DIARY – CHELTENHAM
– SATURDAY 29 JANUARY 2011
Choc unsaddles Bakbenscher,
having finished 3rd in the Grade 3 Handicap Chase
Today was my first trip to Cheltenham since Festival Gold Cup Day last season. I’d taken the previous Wednesday as leave, as I was still using up holiday from 2010, with perhaps the possibility of visiting Huntingdon races. However, I had set my heart on going to Cheltenham Trials Day and I couldn’t afford the time to do both, as I already neglect more than I should to pursue my hobby! So Cheltenham Trials Day it would be.
The weather, having been mild for the past few weeks, grew colder towards the weekend; and eventually a precautionary inspection would be called for 08:45 on Saturday morning, with Cheltenham racecourse having already covered the ‘New Course’ to hopefully prevent abandonment.
I set my alarm for 05:30, showered, washed and dried my hair, applied make-up, ate breakfast (croissants today), and was ready to go before I tuned into Channel 4’s ‘new look’ The Morning Line (Kim Bailey was their guest), which began at 07:55. When interviewed prior to the inspection, Simon Claisse Clerk of the Course thought that the chances of racing were 75% in favour. Just before the end of the programme, following the inspection, the verdict was an 80% chance, with a further inspection called for 10:45.
Damn. What should I do? My original thought had been that should Cheltenham pass its initial inspection, then I would go; but if a further inspection were to take place later in the morning, then by the time the ‘all clear’ was given, it would be too late as I’d run out of time to reach the course before racing started. 80% ... was that good odds I asked myself? Well, I was ‘packed’ and ready to go ... what did I have to lose, apart from money spent on petrol? So a decision was made to attend.
Just for the record, my outfit today consisted of a long sleeved thermal vest, sleeve-less thermal vest, black jumper, turquoise tunic, purple fleece, purple cardigan, turquoise gilet, viridian outerwear fleece and long black faux sheepskin coat. Plus grey treggings, with turquoise woolley tights underneath, and my long brown lace-up boots together with long socks. Evidently it is a scientific fact that women feel the cold more than men. More And, today, I wore my Glamour Red ‘Snowball’ scarf.
I thus set off from home at 09:00, taking the quickest route rather than my preferred ‘scenic’ route via Aylesbury and Bicester. My journey took me from Junction 21A of the M25 around to the M40, which I reached at 09:30. I then headed westwards along the M40, leaving at junction 8 and taking the bypass around Oxford. It was now 10:00. My route then continued along the A40, across the Cotswolds to Cheltenham, the outskirts of which I reached just before 11:00. Although I love to drive this route across the Cotswolds when its daylight, I simply hate it after dark as it is so difficult to see where you are going because the road is just too busy to use undipped headlights for any length of time.
There were traffic holdups at the 5-way Ryeworth junction, and again where the A435 Cirencester Road joins from the left. It’s one of the things I’ve noticed in Cheltenham, many of their road junction traffic signals have more than 2 phases, thus delaying journeys. I took my usual route to the course, turning right into Hales Road, negotiating the ‘longabout’ and forward onto Priors Road. Raceday traffic is then directed to turn right along Bouncers Lane; the mini-roundabout at the far end is often busy due to the number of vehicles coming from the direction of Prestbury High Street.
Having safely negotiated the junction, I headed along New Barn Lane, deciding to park in the first car park on the right; although this is not advisable during the Festival due to the number of coaches therein. There weren’t too many coaches today and, as I was still early, I was directed to park in the second line of vehicles. I then ate a brief snack before setting off to buy a ticket.
It transpired that raceday tickets were being sold from a kiosk situated on the bridge above the horsewalk tunnel; the underpass enables the racehorses to travel from the stables to the saddling boxes in safety and without coming into contact with the public. Having purchased my ticket (£25 today), I entered the southern entrance of the Centaur building, went through the turnstiles and onto the main concourse. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, I made a quick diversion to the ladies loos, before heading to the kiosk to purchase a racecard (£3). I then went to sit beside the Parade Ring.
