DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2016
DAY FOUR - FEATURING THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
FRIDAY 18 MARCH 2016
A first Cheltenham Festival winner for trainer Harry Fry;
the victor in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
is Unowhatimeanharry ridden by Noel Fehily
This should have been the final one of 4 days at the Festival for me but, with the exhaustion issues experienced this year, it was in fact the final one of 3 days; I had spent Thursday at home in an effort to recharge my batteries. I felt like an old phone battery which will charge up to 100% but then quickly drain to zero through overuse!
I’d reset my alarm clock for an early start; once again I’d slightly miscalculated and the alarm sounded just before 04:00! Never mind, better too early than too late – the latter is the stuff of many nightmares. I was lucky with the clock battery too, although I did test it at the time, for it had to be replaced the following week.
Anyway, once awake, I had a shower, washed and dried my hair, applied my makeup and ate a breakfast of two Weetabix, with blueberries, raisins and banana.
Bearing in mind I was feeling very patriotic as always, and probably even more so bearing in mind the Ireland were leading GB 11-10 as regards the BetBright Cup after Day 3, I endeavoured to chose a suitably coloured wardrobe today. Not that I’d ever wear green to the races, knowingly, as I consider it to be unlucky. Besides, although I love greens at the ‘blue’ end of its spectrum, such as viridian, I really don’t like yellow-greens.
So, I wore a plum-coloured thermal t-shirt; grey t-shirt with brushed interior; cherry red ‘heatgen’ polo-neck top; the ‘old-stager’ which is my ribbed, cerise coloured frill-edged cardigan (the label states magenta); cobalt blue fleece and black fleece gillet; brown tights and burgundy jeggings; grey tweed double-frill hem skirt (my new racing wardrobe mainstay); dark teal anorak-style coat; grey/turquoise woollen hat, knitted the previous day; cream-coloured loopy scarf – I couldn’t find the red one, as I didn’t dig deep enough into one of my many bags of hand-knitted scarves; long, striped, M & S wristwarmers; black Hotter ‘Cannes’ boots; black/grey M & S handbag; and, last but not least, a pair of UniqueDichoric earrings – the black/silver/blue/purple ones.
I was ready to depart at 06:20. Usually I’d be paranoid about missing an early departure time on Gold Cup Day, but Wednesday had taught me that I could still get to Cheltenham in reasonable time, provided I didn’t mind waiting in a number of rush-hour traffic jams! Besides, last year, I’d actually arrived too early on the final day; and I’d also now become resigned to the fact that my favourite car park, the lower field off Swindon Lane, was now staff only, sadly. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
In fact I’d decided to park in the north car park again today, because it really didn’t matter what time I departed from Cheltenham or arrived home on the final day; besides, since Choc’s retirement, I also didn’t need to turn up at Kempton Park the following day either!
Having arrived home too late on Wednesday evening to fill my car’s petrol tank and also having missed the opportunity on Thursday too, because I was too tired, although I did walk down to the supermarket at 08:00 instead, I had to pay a visit to the forecourt before I begin my journey to Cheltenham.
I was also hopeful that my headlights would be okay today, because the previous day I’d checked the manual and discovered that there is a ‘level of dip’ dial; 0 for minimum when a light load, and 4 for maximum when a heavy load. I checked and discovered that the dial was set to 4 ... that meant they were dipped to maximum when I was the sole person in the vehicle, with no luggage. No wonder I couldn’t see the road properly! I had now reset them to zero.
It was strange really, as the lights had been okay on the previous occasions I’d driven during hours of darkness – Christmas Day to visit my younger brother in Bedfordshire, to Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the following day too. I’d also worn my night vision glasses on those occasions, and the vision through those was good too – unlike earlier this week!
So the question is – did I change the dial accidently, without knowing what it was? Or did the servicer do it during the car service? Who knows. All I know is that it had caused me an absolute nightmare of stress, during my drive home on Tuesday, and it was not much better on Wednesday evening either.
Having filled up the tank, my journey then took me through the City centre before I then headed to Hemel Hempstead. As always I negotiated the ‘Magic Roundabout’ before heading along Two Waters Way to get to the A41 bypass; I’d reached the eastern side of Aylesbury by 07:00. With no delays today, I soon headed around their ring-road (designated the A4157) to get to the western side of the town, in order to re-join the A41. Two cars were pulled to the side of the road by the Rabans Lane turning, their drivers having a discussion nearby; they’d had a prang.
