Kempton Park – Boxing Day 26 December 2011
Winter Festival – King George VI Chase
The victorious Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star
parade in front of the stands following the King George VI Chase
The Boxing Day fixture at Kempton Park featuring the King George VI Chase is one of my ‘must-see’ events, along with Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup day, all four days of the Cheltenham Festival and the final two days of the Grand National meeting. This means that, regardless of whether Choc is in action or not, I will attend the event. Sadly, this day, he was on the sidelines due to injury.
On Sunday 11 December Choc had travelled to a fixture at Hereford for just one ride, for trainer Richard Lee. The horse was called Western Whisky; Choc having been unseated from him at the same course earlier in the season (on 07 November in fact). Unfortunately, today, his luck had not improved ... in fact it had got a great deal worse.
Choc later admitted that the Hereford race had ‘gone wrong’ from the start; he’d missed the break at the off, believing the jockeys would take another turn before leaving the gate. Having started at the rear of the field, he’d managed to get back in touch with the other runners by the time they reached the first ditch, only for his mount to fall at the 7th fence. Choc hit the ground okay, but then something landed on his arm (perhaps the Venetia Williams trained runner, Maraafeq, who they’d brought down) and he knew straight away that it was broken. Halfway between his shoulder and elbow his arm was bent 90 degrees.
The racecourse staff gave him painkillers and splinted his arm; he then walked to the ambulance. Initially he was taken to Hereford Hospital but it soon became apparent that they would be unable to operate on his arm the following day, or perhaps even the day after that. Choc made two telephone calls and, as a result, he was moved Oxford, to consult Richard Keys; the surgeon having operated on Ryan Moore’s injured arm sustained during a ‘pile-up’ at Goodwood during the summer.
Following an operation on the afternoon of Tuesday 13 December, in which a plate was inserted into his upper right arm (the scar running down the back of his arm from the top to just below his elbow), Choc remained in hospital until the following Friday. He received a very special visitor on the day before he was released from hospital, son William. Sadly, Choc and Meally’s marriage had broken down during the summer.
The initial prognosis on his injury was that Choc would be unable to do anything for 3 months. As I write this diary, Choc has a follow-up appointment with his surgeon scheduled for Wednesday 11 January, when he should discover the current prognosis. Prior to this appointment Choc reported that he has full movement in his arm, the swelling has almost disappeared, and he’s been lifting the occasional weight too!
With Choc on the sidelines, his able deputy Wayne Hutchinson became first jockey and his book of engagements took him to Huntingdon on Boxing Day. So it was highly unlikely that Choc would have been at Kempton Park on 26 December and I might have been ‘torn’ between the Sunbury and Cambridgeshire tracks, despite the far superior fare on offer at the former! Kauto Star or Choc? Ummmmm ... it was fortunate that I didn’t have to put it to the test, otherwise I would have missed an exceptional history making event at Kempton Park!!!
I spent Christmas Day in Bedfordshire, at my younger brother’s house, along with my mum, Neil’s wife Karen and children Kim and James; plus Karen’s parents, and her brother and sister-in-law and their two children. Thinking along the lines of last season’s King George VI Chase fixture, I recalled that the gates opened at 09:30. However I’d almost forgotten that the race took place on Saturday 15 January 2011 and the card consisted of 9 races, the feature race and Christmas Hurdle having been saved from the snow abandoned card of 26 December 2010; an earlier start that day becoming a necessity.
With the spectre of an early start on Boxing Day, I left the Christmas Day festivities in good time, arriving home before 21:00. Later that evening, whilst ‘half-watching’ Downton Abbey on TV, I checked on the Kempton Park website – gates opening time was 10:00. In that case I needed to leave home by 09:00; not 08:30 as originally envisaged. It takes around 50 minutes to drive to the Sunbury track, so it would enable me to reach the course in plenty of time, and far earlier than any possible racing-related traffic queues that might arise in the vicinity.
Boxing Day arrived; I showered, washed and dried my hair, ate breakfast and applied my makeup. I had a last minute change of mind as regards my outfit. Originally I was going to wear my long black handkerchief hem skirt but, in the event, I decided upon trousers. Not quite so easy a decision, as all the pairs I tried on were too small around the stomach! Oh dear. I’d not been able to exercise properly since last May due to breathing problems related to blocked sinuses and I’d put on a stone in weight.
