DIARY – CHELTENHAM
SHOWCASE MEETING – DAY 2 – PART I
SATURDAY 19 OCTOBER 2013
Choc and Handazan return to the Winners’ Enclosure
having finished 3rd in the Class 2 Hurdle race
Having enjoyed my first ever trip to the Cheltenham Showcase fixture last year, I was keen to go again this year. And it would be my first trip to the races since Grand National day in early April; but that was because Choc had been on the injury sidelines until 17 September, having suffered a broken upper right arm (again) and spinal damage as a result of a fall at Southwell in early March. However I had seen, and spoken to, Choc at both the Heythrop Summer Fair in late June, and at Martin Keighley’s Owners’ Day at the end of September.
My friend Lesley had accompanied me to this Cheltenham meeting in 2012, but this year she had already booked concert tickets for the evening of 19 October so I was out of luck as regards a companion to accompany me to Gloucestershire. But the month is not too late in the year to venture out alone for this long distance journey, so this is what I decided to do this year. And, of course, the main incentive was that Choc had four rides booked and, as it turned out, a fifth in the last race of the day which I’d overlooked when I checked the racecard on the day before my trip!
I’d booked the Friday as a day’s leave from work, so this afforded me the opportunity to watch the first day of the fixture on TV and also to plan my wardrobe for the weekend. As I prefer to dress up rather than dress down for the races, I planned to wear my mauve BHS jacket, Dottie P (Dorothy Perkins) grey/black dogtooth check peplum hem skirt, cerise pink frill hem ribbed cardigan, purple tights and black wedge moccasin shoes.
And, although the weather was particularly mild at the time, a black M & S vest, violet long-sleeved thermal vest, purple fleece and black fleece gillet. Plus an M & S material scarf in shades of pink and purples. I even popped my wristwarmers in my capacious black handbag although, of course, I didn’t need them as it turned out! My choice of necklace was the pinky/mauve tree pendant necklace purchased from Fired Creations.
The first race today was due off at 14:00, with gates opening at noon. So, by my calculations, I could leave home between 09:15 and 09:30 and would arrive at the racecourse just before opening time. This being the case, I awoke at my usual time of 06:40, showered and washed and dried my hair, before eating a breakfast of two slices of buttered toast plus two croissants. Having applied my makeup I was soon ready to go, departing at 09:30.
My route took me along the local ring-road, where there must have been a fault with the lights at one of the pelican crossings, because at short intervals the signals regularly changed to red for the approaching traffic despite there being no pedestrians in sight! I had decided to take the scenic route to Cheltenham today, in other words avoid the M25 and M40 motorways – I’d save that pleasure for the homeward journey.
This being the case my journey took me to Hemel Hempstead, where roads had been re-surfaced since my trips to Cheltenham in March. Having descended the hill to the ‘Magic Roundabout’, I headed along Two Waters Way to join the westbound carriageway of the A41, having been delayed enroute at the traffic lighted junction with the London Road.
There was no sign of my favourite cows, the Belted Galloways which can frequently be seen in the fields at Boxmoor. Although the roads and paths had been wet at home, it had not been raining; however, as the A41 bypass travelled through the Chiltern Hills near Berkhamsted and Tring, it became damp and also misty. Conditions improved as I approached Aylesbury. There were ongoing road works at the Broughton Lane junction with the A41; it appears that a ‘longabout’ is being constructed to replace the two exsting mini-roundabouts.
The Buckinghamshire road planners had been busy as, further along the road, where two mini-roundabouts used to exist, the second of which allowed entry onto the ring-road, two sets of traffic lights had been installed instead. And it took ages to clear this junction when compared to previously, because many vehicles were exiting the town and thus prevented a quick right turn until the filter light showed. It always amazes me the degree of stupidity which road planners demonstrate!
The traffic on the ring-road was fairly light, despite it being mid-morning Saturday. Having reached the A41 once more, I took a right turn at the roundabout and headed out of town. I could hear the siren of an emergency vehicle and saw an ambulance in my rear view mirror but, having pulled over to the side of the road to let it pass, all it did was do a 180 degree turn around one of the roundabouts and head back in the same direction from whence it came! Weird.
