DIARY – CHELTENHAM
SATURDAY 24 JANUARY 2015
FESTIVAL TRIALS DAY
The owner’s Racing Manager, Hannah Bishop, hugs Annacotty,
winner of the Grade 3 Handicap Chase
My trip to Cheltenham Festival Trials Day 2015 was a last minute decision. I had booked the previous day as annual leave a couple of months ago, originally with the idea of a visit to this fixture in mind ... it gives me time to get organised for a day out ... but then ruled it out as Choc remained sidelined due to injury. However, having been reminded via twitter that Claire Lomas’ charity fundraising event was taking place at Newbury on the evening of the raceday, on the Wednesday evening I decided to email Claire to ask if there were tickets still available. I knew Choc had agreed to take part in ‘Pogo Pandemonium’ prior to his setback, but I had subsequently dismissed it thinking that maybe he wouldn’t attend after all. Also I wondered if I would be ‘brave’ enough to attend alone ... because it’s not ‘me’. But, with her tweet confirming that Choc planned to be there, I realised I had to do it, regardless, because I wanted to see him again!
So by Friday afternoon everything was sorted. In for a penny, in for a pound. I would go to Cheltenham, then on to Newbury; the event started at 19:00, which gave me plenty to time to get there. According to Google, the trip between the two venues should take around 75 minutes.
My alarm was set for around 06:00; slightly before in fact. I showered, washed and dryed my hair. Breakfast was two slices of buttered white toast and two croissants. I applied my make-up and checked that I’d got everything. I must have procrastinated a lot, as time began to get away from me.
Today’s outfit was a black camisole, 3 thermal t-shirts – violet, plum, and purple, pink frill-edged cardigan, purple fleece, black fleece gillet, frill hemmed tweed skirt as worn on Boxing Day, berry coloured tights, a new pair of black ‘Cannes’ Hotter wedge-heeled boots which I bought in their sale (£59 reduced from £99), burgundy/white Rico Pom Pom scarf, and long black faux fur coat. Jewellery was a magenta Galaxy Glass pendant with matching earrings. I used my large black canvass handbag for the racing. But I couldn’t wear a hat, as I didn’t wish to ruin my hair ahead of my evening trip to Newbury.
The evening before I’d also packed my Newbury outfit – black Hotter ‘Clarissa’ shoes, black tights, silver and grey panelled Next skirt, my favourite crossover top – the one with the blue and beige flowers, plus a bright blue Wallis cardigan which I had worn when I attended the London Racing Club event back in 2010 when Choc was their guest. I’ve owned the Next skirt for ages but not worn it due to problems with the lining; I could pull the skirt up but not pull it down again – of little use if I wanted to spend a penny! However, I did some alterations to the lining a month or two back and the problem is sorted and it looks great!
Gate opening time at Cheltenham was 10:30; so I had planned to leave home at 08:15 or thereabouts. In the event I didn’t set off until 08:40. That ruled out my preferred ‘scenic route’ via Bicester; the M25/M40 would be the order of the day instead. However, having set off and got as far as the London Colney roundabout, it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t recall taking my acid reflux medication that morning. So I drove around the block, it was a big block, and returned home to check. I hadn’t!
Take two. I set off again at 09:00. I took the same route back to the London Colney roundabout, and this time onwards to Junction 22 of the M25. Having taken the anti-clockwise carriageway, there were no traffic problems despite illuminated signs to the contrary just prior to the Kings Langley junction warning of an ‘incident’.
By 09:30 I’d reached Junction 16, taking the westbound carriageway of the M40 to head for Oxford. There were a few problems with vehicles leaving it until the last possible moment before deciding to transfer into the second lane having been travelling along the inside one. This happened at both the Loudwater junction where the road narrows from 4 lanes to 3 lanes after the junction, and again at High Wycombe (central) junction where it narrows from 3 to 2 lanes for the distance of the interchange. I can only think that the drivers had not travelled this stretch of motorway before and didn’t know the layout.
Anyway, approaching Junction 8 for Oxford, there was signage warning of roadworks along the A40 and suggesting motorists use the next junction and travel via the A34 instead. I ignored the notices and followed everyone else, leaving the motorway at Junction 8; it was a Saturday for goodness sake so, hopefully, there would be no holdups. Mind you, I have to admit that on one occasion I did get held up in a long jam on the A40 Oxford bypass during a Saturday visit to Cheltenham.
But it was the correct decision today; there were signs to instruct drivers to keep within a 30mph limit approaching the Headington roundabout, with traffic cones marking out the areas where road improvements were underway, but no delays whatsoever. This being the case, I’d soon reached the Wolvercote roundabout.
I enjoy watching Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys and in the summer of 2014, he began a journey in Pembroke and finished it in Cambridge. During the course of his trip he visited Bicester, where a new station was being constructed; the line was due to be connected to the Marylebone to Birmingham route during 2015. By the end of the decade it will be possible to travel from Oxford to Milton Keynes, Bedford, Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich. As part of the plan, the section between Oxford and Bicester was expanded to become dual track, as opposed to the original single track line. More
And the really weird thing is that the line passes beneath Oxford’s Wolvercote roundabout ... and I’ve never even noticed, despite it being an integral part of my route between St Albans and Cheltenham, regardless of whether I travel M25/M40 or via Bicester! But I suppose that is a good sign, because it means that my attention is fully given to entering and exiting the roundabout without incident!