However, I knew I had a pair of grey pinstripe trousers with turn-ups at the hem that were one size bigger and which used to fit me really well ‘pre-Choc’! I lost over a stone in weight during mid-2008, but not through dieting ... or exercise either! Needless to say, I’ve now put all those pounds back on again. Eventually I found the aforementioned long-lost trousers and I was all set for my day out at the races.
The weather was still mild for the time of year, although there was a chilly breeze today. I wore two thermal vests, two black frilled edged cardigans, a purple fleece, a burgundy frill edge cardigan (I love clothes with frill details ... you’d never have guessed), woolly tights under my trousers, purple anorak, and black leather ‘engineer’ boots. And an M & S scarf, and wrist-warmers. It had been so mild this winter, so far, that as yet I’d not had to find any of my heavy duty hand-knitted wool scarves to wear.
Channel 4’s The Morning Line started at 08:30 today so I was able to watch the first half of the programme before setting off at 08:55. The roads were very quiet as I headed for Junction 21A of the M25. However, as soon as I joined the motorway, it became apparent from the warning signs that there had been a road accident. It had resulted in the closure of the anti-clockwise carriageway between junctions 15 and 14 – the M4 and Heathrow Cargo exits.
I don’t possess a satnav but, fortunately, I do have an excellent sense of direction. So, upon reaching Junction 15, where police vehicles were blocking entry to the next section of the motorway and, being familiar with the route to Ascot, I decided to take the westbound carriageway of the M4. Upon joining this motorway I noticed Jonjo O’Neill’s horsebox parked on the hard shoulder; presumably the occupants were a little flummoxed by the change of planned route and needed to re-assess a new one.
As I know my way to Ascot off by heart, I decided to drive to the Slough Central junction, before heading southwards along the Windsor bypass. I was almost certain that if I headed along the A308 in an easterly direction, towards Staines, I would eventually arrive back at the M25. The road took me through the outskirts of Windsor, through Windsor Great Park, Old Windsor and Runnymede before I was able to re-join the M25 at Junction 13, although I could have driven through Staines to reach Junction 1 of the M3 and shortly thereafter Kempton Park.
I confess that I’d forgotten to bring a map with me today; which I usually do as a back-up in case I need to take a diversion. My normal approach to an unfamiliar road journey is to look at a map briefly, memorise the route and just drive it. Simples!!! Upon checking the map on my return home I did discover that I could have taken a shorter route via the B376 and Datchet, but at least my chosen diversion took me well clear of any traffic chaos which might have occurred in the vicinity of the closed motorway section.
Having decided to re-join the M25 at Junction 13, I drove one further junction and then headed towards London along the M3. Having purchased a ticket for the main car park (£15 - normally I’m not that extravagant and try to park in the cheaper or free car parks) I was directed by the yellow information signs to leave the dual carriageway at the next junction, before re-tracing my route and taking the slip-road to join Park Road. I drove over the railway bridge and entered the main car park entrance to my left, showing my yellow parking label to gain access to the adjacent area. Having arrived early, I parked my car in the second row, the third car away from the main gate. Despite the unplanned detour into Berkshire, I arrived just before 10:00.
Having wrapped up against the elements, I set off to the Paddock entrance to gain access to the racecourse; the Premier entrance through which I gain excess to the racecourse on ‘run of the mill’ race days, was reserved solely for Premier ticket holders today. I had a voucher to obtain a race-card so, once inside, I acquired one from the nearby kiosk. Having popped to the little girls’ room within the ground floor of the grandstand I then went to sit on one of the benches on the lawn in front of the stands.
I remained sitting on the bench until spectators began to take up their position at the course-side rails in preparation for the first race; at which point I found a suitable vantage point about halfway between Gate Q and the hedge separating the Paddock Enclosure from the Festival Enclosure.
As I had no reason to return to the Parade Ring today, Choc not being in action, I remained beside the course-side rails until after the King George VI Chase had been run.
