PART I

DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018

DAY ONE

FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE

TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2018

 

 

 

Annacotty 3.jpg

 

Annacotty (foreground) takes part in the RoR Parade of Stars;

also Any Currency

 

 

My first chore on the day before the Festival was to fill up my car’s tank with petrol; I then came home, before popping out to the local supermarket to buy a copy of the Racing Post.  Later on I caught a bus to and from the city centre to do a few odds and ends of shopping.

I wanted to clean my car, but then discovered the X-hose nozzle was broken – perhaps the recent cold snap had snapped it.  So I then drove down to the nearest Argos outlet in order to collect a new one; I’d reserved it on-line. 

Unfortunately that outlet is within the same retail park as M & S ... and, as always, I couldn’t resist having a look around!  It will come as no surprise that I came home with a new bra, and three thermal T-shirts – one camel-coloured polo style, one cream-coloured round-neck and one cream-coloured round-neck with a fleecy lining.  Very useful as regards to colour ... besides, my plum-coloured one and purple-coloured one are beginning to show their age. L

I cleaned my car, although I left it to dry by itself ... the earlier rain having now stopped.  However, the rain did return before I had chance to back the car into the carport.  But it was fortunate that I didn’t put the car away, because my fifth (and final) trip out was to Dunelm to buy a new hand-towel; I also bought a pack of bin-liners – these proved invaluable during the week!   

Anyway, my alarm sounded at 04:00 on Day One, which gave me two and a half hours to prepare ahead of my journey.  I took a shower, washed and dried my hair before applying my make-up and eating breakfast.  I recall I ate two slices of toast and marmalade, and a banana too; plus half a cup of tea. 

This week’s handbag, which I used every day, was a mauve-coloured Kipling one; my favourite Defea design.  I took two other handbags just in case the original one got wet through, as they are not waterproof, and I needed to swap my belongings.

With everything packed, including the kitchen sink, I set off from home at 06:30. 

My journey took me via the City centre, then to Hemel Hempstead.  I negotiated the ‘magic roundabout’ before heading via Two Waters Road to reach the A41 dual carriageway and continue along it to Aylesbury.  My route then took me around the northern section of their ring-road, and out through Waddesdon to Bicester.  It was already 07:40 by the time I’d arrived at the Oxfordshire town.  

I continued down the final section of the A41 to reach Junction 9 of the M40; there was a 200 yards tailback from the roundabout and also slow moving traffic for a short distance the other side due to three lanes merging into two, and because of traffic entering the A34 from the subsequent side-roads.  By the time I’d reached the Peartree roundabout, traffic was stationary around it.  In fact it took until 08:20 to negotiate the Wolvercote roundabout at the far end of the subsequent dual-carriageway.  So that’s 40 minutes in total, to travel fewer than 10 miles! 

Once upon the A40, my journey went smoothly all the way to Cheltenham; apart from the fact it had started to rain by the time I’d reached Burford.  Just prior to the Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire county border, there could also have been a nasty accident caused by the foolish driver of an oncoming articulated lorry.  He’d decided to overtake a vehicle, despite his size, and I had to brake in order for him to complete his manoeuvre; what an idiot?  

The derelict unfinished houses, not far beyond the Inn For All Seasons, are going to be redeveloped; my thoughts during my previous trip to Cheltenham back in November, had been that these were going to be bulldozed, with nothing left to show.  Mind you, they are very remote, despite being situated next to the A40.   

Having travelled this outbound route nearly 50 times, landmarks are becoming very familiar ... and I’m even familiar with the homebound route which is usually travelled in darkness!  Having arrived at the Six Ways junction, I was surprised to discover there was quite a tailback from the traffic lights; it was gone 09:00. 

As suggested by the racecourse, I headed to the northern car park, travelling via Greenway Lane, Harp Hill, Priors Road, Bouncers Lane and Prestbury.  It was a relief this year to park on gravel, as to park on grass, following the recent snow and wet weather, might prove difficult for a small Fiesta; if I’d got a 4x4 it would be a different matter. 

I arrived at 09:35 and was directed to park in the area close to the railway crossing and not far from the pedestrian walkway which leads through the car park to the northern entrance.  Being heavily loaded, I backed into the parking space to ensure better traction when leaving later in the day; it was a little bit ‘slushy’ close to the grass bank and my car is front-wheel drive.    