Having negotiated Wolvercote, I entered the ‘Cotswolds’ section of the A40, travelling past the busy petrol station on my right, under the A34 bypass road, over a bridge, to reach the traffic lights at the Cassington/Yarnton road junction. Prior to the turning, a skip truck pulled out from the left, how annoying; the driver appeared to have no intention of stopping at his T-junction unless absolutely necessary.
The aforementioned traffic lights were initially showing red, but soon changed to green and I was on my way to reach the roundabout near Eynsham. The skip truck continued on the A40 but, having passed another petrol station on the right, and the Evenlode pub to the left, fortunately he took a turning off to the right. Mind you, it wouldn’t have mattered much, because the dual-carriageway of the Witney bypass began a short distance ahead and would have permitted me to overtake him anyway.
The dual-carriageway is always welcome at this point in the journey, as it sorts the slow vehicles from the fast but sensible vehicles and the damn right crazy vehicles!!! This being the case I soon reached the far end of it ... driving at around 65 mph because I don’t want to waste petrol for the sake of it! After the Minster Lovell roundabout is an undulating stretch of single carriageway in both directions. It’s actually the bleakest part of the journey; the road travels along the top of a ridge at this point, with the beautiful Cotswolds countryside dropping away to either side. Nice in summer though, I expect.
I’d soon negotiated the roundabout at the top of Burford, and was heading along the next section of the A40, entering Gloucestershire at this point, before driving past the Inn For All Seasons on the right. There were also a number of signs indicating directions to the next day’s Point-to-Point at Cocklebarrow Farm, organised by the Heythrop Hunt; the same Cocklebarrow Farm where the Heythrop Summer Fair is held each June and which I’ve attended on a couple of occasions to see Choc take part in the driven-donkey derby.
The next landmark on the journey is the roundabout where the Stow-on-the-Wold to Cirencester road crosses my route; the aforementioned road being part of the Roman Fosse Way from Lincoln to Exeter. The road is fairly straight, as would be expected, but it’s also uphill and down dale. I’m familiar with the section to Stow, but would also become familar later in the day with the section to Cirencester (Roman Corinium). Obviously my home city of St Albans was also a Roman town – Verulamium – being situated on Roman Watling Street.
Having entered the next section of road, I’d soon driven past the rebranded Puesdown Inn, now Garniche, before reaching the short section of downhill and undulating dual carriageway just prior to the traffic lights where the Gloucester road bears off to the left. Just one impatient driver overtook me today on this stretch; I’m never keen to speed down the hill, knowing there’s a right-hand bend and traffic signals to negotiate shortly afterwards.
Having negotiated the Andoversford bypass, and travelled downhill once more and past the Dowdeswell Reservoir to my right, I soon reached Charlton Kings. Traffic was queueing back from the Six Ways junction almost to the dip in the road but, after a while, I was able to drive up the outside of the queue to wait in the lane reserved for traffic wishing to turn right at the junction. Once the signals had changed to green, I drove up Greenway Lane, turned left into Harp Hill and descended to reach the longabout, where I turned right into Priors Road.
I drove past the Sainsburys Supermarket and, as always, took a right into Bouncers Lane. I didn’t have to queue long at the far end thereof, before negotiating the double mini-roundabouts and entering Tatchley Lane/New Barns Lane. There are two further mini-roundabouts close to the racecourse, and it was straight ahead at both of these before reaching the large roundabout outside the main entrance to the racecourse.
As usual, and having waited for a break in the traffic to materialise, I drove straight across into Swindon Lane before entering the car park on my right. Today parking in the bottom field was limited to just two rows of cars, one each side, at right-angles to the roadway. I was directed to drive up the hill to enter the large top car park; other racegoers were entering this area via the Evesham Road gate. The driveway was muddy, light gravelly muddy, following overnight rain. This being the case, the wheels of my car distributed it along the lower bodywork, just behind the wheel arches. Very attractive, NOT! It was 11:15 when I arrived, 45 minutes after opening time.
Anyway, a number of rows from the entrance, a steward directed me to turn off to the left and drive to the current end of the row. Fortunately the grass was lush green around the car and, having consumed a couple of cheese rolls and changed into my new black boots, and put on my fleeces and coat, I set off to buy a ticket. With so much mud on the driveway, I crossed over into the field area adjacent to the Evesham Road and walked down the edge of the field to avoid it. I exited via a small gateway in the corner to reach the pavement.
Traffic was tailed back from the large roundabout outside the racecourse entrance, so I weaved my way through to enter via the gateway opposite. The mobile ticket kiosks were situated in the area to my left, as they had been back in October. I joined the short queue to purchase a ticket, using my credit card, before crossing over the perimeter road, heading across the bridge and entering the main Centaur building to go through the turnstiles. I purchased a racecard from the counter opposite, before heading out of the main doors onto the concourse.
