DIARY Ė CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2015
FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE
TUESDAY 10 MARCH 2015
Choc is interviewed by Colin Brown as part
of the pre-racing ROR Parade of Stars
Day 1 of this yearís Cheltenham Festival would be my fifth visit to the races of the 2014/2015 season, due to Choc remaining on the sidelines.† And my seventh consecutive attendance at the event; by the end of the week I would complete my 28th Cheltenham Festival day ... out of 28 possible days since 2009.†
I know that Choc doesnít like going to the races as a spectator but, having become an integral part of the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership team which owns Ned Stark, The Pirateís Queen and the recently retired Medermit, I was very hopeful that he would be at Cheltenham on Champion Day to see the first two run.† I was therefore looking forward to attending on the first day in particular which, usually, is my least favourite of the four.††
Having decided upon a fair weather wardrobe or even possibly a fair weather spring wardrobe a few days ahead of Cheltenham, news came through on Sunday via the weather forecast on Countryfile that it was to be a dry Tuesday, a wet Wednesday, an even wetter Thursday, then a dry Friday.† As a result I put away my grey/black colour-block style coat and got out my black faux sheepskin coat for Wednesday and my purple anorak for Thursday.† My cerise jacket would remain for Tuesday and I moved my mauve jacket to Friday.
On Monday evening I tuned into ATR to watch their Festival preview; presenter Luke Harvey was visiting Cotswold pubs Ė including The Plough in Ford and The Hollow Bottom in Guiting Power Ė and somewhere along the line he bumped into Choc and did a brief interview with him.† I was caught unawares by this, and was at sixes and sevens trying to find a way to record it ... I failed miserably as, having set everything up ahead of the Festival, none of the equipment would respond to my requests.† But there was a photograph on twitter courtesy of ATR, which I favourited.††††
My aim on the first day was to arrive in time to park in the bottom field off Swindon Lane; so I set myself the target of leaving home at around 06:15.† This being the case I set my alarm for 04:00 or thereabouts.† It proved to be very thereabouts, as itís an analogue alarm with numbers solely at 3, 6, 9 and 12 and very difficult to judge.† The alarm actually sounded earlier than expected.†
Anyway, I showered and washed and dried my hair, applied my make-up and ate a breakfast of Weetabix with fruit Ė a banana, raisins and blueberries.† Plus two slices of buttered toast and three quarters of a cup of tea.† But, so much for leaving by 06:15; I actually left home at 06:22.†
Todayís outfit was three thermal t-shirts, namely violet, pink and purple, cerise frill-edged cardigan, navy blue skirt, navy fleece, navy fleece gillet, turquoise tights(!), cerise pink NHS jacket, black/white horse design cowl, Per Una turquoise/navy geese scarf and burgundy/brown/pink Next handbag; the latter because it has plenty of room in it rather than toning with my outfit.† I wore my Fired Creations oblong pink/turquoise/bronze pendant and almost matching earrings.† I wore my navy blue Hotter wedge-heeled shoes.† I actually bought a size larger than usual, and they initially seemed fine with half insoles inserted.† But today I discovered they are too big after all; I will endeavour to remedy with full insoles and heel grips too.
My route took me through the centre of St Albans, then to Hemel Hempstead and onwards to Aylesbury.† On the A41 bypass I thought Iíd encountered mist, but it was actually smoke; from where I donít know.† Mind you it was a little misty in the countryside a little further along my journey.† Having reached the Buckinghamshire town, I travelled around the northern section of their ring-road, before heading out along the A41 once more, through Waddesdon.† I overtook a lorry on the short section of dual carriageway after Kingswood, and arrived at Bicester at 07:30.†
The next section of the journey is invariably a bottle-neck.† Today it took me 35 minutes to travel from Bicester to the Wolvercote roundabout in Oxford; a distance of 10 miles.† The lorry which Iíd overtaken on the A41, overtook me as I headed down the dual-carriageway towards the M40 interchange.† There was possibly a 200-metre tailback from the junction, which was better than I expected, but the roundabout was choc-a-bloc, as was the beginning of the A34.† Initially this is caused by three lanes of traffic merging into two, then by the locals who have travelled via Wendlebury to bypass the motorway junction joining the A34 from the left.
Eventually I reached the Peartree interchange, where traffic was almost stationary around the roundabout and I had to wait a number of minutes for the vehicles in front of me to ease their way into the queue.† In the years when I first travelled to the Cheltenham Festival it was possible to enter the roundabout with ease because traffic was flowing around it; not now, it just does not happen any more.† Fortunately today there was a white van man, illegally talking on his mobile phone it has to be said, who let me out into the queue ahead of him!
