DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2014
FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE
TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2014
Western Warhorse returns having won the
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Grade 1)
This year it was my turn to have ‘fitness’ problems leading up to the Festival. I succumbed to my first cold virus of the winter at the end of January and this was followed, twelve days later, by my third ever bout of flu. The cold had prevented me from attending the Sandown Park fixture on 01 February and the flu, along with the worst prolonged spell of wet weather ever recorded, stopped me from going to Newbury on Super Saturday. I still wasn’t well enough to go to Ascot in mid-February either. So a trip to Kempton Park on 22 February was my first outing to the races of 2014; January having been very quiet due to a lack of Alan King runners because of a feed–related lung problem I believe.
Having finally recovered from the flu, I then had to overcome two weeks of heartburn which, my doctor informed me, was caused by taking ibuprofen to ward off the fever symptoms of the aforementioned virus. And I solely take ibuprofen because paracetamol, which the majority of flu remedies appear to contain, causes me to feel ‘spaced out’ and very strange!
Thus the first day of the Cheltenham Festival would be only my second racing outing of the year; Choc having ridden at Doncaster not Newbury on 01 March, followed by my usual decision not to attend Sandown Park on the Saturday before the Festival because it puts too much strain upon me to complete a diary thereof before I set off for Gloucestershire. It has to be noted that, as a result, I missed seeing Choc ride his 24th winner of the season aboard Midnight Sail as a result.
Another outing I missed, due to my finding out about it too close to the event - in fact 6 days before - was a trip to Earls Court in London to see Pat Cash play Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi play Pete Sampras as part of World Tennis Day. Tickets had been available when my work colleague sent me an email about the ‘celebration’, but I couldn’t psych myself up at the last minute to attend as I still wasn’t feeling 100% fitness wise and as a result couldn’t face a trip on my own to West London. If only I’d found out earlier, I’m sure I could have made arrangements for a friend to accompany me.
Anyway, as the days ticked down, the excitement began to kick in. I started to plan my wardrobe, which meant rummaging through my cupboards to find suitable items to wear ... especially as it became clear that the forecasters were expecting a warmer than, and dryer than, average Festival! That would make a change from the freezing cold temperatures of Day 1 last year and the heavy rain of Day 4, when I had to resort to wearing tights and leggings under long skirts, together with layer upon layer of clothing topped off with my faux sheepskin jacket, for the duration of the event.
On the Friday prior to the Festival I hung up all my outfits, ironed where necessary, on 4 different hooks in the spare room, ready for easy access as the week progressed.
At 08:00 on Sunday I headed to the local petrol station to fill up my vehicle’s tank and, upon my arrival back home, I cleaned my car too. I had been rather hoping that a member of staff at the local garage would clean it as part of the service in mid-February, which they have done previously, but not this year ... it must be cutbacks. That had been fun, I’d booked my car service for 10 February and, as it turned out, it was day three of my flu. I’d driven the car to the garage and arranged to be dropped back at home, instead of continuing on to work. Normally I’d also collect it but, on this occasion, asked if they’d deliver it back to me, which they did, but the following day.
Having got soaked, as usual, when I cleaned my car, I had a shower and then settled down to watch ATR’s Sunday Forum whilst completing a Sudoku puzzle. However, throughout the morning, I’d noticed unusually slow moving traffic on the road outside my home; I’m accustomed to that happening during a workday rush-hour, but definitely not on a Sunday morning. A blue-skied, sunshine filled Sunday morning that is, and warm for the time of year.