Obviously Cheltenham had passed its second inspection; however, Doncaster wasn’t so fortunate, as the second day of their meeting had been abandoned. Evidently following Friday’s card, the course workers had failed to get the covers back in position before temperatures dropped; reportedly there being only 20 people to move the covers.
Unfortunately the seats around the Parade Ring are so low that the view across it is obscured by the surrounding rails. So, when at 12:30 Choc came out of the Weighing Room to be interviewed, by a team of people unknown to me (it wasn’t Racing UK), I almost missed him. However, I did glance across and although I could only see the top of his head, I recognised his mannerism of running his fingers through his hair!
In order to get a better view I had to leave my current position, and head around the top of the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure. Unfortunately it was a very brief interview, as by the time I’d got a better view, he was signing autographs and having his photograph taken with a number of punters nearby. He then returned to the Weighing Room; and I’d missed the opportunity to take a photograph for my website.
Soon it was time for the first race of the day; Alan King’s Smad Place not being able to take up this opportunity to run due to a bad scope earlier in the week; this took a lot of interest from this race.
To preserve the ground, all the runners in all the races would go directly to the start, utilising the all-weather tracks, instead of cantering up in front of the stands before heading down the course initially on the grass.
As the starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, the horses turned left upon exiting the walkway and cantered down the all-weather track to reach the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away Akula and, almost upsides, the very keen Third Intention; these were tracked by Mark Twain, Indian Daudaie, and Local Hero; in rear were the also keen Maoi Chinn Tire and the grey Lapin Garou.
As the field progressed up the straight, Akula and Third Intention shared the running, followed by Mark Twain, Indian Daudaie, Local Hero, Lapin Garou, with Maoi Chinn Tire now relegated to the last position.
Akula remained in the lead down the side of the track; Local Hero stepping through fifth flight. Having gone a steady gallop, the field was still closely grouped as it reached the far end of the course, with Local Hero now taking closer order following his error. The first horses to struggle were Mark Twain and Lapin Garou.
Third Intention led the field into the final straight, from Akula, Indian Daudaie and Local Hero. AP McCoy drove the latter up the inside and took the final flight just ahead, but was slightly awkward at it; Third Intention then finding a little more to retake the lead. However, AP was not to be denied and he drove out his mount to win by 2 lengths on the line. Indian Daudaie finished 3rd; Akula, having flattened the last, finished 4th.
When interviewed following the race, trainer Steve Gollings said he hoped to run Local Hero in the Triumph Hurdle, and wanted AP McCoy to ride the horse.
Soon it was time for Choc’s first ride of the day, which would be aboard the Alan King trained Ravethebrave. I have to confess that, before today, I’d never noticed Choc when he’s been waiting inside the Cheltenham Weighing Room for his trainer to arrive, having weighed out; but today I did. But it might be because his colours for this race were easily distinguishable, the body being bold red stripes on a white background.
Disappointingly, Martin Keighley’s runner in this race, Ikorudo Road, was a non-runner; in is blog his trainer described him as ‘footsore’ when explaining why he had missed the race. However, the horse did feature in the ‘What’s In a Name’ section of the race-card. His namesake, Ikorudo Road, is situated in the Nigerian state of Lagos in the south west of the African country. The 13-mile long road is infamous to all Nigerians because of the traffic problems associated with the road, motorists often taking two hours to complete the shortest of journeys during the morning ‘rush hour’ which begins at 06:30 and lasts until mid-morning.
Once Choc was aboard his horse, I set off to find a position beside the course-side rails. When Choc exited the walkway, he initially missed the gap in the far rails, his horse cantering a short distance up the course before turning and walking back to find the start of the all-weather track around the top turn.
The start of this race was in the mid-course spur.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Misstree Dancer, Diamond Brook and Pearlysteps. One of the runners, between two others at the back of the field, was keen, over-jumped at the first, and failed to get its undercarriage down in time. The jockey fired over its head and, tightly curled, somersaulted along the ground. It was Choc ... but fortunately both Ravethebrave and he were quickly to their feet.
