DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2014
DAY FOUR - FEATURING THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
FRIDAY 14 MARCH 2014
Choc and Raya Star head to post
ahead of the final race of the 2014 Festival
It was now time for the final race of the day, and the Festival. As always, Nicky Henderson had a number of runners in this event, named in honour of his father; namely French Opera, Tanks For That and Anquetta. There were two joint-favourites, Ned Buntline trained by Noel Meade and ridden by Paul Carberry and Claret Cloak trained by Emma Lavelle and ridden by Noel Fehily; priced 6-1.
Alan King had a competitor in this race too, novice Raya Star, ridden by Choc. Wayne Hutchinson had been booked to ride the Dr Newland representative, Changing The Guard. The major mover in the betting was Savello, who began as a 33-1 shot and shortened into 16-1. Harry Derham took the ride aboard Shooters Wood in place of the injured Daryl Jacob; likewise David Casey aboard Passage Vendome for Ruby Walsh. And, finally, JP McManus owned four of the runners in this race; Mr Mole, Eastlake, Competitive Edge and Ned Buntline.
Having taken a few snapshots of Choc’s mount and of Choc too, I headed back to the course-side rails for the final time. The race being run over a distance of two miles, the horses cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and entering the strip once more to canter to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight. I made it in time to see Choc and Raya Star canter by, in both directions.
There was a funny incident ahead of this race, when the hooded Oscar Hill ridden by Tom O’Brien failed to stop having cantered down to the two mile start. He subsequently headed up the mid-course chute, jumping a flight of hurdles in reverse too. Tom steered him into the infield and he must have done three or four circuits thereof before he ran out of gas and Tom was able to pull him up. The remark from the commentator was ‘they are obviously running the horse over the wrong trip’! Not surprisingly it had already been announced that Oscar Hill had been withdrawn.
Meanwhile the jockeys jogged their horses around in a group out upon the racecourse, well back from the starting gate, although they eventually came to a halt; during this time they were kept amused by this turn of events. Choc’s mount could be seen swishing his tail and kicking out with his near-hind and stamping his other hind-leg too, keen to get on with things. Nick Scholfield was wary of this, and ensured he kept Viva Colonia at a distance; Claret Cloak also strolled into this danger area, Choc checking behind and talking with Noel Fehily to warn him, just in case of a stray hoof.
As it turned out, this break in proceedings was the only bright moment associated with this race, because it had a very sad ending from my point of view.
They seemed to stand waiting for ages for Oscar Hill to gallop himself out and for Tom O’Brien to dismount to begin the long walk back, leading his runaway mount. Then finally they were off; to the final cheer of the 2014 Festival from the gathered spectators.
The runners were led away by Astracad towards the inside, Shooters Wood centre and Next Sensation wide on the course. At the first fence, near the rear of the field which was spread wide across the track, the sole Willie Mullins representative Passage Vendome tipped the top of the fence and fell; he hampered Lucky Landing who Dougie Costello steered around the prostrate jockey, the horse having got to his feet quickly.
Heading to the second fence, the Richard Johnson-ridden Next Sensation had taken the lead on the wide outside; just behind him Changing The Guard ploughed through the fence but he retained his momentum. Towards the inside in mid-field Raya Star took off too soon and ploughed through it too. The partnership survived but it took a few strides for Choc to re-gather the horse having been shot backwards, clinging on to the reins to steady himself; he lost some ground too.
Having joined the New Course the runners headed to fence number three; Next Sensation leading from Astracad to the inside, Anquetta in the centre and Changing The Guard to the outside. They were followed by Shooters Wood and French Opera; Raya Star took this fence much better. The leader began to put distance between himself and his pursuers as they headed to and jumped fence number four; he was probably now seven or eight lengths clear. Bringing up the rear were Viva Colonia and Lucky Landing.
The field was soon heading up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure; Next Sensation continued to extend his lead. Richard Johnson’s mount wasn’t particular fluent jumping the next fence and Astracad blundered badly. But, back in the field, total and utter disaster struck for Raya Star; he fell, the little horse possibly unsighted. Easter Meteor was hampered by the faller.
The remaining twenty-two runners headed over the water jump, Next Sensation still well clear, from Next Sensation, Anquetta sporting the Robert Waley-Cohen colours with son Sam aboard, then Changing The Guard, Shooters Wood, Astracad and French Opera. The following fence is the first open-ditch; Anquetta flew this one, in contrast there were a number of less than perfect leaps further back in the field, the pace they were travelling being strong.
