HEYTHROP COUNTRY FAIR & DONKEY DERBY
SUNDAY 16 JUNE 2013
I caught up with my favourite jockey
for a photo opportunity
Having attended last year’s Heythrop Country Fair in Gloucestershire I was hoping that Choc would be sufficiently recovered from his broken arm to again take part in the driven Donkey Derby event. He’d not returned to race riding at this time, but that was due to it being the quiet period of summer jumping, rather than any delay in his convalescence.
I was therefore very pleased to discover a brief article in the Horse and Hound magazine published on 25 April mentioning that, amongst others, RUK’s Oli Bell, racing journalist and Grand National winning amateur jockey Marcus Armytage, last year’s overall winner jockey Denis O’Regan and ... Choc ... would be taking part again this year.
The Fair would also feature pig steeplechasing, an inter-hunt relay, a gate jumping competition, a parade of Heythrop hounds, under-10s gymkhana, terrier racing and family dog show, a tug-of-war and to end the day a local band.
Having missed out on a visit to the races before the end of the season, due to me not attending lower profile fixtures because of Choc’s absence, I decided to ask my friend Lesley if she’d like to come along to the Fair. With the provisio that plans would be cancelled if Choc wasn’t going to be in attendance.
On the Monday prior to the event I was able to confirm arrangements for the day, the participants in the Donkey Derby having been confirmed via twitter. The jockeys being Denis O’Regan, Andrew Tinkler, Sam ‘Jockey Style’ Jones and, of course, Choc.
And just in case you’ve not seen the Jockey Style video (Sam is the tall jockey – 6 foot 1 inch evidently):
And the outtakes too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=timKwgTN1VM
With the day fast approaching I had to decide what to wear. It was easy to decide upon a top, I wore my favourite blue, beige and black Wallis top, with my bright blue Wallis cardigan. The choice of which pair of jeans was more difficult. I can still struggle into my size 16s ... two thirds of my size 16 high rise pairs that is ... as opposed to low rise; the extra stone I’m still carrying results in a muffin-top when wearing the latter! Not a good look. Blue or black? I decided upon the sole black pair available to me, as they consist of 6% lycra! Thank goodness for lycra!
Having experienced a few days of warm and sunny summer weather in early June, the forecast had deteriorated by this particular weekend. There were heavy rain showers in Hertfordshire on the Saturday, but the forecast for Sunday seemed more promising in my home county. And I was hoping east Gloucestershire would miss the rain too ... but I did take my purple jacket to wear, and an umbrella.
It would be a busy weekend for Choc. On Saturday evening he attended the charity fundraising event held at Cheltenham Racecourse in aid of injured amateur jockey JT McNamara. He took part in a celebrity Blind Date; he was the guy choosing from the line-up of ‘girls’; inverted commas because one of the girls was fellow jockey Mattie Batchelor dressed in drag! And, yes, Choc chose Mattie!!!
Here is a link to photographs taken at the event:
And also a link to the report in the local Gloucestershire press. Click here to read.
I like to allow two hours for preparation before setting off on one of my Choc-related excursions and today was no different. I set my alarm for 06:30; fortunately I was already awake by 06:00 as the alarm would not have sounded anyway because I later discovered the charge in the battery was too low!
Time for a shower and to wash and dry my hair before a breakfast of porridge today. I then applied my makeup and was ready to go by 08:30. There was a last minute change of footwear, as my jeans wouldn’t fit over my blue ankle boots, I decided upon my faithful black engineer boots instead. Long may they last ... although I will be on the look out for a possible replacement pair next winter.
Lesley lives in a village situated between Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard, so my route took me up through my city centre, a slight delay incurred due to being stuck behind a slow-moving road repair lorry enroute. I then headed along the A5183/A5 towards Dunstable.
Despite the early hour of the day, the idiot drivers were already out in force. The first was a driver of a Mercedes which pulled up in the right-turn only lane at the traffic lights on the Markyate bypass, then went straight-ahead in order to overtake me instead. Further on ‘he’ was almost hanging off the outside bumper of a coach before overtaking just moments before he would have encountered traffic heading in the opposite direction.
A few moments later an idiot aboard the coach decided to throw an empty beer can out of a window, which clattered along the road and I heard it clunk beneath the wheels of my car. Then, finally, a second driver decided to overtake by using the right only turn at the traffic lights at the Caddington junction, narrowly avoiding the centre island as they pushed in front of the coach. Hopefully I wouldn’t encounter any more idiots during my journeys today.