I just couldn’t believe it; this was his fourth mishap in 5 days.
But back to the race, which had now lost much of its interest for me ... Around the far turn Misstree Dancer led the way, followed by Diamond Brook, Cootehill, Pearlysteps, Vino Griego, Shakalakaboomboom, with The Giant Bolster in rear.
At the back of the field, Shakalakaboomboom wasn’t fluent at the sixth; Vino Griego hit the seventh fence. Heading away from the stands with one circuit to go, the field was tightly grouped. The loose Ravethebrave, having initially followed the field, ran up the straight and continued to the line, the grandstand crowd jeering as he passed by. Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells set off up the track to catch him.
By the tenth fence, the first open ditch, The Giant Bolster was being ridden along; however he did begin to make steady progress. Cootehill, who had been sharing the lead with Misstree Dancer, jumped the 12th obstacle slowly (second open ditch) and lost his place. Diamond Brook having hit both the 13th fence, and the next, dropped out.
Having appeared to be badly outpaced as the field progressed down the hill, The Giant Bolster, began to stay on. Misstree Dancer still led narrowly from Vino Griego; the latter pitching on landing over the third last. The mare led around the final turn, but Vino Griego went on when she pecked at the penultimate fence.
However, having taken third position as the field approached the second last, The Giant Bolster came to challenge Vino Griego over the last, and was driven out to win by 2¼ lengths. A win for local trainer and ex-jockey David Bridgwater.
The landrover had stopped to pick Choc up and drove him back to the infield emergency vehicle parking area, where he was dropped off and he crossed the track to exit via the horse walk. I saw him approaching and, as I was nearby, went across to enquire if he was okay. Yes, fine. Not a good week I said; he agreed. But I wished him better luck for the remainder of the afternoon.
To put his bad week in prospective – he’d been unseated from Invictus at Leicester on Tuesday having lost a stirrup iron when galloping between the last two flights. He’d looked certain to win at the time, and described it as one of the most embarrassing incidents of his career. On Wednesday, when riding Araldur, he’d been beaten a neck by a 66-1 shot at Huntingdon; and later in the afternoon received a one day suspension for careless riding. He had a fall on Thursday at Warwick; and another at Fontwell on Friday, when Raya Star had also looked like winning. And Batonnier had run very disappointingly at Fontwell too. And now Ravethebrave had fallen at the first.
I returned to the Parade Ring to await the horses ahead of the next race.
Once the runners started to exit the Paddock I headed for the course-side rails, and was in time to see Choc and Bakbenscher exit the walkway, canter across the course to reach the all-weather track around the top bend.
The start of this race was in the mid-course spur.
Then they were off. The field was led away by confirmed front runner Little Josh, today ridden by Paddy Brennan. Followed by Buffalo Bob, The Sawyer, and Noland; at the back were the two greys, Chapoturgeon and Bakbenscher. Choc’s mount reached for the third fence, going through the top of it. Choc went to the buckle end of the reins and momentarily lost his balance; but survived. Another scary moment!
As the field turned into the home straight for the first occasion, Little Josh still led, followed by Buffalo Bob, Wishfull Thinking, The Sawyer, Calgary Bay, and Noland. Although at the rear of the field as they crossed the junction with the new course, Timmy Murphy glanced behind him, his mount suddenly veering to the left and jumping the next close to the inside rail. Going away from the stands, Noland wasn’t travelling particularly well. Bakbenscher was now three from the back of the field.
Atouchbetweenacara clouted the first fence down the side of the course, losing his hind-legs on landing, making it impossible for Aidan Coleman to remain aboard. Soon Timmy Murphy began to encourage his mount to take closer order; Chapoturgeon definitely has a mind of his own, the commentator describing the horse as mercurial (ie. changeable and fickle).
At the top of the hill, 4 from home, Wishfull Thinking had assumed the lead, from Calgary Bay, with Little Josh dropping back; Baksbenscher in 4th was a little awkward at this fence, and Buffalo Bob made a more serious error.
