PART I

DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL

LADIES’ DAY

FRIDAY 07 APRIL 2017

 

 

 

Might Bite.jpg

 

Might Bite,

winner of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase

 

 

We had decided to arrive at Aintree by around 10:00, so arranged to go to breakfast at 07:15.  I ordered a full English breakfast of four rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, half a fried tomato, a Quorn sausage (it was awful, like rubber) and a few mushrooms; I’d have liked more of the latter.  I also ate three yoghurts – vanilla, strawberry and peach & apricot.  And one and a half croissants – not surprisingly, I’d eaten too much by this stage!

Today’s outfit was a plum-coloured thermal T-shirt, a dark pink thermal T-shirt, a mauve BHS v-neck cardigan, a purple fleece, a black fleece gillet, black tights under aubergine-coloured jeggings, a grey/black dogtooth flippy hem Dottie Perkins skirt, a mauve BHS jacket, a mauve scarf with butterfly print thereon, plus plum-coloured Hotter shoes.  I’d only brought shoes with me, from home, no boots; unlike Cheltenham when I’d solely taken boots not shoes!  I wore a mauve beaded maple leaf pendant.  It had been a decision between the Dottie Perkins skirt and my thinner cotton flower-print one; I decided a warmer one was the order of the day. 

 

P4122399 r.jpg

Homemade jewellery.jpg

Mauve BHS cardigan

Dottie Perkins dogtooth-check

flippy hem skirt

Hand-made mauve maple-leaf pendant (right)

Black M&S Fleece Gillet.jpg

Purple M&S fleece.jpg

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Black fleece gillet

Purple fleece

Mauve BHS Jacket

Kipling handbag.jpg

Aintree scarves.jpg

Aintree shoes.jpg

Kipling handbag – Defea style

Mauve butterfly scarf (right)

Plum coloured Hotter Shoes (right)

Aubergine jeggings.jpg

Aubergine-coloured jeggings

 

 

We arrived not long after 10:00; Sandra drove us to the racecourse in her car today, so there were no bonnet issues.  We both wore sensible footwear initially, and took shoes to change into, so that we could carry out our annual Ladies Day walk of the Grand National course; we also visited Red Rum’s grave prior to beginning it.

Once again this year, there was an opportunity for the less able to undertake a tour of the Grand National course; a number of multi-person buggies left at regular intervals to take punters around the inner-perimeter road. 

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. 

As has happened for the past two Ladies Days, we ended up following or being followed during our walk by small groups of women; these were taking part in the Grand Women’s Summit.  This year’s panel was hosted by BBC Breakfast presenter Sally Nugent.  Panelists included Dame Sarah Storey, GB Gold Medal winning hockey player Sam Quek, ITV Racing’s Alice Plunkett, and the JLT UK Marketing Director, Ellie Mickleburgh.

Following the panel discussion, the attendees head out to walk the course; this year accompanied by Katie Walsh, trainer Kim Bailey and Racing to School’s Education Officer, Carrie Ford. 

Anyway, we headed along the roadway towards Becher’s Brook, before continuing past the Fionavon fence, to the Canal Turn.  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 from our course-walk, we headed to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.

The ROR Parade took place today, featuring Cinders and Ashes (dressage and showing), Junior (dressage and hunting), Liverpool (showing and hunting), Mad Moose (dressage ... who’d have thought!), Midnight Chase (hunting and eventing), Monet’s Garden (showing), Offshore Account (team chasing), Peddlers Cross (show-jumping), Tranquil Sea (eventing) and Denman. 

Denman, who was a 17-year-old at this time, had recently retired from team chasing and hunting.  He was no longer ridden and would soon be returning to the yard of owner Paul Barber to live out the remainder of his days.  Charlotte Alexander, who had been looking after the former Gold Cup winner since 2011, was soon to take on a replacement horse ... namely Silviniaco Conti which had been retired following a disappointing showing in the Bowl Chase on Day 1 of this Festival.

