DIARY – HUNTINGDON
– BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY 31 AUGUST 2009
Bank Holiday Monday and the sun was due to shine ... so, with Choc engaged to ride 3 horses for Jimmy Lambe at Huntingdon, where else would I rather be? Nowhere else of course!
I discovered it was drizzling with rain when I set off at 07:30 to fill up my car with petrol at the local Sainsburys supermarket forecourt. However, the weather forecast was still promising sunshine later in the day. I also purchased a copy of the Racing Post, as I was expecting a report about Alan King’s Owners’ Open Day, which I duly discovered inside, along with a report about Philip Hobbs’ Open Day too. Although unfortunately no photos from the former event.
I returned home to shower and wash my hair before applying my war paint and setting off at 11:00. I was determined not to drive too fast up the A1, endeavouring to keep my speed as near to 55 mph as possible to conserve petrol (because of the recession I’ve not received a pay rise this year, and my overtime has been cut completely L). The journey went well, apart from a queue at the Black Cat roundabout and I arrived at 12:10 ... opening time!!!
I noticed a number of road-signs forewarning of scheduled road-works on the A1 near Eaton Socon. Evidently the southbound carriageway will be closed at selected times, and the northbound carriageway reduced for safety purposes whilst the work is being carried out. The work was due to start on 04 September and run to mid-November. Then it is the turn of the northbound carriageway. A diversion will be set up via Godmanchester – that should make my trips to Huntingdon a little more challenging this autumn!
Anyway, having arrived and set off for the entrance kiosks, a guy asked me if I was alone and offered me a ticket for £10 as his friend was unable to attend. I accepted his kind offer, and it transpired that he also lived in Hertfordshire, in my neighbouring town of Hatfield in fact! He said I should put the fiver I’d saved on a bet on Toss the Caber in the first race. I decided to pocket the fiver as I’m not known for my lucky punting!
It was still overcast, although the breeze was quite warm, so I went to sit on a bench beside the Tote office, and read the programme I’d purchased. I noticed, from a small article in the programme, that Choc and Alan King were leading jockey and leading trainer at Huntingdon for the 2008/2009 season, accolades they had both also won the previous season! I was hoping that perhaps there would be a presentation to Choc later in the afternoon, as there had been last year, but this didn’t materialise. Perhaps later in the season, when both Choc and Alan attend ... or perhaps they won’t get an award if, perhaps, money is tight this year!
By the time the first horses began to appear in the Parade Ring, there were a few patches of blue sky above, but the clouds would not disappear until a little later in the afternoon. I went across to the paddock rails to watch the parading horses, and also noticed from my new vantage point that construction of the new grandstand was progressing well, the envisaged final opening due later this autumn. The new weighing room wasn’t in operation yet, but the grandstand steppings were available for our use.
The first race was a Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Hurdle, Richard Lee’s Rapide Plaisir being a non-runner. Choc usually rides this horse when it runs in standard races. Once the horses left the Parade Ring to head for the course, I set off to view the race from the course-side rails. Being a Bank Holiday, there were many punters today, so it was difficult to get a rail-side pitch, but I did eventually manage to find one.
As the start of this race was over in the far left-hand corner of the course, the horses cantered straight there without going past the stands.
It was then time for the off. However, the first attempt was aborted, as 100-1 outsider General Alarm was hanging back behind the others and appeared reluctant to race. The same happened at the second attempt, but the third attempt was successful. The field was led off by Mycenean Prince and Jethro Wheeler, the latter sweating profusely. Also prominent were Iron Hague, Karinga King and evens favourite Hard and Fast. General Alarm, having got away at the back of the field, jumped the first few flights very slowly but eventually caught up to the tail end of the field.
Jethro Wheeler was in a clear lead as they galloped past the stands with one circuit to go. As they headed down the back straight, General Alarm began to tail off once more. By the end of the back straight the leaders were Come West, Mycenean Prince, and Hard and Fast. The former had the advantage as they rounded the final bend, but his two rivals were upsides by the time they reached the 2nd last flight. Hard and Fast soon took over and galloped on to win from Come West, Mycenean Prince taking 3rd.
Toss the Caber finished 5th, so I would have lost my money if I’d bet on him! Phew!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to watch the horses return. As this was a selling hurdle event, after being unsaddled the winner was put up for auction. However, Tim Vaughan bought his charge back in for £4,100.
