DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2016
FEATURING THE QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
WEDNESDAY 16 MARCH 2016
Ryan Hatch is thrilled to have won the
Grade 1 RSA Chase aboard Blaklion.
I experienced a delayed start today, for I needed to visit the company which services my car in order to have the headlights checked. The sidelights were fine, as were the rear lights, but I couldn’t explain why I was having problems with the headlights; I’ve owned the car for 8 years, since new, and I’d never experienced anything like the difficulties I’d had the previous evening when driving home from Cheltenham.
I’d turned in at 00:30, because I was wound-up and stressed following an awful homebound journey, I then woke during the night, before lying awake for ages and then stealing a little further sleep before the alarm sounded at around 05:00. It was my intention to get ready as usual, and then go from there.
I showered and washed and dried my hair, before applying my makeup. Once again breakfast was two Weetabix, with blueberries, raisins and banana; my breakfast of choice on a workday too. I was actually ready to go by 07:00, so I drove down to the local supermarket petrol station forecourt to fill the tank, hopeful that I’d be given the all-clear by my car servicers to attend Cheltenham today.
My outfit today was a grey thermal t-shirt, with a black dove print upon it; a thicker thermal t-shirt with fleecy lining; a teal ‘heatgen’ polo-neck top; bright blue BHS button-to-the-neck cardigan (I prefer BHS acrylic cardigans as they are warmer than similar M & S ones and dry very quickly too when washed – although I’m not quite sure why there are no v-neck cardigans available to purchase at the present time); also a purple fleece and black fleece gillet.
I also wore brown thermal tights, beige jeggings, and shorter handkerchief hem ‘flouncy’ skirt (beige, turquoise and burgundy or brown in colour, and a paisley-type design); dark teal anorak, turquoise loopy scarf, black/white horse design cowel; flint-coloured Hotter ‘Danville’ ankle boots; black/grey M & S handbag; long striped wristwarmers, and a purple/turquoise ‘Top This’ home-knitted hat. I hasten to add that I removed the ‘owl’ pompom before I wore it – easily removable on a temporary basis, as it’s only tied-on by ribbons ... I’m a big kid at heart ... but you have to draw the line somewhere when in public!!! I also wore another pair of ‘butterfly wing’ earrings – this time the blue/pink pair – sometimes they look pink, sometimes they look blue, depending on the reflected light!
Anyway, I was parked-up and waiting outside the servicer’s door by 07:25. I explained the problem to one of the guys working in reception, and someone drove my car into the service bay almost immediately. However, they could find nothing wrong ... what’s that all about? And, yes, the headlights were now on. Oh well, I’m off to Cheltenham then, as planned.
Thus I returned home, picked up my belongings and set off for Gloucestershire at 07:55. As it was now the start of the rush-hour, it took me ages to even drive through St Albans; it was also market day. Hemel Hempstead was fine, with traffic moving a lot more freely than I expected, although the nearby Industrial Estate was becoming clogged up with vehicles as many began to arrive ahead of their day’s work.
My journey took me via Hemel Hempstead’s ‘Magic Roundabout’, along Two Waters Way, to join the A41 bypass road. There were no problems until I reached the far end of this, about 200 yards (I still work in imperial for distances, not metric) from the roundabout, when I encountered a queue of stationary traffic. Sadly the queue stretched all the way into Aylesbury and it took ages to escape from the town once more; although the ring-road itself wasn’t too bad, by comparison with the A41.
I then headed out towards Waddesdon and Bicester, before driving down the final section of the A41 to reach the M40 interchange. Fortunately, as it was now gone 09:30, there was no queues at this point, apart from whilst waiting for one complete phase of the traffic lights. Again, having driven down the A34 to reach the Peartree Interchange, there was little delay as traffic was moving freely around the roundabout on the A44. I headed down the dual carriageway to reach the Wolvercote roundabout, with just a short queue at the far end. Thus I was heading westwards along the A40 by 09:50, latest.