Sadly it was difficult to see the horses, as they remained within the main body of the Parade Ring, rather than venture into the Winners’ Enclosure section, above which we were standing.

Also ahead of racing, the usual Ladies Day side-saddle display took place.  This featured Aintree regulars Amy Bryan-Dowell and Lauren Allin and their mounts.  I’m thinking that it’s about time that this particular demonstration was dropped; it’s become boring year after year.  

Being the second day of the Festival, the jockeys paid their regular visit ahead of racing to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to meet the patients.

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 do this.

There were 3 joint-favourites for race number one.  Namely Dream Berry, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 8-1.  He was the sole grey in the race; in fact he was almost white.  Also Thomas Campbell trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville.  Finally Sumkindofking trained by Tom George and ridden by Adrian Heskin.

My non-betting race pick was Sky Khan which had finished 4th in this race last year.

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. 

Having left the Parade Ring, the jockeys formed themselves into a group, jogging around in the area at the beginning of the back straight.  At one point, Hawk High got left behind having been squeezed out when they circled around a section of plastic rail; Brian Hughes trotted up the inside of them as soon as he could to regain his position.  He did, however, almost get squeezed out for a second time when short of room negotiating the short section of rail which separated the hurdles track from that of the chases.  In centre of the pack, Zubayr stumbled too when short of room.

Race 1

Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

Distance

2 miles 4 furlongs (11 hurdles to negotiate)

No. of Runners

22

North Hill Harvey, A Hare Breath, Runswick Royal, Zubayr, Thomas Campbell, Hawk High, Rather Be, Geordie Des Champs, Mad Jack Mytton, Allee Bleue, Crievehill, Byron Flyer, Bigmartre, Ice Cold Soul, Nautical Nitwit, Dream Berry, Dashing Oscar, Clondaw Kaempfer, Craggaknock, Sumkindofking, Sky Khan, Crystal Lad

 

And they were still too early, so had to circumnavigate the rail again; Nautical Nitwit was trotted up to re-join the rear of the group.  And finally the Starter was ready for them; they skirted the first flight in the back straight, the tape pinged back and then they were off, first time. 

Leading the way to the first were Crystal Lad, Dashing Oscar, Gigginstown’s Ice Cold Soul, Big Martre and Geordie Des Champs; there were a couple of jumping errors at the first, from the aforementioned Geordie Des Champs and, to the rear of midfield, from Craggaknock.  Bringing up the rear were Runswick Royal and Nautical Nitwit.

The field continued over the pathway which leads to the steeplechase car park before reaching the next flight.  They all cleared this one successfully, although two of the fence attendants had to run onto the course to rectify a couple of damaged panels. 

Crystal Lad spearheaded the field as they headed into the far turn, with Dashing Oscar close up to his inner and Bigmartre to his outer.  They were followed by Ice Cold Soul, Sumkindofking, Crievehill and Clondaw Kaempfer.  After these travelled JP McManus’ second string Geordie Des Champs to the outside of Rather Be and JP’s first string Dream Berry.  Then Sky Khan alongside Zubayr, Byron Flyer, Hawk High, A Hare Breath, Craggaknock, Allee Bleue, Thomas Campbell, North Hill Harvey, Runswick Royal, Mad Jack Mytton and, finally, Nautical Nitwit. 

The 22 competitors continued along the top of the racecourse at what the commentator, David Fitzgerald described as ‘no more than an even pace’.  Having entered the home straight on the first occasion, the runners had soon reached the third flight.  There were no noticeable errors at this one although, as they galloped away from it, it was noted that the orange protector strip had been displaced from one of the panels.

Again today, the next flight had been set quite close to the earlier one and they all cleared this well, apart from Nautical Nitwit which appeared to lack fluency; the orange protector strip had been displace upon the inside panel as a result.  With the field still intact, the runners headed to the next flight; Dashing Oscar weaved as they approached the obstacle but cleared it okay, as did his rivals.  Fence attendants were on hand to rectify any issues as the horses headed down past the main grandstands and winning post with one circuit now to travel; Dashing Oscar, Crystal Lad and Big Martre continued to dispute the lead as they did so.  Still at the rear of the field, Nautical Nitwit was bumped along as they headed around the grandstand bend. 

