DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2012
DAY 3 – THURSDAY 15 MARCH 2012
Choc and Medermit return to the Winners’ Enclosure
having finished a very game third in the Ryanair Chase;
one length behind the winner, Riverside Theatre.
With my alarm set for 04:30 as usual, I was very relieved to be awake already when it sounded; I hate the panic and racing pulse when it wakes me from sleep! However, upon peering out into the darkness, I discovered a thick fog had descended. Oh well, that’s a new experience during Cheltenham Festival week, driving in fog! Time to look in my car manual to discover the switch for the fog light ... yes, I know it’s unbelievable having owned this particular Fiesta for four years. But that’s because I use the car solely for recreation and can’t recall driving it in thick fog previously!
As always, Cheltenham was turning out to be colder than expected, or forecasted for that matter. Last week had been very warm for the time of year and, initially, it was forecast to continue during this week. However, Tuesday had turned out to be just ‘okay’ ... Wednesday a little warmer when the sunshine had appeared during the afternoon but today it might be something else completely, having taken a look outside. It was time to wear my ‘Gold Cup Day’ outfit a day early!
This outfit comprised of my long black hankerchief hem skirt, burgundy woolley tights; I decided against leggings underneath, surely it wouldn’t be that cold. Black leather ankle length engineers boots; two thermal vests, one vest style, the other long sleeved; a short-sleeved top; cerise frill-edged cardigan; purple fleece, burgundy cardigan; plus black faux fur sheepskin jacket.
I must have worn a scarf too but, as I write this, I cannot remember which one having not made a note! It just goes to show that I’ve knitted far too many ... but I know that already!!! I cannot help myself, as I’m a creative person and get a lot of enjoyment for the actual process, whether it be knitting, cross-stitching or making jewellery. But, sadly, cooking has never inspired me and remains outside this core skill set!
My department at work won this year’s Head Office award for Excellence and, as a ‘prize’, we are to spend a day at Jean-Christophe Novelli’s Cookery Academy. I will be totally out of my depth, but Jean-Christophe is nice eye candy ... although not as nice as the thoroughly adorable Choc!
Having showered, washed and dried my hair, I ate my usual Cheltenham breakfast of Weetabix; it’s quick and easy when an early start is required. Realising that it would probably take a little longer to reach Cheltenham today, due to the fog, I was ready to go and set off at 06:23.
My journey took me around the local ring-road and along the A4147 to Leverstock Green and Hemel Hempstead. There’s a steep hill down to the ‘magic roundabout’; you have to ensure that you keep an eye on your speed, 40 mph, as there is a camera half way down the hill! Hemel Hempstead love speed cameras, as there are also two on the A4147 as it approaches Leverstock Green, warning of 50 mph and 40 mph limits respectively. One day this week I was daydreaming of driving to Aintree at this point in my journey and forgot to slow down until I’d driven half-way over the white speed camera lines on the road ... whoops!
At the ‘magic roundabout’ I took the second left, driving along Two Waters Way to cross the traffic signal controlled junction with the A4251, to reach the A41. Then it was onwards to Aylesbury. Thick fog had accompanied me throughout my journey so far but it cleared upon reaching the Tring junction, when the sun put in an appearance and visibility greatly improved. There were then just a few brief foggy patches before Aylesbury.
It was beautifully sunny in Aylesbury ... but it was not to last. Having driven around their ring-road to reach the A41 once more, as soon as the urban sprall had been negotiated, the thick fog closed in once more. In fact it was even worse here, it was zero degrees and a frost was visible on the grass verges too. Oh well, forever onwards.
I drove through Waddesdon, and along the A41 to Bicester; at least road users were being more cautious today on the stretch of road west of Kingswood, where the route follows the line of the old Roman Road, Akeman Street, and is particularly straight. Warnings are posted along the entire length of the A41 between Aylesbury and Bicester regarding recent casualties; drivers being inclined to drive far too fast and overtake without care and attention here. In good visibility I usually drive at 60 mph along this stretch, and that is plenty fast enough ... besides that is the maximum speed limit, allegedly, on this type of road! But you’d never know it!
Having reached Bicester, I turned southwards along the final stretch of the A41 towards Junction 9 of the M40. With a new housing development underway to the southwest of Bicester, there is a recently constructed roundabout on this road and today, with the prevailing weather conditions, the tailback from the traffic lights at the M40 junction was considerable. I had to wait a number of changes before I could continue my journey southwards along the A34, where traffic was moving okay, if a little slow. The main problem on this stretch of the road is traffic joining from a number of side turnings.