The horses then jumped a plain fence before negotiating the dog-leg turn, and heading to the final open-ditch. There were no casualties at this obstacle, although the field was well strung out by this stage. They continued their climb up the hill, clearing the fifth last in the process; Next Sensation was still well clear and Easter Meteor and Viva Colonia brought up the rear.
The runners headed around the far turn and began their descent, facing up to the tricky fourth last en-route. The main pack was led by Anquetta, from Oiseau De Nuit, Shooters Wood, Eastlake and French Opera. There were further departures here; Competitive Edge fell when near the rear of the field, and Easter Meteor’s luck finally ran out when he was tripped up with nowhere to go. Viva Colonia did a nifty little jump over Competitive Edge; the latter just about to rise. And he also sidestepped Easter Meteor. Having lost his place, Astracad was pulled up before the fence.
The horses continued their journey down the hill to the next, the leader only two or three lengths clear as he jumped it; Anquetta jumping out to his right over this one. The two horses who’d departed at the previous fence appeared to be fine, galloping along some away adrift of those remaining. Heading to the final turn, the 2011 winner Oiseau De Nuit was noticeably under pressure and just beginning to drop back.
The runners entered the home straight, Next Sensation hotly pursued by Claret Cloak, Anquetta and French Opera. A couple of lengths behind this group travelled Savello, having got a clear run up the inside around the final bend. They headed to the penultimate fence, where Claret Cloak blundered having got to within a length of the long-time leader. To the outside, Anquetta made a mistake too; bumping the wider still French Opera (known as Frenchie in the yard) in the process. Meanwhile the fading Oiseau De Nuit got far too close and fell.
And still Next Sensation retained the lead as they headed to the last. However, Savello was soon laying down a challenge to Claret Cloak and Ned Buntline was also staying on through tired horses and was a close-up fourth as they jumped the final fence. It was now time for the long uphill run to the line, with Richard Johnson’s mount, to the far side, gamely attempting to hold on to the lead.
But unfortunately time was up as they travelled past the half furlong post, with Savello being driven to the front, followed through by Claret Cloak; although the latter lost second on the line to the staying-on Ned Buntline. Next Sensation had gone down, all guns blazing, to finish fourth. The distances 1¼ lengths, a neck and a neck; with the 11-year-old Frenchie in 5th. Mr Mole fell at the last.
Not satisfied with three winners today, this was the fourth Gigginstown winner. It was also the third winner of the day for Davy Russell. And now a final day score of 6-1 to Ireland (including Northern Ireland), as opposed to Great Britain.
Having aggravated the injury he’d suffered earlier in the week when Mr Mole departed during this race, AP McCoy was too sore to ride at Kempton Park the following day.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
The Stewards considered the apparent improvement in form of the winner, SAVELLO (IRE), compared with its previous run at Fairyhouse on 19 January 2014, where the gelding finished 9th of 13 runners, beaten 55 lengths. They noted the trainer’s explanation that SAVELLO (IRE) had made a bad mistake three out and was unable to recover in the soft ground. They ordered the gelding to be routine tested.
WHY THEY RAN BADLY:
Harry Derham, the rider of SHOOTERS WOOD (IRE), unplaced, reported that the gelding stopped quickly.
During the races I watch the big screen positioned part way down the racecourse, so I saw poor Raya Star fall and knew immediately from the telltale signs that he had sustained a serious injury from which he would not recover; Choc had been thrown clear and, fortunately, having been near the rear of the field, appeared to have avoided the galloping hooves of most if not all of his rivals.
The horse ambulance was quickly on the scene but, from my low viewpoint beside the course-side rails, I could not see whether Choc was on his feet, due to the Cross Country cheese-wedges fence blocking my view. The race continued but I paid little attention, especially once an ambulance vehicle had headed off in the direction of the back straight, warning lights flashing. I began to wonder if Choc had been injured after all.
I waited at my vantage point to see if there were any further developments, but all I saw was the horse ambulance returning across the course having picked up Raya Star’s now lifeless body. The race had proved too much for this novice, although it has been won by such in the past. He wasn’t very big, and could race keenly; his jumping had been his undoing on three occasions during his hurdling days, although twice this was as a young novice. Sadly, today, his luck ran out. Such a shame that he was now gone, having won a couple of valuable handicap hurdles in his time, at Ascot, including the Ladbroke in December 2011. The 8-year-old had also finished third to Zarkandar in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle in February 2012.
“He’s done very well over fences but they are just a bit big for him; he tries really hard and it would be good to see him do well”, said Lydia Hislop when talking about the horses in the Parade Ring; Raya Star was following Savello out of the Paddock and onto the horse-walk as she spoke. Triumph and disaster.