Having negotiated the junctions to the west of town close to Aylesbury Vale Parkway station, I then headed to Waddesdon. Fortunately there were no slow moving vehicles in front of me and I was able to travel at between 55 to 60 mph for the next section of the journey. Having passed under the railway bridge just before Bicester, I did encounter one really bad driver who decided to pull out onto the A41 road from a nearside turning without stopping, despite vehicles travelling at speed towards him. He then ‘hung off’ the bumper of the vehicle in front of me as we entered the town’s bypass. On closer inspection the car appeared to be carrying five teenagers – no surprise there then – and it won’t be a surprise either if someone gets killed through careless driving.
Having driven along the Bicester bypass, which runs along the side of the Shopping Village, I turned left at the far end and headed towards Oxford. I noticed the irresponsible driver pull out to overtake a vehicle, once more travelling far too close to the car in front of it. I stayed well clear of the idiot.
Upon reaching the junction with the M40 I noticed there were warning signs relating to delays on the eastbound carriageway; fortunately my route would take me down the A34 to reach the Peartree Interchange, where I headed down the slip-road to reach the roundabout beneath. There were numerous vehicles negotiating this and I had to wait a minute or two until there was a gap in the flow before joining the dual carriageway which took me down to the A40 where I turned right in order to head across the Cotswolds to Cheltenham.
At this point my sciatica began to bother me a little, a dull ache caused by sitting down for too long; it happens at work too, when I’m sat at my desk for long periods. It all dates back to last winter when I scrambled across my bed to close the curtains ... and I’ve been suffering intermittently ever since; although the pain when I walk had disappeared during the past few weeks.
Shortly after the roundabout, the A40 passes below the A34 and I noticed a tailback of traffic had formed on the latter road. A little further along, there were a number of deserted cars parked upon the grass verge, also a policecar. A police van also did a u-turn in the middle of the road further along still, perhaps the cars belonged to people hunting illegally or the like.
Having driven through the first set of traffic lights, I arrived at the roundabout near Eynsham; I was a little perturbed to see one magpie fly up into the air in front of me as I entered the next section of road. My first magpie of the day ... I needed to see another one now to ensure the day would be lucky, rather than unlucky. Needless to say I didn’t, and it probably wasn’t a good thing to be a little distracted, initially, noticing birds as they flew across the sky in front of me instead of paying total attention to the road ahead!
The next section of the road is the dual carriageway of the Witney bypass; I kept my speed below 60 mph for most of its distance, as I didn’t wish to burn up fuel just for the sake of it. I was overtaken by a coach at one point and remained just a few vehicles behind it. Upon reaching the ‘Minster Lovell’ roundabout, I continued along the A40 as it heads along a ridge to Burford; this is the bleakest part of the route. There’s always one impatient and crazy driver, and today they were a few vehicles ahead; overtaking on a section of road where, surely, they couldn’t see oncoming traffic clearly. And it must have been the same vehicle which carried out another dangerous overtaking manoeurve beyond Burford too.
The stretch of route either side of the roundabout at the crossing of the Stow/Cirencester road has been resurfaced since the Cheltenham Festival and is a pleasure to drive upon once more. I recall the potholes were an absolute nightmare and very difficult to avoid, especially in the dark, during my trips in March. I knew the resurfacing work had been carried out as, following the Heythrop Summer Fair, I’d returned via the westbound A40 before heading to Stow. Just one vehicle to disrupt my negotiation of the aforementioned roundabout, a lady from Stow who did a 360 degree turn and headed back the same way she’d come!
The next landmark is the Puesdown Inn, soon after which the road descends the Cotswold escarpment, a short section of dual carriageway permitting vehicles to overtake if required before reaching the traffic lights at the Gloucester turning. The road then bypasses Andoversford and descends again, winding its way past the Dowdeswell Reservoir and entering Charlton Kings, a suburb of Cheltenham.
As it was fast approaching noon, I decided to take a right turn at the Six Ways junction and travel up Greenway Lane in order to avoid any traffic congestion around the Hales Road traffic lights. Having negotiated the two traffic calming chicanes, I turned left into Harp Hill and descended to the ‘longabout’. There were a number of vehicles heading from my right, so it took a few moments before the traffic cleared and I was able to enter Priors Road. Raceday traffic is then routed along Bouncers Lane, today the queue stretched all of the way back to the pelican crossing. It’s not usually that bad, even late rush-hour on a Festival Day.