I headed down the hill towards the Parade Ring, stopping off en-route to visit the ladies loo on the ground floor of the main grandstand. I then headed to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure. The off-time of the first race was 12:40, so there was not much time to kill before then. I think, although I’m not 100% sure, that raceday presenter Martin Kelly interviewed a female representative from today’s main sponsor BetBright. Or it may be that I saw an interview on TV when viewed later!!!
Alan King was due to have five runners at the fixture today – Karezak, Ned Stark, Smad Place, Walkon and Ordo Ab Chao. However, Ned Stark was a non-runner, having been discovered to have a bruised foot on the morning of the race.
Anyway, I headed to the courseside rails well ahead of the first race. In fact I was caught napping, having turned off my camera to conserve the battery, because Karezak was first out and he’d already cantered past me upon the all-weather strip before I was ready to take any photos! My excuse was that I was daydreaming about my visit to Newbury that evening and, of course, the prospect of seeing Choc for the first time since Grand National Day 2014; which was nine and a half months ago.
I’ve forgotten to mention that it was a lovely sunny day, with temperatures around 5 degrees – it was January!
The odds-on favourite for this race, priced at 4-9, was the Nicky Henderson-trained Peace And Co ridden by Barry Geraghty. He was also the favourite for the Cheltenham Festival’s Triumph Hurdle having won impressively on his British debut in a Grade 2 event at Doncaster in December.
Then they were off ... very slowly! Nobody was keen to lead; presumably all the jockeys had instructions not to do so. Anyway, the John Hales-owned runner Ibis Du Rheu, despite being restrained, found himself sharing the lead with Zarib to his outside as they approached the first flight. He was followed by Bivouac to the inside and Storm Force Ten, then Karezak and the favourite Peace And Co.
Having cleared the first, Peace And Co continued to battle for his head whilst Barry Geraghty kept a tight hold on him; Bivouac and Karezak were the most settled at the sedate pace being set. Having cleared the second flight without incident, the commentator, Mike Cattermole, commented that it was more like a three mile race ... a slow three mile race at that!
The runners headed up the hill and into the country for the one and only time. Ibis Du Rheu held the lead, from Zarib, Bivouac, Storm Force Ten, Karezak and Peace And Co. Having cleared the third flight, Zarib joined the Paul Nicholls-runner at the head of affairs once more; the lack of pace meant that all six runners were closely grouped as they jumped the next. Karezak had moved into third by the time they had negotiated flight number five.
The field headed around the dog-leg turn, climbing towards the flight at the top of the hill, just three left to go. Ibis Du Rheu had a tendency to waiver slightly off a straight line as he approached each flight, probably greenness, but he continued to share the lead with Zarib; although the latter made a slight error at this flight. The runners swept left-handed around the far turn and headed down the hill to the penultimate hurdle.
Zarib rose slightly ahead of his rivals at the obstacle; Karezak had almost joined him, with the favourite close on the latter’s tail. They headed towards the final turn. Wayne Hutchinson drove his mount up to the outside of the Dan Skelton runner, with Bivouac steered up their inside. Peace And Co was close on their heels, with Ibis Du Rheu now in fifth and being driven; a close-up last was Storm Force Ten.
Karezak took a clear advantage as they approached the last, but he was followed through by Peace And Co. It was a tight squeeze, but Barry Geraghty managed to find a small gap between the leader and the nearside rails and he cruised up beside the Alan King-runner as they jumped it in unison. Karezak battled on but he was no match for Peace And Co; the latter drew away on the run to the line to win by three lengths.
However, they had drawn well clear of their rivals, with Zarib 9 lengths back in 3rd and Storm Force Ten half a length behind him in 4th. Evidently it was the first time the winner had been ‘settled’ within a field, having won both his first race in France from the front and the Doncaster race too.
Karezak may be a bit quirky with his tendency to sometimes wander off a straight line under pressure, but he’s certainly a battle-hardened recruit who you’d want on your side in a fight!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race to see the placed horses arrive back. But I was back at the course-side rails in plenty of time to see the horses taking part in the Novices’ Handicap Chase head across the racecourse and up the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate enclosure.
The favourite for this race was Stellar Notion, ridden by Paddy Brennan and trained by Tom George; priced 4-1. He’d won at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Then they were off, heading along the mid-course chute towards the first fence. Stellar Notion, a confirmed front-runner, and Carole’s Destrier led the way from Moss Park, Irish Cavalier, Generous Ransom and Perfect Candidate. The field cleared the first without incident, and the second, before heading across the intersection with the Old Course and jumping the third obstacle, where towards the rear of the field Benevolent made an error.
The horses then headed across the New Course intersection and downhill towards the far turn; Stellar Notion held a two lengths advantage from Carole’s Destrier who, in turn, was four lengths clear of the main field. The runners entered the home straight and headed over the next two fences without problems; Stellar Notion continuing to lob along at the head of affairs. They soon joined the main racecourse, leading the main group were Generous Ransom, Irish Cavalier, Moss Park and Perfect Candidate. Following these were Astigos, Black River, Garrahalish, Keel Haul, Horatio Hornblower and Benevolent.
