PART I

DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018

DAY TWO

FEATURING THE QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2018

 

 

 

winner Presenting Percy 1.jpg

 

 

Presenting Percy, winner of the RSA Chase

 

 

 

I awoke at around 06:00 and decided not to get up until 06:15 today; I’m now quite laidback with regards to the time I arrive at the racecourse – it takes around an hour to get there from my hotel.

I showered and washed and dried my hair before reporting to the main Hall at 07:20 for breakfast; I ate 3 rashers of bacon, a tomato, 2 large mushrooms, 2 yoghurts (red and yellow ... if you know what I mean!), and a croissant.  I did ask for a pot of tea, but the waitress forgot it ... so I had an orange juice instead; you just can’t get the staff these days! 

I arrived back in my room at around 07:50 and applied my make-up before I set off.  In fact I was so laidback that I didn’t actually set off for Cheltenham until 09:00! 

I was expecting my journey to go smoothly as, surely, the rush-hour would be over by this time, and children would have already reported to school.  However, having driven via my usual route into Witney, I got stuck in a lengthy queue upon the Woodstock Road; it took ages to reach the first of two mini-roundabouts.  Having negotiated both of these, I then discovered that the road to Minster Lovell was closed due to re-surfacing; I should have known, having driven into town via that road, negotiating raised ironworks, the previous evening!

I had no option but to continue along the main street, with no idea where I was going!  A diversion sign directed me to turn right ... I followed it into Welch Way.  Traffic was still very slow moving; this was due to a set of traffic lights without a designated lane to turn right ... too many vehicles wanted to take this option, so I wasn’t going anywhere for a few minutes!  Without a map, my instinct was to continue straight ahead and I soon arrived at a large roundabout; I followed the signpost indicating the route to Cheltenham. 

This took me to a junction mid-way along the A40 Witney bypass; I passed a Premier Inn en route.  Having joined the A40, I headed west.  It was now 09:25!  Yesterday, and today, there was a 40 mph limit for a brief section of the dual carriageway; road-works.  It was actually for workmen nearby, in a field!  I forgot to slow down, oops, as I was concentrating on overtaking a slow-moving vehicle at the time.  After the Burford roundabout, I got stuck behind a rather slow-moving 4x4 and ended up following it all the way to Cheltenham. 

The 4x4 had lost me on the dual carriageway just prior to the Gloucester road; it had overtaken vehicles when I had not, but I caught up with it again further on.  In fact I pulled up behind it at the Six Ways junction; they got through the filter light to turn right into Greenway Lane, but I did not and had to wait for the next change.  Typical. 

As I was running later than expected, I was in two minds as to whether to fill up my petrol tank on the way in; I did, but still arrived at the racecourse 10:25.  Once again I was directed to park near the top of the northern car park, close to the railway crossing.  One benefit of arriving close to opening time is the fact that, by the time I’ve walked to the entrance, the turnstiles are already open and the queues have disappeared. 

Today’s outfit was a plum-coloured thermal t-shirt, a grey with black birds pattern thermal t-shirt, a dark grey fleece-lined thermal t-shirt, a berry-coloured ribbed polo-neck jumper, a grey/black dogtooth check Dottie Perkins skirt (I’ve had this one for ages but still love to wear it), an aubergine v-neck sweater, a burgundy-coloured button-to-the-neck cardigan, a purple fleece, black fleece gillet and burgundy jeggings.

I wore my black £20 BHS bargain coat, black Hotter ‘Danville’ ankle boots, my usual black with white horses design snood, the same material scarf as the previous day, orange/burgundy butterfly earrings, and blackberry striped Aran-weight Caron Cakes snood.  I took my Berry Fab Big bobble hat again; and wore it later in the day too.  I also changed the contact lense in my right eye before I set off for the turnstiles; I always carry a spare left and right (they are different prescriptions) just in case an original one proves to be uncomfortable.

Obviously, by the time I’d reached the turnstiles at the northern entrance, the gates were open today.  I purchased a race-card before heading to the ladies loos within the ground floor of the main grandstand and subsequently buying a bottle of water.  Having worn my Hotter ankle boots today, I was already in two minds as to whether I wanted to base myself upon the members’ lawn today, or elsewhere.  I recall heading over to the trophy room to see today’s trophies, before heading up the steps to the upper viewing area above the Winners’ Enclosure. 