I continued on the A41, heading for Oxfordshire. The driver of a Range Rover cut me up at one of the sets of traffic lights on the stretch of road outside the new housing estate; a typical bully in a big car, they think they own the roads and have absolutely no manners whatsoever. It wasn’t my fault he’d selected the slowest moving queue, but he was determined to overtake and gain the advantage over a mere Fiesta; mine. But the drivers which really hack me off are those which pull out from sideroads, forcing me to brake, when there’s an absolutely clear road immediately behind me; all I can think is that they cannot see any further than the end of their own stupid noses!
I’d reached Bicester by 07:32 and, for the third time this week, there was barely a queue at the traffic lights above junction 9 of the M40. Friday mornings are often the quietest weekday for road traffic and this was no exception, for me. There were no delays on the A34 and, when I headed down the slip-road at the Peartree Interchange, traffic was moving around the roundabout freely.
I drove down the A44 dual carriageway, towards the Wolvercote roundabout, the queue was tailing back to just past the traffic lights denoting the first sideroad. The roadworks at the Wolvercote junction had no effect on vehicles travelling west, apart from reducing the speed limit to 30mph for a short distance. The journey across the Cotswolds went smoothly.
It had been drizzling rather than raining, with windscreen wipers set on intermittent mode, since I’d left home. However, upon entering the stretch of the A40 between the end of the dual carriageway and Burford, which heads along a ridge, this became fog. But it wasn’t a problem; although, in hindsight, I wonder if my headlights remained on as, because it was now daylight and they were still set to ‘auto’, they’d probably turned themselves off. Whoops! I just can’t win ...
Regardless, I reached Cheltenham without a problem. As always, having reached the Sixways junction, I headed up Greenway Lane, down Harp Hill, turned right into Priors Road, and right into Bouncers Lane. Having decided upon the north car park today, at the far end I turned right in order to drive through Deep Street and High Street and continued along the B4632 to reach Southam. I then turned left, to enter Old Road; shortly afterwards I turned left again into Southam Lane and meandered along to the entrance of the north car park.
The driveway is a long one but, eventually, I reached the gateway donating the entrance to the public car park. It was possible to pay for parking on the day, but cost less if paid for in advance, which I did. I showed my parking docket to the lady steward and she directed me to head up the hill to find another steward who directed me to a parking space over to my left. Despite the car park being in the shadow of Cleeve Hill, I couldn’t see it due to the fog!!! It was 09:10.
Anyway, I ate two cheese rolls before I put on my coat and boots ready to walk to the North Entrance; it was 09:30. I also took my new hat with me, along with my waterproof one, in a gym bag. I heard shouting as I was locking my car; a couple of guys were f’ing and blinding a short distance away. I presume they were both ticket touts, perhaps arguing about territory. As I’d decided to head to the turnstiles at an early time today, I was near the front of the queue.
Whilst I was waiting, I saw Choc, Hector and their entourage heading past the turnstiles, already inside the main enclosure. I also noticed AP McCoy holding a conversation with someone manning the Owners & Trainers desk. Lady jockey Lizzie Kelly exited the racecourse entrance in order to make a phonecall, it being a restricted area inside. I noticed a number of people had already purchased their racecards – but I didn’t notice anyone selling them at the entrance today!
The doors were opened at 10:30 as scheduled, my bag was searched by one of the security men manning the entrance. He joked that I needed a large bag in which to carry all my winnings! Once inside I purchased a racecard for £4 from the kiosk closeby, before heading to the ladies loo. I then returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure; I soon spotted Choc and Hector loitering on the terrace outside the Weighing Room. Alan King also stopped to pass the time of day with Choc and Hector.
As I was making notes in my notebook, I was accosted by a representative from the Gloucestershire Echo; the young journalist interviewed me briefly and took a photograph of me too. However, I then discovered Choc had disappeared whilst I wasn’t looking! The mist had begun to clear, and by 11:20 I noticed Cleeve Hill was now visible.
