DIARY – AINTREE FESTIVAL
GRAND OPENING DAY
THURSDAY 06 APRIL 2017
Tea For Two, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Lizzie Kelly,
winner of the Grade 1 Bowl Chase
Wednesday was a day’s leave, ahead of my departure for Aintree. Having discovered I was missing a selection of brand new navy blue tights from my collection, I headed down to the large M & S retail outlet in London Colney. It will come as no surprise that I returned with more than a triple-pack of tights ...
Whilst in M & S, I was ‘forced’ to splash out on a basic M & S cardigan in pale pink; I’d initially planned to wear my well-worn cerise pink ribbed, frill-edged cardigan but felt it wasn’t quite the correct shade to contrast with my neon blue skirt. So I Iooked up colour suggestions on the internet, and discovered the colour palette was ‘sunset’ shades, including pale pink. It’s just a shame that the current fashion is for button-to-the-neck cardigans, not V or round necks. And, of course, we’ve lost BHS which was always an excellent source of cheap and cheerful cardigans; they were warmer than M & S ones, and they also dried more quickly after washing! Fortunately I still have a number of beautifully coloured BHS ones which I save for best.
I also bought a brand new wallet/purse, which just happened to be leather; but it was my favourite of those on offer. It’s made from tan-coloured leather; always buy a bright coloured purse or wallet so that you can locate it quickly within a capacious handbag; and, just as important, secure it with a sturdy chain in order to deter pick-pockets!
I then set off across the retail park to visit Boots. This particular branch stocks a wider range of make-up brands than the City-centre branch and, having spent time trying out items, I came away with a selection of eyeshadows and pencils! I particularly liked the NYX range they stock. I also like Max Factor, Revlon, L’Oreal and Maybelline; mid-range prices I guess.
Ahead of Cheltenham, I’d made my 2017 list of items to pack. I had to re-check through my vanity case to see what items needed to be replaced. For Cheltenham and Aintree I also made an ‘outfits list’, as it’s important not to mismatch items when you can’t raid the wardrobe for replacement items. I did go ‘off-piste’ on occasion, but only to swap-in a warmer skirt at Aintree and to avoid getting fluff from a teal-coloured fleece on a cream-coloured sweater during Cheltenham.
This was the first of three days to be spent on Merseyside; four if you count staying overnight into Sunday. Having woken at 03:00, I showered, washed and dried my hair and applied make-up. Breakfast was two slices of toast with marmalade, plus half a cup of tea.
Today’s outfit was a dark blue thermal T-shirt, a mid-pink thermal T-shirt, a pale pink M&S cardigan, a neon blue fleece, a black fleece gillet, navy blue tights, neon blue flippy hem skirt, navy blue Hotter ‘Donna’ shoes, BHS cerise jacket, pink and burgundy roses-design scarf, and true-blue leaf necklace.
I’d run-up four necklaces the previous weekend – using nickel-free metal pendants, glass beads and pearls. Along with the true-blue, there was a purple one, a turquoise one and a cerise pink one. At Cheltenham I’d only needed earrings because I wore polo-neck tops, but for Aintree I needed jewellery which was cheap to make so that I could leave it in my hotel room without worrying.
Black fleece gillet
BHS peplum skirt
Pale pink M & S cardigan
Kipling handbag (mauve)
‘true blues’ necklace (left)
Scarves – M & S roses (left)
Navy blue Hotter ‘Donna’ shoes (left)
Although quite chilly today, it would remain dry throughout the journey to Aintree, unlike last year.
I was ready to depart by 05:45; the more time I have, the more time I seem to take before leaving home! My route took me around the City’s ring-road, onwards to Harpenden followed by the Redbourn bypass; I joined the M1 at junction 9. There remained speed restrictions on the motorway, most notably either side of the new junction being constructed between junctions 11 and 12; designated as 11A. The junction and road which would link the M1 with the A5 just north of Dunstable opened on Thursday 11 May 2017.
Fortunately there were no warning signs on the motorway stating that it was closed due to late running road-works ... last year there were, even though it wasn’t!
There were more speed restrictions further up the motorway, as the ‘smart’ motorway road-works were still being carried out. As per all of my outbound trips to Aintree since the first one in 2009, I continued past the M6 junction and left the motorway at junction 23A. The A453 road runs adjacent to the motorway, with East Midlands Airport directly to the west thereof. I had to brake quite sharply at one point, as traffic came to an unexpected standstill because the outside lane was coned off due to road-works. I recall something slipped off the passenger seat as a result!
