DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2017
FEATURING THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
FRIDAY 17 MARCH 2017
One circuit to go and EPDS Racing’s Ami Desbois
leads the way in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
I took my suitcase and sports bag to the car before reporting to the main hall for breakfast at 07:00.
Breakfast today was a bowl of cornflakes, plus a cooked breakfast of three rashers of bacon, scrambled egg and a giant mushroom, plus two yoghurts. And a pot of coffee, enough to make 3 cups thereof.
I then packed my remaining luggage and took it to my car before returning to reception to pay the bill and check out; they’d not yet added today’s breakfast to the total, so I had to point that out also. It had been my aim to leave Eynsham Hall at 08:00 but, in the event, it was 08:20 when I set off. Having placed my car parking docket on the passenger seat, I had to stop momentarily on the driveway because it had slipped off when I took a sharp right turn on my way out!
Today’s outfit was a thin black polo-neck thermal t-shirt, a violet-coloured thermal t-shirt, a plum-coloured thermal t-shirt, a ribbed redcurrent-coloured v-neck sweater, a large blue BHS cardigan, a purple fleece, black fleece gillet, grey tights, burgundy-coloured M&S jeggings, dark grey tweed double-frill skirt, black Footglove snow-boots as it was threatening to rain later, black faux sheepskin coat, black/white horse print snood, and mauve/purple M&S scarf. Today I wore my shades of red butterfly-wing earrings.
My journey to Cheltenham went smoothly, although it would have been even more so had I not encountered an articulated lorry turning onto the A40 immediately ahead of me at the roundabout on the Stow/Cirencester Road and, once that had departed via the road to Gloucester, a dumper truck held me up slightly beyond the traffic lights on the Andoversford bypass.
Having experimented with the Mill Lane cut-through option the previous day, I decided to return to the Greenway Lane route today. Close to the Harp Hill junction, a white-bottomed roe deer bounded across the road and entered the tree-lined garden of the house situated on the corner plot.
As a precaution, I stopped off at Sainburys in Priors Lane to fill the petrol tank in preparation for the journey home. I had been expecting more traffic in the locality of the racecourse today but, having arrived at 09:30, I was directed to park within the first row of the public car park, close to the steam train station and the entrance to the fenced walkway which leads to the north entrance.
I set off to join the queue at 09:50, with the gates opening at 10:30 as usual. I purchased a race-card whilst waiting and, once inside, headed to the ladies loo for a comfort break having consumed three cups of coffee with my breakfast, before purchasing a bottle of water. I then headed to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure; it was a windy day, but this area was fairly sheltered fortunately.
Whilst there, I kept an eye on the Weighing Room steps with the hope of spotting my favourite ex-jockey should he attend today … but to no avail. My jockey-spotting quest was probably handicapped by the fact that I’d then set off for the course-side rails at noon, with the aim of reserving my favourite spot ahead of racing. I later discovered Choc, Jennie and Wolfie had been invited to lunch at the racecourse, so I’d missed them, even if they had ventured to the weighing room area at any point. L I’d love to meet Wolfie; he has a very characterful face and a shock of dark hair too. His hair colour would lighten in the months ahead, the same thing had occurred with my niece Lydia when she was a new-born.
It proved to be far colder beside the rails, so I put on my neon pink hat; presumably the wind was blowing from the east today.
The first race of the day was the JCB Triumph Hurdle. The favourite for this event was Defi Du Seuil, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 5-2.
Alan King had two runners in this race; Coeur De Lion ridden by Tom Cannon and Master Blueyes ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Just one grey, the aforementioned Master Blueyes.
Ex Patriot unseated his jockey on the way to post, but this adventure didn’t faze him. This equine had been offered for purchase at the Tattersalls sale the previous evening, but had remained unsold due to the high reserve price.
The starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one complete circuit to travel. As a result, the horses cantered up all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before heading down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to complete their journey to the gate.
And then they were off, at the first time of asking. Spread wide across the course heading to the first flight, it was Mega Fortune which touched down marginally ahead as they landed over it. Also prominent were one of the fillies, Evening Hush, along with I See You Well and another of the three fillies Dinaria Des Obeaux.