The runners had soon entered the back straight and continued to the sixth flight; this one would be jumped only once.  Ice Cold Soul made a slight mistake at this one.  The horses continued their journey to the next; Craggaknock made an error here and slightly hampered Thomas Campbell as a result. 

Big Martre was being pushed along by Harry Bannister as they headed across the sanded pathway, and no longer disputed the lead with Crystal Lad and Dashing Oscar; although he did remain close on their heels despite this.  With the recent injection of pace, the field had begun to string out; they’d soon cleared the final flight in the back straight, with no casualties to report thus far.

The runners headed into the far turn, with the Gigginstown runner bumped along and slightly ungainly when appearing to be short of room.  It was Dashing Oscar which held a narrow advantage as they turned into the home straight, from Crystal Lad, Klondaw Kaempfer, Big Martre, Crievehill, Rather Be, Sumkindofking, Geordie Des Champs and Dream Berry.  Bringing up the rear were Sky Khan and Nautical Nitwit.

And into the home straight they headed, with a number of horses clearly in with a chance at this latter stage of the race.  Dashing Oscar led the runners over the first flight therein, with Klondaw Kaempfer the first to challenge the leader and he was upsides as they cleared two out; although he did jump out to his right over it. 

The game was quickly up for Harry Fry’s representative as they continued the journey to the final flight, with Will Kennedy’s mount now ahead of Rather Be, Dream Berry, Geordie Des Champs and Zubayr.  However, Klondaw Kaempfer made a terrible blunder at the last and immediately lost his position; Rather Be, Dream Berry, Geordie Des Champs, Zubayr and Byron Flyer all swept past him.

It had now become a duel between Rather Be and the grey, with the former proving just the stronger at the death; the Nicky Henderson second-string won by half a length at the line.  Geordie Des Champs finished off strongly too, and was a further half a length away in 3rd.  Thomas Campbell stayed on to complete in 4th, a further 9 lengths away.  In 5th was Byron Flyer, Zubayr finished 6th having also made an error at the last, and Clondaw Kaempfer completed in 7th. 

All 22 runners completed the course; the final one across the line being Allee Bleue.  Sky Khan finished 18th; so much for my non-betting selection!  The winner is a half-brother to Sign Of A Victory. 

The winning jockey, Jeremiah McGrath, was chuffed, having lost out to Brian Hughes and Double W’s in the Red Rum Handicap Chase the previous day.  When interviewed, Jerry said he was a ‘broken man’ last night!

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Rather Be

Jeremiah McGrath

Nicky Henderson

2nd

Dream Berry

Barry Geraghty

Jonjo O’Neill

3rd

Geordie Des Champs

Jonathan Moore

Rebecca Curtis

4th

Thomas Campbell

Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson

 

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 Stewards noted that THOMAS CAMPBELL, trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.

The favourite for the next race was River Wylde, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 9-4.

Alan King had a runner in this event, namely The Unit ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.  There were no greys in this one.  The current Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’Air had won this race last year. 

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 at the top of the course, before turning into the home straight with that and one full circuit to travel. 

 

Race 2

Top Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)

Distance

2 miles 110 yards (9 hurdles to negotiate)

No. of Runners

9

American Gigolo, Bulkov, Chti Balko, High Secret, Moon Racer, Mount Mews, Pingshou, River Wylde, The Unit

 

The runners headed away from the starting gate, and went all the way back to the Melling Road beside Anchor Bridge.  Every competitor was calm, apart from Moon Racer which jogged towards the start.  And then they were off.

The field was led away by the nose-banded Chti Balko; he was followed by Pingshou, Moon Racer, High Secret, Mount Mews, River Wylde, The Unit, American Gigolo and Bulkov.  It was a long run to the first flight but, having entered the home straight on the first occasion, all nine runners cleared it without an issue.

