DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2011
DAY 1 - TUESDAY 15 MARCH 2011
Choc with Bensalem and connections in the Winners’ Enclosure
Choc’s 16th Cheltenham Festival Winner
Unlike my two previous 4-day visits to the Cheltenham Festival in 2009 and 2010, this year I decided to book the preceding Monday as holiday, and to forego a trip to Sandown Park’s Imperial Cup fixture the previous Saturday too. This was in the hope that I’d get through the Festival without tiredness overwhelming me before the end of Day 4; as it had done in 2010.
During a weekday rush-hour, on my chosen route, it takes between 2¼ to 2¾ hours to drive to Cheltenham from my home in Hertfordshire. So, as I hate the thought of being trapped in a queue of traffic heading towards the racecourse, I decided that I’d set my alarm clock for 04:30, with the hope of setting off at 06:30.
In the event, my alarm clock sounded at 04:07, something to do with the fact that there are no figures on the face of the clock so the setting of the alarm is purely guesswork! However, I was able to sort this problem in preparation for Wednesday’s wake-up call!
I showered, washed and dried my hair, ate breakfast, applied moisteriser, sunblock and warpaint.
My outfit today was two thermal vests, a dark purple sweater, burgundy cardigan, purple fleece, purple coat, and a mauve chenille scarf. Plus brown skirt, purple tights, and long brown pull-on boots. Can you tell that purple is my favourite colour? That’s because it suits me best.
I’d purchased a number of ‘goodies’ to eat; so I put these in the car, along with 4 cheese-filled submarine rolls and a thermos of black coffee. I also took a book of roadmaps (just in case of an emergency) plus a detailed map of Cheltenham; I am always hopeful that I’ll find a quick route out of the town after racing ... which I did today, and I continued to use it for the remainder of the week.
I left home at 06:32. It was very misty, and would remain so throughout Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Due to the trip taking place on a weekday, my outbound route took me via Hemel Hempstead and Aylesbury, then onwards to Bicester, which I reached at around 07:30. I then headed south along the A34, over junction 9 of the M40 and on towards Oxford.
I exited at the Peartree Interchange, traffic was tailed back around the roundabout, making it difficult for those on the slip-road to join the dual carriageway leading down to the A40. Fortunately the driver of an articulated lorry gave way to me and a number of other vehicles and we were permitted to continue on our way. It still took around 10 minutes to reach the A40, at which point I proceeded westwards towards Cheltenham.
It always amazes me that there are so many vehicles queuing to enter Oxford of a morning. The tailback on the opposing carriageway queued back for miles and miles ... and it wasn’t yet 08:00!
Having travelled this route on a number of occasions, I now know it quite well. The A40 passes under the A34 then over a railway line and the Oxford canal; the railway being the Oxford to Hereford line, via Worcester. After a fairly straight stretch of road there’s another bridge (I believe this spans a disused branch line of the aforementioned railway line); followed by a set of traffic lights, then shortly afterwards by a roundabout near Eynsham. There’s a second set of lights, the road then ‘meanders’ a little before reaching a dual carriageway which bypasses to the south of Witney. Vehicles heading for Oxford were even queuing back onto the dual carriageway today!
I presume the ‘old’ road to Cheltenham passes through Witney and Minster Lovell, before emerging at the roundabout at the far end of the dual carriageway. The road then heads across what always seems to be the ‘bleakest’ part of the route before skirting to the south of Burford, again the latter part of this section of road, with roundabout, is a bypass! I think it was around 08:10 when I left the town behind me to head along the next section of the A40.
The next landmark is a gatehouse lodge on the right, followed not long afterwards by the Inn For All Seasons, 3 miles west of Burford. I’m now in Gloucestershire. Further on there are the shells of unfinished buildings, new but derelict, and the stone wall with gatehouse surrounding Sherborne Park. Four or five caravans were parked on a small apron of grass at the far corner of Sherborne Park, complete with stone mushrooms and, I think, one day during the week I saw figures of animals outside the caravans too (strange!). Definitely not gypsies as the area was spotless! A little further on there is a stone reclaimation business. The road to Northleach was currently closed, in fact it is the original route, the section with roundabout that crosses the Cirencester/Stow on the Wold Road is yet another bypass.
The road surrounding the roundabout has been resurfaced, and I recall that there were signs advertising the forthcoming repairs when I went to Cheltenham at the end of January. The next landmark is the Puesdown Inn on the right-hand side, and not long afterwards a much welcome although short stretch of dual carriageway. Travelling downhill and bearing to the right, a set of traffic lights soon appears, a turning to the left signposted to Gloucester.
