DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2013
FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE
TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2013
Hurricane Fly becomes the first horse to regain the Champion Hurdle title
since Comedy of Errors in 1975
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the Champion Hurdle.
As with each of the feature events, there was a pre-race parade; the horses exited onto the course and formed into number order before the parade began. Two mounted members of a local hunt preceded the racehorses; the sole Alan King runner today, Balder Succes leading the competitors. Although he was the outsider; a 100-1 shot! The 13-8 favourite today was the 2011 winner, Hurricane Fly, who was wearing earplugs. Last year’s winner, Rock On Ruby, was wearing first-time blinkers today.
Members of the police force and a number of stewards had already lined up along the edge of the racecourse, upon the all-weather strip, to deter anyone from escaping the confines of the enclosures to run out onto the track; in protest or just to cause a scene of any sort. Though I think I can safely say it would not be a suffragette, a la Emily Davison!
Once the parade had been completed, the runners cantered down past the grandstands and entered the all-weather strip to continue their journey to the start which was located at the far end of the home straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Rock On Ruby, following by Zarkandar, the diminutive Countrywide Flame, Grandouet, Hurricane Fly, Cinders And Ashes, Binocular and Balder Succes; Kyber Kim in rear. Having cleared the first flight, the runners travelled up the home straight towards the grandstands, the leader setting a good pace. All the runners were jumping slickly, apart from Kyber Kim in rear.
Having cleared the second flight, the horses set out into the country, Rock On Ruby still cutting out the pace, from Zarkandar, Countrywide Flame, Grandouet, Hurricane Fly, Cinders And Ashes, Balder Succes and Khyber Kim, the latter slightly detached from the others. The first four travelled easily within themselves, but Hurricane Fly didn’t appear to be going as well as those ahead of him, nor was he fluent at the 4th flight.
However, at the 5th obstacle it was Grandouet who exited the race, when he stepped at the flight and fell. Unfortunately he hampered Balder Succes, who unseated Wayne Hutchinson; Binocular was also hampered but continued. Just seven runners now remained.
Having travelled around the far corner, Rock On Ruby still led, from Zarkandar and Countryside Flame; Hurricane Fly now much closer. Binocular was being urged along in an attempt to close the gap between himself and the three ahead of him. Khyber Kim continued adrift of the field; Cinders And Ashes having now tailed off, was pulled up before three out. So then there were six.
Rock On Ruby was still ahead over three out, Zarkandar being ridden along as both Countrywide Flame and Hurricane Fly challenged him for second place. Having cleared the next, Hurricane Fly loomed up on the outside of the long-time leader, and went on as they turned into the home straight. The 2011 winner held a two length advantage as they cleared the last, and galloped on to win by 2½ lengths at the line.
Rock On Ruby stayed on up the hill to claim 2nd, with Countrywide Flame 3rd and Zarkandar 4th. Binocular completed in 5th, with Khyber Kim claiming prize money of £4480 for finishing 6th. Grandouet had taken a horrible fall but fortunately was okay, as was Balder Succes.
The hunters preceded the victorious horse as he was led back down the walkway and began the journey back to the Winners’ Enclosure.
As you know, I stayed beside the course-side rails to await the next event in which Quevega would attempt to equal Golden Miller’s record of winning the same event in five consecutive years. The latter having completed the feat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1932 to 1936. She was the 8-11 favourite for this race.
The starting gate for this event was in the mid-course chute; upon exiting the horse walkway, the runners cantered across the home straight and headed up the all-weather track around the top bend. They then crossed the racecourse to enter the chute; this race began further along the track than is standard, with just one flight to negotiate before the far turn.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Swincombe Flame, from Epee Celeste, Kaffie, Shop DJ, Miss Milborne, Une Artiste, She Ranks Me, Kauto Shiny, Lady Kathleen and, just behind these in midfield, was Quevega; last year’s runner up, Kentford Grey Lady, was at the rear.
Having cleared the first flight, Epee Celeste went on around the far bend, setting up a lead of around four lengths over Swincombe Flame. Heading up the home straight on the first occasion, there was no change at the head of affairs, although the main body of the field had almost bridged the gap between themselves and the leader.
