DIARY – KEMPTON PARK – WINTER FESTIVAL
BOXING DAY – SATURDAY 26 DECEMBER 2015
Over the last, Vautour and Cue Card prepare to
fight out the finish of the King George VI Chase
Today was my eighth consecutive Boxing Day trip to Kempton Park and my 32nd visit to the racecourse; excluding attendance of one bead fair – the latter proved far more expensive than any single day trip to the races, even more so than the Cheltenham Gold Cup or Grand National! I love beads!
Boxing Day fell on a Saturday 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. After lunch, Karen, Neil, Kim, James and I went for a walk along the driveway leading to Wrest Park and back again. Later in the afternoon we played games on a Nintendo Wii and early evening watched Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Show; it was won by Harry Judd. I didn’t arrive home until 21:30.
My alarm was set for 06:30 on Boxing Day, if not slightly earlier. Having showered and washed and dried my hair, I applied my make-up and ate two croissants for breakfast whilst watching the first half of Channel 4’s The Morning Line.
Presumably global warming had resulted in a very mild autumn, although systematic of this was rain and strong winds for much of the time too! However, despite this, I had no intention of underdressing for my trip to Kempton. Thus my outfit today was two long-sleeved thermal t-shirts – dark blue and purple. Plus a red thermal roll-neck top, oversized bluey-purple BHS cardigan, purple fleece, black fleece gillet, dark grey tweed double-frill hemmed skirt, grey thermal tights, burgundy pull-on jeggings, black Hotter ‘Cannes’ lace-up boots, black faux sheepskin coat, and burgundy/brown/pink Next handbag. Also mauve/purple M & S material scarf, plus long striped hand-warmers. I wore my Fired Creations earrings, but there was no need to wear a necklace as I was wearing a roll-neck top.
My plan was to leave home at 08:45; in the event it was 08:55 ish. Gate opening time today was 10:00.
My route took me along the ring-road; part of which was in excellent condition, having been resurfaced in 2014 but, further along, its state of repair was diabolical; I reported it as such in last year’s diary for this day and it’s still not been repaired! The question is, why resurface quiet under-used sideroads but leave a busy thoroughfare like the ring-road? Anyway, having bumped and rattled my way along to the T-junction with London Road, I turned left and headed down past the fire station to the London Colney roundabout. After that I travelled down the dual carriageway to join the M25 at Junction 22.
Traffic was moving freely on the motorway and I’d soon reached Junction 12; I took the slip-road onto the M3 and headed towards London. For the first time that I can recall, I noticed the amusement rides of Thorpe Park situated to the left of the motorway! Upon reaching the far end of the motorway, Junction 1, I dutifully followed the signs to continue 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.
I was expecting to be allowed to enter the main car park via Gate 1, as suggested on my parking docket. However, as had also happened last year, I was turned away and had to drive down to the T-junction with Staines Road East, where I turned left and then entered via Gate 3, just a short distance further along. This being the case, there was absolutely no point in me following the signs; I should have left the motorway at Junction 1 and travelled by my usual route to the racecourse. It was between 09:50 and 09:55 when I arrived.
Once inside the car park, I had to drive along the perimeter and cross over the main driveway which leads from Gate 1 to the stables and to the centre of the racecourse parking also. The really annoying thing is that my route took me within feet of the gate itself. I parked my car on the third row and was very annoyed to see vehicles being permitted to enter via Gate 1 just a few minutes later; they parked in my area of the main car park too. What’s that all about? I can only presume that I had to arrive after 10:00 to be allowed to enter via Gate 1 – why doesn’t it state that on the parking docket?
A number of vehicles parked, only for the drivers to change their mind and move nearer the front of the car park, or nearer to the gate. A group of people arrived in a mini-bus, a large mini-bus at that, and the driver decided to back into a space between myself and a vehicle three spaces away. I was holding my breath as he missed my left-wing by just a matter of inches. Phew. Following that, a Range Rover decided to park to my right, and a Land Rover to my left. Typical. As usual it was a struggle for them to get out of their doors without bashing my poor little car; I muttered a few swear words!
I ate just one of the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me and remained in my car until 10:50; during this period I noticed a number of horseboxes arrive – Lambourn Racehorse Transport (known as LRT and which is owned by Merrick Francis, son of Dick Francis), Dan Skelton’s horsebox, also Neil Mulholland’s and Warren Greatrex’s boxes.