I left the A34 at the Peartree Interchange; and there was an even worse than usual delay exiting onto the roundabout to drive stop start stop start along the short stretch of the A44 to reach the A40, and then westwards towards Cheltenham. I always feel sorry for those drivers trying to enter Oxford on a weekday from the west, as there are always horrendous tailbacks on the A40 ... sometimes these tailbacks reach as far as the beginning of the dual carriageway of the Witney by-pass! It must be 5 or 6 miles. I couldn’t put up with that every working day ... but that is probably because I have a one mile walk to work!
The fog persisted as I drove across the Cotswolds; not surprising really, due to the altitude! It was very eerie in fact, not being able to see far in front of my vehicle, or to the sides of the road either. However, despite the necessity to reduce my speed due to the poor visibility, I’d reached Burford by 08:25 and the outskirts of Cheltenham at 08:53 (I know this as I glanced at the clock on the dashboard and made a mental note!).
Unlike my experimental inward route of yesterday, when upon reaching the Six Ways junction I’d taken a right turning to drive up Greenways Lane, I followed by usual route of heading along London Road before turning right at the traffic lights into Hales Road and proceeding to the ‘longabout’; my alternative route joining here from my right. I know I like to use the Greenway Lane ‘escape route’ of an evening, but it is nightmarishly potholed and bumpy and to be avoided when possible! I’ve noticed that the condition of Gloucestershire’s roads has deteriorated during the time I’ve been visiting Cheltenham; it’s now a close call between those in my home county of Hertfordshire, those in Buckinghamshire and here.
I continued my usual route along Bouncers Lane; it was quiet here today, as it was now after 09:00 and the children had already arrived at the Infant School across the way. Having negotiated the roundabout at the junction of Prestbury Road and Deep Street, I entered Tatchley Lane, moving forward into New Barn Lane to reach the Evesham Road roundabout outside the main entrance to the racecourse. It was then forward into Swindon Lane and a right turn into the car park.
It was 09:10, and I was instructed to park on the final available row in the lower field; proof that I had arrived a little later than usual today. But the good news again today was that I was many cars distant from the dusty roadway! Hopefully my luck would remain tomorrow, as I really can’t face the embarrassment of having such a filthy car as last year; when, every day, my vehicle had been coated in dust from the aforementioned roadway, with Friday being particularly gruesome!
I remained in my car for around 20 minutes then, having consumed two or three of my pre-prepared cheese roll lunch ... well, it seemed like lunch, having been awake since 04:30 ... I set off for the temporary turnstiles situated close to the Centaur building. It’s nice to queue early, as bags and handbags are checked well ahead of the gates opening and one can proceed immediately onto the concourse.
Today, the gates opened at 10:20, ten minutes ahead of advertised. Once inside, I followed my usual routine of firstly visiting the loo ... it must be my age as, having drank a cup of coffee before departing from home, I always dying to go by the time gate opening time arrives! Although, having said that, I haven’t needed to resort to Tena Lady products yet ... but it may not be long!!! I then went to purchase a race-card from the kiosk on the concourse, before proceding to the course-side rails to breathe in the atmosphere once again.
Having had much success spotting Choc returning from his course walks during last year’s Festival, I was now expecting to catch a glimpse of him every day. However, so far this year I’d been completely unsuccessful; culminating in yesterday’s farce when, upon returning to the Parade Ring area, I’d not even noticed that he was being interviewed in the Winners’ Enclosure by RUK’s Alex Steedman. Just how short-sighted can I be? And to add insult to injury, I’d even been visible in the background when it was broadcast!!!
However, I was a little luckier on my return to the concourse area today, as Choc had been accosted by RUK’s Rishi Persad and was being interviewed whilst he was standing in the Parade Ring; he was wearing his long beige coat today. I can’t wear beige as it makes me look anaemic. Nor can I wear yellow, as I have a sallow skin and it makes me look jaundiced!
Following the interview, Choc jogged back to the Weighing Room. It soon became apparent as to why he was in a hurry ... as a few minutes later he re-appeared, sporting green Hunter wellies and carrying his going stick. His dad accompanied him. It was just after 11:00; it was time to walk Cheltenham’s New Course. Rishi also interviewed Martin Keighley, trainer of today’s runners Champion Court and Benbane Head, stood on the area outside the Weighing Room.