Moving forward, I headed past a petrol station and around the Andoversford bypass; negotiating a further set of traffic lights. Shortly afterwards the road heads downhill, third gear as 40 mph is recommended. At the bottom of the hill, to the right-hand side, is the Dowdeswell Reservoir. Shortly afterwards the road enters Charlton Kings, a suburb of Cheltenham. As it was now 08:45, the traffic was queued back quite some way from the first set of traffic lights. There’s actually a sign at the junction ‘Six Ways’ – although, technically, only 5 roads enter the junction, the sixth one is blocked off! Is the sign new? I’ve not noticed it before.
I finally cleared this set of traffic lights, travelled past a shopping parade, then a second set of traffic lights where the Cirencester Road joins from the left. At the third set of lights I turned right into Hales Road, drove around the ‘longabout’, into Priors Road, turning right into Bouncers Lane. At the far end of the lane are two mini-roundabouts, a slight hold-up occurring when waiting for traffic exiting from Prestbury. As I wished to park at ‘The Paddocks’, I drove into Tatchley Lane, soon becoming New Barn Lane. Traversing two mini-roundabouts, I soon arrived at Evesham Road, directly outside the main entrance to the racecourse.
I drove across into Swindon Lane and pulled into the car park at 09:15, showing my pre-paid parking voucher to gain entry. I was directed to park in the bottom field, many of the vehicles which were already there belonged to people working at the Festival. As the gates didn’t open until 10:30 I remained in my car until gone 10:00 today; tuning in to Cheltenham Festival radio whilst I ate the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me. I would not eat again until I returned to my car following the racing ... apart from a few Fruitella sweets which I’d put in my handbag! Many of the horseboxes arrived via the lane outside this particular car park and I noticed the Bathwick Tyres horsebox drive by – David Pipe’s horses.
The presenter on Cheltenham Festival radio was Alex Steedman of Racing UK. He spoke about the Arkle Chase being ‘mundane’; the horses mentioned in connection with the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase were Wolf Moon; Sunnyhillboy; Great Endeavour (who’d won at the Festival before); Carole’s Legacy and Reve de Sivola. The competitors in the Champion Hurdle were ‘closely matched’ – Menorah mentioned, with the ‘fancies’ being Hurricane Fly and Oscar Whisky.
Possible winners of the Cross Country race were Maljimar and Sizing Australia; Quevega couldn’t be beaten if she ran to her best form; although Sparky May was an improver. Divers had the ‘Ferdy Murphy’ factor in the last; but fancied to win was the Paul Nicholls trained, Ruby Walsh ridden, Definity.
As opening time approached, I set off across the Evesham Road to reach the queue outside the turnstiles. As mentioned earlier, the gates opened at 10:30; once inside I popped to the loo as, after the long road journey, I was dying to spend a penny! I then went to the kiosk on the concourse to purchase a race-card; before walking through the passageway beneath the grandstand to take a look at the course.
As I’m now an ‘old hand’ at attending the Festival, this being my ninth such day, I had an inkling that Choc might be somewhere ‘out there’ and, if I was patient, he would soon return from walking the course ... besides one can never have enough glimpses of the ‘cute one’! I was rewarded in due course, as Choc headed up the home straight; today he’d been accompanied on the walk by his father. Whilst waiting, I had noticed Andrew Morris, Clerk of the Course at both Warwick and Huntingdon, walk out onto the course to take a look at the going.
Having had my first sighting of Choc, I returned to the Parade Ring area. It transpired that, upon entering the paddock, he had been acosted by Alex Steedman for an interview, which meant I had a further opportunity to see him. Whilst Choc was being interviewed, his father waited nearby. Having finished, they headed towards the Weighing Room, at which point another broadcaster requested an interview too. This time he would be required to climb the steps beside the Weighing Room and walk around to the area above the Winners’ Enclosure. Choc’s dad returned to the Weighing Room alone, his son throwing his going-stick to him before proceding to the interview area. Once the interview was completed, Choc also returned to the Weighing Room.
I decided to take a walk down to the tented village, which was situated at the far end of the Parade Ring area. I particularly enjoy looking around the traders selling paintings, and always visit the Hiho Silver tent. I love dangly earrings, I never wear studs but, as I make many jewellery items myself (using sterling silver findings – for the uninitiated, that’s the metal connector pieces/clasps/earwires, etc.), I cannot justify making a purchase! Having completed my tour of the tented village, I returned to the steps above the Winners’ Enclosure in the preparation for the Pre-race preview.
Whilst I was waiting, the day’s non-runners and jockey changes were announced. Notably, Choc would now be riding Recession Proof in the first race, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; his original pilot Dougie Costello having been sidelined with a broken ankle following a fall at Stratford the previous day.