Shortly afterwards I put on my coat and headed to the South Entrance; it was not easy ducking underneath the guide ropes marking out the areas of the car park. Not expecting rain, I’d left my umbrella in my car, but took with me a light-weight quilted hat instead; I didn’t need to wear it during the day. Having reached the Paddock Enclosure turnstiles I walked through the passageway to the left-hand side of the kiosks, before having my ticket scanned and exchanged a pre-purchased slip for a race-card too. I forgot to collect a William Hill pocket-diary this year; damn.
Having visited the little girls’ room within the ground floor of the main grandstand, I returned to the main concourse once more before heading to the course-side rails. Having realised that I’d left my bottle of water at home, I briefly returned to the betting ring area where I bought one from the kiosk situated to the side thereof. I then remained beside the course-side rails until after the feature event of the day.
The only jockeys I noticed walking the course were Ruby Walsh with two colleagues; the time 11:40. The large screen overlooking the home straight was broadcasting action from previous renewals of the King George VI Chase. Prior to racing, presenter Martin Kelly interviewed Nicky Henderson regarding his runners today – Altior, Full Shift, Sign Of A Victory and Hargam; the trainer did say the latter two were making up the numbers in the Christmas Hurdle. He also spoke about Sprinter Sacre running at Kempton the following day. Martin also interviewed AP McCoy, who fancied Don Cossack for the feature race, and Jon Ivan-Duke who is the PR representative for the Festival sponsor William Hill.
There was also a ‘virtual’ running of the King George VI Chase, broadcast on the big screen and featuring past winners; it was won by Kauto Star, with Desert Orchid finishing a close second. No surprise I guess, as Kauto Star won the race a record-breaking five times and Desert Orchid four times.
The free of charge car park in the centre of the racecourse continued to fill up throughout the morning; at certain times, a long queue formed at the portakabin close to the crossing point, when members of the public without tickets wished to purchase them. Pontoons had also been placed across the track to protect the turf from their footfall.
Shortly before the first race, a group of punters arrived to take up their position next to the hedge which divides the Paddock Enclosure from the Festival Enclosure. Unfortunately one of them was a loud-mouthed know-it-all, and the group imposed themselves upon the couple standing next to them; a common ploy to gain access to ‘their’ spot beside the rails, despite having not arrived early enough. It’s happened to me, at Aintree the previous year – and is very annoying. They gain your trust, then gradually manoeuvre their way into the spot which you’d selected before anyone else had arrived.
Anyway, the loud-mouthed one proceeded to say that he thought Willie Mullins was the best trainer around and how many times he’d won money on the yard’s horses; although that had gone awry when Annie Power fell on the first day of last season’s Festival! However he also told the unfortunate pair that he hated the Tizzards ... and all because he’d lost a lot of money on an accumulator bet many moons ago, when the final leg had been a Colin Tizzard-trained horse ridden by son Joe.
Alan King had three runners on today’s card; L’Unique in Race 3 the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, Smad Place in race 5 the Grade 1 King George VI Chase and Simply A Legend in race 6 a Handicap Hurdle; all three to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
The favourite for the first race of the day was the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 11-8.
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 grandstands to reach it.
And then they were off. The field was led away by the hooded Marracudja, from the flashy Breath Of Blighty; held up in rear were the hard-pulling Meet The Legend and the 150-1 outsider Pantoloni. The latter was a little awkward at the first flight, and Altior may have been bumped by Irish raider Open Eagle as they cleared it.
The 10-strong field continued their journey up the home straight to flight number two, which they all cleared without problem; Cashanova was now in last place, having been eased back by his jockey because he was pulling too hard. The Paul Nicholls-trained Marracudja led the runners up past the winning post, followed by Open Eagle, Altior and Breath Of Blighty. In fifth position was the Nicholls second-string Simon Squirrel, followed by the dark grey Gwafa, Meet The Legend, Red Orator, Pantoloni and Cashanova.
Having negotiated the top bend, upon a strip of the all-weather track, the runners began their journey down the side of the racecourse; they crossed the return section of all-weather course before reaching the third hurdle; Marracudja continued to lead, two or three lengths clear of the main field. There were no jumping issues at the flight; or at the fourth one either. The field then headed into the far bend on this triangular-shaped track.
With no change at the head of affairs, Altior had begun to take closer order and now disputed second position with Open Eagle. The field was strung out by now, with Pantoloni being pushed along one from the rear; Cashanova overtook him as they progressed around the bend, with the jockey upon the outsider becoming more and more animated as his mount dropped away.
The runners entered the back straight and headed over flight number five, still led by Marracudja; to the outside of the field, Simon Squirrel had now pulled his way up to dispute second position with Open Eagle and Altior. Pantoloni had tailed-off from the now closely packed field and he was pulled up before the next. In fifth position jumping this flight, Breath Of Blightly flattened one of the panels.
