DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL – DAY 4
– FRIDAY 19 MARCH 2010
The final day of the 2010 Cheltenham Festival was overcast with the threat of rain mid-afternoon. This being the case, I abandoned my ‘original’ choice of outfit and decided to wear my warm long black faux sheepskin coat, my ankle length black skirt and long grey pull-on boots. Once more I set off at 06:30.
My journey then took me via Hemel Hempstead and Aylesbury, today I decided to travel via the latter’s inner ring-road, and got stuck behind a similar, if not the same tanker lorry, as the previous day! As I know the route well, I was able to overtake the lorry just after Kingswood, where there is a brief section of dual carriageway. Having reached Bicester, I chose a new route today. Instead of turning southwards along the A34, I turned right, initially taking the B4030 towards Middleton Stoney, and then turned left along the A4095 heading for Witney. It was a long and winding road, through a couple of villages, and I discovered that all roads lead to Oxford, as each of the ‘B’ roads which crossed it, had the right of way! The road crossed the A44 just east of Bladon (famous for being the last resting place of Winston Churchill – I visited his grave many moons ago on an excursion to the Cotswolds with my parents). I don’t, however, recall having ever visited nearby Blenheim Palace, which is the Churchill family home (the Dukes of Marlborough).
My journey took me through Long Hanborough, very aptly named as the village seemed to stretch along the road for some distance, and then onwards to Witney. Once at the town, I took the Minster Lovell road, which enabled me to join the A40 at the western end of the dual carriageway section. The journey to Cheltenham went smoothly, again the first holdup I encountered was due to school day traffic on the outskirts of the town. However this soon cleared and, taking my usual route to the course, once again I parked in the bottom field of the west car park, having arrived just before 09:00.
I sat in my car and ate my lunch (or should that be brunch?) whilst listening to Cheltenham Festival radio. I then set off to join the queue earlier than usual, so I was near the front when the gates opened, having already had my handbag checked by one of the security guards. Once inside, and having purchased my race-card, I went to the Parade Ring but discovered the surrounding seats were still wet following overnight rain. This being the case, I decided to take a walk down to the course-side rails to breathe in the atmosphere of Gold Cup Day!
A little before 11:30 Choc’s wife Meally, and her mum and dad, came down to the rails not far from where I was standing. Meally was wearing a blue coat, blue patterned tights, and stilettos. They stayed for a few minutes, before returning to the concourse area.
Shortly afterwards I returned to the Parade Ring, but just after noon decided to return to the course-side rails again in order to reserve a good position in preparation for the day’s racing. At one point, Alex Steedman of Racing UK, who had interviewed Choc on Tuesday, walked by on the horse-walk – he was wearing a kilt today – I hasten to add he is Scottish!
Each day before racing there was a presentation in the Winners’ Enclosure where the leading personalities of the day are interviewed by either Ian Carnaby or Jonathan Powell. Today’s interviewees included Laura Critchley (singer of the Cheltenham Charity single), Sirrill Griffiths (famous for training the 1990 100-1 winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup Norton’s Coin), Felix Francis (son of the late author Dick Francis), David Pipe and Paul Nicholls. Finally it was Ruby’s turn to be interviewed, and to receive the Guinness Award for Thursday on behalf of all those connected with Big Buck’s. However, as the big screens broadcasted pictures only, I couldn’t hear today’s interviews because I was too far from the Winners’ Enclosure and the sound system wasn’t broadcasting until the races began.
It was soon time for the first race of the day, the JCB Triumph Hurdle. Having remained beside the course-side rails, my first ‘live’ view of Choc today was as his mount cantered by on the all-weather track heading for the top of the home straight, before turning to canter down to the start.
Alan King’s original hope for this race, Mille Chief, had been ruled out due to lameness. Choc therefore rode Alan’s second string, Gilded Age.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with just over one complete circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led off by the Evan Williams trained Barizan, chased by Westlin’ Winds and Blazing Buck. Prominent were the favourite Carlito Brigante, Puzzlemaster and Olofi. Choc was in mid-division aboard Gilded Age. Pebble In A Pool made a mistake at the first flight when in rear.
Barizan had set up a clear advantage by the third flight, at which the very ‘green’ Pebble In A Pool swerved to the right and unseated her jockey, Davy Condon. Towards the rear, Blue Nymph flattened the 5th flight. Barizan kept up the strong gallop and had increased his advantage to 10 lengths over the chasing runners by the time they reached the top of the hill.