I remained beside the Parade Ring, wondering when Choc would return. Choc and his dad re-appeared around 40 minutes later; speaking briefly with Alan King’s Assistant Trainer Noel Williams who they met as they were crossing the concourse, before they returned to the Weighing Room. The official going today was good to soft, good in places.
On each day of the Festival, at 12:15, a ‘Preview’ is held in the Winners’ Enclosure. This is presented by Ian Carnaby and Jonathan Powell, and they interview the day’s leading contenders and other celebrities.
It was St Patrick’s Thursday today so 14-year-old Irish singer, Mark Boylan, who had appeared at last year’s Festival, was a guest today; he performed the same song as he’d performed last year.
It being the third day of the Festival, the seventh race was a charity event; The St Patrick’s Derby, in aid of Cancer Research UK. This being the case, a number of the participants were interviewed.
Firstly was Stuart Parr, a Greater Manchester fireman, who had ridden racehorses since a teenager. Stuart regularly rides work, and this was to be his debut appearance on a racecourse. He had lost 2 stone ahead of the event, and was riding in memory of his close friend, and racehorse trainer, Patricia Caldwell, who died from cancer. His mount today would be Kykate trained by William Kinsey.
Jonathan Powell then interviewed ATR presenter, Gina Bryce; she is also a Timeform radio presenter and freelance journalist. Gina had been riding out at the John Berry yard in preparation for this race; today she would be riding On Khee, trained by David Pipe.
RUK’s Niall Hannity would also be competing in today’s race, having lost over 3 stone ... and was still trying to sweat off a little more weight today! Frances Mercer representing Cancer Research UK was also interviewed.
Another guest today was the owner of Big Buck’s, Andy Stewart; the horse would later be biding to win the feature race of the day, the World Hurdle, for the fourth consecutive year. Also, Countryfile’s Adam Henson, who lives locally; he spoke about his filming schedule for the BBC1 show, and his friend and neighbour, racehorse trainer, David Bridgewater, who would be running The Giant Bolster in tomorrow’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Thursday’s ‘punter’s pal’ was David Williams, Head of Consumer PR for Ladbrokes, the company being the sponsor of the main event today, the World Hurdle; David spoke about Big Buck’s and Oscar Whisky, the main protagonists. He said Peddlers Cross was very uneasy in the betting for the Jewson Novices’ Chase; Solix shortening in the betting now, presumably due to the success of the Nicky Henderson yard so far this week.
Bellflower Boy was given a mention for the Pertemps Final; Riverside Theatre, Albertas Run and Captain Chris all popular for the Ryanair. Those fancied in the 5th race of the day, the Byrne Group Plate, included Divers ridden by AP McCoy, Hector’s Choice, and last year’s winner Holmwood Legend. Summery Justice and Sunnyhillboy were very popular for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders.
The final interviewee today was Irish trainer Paul Nolan, responsible for Noble Prince, a runner in today’s Ryanair Chase. He spoke about how nice it was to have a winner at Cheltenham, the aforementioned horse having won last year’s Jewson Novices’ Chase. Even being placed was a good result, far better than having to unsaddle in the ‘Long Face Parade Ring’ where the unplaced horses are unsaddled. I love that expression, and may use it in future! A question asked of many horses ... why the long face? As well as disappointed owners displaying ‘long faces’!
As is my preference, I don’t wait for the runners to appear in the Parade Ring ahead of the first race of the day; once the Preview has been completed, I head immediately to the course-side rails in order to reserve a good vantage point ahead of the first race. Besides, even when Choc is riding in the first event, it is difficult to see him in the Parade Ring, there being so many owners, trainers and jockeys obstructing the view.
In fact, although I play it a little by ‘ear’, most of the time I will remain beside the rails unless Choc is fortunate enough to win, or it is later in the day when I’m well able to regain a good vantage point having left the area. Being on my own can make it difficult, as there is no-one to reserve a place for me. This being the case, I’d missed returning to the Winners’ Enclosure for Montbazon’s 4th placed effort in the first race on Tuesday, but had been there to see Choc arrive back after finishing 3rd aboard Vendor in yesterday’s sixth race of the day, the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
It was soon time for the first race of the afternoon, the starting gate for this race being in the mid-course chute, with two fences to negotiate before turning into the home straight on the first occasion. This being the case, the horses having exited the walkway, they cantered across the course and up around the top bend upon the fibresand walkway.