The nine remaining runners headed into the final sweeping bend, with Marracudja still narrowly ahead, from Open Eagle, Altior and Simon Squirrel; just behind these was Gwafa and, hanging onto their coat-tails, Meet The Legend. The remaining three was struggling and beaten.
Exiting the turn, Nico de Boinville manoeuvred Altior off the rails to make his challenge to the stands-side of the course. In doing so, he had a very narrow advantage over Open Eagle and long-time leader Marracudja as they cleared two out; in fourth-position the tiring Simon Squirrel flattened one of the panels. Then, heading down to the final obstacle, Altior quickened up and put plenty of daylight between himself and Ruby Walsh’s mount, the latter having now got the better of the long-time leader.
Altior flew the last and Nico glanced over his left shoulder to see if there was any opposition as he galloped towards the line; absolutely nothing! The jockey was able to ease up his mount approaching the winning post and he still won by 13 lengths; an impressive victory for the 5-year-old son of High Chaparral. In turn, Open Eagle was 7 lengths clear of Marracudja, the latter having just held on to 3rd from stable-mate Simon Squirrel. Meet The Legend was less than a length behind him in 5th; he would probably have beaten the two Paul Nicholls runners had he not pulled so hard earlier in the race!
It was Altior’s fourth victory in a row and a good trial for Cheltenham’s Supreme Hurdle, although Nicky Henderson did say he’d need even more horses like this lad and Buveur D’Air to fight off the challengers from the Willie Mullins yard come March! The winning trainer explained that some of the horses in his yard have been suffering from snotty noses, including Buveur D’Air, but they have also been recovering fast from whatever ails them. He said Sprinter Sacre and Vaniteux, scheduled to run in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase and Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase respectively the following day, had not been affected by any bugs.
I remained beside the course-side rails in order to retain my position.
The race favourite for the following event was Bekkensfirth trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by brother Harry; price 9-2. Germany Calling was a non-runner.
The starting gate for this race 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.
And then they were off at a steady pace towards the first of the 16 fences. First to rise was Rock N Rhythm, from Bekkensfirth and Buckthorn Timothy; at the rear of the field were Unique De Cotte and Sirabad. There were no jumping issues at the first fence or the second. The third obstacle was the first of the open-ditches; probably the least fluent at this one were Antony and Sirabad. Having cleared fence number four without incident, the nine rivals headed around the long sweeping bend and headed into the home straight on the first occasion.
Rock N Rhythm continued to lead the way, from Bekkensfirth, Antony, Full Shift, Buckthorn Timothy and West Wizard; Unique De Cotte, How About It and Sirabad brought up the rear. Buckthorn Timothy put in an extra stride before the next fence and hit it as a result; he survived and the partnership continued. The middle of the three fences caused no issues for any of the runners and they headed down to what would be the final fence next time around.
Rock N Rhythm continued to lead over this one, from Bekkensfirth a close second. There was a small break in the field to the others, led by Full Shift and Anthony; How About It now brought up the rear having been prominent during the early stages of the race. The runners headed up past the winning post and negotiated the all-weather strip on the top bend, before beginning their journey down the side straight.
After covering a stretch of the track upon turf, the runners headed over the return section of the all-weather to reach fence number eight. Although there appeared to be no major mistakes at the fence, plumes of birch flew into the air as they jumped it. Bekkensfirth joined Rock N Rhythm at the head of affairs as the runners headed towards the second of the open-ditches. One from rear, chasing debutante Unique De Cotte put in an extra stride and must have hit the fence although barely discernible, as jockey Tom Scudamore lost his balance and fell off over the horse’s right shoulder.
Meanwhile Rock N Rhythm led the main body of the field around the far turn; How About It was trailing them badly by this point. Bekkensfirth jumped into the lead when clearing the first fence in the back straight. Buckthorn Timothy landed too steeply over the next and knuckled over on landing; the horse quickly rose and galloped away and How About It was able to easily avoid the fallen jockey having been travelling well behind the others.
Bekkensfirth led the remaining runners over the final open-ditch, from Full Shift, Rock N Rhythm, Antony, West Wizard and Sirabad; West Wizard trailed a foreleg through it, but survived. How About It was pulled up before four out, which the remaining six runners cleared without incident. This left Bekkensfirth to lead the field into the final turn, from Full Shift, the improving Sirabad, Antony, West Wizard and Rock N Rhythm.