The photographers gathered to be given a briefing; they were told there would be ‘zero tolerance’ this year, a number of incidents occurring last year when photographers had been discovered in prohibited areas of the racecourse! Orange armbands designated those photographers allowed on course, blue restricting them to solely the general areas. Wayne Hutchinson set off on an errand, and I saw Choc return to the Weighing Room too – he must have snuck out under my radar on this occasion! (Having viewed Channel 4’s coverage of Day 1, I think he may have just completed an interview with John Francome in the main Parade Ring area.)
As in previous years, Ian Carnaby and Jonathan Powell presented the Pre-Race preview which took place in the Winners’ Enclosure. The first item today was a presentation to mark the retirement of a member of the St John’s Ambulance team. Three jockeys attended this presentation and appeared on the podium – AP, Ruby ... and Choc! Following this, Alan King and Andy Stewart were interviewed; the latter to explain about the charity behind the sponsorship of the third race, the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase.
Following this, retired jockey Colin Brown, spoke about the ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) scheme. There were 9 ‘Festival Favourites’ parading before racing today – Hardy Eustace, War of Attrition, Harchibald, Beef or Salmon, Hussard Collonges, Earth Mover, Make A Stand, Katarino and Monkerhostin. As part of the presentation, Sam Waley-Cohen spoke about his association with Katarino, likewise Richard Johnson about Monkerhostin.
Finally, author Robin Oakley was interviewed regarding a book he has written about a Centenary of Cheltenham Festivals.
Can you tell that I write notes at opportune moments throughout the day so that I can recount them in my diary?
As it was a beautifully sunny day, I decided to find a suitable spot beside the rails from which to view the afternoon’s races. Besides, it is always difficult to get glimpses of Choc in the Parade Ring at the Festival, due to the number of runners and their connections. He invariably mounts his ride on the far side, near the Weighing Room, so I’m never hopeful of getting a good photograph pre-race. However, my greatest dilemma at the Festival, is whether I stay beside the rails or return to the Winners’ Enclosure should Choc be placed or, hopefully, win.
Soon it was time for the first race of the day, and Festival. As the first event, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, commenced at the far end of the home straight, the horses exited the horsewalk and cantered up the all-weather track in front of the stands before turning back to canter down the course; re-entering the all-weather strip to proceed to the start.
The commentator, Mark Johnson, announced it was now ‘post time’ (13:30). This was met with a cheer from the crowd.
Then they were off; a louder cheer reverberated around the racecourse, as the first race got underway. This happens at every Festival.
The field was led away by Hidden Universe; Marsh Warbler made an error at the first flight, Far Away So Close was in rear. As the runners galloped towards the second, Magen’s Star took over the running, Dunraven Storm now in second position, Hidden Universe third, Marsh Warbler fourth; Recession Proof in around seventh.
Both the leading horses didn’t jump the second flight particularly well. Heading away from the stands the order was Dunraven Storm with Magen’s Star, Marsh Warbler, Hidden Universe, Spirit Son, Rathlin, Recession Proof to the inside, Cue Card, Zaidpour, Sprinter Sacre, Spanish Treasure, Gibb River, Al Ferof, Far Away So Close, with Sheer Genius bringing up the rear. Co-leader, Dunraven Storm, hit the top of the third flight; Spanish Treasure made a slow jump at this obstacle.
Heading for the fourth, Dunraven Storm held a slight advantage from Magen’s Star; Cue Card got a little low at the flight; Ruby Walsh aboard Al Ferof making ground as the runners approached the ‘dogleg’ turn. At the fifth flight, Rathlin came to join the leaders; Al Ferof showing up on the wide outside, in close attendance with Cue Card. However there were traffic problems around the turn, mainly affecting Far Away So Close near the rear.
Jason Maguire sent the white-blazed Rathlin on three flights from home, Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre just in behind; Al Ferof made an error at this flight. Cue Card cruised up looking dangerous; and, after 2 out, came through between the two Nicky Henderson trained runners as Rathlin dropped back. These were now chased by Al Ferof under a very strong drive from Ruby Walsh.
As they approached the final flight, Sprinter Sacre under AP McCoy had the upper hand over Cue Card, Spirit Son now in third, with Al Ferof still closing on the lead. AP’s mount flattened the last, Barry Geraghty aboard Spirit Son soon overtook him, but none of them had the energy to hold off the late charge of the Paul Nicholls runner, who won by 2 lengths at the line.
Ruby Walsh, first race, first winner, nothing changes! And that is despite missing most of the season through injury; firstly due to fractures to his left arm sustained on Grand National Day last year, and then a leg fracture which happened in November. Al Ferof was Ruby’s 28th Festival winner.
Al Ferof had been a competitor in the hurdle race at Newbury on 12 February 2011; when two of his rivals had died in the Parade Ring having been electrocuted.