Then they were off; first time. It appeared initially that Micheal Flips might cut out the running but Champion Court and the almost white Zaynar then went on.
Martin Keighley’s charge led over the 2nd, from Zaynar, Sir Des Champs, Peddlers Cross, Duke Of Lucca wide on the track, Micheal Flips now restrained, Solix, Red Tanber, Cristal Bonus, and For Non Stop.
Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, Champion Court held a narrow advantage over Zaynar. These two were 2 or 3 lengths clear of the remainder. Zaynar hit the 4th fence but held a very narrow advantage over the next and heading out onto the final circuit.
Peddlers Cross jumped out to his right over the first fence in the back straight. He was closer to the pace over the 9th fence, the first open-ditch. Champion Court led at the second open-ditch, where Cristal Bonus made an error when struggling in rear. Solix was being ridden along. The leader flew the fence at the top of the hill; in contrast, Peddlers Cross received reminders.
Champion Court was travelling well at the head of affairs 3 out, but Sir Des Champs was stalking him; For Non Stop was now in 3rd, Micheal Flips 4th as Zaynar faded. Around the final bend, Champion Court had two lengths in hand from the Willie Mullins trained Sir Des Champs. The latter closed on the leader heading towards the penultimate fence, they jumped the final two obstacles in unison and Davy Russell drove out his mount to win by 4½ lengths at the line. For Non Stop completed in 3rd; Micheal Flips in 4th.
Shortly afterwards it was announced that the disappointing Peddlers Cross, who finished last of those who completed, would return to hurdling next season. Cristal Bonus was pulled up before 4 out; Red Tanber before 2 out.
A very gallant effort by Champion Court, who had jumped like a stag throughout the race. When interviewed, Willie Mullins stated that his charge was very much suited by the strong pace set by the Martin Keighley trained runner and Zaynar.
The winner is a French-bred AQPS category horse, like Grand National winner Mon Mome.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
I find it interesting to read the comments from the Stewards’ Room during a big Festival meeting like this, so I’ve included these notes too, along with the reports into why horses ran badly.
BHA: Why they ran badly:
Ruby Walsh, the rider of CRISTAL BONUS (FR), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding was never travelling. The Stewards ordered CRISTAL BONUS (FR) to be routine tested. Paul Nicholls, the trainer of CRISTAL BONUS (FR), which was pulled up, reported that on the day after the race the gelding was found to have a large abscess on its withers.
The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two full circuits of the course to travel.
Then they were off; first time. Initially prominent were Rick, Palace Jester, Across The Bay, Sir Kezbaah, Pineau De Re, Bellflower Boy and Our Father. In rear were Cape Tribulation, Catch Me, Scotsbrook Cloud and Reindeer Dippin.
Palace Jester soon had the lead, from the 2010/ 2011 winner Buena Vista; they were followed by Rick, the 2009 winner Kayf Aramis, Pettifour, Ashkazar, Pineau De Re, Prince Erik, Restless Harry, Houblon Des Obeaux, Sonovic and Bellflower Boy. Cape Tribulation and Catch Me were in rear.
Heading down the hill and into the home straight on the first occasion, Buena Vista and Palace Jester continued to cut out the running; Kayf Aramis tracked them in third, from Ashkazar, Pettifour, Rick, Pineau De Re, Houblon Des Obeaux, Prince Erik, Bellflower Boy, Thehillsofuisneach, Sonovic, Cape Tribulation and Reindeer Dippin. In rear were Across The Bay, Sir Kezbaah having lost ground, and Russian War. Barwell Bridge hit the 6th flight.
Palace Jester continued to hold the advantage heading along the back straight, as the Tom Bellamy began to push his mount along. Barwell Bridge was pulled up before the 8th, which Scotsbrook Cloud hit. No change to the lead at the top of the hill, Kayf Aramis now in 2nd spot, ahead of the ridden along Buena Vista; still in contention were Houblon Des Obeaux, Rick, Cape Tribulation, Sonovic, Cantlow, Reindeer Dippin, Sergent Guib’s and Our Father. Kayf Aramis, disputing the lead, hit 2 out.
Exiting out of the final bend Cantlow assumed the lead, with the cruising Cape Tribulation challenging over the last. The latter was ridden out to win by ¾ of a length from Catch Me, who kept on the take 2nd ahead of Cantlow and Houblon Des Obeaux. Sonovic fell at the last when disputing 4th position.