Gilded Age was going well and had improved on the outside of the field as they headed towards the penultimate flight. Barizan, now 15 lengths clear, hit the obstacle, Alaivan cleared it in second position, with Choc’s mount disputing third with the Nicky Henderson trained, Barry Geraghty ridden, Soldatino.
Continuing to make significant ground, Soldatino took second position before the last. Although still 5 lengths clear of the field, Barizan was now tired and crashed through the final flight. Soldatino under a strong drive overtook Barizan on the uphill climb to the line, winning by 1¼ lengths. The brave front-running Barizan completed in 2nd, Alaivan held on to 3rd, Carlo Brigante stayed on to take 4th. Gilded Age faded to finish 6th but, nevertheless, the first 6 finishers in each of the Festival races would win prize money.
The weather had been forecast to deteriorate at around 16:00 but, in the event, it arrived early and it now began to spit with rain.
Choc’s mount in the next race was one of the Irish raiders, Puyol, trained by Mrs J E Mulhern. The silks he wore were very unusual as they featured a ‘question mark’, although I believe this is quite common in the horse’s native Ireland.
It was a big field, and notable for the fact that there were 6 greys in the field – Any Given Day, Arcalis, Fushe Jo, Mutual Friend, Pascha Bere and Thousand Stars.
Like the Triumph Hurdle, the start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with over one circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Marodima, and he’d soon set up a 7-length lead over two of the greys, Any Given Day and Fushe Jo who spearheaded the inside group and Dee Ee Williams who headed the outside group of runners, the latter soon gaining a clear advantage in 2nd position. Puyol was situated beside the rails in mid-field. In rear were Tarkari and Rock Noir.
Marodima’s clear lead had diminished by the sixth flight, but he still held the advantage over Dee Ee Williams, Inventor, Any Given Day and Fushe Jo.
The mare, Izita Star, crashed out at the 2nd last when in 4th position, hampering Tito Bustillo and Bahrain Storm. Sadly the mare lost her life, despite the perseverance of the vets who tried for some time to save her, as the green screens remained in place throughout the following race too. Although Izita Star was moved from the hurdles track to avoid any obstruction during the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Dee Ee Williams, having taken the lead before two out, retained it until headed just before the last by the grey Thousand Stars ridden by Katie Walsh, the latter horse going on to win by 3 lengths. Another of the greys, Arcalis, stayed on to take 2nd, Dee Ee Williams held on to 3rd, with Zanir in 4th. The latter had looked a danger approaching the last but proved to be one paced.
Puyol, who had lost his place 3 out, came home in his own time to finish 20th.
The ‘greys’ finished 1st, 2nd, 12th (Bascha Bere), 14th (Any Given Day), 15th (Fushe Jo), and 16th (Mutual Friend).
The Stewards discovered that Puyol’s passport vaccinations record didn’t comply with the statutory requirements and the trainer was fined!
And the Clerk of the Scales reported that Denis O’Regan, who rode Arcalis, weighed in 3 lbs heavier than he’d weighed out, for which he received a 3-day suspension.
This didn’t affect the placing of Arcalis, as it would have been detrimental to the horse not advantageous, but the punters would not have been pleased to discover that he was carrying ‘unknown’ overweight!
The rain was getting heavier, but I was determined to retain my excellent vantage point beside the rails.
Choc’s mount in the next event was The Betchworth Kid, trained by Alan King. The start of this race was at the beginning of the back straight, with two full circuits to travel.
The field was led away by Irish raider Premier Victory. In second place was one of the greys Chartreux. Restless Harry was prominent, making an error at the second and third flights. His jockey, Henry Oliver, then took him to the outside, perhaps to get a better view of his obstacles.
Downhill on the first circuit, tracking the leaders were Silver Kate, Possol and Cappa Bleu. Choc’s mount, The Betchworth Kid, was on the outside near the back of the field. Silver Kate didn’t jump the 7th fluently. Shinrock Paddy was the first to be pulled up, before the 8th.
Heading along the back straight for the second and final time, Premier Victory still led, Restless Harry close in 2nd. By now, The Betchworth Kid was being pushed along on the outside of the field. Restless Harry had taken up the running by the top of the hill, challenger Najaf going noticeably well. Also in close contention were Silver Kate, Arvika Ligeonniere and Berties Dream.
