DIARY – KEMPTON PARK
– FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2011
The ‘cute one’ is signing an autograph
I’d booked both Thursday 10 February and Friday 11 February as leave, as I had to use up 1½ days’ holiday left over from 2010, the deadline being 28 February. I’d chosen these days as I knew there was a fixture at Huntingdon on Thursday; and one at Kempton on Friday. A number of weeks ago, Choc had mentioned in his Racing Post column that he would continue in his role as Kempton Park’s 2010/2011 ‘Face of Jump Racing’ whenever his ‘day job’ permitted ... so I was hopeful that maybe he would be carrying out another of his Final Furlong course-walks should he be at the track on this particular Friday.
I was due to attend the Totesport meeting at Newbury on Saturday 12 February, for which I had a pre-purchased ticket; and I knew I would not be able to cope with three consecutive days at the races ... saving that ‘marathon’ for the Cheltenham Festival in March! So I had to make a choice between Kempton Park and Huntingdon.
As the first of these days approached, it transpired that Choc had five decent rides at the Cambridgeshire course but, as Bangor’s Friday fixture was abandoned due to flooding, it became a certainty that Choc would be at Kempton Park, although his rides were slightly sub-standard to those on the previous day. Any final waivering on my part was ‘put to bed’ when an email ‘circular’ arrived from the racecourse stating that there would be an opportunity to go behind the scenes, go to the start of a race and ... walk the final furlong. Hopefully that could only mean one thing, Choc would be our guide for the latter. So Kempton it would be ... although one of my mantras is ‘Never expect anything and you will never be disappointed’!
For the record, Choc rode two winners, two runners-up and an ‘also ran’ at Huntingdon, so it was a good day for him; although the weather was wet and miserable, and water got into the lense of Racing UK’s camera and it looked like the presenters were standing in a ‘fog’!
Friday’s weather wasn’t too bad, as it was dry in St Albans when I awoke. I set my alarm for 05:30, showered, washed and dried my hair, ate breakfast, and applied my make-up. As Kempton’s gates weren’t due to open until 11:30, I knew I didn’t need to leave home until around 10:30.
My outfit today was blue jeans, with woolly tights underneath; two thermal vests; purple sweater, burgundy cardigan, purple fleece; black faux sheepskin jacket. And, finally, my Vivid Violet scarf had its first ever outing. And, with a course walk in mind, my black ‘engineer’ boots.
Having chosen a pendant to wear, I decided upon a quick revamp – removing the organza ribbon which was supplied with the item and replacing it with glass beads. Despite making the majority of my jewellery, I have been tempted to purchase a number of one-off items from Chaotic Rainbow. I just can’t help myself, as I love dichroic glass and the pendants are so unusual. Today’s pendant was ‘Purple Pool’ – which is shown in the ‘Sold’ gallery on the website.
As 10:30 approached, it was time to set off for Kempton Park. I decided to join the M25 at Junction 19, Watford. Traffic was moving smoothly ... however it took me a few minutes to realise that the road-widening has now been completed between Junctions 19 and 18 on the anti-clockwise carriageway. The motorway was so clear up until Junction 17 that it was a pleasure to drive upon. However, it had started to rain as I approached the M40 junction; so I put my headlights on.
Having taken the M3, I arrived at Kempton Park at 11:15 and parked in the free car parking area. As the gates weren’t due to open until 11:30 I ate the cheese rolls I’d prepared – lunch – before setting off to purchase a ticket at the main entrance. However, I have to confess, I only realised I’d left my headlights on when the alarm sounded as I got out of the car ... and, having made my way towards the main entrance, I had to return to the car as I couldn’t remember if I’d locked the car doors; but of course I had! I don’t think one gets forgetful with age, I think it’s because everything is done automatically by that stage, so you just don’t recall doing it! And I wore my brimmed hat today too.