Having entered the dual carriageway leading down to the Wolvercote roundabout, it was stop start stop start all the way; buses using the inside bus lane caused further delay to traffic when they tripped the red light near the far end for all other traffic.† Having reached the traffic island and turned right, I began my journey along the A40 at 08:05.†
The first part of my journey along the A40 went by without special note.† However, upon reaching the far end of the Witney bypass, I found myself travelling behind a car transporter which had joined the route from the Minster Lovell turning.† But, fortunately, it had just a single car aboard which enabled it to travel faster than might have been the case.†
I thus followed this vehicle along the A40 all the way to the roundabout on the Cirencester/Stow road where it turned left.† It was noticeable that Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Gloucestershire donít or canít afford to spend as much money on their roads as Oxfordshire.† As soon as I had entered the latter, the roads were smooth and pothole free, unlike in the other three counties!† There was a badly repaired hole on the westbound carriageway of the A40 just prior to the Inn For All Seasons, in Gloucestershire, which I managed to hit on Tuesday but I remembered to avoid for the remainder of the week!† You can always tell that it is bad when the CD player misses a beat!††
Anyway, it was onwards and upwards as the road ascended to the Puesdown Inn; it was fortunate that I never travel close to the vehicle in front, because the driver thereof suddenly decided to turn into their car park with little notice!† Not long after, I was heading down the dual carriageway towards the traffic-lit junction with the Gloucester road.† After negotiating the Andoversford bypass and descending a further hill, I drove past the Dowdeswell reservoir and entered Charlton Kings.†
There was a long tailback from the Sixways junction today; in fact it almost stretched all the way back to the terraced road-side houses.† Eventually I reached the traffic lights, selecting the right-hand lane in preparation to turn right at their next green phase.† However, the driver of one vehicle had a last minute change of mind and ended up obstructing the pedestrian crossing as a result; as a regular walker, itís so annoying when that happens!†
When the lights changed, I followed the Ďnumptyí driver up Greenway Lane and down Harp Hill.† I took a right turn at the bottom of the descent, at the longabout, into Priors Road.† There appeared to have been an incident at the longabout between a car and a lorry; perhaps an accident, resulting in a hold-up of some sort for those travelling from the direction of Hales Road.††
At the far end of Bouncers Lane I decided to ignore the ĎPí for parking notices, as always.† I like to stick to the tried and tested route along New Barn Lane, rather than head off into the unknown beyond Prestbury!† I negotiated the roundabout outside the racecourse, entered Swindon Lane before turning right shortly afterwards to drive into the bottom field.† There was no space available, as around a quarter of the area had been put aside for a drop off/pick up point.
I was instructed to enter the top field and park to the left of the driveway.† It was 09:13 when I switched off the car engine.† This gave me the opportunity to change the contact lense in my right eye; it had been uncomfortable almost since my journey began.† I donít wear them often and they rarely cause a problem, but on the last two occasions Iíve had to swap out the right lense for a new one.† It may be because, for the past three or four years, Iíve suffered from night-time dry-eye syndrome in that eye.† Anyway, this being the case, I decided that for the remainder of the week Iíd wear my glasses to drive to Cheltenham and then insert them once Iíd arrived.† This remedied the situation and I was able to continue wearing them until I got home each evening too, apart from Friday when I decided to change back into glasses anyway.
Having consumed two cheese rolls, put on my coat, scarf and navy blue shoes, I set off to join the queue outside the portable turnstiles situated between the Centaur building and entrance to the Best Mate enclosure.† I was some way down the queue but did wave to the Taunton guy I see each year; perhaps Iíd see him and his companion to have a chat on Friday.
The gates were opened at 10:30 as advertised and, having had my bag checked by security, I entered the grounds.† I purchased a race-card from the kiosk opposite, before walking down the concourse to visit the loo within the ground floor of the main grandstand, close to the Parade Ring area.† Being a person of habit, I use these loos now that the ones beside the concourse have been closed as a result of the redevelopment work.† Evidently there are some new, super-duper loos at the racecourse Ö but Iíve yet to find those!