Again, having reached Cheltenham, there were no delays and I headed up Greenway Lane, down Harp Hill, along Priors Road and into Bouncers Lane. However, having reached the far end of the aforementioned, I decided to head into Tatchley Lane and New Barn Lane in order to reach the car parks to the west of the racecourse. At the roundabout outside the main racecourse entrance, signs directed the public to head northwards up Evesham Road, as opposed to entering Swindon Lane where the staff car park and drop off/pick up points were now located; so I did as instructed.
Having driven a short distance up Evesham Road, I turned into the car-park entrance located on the left. It seems to be extremely difficult to gain access to the top field car park these days; the last time I managed that was on day 1 of last year’s Festival. Thus I was directed to head along the muddy thoroughfare in the direction of Hunting Butts Farm, before driving along the hedge-lined cinder track and entering the farthest Swindon Lane car park. As it was now 10:50, I was directed to park near the rear of the rows of cars which were parked facing towards the racecourse itself.
Oh well; I’m becoming resigned to having absolutely no luck these days with regards to the Cheltenham racecourse parking arrangements! Having eaten two cheese rolls, and put on my coat and boots, I then headed towards the main entrance; the south entrance that is. I also checked the headlights once more ... and was still not convinced they were working correctly; at this point I decided that I’d leave prior to the final race of the day, park up in a suitable location within Cheltenham, and call the RAC!
Anyway, I walked back along the muddy track to the side of the top car park, down the tarmac driveway, across the Evesham Road, over the short stretch of gravel on the far side, and over the main racecourse driveway; the driveway was closed to traffic this Festival, to protect the safety of pedestrians ... probably drunken pedestrians in a number of instances! I then headed over the bridge and, having had my handbag searched, was able to enter the main enclosure via the temporary turnstiles as I’d always done in previous years.
I bought a race-card at the kiosk opposite the entrance, before heading down the main concourse to the ladies loos! Unbeknown to me, my hankie-hem skirt became caught up in the waistband of my jeggings; the attendant saw this and sorted it out for me!!! Oh well, at least I was wearing jeggings so it would not have been too much of a problem; flashing my lacy M & S knickers would have been more so! After which I headed to the steppings above the Winners Enclosure for a while; it was very cold today, so I took a walk down to the Shopping Village in order to provide respite.
Martin Kelly’s guests today were a group of rugby referees (they always turn up for an interview on the second day); trainer Paul Nicholls, and amateur rider Nina Carberry. There was probably a representative from Betway, sponsors of today’s feature race – the Queen Mother Champion Chase – but I can’t recall this! It was also Ladies’ Day, so there were a number of young woman wandering about the Winners’ Enclosure, posing like divas to have their photographs taken by the press and the photographers!
Anyway, I headed down to the course-side rails well ahead of racing. I also put on my hat, but I was still very cold. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
The favourite for the first race was Yanworth, trained by Alan King and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 11-10.
The starting gate for this race was situated at the beginning of the mid-course chute. This being the case, the horses cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate enclosure to reach it.
And then they were off. Yala Enki was the first to show as they headed to the first flight; also prominent were Its’afreebee to his inside, and to his outer O O Seven, A Toi Phil sporting the first colours of Gigginstown, and further out Thomas Hobson in the familiar Ricci colours. The latter led the field over the second flight; bringing up the rear was Vigil.
Having successfully negotiated the first two obstacles, the runners headed down hill, bearing left to reach the straight. Thomas Hobson led, from Its’afreebee, A Toi Phil, O O Seven, Ghost River, Yala Enki, Bello Conti sporting the second string Gigginstown colours, Yorkhill, Yanworth and Welsh Shadow; Vigil was at the tail of the field.
Entering the home straight, Vigil jumped the first slowly therein; he was chased away from the flight in order not to become adrift from the group. The runners then undertook the long journey up the home straight, joining the Old Course circuit before reaching the next flight. Having drifted back through the field to dispute second last, Yala Enki made an error here; he lost his hind-legs on landing. Realising that his mount was not enjoying himself today, and with little chance of recovery in such a hot contest, Aidan Coleman decided to call it a day.