As I walked around to the main entrance, I noticed the ‘Choc mobile’ parked in the car park. I joined the queue to purchase a ticket, just £15 today. Today’s sponsors, Betfair, were giving away free scarves with their logo on; but I didn’t take one, as yellow is not a good colour for me to wear (and my least favourite) and I had no intention of providing them with free advertising either! Although, of course, I love Choc’s beautiful yellow hair! But there’s always one exception to the rule! And they were giving away Kempton Park pocket diaries; but I got one of those on King George VI Chase day.
I also picked up a leaflet from the counter, advertising Choc’s Final Furlong course-walk; so once I’d bought a race-card (£2.50) I went straight to the Racecourse Office to sign up. And has always been the case, I was the first person on the list! I then had just over an hour to kill before I was due to meet up with the guide, Victoria, and thus rendezvous with Choc a few minutes later.
So, as always, I popped to the loo; then I went to sit on one of the seats in front of the bank of TVs on the ground floor of the grandstand. I decided to write a few notes in my notebook, recalling my day so far, and wondering why anyone would wish to bet upon the ‘virtual’ racing which was being shown on a number of the screens! The only advantage I could see with this type of racing is that no horse or rider would get hurt in a fall!!!
I was due to arrive at Gate Q by 12:50; and rendezvous with Choc 10 minutes later. However, I was raring to go by 12:20 so exited the grandstand and set off down the tarmac area, through the row of bookies’ stands, and arrived at the gate. And, when I’m waiting for things to happen, I start pacing! So, as my route took me onto the grass area and back again, my boots started to get muddy. Oh well, they’d get a lot more muddy in a few minutes! But at least they don’t leak.
Victoria arrived at 12:50; evidently I was one of just three people who’d signed up for Choc’s Final Furlong walk today – very disappointing for Choc I’d imagine, although it was a Friday. The others being a guy who’d attended one of the other walks, probably on 01 November, as on that occasion he’d mentioned something about the winning line; and a young lad of 12 who wanted to be a jockey when he grew up. Victoria was concerned that the grass was very wet following the early morning rain so, to protect us from getting our feet too wet, she suggested we have a Questions and Answers session on-course just outside Gate Q, rather than walk down to the furlong post and back again.
As Choc had 4 riding engagements today, the first being in the second race of the day, he was wearing his breeches and red-topped boots. Seeing Choc walking down the course towards us, Victoria and I agreed that Choc is always easy to spot during a race because of his red-topped boots! Today he was also wearing a waterproof jacket supplied by his sponsors, Lycetts. Choc shook hands with my companions, and he greeted me by name, asking if I’d received in the post the thank you card from Meally regarding William’s present. Yes, thank you, I had. And, of course, I was permitted to kiss him on the cheek ... admittedly a little more lingering than usual!!! Oooooooohhhhhhhhh, he’s so lovely.
And today’s questions ...
Choc had been extremely embarrassed following his unseating from Invictus at Leicester a couple of weeks ago; he said it was the first time anything like that had happened to him; he was taught to race-ride with just his toes in the stirrups. A similar fate befell a jockey at Taunton recently too.
I asked about his first pony, Prince – what colour was he? A painted pony ... Choc wasn’t sure which was piebald and which was skewbald – he confirmed that Prince was black and white - a piebald. But he had him just a few months; and then he was replaced by a grey.
As the Totesport Trophy was scheduled to be run the following day (although we now know the fixture was abandoned in tragic circumstances), Choc said he’d chosen to ride Walkon over Salden Licht because of loyalty to the owners; and he feared Iolith as an ‘unexposed’ youngster. At this time, both Walkon and Mille Chief would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle, and Choc believes that Walkon could run into a place, but Mille Chief may just have the extra turn of foot to win the race.
Choc has no doubts about Medermit being genuine; the refusal at Huntingdon was just a mysterious ‘blip’. Choc said that Voy Por Ustedes had refused at a jump when schooling at home on a couple of occasions, but had never shown any wish to do so on the racecourse.
I asked how he felt about Voy Por being transferred to Nicky Henderson’s yard; Choc said he was devastated. As French- bred horses tend to lose their form quicker than others as they get older, and the horse has been such a good servant, he thinks he should be retired and not continue under different tutorledge.