My next port of call was the area beside the Parade Ring, opposite the Weighing Room.† And guess who I noticed was standing on the steps outside the building?† It was none other than Choc himself.† Yeeeeeeeees!† He was accompanied by his girlfriend Jennie and they chatted to friends and colleagues, including his valet Phil Taylor, Channel 4ís Alice Plunkett and RUKís Oli Bell. Choc was wearing his natural coloured tweed coat, camel-coloured trousers and a burgundy-coloured sweater. Jennie was smartly dressed head to toe in beige, including her handbag and stiletto shoes.† She is very petite, even more petite than Iíd ever expected.
Anyway, they soon set off up the steps to the left-hand side of the Weighing Room, their route taking them out onto the concourse above the Winnersí Enclosure. I wandered around in that direction to say hello. Besides, I can never ever pass up the opportunity to kiss Choc on the cheek; the standard greeting these last twice is a kiss on each cheek!† I also introduced myself to Jenny.
After a brief conversation, in which Choc eluded to the fact that he would also attend the following day and possibly on Friday too, I took my leave; but not before wishing them an enjoyable day at the races.
Since the redevelopment, the area above the Winnersí Enclosure has been opened up, to provide easy access to the Pre-Parade Ring.† I also passed by the trophy cabinet where, today, the huge Champion Hurdle challenge trophy was displayed, along with all of todayís other trophies.† The winnersí names are displayed on plaques around its base; sadly that of 2008 was not visible, it was facing towards the back of the display area.† For the record, there are 23 open boxes and 8 closed boxes in the Cheltenham Pre-Parade ring.
The pre-race presentation, by Martin Kelly as per recent Festivals, included Rory Jiwani of Stan James (sponsors of the Champion Hurdle), Jessica Harrington trainer of last yearís winning horse Jezki, and amateur rider Jamie Codd about his hopes for later in the day when he would partner Cause Of Causes in the 4-mile National Hunt Chase.
However, the main part of the presentation was the Retraining of Racehorses Parade of Stars Ė there were 10 horses parading today, namely Denman (Team Chasing), Comply Or Die (Dressage), Grand Crus (Showjumping), Sentry Duty (Hunting), Miko de Beauchene (Hunting), Blazing Bailey (Hunting), Jack The Giant (Showing), Big Buckís (Hunting), Kauto Star (Dressage), and Ortolan (Eventing).†
Regular ROR presenter Colin Brown, probably best known as having partnered Desert Orchid during his riding career, was on hand to interview the riders and one or two connections.† Andy Stewart, owner of Big Buckís was interviewed, as was Choc in connection with his role as Blazing Baileyís jockey over the years.† Upon retirement, the horse was given to Sarah Welford who had looked after him since he joined the Alan King yard as a 3-year-old.† Sarah now runs a stud farm where Blazing Bailey leads the youngsters on the gallops; she is Gerard Tumeltyís partner.
In order to claim a front row pitch beside the course-side rails ahead of the first race, I set off through the tunnel between the old and new grandstands, showing my badge to one of the stewards in order to gain entry to the area and the membersí lawn beyond.† On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday I struck up conversations with the steward overseeing the course-side rails at the half furlong point.† There were actually two young women stewards I spoke with on Tuesday, as they took shifts to Ďpoliceí the area.†
It was a very pleasant day, the sun was shining and the breeze was not keen as can often be the case.
Fixture Note: The Water Jump was omitted in race seven, due to it being damaged in an earlier race.
Here are details of todayís Non-Runner:
Race - Horse and Trainer - Penalty - Reason
4:00 THE GOVANESS, trained by Fergal O'Brien. Waived Self Cert (Bruised Foot)
It was soon time for the first race.† The favourite was the Willie Mullins-trained Douvan, ridden by Ruby Walsh and carrying to familiar pink and green Ricci colours; his price 2-1.† Seven of the twelve runners represented Ireland.†
Whilst waiting for the horses to exit the Parade Ring, the ROR horses galloped up the entire length of the horse-walk, having started at the far end of the home straight.† Due to his exciteable nature, Grands Crus was the last one in the procession.†
Seedling arrived late in the Parade Ring and wore a hood until exiting onto the racecourse; he headed to the start, early.† Unlike many of the Willie Mullins runners, Douvan was not wearing ear-plugs. †
The starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one complete circuit to travel.† This being the case, the horses cantered up all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before heading down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to complete their journey to the gate.†
Iím not too keen on the new sweep of the horse-walk, as it makes it more difficult to see which horses and jockeys are exiting on the course next.†††
The equine ROR stars had waited in the area behind the screen at the top of the racecourse until the runners for the first race had completed their journey to the start. They then followed the runners down the turf, at a safe distance, before also entering the horse-walk to canter back from wence they came.† Grand Crus and rider again followed the others, and at the slowest pace possible in order to remain under control.
