DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND OPENING DAY
THURSDAY 09 APRIL 2015
Silviniaco Conti is led out to the racecourse
ahead of the Grade 1 Bowl Chase
With no fixtures to attend between the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals this year, and the extended Easter break ... plus an additional week because of the latter, I was able to complete all the outstanding work on my website, apart from my Day 4 Cheltenham diary; I saved that task for my ‘summer’ break.
I was pretty laidback regarding my packing this year, although it took me ages to decide which outfits to wear; two or three weeks of scribbling ideas in my notebook produced a shortlist, with the usual last minute swapping of coats and jackets and scarves. The outerwear situation is very much dependent on the latest weather forecast and the forecasters change their mind all the time; they have too much technology now.
I’d hoped the weather would be warmish so, as a result I took two suit-style jackets – one blue, one black, my mauve BHS winter-weight jacket and my bargain black BHS coat; the latter hadn’t had an outing since my last visit to Aintree. The mauve jacket and black coat are huge – size 22 in fact; because I need to be able to wear many layers underneath during the winter months ... and still button them up around my boobs! Having said that, I can never fit into anything smaller than a stretchy size 18 top anyway!
As always there were the last minute shopping trips – the first happened on Bank Holiday Monday to M & S; I was going to walk the 6-mile round trip but didn’t have the time available! I purchased a number of pairs of tights; why don’t M & S stock more larger sized pairs so that they have an around the year supply of 40 denier triple set purple/black/grey ones? In the autumn I shall have to splash out on a number of packs to ensure I have enough purple tights to last me into next Spring. Although I wish they manufactured triple sets of purple/purple/purple! But they are canny, because they know that people love their purple tights and will buy more packs than they need just to obtain these. I used to hate the grey ones, saving them for work; but I quite like them now.
I also bought a pair of almost flat peep-toe shoes in neon blue, just in case I wanted to wear them with my outfit on Thursday; higher heels would have been nice, but you can’t have everything. Also a black shapewear ‘wear your own bra’ undergarment ... well you have to sometimes don’t you? High leg, not thigh clinchers – I don’t need the latter, as my thighs and arse are pretty tight due to the walking I do! I carry my weight on my stomach and boobs, although I understand that is not as healthy as carrying it on your bottom and thighs.
I also popped into Boots to buy a toothbrush, deodorant, Simple facial wash cloths, eye make-up remover and shower gel.
My packing began on Monday and I worked on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday morning, which was the first day of my leave, I paid another visit to M & S, this time to stock up on footsies; they stock some excellent low-cut non-slip ones. I bought one navy blue pair and two natural coloured pairs. The previous week I’d also paid a visit to Iceland, the shop not the country, to buy some sweets and breakfast biscuits amongst other things; my emergency Aintree food stash.
I set up my Sky planner recordings on Wednesday afternoon and put a number of packed items in my car. I need to allow at least two hours to get ready, so I set my alarm clock for early Thursday morning; it sounded at approximately 03:05, slightly earlier than expected. I’d turned in at 20:30 on Wednesday and believe I was asleep by 21:00.
I showered and washed and dried my hair; ate a breakfast of two Weetabix, plus raisins, blueberries and banana, also two slices of buttered toast, but I didn’t eat all of the latter. I applied my make-up and then ran through my written checklist for the final time to ensure I’d not forgotten anything; this included packing my hairdryer and alarm clock.
Today’s outfit was a neon-blue M & S Autograph top, flowered pink/blue/white skirt, my much-worn cerise-pink M & S frill-edged cardigan, blue Per Una suit-style jacket and pink Per Una ‘geese’ scarf. I chose to wear my pale pink Hotter ‘Clarissa’ style shoes. My kitchen-sink handbag was the burgundy/brown/pink Next one; I wore my oblong Fired Creations cerise/turquoise/bronze pendant, plus earrings; I’d wear the same jewellery every day. But no thermal vests! Today’s temperatures were forecast to be high teens.
Fired Creations jewellery
(they are not a set
but look great together)
M & S skirt
Cerise M & S frill-edged cardigan
M & S Per Una jacket
M & S Autograph top
Today’s scarf was the pink
Per Una ‘geese’ scarf on the left
I wore my pale pink Hotter ‘Clarissa’
style shoes today (right)
Having packed the remainder of my belongings into the car, I set off at precisely the time I’d planned, namely 05:30.
