DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2016
FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE
TUESDAY 15 MARCH 2016
The winner of the Champion Hurdle;
Annie Power ridden by Ruby Walsh
Click here to read my Day 1 Diary Part I
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the Champion Hurdle. This being the case, there was a pre-race parade, with the horses exiting the horse-walk and congregating upon the racecourse before being led up the home straight in front of the main grandstands. Parade over, they then cantered down the turf to enter the all-weather strip and continue their journey to the starting gate which was situated at the far end of the home straight.
The favourite for this year’s race was Annie Power, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 5-2. No hood today for her today, and she substituting for the injured current Champion Hurdle crown-holder Faugheen for both owner and trainer.
Another strange fact is that it’s just recently dawned on me that Challenge Cup races, such as today’s Arkle Novices’ Chase and the Champion Hurdle, have the same trophy which is presented year after year, whereas other races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup have a new trophy minted for each renewal. Perhaps that is why the Champion Hurdle trophy is so big and the Gold Cup is so small – it would be too expensive to be otherwise.
Having been circling within the enclosure to the inside of the bend, the jockeys were asked to exit onto the track, initially heading away the starting gate in order to remain within the speed guidelines as they approach the tape.
And then they were off and heading towards the first flight. Nichols Canyon to the inside, Annie Power centre and The New One to the outside; the latter’s pilot mindful of his mount’s preference to jump out to the right. Near the rear of the field, Peace And Co made an error at this flight.
The twelve runners continued their long journey up the straight to reach the second hurdle with Annie Power spearheading the way from Nicholls Canyon and The New One. Behind these travelled the hooded My Tent Or Yours, Lil Rockerfeller and Identity Thief; then the grey Hargam, Top Notch, Sempre Medici, followed by Peace And Co, Camping Ground and Sign Of A Victory. Identity Thief lost time in the air over flight number two.
Annie Power continued to lead as the runners headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate stand and entered the back straight for the one and only time. The first five had gained a clear advantage over the remainder of the field at this point in the race. Nicholls Canyon made an error at the third flight, having hit the obstacle with his hind-legs. Identity Thief had now dropped back to lead the second group of runners.
Mindful not to let the leaders create a big advantage, the others had bridged the gap by the time they reached the fourth flight. Top Notch hit one of the panels, which left it hanging at a rather jaunty angle! Annie Power continued to lead as the runners negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed to the top of the hill; both My Tent Or Yours and The New One kept close tabs on her, followed by Nicholls Canyon, Identity Thief, Top Notch, Lil Rockerfeller, Sign Of A Victory, Peace And Co, Hargam, Camping Ground and Sempre Medici. The latter three were struggling by the time they reached the far corner of the track.
The mare led them down the hill to the third last, which they all took in their stride. The New One, to the outside of the field, was now coming under pressure but he continued to make his challenge, as did My Tent Or Yours. Behind these were Nicholls Canyon and Top Notch; the latter flattened a panel of the penultimate flight. What spectators didn’t notice at the time was Ruby’s manoeuvre to avoid a spigot (or stake) at least two feet high which had been left sticking out of the pathway which runs across the racecourse shortly after the obstacle; a careless error by a member of the ground-staff which may have been catastrophic had any of the horses collided with it. Fortunately none did.
Disaster avoided, Annie Power led the field as it entered the home straight with just a single hurdle to negotiate before victory. The mare had built up a four lengths lead by the time she had cleared it, and she galloped up to the line to claim the feature prize by 4½ lengths. It was third time lucky, having missed out narrowly to More Of That in the 2014 World Hurdle and fallen at the last with the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy in 2015. She was the first mare to win the race since Flakey Dove in 1994; although mares do receive a weight allowance due to their sex.
Having made an error at the final flight, Nicholls Canyon failed to overhaul My Tent Or Yours by a head. An excellent training performance by Nicky Henderson too, as the JP McManus-owned runner-up had been on the injury side-lines for 703 days prior to this race. The following day’s Queen Mother Champion Chase result would be even more miraculous for the Lambourn-based trainer.
Again I wasn’t going anywhere ahead of the next race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 4 - 3:30pm
THE STAN JAMES CHAMPION
HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Stewards enquired
into why a spigot was left in the crossing after the second last flight of
hurdles, approximately a metre from the inside
running rail, causing the runners on the inside to have to take evasive
action. They interviewed the Clerk of the Course, who stated that the spigot
had inadvertently been left when the groundstaff
had shifted the running rail to enable them to spray the crossing with green
dye. He added that to avoid this happening in future he had instructed the groundstaff to leave the spigots in situ during spraying.
