DIARY – KEMPTON PARK – WINTER FESTIVAL
BOXING DAY – MONDAY 26 DECEMBER 2016
The King George VI Chase winner, Thistlecrack,
is paraded before returning to the stables
This was my ninth consecutive visit to the Boxing Day fixture at Kempton Park although, needless to say, it’s not as exciting as in the days when Choc was riding. And, this year, the two feature races had not garnered any entries from Ireland; presumably the presence of Cue Card and Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase had frightened them away from this particular race. In fact, this duo had scared away all bar three rivals!!!
Christmas Day had been spent with my younger brother and his family in Bedfordshire and I’d arrived home at around 22:00. I didn’t want to leave for Kempton Park too early on Boxing Day, as in recent years I’d been prevented from entering via the gate in Park Road because I’d arrived a few minutes before 10:00! I decided to set my alarm for 06:30, which meant I was able to take a leisurely shower, before drying my hair, eating porridge for breakfast and applying my make-up. I also saw snippets of Channel 4 Racing’s final Morning Line; ITV were taking over the terrestrial racing coverage from 01 January.
Today’s outfit was grey tights, burgundy jeggings, grey M & S double-frill tweed skirt, two thermal t-shirts (grey with black birds and violet), cherry red thermal polo neck top, M & S Christmas jumper, bright purple fleece, black fleece gillet, black faux sheepskin coat, black Hotter ‘Cannes’ boots, black and white Kipling handbag, purple Rudolf scarf, reddish Unique Dichroic butterfly earrings, and long M & S mittens. I put my red Big Fab knitted hat in my gym bag, just in case it got very cold during the afternoon; I’d also changed the bobble for Christmas, from the self-coloured wool one to a white fluffy one.
I left home at 09:15. My route took me around the local ring-road, down to the London Colney roundabout, before heading along the dual carriageway to the Bell roundabout where, shortly afterwards, I joined the M25 at Junction 22. There was a large puddle on the roadway as I headed over the bridge to the aforementioned junction, and dirty water splashed up my windscreen as a result. Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother to clean my car! A few days later, when under the carport, I noticed that the windscreen was covered in the telltale rainbow shades caused by petrol ... perhaps this was the cause.
Anyway, I headed around the anti-clockwise carriageway of the M25; there was quite a lot of traffic, but not enough to cause any holdups. Having reached the M3, I headed towards London; there were plastic cones at the interchange denoting road-works in progress.
On other Kempton Park race days, I’d leave the motorway at Junction 1 but, today, I followed the sign-posted route; in contrast, the LRT (Lambourn Racehorse Transport) horsebox I’d been following up the M3, headed down the slip-road to travel via the road which heads past the main entrance to the racecourse. Signs instructed me to leave the subsequent A316 at the following junction; I headed down the slip-road, did a 90-degree turn around the roundabout beneath the carriageway, before heading up the slip-road to re-join the A316 and heading back in the direction from whence I’d come.
Shortly afterwards, there is another turning off the left of the carriageway; this leads to Park Road. I turned left at a T-junction, headed over the narrow railway bridge and then encountered a short queue of cars waiting to enter via Gate No. 1.
I queued for around 5 minutes before we were let into the main car park. I was directed to drive to the far corner thereof, close to the entrance of the Kempton Park railway station, before following two other vehicles, both 4x4s, across the car park. However, the first of these took a while to back into an empty space situated on the back row of the front two rows (if that’s makes sense) so I stopped in the empty space opposite; the third vehicle parked further along the line.
However, a young female steward insisted that I park in the line opposite, to fill in the empty spaces. On this occasion it wasn’t too bad a manoeuvre, as the nearest empty space was next to a small tree, with a wide space to the driver’s side which was too small for any other vehicle to pull into!
Shortly afterwards, another 4x4 arrived, and the driver was asked to park within the same line as myself but he refused, preferring to park on the end of the row behind; presumably to allow for a quick getaway later in the afternoon. The problem with parking in the main car park at Kempton is that too many attendees drive large 4x4s etc, so smaller cars like my Fiesta get squashed into small spaces, with the risk of other drivers slamming their doors against my car. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Anyway, having parked up in one of the best spaces this year, apart from the risk that a small branch might fall onto my car at any time if the wind became stronger, I decided to eat two of the cheese rolls I’d bought with me. Being a bright and sunny morning, with low sun due to the time of year, I had to lower the sun visor because of the glare. Whilst I was sitting in my car, a small horsebox arrived; there was no identifying name on the box.