Taking a keen hold, Mega Fortune continued to lead the way as they joined the New Course during their journey up the home straight to the second flight. The still prominent I See You Well changed legs and fly jumped just prior to the dirt track which runs across the course soon afterwards. Towards the rear of the field, approaching the second hurdle, were Defi Du Seuil, Bapaume, Dandy Mag, Charli Parcs and Ex Patriot. They all jumped this well apart from Magie Du Ma who was a little flat-footed here.
The horses then made their way up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure with Davy Russell’s mount remaining at the head of affairs. Heading into the back straight, Dinaria Des Obeaux was pressing the leader; this duo was followed by I See You Well alongside Evening Hush. Soldier In Action was next in the field, followed by Magie Du Ma, Coeur De Lion, Master Blueyes, Defi Du Seuil, Landofhopeandglory, Landin, Bapaume, and Dandy Mag; bringing up the rear were Charli Parcs alongside Ex Patriot. Dandy Mag wasn’t particularly fluent at the first flight therein.
The runners continued to the next, where Evening Hush made a bad blunder. Mega Fortune remained ahead of his rivals on the run to the fifth flight; once again Dandy Mag jumped this untidily. After this obstacle there was a change at the head of affairs, with Dinaria Des Obeaux taking a narrow advantage as they headed around the dog-leg turn on the run to the next. However, Mega Fortune had regained the lead by the time they jumped it. Soldier In Action cleared this one more slowly than his rivals and, yet again, Dandy Mag wasn’t fluent.
The runners continued to the top of the hill with Soldier In Action now being pushed along, so too Coeur De Lion. The favourite had improved his position into fifth place by the time the runners began to swing left-handed at the top thereof; detached in rear were Landin and Dandy Mag. The remainder of the field continued to be quite tightly packed as they headed down the hill to the penultimate flight. Mega Fortune and Dinaria Des Obeaux remained at the head of affairs as they cleared it. The latter gave way as she hung slightly to the right having jumped it; this tightened up the runners travelling in her immediate wake, namely Magie Du Ma and Master Blueyes.
Meanwhile, Mega Fortune continued to lead as they headed towards the home turn. Evening Hush continued at his shoulder, whilst both Defi De Seuil and Ex Patriot loomed up to their outside. Landofhopeandglory, Magie Du Ma, Dinaria Des Obeaux and Charli Parcs were just behind these; the latter having been tapped for toe currently.
As Evening Hush tired and dropped back, the leading trio of Mega Fortune, Defi De Seuil and Ex Patriot, tacked over towards the stand-side rail as they entered the home straight and approached to the final flight; Bapaume was now staying on behind them.
The favourite began to assert as they neared the obstacle and he was two lengths clear of his nearest rival as they jumped it. Bapaume was now in second position but every runner was fighting a losing battle as they headed to the line spearheaded by Defi De Seuil. The favourite galloped to the winning post to win by 5 lengths. Mega Fortune rallied after the last and claimed the runner-up spot by a short-head from Bapaume. Ex Patriot finished 4th, with Landofhopeandglory 5th, Charli Parcs a disappointing 6th having run too free, Couer De Lion completed in 7th, Landin stayed on to complete in 8th, with Magie Du Ma 9th and Master Blueyes 10th; the grey finished lame.
All 15 completed the race; in last place was Soldier In Action.
Following the race, an emotional Philip Hobbs admitted that it was a big relief that his charge had won; he said Defi Du Seuil is a brilliant horse and had been favourite for such a long time that the weight of responsibility had made him very nervous. The choice of the Champion Hurdle or Arkle route next year would lie with owner JP McManus.
Still in the same ownership, Soldier In Action returned to the flat under the tutelage of Mark Johnston and won a handicap race at Epsom on Derby Day! However, it transpired that Nicky Henderson was rather embarrassed to return the horse to Mark so quickly because he’d lost a lot of weight because of this hard race at Cheltenham.
