DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2015
FEATURING THE WORLD HURDLE
THURSDAY 12 MARCH 2015
Uxizandre and his stable lass pose for the photographers
following the horse’s win in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase
Once again I was up at 04:00. I showered, washed and dried my hair and applied my make-up. Breakfast was two Weetabix, with fruit – raisins, blueberries, and a banana – plus two slices of buttered toast. Apart from eating a few grapes and tomatoes with my lunch when at work, I tend not to eat much fruit except as part of my breakfast meal. In contrast, I love vegetables; Brussel sprouts are probably my favourite, and I’ve recently discovered curly kale. And I love runner-beans if fresh, not frozen. Peas and carrots are a regular part of my diet; Choc won’t eat carrots, very strange as they are inoffensive!
The weather forecast had changed again. It was now due to be dry today and wet tomorrow, Gold Cup day. However, I wore my black faux sheepskin jacket today, because it would keep me warm and would also keep me dry if it rained after all. Again I wore three thermal t-shirts – pink, purple and bright pink, mauve cardigan, bright purple fleece, black fleece gillet, my silver-grey rear hem detail BHS skirt, multi-coloured brushed-cotton River Island scarf, and black/white horse design cowl which had proved so useful the previous day.
The jewellery I selected was my Chaotic Rainbow Violetfire necklace and earrings, the same roomy Next handbag I would use all week. Today’s footwear was my pair of black leather and suede Hotter ‘Cannes’ style boots. They are very comfortable, with a wedge heel. To brighten up my outfit, the tights I chose today were pinky/purple in colour. However, I had to make a last minute change because I caught my heel on an ‘invisible’ tack on the stairs and laddered the heel. It’s not the first time this has happened but I can’t find the tack! Fortunately I had an identical pair, so I wore those instead. In hindsight it wouldn’t have mattered because my heels would not have been on show ... but I would know!
Having got into the swing of rising early during Cheltenham week, I left home today at 06:08, my earliest yet. Again I drove through St Albans city centre before continuing on to Hemel Hempstead and joining the A41 bypass via Two Waters Way. Upon reaching Aylesbury I decided to travel via the southern ring-road today; this is because there was a very slow-moving vehicle ahead of me and the driver thereof decided to take the northern ring-road. Close to the town centre I had to negotiate a dust cart blocking my lane but, apart from that, I reached the far side of Aylesbury without problem.
The southern ring-road passes the Waterside Theatre where I went to see Annie Get Your Gun last summer, and the main Aylesbury railway station. On the western outskirts of Aylesbury there is a second railway station; that one serves a new housing estate which is being developed nearby. My route took me close to this station too; I took the opportunity to overtake a heavy goods vehicle by using the middle lane at the traffic lights on the A41.
I arrived at Bicester at 07:10 but, despite being earlier today, traffic appeared to be heavier on the stretch of A41 dual carriageway leading down to Junction 9 of the M40. This being the case, I decided to follow the locals and drive through the village of Wendlebury. There are traffic calming humps at the beginning and end of the residential area, and the lane follows a number of right-angled turns, there’s a bridge over the M40 too; the vehicles ahead soon put distance between themselves and me. Not surprising really, as they know the route far better than I do.
Eventually I reached a T-junction; I waited for a number of vehicles to pass before turning right and joining the A34 southbound carriageway. It was no surprise that traffic was queued around the Peartree Interchange as it had been on the previous two days also. Eventually I eased my way out and joined the queue to travel down the final section of the A44 to reach the Wolvercote roundabout. At this point I turned right and headed out of Oxford. It was 07:45. My journey took me past Burford just after 08:00.
There were no problems during my journey along the A40 and, when I arrived at Cheltenham’s Sixways junction, it took just two traffic-light changes before I was able to turn right and drive up Greenway Lane. As is always the case these days, I descended Harp Hill and turned right at the bottom, into Priors Lane. A further right turn took me into Bouncers Lane, at the end of which I negotiated two mini-roundabouts in order to enter Tatchley Lane. This thoroughfare soon becomes New Barns Lane; at the far end of which is a roundabout outside the main entrance to the racecourse.