The leading three had cleared away from the remainder as they approached the third last. Bekkensfirth hit this one hard, enabling Full Shift to his outside to draw alongside him, and also Sirabad to his inside. Working forcefully aboard Full Shift, Barry Geraghty took the lead on the run down to the penultimate obstacle; meanwhile the gallant Bekkensfirth rallied and remained just a length or so adrift, and marginally ahead of Sirabad.
Bekkensfirth got in too close to this fence also but, despite this, he closed upon Full Shift and they jumped the final fence in unison; meanwhile Sirabad had dropped away, challenge over. But, having cleared the last, Barry Geraghty was able to drive his mount out to assert by three quarters of a length over Bekkensfirth at the line. Sirabad claimed 3rd, 12 lengths behind the second, with Rock N Rhythm a further 29 lengths back in 4th. Antony was pulled up before the last. It was Nicky Henderson’s 5th win in this race from the last nine renewals.
However West Wizard, which would have finished in 5th, came down at the final fence when tired. It was one of those horrible ‘green screens’ moments which often happen right in front of the grandstands; presumably because horses are at their most tired, and when jockeys are trying to attain the best possible finishing position for their mounts too. The stewarding staff were a little bit slow in erecting the screens all around; the horse ambulance also arrived, parked on the adjacent all-weather, just in case the prognosis was bad. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies walked down the track to see if his charge was okay, but had to leave prior to discovering the outcome because he had a runner in the next race. However, by this time, one of the senior stable staff had arrived to oversee the situation.
Happily it transpired that West Wizard was just winded and a few minutes later he was on his feet again; there was a cheer and much applause as the screens were removed to reveal the horse. There was further applause as he was led up the racecourse on his way back to the stables; West Wizard had survived to fight another day.
It also took a while for Buckthorn Timothy to be caught, after which he was led back up the course beside the nearside rails.
As mentioned before, I remained beside the course-side rails.
The favourite for the third race of the day was the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River, ridden by Brendan Powell; price 6-4. Also taking part in this even, Alan King’s first runner of the day, the mare L’Unique.
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 Bally Beaufort and Southfield Royale; the favourite, Native River, jumped a little awkwardly at the first. The second fence was the first open-ditch and all seven cleared this without problem; L’Unique was at the back of the closely packed field. Bally Beaufort and Southfield Royale continued to dispute the lead as the runners headed around the far turn.
The horses jumped fence number three, with Southfield Royale jumping out to his left over it. The Irish raider Net D’Ecosse, sporting the familiar maroon and white Gigginstown silks, jumped into a narrow lead at the fourth. The following obstacle was the second open-ditch, where Native River was briefly last of the seven as they cleared it. Net D’Ecosse remained a length ahead of Southfield Royale as the runners jumped the final fence in the back straight, from Tea For Two, L’Unique, Native River, Bally Beaufort and As De Mee.
Lizzie Kelly, the jockey aboard Tea For Tea, had lost her silk cap, or rather the ties had come loose and it now billowed around her neck, revealing her black helmet. The runners headed into the home straight on the first occasion, Net D’Ecosse continuing to lead from Southfield Theatre, the latter jumped out to his left once again as they cleared fence number seven. They continued their journey up the home straight, with the Irish raider jumping well at the head of affairs but both Noel Fehily’s mount and the favourite jumping out to their right at the next.
Having jumped the following fence without incident, Net D’Ecosse held a two lengths advantage as the seven runners headed up past the winning post with one more circuit to travel. They headed around the top bend, crossing the first of the all-weather areas as they did so, before beginning their journey away from the packed stands and over a further strip of all-weather terrain. Southfield Royale held a narrow lead as they cleared the next fence, with As De Mee and L’Unique bringing up the rear. Net D’Ecosse was a little slower than his rivals clearing the penultimate open-ditch.
Southfield Royale held a clear advantage as the runners headed into the far turn; Sam Twiston-Davies allowing As De Mee to creep up the inside of his rivals and with Native River now a narrow last and briefly cajoled along. There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners cleared the next; Net D’Ecosse made an error here and the favourite wasn’t particularly fluent either. Bally Beaufort received a reminder as they headed to the following obstacle.
Net D’Ecosse made an even worse error at the next, slightly hampering Tea For Two in the process; Native River began to make progress as they headed to the final open-ditch. All seven cleared the fence well, with L’Unique now narrowly last. Southfield Royale continued to lead as they headed over the final obstacle in the back straight, from Net D’Ecosse, Tea For Two, As De Mee and Native River. L’Unique relegated Bally Beaufort to last position as they cleared it.