Anyway, having negotiated the roundabout at Junction 24, I then headed along the A50 dual carriageway. There was, however, fog on the initial section thereof, although not dense. I continued in a westerly direction, overtaking lorries and other slow moving vehicles when necessary. The road passes north of Uttoxeter; however there was a major construction project underway to the west of the town.
Evidently a new road junction is being created to improve access to housing and employment sites south of the road and also to existing and new JCB factories to the north of the road too. As part of this road scheme, a new bridge will be constructed over the A50. Work started in June 2016 and is due to be completed in November 2018 – so I look forward to seeing what progress has been made by next April!
I continued on my journey to Stoke-on-Trent, arriving at 08:05. There were initial delays as I drove through the underpass area but these soon cleared. Upon reaching the traffic lights at the junction with Queensway, I turned left, following the signs directing me towards the M6. Further along the dual carriageway I encountered a queue of traffic but, fortunately, I was already in the outside lane as I knew this was the correct one leading down to a roundabout, followed by the single-file slip-road onto the northbound carriageway of the M6 at junction 15.
There were further road-works, on the M6, between junctions 16 and 19 (the Cheshire ‘smart’ motorway it seems); however I knew about these, as one of the sales team at work who lives in the area had forewarned me! It’s really weird, but my cervical spondylosis seems to kick-in whenever I’m stuck in a speed-restricted motorway section! The symptoms make me feel a little light-headed and distant; it must be the pressure exerted by the vertebrae in my neck upon my spinal cord.
The motorway continued over the River Mersey and soon afterwards I was able to take the slip-road onto the westbound carriageway of the M62. There were further road improvements being undertaken here; officially described as a major project to tackle congestion and improve the flow of traffic between the M6 and M62 Croft Interchange.
I left the motorway at junction 8, heading around the roundabout and initially back in the same direction from whence I’d come, before entering the Burtonwood Services.; it was 09:10. Unlike on previous occasions, I wasn’t desperate to spend a penny at this point so I drove immediately to the petrol station to fill my car’s tank before returning to the car park. I then headed into the Services building in order to visit the little girl’s room before walking back to my vehicle; at this point I ate two of the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me. I left the Services at 09:45 to re-commence my journey to the racecourse.
This being the case, I rejoined the westbound carriageway of the M62 motorway and headed to Junction 6, at which point I took the slip-road to enter the northbound carriageway of the M57 and continued to the end thereof. I turned left at this point and headed down Ormskirk Road, past Asda and under the railway bridge, before turning left into Aintree Lane and onwards to the racecourse entrance point at the Melling Road’s Anchor Bridge.
I showed my parking docket and ticket to one of the stewards on duty and was permitted to proceed over said bridge and subsequently into the Steeplechase car park. I joined one of a trio of queues awaiting their turn for the security guards to examine inside and under their vehicles ahead of being permitted to park; there was a police horsebox in one of the queues too. I’d arrived at 10:10.
I encountered the first issue of the day at this point … the car bonnet refused to close following the security check; not that old chestnut again! But I did have a solution, I removed two rubber stoppers from the engine framework and it then closed first time.
It transpired that my friend Sandra was parked in the row prior to mine, and immediately in front of me too. We set off to the entrance shortly afterwards, thinking that we’d be able to enter the racecourse immediately; however, we were told that the opening time for non-staff was 11:00 today. When that time arrived, it was discovered that the hand-held ticket scanning machines weren’t working.
It took ages for the G4S stewards to send for replacement machines. Meanwhile we had to suffer the wrath of an irate bookmaker who was desperate to reach his pitch; he was so mad that the stewards threatened to bar him from entry altogether.
Anyway, at around 11:40 we finally gained entry, before catching the bus to the grandstand side of the racecourse. We purchased our race-cards and a couple of bottles of water before heading to the steppings beneath the Weighing Room, visiting the ladies loo en route.
I made a note of a number of people we saw whilst waiting here – Marcus Armytage, Oli Bell, Nick Luck, Gina Harding, Sir AP McCoy, Luke Harvey, Philip Hobbs, Stewart Machin, Ed Chamberlin, Rupert Bell (father of Oli), Alice Plunkett, Henry de Bromhead, Donn Mclean, Wayne Hutchinson, Harry Skelton, Paddy Brennan, Sir Mark Prescott and Nick Skelton (father of Dan and Harry of course).
Today’s pre-race ‘entertainment’ was Nick Skelton being interviewed, whilst his Olympic Gold medal-winning stallion Big Star was paraded in the Parade Ring. The pair had announced their retirement just a day or two earlier.
