DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
FRIDAY 08 APRIL 2016
God’s Own is the surprise winner
of the Grade 1 Melling Chase
Click here to read my Ladies’ Day Diary Part I
The red-hot favourite for this race was Vautour, winner of the Ryanair Chase, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 1-5! Veteran Somersby was making his 41st start today; having served his connections well for many years, he would be retired at the end of the season.
Being a Grade 1 race and the feature event of the day, having exited onto the racecourse, the runners were paraded in front of the stands before they headed to the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the back straight.
And then they were off, with Vautour leading the way, pressed by Gigginstown’s Clarcam. Somersby followed to the outside of the dappled grey Vibrato Valtat, with light grey Al Ferof and God’s Own bringing up the rear. As would be expected, all six cleared the first fence without issue.
The runners headed to the next where, again, there were no jumping problems. The following fence was the first open-ditch; with God’s Own taking closer order to the inside of the track as they cleared it. They then headed across the sandy track before reaching fence number four; again the closely packed field took it in their stride.
Ruby allowed his mount to stride on as they headed into the top bend, as a result he’d set up a clear advantage by the time he’d jumped the cross-fence; ears pricked. Somersby was probably the least fluent at this obstacle. The horses now headed into the home straight for the first time, with Vautour leading from Clarcam and God’s Own; Vibrato Valtat, Al Ferof and Somersby disputed last position.
The favourite led the runners over the next without incident. The following fence was the second open-ditch, which they all cleared in their stride. Vautour was a couple of lengths clear from Clarcam, God’s Own, Somersby, Al Ferof and Vibrato Valtat. The runners then headed across the Grand National track to reach the next which, again, they all jumped well.
Vautour led the runners down past the winning post, with one circuit now to travel; Somersby was narrowly last as the headed around the bottom bend and into the back straight for the final time. However, this was the point where Ruby failed to read the script … Vautour got in a little bit too close to the fence and, as a result, knuckled over on landing. There was a collective gasp from the gathered spectators; I wonder how many had been foolish enough to bet on the 1-5 shot? There’s no sport in it, and the seemingly impossible had just occurred.
Personally I think Ruby had been complacent; he was on by far the best horse in the race and probably thought he was invincible, but had got careless. Fortunately he didn’t bring down any of his opponents and the horse was quickly to its feet, appearing uninjured as he galloped away. Ruby was quickly attended to by the paramedics.
Meanwhile, this left Al Ferof and Clarcam to dispute the lead, from God’s Own, Vibrato Valtat and Somersby. I wonder what was going through the jockeys’ minds at this juncture; a first prize of £112,788 was now up for grabs. Having jumped the next fence, Clarcam assumed a clear lead. The following fence was the penultimate open-ditch, which the experienced chasers jumped in their stride. They then headed across the sandy track to reach the final fence in the back straight. Disputing last place at this point, Vibrato Valtat was briefly pushed along upon landing.
Clarcam led the runners into the top bend, five or six lengths covered the entire field; the loose Vautour was only three lengths behind them. Having landed safely over the cross-fence, the leading three had built up an advantage over the others. The loose horse also jumped the fence, but not particularly well having got too close to it!
Bryan Cooper, aboard the leader, closed the door upon Al Ferof as they headed around the home turn; he was keen not to let Harry Skelton sneak up his inside. However, as they exited the bend, the running rail cut away giving the grey horse room if he was good enough. Meanwhile God’s Own was launching a challenge to their outside. The leaders cleared the next safely, with Clarcam soon capitulating as Al Ferof took the lead briefly before being quickly joined by God’s Own.
The leading duo were neck and neck as they headed to the final open-ditch, two out. God’s Own jumped it the better, Al Ferof having dived over it slightly. They then began the long run to the final fence, with the loose Vautour slipping through the narrow gap between them. This seemed to encourage God’s Own to move ahead also, although there was no knowing what the rider-less horse might do.
