DIARY – CHELTENHAM
– SATURDAY 12 DECEMBER 2009
Today was my first visit of the season to Cheltenham. Having bid for and won Choc’s ‘prize’ at the Family Fun and Football day at Worcester racecourse in early September, I was given a choice of 7 different days on which I could visit Cheltenham. Having missed out on the Saturday of the Boylesports meeting last year due to abandonment, I requested 2 tickets to attend today. Lunch was also included in the prize, and I was pleased to discover that Choc would be riding in Races 1, 5, 6 and 7, which meant I could watch the first race before going to lunch, and return to watch him in the final 3 races of the day!
I have to mention that the definite ‘highlight’ of the prize is an opportunity to walk the Cheltenham course with Choc. However, having walked the course with him last December 13th, I knew I wanted the opportunity to walk a different course with Choc this season. So, after many weeks of deliberation, I finally plucked up the courage to ask his valet (Phil Taylor) if this would be okay, and I am now hopeful that we can arrange the walk to take place in late January or February 2010.
My day began at 05:00 when my bedside alarm went off! I showered, washed and dried my hair, applied my warpaint, ate breakfast, dressed in multiple layers – 2 thermal vests, sweater, fleece, cardigan, woolley tights, and skirt – I threw my gillet, scarf and coat in the car. I was ready to leave just after 07:00.
To get in the festive mood, I put a Christmas CD in the car sound system and set off to pick up my friend Lesley from her village situated just outside Dunstable. I noticed the ‘ice’ light on the dashboard was flicking on and off as the temperature fluctuated between 4 and 5 degrees. Lesley was already waiting for me to arrive and we set off for Cheltenham.
Our route took us via Wing, Aylesbury, Waddesdon, Bicester, Oxford, and Burford to Cheltenham. I just love the route between Oxford and Cheltenham, across the Cotswolds. There were patches of blue sky to be seen as we descended into Cheltenham. Having been issued with a Members Car Park ticket, I parked my car near the stables area. It was now 09:40, 20 minutes until the gates opened. Whilst we waited in the car, Kate Miller of William Hill (who often appears on TV) arrived and parked nearby.
A few minutes before 10:00 we set off for the Centaur building, passing a row of parked horse boxes – Alan King, Paul Nicholls, Brian Ellison to name but three. Having gone through the ticket barriers, we set off down the concourse, popping to the loo (more information than you needed!) and then we had a look around the Cheltenham Collection marquee (I collected a couple more brochures – I already had one copy which I requested via the internet – this season’s brochure features Choc and Meally modelling items from the collection).
The binocular/race-card kiosk hadn’t opened yet, so we went to buy coffees before returning to purchase a race-card each. We then set off for the Shopping village down the hill, before returning to look around the remaining marquees located above the Parade Ring. At one point, there was a surprise rain shower, although the sky never really darkened.
At around 11:30, three pre-race interviews took place in the Winners’ Enclosure. Firstly trainer Tim Vaughan was interviewed, to give his thoughts about the chances of his runners today. Then Irish trainer, Oliver Brady – is he loud or what? But he was very amusing, and he recited a poem he’d composed too. Finally it was the turn of the Boylesports representative to be interviewed.
The first race was due off at 12:10, and Choc was engaged to ride the Alan King trained Ebiayn. Also taking part in this race were Bocamix, the horse which had fallen and brought down the Alan King trained Mille Chief at Market Rasen; and Sergeant Pink, which was the horse which had benefitted from their race departure!
Once the jockeys had mounted, we set off to watch the race from the course-side rails. It was surprising how few spectators ventured out onto the grassed area in front of the stands, so we were able to take our choice of vantage point.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, the horses cantering down the all-weather gallop to reach it.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Ruby Walsh aboard Ultimate. Close behind were Sergeant Pink and George Nympton, with Ebiayn taking an inside line near the rear of the field. Choc administered encouragement to his mount after the third flight, and the fourth flight was flattened by one of the mid-field runners. The first to drop back and lose touch was Order Order, being pulled up before 2 out.
At the 2nd last, Bocomix and Ultimate were disputing the lead, the later taking the advantage again turning into the final straight. There were 4 horses in a line jumping the last flight, with the Tom George trained Alofi galloping up the stand-side rail to win. A win for Paddy Brennan, deputising for Sam Thomas who was serving a one day suspension following his ride aboard What A Friend in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Choc’s mount finished in 6th place.