What to do now? I absolutely hate it when I’ve been left in limbo, not knowing whether Choc is okay or not. I decided to return to the Parade Ring area, heading across the concourse with the aim of getting closer to the area beside the Weighing Room with the hope of perhaps seeing Choc dropped off and walking back in.
I was delayed by the horses returning along the horse-walk after the race, crossing access denied to the public until it was safe for them to do so. Eventually I did find my way to the rails beside the enclosure reserved for the unplaced horses; no sign of Choc, but a number of ambulance vehicles with flashing lights did return to the area behind the Weighing Room to drop off their passengers. One ambulance almost ‘took out’ one of the fence posts in an attempt to access the area! Horses being led across their path on the way back to the stables had to be diverted into the adjacent unplaced horses’ enclosure for a minute or two.
No news is good news I suppose. After a few minutes I decided to head back towards the opposite side of the Parade Ring; on the way I passed Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad, Matt Howells, he was carrying Choc’s saddle and looked glum. However, I was still at sixes and sevens … and, as I stood close to the bottom end of the paddock, I noticed Choc’s mum, Sally, heading in my general direction having been to visit the Weighing Room.
Oh well, needs must … so I plucked up the courage to approach her. “Are you Choc’s mum?” I asked. “Yes”, she replied. Having expressed my concern, Sally explained that Choc had hurt his knee during the fall and ice was now being applied to reduce the swelling but he was okay. “That’s a relief”, I said. She also mentioned that there were a number of jockeys in the medical room all lined up for treatment.
Before I left her, I asked for her to pass on my best wishes to Choc. She said she would, asking for my name and if he knew me … “Yes, I’m afraid so”, I joked. And she laughed! I expect his mum was left wondering who this very strange and concerned race-goer was!
It later transpired that it had been Mark Walsh who was stretchered off the course, having taken a heavy fall from Competitive Edge, and brought down Easter Meteor.
Having discovered that Choc was okay, it was then time for me to make tracks. I popped to the loo, always a sensible idea ahead of a long journey, before returning to my car which was parked in the lower field today. I ate the two remaining cheese rolls and set about waiting for the massed throng of vehicles to leave although, saying that, I never really noticed a long tailback of vehicles queuing to exit onto Swindon Lane.
I’m totally accustomed to leaving later on the last day and this was no exception; I exited at 19:20. Being later, I was permitted to turn left outside the gate, and decided upon the same route out of Cheltenham as yesterday. This being the case, I turned right at the roundabout and headed down Evesham Road towards the town centre. At the junction with Wellington Road I turned left; coaches leaving from the New Barn Lane coach park are directed down Albert Road, turning right to travel along Wellington Road in the opposite direction to me and, at the end of which, they enter the Evesham Road to make their escape.
Having negotiated the roundabout on the Prestbury Road, I drove straight ahead and circumnavigated Pittville Circus before entering Pittville Circus Road. Upon reaching Hewlett Road I turned left to reach the ‘longabout’, where I took a left and a right to head up Harp Hill. Having reached the top I turned right into Greenway Lane, negotiated the two chicanes and arrived at the Six Ways junction; once the traffic lights had changed to green, I turned left to join the A40. It was 19:38.
For the final time this week I headed up past the Dowdeswell Reservoir, around the Andoversford bypass, through two sets of traffic lights, and up the steep incline of the dual carriageway to reach what is probably the highest point of my journey. The route took me past the Puesdown Inn, and onwards to the roundabout which marks the crossing of the Stow to Cirencester Road.
It’s actually 40 miles from the racecourse to the Wolvercote roundabout in Oxford, using the A40; the section between the aforementioned roundabout and the Burford roundabout is 9 miles and, according to Google, it takes just 11 minutes to drive! There is then a short stretch of road before one reaches the Witney bypass. At this point the faster vehicles streaked off into the distance, leaving those like myself to travel at a steady 65 mph until the road becomes a single carriageway in both directions once more.
The route takes me through a set of staggered traffic lights; I hate it when they appear to have been green for an extended period of time, just in case they decide to change upon one’s approach when travelling quite fast. After that is a roundabout and a second set of staggered traffic lights. Not long after I arrived at the Wolvercote roundabout.
It is at this point, whilst waiting in the queue of traffic, I mull over my options as to the route to take next. In recent years it has invariably been the Oxford bypass, M40 and M25 but, on this occasion, I decided I’d travel via Bicester and Aylesbury, retracing my morning route to return. I wasn’t feeling particularly tired, but knew the cross-country route would definitely keep me awake, as opposed to risking the pure monotony of a motorway drive.