Having also viewed video recordings of the race they forwarded the matter to
the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority for further consideration.
The favourite for the next race was Vroum Vroum Mag, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 4-6. One of my favourites, Bitofapuzzle, which had finished third in this race last year returned to compete again; but this was following an aborted chasing career this season. Martin Keighley’s Flementime was a non-runner today.
Having left the Parade Ring and headed along the horse-walk, the runners exited straight onto the course, heading across the turf to canter up around the top bend upon the all-weather strip to reach the mid-course chute.
Because the race distance was two and a half miles, this meant it didn’t commence at the beginning of the chute, but slightly further along.
And then they were off. The field was led away by Desert Queen and Aurore D’Estruval. The runners cleared the first flight in their stride before heading to the second; the former was clumsy at the second. Having begun the race within the mid-course chute, the horses then headed down the hill towards the far end of the track, bearing left as they did so; bringing up the rear was Stephanie Frances.
Entering the straight, Desert Queen continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as is her preference; she bunny-hopped the first flight therein. The leader was followed by Aurore D’Estruval, Melbourne Lady, Pass The Time, Gitane Du Berlais, Tara Point, Polly Peachum, Bitofapuzzle, The Govaness, Lily Waugh, Keppols Queen, Fairytale Theatre, Flute Bowl, Vroum Vroum Mag, Rons Dream, Morello Royale, Rock On The Moor, Legacy Gold and Stephanie Frances.
Desert Queen continued clear of her rivals as they travelled up the home straight towards the next flight. They all cleared this without problem before heading up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure; the first three runners travelled in Indian file formation and bringing up the rear were Fairytale Theatre and Stephanie Frances.
Nick Scholfield’s mount remained well clear, as they commenced their journey down the back straight. There were no departures at the fifth flight, although the obstacle did appear rather the worse for wear by the time they’d all jumped it. The runners then headed over the next before negotiating the dog-leg turn. Desert Queen was around four lengths ahead of the field, with the remainder spearheaded by Aurore D’Estruval, and with Fairytale Theatre at the tail-end.
The leader rather bunny-hopped the next as she continued her journey to the top of the hill; on the outside of the field Ruby Walsh’s mount had improved her position and she was just behind the leaders as they closed upon Desert Queen approaching three out. It wasn’t the best of leaps from the favourite as she was short of room, but she continued to travel well as the headed to the penultimate flight.
Desert Queen was joined by Gitane Du Berlais, the grey Tara Point, and The Govaness as they jumped two out; a whisker behind these were Rock On The Moor and Stephanie Frances. Ruby chose to continue tracking the leaders at this point.
Turning in, Rock On The Moor gained a narrow lead over her rivals but Vroum Vroum Mag had soon loomed up to the nearside and she was travelling easily. The favourite jumped the last in her stride as did Rock On The Moor, but The Govaness misjudged her take off and caught the top of the flight. This resulted in a neck-crunching somersaulting fall for the pretty mare; and she hampered Keppols Queen in the process.
Meanwhile Vroum Vroum Mag continued her progress to the line, winning by 2¾ lengths from Rock On The Moor and Legacy Gold; a 1-2-3 for Irish-based runners, although in Legacy Gold’s case that’s Northern Ireland. The best of the Brits was Pass The Time in 4th place for trainer Neil Mulholland and jockey Tom Scudamore.
The green screens were erected around the prostrate The Govaness but sadly efforts to save her were to no avail and she was lost. Very sad, especially for her owner breeder; she would have made been a lovely Kayf Tara broodmare in time.
Again I remained beside the course-side rails after the race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 5 - 4:10pm
THE OLBG MARES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Registered as The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle Race) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
David Bass, the rider of POLLY PEACHUM (IRE), unplaced, reported that
the mare was never travelling.
The favourite for the next race was the Neil Mulholland-trained, Nina Carberry–ridden, Southfield Royale; price 5-1. Although this challenge cup race is 146 years old, it always seems strange that novices are expected to race over almost 4 miles; horses taking part were aged between 6 and 8, although it was possible to run a 5-year-old if you wished.
Martin Keighley had a runner in this one, namely Johnny Og, ridden by Adlestrop-based Claire Hart. There were also two others which I like, namely Native River and Viva Steve.