Having reached the outskirts of Dunstable I took a left turn to head through the housing estate via Lowther and Langdale Road in order to reach the Tring Road. I arrived to pick up Lesley at around 09:10. From there, our journey took us around the Leighton Buzzard bypass, through Wing and onwards to Aylesbury.
The route then followed the A41 through Waddesdon, where a group of bikers pulled out in front of the line of traffic and this kept the speed down until we reached Bicester, at which point the bikers decided to stop off at the Services at the far end of the bypass. I turned southwards along the final stretch of the A41, before joining the A34 to head for the Peartree Interchange, before taking the slip-road to join the A44, driving down the dual carriageway to reach the A40. It’s a pleasure to travel this section of the journey on a Sunday, unlike the rush-hour bottle-neck encountered on a Cheltenham Festival raceday!
We then set off westwards along the A40 towards Burford – the familiar traffic lights, roundabout, a further set of traffic lights, the dual carriageway past Witney, before reaching the bleak section of road along the ridge before the aforementioned town. At this point the line of traffic was headed by a Morris Traveller!
Having negotiated the roundabout at the southern end of Burford, with its Travelodge hotel, we continued to head west until reaching the B4425 where we took a left turn, the vehicles ahead of us disappearing off into the distance despite the fact that I was near the speed limit myself. We remained on this road until reaching the village of Aldsworth, where we turned off to the right. I hadn’t read the very recent tweets from the organisers of the Country Fair so didn’t take their suggested preferred route along the A40 to the ‘Lodge Park’ turning.
Having carefully negotiated the village lanes, we headed off in the direction of Northleach. Unlike last year, lorries were using the nearest field entrance this year, with cars being directed to the far corner of the site opposite the Lodge Park lane junction, a queue of cars had formed to get in. It was just £5 each to enter, plus £2 for a programme. It was only a few minutes gone 10:30, the gates having opened at 10:00. I parked up in a row behind the bouncy castle.
Having left the car, we headed towards the arenas area. There were two arenas, the Under-10s gymkhana already underway in Ring Two. I spotted the Keighleys - Belinda, Martin and their children Freddie and Harry. Freddie was taking part aboard the grey Monty (The Full Monty), with Harry aboard the aptly named minature Shetland Crunchie ... the pony is the colour of a Crunchie bar!
We went to say hello. The boys would win a number of rosettes today, as they had the previous day too at another gymkhana.
The pig steeplechase was running behind the scheduled time of 10:30 so we didn’t miss any of the event after all. It was actually four pig steeplechases, the same five pigs competing in each of them. A section of the linear donkey derby track had been cordoned off in order for the races to take place. There were two fences for the pigs to negotiate and they were encouraged to run along the course by someone shaking a bucket of food for them to follow. The first pig to enter the pen at the far end was declared the winner.
The pigs, identified via different coloured paint marks on the top of their heads, were auctioned off to the highest bidders for the first two races, with 50% of the monies being won by the winning bidder if their pig triumphed. It was possible to bet on the pigs too, this being the sole option on the final two races.
The next event, this time in Ring , was the inter-hunt relay. There were four teams taking part, including the Heythrop and the Bicester with Whaddon; one of the hunts entered a team of ladies and a team of guys. When the signal was given for the off, a tractor pulling a trailer containing two rails and wings, and four lengths of wood with triangular end supports was driven down the course. The team had to construct the standard fence and then further down the course hammer together the second fence using the wood and supports.
Having completed these tasks, the tractor team was driven back to the beginning where one of the team members handed over the relay baton (a hunting crop) to the first of two riders. They jumped the fences in one direction before turning and jumping them in the opposite direction too before handing over to the second rider who then repeated the route. It was now the turn of the dog handler to take their charge over the course, all the competitors carried their terrier dogs over the obstacles, weaved through the bending poles, encouraged (or threw!) their dogs through a short length of pipe, before returning over the fences back to the handover point.
The final task was to drive back down the course and dismantle the fences before heading to the finishing line. It soon became apparent to the competitors that it was unwise to construct the wooden fence too sturdily as it then took too long to rip it apart again! There were two heats, with the losers competing against each other to claim third place, and the heat winners competing in the final. I can’t recall which team won, but I do remember that one of the tractors in the final cornered so fast that it sent the sandy red soil flying ... all over our legs. Thanks guys. Fortunately the soil wasn’t particularly damp so dusted off easily.