The runners cleared the sixth fence without mishap; Horatio Hornblower made an error at the next. The Tom George representative continued to lead as the field closed up as it headed away from the grandstands and out into the country for the one and only time. In second position, Carole’s Destrier made an error at the next; Keel Haul a worse one at the rear of the field. Moss Park was pushed along for a few strides as they headed to the water jump; where Horatio Hornblower wasn’t particular fluent.
The next fence is the first of the open-ditches; all the runners cleared this without incident. However, Stellar Notion got a little close to the following fence and made an error. Having negotiated the dog-leg turn, there were no noticeable errors at the second open-ditch. The field continued to the top of the hill, and over the fifth last. Moss Park had dropped back through the field by this point and received reminders.
The next fence on the New Course is a tricky one, the ground beginning to fall away behind the jump as the runners begin their journey downhill. Travelling near the rear of the field, Garrahalish was caught out here; he lost his hind legs on landing and catapulted Charlie Poste out of the saddle. Stellar Notion continued to lead as the runners headed down the hill to the third last, but he made an error here, which enabled Carole’s Destrier to assume poll position shortly afterwards. There were also a number of untidy leaps further back in the field.
As the runners turned into the home straight, Generous Ransom loomed up on the outside of the leader; Stellar Notion was now in third position, with Irish Cavalier close on his heels. Astigos was also making eye-catching progress from the back of the field. Carole’s Destrier and Generous Ransom jumped the penultimate fence in unison; Astigos was now in third position and still closing.
Approaching the final fence, the Neil Mulholland runner began to fade, as Generous Ransom went into a clear lead. However, he put in an extra stride and got too close; but he was still four lengths ahead of his nearest rival, which was now the bottom-weight Astigos. However, as he approached the line, the leader began to either tie-up or idle. This enabled the Venetia Williams runner to close with every stride.
Phew ... Generous Ransom held on to win by just a neck at the line. The sole grey Irish Cavalier finished in 3rd, just two lengths back, with Carole’s Destrier 5 lengths away in 4th. Long-time leader Stellar Notion completed in 7th.
As there had been no particular runners of interest in this race, I remained beside the course-side rails, rather than return to the Winners’ Enclosure.
The third race was the feature event. Just six runners, but quality horses, including the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds, Alan King’s Smad Place, Ryanair Chase winner Dynaste, and The Giant Bolster who has been placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on more than one occasion.
The starting gate for this race was mid-way down the home straight, with just over two full circuits of the course to travel; slightly shy of the Gold Cup distance, with one fewer fence to jump. This being the case, the horses cantered up in front of the stands before heading down the turf to the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away from The Giant Bolster and Black Thunder, followed by Many Clouds, Smad Place, Theatre Guide and Dynaste. The runners cleared the first without incident. The Paul Nicholls runner led them up the hill; at his quarters to the inside was The Giant Bolster, to his outside Many Clouds.
The pace was very steady, with no confirmed front runners in the race. Perhaps that is why Smad Place appeared keen to get on with the race; I never think of him as keen! At the rear of the field, Theatre Guide got a little close to the second fence. Their next obstacle was the water jump, which they all cleared in their stride. Black Thunder had now been joined by Many Clouds at the head of affairs; The Giant Bolster and Dynaste disputed third, with Smad Place in fifth and Theatre Guide bringing up the rear.
Smad Place jumped past Dynaste at the first of the open-ditches; the latter then regained his place on the flat, before the Alan King runner out-jumped him yet again at the next. They were still travelling at a steady pace, which was evidenced by Smad Place’s keenness. Having negotiated the dog-leg turn, the runners headed to the second open-ditch, which they cleared without incident. Theatre Guide had dropped off the back of the main pack, this being a step up in class for the horse today.
They headed up the hill to the next fence, a plain one; Smad Place continuing to gain ground at each of his fences. Theatre Guide had rejoined the others by the time they reached the far corner. There were no problems for any of the experienced steeplechasers jumping the tricky fence where the ground began to fall away downhill. The runners bowled along down the hill to the next, which they all cleared without problem. Many Clouds and Black Thunder continued to dispute the lead, from Dynaste, Smad Place, The Giant Bolster and Theatre Guide.
The speed picked up as they headed around the turn and into the home straight once more. Smad Place was now travelling at the more comfortable speed; Theatre Guide remained at the rear of the group. The runners cleared the two fences therein before heading up the hill and out into the country for the final time. Black Thunder and Many Clouds continued to lead as they headed over the next fence; again Theatre Guide was a little less than fluent at the back of the field.
The next fence was the water-jump. Smad Place continued to out-jump his rivals; although he did take off a little early at the open-ditch and brushed through the top with his hind-legs. But no damage was done. Many Clouds got a little close to the next, and Dynaste was a little less than fluent too. The runners negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed to the final open-ditch, which Wayne Hutchinson’s mount jumped like a stag.