Pulled up were Across The Bay (before 2 out); Sir Kezbaah (before 3 out); Thehillsofuisneach (before 3 out) and Scotsbrook Cloud (before the last). Buena Vista completed in 13th.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
There was a Stewards’ Enquiry associated with the second race:
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Denis O’Regan, the rider of the winner, CAPE TRIBULATION, on the run in. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he had used his whip after the post. The Stewards suspended O’Regan for 2 days as follows: Thursday 29 and Friday 30 March 2012.
BHA: Why they ran badly:
The Veterinary Officer reported that BARWELL BRIDGE,
which was pulled up, trained by Warren Greatrex,
The Paul Nicholls trained Pocquelin, ridden by Daryl Jacobs, was withdrawn at the start on vetinary advice. The officials were checking the horse’s mouth, as blood was clearly visible. Had the horse bitten his own tongue?
Then they were off. The field was led away by Great Endeavour, from Rubi Light, Albertas Run, Little Josh, Riverside Theatre, Captain Chris, Forpadydeplasterer, Somersby, Medermit, Kalahari King, Noble Prince and Blazing Tempo.
The AP McCoy ridden Albertas Run went on over the 2nd; he then disputed the lead with Great Endeavour around the far turn and into the home straight on the first occasion. These were followed by Little Josh, Rubi Light, Riverside Theatre, Forpadydeplasterer, Medermit, Captain Chris, Noble Prince, Somersby, Kalahari King; the Ruby Walsh ridden mare Blazing Tempo not jumping fluently in rear.
Riverside Theatre jumped slowly over fence five; Noble Prince jumped to his right over the 6th and 7th fences. Albertas Run and Little Josh bumped in mid-air clearing the latter. Great Endeavour, Albertas Run and Rubi Light were vying for the lead as the runners headed away from the stands; the latter taking the advantage over the next fence, the 8th, when Great Endeavour wasn’t fluent. Kalahari King, Forpadydeplasterer and Noble Prince were all slow at this fence.
Blazing Tempo, never travelling, was pulled up before the 10th fence, as was Noble Prince. Medermit hit this one. Rubi Light led over the 11th, from Albertas Run, Little Josh, Great Endeavour, the pushed along Riverside Theatre, Somersby, Captain Chris and the ridden Medermit. Albertas Run took over the lead, clearing the 12th in front. As is his inclination, Captain Chris jumped to his right and continued to do so over his obstacles; often to the disadvantage of Riverside Theatre to his outside.
Choc’s mount, having responded to Choc’s urgings, made headway; although he hit the 13th, hard. Riverside Theatre also hit this fence, as did Forpadydeplasterer. Rubi Light got his head in front once more 4 out.
Over 3 out the order was Albertas Run, Rubi Light, Riverside Theatre; with Medermit just behind these three. Turning into the home straight, AP McCoy’s mount still held the advantage, from Riverside Theatre to his outside, Rubi Light to his inside. Choc drove Medermit between horses; he was a very close third when he cleared 2 out.
It was anyone’s race as they cleared the last; Albertas Run hung to his right, causing Riverside Theatre to drift towards the stand-side rails. Medermit ran straight up the far side rails and for a while it was neck and neck. However, Riverside Theatre stayed on best under a strong drive from Barry Geraghty to take the prize by ½ a length from Albertas Run, with Medermit a further ½ length away in 3rd. Captain Chris took 4th, having overtaken Rubi Light on the run to the line.
Yet another winner for this week’s all conquering jockey and trainer combination of Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson. Riverside Theatre was Barry’s 5th winner of the week following Sprinter Sacre (Arkle), Simonsig (Neptune), Bobs Worth (RSA) and Finian’s Rainbow (Queen Mother Champion Chase); and Nicky’s 6th winner this week having trained all of the above plus yesterday’s Fred Winter winner Une Artiste.
I made a decision to return to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and the gallant Medermit arrive back. Choc’s parents, Sally and Martin, had made their way to the steppings to watch their son too, having viewed the race from the Owners and Trainers area.
Once I had seen Choc unsaddle and return to the Weighing Room, I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race. Fortunately, it being a quieter day than Tuesday or Gold Cup day, I had no problems with this.