As I’d never previously ventured onto the newly constructed terrace above the Winners’ Enclosure, I thought I’d do a quick tour. I climbed the steps close to the trophy room, before taking a number of photographs from the vantage point, and returning via the steps which lead down to the main concourse.
I also went for a walk around the Shopping Village, before returning via the main concourse; I coincidently followed Alan King and his wife and daughter up the hill, and passed by trainer Charlie Mann; the latter had one of his arms in a sling!
Shortly afterwards, having returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure, I met up with fellow Choc fan Sally Meek for a chat; it’s always good to see someone I know, especially when we can talk about Choc to our hearts’ content. She was accompanied by her husband again this year. We said our farewells prior to the start of racing, saying that we’d probably meet up again when the BetBright Cup was presented at some point during the afternoon.
Choc did reappear in vision some time later on, only to check out again as he headed in the direction of the Guinness Village, accompanied by a male companion (not Hector).
Martin Kelly’s guests today were Ted Walsh, father of Ruby, and Andy Stewart; the latter spoke about his involvement with the Victoria Pendleton Foxhunter challenge; he owns the horse she rode, Pacha Du Polder.
I headed down to the course-side rails well ahead of racing, in order to reserve by usual position close to the half furlong post. There was a cold breeze again today, so I had to put my new hat on shortly afterwards! For the record, the route between the two grandstands, which leads to the Club Lawn area, remains a wind-tunnel!
The favourite for the first race was the Aidan O’Brien-trained Ivanovich Gorbatov, owned by JP McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 9-2. Alan King had three runners in this race, namely Gibralfaro ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and sporting the McNeill Family silks, Sceau Royal ridden by Daryl Jacob sporting the first string Munir/Souede silks and Who Dares Wins ridden by Richard Johnson sporting the Henry Ponsonby silks.
Paul Nicholls had five representatives – firstly Clan Des Obeaux ridden by Noel Fehily, in the two shades of green with white of part owner Paul Barber, the silks made famous by Denman (the horse was also part-owned by Potensis – ie. Jared Sullivan). Secondly, Connetable sporting the pink and purple colours of part-owner Chris Giles and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies. Thirdly, Frodon also part owned by Potensis and presumably sporting the blue and orange silks of the other part-owner. Fourthly, Tommy Silver, again part-owned by Potensis and this time sporting Jared Sullivan’s red and pink colours; ridden by Jonathan Burke. Finally, Zubayr, sporting the blue and white silks of a Mr PJ Vogt and ridden by Nick Scholfield … the Authorized-sired horse had been purchased for an astonishing 380,000 euros last summer, but had won Kempton’s Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle on his one and only appearance since.
JP McManus had a mere two representatives, the aforementioned Montjeu-sired Ivanovich Gorbatov sporting the first-string silks, and Consul De Thaix trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Mark Walsh. There was one representative for Gigginstown, the filly Apple’s Jade. One for the Ricci’s, the filly Let’s Dance. And two for Simon Munir/Isaac Souede, the aforementioned Sceau Royal and also the Willie Mullins-trained Footpad. There was also Leoncavallo for Bloomfields. That left just Big McIntosh for trainer John Ryan. A total of 15 runners.
In other words it wasn’t a race for ordinary owners; it was a race for multi-millionaires with money to burn!
At this point I need to put my New Course hat on as, having missed Day 3 due to exhaustion, this is the first race that I will describe which is run of the New Course.
Ahead of the race, Choc and Alan King’s Assistant Trainer, Ollie Wardle, went to join a group of people who were standing upon the home straight, and Sally saw him at close quarters as he did so; their route had taken them down the horsewalk.
Being run over a distance of 2 miles 1 furlong, the horses cantered up the all-weather horse-walk in front of the grandstand before heading back down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue their journey to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
And they were off, to the roar of the Gold Cup Day crowd. The field was led away by Big Mcintosh ridden by Mattie Batchelor, closely followed by Let’s Dance and Who Dares Wins; at the rear of the field was Footpad (not easy to identify as Ruby was wearing the wrong coloured second-string Munir/Souede cap – it was red!).