My route took me to Harpenden, where I turned left through the very exclusive West Common area to arrive at the Redbourn bypass. A right-turn enabled me to reach Junction 9 of the M1 motorway, where I joined the northbound carriageway.
The journey on the M1 north-westwards went smoothly, apart from extended road-works between the Northampton turning and the M6 junction. The outside lanes in both directions were being used by construction traffic, although it was too early in the morning for them to be on duty. It appeared that the central barrier was being replaced by a concrete one; as a result the hard-shoulder had become the inside lane, with a 50 mph limit being imposed for safety reasons.
Lorries overtaking each other can be very tiresome at times; as many drivers decide to change lane with no concern to those vehicles overtaking them, and then they take miles ... and miles ... and miles to overtake other heavy vehicles which are travelling just a fraction slower than they are! But today the lorry situation wasn’t as bad as has been noted in the past.
As with all my previous trips to Aintree, my route north took me to Junction 23a, after which I headed westwards along the A50, which bypasses Derby and Uttoxeter to reach Stoke On Trent. Although a dual carriageway, it does provide a welcome break from the monotony of the motorway. My usual journey plan is to be at Stoke by 08:00 latest and I was; this year the traffic was moving smoothly on the underpass stretch of the road – presumably lighter traffic conditions due to it being within school holiday time.
Upon reaching the traffic light controlled junction close to the city centre, I turned left along the A500 which runs down to join the M6 motorway at junction 15, where I joined the northbound carriageway.
There were no traffic problems on this stretch of the motorway and within the hour I’d crossed the Mersey bridge. There was a slight glitch just before the M62 turning, when a car just a few vehicles in front of mine was shunted in the rear and had to pull over onto the hard shoulder. I didn’t actually see it happen, as the large lorry travelling immediately ahead of me obstructed the view; luckily I managed to avoid pieces of resultant debris on the road.
Having reached the M62 turning I took the westbound carriageway towards Liverpool. Having been let down by my memory at this stage of the journey last year, I’d checked my road atlas the previous day to remind myself which junction to use for the Burtonwood Services. I needed to use the second junction I encountered, namely number 8; it’s not particularly well-signposted.
The Service Station is actually located next to the eastbound carriageway so, to reach it, I had to take the slip-road, negotiate the roundabout and then head part way down the opposite slip-road before entering the Welcome Break parking area. There is a large industrial development being built on either side of the motorway at this junction at the present time. My first task was a visit to the loo; I’m always desperate following a long early-morning journey! I forget that not only have I drunk half a cup of tea, but also had Alpro with my cereal! The loo doors don’t actually fasten, but I now think this is deliberate – perhaps punters have been misusing the facility.
I then drove to the far side of the Service Station, beyond the lorry park, to fill up the car’s petrol tank; I had to reverse into the space beside the pump as there was a car already parked at the rear one. The petrol cost £22.40. I spilt a little bit of fuel down the side of the car too so, having returned to the car park area, I cleaned that off with water from one of the bottles I had in the car, disposed of the dirty tissue in a nearby bin and then went to wash my hands again before eating two cheese rolls. I waited until 09:40 before returning to the motorway and continuing my journey westwards to join the M57.
As always, I had booked to park within the Steeplechase Car Park and arrived there just after 10:00. I waved my ticket and parking docket at the stewards manning the Anchor Bridge entrance; one steward said something as I drove past, which I didn’t quite catch at the time. My later interpretation was I needed to display my parking docket on the rear-view mirror prior to entry.
Having arranged for the catch on my car’s bonnet to be fixed last year, following problems at Aintree during the previous two visits, I was confident that there would not be a problem when security checked inside it. So I couldn’t believe it when the bonnet refused to close yet again. The stewards couldn’t fully close it, nor could I. Everything comes in threes they say. I pulled over to the left-hand side of the driveway whilst I decided what action to take.
I had arranged to meet up with fellow Choc fan Sandra Stewart for the duration of the Festival and she was waiting within the same car park for me to arrive; she’d rung when I was waiting in the queue to be checked by security so, when I didn’t materialise, she came to find me. There was no option but to call the RAC.
The RAC operations centre told me 20 minutes but it was longer than that, presumably due to weight of traffic around the racecourse and the fact that security wouldn’t let him in initially, until they’d got the go-ahead from a steward working inside the Steeplechase car park. The RAC man had initially told me there wouldn’t be a problem because he often had to enter restricted areas when called out to fix car problems during events.