It was pointed out by the commentator that a couple of the horses/ponies taking part in the inter-hunt relay were for sale – a chestnut mare named Annie and one of the painted ponies too; their riders were outgrowing them.
It had begun to rain by the time the Gate Jumping competition got underway. One of the riders taking part was eventer Laura Collett, the current ‘guardian’ of the retired Kauto Star. Today she brought along two of her young horses, one of which she rode bareback.
Having knocked down the gate, riders were given the option of taking off their jacket and re-taking the fence in order to get back into the competition. Among the competitors was a mother and young daughter, the latter riding a pony and following her mum over the fence; she did really well and it was amazing that the unpretentious pony could jump so high. The event was won by a member of the Heythrop Hunt, Helen Moodie, who cleared 5 foot 6 inches on a hunter mare; the horse belonged to Charlie Brooks who was in attendance with his wife and daughter.
The event having been completed, we then took a tour around the tents and marquees; we’d already visited the Heythrop Hunt marquee earlier in the morning to each purchase a coffee. Having returned to the northern side of Ring One, I glanced across and noticed Choc hanging out with his mates at the Heythrop Hunt beer tent on the opposite side of the main arena! Well spotted!
Following the interlude, it was time for the Heythrop Hounds to parade in the main arena. Children were encouraged to enter the ring to pet the dogs. Meanwhile, the family dog show and the terrier racing took place in Ring Two.
We had noticed that the donkeys had arrived ahead of the main event and they were turned out in a small temporary paddock close to their transport vehicle at the far end of the Derby course, so we went over to take a look at them.
The human competitors had been asked to report to the donkey handlers so that they could be briefed ahead of the race. There had already been an announcement to say that Andrew Tinkler would not be competing in the jockeys’ heat as he’d ‘failed a breathalyser test’! His place would be taken by Sean Quinlan.
The trainers, who were taking part in the first heat, were quick to follow the instruction, the remaining competitors less so. Eventually Choc appeared and I went to briefly say hello to him. He said he was still in no hurry to return to race riding, he’d be back by the autumn, although he was getting bored with the inactivity.
It was soon time for the donkeys to be paired up with their drivers for the first heat. Taking part were Fergal O’Brien, Martin Keighley, Charlie Longsdon and Ben Pauling (who is Charlie Longsdon’s brother-in-law and is just starting out as a trainer). The animals having been hitched to their carts, they were led to Ring One. Each competitor chose their donkey and was auctioned off to the highest bidder. They then returned to the linear Derby course and were quickly off. The race was won by Ben Pauling driving Princess. She nearly always wins! Martin Keighley finished last.
Heat two was for the Huntsmen – Michael Little (Heythrop), Philip Hague (VWH), Simon Hand (Cotswold), and Nick Hopkins (North Cotswold). The drivers wore numbered bibs for this and in the following heats and final. I think Michael Little may have won this heat for the home team but I’m not 100% sure. But the winner did drive the cart pulled by Princess.
The third heat was for the jockeys – Denis O’Regan, Sean Quinlan, Choc sporting the pink number 3 bib, and Sam Jones fresh from his shire horse race at Lingfield the previous evening. Sean decided to wear his goggles for the race, which Choc found amusing. RUK’s Oli Bell was interviewed and thought Choc would win ‘because he had a twinkle in his eye’.
As Denis was wearing bib number 1, he got the first choice of donkey. He didn’t choose Princess. Nor did Sean who had second choice. In fact Choc chose her, and Martin Keighley was the successful auction bidder. Also, Freddie Keighley lent Choc his whip; not that he could use it during the race, but it was the thought that counted. Sam Jones had to settle for the remaining donkey.
Having chosen their steeds, the competitors headed over to the Derby racetrack. Then they were off. But Princess failed in her bid to win the race, the reigning champion Denis O’Regan won the heat with Sean Quinlan finishing second. Choc wasn’t that far behind them but I think he may have been carrying overweight gained from his time on the sidelines!
Here is a photograph of Choc and Freddie, the whip having been returned to its rightful owner.
I also took the opportunity to have my photograph taken with my favourite jockey, only the fourth time I think, apart from a group photograph taken at Kempton Park following one of the final furlong course walks.
The final heat was for Celebrities – Marcus Armytage, Oli Bell, ex-jockey and now racehorse trainer Jamie Osborne, and Laura Collett. The latter wore bib 4 but the guys decided that she should have first choice of donkey and she chose Princess. And, surprise, surprise, Princess won again. And, following the race, Andrew Tinkler wanted a stewards enquiry claiming that Oli had stopped his donkey having placed a laying bet ... or was that the alcohol talking?