Eventually I reached the double mini-roundabouts on the B4632 and, having negotiated these, I drove into Tatchley Lane. It’s often a tight squeeze due to the wall of a nearby house being roadside and today was no different, with a selfish 4x4 driver taking up more than their fair share of the roadway. It always annoys me when drivers of 4x4s encroach onto the opposite carriageway, making it difficult for vehicles heading in the other direction.
Upon reaching the roundabout situated outside the main racecourse entrance, I drove across and entered Swindon Lane, around 100 yards later a right turn took me into the bottom field of the car park. It’s home from home these days, as on the majority of Festival Days I park in the lower field. It was then deja vu as I stalled my car as I was about to drive onto the grass to park ... exactly the same thing happened last year ... wrong gear! Doh! I parked on the flat (well almost), not the hill. It was 12:03.
Before leaving my car I ate a couple of cheese rolls I’d brought with me ... it would be a few hours before I’d eat again. I changed into my shoes, put on my fleece, gillet and jacket before heading across the driveway, and climbing the short flight of steps to exit onto the pavement alongside the Evesham Road. I needed to wait just a few moments before I was able to cross the road, before going through the gates opposite, crossing the roadway and walking onto the bridge outside the Centaur building. A kiosk had been set up thereon, so I purchased a ticket at one of the windows using my flexible friend before entering the aforementioned building, negotiating the turnstiles and exiting through the glass doors onto the concourse.
I always keep change in my racing handbag, in order to buy a racecard. So, after a quick rammage in the front pocket, I found £3 and purchased one from a lady standing beside a kiosk opposite. I then headed for the little girls room situated midway down the concourse – always quite urgent after a long journey! Following this, I headed for the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
A group of people soon gathered beside the Arkle statue, I presumed it was in order to take part in one of the guided tours of the Parade Ring and Weighing Room, although I couldn’t find any details in the race-card. It later transpired that Cheltenham had tweeted details of these tours ... I later found a tweet on my home timeline!
The old A and R boxes, along with the Royal Box, situated between the main grandstand and the Lawn Bar had been demolished in preparation for the £45 million pound re-development of the viewing areas. As a result, it was possible to see from the Parade Ring through to the racecourse itself and to Cleeve Hill beyond. However, it is intended that temporary boxes will be constructed in time for the Open Meeting in November, and these will remain in position until after the Festival. And then the major work will commence in earnest. The kiosk which had been situated on the concourse, and from which I usually purchase my racecards, was gone too.
Anyway, here is a link to information on Cheltenham’s website regarding the redevelopment and an opportunity to watch a timelapse video of the demolition.
I have to say that moving between the Parade Ring and the course-side rails was an absolute pleasure today and it made a wonderful change from the pedestrian problems often encountered when the old buildings were still standing! There were huge patches of darker coloured tarmac on the concourse where major excavations had also taken place.
At around 13:00, four horses from the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre (TRC) entered the Parade Ring to promote their worthy cause. The horses were Madame Fatale, Clueless, Zefinale and Schedule B. A lady from the organisation spoke about the animals and the aims of the organisation in rehoming them. Following this, in the Winners’ Enclosure, raceday commentator Ian Bartlett and jockey Daryl Jacob ran through their tips for the day.
There were no TV presenters on-course today, as both Racing UK and Channel 4 had decamped to Ascot for the flat season’s finale fixture – Champions Day. I gather that the viewing figures for the Channel 4 coverage, which was dedicated solely to Ascot, were disappointing ... obviously they were foolish not to also feature action from Cheltenham! Flat racing can be as interesting as watching paint dry!!!
Due to the dry weather conditions which prevailed during the summer, all of the races on the Showcase card were run solely on the Old Course, with the centre course chute not being used for any of the relevantly distanced starts. This saved time and water, as less of the track needed to be watered in order to be run upon. During the closed season, maintenance work had been carried out on the bottom turn where the two mile starting gate is located.
It was then time for the horses to arrive in the Parade Ring ahead of the first race of the day. Choc’s mount in this race was Hold On Julio. Also running was the Martin Keighley trained Creepy, who was the 100-30 favourite.
Once the runners had departed the Parade Ring I headed down to the course-side rails; I had to stand a little further down the course than usual, as room at the ½ furlong pole was already limited. It was bright sunshine at present; with no money spiders infesting the course-side rails this year, unlike last year on this day. They were everywhere then, many ending up in my friend Lesley’s hair!
