DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY 3
THURSDAY 12 MARCH 2009
I left home at 07:05 today, as I had arranged to pick up my sister-in-law Anita (above) at 07:30. She lives in Luton, and was looking forward to her first ever visit to the races. My friend Mark was to have accompanied me on Day 3, but he’s found himself a new girlfriend and no longer has the time to go racing with me. However, he did pay for the ticket so I wasn’t out of pocket and I decided to invite Anita to take his place.
From Luton we travelled out via Caddington, Dunstable, and Pitstone to the A41 bypass, although we were held up by road-works into Aylesbury, and by more delays out of Oxford, but we still arrived before 10:30, and today I decided to park in the West car park. We were in row D6.
Having parked and walked down to the Centaur area, we entered the grounds immediately as the turnstiles were already open. We bought coffees and went to the Parade Ring, where I noticed that Choc was standing on the steps outside the Weighing Room, ‘going’ stick in hand (a Christmas present), presumably having just returned from walking the course. This being the case, he must have been passed as fit, following the doctor’s examination this morning.
Whilst he was standing there, a Racing UK interview with Choc recorded following his course walk was being played on the big screen opposite. Unfortunately it was ‘soundless’ at the time but I have got it on tape at home. Choc was dressed in a long sandy coloured coat, and was wearing a white shirt with yellow tie, and his hair was beautiful ... as always I am overwhelmed by his cuteness. He told us about his fall from Big Zeb – the horse having paddled through the fence – he described it as a heavy fall – however the main problem was that he was kicked by both the horses which were following him. Ouch. ‘Kicked in the guts’ he said, and the doctors were concerned about his kidneys too, which was why he was sent to the Cheltenam General Hospital for tests. However, he confirmed that the course doctor, Dr John Disney (who is also his GP) had cleared him to ride on Thursday. He also said that Big Zeb was okay and that’s the main thing ... eh, no, I think the main thing is that you are okay Choc!
He also spoke about his rides for today – Voy Por Ustedes, Pennek (wearing blinkers for the first time), Blazing Bailey (good each way value), and Turkish Surprise (hasn’t progressed as well as they’d hoped). He confirmed the ground was good to soft – possible more good than soft. He’d walked the course with his father.
Choc having disappeared inside the Weighing Room, we then decided to take a look at the shops in the tented village. I admired the Mark Stoddart tables, the ones with a hippo theme – my friend Mark might like those, as hippos are his favourite animals! I also took an interest in the hats, the beautiful rocking horses (I desperately wanted a rocking horse as a child but was never given one), and the silver jewellery outlet too (I love silver jewellery) but cannot justify the expenditure as I make so many necklaces and earrings as a hobby.
As it was Ladies Day, as well as the Guinness pre-races presentation with special guests, there was also a presentation of prizes for the Best Dressed, Best Hat and Best Accessories. And noting that none of the prize winners were ‘tarty’!
We watched as the first few horses came into the Parade Ring, during which time I saw the easily recognisable white-splashed Pancake, then we made our way down to the course, positioning ourselves on the grassed area next to the railings.
The ‘new course’ is used for the second half of the Festival. As the start was in the centre course chute, the horses exited onto the course and cantered immediately across and around the top bend to reach it. Bohemian Lass was trying her luck again today, having fallen in yesterday’s RSA Steeplechase. Then they were off.
Leading them off was Astarador , with The Vicar in 2nd and Irish raider, Slash and Burn, in 3rd. In last place was Naiad du Misselot. Pancake was then driven up to take a share of the lead, with The Vicar making an error at the 3rd fence, as did Au Courant. Chapoturgeon, under Timmy Murphy, was in around 8th place. The placings changed little as they ran up the home straight for the first time and headed out again for the final circuit. Naiad du Misselot made another mistake at the first in the back straight, with AP’s mount (Kia Kaha) blundering badly at the fence after the water. The previously disappointing Straw Bear began to move up through the field.
