DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2017
FEATURING THE STAYERS’ HURDLE
THURSDAY 16 MARCH 2017
The Tourard Man ridden by Kevin Dowling
I was up early again, at 05:00 today … but an improvement on Wednesday’s even earlier time!
When I went to breakfast today, I decided to book my accommodation for next year – stipulating that I’d like a room on the ground or first floor. Evidently there are two slightly larger rooms, in the Lodge as opposed to The Cottage, so I was booked into one of these and remain hopeful that I won’t have any shower issues in 2018!
I still enjoy driving along the A40 between the Minster Lovell roundabout and Cheltenham, so it seems a good idea to book into somewhere familiar. Eynsham Hall is less than 35 miles from Cheltenham and my night driving vision seems to have improved this year, so heading back in the dark is not so much of an issue. I’m fairly confident once more, provided it’s not raining too hard!
Breakfast today was a bowl of muesli, plus a cooked breakfast of three rashers of bacon, a fried tomato, scrambled egg and a giant mushroom, plus two yoghurts, and a croissant! And a pot of coffee, enough to make 3 cups thereof.
Today’s outfit was a cherry-red polo-neck thermal top, a black thermal t-shirt, a purple thermal t-shirt, a black ribbed M&S v-neck sweater, a mauve BHS V-neck cardigan, black M&S jeggings, black tights, grey and black Dottie Perkins flippy-hem skirt, bright purple fleece, black fleece gillet, teal-coloured BHS anorak, black ‘Cannes’ lace-up Hotter boots, ‘Indie’ hand-knitted snood, and River Island multi-coloured scarf. My earrings today, were the Fired Creations pair which I usually take to Aintree.
By this stage, I was positively laid back and didn’t leave for Cheltenham until 08:40; it was dampening in the air in Oxfordshire. I stopped in the drive to take a photo, for posterity, of the Hall. Annoyingly, fluff from yesterday’s fleece was stuck to my seat-belt; it’s happened before, with new fleeces. However, I can never remember any of my older fleeces shedding fluff even when they were new.
Having arrived on the outskirts of Cheltenham, I decided to explore an alternative route to using Greenway Lane; the lane is well-used and in need of repair so I wondered if there was a better way. This meant turning right to drive along Glenfall Way; I wasn’t surprised to find a primary school along this route, as it is seems to be well-travelled during the rush-hour.
The route proved to be very windy and narrow, especially Mill Lane. It was okay, but Greenway Lane was far better, despite its poor road surface and two traffic calming chicanes! Mill Lane joins Harp Hill, so the remainder of my route to the racecourse was the same as the two days before. I had to stop at the top of said hill briefly, as I’d forgotten to place my parking docket to hand; it was still in my handbag.
I arrived at 09:50 and was directed to park in almost the same place as on Tuesday, facing down the hill, rather than up as on Wednesday. Cheltenham was dry, all day, but cloudy.
Once the gates had opened, it was the same routine as always; a trip to the loo, prior to buying a bottle of water and then heading to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure.
A number of jockey changes were announced quite early on. Notably, Wayne Hutchinson would now be riding Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase, and Sam Twiston-Davies would be aboard Bouvreuil in the Plate Handicap Chase. I was definitely relieved about the former, as I felt Uxizandre was now in safe hands!
Today, Martin Kelly’s guests were Rupert Bell, Noel Fehily, Sun Bets’ Steve Jones (aka Templegate), and also Bryan Cooper.
Yet again I headed down to the course-side rails early, to reserve my place.
The favourite for this event was Yorkhill, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 6-4.
There were three greys in this race, namely Disko, Flying Angel and Politologue. Weirdly, the bays were actually outnumbered, as there were just two, both trained by Nicky Henderson – Kilcrea Vale and Top Notch. The remaining three were chestnuts, Baily Cloud, Balko Des Flos and Yorkhill.
Personally, I like the tiny Top Notch; always game to the last.
Having left the horse-walk, the horses cantered across the racecourse before entering the all-weather strip which runs around the top bend in order to reach the two and a half mile starting gate within the mid-course chute. The jockeys took their mounts to look at the first fence within the chute, then bypassed it to circle around on the course ahead of the race; they jumped just two of the three fences therein.
And then they were off and heading to the first fence led by the two Gigginstown runners, Balko Des Flos and Disko. Yorkhill brought up the rear and jumped slightly out to his left as he jumped it. The eight runners then headed across the Old Course intersection before reaching fence number two shortly afterwards. Having cleared these two fences without incident, the horses began the long left-hand turn, soon crossing over the New Course and travelling downhill as they did so.