The remaining 10 runners headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate stand and entered the back straight for the one and only time. Thomas Hobson continued to lead as they headed over flight number five; Yanworth was being ridden to the wide outside of the course and Yorkhill to the inside under restraint.
They’d soon reached the next obstacle, where Its’afreebee landed a touch awkwardly. Having been pushed along to retain his position following this, the Dan Skelton-trained second string was almost pushed to the wrong side of the running rail at the point where it recommenced a short distance before the dog-leg turn. Ian Popham managed to just squeeze in, but he bumped O O Seven in the process.
Having negotiated the aforementioned dog-leg turn, the leader hit the next flight of hurdles; Yorkhill was a little ungainly here also. Having almost earlier exited stage left, Its’afreebee was now vying for the lead with Thomas Hobson as they rounded the far corner. Further back in the field, Yorkhill was short of room against the rails. Yanworth also received a bump as Welsh Shadow squeezed up his inside.
The field began their journey down the hill to the third last, with Thomas Hobson and Its’afreebee retaining a narrow advantage over their rivals. To the wide outside, and improving, Yanworth made what might prove to be a costly error as he landed on all fours. The runners continued to the penultimate flight, Its’afreebee now disputing the lead with O O Seven and Yorkhill poised behind them to take advantage of any space along the inside rail; to the outside Bello Conti was also in close contention, as was Yanworth.
With the pace to take advantage, Yorkhill burst through the gap and took the lead as they turned into the home straight, Its’afreebee went a little wide, forcing Yanworth to take an even longer route. The bird had flown by the time they jumped the final flight, with Alan King’s runner left to chase home the Irish raider which won by 1¾ lengths at the line. Disappointment for the Barbury Castle yard with what should have been their banker of the Festival.
The 33-1 shot Its’afreebee, fortunate not to have been forced off the course earlier in the race, completed in third, and Bello Conti finished 4th. The long-time leader Thomas Hobson had made an error two out and was subsequently pulled-up, so joined Yala Enki in the failed to complete category.
I remained beside the course-side rails following this race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 1:30pm
THE NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES' HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1)
(Registered as The Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle Race) (Grade 1)
The Stewards noted that
there was interference between ITS’AFREEBEE (IRE), placed third, A TOI PHIL
(FR), unplaced, and 0 0 SEVEN (IRE), unplaced,
after the fourth last flight, but after viewing a recording of the race they
were satisfied that it did not involve a riding offence.
The favourite for the second race was More Of That, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 6-4.
The starting gate was located between the nearest two fences in the home straight; this being the case, the horses cantered up in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue part way down it to the start.
And then they were off, with Seeyouatmidnight taking the lead as the runners headed over the first fence; he actually brushed through the top of it. Le Mercurey was almost upsides, with the two Gigginstown runners Roi Des Francs and No More Heroes just behind, followed by Blaklion, Vyta Du Roc, More Of That and Shaneshill.
The runners then headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure, clearing the uphill fence in the process, at which Shaneshill was a little slow. They then began their journey down the back straight, with Roi Des Francs now pressing the leader as they jumped the next fence; Vyta Du Roc took off early and landed slightly awkwardly but survived. The horses subsequently headed over the water-jump and successfully negotiated the first of the open-ditches.
Seeyouatmidnight continued to lead as they jumped the plain fence that followed; the entire field cleared it well. They then negotiated the dog-leg turn to reach the second open-ditch which they jumped without incident. The Berwickshire-based horse continued to lead from Roi Des Francs, Le Mercurey, the small but tough Blaklion, Vyta Du Roc, the fancied No More Heroes, Shaneshill and the favourite More Of That.
Having reached the top of the hill, they headed around the far turn and before continuing down the slope to the next fence. There were no problems encountered at the fence and they progressed upon their journey around the turn and into the home straight once more. Ruby decided to let his mount close up upon the leader and was almost upsides as they cleared the next fence. They continued over fence number 10 before turning away from the main grandstands once more; Shaneshill was bringing up the rear.