Heading up the rising ground to the far corner, Many Clouds had a slight advantage over Black Thunder. I’ve just realised there is a weather theme going on here! Having cleared the next, The Giant Bolster now appeared to be struggling at the rear of the field. Again no problems at the tricky fourth last fence; the runners then began their journey downhill for the final time, with Many Clouds leading the way.
Having cleared three out, Dynaste and Smad Place began to lay down their challenge as Black Thunder drifted back through the field; the latter receiving a couple of backhanders from Sam Twiston-Davies in an attempt to rally to his cause. They entered the home straight, Many Clouds remaining ahead of his rivals; Dynaste to his outside, and Smad Place to his inside. The Oliver Sherwood runner was around half a length up clearing the penultimate fence and a length ahead as they jumped the last.
Having been switched to his right approaching the last, Wayne switched his mount back again on the run-in. However, try as Smad Place might, Many Clouds hung on tenaciously to his lead up the hill, winning by 1¼ lengths at the line, with Dynaste a further neck away in 3rd. The Giant Bolster rallied to take 4th prize.
Poor old Smad Place, he always seems to find one or two better than himself. But I guess that is the problem when running in graded races.
Many Clouds was trainer Oliver Sherwood’s first Cheltenham winner since 2000.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
One of the reasons I decided to come to Cheltenham today was to see my favourite horse, Walkon. He’d taken the tendon off one of his hocks during last season’s Grand National, which resulted in him being pulled up two from the finish of the race. Having recuperated over the summer, he’d run once since then, finishing tailed-off at Newbury. So I had a feeling today would be his final race, with a disappointing run leading to retirement.
Also running in this race was the Martin Keighley-trained Annacotty, ridden by Gavin Sheehan; with first choice jockey booking of AP McCoy being kicked into touch when the Champ re-routed to Doncaster following a defection or defections of his intended rides at Cheltenham. The horse had been out hunting on a couple of occasions with event rider Phoebe Buckley in the days prior to this particular race.
The favourite for this event was Easter Day, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Nick Scholfield; his price 3-1. However, there was a feeling that the betting public had been duped, because the horse’s first stated preference was to run in the big handicap chase at Doncaster on this day and many betting plans had gone astray as a result. The owners said they wanted to go to Cheltenham, so Cheltenham it was.
This race also began in the mid-course chute; the runners heading across the track and up along the all-weather strip to reach the centre of the course.
Then they were off. Predictably, confirmed front runner Sew On Target led them away; he was followed by Annacotty and Little Jon. The latter made ground in the air when jumping the first fence and was almost upsides the leader as they headed towards obstacle number two; veteran Big Fella Thanks, who is now 13 years old, was at the back of the field, alongside Tap Night and Dare Me. Walkon jumped the second fence slowly and, as a result, found himself with the backmarkers.
The runners headed across the Old Course to approach fence number three; again Walkon jumped it less fluently than his rivals. Heading across the New Course intersection, Little Jon led from Sew On Target. They had set up a three length advantage over Annacotty who, in turn, was a couple of lengths ahead of Easter Day, Quincy Des Pictons, Easter Meteor, Dare Me, Walkon, Tap Night and Big Fella Thanks.
Having negotiated the far bend, they turned into the home straight for the first time; four fences in front of them on this stretch of the track. Little Jon and Sew On Target continued to lead the way. There were no problems for any of the runners as they jumped the first two of these obstacles; however, Little Jon made a bad blunder and pecked on landing at the third of these but he remained at the head of affairs. All ten runners were faultless at the next.
The field then headed out into the country for the one and only time; Walkon, Tap Night and Big Fella Thanks continued to bring up the rear. They soon began their journey down the back straight; Annacotty getting just a little bit close to the first fence therein; jockey Gavin Sheehan urged his mount forward for a few strides having jumped the water. The following fence was the first open-ditch, which they all cleared safely.
By this stage of the race, Walkon was beginning to show the first distress signals. The runners jumped fence number eleven without incident. The following fence is the final open-ditch; Dare Me made an error here, dragging his hind-legs through the fence and landing on all fours. Walkon now found himself at the rear of the field and, as they headed up the hill towards the next fence, Wayne Hutchinson decided to call it a day and cantered back in his own time.
Meanwhile, Little Jon continued to lead over this fence and he was a number of lengths clear of the field. Quincy Des Pictons was being ridden along and had lost ground. Having reached the far corner, the runners approached the tricky fourth last, where the leader made another error. By this point of the race, Big Fella Thanks had made a sweeping move around the outside of the field to dispute second place with Easter Day and Sew On Target. Although Little Jon retained his lead, his rivals were now close on his tail.
The field headed down the hill to reach three out. Little Jon nodded on landing, but Easter Day lost his footing on landing and fell; the favourite was out of the race, much to the disappointment of the spectators. The horse got up and cantered away; jockey Nick Schofield walked off the course uninjured too. Little Jon still held a narrow advantage as they headed towards the final turn, Sew On Target travelled to his inside, and Big Fella Thanks was out wide. Annacotty was close on their heels, along with Dare Me and Easter Meteor; Tap Night was a few lengths adrift and Quincy Des Pictons was even further behind, having been slightly hampered by the faller.
