DIARY – KEMPTON PARK – WINTER FESTIVAL
BOXING DAY – FRIDAY 26 DECEMBER 2014
The horses parade ahead of the King George VI Chase
Today was my seventh consecutive Boxing Day trip to Kempton Park and my 31st visit to the racecourse; excluding attendance of one bead fair last August! Choc was absent this year, due to an ongoing injury to his neck and spine sustained last April. He had missed the fixture in 2009 as he rode at Wincanton, and again in December 2011 due to injury (a broken arm). There was still no news regarding whether or not he would be able to return to the saddle but, regardless, he was in the process of setting up a yard having visited a number of bloodstock sales, including Newmarket, Cheltenham and Paris during the late autumn. The next scan of his C7 and T1 vertebrae was due on Monday 05 January 2015; my birthday.
Boxing Day fell on a Friday this year, so I had half a day’s leave on Christmas Eve, followed by Christmas Day spent with mum and my younger brother and his family in Bedfordshire; also my sister-in-law’s parents. Having become engrossed in games played on a Nintendo Wii, which of course I lost because I’m not practised like them, and also having watched a recording of Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Show whilst there, I didn’t arrive home until 22:05. And I don’t believe I got to sleep until 23:45.
My alarm was set for 06:30 on Boxing Day, if not slightly earlier; I got up at 06:45. Having showered and washed and dried my hair, I applied my make-up and ate porridge for breakfast whilst watching the first half of Channel 4’s The Morning Line.
Early week, the forecast for today was an overnight frost, both ground and air, followed by a dry sunny day with temperatures around 6 degrees. This being the case my outfit today was black thermal vest, plus three long-sleeved thermal t-shirts – violet, plum and purple. My black M&S frill-edged rib cardigan, purple fleece, black fleece gillet, dark grey tweed double-frill hemmed skirt, grey thermal tights, burgundy ankle boots, socks, black faux sheepskin coat, large black polyester handbag, capacious but prone to leakage in wet weather; as it turned out the wrong choice today! Plus a shades of burgundy Rico Pom Pom scarf, plus long hand-warmers and black/white horse design snood.
My plan was to leave home at 08:45; in the event it was 08:55. But, not to worry, it only takes around 50 minutes to reach Kempton Park if traffic is flowing smoothly. Gate opening time today was 10:00.
My route took me along the ring-road; part of it had recently been resurfaced but, further along, its state of repair was diabolical. I had to wait for the traffic lights to change to green at its junction with London Road; it was a cold morning, but evidently not too cold for a couple of blokes to be out jogging! Having reached the roundabout on the A414, I headed down the London Colney bypass where, at the beginning of which, a foreign car driver didn’t appear to have a clue about which lane they should be in.
At the far end I negotiated the Bell roundabout, headed over the bridge, turned right at the next roundabout and then right again to enter the slip-road onto the M25 anti-clockwise carriageway. David Beckham was involved in a car accident in the vicinity on 29 November, having collected his son Brooklyn from the Arsenal training ground which is situated close by. More Rumour also has it that he’s been seen shopping in the nearby Colney Fields branch of M & S!
Traffic was moving freely on the M25 motorway and I’d soon reached Junction 12; I took the slip-road onto the M3 and headed towards London. There were crazy car-parking arrangements this year for the main car park. Park and ride traffic was instructed to leave at Junction 1 so, as per usual on Boxing Day, I had to travel to the next junction, exit via the slip-road, do a U-turn around the roundabout below the dual carriageway, re-join the aforementioned and take the first slip road on the left. At the subsequent T-junction I turned left and headed over the railway bridge.
On the previous years when I’ve purchased a badge for the main car-park, I’ve been able to enter via the gate on the left-hand side around 100 yards further on; this year it appeared that only those wishing to park in the centre of the racecourse free of charge and horseboxes heading for the stables were permitted to use this gate. So I continued along Park Road to the T-junction with Staines Road East; but there was a long queue of traffic so I decided to turn around and head back to the usual entrance thinking that this couldn’t be what they intended, because why send vehicles with parking labels via a different route if they end up back on the route they would have taken if left to their own devices!
When I arrived back at the ‘horsebox’ gate, there was a long argument taking place between a steward and the driver of another vehicle. I must have waited for five minutes before I could clarify my route with the steward – no, I had to use the main entrance on Staines Road East. So I turned around again, slipped out into the queue of traffic on the main road, drove another 100 yards, turned into the main car park, drove around the perimeter thereof only to arrive back at the original gate. But I then had to deal with the added problem of negotiating vehicles crossing my route which had entered via the aforementioned Park Road gate!
There was a delay whilst a couple of vehicles manoeuvred in the thoroughfare, and a steward opened the second of the pair of gates to enable one of the cars to exit onto Park Road. I double-checked my route with this steward “Straight across?” I asked. “Are you here all day?” Err, yes! The parking arrangements were organised chaos. Anyway, I decided to park in the third row of cars in the designated area of the main car park because, at the end of the day, I’d be able to drive straight out, rather than back out of my parking space into what might be gridlock.