Around the final bend, Wishfull Thinking led them in, from Calgary Bay, Bakbenscher, Little Josh and Chapoturgeon; the former retaining the lead over the last. Calgary Bay cleared the fence in second; Choc’s mount skewed as he jumped the last, stumbled, leaving his rider hanging onto his neck. However, my favourite jockey made a miraculous recovery and had retained his third position to the line. Wishfull Thinking having won by 3½ lengths from Calgary Bay. The Sawyer was 4th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back, unsaddle and speak with connections.
I got the feeling that Choc was now resigned to the fact that his incident packed week was continuing, and was just pleased to have survived during his ride aboard Baksbenscher. And, still being a superstitious soul, yesterday he’d thrown away the new breeches he’d been wearing all week in an effort to improve his fortune!
Having taken a number of photographs when Choc was in the Winners’ Enclosure, I realised that the memory card in my camera was almost full. So, once Choc had returned to the Weighing Room, I headed for the front lawn, where I found a bench to sit upon, and replaced it with the spare one I carry in case of emergencies. It was a little difficult, being fiddly, and because my hands were cold. Later in the afternoon I needed to swap the camera battery too, for the charged spare I carry in my bag.
I remained on the lawn to wait for the horses to appear, which they did in due course. The five competitors cantering to a point halfway down the all-weather track before exiting onto the course.
The start of this race was in the home straight, between the nearest two steeplechase fences.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the grey Neptune Collonges, ridden by AP McCoy, from The Tother One, the favourite Punchestowns along the inside, then the enigmatic Tidal Bay, and bringing up the rear Madison Du Berlais.
Turning down the side of the course on the first occasion, Neptune Collonges had a clear lead over the field; followed by a group of three, with Madison Du Berlais a further few lengths away at the back of the field. The Tother One got close to the third obstacle, the water jump.
The leading four runners closed up, Madison Du Berlais still slightly trailing the group. Punchestown went into second from the 5th; retaining this position but not fluent at the 8th. Down the hill for the first time, Neptune Collonges once more set up a clear led.
Up the home straight with one circuit to go, the order was still Neptune Collonges, Punchestowns, The Tother One, Tidal Bay and Madison Du Berlais; Barry Geraghty taking his horse wide.
As the field again travelled down the side of the track, Tidal Bay’s jockey, Brian Hughes, patted his mount’s neck and pulled its ear too, to keep him sweet. Punchestowns wasn’t fluent at the water (13th); Tidal Bay a little slow at the next; the former also blundering at the 15th. The Tother One made a slight error 4 out when in third.
As they headed downhill for the final time, AP McCoy’s mount still held the advantage, Punchestowns in second but he pecked 3 out. Finally, Tidal Bay decided it was time to run on, and he went second approaching the penultimate fence. Neptune Collonges cleared the last and headed for the line, his pursuer gaining all the time, but the challenge was too late, and AP McCoy’s mount won by 1¼ length.
Neptune Collonges is owned by John Hales and his daughter. Mr Hales, an entrepreneur whose company, Golden Bear, produces toys (including the Teletubbies), owned One Man, and Granit Jack; the former lost his life at Aintree late in his career, the latter died at Cheltenham as a novice.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
It was then time for Choc’s third ride of the afternoon, aboard the Alan King trained Habbie Simpson. Once the horses began exiting the Parade Ring, I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails. The competitors headed across the course and cantered up around the bend on the all-weather track.
The start of this race was in the mid-course spur.
Then they were off, or rather sauntering! The field was led away, reluctantly, by Bobs Worth and Backspin; Ohio Gold soon grasping the initiative and taking up the running. Prominent were Drive Time, Brunswick Gold, Habbie Simpson and Rock On Ruby.
Ohio Gold flattened the third; Champion Court jinked slightly on the approach to it. Drive Time had assumed a very narrow lead by the fourth flight; the early leader now in second. Turning away from the stands with one circuit to go, the field was closely grouped; the grey Rose Of The Moon bringing up the rear.