With the start time approaching, the twelve runners were called out onto the track.† However, unlike in previous years and due to the new starting procedures, they were sent away from the tapes before jogging back towards the starter.† There was a subdued roar from the expectant crowd as they turned ... the runners approached the gate in an orderly manner, although Bentelimar was jogging in sideways-on, head over the rails.†
Then they were off; the spectators roared loudly as the horses headed away from the gate.† Leading the way to the first hurdle was the Tom George-trained Some Plan, to the wide outside in second position was Sizing John.† In third Shaneshill, then Bentelimar, Tell Us More, Douvan, Seedling, Velvet Maker, Jollyallan, LíAmi Serge, the grey Alvisio Ville and, finally, Qewy.†
As they headed up the home straight towards flight number two, Douvan appeared keen in mid-field, buried amongst the runners.† The horses jumped the obstacle without incident before bearing off to the left to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure.† One circuit now to go.† Some Plan was a couple of lengths clear upon entering the back straight.
Heading down to flight number three, the leader had now stretched his advantage to four lengths.† All twelve skipped over the hurdle without incident.† They continued to the next, the main vanguard being led by Sizing Jon to the outside of Bentelimar.† The fourth flight produced a casualty, with Seedling stepping at the flight; his nose touched the turf and his tail was in the air as he struggled to keep his feet; jockey Gavin Sheehan was unceremoniously catapulted out of the saddle.† LíAmi Serge, with Barry Geraghty aboard, had been travelling in his wake and was seriously hampered as a result.
Some Plan continued at the head of affairs as they climbed the hill towards flight number five, negotiating the dog-leg turn in the process.† The Nicky Henderson runner was now at the back of the field and, although still in touch, was being pushed along. Initially the rider-less Seedling followed them ... until he realised he could do as he wished and peeled away to come back in his own time!
There were no problems at the flight and, having reached the top of the hill, they headed around the far bend before beginning the descent towards three out.† Some Plan still held a two lengths advantage from Sizing Jon, Bentelimar, Tell Us More, Shaneshill, Douvan and Jollyallan; at the rear were Velvet Maker, Alvisio Ville, Qewy and LíAmi Serge.† The long-time leader still held a narrow advantage at the flight.
However, having jumped it, the game was up for Some Plan as the Irish contingent swamped him; Sizing Jon now held a slight lead from Tell Us More.† Both Douvan and Shaneshill were close on their heels.† The field approached and cleared the penultimate flight and these four had put distance between themselves and the remainder as they turned into the home straight.† Despite lack of fortune in running and appearing not to be travelling at any point today, LíAmi Serge was now the nearest home team representative.†
The leaders began their journey up the hill to the last.† Tell Us More was the first to drop out, with Sizing Jon initially holding sway, but Douvan swooped on the wide outside to take the lead well before the flight and continued to gallop away from his rivals as he headed to the line.† He won by 4Ĺ lengths from Shaneshill; the latter having got the better of Sizing Jon in the final half furlong.† LíAmi Serge completed in 4th; the latter was 8 lengths clear of Qewy.†
First blood to the Irish, in the shape of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.† We would thus be treated to the Rubeeeeeeeey, Rubeeeeeeeey, Rubeeeeeeeey chant as Douvan returned along the horse-walk in front of the grandstands.† If the silks had been pink with yellow spots perhaps the chant would have been Blobby, Blobby, Blobby!†
I remained beside the course-side rails in the interval between race one and two.
Race 1 - 1:30pm.
THE SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Veterinary Officer reported that JOLLYALLAN, unplaced, trained by Harry Fry, was found to be
suffering from heat exhaustion post-race, and had lost a left fore shoe. Barry Geraghty, the rider of L'AMI SERGE (IRE), placed fourth, reported that the gelding was never travelling. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding during routine testing failed to reveal any abnormalities.
It was now time for the second race of the day, the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.† The odds-on favourite was Un De Sceaux, again trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 4-6.
As had been the case for the first race, the starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one complete circuit to travel.† This being the case, the horses cantered up all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before heading down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to complete their journey to the gate.†
Again, having exited onto the course at race time, the runners were sent away from the tape before turning and jogging in; the slightly lighter grey Smashing was getting a little bit excited and was bounding along as he approached the gate.††
Then they were off.† Leading the way, to the inside, was Un De Sceaux; to the wide outside Smashing.† The latter jumped the first fence a little too big and was swallowed up by rivals, whereas Ruby sent his mount into a clear lead until they reached the second fence.†† At which point Dunraven Storm and Sail By The Sea joined him; the latter was then reined back before the next.
