DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY 2
WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH 2009
Another early start, I set my alarm for 05:30, showering and washing my hair. Today I left home at 07:10, having already been outside wearing my dressing gown to scrape ice from my windscreen – the perils of a clear night at this time of the year. I took almost the same route as Tuesday, with traffic moving well until I reached Aylesbury, when it slowed down on the A41 into town. Having driven around the ring-road, there was also a hold-up to re-join the A41 to the west of Aylesbury. The journey was good to Bicester and the A34 was moving freely today. I’d reached Oxford by 08:30. However, there was very slow moving traffic on the A40 westwards out of Oxford, just 10 miles an hour in places, but I overtook a number of slow vehicles once I’d reached the dual carriageway.
I made very good time after that, arriving to park in the South car park at 09:45. As it was still early I walked into town to visit the Cheltenham branch of the recruitment agency I work for, as I’d only ever spoken with them on the telephone. I had a long and enjoyable chat, and a cup of tea, before walking back up the hill to enter the racecourse at around 11:15.
I purchased a race-card and went to sit by the Parade Ring. I noticed David Pipe being interviewed at one stage, and also saw Lesley Graham chatting on her mobile. The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm. Typically, I forgot to wear sun-block today.
In the Parade Ring at around midday there was a presentation relating to the Morgan Motor Company Centenary Celebrations. This was followed by the daily presentation of the Guinness award to the individual making the most outstanding contribution to Tuesday’s first 4 races. Racing journalists having made their nominations and the public given the opportunity to register their votes.
Then it was time for the Parade Ring Interviews, with Ian Carnaby and Jonathan Powell being joined by the day’s leading contenders. At 13:30 it was time for the first race of the day.
As the race started in the mid-course chute, the horses crossed the course and galloped along the horse-walk beside the top bend to reach the start. Then they were off.
Alan King’s Pangbourne led them off, followed by Parsons Pistol. Can’t Buy Time was restrained at the back of the field. Horses which made bad errors during the first half of the race were Carnival Town, Tank Top, Parsons Pistol and Le Beau Bai. Tank Top then succumbed to another error at the 17th fence, when he fell. Fair Point also made a mistake. Pangbourne retained the lead until crossing the water-jump for the final time. An Irish raider, Forest Leaves, took up the running as Alan’s runner faded. Another Irish runner, Drumconvis, made a serious jumping error 5 fences from home.
However, Tricky Trickster was travelling smoothly, and took over the lead before 4 out, at which Parsons Pistol fell, then Coe fell at the 3rd last obstacle. Tricky Trickster, Drumconvis and Can’t Buy Time were all in with a chance as they came up the final straight, with the former running on well to win. Drumconvis finished in 2nd, Nine de Sivola ran on the finish 3rd, with Can’t Buy Time fading into 4th. A winner for Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen. Alan King’s other runner, Itsa Legend, pulled up, having got barely a mention in commentary. Pangbourne was also pulled up.
It was now time for the 2nd race of the day. Until recently Choc’s ride in this race was to have been Karabak, but the horse was recently purchased by JP McManus and, although remaining with Alan King, it was to be ridden by AP McCoy as JP’s retained jockey. This meant that Choc’s mount would now be stable-mate, Junior.
The start of the race was in the mid-course chute, so the competitors cantered across the course and around the top bend to reach it. Then they were off.
Quwetwo led the field, with Dorset Square in last position. Richard the Third then pulled himself into the lead, Choc and Junior taking a centre course near the back of the field. Quwetwo regained the lead, with The Nightingale, Karabak and Mikael d’Haguenet taking close order. Mad Max was in rear but by the time they turned away from the stands, Barry Geraghty had pushed him up the outside to take much closer order. As the field reached the end of the back straight, Junior was struggling and being ridden along, and Richard the Third was tailing off. At this point Ruthenoise with Tom Scudamore aboard had taken over the lead.