However, shortly afterwards, a noticed a large dark blue horse transporter appear at the gate ... “that looks like a vehicle suitable for trainer Alan King”, I said to myself ... so, it came as no surprise when I saw his contact details painted on the transporter! I could see the heads of two horses within the vehicle; there must have been three in total – Elgin, Big Chief Benny and Yanworth. By a matter of elimination, it must have been Yanworth to the nearside, as the horse didn’t appear to have any white on its face!
Having put on my gillet, coat, boots and wrist-warmers, I set off across the car park to reach the Paddock enclosure entrance. Initially this involved limbo-ing under a number of ropes which cordoned off the parking areas from the road and pathways. As I’d already bought a ticket, I entered via a gateway to the left-hand side of the kiosks, presenting my ticket to one of the stewards. However, instead of tearing off the stub, he decided to tear off a portion from the other end of my ticket; it had been mutilated. L
Having entered the grounds, I purchased a race-card; price £5. I then headed into the lower floor of the main grandstand in order to visit the ladies’ room; it’s best to pay a visit when quiet. I then headed out to the Parade Ring area, where I took photos of the Kauto Star statue and of the Desert Orchid statue; the latter was one of my all-time favourites.
It’s a shame I never saw Desert Orchid in the flesh, having made my first ever visit to a racecourse in April 2008. I believe today’s visit counted, officially, as my 180th visit to a racecourse, so I’ve certainly made up for it since then! Although last season’s total was a mere 13, and I’d missed one day at Cheltenham for which I had a ticket. This season’s total will probably be even fewer, as today was only my second outing!
I then proceeded to the course-side rails, to pick my viewing spot ahead of the races. I had the choice of anywhere along the rails within the Paddock enclosure, so I chose a position whereby I could see both the final fence and the final hurdle; the latter was positioned against the stand-side rails today. I also ensured that I chose a place where there were no bird droppings on top of the rail!
I now watched the world go by ... firstly I saw the Clerk of the Course, Barney Clifford, return from re-walking the course, accompanied by a couple of companions. Then Barry Geraghty arrived back from jogging around the chase track; he undertook a number of stretching exercises on the track below the premier enclosure, using the course-sides rails as ‘props’. He then headed out for a second circuit, upon the hurdles track; he’d be walking by the time he’d completed his journey, and he was checking his mobile phone at regular intervals too.
I saw trainer Richard Phillips, accompanied by a couple of owners, walk down the straight; he had a runner in the last, namely Muthabir. When he returned, Richard passed the time of day with jockey David Bass. I also saw Paddy Brennan and Noel Fehily returning from a jog around the racecourse; Noel was mopping his brow!
At around 11:50, trainer Colin Tizzard set off to walk down the home straight. However, upon passing the big screen, he noticed a number of replays of previous King George VI Chases being broadcast thereon; this caught his eye and he stopped to watch Cue Card’s recent exploits when running in the big race. Colin then continued down the racecourse to look at the first fence, pedestrians crossing the racecourse seemed not to recognise him.
A preview took place in the Winners’ Enclosure shortly prior to racing, presented by Martin Kelly. His guests were Tony Calvin representing the day’s sponsor 32Red, and Paddy Brennan. Tony mentioned that the betting organisation was sponsoring the racecourse canteen to provide free meals to stable staff, not only for the two days of the Festival, but also on Christmas Day for those arriving early with their horses.
The sky wasn’t so clear by race-time; there were now white wispy clouds throughout, with many plane trails too. Intermittently, aeroplanes could be seen just above the tree-tops as they approached Heathrow Airport nearby.
The favourite for the first race was the Nicky Henderson-trained Jenkins; price 2-1. Alan King had a runner in this event, namely Elgin ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
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, at a steady pace, set by Maximus Maridius. He was followed by Ballyhill, Jenkins, Glaring, Elgin, Mohaayed and Port. The leader was a tiny bit awkward jumping the first, and Port made a bad blunder. Head bowed, the hooded Maximus Maridius continued to lead as the runners headed to the second flight; Ballyhill jumped this one very stylishly.
The field of seven then galloped up past the packed grandstands, with the field stringing out as they did so. Having passed the winning post with one circuit now to travel, the runners continued over the all-weather strip as they headed around the top turn. After galloping across a brief section of turf, they continued over another strip of all-weather before returning to the turf surface and reaching flight number three.