It was now 10:00, so the gates were open. I ate a couple of cheese rolls which I’d brought with me; whilst doing so I noticed a number of horses boxes arrive; large and small, namely Colin Tizzard, Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, two from Lambourn Transport, and one from Taunton. Also, Clive Smith with family/friends; he’s the owner of Kauto Star who would be making an appearance at the fixture today. There was also a newly installed statue of his horse to be unveiled in the Parade Ring.
Shortly afterwards I put on my coat and boots and headed to the South Entrance; it was not easy ducking underneath the guide ropes marking out the areas of the car park. Having reached the Paddock Enclosure turnstiles I walked through the passageway between two of the kiosks, had my ticket scanned (it was No.1 for that enclosure!), collected a William Hill diary from one of the female representatives who were handing them out to punters, and bought a race-card too; £3 today.
As it turned out, there was no sun during the day, in fact rain arrived from the west mid-afternoon. But, looking on the bright side, there was no noticeable breeze and thus no windchill factor. But, as my handbag was heavy, I had decided to leave my umbrella in my car; wrong decision!
Having visited the little girls’ room within the ground floor of the main grandstand, I returned to the main concourse once more. It’s been a Kempton Park drought for me since March this year, due to Choc’s injury. However, as mentioned earlier, I did visit the racecourse in early August to attend a Bead Fair! And it certainly costs me more money to visit one of those than it does to go racing for the day, as I just cannot resist buying beads. And that’s including the cost of attending any one of the days of the Cheltenham Festival.
I was expecting the Kauto Star statue to be officially unveiled today, but he already was! And Desert Orchid had been spruced up as he always is ahead of this particular fixture. Dessie is situated on a slightly raised area of ground just to the south of the Parade Ring, whereas Kauto Star’s statue has been sited within the Paddock itself. And he stands on a plinth too. A Welsh couple asked me to take a photograph of them standing in front of Dessie using the guy’s phone.
I took a number of photographs of the new statue and of Dessie too. Personally, I prefer Dessie! There was currently controversy regarding Clive Smith’s decision to send Kauto Star to learn dressage following the horse’s retirement. This was a result of the equine’s apparent reluctance during a recent demonstration at the Olympia Christmas horseshow in London. Personally I’m not a fan of dressage, but it must be difficult to decide what to do, as surely the horse’s iconic status rules out anything which might be considered too risky.
I then decided to head to the course-side rails where I would remain until after the feature event of the day. The free of charge car park in the centre of the racecourse would continue to fill up throughout the morning, and some punters even failed to get as far as the main enclosures before the first race had been run! Pontoons had been placed across the track to protect the turf from their footfall. Following the overnight frost, covers had been placed on the landing sides of the fences; those protecting the final fence and final hurdle were removed just before 11:00.
Today was aimed at family entertainment, with a falconry display, pony rides and animal petting area beside the Weighing Room. I noticed a number of people had brought their very young infants along to the races; a couple with a baby boy in a pram stood close by me from quite some time before the first race until after I left the course-side rails at around 15:30. Isn’t it too cold for a child of that age to be outside for that long with just two or three blankets over them and the occasional cuddle? He didn’t cry at all, but nevertheless.
Whilst I was waiting beside the course-side rails I saw Barry Geraghty jog by, he was on the far side of the track from where I was standing and well-disguised but the giveaway was the fact that he slowed down as he ran past the large screen, turning around to jog backwards to view the film of Kicking King winning the race in 2004/2005 – he had piloted the dual-winner to victory! Barry continued for a second circuit, returning at walking pace; he doesn’t quite stay 3 miles! Nico de Boinville also walked the track. And, finally, there was a group of five guys who returned from a course walk, including Sam Twiston-Davies, Nick Scholfield and Tom Bellamy.
Denise also texted me to say thank you for her Christmas gifts; she’d not opened them until Boxing Day! I bought her a gardening voucher, a blue M & S scarf with an owl design print, and a pair of dichroic glass earrings.
The real Kauto Star was paraded around the Paddock prior to noon by his ‘carer’ Laura Collett. Although Laura continues to compete in eventing, she is now blind in her right eye following a serious fall during the cross-country phase at the Tweseldown Horse Trials in July 2013. Having chosen my location for the afternoon, I didn’t return to the Parade Ring to see Kauto Star, fully expecting him to lead the parade of horses down the racecourse ahead of the feature race. But it didn’t happen ...
Alan King had just two runners on today’s card; Uriah Heep ridden by Tom Bellamy in race 2 and Carraig Mor ridden by Noel Fehily in race 3, the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase formerly the Feltham Novices’ Chase. Wayne Hutchinson was riding at Wincanton today.
The starting gate for the first race of the day was at the far end of the home straight, the horses cantering down past the grandstand to reach it. Punters were still arriving as the horses prepared for the off; those parked in the centre of the racecourse had to wait on the far side of the track for the action to complete before it was safe to cross to the grandstand side of the track.
The favourite for this race was the Harry Fry trained Jollyallan, ridden by AP McCoy; price 5-4.
The runners either walked or jogged in to the start as is stipulated in the new rules and then they were off. The field was led away by Arzal, from Dusky Lark to the nearside and the favourite Jollyallan to the far side; they were followed by the Irish-raider Sempre Medici; bringing up the rear were Zip Top, Abuelo and the very keen grey Bringithomeminty. They all cleared the first flight safely and headed to the second, where Sempre Medici was less fluent than his rivals.