Balko Des Flos led the runners into the home straight, from Kilcrea Vale, the hooded Disko, the also hooded Politologue, Top Notch, Flying Angel, the keen cheek-pieced Baily Cloud and, finally, Yorkhill. All of the runners had soon cleared the third fence in their stride. They continued to the next where, again, there were no jumping errors. As they headed onto the circuit of the New Course, Yorkhill had improved a position, relegating Flying Angel to last place.
The eight competitors headed to the next, with Kilcrea Vale under Jeremiah McGrath now taking the lead. He continued at the head of affairs, narrowly, as they successfully negotiated the fifth before, shortly afterwards, heading over the next also. Yorkhill, having drawn almost level in between Top Notch and Baily Cloud at this point, was slightly less fluent over this one and dropped back again.
Kilcrea Vale still led as the eight runners headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure; he was pursued by Balko De Flos, who was over two lengths clear of Disko, from Baily Cloud, Top Notch, Politologue, Yorkhill and Flying Angel. Unlike upon the Old Course, there is no uphill fence on this stretch of the track.
Having entered the back straight, the horses headed slightly downhill to the next fence. Yorkhill nodded vaguely on landing over this one; he was still keen. Balko Des Flos took the advantage as they continued to the water-jump; the leader flicked through the top of this one. The following fence was the first of two open-ditches, with Flying Angel making an error here.
The runners continued to the next, a plain fence; the leader reached for it but cleared it well. They then headed around the dog-leg turn in order to approach the final open-ditch. Baily Cloud departed here; he fell having taken off too soon, which resulted in him failing to get his landing gear out in time. He slid along the ground and Flying Angel collided with his hind-legs; this brought the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner to almost a stand-still. He survived but had lost many lengths as a result.
Meanwhile, his rivals continued to climb the hill, heading for the twelth fence. Balko Des Flos led by a couple of lengths as they cleared it. Ruby was happy to bide his time at the back of the main pack aboard Yorkhill. The runners then swung left-handed and approached the tricky slightly-downhill fence. The leader met it wrong, put in a short stride and ended up on the deck; Kilcrea Vale didn’t jump it particularly well either. Both Top Notch’s and Yorkhill’s riders were able to side-step the prostrate Balko Des Flos. It had been a horrible crunching fall but, fortunately, the rider-less horse soon got to its feet and continued after the others.
So, now heading down the hill to the third last fence, Top Notch, Kilcrea Vale, and Disko disputed the lead with Politologue and Yorkhill close on their heels. The tailed-off Flying Angel continued in the race too. All the runners cleared this well and then headed towards the final bend. Tiring, Kilcrea Vale dropped back through runners and Top Notch and Disko went on as they travelled into the home straight.
Having initially been caught in a pocket beside the rail, Ruby wasn’t too bothered aboard the favourite as, upon straightening up, sufficient room became available for him to closely press Top Notch and Disko. Daryl Jacob’s mount got in a little too close to the second last and lost momentum having hit it. By contrast, Yorkhill sailed over and had soon taken the lead from Disko.
Having dropped three lengths due to the error, Top Notch battled back to regain some lost ground between the final two fences. The leader nodded slightly on landing over the last and, having reached the temporary rail which cordoned off the circular course, Ruby had to resort to his whip to keep his mount up to his work as the Nicky Henderson runner began to close the deficit.
However, Top Notch could get no nearer in the final 100 yards and Yorkhill held on to win by 1 length at the line. Disko claimed 3rd place, 3 lengths behind them, with Politologue a further 6 lengths away in 4th, Kilcrea Vale finished 5th and Flying Angel was tailed off in last position.
Following the race, Willie Mullins said that the horse is difficult to ride … you don’t say … and that Ruby described him as idling before picking up again close home; he’d got to the front too soon.
And, of course, the Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh 2017 Festival drought had ended with this win.
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 Stewards noted that YORKHILL (IRE), trained by W.P. Mullins, would wear earplugs.
Noel Fehily, the rider of FLYING ANGEL (IRE), placed sixth, reported that the gelding was hampered by a faller five out.
The Veterinary Officer reported that TOP NOTCH (FR), placed second, trained by Nicky Henderson, lost its right hind shoe.
