DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018
FEATURING THE CHAMPION HURDLE
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2018
The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1):
Buveur D’Air (centre) overcomes the challenge of Melon (right) and Mick Jazz
to win the race for the second year running
Click here to read my Day 1 Diary Part I
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the Champion Hurdle. This being the case, there was a pre-race parade, with the horses exiting the horse-walk and congregating upon the racecourse before being led up the home straight in front of the main grandstands. Parade over, they then cantered down the turf to enter the all-weather strip and continue their journey to the starting gate which was situated at the far end of the home straight.
The odds-on favourite for the race was the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air, ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 4-6. He was also the winner of last year’s race although, on that occasion, Noel Fehily had deputised for the injury-sidelined Geraghty.
Faugheen, the 2015 Champion, returned this year. However, his form had been patchy since returning from injury. Alan King also had a runner, namely Elgin, winner of a valuable Ascot handicap, the Greatwood Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle this season. There were no greys in this race.
The horses circled, anti-clockwise, in the corral prior to the race. Finally the runners headed out onto the racecourse, Faugheen accompanied by Identity Thief and Charli Parcs at the front of the group. They headed away briefly from the starting gate, before turning back.
With all of the horses well behaved and collected, they were off at the first time of asking, with Faugheen leading the way to the first flight. As had been suggested by the formation prior to the start, Charli Parcs joined the 2015 winner having jumped it. Buveur D’Air and Identity Thief matched strides behind them. Melon followed these, from Elgin, Mick Jazz, Yorkhill, Ch’Tibello, Wicklow Brave and John Constable.
The eleven runners continued their journey up the home straight, with the JP McManus-owned Charli Parcs soon taking a narrow advantage. As would be expected in the 2-mile Champion Hurdle, the pace was strong. The leader, with ears pricked, put in an excellent jump at the second. They subsequently swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure before entering the back straight for the one and only time.
They raced downhill to the first flight on hurdles therein. The leading four, Charli Parcs, Faugheen, Buveur D’Air and Identity Thief having set up a clear advantage over Melon who, in turn, was three lengths clear of Elgin and the remainder of the field. The horses cleared the flight at speed, although Buveur D’Air did clatter the top bar and, at the rear of the field, Wicklow Brave even more so.
Charli Parcs and Faugheen continued to push to pace, now extending their lead over the reigning Champion to three or four lengths. Ruby’s mount made a mistake at the fourth flight and lost ground upon the leader; as a result, he was almost joined by Buveur D’Air who was travelling in third position. Charli Parcs was soon heading around the dog-leg turn on his approach to the fifth. He remained clear of his rivals, with the remainder of the field now closely bunched. Identity Thief flattened the inside panel of the obstacle.
Noel Fehily’s mount continued to hold the advantage as the runners headed around the far turn. Identity Thief was beginning to come under pressure and, at the rear of the field, Yorkhill received a number of serious reminders from David Mullins. Charli Parcs’ lead was being eroded as they headed down the hill towards three out; Faugheen was spearheading the pursuing group, from Buveur D’Air, Melon, Mick Jazz, Identity Thief, Elgin, Wicklow Brave, John Constable, Ch’Tibello and Yorkhill.
Charli Parcs had been joined by Faugheen as they jumped the flight; although the latter nodded slightly on landing. It was now becoming congested at the head of affairs, with many of the jockeys preparing to make their challenges. Buveur D’Air began to lean in upon Faugheen as they continued towards the penultimate hurdle, with Melon briefly short of room when encountering a short stretch of rail to the inside of the track.
Barry Geraghty’s mount had moved ahead of Faugheen by the time they reached the flight, with Melon also muscling his way through to their inside. Ruby was conscious that he was about to become the meat in the sandwich so, realising his mount was tiring, he’d taken a pull for a couple of strides shortly before it, in order to avoid any mishaps.
Buveur D’Air rounded the home bend with Melon to his inside; they were almost matching strides. Mick Jazz followed closely on their heels. This trio had cleared away from Elgin, Wicklow Brave, Identity Thief and the tiring Faugheen.