The leader was around five lengths clear as the field headed up past the grandstands and winning post; one circuit to go. Bringing up the rear as they negotiated the top turn was Zip Top. Having crossed the first of the all-weather areas on the bend, they headed across an area of turf which forms part of its in-field, before crossing the all-weather once more and heading to flight number three. Jollyallan, who was disputing second place with Dusky Lark, bunny-hopped this obstacle. All still standing, they headed down to the fourth hurdle.
Bringithomeminty, who was travelling to the inside in fifth position, appeared to jump this okay but then knuckled over; a soft fall and he was out of the race. There was a collective sigh from the spectators. I noticed on the replay that there was what appeared to be a flattened strip of grass running horizontally across the course from the outside rail, a stride or two from the back of the flight. The grey jumped the flight, bounded forward across this strip and crumpled; strange. It was probably just speed, but looked odd. Both horse and jockey, Nico de Boinville, were okay.
Anyway, the remaining six runners headed into the lake turn; Arzal was still clear of his rivals, who followed in Indian file. Namely Jollyallan, Sempre Medici, Dusky Lark, the pushed along Abuelo, with Zip Top still bringing up the rear. Exiting the turn, the outsider Abuelo was now the back-marker. Jollyallan was a little clumsy at the next flight and Ruby Walsh momentarily lost grip of his right rein aboard Sempre Medici. At the rear of the field, Abuelo received a reminder having cleared the hurdle.
Arzal retained a clear advantage as they jumped the next flight, from Jollyallan, Sempre Medici, Zip Top, Dusky Lark and Abuelo. AP’s mount had closed the gap upon the leader as they headed into the final turn. Entering the home straight, the favourite had drawn alongside Arzal, with Ruby Walsh’s mount just couple of lengths behind them. Sam Twiston-Davies administered a couple of reminders to his horse in the hope of retaining the lead, but Jollyallan appeared to hold all the aces and assumed the lead as they cleared two out.
This left Sempre Medici to pursue Jollyallan as they headed to the last flight; Ruby Walsh switching his mount to the far side to challenge. AP’s mount was clumsy but Sempre Medici more so; the latter almost losing his hind-legs on landing. This enabled the Champion Jockey to extend his lead as he headed to line; the winning distance 4½ lengths from the Irish-raider. Arzal plugged on for third, 5 lengths back; Zip Top completed in 4th, a further 18 lengths behind.
I remained beside the course-side rails in order to retain my position throughout the afternoon.
Alan King’s runner in the next race was Uriah Heep; he was the 33-1 outsider of the 9 runners. The joint-race favourites were River Maigue trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty, and Stellar Notion trained by Tom George and ridden by Paddy Brennan; both priced 4-1.
The starting gate for this event was at the lake turn; the competitors rode their mounts down past the grandstands in order to take a look at the final fence before proceeding to the start.
There was a slight delay prior to the off; this was due to swans on the track! You cannot be too careful with regards to these birds, recalling the ‘swan’ incident on May Day Bank Holiday this year when the rider of the ill-fated Dark Energy (Harry Beswick) was unseated when the horse collided with one of the birds as they travelled around the lake bend! The horse was uninjured on that day, but died having sustained an injury at Wincanton in October.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Stellar Notion, behind him, from the inside The Skyfarmer, Generous Ransom, Quite By Chance and Liberty Court. Followed by Knock House beside the rails and Katgary to the wide outside; sharing last position Uriah Heep to the inside of River Maigue. There were no problems at the first fence, or the second, although the Alan King runner jumped out to his left at the latter.
The third obstacle is an open-ditch; again no jumping errors, although Liberty Court did nod slightly on landing. Having negotiated the fence, Uriah Heep received a reminder from his jockey as he was now a clear last by two or three lengths. River Maigue was a little less fluent than the others when they jumped the fourth.
The nine competitors headed around the turn and into the home straight on the first occasion. Stellar Notion was four lengths ahead of his rivals and enjoying himself bowling along at the head of affairs. Disputing second place were Knock House against the rail, to his outside Quite By Chance. Behind these, from the inside, The Skyfarmer, Generous Ransom, Liberty Court and Katgary; bringing up the rear River Maigue and Uriah Heep.
The runners cleared the first in the line of three without incident, and the next, although Quite By Chance did seem to catch his off-fore against the birch but it did not affect his momentum. There were no problems at the fence in front of the packed stands; Uriah Heep still brought up the rear of the field.
The horses headed up past the winning post, now with one circuit to go. They swung out a little wide on the top turn, but that is due to the tightness of the bend, the chase course being on the inside of the hurdles track. Stellar Notion, winner of three of his last four starts, continued to lead the way. Generous Ransom made a slight error at the next fence; he was now one from the back of the field.
Fence number nine is the second open-ditch. There were no jumping errors at this fence, but the leading six were beginning to put pressure upon The Skyfarmer, Generous Ransom and Uriah Heep as they headed into the lake bend and, at one point, they looked in danger of losing touch. The Skyfarmer received a reminder, and Tom Bellamy continued to push his mount along; they closed the gap again.
Stellar Notion remained at the head of affairs, from Knock House and Quite By Chance as they headed towards the first in the back straight. They runners cleared the next two obstacles without incident; River Maigue had improved into fourth by this stage and even Uriah Heep improved to take a position within the main group of runners.