Noel Fehily set sail for home as they travelled around the final bend, pursued by Net D’Ecosse and Tea For Two. Again Southfield Royale jumped out to his left as he cleared three out; Tea For Two now his closest rival. A number of lengths adrift, Native River, L’Unique and Net D’Ecosse were being driven along. As De Mee tired quickly and had capsized on landing over the third last.
Meanwhile, Southfield Royale retained a very narrow advantage over Tea For Two as they cleared the penultimate obstacle but, as they headed to the last, Lizzie Kelly drove her mount into the lead and she was a couple of lengths ahead as they jumped it. Once on the flat, the Nick Williams runner was driven out to win by 4 lengths; Native River stayed on to complete in 3rd, 3¾ lengths further back. L’Unique claimed 4th, 10 lengths behind the favourite; Net D’Ecosse finished 5th and Bally Beaufort 6th.
As De Mee was down for quite a while; again the green screens were raised and two horse-ambulances were on hand should they be required. Paul Nicholls’ Assistant Trainer, Tom Jonason, headed down the track to discover if their charge was okay. After a while, fortunately, the horse rose to its feet and was led back.
It was a landmark victory for Lizzie Kelly, the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 National Hunt race in Great Britain. Riding for her stepfather, trainer Nick Williams, Lizzie said her mount had been a good horse ever since they’d had him, although he can be tricky and difficult! They had decided for him to be ridden wide in order to get him into a rhythm and settled.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next event.
The favourite for the next race was the Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen, ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 1-4. Sam Twiston-Davies had been claimed to ride Old Guard for his retaining yard, with Noel Fehily taking the ride aboard The New One trained by Sam’s father Nigel.
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.
Then they were off. Ruby Walsh set off in the lead aboard Faugheen; The New One was in second, from Old Guard, the grey Hargam, with Sign Of A Victory bringing up the rear. The runners cleared the first in their stride, although the Paul Nicholls runner did tap the top of the flight. Faugheen continued at the head of affairs, setting a strong pace as all five successfully negotiated the next although, again, Old Guard was probably the least fluent.
They galloped up in front of the packed grandstands, past the lollipop, negotiated the top bend upon the all-weather strip and headed out into the country for the one and only time. Faugheen continued to lead as they crossed the return strip of the all-weather and travelled on towards flight number three; the leader was a little bit ‘up in the air’ at the hurdle but remained ahead of his rivals. The fourth flight followed quickly afterwards, with the Irish raider a length or so ahead of The New One, with Hargam and Old Guard disputing third position a couple of lengths further back, and Sign Of A Victory still bringing up the rear.
Ruby let his mount stride on around the far bend, and he’d soon gone four lengths clear of his nearest rival. The five runners soon reached the back straight and then cleared the fifth flight in their stride; the home team had now closed the gap earlier set up by the leader. Faugheen continued to lead as the runners cleared three out, with both Sam Twiston-Davies and Barry Geraghty pushing their mounts along for a few brief strides as they headed towards the final turn.
All five were well grouped as the bend began to unwind, although Hargam and Old Guard were now being pushed along more vigorously than before. Catching sight of the second last, Ruby set sail for home upon the current Champion Hurdler, with Hargam and The New One his closer pursuers. The New One decided to trounce the penultimate hurdle with his hind-feet, whilst Hargam made an error here too. In contrast, the leader had flown it and began to pull away from his rivals. Faugheen was six lengths clear of The New One as he jumped the last; Noel Fehily’s mount made a further error here.
Ruby was able to take a leisurely look over his left shoulder to check upon his rivals as he headed to the line, easing down as he approached it; he won by 7 lengths, officially ... it looked further! The New One retained second to beat Hargam by three quarters of a length, with Old Guard a further 4½ lengths away in 4th. Having flattened a panel in the last flight, Sign Of A Victory was eased and came home in his own time.
It was a return to business as usual for the Irish raider, having suffered a surprise defeat on his seasonal debut last month, at the hands of Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The favourite for the King George VI was one of the three Irish raiders, Don Cossack trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper; price 15-8. Meanwhile the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti was biding to win the race for the third year in a row.
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.
And then they were off, to the sound of a loud cheer from the gathered crowd. Leading the way to the first was dual-winner Silviniaco Conti, from Vautour and Don Cossack. Tucked in behind were Cue Card, Valseur Lido and Smad Place; then Al Ferof and Irish Cavalier, with Ballynagour bringing up the rear. The experienced jumpers cleared the first fence without problem and headed down to the first of the open-ditches, where Irish Cavalier was a little slow and Ballynagour was three or four lengths adrift at the back of the field; the latter did, however, make up the deficit as they headed around the far turn.