Buveur D’Air and Melon continued neck and neck as they approached the final flight, which they jumped in unison. Geraghty and Townend subsequently threw everything at their mounts on the journey to the line, whilst still remaining within the guidelines, Buveur D’Air finally prevailing by a neck at the line. For the record, Barry resorted to his whip only latterly and hit his mount 5 times, and Paul Townend administered 6!
Mick Jazz completed in 3rd, 3 lengths behind the runner-up. Identity Thief claimed 4th, a further 9 lengths away, with Elgin 1¾ lengths back in 5th. Faugheen finished 6th, Wicklow Brave 7th, Ch’Tibello 8th and John Constable 9th. Yorkhill was pulled up before the last, as was Charli Parcs.
It was trainer Nicky Henderson’s 7th success in this race; with Buveur D’Air becoming the first horse to win it back-to-back since Hardy Eustace in 2004/2005. It was owner JP McManus’ 7th triumph in the race too.
Ruby stated that Faugheen now needs further; he subsequently won the Punchestown Festival’s Stayers’ Hurdle. Identity Thief also needed further – he won the 2018 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree!
Alan hoped to campaign Elgin on the flat during the summer.
Again I wasn’t going anywhere ahead of the next race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
The odds-on favourite for the next race was Apple’s Jade, last year’s winner, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jack Kennedy; price 1-2.
Just one runner of interest in this event – the Alan King-trained Midnight Tour ridden by Davy Russell today; she’d finished 6th in this event last year. There were no greys in this race.
Having left the Parade Ring and headed along the horse-walk, the runners exited straight onto the course, heading across the turf to canter up around the top bend upon the all-weather strip to reach the mid-course chute.
Because the race distance was two and a half miles, this meant it didn’t commence at the beginning of the chute, but slightly further along.
Having shown their mounts the first hurdle within the chute, the jockeys continued around it in order to circle within the space just beyond. Girths having been checked, the runners were now ready and then they were off.
Apple’s Jade led the runners away, with the sole chestnut Indian Stream taking a route wide of the main group as they headed to the first flight. All nine runners cleared this without incident before heading across the intersection with the Old Course and arriving the second. Again there were no noticeable errors and the horses subsequently crossed the route of the New Course, swinging left-handed and heading downhill on their journey towards the turn into the home straight.
Apple’s Jade led, from La Baque Au Roi, Jer’s Girl, Indian Stream, Midnight Jazz, Kayf Grace, Benie Des Dieux, Midnight Tour and Pravalaguna. Having entered the home straight, the runners cleared the third flight in their stride, before continuing on the long run towards the next, which was situated in front of the area known as the Guinness Village! As had been her tendency thus far, the leader shifted slightly to her right before jumping it.
The field then swung away to their left so as to travel up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure; there was no real change in the order. Having entered the back straight, the mares made their way towards the fifth flight, picking up speed as they did so. The leaders cleared it without incident; however, Kayf Grace caught a foreleg on the left-most panel and turned somersault as a result. Pravalaguna, who had been travelling at the rear of the field, was severely hampered, first by the horse and then by the jockey, Nico de Boinville, who’d rolled up into a ball to protect himself. Fortunately the fallen mare was quickly on her feet and galloped away; Nico walked away soundly too.
Meanwhile the race continued, with Apple’s Jade holding a narrow advantage over La Bague Au Roi, followed by the white-faced Jer’s Girl, then Indian Stream and Midnight Jazz. The Warren Greatrex runner took over at the head of affairs just before they jumped the sixth flight. The horses continued to make their way uphill and had soon negotiated the dog-leg turn on their way to four out.
Benie Des Dieux had begun to take closer order by the time they reached the far corner. The giant La Bague Au Roi continued to spearhead the field as they headed down the hill towards three out and she was still marginally ahead as they jumped it. The others were queuing up ahead of laying down their challenges and the only mare out of contention was the hooded Pravalaguna.
The runners continued their run to the penultimate flight, which Apple’s Jade and La Baque Au Rio jumped in unison. Jer’s Girl, Benie Des Dieux and Midnight Jazz were disputing third place, just behind the leaders. Jer’s Girl and Midnight Jazz had begun to tire as they headed towards the home turn and they dropped away. Whereas Midnight Tour was staying on strongly to the inside of Benie Des Dieux as they rounded the home turn.