In the event and unencumbered by a jockey, the loose Vautour continued to extend away, jumping the last in his stride. God’s Own was well clear of Al Ferof at this point, although he did jump away to his right, as he is prone to do, at the obstacle. However, Paddy Brennan kept the horse up to his work and he was able to retain a margin of 2¾ lengths at the line from the Dan Skelton runner. Clarcam finished a further 9 lengths away in 3rd, with Somersby 22 lengths back in 4th and Vibrato Valtat 5th.
It had been an excellent two days for jockey Paddy Brennan, having won yesterday’s Grade 1 Bowl Chase aboard Cue Card. God’s Own had finished 4th behind Sprinter Sacre in this year’s Champion Chase on his previous run.
We remained beside the course-side rails following the race.
Race 4 - 3:25pm
THE JLT MELLING STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Stewards gave permission for SOMERSBY (IRE), trained by Mick Channon, to be mounted in the chute and to go first in the parade.
The favourite for the Topham Chase was Bishops Road, trained by Kerry Lee and ridden by Jamie Moore; price 8-1. The horse had been first reserve for this year’s Grand National but, with no defections before the deadline, he was now taking his chance in the shorter distance race. There was one non-runner, Gray Hession, leaving a field of 29 to take their chance.
Also, Ruby Walsh needed to pass the doctor before taking his chance aboard Blood Cotil in this event.
The Topham Chase is run over 18 Grand National fences. The start of the race was at the far end of the home straight, with 2 fences to jump before The Chair.
Having arrived at the start and had their girths checked, the jockeys began to form a group as they headed away from the starting gate; there were a number of stragglers and they started to join the others once the group had turned to head back to towards the Starter, Robbie Supple. He was barking out instructions, including requesting them to stop; they were jogging in too fast; besides, it was too early to start he said!
As they approached the gate, he asked them to stand still; they didn’t. However, it was now 16:05 or after and he raised his yellow flag and they were off, first time. Prominent heading to the first were Distime, Third Intention, and Rathlin; also Al Alfa on the wide outside. Near the rear of the field the favourite, Bishops Road, jumped too big and shot jockey Jamie Moore over his head; Oops!
Meanwhile the remaining runners headed to the second, with Wayne Hutchinson’s mount, Witness In Court, marginally ahead as they cleared it. There were no departures here, although in mid-field Top Cat Henry hit the fence; at the rear of the field was Killer Crow, along with Gallery Exhibition. The third fence was The Chair, and the leaders were setting a good pace; at the head of the field, keen to get a good view of the fence were Mr Moonshine, Witness In Court, Cocktails At Dawn, Dromnea and, to the inside, last year’s runner-up the white-faced Fairy Rath.
The fancied Village Vic blundered badly here, having taken off too far away from the board in front of the ditch and he almost failed to make the distance as a result; a case of being too bold. The following fence was the water-jump, with Cocktails At Dawn now leading marginally, from Fairy Rath, as they jumped it. At the back of the field was the lighter of the greys, Corrin Wood, the other being mare La Vaticane.
The loose horse squeezed up the inside of the leading duo as they headed around the bottom bend; he then headed to the outside of the track. Meanwhile the runners fanned out as they crossed over the Melling Road to approach the fifth fence. Fairy Rath, Cocktails At Dawn, Mr Moonshine and Witness In Court were in the front line as they jumped it, with As De Mee almost upsides to the outside too. There were no departures or noticeable errors at the fence; Corrin Wood trailed the field.
The bold jumping Cocktails At Dawn knuckled over on landing at the next; the head of the field is not the place to be having hit the ground and Rathlin was hampered by the fallen horse, with Ruben Cotter having to sidestep the prostrate jockey. This left Fairy Rath to lead, from Mr Moonshine and As De Mee. The following fence was the ‘Westhead’ open-ditch, which they all cleared without problem. At this point, struggling at the rear of the field were Ballykan, Dare To Endeavour and the already mentioned Corrin Wood.