It was now time for the first steeplechase of the day. Mad Professor was a non-runner. Once the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to watch, this time deciding to take advantage of the steppings of the new stand. The start of this event was over on the far side of the track, and the horses cantered past the stands to reach it.
Then they were off. The field was led off by Bisley, who raced keenly. He was tracked by Ravenscar, with Tanmaya and Majy D’Auteuil also prominent. Falcon’s Tribute, although appearing to jump the open ditch in front of the stands successfully, lost his hind-legs and shot his jockey forward, but the partnership survived intact. Ravenscar, having remained prominent, disputed the lead with Bisley as they turned to go out into the country.
The favourite, Joshua, in the familiar pink with black spots silks, having raced keenly, made headway to challenge Bisley for the lead 2 out, getting his head in front before the last and galloping on to win. Majy D’Auteuil, although having made a couple of jumping errors during the race, ran on well and had closed to within a head of Joshua on the line. Ravenscar finished 3rd, with Tarboush making late headway to finish in 4th. Just Like That fell at the 2nd last, when in 7th position.
As Leighton Aspell returned to the Winners’ Enclosure aboard Joshua someone in the crowd shouted out to congratulate him. A member of Leighton’s fan club perhaps?
It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the day, which was aboard the Jimmy Lambe trained Choctaw Nation. As the horse was paraded around the paddock I noticed he was tacked up with Choc’s tiny saddle – which is basically just something to attach the stirrups to! Weight was obviously at an absolute premium for this Maiden Hurdle race, all the competitors carrying either 11 stone or 10 stone 13 lbs! Choc arrived in the Parade Ring, spoke with connections, and was legged up not far away from where I was stood.
I set off for the course-side rails to watch this event. The start of this race was over in the far corner of the track, so the competitors cantered past the stands on their way to the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Tollishill, but he dived left at the first and lost his advantage to Director’s Chair and the Richard Johnson ridden Seader. Prominent were Wester Ross and Empire Seeker. Choc on Choctaw Nation took a middle line in mid-division, although he didn’t jump the 2nd flight particularly fluently. Choctaw Nation, having begun to improve his position as they turned away from the stands to head out into the country, made another error at the 5th. After that, Choc was pushing his mount along, and began to weaken from 3 out.
Seader held the lead until after the third last, when Wester Ross and Press the Button came to challenge him. The latter gained the advantage, going on to win. Long time leader, Seader, finished in 3rd. Choctaw Nation finished in 8th place.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return. Choc unsaddled Choctaw Nation in the wooded area reserved for the unplaced horses and returned to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for Division II of the Maiden Hurdle so, once again, the start of this race was in the far corner of the track. Kidlat was a non-runner in this event.
Then they were off. The field was led off by Shavoulin ridden by Jimmy McCarthy. The headstrong Campfire Tales took a narrow lead between the 2nd and 3rd flights, however Shavoulin had regained it by the time the field passed the winning post with one circuit to go. Having tracked the leaders, AP McCoy’s mount improved as they started out down the back straight, and took the lead as they came over the 3rd from home. He was already clear of the field by the time they turned into the home straight, and went on to win easily by 5 lengths from the Evan Williams trained runner Agente Romano.
Once again I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return. As Jonjo O’Neill and the connections were not in attendance, the travelling head lad collected the winner’s prize. Then it was time for the second and final steeplechase of the day, with just 6 runners taking part.
As I wasn’t going to take any photos during this race, once again I decided to watch the race from the new stand. The start of the race was over to our left, so the horses cantered straight there.
The field was led off by the front running Robert the Brave, a recent and very game winner at Market Rasen. He was chased by Unforgettable, who made a few jumping errors during the race. These two runners were clear of Denny Mac and Come Out Firing in mid-division, with Red Admiral held up and Mickmacmagoole well in rear. Robert the Brave was jumping to his left over some the obstacles, most noticeably up the home straight, but he did endeavour to put himself right each time, sometimes going in short and at other times standing off the fences.
Robert the Brave led or disputed the lead until the 12th obstacle, when Unforgettable took over briefly, before the former took up the running again. However, having made steady progress, Red Admiral was closing on the leaders and pulled alongside them cruising as they came into the final straight. Noel Fehily finally sent his mount on after the last, and won cosily. Robert the Brave, although headed, ran his usual brave race to hold on for 2nd. Only 4 of the 6 runners finished, the remaining 2 having been pulled up.