There was no change at the head of affairs jumping this one, with Maximus Maridius continuing to lead from Ballyhill. The favourite Jenkins was a little slower than the upsides Glaring at this one, and the hurdling debutant Mohaayed was less fluent than Elgin; Port continued in rear. There was one further flight on the side straight and, having jumped this, Port was four or five lengths detached at the rear of the field.
The runners then headed around the sweeping lake bend, the course being triangular in shape. Maximus Maridius continued to narrowly lead, from Ballyhill, then Jenkins, Glaring, Mohaayed upsides Elgin and finally Port. Having arrived at the fifth flight, Jenkins jumped this slower than all of his rivals; as a result, his jockey David Bass had to urge him along.
Heading down the next flight, Ballyhill took a narrow advantage. Jenkins was slow and clumsy at this one too. All seven having cleared this hurdle successfully, Sam Twiston-Davies sent his mount for home as they headed into the final turn. Glaring and Jenkins endeavoured to go in pursuit as the long-time leader began to drop back. Both Elgin and Mohaayed were travelling well within themselves and soon overtook the weakening Maximus Maridius also.
Ballyhill continued to lead, with Glaring now his closest pursuer. David Bass had resorted to using his whip by the time Elgin cruised up on his inside, and the inexperienced Mohaayed continued to travel well at the rear of the leading group. Ballyhill came under pressure as they approached the penultimate flight, with Elgin, Glaring, Mohaayed and the driven-along Jenkins almost line across the track as they jumped it.
However Glaring blundered on landing which put paid to his chances and fortunately, although he got very close to bumping into Mohaayed, the latter continued without interruption. Wayne Hutchinson pulled his whip through into his left hand to give his mount two strikes; the jockey then swapped whip hands again and continued to encourage him with slaps down the neck. As a result, Elgin soon drew away from his rivals, apart from Mohaayed who continued at a distance of two lengths but seemed unable to close further as they approached the final flight.
Elgin jumped this one fluently, as did Mohaayed, and Wayne’s mount stayed on well to the line to beat his rival by 1¾ lengths. The first two were far superior on the day, having drawn away from Ballyhill who completed 12 lengths away in 3rd, having been less than fluent over the final flight. The favourite, Jenkins, claimed 4th having been hanging to his right approaching the last; he finished 5 lengths behind the 3rd. Glaring was 5th and Maximus Maridius finished last, as the trailing Port had been pulled up before two out.
I remained beside the course-side rails in order to retain my position.
When interviewed on RUK Alan King explained that Elgin, also bred by his owners The Elite Racing Club, had been in training with James Fanshawe; he had been backward however and never made it onto the racecourse prior to joining the Barbury Castle yard. Today was his third win, having already won on his hurdling debut and also one of his bumper races prior to that. However, Alan did say he needs plenty of give in the ground because there have been issues with the horse’s knees!
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 12:55pm
The Stewards considered the running of JENKINS (IRE), ridden by David Bass and trained by Nicky Henderson, which started favourite and finished fourth. They noted the trainer could offer no explanation for the gelding's performance. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding during routine testing failed to reveal any abnormalities.
The favourite for the second race was the Nicky Henderson-trained Gold Present, ridden by Noel Fehily; price 11-4.
The starting gate for this event was situated 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, with Sizing Tennessee and Remiluc leading the way to the first. Initially it seemed that Noel Fehily had wanted to lead aboard the favourite Gold Present, but his mount had shied away from the tape as they set off. This left him in third position as a result, followed by Max Ward, Two Taffs with San Benedeto and, bringing up the rear, Poker School. They all cleared the first fence in their stride, apart from Poker School who jumped it awkwardly.
Gold Present took the lead as they headed to and jumped the second. The third fence was the first of the open-ditches and, again, Poker School was the least impressive over this one. Sizing Tennessee was the least fluent of the runners when jumping the fourth fence. Having completed the jumping tests in the back straight, the horses headed around the long sweeping bend and into the home straight on the first occasion, still led by the favourite Gold Present.
The runners soon headed over the fifth fence, with Remiluc jumping out slightly to his left over this one; he then jumped the next rather slowly. Gold Present still held the advantage as they approached the seventh fence, from Max Ward, Remiluc, Sizing Tennessee, Two Taffs, San Benedeto and Poker School. However, the leader put in a very short stride before the obstacle and got a little close to it before stumbling very badly on landing. As a result he dropped back to third place.