The runners successfully negotiated the uphill fence in front of the Best Mate stands before turning into the back straight; Roi Des Francs continued to hassle the long-time leader. The horses had soon jumped the next, with Shaneshill the least fluent, before heading to and over the water-jump. Seeyouatmidnight had a habit of getting low to a number of his fences, and he hit the open-ditch but continued to lead narrowly as they jumped the following plain fence and negotiated the dog-leg turn.
There were no problems at the final open-ditch; the race pace had been sensible throughout, affording little excuse for errors. Thus Seeyouatmidnight continued to lead the tightly packed field as they headed towards the far bend; in second position was Roi Des Francs, from Blaklion, No More Heroes, Vyta Du Roc, More Of That, Le Mercurey and Shaneshill.
They headed down the hill and, with an error at the next, Seeyouatmidnight was quickly swallowed up; the two Gigginstown runners swept into the lead, closely followed by the grey Vyta Du Roc, Blaklion and More Of That. Then all of a sudden it was game on as Roi Des Francs swept around the home turn with No More Heroes to his outside, More Of That also upsides and wider still Shaneshill. Vyta Du Roc appeared to now be beaten, but Blaklion’s jockey was determined to take his part in the finish.
No More Heroes led narrowly over the penultimate fence, with Shaneshill and Blaklion laying down the main challenge as they approached the last. Having cleared the last, No More Heroes soon dropped back as Shaneshill and the diminutive Blaklion began their battle up the hill to the line. The latter prevailed by half a length; he’s such a brave little horse and is owned by the connections of The New One.
More Of That came home in 3rd, 8 lengths behind the runner-up, with No More Heroes in 4th and Vyta Du Roc 5th. It was later reported that the Jonjo O’Neill-trained horse had broken a blood vessel and subsequently bled from both nostrils, thus affecting his performance during the race. The issue for No More Heroes was that he had struck into a tendon; this proved to be so serious that he was put to sleep after consultation with the veterinary staff. RIP.
It had not been a good Festival for fatalities, with 4 horses losing their lives after only 9 races having been run. What would the remainder of the week offer I wondered?
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 2 - 2:10pm
THE RSA STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
No Stewards Enquiry.
The Veterinary Officer
reported that MORE OF THAT (IRE), placed third, trained by Jonjo O'Neill, had bled from the nose.
I must have been feeling rather fragile this Festival as, after the second race had been completed, I relocated to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure for the remaining time I spent at the course today … although later I did nip across to the Pre-Parade Ring ahead of the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in order to see Choc. J
I have to say that it wasn’t much warmer on the steppings, and that was despite also placing my cowel over the top of my knitted hat!
The favourite for the next race was Rock The Kasbah, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 15-2. There were a number of multiple owner entries in this race, with three representatives for JP McManus – Call The Cops, Waxies Dargle, and Blazer; two for the Whateley’s – Rock The Kasbah and Diamond King; two for the Ricci’s – Arbre De Vie and Blood Cotil; and three for Bloomfields – Commissioned, Qewy and Three Kingdoms.
The starting gate for this race was situated at the beginning of the mid-course chute. Therefore the runners cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate enclosure to reach it.
For a change, this race began at the first time of asking, despite the fact that 26 horses were taking part. Leading the pack as they raced towards the first flight were Beast Of Burden, Baron Alco, One For Harry and Ubak. Also prominent were the grey Politologue, and Qewy. There were no serious errors at the obstacle and the runners continued on their journey to and over the second. Baron Alco led the way, with his familiar low head carriage, from stable mate Ubak.
Having cleared the next flight within the mid-course chute, they then headed down the hill to the far turn, bearing left as they did so; bringing up the rear at this stage were Arbre De Vie, the 2015 Cheltenham Pertemps winner Call The Cops who now runs in the familiar McManus silks although still trained by Nicky Henderson, Blood Cotil, Sgt Reckless, and Avant Tout. The pace was a steady one and a number of the horses were pulling for their heads at this early stage of the race.