Un De Sceaux took a narrow advantage again as they jumped the third but Richard Johnsonís mount was just ahead clearing the fourth.† With the benefit of the inside berth, Rubyís mount held a one length lead over Dunraven Storm as they began their journey up the hill in front of the Best Mate stand.† Vibrato Valtat was in third position, with Josses Hill, Three Kingdoms and Sail By The Sea disputing fourth.† Smashing was a couple of lengths off these, followed by Godís Own, Clarcam, Court Minstrel and Sgt Reckless.†
Clearing the uphill fence, Smashing jumped out to his right, taking Clarcam with him.† The runners entered the back straight and headed down towards the sixth fence; Un De Sceaux leading the way by 3 to 4 lengths now.† In rear, Sgt Reckless wasnít fluent here and was a number of lengths adrift of his rivals.† The field had closed upon the leader as they cleared the water-jump, Sail By The Sea now in second position.†
The eighth fence is the first open-ditch; Sail By The Sea made a mistake here and, back in the field, Court Minstrel wasnít fluent either.† Clarcam hit fence number nine with a jolt and lost ground.† The runners headed around the dog-leg turn and towards the final open-ditch.† Un De Sceaux still held a clear lead, from Vibrato Valtat, Sail By The Sea, second-year novice Godís Own, Three Kingdoms, Josses Hill, Smashing, Court Minstrel, Dunraven Storm, Clarcam and Sgt Reckless.†
The leader continued to travel and jump well, piling the pressure on his rivals.† Dunraven Storm blundered at the open-ditch and lost his place; he was now last.† The field turned the far bend and headed downhill towards the third last.† Apart from the leader, the only other runners to be travelling okay at this point were Vibrato Valtat and Godís Own; yet they were still four lengths behind the favourite.†
Having jumped three out, Godís Own took second place.† As they approached the final bend you still got the distinct impression that Ruby was toying with his rivals and that Un Des Sceaux hadnít been called upon to make use of all his gears quite yet.† Having flown two out and with Godís Own looming up to his outside, Ruby did get a little more animated.† However the challenger jumped out to his right at the last, whereas Un De Sceaux put in a bold leap at the final obstacle and the game was up as the Willie Mullins runner stormed up the run-in to win by 6 lengths at the line.††††††††††††††
Godís Own finished 2nd, with Josses Hill two lengths away in 3rd and Vibrato Valtat a further 5 lengths away in 4th.† Nine finished; Dunraven Storm and Sail By The Sea were pulled up before two out.†
2-0 to the Irish; 2-0 to Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh in fact.† Damn.††
Once again I remained beside the course-side rails.† I could have returned to the Pre-Parade Ring and Parade Ring at this point, as Ned Stark was competing in race 3 and I would expect to have been able to see Choc again at this point in proceedings.†
Race 2 - 2:05pm.
THE RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The favourite for race 3 was the Alan King-trained Ned Stark ridden by Denis OíRegan, although still a novice; his price today 6-1.† Having won his first two novicesí limited handicap chases at Huntingdon and Newbury, the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership runner had then finished 4th in the Grade 2 Dipper Novicesí Chase at Cheltenham on New Yearís Day; following that he won at Wetherby.†
There was a second runner of interest in this race, namely Annacotty trained by Martin Keighley and ridden by Gavin Sheehan.†
Having exited the horse-walk and cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands, Grand Jesture was not at all keen to follow the others to the starting gate, which was part-way down the home straight.† As a result he was initially led down the course, before the jockey was legged up to complete the journey.†††
This race had been extended by half a furlong in distance this year and thus included an extra fence too; this was to provide additional room to enable the runners to approach the tape in an orderly fashion.†
Initially, the lad led Grand Jesture in towards the tape until the horse was able to settle amongst the others.† They jogged in and then they were off, first time.† The runners headed towards the first fence, with What A Warrior the first to rise to the inside of the track; towards the outside, almost upsides, was Annacotty.† The grey Gevrey Chambertin, who was already near the back of the field, jumped the first a little too big and now found himself plum-last.† In mid-field, The Druids Nephew was a little awkward at the second.† Ned Stark travelled in mid-field, one off the rail.†
Having safely negotiated the first two fences, the runners headed away from the main stands and up the hill towards the third.† Azure Fly and Annacotty now disputed the lead, with What A Warrior in third; towards the rear of the field were Mendip Express, Lost Legend, Monbeg Dude, Dursey Sound, Gallant Oscar and Gevrey Chambertin.†† Annacotty made an error at the first fence in the back straight.