I remained beside the course-side rails during the interval between race one and two.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 1:30pm
THE JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE RACE (Class 1)(Grade 1)
The Stewards gave permission for DEFI DU SEUIL (FR), trained by Philip Hobbs, to wear a hood in the parade ring and in the chute only. They noted that BAPAUME (FR) and DANDY MAG (FR), both trained by W.P. Mullins would wear earplugs and that MEGA FORTUNE (FR), trained by Gordon Elliott would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.
The Stewards noted that EX PATRIOT (IRE), ridden by Rachael Blackmore, unseated its rider on the way to post but were satisfied that the gelding was checked by a veterinary surgeon at the start and deemed fit to race.
The Veterinary Officer reported that MASTER BLUEYES (IRE), unplaced, trained by Alan King, was lame left fore.
Nico de Boinville, the rider of SOLDIER IN ACTION (FR), unplaced, reported that the gelding was never travelling.
The favourite for this event was last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov, trained by Joseph O’Brien and ridden by JJ Slevin; price 5-1.
Alan King had a runner in this, namely Winter Escape ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. There were two greys taking part in this event – Air Horse One and Bertimont.
As had been the case for the first race, the starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one complete circuit to travel. As a result, the horses cantered up all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before heading down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to complete their journey to the gate.
And then they were off, at the first time of asking. Considering it was a 2-mile handicap hurdle race, the hooded Wakea led the runners to the first flight at quite a steady pace initially. Bringing up the rear was Gigginstown’s Tell Us More and he was less than fluent jumping the first flight.
Wakea spearheaded the runners as they continued their journey towards the second obstacle. Following close on his heels were Jaleo, Ivanovich Gorbatov and Dominada. Behind these travelled Ozzie The Oscar, Diego Du Charmil, Crievehill, North Hill Harvey and De Name Escapes Me. There were no departures at the second, although Bertimont made an error here.
The leader was four lengths ahead of his rivals as they swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and he continued to stretch his advantage as they continued into the back straight. Wakea cleared the third flight safely, as did his rivals; Tell Us More was already detached at the rear of the field.
The runners continued along the back straight, jumping the fourth flight as they did so. The main group was led by Ivanovich Gorbatov, from Dominada and Jaleo. Close up were North Hill Harvey, De Name Escapes Me, Ozzie The Oscar, Diego De Charmil and Winter Escape. By the time the competitors had reached the following flight and negotiated the dog-leg turn, the leader was at least 15 lengths clear.
Wakea jumped the third last well and the others streamed over it in turn. Having reached the top of the hill, they soon swung left-handed, the main body of the field now in hot pursuit as they headed down towards the penultimate obstacle.
With all of the runners in plain sight, here is a run-down of their positions. Wakea was still well ahead of the blaze-faced chestnut Dominada, alongside the blinkered Ivanovich Gorbatov, they were followed by the also blaze-faced Ozzie The Oscar, the chestnut De Name Escapes Me, North Hill Harvey, the nose-banded grey Bertimont, Diego Du Charmil, another chestnut Jaleo, Winter Escape, Crievehill, Joey Sasa, Mohaayed, Air Horse One, Wait For Me, Boite, L’Ami Serge, Court Minstrel, Vosne Romanee, Arctic Fire, Kapstadt, Baltimore Rock, Renneti, Song Light and, finally, Tell Us More which had yet to pass a rival.
Wakea was still well clear as they jumped the flight, although his lead had been reduced. The obstacle would need remedial work before the next race, as the second panel had been flattened and others showed signs of damage too.
The leader continued to the home turn, with Ivan Gorbatov, North Hill Harvey and Bertimont spearheading the main group; they spread out across the course having entered the home straight. There were many runners still in with a chance, provided they could reel in Wakea.
It was a long run to the final flight and, as they approached it, the long-time leader finally tired and he was swallowed up by his pursuers. Ozzie The Oscar overtook him first but Ivan Gorbatov, Winter Escape, Air Horse One, together with the fast finishing Arctic Fire to the stand-side, were close on the new leader’s tail.
All of the leading contenders cleared the last hurdle well, and Ozzie The Oscar under Tom O’Brien led the way home until the final 75 yards when first Arctic Fire and then L’Ami Serge headed him. The Nicky Henderson runner continued to edge closer to Paul Townend’s mount as they approached the line, but he failed by a neck at the post; Arctic Fire had won, although he’d been absent from the track for over a year hence his 20-1 starting price! He was the top-weight as well, and the runner-up carried the second highest weight too!