Today’s outfit was a camel-coloured thermal polo-neck T-shirt, a cream-coloured thermal T-shirt, and a cream-coloured fleece-lined thermal t-shirt ... in fact the items I’d bought the previous day.  Also a cream-coloured ribbed sweater, a cream with black spots sweater, a black frill-edged BHS cardigan, a winter-white fleece, a beige check-patterned M & S skirt, brown tights, black fleece gillet, peach/grey basket weave knitted snood, oak leaf silver earrings, and snow-boots plus black faux sheepskin coat once at the racecourse. 

I also wore a material scarf – patterned with pink, purple, white and red spots, plus the black snood with white horses printed thereon.  I put my berry-coloured bobble-hat in my bag but I’m sure I wouldn’t need it today. 

I had to be a bit of a contortionist to change into my snow-boots whilst sitting in the driver’s seat, but I couldn’t get out of the car whilst wearing the moccasins I use when driving; the ground was far too wet outside.  I waited in the car for a while, before setting off to the north entrance; I ate three cheese rolls during this period.  The queue was stretched across the car park when I arrived but we were soon on the move, as the gates opened at 10:30.

Bags checked, and new turnstiles negotiated, I purchased a race-card before heading to the little girls’ room.  I took off my basket-weave snood, as I wouldn’t need it until the sun disappeared over the back of the grandstand later in the afternoon and the temperature dropped as a result.  

Having bought a bottle of water, I stood overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure for a while, before heading over to view the display of trophies; the majority of these would be presented today.  After that, I did a tour of the Shopping Village; there was a lovely print of Smad Place at one of the galleries; and one day I must buy myself a cobalt blue felt hat.  Having completed the route around the pavilion shops, I briefly stopped to watch a broadcasted replay of Katchit winning the 2008 Champion Hurdle before returning to the steppings once more.

There were announcements to let punters know about book signings – I recall Henrietta Knight was available today to sign her new book, but between races when I wouldn’t be able to drag myself away from the action; besides I’d already got the book at home.  Then, on Tuesday and Friday, Felix Francis would be signing his new book – but again I wouldn’t be able to leave my chosen viewing spot.  I always buy his books, and historically his late father’s books, in paperback format.  I was presently reading ‘Damage’ ... but I’d got so many things I needed to do that it was taking ages!  I did actually take it to Cheltenham with me; I didn’t get around to reading any of it!    

As in recent years, the race-day presenter was Martin Kelly.  Today’s guests included regular attendees – the rugby referees, including Wayne Barnes ... this is where I almost doze off to sleep each year ... boring!  They usually attend on the Wednesday of the Festival, but not this year.  Another guest was Rachael Blackmore; she was the Champion Conditional in Ireland last season.  Rich Ricci also took part, as did a representative of Unibet, sponsors of the Champion Hurdle this year.  Rupert Bell, father of Oli, also put in an appearance on three of the days; I think he missed one day due to being the worse for wear having celebrated his birthday! 

Eleven horses were taking part in this year’s Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) Parade which commenced at 12:30 – Annacotty, Any Currency, Barbers Shop, Back In Focus, Big Buck’s, Dodging Bullets, Hunt Ball, Punjabi, Silviniaco Conti, Wayward Prince and Wild West.

Annacotty, a Kempton Park Grade 1 winner and also winner of the 2015 Paddy Power Gold Cup, retired last year.  Owned by Mrs Prowting, her Racing Manager Hannah Bishop was busy retraining her charge with the long term aim of competing in working hunter classes.  The partnership would commence with RoR challenge classes this season.  He was very well behaved today, as would be expected.

Any Currency, formerly trained by Martin Keighley, and first past the post in the 2016 Cross-country Chase, retired in April 2017.  He’s now in the care of Harley Cornock and is being retrained for RoR show-jumping classes.  Woody’ was very excited to be back at Cheltenham and sweated up whilst jogging around the Parade Ring.

Barbers Shop, owned by HM The Queen and formerly trained by Nicky Henderson, retired in 2012.  Although he’s now retired from competitive showing, he proved very successful in this post-racing career.

Back In Focus, formerly trained by Willie Mullins, won the 2013 running of the NH Chase but, following a freak accident which resulted in him fracturing his cheekbone and losing his left eye, he was forced to retire from racing.  But, despite this setback, the chestnut now enjoys team chasing and hunting under the care of Clare Burrows.

