DIARY Ė CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY 1
TUESDAY 10 MARCH 2009
I left home at 07:20, travelling via Hemel Hempstead, and taking the Bourne End junction onto the A41 to Aylesbury, then around their ring-road to leave the town by 08:10, although I got stuck behind slow moving lorries to Bicester.† Turning south I headed along the A34 towards Oxford, although there was a traffic hold-up as I approached the M40 junction and further down a traffic jam caused by road-works on the Oxford ring-road.† However, once Iíd joined the A40 the road was clear apart from minor holdups at the traffic lights as I headed westwards into the Cotswolds.† At Burford there were ĎAlternative Routeí road-signs for Cheltenham races, suggesting a route through the actual village, and up through Stow on the Wold perhaps?† These signs had, however, been vandalised!
As I was early, and know the A40 route to Cheltenham and onwards to the racecourse, I decided to stick to my original plan.† It was the correct decision, as there were no serious hold-ups, and I arrived at the racecourse at 10:10, parking in the South car park.† There were numerous coaches parked in this area, and this would prove very disadvantageous at the end of the day!† The weather was cloudy with sunny intervals.
I sat in my car for a few minutes, before deciding to put on my coat and walk along to the entrance.† Having entered the course, my bag was searched and I walked down the concourse to purchase a race-card.† I then went to sit by the side of the Parade Ring to read through the card, and also to make notes for this diary.† Whilst I was sitting there, I noticed Alan King walk across the paddock to the Weighing Room, followed a little while later by his Assistant Trainer, Noel Williams.
At 12:15 the ĎGuinnessí sponsored presentations took place.† Although Iíd read the programme I failed to notice that a prize would be presented to Choc as the overall 2008 Guinness Festival Award winner.† The purpose of the Award is to honour the individual who made the most outstanding contribution to last yearís Festival.† However they did make an announcement shortly before the presentation so I knew Choc would be making an appearance.† And, as I left my ringside seat to head around to the Winnersí Enclosure, who should I follow but Meally who had just arrived to watch the presentation too.† Today she was wearing a black coat, a miniskirt (or dress) and stilettos.
Choc came out of the Weighing Room and waited until his name was announced, during which time someone requested his autograph.† He climbed the podium to accept his prizes (Waterford Crystal and an OPL photo montage), and then spoke about his hopes for the Festival.†
Following this there was the British Forces Foundation Lap of Honour to show support for the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.† A number of jockeys came out of the Weighing Room to greet the serviceman as they arrived in the Winnersí Enclosure.
Shortly afterwards, horses began to arrive in the Parade Ring in preparation for the first race.† I noticed that when Choc was waiting to mount, one of the other horses was bucking and kicking so he guided Alan out of its way before it could do any damage.† As soon as Choc had left the Paddock I set off to view the forthcoming race.†
As the race began at the start of the home straight, the horses cantered up the horse-walk past the stands before heading down to it.† Chocís mount in this event was the Alan King trained grey, Medermit.†
As the horses came back out onto the course for the start, a cheer rang out from the stands, but it was a little premature, so a louder cheer was heard as the horses commenced the race a few moments later.
The field was led off by Golan Way, who soon built up a margin of 6 or 7 lengths.† Kempes blundered at the first.† Both Cousin Vinny and Shoreacres were also prominent.† Choc took a centre line in the middle of the field aboard Medermit.† Ainama came to the head of the field as they galloped along the back straight, when Golan Way made a bad error at one of the flights.† Choc had begun to make progress through the field, although stumbling on the bend after the 5th flight.
As they turned into the final straight, the Irish Raider, Go Native, was travelling ominously well in the inside rail and was sent into the lead soon after.† Chocís mount jumped the last flight in 6th position, and Choc wanted to switch to the inside to make his challenge but Cousin Vinny didnít jump the flight too well and stumbled to his left, as a result Medermit had to be switched to the stand side of him.† Despite this interrupted run, Chocís mount gained rapidly up the run-in, but Choc had to settle for a close 2nd, Go Native under Paul Carberry holding on at the line.† Somersby finished 3rd, with Copper Bleu 4th.