Ears pricked, the chestnut Epee Celeste led the runners over the third flight, from Swincombe Flame, Kaffie, Miss Milborne, Lady Kathleen, Shop DJ, Une Artiste, Shadow Eile, French raider Sirene d’Ainay, Kauto Shiny, Quevega, She Ranks Me, Swing Bowler, Cloudy Spirit, Stone Light, Alasi, Prima Porta, Mae’s Choice and Kentford Grey Lady. Mae’s Choice hit the fourth flight and unseated her jockey. Having fallen off and landed on his backside, a pained Paul Carberry had to be helped off the course.
The horses galloped up around the top bend and began the journey along the back straight. Having cleared the fourth flight, Swincombe Flame took over the lead heading towards the next. Quevega appeared to be further back in the field than previously. Heading for the dog-leg turn, Sirene d’Ainay was now the leader’s closest challenger; Epee Celeste soon dropped back through the field.
Over the sixth flight, Daryl Jacob’s mount still led, from the French challenger, Une Artiste now in third position, from Miss Milborne, Shop DJ and Shadow Eile. Travelling down the hill, Sirene d’Ainay went on heading to the third last, from Swincombe Flame, Une Artiste, Shop DJ and Shadow Eile. Quevega was in 10th position at this stage, having been hampered and stumbling on the bend as a result after 4 out.
The French runner led over two out, from the improving Shadow Eile, then Swincombe Flame, Une Artiste and Kentford Grey Lady; Quevega was still only in 8th place. However, upon straightening up and under a strong ride from Ruby Walsh, the latter begin to pick off those ahead of her and by the final flight disputed second position, upsides Swincombe Flame and Shadow Eile; the leader a mere two lengths in front of them.
As they continued up the run-in, Quevega gained upon and then overtook Sirene d’Ainay, going on to win by 1½ lengths at the line; Ruby waved his whip in celebration as he crossed the line. Swincombe Flame completed in 3rd, with Shadow Eile just holding off Kauto Shiny for 4th.
Why do people have to shriek when their betted upon horse wins? It’s so annoying for those around them. My sole outburst would be the following day, during the finish of the Coral Cup ... but more about that in tomorrow’s diary!!!
The starting gate for the next event was in the mid-course chute; upon exiting the horse walkway, the runners cantered across the home straight and headed up around the top bend upon the all-weather track. They then crossed the racecourse to enter the chute; three fences would be negotiated before the far turn.
The 9-2 favourite for this race was Colour Squadron ... although I’m not sure why!
The jockeys taking part in the final race were keen to begin, so keen in fact that they set off without Fourjacks, only to be recalled by the starter. Although, technically, it appeared as though Brian Harding wasn’t keen on his starting position within the pack as they approached the exit point onto the track, so held back his mount rather than be at a disadvantage from the off.
The runners set off at the second attempt. The field was led away by one of my favourites, the flashy Forgotten Gold, from Kruzhlinin, Shangani and Restless Harry sporting first-time blinkers. Nataani and Vulcanite brought up the rear.
Having cleared the first three fences safely, the horses headed into the far turn; Forgotten Gold disputed the lead with Shangani and The Druids Nephew; they were followed by Kruzhlinin, Ohio Gold, Saved By John, Ackertac, Restless Harry, Rajdhani Express, Carlito Brigante, Fourjacks, Colour Squadron, Howard’s Legacy, Arthur’s Pass, Bob Owen, Klepht, Hazy Tom, Vulcanite, John’s Spirit and Nataani.
The horses headed up the home straight towards the grandstands; no major errors at the obstacles from any of them; although Kruzhlinin had begun to drop back quickly through the field because he was not jumping as quickly as his rivals and, in rear, Johns Spirit made an error at the 7th, the last in the line of 4. There were a few untidy jumps at the uphill fence from those towards the back of the field; Kruzhlinin was now in last position.
The runners now began their journey down the back straight; Vulcanite made an error at the first therein. The Druids Nephew took a narrow advantage as the horses cleared the water-jump, from Shangani and Forgotten Gold. Having cleared the jump, the tailed off Kruzhlinin was pulled up by Jason Maguire. Arthur’s Pass blundered at the 11th, the first open-ditch; Saved by John fell here when just behind the leaders, badly hampering Carlito Brigante, the latter’s jockey lost an iron and much ground on those ahead of him and was soon pulled up .