We also saw Sam Waley-Cohen, Noel Fehily, Nick Williams, Dave Yates, Katie Walsh and later on, course-side, the Frost family – Jimmy, Hayden and Bryony – the latter would be riding in the Foxhunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences later in the day.
Well before the start of racing, we headed down to our favourite spot within the Earl of Derby enclosure, beside the horse-walk entry/exit point.
The off-time of the first race of the day was 13:45. The favourite was Top Notch, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Daryl Jacob; price 6-5. There were two greys, Cloudy Dream and Flying Angel.
Noel Fehily’s mount, Flying Angel, did just that as he exited the horse-walk onto the racecourse; in fact people walking ahead of him had to dive for cover as he charged by, extremely keen to get on with the job in hand.
Having exited onto the racecourse, the runners headed to the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the back straight.
And then they were off, first time. Frodon led the runners to the first fence, from the outsider Cyrius Moriviere. The leader jumped slightly out to his right over the fence, and Flying Angel was a little skew-whiff in the air. The six competitors continued to the next where, this time, Frodon put in a short stride just before the fence in order to meet it correctly.
The third fence was the first of the open-ditches and Cloudy Dream took a little bit of a chance when taking off too early; he made it, but did leave a trailing leg. The runners continued to the final fence in the back straight and they were all foot-perfect at this one.
Frodon led his rivals into the far turn, with Cyrius Moriviere disputing second position with Flying Angel, followed by Top Notch, Max Ward and Cloudy Dream. The runners cleared the cross-fence without an issue, although Cloudy Dream did seem to dwell in the air having put in a slightly over-big leap.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners entered the home straight on the first occasion; all six jumped the next fence well although, yet again, Cloudy Dream’s jump was over exaggerated. The following fence was an open-ditch and Flying Angel got a little close to this one; it didn’t affect his momentum however.
The horses then headed across the Grand National track, between what is the last fence and The Chair, before arriving at fence number eight; all runners cleared this well, before heading down past the winning post with now just one circuit to travel. Frodon led them around the grandstands bend, from Flying Angel, Cyrius Moriviere, Top Notch, Max Ward and Cloudy Dream.
The first fence in the back straight came upon them quickly; the outsider got a little low over this one and birch flew as a result. Flying Angel began to press the long-time leader as they continued to the next fence; Frodon got a little bit close to this one, allowing the dark grey to draw alongside as they headed towards the open-ditch. Top Notch got a little bit low over this one and had to be urged along for a few strides after it. Meanwhile, Cyrius Moriviere had been relegated to the rear of the field.
Flying Angel took the advantage as they cleared the final fence in the back straight. Heading into the final turn, Max Ward had improved into third position, from Top Notch and Cloudy Dream. Cyrius Moriviere had completely lost touch with the main group by this stage. The leading group had soon cleared the cross-fence, but the game was up for Frodon as he dropped back to the rear of the main group shortly afterwards despite a back-hander from his jockey. Top Notch wasn’t travelling quite as well as his main rivals at this stage.
Having entered the home straight, Flying Angel led over three out, from Max Ward, Top Notch and Cloudy Dream; the latter didn’t jump this one quite as fluently as his adversaries. The dark grey continued to lead as they headed down to the final open-ditch; Max Ward was now coming under pressure.
The leading horses cleared this without problem and, spread across the track, Top Notch, Max Ward and Cloudy Dream all endeavoured to launch their challenges upon Flying Angel as they headed down towards the final fence. It was actually Cloudy Dream which got his head narrowly in front as the obstacle approached; the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner having fended off the other two by this stage.
However once they’d jumped it, Noel Fehily’s mount was able to battle back against the inside rail and regained the advantage once more; he held it all the way to the line to win by one length. Top Notch completed in 3rd, a further 4½ lengths away, with Max Ward 4th. As there were six prizes, the others finished too, with Frodon 5th and Cyrius Moriviere 6th.
We decided not to return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.
Race 1 - 1:45pm
THE MANIFESTO NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Stewards considered the running of FRODON (FR), ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, and trained by Paul Nicholls, which finished fifth of six runners. They noted the trainer’s explanation that the gelding was feeling the effects of a long season. They ordered FRODON (FR) to be routine tested.
The favourite for this race was Defi Du Seuil, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 4-11. The jockey had now returned from injury, so replaced Richard Johnson who had partnered the horse to victory in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The second and third favourites were the runner-up and winner of Cheltenham Festival’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap hurdle, namely Divin Bere and Flying Tiger. There were no greys in this race; Flying Tiger is, however, described as black. Forth Bridge represented The Queen.