Having negotiated the final bend, Sew On Target led the runners into the final straight. Big Fella Thanks looked the main danger to the nearside, with Annacotty between them beginning his challenge too. The veteran led over the penultimate fence; the weakening Little Jon was a little awkward here. The leaders headed towards the final obstacle, Big Fella Thanks a length or so up, from Annacotty, Sew On Target and Dare Me.
The two leaders cleared the last without incident; however, Dare Me, who looked to have the measure of Sew On Target and Little Jon, hit the fence and rolled over. Jockey Aidan Coleman was thrown clear; he stood up but had to resist the urge to move in order to avoid Easter Meteor as he galloped by! Heading up the hill towards the line it appeared that Big Fella Thanks had the race in the bag, although he did drift towards the far rail. However, Gavin Sheehan didn’t give up and switched his mount to the nearside to continue his challenge.
Would Big Fella Thanks’ stamina see him home? No, not on this occasion. Annacotty finished with a flourish and caught him close home, winning by three quarters of a length at the line. Tap Night stormed up the hill to claim 3rd place, 2¾ lengths behind the veteran, with Little Jon lasting home better than Sew On Target to take 4th position.
A win for the Martin Keighley yard ... their third Cheltenham winner this season! Wicked!
Annacotty was owner Mrs Prowting’s first Cheltenham winner since Woodside Road in 1987. And Martin Keighley’s first winner as a jockey was aboard a horse named Air Shot, also owned by same.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. I spotted Walkon being led back to the enclosure where the unplaced horses are unsaddled too.
Alan King had a representative in the next race, namely Ordo Ab Chao, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Having won two novice hurdles this season, the horse had disappointed in a Grade 2 event a Sandown Park on his last appearance. Ordo Ab Chao also has the distinction of being the last horse I’d seen Choc ride prior to his injury, namely when finishing 4th in the bumper at Aintree on Grand National Day 2014.
The favourite for this race was the Dan Skelton-trained, Harry Skelton-ridden Value At Risk; priced at 11-10.
The starting gate for this race was in the mid-course chute. This being the case, upon exiting the horse-walk the runners cantered across the course and headed up along the all-weather track in front of the Best Mate Enclosure to reach it.
Lined up ready to go at the front of the group were Native River, Thistlecrack and Value At Risk; however, Thistlecrack shied away towards the remaining runners and then they were off. The Alan King runner was keen to get on with the race; the horse shook his head a number of times as Wayne restrained him in order to keep his mount near the rear of the field as they set off towards the first flight.
Value At Risk led the runners over the first, with Some Buckle bringing up the rear. The field headed over the intersection with the Old Course, jumped flight number two without incident, before continuing across the New Course intersection too. Value At Risk led, from Native River, Stilletto, Thistlecrack, Robinsfirth, Present View, Vago Collonges sporting the Wylie colours, Ordo Ab Chao and Some Buckle. However, as they gained momentum heading down the hill to the far bend, Stilleto pulled his way into the lead. Ears pricked, he held a few lengths lead as they approached the third flight, which they all cleared without incident.
Heading up the home straight on the first occasion, he continued to lead, with Value At Risk heading the main vanguard and Thistlecrack still pulling hard to the outside of the field. The runners jumped the fourth flight; Stilleto having settled at the front of the field under Tom O’Brien, the pace steadied once more. They headed up the hill and out into the country for the one and only time.
The runners headed over flight number five; Stilleto remained at the head of affairs, from Value At Risk, Thistlecrack, Vago Collonges, Native River, Robinsfirth, Present View, Ordo Ab Chao and Some Buckle. The field was closely packed as it approached and cleared the next flight; although a couple of panels therein took a bit of a battering! Vago Collonges hit flight number seven.
The field negotiated the dog-leg turn and headed up hill to three out; Stilleto continued to lead from Value At Risk. Wayne Hutchinson was content to sit near the rear of the field. Thistlecrack dived slightly at the next and Ordo Ab Chao wasn’t quite as fluent as he might have been. The runners headed to the far corner of the track, with Present View and Some Buckle bringing up the rear.
The field was still closely packed as it headed down the hill continuing their long run to the penultimate flight. Value At Risk rose slightly ahead of his rivals over the flight; to the inside of the track, the white faced chestnut, Native River, stepped at the hurdle and crashed out having lost his footing. Vago Collonges was upsides him as he capsized, and Ordo Ab Chao was fortunate not to get tangled up in the horse’s legs as he was following close behind.
Value At Risk was going well within himself as he led the runners towards the final turn. A group of six had drawn away from the fading Stilleto and Thistlecrack. Vago Collonges was still travelling well too, as was the Alan King runner in the leader’s wake; although he would soon need to find space to make his challenge, because Robinsfirth, Some Buckle and Present View were blocking his escape to the outside.
Present View was the first to concede and, once the rail terminated to his inside, Wayne began to make his challenge and had soon passed Robinsfirth and Some Buckle. This left just Value At Risk and Vago Collonges ahead of him, with the latter now travelling best as they approached the final flight. The three leaders jumped the hurdle in unison and began their journey up the hill to the line.