I drove across into Swindon Lane and entered the bottom field. Today, as I was earlier than on the two previous days, and Thursday is one of the two relatively quiet Festival days, there were a few spaces available close to the top of the slope. I was directed to park therein. Excellent, I had finally made it into the bottom field! It was 08:38.
I ate two cheese rolls, and inserted my contact lenses before I put on my coat and boots and set off to the turnstiles. Whilst I was sitting in the car, an car alarm sounded a couple of times at the bottom of the field. The gates opened early today, at 10:20. Having purchased a race-card, I set off down the concourse to visit the ladies’ loos. Having got under control the amount of liquid I took on board early morning, I wasn’t desperate to spend a penny today! I then walked across to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
Being World Hurdle Day, highlights of previous races were being played on the large screen to the farside of the Parade Ring. One of the races was the 2006 renewal; My Way De Solzen the victor, ridden by Choc. Again, to get warm, I decided to undertake another visit to the Tented Shopping Village. As mentioned yesterday, the wares on display were aimed at the country set. I don’t do and could never do tweed. But I did see a lovely print of a painting which I’d love to own; the original was there too, but far far too expensive ... unless I won the lottery.
Today’s pre-race guests, interviewed by Martin Kelly, included Paul Nicholls, David Williams of Ladbrokes, and Simon Clare of Coral. The latter was taking part in the St Patrick’s Derby charity race at the end of the card. Simon is the PR Director of Corals, 44 years old and had learnt to ride in September 2014. He’d also lost a lot of weight, reducing from 12 stone 12 lbs to 11 stone 3 lbs. It would be impossible for me to ride in a horse-race as I weigh far too much these days, with no hope of losing any I fear.
As you know, I (almost) never bet apart from the National Lottery and occasionally on the Grand National, but I decided to take on the challenge of selecting a horse to finish in the first four (in other words, each-way) of 23-runner Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final. After all, there’s no fun if there’s no challenge. So The Tourard Man became my one and only bet of the 2015 Festival; his price 20-1.
I knew that Alan King was keen for the horse to get into the race (ie. not balloted out), believing him to have a good chance; I’ve also seen the horse run well a number of times in qualifiers on TV. And I recall Alan saying earlier in the season that they needed to run The Tourard Man regularly because he becomes dangerous when too fresh!
I popped across to the Tote betting office situated to the rear of the concourse above the Winners’ Enclosure; it being the nearest because I had been loitering on the steppings above it. The middle-aged lady who took my bet wished me luck; I had told her I rarely bet.
I headed down to the course-side rails in plenty of time in order to reserve my usual position close to the half furlong mark. All of today’s races, and tomorrow’s too, were run on the New Course.
Here are details of today’s non-runners:
Race Horse and Trainer - Penalty - Reason
1:30 THE TULLOW TANK (IRE), trained by Ms Sandra Hughes (Ireland). Waived Vets Cert (Infection)
2:05 CLOSING CEREMONY (IRE), trained by Emma Lavelle. Waived Going (changed since declaration)
3:20 DEDIGOUT (IRE), trained by A. J. Martin (Ireland). Waived Vets Cert (Coughing)
4:00 BOBCATBILLY (IRE), trained by Ian Williams. Waived Self Cert (Not Sound)
The favourite for the first race was Vautour, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 6-4.
Having left the horse-walk, the horses cantered across the racecourse before entering the all-weather strip which runs around the top bend in order to reach the two and a half mile starting gate within the mid-course chute. The jockeys took their mounts to look at the first fence within the chute, then bypassed it to circle around on the course ahead of the race; they jumped just two of the three fences therein.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by Irish Saint with Vautour upsides; Colour Squadron was at the rear of the field; Ptit Zig jumped out slightly to his right as they cleared the first fence. They headed over the Old Course to approach fence number two; at the back of the field Apache Stronghold reached for the fence but cleared it without problem.