Having cleared the first flight, the leader soon went a number of lengths clear of his rivals and remained so as they headed up the home straight towards the next. He was pursued by Who Dares Wins, and the filly Let’s Dance. Behind these travelled Clan Des Obeaux, alongside the Gigginstown’s filly Apple’s Jade. These were followed by Sceau Royal, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Frodon, Zubayr, and Gibralfaro to the stand-side. In line behind these five, were Consul De Thaix, Leoncavallo, Connetable and Tommy Silver; still bringing up the rear was Footpad three or four lengths adrift of his rivals.
There were no noticeable errors as the runners cleared the second obstacle before bearing left and heading up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. Turning into the back straight, Let’s Dance was disputing second position with Who Dares Wins and Clan Des Obeaux. All fifteen competitors jumped the next flight in their stride before heading along to flight number four; Apple’s Jade had now joined Let’s Dance and Clan Des Obeaux to dispute second place, with Who Dares Wins having dropped back behind these. In contrast, Gibralfaro was now taking closer order on the outside of the field.
The runners continued to flight number five where, again, there were no issues in the jumping department, although two from rear Consul De Thaix was niggled along having jumped it. However, by the time they’d negotiated the dog-leg turn, it became apparent that a couple of the other runners were not travelling as well as their jockeys would have liked; namely Connetable and Tommy Silver to the rear of the main group. Footpad was still in rear, although travelling okay; I think he may be an awkward customer, as he was the only hooded runner in the field!
Heading to the top of the hill, the leader had been reeled in by the time they jumped three out; his advantage now just half a length over Apple’s Jade. Connetable was the smoothest as they cleared it. The still tightly packed field had soon reached the far corner of the track, with Apple’s Jade now alongside Big McIntosh, followed by Who Dares Wins, Let’s Dance and Gibralfaro disputing third position. Behind these was Clan Des Obeaux in sixth, followed by Sceau Royal with Ivanovich Gorbatov and Frodon; Zubayr was behind these, from Leoncavallo, Connetable, Consul De Thaix, Tommy Silver and Footpad.
Big McIntosh was soon swallowed up by his rivals as they galloped down the hill towards the penultimate flight led by Apple’s Jade, with Gibralfaro and Let’s Dance her nearest pursuers; Gibralfaro made a mistake at this flight. Meanwhile, as they headed towards the home bend, Apple’s Jade continued to lead, from Let’s Dance to the inside and Gibralfaro to the outer, Clan Des Obeaux, Who Dares Wins with little room against the inside rails, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Frodon, Zubayr, Sceau Royal, Consul De Thaix, Leoncavallo, Connetable, Tommy Silver and Footpad. Big McIntosh had now tired and was a number of lengths in rear.
It became a cavalry charge as the runners entered the home straight, with Apple’s Jade continuing to lead. Ivanovich Gorbatov had now mastered Let’s Dance, and Ruby in his inimitable style had begun to scythe his way through runners to the far side and was gaining on the leaders. As they approached the final hurdle, it became a battle between Gigginstown and JP McManus, as the Aidan O’Brien runner gradually gained upon the game filly.
The leaders both jumped it well and in unison, but Ivanovich Gorbatov was too strong and he pulled away to win by 1¼ lengths at the line. Footpad completed in 3rd, 6 lengths away; having to make up the distance from last place had proved an impossible task. Seven lengths further back, Let’s Dance just held onto 4th by a neck from Leoncavallo. The Paul Nicholls ‘massive’ claimed 6th, 7th and 8th, with Clan Des Obeaux, Tommy Silver and Frodon. Gibralfaro was the best of the Alan King-trained runners in 9th.
It was a record-breaking 5th winner in this race for jockey Barry Geraghty.
However Apple’s Jade would soon gain revenge over her conqueror when winning the Grade 1 Anniversary 4-year-old Hurdle at Aintree … and also a win over both Let’s Dance and Ivanovich Gorbatov at Punchestown when she triumphed in the Grade 1 Champion 4-year-old Hurdle too! She is very very good, despite the fillies and mares weight allowance.
There were four Irish-based runners in the race and they had finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. So, with the home team thinking they’d got some pretty useful juveniles this year, it had just been proven that they were below par when compared to the Irish horses. I know Alan King was particularly gutted.
If you don’t already follow the exploits (and weekly videos) of Wocket Woy (aka Mr Muddle) and his pal Nobby (aka Ya Hafed), along with roving reporter Batch (Mattie Batchelor) and the Producer (Marc Goldstein) then you really ought to take a look at this link http://wocketwoy.co.uk/
Research tells me that Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov was a Russian post-impressionist painter.