The Druids Nephew and Shangani continued to cut out the running as they headed towards the last fence on the far side, from Ackertac, Ohio Gold, Forgotten Gold, and Johns Spirit; the latter blundered at the second open-ditch and lost a few places as a result.
Having turned the far corner and set off down the hill heading for the third last fence, there was no change up front, with Shangani and The Druids Nephew still disputing the lead. Just behind them were Ohio Gold, Ackertac, Forgotten Gold, Colour Squadron who carried his head to the right, Rajdhani Express, Vulcanite and Johns Spirit.
Ohio Gold drew alongside the hard-driven Shangani and The Druids Nephew as they approached the home bend; Ackertac in their slipstream, with Rajdhani Express now to his outer. Into the home straight and approaching the penultimate fence, a group of seven horses were closely bunched at the head of affairs. Ohio Gold rose very slightly ahead of Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount, with Shangani and Ackertac a whisker behind, then The Druids Nephew, Vulcanite, and Colour Squadron. Forgotten Gold wasn’t far behind these, although he stumbled on landing, then came Johns Spirit.
Rajdhani Express took the lead and jumped the last a length or so up on both Ackertac and Ohio Gold. It was then a driving finish between the two Sams, Waley-Cohen and Twiston-Davies, as they approached the line, the former holding on by a neck from the closing Ackertac. Ohio Gold completed in 3rd; Shangani battling on bravely to retain 4th spot ahead of Colour Squadron and The Druids Nephew. Forgotten Gold finished 9th.
The last race of the day having been completed, I finally returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
The Stewards considered the apparent improvement in form of the winner, RAJDHANI EXPRESS, ridden by Mr S. Waley Cohen, and trained by Nicky Henderson, compared with its previous run at Cheltenham on 20 January 2013 where the gelding finished seventh, beaten 151 lengths. They noted the trainer’s explanation that RAJDHANI EXPRESS jumped poorly in the heavy ground on that occasion. They ordered the gelding to be routine tested.
WHY THEY RAN
The course covers were re-laid immediately after the last race; but not before they’d rescued a loose horse which was in danger of being trapped out on the racecourse by the impending cover-up! I guess it must have been Saved By John, the sole faller in the final race!
I usually wait a while before departing in order to avoid the worst of the queues, however today I decided to set off up the concourse towards the main exit at around the time the prizes were being awarded in the Winners’ Enclosure. It was tough going, weaving in and out of the throngs of spectators, most heading for the exit, some crossing my way as they walked between buildings. I had decided against going to the loo before departing; hopeful I’d last until home!
The following day it would be announced that today’s crowd was a record number since the Festival was increased to four days, of 56,284 attendees ... it certainly felt like I’d encountered most of them on my way out!
Having returned to my car, I ate the two remaining cheese rolls and drank a cup of black coffee before reversing the vehicle out of its spot and heading across to join the queue to exit onto Swindon Lane. As always seems to be the case these days, no-one was keen to let me out into the aforementioned queue. I’m obviously not wilful enough ... nor young and attractive which would have helped too. L Eventually someone was kind enough to permit me to join the queue and leave; it was 18:10.
However, having turned right onto Swindon Lane, the traffic police solely allowing this manoeuvre, I turned left into Tommy Taylors Lane which morphs into Folly Lane further down, only to discover that vehicles were tailing back the entire length of the road! In all my visits to the Cheltenham Festival, I’d never seen the traffic so bad along this particular route. The reason, all the vehicles appeared to be turning right at the far end. A signpost directing traffic towards the M5 had been sited at the mini-roundabout at the northern end of Tommy Taylors Lane but the majority of drivers appeared to have ignored it. Were they were relying on their satnav, rather than on common sense?
I finally reached St Paul’s Road, turned left and drove towards Clarence Square. I don’t particularly like this stretch of road, as parked vehicles restrict the road to a single lane in a number of places. Traffic lights at the crossing on Evesham Road soon changed to green, however pedestrians heading for Cheltenham town centre were determined to ignore the fact that vehicles wished to cross their path and were jaywalking across the road. I was not amused, and fortunately managed to avoid hitting any of them!