In fact, it was Midnight Tour who burst through between La Baque Au Roi and Apple’s Jade as they headed towards the final flight; meanwhile Ruby’s mount was being galvanised just in behind them. The Alan King-trained runner led over the last, with Benie Des Dieux joining Apple’s Jade and La Bague Au Roi as they cleared it. However, the latter made a horrible mistake and landed awkwardly, thus throwing away any chance of a placed effort.
Midnight Tour and Apple’s Jade were plotting a course up the stands-side of the run-in, while Benie Des Dieux drifted to her left before straightening up again. Unfortunately, when Ruby smells victory, he’s a very difficult rider to beat; thus he drove his mount into the lead 120 yards from the finish and stayed on the win by half a length at the line from the gallant Midnight Tour. Apple’s Jade completed a further 1½ lengths away in 3rd position. Indian Stream stayed on to claim 4th, a further 7 lengths back.
Jer’s Girl was 5th, Midnight Jazz 6th, with La Bague Au Roi fading into 7th, the last of the finishers. Pravalaguna had been pulled up before the final flight. Having been caught, Kayf Grace was led back up the course in front of the grandstands, heading for the stabling area; she appeared none the worse for her mishap.
Winning owner Rich Ricci explained that Benie Des Deaux had issues with steeplechasing, despite winning all three starts for the Willie Mullins yard; evidently she is prone to tearing muscles in her back due to her jumping style. Connections had therefore decided to try her out over hurdles today in order to keep her sound … and she’d won.
Alan King was also very pleased with his charge, Midnight Tour; although, at one stage, he was sure she’d win. He said she’d run a mighty race, excelled herself; while her pilot Davy Russell thought Apple’s Jade would be able to carry her further before dropping away. Alan hopes Midnight Tour will stay in training, although she’s too small for chasing. Alan thinks that, although she copes with softer ground, better ground would have been more suitable.
It was later discovered that Apple’s Jade was in season, hence her slightly disappointing run.
Again I remained beside the course-side rails after the race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
The favourite for the marathon event of the Festival was the Gordon Elliott-trained Jury Duty, ridden by Mr Jamie Codd; price 4-1.
There were no runners of interest in this race and no grey-coloured horses either!
The starting gate for this event was in the mid-course chute; this being the case the horses cantered across the home straight when they exited the horse-walk, before heading up around the all-weather strip to reach it.
Having milled around within the centre of the racecourse, the horses jogged out onto the racecourse at the beginning of the chute, and then they were off, at the first time of asking.
To the inside of the track, Sizing Tennessee led them away, along with Impulsive Star travelling one from the outside. Also prominent, as they jumped the first fence, were Mossback, Ms Parfois, Duel At Dawn, Shades of Midnight and, on the wide outside Reigning Supreme; the latter jumped across All Kings in the process. To the inside, Robin Of Locksley made an error; the jockey Damien Skehan briefly lost his left iron as a result.
The runners continued to the second fence, with Ms Parfois now spearheading the field. At the rear of the field, Pylonthepressure wasn’t particularly fluent. The competitors headed across the intersection with the Old Course before reaching the third fence, which Clondaw Cian didn’t jump particularly well.
Subsequently they headed across the intersection with the New Course, before swinging left-handed to travel downhill to the beginning of the home straight. Ms Parfois led, from Sizing Tennessee and Impulsive Star; they were followed by Mossback, Shades Of Midnight, Reigning Supreme, Clondaw Cian, Duel At Dawn, Lofgren, All Kings, Robin Of Locksley, Jury Duty, Rathvinden, Keeper Hill, Pylonthepressure and No Comment. There were no jumping issues at the first fence therein.
The field continued to the next where, again, none of the runners made any noticeable errors. The competitors then joined the Old Course circuit before arriving at the sixth fence. Impulsive Star made a mistake here, nodding on landing as a result. Travelling almost at the rear of the field, Keeper Hill hit it hard and fell; he’d fallen on his previous run too, at Musselburgh. The Warren Greatrex-runner rolled over due to the momentum, but he was soon on his feet once more, and appeared uninjured; his jockey was up quickly too.