The runners now headed across the intersection with the New Course and downhill to the far corner; Vautour was the clear leader, from Irish Saint, Valseur Lido, Ptit Zig, Splash Of Ginge, Tango De Juilley, Apache Stronghold and Colour Squadron. Ears pricked and with an upright head carriage, Ruby’s mount was bounding along at the front of the field. The runners jumped fence number three without incident and headed to obstacle four; Vautour put a short stride in on take-off just to put himself right.
The field joined the New Course immediately having jumped this fence and continued their journey up the home straight. Vautour put in a big leap at the next, and at the next one also. The leader was a couple of lengths ahead of Irish Saint as they turned away from the main grandstands and headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure.
Having entered the back straight, Irish Saint drew alongside the leader as they headed to and cleared the next fence. The following obstacle is the water-jump, which they all jumped in their stride. Valseur Lido reached for the open-ditch but landed without problem. The leading duo continued to race side-by-side as they cleared fence number ten; Apache Stronghold was currently at the back of the field.
They negotiated the dog-leg turn before approaching the final open-ditch. Vautour out-jumped Irish Saint at this one; further back in the field Splash Of Ginge was a little slow here and subsequently ridden away from the fence. Again the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner was less convincing than his rivals at the plain fence before the far turn and he received a reminder for this troubles; Ryan Hatch’s mount was now one from the back of the field.
Apache Stronghold had made noticeable progress on the outside of the field by the time they reached the difficult fence at the top of the hill. Ptit Zig put in a short stride here and hit the top of the fence; he nodded on landing but survived. There were further reminders for Splash Of Ginge as they headed down the hill.
Vautour led over three out, from Apache Stronghold, Irish Saint and Valseur Lido; at the rear of the field, Colour Squadron made an error here. Ruby headed towards the final turn; his mount the only horse which was still travelling well within himself. Another flying leap at the second last by the leader put even more pressure upon his rivals as he continued to move away from them. Apache Stronghold, Valseur Lido, Irish Saint and Ptit Zig joined battle to fight it out for the minor honours, with just the final fence between Vautour and certain victory.
Yet another almighty leap at the last and Ruby’s mount was heading up the run-in to record a victory of 15 lengths over his nearest rival; the jockey standing in his irons to salute the crowd at he crossed the line. The two other Irish representatives had beaten off the GB challenge and were neck and neck as they approached the winning post; the verdict went to Apache Stronghold by a short-head over Valseur Lido. Three lengths back Irish Saint claimed 4th by a neck from Ptit Zig. The remaining three cantered over the line a distance behind.
Ruby was thrilled with the horse, slapping him with joy. Horse whisperer Gary Witheford says don’t slap or pat horses, you should stroke them! When interviewed after the race, Ruby was on cloud nine.
I remained beside the course-side rails following the race.
Race 1 - 1:30pm.
THE JLT NOVICES' STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Registered as The Golden Miller Novices' Chase) (Grade 1)
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Paul Carberry, the rider of APACHE
STRONGHOLD (IRE), placed second, from approaching the second last fence. 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 above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Carberry for 2 days as follows: Thursday 26 and Friday 27 March 2015.
The favourite for the next event was Regal Encore, trained by Anthony Honeyball, ridden by AP McCoy and owned by JP McManus. As eluded earlier, Alan King had a runner in this race, The Tourard Man.
The starting gate for this 3-mile event was at the beginning of the back straight, with two circuits to travel. This being the case, the runners cantered across the racecourse having exited from the horse-walk and headed up the all-weather track in front of the Best Mate Enclosure.
Having had their girths checked, the runners congregated into a group, heading back down towards the home straight in order to turn and make an orderly approach to the starting gate.