Big Buck’s, winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle on a record four occasions when trained by Paul Nicholls, retired from racing in 2014.  He enjoys hunting with carer Lucy Felton, also accompanying her children and their ponies on rides.

Dodging Bullets, winner of the 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase and formerly trained by Paul Nicholls, retired in 2017 and is now being retrained for dressage and show-jumping by Lucy Sharp.

Hunt Ball, who won at the Festival when trained by Kieran Burke and was latterly trained by Nicky Henderson prior to a stint in America, is now in the care of Nicky’s daughter Sarah.  Their passion is hunting, but Sarah is aiming to do some RoR classes and perhaps a one-day-event.  Sarah says that Hunt Ball in an intelligent animal. 

Punjabi, winner of the 2009 Champion Hurdle and formerly trained by Nicky Henderson, retired in 2013 and is in the care of Rachael Kempster.  Initially concentrating on dressage, a career change was forced upon him due to arthritis in a hock because of a previous injury; he now takes part in hunter trials.

Silviniaco Conti won 7 Grade 1 races during his illustrious career before retiring in 2017.  He’s been taken on by Charlotte Alexander, who looked after Denman until the latter retired from his second career.  The horse had been team chasing, progressing from novice to open classes, and Charlotte hoped to take him eventing during the summer of 2018.  He also enjoyed hunting and rounding up sheep on the farm!  Postscript: A few weeks after his appearance at Cheltenham, Silviniaco Conti died as a result of a fall whilst team chasing.  RIP

Wayward Prince, winner of the 2015 Scottish Grand National, was formerly trained by Ian Williams and Hilary Parrott.  He’s been hunting and competing in dressage.

Wild West was formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien and subsequently Jonjo O’Neill.  Although remaining a maiden under rules, he’s enjoyed great success in his second career in showing.  He was crowned Supreme Champion at the RoR Championships in 2017 when ridden side-saddle by Lizzie Harris.  He’s also enjoyed a number of other high-profile successes in the RoR showing arena. 

The race-day interviews having been completed, I headed to the course-side rails in plenty of time to reserve my place ahead of racing; probably at the half furlong mark.  The members’ lawn was very muddy, following the recent snow and rain ... I don’t understand why it’s not tarmaced; even astro-turf would be better!  You would not have believed the state of my snow-boots by the end of the day!

This year, for the entire Festival apart from the Cross-Country race, no spectators were allowed to cross the course to view the races from within the centre course enclosure; the footfall would have been far too damaging to the racing surface.

The first race was at 13:30 and, of course, would be accompanied by the famous Cheltenham roar as the horses set off.  

The favourite for this race was Getabird, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; their price was 7-4.  As usual, Ruby was being blindly punted upon, despite the fact that he’d returned to race-riding from injury just the previous Thursday!

There were no specific runners of interest in this race this year.  There was just one grey, Debuchet trained by Margaret Mullins.  Debuchet is by Smadoun, as is Smad Place, hence the grey coat!

 

To reach the starting gate, upon exiting the horse walk the competitors cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands before then heading down the turf and re-entering the all-weather gallop to canter to the far end of the home straight.

The final hurdle was placed closer to the winning line than is often the case; thus leaving quite a run from the second last to the final obstacle.  RUK’s Stewart Machin also pointed out that the ground on the inside was fresh, which meant the inside three hurdle panels had been placed on this strip.

Race 1

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Distance

2 miles 110 yards (8 flights to negotiate)

No. of Runners

19

Claimantakinforgan, Debuchet, First Flow, Getabird, Golden Jeffrey, Kalashnikov, Lostintranslation, Mengli Khan, Paloma Blue, Saxo Jack, Sharjah, Shoal Bay, Simply The Betts, Slate House, Summerville Boy, Us And Them, Western Ryder, Dame Rose, Khudha

 

Having circled within the corral at the far corner, the runners then exited onto the track; they initially headed away from the starting gate before turning back towards it.  And then they were off to the sound of the famous Cheltenham roar, with the sole grey Debuchet leading the way to the first flight.  Just behind him were First Flow, Getabird and Kalashnikov; Khudha brought up the rear. 