The fifth from last is the final open-ditch; Skyfarmer was slow here, and River Maigue stumbled after landing and was soon under pressure. Uriah Heep’s challenge fizzled out too, having jumped this fence. Stellar Notion was still clear of his rivals as he cleared the last fence in the back straight; Knock House and Quite By Chance continued to dispute second. Generous Ransom had improved through runners and now held fourth position from Katgary, Liberty Court and the now fading Nicky Henderson runner. There were further reminders for both Uriah Heep and The Skyfarmer as they struggled at the rear of the field.
Stellar Notion continued to hold the advantage over Quite By Chance as they entered the home straight; Knock House the first of the leading group to come under pressure. Generous Ransom was a few lengths behind, but he had clear daylight between himself and the remaining runners. Daryl Jacob’s mount got to within half a length of Stellar Notion clearing three out but, despite the jockey aboard the leader becoming more animated as they approached two from the finish, his mount began to pull away from his rivals once more. He was three lengths clear of his nearest pursuer clearing the fence.
Paddy Brennan was working hard to keep his mount going but, although tired, he retained if not extended his lead down to the final obstacle. However he got a bit close to the fence, which stemmed his momentum; this allowed Knock House, ridden by the Champion Jockey, to lay down a final challenge. But it was to no avail; Stellar Notion held on to win by 1½ lengths from the Mick Channon runner. Generous Ransom finished 2½ lengths back in 3rd, with Quite By Chance a further 1¾ lengths away in 4th.
Uriah Heep was pulled up two out; River Maigue before the last.
As mentioned before, I remained beside the course-side rails.
The favourite for the third race of the day was the Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; price 11-8. Noel Fehily rode the Alan King runner, Carraig Mor, price 16-1. Martin Keighley also had a runner in this race, Creepy ridden by Conor Shoemark. Martin trained last year’s winner of this Grade 1 event, Annacotty.
The starting gate for this race is the same as the one for the later King George, being at the beginning of the side straight. The horses cantered down past the grandstand to view the final fence before heading to the gate.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Coneygree; to the rear of the field, against the inside rail, AP McCoy administered a few taps down Warden Hill’s shoulder, followed by a vigorous fore-hander, then a backhander to ensure his mount set off in close attendance with the others. The runners crossed over the all-weather track and arrived at the first fence, over which Coneygree led, from Creepy to the wide outside, Carraig Mor, Virak, Sausalito Sunrise, Saphir Du Rheu and Warden Hill; the favourite was a tiny bit clumsy here.
The horses headed to the second fence, the first of the open-ditches; Carraig Mor jumped up into second place over this one. Compared to the others in the race, Virak appeared a pint-sized pony! Having cleared the first two fences without incident, the runners headed around the lake turn to arrive at the third fence. Coneygree continued to hold a narrow advantage over his rivals, the Alan King runner more fluent than Creepy at the fence.
They headed to the fourth; by which time Carraig Mor had joined Coneygree at the head of affairs. Unfortunately Creepy hit the top of the fence and stumbled on landing; jockey Conor Shoemark briefly losing his right iron. He dropped to the rear of the field as a result. The next fence was the second open-ditch, which they all cleared without incident. Coneygree and Carraig Mor had now set up a four or five lengths lead over Virak, from Sausalito Sunrise, followed by the favourite a few lengths behind these, then a further gap back to Warden Hill. Creepy was now some distance behind and, jumping the next slowly, was in danger of losing touch.
The Alan King runner held the inside rail advantage as they headed around the long right-hand turn into the home straight on the first occasion. Coneygree travelled at his quarters, with Virak and Sausalito Sunrise disputing third place three lengths behind them. Saphir Du Rheu travelled in fifth position, from Warden Hill, with Creepy being pushed along in last place.
The field headed over the seventh fence. However, the first casualty was Saphir Du Rheu; he hit the top of the fence, slithered on landing and catapulted Sam Twiston-Davies over his right shoulder as he struggled to retain his footing. There was a collective sigh from the spectators as their money went west! Sam actually landed on his feet and was able to grab hold of Saphir Du Rheu’s reins before his mount was able to gallop off into the sunset. Both appeared fine after the incident; Sam led his horse back to the nearside of the track.
The remaining six runners continued to the middle fence in the home straight; Carraig Mor with a narrow advantage over Coneygree. However, the Alan King runner put in an extra stride, got too close to it, hit the top and Noel Fehily was sent flying over his head. Creepy was pulled up at the ninth fence, having failed to recover from his earlier error. So then there were only four!
Coneygree led the remaining runners up past the main grandstand; he was three lengths ahead of Virak and Sausalito Sunrise who disputed second position, with Warden Hill trailing the others by around eight lengths. The rider-less Carraig Mor was quick to notice the exit point as they turned the top bend; he veered off to his left and headed back to the horse-walk to be caught.
Nico de Boinville’s mount continued to lead as the field headed to fence number ten; in rear Warden Hill jumped out to his left. AP McCoy continued to push his mount along in rear. The horses also cleared the open-ditch without incident before heading into the lake turn once more. Although Coneygree continued to bowl along in front, Sausalito Sunrise and Virak had closed down upon the leader approaching the next. Warden Hill was now 20 lengths behind them.