Bygones Sovereign had remained separated from the others, and been held close to the starting gate. As the other 22 runners approached, he was released and joined them on the outside the field; then, as they set off, his claiming jockey Michael Heard urged him forward to overtake those ahead of him in order to lead them into the first flight, which he did. In fact he was around four lengths clear from Trustan Times, Junction Fourteen and Brother Brian as they cleared it.
Call The Cops hit the flight and maybe The Tourard Man too; as a result, a panel was flattened by the time second favourite Edeymi arrived at the obstacle and he seemed to be a little surprised by this and landed slightly awkwardly. Bygones Sovereign continued to take them along at a good pace, remaining a few lengths clear of his rivals. In next to no time the runners had cleared the following two flights and arrived at the dog-leg turn. At the rear of the field was Peckhamecho.
The runners jumped another hurdle before reaching the far corner and heading down the hill. Trustan Times and Junction Fourteen continued to dispute second place, from Brother Brian and Call The Cops, behind these Unique De Cotte; the latter being one of the three JP McManus runners in the race. The Tourard Man followed closely behind these. Towards the rear of the field were On The Bridge, Katkeau, Dawalan, Edeymi, Henryville, Dolatulo, Run Ructions Run and Peckhamecho.
Having reached the bottom of the hill, the field jumped hurdle number five; Trustan Times was a little awkward here, landing on all fours over it. Regal Encore was still noticeably keen to the rear of mid-field as they travelled towards the sweeping bend into the home straight. By this point, Bygones Sovereign’s lead had been reduced to less than two lengths. The runners continued up the home straight, cleared the one flight therein before heading away from the grandstands and up the hill.
Heading up in front of the Best Mate Enclosure, Brother Brian was now travelling at the leader’s quarters, Junction Fourteen and Trustan Times continued to dispute third position. The field was now travelling in one large group as they entered the back straight once more. They continued over flights seven, eight and nine without suffering casualties.
Whilst doing so, Bygones Sovereign continued to lead, from Brother Brian, Trustan Times, Junction Fourteen, Call The Cops, Unique De Cotte, Big Easy, The Tourard Man, Join The Clan, Pineau De Re, Knight Of Noir, Regal Encore, Spirit of Shankly, Aqalim, Sybarite, Dawalan, Henryville, Katkeau, Edeymi, Dolatulo, Run Ructions Run, On The Bridge and Peckhamecho. As they approached the dog-leg turn, Richard Johnson encouraged his mount along for a few strides to ensure he got a good position when the inside rail commenced once again.
The runners cleared one more flight before heading around the far turn; the first runner to drop off the back of the pack and lose touch was On The Bridge. As they turned the bend, Bygones Sovereign finally lost his place at the head of affairs as Brother Brian took over the lead. In third position Trustan Times received reminders, with Call The Cops travelling well in fourth, behind these were The Tourard Man, Unique De Cotte, Join The Clan and the weakening Junction Fourteen.
They cleared two out, now with many rivals lining up to challenge Brother Brian as they headed to the home turn; notably all three McManus runners were travelling just to the outside of Call The Cops and Trustan Times. Initially The Tourard Man and the improving Henryville appeared to be stuck in a pocket behind them as they entered the home straight. However a gap appeared between Join The Clan and Regal Encore, allowing Henryville to make his move; in contrast, The Tourard Man continued to be blocked in behind Brother Brian, Call The Cops and Unique De Cotte.
Finally Brother Brian began to fade, but not before he’d wandered across to close a possible gap between himself and the David Pipe runner. Heading to the final flight and disputing the lead were, far side Call The Cops, nearside Henryville and centre Unique De Cotte; the latter landed marginally ahead as the jockeys began their drive towards the line. However, Call The Cops proved to be the stronger and went on to win by 1¾ lengths. Unique De Cotte finished 2nd, with the staying on The Tourard Man just getting the better of Henryville by a neck to claim 3rd.
Yippee, my bet had come in, each way.