There was a third departure at the next fence, with Witness In Court getting too close. This resulted in him catching his hind-legs on the fence and shooting Wayne Hutchinson over his head; the horse remained on its but it looked like a painful unseat for the jockey. Ouch! The medics were quickly on the course to check upon Wayne; fortunately he was okay.
The following fence was the one before Beecher’s Brook and, towards the outside in mid-field, Blood Cotil made a complete horlicks of his landing; he skidded and weaved, but survived … it takes more than that to dislodge Ruby Walsh! The runners continued their journey towards the most famous racecourse fence in the world.
An experienced jumper of the Grand National fences, Fairy Rath landed safely but, sadly, this was not the case for Emma Lavelle’s Gullinbursti which was travelling to the inside in his wake. The horse dived head first over the fence, jockey Gavin Sheehan’s arms held aloft as his mount descended to the ground, head first. Race over, and life over too; the horse just didn’t stand a chance. And to make matters worse, Minella Reception, travelling just to the outside of Gullinbursti, suffered the same fate in an independent and very similar fall. A number of the runners were hampered by this tragic turn of events, namely Distime, Gallery Exhibition, Pass The Hat, Rouge Et Blanc and Killer Crow. The only horse which was brought down by the prostrate horses however, was a loose one.
Heading over Fionavon, top weight Third Intention had almost joined Fairy Rath at the head of affairs; with Eastlake and As De Mee travelling just in behind them. The runners continued on to the Canal Turn, where Tom Cannon’s mount cleverly put in a short one in order to meet the fence on the correct stride. The 24 runners cleared this without incident before heading along to Valentine’s Brook.
Again Fairy Rath led over the fence, from Third Intention, Eastlake, As De Mee and Top Cat Henry; the latter almost lost his footing on landing, Sam Waley-Cohen remained aboard but his mount lost a number of lengths. The next to depart was Rathlin which hit the top of the next and landed awkwardly as a result; Davy Russell was ejected out of the nearside door as a result.
The runners continued towards the final open-ditch; four out. It was then one of those moments for the commentator, in this instance Simon Holt, when he wished he hadn’t said anything. Namely, “Blood Cotil is still in contention despite the very bad … no he’s not, he’s gone.” The horse had hit the deck, with Ruby finding himself on the ground for the second race running; it was not to be his day, in fact it would soon get a whole lot worse …
Meanwhile, Fairy Rath continued to lead from Eastlake, Third Intention, As De Mee, Top Cat Henry, Rouge Et Blanc and the grey mare La Vaticane. The trailing Corrin Wood and Astracad were pulled up before the third last; the other runners successfully negotiated this fence.
The remaining 20 were soon returning back across the Melling Road. Fairy Rath still ahead of Eastlake, As De Mee, Third Intention, Top Cat Henry, La Vaticane, Rouge Et Blanc, Mr Moonshine, Distime, Ruben Cotter, Al Alfa, Gallery Exhibition, Bennys Mist, Village Vic, Ballykan, Turban, Pass The Hat, Dare To Endeavour, Killer Crow and, last but not least, Dromnea.
Turban would be pulled up on the run to the second last; he’d burst a blood vessel. The same fate had befallen Eastlake in last year’s renewal but, today, he was still travelling well within himself and just behind the leader Fairy Rath. The leaders remained towards the far side rail as they headed over two out, further back in the field and in contrast, both Mr Moonshine and Distime were travelling out wide; La Vaticane got a little close to the fence.
Fairy Rath continued to lead as they continued to the final fence, and he got in close to the bottom of it too. He lost a bit of momentum as a result and Eastlake drew alongside as they headed to the elbow, preceded by one of the white-faced loose horses. With much encouragement from their jockeys, the leading duo began to pull away from their rivals and, initially, it seemed that the gallant Fairy Rath might be able to stave off the challenge from Barry Geraghty’s mount.
