DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2013
DAY FOUR - FEATURING THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
FRIDAY 15 MARCH 2013
Irish raider Our Conor, ridden by Bryan Cooper,
is a very impressive winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle
The alarm sounded at 04:15 today; a relief that this would be the final very early morning for a few weeks, or at least until the day I set off for Aintree when I will need to wake up at 03:30!
After showering and washing and drying my hair, I ate breakfast; two Weetabix again, plus two slices of buttered toast and a cup of tea. I was dressed and ready to depart at 06:25.
Friday’s outfit was a black thermal vest, burgundy thermal long-sleeved vest, black thermal long-sleeved vest, black 40 denier tights, black treggings, black handkerchief hemmed long skirt, cerise frill hemmed cardigan, plain black cardigan as frills can be rather bulky, new purple fleece, purple frill-edged cardigan, black gillet, M & S horse-print cowel, Thinsulate M & S boots (as expecting rain today), Thinsulate gloves, wrist-warmers, black faux sheepskin coat, burgundy M & S scarf, and brown brimmed hat. Magic branches Chaotic Rainbow pendant. As today was forecast to be wet in Cheltenham there was very little point in getting a new skirt out of the cupboard!
My route took me up through St Albans City centre before heading to Hemel Hempstead. I then joined the A41 dual carriageway bypass to reach Aylesbury, travelling around their ring-road to rejoin the A41 west of the town. It was one of those days when slow moving vehicles had a habit of pulling out in front of me; the first from a right turning as I was approaching Waddesdon, a dumper truck.
Fortunately there is a short stretch of dual carriageway just to the west of Kingswood, so I was able to overtake the vehicle and then had a clear run to Bicester. Turning south-westwards and heading towards the M40 junction, the queue tailing back from the traffic-lights was longer than Wednesday, but not as bad as Tuesday and, of course, far better than Thursday when an accident had caused chaos.
Traffic was initially moving along okay down the A34, although the nearer I got to Oxford, the more it showed down; I was relieved to leave the road at the Peartree Junction. At first, vehicles were queued around the roundabout but these soon cleared and I was able to exit the slip-road and join the slow moving traffic as it headed down the A44 Woodstock Road to join the A40.
I was soon heading west across the Cotswolds. However, I was stopped by a red light at the second set of traffic lights and what should pull out immediately in front of me from the Standlake Road? A dumper truck! Fortunately it wasn’t that far until the beginning of the Witney bypass, so I overtook it when the opportunity arose.
It was a clear journey from there, past Burford, and continuing to the roundabout where the Stow-On-The-Wold/Cirencester road crosses the A40; at this point a car heading from the direction of Stow took a right turning and I was then stuck behind a vehicle travelling at 45 mph on a 60 mph section of the road. I followed this car until we reached the dual carriageway section at the escarpment just before Andoversford, when I overtook it.
Upon reaching Charlton Kings I chose to turn right to travel up Greenway Lane, thus bypassing any delays further along the A40. Bouncers Lane was busier today, as parents were delivering their children to a nearby school. Having negotiated the twin-roundabouts at the far end of it, I headed along New Barn Lane and into Swindon Lane, taking a right turn into the car park. It was 09:00.
Having shown my pre-paid parking ‘docket’ to one of the stewards I was directed towards the parking area. However it was Gold Cup Day with more people due to attend and each of them were arriving earlier too, just like me. There was no room in the bottom field today, so I had to drive up the slope and into the next field, where I was directed to turn left into a sunken track in order to reach a space within the second row of parked cars. In places, the area was more mud than grass ... I would have to keep my fingers crossed that I’d be able to either reverse the car out under its own steam at the end of the day, or hope that the vehicle in front of me had moved already so that I could just roll forward to exit.
Having been raining when I left home, although dry now, my car was filthy. No surprise there then.
I ate a couple of cheese rolls which I’d brought with me and inserted my contact lenses before putting on my coat and boots and setting off for the turnstiles. I also remembered to put my umbrella in my handbag and wore my brimmed hat too. It has a cord to place under my chin ... I’d need it today, for it was windy again. I was closer to the turnstiles in the queue today and had a chat with the guy from Taunton who I’d spoken with last year whilst waiting for the gates to open! Being close to the beginning of the queue, my handbag was searched quite some time prior to the turnstiles being opened which, I believe, was at around 10:20 today.
Once inside the confines of the racecourse, I headed to the loo, then to buy a race-card from the kiosk on the concourse, as I always do; after which I relocated to my favourite spot on the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure. Whilst there, I noticed Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad, Matt Howell, arrive with the silks at 11:05. I spotted Alan himself and Assistant Trainer Noel Williams arrive at the Weighing Room 15 minutes later.