Upon examination the catch was found to be working fine, and there was no damage to the bonnet which sometimes causes such problems after an accident. The eventual solution was to remove two rubber stoppers from the frame surrounding the engine and it finally closed. They are not vital, but allow the bonnet to sit at exactly the right level in relation to the wings. The RAC man could not explain it ... but my theory is that, having travelled 200 miles, the frame had expanded slightly due to the engine heat and the rubber stoppers were now higher than when cold.
So it’s impossible for the problem to be recreated when the mechanics have been asked to fix it; the dealership is around half a mile away from my home, so the engine would never ever be hot enough! And, going forward, what is the solution to my ongoing Aintree problem? Perhaps I have to travel up the day prior to my first attendance day, in order to give the engine time to cool down and the frame to contract as necessary. By this time my hands were covered in oil, as was the front of the car bonnet. Thank goodness I still had that bottle of water available inside the car.
The only advantage to running late was the fact that the only parking spaces now available were close to the entry point, although I had to drive to the far end of the driveway before turning right and right again to drive along the grass to reach it. Sandra had accompanied me in the car, rather than wait at the Melling Road entry gate. With tickets scanned, our handbags searched and our bodies scanned too, we were permitted to cross the Melling Road to catch a bus to take us to the grandstands-side of the racecourse.
So, all in all, it took until 11:30 (90 minutes) for us to be fully cleared by the Aintree security and arrive within the grandstand enclosures! Ridiculous ... and too late to contemplate walking the course today. This being the case, I’d worn my pale-pink Hotter shoes with heels, as opposed to wearing my driving moccasins or flattish neon-blue peep-toe shoes with a change of shoes for later.
Upon entering the main concourse we were greeted by the sight of two miniature versions of the Falkirk Kelpies; close by was a large board for punters to write their farewell messages for AP McCoy upon. Having eventually found a kiosk selling race-cards, we then went to the loo before heading to the steppings to await today’s pre-race entertainment. By this stage of the day my hands were feeling dry and itchy; the harsh properties of the washing products I’d used today were taking their toll. Fortunately I had my L’Oreal eye cream in my bag, so I applied that to the back of my hands and it did the trick.
AP McCoy and the late Toby Balding were inducted into the Hall of Fame today; the latter was represented by brother Ian. To commemorate this, plaques were affixed to the outside wall of the old Weighing Room.
The Parade of Retrained Racehorses began at 12:55; ten of the 11 advertised horses turned-up, Grands Crus being the exception. Number 1 in the parade was Comply Or Die, Grand National winner in 2008 when ridden by Timmy Murphy; he still hunts regularly and rider Verity Green (no longer Verity Murphy we noted) introduced him to dressage last year and qualified for the RoR dressage finals. His training continues and she hopes to move up a level.
Grand Crus would have been number 2 so, taking this into account, wearing the Number 3 saddlecloth was a horse aptly named Liverpool who had run under rules and also in point-to-points. In winter he hunts and in summer he takes part in showing competitions.
Number 4 in the line-up was the crazy Mad Moose! Although he hated racing, he enjoys hunting during the winter. This summer his rider, Sophie Burkin, hopes to begin retraining him so that he can take part in RoR showing classes and dressage. With the agreement of the horse I presume!
Number 5 was 5-time Cheltenham winner Midnight Chase, who retired from racing in 2013. He is now looked after by owner’s daughter Sally Hayward. He’s been hunting, and taking part in dressage and showing and last September he completed his first British Eventing competition. It is planned that he will continue eventing and also hunt regularly because his rider has been appointed field master.
Number 6 was the ever-popular grey Monet’s Garden, who won Aintree’s Old Roan Chase on three occasions and also the Melling Chase. Under the care of trainer’s daughter Jo Richards, he has returned to health following a life-threatening illness and now takes part in showing competitions.
Number 7 was Monkerhostin, formerly trained by Philip Hobbs; he won Cheltenham Festival’s Coral Cup and also Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup during his distinguished career. He is now looked after by George and Debbie Beilby, and hunts regularly, has been trail hunting and takes part in fun rides. He also acts as a lead horse for their children’s ponies. ‘Monkey’ has helped Afghanistan veteran George with his rehabilitation too.