The starting gate for this event was in the mid-course chute; this being the case the horses cantered across the home straight when they exited the horse-walk, before heading up around the all-weather strip to reach it.
Being a maximum size field of 20 runners and with the amateur riders unable organise themselves into the obligatory ‘no faster than a jog’ style group, there was a standing start for this one. So then they were off, with Vintage Vinnie the first to rise as they cleared fence number one. Close up, to his outside, were Ballychorus, Pleasant Company, Shantou Flyer and Johnny Og. The leader took off too early when negotiating the next, diving over the fence, but the partnership survived; although, having been caught unawares by this, Mr Harley Dunne would not have won a prize for style!
The runners then crossed over the intersection with the Old Course, before reaching fence number three and clearing it successfully. Vintage Vinnie held a clear lead as they headed down the hill, bearing left as they did so to reach the far turn. Ballychorus and Johnny Og led the main group, with Noble Endeavor and Gigginstown’s Measureofmydreams bringing up the rear. Having reached the fourth fence, being the first in the straight, Measureofmydreams belted it but Katie Walsh remained aboard.
Vintage Vinnie continued to set the pace as they headed over the next, from Johnny Og, Pleasant Company, Ballychorus, Native River and Viva Steve. Bally Beaufort was just behind these; also in mid-field were Local Show, Shantou Flyer, Warrantor, Vieux Lion Rouge, Southfield Royale and Definitly Red. Held up in the rear were Waldorf Salad, Vicente, How About It, Measureofmydreams, Pont Alexandre, Noble Endeavor and Minella Rocco.
Having cleared five fences, the horses then joined the Old Course circuit; they still had over two full circuits of this to negotiate before the finish. The next fence remains a portable one, having been re-sited prior to the 2011 Festival in an effort to improve safety for the competitors after many years of problems, including more than its fair share of equine fatalities when situated prior to the home turn. Personally I think it’s now sited too close to the home turn.
All 20 runners cleared this without issue as, at this stage of the race, their speed was not an issue. Again there were no casualties at the fence in front of the grandstands and the runners continued up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure to reach fence number 8, still led by Vintage Vinnie. The fancied Minella Rocco, travelling at the rear of the field, received two reminders from pilot Derek O’Connor having jumped it; the horse was travelling far from sweetly at the present time.
Having turned into the back straight for the first time, the runners successfully negotiated the sometimes difficult downhill fence prior to the water-jump; there were no problems here either. The next fence was the first of the open-ditches, again no departures or serious mistakes. Vintage Vinnie continued to lead, with clear daylight between him and Johnny Og, with the latter also clear of the main field; this was led by Native River and Pleasant Company.
They cleared the next, a plain fence; where How About It was rather slow in rear. The runners then negotiated the dog-leg turn, before heading to another open-ditch; Native River blundered here and briefly lost his place before regaining third position as they continued to the top of the hill. The sole mare, Irish-based Ballychorus, caught her hind-legs on the fence and catapulted Steven Clements out of the saddle as a result.
The runners headed around the far turn before beginning the journey down the hill to the next fence. Having been travelling in a clear second for a long way, Martin Keighley’s Johnny Og was now given the opportunity to be in the spotlight as his pilot allowed him to go on into the lead as they approached the next fence. In fact he had soon scooted well clear of his rivals and was many lengths ahead as they rounded the turn into the home straight with just over a circuit still to travel. Vintage Vinnie continued in second position, with the rider on Pleasant Company taking a pull to ensure he remained behind him and Native River.
There were no further departures or issues as the runners headed over the two obstacles in the straight, before bearing left to head up the hill once more towards the fence in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. Johnny Og’s lead was reduced greatly by the time they reached the turn into the back straight; in rear was How About It. It was now time for another to depart, as Shantou Flyer fell at the sometimes tricky next; it was quite a soft fall, as he lost his footing and slipped over on landing. Fortunately Noble Endeavor and Waldorf Salad were only mildly hampered as a result; no harm done.
Johnny Og began to stretch his lead again having jumped the water. Native River was now in second position, with Southfield Royale improving on the outside of the field, and Measureofmydreams taking closer order too. At this point, Point Alexandre was pulled to the outside of the track by his pilot Patrick Mullins; sadly the horse had suffered a break to his off-hind. The Ricci-owned horse had been nursed back to fitness, having been long absent due to injury; this was his fourth appearance this season. RIP.