I didn’t venture away from the course-side rails, mindful to retain my place ahead of Race 4, the Gold Cup.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 1:30pm
THE JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
Following public comments made after the
running of race one, the Stewards afforded Aidan O’Brien, the listed trainer
of IVANOVICH GORBATOV (IRE), the winner of this race, and DRACO, a runner in
race two, an opportunity to explain the training arrangements of both horses.
Joseph O’Brien was also interviewed. Aidan O’Brien explained that both
IVANOVICH GORBATOV (IRE) and DRACO are trained from a satellite yard, which
is licensed in his name and overseen by Joseph O’Brien. He said that the
operation of the satellite yard is carried out by Joseph O’Brien. This is
done through consultation with him. Joseph O’Brien added that he is in the
process of obtaining a Trainers Licence with the
Irish Turf Club and once this process is completed he will have several
horses transferred to be trained in his name. The Stewards noted their
The joint-favourites for this event were the JP McManus-owned Great Field, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Barry Geraghty, and Wait For Me, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 7-1. Alan King had a runner in this race, Montbazon to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. He’d just snuck into this massively oversubscribed handicap as number 26 of 26; he’d returned to action at Newbury the previous month following a lengthy absence to run well in the Betfair Hurdle.
Being run over a distance of 2 miles 1 furlong, the horses cantered up the all-weather horse-walk in front of the grandstand before heading back down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue their journey to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
And then they were off, at the first attempt, despite it being a maximum field of 26! It was a short run to the first flight, with Sternrubin to the inside, Great Field and Fethard Player the first to rise as they cleared it. One of the runners, obscured in mid-field, trashed one of the panels, possibly Devilment or Sizing Tennessee. Henry Higgins cleared the obstacle in last place.
Barry Geraghty was unable to restrain the joint-favourite Great Field, and he’d soon pulled his way into a clear lead, from Sternrubin and Zamdy Man; Fethard Player now followed these. Another horse with a liking for front-running, Starchitect travelled behind these, followed by Bentelimar and Montbazon. Stable-mates Francis Of Assisi and Devilment were alongside Sizing Tennessee, with Draco to the inside; behind him was 2014 Fred Winter winner Hawk High, to his outer Kayf Blanco, the Barber/Potensis runner All Yours, Superb Story, and former Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian to the outside. The fancied Blue Hell was to the far side in the next wave of runners, along with John Constable, Some Plan, Ivan Grozny and Dicosimo; just behind these were Mad Jack Mytton, Cardinal Walter, Modus, Wait For Me and Henry Higgins.
The leading quintet cleared the second flight without incident. However, just behind these, Montbazon took off too early and pitched on landing as a result; this threw jockey Wayne Hutchinson over his left shoulder and into the path of the massed hoards behind him. The jockey ended up quite some distance from the obstacle, as he tumbled along beneath hooves. Not what you need when due to ride Smad Place in the Gold Cup later in the afternoon. Those badly hampered by this incident were All Yours and Mad Jack Mytton. Wayne Hutchinson remained motionless as the runners galloped away.
Great Field continued to lead, from Sternrubin and Zamdy Man as they headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. The loose horse, now travelling to the outside of the main group, decided to peel away from them, barely making the top turn and trashing one of the plastic rail supports in the process. Montbazon had decided not to be one of the herd and turned around to trot back from whence he came; Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells and his stable lad soon caught him.
Meanwhile, Great Field continued to lead, from Sternrubin and Zamdy Man; the latter hit the third flight. The runners headed to the next, where Dicosimo decided to paddle through the hurdle and thus departed, that was Ruby out of the race; the horse had also fallen fairly early on in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle the previous month. Danny Mullins had been riding the horse on that occasion and sustained a fracture to a kneecap.
There was no change at the head of affairs as they cleared flight number five, although the field was now more strung out and Modus had lost touch at the rear of the field. They negotiated the dog-leg turn shortly afterwards. Great Field led from Sternrubin, Zamdy Man and Fethard Player. Behind these were Starchitect, Francis Of Assisi, Cheltenian and Sizing Tennessee. Having jumped the next, the runners soon reached the top of the hill before heading around the sweeping turn and down the slope to the penultimate flight. Or at least it would have been the penultimate flight had the final one not been cordoned off due to medics attending to Wayne Hutchinson.