Number 8 was Peopleton Brook, who is now ridden Western-style and helps rehabilitate wounded veterans. He was the first former racehorse to join HorseBack UK, a charity that provides equine therapy to help veterans and serving soldiers overcome mental and physical injuries and trauma received in the line of duty.
Number 9 was Scots Grey, who has been enjoying Team Chasing with Emma Burton. Formally trained by Nicky Henderson, the horse has also been seen in the show ring.
Number 10 was Sonevafushi. He ran over the Grand National course four times, three times in the Fox Hunters and once in the Grand National. Samantha Coward takes him hunting regularly during the winter, and in the summer he enjoys breaks in the field and a bit of hacking.
And finally, Number 11 was Whatcanyasay. He was originally under the care of Robyn Gray and was the inaugural winner of the RoR Horse of the Year award. He’s taken part in showing classes and pony club events. Whatcanyasay has recently moved to former jockey Brian Storey and his wife Jackie and will continue with his showing and there are plans to begin dressage to music also.
There were a number of changes this year with regards to the races. The Manifesto Novices’ Chase was last year’s sixth race on day one, now it was the first. The same occurred on Friday; this time the Handicap Hurdle was moved from race 6 to the top of the card. Also, the bumper races were swapped, with the Open race now run on Friday and the Mares’ race run on Saturday. The only other change I can remember in recent years was the Liverpool Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle being swapped.
There was also a punters panel competition ahead of racing, with three well-known racing pundits giving their selections for the day – these included Dave Yates and the expectant-mother Zoey Bird.
With the start of racing now imminent, we went to find our preferred vantage point within the Earl of Derby enclosure before any of the horses began to leave the Paddock.
The favourite for the first race of the Festival was the Nicky Henderson-trained Josses Hill, ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 13-8. The winner of last year’s renewal was the Alan King-trained Uxizandre.
Having exited onto the racecourse, the runners headed to the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off. Josses Hill led the runners towards the first fence, however he stuttered into it and Cash And Go jumped into the lead as a result, despite jumping out to his right in the process. Clarcam also overtook the Nicky Henderson runner in mid-air. Vibrato Valtat disputed fifth with Val De Law; bringing up the rear, Three Kingdoms was very slow and soon trailed the field by three lengths.
Josses Hill retook the lead heading to the next and he jumped out to his right over this one, pushing Clarcam out wide too. The next was the first open-ditch and again the leader jumped out to his right; this had a knock-on effect with the Gigginstown runner once more, also Cash And Go and Val De Law. Meanwhile, to the inside, the Vibrato Valtat and Three Kingdoms ploughed a far straighter course.
Exactly the same thing happened at the fourth, after which Ruby Walsh decided he’d had enough of the interference and he encouraged his mount to take the lead. Thus heading into the top bend, Clarcam led, from Josses Hill, disputing third place were Vibrato Valtat, Val De Law and Cash And Go, with Three Kingdoms still three lengths adrift at the rear of the field.
The next obstacle was the cross-fence and Three Kingdoms made a terrible blunder at this one; AP McCoy was shot up onto the horse’s neck but, fortunately, soon regained his balance and continued to dispute last place with Cash And Go. Clarcam continued at the head of affairs as they headed into the home straight for the first time; again AP’s mount was less than fluent as he cleared the next.
The following fence was the second open-ditch and all six cleared this without any issues. The runners then headed across the Grand National course to reach fence number eight which, once again, they all cleared well; Cash And Go had been relegated to last place by this stage. The Gigginstown runner continued to bowl along at the head of affairs, ears pricked, as they passed the winning post with one circuit now to travel.
Thus heading around the grandstand turn and into the back straight having completed one circuit, the field was led by Clarcam. He was closely pursued by Josses Hill, Vibrato Valtat and Val De Law; there was then a four length gap to Three Kingdoms and a further two lengths away at the rear of the field travelled Cash And Go. There was a casualty at the next fence, when the latter blundered and unseated Liam Treadwell.
Clarcam continued to lead, narrowly, as they cleared fence number ten without incident. The following obstacle was the penultimate open-ditch, where all bar Three Kingdoms jumped out to their right; most noticeably Josses Hill and Val De Law plus the loose horse to the outside of the field. The runners then traversed the pathway to approach the final fence in the back straight. Again they all displayed a slight tendency to jump to their right, apart from Three Kingdoms. The herd follow- the-leader instinct no doubt. Vibrato Valtat made a small error here.