However, half way down the run-in, Eastlake got the upper-hand and he forged away to win by 4 lengths at the line. Top weight Third Intention just held on to 3rd place, by a neck, 9 lengths further back; Distime having stayed on late. Gallery Exhibition claimed 5th, never nearer, and Top Cat Henry 6th. Nineteen had finished, with Killer Crow last across the line; he’d also broken a blood vessel.
The winner is a full-brother to More Of That; actually, thinking about it, they have a similar head carriage.
And those which did not finish:
The two side-saddle mounted ladies accompanied the winner back to the Winners’ Enclosure. On this occasion, we decided to return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure too.
There was an announcement asking Nigel Twiston-Davies or his representative to report to the Weighing Room; never a good sign. In this instance it related to his stricken charge, Minella Reception. The horse has not passed away out on the racecourse as a result of his fall, but had been taken back to the veterinary facility to be assessed. However, the news was not to be positive, with him euthanized following this procedure. RIP Minella Reception and RIP Gullinbursti.
Race 5 - 4:05pm
THE CRABBIE'S TOPHAM STEEPLE CHASE (HANDICAP) (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The favourite for the sixth race was Bellshill, sporting the Wylie colours and trained by Willie Mullins; price 11-2. Ruby Walsh having been stood down by the doctor following his falls, the trainer’s son Patrick took the ride; Paul Townend and David Mullins already had engagements in this race. EPDS Racing also had a representative, namely Ami Desbois trained by Graeme McPherson and ridden by Kielan Woods.
Like the Cheltenham Festival’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, this can be an attritional race for the younger horses. However, last year it was won by Thistlecrack and he’d gone from strength to strength this season, having won a number of the top profile staying hurdles; most notably the World Hurdle. There were 15 competitors today, running on soft ground today.
The start of this race was part way down the home straight, with one flight therein to jump and therefore just over 2 circuits to travel.
The horses jogged into the start and then they were off, first time. The runners were led away by Yala Enki, Vintage Clouds and Arkwrisht; at the rear was Bellshill, with Ami Desbois just ahead of him. Ghost River made an error at the first flight and dropped to the rear of the field.
Yala Enki, now with an uncontested lead, led the field down past the winning post and around the bottom bend; two circuits still to travel. There was no change at the head of affairs as they entered the back straight and headed towards the second flight. The flashy chestnut Ballydine was now disputing second position with the sole grey Vintage Clouds, from Arkwrisht to the outside, then Duke Des Champs, Potters Legend, Tomngerry, Ballyoptic, Mystical Knight, Balko Des Flos, Ami Desbois, Gangster, Baoulet Delaroque, Bellshill and Ghost River. They all jumped it well.
The runners continued to the middle flight in the back straight; the pace was good and once again they jumped it without incident. The field then headed across the sanded strip to reach flight number four. There were no departures but Ghost River, at the rear of the field, continued to be the least fluent. Heading into the far turn, Yala Enki under Aidan Coleman continued to hold the advantage over Ballydine and Vintage Clouds; Bellshill had now been relegated to a narrow last.
Heading into the home straight, around 12 lengths covered the field. Travelling to the outside of midfield, Duke Des Champs was less than fluent at the first flight therein; again Ghost River didn’t impress with his hurdling either and he was relegated to last place once more as a result. Heading over the next, Gigginstown’s Arkwrisht had moved through into second position. They continued on to the seventh flight; Vintage Clouds jumped it awkwardly and lost ground on the leaders.
Arkwrisht now assumed the lead as they headed down past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. Heading around the bottom bend, Sam Twiston-Davies decided to call it a day aboard Baoulet Delaroque having already issued reminders but to no avail. Never jumping fluently, Ghost River was being pushed along at the rear of the field as they entered the back straight for the final time.