I was in time to see Choc and his mount canter up the all weather track in front of me; and I took an excellent photo of him, another when he headed back down the turf on his way to re-enter the track, exiting half way down the course. The event being run over slightly further than two full circuits.
Both Hawaii Fiveo and Creepy were sweating as the runners milled around at the start.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Neltara, from Vinnie The Fish to his outside and Kings Palace to his inside. Behind these, line across the course, were Oscar Magic, Kilbree Kid, Creepy, and Minella Fiveo; then came Aerial, Hold On Julio to the inside and, bringing up the rear, Welsh Grand National winner Monbeg Dude.
Having cleared the first flight, the field headed out into the country for the first time. Heading down the back straight, Neltara continued to hold a slight lead over Kings Palace and Vinnie The Fish. Creepy was a little awkward at the third flight, landing on all fours. Having reached the dogleg turn, Kings Palace had come through to take up the running with Neltara. Choc subtly urged on his mount as the turned the far corner, to ensure he held his place; Minella Fiveo having dropped to the rear of the field alongside Monbeg Dude.
The runners then headed downhill, clearing two hurdles, at the latter of these Aerial rather slipped on landing. The horses turned into the home straight, Kings Palace leading by a length from his nearest rival, the entire field still closely packed and going well within themselves. Choc encouraged his mount to take closer order as they headed away from the stands for the final time; he was now alongside Creepy in mid-field.
Heading along the back straight again, Oscar Magic hit and flattened the first flight therein. As they progressed along the track, Choc became animated as Hold On Julio began to travel less well than the others; by this stage Vinnie The Fish had tailed off.
Having negotiated the dogleg turn, Kings Palace held a clear lead over Minella Fiveo and Creepy. Choc continued to push his mount along, hopeful to lose no further ground on the leaders. The runners turned the far corner and headed downhill for the final time, Monbeg Dude was now travelling in fourth position behind Kings Palace, Creepy and Minella Fiveo. Hold On Julio and Oscar Magic were pulled up before two out; Vinnie The Fish having been pulled up before the previous flight.
Turning into the home straight, Kings Palace was still going well but there were distress signals from the jockeys aboard both Creepy and Monbeg Dude, the horses receiving mild slaps of the whip. The Tom Scudamore ridden leader cleared the last with a good leap and continued up the hill to the winning line; he finished a massive 18 lengths ahead of the second, Creepy, with Monbeg Dude two lengths away in third. Kilbree Kid completed in 4th.
Having pulled up, Choc exited the racecourse at the point where the walkway joins the racecourse.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return, including Creepy. In his Gloucestershire Echo column, Martin Keighley admitted that his charge had pulled too hard during the race and hadn’t got home.
Alan King revealed during a stable tour article in the following Tuesday’s Racing Post that Hold On Julio would find himself on the ‘transfer list’ after one more race if his form did not improve. He’s a lovely horse, so hopefully he’ll find a nice new home where he can shine once more; some horses benefitting from the extra attention they will receive at a smaller yard.
Alan King’s representative in the next race was Kumbeshwar, one of my favourites, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Unfortunately the horse is more brawn than brain, having suffered three heavy falls during the past 18 months. The first in Ireland, with Choc riding; the second at Kempton Park, again with Choc riding; the third at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, this time with Wayne riding – the latter jockey now being his regular pilot. The horse wore no headgear today, unlike for recent runs.
The start of this event was on the far side of the track, the horses cantering across the course and up along the all-weather track around the top bend immediately after leaving the walkway. The horses circled out on the track, running slightly late whilst the starter waited for the preceding race at Catterick to start, the stall-handlers having encountered a number of problems with misbehaving horses who didn’t wish to be loaded.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Sew On Target and Easter Meteor, from Renard, Rob Conti, Finger Onthe Pulse, Tartak and Kumbeshwar; Wayne travelling out fairly wide in order to give his mount a good view of the obstacles. Bringing up the rear were Tony Star and Johns Spirit.
Having negotiated the dogleg turn, the next fence was the first open ditch; last year’s runner-up and 7-2 favourite today Easter Meteor, hit this fence hard, pitching his jockey forward and losing his place as a result. Having travelled down the hill, the horse blundered at the next too, his jockey swinging off the reins in order to remain in the saddle. At the rear of the field Tony Star also hit the fence.