Then Paul Carberry’s mount (Jaamid) blundered, unseating his jockey some distance after the fence. Exmoor Ranger under Christian Williams fell at the 3rd last. Chapoturgeon, having stalked the leader Crescent Island, joined and overtook him after the 2nd last fence, storming up the straight to win easily. Isn’t that Lucky ran on to take 2nd place (having won the previous Monday at Stratford when trying to get a handicap mark for this race). Crescent Island was 3rd, with Northern Alliance in 4th. Straw Bear, although fading after the last, had run a much better race than expected, his jockey was Noel Fehily.
Paul Carberry was hospitalised following his fall, having sustained a punctured lung and a small tear to his liver.
As Choc was riding in the next race, we stayed at the rails in order to get a good view of the horses. My logistical mind was now kicking in, as I know I won’t be able to get a good view of Choc when he’s in the paddock as Alan tends to stand with a horse’s owners on the far side and Choc mounts on that side too and likes to come out first if possible. So my thinking is ... if Choc is placed I have to leave the rails immediately in order to reach the Winners’ Enclosure before the steppings fill up, but if he’s unplaced I can remain by the course-side rails so that I can take a photo of him returning down the horse-walk. And this way I can hold my place if he’s riding in the next event. However, if he does win, I will be torn between waiting for him to come back down the horse-walk or having the opportunity to get a good pitch to see him arrive in the Winners’ Enclosure and accept his prize too!
Choc’s ride in this event was Pennek. The horse was wearing blinkers for the first time. The field was 2 short of the maximum 24 permitted runners.
As the start was at the beginning of the back straight, the horses cantered out across the course, and along the horse-walk track which runs around the top bend to reach it. And soon they were off.
Mr Gloss soon came to the head of the field, with The Very Man in second, Kayf Aramis in third, and Raslan in fourth. Pennek was held up in mid-division, taking a mid to outside line. As the horses galloped down the hill, Green Mile made a mistake at the flight of hurdles. Pennek started to make progress through the field, into around 8th position, as they ran down the back straight for the second time. AP’s mount, Don’t Push It, made a mistake at the 7th flight, after which he was pushed along. As they turned into the final straight, Pennek was behind a wall of horses and had to be switched to the inside to make his challenge. Unfortunately, Heathcliff unseated his rider (Oliver Greenall) as he was squeezed for room as they turned in. Oliver was then kicked by a couple of horses which were following him.
Kayf Aramis for Venetia Williams and jockey Aiden Coleman ran on to win (Aiden’s first ever victory at the Festival). With Buena Vista in 2nd, Pennek closing quickly on the line just failed to catch him, and The Sliotar finishing in 4th. Synchronised fell at the last.
The stewards interviewed RP McLernon, Ruby and Choc in relation to Oliver Greenall’s fall from Heathcliff, but they held no-one responsible. Oliver was detained in Hospital having sustained fractured ribs, a punctured lung and a bruised spleen.
As Choc had been placed, I headed for the Winners’ Enclosure to see him come back. Anita stayed at the rails to save our pitch for the next race. I spotted Meally, wearing a pretty purple coat, over to my left and just a few rows below me, having arrived to greet Choc as he came back in. I also noticed a small blonde lady, whom I presumed to be Choc’s mum (as there is a very strong family resemblance) and beside her was his dad. Happily this means that his mum has recovered from her recent illness as, in his regular Horse and Hound column, he had expressed concern that she might be unable to travel to the Festival this year.
As soon as Choc had returned to the Weighing Room, I headed back to the course-side rails as I didn’t wish to leave Anita alone for too long. Once I had returned, she headed off to buy refreshments for us.
It was now time for the 3rd race of the day, the Grade 1 Ryanair Steeplechase, in which Choc was riding hot favourite Voy Por Ustedes.
The horses came out onto the track and cantered directly to the start, which was in the mid-course chute. Shortly afterwards they were off.