Meanwhile Sizing Tennessee had taken over at the head of affairs as they continued over the next fence. The runners then swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure on their way to the eighth fence; Jury Duty made an error here, having got too close to it. Still travelling to the outside of runners, All Kings needed encouragement just prior to entering the back straight for the first time.
They continued downhill to the next where, at the back of the field, Pylonthepressure made a serious error. The following fence was the water-jump, with all the competitors clearing this successfully. Next up was the first open-ditch, with Duel At Dawn having to reach for it and Rathvinden actually dragging his hind-legs through it because he couldn’t make the distance required. Sizing Tennessee remained at the head of affairs as the 15 remaining runners cleared the 12th, a plain fence; Mossback made an error here and Pylonthepressure continued to jump poorly at the back of the field.
They headed around the dog-leg turn, with All Kings receiving a reminder as they did so. The next fence was also an open-ditch; the leader wasn’t particularly fluent here. Having soon reached the far corner, they continued around the left-hand turn before heading downhill to the next, fence 14; all of the runners cleared this one safely. All Kings was given another reminder as they headed towards the home turn.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the horses continued over the next; All Kings was now at the rear of the field. There was yet another blunder from Pylonthepressure as they jumped the following fence. The runners subsequently swung left-handed, away from the main stands, with now just one circuit to travel.
As they were racing on the Old Course, there is a fence on the uphill section, in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. Robin Of Locksley lost six places due to a bad blunder at this fence; on this occasion, Damien Skehan briefly lost his right iron! The jockey decided to call it a day before the next.
The runners turned into the back straight for the final time and headed downhill to the next fence. Sizing Tennessee led over this one, from Impulsive Star, Ms Parfois and Mossback. The latter hit the fence, landed steeply and fell. The Gigginstown runner got to its feet … but limped away; his near-fore was injured, possibly a damaged shoulder.
Meanwhile, twelve competitors continued over the water-jump, as All Kings was pulled up before it. The following fence was the penultimate open-ditch and, with a number of the horses now tiring in this marathon event, there were some ragged jumping displays; notably from Duel At Dawn and Lofgren. Noticeably, Rathvinden had improved his position and was now disputing fourth.
The runners continued towards and over the next, with the backmarkers now in danger of becoming remote. Five and four from the rear, Duel At Dawn and Shades Of Midnight respectively, received reminders as they continued around the dog-leg turn. The jockeys aboard Clondaw Cian and Lofgren called it a day prior to the next fence; the final open-ditch. The other runners cleared it okay, apart from Pylonthepressure which made yet another mistake.
A group of seven had pulled away from the remainder now; these were led by Sizing Tennessee, ahead of Impulsive Star, Ms Parfois, Rathvinden, Jury Duty, Pylonthepressure and the hooded No Comment. Duel At Dawn and Reigning Supreme had been pulled up after the open-ditch, leaving solely the tailed-off Shades Of Midnight to chase them down the hill to three out. Sizing Tennessee jumped out to his right as he cleared it and Katie Walsh’s mount made a further mistake! Shades Of Midnight scrambled over the fence and subsequently unseated his rider.
This left seven of the 16 runners still standing as they headed around the final bend; Ms Parfois had commenced her challenge to the outside of Sizing Tennessee, with Rathvinden in their slip-stream. When they reached the penultimate fence, the Colin Tizzard-trained runner out-jumped the mare. Rathvinden then cruised up on the outside as they continued to the final fence, and he was marginally ahead of Ms Parfois as they jumped it. The tiring Sizing Tennessee had now run his race and dropped back.
This left Patrick Mullins and Will Biddick to galvanise their mounts as they headed up the hill to the winning post. Ms Parfois was extremely game, and briefly got her head in front, but unfortunately the Irish raider found just that little bit extra to triumph by half a length at the line. Damn.
Sizing Tennessee, although completing 21 lengths behind the leading duo, came home in 3rd place, with Impulsive Star 4th. Katie Walsh deserved a medal for completing aboard Pylonthepressure in 5th; the final finisher was No Comment … who finished 58 lengths behind the winner! The favourite, Jury Duty jumped two out so slowly that he pecked on landing and threw his jockey over his head; he’d been of absolutely no danger to the leaders at the time.