The five runners then headed into the far turn still led by Clarcam and they were closely grouped. They cleared the cross-fence where, at the rear of the field, Three Kingdoms was not as fluent as his rivals and he was soon being ridden along. The Gordon Elliott-trained runner remained ahead of his rivals as they cleared the third last, with Josses Hill still in second position despite Nico de Boinville now becoming animated aboard his mount.
Having reached the final open-ditch, Josses Hill jumped away to his right once more and gave away further ground; he then veered off to the right, despite a right-hand drive from his jockey. In the meantime both Vibrato Valtat and Val De Law travelled past him in their pursuit of the leader. Ruby began to ride his mount for the first time as they approached the final fence, with the grey now getting the better of the Jamie Snowden runner.
Clarcam was steadied to jump the last but Vibrato Valtat was unable to close the gap as they headed to the line; Clarcam won by 4 lengths. Val De Law blundered at the last but held off a renewed challenge from Josses Hill as the winning post approached. The distance between the second and third was 7 lengths, and between third and fourth three quarters of a length.
Val De Law picked up a tendon injury during the race and, as a result, spent the next season on the side-lines. The horse is in the same ownership as Cheltenham Festival winner Present View – sadly the latter was put to sleep as a result of a serious tendon injury incurred at Kempton Park in the Spring of 2016.
We decided not to return to the stepping above the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.
Race 1 - 1:40pm
THE ONE MAGNIFICENT CITY MANIFESTO NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Stewards considered the apparent improvement in form of the
winner, CLARCAM (FR), ridden by R. Walsh and trained by Gordon Elliott,
compared with its previous run at Cheltenham on 10 March 2015, where the
gelding finished eighth of eleven, beaten by 31½ lengths. They noted that the
trainer could offer no explanation for CLARCAM (FR)’s poor run at Cheltenham
but he appeared to have travelled better throughout this race. They ordered
the gelding to be routine tested.
The favourite for the next race was Hargam, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by AP McCoy; price 4-6. Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Winner Massagot who sported the green and red Masterson Holdings silks and was ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. And talk about head-gear; Starchitect was wearing blinkers, and All Yours, Bouvreuil, Hostile Fire and Stars Over The Sea all wore hoods!
The starting gate for this race was at the far corner of the track, the horses initially heading along a short stretch of the course before turning into the home straight with that and one full circuit to travel. Having been circling to the inside of the track once their girths had been checked, the runners were called out onto the course and instructed to head away from the starting gate before turning and approaching the tape which had now been strung across the course.
Then they were off. The runners were led away from Ruby Walsh aboard the Donald McCain-trained Starchitect. Close up to his outside was Hostile Fire, to his inner Bouvreuil. In fourth position initially, Stars Over the Sea was very keen; but jockey Tom Scudamore had managed to rein his mount back by the time they turned into the home straight for the first time. Travelling in mid-field were Devilment, the grey Hargam and the filly Intense Tango; at the rear All Yours, the second grey Bristol De Mai and Winner Massagot.
Starchitect and Hostile Fire had pulled a number of lengths clear of the remainder as they headed over the first flight; Bouvreuil blundered at this obstacle. Ruby’s mount put in the better leap as they cleared the next and thus held the slight advantage at this point. Devilment now led the remainder of the field, and they were five or six lengths behind the leading duo. There were no problems encountered at the third flight and Hostile Fire now took a one length lead as they headed down past the winning post with one circuit to travel.
The main body of runners began to close the gap as they headed around the grandstand turn; Hostile Fire continued to lead the way, with Winner Massagot bringing up the rear. Starchitect re-joined the leader as they travelled towards flight number four; Ruby’s mount to the outer, as Davy Condon had taken the inside berth when the opportunity arose. Bouvreuil and Devilment disputed second, just a couple of lengths behind the leaders. There were no noticeable errors at the flight.
The runners continued their journey along the back straight, with Starchitect going on once more as they approached the next obstacle. Stars Over The Sea landed a little awkwardly over this one, and now disputed last place with Winner Massagot. The field traversed the pathway to reach the final flight in the back straight where the leader made an error. They then headed into the far turn, with all ten runners closely grouped. Starchitect continued to lead from Devilment, Hargam, Hostile Fire, Intense Tango, Bouvreuil, All Yours, Bristol De Mail, Stars Over The Sea and Winner Massagot.