A search through the local paper provided the answer – it was Lambing Day at the local Further Education/Agricultual College. The event had begun at 10:00 and it was now 11:30 ... could I resist? No, I love lambs, they are so cute and definitely not to be consumed with mint sauce!!! Occasionally I ‘fall off the wagon’ and eat lamb, but guilt usually gets the better of me in the end. It dates back to a family holiday in Wales many Springs ago when, for the first time, I noticed the gamboling lambs in the fields ... and have found it difficult to eat them ever since. And I remember the time when my friend Mark and I were rambling in nearby Whitwell and there was a field full of almost new born lambs; they were just so cute ... but were gone the following week. L
Anyway, I set off to walk to the College; passing queuing traffic on the way. The event was free and, with such fine weather, the turnout was big with, obviously, parents and children everywhere. I felt a little out of place, but really wanted to see the lambs. First off I took a look around the enclosures in the yard – three calves, Saddleback pigs and goats.
The alpacas were still in their usual paddock; I often see them when I go for a long walk. Perhaps the organisers were frightened that they might spit, which they do when angry – they are a member of the camelid family and, like llamas, are related to camels. I understand that the more angry they become, the lower down the digestion system the ‘spit’ comes from ... in fact when very angry they almost spit ‘sh*t’ and, not surprisingly, it smells foul I’m told!
I then went to look around the equestrian centre; they also have an indoor school where a riding demonstration was taking place. Following that I visited the animal care centre, where the creatures included lizards, snakes, rabbits and guinea-pigs. The tractor rides were proving very popular with families; I had other plans – to visit the lambing shed, so I joined the queue and waited, and waited, and waited. I thought the lambing barn would be visible around the first bend, then the second one, and it was ... in the far distance. The queue must have been 200 metres long ... and it took over 30 minutes to reach it.
The three rams, fathers to the majority of lambs, were in a pen to the right as I approached the barn, one of which, I remember, was a Texel. Finally I reached the barn. The pregnant ewes were in an enclosure to the right, with an initial pen full of ewes and lambs to the left. There was a young lad in the pen and he selected different lambs, one at a time, to bring to the waiting public so that they could stroke them; smaller children could stand on haybales in order to see the animals.
I couldn’t resist finding my ‘inner child’ and had the opportunity to stroke one of the lambs, it was just so cute. There was a second large pen further along on the left, containing more ewes and lambs. Then around eight smaller pens for single ewes and their twin lambs, to left and right, further on; these lambs had been born during the past couple of days, with one pair just last night.
Washing facilities were provided at the far end, which I took advantage of. There had been signs on the approach on the barn, advising pregnant women to avoid the lambing area due to the risks of certain infections passing from sheep to humans. Well, you live and learn don’t you ... although I’m too old to have to worry about that!
Having completed my mission, I set off for home, passing through the yard area again where the calves, pigs and goats were housed on the way out. I arrived home at 13:50; the afternoon would be spent watching racing on Racing UK – with Choc riding his 25th winner of the season aboard the Anthony Honeyball-trained Lily Waugh at Market Rasen.
During the evening I spent time setting up my Cheltenham diary templates and writing my diary up until this point; I hoped I would not be tempting fate!
Monday was a day’s leave; I have worked the day before the Festival on earlier occasions, but never these days – I can’t cope with that. Although I found it very difficult to settle to anything on this day this year. I walked down to the local Dunelm and Homebase outlets mid-morning to purchase a few bits and pieces. And I really need to brush up on my observation skills ... for I walked past a large notice outside Oaklands College advertising yesterday’s Lambing Day; I must have missed that when I walked down the road to the retail park on 28 February! But perhaps it’s just one example of the brain at work, as explained on one of the BBC2 Horizon programmes a few weeks back.
It was quite chilly today, a fairly cold breeze blowing; nothing like yesterday’s unseasonably warm sunshine. During my walk back I decided that I’d swap my Tuesday outfit for my Friday outfit, as I knew forecasters were expecting the days to become slightly warmer as the Festival progressed. Having arrived home, I ironed my scarves, set up the Sky hard drive to record the relevant Festival coverage and swapped my handbags. I was going to do a little cross-stitch but, in the event, knew I wouldn’t be able to settle to it.
The afternoon was spent watching the racing from Plumpton, Taunton and Stratford, with Choc having two riding engagements at the former. Choc rode a winner for Anthony Honeyball, and Wayne Hutchinson rode a double, including the Alan King-trained Our Phylli Vera – the mare having been responsible for Choc’s second broken arm when falling at Southwell in early March last year.
However, other jockeys were not so fortunate. Jason Maguire was air-lifted to hospital having been kicked in the abdomen by a rival’s horse when unseated at Stratford, and Ciaran Mckee who was knocked unconscious for a few minutes when falling and bringing down another horse, also at Stratford.
I updated this diary entry too, having written my daily blog, and was ready to go to bed by 21:30. I’d tuned in to both ATR and RUK to watch part of each of their Festival preview programmes during the evening too.
Being an analogue alarm clock, the bell sounded slightly earlier than the expected 04:20; at 04:10 in fact. I’ve decided it is better to lay in bed for a few minutes rather than get up when the alarm goes off; because it gives my heart time to settle down after the fright of being woken far too early. Having gone downstairs to turn on the heating and hot water, I noticed a red light on the Sky box ... I had an inkling that it was a due for its regular overnight update; I wasn’t wrong. So I reset the box in order to record today’s RUK Festival coverage.
I showered, washed and dried my hair, ate a breakfast of Weetabix and raisens and drank a cup of tea before applying my make-up. As often happens, because I feel I’ve allowed plenty of time to prepare for my departure, I did procrastinate before finally being ready to go. It was 06:28 (accordingly to the clock in my car) when I set off.
Today’s outfit was a cream thermal vest, violet thermal t-shirt, black ribbed frill hem cardigan, dark violet fleece, black gillet, Dorothy Perkins grey/black dogtooth check flippy-hem skirt, grape coloured tights, burgundy studded biker boots, grey/black block design BHS coat; also my burgundy/brown/pink Next handbag, mauve/turquoise pendant necklace (as constructed by me) and matching earrings, plus M & S silver grey/black/cerise/mauve scarf.
Being early in the morning, I decided to take the more direct route through the city centre, rather than use the ring-road; fortuitously all the traffic lights enroute were set to green all the way to Aylesbury. I was hoping not to see a magpie ... fortunately I saw a number of them of my way to Leverstock Green; my luck should be good today then.
My route took me through Hemel Hempstead, via the ‘magic roundabout’ to join the A41 bypass and onwards to Aylesbury, where I arrived after 07:00. There had been further changes to the road layout since my last trip to Cheltenham in October so, not only had the roundabout at the beginning of their ring-road been replaced by traffic lights, they had also been installed to replace the two roundabouts at Broughton Lane and Bedgrove respectively. I don’t know what the problem is with road planners, they seem to install roundabouts where there should be traffic lights and vice versa!
Having negotiated the aforementioned ring-road, I set off along the single carriageway out of town, through Waddesdon, and onwards to Bicester; I arrived at the Ambrosden roundabout on the outskirts of the latter at 07:32. I soon reached the far end of their bypass, turning left at the next roundabout and then straight on at a third one; this being a fairly new addition to cater for vehicles exiting from the nearby new and expanding housing estate.
The next junction permits traffic to join the M40 motorway via Junction 9 and, invariably, causes big tailbacks on the A41. Today was no exception. It seemed to take ages, as I must have been queuing back for around 800 yards or so. Eventually I reached the traffic-light controlled junction, negotiated the roundabout and set off down the A34 towards Oxford. Further slow moving traffic due to three lanes becoming two and canny local drivers taking a shortcut through the village of Wendlebury, which permits traffic to leave the A41 and rejoin the A34 totally omitting the M40 junction.
I finally reached the Peartree interchange, and descended the slip-road to the roundabout upon the A44 below. This is where I encounter the worst bottle-neck upon my journey; having finally squeezed out through one line of almost stationary traffic actually queuing around the roundabout itself, I joined the second one in order to travel down the outside lane of the dual carriageway leading down to the Wolvercote roundabout on the A40 before turning right.
The dual carriageway is choc-a-bloc every rush-hour; today an ambulance had to weave its way through the stationary vehicles. After these delays I left Oxford at 08:15, heading out across the Cotswolds to reach Cheltenham at 09:00. Although the rush-hour had now finished, there was a queue of traffic at the Six Ways junction tailing back to the near side of the dip in the road. I chose to turn right at the traffic lights and headed up Greenway Lane and down Harp Hill to reach the ‘longabout’.
A sharp right turn took me around to Bouncers Lane, across the mini-roundabouts into Tatchley Lane and onwards to New Barn Lane. I’d soon reached the main entrance to Cheltenham racecourse; I negotiated the roundabout outside and headed into Swindon Lane, a right-turn shortly afterwards took me into the car park.
I held up my parking docket so as to gain entry and was directed up the gravel driveway to the top field; the bottom field being already full today. That’s unusual for the first day of the Festival, but it was already 09:15. Cars entering via the Swindon Road entrance are instructed to turn left having driven through the gap in the hedge, following the line of a track before turning right and right again to park in the first available space.
However, for some unknown reason, I was directed to park at the far end of the 5th row, next to the gravel drive despite there being room available in the intervening space between. Typical. I cleaned my car two days ago, and now that the weather is dry, the gravel is very dusty and that dust will drift over my vehicle when cars drive by and it will be filthy by the end of the day.
I ate two of the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me, saving two for consumption before I drove home. The weather was currently dry, grey with a chill wind; a tiny bit of blue sky appearing by 10:00. I also searched for Cheltenham Festival Radio, which I eventually found and spent time listening to before leaving my car. Having put on my boots, scarf and coat, I set off to the entrance at 10:10.
Gate opening time was 10:30; punters’ bags weren’t security searched today, or at least not those of the spectators near the front of the queues. There was a slight delay at the portable turnstiles as the electronic ticket reader was not working correctly for someone ahead of me ... or perhaps they were not inserting the ticket into the slot correctly.
With redevelopment already underway at the racecourse, the kiosk where I normally buy my racecard no longer exists. I therefore purchased one from the portable kiosk just opposite the entrance before heading to the loo along the main concourse. It must be my age, because I was absolutely dying for a wee by this time.
Having visited the little girls’ room, I then walked to the Parade Ring to await, hopefully, my first sight of Choc at this year’s Festival ... and I didn’t have to wait long.
Choc appeared to arrive back from a course walk at 10:55 with two casually dressed guys; he walked around the far side of the Parade Ring, rather than across it, to reach the Weighing Room. He was wearing a tweed colour suit and yellow tie today.
Choc’s mum sat upon one of the benches outside the Weighing Room. He sat down to have a cigarette whilst chatting to his mum. When she said goodbye to him, she kissed Choc on the cheek and appeared to wish him luck.
Oli Bell of RUK interviewed Choc about his rides for the day shortly afterwards. They stood below the Weighing Room steps, Choc leaning upon the railing beside him. My favourite jockey having returned to the confines of the Weighing Room, I repositioned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to await the commencement of the pre-race presentations at 12:15, hosted by Martin Kelly.
I have to say that I find this new format far inferior to the old school presentations hosted by Jonathan Powell and Ian Carnaby. It has now become as ‘dull as dishwater’! Today’s guests were Ted Quigley (aka Longshot Ted); jockey Bryan Cooper; trainer Harry Fry; and, the sponsor of the Champion Hurdle being Stan James, Rory Jiwani.
Baby Mix was announced as a non-runner in race 7 due to a bruised foot incurred on the journey to Cheltenham.
During each day I survived by eating M&S sugar free Rhubarb & Custard drops ... very moreish ... although by Friday I was beginning to regret overdosing on the sweets, as I experienced abdominal pains all the way home; probably all that concentrated rhubarb juice I’d been consuming! However, I’d fully recommend them in small doses. And they make butterscotch flavoured drops, also strawberry and cream ones ... all very nice. At a later date I noticed a warning on the butterscotch box about not eating too many sweets in succession.
As part of the pre-race entertainment, there was a parade of ex-racehorses in conjunction with the ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) charity. Making an appearance this year were Denman, Blazing Bailey, Crystal D’Ainay, Monkerhostin, Barbers Shop, Miko De Beauchene, Lightening Strike, Kauto Star, Deep Reflection and Ashkazar.
The two ex-Alan King charges, Blazing Bailey and Crystal D’Ainay, are looked after by Sarah Welford and Charlotte Burke respectively. Sarah Welford is a long-term member of Alan King’s staff, and partner of Gerard Tumelty, and Charlotte is Alan’s Secretary/PA.
It’s all too easy to get ‘hemmed in’ by the spectators as they congregate upon the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure ahead of the first race. Therefore, with this in mind and prior to any of the runners arriving in the Parade Ring, I set off to find my afternoon vantage point beside the course-side rails.
The ROR horses cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the stands before the first race too; having travelled quite some way down the strip before turning and coming back.
The joint-favourites for the first race were the Willie Mullins-trained Vautour ridden by Ruby Walsh and the Paul Nicholls-trained Irving ridden by Nick Scholfield. Choc’s mount in this event was Wilde Blue Yonder and hoping to put his two most recent runs behind him, having fallen at the final flight on both occasions; once at Newbury and once at Ascot.
The starting gate for the extended two mile trip is located at the far end of the home straight. Therefore the runners headed up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to travel to its termination.
Then they were off, to the loud cheer of the Cheltenham crowd. The field was led away by Vautour, Splash Of Ginge, The Liquidator and Valseur Lido; Choc held up Wilde Blue Yonder in rear. All eighteen runners having successfully negotiated the first flight, the horses continued up the home straight towards the grandstands and the next obstacle.
Splash Of Ginge spearheaded the runners at this point. Ruby Walsh’s mount Vautour travelled close up to his inside, with the David Pipe-trained The Liquidator to his outside. Behind these to the inside was Gilgamboa with AP aboard, to his outside Josses Hill and Valseur Lido. Next ranked were Wicklow Brave, Germany Calling, Vaniteux, Irving and Western Boy. Following these to the inside Three Kingdoms, to his outer Wilde Blue Yonder, Un Ace and Garde Le Victoire. In rear were Fantasy King, Sgt Reckless and Sky Khan.
Vautour jumped into the lead over the second flight; Sgt Reckless was a little slow in rear. Ruby is imperious when he dictates the pace from the front. The runners headed up around the bend opposite the main grandstand and began their journey down the back straight. The Liquidator had almost joined him at the head of affairs by the time they crossed the third flight, but he made a small error and dropped back a length. At this stage, Sgt Reckless was being outpaced at the rear of the field.
Heading to the fourth flight, Vautour and The Liquidator had opened up a three length advantage over their pursuers; Gilgamboa, disputing third with Splash Of Ginge, hit the top of the hurdle. Having negotiated the dogleg turn, AP’s mount didn’t jump particularly smoothly at the fifth either. The runners headed around the far bend, Vautour just one length ahead of The Liquidator, a further length back Gilgamboa and Valseur Lido disputed third position. Splash Of Ginge was being pushed along in fifth and joint-favourite Irving had lost his position and currently travelled at the back of the main group.
Wilde Blue Yonder was in mid-field, alongside Josses Hill, and two of the Irish raiders Wicklow Brave and Western Boy. But Choc’s mount did slightly lose out on the approach to three out as Splash Of Ginge began to fade and Wicklow Brave squeezed through the available gap ahead of them. Vautour wasn’t fluent at the flight, which allowed the main body of the field to keep tabs on him as he headed down to the penultimate one. The Liquidator was almost upsides the leader, and they were closely pursued by Wicklow Brave and Vaniteux; behind these Gilgamboa and Valseur Lido, followed by Josses Hill, Wilde Blue Yonder and Western Boy.
Gilgamboa, who was just beginning to show signs of distress, trod on the flight and quickly lost his place. Western Boy jumped out to his right over this one and lost ground too. Vautour kept up the relentless gallop as the runners negotiated the final bend; The Liquidator was in second, from Vaniteux, with Wicklow Brave, Josses Hill, Wilde Blue Yonder and Western Boy disputing fourth.
The long-time leader began to extend the distance between himself and his rivals on the run to the last; his nearest pursuers now Wicklow Brave and Josses Hill. Wilde Blue Yonder travelled in sixth position at this stage, having been outpaced around the turn. Having cleared the final hurdle, Vautour continued to stay on and drew away from his rivals to win by 6 lengths at the line. The two Nicky Henderson runners, Josses Hill and Vaniteux fought it out for second place, with the former prevailing by half a length. Wicklow Brave faded badly, being overtaken first by Wilde Blue Yonder and then the fast finishing Sgt Reckless; in fact the latter stayed on to claim 4th, with Choc’s mount 5th. Wilde Blue Yonder having put in an exemplary round of jumping today, including the last!
One of the favourites had won; the other joint-favourite Irving finished in 9th position. Does Ruby always win the first race of the Festival? No, just three of the last four years! Al Ferof in 2011 and Champagne Fever last year.
With Choc having finished 5th and therefore not returning to the Winners’ Enclosure, I remained beside the course-side rails following the race.
There were two joint favourites for the next race too; the Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever ridden by Ruby Walsh and the Charles Byrnes-trained Trifolium ridden by Bryan Cooper. Choc’s mount in this event was the flashy chestnut Valdez; a particular favourite of his trainer Alan King.
The starting gate for the next race is also located at the far end of the home straight. Therefore the runners headed up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to travel to its termination.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the hooded ‘crazy’ horse Western Warhorse, from Champagne Fever and Trifolium. Next in the field, line across the track jumping the first were, from the inside, Grandouet, Valdez, Brick Red, Dodging Bullets and Rock On Ruby; Ted Veale brought up the rear. Having cleared this obstacle without incident, the runners headed to the next, where the grey Champagne Fever took the lead.
The horses then galloped across the dusty vehicle track, and headed through a gap in the plastic rails to join the Old Course in order to continue their journey. Ears pricked, Ruby Walsh’s mount led the runners to the third fence. On the outside of the field, Rock On Ruby got far too close to the fence and made a shuddering mistake; the horse’s nose almost touching the ground. Noel Fehily found himself shot forwards with two arms over the left-hand side of the horse and both legs very nearly on the right-hand side too! Somehow he managed to wrap his arms briefly around the horse’s neck and get himself back into the saddle and travelling on an even keel before they reached fence number four. And, amazingly, he’d not lost any ground! He also received a loud cheer from the crowd in appreciation of his rodeo skills.
The field still intact, the runners headed away from the main grandstand, up the hill and over fence number five. Champagne Fever led the runners into the back straight, from Trifolium, Western Warhorse, Dodging Bullets, Rock On Ruby, Grandouet and Valdez, disputing last place were Ted Veale and Brick Red. On the approach to the next fence Choc encouraged his mount to take closer order and he moved up to dispute fourth place to the outside of Dodging Bullets; at the back of the field, Brick Red was a little slow here and was relegated to a clear last. Choc would keep his mount to the outside of the field for the remainder of the race because Valdez has a tendency to jump out to his right.
The Willie Mullins’ runner led the field over the water-jump; having initially appeared to have survived his third-fence error well, Rock On Ruby was now struggling and towards the rear. The obstacle following the water is an open-ditch, which they all cleared safely; although Valdez, who was currently disputing third place with Western Warhorse, was a little slow here. Fence number nine is a plain one; Rock On Ruby made another error here.
The horses negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed to the final open-ditch; Champagne Fever still travelling well at the head of affairs. Heading towards the far corner, his nearest pursuer was Trifolium, from Valdez to the outside of Dodging Bullets. Western Warhorse had dropped back to fifth position, from Grandouet, Ted Veale, Brick Red and Rock On Ruby. The runners now headed downhill to the third last; where Ted Veale made an error.
The field then galloped towards the final bend, Champagne Fever still ahead of Trifolium, with Dodging Bullets, Western Warhorse and Valdez close of their heels; no more than three or four lengths covering the leading group. Into the home straight they headed, Ruby’s mount remained a length in front of the Gigginstown runner and was repelling all challengers as they cleared two out. Ted Veale, in seventh position, fell here; Brick Red circumnavigating the prostrate horse.
The runners headed to the last, and the pursuers still hadn’t caught Champagne Fever despite their best efforts. They jumped the final fence and headed up the hill to the line; it was now time for an unlikely challenger to emerge in the shape of the crazy horse himself, Western Warhorse. Initially Ruby’s mount fought off this new rival but as they drew towards the line the margin diminished. Photograph! Tom Scudamore seemed pretty sure he’d won, as he celebrated having passed the winning post.
The result was soon announced; Western Warhorse had won, by a head. It was the horse’s second chase under rules; wearing first time hood. A 33-1 shot. Trifolium finished 3rd, 4 lengths behind Champagne Fever; Dodging Bullets 4th and Valdez 5th. Ted Veale was fine following his mishap.
Once again there was no need for me to return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
However, there was a muted reception therein following the race; Western Warhorse still proving difficult to handle when lead around having been unsaddled. His jockey was shocked to have won the race; even trainer David Pipe had tried to dissuade the owner from running it in this event.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS’ ROOM FOLLOWING THE RACE:
The Stewards held an enquiry into possible interference
on the run in. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race
they found that CHAMPAGNE FEVER (IRE), placed second, ridden by Ruby Walsh,
had interfered with the winner, WESTERN WARHORSE (IRE), ridden by Tom Scudamore. The Stewards found Walsh in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he switched
his whip to his left hand when his mount was already moving to its right.
They cautioned him as to his future conduct in races.
Noel Fehily, the rider of
ROCK ON RUBY (IRE), unplaced, reported that the gelding jumped poorly. The
Stewards ordered ROCK ON RUBY (IRE) to be routine tested.
The 7-1 favourite for the next race was AP McCoy’s choice of mount, the JP McManus-owned Alfie Sherrin, winner of this race in 2012. No ride in this race for Choc.
The starting gate for the extended 3 mile trip was situated between the nearest two fences in the home straight; therefore upon leaving the Parade Ring the runners headed up the all weather strip in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and re-entering the strip once more. They then exited onto the track part way down, took a look at what would be the penultimate fence (is it still a portable fence?) before entering the make-shift ‘corral’ to the inside upon the New Course to await the off.
Having got to the starting gate, one of trainer Venetia Williams’ two runners was withdrawn on veterinary advice. This being the case, jockey Liam Treadwell trotted Relax back across the racecourse to return to the horsewalk in order to leave the course.
Then they were off. It was a short run to the first fence, with Standing Ovation probably the first to land. At the rear of the field Vintage Star made an error. Heading past the grandstands and out onto the first circuit, Tour Des Champs under Sam Twiston-Davies had assumed the lead with, almost upsides, Shakalakaboomboom; Standing Ovation was now in third position, with Holywell and Fruity O’Rooney disputing fourth.
The runners headed up the hill to jump the second fence, which they all did without mishap, before turning into the back straight. Tour Des Champs to the inside and Standing Ovation to the outside led the way over the third, with Shakalakaboomboom between them half a length down. The next obstacle is the water-jump, where Alfie Sherrin was less than fluent at the rear of the field.