Choc completed in 5th aboard Recession Proof.
There was one Stewards’ Enquiry associated with this race:
Richard Johnson, the rider of DUNRAVEN STORM (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding lost its action. The Veterinary Officer subsequently reported that DUNRAVEN STORM (IRE) had lost a shoe and was lame right hind.
As Choc had been unplaced, I remained beside the rails in preparation for the second race of the day, the 2 mile Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, in which Choc would ride the grey Medermit.
Upon exiting the horse-walk, again the horses cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the stands, before cantering down to the 2-mile start at the far end of the home straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Stagecoach Pearl, followed by Dan Breen, Finian’s Rainbow prominent on the outside, then West With The Wind, Realt Dubh, Ghizao, Captain Chris, Medermit, with Rock Noir at the back with Giorgio Quercus.
Stagecoach Pearl led over the third; West With The Wind made an error here. There were 3 almost in a line at the fourth fence, Dan Breen to the inside, the grey Stagecoach Pearl in the centre, and Finian’s Rainbow to the outside; then a gap of 4 lengths to Ghizao, Captain Chris, West With The Wind, Realt Dubh, Medermit, Rock Noir and Georgio Quercus. Heading away from the stands, at the next fence West With The Wind made a further error.
Entering the back straight, there was no change at the head of affairs; but West With The Wind had dropped to the rear of the field. After a plain fence and the water-jump, was the first open-ditch; Finian’s Rainbow taking the lead with a good leap. Stagecoach Pearl wasn’t so fluent and dropped back, Dan Breen now taking second position. Medermit took a slow leap at the next, Choc becoming animated as his mount struggled to keep up with the pace.
Finian’s Rainbow continued to lead from Dan Breen and Ghizao, Captain Chris to the latter’s outside. Richard Johnson saw a gap to the inside, checked behind to make sure he didn’t impede anyone, and steered Captain Chris to the rail. Ghizao stepped through the ditch 4 out, slightly affecting his momentum. Medermit wasn’t travelling well and, after 4 out, Choc applied the whip in an attempt to bridge the gap between him and the leading group of runners.
Down the hill they travelled, Finian’s Rainbow still ahead; Dan Breen to his outside, Captain Chris just behind, and to the latter’s outside Ghizao; Realt Dubh was in fifth, and Medermit now a close sixth, on the outside of the field. Barry Geraghty’s mount cleared the next a length up, Captain Chris soon taking second spot, Realt Dubh improving his position too. Dan Breen dropped out quickly.
Turning in, Finian’s Rainbow held a two length lead over Captain Chris, Choc switching Medermit to the inside. Richard Johnson switched his mount to the outside and closed on the leader as they crossed the second last. Finian’s Rainbow and Captain Chris were in the air together over the last, the former a little untidy; Captain Chris then galloped on to win by 2¾ lengths. Finian’s Rainbow completed in 2nd, Realt Dubh 3rd and Medermit 4th.
Bitter disappointment for Choc; at no time during the race had Medermit looked happy and was always struggling to go the pace. Captain Chris had been entered in this event to avoid a clash with Wishfull Thinking, both being in the same ownership. The latter would run in the Grade 2 Jewson Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs on Day 3 of the Festival. And, of course, Medermit had beaten Captain Chris over the longer trip at Sandown in early February.
As Choc was due to ride in the next race, I decided I would remain beside the course-side rails rather than return the Winners’ Enclosure to see him return aboard Medermit.
There was a Stewards’ Enquiry associated with the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.
The Stewards called before them Robert Thornton, the rider of MEDERMIT (FR), placed fourth, and enquired into his use of the whip from the top of the hill. Having heard his evidence and viewed the video recording of the race, the Stewards found the rider in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2, in that he had used his whip with excessive frequency. They suspended Thornton for 1 day as follows: Tuesday 29 March 2011.
It was now time for the third race of the day, in which Choc would be riding the Alan King trained Bensalem.
The starting gate for this 3-mile steeplechase was in the home straight, the horses jumping one fence before heading out on two full circuits of the course. This being the case, the horses cantered up the all-weather gallop in front of the stands before heading to the start.
Unfortunately I failed to get a photograph of Choc aboard Bensalem as he cantered up in front of me, as he was closely preceded by stable-mate Blazing Bailey, thus hiding him from view. However, I did take a photograph as he cantered down in the opposite direction.
The cheek-pieced Fair Along, making his sixth consecutive Festival appearance, was led in at the start. Then they were off. The field was led away by The Sawyer; Exmoor Ranger was at the back of the field; Carrickmines preceded him and jumped the first slowly, Bensalem was immediately in front of these.