There was a Stewards’ Enquiry associated with the third race and, unfortunately, it involved Choc:
BHA Why they ran badly:
Davy Russell, the rider of NOBLE PRINCE (GER), which
was pulled up, reported that the gelding jumped right and felt wrong.
It was now time for Choc’s second and final ride of the day, aboard the Alan King trained Smad Place in the feature race of the day. Being the main race of the day, police officers and security guards were posted along the rails as a deterrent to those who might wish to climb over the fence and stray onto the course to disrupt the race.
Upon exiting the course, the horses were led in a circle and sorted into number order before parading in front of the stands. The stable lads and lasses having released their charges, the runners cantered back down past the winning post then headed up around the top bend via the fibresand strip.
The starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two full circuits of the course to travel.
Then they were off; first time. Choc set off one from the rear. The field was led away by Cross Kennon, from Five Dream, Mourad, Big Buck’s, Mikael D’Haguenet, Thousand Stars, Oscar Whisky, Dynaste, So Young, Smad Place, and Voler La Vedette.
At the top of the hill Cross Kennon and Five Dream were matching strides at the head of affairs. The three grey runners, Thousand Stars, Dynaste and Smad Place were grouped near the rear. There was little change in the order as the runners progressed up the home straight on the first occasion. The order was Cross Kennon, Five Dream, Big Buck’s, Mourad, Mikael D’Haguenet, Thousand Stars, Oscar Whisky, So Young, Dynaste, Smad Place and Voler La Vedette.
Mourad led narrowly crossing the 8th flight; Big Buck’s now in second, as Cross Kennon weakened. Big Buck’s took the lead 2 out, from Thousand Stars, Oscar Whisky, Mourad, Smad Place and Voler La Vedette.
Ruby drove Big Buck’s around the turn and towards the last; switching to his left. Andrew Lynch, travelling well aboard the mare Voler La Vedette switched to the nearside in response. She held every chance on the run-in, but it was no surprise that Big Buck’s had her measure and was well in command in the final 50 yards; winning by 1¾ lengths.
Although initially outpaced, Smad Place stayed on to claim 3rd; Thousand Stars completed in 4th. Oscar Whisky was well beaten in 5th.
Jockey Andrew Lynch was the first to congratulate Ruby, slapping him on the back as they pulled up after the line; Ruby hugged his mount. It was then Choc’s turn to congratulate the winning jockey; he shook his hand and said a few words to his colleague too.
Having been placed, once again I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Smad Place arrive back. Once he had unsaddled his mount and returned to the Weighing Room, I decided to visit the loo, hoping to gain a time advantage at the end of the day and therefore leave the racecourse a few minutes early. However, the queue stretched out the door ... and I was amazed at the number of women who were inappropriately dressed for a cold day! Even though I’d put on more layers than earlier in the week, I was really cold today. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Having not returned to the course-side rails, I watched the next race on the big screen whilst standing on the concourse.
The starting gate for this race being in the mid-course chute, with three fences to negotiate before turning into the home straight on the first occasion.
Jockey Richard Johnson had been stood down for the remainder of the afternoon; he was still suffering the ill-effects following the fall from Wishful Thinking in yesterday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase. His mount had crashed out through the rails at the 4th fence, hitting and injuring a French photographer too. He was replaced in the next race by Michael Byrne claiming 5 lbs aboard top weight Tartak.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Salut Flo, from Radetsky March, who jumped left and made a mistake at the first. Also prominent were Tartak, Kilcrea Asla, Holmwood Legend and Fingeronthepulse. In rear was Life Of A Luso.
The Cockney Mackem hit the 2nd fence, as did Charingworth. Near the rear of the field, Notus De La Tour fell at the third fence; Georgio Quercus, Crack Away Jack and Life Of A Luso were all hampered as a result. The prominent Fingeronthepulse hit the fourth fence. Heading up the home straight on the first occasion, Salut Flo continued to lead, from Fingeronthepulse, Holmwood Legend, Gilbarry, Hector’s Choice, Divers, Tartak, Radetsky March, and Georgio Quercus. Radetsky March hit the 7th obstacle and lost his place, soon tailing off.
Proceeding down the back straight, there was no change at the head of affairs, Gilbarry now in second, from Fingeronthepulse. Hector’s Choice, Mad Moose, Charingworth and Crack Away Jack all hit the 8th fence. Niceonefrankie made an error at the 10th, the first open-ditch. Hector’s Choice blundered at the 11th and soon lost his place. The prominent Gilbarry clobbered 5 out.