As Choc had been placed, I immediately returned to the Winnersí Enclosure to see him come back.† Although I hadnít seen her arrive, I did notice Meally and her mother leave along the lowest level of the steppings once the horses had been taken away.
Choc didnít have a mount in this event.† Again the horses cantered up along the horse-walk past the stands, before proceeding to the start.†
Despite Made in Taipan hanging back at the start, he soon took up the challenge and went into the lead.† Planet of Sound made a mistake at the 1st obstacle.† Tatenen was prominent but fell at the 3rd fence, luckily Ruby Walsh was soon on his feet, although the loose horse careered through the plastic railings but was unscathed.† Forpadydeplasterer was close up in 2nd, Cheating Chance was one of those bringing up the rear.†
As they galloped down the back straight, Made in Taipan, Golden Silver, Forpadydeplasterer, and Follow the Plan were in the front line.† Kalahari King made a mistake at the open-ditch.† Cornas, when challenging for the lead, made a mistake at the 2nd last obstacle.††††
As they came around the final bend, Forpadydeplasterer and Made in Taipan were disputing the lead, with the former running on the win.† Kalahari King came with a late run but didnít quite catch the winner.† Planet of Sound finished 3rd, with long-time leader, Made in Taipan 4th.† A second win for the Irish.
The Ďsupporters clubí for Forpadydeplasterer were very loud, and sported red and white scarves, the horseís silks being the same colour.† And it was soon time for the 3rd race.
Chocís mount in this race was Nenuphar Collonges, the horse providing Choc with his third winner at last yearís Festival when winning the Albert Bartlett Novicesí Hurdle.† As the race was to commence in the home straight, the horses cantered up the horse-walk in front of the stands before they headed for the start.† The mare Cailin Alainn was very frisky as she cantered to join the other horses.† Then they were off.
There was a false start to begin with, and then the field was led off by The Sawyer, taking his customary place at the front.† Ollie Magern, Comply or Die and Billyvoddan were all prominent.† Patsy Hall was not jumping fluently, and Hot Weld was near the back of the field.† Choc rode on the outside, in mid-field.† Golden Flight made a bad mistake, as did Wichita Lineman at the notorious fence before they came into the straight for the first time.† There was a shower of rain at this time.
Stable-companion, Wind Instrument raced with Nenuphar Collonges on his outside, Choc starting to push his mount along as they jumped the uphill fence and he gained ground.† Simon made a mistake at the water-jump.† APís mount, Wichita Lineman, having made a mistake was being pushed along to keep in touch with his rivals.† The front runners were closely bunched as they came down the hill for the final time, Patsy Hall a faller at the back of the field.†
Choc was in 3rd position as they turned into the final straight, Maljimar having taken up the lead.† Choc jumped the last in 2nd spot, but AP McCoy, having been coaxing and cajoling his mount for over a circuit, conjured up a final challenge to beat Maljimar into 2nd place, with Choc a short distance away in 3rd.† Dear Villez finished 4th.
It is only when you watch the replay of this race that you realise what an incredible ride AP gave his mount.† The horse jumped poorly, and was being driven along for over a circuit, so it was amazing that he managed to beat all his rivals.† It was definitely the ride of the Festival!
I returned to the Winnersí Enclosure to see Choc and Nenuphar Collonges arrive back .† Wichita Lineman is owned by JP McManus and, as it was JPís birthday, the crowd sang Happy Birthday as he stood in the Winnersí Enclosure to greet the victor.†
It was now time for the feature race of the day.
Chocís ride, once again, was last yearís victor, Katchit, although the diminutive horse had shown little form this season.† However he had been on a Ďholidayí away from Alanís yard, and was beginning to show some of his old sparkle.† Despite toying with the idea of blinkers, Alan had decided against using them today.††
Being the feature race, the horses were sorted into number order and were then paraded in front of the stands before setting off for the start, which was at the far end of the home straight.† Alph was permitted to go to the start early, so missed the parade.† Then they were off.
Osana, wearing blinkers, was sent into the lead.† Close behind were Celestial Halo and Hardy Eustace.† Katchit was also fairly prominent, in around 5th.† Binocular was racing in 9th position.† Punjabi began to move up through the field as they galloped down the back straight.† Katchit lost a little ground on the leaders at this stage, although he was still not far away.