Patrick Mullins dismounted from the 10-year-old winner after the line; the jockey later explained that he’d solely intended to undo the over-girth. However, having then re-mounted in order to pose in front of the official photographers, one of the vets had spoken to him and he was asked to dismount again; Patrick said the horse was fine, the veterinary staff were just being cautious. Rathvinden continued to receive care on course, before being taken directly back to the nearby stable block. Patrick had returned down the horse-walkway alone, carrying his saddle on the way to weigh-in!
The winner had Cheltenham Festival form, from the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle (formerly the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle) in 2014 where he finished 3rd to Faugheen. He’d subsequently missed over a 1000 days on the injury sidelines, before returning to action in December 2016; hence the reason he’s now 10 and still a novice over the larger obstacles! The winner is owned by Ronnie Bartlett, owner of the ill-fated Simonsig. Ronnie is Albert Bartlett’s grandson … as in Albert Bartlett potatoes … and is Chairman of the company.
I love Ms Parfois, she’s a very admirable mare … does this mean she’ll have a shot at the 2019 Grand National? Although it’s not been won by a mare since Nickel Coin in 1951; according to her trainer, Anthony Honeyball, a future target will be the 2018 Welsh Grand National.
Mossback was subsequently confirmed as a fatality. L
Again I was not for moving and remained beside the course-side rails following the sixth race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
The favourite for the final race of the day was Any Second Now, owned by JP McManus, trained by TM Walsh and ridden by Mark Walsh.
There were no runners of interest in this race ... and no greys either.
The starting gate for this race was in the mid-course chute, with the horses heading across the home straight and up around the all-weather strip to reach it.
Having been circling upon the in-field, the horses walked or jogged their way towards the starting gate, the runners were off first time. Prominent initially when heading to the first were, to the inside Le Rocher, outside of him Rather Be then, wider still, Ibis Du Rheu. Four were in line when clearing the fence, namely Ballyhill, Western Miller, Ibis Du Rheu and Rocklander. All nineteen runners jumped it safety; the back-marker was Conrad Hastings.
The runners continued over the second without incident, before heading over the Old Course on their way to the next. As soon as the horses had negotiated this intersection, ground staff removed the section of rails which had been blocking the roadway that would be used by the emergency vehicles towards the business-end of the race.
Ballyhill and Rocklander led over the next; Conrad Hastings made an error here. The Tom George-trained runner was at the head of affairs as the field crossed over the New Course before bearing left-handed and heading downhill to the bend at the entrance to the home straight; there were no casualties at the first fence therein. Near the rear of the field, Markov was untidy at the next.
The runners moved on towards the sixth fence, passing through a gap in the plastic rails in order to join the circuit of the Old Course as they did so. Rocklander continued to hold the advantage as they jumped it, from Ballyhill, Testify and Barney Dwan. However, near the rear of the field, Markov made an error and Livelaughlove clouted it and fell; that wouldn’t do the recently returned Ruby Walsh any good whatsoever. Fortunately, the horse galloped away and Ruby walked away too.
Markov put in another dodgy jump at the next and he, along with Conrad Hastings, were already detached from the main group; Daryl Jacob decided to pull up Markov shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, Testify came through to join Rocklander as they swung left-handed to head up the hill to the next fence. Jameson wasn’t particularly fluent over this one, nor was Kayf Adventure.
Entering the back straight, Rocklander and Testify continued to be the leading pair as they headed downhill to the next. The runners were closely packed as they jumped this often tricky fence; the one which had claimed Mossback’s life during the previous race. The leaders got over it okay, but Report To Base caught it with his shoulder, skewed in the air and fell heavily; travelling beside him, Tom Scudamore was ejected from Le Rocher’s saddle. Kayf Adventure was slightly impeded too.
The Nick Williams-trained runner was okay and continued after the field; not so Report To Base, who was fatally injured in the fall. Meanwhile, up front, Rocklander continued to lead as the runners headed over the water-jump for the one and only time; Demi Sang was a little ungainly at this one and was subsequently pushed along for a few strides.