Still Salut Flo led, although he hit 4 out, his first significant error. Fingeronthepulse his nearest pursuer, Divers in 3rd; the latter blundered 3 out, his jockey AP McCoy clipping the wing of the fence. Tom Scudamore’s mount was 3 lengths clear around the final bend, from Divers, Fingeronthepulse and The Cockney Mackem. However, Salut Flo stayed on well to win by 6th lengths at the line, having made all. The Cockney Mackem finished 2nd, Glam Gerry caught Divers on the line to take 3rd, Tartak in 5th; last year’s winner, Holmwood Legend 6th.
It was trainer David Pipe’s 8th Festival winner.
Having remained on the concourse, I was able to reach the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure with ease when the winning horse arrived back. I then returned to the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
Alan King had one runner in the next event, Midnight Appeal ridden by Mr Robbie Henderson.
Upon exiting the walkway from the Parade Ring, the competitors for the next race cantered up the all-weather track in front of the stands before returning down the course to the starting gate which was situated between the two nearest steeplechase fences in the home straight. Thus the race took place over slightly more than two circuits of the track; with one fence to be jumped three times.
There was a problem at the start, the jockeys manoeuvring their horses to be far too close to the tape. Midnight Appeal was side on, boxed in and stubbornly refused budge; the almost white Swing Bill was also trapped, almost broadside on. The jockeys finally turned their horses away from the tape, although barely withdrew enough before coming in to line up again. This time Sona Sasta ended up with his hindquarters resting on the tape; he was facing in the wrong direction! He, too, dug in his toes. Eventually the horse consented to turn around ...
The starter had now had enough, he released the tape and the runners were off from a standing start. However, Sona Sasta had planted himself once more, almost refusing to race and got left by a number of lengths at the start before finally consenting to race.
The field was led away by Becauseicouldntsee, from Start Me Up, Summery Justice, Fredo, Slippers Percy, Exmoor Ranger, Frontier Spirit, Time For Spring, Be There In Five, Sunnyhillboy, Mostly Bob and Faasel. Adams Island made an error at the second fence; Mostly Bob made a mistake at the third, the water-jump.
Becauseicouldntsee led the field down the hill on the first occasion, from the Martin Keighley trained Benbane Head, Adams Island, Slippers Percy, Fredo, Start Me Up and Time For Spring. Into the home straight, Sona Sosta had progressed into mid-field. Into the back straight once more, Adams Island made an error at the 14th, as did Slippers Percy. Gurtacrue and Brackloon High made errors at the fence at the top of the hill.
Benbane Head took the lead 3 out, and led around the final bend; Becauseicouldntsee regained it two out. Exmoor Ranger, Time For Spring, Up The Beat, Start Me Up and Your Busy were still in contention. The race favourite, Sunnyhillboy, continued to progress up the inside and was in second position as they cleared the last. His jockey, Mr Alan Berry, rode him to take the lead on the run-in, winning by 4½ lengths from Becauseicouldntsee, Exmoor Ranger and Up The Beat.
Benbane Head faded on the run to the line to finish 9th; Midnight Appeal, very tired, fell at the last.
I think the problem at the start was caused by the fact that there is no off-course ‘holding pen’ on the inside of the course at this point, the runners being pretty much cramped for room between the final two fences in the home straight. I’m not sure why they cannot use the space to the outside, it being the already ‘discarded’ Old Course, enabling them to have a ‘rolling’ start and perhaps avoid the problems they encountered.
Once again, it being late in the day, I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winner and placed horses arrive back.
It was now time for the final race of the day, the charity race in aid of Cancer Research UK. There were 12 competing in the event, Tina Cook (3-day event rider, sister of Nick Gifford, daughter of Josh), Jelly O’Brien (wife of Fergal), Niall Hannity (RUK presenter), Stuart Parr, Shan Cothi, Jo McCain (daughter of Ginger), Candida Baker (wife of trainer George), Gina Bryce (ATR presenter), James Hughes, Wendy Normile, Niall Cronin and Lindsey Hunt.
When the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails for the final time today. The horses were circling on the racecourse, at the point where the main circuit meets the home straight; the race being run over one complete circuit of the racecourse.
Then they were away; Prince Of Fire rearing slightly just before they set off. The field was led away by On Khee, from Wild Desert, Langley, Not So Sure Dick, Akiem, Crunched, The Baler, Pillar Of Hercules, Kykate, Loden, the grey Pascha Bere and Prince Of Fire.