Meanwhile the remaining competitors headed over the penultimate ditch and the next plain fence without further incident; Waldorf Salad was pulled up before the latter and Vintage Vinnie after it, as was How About It. Johnny Og negotiated the dog-leg turn still clear of his rivals, a loose horse then followed (probably Ballychorus), then Native River spearheaded the remaining competitors. The leader got a little close to the next, which was the final open-ditch, and this affected his momentum thus allowing the field to close.
Having travelled around the far bend, Measureofmydreams, Southfield Royale and Native River were breathing down the leader’s neck; although the latter was racing lazily. Vicente was travelling well behind these, and Local Show and Minella Rocco were also in contention. Measureofmydreams and Southfield Royale jumped into the lead as they cleared three out; Minella Rocco soon joined them, with Vieux Lion Rouge looming up to their outside too as they approached the home turn. Johnny Og, stamina now sapped, dropped back quickly through the field.
The leaders entered the home straight and galloped towards the penultimate fence; Minella Rocco, nearside, and Measureofmydreams jumped it in unison. Southfield Royale blundered in third, but the partnership survived; unlike Noble Endeavor who clouted it and fell. The horse was quickly to his feet and trotted off.
Minella Rocco was just beginning to gain the upper-hand as they jumped the last, although both he and the Gigginstown runner got a little close to it; just in behind them, Native River was now staying on under a strong drive from Mikey Legg. The Jonjo O’Neill representative however was able to stave off this late challenge, despite drifting across to his right; the winning distance was 1¼ lengths. Measureofmydreams claimed 3rd, 6 lengths behind, with Southfield Royale in 4th, Vicente 5th and Vieux Lion Rouge 6th. The only other two to finish were Local Show and Viva Steve.
Warrantor’s saddle slipped having blundered 4 out, so Joshua Newman pulled him up. Also, Bally Beaufort and Pleasant Company were pulled up before two out.
The very tired Johnny Og fell at the second last, as did Definitly Red. Martin Keighley’s charge remained down for ages, and the green screens were erected; the trainer setting off down the course to find out how the horse was. Fortunately it was a happy outcome for everyone, eventually, and Johnny Og was led back up the racecourse to the stables.
Less than a month later, Native River won the extended 3-mile Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, leading all the way under a positive ride from Richard Johnson.
And just a few weeks later, Vicente would become instrumental in helping his trainer Paul Nicholls win the Jumps Trainers’ Title for the tenth time when he won the Scottish Grand National. It was Willie Mullins who challenged for the title this season having won so many big races in the UK … I’m not hopeful the home team will be able to stave off the Irish trainer’s challenge in 2016/2017.
Again I was not for moving and remained beside the course-side rails following the sixth race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 6 - 4:50pm
THE 146th YEAR OF THE
NATIONAL HUNT STEEPLE CHASE CHALLENGE CUP (AMATEUR RIDERS' NOVICES' STEEPLE
CHASE) (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
The Stewards held an
enquiry following a report from the Starter that Mr
J.J. Slevin, the rider of BALLY BEAUFORT (IRE),
Miss C.V. Hart, the rider of JOHNNY OG, Ms K. Walsh, the rider of
MEASUREOFMYDREAMS (IRE), Mr Derek O’Connor, the
rider of MINELLA ROCCO (IRE), Mr M. Legg, the rider
of NATIVE RIVER (IRE), Mr D.G. Lavery,
the rider of PLEASANT COMPANY (IRE), Mr H.D. Dunne,
the rider of VINTAGE VINNIE (IRE), Mr R.O. Harding,
the rider of VIVA STEVE (IRE), and Mr Steven
Clements, the rider of BALLYCHORUS (IRE) had allowed their horses to break
into a canter. They interviewed the riders and the Starters. Having heard
their evidence, and viewed recordings of the start, the Stewards found all
the riders in breach of Rule (D)44.4 and suspended them for 1 day as follows:
Wednesday 30 March 2016, with the exception of Mr
O’Connor, who the Stewards found had taken all reasonable steps to try and
prevent his mount breaking into a canter. They therefore found him not to be
in breach and took no further action.
The favourite for the final race on the first day was Aloomomo, trained by Warren Greatrex and ridden by Gavin Sheehan; price 3-1.
The starting gate for this race was in the mid-course chute, with the horses heading across the home straight and up around the all-weather strip to reach it.