Exiting onto the racecourse, the favourite’s hood was whipped off by the team’s travelling head lad Sean Mulcaire before he set off at a canter to the starting gate; it was just intended to keep the horse calm for the preliminaries, not during the race.
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.
Flying Tiger was a little tardy in joining the others at the actual starting gate; he was keen, and presumably jockey Richard Johnson wanted to keep him as relaxed as possible. And then they were off, first time. The runners were led away by Forth Bridge as they travelled along the top of the racecourse. He was ahead of Nucky Thompson, Ronnie Baird, Divin Bere, Defi Du Seuil, Bedrock, Landin and the eager Flying Tiger.
Landin’s jockey appeared slightly animated as they headed around the turn into the home straight; perhaps his mount wasn’t very keen on Flying Tiger travelling so closely on his tail! All eight runners cleared the first flight in their stride, with Richard Johnson keeping a tight hold on his mount at the rear of the field. The second flight was situated quite close to the first, and Nucky Thompson landed a little awkwardly over this one.
Forth Bridge continued to lead on the extended run to the third obstacle and, once again, Nucky Thompson was the least fluent of his rivals. Having successfully negotiated the first three flights, the runners headed down past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. The Queen’s horse led, from Nucky Thompson, Divin Bere, Defi Du Seuil alongside Bedrock, Landin, Ronnie Baird and Flying Tiger. Jeremiah McGrath continued to niggle at Landin as they headed around the grandstand bend and entered the back straight for the one and only time.
There was no change at the head of affairs as they continued to the fourth flight; Harry Skelton appeared to be wrestling with the keen Bedrock at this stage. Nucky Thompson kicked the top bar out of this flight and lost second position to Divin Bere; Flying Tiger made a mistake here too. The runners continued their journey to the next, where Nucky Thompson landed awkwardly and lost further ground; Ronnie Baird was the only horse behind him now.
The runners had soon reached the final flight in the back straight and, having jumped it, the leading group of six were now well in advance of the two backmarkers. With all hope gone, Adrian Heskin decided to pull up Nucky Thompson at this point. However, Ronnie Baird continued, but tailed off.
Forth Bridge continued to lead as the runners headed across the top of the course, from Divin Bere and Defi Du Seuil. Landin was just beginning to lose touch as the field turned in. The competitors had soon reached three out, with Divin Bere and the favourite now drawing alongside the Queen’s runner. Meanwhile Flying Tiger was beginning his challenge also, to the near-side and Bedrock made an error here. Divin Bere held a narrow advantage as they travelled the short distance to the penultimate flight. The leading group all jumped this one well and Defi Du Seuil moved alongside the Nicky Henderson runner as they continued to the final obstacle; at one point they did come quite close together. Bedrock was their nearest pursuer, a couple of lengths adrift.
The favourite was just ahead over the last and his jockey pushed him out to win by 1½ lengths from Divin Bere at the line; at no point did Barry Geraghty have to resort to the whip, although his win didn’t appear as impressive as at Cheltenham. Bedrock completed a further 4½ lengths away in 3rd and Flying Tiger clung on to 4th place having made an error and bumped Forth Bridge at the last.
Defi Du Seuil remained unbeaten over hurdles.
We didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race, choosing instead to remain in position close to the horse-walk exit point.
Race 2 - 2:20pm
THE DOOM BAR ANNIVERSARY 4-Y-O JUVENILE HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Stewards noted that DEFI DU SEUIL (FR), trained by Philip Hobbs, would wear a hood in the Parade Ring and DIVIN BERE (FR), trained by Nicky Henderson, and FLYING TIGER (IRE), trained by Nick Williams, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.
A.P. Heskin, the rider of NUCKY THOMPSON, which pulled up, reported that the gelding lost its action. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of NUCKY THOMPSON failed to reveal any abnormalities.
The favourite for the next race was Cue Card, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Paddy Brennan; price 2-1. Once again he’d met with a fall during the running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; coincidently at the third-last once more. This year, however, he’d not been travelling quite so well at the time as last year.
There were two greys, one of which is possibly everyone’s favourite grey, namely Smad Place trained by Alan King and ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; the other grey was Bristol De Mai. Silviniaco Conti returned to compete again, having won this race on two previous occasions.
The starting gate for this 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.