The Sawyer made an error at the third, Irish raider Rare Bob taking over at the head of affairs. In midfield, Adams Island blundered and unseated jockey Aodhagan Conlon; Reve De Sivola and Slippers Percy were hampered as a result. Rare Bob, The Sawyer and the grey Great Endeavour led over the water-jump; both Blazing Bailey and Wolf Moon were a little slow here.
Last year’s winner, Chief Dan George, fell at the following fence, the first open-ditch, hampering Carrickmines. Slippers Percy made an error at the next, Fair Along slow here; Exmoor Ranger still brought up the rear. AP McCoy’s mount, Sunnyhillboy departed at the next, the second open-ditch. Bensalem was to his inside at the time, but avoided any problem. Martin Keighley’s runner, Wolf Moon, was losing ground.
Turning into the straight for the penultimate time, Rare Bob still led from Great Endeavour; The Sawyer, in third, made another jumping error at the 9th. Bensalem was loping along in 10th position as they headed out into the country for the final time. Stable companion, Blazing Bailey, was now one from the back of the field.
Great Endeavour led over the 11th; as the runners entered the back straight, Rare Bob was steered to the outside to be pulled up. The grey led over the next, now pursued by Reve De Sivola. Bensalem had made steady progress through the field and was soon in fifth position.
Reve De Sivola hit the 16th, 4 out, and lost his place; he dropped to fifth but jockey Daryl Jacob soon drove him back up to share second with Carole’s Legacy. A loose horse accompanied the leader as they set off downhill for the final time. Bensalem was breathing down their necks in fourth.
Great Endeavour led them into the final bend, 4 lengths clear, Bensalem now in second. Choc’s mount was soon in front, although momentarily Choc appeared to have a steering problem as the loose horse went wide, Bensalem seemingly wishing to follow him.
On the inside, over 2 out, the gallant Great Endeavour, still vying for lead, crumpled on landing; this left the race to be fought out between Bensalem and Carole’s Legacy. Choc’s mount was half a length up at the last, but got in a little bit close and slightly lost momentum; Barry Geraghty’s mount now neck and neck as they started up the run-in.
Stand-side, Choc forced his horse up the run-in, the result in doubt until very close to the line. At one point the jockeys’ irons clashed, Choc momentarily losing his balance; he immediately re-grouped and went on to win by half a length. Evidently the clash was caused by Carole’s Legacy drifting to her right under a left hand drive (see Stewards’ Enquiry Note below). Reve De Sivola finished in 3rd, the recalcitrant Fair Along in 4th.
Great Endeavour and Timmy Murphy were both okay following their departure at the penultimate fence. Blazing Bailey completed in 9th, Wolf Moon in 11th. 12 horses completed the race.
Carole’s Legacy is an extremely versatile mare, equally as good over fences as hurdles; a half-sister to Mad Max; although she was rather ‘aloof’ when I visited Nicky Henderson’s yard on Lambourn’s Annual Open Day!
It was mega-dilemma time for me, I was torn between seeing Choc return down the horse-walk to the adulation of the crowd; or to go to the Winners’ Enclosure to see him return victorious. I choose the latter, as I was afraid that I might not get a good vantage point if I left it too late.
I’ve since watched the TV footage of the race and post race celebrations; Choc was shown chatting happily to the stable-lad as the horse was led back down the walkway in front of the stands in triumph. Obviously, as per Choc’s preference, Channel 4 didn’t stick a microphone under his nose to get an immediate post-race comment!
When interviewed post-race, Alan King re-counted that Bensalem had been very seriously ill last summer. He mentioned the fact that a number of vets wanted to put the horse out of its misery when he was struck down by pneumonia and pleurisy. Fortunately, Alan’s own vet, Jeremy Swan, thought Bensalem should be given the benefit of the doubt; and now he’d rewarded them for their patience.
There was a Stewards’ Enquiry into the incident where Carole’s Legacy and Bensalem had appeared to collide on the run-in, and this was their finding:
The Stewards held an enquiry into possible interference after the last fence. They found that CAROLE’S LEGACY, placed second, ridden by Barry Geraghty, had interfered with the winner, BENSALEM (IRE), ridden by Robert Thornton. They found Geraghty in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he allowed his horse to drift right handed. They suspended Geraghty for 1 day as follows: Tuesday 29 March 2011.
It was now time for the feature race of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. As there was a pre-race parade, the horses came out directly onto the course; and were sorted into number order before being led up in front of the grandstand crowd. Choc was now wearing the pink armband to denote the current leading jockey at the Festival.
The pre-race favourite for this race, last year’s winner Binocular, had been withdrawn the weekend before the race. Not through injury, but because drugs used to treat an allergy had remained in the horse’s system. As a result, the Ruby Walsh ridden, Willie Mullins trained, Hurricane Fly started as favourite for this race.