The favourite for this event was Impulsive Star, trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen; price 8-1.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely The Tourard Man which had finished 3rd in this race in 2015; he was priced at 66-1 today and was ridden by Kevin Dowling who looks after the horse at the yard. There was just one grey taking part, namely Mr Mix.
The starting gate for this 3-mile event was at the beginning of the back straight, with two circuits to travel. This being the case, the runners cantered across the racecourse having exited from the horse-walk and headed up the all-weather track in front of the Best Mate Enclosure.
And then they were off, with Ballymalin, Splash Of Ginge, Arctic Gold and Mr Mix all prominent as they headed towards the first flight; bringing up the rear, and not clearing it particularly well, was Isleofhopendreams; he was Ruby’s mount. The grey had lost a little ground upon the leaders by the time they jumped the second flight and he wasn’t particularly fluent here. A number of the runners must have hit this one, as the two inside panels were looking much the worse for wear as they continued on their journey to the third.
Splash Of Ginge, along with Arctic Gold and Ballymalin remained at the head of affairs as all 24 runners successfully negotiated the third flight before heading around the dog-leg turn. Thus the name-check order at this point was, behind the leading trio, Aubusson, Sutton Manor, Tobefair, Impulsive Star, Mr Mix, Jury Duty, Theo’s Charm, Rocklander, Barney Dwan, El Bandit, Clondaw Cian, Fingal Bay, Golden Doyen, For Good Measure, Electric Concorde, The Tourard Man, Gayebury, Alzammaar, Presenting Percy, Caid Du Berlais and, finally, Isleofhopendreams.
The runners jumped the fourth flight on their journey to the top of the hill; there were no visible jumping errors at this one. Having reached the far corner, the runners swung left-handed and travelled down the hill to flight number five; Splash of Ginge jumped this one a little awkwardly. This allowed both Ballymalin and Arctic Gold to assume the lead as the runners headed into the home straight for the first occasion. Ruby Walsh continued to have view of all of his rivals as they continued towards flight number six. Arctic Gold completely flattened the second from the inside panel as he endeavoured to jump it; as a result those following directly behind him headed through the gap. Alzammaar, travelling near the back of the field, flattened the adjacent panel. That was a task for the course builders to put these back in place before the runners returned to jump it as their final obstacle.
Subsequently heading up the track in front of the Best Mate Enclosure, Arctic Gold led from Ballymalin and Splash Of Ginge; a Nigel Twiston-Davies triumvirate in fact. In fourth position was the favourite, Impulsive Star. Heading into the back straight, one circuit now complete, the leaders were well-grouped, less so the runners towards the rear. The Tourard Man had begun to make a little progress through runners by this stage. All twenty four competitors cleared the first flight therein, although a number appeared intent on leaving their mark on it.
Arctic Gold continued to spearhead the field as the runners headed over flight number 8; towards the rear of the field, Alzammaar made an error here. They had soon reached four out, where Rocklander hit and flattened the inside panel. By the time they’d reached the dog-leg turn, a number of the jockeys were beginning to send out distress signals; the cheek-pieced Clondaw Cian had received reminders.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners jumped three out; Arctic Gold still led from Ballymalin, Splash of Ginge, Sutton Manor, Aubusson, Tobefair, Impulsive Star, Barney Dwan, Jury Duty, Theo’s Charm and The Tourard Man; Ruby was no longer last, he’d overtaken Alzammaar and Caid Du Berlais!
Ballymalin was narrowly ahead as the runners swung left-handed at the top corner. Tobefair was now being driven along vigorously, the hopes of an eighth-successive handicap win now looking a remote possibility. The runners continued down the hill, with four horses line across the course as they jumped it; Ballymalin, Arctic Gold, Barney Dwan and Sutton Manor. Close on their heels were Jury Duty, Splash of Ginge, Theo’s Charm and The Tourard Man.
It was then a mad dash to the home turn, with Barney Dwan now leading the way. Jury Duty slipped up the inside of runner as they straightened out on their run to the last. The early leaders were now under pressure, with The Tourard Man and Presenting Percy coming with a run to the nearside. And it was the latter which swept past Fergal O’Brien’s runner as the obstacle drew nearer; Presenting Percy was a length ahead as he cleared it. Barney Dwan hit the last, as did Jury Duty, although it didn’t affect the result as Davy Russell drove his mount to the line to win by 3¾ lengths.
Barney Dwan was the runner-up, with Jury Duty 3rd by 2 lengths; The Tourard Man claimed 4th; he was 4½ lengths away. Sutton Manor was 5th, Electric Concorde 6th, Ballymalin 7th and Caid Du Berlais 8th. All 24 completed the course, with Mr Mix the final horse across the line.