Sternrubin now led the way, from Zamdy Man, Fethard Player, Great Field and Cheltenian. Behind these Francis Of Assisi, Starchitect and the improved Superb Story. Fethard Player was now alongside Sternrubin as they cleared what was now the last flight but there were many others, in fact most of the field, within just a handful of lengths of this leading duo.
So, as they straightened out upon entering the home run, it was Superb Story which had swept through between the two leaders. There was a steward leaning over the rails to the nearside and he was waving a chequered flag to notify the jockeys to bypass the last. The Dan Skelton runner spearheaded the field as they negotiated the ‘chicane’ between the steeplechase fence and the omitted hurdle; initially Fethard Player stayed with him but, as they approached the line, Superb Story began to pull away and he won by 2½ lengths at the line. It was Dan Skelton’s first Cheltenham Festival winner; also the first for his brother and jockey, Harry. The jockey was ecstatic.
Sternrubin just held on to 3rd position by a head from Wait For Me; so that was 3rd and 4th places for trainer Philip Hobbs. A neck away in 5th was Starchitect, and Francis Of Assisi was 6th. Twenty-three finished, including the tailed off Modus. Great Field had been pulled up before jumping the revised last flight.
Wayne Hutchinson was okay, although a bit sore; he was able to ride Smad Place in the Gold Cup, which was the next but one race.
Superb Story had been especially laid out for this race, having last been seen when finishing as runner up to Old Guard in the Greatwood Hurdle at the Open Meeting in November. He only just made it into the race, at number 25!
Sadly Cheltenian went wrong at Haydock Park during a race in early May, and was euthanized as a result. L
Montbazon had two further runs over hurdles before the end of the current season, during April at Newbury and Kempton Park, but seemed totally out of love with the game by then. Perhaps it was time to pull stumps on his racing career and find something more interesting for him to do, rather than persevere with a horse who’d been susceptible to injuries throughout his career and was now 9-years-old.
Again I decided to remain beside the course-side rails following the race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 2 - 2:10pm
THE VINCENT O'BRIEN
COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The Stewards held an
enquiry into the use of the whip by Harry Skelton, the rider of the winner,
SUPERB STORY (IRE), from the by-passed final flight of hurdles. 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 Skelton for 4 days as follows: Friday 1, Saturday 2,
Sunday 3 and Monday 4 April 2016.
The favourite for this race was Shantou Village, trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 7-2. Presumably this was a result of finishing as runner-up to Yanworth on Festival Trials Day in late January. The unbeaten Barters Hill was the second favourite at 4-1. Martin Keighley was due to have a runner in this one, but Solstice Star was withdrawn, due to the ground being unsuitable. Willie Mullins had 7 runners in this event … over a third of the field in fact!
The starting gate for this event is at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two complete circuits to travel. Upon exiting the walkway, the horses crossed the home straight to canter along the all-weather strip which runs to the outside of the top bend to reach it.
And then they were off, first time. The runners were led away by the front-running Barters Hill, with the Wylie’s Up For Review restrained to the inside; also prominent were Atlantic Gold and Allysson Monterg. The keen racing Up For Review was the first to rise at flight number one. The runners headed over the second, with the dark grey Bachasson bringing up the rear; there were three other greys, the lightest of which was the dappled Aurillac, and a roan named Fagan.
There were a number of clumsy jumps at the third flight, noticeably from Definite Outcome. Having cleared the first three obstacles, the runners headed around the dog-leg turn to approach the fourth. Barters Hill and Up For Review disputed the lead, from Atlantic Gold, Allysson Monterg, Definite Outcome, Champers On Ice, Jonniesofa, Aurillac, Gangster, Bleu Et Rouge, Hit The Highway, West Approach, Shantou Village, Fagan, Balko Des Flos, Long Dog, Unowhatimeanharry, Open Eagle, and Bachasson.
Having reached the far corner of the track, the runners then headed down the hill to the fifth flight. As they approached it, Long Dog went wrong and, as a result he fell; his jockey was Ruby Walsh. He appeared to have broken his near foreleg. Meanwhile the race continued, with the remaining 18 horses safely negotiating the hurdle before entering the home straight; Barters Hill continued to lead, narrowly.