Arkwrisht continued to lead the field as they cleared the next flight; one of his two Gigginstown stable-mates, Gangster, hit this flight. The leader bunny-hopped over the middle obstacle in the back straight but it did not affect his momentum. The remaining fourteen crossed the sanded track before arriving at four out. Having been up with the pace earlier, Ballydine had begun to back-peddle through the field and he was very ungainly at this one.
Towards the rear of the field, a number of runners appeared to be struggling as they headed into the far turn; Mystical Knight, Ghost River and Vintage Clouds would be pulled up before they reached three out. Meanwhile Arkwrisht continued to lead, from Ballyoptic and Potters Legend; Yala Enki now began to fade. Duke Des Champs travelled just behind these and to his inner, Balko Des Flos seemed to be cruising. Bellshill was also going strongly in their wake.
Having entered the home straight the runners fanned out; to the outside Ballyoptic laid down a challenge and was marginally ahead of the less than fluent Arkwrisht as they cleared it. Potters Legend hit the flight but continued to battle on to the inside. Having appeared a big danger just moments before, Balko Des Flos was soon being ridden; whereas Bellshill continued his progress and had drawn alongside Ballyoptic as they reached two out.
But, jumping is the name of the game and the Irish challenger paddled through the flight; he survived but was soon under pressure as Ballyoptic seized the upper-hand once more. However, Patrick Mullins continued to galvanise the favourite and he regained the lead and was a length up as he jumped the final flight. But that was not the end of the story …
With the rail to the nearside to help him, Ballyoptic began to rally. Meanwhile, Bellshill began to drift towards his challenger as the line approached. They joined battle at the half furlong mark and it was then nip and tuck all the way to the winning post … with the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner prevailing by a neck at the line!
They had drawn well clear of their nearest rival, Potters Legend, 13 lengths in fact; he finished against the running rail on the far side of the hurdles track. Balko Des Flos finished 2½ lengths behind him in 4th, with long-time leader Yala Enki plugging on past tired rivals to claim 5th. There were nine finishers, with EPDS Racing’s Ami Desbois completing in 8th … so he won a small amount of prize money too; ‘Every little helps’ as a well-known supermarket chain says! Tomngerry pulled up before two out and Gangster before the last.
We stayed within the Earl of Derby Enclosure, beside the horse-walk entry/exit point following the race.
I didn’t notice it, but there was a ‘bucket incident’ early in the race, as reported in the Stewards enquiry notes … buckets at Aintree and spigots at Cheltenham; whatever next? It seems that the fences are not the only dangers encountered on the track!
Race 6 - 4:40pm
THE DOOM BAR SEFTON NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The favourite for this race was Ballyandy, winner of the Cheltenham Festival’s Champion Bumper, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by son Sam; price 9-4. Paul Townend substituted for Ruby Walsh aboard Battleford, the runner-up in the aforementioned Bumper. On this occasion Patrick Mullins was aboard Bacardys, who’d chased home the other two that day.
Alan King had a runner in this race, Zipple Back, ridden by Noel Fehily due to the horse being owned by Potensis Bloodstock.
The starting gate for this event was in the far corner of the track, close to the Anchor Bridge canal crossing.
And then they were off, with The Minch starting a little way behind the main group of runners; this was his debut and not surprisingly he was demonstrating some greenness. The runners were led away by Red Six and Any Drama; also prominent were Battleford, Ballyandy and Pride Of Lecale. The runners were well-grouped as they headed into the home straight on the first occasion, apart from The Minch which remained a number of lengths adrift at the rear of the field. Evidently The Minch is a sea strait in Northwest Scotland.
Any Drama led narrowly from Red Six as the runners continued down the home straight, heading between three sets of empty hurdle wings in the process. Battleford, Ballyandy, Pride Of Lecale and Utility were line across the track behind the leading duo, from Bacardys with Willoughby Court, Cheque En Blanc and Jam Session. Behind these were Zipple Back, Atomix, Rodneythetrotter and Manhattan Spring; finally King Uther with Bolving, and The Minch in rear. However, King Uther had begun to travel less well than his rivals are they approached the winning line and was soon relegated to last place as they headed around the bottom bend.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners entered the back straight. The next horse to show signs of distress in running was Cheque En Blanc; he began to drop back through the field despite a number of backhanders from his jockey James Davies. Tom Cannon continued to persevere aboard King Uther, bumping his mount along as they headed towards the far turn; in fact he overtook Cheque En Blanc as they crossed the sand pathway.