The horses descended the hill with 8 or 9 runners in with a chance. As they turned into the home straight, Diamond Harry took the lead, with Mikael d’Haguenet cruising at his hindquarters, Mad Max was just in behind, as was Karabak. Diamond Harry didn’t jump the last very well, diving at it. Karabak tried to catch Ruby’s mount but was always held. Diamond Harry finished 3rd, with China Rock in 4th. Choc finished 10th aboard Junior.
Disappointment for Choc, and I wonder if he could have given Karabak a better ride and have possibly won the race.
The public’s popular choice to win this race was Carruthers, owned and bred by the Oaksey partnership. Lord John Oaksey being a very well-known amateur rider and broadcaster of yesteryear and President of the Injured Jockeys Fund.
At the start, Christian Williams was concerned about his horse’s girth, requesting that it be checked more than once. Then they were off. Mattie Batchelor sent Carruthers into the lead, he was followed by Gone to Lunch, then Lightening Strike and Massini’s Maguire. Bohemian Lass fell at the 3rd obstacle when in last place. And Davy Russell’s mount, Siegemaster, came to grief at the 8th. Carruthers was taking the field along at a very good pace, with Gone to Lunch making a very bad error at the 9th. Cooldine (in the colours worn a few years ago by Florida Pearl) was travelling in 5th position, Hold Em and Casey Jones being the first ones to lose touch. Following his earlier error, Gone to Lunch also started to lose ground on the leaders. Hold Em was pulled up.
Cooldine, travelling smoothly, was stalking Carruthers, the latter making an almighty mistake at the 3rd last fence. Although Carruthers was able to continue his partnership with Mattie, Cooldine was sent into the lead around the final bend, jumped the last and went on to win well under Ruby Walsh. Horner Woods ran on to take 2nd, with Massini’s McGuire 3rd and Carruthers fading to 4th. It was Ruby’s 3rd winner of the Festival, and a victory for Irish trainer, Willie Mullins.
After the race, the trainer recounted that the horse had been found to be lame 90 minutes before the race, but the blacksmith had glued a shoe on, they’d put the horse’s hoof in ice, and it had done the trick!
Sam Thomas received a 2-day ban for failing to ride out What a Friend for 5th place.
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in which Choc would be riding one of the Irish representatives, Big Zeb, for trainer Colm Murphy.
Once the horses had exited onto the course, they were sorted out into number order in preparation for the pre-race parade. It was noticeable that Big Zeb was on his toes throughout the preparations.
Everything went smoothly, apart from a recalcitrant Twist Magic who reared up and deposited Sam Thomas on the turf. However, Sam jumped back aboard and, with his feet out of his stirrups, he started to canter off to the start, regaining his irons as he reached the horse-walk beside the home straight to continue his journey down the course.
Being a distance of 2 miles, the start was at the beginning of the home straight. The horses’ girths were checked and they came out onto the course ready to line up, everyone eager to be off. However, Marodima, with Nick Scholfield aboard was especially keen to be off, and he broke the tape and almost bolted, but his jockey was able to pull him up quite quickly. Time to try again, but unfortunately in an almost identical scenario, Marodima took off again, with Nick having to fight even more to regain control, but he did and once more returned to the others, the majority of whom had also travelled a short distance up the course.
Finally they were off, being third time lucky, with Marodima being led in this time. Briareus took the lead initially, Marodima making an error at the 2nd obstacle before taking up the running. Big Zeb was in about 8th place, Petit Robin making a mistake at the fence before the water-jump.
But disaster struck for Choc, as he was closing upon the leaders towards the end of the back straight. Big Zeb, who had fallen in his last chase and prior to that too, paddled through the 9th fence, an open-ditch and fell, throwing Choc in front of him. However, it wasn’t so much the fall which was the problem, but the fact that there were two horses following close behind, both of which may have kicked him whilst he lay on the ground. I believe the horses were Mahogany Blaze and Ashley Brook. (One kicked Choc between the hip bone and ribs, dangerously close to his kidneys, which would later require him to go to hospital for tests). At this stage I was unaware that Choc had sustained an injury, as it was announced by the commentator that he was able to walk to the ambulance.