Sizing Tennessee soon went on, and led the runners around the top turn, from Gold Present who had regained a place, with Max Ward in third position. Both Remiluc and Poker School drifted out wide on the turn. The Colin Tizzard representative continued to lead as the runners headed safely over the next fence. The following obstacle was another open-ditch and Remiluc jumped this slowly and dropped to the rear of the field as a result.
With all seven still standing, the field headed into the lake turn, one circuit now completed. Having led since shortly after Gold Present’s mistake in the home straight, Sizing Tennessee was bumped and overtaken by the favourite having jumped the first fence along the back straight. Gold Present was still marginally ahead as they cleared the 11th, with Remiluc now having lost touch with his rivals.
The following fence was the final open-ditch; Two Taffs was taking closer order as they headed into this one. Sizing Tennessee jumped it well and took the lead, with Poker School soon looming up to his outside. In contrast, Aidan Coleman’s mount was less than fluent at the next, and Poker School then took the lead.
The favourite’s earlier error had begun to take its toll, with Gold Present losing his place as they headed around the home turn. Sizing Tennessee had regained a narrow advantage at this stage, due to taking the inside line around the bend; but Richard Johnson aboard Poker School had him covered. Close on their heels were Max Ward, Two Taffs and San Benedeto. Remiluc was pulled up before the next.
Poker School led over three out, from Sizing Tennessee and Two Taffs upsides San Benedeto. However Max Ward, travelling in fifth position, hit the top of it and fell; the horse and jockey were quickly up. Meanwhile, Richard Johnson’s mount began to pull away from his nearest rivals approaching the penultimate obstacle. The leader hit the top of it and birch flew, but at no point did he look like falling; Two Taffs and San Benedeto weren’t that fluent either.
The chasing debutant, Two Taffs, continued to chase the leader as they approached the last, and he did begin to close. But following an excellent leap at the final fence, Poker School began to draw away again as they headed to the line and he won by 2¾ lengths. San Benedeto completed in 3rd position, 1¼ lengths behind the 2nd. The tired Sizing Tennessee finished a further 10 lengths away in 4th. Gold Present completed in 5th place.
I remained beside the course-side rails once more.
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
2 - 1:30pm
Sean Bowen, the rider of REMILUC (FR), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding hung badly left-handed throughout.
The favourite for the third race was the Irish-raider Anibale Fly, trained by Tony Martin, owned by JP McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 3-1.
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.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by the blinkered Minella Daddy to the inside, with both Might Bite and Amore Alato jumping the first fence in unison with him; these two collided in mid-air, as the latter jumped to his right. They were followed over it by the nose-banded Present Man, from the also blinkered Royal Vacation alongside Virgilio, then the favourite Anibale Fly with Caracci Apache, and narrowly last were Frodon and Churchtown Champ.
Having jumped the first fence, Might Bite and Amore Alato went on. The next obstacle was the first open-ditch, which they all cleared well; although Barry Geraghty had to ride Anibale Fly away from the fence. Heading into the lake turn on the first occasion, the leading four had set up a lead over their rivals; however, turning into the back straight, the field had bunched up once again.
Amore Alato led the runners over the third, with Might Bite clearing it with plenty to spare. Churchtown Boy made an error at the next. The following fence was the second open-ditch; travelling in third position, Present Man banked the fence but survived, although it did affect his momentum. Confidence dented, the Paul Nicholls second-string jumped the next more slowly than his rivals.
Amore Alato led the runners in the home turn, with Churchtown Champ bringing up the rear. In midfield, Noel felt his mount go lame, so he pulled up Caracci Apache. Having entered the home straight on the first occasion, Might Bite and Amore Alato jumped the next fence in unison. They were followed by Minella Daddy with Royal Vacation, from Present Man, Anibale Fly which was being urged along, from Virgilio, Frodon and Churchtown Champ.
Richard Johnson’s mount led narrowly over the next; the Tony Martin-trained favourite hit this one and dropped to the rear of the field. Having seen a good stride at the final fence in the home straight, Might Bite jumped into the lead and continued at the head of affairs as the runners negotiated the top bend before beginning their journey down the side of the racecourse once more.
The remaining nine runners cleared the next fence without incident. Minella Daddy and Virgilio were seen not to be travelling as well as their rivals at this point; at the rear of the field Anibale Fly was also being pushed along by his jockey. The following fence was the penultimate open-ditch; Might Bite held a clear lead as they jumped it and Present Man took off too soon, but survived his error once again.