Choc having finished unplaced, we decided to head for the restaurant. We walked up the concourse to the Centaur Building, through the doors and up the stairs and along the Hall of Fame corridor. Amusingly, the carpet pattern consisted of horse-shoe prints – one side pointing towards the restaurant and, on the other side, pointing away from the restaurant.
Upon arrival, we discovered that The Gold Cup restaurant and Festival restaurant bookings had been swapped, so we were directed to the Festival restaurant – table 11 in the middle of the room. From the restaurant there was a good view of Cleeve Hill, the earlier mist having cleared from the top of it.
Just for the record, these were the courses we ordered:
Lesley – Smoked Scottish Salmon starter, Gloucestershire old spot pork main course, followed by a selection of cheeses
Jane – Parsnip and butternut squash soup, turkey main course, followed hazelnut and chocolate meringue roulade
The meal was very nice and, because service was swift, we only missed 2 races, and we were able to view these on screens located in the restaurant.
The start of the second race was a short distance down the home straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Inchidaly Rock and Kanpai, followed by Hey Big Spender, Mobaasher, Zemsky and Ringsend Rose, the latter soon well in rear. Inchidaly Rock blundered at the first open-ditch, and Mobaasher made a mistake at the second open-ditch. Zemsky then pecked on landing at the 9th.
Hey Big Spender disputed the lead with Kanpai as they started their second circuit, with Inchidaly Rock now in third. The tailed off Ringsend Rose was pulled up after the 11th obstacle. Mobaasher was receiving reminders as they approached the far corner of the track. As they came down the hill, Hey Big Spender was joined by Inchidaly Rock, the 3 remaining runners having dropped back.
These two runners were 10 lengths clear of their nearest pursuers as they rounded the final bend. Inchidaly Rock took a narrow lead at the 2nd last, and had extended this by the last, galloping on to win by 9 lengths.
Having cleared the penultimate fence in last place, Kanpai stumbled having broken a fetlock, Noel Fehily quickly pulling up his stricken mount. Sadly, due to his injury, the horse had to be put down.
The start of this race, like the first, was at the far end of the home straight.
The field was led away by Freds Benefit and Saphir Des Bois. Enlightenment hit the 3rd fence and unseated Timmy Murphy. Ruby’s mount, Free World, blundered badly at the 5th fence when in rear.
Having led after the 4th obstacle, Saphir Des Bois blundered at the 9th, allowing Freds Benefit to retake the lead. Having been handy, French Opera took over as they came down the hill, chased by Mill House Girl, Safari Journey and Free World.
The runners were instructed to bypass the 2nd last, as Timmy Murphy was still being attended to on the landing side of the fence. French Opera led over the last and galloped on to win, chased home by Free World.
Having finished our meal, we headed for the Parade Ring to view the horses competing in the 4th race of the day. We caught a glimpse of Choc’s wife, Meally, as we headed towards the course-side rails to watch this race. She was pushing a pram, presumably belonging to the friend who accompanied her.
It was announced that Timmy Murphy had been stood down for the remainder of the day following his fall from Enlightenment. Noel Fehily deputised for him aboard Bygones of Brid in the fourth race.
The start of this race was opposite the stands, so the runners cantered across the course and up around the all-weather track to reach it.
Then they were off. Lord Generous led them away, from the Tom George trained Tell Massini. John’s Gift hit the first flight, bumping Kennel Hill in the process, but they both survived. Unsurprisingly, Grand National winner Mon Mome was clearing the smaller obstacles with ease.
Lord Generous still led as they raced away from the stands, with one circuit to go. John’s Gift began to lose touch. Ruby’s mount, The Minack, made a bad mistake at the third last. Tell Massini challenged and took the lead before 2 out, rounding the bend to gallop up beside the nearside rail to win by 2½ lengths. A double for Tom George and Paddy Brennan. Kennel Hill, better known for competing in steeplechases, finished 2nd, with Mon Mome in 3rd.
We returned to the Parade Ring in preparation for Choc’s next ride, the Keith Goldsworthy trained Hold Em. Daryl Jacob was deputising for Timmy Murphy aboard Chapoturgeon in this race.
The start of this race was in the mid-course chute, Ruby Walsh taking Poquelin to the start early.
Then they were off. The field was lead away by Our Vic, Tamarinbleu, Razor Royale and Bible Lord. Choc was close behind, on the outside in 5th. Bible Lord hit the first fence, unseating Ed Cookson. Having jumped 3 fences, Danny Cook took the wrong course aboard Our Vic, leaving Tamarinbleu in the lead.