The Dan Skelton runner appeared to be the first beaten as Ordo Ab Chao fought his way upsides and then overtook Vago Collonges. Value At Risk then began to rally as the runners approached the line, gaining on Wayne’s mount, but he held on to win by three quarters of a length. The Paul Nicholls runner completed in 3rd, a further three quarters of a length behind. Robinsfirth was just a length behind in 4th.
With this win, Ordo Ab Chao had booked his place at the Cheltenham Festival all being well.
And Native River was fine following his fall; he followed up his mishap with a win at Exeter two weeks later; I liked him, he was pretty!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
Meanwhile, Doncaster’s feature race, the SkyBet Handicap Chase was being shown on the large screen to the far side of the Parade Ring. Alan King was keeping a close eye on the action, as both Godsmejudge and Medermit were taking part in the race. The former was pulled up and the latter finished 6th therein.
The next race was the Cleeve Hurdle; the trial for the Festival’s World Hurdle. Following two out of three abortive efforts over the larger obstacles, Saphir Du Rheu reverted back to hurdles today. And, of course, he’s owned by the Stewart Family, as is the retired legend who is Big Buck’s. His main rival today was Reve De Sivola, winner of Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle the previous month for the third consecutive time; also a former winner of this race. However, the betting said otherwise with the David Pipe runner Un Temps Pour Tout priced the 7-4 favourite.
The starting gate for this race was at the beginning of the back straight, so the horses headed up the all-weather strip in front of the Best Mate Enclosure to reach it.
Then they were off. It was no surprise when Daryl Jacob sent his mount into the lead. He was followed by Cole Harden, who also likes to front-run, then dark grey Saphir Du Rheu, Un Temps Pour Tout, The Druids Nephew and a few lengths in rear, the lighter grey Olofi; the latter also sports the maroon, blue and white colours of the McNeill Family, their third runner today after Karezak and Walkon.
The field of six cleared the first flight, before continuing along the back straight and taking the second in their stride; the David Pipe runner was a little keen to the inside of the field. Saphir Du Rheu got a little close to flight number three, hitting the top as he jumped it. The runners headed around the dog-leg turn to reach the following flight; Reve De Sivola continued to lead from Cole Harden, the latter at his quarters and also quite keen.
Having cleared the hurdle, the runners continued their journey to the top of the hill; the two leaders now five or six lengths ahead of their rivals. They then headed down the hill to flight number five, which they all cleared without problem before turning the bend and entering the home straight; Olofi still brought up the rear, detached from the others. The runners bunched up a bit more as they approached the sole flight on this part of the course. The Druids Nephew, who was reverting to the smaller obstacles today, made an error here and dropped back to almost join the light grey at the back of the field.
The runners passed the grandstands and headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure; one circuit had now been completed. They continued over the next two flights, with Cole Harden demonstrating his preference to jump out to his left. Reve De Sivola remained at the head of affairs, from Cole Harden, Un Temps Pour Tout, Saphir Du Rheu, The Druids Nephew and Olofi.
Having negotiated flight number nine they headed around the dog-leg turn once again. They travelled uphill towards the far corner, clearing the third last in the process; Cole Harden had now joined Reve De Sivola at the front of the field. The six runners were more closely grouped now than they had been throughout the race so far.
They headed down the hill, with Cole Harden holding a slight advantage over the Nick Williams runner. Just behind them, Un Temps Pour Tout matched strides with Saphir Du Rheu; The Druids Nephew and Olofi brought up the rear not far behind them; Paddy Brennan steering the light grey to the wide outside. As they approached two out, Cole Harden decided to veer severely off to his left, losing ground as he jumped it; this left Reve De Sivola in the lead once more.
Heading towards and around the final bend, the runners were queuing up behind Daryl Jacob’s mount; from the outside, line across the course, Saphir Du Rheu, Un Temps Pour Tout, The Druids Nephew and Cole Harden. Gavin Sheehan having rousted the latter along to regain a position; the grey still trailed the others. Daryl steered his mount across to the nearside to take advantage of a rails position, with Sam Twiston-Davies having to now make his challenge to the far side of him.
The Druids Nephew was the first of the challenging group to cry enough and he dropped back. Cole Harden was under pressure to the far side, with the favourite between himself and Saphir Du Rheu. They headed towards the final flight. Reve De Sivola still had almost a length in hand as he cleared the hurdle, with Saphir Du Rheu marginally ahead of Un Temps Pour Tout; Cole Harden having dropped away.
The leading three continued their battle all the way up the hill to the line. Un Temps Pour Tout was the first beaten; the very game Reve De Sivola fought for all he was worth against the Paul Nicholls runner but finally Saphir Du Rheu collared him, winning by just a neck at the post. The David Pipe runner claimed 3rd place, 2½ lengths behind them, with Cole Harden 13 lengths away in 4th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.
It was now time for the final race of the day. There were nine runners in this event, with Dell’Arca who had been both hurdling and novice chasing this season; he started as the 7-4 favourite today.
As the starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, the runners cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the main grandstand before heading back down the turf and re-entering the strip to reach their destination.
