DIARY – HUNTINGDON – THURSDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2009
Initially Choc was scheduled for 5 rides, but Istron Bay was withdrawn, leaving him with 4 rides, all for Alan King.
As the first race was at 13:50 today, I decided I could go into work at 08:00 and leave at 11:45 to drive up to Huntingdon. In Hertfordshire an overcast day dawned, but by mid-morning the sky had cleared and we were treated to some sunshine. However it had clouded over a little by the time I left work, but as I drove north up the A1, the sky became blue once more and it was very pleasant by the time I reached Huntingdon.
As it was around 12:50 when I arrived at the racecourse entrance, there were a number of car drivers ahead of me and they were stopping to ask for directions to the public car park. Prior to this I noticed a bird of prey (probably a sparrow-hawk) fly over the driveway to land to my left.
The far end of the driveway was even more pitted than usual, presumably having been affected by the recent icy conditions. I parked my car, changed into my ‘granny’ shoes, and walked to the turnstiles where, as usual, the entry fee was £15. I then purchased a race-card at the kiosk and walked across to the Parade Ring where horses were already beginning to appear prior to the first race of the day.
I noticed that the old stand has now been demolished ready for the re-development of a new grandstand with Weighing Room beneath.
Richard Phillips and his Assistant, Gordon Clarkson (the man who originally gave Choc his nickname) were in the paddock as they had a runner in the first race, Melody. Alan King passed the time of day with them as he walked across the paddock to the saddling boxes.
Choc’s mount in the first race, a Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle was Alflora Dora. There were 11 runners, the distance 2 miles 5½ furlongs. The race commenced at the top end of the course, away to the left of the stands, and the horses cantered straight to the start, presumably to preserve the course and because the in-field was flooded in places.
When the race began, Choc held his mount up at the rear, on the inside of the field. The pace was dawdling for the first few furlongs, with Midnight Legend and Purely by Chance taking them along. As they came into the straight for the first time, Alflora Dora took slightly closer order. He was at the back of a breakaway group of 5 as they exited the back straight for the final time. Choc then pushed her up the inside as they turned into the home straight, taking 3rd position. His mount made a slight mistake at the second last, but he had a slender lead at the last. However, he was quickly caught and overtaken by Ravello Bay, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty, and was beaten by 1 length on the line. Sawpit Solitaire finished 3rd, with Purely by Chance in 4th.
As Choc had finished in 2nd place, he returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to dismount, unsaddle and speak with connections. I had returned to my customary spot to see him come back in.
By the time preparations for the second race were underway it was beginning to cloud over again and had become a little chilly – and unfortunately I had decided not to wear quite as many layers of clothing today!
Choc no longer had a mount in the 2nd race, a Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, as Istron Bay trained by Richard Lee had been withdrawn. The distance was an extended 2 miles. When the race began the flashy chestnut, Gainsborough’s Art, was sent into the lead by jockey, Chris Honour. Another flashy chestnut, Noubian, fell at the 3rd flight, with the jockey being helped to his feet by a medic. The field was strung out as they entered the back straight, and Gainsborough’s Art was then pushed on again to take a bigger advantage once more. As they turned into the final straight, Felix de Giles drove Elite Land through between horses but in doing so he badly interfered with Andrew Thornton’s mount, Early Wings (Felix was later awarded a 2-day ban for careless riding). As they galloped up over the final two flights, Gainsborough’s Art still held the lead, with Elite Land closing significantly despite flattening the last flight, but he could not catch Chris Honour’s mount. Imminent Victory finished 3rd, with Early Wings in 4th.
The 3rd race of the day was a Novices’ Steeplechase over an extended 2 miles, with 6 runners. Choc didn’t have a ride in this race either. The open-ditch in front of the stands was being omitted today. When the race began, Opera de Coeur, ridden by Richard Johnson, led them off, with the roan, Pasco, following close behind. The first horse to be beaten was Peak Seasons. As they came into the final straight Pasco had already taken the lead and he galloped on to win. The pretty grey, Idarah, came in 2nd, with The Duke’s Speech in 3rd, with Opera de Coeur back in 4th. A winner for Sam Thomas and Paul Nicholls.