The following fence was the first open-ditch, where Demi Sang was less than fluent once again. The runners continued to the next, a plain fence. Demi Sang climbed over this one and was then pulled up. There were 13 horses in the main group as they negotiated the dog-leg turn; Rocklander, Testify and Barney Dwan were setting the pace, from Ballyhill, Rather Be, Ibis Du Rheu, Western Miller, Mister Whitaker, Jameson, Any Second Now, Kayf Adventure, De Plotting Shed and Tycoon Prince. Detached and struggling was Conrad Hastings.
Testify got a little bit close to the final open-ditch and dragged his hind-legs through the fence. As a result he lost a length of two and was now being ridden along. Tycoon Prince made an even worse mistake; this resulted in his hind-legs going from under him when he landed. He failed to recover from this and Jack Kennedy soon pulled him up.
Rocklander retained the advantage as the runners headed down hill to the third last fence; Rather Be was travelling well just in behind the leaders. There were no noticeable errors at this obstacle, with the trailing Conrad Hastings finally pulled up having jumped it. The still closely packed field of 11 continued to the home turn; Testify had dropped to the rear of this group and De Plotting Shed was pulled up having also tired.
Rocklander continued to lead the runners as they entered the home straight, hotly pursued by Rather Be and Barney Dwan who were matching strides. Ibis Du Rheu and Mister Whitaker were behind these. The long-time leader was just half a length up as he cleared two out.
The leaders subsequently headed down to the final fence, with Rather Be continuing to lay down a challenge to the long-time leader; Mister Whitaker, although being ridden, was closing upon the leading duo. Jeremiah McGrath’s mount was almost upsides Rocklander as they landed over this, and he gradually edged into the lead as they began their journey up the run-in.
Meanwhile Brian Hughes was managing to coax a final effort from bottom-weight Mister Whitaker and he suddenly made in-roads into Rather Be’s lead; Rocklander was also keeping on to the far side. The latter finally gave way, leaving Rather Be and Mister Whitaker to battle it out to the line. Despite holding his whip in his right hand Jeremiah’s mount edged slightly to his right, in the direction of his rival, but Mister Whitaker continued to gain ground, regardless, slowly but surely.
Officially it was a photograph … and the result was that Mister Whitaker had triumphed by a head. The horse has to be ‘produced’ as late as possible, but Brian admitted it was more by luck than judgement today, as it took longer than expected to pick up on today’s ground. I think we may safely say there is no love lost between Jeremiah and Brian; Double W’s had narrowly got the better of Theinval at Aintree last year, in the Red Rum … and it had happened again.
Rocklander held on for third, 3¼ lengths away, with Barney Dwan in 4th. Ibis Du Rheu completed in 5th, despite making a mistake and stumbling badly after the last. Jameson was 6th, Kayf Adventure 7th, Any Second Now 8th, Ballyhill 9th, Western Miller 10th and, last but not least, Testify was the final horse of 11 to finish.
Henrietta Knight bought the horse for owner Tim Radford; it was the first horse she had purchased since her husband Terry Biddlecombe had died. She’d also bought him from the same place as her triple Gold Cup winning horse, Best Mate. It was Tim’s first Cheltenham Festival winner; his company currently sponsored the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I don’t mind Mick Channon winning but I feel sorry for Jerry. Jerry had won one Cheltenham Festival race but was still seeking his second victory. He’d finished second last year too, in this race, aboard Gold Present.
Racing over, I finally left the rails to return through the tunnel to the area beside the Winners’ Enclosure.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
The scores on the doors, in the Betbright Cup after Day 1, were GB 4 Ireland 3. Mind you, one was a freebie for the home team, as Ireland had no runners in the Ultima Handicap Chase!
Presentations complete, I visited the ladies’ loo before setting off back to my car.
Exiting the car park on the first day of the Festival is usually a nightmare and today was no exception. I left at around 18:40, or at least I joined the back of the queue to exit at that time. As the majority of vehicles from my side of the car park were joining the left-hand queue, I’d decided to do the same. In addition to the route I chose, there is a track-way which bears off to the left and rejoins further down the driveway; however, the car-park marshals had decided to close this particular option just before I reached it. Not that I wanted to travel via that particular diversion route anyway.