Ozzie The Oscar finished a gallant 3rd, with Air Horse One just edging out Winter Escape to claim 4th place. Ivanovich Gorbatov finished 6th, Mohayeed 7th and Ruby Walsh aboard Renetti 8th. All of the runners completed, apart from De Name Escapes Me which pulled up before the last, where the tiring Jaleo took a heavy fall. It could have been a neck-breaker but, although the green screens were erected and they remained so for quite some time, the horse did get up eventually and he appeared okay. Phew, that was a relief.
Arctic Fire was described as suffering from joint problems and he was competing as a ‘social’ runner! In other words, connections didn’t think he had a chance of winning the race. It was jockey Paul Townend’s first Festival victory since the 2015 County Hurdle which he won aboard Wicklow Brave, sporting the same owner’s silks too.
Wait For Me, which had finished a close 9th, had experienced an issue whereby his reins got caught over his nose, thus creating steering issues for his jockey Richard Johnson.
Once again I remained beside the course-side rails.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
The Stewards noted that WINTER ESCAPE (IRE), placed fifth, had hung quickly right-handed after the final flight, interfering with IVANOVICH GORBATOV (IRE), placed sixth, but after viewing a recording of the incident they were satisfied that it neither involved a riding offence nor improved WINTER ESCAPE (IRE)’s placing.
The Stewards noted that JOEY SASA (IRE), unplaced, had lugged left-handed after the second last flight, before being quickly corrected, interfering with MOHAAYED, unplaced, but after viewing a recording of the race they were satisfied that it did not involve a riding offence.
The Stewards noted that CRIEVEHILL (IRE), trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, would wear earplugs.
Noel Meade, the trainer of JOEY SASA (IRE), unplaced, reported that the gelding bled from the nose.
Noel Meade, the trainer of DE NAME ESCAPES ME (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding bled from the nose. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding revealed it to have lost its left fore shoe.
The favourite for the next race was Death Duty; sporting the Gigginstown colours, he was trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper; price 13-8.
There was one runner of interest in this event, namely the very game Ami Desbois, trained by Graeme McPherson, ridden by Kielan Woods and part syndicated to EPDS Racing whose colours he sports.
There were two greys in this race, Baden and Turcagua.
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, at the first attempt. There never seem to be any problems at the three-mile starting gate upon the hurdles track. It came as no surprise that Ami Desbois led them away; he’s a confirmed front-runner. Step Back travelled at his quarters and Elegant Escape followed these. In fourth position was Monalee, followed by Wholestone, Constantine Bay, Baden, Any Drama, Turcagua, Death Duty, Tommy Rapper, The Worlds End, C’Est Jersey, Penhill and Augusta Kate. The leader made a minor error at the first flight but it didn’t affect him in running.
The runners continued to the second flight, where Any Drama hit the top of it. Ami Desbois, ears pricked, had stretched his lead to a couple of lengths by the time they’d all cleared the third flight safely. The field then headed around the dog-leg turn, before arriving at flight number four. The leading five were ahead of the main field, the latter led by Wholestone.
Step Back was a little hesitant here and, towards the rear of the field, Tommy Rapper made a bad error which resulted in him losing his hind-legs on landing. The latter was now in the last trio, with Penhill and Augusta Kate.
Meanwhile the EPDS runner continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they swung left-handed having already reached the top of the incline; he then led them down the hill towards the next. The field was closer to the leader now, with Step Back, Elegant Escape and the keen-going Monalee his nearest rivals. Death Duty, travelling in mid-field, had a noticeably lower head carriage than the other runners.
There were no noticeable errors at the fifth flight and Ami Desbois led the closely packed field into the home straight; Penhill and Tommy Rapper brought up the rear. Elegant Escape was pressing the leader as they travelled to the next flight, but Kielan Woods’ mount was the more fluent jumper and he extended his lead to a length or so having cleared it. The runners soon swung left-handed to travel up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and subsequently completed their first circuit.