Approaching the last flight, Najaf and Berties Dream came to challenge Restless Harry, Najaf hanging left, Berties Dream right, squeezing out Restless Harry who, unsighted, fell. Fionnegas was hampered by the faller and unseated his jockey David Casey. Berties Dream, although having hit the last and drifting right on the flat, went on to win by 6 lengths from Najaf. A second winner at this Festival for jockey Andrew Lynch. The enigmatic Kennel Hill, although having been well behind 2 out, consented to run on into 3rd place by the line.
The Betchworth Kid was struggling when making a mistake 3 out, so Choc pulled him up before the next flight.
Worryingly, green screens were erected around Restless Harry as he remained lying on the turf, his trainer Robin Dickin heading down the course to see his distressed charge. But fortunately the horse was fine, and soon rose to his feet to the sound of cheers from the anxious spectators.
Robert Thornton, the rider of The Betchworth Kid, which pulled up, reported that the gelding was never travelling.
The Stewards also held an enquiry into possible interference at the last flight, involving Berties Dream and Restless Harry but took no action.
The rain was beginning to affect the going, which was now ‘good to soft in places’.
Being the feature race of the day, there was a pre-race parade in front of the stands, the horses then cantering down to the start, which was part way down the home straight. The runners would complete just over two full circuits of the course.
Choc didn’t have a ride in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, along with a group of jockeys and other people connected with the runners (such as Paul Nicholls’ Assistant Trainer, Dan Skelton), Choc came out onto the course to watch the race, and stood beside the last fence. He was wearing his long black coat, although he did look as though he was cold. Choc was very easy to spot because of his red topped riding boots ... and his beautiful blonde hair of course!
Then they were off. Carruthers, in his usual front running style, led them away, followed by Denman and Imperial Commander. Kauto Star was just behind in fourth, My Will making a mistake at the third obstacle.
Heading for the far corner of the track, Carruthers still led, Denman and Kauto Star disputed second, followed by Imperial Commander and Cooldine. The crowd gasped as Kauto Star ploughed through the 8th, temporarily losing his place. In fact the blunder was very reminiscent of Master Minded’s final fence blunder during the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in mid-February.
Denman came to dispute the lead as they headed up the straight with one circuit to go. Ruby Walsh pulled Kauto Star to the outside of the field, perhaps to give him a better look at his fences. Calgary Bay blundered at the 13th fence. It became apparent that Kauto Star wasn’t travelling well when Ruby gave him a reminder as they approached the dogleg turn heading for the far corner of the course.
AP McCoy sent Denman into the lead 5 out, Imperial Commander coasting along just behind him. Then ‘disaster’ struck at the fourth last, Kauto Star taking a heavy fall when in 4th position. The spectators were stunned by this turn of events.
Now the leading group of runners were Denman, Imperial Commander, Cooldine, Carruthers and Calgary Bay, the former pair gradually pulling away from the field. Denman was being pushed along by AP as they turned in, and Imperial Commander took the lead before 2 out and galloped on to win by 7 lengths. His jockey, Paddy Brennan, putting a finger to his lips as he passed the winning post as if to say ‘shuuuush’ ... it wasn’t one of the ‘talking horses’ (Kauto Star or Denman) which had won.
Last year’s Grand National winner, Mon Mome ran on from a mile back to pip Carruthers for 3rd.
Ruby remounted Kauto Star, who appeared none the worse for wear and they cantered back to the racecourse exit point. The fall could easily have ended in tragedy, Kauto Star was fortunate not to break his neck.
Choc and his colleagues, having watched the race, walked back across the course to the horse-walk entrance and, presumably, were pleased to return to the warmth of the Weighing Room!
It was now pouring with rain but, as I had an umbrella and was wearing a heavyweight coat, I remained by the course-side rails in preparation for the next race of the day. Besides, during the Festival I’d given up trying to see the horses in the Parade Ring/Winners’ Enclosure and the on-course action, as it is Nye on impossible to get a good rails position AND a good view of the Winners’ Enclosure/Parade Ring due to spectator numbers.
The next race was the Foxhunter Chase for Amateur riders. As Tom Greenall was unable to take the ride aboard Trust Fund, Ollie Greenall transferred to the horse, his younger brother Jake taking over aboard Amicelli.
This race is the Amateur’s ‘Gold Cup’ and therefore run over exactly the same course and distance as the previous race.
