-based winners count. It doesn’t bode well for the 2016/2017 season when, no doubt, the Irish trainer will make an even more intense challenge.
Again we remained beside the course-side rails rather than return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
Race 2 - 2:15pm
THE IMAGINE CRUISING FIRST IN THE FRAME TOP NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1)
The Stewards noted that
on the first bend, PETIT MOUCHOIR (FR), placed second, was running free and
changed leads causing the gelding to shift left resulting in the rider of
AGRAPART (FR), unplaced, having to take a check and, in turn, interfering
with BLEU ET ROUGE (FR), unplaced, but after viewing a recording of the
incident they were satisfied that it neither involved a riding offence nor
improved PETIT MOUCHOIR’s (FR) placing.
The favourite for the next race was Cheltenham Festival handicap winner Un Temps Pour Tout, trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore; price 6-4. Also taking part were two other Festival winners - RSA winner Blaklion, and Novices’ Handicap Chase winner Ballyalton; the latter is owned by golfer Lee Westwood’s father, a gift from his son. And 4-mile National Hunt Chase runner-up Native River was also taking part.
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. Native River led them away; a new tactic being demonstrated by jockey Richard Johnson. The horse definitely stays, having been the fastest finishing horse when claiming 2nd in the 4-mile race at the Festival. He was a little ‘guessy’ at the first, however, but very clever; Richard had to re-gather his knitting on this occasion! Un Temps Pour Tout travelled in second, from Otago Trail, Henri Parry Morgan, Ballyalton to the wide outside, and Roi Des Francs between Out Sam and Blaklion.
The second fence was an open-ditch, with Un Temps Pour Tout taking a narrow advantage having landed over it; Otago Trail hit this one. The field then crossed the Grand National course before arriving at fence number three; the flashy chestnut had now regained the lead. The runners headed down past the winning post, now with two circuits to travel. Out Sam was a little short of room to the inside of Roi Des Francs as they entered the bottom bend.
The runners entered the back straight, with a line of four fences ahead of them; the third of which was the second open-ditch. There were no jumping issues at the first of these, with Native River continuing to lead from Un Temps Pour Tout, Henri Parry Morgan, Blaklion and Ballyalton. Otago Trail had already begun to drift back through the field from his prominent early position and now travelled with Roi Des Francs and Out Sam at the rear of the field.
The Gigginstown runner blundered at the next, having taken off too early. The entire field cleared the open-ditch well and they headed across the sandy walkway to reach fence number seven, which Out Sam hit. Meanwhile, up front, Native River continued to lead the well grouped field as they entered the top bend; the sometimes tricky cross fence caught out Otago Trail, who blundered and pecked badly on landing as a result. Jockey Aidan Coleman managed to survive the error and re-gathered his reins, but he decided it was time to pull up; game over.
The remaining seven competitors entered the home straight with Native River continuing at the helm. They jumped the next without incident but, at the rear of the field, Roi Des Francs received three reminders from his jockey. The following obstacle was another open-ditch; this was cleared with a great leap by the leader. Out Sam was pushed along for a few strides as they began their journey across the Grand National track to reach the final fence in the home straight. The fence was met with another bold jump from Native River; Un Temps Pour Tout continued in second position, from Henri Parry Morgan and Blaklion who matched strides, Ballyalton to the outside and Out Sam to the inside, with the sole Irish raider at the rear.
Richard Johnson and his mount led the runners down past the winning post, with one circuit now remaining and he retained his advantage as they travelled around the bottom bend and into the back straight for the final time. Native River did get a little close the first therein, but he remained ahead; his jockey did, however, need to push him away from the fence and administer a reminder too. The leader was also urged into the next, with Richard looking for a stride. Near the rear of the field, Out Sam was now being pushed along and he, too, received a reminder having jumped it.
The runners headed over the next without incident; the penultimate open-ditch. Having crossed the sanded track once more, the horses soon arrived at the final fence in the back straight. Out Sam hit this one and was lucky to survive the blunder, with Gavin Sheehan in danger of being dislodged when the horse’s quarters rose up to meet his backside! But, as a result, he’d lost a lot of ground upon his rivals as a result. Ahead of him, Roi Des Francs was also detached from the field. This suggested the winner would be one of the five runners in the leading group.
Despite now being urged along by his jockey, Native River was answering every call and remained at the head of affairs as they successfully negotiated the cross-fence, and he continued to hold a length and a halves’ advantage as they turned into the home straight with just three fences to go. It was now Blaklion’s and Ballyalton’s turn to come under pressure as they headed to the next, although Ryan Hatch’s mount did respond.
Henri Parry Morgan, Un Temps Pour Tout and Blaklion were almost on terms with the leader as they cleared three out. However, Native River was proving to be very game and just kept on giving; he remained ahead as they cleared the final open-ditch, with Henri Parry Morgan now his closest pursuer. Blaklion battled on in third, whilst Un Temps Pour Tout could make no impression on those ahead of him.
In fact Native River began to find deep reserves of stamina on the long run to the final fence and his lead extended once more; he flew the obstacle in great style. This gave him the momentum he needed to continue to the line and he won by three lengths at the post from Henri Parry Morgan. Blaklion claimed 3rd, a further 3¾ lengths back, with Un Temps Pour Tout in 4th, 7 lengths further away. Ballyalton was 5th, Roi Des Francs 6th – which put another £1,378 in the Willie Mullins coffers, and Out Sam last.
The favourite Un Temps Pour Tout was reported to have finished lame. It had been hard work for Richard Johnson, but his mount’s stamina was never ever in doubt and he continued to give more throughout the race and all the way to the line.
I like Native River, having first noticed him on 2015 Cheltenham Festival Trials Day when he fell during the Grade 2 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) won by Ordo Ab Chao.
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.
Aidan Coleman, the rider
of OTAGO TRAIL (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding made a
bad mistake at the tenth fence.
That’s it for Part One of my Ladies Day diary ...
Click here to read my Ladies’ Day Diary Part II