The keen Getabird was upsides Debuchet as they jumped hurdle number one, and then Ruby Walsh let him take the lead on the long run to the second.  Paloma Blue had soon pulled his way through the field and now disputed second position with First Flow and Kalashnikov.  Dame Rose was prominent to the outside of the field and travelled with Mengli Khan, Us And Them and the reined-back Debuchet.  Behind these were Shoal Bay, Slate House, Claimantakinforgan, and the second-string Ricci runner Sharjah. Towards the rear of the field were Summerville Boy, Western Ryder, Simply The Betts, Lostintranslation, Golden Jeffrey, Saxo Jack and, finally, Khudha.  

The competitors cleared the second safely, although the inside panels did look rather the worse for wear as the runners continued their journey!  First Flow had made a mistake here, although the main offender had been Slate House; in contrast, Saxo Jack jumped it big and bold.  Getabird continued at the head of affairs as they swung left in order to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure.  Turning into the back straight for the one and only time, David Bass sent his mount forward to almost join the leader as they continued to the third flight.  All nineteen runners cleared this without incident.

First Flow continued to press the leader as they headed towards and over the fourth flight; the leading duo were three lengths clear of the main group, which was led by Kalashnikov.  Khudha was still chasing the field!  The runners then headed around the dog-leg turn, with four flights now to jump.  First Flow went out to his right as he jumped the next, with a number of the other runners mildly following suit; this included Kalashnikov.  In total contrast to his second flight clearance, Saxo Jack blundered at this one.

Ruby had to straighten up Getabird shortly afterwards, as he briefly shied out to his left and was in danger of going to the wrong side of the inside guiding rail.  A number of runners were struggling by the time the field turned the far corner and began their journey down the hill to the third last; in contrast, Summerville Boy was making good progress.  Getabird still led, from First Flow, Paloma Blue, Kalashnikov, Mengli Khan, Slate House, Summerville Boy, Debuchet, Them And Us, Western Ryder, Sharjah, Lostintranslation, with a slight gap to Claimantakinforgan and Simply The Betts.  The remainder were way out of contention and Shoal Bay was in the process of being pulled up.

The strong-travelling Kalashnikov joined the long-time leader as they landed over three out; Summerville Boy had continued to gain ground and now travelled just behind the leading duo, along with Paloma Blue and Mengli Khan, as they headed towards two out. With Getabird now beginning to tire, Jack Quinlan sent his mount into the lead and was a length up as he jumped the penultimate flight.

Unfortunately Getabird had drifted to his right just prior to the hurdle, hampering Summerville Boy in the process, who subsequently made a mistake, losing his hind-legs on landing.  Lostintranslation then collided with his hind-quarters, which hampered Western Ryder too.  As a result, instead of disputing second position as previously, Summerville Boy had now been demoted to seventh position.

Having taken the lead, Kalashnikov spear-headed the field as they headed around the final bend; Mengli Khan and Paloma Blue were his nearest pursuers, followed by Debuchet, Slate House, Getabird, Summerville Boy, Claimantakinforgan, Sharjah, Lostintranslation and Western Ryder.  This group were well clear of the remainder. 

As mentioned earlier, the final hurdle was some way off the bend; Kalashnikov was able to keep his head in front of Mengli Khan as they approached it.  However, danger was approaching from behind, with Noel Fehily galvanising Summerville Boy to produce a run, having been handicapped by the incident at the previous flight. 

Kalashnikov cleared the final hurdle well, as did Mengli Khan; their challenger less so.  Slate House took a fall at the obstacle when disputing seventh position.  Jack Quinlan’s mount continued to hold his advantage over the Irish raider, but Summerville Boy was gaining with every stride as they headed up the hill towards the winning post.  In fact the latter took the lead not far from the line and won by a neck.  

Tom George had finally claimed his second Cheltenham Festival winner, the first being a Polish-bred horse named Galileo in 2002.  It was Noel Fehily’s 6th Festival winner, and owner Roger Brookhouse’s 3rd, following the ill-fated Cheltenian in the Bumper and the very ‘difficult’ Western Warhorse in the Arkle.   

Mengli Khan finished 3rd, with Paloma Blue in 4th, Claimantakinforgan 5th, Western Ryder 6th and Lostintranslation 7th.  Slate House was fine, following his final flight exit; jockey Harry Cobden walked away, as the horse got up and cantered after the others.  The favourite Getabird finished 11th, having been eased before the last when his chance had gone.  Seventeen completed, with Dame Rose and First Flow also having been pulled up.

The winner and runner-up had clashed earlier in the season, in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park, with Summerville Boy also winning on that occasion, by 4 lengths.  Kalashnikov had won Newbury’s very valuable Betfair Hurdle in the interim.