Ruby Walsh had changed his whip-hand (from right to left) just before they headed into the home straight and upon exiting the bend he began to push his mount along. The runners cleared the third last, where Starchitect blundered as Devilment drew alongside him. The John Ferguson runner took a narrow advantage as they headed to the penultimate flight; the leading duo were closely pursued by, line across the track from the outside, Bristol De Mai, Hargam, Intense Tango, All Yours, Bouvreuil and Hostile Fire; Stars Over The Sea was only length behind and Winner Massagot just two.
The brace of greys gained ground the quickest as they continued their journey and were just a length behind Devilment as they jumped it; Starchitect still narrowly ahead of them in second. It was still everything to play for as they headed to the last flight. Devilment hit it but retained the lead, but Ruby’s mount stepped on the hurdle and fell; back in the field Winner Massagot crashed out too. It was a horrible looking fall for the Alan King runner; he landed on his neck with his hindquarters in the air before his body fell to the ground with a thud.
Meanwhile, Bristol De Mai drew alongside Devilment, with All Yours looming up to the far-side and just a length behind them. Having appeared to be the main danger, the grey soon found himself in third position as Devilment fought back. However, it was All Yours who kept on the best under a strong drive from Sam Twiston-Davies and he claimed the prize by three quarters of a length at the line. Devilment finished half a length ahead of Bristol De Mai, with Stars Over The Sea a further 3¾ lengths back in 4th; Intense Tango was just three quarters of a length behind him in 5th, and Hargam a short-head 6th.
The good news was that Starchitect was okay, as was Ruby Walsh who led him back. And Winner Massagot was fine too ... although he did return with a clump of grass attached to his forelock! And Wayne was also uninjured.
There was an amusing incident after the line when the winner, who was trotting at the time, stumbled and threw Sam Twiston-Davies over his right shoulder onto the turf. The jockey kept hold of the horse’s reins and led him back to be collected by the stable-lass. Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett was soon on hand to interview the winning jockey, remarking that it wasn’t often that she had to interview him when he was on the ground; Sam said it was a good job that he fell off after the line. Sam also welcomed the opportunity to put his arm around Alice’s shoulder ... but said he hoped that his girlfriend wasn’t watching!
Always Yours became a little bit frisky when buckets of water were thrown over his hindquarters to cool him down. Sam was legged back into the saddle before the partnership was led back to the Winners’ Enclosure along the horse-walkway.
The winner is a half-brother to Lac Fontana. Both Starchitect and Stars Over The Sea were sired by Sea The Stars.
We didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race, choosing instead to remain in position close to the horse-walk exit point.
When interviewed, Paul Nicholls said he was worried that he’d messed up the game plan by running the horse in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival; a race in which the horse had finished 5th. He knew his charge would be suited by good ground and a flat track so they could have come straight here instead following his earlier run at Kempton Park. However, Sam had been of the opinion that, had he not encountered trouble in running at Cheltenham he would have got a whole lot closer to the winner; which was also a Paul Nicholls-trained horse!
There was a quality field for the next race, despite there being just seven runners. The race favourite was last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti ridden by Noel Fehily; price 7-4. Alan King also had a runner in this event, namely Smad Place ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Ballynagour was sporting a first-time hood today.
The starting gate for the next race was at the far end of the home straight, with that and two full circuits to travel. The horses circled out on the track whilst girths were checked then, as the start time approached, the horses were ridden away from the starting gate before turning and walking in.
Then they were off. Ears pricked, Silviniaco Conti led the runners away, from Holywell to his outside almost upsides; Ballynagour brought up the rear. All seven competitors cleared the first fence without incident. The next fence was the first of the open-ditches; short of room, Smad Place momentarily stumbled on landing and bumped Vukovar to his inside. The horses then traversed the Grand National course to reach fence number three. Holywell put in an extra stride on takeoff and lost a little bit of momentum; this enabled Ma Filleule to overtake him briefly as the field headed down past the winning post with two circuits now to travel.
Silviniaco Conti led the runners around the grandstand bend, from Holywell, Smad Place, Ma Filleule, Menorah, Vukovar and Ballynagour. Again Holywell got a little bit close to the next fence having put in a short stride before it. The field continued their journey along the back straight and cleared the fifth fence without incident. The next fence was the second open-ditch, where AP’s mount was again a little less fluent than this rivals; he’s slightly disadvantaged by not being the biggest of equines.