There was a slight delay whilst both the hurdles in the home straight were dolled-off; the jockeys felt the sun was now too low in the sky and might cause a safety problem if they attempted to jump them. Thus only five of the eight scheduled flights would be jumped.
Then they were off, with an extremely long run to what was now the first flight; it was in the back straight!
Anyway, the runners set off up the home straight with a marshal waiving a chequered flag to ensure the original first flight wasn’t jumped. The field was led by Landscape, upsides him to the inside was Kiama Bay. Pulling hard in third position was Diamond King, and close were behind Desert Recluse and Dell’Arca. Then followed Royal Irish Hussar, Minstrels Gallery, Lightentertainment and Bold Duke.
There was little change in the order as the horses continued their journey towards the grandstands; they had to weave in and out of the obstacles to avoid the chase fences and the bypassed flights. The runners then headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and into the back straight for the one and only time. And finally they encountered their first obstacle. All the horses cleared it in their stride barring Bold Duke, who jumped it a little too big and landed awkwardly; he was then pushed along for a few strides by his jockey, Paddy Brennan.
The field continued their journey to the next flight, Landscape and Kiama Bay sharing the lead; the latter out-jumping his rival at this one. Again Bold Duke in rear was less fluent than the others at this hurdle. It was noticeable that Desert Recluse and Royal Irish Hussar were pony-like when compared to the others. All nine runners cleared their third obstacle without a problem, before heading around the dog-leg turn; there were now just two flights to go.
Kiama Bay led over the penultimate flight, from Landscape, Desert Recluse, Diamond King, Dell’Arca, Royal Irish Hussar, Minstrels Gallery, Lightentertainment and Bold Duke; the latter was in danger of losing touch with the main group. Having reached the top of the hill at the far corner of the track, the runners headed down the hill to the final flight. Landscape hit this one; Lightentertainment had now been relegated to last position having been outpaced.
The runners headed towards the final turn, with Kiama Bay, Desert Recluse, Diamond King and Royal Irish Hussar front rank. Dell’Arca and Minstrels Gallery were close on their heels. With so many in the firing line, it was a tight squeeze to negotiate their way between the steeplechase fence and the omitted hurdle. By the time they were level with the latter, Desert Recluse and Dell’Arca were disputing the lead, from Royal Irish Hussar upsides Minstrels Gallery. Behind these, in a line, were Diamond King, the rallying Lightentertainment and Kiama Bay.
And just when it appeared that the David Pipe runner had got the race in the bag, Lightenterainment swooped to make his challenge on the far side and he got up to win by half a length at the line. It was quite amazing; he had been in last place and seemingly fading into oblivion jumping what, today, had been the final flight. Minstels Gallery finished 2¼ lengths behind Dell’Arca to claim 3rd, with Desert Recluse a further 1¼ lengths away in 4th.
It was trainer Chris Gordon’s first ever Cheltenham winner. It was also a welcome change of fortune for him. The yard had lost their stable stalwart King Edmund at Ascot the previous Saturday; this was their first runner since that day.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure for the final time today.
Having stayed to see the final presentation, I popped to the loo before heading up the concourse towards the main gate. I stopped off briefly enroute to take a peek inside the bloodstock sales arena; the sale hadn’t begun yet, it commenced at 17:00.
I headed back over the bridge, crossed the perimeter road, walked across the gravelled area where the ticket kiosks were located, before weaving through the traffic queued on the Evesham Road. I entered via the small gate, and headed up the hill beside the hedge, before turning to my left, crossing the driveway to find my car. A few areas of the car park were badly cut up; one vehicle was being towed out of the mire, finally reaching the safety of the driveway. There would be no problems in the area where I was parked, it was still lush green and, as many of the vehicles had already left, I would be able to find my way back to the drive without crossing the most badly damaged areas.
I needed to change prior to my trip to Newbury, so I got my small holdall, small pink handbag and mauve jacket out of the car boot, replacing them with my muddy boots, which I placed in a large plastic storage box. I laid my black coat in the area beside it.
As mentioned earlier, the trip should have taken 75 minutes ... which it would have done, had I not got stuck in traffic in Cheltenham and had problems getting into the racecourse at Newbury!
As expected, the following day it was announced that Walkon had been retired. Alan decided that the horse wasn’t enjoying his racing anymore and felt he might still be feeling the injury sustained during the Grand National.
In addition, later in the week it was announced that Medermit had been retired having broken down as a result of his run at Doncaster; it was a suspensory (ligament) injury. However, following recuperation, he was expected to have a long and happy retirement. And, being a Dunkley and Reilly Partnership horse, he was based at Choc Thornton’s new bloodstock yard whilst he recovered!
And here he is, enjoying the sunshine from his new loose box in early February:
Although a non-runner today, the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership-owned Ned Stark went to Wetherby and won a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase under Denis O’Regan the following Saturday, with Choc doing the honours of representing Alan King that day.
This is the point where my Cheltenham Trials Day diary becomes my Newbury Pogo Pandemonium diary ...
Click here for photos – Races 1 & 2
Click here for photos – Race 3
Click here for photos – Race 4
Click here for photos – Remaining Races