Sew On Target led the horses into the home straight, from Finger Onthe Pulse, Renard, Tartak, Easter Meteor, Rob Conti, Kumbeshwar, Woolcombe Folly, Astracad, Tanks For That, Malt Master, Vulcanite, Kingsmere, Vino Griego, Tony Star and Johns Spirit. All sixteen runners cleared the next two fences without noticeable error before heading away from the stands towards the uphill fence. Easter Meteor had now dropped back through the field with just two or three horses behind him.
The runners set off along the back straight. Kingsmere made a bad error at the first fence therein and dropped to the rear of the field. Sew On Target, Renard and Finger Onthe Pulse continued to lead the way. Having cleared the water jump, the field headed to the next, an open-ditch. Vino Griego left his rear legs in the ditch, catapulting Jamie Moore into space as he landed.
Around the dogleg turn they travelled, with no change at the head of affairs; Johns Spirit still bringing up the rear of the main group. At the final open-ditch, Vulcanite dragged his feet through the birch, losing momentum, but AP McCoy stuck limpet-like in his saddle. Down the hill they travelled, towards the third last fence, Renard now leading the way. But making relentless progress through the field was Johns Spirit.
Travelling around the home turn, Renard held the advantage over Rob Conti, Woolcombe Folly, Johns Spirit, Sew On Target, Astracad and Tartak. The horses cleared the penultimate fence and approached the last, Johns Spirit the first to rise, from Woolcombe Folly who made an error, and Rob Conti. Richie McLernon then drove his mount out to win by 3½ lengths from the latter, the rallying Sew On Target and Tartak.
Kumbeshwar, who completed a clear round today, finished in 10th place.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
Choc’s mount in the next event was Handazan, who he’d won aboard at Chepstow the previous Saturday; he’d ridden a double that day, the second leg of which was aboard Balder Succes. Handazan was sporting brown cheek-pieces, as he had done for recent runs. Once he’d left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails; being a fast walker, I’d reached my position before Choc cantered past.
The starting gate for the next race was at the far end of the home straight; the horses cantering up the all-weather track in front of the stands before heading down the turf and re-entering the track to journey to the far end of the straight to reach it.
The six runners approached the tape at the walk, Choc leading the way.
Then they were off. Handazan led the way to the first flight, to his inside was Leo Luna, to his outside Sametegal. On their heels were In The Crowd, Bayan and Gassin Golf. The horses cleared the first flight and set off on the long run up the straight to the second flight, where Irish raider Bayan was less fluent than the others.
Turning away from the stands with one circuit to travel, Handazan held a narrow advantage over Leo Luna; Gassin Golf at the rear of the closely packed group. They then headed down the back straight, Richard Johnson’s mount flattening a panel in the next flight. The pace was steady, Choc’s mount continuing to lead the field but, by the time they had reached the rising ground and had travelled around the dogleg turn, he was pushing his mount along.
As they reached the far corner of the track, Choc gave his mount a couple of backhanders to encourage him along, although he still held a narrow advantage. Down the hill they travelled, Sametegal, Bayan and Gassin Golf all going better than Handazan at this point. The runners cleared the next flight and, by the time they approached two out, the Paul Nicholls runner had cruised up alongside him. In their slipstream, Bayan flattened the hurdle, the two stragglers jumping through the gap which had been left in the flight.
Despite his gameness, Handazan was swallowed up by both Sametegal and Bayan as they approached the last. Daryl Jacob had to strongly drive out the Paul Nicholls runner as they climbed the hill to the winning post, for Bayan was gaining with every stride. But he held on the win by a neck at the line.
Gassin Golf, who initially overtook Handazan on the run-in, had a fight on his hands as Choc’s mount began to rally; Handazan took third place by ¾ of a length, although 11 lengths behind the runner-up.
Handazan had competed against better horses today, Alan King later reporting that he was fairly pleased with the run and hoped to step him up in trip next time.
I had returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Handazan arrive back. As they were led through the Parade Ring on their way back to the Winners’ Enclosure I felt the first few spots of rain.
Having dismounted, Choc briefed Alan and the owner Max McNeill, the latter accompanied by friends to the races today. He then returned to the Weighing Room for a break, as he did not have a ride in the fourth race of the day.
My diary is so long that I’ve divided it into two ... click below to continue reading: