DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2014
FEATURING THE WORLD HURDLE
THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2014
My star of Day 3, Part 1, is Uxizandre (ridden by Choc today)
who put up a very game front-running display to go down fighting
to the AP McCoy-ridden Taquin Du Seuil in the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase
The sunny days, and lack of a breeze, had combined to produce a thick fog this morning. It had been forecast, but it is never welcomed ahead of a long journey. The visibility at home had been extremely poor during the night, but had appeared to have cleared somewhat by the time night met day so I was unperturbed as I prepared for the day ahead.
As usual I’d risen early, before 04:30, showered and washed and dried my hair. This was followed by a breakfast of two Weetabix with raisins, plus a cup of tea. Having applied my make-up and dressed, I departed at 06:17.
Today’s outfit was a black M&S thermal vest, black BHS long-sleeved vest, a long-sleeved thermal M&S t-shirt (I can’t recall which colour on this occasion, but the odds are it was the violet one), cerise frill edged cardigan (my favourite), bright purple fleece, black gillet, navy skirt with rear hem detail, navy tights, burgundy wedge shoes, navy woollen M&S scarf, black and white horse snood, cerise jacket, the large burgundy handbag yet again (which I’d use on all four days), and my Fired Creations turquoise, cerise and bronze pendant necklace (it may still be illustrated on here – PSS 2340). I really must book myself in for a dichroic glass jewellery workshop so I can make my own pendants and earrings!
Anyway, the fog having appeared to have cleared somewhat, I was not happy to discover that once I’d driven down the hill on the far side of the city, it became very dense. Damn. Would it affect my journey all the way to Cheltenham I wondered? I was soon to find out!
I can recall having to drive to the Festival in fog on one previous occasion, Day 3 of the 2012 Festival in fact. And, because I use my car so little and my memory is going, I couldn’t remember where the rear fog lamp switch was; strange really, as I can still recall its location on my previous car! Poodles. I’d have to survive without it, using just headlights and rear lights, as I had no intention of stopping enroute to look in the manual which I store in the glove compartment.
My route took me through Hemel Hempstead to join the A41 bypass; it was amazing how many vehicles were speeding along the road despite the very poor visibility. I probably went to little faster than recommended, between 55 and 60 mph. As I slowed down approaching the roundabout at the far end of the dual carriageway, I noticed blue flashing lights through the gloom. And, as I drew nearer, I saw a fire engine and an ambulance parked beside it; the roundabout was one of those raised ones, about a metre high, with white bricks around the side. Then, on top of it, I noticed a white car! Ooooops ...
Someone had been travelling far too fast for the prevailing weather conditions, perhaps not even knowing the road layout, and had ignored the roundabout signs and ‘countdown’ signs relating to the obstacle ahead. There are also yellow lines upon the road surface to warn drivers of their approach, which you can clearly hear as your tyres pass over them. So it was surprising that the driver failed to stop in time.
Fortunately the emergency vehicles were positioned so as to avoid blocking the entry and exit from the bypass, so I was not held up by this accident. My route took me through Aylesbury and around their ring-road, before joining the A41 once more and travelling through Waddesdon and Kingswood to reach Bicester. All this was done in slow motion, as visibility was still poor.
Having negotiated the Bicester bypass, I turned left to head down the dual carriageway towards the M40 junction. I decided not to take the Wendlebury option, as travelling along winding country lanes in thick fog was not my idea of fun! I couldn’t actually see whether the tailback from the motorway junction was long or not but, as it transpired, it was shorter than Tuesday but not as short as I’d been hoping.
Traffic was travelling more slowly than normal along the A34 due to the prevailing weather conditions, but I’d soon reached the Peartree Interchange and left via the sliproad to reach the roundabout upon the A44. Once again, and for the third day running, traffic was almost stationary around it, but eventually I managed to cross through into the second lane and travelled down the next short stretch of road to reach the Wolvercote roundabout. A right turn took me onto the A40; the time was just before 08:00.
The journey was slow over the Cotswolds today, due to the fog, with none of the usual landmarks I’m accustomed to being visible. However, I eventually reached Cheltenham, taking my now familiar route up Greenway Lane, down Harp Hill, along Priors Road, up Bouncers Lane, across the double roundabouts into Tatchley Lane, New Barn Lane, Swindon Lane and into the car park.
I had arrived at 09:10 but, the fog having delayed many travellers, there was still space in the lower field to park, although I was fairly high up on the hill. Once again I left the car in reverse gear for safety. Whilst waiting in my car before heading to the turnstiles, I decided to search out the car manual and discovered how to operate the fog lamps; hopefully it would hold me in good stead for the next time I’d need them ... at this stage little did I know it would be the following morning!!!
When the gates opened at 10:30 I purchased a race-card at the kiosk opposite the turnstiles and headed to the loo; for the third day running my early morning cup of tea was causing havoc and I was dying for a wee!!! I then headed down the concourse to the Parade Ring, waiting in the area opposite the Weighing Room.
I soon spotted Choc; it was becoming a fixture this Festival to see him having a cigarette break whilst standing outside the Weighing Room. Today he was wearing his long black coat, with white shirt and red tie as usual! I later discovered he’d already been interviewed by RUK’s Oli Bell; I found the interview within Thursday’s Mark Your Card programme (following a clue to this from Lydia Hislop later in the afternoon!). I must have just missed this due to my visit to the little girls’ room, as all interviews are broadcast with a few minutes time lapse delay, and this was timed as beginning at 10:43. Of course, Choc was looking as gorgeous as ever!
During the interview, Oli spoke about Sire De Grugy’s win the previous day and the reception Jamie Moore had received from the jockeys upon his return to the Winners’ Enclosure. Jamie had mentioned that Ruby had offered him good advice during the race, telling him to follow Special Tiara. Choc admitted that Ruby had also given him advice turning into the home straight during the RSA; he told Choc to kick on if his horse stayed, which he did ... but he got beat. Choc said “but what does Ruby know?” and he laughed.
It transpired that Choc hadn’t been to walk the New Course yet so, having put on his green wellies, he set off to do this at 10:45, taking around 25-30 minutes. He was accompanied by a young lad who, at the time, I didn’t know; but in hindsight I think it may have been Archie Bellamy, son of ex-jockey Robert and brother of jockey Tom. And that’s because Archie tweeted Choc later in the evening to say my favourite jockey had forgotton to give him a lift home, having given him a ride to the racecourse in the morning! Choc apologised for being absent-minded; Archie joked that he’d contact Social Services!
I had been hoping to meet up with fellow Choc fan Sally Meek but, in the event, she was unable to make it today due to unforeseen circumstances. I’d been looking forward to having someone to chat to today; but hopefully we’d be able to meet up at Cheltenham in the future, perhaps later in the year.
I had been worried that it would be ‘mascara running’ weather today, but it must have been dry fog, rather than wet fog, because it had no adverse effect on my make-up!
The usual Pre-Races Preview took place in the Winners’ Enclosure, presented by Martin Kelly. Today’s guests were Tony O’Hehir, Irish Correspondent of the Racing Post; Paul Nicholls; Davy Russell; and David Chapman of Ladbrokes, representing the sponsors of today’s feature event, the World Hurdle.
In light of jockey Bryan Cooper’s broken leg sustained the previous day, there were a number of jockey changes announced. Davy Russell would replace Bryan aboard Mozoltov in the first race, Ruby Walsh would ride Seefood in the Pertemps Final, David Casey would deputise aboard Rathlin in the Ryanair, and Brian O’Connell would ride Rule The World in the World Hurdle. Liam Treadwell would ride Bennys Mist in the Byrne Group Plate in place of Paul Carberry.
Mindful that I might become trapped upon the steppings as punters arrived to view the runners in the Parade Ring ahead of the first race, I set off in good time to find my usual vantage point beside the course-side rails. Although visibility had improved a little, it was impossible to see Cleeve Hill; the highest point in the Cotswolds.
Alan King had one runner in the first race, Uxizandre to be ridden by Choc. The horse is owned by JP McManus but AP McCoy had chosen to ride the Jonjo O’Neill trained Taquin Du Seuil. Uxizandre needs to race left-handed, and the cheek-pieces were back on again today; his odds were 33-1, the second longest odds of any of the 12 runners. The race favourite was Felix Yonger, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh.
The starting gate for this event is part-way down the mid-course chute, with two fences to be jumped before the far turn. Having exited from the horse walkway, the runners cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip around the top bend to reach the in-field.
Having exited the in-field and walked onto the track ahead of the race, Choc ensured that his mount jumped off at the head of affairs and that he also claimed the inside berth. And then they were off; there was a roar from the crowd as soon as the commentator Mike Cattermole announced that the race had begun.
Sizing Gold held a very narrow advantage as they headed to the first, with Uxizandre to his inside, and Djakadam and Double Ross to his outside. The leader reached for the fence and, as a result, was a little less fluent than those around him. Near the back of the field, Oscar Whisky fell; Mozoltov made a very bad error, unseated his jockey, but remained on his feet despite colliding with Barry Geraghty’s mount, which appeared to roll completely over as a result. And, caught in the backwash of this carnage was Vukovar who was severely hampered, but his partnership with Noel Fehily survived. The horses and jockeys were fine following the incident.
Uxizandre had assumed the lead as the remaining runners headed towards fence number two, which they all cleared safely. Double Ross now travelled in second position, from Djakadam, Sizing Gold, Wonderful Charm, Off The Ground, Taquin Du Seuil, Felix Yonger, the 200-1 outsider Captain Ocana and the unlucky Vukovar. The runners crossed over the New Course and headed around the far turn; Choc’s mount was enjoying himself at the head of affairs, ears pricked. The horses cornered quite wide, as they had been travelling downhill at speed and it was a tight turn. However, Choc soon regained the rail and headed to fence number three. At the rear of the field, Captain Ocana made a slight error here.
The horses travelled on to the next, where Taquin Du Seuil got a little close to it. Having jumped the fourth fence, the runners joined the New Course to continue their journey. Uxizandre continued to bowl along at the front of the field, from Double Ross, Djakadam and Sizing Gold. These were followed by Wonderful Charm, Off The Ground, Felix Yonger, Taquin Du Seuil, Vukova and Captain Ocana. Wonderful Charm got a little close to the next fence. The runners cleared the sixth fence and then headed uphill past the Best Mate Enclosure; Uxizandre’s lead had been reduced but he was still travelling well within himself.
The field negotiated the top turn and entered the back straight. There were no mishaps at the first in this line of fences, although Vukovar did jump out to his right and Captain Ocana was beginning to struggle and had begun to lose touch with the rear of the field. The following fence is the water-jump; Uxizandre continued to lead and his ears pricked each time a fence approached.
The next fence was the first of the open-ditches and there were no noticeable jumping errors here; although Taquin Du Seuil was now at the rear of the main group, with just the outsider behind him. The runners moved on towards the next fence, a plain one, which Wonderful Charm got a little close to; he had lost a few places and now travelled third from last. Uxizandre continued to lead the runners as they negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed to the final open-ditch; again on the outside of the field, Vukovar jumped out to his right.
There is one final fence before the top of the hill and, not for the first time, Taquin Du Seuil was a little slow here. Having reached the far corner, the runners turned left-handed to begin the journey downhill; the fourth last fence met shortly afterwards. It’s a tricky fence, with the ground running away as the horses land; it certainly caught a number of the competitors napping. In fact, Double Ross pecked, as did Vukovar to the wide outside and Felix Yonger back in the field. And one departed, namely Djakadam who crumpled on landing; he hampered Sizing Gold, Taquin Du Seuil and Wonderful Charm, the latter having to negotiate the prostrate jockey. Having tailed off, Captain Ocana was pulled up after this fence.
The remaining eight headed down to the third last at speed, with Uxizandre still holding the advantage; he got a little close to this one but continued to lead as the runners headed towards the final turn. Double Ross held second position, with Taquin Du Seuil making progress under pressure to close upon Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount. Crossing the pathway, Uxizandre led by three lengths. But both his pursuers had closed the gap to around one length by the time they cleared the penultimate fence.
The three warriors headed to the last fence, now line across the track. Uxizandre continued to fight to the inside, Double Ross travelled to the outside, with Taquin Du Seuil between them; none wishing to concede. They jumped the last, Choc’s mount the most fluent, Double Ross the least. It was now a three-way battle to the line. Double Ross was the first to crack with half a furlong to go and he dropped back; AP’s mount was now neck and neck with Uxizandre.
Then, in the final 50 yards, Tarquin Du Seuil finally got the upper hand, staying on to win by three quarters of a length. The brave and game Uxizandre had finished 2nd, with Double Ross a length and a quarter away in 3rd. Felix Yonger stayed on to finish 4th.
What an absolute shame; it happened for Nico de Boinville and for Brian Hughes. A winner after a close second ... but Choc was out of luck again having gone so close yesterday aboard Smad Place, and it was now more of the same with Uxizandre. L
With visibility being compromised on the static cameras, much of the race was covered from a camera vehicle travelling just ahead of the horses whilst being driven on the emergency vehicles’ roadway to the inside of the track. So, with Choc leading for much of the race, there were lots of lovely close-ups of him. J
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Uxizandre arrive back.
AP was severely lame, having jumped off of Taquin Du Seuil; a legacy of the previous day’s incident when his mount Goodwood Mirage was brought down during the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Uxizandre would gain compensation when winning the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree. But, unfortunately, AP would pilot the horse that day.
Having re-watched the recording of this race and the Aintree race too, Uxizandre had become a favourite of mine. I like him because he loves to front run and pricks his ears when he sees a fence, obviously enjoying himself when in front; the connections having discovered his preferred style of running during this season. Hopefully Choc will get further opportunities to ride him.
I didn’t pay particular attention to Taquin Du Seuil until I saw him at Sandown at the end of April for the season finale parade; it was then that I realised he is a staggeringly beautiful horse to look at ... and very talented of course!
Having seen Choc return to the Weighing Room, I set off back to the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The race favourite was the Philip Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay, ridden by Richard Johnson; priced at 9-2. In fact the trainer had 5 entries in this race, the others being If In Doubt, Uncle Jimmy, Pateese and So Fine.
The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the back straight; the horses exiting from the horse-walk to canter across the home straight and head up around the bend upon the all-weather track to reach it.
Having waited for what seemed like an age at the start, with the horses jogging around in a clockwise direction upon the uphill section of the track, finally they were off. The runners were led away by the pale grey Grand Vision, to his inside the visored Cross Kennon and the hooded Top Wood, to his outside Crowning Jewel and wider still the hooded and blinkered Quartz De Thaix.
At the first, one of the Irish competitors Vics Canvas fell whilst in mid-field; he hampered the grey mare Mickie, Mister Dillon and also the second-string JP McManus runner Josies Orders. The loose horse got up and galloped away; the rider was okay too. The runners headed to the second flight, with Grand Vision to the inside disputing the lead with Quartz De Thaix to the outside. At the rear of the field, AP McCoy’s mount If In Doubt jumped the flight slowly.
The runners headed to flight number three, where Trustan Times travelling to the inside of the field in seventh position made a mistake. The horses negotiated the dog-leg turn before jumping flight number four; there were no mishaps here. Having reached the top of the hill, the horses turned the corner and headed downhill to flight number five; Grand Vision and Quartz De Thaix continued to lead the way, from Cross Kennon, Top Wood and Crowning Jewel. Trustan Times and Fingal Bay travelled behind these; at the rear of the field clearing the next flight was On The Bridge.
Ears pricked, Grand Vision led the runners into the home straight on the first occasion. Cross Kennon and Quartz De Thaix disputed second, from Trustan Times, Top Wood, Crowning Jewel, Utopie Des Bordes, Jetson, Fingal Bay, Southfield Theatre, Mickie, Seefood, Pateese, So Fine, Uncle Jimmy, First Fandango, Broadway Buffalo, Mister Dillon, Pineau De Re, If In Doubt, On The Bridge and Josies Orders. Broadway Buffalo flattened a panel in the hurdle in front of the stands.
The runners headed uphill and through their starting point before entering the back straight once more. Cross Kennon led over the next flight; in rear at the next were Pineau De Re and On The Bridge. The field continued its progress down the back straight, with Fingal Bay having improved his position to the outside of the field, Uncle Jimmy and Josies Orders also. They cleared the ninth flight without incident, negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed over the tenth at the top of the hill.
Having reached the far corner, they turned left and headed downhill; Cross Kennon led narrowly from Grand Vision, Fingal Bay, Josies Orders, Jetson, Uncle Jimmy and Trustan Times. Although under strong pressure, Cross Kennon continued at the head of affairs as they galloped towards two out. On the outside of the field, If In Doubt had made significant progress, as had Southfield Theatre, Seefood and Pineau De Re.
The leader jumped out to his right at the penultimate flight; Grand Vision disputed second with Fingal Bay; meanwhile in fourth position Uncle Jimmy stumbled after the flight and lost ground as a result. Heading around the final turn, it was Fingal Bay who came to lay down a challenge to the leader. Disputing third against the rail was Grand Vision just beginning to fade, and to his outside Jetson, Trustan Times, If In Doubt and Southfield Theatre.
The leaders headed towards the last; Cross Kennon soon headed by Southfield Theatre, Fingal Bay, Trustan Times and Jetson. Staying on just behind these was Pineau De Re. Daryl Jacob’s mount jumped the last flight marginally ahead of Fingal Bay; the latter flattening a panel and losing momentum. However, under a strong drive from Richard Johnson, his mount began to gain upon Southfield Theatre as they headed up the hill to the line, with both Pineau De Re and Trustan Times gaining on them as they did so. Photograph.
The result was eventually announced; Fingal Bay had won by a nose. The top-weight had beaten the second-top weight. Daryl Jacob was devastated and in tears after the verdict was announced; he was totally gutted. Richard patted the losing jockey on the back but, for the moment, he was inconsolable. Pineau De Re finished a neck 3rd, with Trustan Times a further neck away in 4th. Jetson was 5th and, having spent much of the race struggling at the back of the field, On The Bridge kept on to finish 6th.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS ROOM:
The Stewards held an enquiry into
the use of the whip by Richard Johnson, the rider of the winner, FINGAL BAY (IRE),
from approaching the 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 without giving his
horse time to respond on the run to the line. The Stewards suspended Johnson
for 3 days as follows: Sunday 30 and Monday 31 March and Tuesday 1 April
Choc’s mount in the next race was the grey Medermit; the 10-year-old having returned to action at Ascot last month having missed 22 months due to injury. He’d finished third in this race in 2012.
The favourite was another grey, Dynaste, ridden by Tom Scudamore and trained by Martin Pipe; priced at 3-1. There were three greys in the race, the other being Al Ferof. Menorah wore first time cheek-pieces.
The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the mid-course chute, with three fences to be jumped before the far turn. Having exited from the horse walkway, the runners cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip around the top bend to reach the in-field.
And then they were off. It wasn’t a surprise that Kauto Stone led the runners away, from Hidden Cyclone; both horses jumped out to their right over the first fence, with the former hampering Al Ferof slightly in the process. Benefficient travelled upsides Daryl Jacob’s mount; next in the field were Hunt Ball and Menorah, then Rajdhani Express and Rathlin, and in rear Medermit to the inside, Dynaste to the outside and Boston Bob centre. Medermit got close up behind Radjhani Express as they cleared the next, Choc steering his mount back to the inside of the latter as they headed away from the fence.
The mid-course chute crosses the downhill section of the Old Course prior to the next fence; which all the runners cleared without incident. They then galloped across the downhill section of the New Course before heading to the far turn; Kauto Stone continued to set a good pace at the head of affairs, from the hooded Benefficient and Hidden Cyclone. Al Ferof, on the inside of the field, was shaking his head as he negotiated the apex of the turn; and he may have slipped slightly too.
Having entered the home straight on the first occasion, the runners headed to fence number four; they all jumped this well, Boston Bob bringing up the rear. After having cleared one more fence, the field joined the New Course proper and headed to fence number six; travelling near the rear, Medermit hit this one. The horses began to bunch up as they travelled to the next; Kauto Stone still holding the advantage over Benefficient and Hidden Cyclone as they jumped it.
The runners then headed away from the main grandstands and up the hill. Leading was Kauto Stone from Benefficient, Hidden Cyclone, Al Ferof, Menorah, Rajdhani Express, Rathlin, Hunt Ball, Dynaste, Medermit and Boston Bob. Having entered the back straight, the horses travelled to fence number eight; they all cleared this well, although Al Ferof was shaken up briefly as they travelled towards the next, the water-jump. Kauto Stone touched the top of this one.
They headed to the first open-ditch, where the leader jumped out to his right. Medermit was now being pushed along slightly, near the back of the field. Hunt Ball wasn’t particularly fluent at the following fence and, having cleared it, Choc administered a couple of reminders to his mount as they negotiated the dog-leg turn. The following fence is an open-ditch and, having jumped it, Menorah came under pressure and lost his place.
The runners were now heading to the fence at the far end of the back straight, number thirteen. Hidden Cyclone took a narrow lead here, Kauto Stone now in second, Rajdhani Express close up in third and Hunt Ball likewise in fourth. Having negotiated the far turn, the horses began to travel downhill; meeting the tricky fourth-last shortly afterwards. Hidden Cyclone flew this one, with Rajdhani Express in hot pursuit; the weakening Kauto Stone made an error and dropped back.
Hidden Cyclone led the runners down the hill and over the third last; he was followed by Rajdhani Express, Hunt Ball, Rathlin, Benefficient, Dynaste, Al Ferof, Medermit, Boston Bob, Kauto Stone and the tailed off Menorah. There was no change at the head of affairs and, having turned into the home straight, Hidden Cyclone began to pull away from his nearest rival, Rajdhani Express.
However, to the outside of the runners, Dynaste had made steady progress and was just a length behind the second as they jumped the penultimate fence; Hunt Ball in fourth position, hit this obstacle. The runners headed to the last, the leader less than a length ahead of his rivals as he jumped it. Then began the battle to the line; Dynaste soon driven to the front, with Hidden Cyclone to the far side wandering under pressure and slightly impeding the challenge of Rajdhani Express.
The grey galloped on to win by 2¼ lengths from Hidden Cyclone; Rajdhani Express finished a further 2¼ lengths away in 3rd, and Hunt Ball 2¾ lengths back in 4th. Medermit completed in 8th.
Benefficient was eased and pulled up before the last fence; retirement beckoned having sustained a serious leg injury.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
NEWS FROM THE STEWARDS ROOM:
Stewards noted that HIDDEN CYCLONE, placed second, had interfered with RAJDHANI
EXPRESS, placed third, on the run in, but after viewing a recording of the
incident they were satisfied that it neither involved a riding offence nor
improved HIDDEN CYCLONE (IRE)’s placing.
WHY THEY RAN BADLY:
Veterinary Officer reported that AL FEROF (FR), placed fifth, trained by Paul
Nicholls, had been struck into right fore.
That’s it for the first half of my Day 3 diary ...