Having cleared the fence, the Philip Hobbs runner moved into a clear second place as Virak began to struggle. But disaster struck at the next, with Sausalito Sunrise hitting the top of the plain fence and falling. This left Coneygree well ahead of his two remaining rivals and he cleared the final two fences in the back straight without problem. Travelling around the final turn, still at a strong gallop, he was now 25 lengths clear of his nearest rival.
Although tiring a little bit as he headed up the home straight towards the winning line, the only dangers were the three obstacles therein. But, as throughout the race, these posed absolutely no problem to him and he completed a clear round to win by 40 lengths at the line, easing down!
Virak had continued to tire and Warden Hill stayed on as they headed up the home straight; the latter joining the Paul Nicholls second-string as they jumped the last. The excitement held by this race wasn’t over yet, as they battled to the line for runner-up honours. It was no surprise than AP won the day, and claimed second prize by one and a half lengths.
Sam Twiston-Davies had stopped upon the racecourse in front of me whilst the remaining three runners completed the race; he kept a tight hold upon his stationary mount. He then continued to lead his mount back to the horse-walk exit point.
Sausalito Sunrise appeared fine; he had cantered away following his fall and eventually headed up the home straight past the grandstands to be caught. A couple of teenagers standing beside me did mention his wide angle rear gait; but I think he’s just built like that! One of the vets did check him before the stable lass led him away.
Coneygree is a half-brother to Carruthers. If I was a betting person, he would have been my bet of the day. I saw him win the Grade 2 at Newbury on TV, a race in which Saphir Du Rheu had unseated. I know the Paul Nicholls runner had won at Exeter since, but I still would not have trusted his jumping; I was proved right today!
Coneygree had missed 671 days prior his Newbury run having badly cut one of his hind-legs in a freak accident at home. Presumably that is why he now sports bandages on his hind-legs for added protection when racing.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race. However, presenting the prizes for this race was Eastenders actor and Strictly Come Dancing semi-finalist Jake Wood who today was attending the races with his family.
Six of the seven jockeys got into trouble at the start of the Grade 1 Novices’ event:
The Stewards held an enquiry following a report from the Starter that Noel Fehily, the rider of CARRAIG MOR(IRE), Nico de Boinville, the rider of CONEYGREE, Conor Shoemark, the rider of CREEPY (IRE), Sam Twiston-Davies, the rider of SAPHIR DU RHEU (FR), Tom O'Brien, the rider of SAUSALITO SUNRISE (IRE), Nick Scholfield, the rider of VIRAK (FR) and A P McCoy, the rider of WARDEN HILL (IRE), had cantered in anticipating the start. They interviewed the riders and the Starter, and took evidence from a Steward who had been positioned at the start. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the start the Stewards found the riders Noel Fehily, Conor Shoemark, Tom O'Brien, Nick Scholfield and A P McCoy in breach of Rule (D)44.4 and suspended them for one day as follows, Friday 9 January 2014. They also found Nico de Boinville in breach of Rule (D)44.4 and suspended him for two days as follows, Friday 9 and Saturday 10 January 2014, this being his second offence in the previous 12 months. The Stewards accepted Sam Twiston-Davies' explanation that he had made every effort to restrain his mount.
The odds-on 4-11 favourite for the Christmas Hurdle was Irish-raider Faugheen, ridden by Ruby Walsh and trained by Willie Mullins. The horse was unbeaten and had won the Grade 1 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival; also a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival. He’d already won a Grade 2 event at Ascot this term and had returned to plunder another English prize.
The two mile starting gate is situated at the far end of the home straight, so the runners cantered down past the stands to reach it. I noticed the first spit spots of rain as the runners headed down to the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Blue Heron, now ridden by Paddy Brennan in place of Harry Skelton; the latter had been listed in the race-card. He was tracked by Faugheen, then Purple Bay, Irving, Sgt Reckless and Sign Of A Victory. The runners cleared the first flight without incident; Barry Geraghty’s mount appearing quite keen at the rear of the field. Blue Heron led over the next and held a two lengths advantage as the runners headed up past the main grandstand with one circuit to go.
They then set off down the side of the racecourse, crossing the all-weather sections of the track in the process. There was no change at the head of affairs as the horses jumped flight number three; in third place Purple Bay was a little clumsy at this obstacle. Continuing their journey and clearing flight number four, Irving was now at the rear of the field.
Having completed this section of the track, the runners headed around the lake turn; Nick Scholfield encouraged Irving to take closer order as they did so. Moving into the back straight, Blue Heron had extended his lead slightly over Faugheen, then Purple Bay, Sign Of A Victory, Irving and Sgt Reckless. The latter rapped the fifth hurdle as he jumped it.
The runners continued along the back straight to the third last flight; Blue Heron still with a clear advantage over this pursuers led by Faugheen. Heading into the home turn, both Irving and Sgt Reckless were being pushed along at the rear of the field. Purple Bay, in third position, received a reminder from AP.
As the bend began to run out, Faugheen drew alongside the long-time leader; Purple Bay under pressure to make his challenge but a few lengths adrift. The Irish raider soon cruised into the lead, and was already four lengths up as he jumped the penultimate flight. Purple Bay had joined Blue Heron as they cleared it. Faugheen continued to draw away from his rivals heading to the last; although he wasn’t totally fluent at the flight.