However, having stood there for a while, I decided that I’d head down early to the course-side rails; well before the Paddock Interviews began today. The rain was forecasted to arrive at noon and last until 15:00 ... it arrived at 11:45. After standing out in it for a little while, I headed to the shelter of the grandstand steps; where I waited until the rain became lighter. I returned to the rails. But it then began to rain heavily again. I had a choice ... to stay dry but get a distant view of the action, or remain at the course-side rails, get soaked but also have a better view. Being slightly mad by this stage of the game, I choose the latter!
Whilst I was waiting at the rails, comedian Alan Carr and a film crew walked up the course towards the winning post ... then back again. I presume they were filming a segment for one of his Channel 4 shows. However, despite the weather, he was dressed for Royal Ascot not for the Cheltenham Festival! Tweed, Alan ... Tweed!!!
There are two large screens, one situated close to the winning post; the other to the far side of the home straight, close to the final steeplechase fence. So, when the Paddock Interviews began, I was able to listen to and view them on the nearest screen.
The first guest today was Irish teenage singer/songwriter Mark Boylan; he has become an annual ‘fixture’ at the Festival. This year he performed a song that he’d written about Campbell Gillies and Brindisi Breeze, the jockey having died in a swimming accident whilst on holiday last summer and the horse having lost his life in a freak road accident shortly before that. Mark was introduced to the viewing spectators by Lucinda Russell, trainer of Brindisi Breeze.
The next guest was ex-jockey and trainer Michael Dickinson and ex-jockey Graham Bradley. This year commemorated 50 years since Mill House won the Gold Cup (being far too old, I remember Mill House) ; 40 years since The Dikler won the race (yes, I remember him too – a huge bay with a large white blaze); and 30 years since Michael trained the first five home in the Gold Cup - Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House.
Michael spoke about the run-up to the 1983 Gold Cup; including training 12 winners on Boxing Day 1982. He revealed that he lost a stone in weight due to the worry in the lead up to the Gold Cup; Graham Bradley told how the trainer had lost his temper when a horse had galloped across the newly laid turf in the stable yard when Graham had fallen off one of his charges.
Originally Michael was unsure whether he’d even have a runner in the race, then he’d been hopeful that he might have three but, in the event, he ended up with five. He recalled giving six sets of instructions to each his jockeys, covering all eventualities. He was nervous, proud, well aware of the dangers involved, and was pleased to count them all out and count them all back in again. After the race, as a special dispensation, he was permitted to bring all five into the Winners’ Enclosure to be unsaddled.
The next guest was Sam Waley-Cohen, looking ahead to his ride aboard Long Run in the Gold Cup. He mentioned that his first child, Max, was born just a few days ago; he was thankful that his son had arrived early, thus not interrupting his Festival! His wife, Bella, was allowing him to bypass daddy duties at the moment to concentrate on his racing.
He mentioned that although Long Run has raced numerous times, he’s still only 8; the same age as Bobs Worth, Monbeg Dude, and The Giant Bolster. Silviniaco Conti and Sir des Champs being 7, the others older. Sam described Long Run as a superstar – having won the King George VI Chase twice, and this being the fourth consecutive year he’s run at the Festival.
Long Run would be running in cheek pieces for the first time today – it was hoped that they would keep him sharp and focused, enabling him to gallop to the line. Sam thought they all had Bobs Worth to beat. “Is Bobs Worth tough enough to win the race?” he questioned himself. The answer is probably yes he said.
Next up was Michael Scudamore, trainer of Monbeg Dude, together with one of the owners, James Simpson-Daniel; two other owners being fellow rugby players Mike Tindall and Nicky Robinson. James recounted the story behind them buying the horse for 12,000 guineas at the Cheltenham bloodstock sales; the bid being made by Mike when a little worse for wear.
Paul Carberry had been persuaded to ride the horse in the Welsh Grand National; all he demanded was for the owners to pay for the flight across from Ireland (in addition to the riding fee of course). Carberry was a genius he said, the horse having won the race at odds of 10-1, despite having nearly fallen at the last. He also mentioned that Paul had never sent him the invoice for the flight!
The next person to be interviewed was Paul Nicholls. He spoke about his hopes for his Gold Cup contender Silviniaco Conti; he felt fortunate to have experienced some great days having won the blue ribbon event four times in the last 13 runnings – See More Business (1999); Kauto Star (2007 & 2009); and Denman (2008). He stated that this year’s representative has class, jumps well, stays and is tough; he’d done nothing wrong this year; beating Long Run when he won at Newbury. The only downside being that Silviniaco Conti had not run at Cheltenham before. Also, the rain will have helped Long Run, with Bobs Worth being unbeaten at the track.