Six Red had lost his place by the time the main body of the field reached the railings to the inside of the far bend; Any Drama and Pride Of Lecale disputed the lead at the point in the race, with Battleford and Ballyandy matching strides just behind them. As the Bowen-runner continued to lose ground, Zipple Back’s progress was momentarily interrupted having found himself short of room in the backwash.
It was still two by two as the leaders swung into the home straight, with Pride of Lecale still alongside Any Drama. Battleford and Ballyandy continued to share third position, from Willoughby Court upsides Bacardys. Zippleback was still travelling okay and was heading the main body of runners.
Having passed between the first set of empty wings, Battleford and Ballyandy swept through either side of Pride Of Lecale and took the lead. Bacardys, which had finished third behind Ballyandy and Battleford at the Cheltenham Festival, continued to gain on the leading duo as they headed down between the next set of wings. Meanwhile, The Minch had made good progress from the rear of the field and was soon challenging for fourth position.
Ballyandy, which was carrying a 4lb penalty today, began to tire as they reached the final furlong; the Patrick Mullins-ridden Bacardys had now joined Battleford at the head of affairs on the final run to the line. And it was Bacardys which proved the stronger today despite substitute jockey Paul Townend’s best efforts, with the Willie Mullins’ second-string triumphing by half a length at the winning post.
The Minch had continued to make progress all the way down the home straight and completed just 1½ lengths behind this duo. Ballyandy claimed 4th today, 2½ lengths back; the 4-year-old Alan King-runner, Zipple Back, completed in 9th position.
Sadly the very promising The Minch lost his life later in the year, having dislocated a stifle at the home of his owners. RIP.
We decided to return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following this race, the final one of the day.
I recall, at one point during the afternoon, that we saw Chanelle McCoy with companions close to the Winners’ Enclosure. I wasn’t sure about her outfit however – she wore a black cape-style jacket which appeared of a rigid nature, with white and yellow horizontal ribboning; strange! I also passed Alice Plunkett and was surprised that she was quite tall!
Race 7 - 5:15pm
THE WEATHERBYS PRIVATE BANK CHAMPION STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 2)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Stewards noted that CHEQUE EN BLANC (FR), trained by Tom Symonds, would wear earplugs in the parade ring.
It was then time for us to depart. Having reached the racecourse crossing point, we were again delayed briefly – today because the track was being rolled! Having taken the shuttle bus back to the Melling Road exit point, we’d soon arrived back at the car and traffic was flowing smoothly out of the car park.
We successfully negotiated the ‘weird’ junction at the start of the M57, under my tutelage; but I have had eight years’ experience! The driver in front of us was having difficulty in deciding which side of the island to select – the left takes you onto the M58, the right onto the M57. It’s the strangest road junction I’ve ever encountered! Having taken this route, we then followed the A580 back to our hotel at Golborne.
We were also well on schedule to meet our evening restaurant reservation time; we had 45 minutes to spare. Today we were seated in the ‘breakfast bar’ area. My default choice of meal is always fish and chips – so that was what I chose on this occasion. I wanted to try the chocolate tart with salted caramel ice cream, which Sandra had ordered the previous evening but, by this evening, they had sold out. Poodles. I ordered cheesecake instead. My choice of drink was an apple and raspberry J2O.
Having returned to our hotel rooms, I recall turning on the TV hoping to watch Graham Norton; needless to say I dozed off to sleep and saw nothing of the show! But I did have a better night’s sleep than the previous one. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
PHOTOS – Aintree Festival Day 2