Did he think that Kauto Star would be able to come back to form for the Gold Cup? Yes, he did. The horse was primed to run on Boxing Day, and the three week delay prior to the re-scheduled King George would have made it difficult for the horse to reach its peak again. Besides, Paul Nicholls’ horses had been under the weather in mid-January for whatever reason. Also, owner Clive Smith was still bullish about his horse’s chances in the Gold Cup.
Choc’s tips for today – He ‘loves’ Patsy Finnegan, although he’s not sure that the horse is quite as good as prior to his injury. Sweet Irony has been disappointing in his runs so far; but he was Choc’s bet of the day. Hopeful of a good run from Montbazon making its debut in the bumper. He said that Kings Troop, which would run in the Conditional Jockeys’ event, only just got the 2 mile distance.
I said that I’d enjoyed the Ascot fixture best, of the ones I’d attended so far this year; unusual, as the racing is quite remote from the spectators at the course. Choc said it lacks atmosphere. Of course I did add that I’d enjoyed his wins at Sandown too.
I asked Choc if it was more difficult to lose weight since his return from injury. He’s having a problem getting his weight down below 10 stone 7 lbs ... its probably age related more than anything. Last Saturday he had to do 10 stone 2 lbs at Sandown but it had almost ‘killed him’. Although not affected by the weight loss when racing, he’d felt really rough on Saturday evening. His wife Meally had cooked dinner for him, and he’d taken just two mouthfuls and couldn’t eat any more.
The young lad in our group asked about how Choc had become a jockey, and what were his suggestions on getting started in the profession. Choc explained about initially having an interest in point-to-pointing and then deciding upon being a jockey from then on. It was all he ever wanted to do. Both Victoria and Choc believed that the British Racing School only took kids from the age of 16; so suggested that perhaps the boy should join his local pony club, he lives in London (Ealing I think he said). Choc asked if he’d ridden before; yes, he used to go horse-riding at a local riding school.
When it was time for the session to end, I wished Choc luck for his ride aboard Walkon at Newbury the following day.
With the very disappointing numbers today, I wonder if the Final Furlong walks will continue? I also wonder how many people signed up for the other interactive activities of ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘a trip to the start of a race’. I guess I will soon find out, as my next trip to Kempton is scheduled for Saturday 26 February – Racing Post Chase day.
The rain having left off around an hour previously, the sun decided it was time to appear.
Soon it was time for the first race and, as mentioned earlier, Alan King had two runners in this event – Kings Troop and Balerina.
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a good vantage point beside the course-side rails. Today I didn’t go through the ground floor of the grandstand, instead I went around the side of it and up the steps to get there.
The start of the race was at the far end of the home straight, with just over one circuit to travel. The horses circled at the start; Marodima stood alone near the tape, his pilot eager to be at the head of affairs when the race began. However, one of the runners, Gunslinger, dug in his heels; the Starter’s Assistant leading him in the join the others as they trotted in a circle. But then he dug his heels in once again. The Assistant cracked the whip behind the horse but to no avail, and then took hold of the reins, but the horse was still reluctant. In a final effort to get the horse moving, the jockey jumped off and trotted him in; but before he’d reached the main group of runners, they set off without him. The jockey threw up his free hand in exasperation; however it later transpired the horse had already been withdrawn.
The front-running Marodima set off in front, in second was Domino Dancer, who clipped the top of the first flight. In rear were the favourite, According, who also hit the first, and Zafranagar. Balerina was held up near the rear and Kings Troop was restrained in mid-field.
According made another jumping error at the third and again at the fourth; and was being driven along approaching the far corner of the track. Turning into the back straight, Marodima still led; close up were Salybia Bay, King Brex and Park Lane. Cnoc Moy and Robain soon tailed off. However, despite the initial jumping errors, According made good ground on the outside of the field and soon took fourth position. Both Kings Troop and Balerina made headway too.
King Brex took over 3 out and led the field into the final bend; followed by Kings Troop, Salybia Bay, Balerina, Zafranagar, Screaming Brave and Niceonefrankie.