With another large field, the maximum permitted of 20 when using the mid-course chute to run a chase event, once again there was a standing start. Then they were off, with Double Shuffle, Killala Quay, Willow’s Saviour, Domesday Book, Ballyalton and Aloomomo all prominent as the runners cleared the first fence; held up were Javert, Rezorbi and Katgary. They all cleared this safely, with McKinley making a slight error at the second obstacle.
The runners made their way across the intersection with the Old Course in order to negotiate the next fence. Killala Quay, Domesday Book, Thomas Brown and Aloomomo were at the head of affairs as they headed down hill towards the far turn, bearing left as they did so. Having entered the straight, Killala Quay led them over fence number four, from Double Shuffle, Domesday Book, Thomas Brown, and Aloomomo. Behind these travelled Willow’s Saviour and Ballyalton, they were followed by On Tour, Amore Alato, Jayo Time, Bouvreuil, Racing Pulse, Five In A Row, Bridgets Pet, Twelve Roses, McKinley, Javert, Rezorbi, Katgary and Fourth Act.
Bouvreuil (affectionately known as Bovril) took off too early and dived over the 5th fence; he survived and continued to travel in mid-field. Having now entered the Old Course circuit, Thomas Brown joined Killala Quay at the head of affairs as they jumped the next fence. The runners then negotiated the obstacle nearest the stands, at which Fourth Act in rear was less than fluent.
They then headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure and over the next fence; both Fourth Act and Katgary were bumped along in rear having cleared it. Jayo Time landed a little awkwardly having cleared the first in the back straight. Thomas Brown and Aloomomo were disputing the lead as they jumped the water; however, McKinley managed to lose his rider here as a result of a clumsy landing.
The remaining runners headed over the first of the open-ditches; four runners had become detached in rear, namely Five In A Row, Javert which made an error, Fourth Act and Katgary. Thomas Brown, Double Shuffle and Aloomomo led over the following fence, before negotiating the dog-leg turn and heading to the final open-ditch which all the runners cleared in their stride.
Double Shuffle and Aloomomo led the field down the hill, with Thomas Brown now losing ground as Ballyalton improved his position on the outside of runners to take a close third. Having cleared three out without incident, there were a number in contention as the horses rounded the final bend; Ballyalton and Double Shuffle going on as Aloomomo dropped back. The Ian Williams-trained runner was travelling the best at this point.
Ballyalton cleared the second last in unison with Double Shuffle, Bouvreuil their nearest pursuer. To the inside, Willow’s Saviour met the fence awkwardly, landed steeply and fell. To the outer, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Rezorbi also fell; sadly he landed on his neck and must have died instantly because he shuddered and was already lifeless prior to somersaulting over. RIP. Willow’s Saviour was more fortunate, but he did collide with and hamper Jayo Time as he rose to his feet.
Meanwhile, Bouvreuil took a very narrow advantage as he cleared the last, from Ballyalton and the dogged Double Shuffle. However, Ballyalton was not to be denied and he put his head down and out-battled his rival to win by half a length at the line. The hooded Bouvreuil gives the impression of being a little quirky, as he tends to have a high head carriage. Double Shuffle claimed 3rd prize, with Bridgets Pet overtaking Twelve Roses and Aloomomo on the run-in to finish 4th.
The final race having been run, and having waited for the winner to pass by upon the horse-walk, I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to see the presentations made. I understand it was trainer Ian Williams’ first Cheltenham Festival winner; the horse was owned by John Westwood, father of golfer Lee. Lee was attending today also, and went on the podium with his father to collect the prize.
The scores on the BetBright Cup doors at the end of Day 1 were now GB 4 : Ireland 3
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 7 - 5:30pm
THE CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES' HANDICAP
STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
The Starters reviewed the start of this race and were satisfied that
no rider was in breach of the Starting Procedures.
Having stayed until after the final race of the day, it was now time for me to leave. But, first, I popped to the loo ahead of my long journey home. As I was walking down the concourse afterwards, I passed AP McCoy heading in the other direction; he knew that I’d ‘clocked’ him.
Anyway, I headed out of the north entrance and along the gravel pathway which runs between the rows of parked vehicles. My car was positioned beyond the end of this path, so I had to go in search of it, amongst those vehicles remaining. It wasn’t difficult to find, as it was the third car from the end of the row; there were low banks between the rows. There had been 40 minutes between every race today, unlike in previous years when, sometimes, there was just 35 minutes; I think, on the whole, the final race had taken place just 10 minutes later than usual.