Then they were off. Sam Twiston-Davies sent Baby Run into the lead, followed by Chesnut Annie and Kilty Storm. James Pine soon came through to take second position. Southwestern was in rear and Robbers Glen, ridden by veteran Val Jackson, was the back marker.
Bob Hall made a mistake at the 6th; Here’s Johnny fell at the 9th. Heading downhill for the first time, Southwestern, Robbers Glen and Cowboyboots were in rear. Roulez Cool blundered at the 10th.
Heading away from the stands with one circuit to go, Baby Run was still at the head of affairs, followed by Reach For The Top, Kilty Storm, and Roulez Cool. Sericina fell at the 13th when in mid-division. Turthen and Take The Stand made mistakes at the water-jump, the latter then fell 4 out, bringing down Roulez Cool and Chesnut Annie and hampering Southwestern who was soon pulled up.
Turning in, Baby Run still led from Kilty Storm, Reach For The Top and Turthern. All the horses were tired, the race having been run at a frenetic pace but, despite this, Baby Run managed to retain the advantage over his pursuers and went on to win by 5 lengths from Kilty Storm. Baby Run was, however, pricking his ears as he approached the line, which might suggest he was still saving a little bit for himself! Robbers Glen, staying on through beaten horses, finished 6th.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, appeared and walked proudly along the horse-walk to greet his victorious son. Nigel confessed that this win meant the most to him, because his son was on board the winning horse. It was also my highlight of the day.
The Stewards interviewed Sam Twiston-Davies regarding his excessive use of the whip from approaching the last fence to the line and, having interviewed him, he received a 4-day suspension.
I decided to pay a brief visit to the Parade Ring, as the crowds had begun to disperse, before returning to the course-side rails to view the next event.
Alan King had two runners in this Conditional Jockeys’ event – Saticon ridden by Gerard Tumelty, and Balzaccio ridden by Charlie Huxley. Martin Keighley ran Love Of Tara ridden by Tom Molloy.
The start of this race was in the centre course chute.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Sarando. In rear, C’est Ca fell at the first flight, bringing down Shore Thing. Having travelled around the far bend and into the straight, Lord Generous and Quentin Collonges came to join Sarando at the head of affairs as they cleared the third flight. Just behind were Peveril and Pause And Clause; Saticon was in mid-field, Balzaccio and Love Of Tara towards the rear.
Meath All Star made an error at the fourth flight. As the runners headed away from the stands, Saticon had made progress and was now clearly visible behind the leaders. Balthazar King and Fairyland departed independently at the 5th flight, hampering On Borrowed Wings and Larkwing. Sadly the mare, Fairyland, broke a leg in the fall and had to be put down.
As the runners approached the far corner of the track, Quentin Collonges and Lord Generous were disputing the lead, with Sarando close up in 3rd, then Pause And Clause, Peveril, Born Again, Saticon, Radium and Ashkazar.
Turning in, Pause And Clause on the wide outside held a narrow advantage over Lord Generous, the former soon drawing clear under pressure to win by 3¼ lengths. Radium, although stumbling slightly after the last, stayed on to take 2nd, with Clova Island in 3rd and Peveril in 4th.
Saticon completed in 9th, Balzaccio in 16th, and Love Of Tara in 18th, although the latter lost a front horseshoe on the way to the start and was also found to be in season following the race, which explained her disappointing run.
As the weather was seriously wet by this stage, and the crowds had definitely dispersed, again I returned to the Parade Ring, this time to see Choc arrive prior to his ride in the final race of the Festival. Choc’s mount in this event was the Tom George trained Tartak. Tom’s then stable jockey, Sam Thomas, was sidelined before, during and after the Festival due to a neck injury.
The ground description had now been changed to ‘soft’, and there were 2 more non-runners. Richard Johnson replaced Seamus Durack aboard the Richard Lee trained Fighting Chance, his original mount being one of the now 5 non-runners.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with just over one circuit to travel. This being the case, the horses cantered up the all-weather track in front of the stands before heading down to the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Fighting Chance, with Tartak and Moon Over Miami prominent. In rear, Beggars Cap was pulled up having jumped the second obstacle.
Fighting Chance blundered at the fourth and relinquished the lead to Moon Over Miami. This pair was followed by Tartak, Nikola, Oiseau De Nuit, Consigliere, and French Opera. In rear were Pigeon Island and Russian Flag.