I again set off to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return.
It was now time for Choc’s 2nd ride of the day, aboard King’s Jester. When Choc came into the Parade Ring and met up with connections, he was surprised that the owners of Choctaw Nation were again with Jimmy Lambe, and I believe the trainer explained that they were doing triple duty as none of the other owners were in attendance! One non-runner in this race, Cash for Honours.
Again Choc was legged up quite near to where I was stood ... and I took another of my infamous bottom photographs! Once Choc had left the Parade Ring I set out to find a space alongside the rails. The start of this event was over in the far corner of the track so the horses cantered past the stands to reach it.
Then they were off. The field was lead off by Kingscourt Lad, prominent were Yossi, Grand Bay, Weather Front, and High Standard. Choc aboard King’s Jester raced beside the rails, well in touch. 15 lengths covered the field as they headed towards the back straight.
Kingscourt Lad held the lead until between the last two flights, when he was headed by Weather Front, who went on to win. Tora Petcha made headway from mid division and challenged after two out, staying on at the same pace to take 2nd. King’s Jester having been a close 5th as they approached the end of the back straight, jumped the 3rd last less than fluently, and weakened to finish in 9th position.
Choc returned to the Weighing Room accompanied by Jimmy Lambe, who was then on hand to collect Choc’s saddle once he had weighed out in preparation for the final race of the day.
I watched with interest at Choc’s mount, Tully Cross, was tacked up in preparation for the race. Choc’s larger saddle was in use for this event, as the horse was due to carry 11 stone 5 lbs. Blue blinkers were fitted, and Jimmy then sponged the horse’s mouth before the lad led the horse out of the saddling boxes to parade. I also noticed that ‘Choc’ is written on his safety surcingle.
It was announced that Choc would be wearing a change of colours for this race – the pink silks being replaced by blue and yellow silks. Again Jimmy Lambe was waiting in the Parade Ring with the connections of Choctaw Nation, and I think Choc was finding it a little amusing by this stage. It wasn’t surprising that only one set of owners was in attendance, as Jimmy is based in Northern Ireland!
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring, I set out to position myself alongside the rails. This long distance race started at the beginning of the home straight so, once again, the horses cantered past the stands on their way down to it. The horses circled for this event in a small enclosure beside the picnic area.
Then they were off. The field was led off by Restart ridden by Campbell Gillies. Prominent were Waldo Pepper, Daison, Almanshood, with Tully Cross beside the inside rails, although he hit the 2nd flight. King Rocky, and What Luck were also in touch. Almanshood made a mistake at the flight at the top of the course. Choc had moved into a share of 2nd place by the end of the back straight.
Orchard King began to make progress through the field with one circuit to go. By the time they exited the back straight Nigwell Forbees had taken up the running, long time leader Restart being pulled up. However, Orchard King soon caught the leader and, although not fluent at the last, held on to win by ½ a length from the fast finishing Amazing Valour. The favourite, the David Pipe trained Thirtythreeback, finished in 4th.
Although Tully Cross had been in 4th position as they approached the end of the back straight, having received reminders at the 8th, he began to weaken and eventually finished in 12th.
As Orchard King galloped up the home straight, his lads, who were standing immediately behind me, were shouting him home.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses return. Choc walked back in from the unplaced horses unsaddling area accompanied by Jimmy Lambe, and was asked by a group of children if he would stand with them whilst their parent took a photograph of the group. He willingly obliged, and also signed an autograph for another fan before returning to the Weighing Room. Richard Johnson, having won the race, also obliged with autographs on his journey to the Weighing Room.
I set off for the car park, waiting in my car for around 15 minutes before I set off to drive home, as the traffic exiting the course was nose to tail. Once the traffic began to thin out, I set off along the rutted driveway, but was diverted through the farthest field to join the traffic exiting via the lower road. Unfortunately my queue of traffic was then held up to allow cars from my original exit route to leave! Typical! Eventually I was allowed to exit, and drove out to the main A14 road, heading the short distance westwards to the A1.
My homeward trip was uneventful, and I followed the Race-Tech lorry which had been at Huntingdon races for much of the journey until I overtook it on the motorway as I headed towards Stevenage. I arrived home at around 19:15, spending time during the evening uploading my photos and writing my blog.