Paul had three runners in today’s Triumph Hurdle. Firstly, Far West (Ruby Walsh), who he described as having done nothing wrong, stays well and is jumping bred; it would be a tough race but he was happy with his preparation. The horse works with Zarkandar at home, and has more speed than the older horse. Paul was hopeful of a good run. His second runner was Lac Fontana (Daryl Jacob); he lacked experience having had just two runs. A third representative, Sametegal (Ryan Mahon), needed decent ground.
Next he spoke about his entries in the County Hurdle - Edgardo Sol (Harry Derham), Brampour (James Cowley) and Ranjaan (Ruby Walsh) – none wanted the rain to arrive. His representative in the Albert Bartlett was Aaim To Prosper; he was expected to benefit from the step up in trip to 3 miles, but he wouldn’t like the soft ground. Also, being a nine year old, age was against him when beginning a hurdling career.
Paul’s runner in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle was Salubrious, ridden by his nephew Harry Derham. Again, he felt the horse would not appreciate the arrival of the rain, which would affect the going.
The final race of the day had two Paul Nicholls entries; Shooters Wood (Daryl Jacob) and Ulck Du Lin (Ruby Walsh). The trainer was hopeful that the latter would run well as he likes soft ground, with his other representative having the benefit of winning 3 times at the racecourse.
Paul spoke about how proud he was of Celestial Halo who finished as runner-up in yesterday’s World Hurdle; the horse would now head to Aintree for the 3 miler.
Finally, he thought his best three chances of the day were Far West, Silviniaco Conti and Ulck Du Lin.
Following the ‘pattern’ of the previous three days, the final interviewee must have been a representative from Betfred, sponsors of the Gold Cup, but ... by this time ... I’d almost given up the will to live and can’t recall who is was, and I’ve no note of his name either!
At this point, and before launching into the detailed descriptions of the races, I need to mention that there was a very important jockey change announced for later in the afternoon, when AP McCoy switched to Gold Cup entry Sir des Champs; following the withdrawal of Sunnyhillboy. He replaced the injured Davy Russell, who was recovering in Cheltenham General Hospital after he’d been diagnosed as suffering from a punctured lung.
Davy had sustained the injury on Wednesday afternoon when his final mount of the day, Un Beau Matin, fell at the last flight during the Coral Cup. However, Davy had ridden in the Jewson Novices’ Chase and Stonemaster in the Pertemps Final on Thursday, before he had been forced to give up his remaining rides after suffering from shortness of breath! They were very important rides he missed too, being First Lieutenant in the Ryanair and Bog Warrior in the World Hurdle; Bryan Cooper taking the ride on both, the former to finish 2nd to Cue Card, the latter 5th to Solwhit.
The going for the first and second races was described as good to soft. Following the rain, races 3 to 7 were run on soft ground.
It was soon time for the first race on the final day of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival. Being run over a distance of 2 miles, the horses cantered up the all-weather horse-walk in front of the grandstand before heading back down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue their journey to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
Notably, French jockey Jacques Ricou, took the ride aboard one of Nicky Henderson’s representatives, Vasco Du Ronceray. Also, Alan King had a runner in this race, King Of Dudes, ridden by super-sub Wayne Hutchison.
The very keen Cape Explorer arrived at the start some minutes behind the other runners; in fact he was still having his girths checked, after which his jockey took him to look at the inspection hurdle within the enclosure, as the horses had already exited onto the course in preparation for the off!
The Nicky Henderson trained, Barry Geraghty ridden, Rolling Star was the favourite for this event at odds of 5-2.
Then they were off, to the cheers of the crowd ... although not as loud as those experienced on Day 1. Perhaps because all those sensitive souls were hiding out in the bars rather than venturing out into the ‘horizontal’ rain.
The field was led away by one of the two greys, Diakali, from the white faced Our Conor, then Stocktons Wing and Far West; the latter making an error at the first flight. The horses proceeded up the straight in chevron formation; near the rear of the field were Masters Blazing, Swynymor, Vasco Du Ronceray and Somemothersdohavem. The Alan King representative, King Of Dudes, was on the inside of the runners, in mid-field.
This may well turn out to be a ‘muddy nightmare’ for me, spotting the silks when I’m viewing the DVD re-run ... oh well ... on we go ...
Diakali led over the second flight with a two lengths advantage over Our Conor, from Rolling Star, Stocktons Wing, Far West, Cape Explorer, Lac Fontana and King Of Dudes; there were no significant errors at this hurdle.