Heading down the back straight, Moon Over Miami led until the 7th (the open-ditch), at which Fighting Chance blundered and lost his prominent position. Oiseau De Nuit had now taken up the running, along with Choc aboard Tartak. You’re The Top blundered badly at the 9th, never recovered, pulling up before 2 out. Lennon, in mid-field, made a mistake at the 10th and soon weakened.
French Opera took up the challenge after the 10th, with Tartak to his outside, Oiseau De Nuit now dropping out. Having made progress, Nomecheki came to press the leaders but weakened coming into the home straight. French Opera led around the final bend, and close behind were Consigliere, Tartak and Cornas.
However, the race was far from over, as Pigeon Island was making rapid progress as the leaders started to tire and, under an inspired ride from Gold Cup winning jockey Paddy Brennan, took the lead 150 yards from the line, winning by 1¼ lengths. French Opera finished 2nd, Consigliere 3rd, Cornas 4th and Tartak 5th.
It was Pigeon Island’s first triumph over the larger obstacles and a demonstration of ‘race-winning’ confidence from Paddy Brennan, as his mount hadn’t been travelling well for much of the race.
Oh dear, another Festival ends in disappointment for Choc ... with no winners again this year. However, Richard Johnson returned from 2 years in the ‘wilderness’ having ridden two winners during the course of this Festival, so hopefully Choc will return to winning ways next year too.
The disappointing season had also continued for Alan King, with Choc’s retaining stable having had no winners (or placed horses either) during this year’s Festival, apart from the runner-up in the Ladies’ Charity Race! And even luck was not on their side either ... Bensalem’s fall on Tuesday; Manyriverstocross getting seriously hampered on Wednesday; and possibly their best hope, Mille Chief, not even making the line-up in the Triumph Hurdle due to injury.
The last race of the Festival having been completed, I returned for a final time to the Winners’ Enclosure/Parade Ring area.
Following the awarding of prizes to Pigeon Island’s connections, it was then time for the Thomas Pink sponsored Leading Rider and Leading Trainer Awards to be presented.
The top jockey award was presented to Ruby Walsh, who rode three winners, two seconds, and two fourth placed horses, runner-up Barry Geraghty also rode three winners, but only had two thirds, and one fourth.
The top trainer was Nicky Henderson with three winners, four seconds, two thirds, and three fourths. Runner-up Nigel Twiston-Davies also trained three winners, but had just one second, and one fourth.
Having remained by the Parade Ring to watch the final presentations, I then set off for the car park. I confess that I hate pushing out into a queue, as I’d had to do on the first three days of the Festival, so I waited until most of the traffic had dispersed. However, that meant that I didn’t leave the car park until 19:05! I was permitted to turn left outside the gate but still ended up taking the Evesham Road into town, as traffic was blocking the roundabout located outside the main entrance. I was able to re-join my usual route – Clarence Road, Winchcombe Street, Fairview Road, St John’s Avenue, and Albion Street. However, as there was a very slow moving queue to join the A40, I decided to cut through to Hewlett Road, and head for the ‘long-about’, turning right onto Hales Road to reach the main road (A40) out of Cheltenham.
It rained all the way home, and it was especially difficult to see when driving along the A40 over the Cotswolds. I dreaded meeting any large vehicles travelling in the opposite direction, as they sprayed my windscreen so that I was ‘blind’ for a second or two.
By the time I reached Aylesbury I was completely drained, and feeling ‘removed’ or ‘distant’ from my surroundings. Anyway, I remained on ‘auto-pilot’ for the remainder of my trip. Having travelled via the A41 bypass, today I exited at the Boxmoor junction and headed for Hemel Hempstead’s infamous ‘Magic Roundabout’ (six mini-roundabouts around one large roundabout, so that you can chose to go clockwise or anti-clockwise). There had been a road accident on the outskirts of St Albans, as vehicles were pulled to the side of the road, and police cars and an ambulance were in attendance. But fortunately the road wasn’t blocked, so I was able to avoid a delay.
I reached home at 21:50. Having eaten a quick snack, I decided to retire to bed, as I was too tired to log on to my laptop. Besides, each Friday the ‘Security Virus Checker’ automatically does a scan of all my files and, because there are now so many on the disk, it takes over 2 hours to complete. And I had absolutely no intention of staying up until gone midnight!!!