King Brex led them into the home straight, from Kings Troop and Balerina; According had quickly dropped out. Three runners took the penultimate flight in line, Kings Troop, Balerina and Screaming Brave; the latter flattening the flight. Only just getting the two mile distance, Kings Troop was the first to drop out, leaving Balerina and Screaming Brave to fight it out.
Despite Balerina landing flat-footed over the last and her jockey dropping one of the reins in the final 100 yards, she battled on beside the stand-side rails to win by ¾ of a length on the line.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back in the Winners’ Enclosure. As the horses were being unsaddled, there was a request on the tannoy for Alan King, or his representative, to go to the Stewards’ Room, and off he headed. They were enquiring into the filly’s improvement in form.
It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the day, aboard Patsy Finnegan. Once the horses left the Parade Ring I set off for the course-side rails.
Choc cantered down past the stands in order for his mount to take a look at the final obstacle before setting off to the start which, being in the far corner of the track, meant that he cantered back up the course and around the top turn to reach it.
Soon they were off. The field was led away by Ballinteni, followed by the Barry Geraghty ridden Zazamix, Sergeant Pink, the grey American Trilogy, and on the inside in rear Patsy Finnegan.
Barry’s mount wasn’t fluent at the first, but took the lead after the second; Ballinteni nodded on landing over the third, the open-ditch. Zazamix led them into the straight on the first circuit, from Ballinteni, Sergeant Pink, American Trilogy to his outside; Patsy Finnegan on the inner, getting a little close to the fifth and slightly awkward at the seventh, but without risk of falling.
Past the winning post with one circuit go, Ballenteni led from Zazamix with ears pricked, American Trilogy now in third. Sergeant Pink was slow at the ninth and being scrubbed along as they approached the far turn.
Barry Geraghty’s mount held the lead as they galloped down the back straight. American Trilogy jumping noticeably out to his left at every fence. Patsy Finnegan hit the fourth last, when in third position, losing some ground on Zazamix and American Trilogy. Ballenteni dropped back to be overtaken by Sergeant Pink.
Choc came to challenge the two leaders as they approached the penultimate obstacle, but got too close, skewed and stumbled. American Trilogy was soon in command of the race, cleared the last and went on to win by 6 lengths. Choc galvanised his mount after the final fence and caught Zazamix close home.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back, and Choc return to the Weighing Room having unsaddled his mount.
Soon it was time for Choc’s second ride of the day, his mount in this race would be Sweet Irony, who was trying this longer trip for the first time; the horse was the race favourite. Alan King had two other runners in this race, Yukon Quest ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and The Laodicean ridden by Gerard Tumelty.
Once Sweet Irony had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails.
The runners were called in and started some distance behind the tape for this one. They were led away by Oscar Papa and Ballyfoy. The broad white face of Another Dimension could be seen pulling hard on the outside of the field.
Choc’s mount remained held-up on the inside in rear as they turned into the home straight on the first occasion. The order at this stage was Oscar Papa, Ballyfoy, Cousin Maggie, Yukon Quest, Another Dimension, The Laodicean, Abayaan, Rebel Rebellion and Sweet Irony.
Oscar Papa still led as they passed the post with one circuit to go, from Ballyfoy. Rebel Rebellion had made noticeable progress into third, with Liam Treadwell taking Oscar Papa wide as they travelled down the side of the course. Rebel Rebellion now disputing the lead to the inside. Abayaan and The Laodicean were in rear around the far bend.
Oscar Papa and Rebel Rebellion led them down the back straight, followed by Yukon Quest. Another Dimension was going well just in behind; Sweet Irony was now a lot closer and travelling well.
Three out, the leading two horses hadn’t changed; Another Dimension going well in third, hit 3 out. As they exited the final bend, a group of 3 had pulled away from the remainder: Rebel Rebellion, Oscar Papa and Sweet Irony, but Choc’s mount hit the penultimate flight and weakened.