And then they were off, first time. Bristol De Mai led the runners to the first fence, from Silviniaco Conti, Cue Card, Smad Place, Tea For Two, Aso and Empire Of Dirt. Having cleared this, the latter received a couple of slaps down his neck as they headed to the next; the first of the open-ditches. The leader put in a bold leap, whereas Silviniaco Conti put in a short stride in order to meet the fence on the correct stride.
The seven runners then headed across the Grand National track on their journey to the third. Yet again Bristol De Mai cleared it with room to spare and continued to lead the field as they headed down past the packed grandstands and around the bottom bend. The horses entered the back straight on the first occasion with the Nigel Twiston-Davies representative getting a little close to the first fence therein. This enabled Silviniaco Conti to take the lead.
The field continued to the next fence, where the darker grey put in another short stride before take-off and was thus out-jumped by both Smad Place and Cue Card to his outer. The sixth fence was the second-open ditch. Smad Place reached for this but landed safely; he has plenty of scope. The runners then headed to the final fence in the back straight, still led by Silviniaco Conti. Smad Place and Cue Card bumped each other as they jumped it.
The competitors then headed into the far turn, with Aso and Empire Of Dirt continuing to bring up the rear. The next obstacle was the cross-fence and all seven runners cleared this well. Shortly afterwards they turned into the home straight for the penultimate time, one circuit having now been completed.
Silviniaco Conti continued to hold a narrow advantage, over Cue Card, as they jumped the ninth fence; Smad Place got a little bit close to this one. The following obstacle was an open-ditch and, once again, every runner jumped this well. The runners remained tightly packed as they headed across the Grand National course to the next; it would be the last in another circuit. Cue Card almost joined the leader as they jumped it.
The runners headed down past the winning post with Bristol De Mai a little short of room to the inside of runners as they continued around the bottom bend. The competitors had soon entered the back straight and were heading to the first fence therein. Paddy Brennan, aboard Cue Card, saw a nice stride as they took off. Aso now appeared to be struggling. The runners continued to the next, with the leading duo matching strides. However, Cue Card jumped it far better and took the advantage over this rival; Empire Of Dirt had now lost his place amongst the leaders too.
The following fence was the penultimate open-ditch and they all cleared this without incident. Last year’s winner remained at the head of affairs as they galloped towards the final obstacle in the back straight; Noel Fehily decided to switch Silviniaco Conti to the outer as Cue Card took his ground. The leader got a little close to this one, as did Bristol De Mai.
Heading into the far turn, Smad Place had advanced to take up a position at the leader’s girth. Silviniaco Conti began to backpedal as they approached the cross-fence, with Tea For Two jumping into third position as they cleared it. Having put in a prodigious leap at this fence, Cue Card had begun to stretch his advantage over his rivals; however, Lizzie Kelly was in hot pursuit as they turned into the home straight for the final time. Having tailed off, Empire Of Dirt was pulled up before the next; he’d gone lame on his off-fore.
Paddy Brennan’s mount remained half a length ahead as they jumped three out, although Cue Card did hit this one. Lizzie gave Tea For Two a couple of backhanders as they headed down to the final open-ditch and the leading duo jumped it in unison. Meanwhile Bristol De Mai and Smad Place were fighting it out for third position.
Tea For Two took the lead as they crossed the Grand National course during their run to the final fence, although Cue Card wasn’t giving up easily and gamely kept deficit at less than two lengths. They both jumped the final fence well and last year’s winner began to rally close home and was closing all the way to the line. But with tongue hanging out as it had done throughout the race, Tea For Two held on to win by a neck; his jockey celebrating as she crossed the line.
It was Lizzie’s second Grade 1 victory, both aboard Tea For Two. It was also compensation for being unseated from her mount in the Cheltenham Gold Cup the previous month. Mind you, it would also have been compensation for Cue Card, as he’d fallen during the Cheltenham feature race both this year and last.
Smad Place crossed the line 3rd position, 15 lengths behind the leading duo, and Aso clinched 4th from Bristol De Mai close home. Silviniaco finished last and was retired after a distinguished career; he’d won 7 Grade 1 races during it. He went to live with Charlotte Alexander who’d been looking after Denman for the past few years; Denman had now retired from his second career of team chasing and returned to Ditcheat. It was a swap.
Following the race, we returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
Race 3 - 2:50pm
THE BETWAY BOWL STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Veterinary Officer reported that EMPIRE OF DIRT (IRE), which pulled up, trained by Gordon Elliott, was lame on its right fore and subsequently reported that the gelding had bled from the nose.
That’s it for Part One of my Grand Opening Day diary ...
Click here to read my Grand Opening Day Diary Part II