I wandered across to the area above the Owners and Trainers grandstand viewing area; the breeze was stiff and very cold, as it had been during my walk to the northern entrance.  I headed back to the viewing area and decided to base myself there for the entire day; apart from the time I crossed the racecourse to view the Cross-Country event.  It also afforded a different perspective for my photographs; besides, I didn’t feel I’d been particularly successful yesterday, with my photography at the rails. I still haven’t bought a new camera – that’s a task for later in the year ... and before my £200 voucher expires in early 2019!

When I finally ventured down to the racecourse, I discovered that the members’ lawn wasn’t all that bad after all – I think it must have been rolled overnight, and the wind would have dried it too.  In fact it was the only time during this year’s Festival that spectators were permitted to cross the racecourse; the recent snow and rain having put additional wear and tear on the track without human footfall exacerbating this.

Today was Ladies’ Day ... when many females dress totally inappropriately for attending a race-day fixture in mid-March.  The photographers become obsessed with photographing those modelling their outfits, whilst the ‘airheads’ sorry, ladies, pose for them!  It’s unbelievable the prizes which can be won for doing absolutely nothing but applying your war-paint and wearing a special outfit - first prize today was a Mini car!!!  It will be the same at Aintree ...  

Race-day presenter Martin Kelly’s guests were jockey Jack Kennedy, representatives for the aforementioned Ladies’ Day competition and a representative from Betway, sponsors of today’s feature race.

The favourite for the first race of the day was the Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro, ridden by Jack Kennedy; price 8-11.

There were no specific runners of interest in this race.  There was one grey, namely Duc Des Genievres.

The starting gate for this race was situated at the beginning of the mid-course chute.  This being the case, the horses cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate enclosure to reach it. 

 

Race 1

The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Distance

2 miles 5 furlongs (10 hurdles to negotiate)

No. of Runners

14

Ahead Of The Curve, Aye Aye Charlie, Black Op, Brahma Bull, Coolanly, Diablo De Rouhet, Duc Des Genievres, Gowiththeflow, Knight In Dubai, Mind’s Eye, Next Destination, Samcro, Scarpeta, Vision Des Flos

 

And then they were off, with Scapeta to the outside of Gowiththeflow leading the way as the runners jumped the first flight.  Heading over it in third position was Coolanly, from Black Op, Visions Des Flos, Next Destination and Brahma Bull.  The fourteen competitors continued along the mid-course chute to the second flight, which they all cleared in their stride, before heading over the Old Course intersection, followed by the New Course intersection and a left-hand curve as they descended the hill towards the entrance to the home straight.

Gowiththeflow led the field as they headed towards the third flight, from Scarpeta, Coolanly, Black Op, Vision Des Flos, Samcro, Next Destination, Brahma Bull, Diablo De Rouhet, Mind’s Eye, Duc Des Genievres, Knight In Dubai, Aye Aye Charlie and Ahead Of The Curve.  Black Op jumped it clumsily; dragging his hind-legs through the flight.

The runners subsequently continued the long run to the fourth flight, joining the Old Course circuit as they did so; the favourite briefly stumbled as they crossed a sanded track-way used by vehicles to enter and exit the centre of the racecourse.  Gowiththeflow was joined by Scarpeta as they jumped the hurdle in front of the grandstands.  There was a mistake from the back-marker, Ahead Of The Curve at this one; he was slightly detached from the field. 

The horses swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and into the back straight for the one and only time.  Ahead Of The Curve was now struggling badly and would soon be pulled up.  Meanwhile, the remainder were stretching out as they headed down the hill towards the fifth flight.  Gowiththeflow was at the head of affairs jumping it; in mid-field, Coolanly trailed his hind-legs through this one.

The Ben Pauling runner remained ahead as they continued to the next where, again, Coolanly was less than fluent.  To the outside of runners, Jack Kennedy was keeping hold of Samcro as he didn’t wish to make too much progress at this early stage.  The horses negotiated the dog-leg turn and had soon jumped four out.  Next Destination was being pushed along by Ruby Walsh as they continued around the far bend. 