Having completed the parade, the horses cantered down the all-weather track to reach the start, which was at the far end of the home straight.
Another cheer, although subdued, as the runners set off. The field was led away by the confirmed front runner, Overturn; then Bygones Of Brid, followed by the leader’s stable companion Peddlers Cross, Oscar Whisky, Menorah, Hurricane Fly, Dunguib, Khyber Kim, Mille Chief, Thousand Stars and Clerk’s Choice.
Overturn and Bygones Of Brid continued to tank along at the head of affairs as the runners headed towards the second flight; Graham Lee aboard Overturn checking to see how far his pursuers were behind him. Oscar Whisky hit this flight but it did not affect his momentum.
Little change in the order as the field proceeded down the back straight, Peddlers Cross leading the main group in pursuit of the two leaders. Having reached the ‘dogleg’ turn, Clerk’s Choice had made progress on the outside of the field, Mille Chief dropping to last place.
Over the 5th flight, Peddlers Cross had now taken second; Mille Chief slow in rear. Overturn led the field downhill, pursued by Peddlers Cross, Menorah, Oscar Whisky, and Bygones Of Brid; Mille Chief slightly detached from the field.
Peddlers Cross was marginally ahead over the third last, Oscar Whisky to his outside; Overturn now in third. Barry Geraghty’s mount led over the next, before Peddlers Cross got his head in front once again. However, Hurricane Fly was close up in third, ready to pounce as they turned in, Menorah was in fourth. Ruby’s mount challenged and led over the final flight. Peddlers Cross, game to the end, stayed on, and was beaten only 1¼ lengths at the line by Hurricane Fly. Oscar Whisky and Menorah had jumped the final flight in unison, the former claiming 3rd place; the latter overtaken by Thousand Stars on the run-in. Clerk’s Choice completed in 6th.
Mille Chief finished last of the 11 runners, half a length behind Bygones Of Brid. I recall the latter being the horse Choc should have ridden in the 2009 Festival Bumper but for an injury sustained when falling from Big Zeb in the earlier Queen Mother Champion Chase that year.
Choc later described Mille Chief’s participation in the Champion Hurdle as a ‘boy amongst men’.
Another Stewards’ Enquiry was held after the race:
The Stewards called before them Jason Maguire, the rider of PEDDLERS CROSS (IRE), placed second, and enquired into his use of the whip from the second last flight. Having heard his evidence and viewed the video recording of the race, the Stewards found the rider in breach of Schedule (B) 6 Part 2, in that he had used his whip with excessive frequency. They cautioned him as to the future use of his whip.
As I’ve done in the previous two years, I decided to venture across into the centre of the course to watch the next race, the Cross Country Handicap Chase. On this occasion, I decided to position myself near to the water jump.
The field consisted of 8 Irish runners; 6 British runners, and 1 French runner; a total of 15.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Lord Nellerie; Maljimar brought up the rear. Poker De Sivola was near the rear too. Dream Alliance jumped the second fence slowly. At the fifth obstacle Quolibet jumped left, hampering Another Jewel who, in turn, nudged Garde Champetre.
The Davy Russell ridden One Cool Cookie ran out at the second of the cheese wedges (fence 16). L’Ami was pulled up before the 22nd, having gone lame behind. Sizing Australia took the lead between the 23rd to 26th obstacles; Lord Nellerie then narrowly regained it.
Sizing Australia led again 6 out; and was headed by Maljimar 3 out; it was then neck and neck until the former went on again at the last and won by 1¼ lengths from Garde Champetre; in third was last year’s winner, A New Story, with Maljimar in 4th, having been cruising not long before the finish but he just didn’t see out. The French raider, Quezac De La Roque, finished in 5th.
As always, it was a nightmare to return to the grandstand area; for health and safety reasons the spectators must wait until all the horses have left the track area before they are permitted to cross over the course. And, due to weight of numbers, it took ages to file back across it.
A further Stewards Enquiry following this race:
On a report from the Clerk of the Scales that
John Cullen, the rider of ANOTHER JEWEL (IRE) had weighed in 2 lbs heavier
than the weight at which he had weighed out, the Stewards interviewed Cullen,
in the presence of the Clerk of the Scales, and Denis Paul Murphy, the
trainer. Having heard their evidence the Stewards found him to be in breach
of (B)67.7 and suspended him for 3 days as follows:
Tuesday 29, Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 March 2011.
It was now time for the sixth race of the day; with the Willie Mullins trained mare, Quevega, bidding for a third consecutive victory in this event; she wore earplugs. As Ruby Walsh had already won two races this afternoon, he now wore the pink ‘leading rider’ armband.