To follow this route I drove up the short section of the A44, circumnavigated the Peartree interchange roundabout, taking a right turn to join the A34 Oxford bypass and headed north-eastwards. Approaching the M40 motorway junction, I ensured that I moved into the outside lane as this would enable me to negotiate the roundabout in order to enter the A41 dual carriageway; the inside lane bears off to join the M40 northbound carriageway.
There’s a fairly new roundabout on this section of the road, providing access to and from the ever-growing housing estate to the west of Bicester. Shortly after this junction, a new Premier Inn has been built. When I reached the next roundabout I turned right to head along the Bicester bypass; this runs alongside the Bicester Village shopping outlet.
At the end of this section of road is the Ambrosden roundabout; it soon became clear why the articulated lorry I’d seen this morning had crashed. Tyre tracks could clearly be seen across the top of the raised island separating the end of the east and west carriageways, with a muddy rutted track heading into the middle of the roundabout, ending at a tree within the shrubbery. The driver must have failed to see the island in the fog, only to realise that braking was required when it was far too late!
I successfully negotiated the roundabout and headed down the A41, the middle section of which follows the old Roman Road. This is a very dangerous section of road, as drivers take liberties when overtaking due to its straightness. I’d soon reached the short section of dual carriageway to the west of Kingswood, manoeuvred through the road-works where, I believe, a new roundabout is being constructed, and headed onwards to Waddesdon.
After Waddesdon I reached Aylesbury, taking care not to speed around their 30 mph ring-road due to cameras. I rejoined the A41 and soon left the residential area behind me. At the large roundabout further along I turned left to head along the A41 bypass; it should be an easy drive to reach the Hemel Hempstead junction ... but no. Road-works, after darkness. All traffic was funnelled off at the Tring junction.
At this point I decided to play ‘silly buggers’; especially in light of the fact I actually knew the route I should take from the days when I went rambling in the vicinity. Instead I followed the diversion signs ... which directed me back to a slip-road leading onto the A41 which, had I followed the instruction, would have taken me back to Aylesbury! I was beginning to wonder if some jokers had moved the signs!
Anyway, after driving back across the A41 bridge once more, this time I took the road into Tring. The only disadvantage of this route is the traffic calming humps all along their main shopping street, but I soon negotiated these and found myself on the eastern side of the town, heading towards the next junction with the A41 bypass. There were no signs to direct me back onto the bypass, but it appeared that one of the vehicles ahead of me had chosen to rejoin the road, so I followed it and was on my way to Hemel Hempstead once more.
Having left the A41 carriageway for the final time, I drove down the hill and along Two Waters Road to negotiate the ‘magic roundabout’; after which I headed up the steep hill, careful not to break the 40 mph speed limit here or further along. At the Maylands Avenue roundabout I turned right, headed through Leverstock Green and on towards St Albans. Again care must be taken to avoid speeding, as there are a couple of speed cameras situated overlooking the road as one heads out into the country once more.
Upon reaching the outskirts of St Albans, I drove down Bluehouse Hill and around the ring-road to reach home. There was no requirement to visit the petrol station today, even if a trip to Kempton Park was in the offing the following day; there would be sufficient fuel for that in the tank. I arrived home at 21:45; the journey door-to-door having taken 2 hours and 25 minutes.
It was definitely time for supper, and I also found time to upload my photographs and check the following day’s runners, just in case a trip to the Sunbury-On-Thames track became a reality. I thus turned in knowing that, if Choc was fit to ride following today’s fall, I’d be there!
For the record, it took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to travel to Cheltenham on Tuesday, 2 hours and 32 minutes on Wednesday, 2 hours and 53 minutes on Thursday ... something to do with the fog, and 2 hours and 30 minutes on Friday ... because I left home at 05:45 and despite the fog!
My journey times home were 2 hours and 20 minutes on Tuesday, 2 hours 45 minutes on Wednesday (presumably due to the waiting time at Greenway Lane and the slow moving traffic on the A40), 2 hours and 30 minutes on Thursday, and 2 hours 25 minutes on Friday despite going across country rather than by motorway and because I didn’t drop in to the petrol station.
Also, I forgot to mention that Willie Mullins won the Top Trainer prize, with 4 winners. Ruby Walsh was Top Jockey having clocked up 3 winners prior to being injured during the first race on the final day.
Attendance on Gold Cup day was 67,814; total attendance for the Festival 232,340.
The re-development of the racecourse would continue moving forward; further demolition having taken place in time for the April meeting. The area above the Winners’ Enclosure will have changed by the time I hope to return in October 2014, and the horse-walkway leading out of the Parade Ring repositioned by then too; it will take the form of a more sweeping curve I gather.