Once again I remained beside the course-side rails.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
The favourite for the next event was Un De Sceaux, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 7-4. Alan King had a runner in this, the 2015 winner Uxizandre; as mentioned earlier, Wayne Hutchinson would ride the horse, deputising for the injured Mark Walsh.
Having left the horse-walk, the horses cantered across the racecourse before entering the all-weather strip which runs around the top bend in order to reach the two and a half mile starting gate within the mid-course chute. As this race began at the beginning of the chute, the jockeys took their horses to look at the demonstration fence on the in-field and, having had their girths checked, they circled around the Cross-Country birch island fence.
And then they were off, with Uxizandre, Empire of Dirt and Josses Hill leading the way to the first fence. All eight of these experienced chasers cleared this one without issue before heading to the second where, again, they all jumped it without problem. The runners then headed across the intersection with the Old Course before reaching the next fence. Again they all jumped this well, before then swinging left-handed and heading downhill to reach the home straight. Uxizandre led, from Sub Lieutenant, Josses Hill, Alary, Un De Sceaux, Aso, Empire Of Dirt and Vaniteux; the favourite was particularly keen to get on with the race.
Uxizandre had stretched his lead to around 4 lengths as they headed over the fourth fence. However, as they continued to the next, Un De Sceaux pulled his way into second position and was travelling just behind the leader as they jumped it. The first six runners were closely grouped at this stage, with Empire Of Dirt and Vaniteux slightly detached. Having now joined the main circuit, the favourite took the lead on the run to the next fence. They all cleared this obstacle well, with the back-markers now taking closer order.
There were no jumping problems at the fence in front of the main enclosures and shortly afterwards Un De Sceaux led them up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure; initially he was two or three lengths ahead of Uxizandre, in third position was Josses Hill, then Aso, Sub Lieutenant, Alary, Vaniteux and Empire Of Dirt. Ruby had stretched this advantage to around eight lengths on the run downhill to the next fence; mind you, he was probably just a passenger!
Fortunately, as he and the others were now motoring, they all met the next fence on a good stride and cleared it well; Aso had now assumed third position. Un De Sceaux continued over the water-jump, the others in his wake. The following fence was the first open-ditch; the field had now reeled in the leader slightly; Vaniteux was less than fluent at this obstacle.
The next was a plain fence and, at the rear of the field, Empire Of Dirt received reminders having cleared it. The eight runners headed around the dog-leg turn and had soon arrived at the second and final open-ditch. Un De Sceaux took off a long way from the board, stretched, the birch flew but he made it to the other side; just!
They continued to the next fence, at the top of the hill; Uxizandre got a little close to this one. Having all successfully negotiated this obstacle, the runners swung left-handed; the favourite still led, heading downhill to the tricky fourth-last. The Alan King-runner stretched for this one but cleared it safely; Aso nodded slightly on landing here. Un De Sceaux gathered speed once more and was soon tanking downhill to the third last; he’d stretched his lead, and the others had now formed into a closely bunched group behind him. All eight cleared this fence well.
Ruby’s mount had now set sail for the home bend, with Aso and the others in hot pursuit. Having entered the home straight and successfully jumped the penultimate fence, just four of Un De Sceaux’s rivals remained with any chance of catching him – Sub Lieutenant, Aso, Josses Hill and Empire Of Dirt. Vaniteux’s challenge had been short-lived, having looked dangerous on the home turn, and he had made an error here. Uxizandre had already tired and Alary had been outpaced; the latter made a jumping mistake here too.
The leader galloped down to the last fence and jumped it well. After the last, it was Sub Lieutenant which came out of the pack to lay down a challenge, but it was too late, Ruby drove out his mount to win by 1½ lengths easing down. Aso claimed 3rd, 6 lengths further back, with Empire Of Dirt 4th, Josses Hill 5th, Alary 6th, Uxizandre 7th and Vaniteux last.
Racing UK did a fun ‘Which horse are you?’ quiz some while ago … I am Un De Sceaux!
Another win for Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins after a disappointing first two days. This was also the 50th Cheltenham Festival winner of the latter’s training career.
Once again I remained beside the course-side rails.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 3 - 2:50pm
The Stewards noted that UN DE SCEAUX (FR), trained by W.P. Mullins, would wear earplugs.
Click here to read my Day 3 Diary Part II