The runners then headed over the pathway to reach fence number seven, which they all cleared in their stride. Silviniaco Conti continued to lead and held a one length advantage as they headed into the far turn and approached the cross-fence. There were no problems at the fence, with Holywell travelling in runner-up position, from Smad Place with Ma Filleule and Menorah; Vukovar and Ballynagour disputed last place.
There was no change in the order as the runners turned into the home straight and headed over the first fence therein. They then headed to the next open-ditch where, again, there were no noticeable jumping errors. The horses traversed the Grand National Course, galloping at least a furlong before encountering the fence which would be the final one next time around; Silviniaco Conti flew this one.
The runners were still closely grouped as they headed around the grandstand turn and into the back straight for the final time. Smad Place was a little less than fluent at the next fence, having got in a little bit too close to it. Holywell was now travelling almost upsides the leader, with Menorah at their quarters; however the latter was the least fluent at the following obstacle and, subsequently, Richard Johnson began to push him along. The next fence was an open-ditch, which Silviniaco Conti jumped with aplomb; in contrast Smad Place reached for it and landed slightly on his haunches.
The runners then headed over the pathway to reach the final fence in the back straight, five from home. Silviniaco Conti continued to lead narrowly, from Holywell and Menorah; the latter having rallied. Ballynagour had moved into fourth position, from Smad Place, Ma Filleule and Vukovar. The Philip Hobbs runner clouted this fence and quickly came under pressure before dropping back to sixth position as the runners headed into the far turn.
Meanwhile Silviniaco Conti continued to travel strongly at the head of affairs, from the pushed along Holywell. The grey mare was travelling smoothly in third position, from Ballynagour and Smad Place. Ballynagour hit the cross-fence and nodded on landing but survived; in last position and losing touch, Vukovar also made an error here. Having entered the home straight, the long-time leader started to put even more pressure upon his rivals and extended his lead; after jumping three out, Ma Filleule was being ridden along and received a couple of strong reminders as they headed towards the final open ditch.
Silviniaco Conti had a three length advantage at this point, from Ma Filleule, Ballynagour and Holywell line across the track from the inside; Smad Place, to the nearside, was a couple of lengths behind these. The leader flew the fence, thus retaining the advantage and Alan King’s runner took off miles away from it but still had the momentum to reach the landing side safely and continue without breaking his stride. The mare began to fade as they headed across the Grand National course to reach the final fence and soon dropped back to sixth.
Despite having been under pressure for a long time, Holywell continued to challenge the leader and Ballynagour was also in close attendance; the latter jumped into second position as they cleared the final fence and was staying on well as they galloped towards the winning post. It was touch and go as to whether Silviniaco Conti would hold on, as the advantage continued to diminish all the way to the line ... but he did it, by a head; he’d made all to win. Holywell completed in 3rd, 2¼ lengths behind, with Smad Place 7 lengths back in 4th. Menorah completed in a distant 5th, with Ma Filleule 6th; Vukovar was pulled up before the last.
Smad Place having finished in the frame, we decided to head back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see him arrive back. You have to make your mind up quickly, otherwise the gates will be opened to enable the horses to pass by and thus the route back blocked. Besides, Silviniaco Conti is one of Sandra’s favourite horses. The Paul Nicholls charge had become the first horse to win back-to-back victories in this race since Docklands Express although, in those days, it was a Grade 2 race.
When interviewed on course by Alice Plunkett, jockey Noel Fehily said his jumping had been electric today, as it had also been at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Paul Nicholls was pleased to have got the horse back on track following a disappointing run at Cheltenham; he said he’s a character who shows nothing at home.
David Pipe was also very pleased with Ballynagour’s runner-up position, as the horse is very difficult to get right and had been off since the Hennessy meeting back in November.
As usual, when washed down, Smad Place turned pink; he has very thin fur!
Race 3 - 2:50pm
THE BETFRED BOWL STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
Richard Johnson, the rider of MENORAH (IRE), placed fifth, reported that the gelding ran flat. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of MENORAH (IRE) during routine testing failed to reveal any abnormalities.
That’s it for Part One of my Grand Opening Day diary ...
Click here to read my Grand Opening Day Diary Part II