Last year’s victor, Our Vic, led them off. He was followed by Imperial Commander, Gwanako and Mister McGoldrick. L’Antartique was held up in rear, with Monet’s Garden just in front of him. Choc was in 6th position, holding a centre line. L’Antartique received reminders from his jockey, Graham Lee, as they travelled up the home straight for the first time. Then, as they turned into the back straight, Voy Por Ustedes moved up into 4th position and then into 3rd, with Our Vic dropping back. Imperial Commander had taken up the running, with Mister McGoldrick at his quarters.
Then near disaster struck as Voy Por made a serious mistake at the 4th last, with Choc going to the buckle end of the reins. He then had to drive his mount up to rejoin the leaders, jumping the 3rd last in line with Imperial Commander and Schindlers Hunt. Choc was squeezed for room 2 out, Voy Por Ustedes making a slight error probably because of it. Imperial Commander soon took the advantage, and Voy Por was switched to the outside to come around the fading Schindlers Hunt.
So the finishing places were Imperial Commander 1st, Voy Por Ustedes 2nd, Schindlers Hunt 3rd with Tidal Bay running on well to finish in 4th.
As Choc had finished 2nd, again I headed for the Winners’ Enclosure to see him return. It was sad, as he looked very disconsolate. This ride had probably been his banker of the Festival. Once he had returned to the Weighing Room I walked back to join Anita beside the course-side rails.
The fourth race of the day was the World Hurdle, in which Choc’s mount was Blazing Bailey (wearing blinkers again today).
Being the featured race of the day, the horses came out onto the course and were sorted into number order before parading up the far side of the straight, then turning to walk down beside the nearside rail and cantering to the start, which was at the beginning of the back straight. The favourite was French representative, Kasbah Bliss.
I noticed Choc was chatting to Ruby as they circled at the start. Then they were off. The race was led off by Whatuthink ridden by Davy Russell, followed by Shakervilz, then Mighty Man and Fair Along. Kasbah Bliss was held up in rear. Blazing Bailey was in 5th, alongside Punchestowns. At the top of the hill there were around 12 lengths covering first to last.
As they set out on the 2nd circuit Tazbar started to struggle at the back of the field. Blazing Bailey was soon being pushed along, as was Fair Along. Afsoun and No Refuge were soon dropped. By the time they had reached the 4th last flight, Blazing Bailey was back to 11th position and receiving reminders. Down the final hill, Kasbah Bliss was driven up the outside, with Barry Geraghty sending Punchestowns into a clear lead as they turned into the home straight. However, Ruby sent Big Buck’s in pursuit of Barry Geraghty’s mount, and they jumped the last upsides, although Big Buck’s was far from fluent. Despite this, Ruby went on the win by around 2 lengths. Punchestowns was a very gallant 2nd, Powerstation finished 3rd, with Kasbah Bliss back in 4th.
Although having dropped out well before the home straight, Blazing Bailey did complete in 8th place. As Choc had finished unplaced, I remained beside the rails to see him come back in, and also took a nice photo of Ruby as he rode back triumphantly aboard Big Buck’s.
Shortly afterwards there was an announcement to say that Turkish Surprise, Alan’s runner in the next event, would now be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Choc had stood himself down for the remainder of the day, presumably feeling a little sore after yesterday’s fall and wishing to save himself for the final day of the Festival.
The 5th race on the card was the Freddie Williams Festival Plate Handicap Steeplechase. As the start of this event was in the centre course chute, the horses exited onto the course and cantered up the horse-walk located around the top bend.
Then they were off. The field was led by Cossack Dancer, followed by Oceanos des Obeaux, with Ping Pong Sivola in third position. Silverburn, wearing first time blinkers and racing keenly, then pulled his way up on the outside to take over. Turkish Surprise was in mid-field, with Oslot jumping slowly at the back of the runners. As they turned into the home straight for the first time, one of the Irish raiders, Clarified, took a fatal fall, his jockey (Paul Townend) having replaced the injured Paul Carberry. At the next fence, Bible Lord fell.