Anyway, as the horses ran down the hill, Briareus, Petit Robin and Master Minded were disputing the lead, the latter going on to win for the 2nd year running. Well Chief, despite having been off a racecourse for 698 days, ran on the finish 2nd, with Petit Robin 3rd and Newmill (the 2006 winner) in 4th. Briareus fell at the last fence having tired.
I returned to the Parade Ring. There was then an announcement for Alan King and Karen McLintock to go to the Weighing Room, which immediately suggested that there was a problem and perhaps Choc had been injured during his fall. He was due to ride Saticon in the 6th race and Bygones of Brid in the 7th race, hence the calls for their trainers. I also noticed Choc’s valet, Phil Taylor, standing on the steps of the Weighing Room, he seemed to be looking for Alan.
Choc had been picked up by the ambulance, and it came back, lights flashing, to the area behind the Weighing Room. It was announced that Choc had been taken to the Jockeys’ Hospital for assessment, having received a kick to the stomach. There were further bulletins during the afternoon to report on his progress, although these did nothing to put my mind at rest.
Feeling unsettled and upset, I lost interest in watching the remaining races, staying by the side of the Parade Ring, just occasionally glancing at the big screen as the races progressed. So this is where my diary becomes sketchy...
The 5th race of the day was the Coral Cup, in which Choc had not been due to ride. Alan King had two runners, Pouvoir carrying the minimum weight of 10 stones (hence the reason why Wayne Hutchinson was riding him) and Franchoek (AP McCoy for JP McManus).
The winner was Irish raider, Ninetieth Minute under Paddy Flood, 2nd was Mirage Door, 3rd Pause and Clause, 4th Star of Angels. Franchoek finished 15th, with Pouvoir in 26th.
The 6th race was the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, in which Wayne Hutchinson replaced Choc aboard Saticon.
The race was won by Silk Affair ridden by Tom O’Brien, 2nd was Ski Sunday, 3rd was Saticon, 4th Alexander Severus. Alan King’s Balzaccio under Christian Williams finished 19th.
Martin Keighley’s Benbane Head, ridden by Warren Marston, ran in the Champion Bumper race, and his stable-lad, Danny Hiskett, won the prize for best turned out horse. In an event dominated by the Irish runners, Benbane Head was the 2nd English finisher, in 10th place, a head behind the errant Pepe Simo for Paul Nicholls. As usual the race attracted ‘flat race’ jockeys to compete, as I noticed Richard Hughes in the Parade Ring who was riding for Charlie Swan.
The race was won by Dunguib ridden by Mr B T O’Connell, 2nd was Some Present, 3rd Rite of Passage, 4th Quel Espirit.
I stayed for a while after racing, hoping that the cars and coaches in the South car park would clear before I got back to my vehicle, and because I didn’t wish to go home without knowing what had happened to Choc. But it was wishful thinking in both cases, as I still had to queue for ages, initially not even moving for 30 minutes. So whilst I was waiting, I tuned my radio to the Festival station hoping to get news of Choc. They mentioned him as being due to ride Voy Por Ustedes on Day 3, but couldn’t really give any firm news, apart from mentioning that he had been taken to Cheltenham General Hospital for tests.
I finally exited the car park, by which time the roads were clear (as they had been yesterday) and I kept the radio tuned to the Festival station but it gradually lost signal as I headed eastwards across the Cotswold hills. I returned via my usual route, A40 / A34 / A41 / M25, filling up my car with petrol at the local supermarket before arriving home at 21:00.
I immediately logged on to the internet to seek news of Choc, and there was a quote from Alan King saying that Choc expected to be fit for Thursday’s racing, although having been kicked in the kidneys he had been sent to Cheltenham General Hospital for tests.
So, having caught up with news regarding Choc, charged my camera battery and written my blog, I retired to bed hopeful that Choc was okay.