Crunched, ridden by Racing UK presenter Niall Hannity, made noticeable headway on the inside of the runners as the field travelled towards the top of the hill; Prince Of Fire had made progress too.
On Khee still held the advantage as the field headed downhill, from Wild Desert, Crunched, Langley, Prince Of Fire, The Baler, Kykate, Pascha Bere, Not So Sure Dick, Akiem, Loden and Pillar Of Hercules.
Around the final turn and into the home straight, Wild Desert went on, from the long time leader On Khee, then came Crunched and Prince of Fire, with Pascha Bere staying on towards the inside of the track to get his head in front just after the one furlong pole. Having swept past the other runners, he went on to win by a number of lengths at the line.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winner and placed horses arrive back. Tina, her brother and the horse’s owner were absolutely delighted to have won. It meant a lot to them; Tina and Nick having lost their dad, ex-jockey and trainer, Josh just a few short weeks ago. And yes, I do remember Josh riding as a jockey ... I remember lots of things ... which means this particular grey mare must be pretty old!
Lindsey Hunting, who completed in second, is staff nurse at the Worcester Royal Hospital, she rides out regularly for trainer Fergal O’Brien and is the fiancée of jockey Paddy Brennan. Each jockey received a memento of their special day.
Once the prizes had been presented, it was time for me to leave. I walked back up the concourse and exited via the gate located beside the Centaur building. This year, unlike previous ones, I’ve been leaving the car park shortly after arriving back to collect my car. I usually hate pushing out into the queue of cars ... I’m a bit of a scardy cat at heart! Far too polite for my own good!!! In fact I think it was a little quieter today; perhaps a number of attendees had left prior to the charity race taking place.
Anyway, unlike the awful problems I had encountered the previous day when trying to escape from the town itself, today was a piece of cake. It has to be said that each time the traffic police intervene, it causes far more problems than are necessary; the prime example being yesterday.
After being directed to turn right upon leaving the gate, today I was able to turn left into Tommy Taylors Lane/Folly Lane and at the following T-junction turned left to travel along St Paul’s Road and into Clarence Square. Having waited briefly at the traffic lights, I turned left at the end of Clarence Road, heading up Prestbury Road and taking a right turn at the first roundabout. Having negotiated Pittville Circus, I proceded to the end of Pittville Circus Road. I then turned left to travel along Hewlett Road to reach the ‘longabout’. Instead of turning right and heading back along Hales Road, I headed up Harp Hill, taking a right turn into Greenway Lane to reach the Six Ways junction where, after the traffic lights changed to green, I turned left onto London Road, the A40. I’d escaped Cheltenham in 15 minutes! That’s how it should be; not the 40 minutes it had taken yesterday thanks to the interference by the traffic police.
It being relatively early, darkness didn’t fall until I was well on my way across the Cotswolds. As on the previous two days, once I’d reached A44 junction on the western outskirts of Oxford, I decided to continue around the city’s ring-road to reach the M40. The motorway is in darkness until after it rises through the Chilterns escarpment but, after that, it is lit all the way to the M25. The latter motorway is lit too, which helps when one gets older, as it is a scientific fact that night driving gets more difficult as one ages. Evidently pupils shrink with age, permitting less light into the eye; and the cornea and lense also become less clear, increasing glare and reducing contrast sensitivity.
As I needed to fill my car’s fuel tank before returning home, I proceeded to Junction 22 of the M25, a Sainsburys petrol station being located on the retail park adjoining the motorway. In fact I always fill up here; the one exception being my annual excursion to Aintree when I have to fill up once during my trip, at the Asda store a very short distance from the racecourse!
Having completed that task, I drove home, arriving at 20:25. Time for a quick snack; I then uploaded my photographs and wrote my daily blog, whilst recording RUK’s highlights programme. This particular taping making it easier for me to make race notes without having to fast forward to find the sections I need! Whilst on-line I also tweeted Choc to wish him luck for the final day of the Festival; he tweeted back to thank me for my good wishes.
And, having spent the day shivvering at Cheltenham, I was gutted to discover that Hertfordshire had been bathed in warm sunshine all day! Typical.
As had seemed the norm this week, my good intentions of getting to bed in good time ahead of the next day’s racing flew out of the window once more. It was nearer 23:00 than 22:00 when I turned in.