As they galloped up the straight before going out on the final circuit, close behind Tamarinbleu were Razor Royale, Hold Em, Atouchbetweenacara, Stan, and Poquelin. Knowhere wasn’t travelling today and, having made a mistake at the 6th, became tailed off and was pulled up before the 8th obstacle. Mount Oscar was also struggling, having made a couple of jumping errors, and was pulled up too.
Razor Royale had taken the lead by the 7th, Hold Em hit the open ditch, and soon came under pressure. Having entered the final straight, 4 horses had drawn ahead of the field - Razor Royale, Poquelin, Skippers Brig and Chapoturgeon, the latter stumbling after the last, Daryl Jacob somehow managing to remain in the saddle but with all chance gone. Poquelin galloped on to win by 7 lengths. Another big Saturday winner for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls. The very consistent Hold Em finished 6th.
Danny Cook was referred to the BHA, this being the second time he’d taken the wrong course in recent months.
It was now time for the big race of the day, the Boylesports International Hurdle. Choc’s mount, Medermit, runner-up to Go Native in the Supreme Novices at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, was on trial today, Alan hoping to decide if the horse would take his chance in the Champion Hurdle next March, or whether he would now be switched to novice chasing.
Being the feature event of the afternoon, there was a pre-race parade. The horses, having exited onto the course, circled around to position themselves into race-card order – Choc aboard Medermit was the last to parade, being number 7 of the 7 runners. Having walked up past the winning post at the top end of the course, the horses then turned and cantered down to enter the all-weather track to continue to the start, which was at the far end of the home straight.
The field was led away by Ashkazar, although appearing a little reluctant, ridden by Tom Scudamore deputising for Timmy Murphy. Celestial Halo and Ebadiyan disputed second, followed by Punjabi, Songe, Medermit and Khyber Kim in rear.
Down the back straight, Ashkazar was being pushed along to keep the lead, Medermit made progress and was close behind the leaders by 3 out. Down the hill they ran and Celestial Halo took up the running, followed by Punjabi and Medermit. Khyber Kim had moved smoothly through the field and was just behind them.
Punjabi was the first to tire, as Nicky Henderson had predicted would happen on his first appearance of the season. However, Celestial Halo had no answer to the strong finishing Khyber Kim who galloped up the stand-side rails to win by 2¼ lengths. Medermit was a further 3 lengths away in third, and will now be aimed for the Champion Hurdle rather than switching to novice chasing this season.
We returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back in, unsaddle, speak with connections and return to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for the final race of the day. Choc was engaged to ride the Alan King trained Shalone, who had been off the track for over a year having sustained a slight leg injury on his last run. Paddy Brennan was deputising for Timmy Murphy on Secret Dancer in this event.
The field was led away by Golan Way, only to unseat his rider at the 2nd flight. This left Night Orbit in the lead, followed by Zaynar, Cape Tribulation, Shalone and Secret Dancer. Night Orbit took a wide line up the straight, Cape Tribulation disputing it on the inside.
Shalone blundered at the 3rd last flight. Cape Tribulation still lead as they entered the final straight, Zaynar was travelling easily in 2nd, with Shalone pushed along in 3rd. Barry Geraghty shook up Zaynar to take the lead just before the last and went clear, easing up to win by 6 lengths on the line. Shalone finished in 3rd.
As Choc had finished 3rd, we returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see him arrive back. Having unsaddled and spoken with connections, Choc returned to the Weighing Room for the final time today. We waited beside the Parade Ring for a while, as the traffic queues can be horrendous on the roads outside the racecourse.
Meally and her friend, with the baby in the pram, appeared soon after, waiting inside the Weighing Room whilst Choc changed into his civvies before setting off home together.
As the light was now fading fast, we decided it was time to leave. We left via the exit next to the Centaur building, and walked over the bridge and back past the horsebox area to the car park. We waited a few more minutes, as there were still queues exiting the course, but once these had cleared we set off for home. Our route was clear initially, but we did get held up in a long queue at the traffic lights to join the A4. These queues continued as we drove through Charlton Kings but, as always, the road cleared once we’d traversed the final set of traffic lights.
We passed through a heavy shower just east of Burford, but the weather was fine for the remainder of the journey. We retraced our route – Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Wing – and back to Lesley’s home village. I dropped her off and continued my journey back to Hertfordshire, arriving home at 19:30.
I’d missed the beginning of the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final – oh dear, the public voted Chris Hollins and his professional partner, Ola Jordan, through to the final, along with Ricky Whittle and partner Natalie Lowe. This meant that the highest scoring couple – Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna were eliminated. It’s become a popularity competition again, not a dance competition!