The runners galloped up around the top bend and began their journey down the back straight. The grey continued to hold a clear lead over the remainder of the field, Our Conor still leading the vanguard. None of the horses had yet begun to tail off, although some were a little clumsy at their obstacles.
Diakali’s advantage grew steadily during the gallop towards the far corner of the track, Our Conor still travelling comfortably in second position, Far West and Rolling Star disputing third. The first to display distress signals was Masters Blazing, and he began to tail off as they approached this bend. Swnymor had soon progressed on the outside of the field to join Rolling Star and Far West; these were being tracked by Sametegal, Stocktons Wing and Gassin Golf. But King Of Dudes was losing touch with the leaders.
Our Conor was upsides Daikali as they jumped two out and began to cruise clear as they swung the turn into the home straight; disputing third were Rolling Star and Sametegal, three lengths adrift. As our Conor drew clear, Far West began to stay on the best of the remainder, passing through beaten horses to challenge Sametegal at the last flight.
However, the leader had already flown the coup; the only whip action displayed by his jockey Bryan Cooper was to wave the implement as he crossed the line 15 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer Far West! Samategal completed in 3rd, with long-time leader Diakali just holding off the late challenge of Vasco Du Ronceray to claim 4th. The favourite, Rolling Star, completed in 6th. King of Dudes finished 13th, last of those who finished; the remainder having been pulled up.
Because it was raining so hard, and I was getting soaked despite having an umbrella, I decided to head back to the Winners’ Enclosure once Our Conor had been led back down the horse walkway.
However, a terrible bottle-neck had developed in the passageway beneath the stands ... because no-one wished to step out into the rain. By the time I’d reached the Winners’ Enclosure I’d almost given up the will to live. Anywhere and everywhere which provided shelter had been taken up by spectators. I cut my losses and returned to the course-side rails.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Jacques Ricou, the rider of VASCO DU RONCERAY (FR), placed fifth, from the second last flight. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he had used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Ricou for 4 days as follows: Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 March, Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 April 2013.
It was soon time for the next race. Once again being run over a distance of 2 miles, the horses cantered up the all-weather horse-walk in front of the grandstand before heading back down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue their journey to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
Before the start of the next race there was an announcement for those with umbrellas, including the bookmakers, to put them down during the races so that people behind them could see ... many ignored the instruction on this occasion. Besides, the crowd was only around five deep on the lawn because the weather was so foul! If they wanted a good view, they should have got to the rails and stood in the rain like me! As you may have gathered, I didn’t feel particularly charitable by this point ...
Alan King had a runner in this event, Manyriverstocross, who had performed okay to finish 10th in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle the previous month, having been off the racecourse for 818 days due to injury.
Having exited from the enclosure out onto the racecourse, Richard Johnson decided he wasn’t keen on his position within the pack, so briefly turned his horse around to head back through the assembled throng before lining up again. The joint-favourites for this race were Cotton Mill and Ifandbutwhynot at odds of 8-1.
Then they were off. Being the maximum 28 runners, they were spread across the width of the track as they headed over the first flight; one of the Irish raiders, Tennis Cap taking the lead from Hisaabaat, Cotton Mill and Kian’s Delight. At the rear of the field was Ifandbutwhynot, who’d been a little tardy in joining the other runners at the start.
Travelling up the home straight on the first occasion, Tennis Cap continued to hold the advantage, from Kian’s Delight, Kings Lad and Knight In Purple; behind these were Dan Breen, Hisaabaat and Cotton Mill. Manyriverstocross travelled on the inside of the runners, in mid-field.
There were no serious jumping errors as the experienced handicappers cleared the next and headed off into the country for the one and only time. Tennis Cap still leading, with first-time blinkered Brampour slightly detached at the rear of the field.
The closely packed field cleared the third flight, Brampour slow in rear and losing even more ground. The runners jumped the fourth flight with no difficulty; however, at the next, Hisaabaat stepped on the flight, his nose almost touching the turf as he struggled to remain on his feet. Jockey Micheal (Me-Hall) Nolan fortunate not to be catapulted over the horse’s right shoulder; but he lost his position within the field.
All the flights in the back straight having been negotiated, the runners headed around the far turn; Tennis Cap still at the head of affairs, followed by Dan Breen and It’s A Gimme progressing into third position, as Kings Lad began to lose his place. Not surprisingly, by this stage it was the jockey wearing the red and white silks ahead of the muddy brown coloured silks, followed by the muddy brown coloured silks ... and, of course, the muddy brown coloured silks!