Chti Balko remained at the head of affairs as they continued their journey to the second flight and, again, the runners all cleared it well; at the rear of the field, American Gigolo was quite keen.  Noel Fehily had settled his mount by the time they reached the third flight; the runners then headed down past the main grandstands and winning post with one circuit now to travel.

Chti Balko led the runners around the bottom bend and into the back straight for the one and only time; he was three lengths clear of his nearest challengers, Pingshou and Moon Racer.  The leader lost some of his advantage as he stuttered into the first flight in the back straight; Bulkov wasn’t fluent here either.  The Unit, travelling three from the back of the field, dived slightly over the next one; whilst Mount Mews landed a little flat-footed. 

The runners continued upon their journey along the back straight, crossing over the sand pathway as they did so.  Again the leader wasn’t quite as fluent as his rivals as they cleared the final flight in the back straight.  Heading into the far turn, Moon Racer appeared not to be travelling quite as well as his rivals.

The nine-strong field continued across the top of the racecourse and into the home straight, now with three flights to negotiate before the finish.  Pingshou jumped into the lead three out; whilst Chti Balko trashed the inside panel by dislodging the orange protective strip.  Moon Racer wasn’t fluent here, lost his place and came under pressure. 

Brian Hughes pulled Mount Mews wide for a clearer passage as they continued their journey down to the penultimate flight.  Pingshou was a couple of lengths clear as he jumped this one; his nearest rivals were River Wylde, High Secret, The Unit and Mount Mews.  Chti Balko had soon dropped to the rear of the field.  The Colin Tizzard runner remained clear as his pursuers failed in their endeavours to close the gap; the leader then put in a huge leap at the last flight. 

River Wylde was the first to cry enough, with Mount Mews staying on the strongest.  However he proved no match for Pingshou who galloped all the way to the line to win by 4½ lengths.  The Unit claimed 3rd prize, a further 2½ lengths away, with High Secret just over a length behind him.  River Wylde finished a disappointing 5th and Moon Racer an equally disappointing 6th.  All nine runners completed the course.  

The win was a surprise; his starting price 16-1.  The winning jockey was Robbie Power; the owners, The Potts. 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Pingshou

Robbie Power

Colin Tizzard

2nd

Mount Mews

Brian Hughes

Malcolm Jefferson

3rd

The Unit

Wayne Hutchinson

Alan King

4th

High Secret

Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls

 

Again we remained beside the course-side rails rather than return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.

 

Race 2 - 2:20pm

THE CRABBIES TOP NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)

The Stewards considered the apparent improvement in form of the winner, PINGSHOU (IRE), ridden by Robbie Power, and trained by Colin Tizzard, compared with its previous run at Cheltenham on 14 March 2017, where the gelding finished tenth of fourteen, beaten 34 lengths. They noted the trainer could offer no explanation for the gelding’s improved form. They ordered PINGSHOU (IRE) to be routine tested.

The Stewards noted that BULKOV (FR), trained by Micky Hammond, would wear a hood in the Parade Ring, and CHTI BALKO (FR), trained by Donald McCain, would wear earplugs.

Nico de Boinville, the rider of RIVER WYLDE (IRE), placed fifth, reported that the gelding ran flat.

The favourite for the next race was the RSA winner, the quirky Might Bite, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 8-13.   There were no greys in this race. 

The starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel. 

 

Race 3

Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Distance

3 miles 1 furlong (19 fences to negotiate)

No. of Runners

5

Calett Mad, Marinero, Might Bite, Virgilio, Whisper

 

Having undergone a few tack adjustments, Davy Russell trotted Whisper up to join the others.  And then they were off, with Might Bite narrowly ahead of Virgilio; both Whisper and Marinero were less than fluent at the first fence, Calett Mad brought up the rear.  The second fence was the first of the open-ditches and the leader jumped this with ears pricked. 

The five runners then headed across the Grand National course in order to reach fence number three.  Once again, as the fence approached, Might Bite pricked his ears.  They all jumped it well before heading down past the winning post and around the grandstand turn.  This year’s RSA Chase winner continued to lead from Virgilio disputing second position with Whisper, followed by Gigginstown’s Marinero and, finally, Calett Mad. 