Leader, Drive Time hit the fifth, and was headed by Backspin at the sixth when making another mistake. Sivola De Sivola flattened the seventh; Ohio Gold lost its place when hitting the next.
Around the far turn, Champion Court ran unintentionally wide, pushing Bobs Worth to the outside too. Backspin held the lead as they travelled down the hill, Rock On Ruby flattened two out when prominent, with Habbie Simpson just in behind. Drive Time was pulled up.
Turning in, Bobs Worth and Backspin disputed the lead, followed by Rock On Ruby and Habbie Simpson. Bobs Worth led over the last; Rock On Ruby coming to challenge between Bobs Worth and Backspin. Barry Geraghty’s mount was driven out to hold Rock On Ruby by 2¼ lengths at the line. The latter’s jockey, Harry Skelton, had lost his whip halfway up the run-in when swapping it to his other hand; but it didn’t make a difference to the result. Habbie Simpson overtook Backspin on the run-in; just holding AP’s rallying mount as they approached the line.
Barry Geraghty had purchased Bobs Worth as a foal and had sold him on for a mere £20,000 I believe. The owner appears to have got a bargain!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Habbie Simpson arrive back. He unsaddled and spoke with connections before returning to the Weighing Room.
It was soon time for the penultimate race of the day. Choc would be riding Bensalem in this event; the horse reverting to hurdles and returning to the racecourse after an extended period due to illness. Martin Keighley decided to withdraw Benbane Head from the next race due to the tacky ground.
Once the competitors had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point beside the rails. The horses cantered across the straight, and up around the all-weather track to reach the starting gate.
The start of this race was at the beginning of side/back straight.
Then they were off. Fair Along set off at the head of affairs, the horse having to be led in at the start; followed by Knockara Beau and Restless Harry. Kayf Aramis was wide on the course, as was Spirit River and Cristal Bonus. Choc took an inside line aboard Bensalem, mid-field; Sweet Seville and the greys, Arcalis and Grands Crus, were in rear, the latter extremely keen and soon pulling his way up through the field. Kayf Aramis made an error at the third flight.
As the field galloped down the hill for the first time, Kayf Aramis and his companions still ran wide. Gwanako was on the inside, along with Bensalem and Mobaasher. Into the straight, Sweet Seville was struggling in rear and would be pulled up. As they turned away from the stands with one circuit to go, Knockara Beau had now assumed the lead, from Fair Along, then came Restless Harry, Gwanako, Hills of Aran, Bensalem, Spirit River, Kayf Aramis, and a still keen Grands Crus; the latter ‘weaving’ as his jockey Tom Scudamore tried to restrain him. Organisateur and Cristal Bonus were now in rear.
Choc moved Bensalem off the rails as they travelled down the side of the course. By the top of the hill, a group of 8 horses had pulled away from the remaining runners; Knockara Beau leading from Fair Along, Grands Crus travelling noticeably well, with Bensalem and Restless Harry to the fore.
Grands Crus cruised into the lead around the final turn, Knockara Beau in pursuit; Bensalem in third. The grey sailed over the last and went on to win by 10 lengths from Knockara Beau. After his long absence due to illness, Choc’s mount began to tire as they approached the last, losing third to Restless Harry and fourth place to Mobaasher on the run-in; but a close 5th was a very encouraging run.
The winner sported the same colours as Madison Du Berlais. When interviewed after the race, trainer David Pipe said that the change of tactics aboard Grands Crus, whereby the horse no longer makes the running, has certainly paid dividends in recent runs. He said the horse is very laid back in his stable, and even on the way to the gallops but, once there, he’s a nightmare as he’s so difficult to ‘hold’ and he just bolts, Gerry Supple rides the horse at home.
It would be good if the horse could make a race of it with Big Buck’s at the Festival in March; the runners-up in 2009 and 2010, Punchestowns and Time For Rupert, have been talented but have also been sitting ducks for Big Buck’s’ style of running. Obviously Grands Crus is a very talented ‘hold-up’ horse too, and gets every inch of the 3 mile trip.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
Soon it was time for the final race of the day. Choc would be riding Gilded Age, who was wearing first time blinkers; presumably hoping to rejuvenate the horse to something like the form which saw him finish 6th in last season’s Triumph Hurdle.