The horses now headed towards the water jump, which they all cleared in their stride.† This was followed by the first open-ditch, then a plain fence prior to the dog-leg turn.† Annacotty now held the clear advantage, from Azure Fly, What A Warrior, Grand Jesture and Barrakilla; the David Pipe runner continued to bring up the rear. †Ned Stark remained in mid-field; he now travelled against the rails, taking the shortest route.†
There were no casualties at the second of the open-ditches and the field continued to the far turn before heading downhill to fence number nine.† All twenty-four runners cleared the obstacle safely; Monbeg Dude had now been relegated to last position.† One circuit completed, the horses headed up the home straight once more.† Having cleared the next, Annacotty was joined at the head of affairs by Grand Jesture.† Azure Fly and Barrakilla disputed third; behind these were What A Warrior, Smart Freddy and Shangani.† Near the rear of the field, Lamb Or Cod continued to jump less fluently than his rivals.†
The runners jumped the next safely before heading out onto their final circuit; Annacotty with a clear advantage once more.† Having cleared the fence in front of the Best Mate stand, the field headed into the back straight; bringing up the rear were Gevrey Chambertin, Lamb Or Cod and Monbeg Dude.† Azure Fly made an error at the next fence; the Martin Keighley representative continued to lead, from Shangani, Grand Jesture and Barrakilla.† Ned Stark wasnít travelling particularly well at the rear of mid-field.†
The runners cleared the water-jump before heading to the penultimate open-ditch; they all cleared this without mishap and the next plain fence too.† The horses near the back of the field were beginning to get strung out now.† Annacotty and Grand Jesture led them around the dog-leg turn and towards the final open-ditch.† Azure Fly, who had by this stage dropped back into mid-field, blundered at the fence.†
As they negotiated the far turn, Annacotty and Grand Jesture led; the latter travelling slightly the better at this stage.† The runners headed down the hill towards the third last; Pendra, Smart Freddy, The Druids Nephew and Barrakilla travelling just behind the two leaders.† Grand Jesture jumped into the lead over this fence, with The Druids Nephew soon his nearest challenger as Annacotty dropped away, his race now run.
Barry Geraghtyís mount drew alongside his white-faced rival as they headed to the final turn.† Having entered the home straight, the latter was now being ridden along; not far behind were Pendra, Indian Castle and Gallant Oscar.† The leader flew the penultimate fence, Grand Jesture still his closest pursuer; Pendra, in third, pecked on landing.†
Another fine leap at the last strengthened the leaderís advantage and Barry Geraghty rode him out to win by 3ĺ lengths at the line.† Grand Jesture held off his nearest pursuers to complete in 2nd.† Pendra, tiredness becoming an issue, edged to his right as he climbed the hill; this initially disadvantaged Indian Castle, possibly Gallant Oscar too.† The latter claimed 3rd place on the line by a head from Indian Castle. Pendra completed in 5th, with Lost Legend 6th, Black Thunder 7th and Ned Stark never nearer in 8th.†
There were no fallers, or unseats, and 21 runners completed.† Pulled up were Azure Fly before 3 out, Lamb Or Cod before 2 out and Shangani before the last.†
It was trainer Neil Mulhollandís first Cheltenham Festival winner; and he still had the fancied The Young Master to run in the following dayís RSA Novicesí Chase.
As Ned Stark had finished unplaced, I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the feature race, the Champion Hurdle.
Race 3 - 2:40pm.
THE ULTIMA BUSINESS SOLUTIONS HANDICAP STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The Stewards noted that PENDRA (IRE), placed fifth, had jinked quickly right handed after the last fence
interfering with INDIAN CASTLE (IRE), placed fourth, who in turn interfered with GALLANT OSCAR (IRE), placed third, but after viewing a recording of the race they were satisfied that it did not involve a riding offence. The Veterinary Officer reported that BLACK THUNDER (FR), unplaced, trained by Paul Nicholls, had bled from the nose. The Veterinary Officer reported that MENDIP EXPRESS (IRE), unplaced, trained by Harry Fry, suffered heat exhaustion post-race.
Click here to read my Day 1 Diary Part II