As I facing a journey which would take at least two and a half hours, I ate the remaining couple of cheese rolls before I departed. But the car park had soon become gridlocked; in addition, I was stuck where I was because a stationary car was waiting to exit from the thoroughfare just behind me. Finally the vehicle moved and my way was clear to back out of the parking space but, by this stage, no-one appeared to be going anywhere.
It didn’t help the situation that two side-by-side lines of traffic were heading out along the roadway in the enclosure next door, including horseboxes, and they were taking advantage of their priority over those in the public parking area. A steward opened an intervening gate between the two enclosures to let traffic in my own area integrate with those on the other side; but it didn’t help very much. Race-goers leaving via the steam railway, the embankment of which was over to my left, were certainly escaping much faster than those departing via cars!
It took ages to reach the original gate within my own enclosure, the one which I’d entered via earlier in the day. I then filtered into the queue, but it was then stop start stop start stop start goodness knows how many times before I reached the exit onto Southam Lane; during my journey along the driveway, further vehicles on a track to the left were joining my lane too, delaying us even more. Great. I was hoping I’d be able to turn right at the end of the drive, but no, cones forced me to turn left, which meant I was then heading west. This would have been fine had I wanted to go to Tewkesbury or Evesham, but I didn’t.
I was delayed further having to wait in a queue tailing back from the traffic lights on the Evesham Road; a vehicle which had been parked in a field to the left, forced its way through the queue of stationary traffic just in front of me in order to turn right. It was at this point I thought there might be something amiss with my headlights. I knew Evesham Road was due to be closed southbound for certain periods during the day ... but I was sure it would now be open, because it was already gone 19:30! So I turned left to head back towards Cheltenham town.
Initially everything seemed okay but then, a little further along, stewards were forcing vehicles to drive through a bumpy, gravelly, dusty enclosure – it was a pick-up point. Excellent, NOT. But the good news is that I was eventually permitted to rejoin the Evesham Road and continue on my journey. I stopped briefly to let a group of lads cross the road, just before the roundabout outside the main entrance to the racecourse.
I continued ahead, down the hill towards the town centre, turning left along Wellington Road (signed as the suggested route to the ‘General Hospital’) and thus I’d soon joined my usual route via Pittville Circus, Pittville Circus Road, Hewlett Road, and Harp Hill - very familiar territory. However, as I turned into Greenway Lane, I realised I was having difficulty in seeing where I was going; the headlights didn’t seem to be lighting my way as they usually did. I even stopped prior to Sixways, but could see that the lights were on; it was mysterious. It was 20:00 by the time I finally escaped from the town to begin my journey along the A40; not what I wanted with three further days to attend.
Normally I’d be able to travel at 60mph along the A40, with dipped headlights; today I was lucky to manage 50mph at any stage! Traffic was queuing up behind me, never satisfactory. By now I was wondering if the problem was my eyesight, or if it really was the car headlights causing an issue. Who knows? It had been serviced and passed an MOT in mid-February, so there shouldn’t have been any problems.
Anyway, I finally arrived back at Oxford, and decided to return via the M40 and M25. There were further road-works on the Oxford bypass, with speed restrictions of 30mph in these areas. My vision issues improved once I’d reached the motorway; this improved even further once I’d entered Buckinghamshire, as the road is lit here. There was a further dark section after High Wycombe central but, after Loudwater, the M40 and M25 remained lit until I left the latter at Junction 20.
I headed up the dual carriageway to the London Colney roundabout, and into St Albans and home. Having expected to arrive home between 20:30 and 21:00 as during previous years, I actually arrived back at 22:15; that was after the local petrol station had closed too so, whatever happened the next day, I would need to fill up the tank before beginning another journey to Cheltenham.
When I was leaving Cheltenham, driving up into the Cotswolds, I’d even been contemplating not attending the following day. However, it had soon dawned on me that Any Currency would be running in the Cross Country race with the hope of giving the Keighley’s their first Festival winner and, of course, Choc would be acting as Racing Manager for the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership because Ardamir was running in the Fred Winter Novices’ Handicap Hurdle. So I had to attend, whatever it took.
However, first, I’d need to visit the company which serviced my car to see what they made of my headlight issue. By this stage I was totally wound up so, having eaten a late evening meal, I still didn’t get to sleep until 00:30! I set my alarm for 05:00ish, as I intended to get ready as normal, and then drive to the servicer to see what they say; they opened at 07:30 each morning.
So it was one day down, three to go ... and things could only get better ... or at least that was what I thought!
PHOTOS – Cheltenham Festival Day 1