This left Rebel Rebellion to go on from Oscar Papa between the last two flights, coming up the stand-side rail and winning by 6 lengths at the line. Sweet Irony completed in 3rd, with Ballyfoy staying on in 4th. These four having pulled well clear of the rest.
Having seen Sweet Irony run, I think part of the problem is that he doesn’t yet settle in his races. Yukon Quest finished 6th; The Laodicean last.
Again I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back and unsaddle.
As Choc didn’t have a ride in the next race, once the horses had exited the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point in the stands.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Nobby Kivambo; Pikasso was prominent on the wide outside. Pere Blanc, taking a keen hold, was up with the pace; as were Princely Hero, Star King and Russian Epic. Among those in mid-division were Smoking, and El Diego; at the back of the field were Peveril Pandora, Beau Colonel and Across The Straits. Mossini, also in rear, wasn’t fluent at the second.
Leading into the home straight on the first occasion was Nobby Kivambo, from Chervonet, Princely Hero, Pikasso, Star King, Russian Epic, Pere Blanc, Royal Kicks, Smoking, The Old Buccaneer, Peveril Pandora, Cloudy Wager; last were Mossini and Across The Straits. Beau Colonel wasn’t fluent at the last in the straight.
Heading out into the country, Nobby Kivambo still held the lead, from Chervonet and Pikasso, the latter steering a course on the wide outside. Star King and Beau Colonel were soon driven. In rear, Peveril Pandora made a mistake at the sixth. Star King and Beau Colonel having soon tailed off, they were pulled up before the seventh.
Initially Nobby Kivambo led along the back straight, with Pere Blanc ‘cantering’ on the outside, and soon taking over at the head of affairs. A group of 5 horses had set up a gap over the remainder of the field by the time they turned in, led by Pere Blanc under Daryl Jacob. The majority of these came over to the stand-side rails, Life Of A Luso remaining on the far side. Original Prankster fell at the penultimate flight when disputing third. Both jockey, Paddy Brennan, and the horse were fine after this mishap.
Pere Blanc effortlessly extended his lead over the field and ran on to win by 15 lengths from Russian Epic, Life Of A Luso was 3rd and Nobby Kivambo 4th. The fifth horse, Royal Kicks, was 26 lengths behind these. Only 10 completed the race.
I returned to the Parade Ring in preparation for viewing the runners in the next race of the day.
Once the runners had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point in the stands.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the grey Pasco under AP McCoy, he was tracked by Punchestowns and Bugsy’s Boy; Crack Away Jack was last of the 4 runners.
Punchestowns got a little close to the second fence; Crack Away Jack flew the fourth and, as a result, now led two of his rivals.
Pasco was clear turning into the home straight for the first time, Punchestowns and Crack Away Jack disputed second, followed by Bugsy’s Boy in rear. AP’s mount had a 4 length advantage as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go.
Bugsy’s Boy, in rear, was being pushed along as they travelled down the side of the course and soon began to struggle. Pasco was still 4 or 5 lengths clear around the far bend. Crack Away Jack dropped out quickly, blundered at the 11th and was pulled up after 4 out; Bugsy’s Boy was pulled up here too.
Turning in, Pasco still led by 8 to 10 lengths, AP glancing over his shoulder to see where his now one and only rival was. Barry Geraghty was vigorously urging his mount on and by the penultimate fence Punchestowns was a mere 2 – 3 lengths behind.
As they approached the last, the leg weary Pasco was overtaken, Punchestowns going 11 lengths clear by the line. Nicky Henderson had trained his 2,000th career winner.
Pasco, who was ‘out on his feet’ by the line, didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure but, although distressed after the race, he was fine.
A bottle of champagne was presented to Nicky to mark his achievement (which took 32 years).
Crack Away Jack was signed off for the remainder of the season, and scheduled to undergo a breathing operation.
It was now time for Choc’s third ride of the day; his mount in this race would be Ravethebrave who, on his previous run, had fallen at the first fence in a race at Cheltenham.
Someone standing next to me by the Parade Ring commented to his companion that Choc still ‘looked like a farmer’s boy’!