It was Andrew Tinkler’s second Festival success, his first being Greenhope in the Grand Annual in 2006. There was a sole Irish raider, Edeymi, trained by Tony Martin and he finished 18th.
Anyway The Tourard Man had finished 3rd so, for an each-way outlay of £10, I received back £28.50! Although if he’d won, I’d have got a whole lot more.
Race 2 - 2:05pm.
THE PERTEMPS NETWORK FINAL (A HANDICAP HURDLE RACE) (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
No Stewards Enquiry.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The favourite for this race was the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack, ridden by Bryan Cooper. Alan King had two representatives in this event, Balder Succes ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, a 7-1 chance and Uxizandre ridden by AP McCoy priced 16-1. The latter was wearing a visor for the first time today.
Having left the horse-walk, the horses cantered across the racecourse before entering the all-weather strip which runs around the top bend in order to reach the two and a half mile starting gate within the mid-course chute. As this race began at the beginning of the chute, the jockeys took their horses to look at the demonstration fence on the in-field and, having had their girths checked, they circled around the Cross-Country birch island fence.
Then they were off, first time. To the inside of the track Uxizandre led them away; he needs to lead, otherwise he sulks. Centre was Hidden Cyclone, just marginally behind, with Double Ross upsides to the outside. One of the two greys, Ballycasey ridden by Ruby Walsh, was held up in rear. There were no errors at the first fence.
However, at the second, Balder Succes blundered badly; jockey Wayne Hutchison going to the buckle-end of his reins as a result and losing his position too. I wonder if the horse lost his concentration because Eduard jumped across to his left just in front of him. Uxizandre led the field across the Old Course, before they cleared fence number three; Hidden Cyclone was a little awkward here and gave Double Ross to his outside a bump too. Balder Succes and Ballycasey travelled at the rear of the field.
The runners traversed the New Course and headed down the hill to the far corner. AP’s mount continued to lead, from Hidden Cyclone, Double Ross, Don Cossack, Eduard, Ma Filleule, Foxrock, Third Intention, Wonderful Charm, Taquin Du Seuil, Johns Spirit and Wishfull Thinking, with Ballycasey and Balder Succes disputing last place.
The horses entered the home straight and soon approached fence number four; Taquin Du Seuil wasn’t fluent here. The runners continued to fence number five, the leader three lengths in advance of his rivals; there were no problems at this fence and, having landed over it, they joined the New Course before heading up towards fence number six.
Hidden Cyclone who had gained on Uxizandre on the run to this fence, made an error here and lost ground; now he was disputing second place with Don Cossack to his inside and Double Ross to his outside. By the time they’d jumped the obstacle in front of the grandstands, Third Intention had dropped almost to the back of the field, just Ballycasey behind him.
Uxizandre continued clear of his rivals as they climbed the hill and entered the back straight for the one and only time. Hidden Cyclone had regained the clear second spot, followed by Don Cossack, Double Ross and Eduard. The leader flew the next fence; back in the field Foxrock was less than fluent. Hidden Cyclone was a little bit awkward at the water-jump; back in the field Foxrock was now beginning to struggle.
The following fence was the first of the open-ditches; Taquin Du Seuil made an error here. The admirable mare Ma Filleule was now disputing second place with Hidden Cyclone, Don Cossack, Double Ross and Eduard. The leader got a little close to the next, a plain fence; at the back of the field Ballycasey put in a short stride and hit it, but survived.
Having negotiated the dog-leg turn, Uxizandre flew over the second-open ditch, whereas Don Cossack pecked on landing over it and dropped back to fifth place. The runners continued to the top of the hill, the leader put in some nifty footwork to meet the next in his stride. Having made an error early in the race, Balder Succes was now being ridden along near the rear and Double Ross had dropped back noticeably through the field.