Having entered the home straight, the field headed over the third flight where Call The Cops was a little slow in rear; they began their long journey to the next. Baron Alco continued to lead, from Ubak, Beast Of Burden, Hunters Hoof, Rock The Kasbah, Blazer, Theinval, Qewy, Baoulet Delaroque, Politologue, Days Of Heaven, the grey Brother Tedd, Diamond King, Three Kingdoms, The Romford Pele, Commissioned, Long House Hall, Volnay De Thaix, Mister Fizz, Sgt Reckless, One For Harry, Blood Cotil, Avant Tout, Waxies Dargle, Call The Cops, and Arbre De Vie.
All 26 runners cleared the next flight safely and they continued their journey up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure before entering the back straight for the one and only time; Baron Alco continued to lead from his stable mate Ubak. In contrast, One For Harry was beginning to lose touch at the rear of the field. The sensible pace continued as the runners cleared flight number five and headed to the next, where Three Kingdoms was a little slow in jumping it to the outside of the field.
Heading around the dog-leg turn, it was noticeable to the inside of the field that the favourite Rock The Kasbah had begun to lose his place, not aided by the fact that Beast Of Burden appeared to be losing ground just in front of him and he was trapped. The trailing One For Harry was pulled up before the next flight, which the others cleared safety. Thus, having negotiated the far turn, Beast Of Burden was now trailing, and both Rock The Kasbah and Blood Cotil were struggling at the back of the main group.
Running down the hill to three out, Baron Alco continued to hold a small advantage from Ubak, Hunters Hoof, Qewy and Politologue. Having jumped the flight, Blazer, Long House Hall, and Theinval prepared to mount their challenge just behind the leaders, whereas Politologue lost his place very quickly.
The pace continued to increase as they approached and headed over the penultimate flight, with Baron Alco and Ubak still at the head of affairs, andh Qewy holding on to third despite being under pressure. Blazer found room to slip through and make his challenge as they negotiated the home turn, but it was the Gordon Elliott-trained Diamond King who had the pace and soon also the room available to mount his challenge to the inside of the leaders. In fact he held a very narrow advantage over Ubak and Blazer as they jumped the final flight.
These three spearheaded the charge up the hill to the line, with Long House Hall their nearest pursuer. Others hoping to still make the frame were nearside Waxies Dargle, Qewy, Baoulet Delaroque, Brother Tedd and the long-time leader Baron Alco although tiring.
However, under a strong drive from jockey Davy Russell, Diamond King was able to extend his advantage over his rivals to win by 1¼ lengths at the line. The Skelton’s Long House Hall was able to overhaul Ubak on the run-in to beat the latter to the runner-up spot by a neck, with Blazer a further half a length away in 4th.
As is hoped in any handicap race, especially an important one like today’s race, a number of horses finished close on the heels of those in front of them, with Baoulet Delaroque (I’m not keen on typing this particular horse’s name!) a further neck away in 5th, a short-head to Waxies Dargle in 6th, Brother Tedd 1¾ lengths behind in 7th, The Romford Pele half a length back in 8th, Avant Tout another half a length away in 9th, Arbre De Vie a neck away in 10th, Qewy half a length behind in 11th, Baron Alco three quarters of a length back in 12th and Commissioned just a nose away in 13th. The gap was bigger behind that, with Theinval finishing 3 lengths away in 14th.
Twenty three of the 26 runners completed the course, with Beast Of Burden being pulled up before two out, as was Blood Cotil; One For Harry having been pulled up earlier. The favourite, Rock The Kasbah, finished 22nd, with solely Days Of Heaven behind him; but they did just canter home.
Ubak would have his day in the sun the following month when winning the first race on Grand National Day. Having noted his excellent run this day, I should have placed a bet on him at Aintree … each-way of course; he won at 20-1.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 3 - 2:50pm
THE CORAL CUP (A HANDICAP
HURDLE RACE) (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The Stewards held an
enquiry into the use of the whip by Davy Russell, the rider of the winner,
DIAMOND KING (IRE), on the run to the line. Having heard his evidence and
viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part
2 in that he had used his whip without giving his horse time to respond. The
Stewards suspended Russell for 2 days as follows: Wednesday 30 and Thursday
31 March 2016.
That’s it for the first half of the diary, please ...
Click here to read Day 2 Diary Part II