It was now time for Choc’s 2nd ride of the day, which was aboard Cracboumwiz in the Novices’ Hurdle race. There were 10 runners in this event. Again the start of the race was away to the left of the stands, so the horses cantered directly to it. Once the race began, Helpston, with Warren Marston aboard, set off in the lead. Choc kept his mount at the back of the field, taking a middle line and, as they galloped past the winning post for the first time, he began to take closer order. As they came into the final straight Cracboumwiz was up into 3rd place. However, Time for Rupert ridden by William Kennedy was going well, and despite a sustained effort Choc was unable to peg him back, William’s mount winning by 2½ lengths on the line.
Once again I headed for the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Cracboumwiz return in 2nd spot. Alan and the owner noticed that the horse had sustained damage to the skin just below the point of its nearside hock, but it did not seem to bother the animal and it wasn’t bleeding.
It was now time for Choc’s 3rd ride of the day. He was riding Minella Four Star in the Handicap Steeplechase. There were 18 runners in this 3 mile event. Alan was also running Quidonc in the race, with Wayne Hutchinson aboard. Choc and Wayne came into the Parade Ring together and went to join Alan and the owners. It was my impression that perhaps Minella Four Star’s owners weren’t at Huntingdon and that the group of people in the Ring were connected with Wayne’s mount – this was later confirmed!
Anyway, the start of the race was midway up the home straight, so the horses cantered past the stands to reach it. Then they were off. Choc set off in a prominent position, in 4th place, taking a centre to outside line. Having bypassed the open-ditch, there was a faller at the 2nd fence – Uncle Eli ridden by Joe Tizzard. Choc had started to get to work by the time the field had reached the end of the back straight for the final time, but he was still in with a chance of being placed.
As they ran up towards the line 3 horses were in the shake-up – By George, Kitski and Peut Etre Sivola, the latter being the first to concede. By George and Kitski fought out the finish, with the latter prevailing by a neck on the line. Minella Four Star ran on to claim 4th spot. I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back in. However, Alan was nowhere to be seen. I presume he must have been speaking with the connections of Quidonc. Once he had unsaddled, Choc waited, leaning against the railings for a minute or two to see if Alan was going to arrive, before he set off in the direction of the Weighing Room.
Choc’s final ride of the day was aboard Wardington Lad in the Handicap Hurdle race. The distance was 2 miles and 4½ furlongs, and 20 ran. Martin Keighley also had a competitor in this race, Mr Newton. As Choc had finished 4th in the previous event, I was still standing on the wooden steppings beside the Winners’ Enclosure when a jet fighter plane from one of the nearby airbases flew low over the paddock as the horses for the 16:30 were being paraded. It did frighten a few of the horses but none of them got loose from their stable lads or lasses. When Choc entered the Parade Ring, he briefly spoke with Martin as he walked by. Rocky Ryan was AP McCoy’s only ride of the day.
The start of this event was away to my left, so again the horses cantered straight to the start. Then they were off. Wardington Lad was held up in mid-division, but made a mistake at the 1st flight. He was struggling after the 7th obstacle, and was tailed off when Choc pulled him up before 3 out.
However, Martin Keighley’s runner faired far better, despite pulling hard under Warren Marston. He rallied close home to take 4th place. The winner was Gallileo Figaro, 2nd was Hereditary, with Line Artic in 3rd.
I saw a few of the stragglers pass the line, but Choc wasn’t with them. But, as I wished to introduce myself to Martin if I got the opportunity, I had to proceed to the Winners’ Enclosure where, once Mr Newton had been unsaddled and cooled down, I called across to him and introduced myself as ‘Choc’s Super Fan’! He was surprised but very pleased with his charge’s run.
I saw the horses come into the paddock for the final race, a Hunter Chase, but when they were going out onto the course I decided it was time to go home, so I set off at 16:55. The final race was won by You Do The Math, ridden by Mr J S Horton.
The trip home was very good, as I arrived home at 18:05.