Ruby Walsh was keeping close tabs upon the leader as they entered the back straight and headed to the third fence; his mount jumped out to his left at the fence, a trait he had displayed when winning at Ascot last month. The runners headed over the next without incident and then approached the second of the open-ditches; again they all jumped it safely. Silviniaco Conti was two or three lengths ahead of Vautour at this point, from Don Cossack and Smad Place disputing third position three lengths further back.
The field cleared the final fence in the back straight and headed into the long sweeping bend; Vautour permitted to gain upon the leader once more and with Cue Card moving up around the outside of Valseur Lido. The horses jumped the next and Vautour was more or less matching strides with Silviniaco Conti as they headed up the home straight towards fence number eight. However the leader was quicker at his obstacles, with Ruby’s mount continuing to jump slightly to his left and giving away a small margin at each fence. Vautour jumped the last of the three straighter however.
Paul Nicholls’ charge was a neck ahead of the Willie Mullins first string as they passed the winning post with just one circuit now to race; Smad Place travelled in third, from Don Cossack, Cue Card, Valseur Lido, Irish Cavalier and Al Ferof. Ballynagour was detached from the others and being ridden along by Tom Scudamore. Shortly after the bend it appeared that Bryan Cooper wanted to ease his mount off the rails, but the door was firmly shut by Paddy Brennan to his outside aboard Cue Card! As a result, Don Cossack had dropped to sixth position as they headed towards the next, with Al Ferof having overtaken him too.
Vautour and Silviniaco Conti jumped the first in the side straight in unison; closely pursued by Cue Card and Smad Place. Ruby’s mount led the field over the penultimate ditch but, travelling in his wake, the Alan King grey took off at about the same time, as horses sometimes instinctively do. Smad Place made it though, just, although he did lose a little bit of momentum as a result. A scary moment.
Ruby’s mount continued to lead as they headed around the far turn, from Silviniaco Conti, Cue Card, Smad Place, Don Cossack, Valseur Lido, Al Ferof and Irish Cavalier. Tom Scudamore decided to pull up Ballynagour before the next. The runners had soon reached the first in the back straight, with the leader again jumping out to his left; he slightly impeded Cue Card who had made progress into second by this point. The runners headed over the next; Vautour ahead of Cue Card, with Smad Place to the outside of Silviniaco Conti, then Don Cossack and Al Ferof. Valseur Lido and Irish Cavalier were now losing contact with the leading six.
Vautour put in a small stride to correctly meet the final open-ditch, but he retained the advantage. Ruby was gradually ‘turning the screw’ as they headed over four out and into the final turn; he led by a couple of lengths from Cue Card, Don Cossack and Smad Place. The leader was the only one still travelling within himself; Paddy was just beginning to get animated aboard the Colin Tizzard runner, and Bryan Cooper and Wayne Hutchinson were both riding quite vigorously. Al Ferof had squeezed through beside the rails to overtake the Alan King-runner by the time they entered the home straight.
Vautour led over the third last, with Ruby still showing no sign of panic; Cue Card and Don Cossack, although driven, were still hanging on to his coat-tails, and Al Ferof continued in fourth position. It appeared that the favourite might be getting the better of Cue Card when he hit the second last and crumpled on landing. However, as the leader galloped down to the last, Ruby began to ride him along ... was his stamina just beginning to wane?
Meanwhile Paddy Brennan had not given up aboard the sole challenger, and Cue Card was within two lengths of the leader as they reached the final fence. Vautour jumped it best, with the home hero getting in a bit close. But despite this, and looking initially like the Irish raider was holding the challenger, Cue Card then began to close the gap slowly but surely as the line approached. But would he get there? After three miles it was a photo finish!
I had shouted for our home team horse after the last and was convinced he had won. Then it was announced ... Cue Card had won by a head. Yeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss!!! There were only two horses I’d wanted to win the race – Cue Card or Smad Place – so I was very pleased. J
Al Ferof had finished 3rd, again; with Smad Place 4th and Irish Cavalier 5th. Silviniaco Conti had been pulled up before 3 out, and Valseur Lido fell at the last when in 5th place. It was worth finishing the race, if they could, with prizes all the way down to sixth place. The winner would receive £87,160; second £35,780; third £17,900; fourth £8,940; fifth £4,480 and sixth £2,240.