I wore my glasses today, as opposed to my contact lenses. I think it helped; today I needed to take off my glasses to take photos (as I’m short sighted) as opposed to putting on reading glasses whilst wearing the lenses so that I can see the camera screen! I was in my late twenties when my eyesight began to deteriorate – I attribute it to my knitting hobby when I was younger! I didn’t start cross stitching or jewellery making until later, but that has probably exacerbated the problem in recent years.
Soon it was time for the first event of the day.
Race 1, a Novices’ Hurdle. This event was won by the Nicky Henderson trained Tetlami. Second favourite, the Paul Nicholls trained Ruby Walsh ridden Plenty Pocket, was never a threat and finished tailed off.
Race 2 was a Novices’ Handicap Chase. Alan King was represented by the Charlie Huxley ridden Bless The Wings. Choc had won aboard the horse at Exeter on his debut over fences earlier in the month. The Donald McCain Junior trained Our Mick won today’s race, Bless The Wings hit 3 out when in third place but was promoted to second when That’lldoboy fell 2 out.
Race 3 was the Grade 1 Feltham Novices’ Chase over 3 miles. Grands Crus was the last competitor to exit onto the course; his jockey, Tom Scudamore, trotted him down past the stands and back to the starting gate without taking a look at the final fence as the other runners had done. Presumably he intended to ‘keep a lid’ on his mount’s enthusiasm.
Then they were off. Mr Moonshine and Teaforthree tore off ahead of the field and remained clear until the 10th; the latter the first to succumb to the hot pace. Grands Crus took the lead from Mr Moonshine at the 12th, remaining in command and going on to win by 2¼ lengths, easing down. Silviniaco Conti completed in 2nd, with Bobs Worth, one-paced today, in 3rd.
Race 4 was the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle over 2 miles. As is customary, confirmed front runner Overturn led from the off. Sanctuaire misbehaved at the start, was led in but jinked to his left and missed the break. Overturn retained the lead until being headed by Rock On Ruby two out. AP McCoy then drove Binocular to challenge as they approach the final flight, which he jumped more fluently than Ruby’s mount. The two horses battled to the line, with Binocular prevailing by a neck.
It was now time for the feature race of the day, the King George VI Chase, over a distance of 3 miles. Seven runners in this season’s event – Captain Chris, Golan Way, four time winner Kauto Star, last year’s winner Long Run, Master Minded, Nacarat and Somersby. Diamond Harry was a non-runner due to lameness. Ahead of the race, the horses paraded in front of the stands, took a look at the final fence, and then cantered to the start; the race taking place over 2 full circuits of the track.
Then they were off. The grey Nacarat led to the 2nd fence, rank outsider Golan Way then taking up the running. Kauto Star took the lead at the 8th. The 4 times winner, jumping boldly from the front, was driven from 2 out but remained ahead of his rivals, claiming his record breaking 5th victory in this prestigious event. Although last year’s winner, Long Run, stayed on under pressure he was unable to reach the winner. The winning distance was 1¼ lengths.
Captain Chris was 17 lengths back in third; Somersby close up in 4th. Master Minded was pulled up before the last fence and dismounted having gone lame. He’d struck into a tendon; so much so, that his future racing career would be in jeopardy. Following the race, Master Minded was taken to Newmarket for his leg injury to be operated on that same evening.
Ruby Walsh celebrated his victory as he crossed the line; shortly afterwards he rode down past the stands so that the partnership could accept the applause and congratulations from the spectators. He trotted down to just past where I was standing before retracing his steps (pictured above).
I left the course-side rails for the first time today. I reached the Parade Ring before Ruby and his mount arrived back in the Winners’ Enclosure, the jockey standing up in his irons as he was greeted by the applauding crowd; it was then five cheers for Kauto Star as he was unsaddled; after which the horse was led around two circuits of the Parade Ring before returning to the stables.
Choc, who had spent Christmas with his family including William, watched the race at his parent’s house and later described it as ‘spine tingling stuff’.