They jumped the flight in front of the stands before heading up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. The field was still closely grouped and all of the runners seemed to be travelling okay. The prominent Champers On Ice hit the first flight in the back straight, Open Eagle did too and, having lost his place, Hit the Highway wasn’t fluent.
The runners headed to the next where, having also drifted back through the field, the JP McManus-owned Rouge Et Blanc hit the top of the flight and fell; hampered by this departure were Unowhatimeanharry and Bachasson. Fortunately Barry Geraghty wasn’t struck by any flying hooves. The remaining 17 runners headed over the next, with Champers On Ice now taking second position despite having flattened a panel within the flight.
They negotiated the dog-leg turn, with Bachasson and Hit The Highway now struggling at the rear of the field. Barters Hill was being pressed by both Champers On Ice and Allysson Monterg as they jumped three out; the grey was travelling the best of these three and the latter landed awkwardly over it. Near the rear of the field, West Approach didn’t jump the flight very well either.
Barters Hill and Champers On Ice continued to dispute the lead as they headed around the far turn, from Allysson Monterg, Balko Des Flos, Jonniesofa, Gangster, Shantou Village, Open Eagle, Unowhatimeanherry, Aurillac, Bachasson, West Approach, and Fagan; the remainder could be discounted by this stage of the race.
There was some confusion from the commentary position as to whether the runners would be able to jump the penultimate flight having headed down the hill towards it. This was due to the incident involving Long Dog on the previous circuit. However, standing to the inside of the track and with his saddle slung over his arm, Ruby Walsh gesticulated to his colleagues to instruct them to jump it. There was a steward positioned close to the green screens which had been erected around the stricken Long Dog but, fortunately, he’d been moved to the outside of the track to allow the runners to continue upon their intended route.
Having jumped the flight, Champers On Ice now held a slight advantage over Barters Hill, but the latter continued to fight on. Having made up ground on the run down the hill, Unowhatimeanharry was now challenging the Gigginstown duo of Balko Des Flos and Gangster for third position. The runners headed into the home straight and were soon on the run to the final flight. There was no surprise that Barters Hill was still battling with Champers On Ice for the lead; meanwhile Unowhatimeanharry was continuing to close under a strong drive from Noel Fehily, with Fagan staying on from miles back to race up the stand-side rails and he was currently in fourth.
Barters Hill was edging to his left as they reached the last, taking Unowhatimeanharry with him; the latter made a mistake but it didn’t stop him from assuming the lead shortly afterwards. Barters Hill continued to drift left, stumbling slightly as his path was crossed by the leader. Noel’s mount hung to his right as he headed up the hill to the line, with Fagan keeping straight and true with the nearside rail to guide him.
Despite this final challenge, Unowhatimeanharry kept on well to the line, to win by 1¼ lengths from Fagan. A further 1½ lengths back, Champers On Ice completed in 3rd, and the ever-game Barters Hill was a 1¾ lengths 4th. It was a first Cheltenham Festival winner for trainer Harry Fry; although he had been deeply involved with the training of Rock On Ruby when that horse won the Champion Hurdle in 2012.
So, in consecutive races, former Paul Nicholls Assistant trainers had won their first Cheltenham Festival events – namely Dan Skelton and Harry Fry.
Long Dog’s demise had brought the horse fatality tally to six so far this Festival with 4 races to go; Niceonefrankie having been a fatality on Thursday.
Once again I retained my position beside the course-side rails.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 3 - 2:50pm
THE ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Registered as The Spa Novices' Hurdle Race) (Grade 1)
The Stewards noted that
the winner, UNOWHATIMEANHARRY, had shifted quickly right handed after landing
over the last flight of hurdles, interfering with BARTERS HILL (IRE), placed
fourth, but after viewing a recording of the incident they were satisfied
that it neither involved a riding offence nor improved UNOWHATIMEANHARRY’s
It later transpired that Barters Hill had not been sound just three days prior to the race, with connections racing against time to get him fit. Trainer Ben Pauling admitted that, had he been able to turn back the clock, he would not have run his star charge today; he believed that the horse was feeling the problem when he hung to his left on the run-in.
That’s it for part one of my diary ...