And, of course, Cue Card was still in line for the million pound bonus, having won the first two legs – the Betfair Chase and the King George VI Chase too ... with just the Cheltenham Gold Cup to win in March in order to claim this huge prize! But much more easily said than done of course!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, and I even managed to raise a jog once I’d got to the bottom of the stone steps beside the main grandstand!
A wicked result and a kick in the teeth for the loud-mouthed know-it-all who’d been slagging off the Tizzards earlier, especially as Cue Card had narrowly beaten a Willie Mullins-trained horse into the bargain!
There was a Stewards’ report following the race:
The Stewards noted
that VAUTOUR (FR), trained by Willie Mullins, was late in the parade ring.
They accepted the trainer's explanation that having trained the winner of the
previous race he had been delayed by the prize giving and having two runners
in this race meant he had been short of time to saddle up.
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Paddy Brennan the rider of the winner, CUE CARD from the third last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Brennan for 11 days as follows: Saturday 9, Sunday 10, Monday 11, Tuesday 12, Wednesday 13, Thursday 14, Friday 15, Saturday 16, Sunday 17, Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 January 2016. Under Rule (B)54 the Stewards also fined the rider £4,200.
The owner of the second has Djakadam for the Gold Cup but, despite this and following today’s run, the trainer’s initial reflection was that Vautour would still line up in the feature event at the Cheltenham Festival. Alan King is leaning towards the Ryanair Chase for Smad Place; he said that the grey wouldn’t win a Gold Cup even if he started now! Bless. Today’s race was 3 miles on a flat track, whereas the Gold Cup is 3 miles 2½ furlongs in distance on an undulating track, with a stiff uphill finish. So will Vautour eventually be aimed at the Ryanair instead, or even the 2-mile Champion Chase?
This year, as it was dry and not impossibly dark, I decided to wait until after the final race of the day to leave.
The favourite for this race was the Noel Fehily-ridden, Harry Fry-trained, Gunner Fifteen; price 4-1. The horse is owned by Masterson Holdings, like the currently sidelined Carraig Mor and the ill-fated Balder Success. Alan King also had a runner in this event, namely Simply A Legend ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. The cute Billy No Name was taking part in this race too!
The starting gate for this race was situated at the lake bend.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Baron Alco; the horse sporting a very low head carriage. Gunner Fifteen brought up the rear. All fourteen runners cleared the first flight without incident. They headed on towards the second flight with Baron Alco continuing to lead the way, from Max Forte and Bells ‘N’ Banjos; the latter was ridden by Gavin Sheehan, as he’d travelled to Kempton Park to ride for his boss after Wetherby’s fixture had been abandoned. Following these were the light grey Keltus, Seebright, dark grey Flying Angel, Minellaforleisure, Dubh Eile, Simply A Legend, Sugar Baron, the dark grey JP McManus runner Matorico, Billy No Name, Swnymor and Gunner Fifteen. Swnymor was slow over the flight and thus relegated to the back of the field.
Baron Alco continued to lead as the runners headed around the long sweeping turn and into the home straight on the first occasion. There were no scary moments as the horses safely negotiated flight number three and continued their journey up the home straight to the next obstacle. Seebright to the stand-side, travelling in third position, made an error at this flight.
Bells ‘N’ Banjos was almost upsides the Gary Moore representative as the horses headed up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. There had been little change in the order during the race thus far; all fourteen runners negotiated the all-weather strip upon the top bend and began their journey down the side of the track, crossing over the all-weather return on their way towards flight number five. Gunner Fifteen was a little awkward when jumping this.
Heading down to the next, and over it, Baron Alco continued to lead from Bells ‘N’ Banjos, Max Forte, Seebright and Keltus; still bringing up the rear were Billy No Name, Gunner Fifteen and Swnymor. The long-time leader held a one length advantage as they galloped around the far turn; one circuit now complete.
Baron Alco hit the first flight in the back straight and, with those following behind him also clumsy, the orange protector strip ended up on the landing side of the panel, which also sustained a large hole in it! However, Baron Alco continued to lead as they cleared the third last, from Max Forte and Bells ‘N’ Banjos. To the inside, Simply A Legend had progressed into fourth having been held up earlier in the race. The favourite, Gunner Fifteen made an error at the flight when still in last place and, subsequently, was being driven along by jockey Noel Fehily; it was now looking a lost cause for his backers.
And Jamie Moore’s mount still held the advantage as they headed into the home straight; Billy No Name was trapped out wide as a number of horses began their challenges. By contrast, Simply A Legend had tracked the leader having held the inside berth around the home turn. Thus Baron Alco led the runners towards the penultimate flight, from Simply A Legend, the pushed along Max Forte, Flying Angel, Keltus and Matorico.