Having finally reached the gate ... of the car park, vehicles from my queue and the right-hand queue converged, with each driver taking it in turns to exit onto the concrete roadway. I then had to swap lanes, from left to right, in order to enter the London-bound queue. It actually took me until 19:20 to reach Southam Lane – 40 minutes after I’d started the car engine! The lane was open to through traffic, but road traffic officers stopped this intermittently to allow everyone an easier escape from the racecourse.
When I reached the main Southam Road, a couple of marshals were just dismantling the temporary traffic lights and I had to wait for them to cross the road in front of me. I turned right and headed back towards Prestbury. In contrast to 2017, the main road through the village was clear by the time I drove along it. It had been a nightmare last year, and I’d been so embarrassed by my car’s very noisy engine fan; it had since been replaced when my car was serviced. In fact the roads were so clear that I’d reached the Six Ways road junction by 19:35.
There’s a new speed limit of 30 mph upon the stretch of A40 within Charlton Kings but, having entered the Gloucestershire countryside, I was soon on my journey up the Cotwolds escarpment. I was pleased to discover that, again this year, my night vision was okay; besides, I was wearing my night vision glasses over the top of my normal spectacles. I’d already removed the contact lenses I’d been wearing throughout the day.
I even saw a segment on Breakfast TV in late March when a guy from the RAC was discussing this problem. It’s caused by the new led headlights which dazzle oncoming drivers; so, actually, it’s probably not my age after all! Authorities are investigating and hope that changes can be implemented. Besides, what is the point of improving vision for the driver of the oncoming car, when the hundreds of drivers they pass in the opposite direction are so dazzled that they cannot see? In other words, one person is advantaged and hundreds are disadvantaged.
Approaching the traffic lights denoting the junction with the Gloucester road, the line of traffic came to a sudden standstill; this was despite the traffic lights showing green. It soon became apparent that the hold-up was caused by two stationary vehicles on the roadway ahead; someone had been driving too close to the car in front of them and, presumably, had been caught out when that car had braked suddenly. The accident had caused quite a mess, not only with the back and front of the vehicles involved, but with debris lying across both carriageways too. Oops!
In contrast, my journey continued along the A-road without incident as far as the beginning of the Witney bypass, at which point I took a left turn and headed towards the town. Because I was now on my own, upon the road, it was quite difficult to see; admittedly it’s easier if you have someone’s tail-lights to follow. Another car had soon caught up with me, as I approached Minster Lovell; a local I presume.
My accommodation, at Eynsham Hall, was situated to the northeast of Witney. Having moaned last year about the state of the road surface on the approach to the centre of Witney, it was a relief to find that resurfacing work was currently in progress; although drivers had to take care in order to negotiate raised ironworks. I continued in the direction sign-posted Bicester and arrived at the driveway entrance at around 20:25. The driveway is very spooky at night, with the branches of large trees overhanging it.
I parked in the car-park to the right-hand side of the main building and headed through a couple of archways to reach the main Hall in order to check-in. The receptionist gave me a slip of paper, marked upon it a map of the accommodation buildings within the grounds; I was staying in The Lodge this year. Having returned to my car, I drove around to the other side of the main hall and parked nearby, before going to find my room; it was on the first floor.
It took me at least four journeys to transport my worldly belongings to said room. At one point my luggage meant I was struggling with the front door; a passing guest held it open for me and he asked if I needed help to carry my bags. I declined ... even at my age I don’t like to appear helpless! I thanked him for his kind offer.
I’d taken my very muddy snow-boots to my room, in a large red storage box. I left them to soak in water, overnight. And I was already embarrassed by the filth stuck to my car – it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for months ... when in fact it had been washed the previous day! The car park was rather spooky as, although well lit, creatures could be heard calling and responding within the surrounding countryside. I have no idea what they were!
My evening meal was a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle, followed by a number of chocolate biscuits. I did doze off for a while before waking and turning off the TV and light. I re-charged my camera batteries overnight too, along with my mobile phone. I was pleased to discover that I had access to the internet via my phone this year; that had not been the case on my previous visit.