Once Choc had set off down the walkway, I went to find a good vantage point beside the course-side rails.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the blinkered Carrickmines, who skewed his hind-legs over the first fence; he was followed by Alderburn, Fortification, Rory Boy, Plein Pouvoir, with Ravethebrave held up on the inside in rear.
The grey Fortification hit the third fence and dropped to the rear; he then received reminders after the sixth. Heading up the straight for the first time, Ravethebrave held the inside line in a group of 4 runners; Carrickmines in a clear lead and jumping well. Turning along the side of the course, there was no change at the head of affairs; Alderluck was in second, then Rory Boy, Ravethebrave, Plein Pouvoir and Fortification.
Along the line of fences in the back straight, Carrickmines wasn’t so fluent at the final ditch, nor was Choc’s mount, the latter also nodding slightly on landing over 4 out.
Carrickmines turned into the home straight with a 2 lengths lead over Ravethebrave in 2nd; but Daryl Jacob’s mount had too much in reserve and, despite hitting 2 out, went away again to win by 15 lengths from Ravethebrave, Alderburn and Plein Pouvoir. A treble for Daryl Jacob.
The damp weather having returned during the afternoon, the light had now faded; making it impossible to take photographs of the final event. Choc’s mount, Montbazon, runs in the yellow and red colours of David Sewell.
I arrived at the course-side rails before the majority of the runners had passed the stands; the commentator announcing the horses and riders as they cantered by. Notably, Jack Doyle was back in the saddle having recovered from a broken leg sustained last November.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Bach To Front and the hard pulling Belgian raider Real Tempo. Choc aboard Montbazon was in mid-field; bringing up the rear were Gleann Eagas and Willard.
Heading down the side, out wide, Real Tempo led from Bach To Front, Raifteiri, Malibu Sun, Orsm, Call Me Friday and Cheltenian; Montbazon was settled; Willard still in rear.
Into the back straight, Bach To Front held the advantage along with Real Tempo to his outside; then Raifteiri, Malibu Sun, Call Me Friday, Orsm, Kindlelight Soleil, Cheltenian and Montbazon. Willard had made a little ground.
Turning in Malibu Sun, Bach To Front and Raifteiri held the advantage from Cheltenian. Having improved, Montbazon, now on the outside of the field held every chance in fifth.
As they approached the wings of the second last flight (there being no hurdles as this was a NH flat race) Cheltenian came to the front, Choc bringing his mount to challenge on the stand-side of the leader, with Real Tempo to their outside. However, Richard Johnson’s mount suddenly hung to its left, barging into Montbazon who, in turn, tightened up Real Tempo.
Having been badly hampered, Choc switched his mount to the far side to avoid any further interference but Cheltenian had got first run; so despite Choc galvanising his mount, he couldn’t make up the distance having lost momentum at the crucial time, and he was beaten by a length at the line.
Unsurprisingly, as the horses headed back in, the ‘bing bong’ sounded over the tannoy and a Stewards’ Enquiry was announced.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back. Having debriefed the connections he returned to the Weighing Room. It was now time to leave.
I returned to collect my car and, just as I was preparing to leave, there was another ‘bing bong’ ahead of the announcement of the Stewards’ decision. I opened the car door so that I could hear ... the placings remained unaltered. More
Ahead of the fixture, I had been a little concerned that my journey home would take a lot longer than usual; the off time for the last race being 16:55, after which I was faced with a trip home on the M25. However, the road from the course exit point to the roundabout beneath the M3 was the least congested I’d ever experienced, and I was soon heading south-west down the motorway to join the M25. The traffic thereon was moving fairly freely, and I decided to pop into my local petrol station to fill up in preparation for my trip the following day. I arrived home at 18:30.
The following day I would attend the Totesport fixture at Newbury and would witness, first hand, the deaths of two horses in the Parade Ring prior to the first race. However the first event went ahead, after which the meeting was abandoned. Following investigation it was discovered that the animals had been electrocuted due to leakage from a redundant and very old cable which ran beneath the paddock.