The starting gate for this race was situated in the mid-course spur.
Then they were off. Confirmed front runner Banjaxed Girl cleared the first flight alongside the Kim Bailey trained Silver Gypsy. The runners then crossed the intersection and headed over flight number two (the diagram in the race-card shows just one flight to be jumped within the mid-course spur; however, they definitely jumped two before turning into the home straight for the first time). The fancied Sparky May blundered at the flight, appearing to bump into the horse to her inside, jockey Keiran Burke almost being ejected out over the offside. However, it didn’t seem to adversely affect her; she was still fighting for her head as her jockey regained his irons.
Turning in for the first time, the Sam Twiston-Davies ridden Banjaxed Girl held a 2 length advantage over the third flight, ahead of Silver Gypsy, Miss Overdrive, Santera, Alegralil, L’Accordioniste, Princess Rainbow, Lonesome Dove, Quevega, Stephanie Kate, Sparky May, La Vecchia Scuola, Ocean Transit, with Alasi bringing up the rear. Lonesome Dove made an error at the fourth flight. Heading up the hill away from the stands, Silver Gypsy vied for the lead once more. La Vecchia Scuola made an error at the 5th.
Having made noticeable progress as the runners travelled down the back straight, Sparky May was soon in fifth position. Banjaxed Girl held a clear advantage around the far turn; Lonesome Dove had now become detached. However, Sparky May gained on Sam Twiston Davies’ mount as they started the descent and was soon alongside; they cleared 3 out together. Quevega had crept through the field stealthily and took third position as they approached the second last flight at the bottom of the hill; Sparky May, who led, now in her sights.
Keiran Burke stoked up his mount for one final effort as they travelled around the final turn, Quevega, still not having been asked any serious questions, was cruising in second. Sparky May came across to the stand-side rails; Quevega overtaking on her inside (undertaking?); Ruby cheekily looking under his right arm to see if there was any danger; fat chance!
Ruby’s mount cleared the last flight smoothly, 6 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer and went on to win by 10 lengths. Sparky May retained 2nd to the line, her nearest challenger Alasi hit the last and then lost third place to Ocean Transit close home. Three winners on Day One for Ruby; as stated earlier, nothing changes! And he still had another ride to come in the last race of the day.
Quevega was the first horse since Hardy Eustace to win a race at 3 consecutive Festivals.
As spectator numbers were thinning now, on this occasion I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. Pat Rodford and his charge got almost as much applause as the winning connections; the knowledgeable spectators realising how much this would have meant to the trainer, in his last season before retirement.
It was then time for the final race of Day One.
The start of this event was in the mid-course spur. There were 3 grey participants, the Ferdy Murphy trained dapple grey Divers, the Paul Nicholls trained blinkered American Trilogy; and the David Pipe trained almost white Swing Bill. Strangely, the last race the latter ran in was a veterans’ chase; and now he was competing in a novices’ chase! But, I believe, it is because his career has been interrupted by injury.
The horses trotted out onto the course ready for the off, but Premier Sagas was not with them. Jason Maguire (deputising for the injured Dougie Costello) persuaded his mount to trot across to join them. However, Swing Bill had his hindquarters almost touching the tape, his jockey unable to manoeuvre, as his rivals were crowded around him and precluded this. Vino Griego, near the outside of the lined-up runners was the first to take a turn; the remainder soon followed suit. The second attempt at forming an orderly line was thwarted by Premier Sagas, who ended up with his back to the tape. The jockeys were instructed to take another turn, this time they went further back before returning.
Then they were off. The field was led away by confirmed front runner Rougham; he was followed by Swing Bill, Nadiya De La Vega, Tullamore Dew and Quantitativeeasing. Irish raider, Tharawaat, made an error at the second fence. In rear were Divers, Osric and Quo Video.
Turning into the home straight for the first time, Rougham still led, from Tullamore Dew, Nadiya De La Vega, and Swing Bill, the blinkered Vino Griego to the outside. Nadiya De La Vega took up the running at the fifth. Ruby Walsh’s mount, Definity, received a bump when jumping the 6th. Having lost the advantage, Rougham dropped tamely away.
The runners headed away from the stands, clearing the uphill fence; Premier Sagas, having lost his early midfield position, was pulled up before reaching this obstacle. Heading along the back straight, Nadiya De La Vega, Vino Griego and Quantitativeeasing were line abreast at the head of affairs. Rougham wasn’t fluent at the 9th and lost further ground. Glenstal Abbey and Songe were now in rear, the latter soon began to tail off.