Stewart Machin took a look at the ground on the landing side of the final hurdle, prior to the next race; the jockeys had described it as soft, heavy, tacky, dead ground.  There were huge skid marks where Slate House had come to grief, along with many other deep hoof-print diverts.  No wonder the only time spectators would be permitted to cross the track was for Wednesday’s Cross-Country event!    

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Summerville Boy

Tom George

Noel Fehily

2nd

Kalashnikov

Amy Murphy

Jack Quinlan

3rd

Mengli Khan

Gordon Elliott

Jack Kennedy

4th

Paloma Blue

Henry de Bromhead

Davy Russell

 

I remained beside the course-side rails during the interval between races one and two.

 

Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of Diary Part II

 

A work colleague, Caroline, found me ahead of this race.  She was attending for just one day, although she was suffering from a pretty nasty cold at the present time.  Colds are one of my nightmares, as it seems to take me a long time to recover from them – 3 days coming, 3 days here and 6 weeks going!  Besides, Christmas Day 2017 had already been spoilt by a head-cold, as had my planned trip to Kempton Park on Boxing Day; I’d stayed at home. L 

The hot favourite for the next race was Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 5-6. 

One grey, Petit Mouchoir.  And no specific runners of interest, because the Alan King-trained Sceau Royal had picked up a ‘niggling’ injury a few weeks before the race.

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. 

 

Race 2

Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Grade 1)

Distance

2 miles (13 fences to negotiate)

No. of Runners

5

Brain Power, Footpad, Petit Mouchoir, Robinshill, Saint Calvados

 

Petit Mouchoir returned from the Parade Ring to the Pre-parade ring prior to the race; his trainer Henry de Bromhead said he just needed to ‘check something’.  The horse wasn’t quite so ‘het up’ as he sometimes becomes before a race.   

The runners assembled within the corral at the far end of the home straight.  Once again, having exited onto the track, the jockeys steered their mounts away from the starting tape, before turning back again to face it.  And then they were off, with Saint Calvados leading the way, closely pressed by Petit Mouchoir.  The former got a little close to the first fence, enabling the grey to take the advantage.  Pleased to take a backseat at this stage, Footpad, Robinshill and Brain Power travelled a number of lengths behind the leading duo.

The runners continued to the next, where Robinshill was less than fluent; after a further distance they headed through a gap in the plastic rails in order to join the main circuit of the track.  The Harry Whittington-trained runner was the more fluent of the leaders as they cleared the third obstacle; Robinshill put in another below par clearance at this one and, as a result, was relegated to last position.

Saint Calvados jumped the next really well and took the lead once more.  Footpad was 7 or 8 lengths behind the leaders at this stage, with Brain Power a further three lengths behind him, and Robinshill in last position.  Having swung away from the main grandstands, the field headed up the hill to the next fence; it being the Old Course, this is located in front of the Best Mate enclosure.  Brain Power was a little hesitant at this one, and Robinshill wasn’t fluent either.

Having entered the back straight, Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados were continuing to dispute the lead as they motored down the hill to the 6th fence; they both cleared it well.  However, it was the turn of the odds-on favourite to make an error at this one; he actually stepped right through it with his forelegs, the hind-legs following suit.  The fence looked a mess, with birch now trailing to the ground, but the horse and jockey partnership survived; it was Ruby Walsh after all!  Brain Power jumped it okay, also Robinshill.

The following fence was the water-jump, with the leading duo clearing it many lengths ahead of the others.  Footpad jumped it well, with Brain Power and Robinshill not as fluent.  The first of the open-ditches was next on the agenda, and they all cleared this one okay; or at least I think they did, as Robinshill was now out of shot of the broadcast cameras! 

Having gone hammer and tongs from the front, Saint Calvados began to show signs of tiring as his rival Petit Mouchoir out-jumped him at the next; the latter quickly held an undisputed advantage as they headed around the dog-leg turn on their journey to the final open-ditch.  The leader jumped the fence well, with Saint Calvados now four or five lengths behind him and less fluent too.  Footpad continued to close the deficit as they continued to the top of the hill; Brain Power also.

Ruby’s mount swept past the Harry Whittington-trained runner as they swung left-handed to head downhill towards the three out; he was rapidly gaining on the leader too.  The favourite was less than a length down as they cleared this fence, with Brain Power now in third position and Saint Calvados in fourth; Robinshill continued, a tailed off last.  Besides there was a fifth prize, of £3,920!