Actually it was Tennis Cap, followed by Dan Breen and Ted Veale, then the very dirty grey in the McNeill Family colours Olofi, Princeton Plains and It’s A Gimme. Heading towards the final flight, Ted Veale cruised up alongside Tennis Cap; they jumped the hurdle in unison and, although he didn’t seem to find as much as expected on the run-in, he went on to win by 1˝ lengths at the line from the long-time leader. Having made progress approaching the penultimate flight, Manyriverstocross stayed on well to finish 3rd, 4˝ lengths back. Shadow Catcher claimed 4th.
It had been an attritional end to the race, with Princeton Plains only managing 7th, Olofi 10th and It’s A Gimme pulled up before the last. The only faller was Cotton Mill, who departed at the final flight when behind; no reported injury to either the horse or jockey.
Although the rain was still falling ... horizontally and, strangely enough, very wet ... I decided that I’d remain at the course-side rails. Besides, there must be a limit to how wet one can get! My feet were dry, my skirt, although muddy around the hem, protected my leggings from becoming damp, and the rain although settling on the surface of my coat, couldn’t penetrate the material. I was also wearing a hat, the rain solely forming droplets on the brim, and I had an umbrella too.
I’ve been out in far worse when walking to or from work and when I used to walk in the countryside. And I’ve been muddier too, having fallen over a couple of times when rambling. I used to trip over and my friend Mark used to slip over! And we always used to poke fun at each other when it happened ... as you do!
Soon it was time for the third race of the day. The starting gate for this event is at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two complete circuits to travel. Upon exiting the walkway, the horses crossed the home straight to canter along the all-weather strip which runs to the outside of the top bend to reach it.
The 11-8 favourite for this race was At Fishers Cross.
The runners walked in from far behind the starting gate and tape; initially no-one seemed keen to begin. Then they were off ... at barely more than a canter. O’Faolains Boy took up the mantel as leader, close to his outside and in the front line were Virginia Ash, At Fishers Cross, Le Bec and I Shot The Sheriff. In behind, to the inside was Utopie des Bordes, to her outside Return Spring; then African Gold, Aaim To Prosper, Superior Quality, Our Vinnie, Inish Island and Bucking The Trend.
The field progressed along the back straight, the pace steady; all the competitors cleared the first four flights without any problems. Heading down the hill on the first occasion, there was no change at the head of affairs, O’Faolains Boy leading from Le Bec, Virginia Ash, Utopie des Bordes, At Fishers Cross and I Shot The Sheriff; still bringing up the rear were Inish Island and Bucking The Trend. I Shot The Sheriff, on the wide outside of the field, made an error at the 5th flight.
Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, the pace remained steady. The runners cleared the next flight, all bar I Shot The Sheriff who knuckled on landing over the flight despite not appearing to touch a twig. Our Vinnie, who unluckily was travelling in his slipstream, was brought down as a result. Both horses were fine after the incident, having got up and galloped away; the riders walked away too. So then there were eleven.
The horses headed up around the top bend and began their final journey down the back straight. O’Faolains Boy still led the way, from Le Bec and Virginia Ash. Close to their outside travelled At Fishers Cross, followed by African Gold and Aaim To Prosper. All the jockeys were choosing to take their mounts wider than usual on the course; apart from Barry Geraghty who hugged the inside aboard Utopie des Bordes.
African Gold jumped the third last with much fluency and closed upon the leader and Le Bec; At Fishers Cross not far behind him, soon narrowed the widening gap again, and Barry Geraghty’s mount closed up on their inside too. The runners headed down the hill to clear the penultimate flight. Sam Twiston-Davies stealing a peek behind to ascertain any dangers as he closed in upon the long-time leader ... he was probably looking to see where Ruby was.
O’Faolins Boy succumbed to the challenge as they approached the final flight, African Gold and At Fishers Cross clearing the obstacle in unison; Inish Island following along in their slipstream. AP’s mount got away from the hurdle with more momentum and soon drew away on the run-in to win by 4˝ lengths at the line. African Gold was hard pressed by Ruby Walsh’s mount as they headed toward the line but just held on by a nose. The long-time leader, O’Faolins Boy, finished in 4th.
After a long wait, AP McCoy had finally ridden his first winner at this year’s Festival. He would have only had two more chances – in the Gold Cup and the Johnny Henderson. There is always an expectation for AP to win at the Festival, so it must be a relief to get the ‘monkey off his back’.
I remained beside the course-side rails, and saw the winning horse and jockey pass by on their way back to the Winners’ Enclosure.
That’s it for the first half of the diary, please ...