Ami Desbois remained at the head of affairs as they set off down the back straight on the second occasion. Elegant Escape and Step Back were pressing the leader as they jumped the first flight therein; the pace had quickened now. Turcagua made an error at this flight.
The runners continued to the eighth flight. At the back of the field, Augusta Kate blundered badly at this one. They moved quickly on to the next, which they all cleared in their stride. The dog-leg turn was then negotiated before the following obstacle; this was three from the finish. But, being Cheltenham’s New Course, they had a long way still to travel.
Ami Desbois remained half a length ahead of Elegant Escape as they jumped it; the latter made an error here. Step Back was now a couple of lengths adrift of them; he remained in third position for the present but would soon be ridden along. Having reached the top of the hill they began to swing left-handed. The Worlds End had noticeably improved to the outside of runners and now disputed sixth position. Any Drama appeared to be a little short of room at this point and lost ground as a result.
Ami Desbois and Elegant Escape were neck and neck as they began their journey down the hill to the penultimate flight. The main body of the field was now snapping at their heels. Having found himself trailing the field, Danny Mullins pulled up the hooded grey Turcagua at this point.
Having reached the second last, Ami Desbois took off at the same time as The Worlds End. However, the latter misjudged it, tipped the top and fell. Adrian Heskin was ejected from the saddle as he hit the ground and the horse flipped into the path of Constantine Bay. Nico de Boinville clung on to his reins and managed to remain in the plate.
Meanwhile, Monalee had sneaked up the inside to dispute the lead with Ami Desbois, whilst Wholestone was laying down a challenge to their outside. Death Duty was hot on their heels, having seemingly been hampered prior to the flight they’d just jumped; he now travelled to the inside of Elegant Escape. Although slightly hampered when forced wide due to The Worlds End’s departure, Penhill had made good progress and continued to do so as they entered the home straight.
Ami Desbois finally capitulated as they headed towards the final flight; Wholestone and Monalee were now duelling for the lead, with Penhill continuing to close with every stride upon the leading duo.
With Wholestone seemingly short of room against the nearside rail, as Monalee responded to a left-handed drive, Daryl Jacob switched his mount to the far side. However, Penhill had already taken the advantage by this stage and was half a length up as they cleared the final obstacle. Although endeavouring to battle on under pressure, David Mullins’ mount soon proved no match for the leader and Penhill drew away as they approached the line to win by 3½ lengths. Wholestone was the best of the British; he finished a further 4 lengths away in 3rd.
Amazingly it was Constantine Bay which ran on again to claim 4th place, having been almost knocked out of the race by the faller at the second last. Ami Desbois finished an excellent 5th; so, despite not making it into the Winners’ Enclosure, he did win a prize of £2,800. Augusta Kate did well to recover from an earlier error and came home in 8th position, just ahead of Elegant Escape.
There were 11 finishers. The favourite, Death Duty, came home without a rider having blundered badly at the final flight; he didn’t completely lose his footing, hence it was classified as an unseated rider. However, such was the nature of this mishap, it would have been impossible for Bryan Cooper to have remained in the saddle. Any Drama was pulled up, before the last.
It was yet another winner for Willie Mullins, after the drought of the first two days; his total so far was 6. And, of course, another winner for jockey Paul Townend. Winners are like buses, nothing for ages then two come along at once! Of course, it’s also a confidence booster when you win!
Once again I remained beside the course-side rails in preparation for the feature race of the Festival.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 3 - 2:50pm
The Stewards held an enquiry into possible interference on the run to the last flight. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race they found that David Mullins, the rider of MONALEE (IRE), placed second, had allowed his horse to hang right-handed causing interference to WHOLESTONE (IRE), placed third, ridden by Daryl Jacob. They found Mullins in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he had allowed his horse to drift right without sufficient correction. They cautioned him as to his future conduct in races.
The Stewards noted that PENHILL and TURCAGUA (FR), both trained by W.P. Mullins, would wear earplugs.
Ruby Walsh, the rider of AUGUSTA KATE, placed sixth, reported that the mare made a bad mistake in the back straight.
Click here to read my Day 4 Diary Part II