The runners headed downhill to the next flight, with Samcro less than a length off the leading trio as they jumped it.  Travelling towards the outside of the field, the grey Duc Des Genievres, flattened a panel in this obstacle.  Vision Des Flos was the marginal leader as the horses cleared two out, but both he and Scarpeta were now being pushed along as Samcro loomed up to their outside. 

Having turned into the home straight, the favourite soon put distance between himself and his rivals, with Black Op soon into second position, from Scarpeta, Vision Des Flos, Duc Des Genievres and the staying on Next Destination.  Samcro led over the final flight, which Black Op flattened.  The chestnut hung over towards the stand-side rails as he was driven out to the line; he beat the Tom George runner by 2¾ lengths. 

They had finished five lengths clear of the third, Next Destination, who had stayed on better than the rest; Scarpeta finished 4th, Duc Des Genievres 5th, and Vision Des Flos 6th; the remainder just trailed in. 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Samcro

Gordon Elliott

Jack Kennedy

2nd

Black Op

Tom George

Noel Fehily

3rd

Next Destination

Willie Mullins

Ruby Walsh

4th

Scarpeta

Willie Mullins

Danny Mullins

 

I remained on the upper steppings overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure.

 

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

The favourite for the next race was Presenting Percy, trained by Patrick G Kelly and ridden by Davy Russell; price 5-2. 

There were no specific runners of interest in this race.  There were no greys in this race either. 

The starting gate was located between the nearest two fences in the home straight; this being the case, the horses cantered up in front of the grandstands before returning down the turf and re-entering the all-weather strip to continue part way down it to the start.

 

Race 2

RSA Chase (Grade 1)

Distance

3 miles 110 yards (20 fences to negotiate)

No. of Runners

10

Al Boum Photo, Allysson Monterg, Ballyoptic, Black Corton, Bonbon Au Miel, Dounikos, Elegant Escape, Full Irish, Monalee, Presenting Percy

And then they were off, with Elegant Escape and Black Corton leading the field to the first fence; the Colin Tizzard-trained runner dived at it slightly.  The horses subsequently swung left-handed to head up the hill to the next, which is situated in front of the Best Mate enclosure.  All ten competitors jumped this one well, before entering the back straight and heading down the hill to the third.  Black Corton was a length up as he jumped this one, although he did make a slight error here.

The following fence was the water-jump, with Bryony Frost’s mount holding a narrow advantage over Elegant Escape as they jumped it.  Close up in third position was Monalee, then a gap of two to three lengths to Ballyoptic, Dounikos, Allysson Monterg, Bonbon Au Miel, Al Boum Photo, Presenting Percy and Full Irish.

The next obstacle was the first open-ditch, which they all cleared well.  The runners continued to the sixth fence, where Black Corton put in a short stride; this narrowed his advantage slightly, but he still led as the horses negotiated the dog-leg turn.  Elegant Escape remained in second position, from Monalee, Ballyoptic, Al Boum Photo, Dounikos, Bonbon Au Meil, Presenting Percy, Allysson Monterg and Full Irish.

The next fence was the second open-ditch, where Full Irish gave it plenty of air.  As they turned the far bend, Noel Fehily let Monalee stride on into second position behind Black Corton.  Having travelled down the hill to the next, the leader brushed through the top of it.  The runners then headed into the home straight once more.

There were no visible jumping errors as the horses headed over the ninth fence; both Black Corton and Monalee brushed through the top of the next.  The pace remained steady as the horses swung left-handed to head up the hill towards the next obstacle.  Towards the rear of the field, Allysson Monterg was ridden into this fence and also nudged along having jumped it.  

Monalee drew alongside Black Corton as they entered the back straight, before the latter moved ahead again on the run down the hill to the next.  Travelling to the inside of the runners, Al Boum Photo dived over this one slightly, and Full Irish was less than fluent at the rear of the field.  The pace had increased as the runners streamed over the water-jump.

The next fence was the penultimate open-ditch, which Black Corton jumped big and bold.  Harry Cobden, aboard Elegant Escape, saw a stride and rode his mount into the fence; he cleared it well.  In contrast, Allysson Monterg caught his hind-legs on the fence which affected his momentum, and Full Irish was slow over this one too.