Race 6, a Handicap Hurdle. Alan King had a runner in this race, Pantxoa. The horse was ridden by Christian Williams, recently returned from over a year on the sidelines following serious injury to both his arms. I waited for the runners to leave the Parade Ring before heading back to the course-side rails to view the race.
Then they were off. The David Pipe trained My Brother Sylvest took a narrow lead which he held until after 3 out. The favourite, Knight Pass, led over the second last and went on to win by 2 lengths. There was a stewards’ enquiry, however, involving the first, second (Frontier Dancer) and third (Like Minded) placed horses following interference between the final 2 flights. After deliberation, the result stood and the Warren Greatrex trained runner kept the race.
After seeing the final prize presentation of the day in the Winners’ Enclosure I decided to pop to the loo; better safe than sorry, as I didn’t know how long I would be queuing to leave the car park before journeying home. But, not surprisingly, there was a queue for the ladies. Having spent a penny, I returned to my car.
Why is it that the birds poo on my car when I visit Kempton Park? Today there was bird poo (seagulls?) on the bonnet, windscreen and roof; my car was poo’ed on the last time I visited the track, despite me parking in a totally different area. Lucky? No, I’m beginning to think those seagulls bear a grudge against me! I was not pleased, as I’d washed my car on Christmas Eve. Typical. As things always come in three’s, I’m not looking forward to returning to my car on the next occasion I visit Kempton Park racecourse!
There was barely any queue to leave when I reached my car but, by the time I’d eaten the cheese rolls I’d brought with me, the vehicles stretched back as far as the eye could see; in fact there were a number of different queues, all trying to exit via the main gate. Not only do vehicles from the main car park exit through this gate, but also horseboxes from the stables and probably around half the number of cars which have been parked in the centre of the course too. Great.
I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I would much rather park further away from the entrance gates so that I can join the back of a queue, rather than have to push my way into it. I’m far too polite! Although I have been known to get road rage too! The only way I can park near the back is if I arrive later; but then I get paranoid about getting stuck in traffic and missing the beginning of an event. I can’t win. I have the same problem at Cheltenham. I arrive early, but then have to park in the first field and invariably encounter a problem ‘pushing out’ into the queuing traffic at the end of the day.
Whilst I was waiting for the queues to disperse, a number of horseboxes drove past on their way to the exit; these included David Pipe’s horsebox, and I saw the head of a grey horse looking out through one of the windows ... it must have been Grands Crus.
One driver, who had become very impatient, had a run-in with a policeman; the driver edged forward, the policeman indicated for him to stop; the driver did it again, he was asked again to stop; but the driver edged forward again ... by this time the policeman had lost his patience, the driver’s registration number was recorded! It was amusing to watch.
Finally the queues inside the car park had dispersed and it was now time for me to leave. I was hoping for a clear run to Junction 1 of the M3, but vehicles were still queuing along the length of the road outside. However, eventually I was on my way down the aforementioned motorway, before joining the M25 and heading back to Hertfordshire. I arrived home at 18:20.
Before parking my car under the carport, and under the beam of the security light, I cleaned off the bird poo; I understand if left it can damage a vehicle’s paintwork. As there’s not much room under the carport, I have to drive in or back in so that my driver’s side wing mirror is just three or four inches from the wall or fence. This means that I have to climb in and out of the passenger door, not always an easy task depending on the clothes I’m wearing.
Another downside is that, because I’m not getting out the driver’s door, the alarm won’t sound if I’ve left the lights on accidently; fortunately I’ve not forgotten to turn them off yet. The carport is not on a slope, so I put the car into first gear and release the handbrake when I park it under there; useful in very cold weather, as I remember one occasion when the brakes were frozen and the wheels were locked as a result!
On reflection, and despite Choc not being at the course today, it was a privilege to see Kauto Star become the first horse in history to win the King George VI Chase on 5 occasions, beating Desert Orchid’s record of 4 wins in this race.
There is talk that a statue of Kauto Star might be erected at Kempton Park, to join that of Desert Orchid which currently overlooks the Parade Ring; Dessie’s statue having been re-located from its original position near the clubhouse. In the meantime, a statue of Kauto Star in planned for Haydock Park, to commemorate his four victories in their Betfair Chase. More