Ruby was happy to travel upsides the grey until turning in; Footpad was then sent on to lead over the penultimate fence, although he did take off on a long stride at this one.  Brain Power was clumsy at this one; he’s not the best of jumpers, having failed to complete with an unseating and a fall on his previous two outings.

Footpad continued to put distance between himself and his rivals as he continued to the final fence, which he flew.  Not surprisingly, Petit Mouchoir was tired and made a mistake here.  On the final climb to the line, the Willie Mullins-trained runner simply galloped away from his rivals, winning by 14 lengths at the winning post.  Very pleased with himself, Ruby stood up in his stirrups and saluted with his whip as he crossed the line.  This was the jockeys’ 57th Cheltenham Festival winner.

Having been up with the pace from the off, Petit Mouchoir was now a sitting target for the conservatively-ridden Brain Power.  Thus the latter claimed the runner-up spot close home, beating the grey by three quarters of a length.  Saint Calvados made it home in 4th position, 38 lengths behind the grey, with Robinshill a further 71 lengths away in 5th.

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Footpad

Willie Mullins

Ruby Walsh

2nd

Brain Power

Nicky Henderson

Nico de Boinville

3rd

Petit Mouchoir

Henry de Bromhead

Davy Russell

4th

Saint Calvados

Harry Whittington

Aidan Coleman

 

My work colleague Caroline admitted to liking Ruby ... she disappeared into the crowds following the race.  Meanwhile, I remained beside the course-side rails.

 

Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of Diary Part II

 

The favourite for the third race was Coo Star Sivola, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Lizzie Kelly; price 5-1. 

There were no specific runners of interest, but there were three greys – Ramses De Teillee, Vintage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine.

Having exited the horse-walk, the horses cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands, before heading down the turf and continuing part-way down the remainder of the all-weather strip before exiting onto the racecourse close to the starting gate.

 

Race 3

The Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

Distance

3 miles 1 furlong (20 fences to negotiate)

No. of Runners

18

Gold Present, Sizing Codelco, Yala Enki, Shantou Flyer, O O Seven, Vicente, Beware The Bear, Wakanda, Singlefarmpayment, Ramses De Teillee, Knight Of Noir, Coo Star Sivola, Vintage Clouds, Vic De Touzaine, Minella Daddy, Casse Tete, Cogry, Eamon An Cnoic

 

The main group of horses were sent back down the racecourse, away from the starting tape; meanwhile Casse Tete and Vintage Clouds were still having their girths checked, before heading off the join them.  Once assimilated, the entire field continued on their journey back towards the start.

And then they were off, at the first time of asking.  Vintage Clouds led them away, with Cogry initially prominent, before being swamped when Shantou Flyer, Yala Enki, Beware The Bear, Vicente and Eamon An Cnoic came to the fore.  Casse Tete and Knight Of Noir were bringing up the rear as the runners cleared the first fence. 

Yala Enki joined the grey Vintage Clouds as they jumped the second, with Shantou Flyer and Coo Star Sivola close behind.  The eighteen runners then swung left-handed to head up the hill towards the next, situated in front of the Best Mate Enclosure.  Having all negotiated this successfully, the field entered the back straight for the first time and continued down the hill to the next.

There were no casualties heading over this sometimes tricky fence.  Yala Enki and Vintage Clouds continued to lead, from Coo Star Sivola and Shantou Flyer.  Behind these were Cogry, Wakanda, Beware The Bear, Eamon An Cnoic, Sizing Codelco, Singlefarmpayment, Minella Daddy, Vicente, Ramses De Teillee, O O Seven, Gold Present, Casse Tete, Vic De Touzaine, and Knight Of Noir. The following fence was the water-jump; again no casualties.

The sixth fence was the first of the open-ditches, which they all cleared in their stride.  The runners then continued to the next, a plain one, with Vintage Clouds and Yala Enki still at the head of affairs; the grey Vic De Touzaine and bay Knight Of Noir remained at the back of the field.  After this, the 18-strong field headed around the dog-leg turn, before arriving at the second open-ditch.  They were all up and over this one safely, whilst continuing their climb to the farthest corner of the track.