Having cleared two out, the first one to come out of the pack was Wayne Hutchinson’s mount with, latterly, Keltus and Matorico. Simply A Legend was just half a length down as they cleared the last, with Matorico making a slight error here. The hooded Alan King-runner appeared initially to have got the measure of the long-time leader as they headed towards the line, having drawn upsides, but Baron Alco was as determined as his jockey as he fought back to win by three quarters of a length having made all.
Keltus finished 3rd, Matorico 4th and Billy No Name 7th. The favourite, Gunner Fifteen, completed in a disappointing 10th position.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following the race but, although not as dark as it would have been on a damp afternoon, it proved impossible to take photographs of the winner and placed horses.
Just in case I had a long wait in the car park, I decided to visit the ladies loo before I left; there was a long queue.
I left via the North Entrance. I had to weave my way through the queue of departing traffic before arriving in the main public car parking area. There’s a small tree situated in the car park, close to the main driveway, and I knew my vehicle was parked just opposite it – and there it was, my little dark blue Fiesta. A leaflet had been placed beneath one of my windscreen wipers; it was from an organisation against cruelty to horses, in particular within horseracing. I’m never a litter lout but, on this occasion, I placed the leaflet on the ground where it belonged. Strangely, I could not see a flyer on either the Land Rover or the Range Rover either side of mine – why had my little car been targeted and not theirs?
The off-time of the final race was 15:45, so it must have been around 16:10 when I got back to my car. I decided I’d wait until the some of the traffic had cleared before I left ... but it didn’t really, until around 17:20! The problem was that not only did vehicles from the main car park leave via Gate 1, but also all of the horse-boxes and around 50% of the cars which had been parked in the centre of the racecourse too.
I spent my wait eating two further cheese rolls and recording each horse-box I saw leave – Rebecca Curtis, Gordon Elliott, Donna Hills (Greatrex’s box cheated by cutting across the main car park to rejoin the queue – a queue-jumper in fact. I also saw Chris Down’s box, the LRT box again, Jonjo O’Neill’s box, Kevin Frost, Colin Tizzard’s horse-box with an ancient style chalk horse painted on the side, and finally a white unnamed box.Blake) driving Paul Nicholls’ box, Nick and Jane Williams, Tim Vaughan, and Harry Fry; the driver of Warren
Finally there was a sufficient gap in the queue for me to start up my car and enter it without pushing in. I only got as far as Gate 1 before I reached the back of the existing queue and it was then stop start stop start all the way over the railway bridge, past Car Park C and around the bend to reach the roundabout beneath Junction1 of the M3; it didn’t help that there were two vehicles parked half on and half off the pavement close to the far end, when both carriageways of the road were occupied by vehicles trying to escape the racecourse. Traffic also has to merge into one lane before reaching the junction.
Having negotiated the roundabout I headed up the slip-road onto the M3; it was 17:40. I stayed in the inside lane and had soon reached the M25 clockwise carriageway. Fortunately traffic was moving freely on the motorway this evening and driving conditions were good due to the dry and mild weather today. My journey took me around to the M1 junction and, on this occasion, I decided upon this as the best route to reach Luton in order to collect my mother from my older brother’s house where she’d spent Boxing Day.
I left the M1 at Junction 10, not knowing how the new junction layout on the road to Luton Airport would pan out; I’d not driven along that section of the road since recent road-works had been completed. I had to follow the signposts; I was expecting a roundabout above the road, whereby I’d take a right to head back towards Harpenden. As it turned out, I had to take the left-most lane of the slip-road to approach a small roundabout, then take the first exit, head beneath the carriageway of the Junction 10 to Luton Airport road, before reaching a second roundabout, off which I took the second exit. I headed down the hill and was surprised to find that the entrance to Newlands Drive was reached far quicker than I expected. But on reflection it made sense, because the final roundabout was further south than the old one!
I thus drove along Newlands Drive to reach my brother’s house which was nearby; I arrived at 18:20. My sister-in-law was kind enough to feed and water me after my day out, and mum and I set off back to St Albans later in the evening. I arrived home at around 20:30 with a second day at the races beckoning – Ned Stark was due to run in the 3-mile Handicap Chase at Kempton Park the following afternoon.
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There was a sad postscript to the feature race, when the joint-owner of Cue Card, Bob Bishop, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away the following Wednesday, aged 83. But at least he’d seen his beloved horse return to form to win two major races this season ... and will Cue Card be able to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup too, against what is bound to be a mighty Irish challenge?