Meanwhile, Black Corton continued at the head of affairs as the runners headed to the next.  Allysson Monterg also hit this one and was being pushed along; Full Irish had lost touch and trailed the field.  The main body of the field headed around the dog-leg turn and had soon reached the final open-ditch; Al Boum Photo hit this one.  Full Irish jumped it, but was subsequently pulled up.

Black Corton led the runners around the far turn, from Monalee; Al Boum Photo, Ballyoptic and Elegant Escape disputed third position, closely pursued by Presenting Percy.  They continued down the hill to the third last, where Monalee took a narrow advantage as they cleared it; the tiring Black Corton brushed through the top of it.

Monalee went on as they headed towards the home turn, with Presenting Percy moving smoothly through between horses in pursuit.  In fact Monalee and Presenting Percy were soon eye-balling each other; the latter taking the advantage as they entered the home straight and continued to the second last.  Presenting Percy jumped it well; Monalee hit it.  Al Boum Photo was three lengths adrift of them, but he got too close to the fence, tipped the top and fell; unfortunately for jockey Ruby Walsh, his legs got trapped beneath the horse as it rolled over.

Meanwhile, Presenting Percy continued up the hill to the final fence whilst, at the same time, extending his advantage over Monalee.  The leader jumped the fence well and stayed on all the way to the line, winning by 7 lengths; winning jockey Davy Russell punched the air in celebration as he passed the post.  Having been outpaced earlier, Elegant Escape also stayed on; he claimed 3rd, 7 lengths behind Monalee.  Ballyoptic was 4th and the tiring Black Corton 5th.  Only five finished.

Dounikos was pulled up before two out, as was Allysson Monterg.  Bonbon Au Miel hit the top of the last fence, when in last place, and took a tumbling fall also.         

Following his fall, Ruby Walsh was stood down for the remainder of the day.

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Presenting Percy

Patrick G Kelly

Davy Russell

2nd

Monalee

Henry de Bromhead

Noel Fehily

3rd

Elegant Escape

Colin Tizzard

Harry Cobden

4th

Ballyoptic

Nigel Twiston-Davies

Sam Twiston-Davies

 

Once again I remained on the upper steppings overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure.

 

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

The joint-favourites for the Coral Cup were the Nicky Henderson-trained William Henry, ridden by James Bowen, and the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite, ridden by Paul Townend; price 8-1.  Paul was deputising for Ruby Walsh, with Mark Walsh now taking the ride aboard Bleu Berry.

I had three runners of interest in this race, River Frost ridden by Barry Geraghty, Bastien ridden by Tom Cannon and Dusky Legend ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; all three are trained by Alan King.

The starting gate for this race was situated at the beginning of the mid-course chute.  Therefore the runners cantered across the home straight and up along the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate enclosure to reach it. 

 

Race 3

Coral Cup (Handicap Hurdle) (Grade 3)

Distance

2 miles 5 furlongs (10 hurdles to negotiate)

No. of Runners

26

Diamond King, William Henry, Topofthegame, Abbyssial, River Frost, Bleu Berry, Burbank, Voix Du Reve, Royal Vacation, Mount Mews, Max Dynamite, Fixe Le Kap, Stowaway Magic, As You Were, Springtown Lake, Le Breuil, Red Indian, Dusky Legend, C’est Jersey, The Organist, Jeannot De Nonant, Flemcara, Barra, Bastien, Graceful Legend, Mischievious Max

 

The runners jogged out onto the racecourse and then they were off, at the first time of asking.  Prominent heading for the first were Jeannot De Nonant and Springtown Lake; at the rear were As You Were and Bleu Berry.  All of the 26 runners cleared the first flight without incident.  As the horses continued on their journey, a flock of seagulls and the odd corvid (in other words, a member of the crow family) scattered overhead.

Springtown Lake led the runners over the next flight, from Stowaway Magic and Topofthegame.  One of the Alan King runners, Dusky Legend, took a horrible sprawling fall at this hurdle; she was travelling on the inside to the rear of midfield and may have been unsighted.  Former winner of this race Diamond King, travelling immediately behind her, was badly hampered in the incident and was lucky to stay on his feet. Sensibly, Davy Russell decided to pull his mount up shortly afterwards.  Dusky Legend galloped away too.