Might Bite led the runners around the lake bend, with Minella Daddy now relegated to last place; the leader was bidding to give trainer Nicky Henderson a record sixth win in this particular race. Having jumped the first fence in the back straight, Barry Geraghty decided to pull up Anibale Fly.
The remaining eight continued over the next without incident; led by Might Bite, he was clear from Royal Vacation, Amore Alato, Present Man and Frodon. Virgilio was outpaced and detached, and further back were Churchtown Champ and Minella Daddy. Meanwhile Daryl Jacob’s mount continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they all cleared the final open-ditch successfully.
His rivals were beginning to string out in his wake by the time they’d jumped the last fence in the back straight before heading into the final bend. Royal Vacation and Frodon were being hard driven in an effort to close upon the leader as they entered the home straight. However, the leader was still travelling well within himself as they cleared three out. Paddy Brennan’s mount had got the better of the youngster, Frodon, by this point and was a clear second.
Daryl checked over his left shoulder to see if he had any challengers as his mount galloped down to the penultimate fence; no, the only dangers were the final two fences in front of him. The leader fiddled the next but cleared it safely. Might Bite was well clear of his rivals as his jockey rode him with gusto towards the final fence; he even gave him a smack with his whip. I think he may have felt this mount backing off from the cauldron of noise emanating from the packed grandstands.
Anyway, Daryl thought his mount was going to fly the last but, instead, he put down on him. As a result he got far too close and dived, head-first, into the ground. As Might Bite rolled over, his jockey received a kick from the horse’s hind-legs. But it was one of those falls where the momentum carries on, and the Nicky Henderson runner had soon risen to his feet, unhurt, and trotted off. Phew.
Royal Vacation, which was the next horse to jump the last, was close to the inside rail and thus was not impeded by the prostrate jockey or the trotting Might Bite. However Frodon, which now held second position at this point, jumped the fence but crumpled on landing; I think the horse’s concentration may have been broken by the fact that Daryl Jacob, although kneeling by this stage, was obstructing his path. He also would have been tired, because he had been stepped up in trip today. With the possibility of an imminent collision, Daryl quickly ran clear as Frodon, followed by jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, hit the turf.
With the complexion of the race changing dramatically at the last, the Colin Tizzard-trained Royal Vacation headed to the line to win by 12 lengths. It was the originally outpaced Virgilio which stayed on to take the runner-up spot, with Amore Alato a further 8 lengths back in 3rd having been hampered by the fall of Frodon. The only other finisher was Present Man, which completed 24 lengths adrift in 4th.
So, to round up the remaining horses; Minella Daddy was pulled up before three out and Churchtown Champ took a heavy fall three out when tailed off. However, both he and Tom Scudamore were fine; momentum again having ensured the horse was quickly to his feet and he trotted away. As already eluded to, Might Bite was okay and cantered across the line, on the hurdles course, at the same time as the third-placed horse passed the post. Frodon was fine too, having been caught by his jockey, although he did look a little sorry for himself as he was led back.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next event. The horse ambulance went to collect Caracci Apache and it trundled back up the all-weather track to return to lame horse to the stables.
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
3 - 2:05pm
Barry Geraghty, the rider of ANIBALE FLY (FR), which started favourite and was pulled up, reported that the gelding made jumping mistakes early on and was never travelling. The Stewards ordered ANIBALE FLY (FR) to be routine tested.
Sean Bowen, the rider of MINELLA DADDY (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding was never travelling.
The Veterinary Officer reported that CARACCI APACHE (IRE), which was pulled up, trained by Nicky Henderson, was lame on its right-fore.
The favourite for the feature Christmas Hurdle race was Yanworth, trained by Alan King, owned by JP McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 5-4. Making up the numbers today, was the grey mare Gray Wolf River, price 100-1. But she just had to complete in order to win a prize of £2,680.00.
Originally, it had been envisaged that Yanworth would be stepped up in trip in the hope of becoming a Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle contender (it’s no longer the World Hurdle). However, Unowhatimeanharry, also owned by JP McManus but trained by Harry Fry, had proved himself to be a very talented 3-miler, having won Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle and Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in recent weeks. And, of course, he’d won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival too. So, as there is no 2½ mile senior championship race at Cheltenham, the idea was to discover if Yanworth had the speed to be a Champion Hurdle contender instead.