Osana was passed at the top of the hill, Othermix falling at the 3rd last flight.† As they came into the straight, the lead was being disputed by Celestial Halo and Punjabi, with Binocular close behind in 3rd. The former jumped the last with a very slight lead, but Punjabi overtook him on the run-in to win.† Binocular was closing on the line, but had to settle for 3rd place, Celestial Halo having run very bravely to take 2nd.† Crack Away Jack completed in 4th.† A win for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.†
Katchit finished a fairly close 6th, Choc having come wide into the final straight.† He had run very well, especially in light of his loss of form this season.† Ahead of him in 5th was Muirhead.
Ruby received a 3 day ban for whip abuse, as did David Casey the rider of unplaced Jered.
When watching a recording of the dayís events, I noticed the cameraman had followed Barry as he walked back to the Weighing Room.† As they moved through the ĎScalesí area, Alan King and Noel Williams could be seen in shot, and Chocís valet, Phil Taylor, was there too, congratulating Barry as he came in.†
It was now time for the 5th race of the day.
I took this opportunity to cross the course to watch the event.† You have to pass the starting point for the race so I was able to take a couple of photographs before myself and other spectators were asked to move on.† I positioned myself on the mound of earth near the cheese wedges and rail fence to watch the action.
Then they were off.† Initially the field was led off by Heads on the Ground and Pass Me By, with Garde Champetre and LíAmi in 3rd and 4th positions.† Choc was on the outside of the field quite near the back.† It gets very difficult to follow the horses in this kind of event, so Iíll cut to the business end ... as they galloped up the final straight, LíAmi was in the lead, followed by Garde Champetre, with the latter challenging and going on to win under Nina Carberry.† In third was Drombeag, a 1, 2, 3, for trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus.† Choc pulled up Crystal DíAinay before 3 out.
The final race of the day was the David Nicholson Maresí Hurdle Race.† As David was the mentor to both Alan King and Martin Keighley, they had entries and wanted to do well in this event.†
The start of this race was located in the centre-course chute, so the horses cantered across the home straight and up around the top bend to reach it.
There was some confusion before this race, with the jockeys being eager but the starter not ready.† But then they were off.† Gaspara lead them away, with Meganís Joy prominent.† As they raced up the straight on the first occasion, Over Sixty was close up on the inside, with Wychwoods Legend on her outside.† Ruby aboard Quevega (the horse wearing ear plugs) was in mid-field by this time, having initially been rooted at the start. At the 3rd last Choc was in 4th position, Gaspara still out in the lead, a group of 8 having broken away from the remainder of the field.† Ruby was one of them, and he sent Quevega into the lead as they rounded the final bend, running on to win by 14 lengths from United, Aura About You and Over Sixty.† Rubyís first winner at this yearís Festival, although he did have a problem persuading her to walk back down the horse-walk past the crowds.†
Martinís Wychwoods Legend was in touch, but was not fluent at the 4th flight, then ridden after the 7th, and weakened approaching 3 out, finishing 14th.
I returned to the Winnersí Enclosure to see Choc come back in 4th place spot, and disappear into the Weighing Room for the final time today.† I didnít leave immediately, as I knew there would be serious traffic delays on the roads surrounding the course.† Whilst I was waiting, I noticed Andrew Thornton cross the Parade Ring, and AP too.
Finally I decided it was time to return to my car.† However, vehicles in the car park werenít going anywhere, and I didnít see the end of the queue until around 18:45, at which time I joined it.† Whilst I was waiting I ate various snacks which Iíd stored in the car for just such an eventuality.† Weirdly, although everyone had suffered severe delays, there was hardly any traffic on the roads immediately outside the course or on my route out to join the A40.†††
It was a clear evening, with a full moon.† I made very good time across the Cotswolds, then up the A34 to Bicester, the A41, returning via a short section of the M25 to fill up my car with petrol at the local supermarket ready for the following day.† I arrived home at 21:00.
I uploaded my photos, charged my camera battery, wrote my daily blog, and set-up my videos to record Wednesdayís action.† I went to bed at 10:30 and tuned into the Racing UK Festival highlights programme on my bedroom TV, although I did doze off to sleep during it!