The runners headed around the far bend to approach the tricky fourth-last fence. Johns Spirit hit the fence and, back in the field, Taquin Du Seuil blundered yet again and momentarily lost his hind-legs upon landing. Wishfull Thinking was pulled up before the fence. And still the Alan King second-string continued to lead as they headed down the hill to the third last fence. He was pursued by Ma Filleule, Hidden Cyclone, Eduard and Don Cossack; Johns Spirit was a few lengths off these, with the remainder all struggling.
Uxizandre has to race on left-handed courses, because he has a tendency to jump out to his left. On this occasion, he got a little close to the wing of the third last and dislodged it; it did not stop his momentum however. Ballycasey was pulled up before this fence. The runners were soon heading into the home straight, with the grey mare just over a length behind him and Hidden Cyclone travelling at her girth. Also in the leading group were Johns Spirit, Eduard and the ridden along Don Cossack.
Uxizandre cleared the penultimate fence well, as did Ma Filleule, but there was some serious scrimmaging behind them as Johns Spirit edged to his right and Hidden Cyclone edged to his left; this resulted in Don Cossack being hampered as a result and he made a serious error. Hidden Cyclone then began to fade, which left Eduard to join battle with Richie McLernon’s mount for third position.
Ma Filleule came under pressure as they headed to the last fence; and she still needed to make up the two length deficit with the leader. Having cleared the final fence it became clear that Uxizandre still had fuel in the tank as he stayed on well to the line to win by 5 lengths. Despite things going against him early in the home straight, Don Cossack rallied on the flat to claim third 3¼ lengths back, with Eduard in 4th having made an error at the last, Johns Spirit 5th and Hidden Cyclone 6th. Balder Succes plugged on to take 7th.
Having pulled up at the top of the run-in, all of his colleagues congratulated the Champ on his excellent win. Daryl Jacob, who had been riding Third Intention, also patted Uxizandre and pulled the horse’s ear too. The photographers congratulated him as they took their shots; AP was then interviewed by Rishi Persad of Channel 4 Racing.
With AP having ridden his 31st Cheltenham Festival winner, at his final one before his season-end retirement, and for Alan King too, I had to return to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to see him arrive back. Thursday being one of the two ‘quiet’ Festival days, it didn’t prove difficult to get there before he’d arrived back; besides, I’d set off to make the trek as soon as he’d crossed the line! Due to weight of numbers, sometimes it’s a choice between horse-walk celebrations and Winners’ Enclosure celebrations; you cannot do both.
AP was welcomed back to the sound of loud applause as he made his way across the Parade Ring to enter the Winners’ Enclosure. There were three cheers for AP too.
When interviewed by Stewart Machin of RUK, AP said the horse had run away with him for the first mile and a quarter/mile and a half and he’d been worried that he’d not have the stamina to see out the distance. He said Uxizandre jumped fantastic and was always going forward, which resulted in his rivals getting into trouble because they couldn’t keep up with him.
Race 3 - 2:40pm.
THE RYANAIR STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Registered as The Festival Trophy Steeple Chase) (Grade 1)
The Stewards held an enquiry into possible interference both approaching and at the second last fence. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race they found that JOHNS SPIRIT (IRE), placed fifth, ridden by Richie McLernon, had interfered with DON COSSACK (GER), placed third, ridden by Bryan Cooper, who in turn interfered with HIDDEN CYCLONE (IRE), placed sixth, ridden by Andrew J. McNamara. The Stewards found McLernon in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he manoeuvred right handed when insufficiently clear of DON COSSACK (GER) causing that runner to be severely checked shortly before take off, which in turn resulted in HIDDEN CYCLONE (IRE) becoming unbalanced when contacted on the hind quarters. They suspended him for 4 days as follows: Thursday 26, Friday 27, Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 March 2015.
Wayne Hutchinson, the rider of BALDER SUCCES (FR), unplaced, reported that the gelding hit the second fence and was never travelling thereafter.
That’s it for the first half of my Day 3 diary ...
Click here to read Day 3 Diary Part II