The runners subsequently swung left-handed to head down the hill towards the next.  The field was still well-grouped, with Vintage Clouds and Yala Enki continuing to lead, and Knight Of Noir and Vic De Touzaine at the rear thereof.  There were no issues at the fence and all the runners appeared to be travelling okay as they entered the home straight with one circuit now complete.  As they approached the tenth fence, Wakanda began to be pushed along by his jockey Sean Quinlan. 

The horses jumped this and the next without any incidents, although Sean was now even more animated aboard his mount.  The runners then swung left-handed to begin their final circuit; travelling in mid-field, Singlefarmpayment wasn’t particularly fluent at this uphill fence.  Also, at the rear and slightly detached, Vic De Touzaine made an error.

Turning into the back straight for the final time, a number of runners put in untidy leaps at the next; in particular Yala Enki, who dropped back into fourth place as a result and was then bumped along by his jockey.  This left Eamon An Cnoic to dispute the lead with Vintage Clouds as they continued over the water-jump.  The runners continued to the penultimate open-ditch; travelling to the inside of the field, Singlefarmpayment clouted this one and lost ground.  Vicente also made a serious error at this one, and dropped to the rear of the field.

The next fence was a plain one where, once again, there were a number of less than perfect clearances; notably O O Seven, who hit it hard.  Having scrambled over this one, Sam Twiston-Davies decided to pull Vicente up; this left the struggling Wakanda at the rear of the field.  Having negotiated the dog-leg turn, Eamon An Cnoic led the runners over the final open-ditch, from Coo Star Sivola, Vintage Clouds, Yala Enki, Shantou Flyer, Casse Tete and Ramses De Teillee.  Wakanda made an error here and was subsequently pulled up.

Having reached the top of the hill, the runners swung left-handed to head down the slope forwards three out.  The David Pipe-trained second-string continued to hold the advantage over Coo Star Sivola, Shantou Flyer and Vintage Clouds; the latter having already received a number of stern reminders from his jockey Danny Cook.  Bringing up the rear were Sizing Codelco and Knight Of Noir. 

The leader belted the third last; he survived, but this enabled Lizzie Kelly’s mount Coo Star Sivola to stride on into the lead as they approached the home turn.  Having jumped the fence, both Sizing Codelco and Knight Of Noir were pulled up.

Coo Star Sivola led the runners into the home straight, from Shantou Flyer, Eamon An Cnoic, Vintage Clouds, Singlefarmpayment, Casse Tete and Ramses De Teillee.  He remained ahead as the leaders jumped the penultimate fence; the tiring Casse Tete made a mistake at this one.  Lizzie’s mount subsequently cleared the last well, Shantou Flyer less so, having put in a short stride before take-off.  Vintage Clouds jumped it in third position; Singlefarmpayment hit the last and lost momentum, with Eamon An Cnoic clambering over it, having tired greatly. 

Meanwhile, Coo Star Sivola was driven up the hill to the line although as it approached, Shantou Flyer kept on and was closing the gap all the way.  In fact the favourite just clung on, to triumph by a neck at the winning post.  Vintage Clouds finished a further six lengths back in 3rd, with Beware The Bear, who his trainer describes as a ‘lovely person’ staying on well to the line to claim 4th, 2¾ lengths behind the grey.  Jeremiah McGrath’s mount had made an error at the tricky 13th fence (the one before the water), after which he been struggling before staying on at the finish.

Last year’s runner-up, Singlefarmpayment, finished 5th, with Yala Enki 6th, Ramses De Teillee 7th, Casse Tete 8th and Eamon An Cnoic 9th.  O O Seven completed in 10th, Cogry in 11th and Minella Daddy in 12th, last of the finishers.  Vic De Touzaine had been pulled up before the last and Gold Present was pulled up before two out having broken blood vessels.    

This was Nick Williams’ second Cheltenham Festival winner, following Flying Tiger’s win in last year’s Fred Winter.  Nick’s step-daughter, Lizzie Kelly, had claimed her first Cheltenham Festival winner.  She was also the first female professional jockey to win at the Festival since Gee Armitage in 1987.

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Coo Star Sivola

Nick Williams

Lizzie Kelly

2nd

Shantou Flyer

Richard Hobson

James Bowen

3rd

Vintage Clouds

Sue Smith

Danny Cook

4th

Beware The Bear

Nicky Henderson

Jeremiah McGrath

 

Once again I remained beside the course-side rails.

 

Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of Diary Part II

 

Well, that’s it for the first half of the diary, please ...

Click here to read my Day 1 Diary Part II

 

 

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