Half way up the run-in Ruby checked over his left shoulder, then his right, for any dangers; he had a number of lengths in hand so eased down a few strides from the line. The winning distance was 8 lengths over the runner-up Purple Bay. Blue Heron completed in 3rd, 9 lengths away. It was 14 lengths back to the fourth, Sign Of A Victory.
Irving was pulled up on the home turn and led back for part of the way. Nick Scholfield had thought his mount wasn’t moving right, but nothing wrong could be found when examined. However, it was later discovered that Irving had an abscess in one of his hooves; evidently he has regular issues with his feet.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The favourite for the King George VI was the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti, biding to win the race for the second year in a row; price 15-8. The second favourite was Irish-raider Champagne Fever.
Being the feature race of the day, there was a pre-race parade; Al Ferof at the head of the line, being first in the alphabet for this conditions race. The horses were led down past the grandstands; their jockeys then took them to look at the final (and 9th) fence before cantering back to the start at the beginning of the side straight. As mentioned earlier, Kauto Star did not head the parade this year.
It was raining properly by this time and the quality of the light was atrocious.
Then they were off. The ten runners for this renewal headed away from the start, across the strip of ground denoting the all-weather track to approach the first fence. Holding the slight advantage as they rose was Silviniaco Conti, from Champagne Fever to his outside and Cue Card to his inner. At the rear of the field, Wishfull Thinking was the least fluent of the runners.
The horses then galloped towards the first open-ditch, fence number two. The runners cleared this without incident and headed into the lake bend; Silviniaco Conti marginally the leader from Cue Card. They were followed a couple of lengths back by Champagne Fever, then Al Ferof, Dynaste and Menorah line across the track; bringing up the rear, also line across the track, were Johns Spirit, Wishfull Thinking, Double Ross and Wonderful Charm.
Entering the back straight, Champagne Fever pulled his way up into second place behind Silviniaco Conti as they jumped the third. Having jumped the fourth fence, Wishfull Thinking was now the clear back marker. The horses headed to the second of the ditches, which they all cleared safely; last year’s winner continued to set the pace by a couple of lengths from the Willie Mullins runner. Cue Card was close on the heels of the Irish-raider, with a three of four lengths gap back to Dynaste, to his inside Al Ferof and outside Menorah. They were followed by Johns Spirit and Double Ross; Wishfull Thinking at the rear.
Having also negotiated the final fence in the back straight successfully, the runners headed around the long home turn and into the straight for the first time. Champagne Fever continued to take a strong hold just behind the leader. The competitors cleared fence number seven without incident; Cue Card made an error at the next and surrendered his position to Dynaste.
Silviniaco Conti continued to lead as the runners cleared the final fence in the home straight and headed up towards the winning post; one circuit to go. The Irish-raider retained second position, from Cue Card who had regained third place; they were followed by Dynaste and Menorah. Three lengths behind these were Al Ferof, Wonderful Charm, Double Ross and Johns Spirit. Wishfull Thinking was detached and struggling in rear.
The horses swung quite wide on the top turn, it being a tight angle as compared to the hurdles track; but it is taken upon a stretch of the all-weather so poses no problem. The runners headed down the side of the course, over the second all-weather strip to arrive at fence number ten; they all jumped this safely, Wishfull Thinking slower than the others in rear. The next obstacle is an open-ditch; all the runners jumped this with aplomb.
The field then headed into the lake turn, last year’s winner still leading by a couple of lengths from Champagne Fever. He was pursued by Cue Card and Dynaste disputing third place; close on their heels, Al Ferof and Menorah, Johns Spirit and Wonderful Charm. Wishfull Thinking was pulled up at this point.
Entering the back straight, Wonderful Charm began to struggle having cleared the first fence therein; after the next, Double Ross was being pushed along, both at the rear of the field. The runners headed over the final open-ditch. Silviniaco Conti continued to lead from Champagne Fever, Cue Card, Dynaste, Johns Spirit, Al Ferof, Menorah, Wonderful Charm receiving reminders and Double Ross.
The leader wasn’t particularly fluent at the fourth last but, back in the field, Menorah clouted the fence and pitched on landing; jockey Tom O’Brien was lucky to survive having been shot up the horse’s neck for a few strides. As a result he dropped to the rear of the field.
The leading group of six were closely packed as they headed around the final turn; Silviniaco Conti continuing to hold the advantage over Cue Card and Champagne Fever, with Johns Spirit, Al Ferof and Dynaste on their heels. It was the three greys against the chestnut and two bays. The leading group headed over the third last, with the Jonjo O’Neill runner making an error here and soon struggling.
The long-time leader headed down to two out, and he began to put distance between himself and his rivals; Champagne Fever was now his closest pursuer, from Cue Card, Dynaste, Al Ferof and Johns Spirit. Having cleared the fence, the gap continued to grow and he was probably eight lengths clear as he flew over the final fence and was driven to the line.