Traffic was also tailed back from the roundabout in Prestbury Road. However, whilst waiting in Clarence Road I did notice the Holst Museum situated to my right! I like a bit of classical music now and again! It seemed to take ages to reach the aforementioned roundabout; I believe the hold-up was caused by a traffic policeman (when isn’t it?) directing a stream of coaches leaving the racecourse as they travelled down Albert Road and turned right along Wellington Road to join the Evesham Road.
Eventually I was able to take a right, navigator around one side of Pittville Circus, before entering Pittville Circus Road and turning left onto Hewlett Road. To avoid any queues which might have formed in Hales Road, upon exiting the ‘longabout’ I travelled up Harp Hill, before turning right into Greenway Lane and driving back to the traffic lights at the Six Ways junction. The lights having eventually turned to green, there being five phases which can cause long delays, I turned left onto the A40 and headed up past the Dowdeswell Reservoir and into the Cotswold hills. It was 18:40 when I left Cheltenham.
I recall that on one of the evenings this week, there was a crazy driver who decided to overtake the line of traffic as we approached Burford. There was absolutely no way he could have seen any vehicles heading from the opposite direction had they appeared around any of the bends in the road. What a nutter ... they shouldn’t have been allowed on the road!
As is always the case these days, having reached Oxford, I decided to drive around the bypass to reach the M40. The motorway is in darkness until having driven up through the Chiltern escarpment, after which there is lighting as the road travels past High Wycombe. There are no lights once again until reaching Junction 3, Loudwater. I continued to head eastwards until I got to the M25, after which I took the clockwise carriageway. There were signs displayed on both the M40 and M25 warning of salt spreading in operation.
Having used over half a tank of fuel today, I left the motorway at junction 20 to visit the petrol station located on the nearby retail park. It was 20:25, so the majority of pumps were still being used. On this occasion I pulled into the nearest lane and used the rear of the two pumps; I think it is number 22. Having paid for the petrol, it was just a further 10 minutes until I reached home at 20:40.
Time for a quick microwave meal, a Morrison’s Penne Mozzarella. I also discovered that I’d left my early morning cup of tea un-drunk!!! I had time to upload my photographs and write my daily blog before turning in at 23:30. I was not looking forward to another 04:30 alarm call!!!
Finally, before I sign off, I have to have a ‘grumpy old woman’ moan about the dreadful state of the roads. I used to enjoy driving to Cheltenham, or at least the outward non-motorway route but, this year, the number and severity of the pot-holes was unbelievable. Admittedly Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire have always had poorly maintained roads, but this year Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire were equally as bad. It’s just ridiculous, no wonder it cost me over £900 to have my car fixed before it passed its MOT this year; and its only five years old, with 23,000 miles on the clock.
The notably poorest section of road is the A40, either side of the roundabout where it crosses the Stow-On-The-Wold/Cirencester Road; with little chance of missing them when travelling in the dark. Okay, it’s high up in the Cotswolds and will suffer badly when the weather is poor like it has been this winter, but there really is no excuse for not spending collected road taxes on maintaining the highways. Much of the problem is the fact that makeshift repairs aren’t ‘sealed’ properly and therefore water can still penetrate, the holes opening up even more when the next lot of bad weather arrives.
And, frequently, it’s not the roads which are in need of urgent repairs which are the priority. Many main roads in Hertfordshire need to be completely re-done but, as in a recent example close to my home, why was a lightly used residential road stripped back and completely resurfaced when main roads through the city have been ignored. But maybe someone of influence owns a house in the aforementioned road!
Needless to say, I will not be happy if next year, once again, I am asked to pay an extreme amount to have my car fixed before it will pass its MOT.
The AA’s President Edmund King, who lives in St Albans, had recently been quoted for speaking about the pot-hole problems. Then, just days afterwards, his Mercedes suffered a car suspension failure when he pulled into the local Morrison supermarket’s petrol station. Evidently one third of all AA members have suffered damage to their vehicle in the past two years due to hitting a pot-hole!