Swing Bill clobbered the open-ditch; Vino Griego, when leading, hit the next, allowing Nadiya De La Vega to assume the advantage once more. Definity under Ruby Walsh was visible on the outside of the field. Songe and Rougham were pulled up.
Down the hill they galloped. Nadiya De La Vega alongside Vino Griego, Tharawaat, Tullamore Dew, Quantitativeeasing, with the staying on Divers just behind them. Vino Griego and Tharawaat went on after 3 out, Nadiya De La Vega made an error at this fence, Quantitativeeasing was in 4th. Jamie Moore sent Vino Griego into a clear lead around the final bend, pursued by Tharawaat, Quantitativeeasing, Divers, Tullamore Dew and Shakalakaboomboom.
AP McCoy drove Quantitativeeasing up to join Vino Griego over the penultimate fence, with Divers continuing to stay on. Quantitativeeasing, Vino Griego and Divers took the last almost in unison; AP’s mount possibly with a slight advantage. However, Divers was driven to lead by Graham Lee and went on the win by 2¾ lengths from Quantitativeeasing, Tullamore Dew completed in 3rd, Vino Griego faded into 4th. A victory for trainer Ferdy Murphy.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. Ferdy Murphy is a popular trainer, and he received much applause for the victory.
The final event of the day having been completed, it was now time for me to leave.
I popped to the loo before I left, always sensible when having a long journey home in front of me. Having walked up the concourse, across the Evesham Road and returned to my car, I rummaged through my ‘goodies’ bag to find a snack or two. I also removed my contact lenses (of the daily throwaway variety). I’d very recently purchased a new pair of glasses, with non-reflective coating, in the hope that this would aid my eyesight in coping with the glare of headlights from oncoming traffic as I drove home. I also tuned into Festival Radio to listen to a round-up of the day’s events.
After waiting for a while for the traffic to clear, which it didn’t, and I suppose I knew it wouldn’t, I drove along to the far end of the car park and came back along a gangway nearer to the gate. This was because the nearer you are to the gate the more likely it seemed that someone would let you into the continuous queue of exiting traffic. It was 18:25.
Having been beckoned out of the car park by the traffic police, all vehicles were directed to the right along Swindon Lane; at the mini-roundabout I turned left into Tommy Taylor’s Lane which, subsequently, becomes Folly Lane. At the T-junction I turned left into St Paul’s Road and proceeded past Clarence Square and into Clarence Road. However, once through the traffic lights, where today there had been a lengthy delay, I turned left into the Prestbury Road instead of, as in previous years, right into Winchcombe Street.
At the first roundabout, I took a right-turn and drove around Pittville Circus, exiting along Pittville Circus Road. To continue along to the end of Pittville Circus Road you actually have to turn off to the left as the road bears round to the right under a different name. Upon reaching Hewlett Road, I turned left, soon arriving at the ‘longabout’ at the end of Hales Road.
Instead of turning right and travelling along Hales Road to join the A40 at the traffic lights, I turned left at the first mini-roundabout and right at the second mini-roundabout, heading up Harp Hill, from which there is a superb view of Cheltenham over to the left hand side. At this point the lane is heading out into the countryside, so I took a right-turn into Greenway Lane, negotiated two traffic calming chicanes, houses soon appearing to my left, and in due course found myself at the Six Ways junction on the A40.
After briefly waiting for the traffic lights to change to my advantage, I turned left and set off along the A40 through the final section of Charlton Kings. As my car climbed the Cotswold escarpment, the Festival Radio signal faded, so I switched it to the CD option. The journey back across the Cotswolds went smoothly; and, as hoped, the lights of the oncoming traffic were not too much of a problem.
As I was still feeling alert, I decided to take the motorway route home so, upon reaching the western outskirts of Oxford, I took the ring-road around the City. At one of the roundabouts I pulled up behind a horse-box, through their rear window I could see the horse facing out towards me. The name painted on the vehicle was ‘Henfold Racing’. Subsequently I did a little research – it was Alan Fleming’s transport – it must have been On Borrowed Wings, which finished 8th in the final race of the day. Alan Fleming is best known as the trainer of Starluck. His stable is situated near Dorking in Surrey.
I’d reached the eastern side of Oxford by 19:30. My journey took me onto the M40, followed by the M25; the contra-flow system on the latter slowing progress as I approached my exit point, Junction 22 near London Colney. As I’d used just over half a tank of petrol today, I needed to top up, so I stopped off at the filling station on the nearby Retail Park before continuing on the final leg of my journey.
I arrived home at 08:55. There was time to eat a microwave meal, upload my photos onto my laptop, update my blog and, of course, update Choc’s winners for the season and the overall Cheltenham winners tally too. Mind you, having said that, I didn’t turn in until 23:30, and with the prospect of waking up at 04:30 the following morning!