As the start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, the horses turned left upon exiting the walkway and cantered down the all-weather track to reach the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Cockney Trucker, followed by Tanks For That, Art Professor and Fushe Joe. Aather and Alarazi were restrained; but the keen running Dream Esteem soon pulled his way up into third. Choc was in 6th place when clearing the second flight.
Down the side of the course; Tanks for That was travelling wide and held a narrow lead, Aather also wide was impeded slightly when Alarazi jumped to the right at the fourth flight. Gilded Age was soon struggling, losing his place after the fifth. Fushe Jo travelling mid-field was pulled up, but it appeared to be solely unsoundness rather than something catastrophic.
Over the second last, the order was Dream Esteem, Art Professor, Tanks For That, Eradicate, Cockney Trucker, Alarazi, Cunning Clarets, Aather and Secret Dancer.
Dream Esteem and Art Professor contested the lead around the final bend; the latter soon sent on. However, Alarazi came to challenge and briefly headed Art Professor, but Aidan Coleman’s mount fought back and the decision at the line was on the nod. Art Professor getting the verdict by a short-head.
Choc had pulled up Gilded Age before the 6th. Having seen the horses gallop by, I knew Choc’s mount wasn’t with them, and in the distance I could see that one horse was leisurely making its way back. The plastic rails opposite the horse-walk were pushed back into their housing, and Choc was directed towards the ensuing gap in the fence to begin his journey back to the unsaddling area for unplaced horses.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back, whilst watching for Choc to return to the Weighing Room. When it was time for the prizes to be awarded, it was noticeable that winning jockey Aiden Coleman was lame; was it as a result of his fall from Atouchbetweenacara earlier in the afternoon, or due to the fact that Art Professor collided briefly with the rail on the run-in?
Having now had my final glimpse of Choc, it was time to go home. I set off up the concourse, and out through the main gates, turning left along the pathway behind the stables to reach the car park.
Vehicles were already queuing to leave so, having stripped off my coat, outerwear fleece and gilet, and changed into my moccasins, I ate another brief snack, and waited for the traffic to clear, which is did just after 17:00. As I drove out of the car park, a number of horses which were entered in the sale that evening were being led around the yard to my left.
There were no traffic problems on the road outside the course, and my route was clear until I reached Hales Road, whereupon it took quite some time to reach the A40 due to the traffic queuing to get through the traffic lights at the junction. And it doesn’t help that the traffic lights are 3-phase! Traffic was also queued back from the next set of traffic lights, where the Cirencester Road heads off to the right. And, of course, there was another tailback from the 5-phase traffic lights at the far end of the parade of shops.
However, as is always the case, once through these junctions, the route through Charlton Kings and onwards towards the Cotswolds escarpment is always clear. It was now 17:30. I have to admit that I did ‘lose touch’ with the vehicles in front of me as I drove up the hill; however, I soon found myself stuck behind a car travelling at a mere 45 mph! But at least it gave me tail lights to follow, although two or three cars did decide to overtake, despite it being impossible to see if there were vehicles coming from the opposite direction. But I put that down to the fact that research has shown that 1 in 6 drivers isn’t intelligent enough to drive ... but, fortunately, it’s not me!
Anyway, I found myself behind this slow moving car all the way to the dual carriageway which begins just to the east of Burford. Talking of Burford, one of our Sales Managers originates from the town, but he now lives on Canvey Island. That’s a bit of a comedown, as I know where I’d rather live!
Having reached the dual carriageway I set sail for home, very quickly leaving the slow car behind. My journey, once again, took me along the Oxford bypass and onto the M40, followed by the M25. It was 19:20 by the time I reached the outskirts of St Albans, and I decided to stop off to fill my car with petrol at the filling station on the local retail park before completing my journey. I arrived home at 19:30.
Just time to update my daily blog and upload and select the photos for my website before turning in for the evening.