Meanwhile, the other runners continued across the New Course intersection led by Springtown Lake, from Stowaway Magic to the outside of Jeannot De Nonant.  Bringing up the rear were The Organist and As You Were.  Having travelled down the hill and around the turn, the competitors began their journey up the home straight, clearing the third flight without incident.

There was no change at the head of affairs as the 24 remaining runners headed up towards the grandstands; Springtown Lake led from, Stowaway Magic, Jeannot De Nonant, William Henry, Royal Vacation, Topofthegame, Fixe Le Kap, Mount Mews, Burbank, Le Breuil, Voix Du Reve, River Frost, Red Indian, Bastien, Mischievious Max, Max Dynamite, C’est Jersey, Barra, Graceful Legend, Flemcara, Abbyssial, Bleu Berry, The Organist and As You Were.

The runners cleared the next successfully, although Graceful Legend didn’t particularly live up to her name!  They subsequently swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and into the back straight for the one and only time.  The field continued down the hill to the fifth flight; again they negotiated this without incident.  When travelling just behind the leaders, Topofthegame landed a little flat-footed over the following obstacle; near the rear of the field, it may have been Mischievious Max who completely trashed an already damaged panel.   

Springtown Lake remained at the head of affairs as the runners negotiated the dog-leg turn on their run to the seventh flight; there were no obvious errors at this one.  Having reached the top of the hill, the horses swung left-handed once more to begin their journey down to three out; Mischievious Max and Abbyssial brought up the rear, although none of the horses were yet trailing the field as such.

The long-time leader held a very narrow advantage as they jumped this one, from Stowaway Magic, Topofthegame and Voix Du Reve; the latter wasn’t very fluent at the flight.  Stowaway Magic took the lead as they continued towards the penultimate hurdle; queuing up behind him were Topofthegame, William Henry, Burbank, Voix Du Reve, Barra, Mount Mews and Bleu Berry; although still within the leading group, Springtown Lake was now back-peddling.

Stowaway Magic jumped the second last well, in contrast to Topofthegame who bunny-hopped it; William Henry wasn’t particularly fluent here, which seemed to slightly inconvenience Barra travelling in his wake.  Nico de Boinville’s mount remained narrowly ahead as the runners entered the home straight, with Topofthegame soon upsides.  Barra had progressed into third position now, from William Henry and, to the near-side, the mare The Organist; she’d continued to make progress down the outside of the field since the top of the hill.  Making noticeable progress in behind these was Bleu Berry under Mark Walsh. 

They’d soon reached the final flight; Topofthegame now had the advantage, from Barra, Stowaway Magic and Bleu Berry.  The big chestnut Flemensfirth gelding became the meat in the sandwich as the leading trio continued up the hill to the line; Barra was laying down his challenge to the near-side, Bleu Berry to the far-side.  Barra was the first beaten, and the Mullins runner had stayed on to take a narrow lead. 

Topofthegame stayed on gamely all the way to the line, but couldn’t quite peg back Bleu Berry who triumphed by a neck.  The mare Barra completed 1¼ lengths away in 3rd, with William Henry a further 1¼ lengths away in 4th.  The Organist was 5th, Red Indian stayed on to finish 6th, Burbank was 7th and the gallant Stowaway Magic was 8th.   

22 horses completed, with Abbyssial and As You Were both pulled up before the last flight.  Evidently it was the first time that a Willie Mullins-trained horse had won the Coral Cup; also a first Cheltenham Festival winner for the jockey.

The following week, Alan King reported that Dusky Legend had run her last race, having fractured her knee as a result of today’s fall.  She was due to retire at the end of this season regardless, but Alan hoped she would be okay to become a broodmare despite of her injury. 

 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Bleu Berry

Willie Mullins

Mark Walsh

2nd

Topofthegame

Paul Nicholls

Sam Twiston-Davies

3rd

Barra

Gordon Elliott

Jack Kennedy

4th

William Henry

Nicky Henderson

James Bowen

 

I remained on the upper steppings overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure for the duration of the feature event.

 

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 2 Diary Part II

 

 

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