Something Wells was travelling in 6th position, and Or Bleu made a bad mistake at the last fence before they went out on the final circuit. Cossack Dancer and Silverburn were still leading as the field galloped down the back straight. Boomshakalaka (love that name) was also prominent. It was then time for the mare, Ping Pong Sivola to lead the field, being ridden to take a clear lead. Her stable companion, Something Wells, went in pursuit. Three horses came to grief at the next fence, with Le Burf and Pop falling, and AP McCoy’s mount (Perce Rock) being impeded so that he was unseated. Tony was looking a little pained and stiff when the camera panned back to him.
As they approached the 2nd last fence Ping Pong Sivola’s lead had almost disappeared as Something Wells drew nearly alongside. In third place Notable d’Estruval made a bad mistake at the 2nd last which cost him any chance he may have had. Something Wells didn’t jump the last as well as Ping Pong Sivola, but he managed to keep his head in front on the line. A first and second for trainer, Venetia Williams, and a victory for amateur rider, William Biddick (his first ever Festival winner). Notable d’Estruval finished in 3rd, with Three Mirrors in 4th. Turkish Surprise had been ridden in mid-division, but was driven along from the 8th, and was behind when making a mistake at the 10th. Having tailed off, Wayne pulled him up after 3 out.
When interviewed, Venetia Williams, said both her horses were ‘social runners’, even more so than her earlier winner, Kayf Aramis. For the final 2 races of the day, the jockeys ‘weighed in’ in the Winners’ Enclosure.
It was now time for the final race of the day, and we decided to walk across the course to watch the race from the raised grass platform beside the steeplechase fences. This enabled us to see the horses jump at close hand and to hear the thundering of hooves too, which impressed Anita!
The distance of the race was 3 miles and 1½ furlongs, so started almost in front of us. In their eagerness to begin, there was a false start, with Newbay Prop breaking the tape. They lined up again and then they were off.
Sherwoods Folly under Richard Burton took up the running, followed closely by Warpath, with Oodachee in 3rd position. Notable mistakes were made by Poker de Sivola, Go For One and Ice Tea. Irish Raptor was not travelling well from the start, and made a bad mistake as they galloped down the hill for the first time. Warpath took up the lead as they came up the straight for the first time but, at the fence after the water-jump, he fell bringing down Alexanderthegreat and badly hampering Openide. This left Sherwoods Folly in the lead again.
Irish Raptor made another bad mistake and was pulled up. Shouldhavehadthat was also pulled up. There were many horses in with a chance as they came down the hill and turned into the straight for the final time – including Sherwoods Folly, Bowleaze, Pretty Star and Poker de Sivola. The grey, Character Building, could be seen travelling extremely well on the inside too.
At the last fence Bowleaze had a very narrow lead, but the jockey aboard Character Building had to even restrain his mount before allowing the horse its head to gallop on strongly up the run in to win, Pretty Star finished 2nd, with Newbay Prop in 3rd and Bowleaze fading into 4th. A winner for trainer John Quinn and jockey Jamie Codd. Grand National entry, Butler’s Cabin, finished in 5th.
Although Anita liked the fact that you can clearly hear the galloping hooves from our vantage point, the disadvantage to crossing into the centre of the course is that, for Health and Safety reasons, you have to wait for every horse to exit the course before the officials will let you cross back to the stands side.
We waited inside the grounds for traffic to clear, before returning to the West car park. Having collected my car, we set off almost immediately as the queue to exit was fairly short. Once we had reached the road, we were directed to turn right, so then took a left turning into Cheltenham, and followed our instinct to find the eastbound A40. The traffic was flowing smoothly all the way back to Bedfordshire, and we stopped off at Sainsburys in Dunstable to fill up my petrol tank too. I then drove back to Hertfordshire, arriving home at 21:00.