So, the finalists were Ben Pauling, the winning huntsman, Denis O’Regan and Laura Collett. Once more Laura chose Princess but she didn’t win ... because the guy who had been leading the donkey up took a ride on the back of the cart, thus handicapping the donkey. And Denis won again; he’d retained his title.
Here is a photo of Denis receiving his prize, with runner-up Ben Pauling.
By this time Choc and his mates had retired to the beer tent once more.
Finally the clouds dispersed and the rain which had tried its best to spoil the day disappeared.
The final event of the day was the Tug of War – which was best of three if applicable. The first game was between two children’s teams – girls vs boys, although there were a number of boys on the girls team too. The solely boys team won.
The jockeys, including Choc, took part in the next event but they lost both their tugs; probably because they were ‘lightweights’. Then there was a Tug of War between representatives from the hunts.
With solely the local band to play after 16:00, my last glimpse of Choc was to see him hanging out with his friends outside the beer tent once more. We went to buy a coffee from the adjoining tent and when we came out they were gone.
Having drunk the coffee and disposed of the cups in one of the refuse bins, we returned to my car at around 16:00; it was a little more difficult to locate than expected because the bouncy castle had been deflated! I’d brought along four cheese rolls, so we shared these before setting off on our journey home. Note to self: I must remember to eat during the day, otherwise it plays havoc with my acid reflux symptoms!
As I wanted to take the scenic route back, we drove up the lane past Lodge Park to reach the A40. We had to wait for the vehicle ahead to turn right across the busy streams of traffic, before taking a left turn and heading towards the Cirencester/Stow on the Wold road. I was pleased to note that there was a sign warning of impending roadworks on this stretch of the A40 – hopefully my next journeys to Cheltenham won’t be marred by the numerous potholes which had spoilt my trips last season!
Having reached the roundabout on the A429, I turned right to head towards the market town; the road crosses the wolds so is a ‘switchback’ for much of the way. Upon reaching the Bourton-on-the-Water righthand turning, we encountered temporary traffic lights ... and it transpired that they weren’t functioning properly, as they remained on red even when the vehicles on the southbound carriageway of the A429 were given the all-clear to move off. Eventually the two cars in front of me got the message and moved off too, as did I and the stream of vehicles behind us.
We drove up the steep hill into Stow, a number of vehicles deciding to use the outside overtaking lane to do just that. Having waited for the traffic lights to change, we then turned right into Sheep Street and descended the hill, passing Choc’s new favourite watering hole, The Bell at Stow, on the right. The road took us past Adlestrop; the village had been holding an open day today, where it was also possible to visit Richard Phillips’ yard and have the opportunity to enter the family pet in a dog show. Judging the dogs was actor Robert Hardy.
Having reached the A44 we turned right and drove into Chipping Norton; taking the ‘local traffic’ route out of the town, rather than the longer signposted route – been there, done that before! More impatient locals decided to overtake me, despite the fact that I wasn’t travelling slowly. Nevermind, better to get there a little more slowly than never to arrive at all...
At Enstone it was time to leave the main road and turn left to head across country, through the village of Gagingwell and the Bartons. Eventually we reached the outskirts of Bicester and their ever-expanding new housing estate to the west of the town. After that we joined the A41 and set off to Aylesbury, then Wing, around the Leighton Buzzard bypass and returned to Lesley’s home village where I dropped her off.
My route than took me back through Dunstable, past Markyate and Redbourn, then to Harpenden Common and home. I arrived back at 19:00.
Evidently the tennis championship at Queens Club in West London (been there, done that too a number of times when Agassi was playing) had been delayed earlier in the day due to rain ... but there had been no rain in St Albans. Last year the Heythrop Country Fair had been very fortunate as the day had been warm and dry despite the very wet late spring and summer. Oh well, I’d rather go see Choc in the rain than remain home in the dry!
Despite it being Fathers’ Day, there was no sign of William today – I gather Meally and William attended the christening of Richard and Fiona Johnson’s son Percy.
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The Fair featured in a brief report in the 27 June issue of Horse and Hound whereby I was able to gleen additional information:
Charlie Brooks’ 8-year-old hunter which won the Gate Jumping competition is named Megan. The pony rider in the same event was nine-year-old Molly Hughes, her pony is 13.2 hands high Ted, and they cleared 4 foot 6 inches. The Kimblewick won the inter-hunt relay (they are based in the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire area, south of Aylesbury).