Dynaste was the only rival to mount any kind of a challenge after two out and got to within 4½ lengths at the winning post to claim 2nd prize. Al Ferof stayed on to pip Champagne Fever for 3rd; the distances 5 lengths and ¾ of a length. Cue Card finished 5th, reportedly having been struck into on his left-fore fetlock; Johns Spirit completed in 6th. Wonderful Charm and Menorah also completed; 15 and 18 lengths respectively in arrears. Double Ross refused two out having lost too much momentum to jump the fence.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, but not before I’d almost lost my footing on the steps leading down from the betting ring, to the side of the main grandstand. It was caused by a group of people pushing through in the opposite direction to the main flow of footfall. Thanks guys ... idiots.
However, having reached the area to the side of the Winners’ Enclosure, I discovered the light had faded so badly by this stage of the afternoon that it was impossible to take photographs which weren’t blurred. So I had no worthwhile photographs of the winner and, as it turned, of the presentations either; despite having also walked around to the far side of the Parade Ring.
It was unusual to have one chestnut and three greys in the Winners’ Enclosure. But, of course, there are far more greys around these days, with French-bred horses being commonplace.
It was raining, I was fed up, so I decided to call it a day and head home prior to the last race of the day. I will however describe the final event.
The favourite for this race was the Tom Scudamore ridden, Martin Pipe trained, Alternatif. Tom had ridden a winner at Wincanton earlier in the afternoon before being flown by helicopter to Kempton Park to partner Dynaste in the King George and the favourite in this race too.
The starting gate being at the lake bend, presumably the horses headed out of the horse walkway and along the side straight to reach it.
Then they were off. The eleven runners headed towards and over the first flight at a steady pace, the first-time blinkered Kilmurvy leading the way, from Alternatif and the also blinkered Aalim. At the rear of the field were Theinval, Oliver’s Hill and the very unreliable Go West Young Man; the latter is renowned for throwing away winning chances with bizarre behaviour! If you saw his race at Exeter earlier in the season you’ll know precisely what I mean ...
The gallop remained steady as the field headed over flight number two; Alternatif and Kilmurvy still at the head of affairs, the latter with a tendency to jump out to his left. Heading around the turn and into the home straight on the first occasion, the order was Kilmurvy, Alternatif, Aalim, Experimentalist, Daveron, A Good Skin, the dapple grey Tidal Way, Hawaii Five Nil, Go West Young Man taking a keen hold, Oliver’s Hill and Theinval.
The runners proceeded up the home straight towards the grandstands in the gathering gloom; all eleven horses cleared the two flights therein without incident. Alternatif held the advantage as they did so, with Kilmurvy losing the lead due to his tendency to jump out to his left. However, by the top bend, he had regained the lead once more.
The runners headed out into the country for the final time, the field was still well packed due to the steadiness of the gallop. They were spread wide across the track as they approached the fifth flight; Go West Young Man flattened one of the panels. Having jumped the next, the grey Tidal Way found himself at the rear of the field as they entered the lake bend.
Alternatif lead the field around the turn, from Daveron and Aalim. Kilmurvy continued to drop back through the field having cleared four out; Experimentalist was being ridden along and received reminders prior to the third last and had soon joined him at the back of the main group, with solely the tailed off Tidal Way behind them.
They headed into the final turn, the favourite continued to lead the way. He was followed by Daveron, then Hawaii Five Nil, A Good Skin, Go West Young Man, Aalim, Theinval, Kilmurvy staying on again, Oliver’s Hill, and the detached Experimentalist and Tidal Way.
Meanwhile the David Pipe runner powered on into the home straight, Daveron still his closest pursuer three lengths behind. Hawaii Five Nil was being pushed along and received a reminder in third. The sole challenger looked likely to be the Nicky Henderson runner, Theinval, who drew alongside Daveron at the second last. He continued to close down upon the leader as they headed to the final flight; Alternatif was still a couple of lengths clear as they jumped it.
Barry Geraghty raised his whip for one final effort to close the remaining gap as they headed up the run in; he was closing with every stride. But it was too late, Alternatif held on to win by a neck at the line. They had pulled well away from their remaining rivals, with Daveron claiming 3rd place 12 lengths adrift of the second. Hawaii Five Nil finished 1¾ lengths back in 4th, half a length ahead of Go West Young Man. Kilmurvy and A Good Skin being the only others to finish; the remainder were pulled up.
As previously mentioned, I left Kempton Park following the King George VI Chase. It’s not my usual plan when at the races, and has never occurred on occasions prior to Choc completing his final ride of the day. I believe I may have set off for home early on a couple of previous occasions when at Kempton Park; definitely from Ascot on the day after the Aintree Festival as Choc had gone home and it was a boiling hot day. Also, I recall once prior to the Charity race at the Cheltenham Festival. And Mark once forced me to leave Worcester early so that we didn’t miss our train to London ... but I’ve always stayed to see Choc! So I have a good record, considering I’d been to the races in excess of 150 times! Many other race-goers leave prior to the final race, having finished their betting activities.
Anyway, today I left via the South Entrance as it was just as quick as exiting via the North Entrance; probably quicker, as there was no risk of my walk being interrupted by horses arriving along the horse-walk ahead of the final race of the day. Having left the perimeter path, I weaved my way through the parked vehicles, aiming for a tree which I knew was planted in a space within the row prior to mine. Yep. There is my little blue Fiesta.