Having entered the back straight, the horses headed to the fourth fence; yet again Might Bite pricked his ears when within a few strides of the obstacle.  The leader’s stable-mate was shadowing him as they continued to the next; Whisper was slightly low over this one and Virgilio got in a little bit close to it. 

The next obstacle was the second open-ditch; they all cleared this one well, with the leading two now extending their lead over the remainder.  The competitors headed over the sanded track-way which leads to the Steeplechase car park before arriving at the final fence in the back straight.  Calett Mad didn’t jump this one particularly well and, as a result, Daryl Jacob gave his mount a slap down the neck.

Might Bite led the runners into the far turn and onwards to the cross-fence; the leading duo were seven or eight lengths clear of their rivals as they did so.  Whisper, once again, was a little low over this one and birch dust flew.  The competitors entered the home straight having now completed one full circuit.  The leader jumped the next extremely well; he didn’t touch a twig.  The following fence was the open-ditch, with Whisper jumping out to his right and Calett Mad less than fluent at the rear of the field.

The runners continued across the Grand National course to arrive at fence number eleven.  Virgilio was a little awkward here, having caught a foreleg on the fence.  Might Bite had a lead of four lengths as he galloped down past the winning post and around the grandstand turn once more; Nico de Boinville gave him a couple of mild slaps down the shoulder at this point, presumably just to keep his mount’s mind on the job in hand!

Having entered the back straight for the final time, Nico decided it was time to step on the gas a little more.  Whisper didn’t jump the first fence therein as fluently as his rivals.  They headed to the next where, at the rear of the field, Calett Mad was the least impressive.  The following fence was an open-ditch and the leader flew over this one; the others’ jumping skills were now being pressurised. 

The runners continued over the sanded track on their journey to the final fence in the back straight.  Although the order hadn’t changed, they were now well strung out behind the leader as they jumped it.  Might Bite thus led his rivals into the far turn and continued to the cross-fence; the leader did, however, get a little close to this and Whisper jumped out to his right again. 

However, as they headed into the home straight for the final time, the leader’s stable-mate had managed to narrow the deficit and was only a couple of lengths adrift as they jumped the third last.  Virgilio made a mistake at this one, and Marinero blundered badly; his jockey Bryan Cooper managed to stay aboard having picked his horse’s nose off the ground. 

Meanwhile the leading duo continued to the final open-ditch, with Might Bite retaining an advantage and Whisper being driven along; they both jumped it well.  Davy Russell’s mount continued to hassle the leader as they headed across the Grand National course on their journey to the final fence; the jockey switched his mount to the far side just in case the leader decided to veer off a straight line as he’d done at Cheltenham. 

Whisper cleared the last fence well, but Might Bite jumped it even better and the challenger was always being held as they headed towards the winning post; in fact the latter did extend his advantage as the line approached.

The winning distance was two lengths at the line.  Virgilio completed in 3rd position, 18 lengths behind the runner-up.  Marinero was 4th, a further 44 lengths away and Calett Mad trailed in last.  Mind you with their places secured, the tail-enders had been eased hence the extended distances.     

As pointed out by Ruby Walsh, who was viewing the race with RUK’s Nick Luck, the difference between winning and losing today was the quality of the jumping.  The winner hadn’t travelled with the same brilliance as he’d done at Cheltenham, but he hadn’t needed too and, despite this, he’d still beaten all bar one rival by a country mile. 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Might Bite

Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson

2nd

Whisper

Davy Russell

Nicky Henderson

3rd

Virgilio

Harry Skelton

Dan Skelton

4th

Marinero

Bryan Cooper

Henry De Bromhead

 

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 BETWAY MILDMAY NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)

The Stewards noted that WHISPER (FR), trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.

That’s it for Part One of my Ladies Day diary ...

 

 

Click here to read my Ladies’ Day Diary Part II

 

 

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