The next fence is an open-ditch; back in the field the Trevor Hemmings-owned runner Vintage Star fell here. Jockey Davy Russell was soon sitting up and appeared to be okay. The sixth fence is a plain one and claimed King Massini; as he was travelling just ahead of mid-field, he hampered both Pacha Du Polder and Time For Rupert. Jockey Adam Wedge walked away from the fall. The runners negotiated the dog-leg turn and faced up to the next fence, another open-ditch; at the rear of the field, the blinkered Vino Griego blundered here.
The horses reached the far corner of the track and headed downhill. Tour Des Champs continued to lead the way, from Standing Ovation who still raced keenly; behind these travelled Holywell and Fruity O’Rooney. Next were Shakalakaboomboom, Renard, Hadrian’s Approach and Restless Harry; in behind these the grey mare Ma Filleule, Pacha Du Polder and Solix. Having reached the bottom of the hill, the runners safely negotiated fence number eight before heading around the turn and into the home straight.
Standing Ovation held a very narrow advantage as they jumped the next; detached in rear were Wrong Turn and Muldoon’s Picnic. At the back of the main body of the field, Cantlow got far too low over the next fence and crashed out, hampering Wrong Turn; the latter would soon be pulled up. The fallen horse was fine and rose to follow the field; jockey Ger Fox was okay too. Tour Des Champs had resumed his position at the head of affairs as the runners headed away from the grandstands and cleared the uphill fence before turning into the back straight. The struggling Muldoon’s Picnic was pulled up too after this fence.
Meanwhile, having chased the runners for a short distance, the loose Cantlow decided that he wanted to go home; or at least back to the stables. He turned around and headed back towards the home straight; unfortunately for him the guiding tape had already been strung across the junction in the rails in preparation for the finish at the end of the next circuit. So he jumped the tape, and was intent on reaching the walkway exit point part way down the home straight. As he approached, the handlers waved their arms in an attempt to stop him; but this just frightened him and he headed up the home straight and past the winning post. He was caught at the top of the course before being led back down the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands.
The race continued. The horses had headed over the first in the back straight, where Time For Rupert made an error. Having jumped the water, Standing Ovation now narrowly led the runners. Also, in the leading half dozen were Tour Des Champs, Fruity O’Rooney, Restless Harry, Ma Filleule and Shakalakaboomboom. The field cleared the open-ditch without mishap; the latter made an error at the next, a plain fence and began to struggle and drop back through the field.
The runners soon headed over the final open-ditch; Standing Ovation and Tour Des Champs still held the advantage as they negotiated the far turn, the grey mare close on their heels, as was Renard, Holywell and Fruity O’Rooney. Having made ground on the outside of the field after the ditch, Alfie Sherrin failed to make further progress as they headed down the hill to the third last fence.
Ma Filleule jumped upsides Standing Ovation over this obstacle but she took off a little early having seen a good stride; in contrast, her jockey Nico de Boinville was caught a little by surprise and lost his balance and his left iron too. It took Nico a while to regain it; meanwhile Holywell had cruised up between his mount and the leader. The Package was now in a clear fourth ahead of the remainder.
The runners turned into the home straight and approached two out. Ma Filleule had a narrow advantage as they jumped it, although she did nod slightly on landing; Richie McLernon gave his mount a reminder as they headed towards the final obstacle. The mare put in a good leap and, at this stage, it looked like she might have the upper hand. However, under a strong drive from his jockey the blinkered Holywell began to close and he got his nose in front as they headed up the hill, asserting to win by 1¾ lengths at the line from the admirable mare.
The Package stayed on at the same pace to claim 3rd, 7 lengths behind the runner-up. Green Flag completed in fourth, a further 2¾ lengths back; Tour Des Champs 5th and Standing Ovation 6th.
The winner had won his second Festival race; last year he’d triumphed over the smaller obstacles, winning the Pertemps Final.
I remained at the course-side rails ahead of the next race, which was today’s feature event.