There was a group of people standing just to the rear of my vehicle; I gather from their conversation that someone had mislaid the key to their car! I took off my coat and scarf, laying the former along the rear seat as the back of it was very wet. I placed the scarf along the shelf below the rear window. I changed out of my boots once I’d sat in the driver’s seat; placing them in an empty Really Useful box which I store in the foot-well behind the passenger seat. My handbag felt wet, so I placed that in the foot-well of the passenger seat.
Having started the engine and turned on the lights, I turned right having exited the parking space and drove to the end of the row. I checked to ensure there were no vehicles coming from my right, before turning left and arriving adjacent to the main entrance/exit onto Park Road. There was a queue of oncoming vehicles straight ahead and from my left too. Pedestrians were also wandering through the queuing cars, so I had to be mindful of them when I turned right and exited through the gateway. They were also wandering across the road to reach the pavement on the far side of Park Road; there is no pavement on the near side. I waited for everyone to cross, as I don’t think they were experienced pedestrians!
Having driven over the railway bridge, I encountered a couple of people attempting to cross from left to right to reach car park C. They posed a danger to themselves because they were too close to the bridge, the vision of drivers having been compromised by the contour of the road over it. People who are not regular walkers don’t have a clue! My pet hates as a driver and/or pedestrian are darkness, people who use un-dipped headlights for no apparent reason, drivers/passengers who get in and out of cars parked on the roadway without even checking for overtaking vehicles, zebra crossings, cyclists (on roads and pavements) and children riding to school and around shops on scooters; they are lethal!
Anyway, having negotiated the pedestrians, the road bears to the left and I joined the left-hand lane of a double-queue of traffic waiting to exit onto the roundabout beneath Junction 1 of the M3. I recall letting one vehicle enter the queue from a road on my left; there was also an obstruction in the outside lane marked by a cone. The road narrows to a single lane at the aforementioned traffic lights, so the two queues merged as we approached them. It was whilst queuing that I realised just how wet my hair was; the front and top didn’t seem too bad but the back certainly was ... water was almost dripping down the back of my neck!
Having negotiated the roundabout I headed up the slip-road onto the M3. Being wet, much spray was being created by those travelling along the motorway. I stayed in the inside lane and kept my speed down to between 50 and 60 mph. There were ongoing road-works at the junction with the M25, verges lined with cones as a result; junction improvements I believe.
As you can imagine, the driving conditions on the M25 weren’t good; there was lots of spray. I kept my speed below 60 mph and had moved into the middle of the five lanes by the time I’d reached the M4 junction; the two inside ones reserved for those wishing to head east or west along the London to South Wales motorway. There are four lanes after this junction, but I didn’t enter the inside one as, further along and prior to the next junction, this is reserved for vehicles wishing to head west along the M40.
Having negotiated Junction 16 I moved into the inside lane and remained there until Watford where, once again, this lane is reserved solely for traffic wishing to leave the motorway. I had been tasked with picking up my mum from my older brother’s house in Luton where she had spent the day. Last year, with pleasant motorway driving conditions ... if they can ever be described as that ... I’d headed up the M1 to Junction 10 thereof to collect mum. However, this year as in 2012, I left the M25 at Junction 21A, and headed into St Albans via Chiswell Green. I noticed a dog walker and a jogger as drove over the A414 (ex-M10); crazy people, it was not a fit afternoon for anyone to be out!
Having reached the King Harry pub, I turned left along King Harry Lane to skirt Verulamium park. There were a couple of teenagers wandering along the side of the road, their back to the traffic and outside the barriers, having presumably crossed the highway via the pelican crossing at the top of the causeway. The car in front of me was wary of them as they wandered along the side of the roadway; they were wearing dark clothing too and thus were difficult to see. When will people learn to be sensible? Just because they can see us, doesn’t mean we can see them; especially true of older people as our night vision deteriorates with age.
Having learnt my lesson in 2012 when deciding to drive along the Redbourn Road and encountering flooding, on this occasion I continued along Batchwood Drive before turning left and heading up Harpenden Road to, you’ve guessed it, Harpenden! The vehicles ahead of me travelled well below the 60 mph speed limit along the country section of the road, and Harpenden High Street was quiet. Their town decorations were nice though; although later I read in the local paper that residents had complained about their quality this Christmas.
My route continued along the A1081 to the Newlands Road junction where I turned left; I reached my brother’s house shortly afterwards. I had arrived earlier than expected, although I don’t recall the exact time; presumably because I’d foregone the final race! I was in time to see my niece Lydia before she set off to drive to her boyfriend’s house. And my sister-in-law Anita loaned me a hairdryer to dry my still rather soggy hair. I was offered a cup of tea and I polished off the two cheese rolls which I’d not eaten due to my hasty ‘traffic-busting’ escape from Kempton Park.
Mum and I set off for St Albans and I arrived home at around 18:30. I filled the clothes-airer with my wet coat, damp scarf, possibly damp snood, and now empty soggy-bottomed handbag before logging on to update my blog. I also recorded today’s Racing UK Kempton Park highlights onto DVD, not knowing how much of the live action I’d got on my Sky drive; there were bound to be clashes with RUK broadcasting live races from Kempton, Wetherby, Wincanton, Huntingdon and Market Rasen on Boxing Day!