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.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by The New One, although he did jink to his left slightly as they set off. My Tent Or Yours raced in second, from Yanworth, Ch’Tibello and the hard-pulling outsider Gray Wolf River. All five horses cleared the first flight in their stride before heading to the second obstacle, where Yanworth was a little clumsy.
The runners then headed up past the packed grandstands led by The New One, with Gray Wolf River pulling herself up into a share of third position to the outside of the favourite by the time they turned the top bend. The Nigel Twiston-Davies representative continued to spearhead the field as they galloped across the second section of all-weather track before heading to the third flight.
The leader was fast and accurate at this one, whereas Yanworth wasn’t so stylish; however Yanworth jumped the fourth hurdle well. The New One then led the runners into the lake bend, at which point Gray Wolf River began to lose touch at the rear of the field. Entering the back straight, My Tent Or Yours loomed up to the outside of The New One, with Yanworth a couple of lengths behind this duo, and Ch’Tibello the same distance way in fourth.
My Tent Or Yours was upsides the leader as they took off at the fifth, although The New One jumped it the better; once again Yanworth was the least fluent and Harry Skelton’s mount closed up upon him. Nicky Henderson’s runner took a slight advantage as they headed to three out, with Yanworth closing upon the leading duo; they all jumped this one with fluency.
The New One and My Tent Or Yours raced neck and neck as they headed around the home turn, with Barry Geraghty urging his mount along to keep pace with the leaders; Ch’Tibello was also still within striking distance in fourth position. My Tent Or Yours and Yanworth cleared the penultimate flight in unison, with The New One still holding a one length advantage over them.
Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily were the first to go for their whips, then Barry Geraghty; My Tent Or Yours cried enough as Yanworth took the lead to the stand-side, with The New One to the far side continuing to fight on. The favourite was a length up as he cleared the last; the tired My Tent Or Yours blundered here. And, although The New One battled on, he proved one paced as Yanworth drew away from his rivals on the run to the line; the Alan King-trained runner won by 3¼ lengths.
Having made an error at the last, My Tent Or Yours weakened and was overtaken on the run-in by Ch’Tibello; the latter finished 2¼ lengths behind The New One, with Noel Fehily’s mount a further 2¼ lengths away in 4th. The 100-1 shot, Gray Wolf River, did complete; she finished 92 lengths away and was welcomed home by a loud cheer from the gathered spectators. A fifth prize of £2,680.00 is not to be sneezed at and, having finished so far behind, there’s little chance of it affecting her official rating of 63!
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next race.
The favourite for the King George VI Chase was the novice Thistlecrack, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Tom Scudamore; price 11-10. This was his fourth career start over the larger obstacles, having won all the major long distance hurdle prizes last season, including the Cheltenham Festival’s World Hurdle.
Second favourite was stable companion, and last year’s victor, Cue Card. Dual winner Silviniaco Conti returned to contest again, along with last year’s Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase winner Tea For Two. Josses Hill had been supplemented for the race, at a cost of £10,000, following his victory in Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase.
Being the feature race of the day, there was a pre-race parade. However, the connections of the highly-strung Tea For Two requested their charge head to the start earlier than the others, so Lizzie Kelly cantered her mount down the racecourse in front of the stands prior to the parade taking place.
Shortly afterwards, the other four competitors were led down past the grandstands, arranged in alphabetical order; their jockeys then took them to look at the aforementioned fence before cantering back to the start at the beginning of the side straight. The exception to this was Thistlecrack whose jockey, Tom Scudamore, decided not to look at the fence.
And then they were off, with Josses Hill, Silviniaco Conti and Thistlecrack in the front rank and Cue Card along with Tea For Two being held up in rear; the latter jinked away to his left as they set off. Thistlecrack was marginally ahead as they cleared the first fence, with Josses Hill jumping it a little awkwardly as his jockey reined him back; he almost collided with Silviniaco Conti’s backside as a result.
Silviniaco Conti took the lead as the runners headed down to the next, which was the first open-ditch. Thistlecrack launched himself at this one and easily made the distance, unlike the novice errors he’d made at Cheltenham on his penultimate start. The remaining three measured the fence well also. Noel Fehily’s mount led the runners into the lake bend on the first occasion; the favourite travelled two lengths behind, with head-bowed, as his jockey kept his exuberance in check. Cue Card travelled upsides Josses Hill, and Tea For Two brought up the rear.
Heading into the back straight, Silviniaco Conti cleared the next quickly and fluently, whereas Thistlecrack was a little bit slower, having measured and adjusted his stride before take-off. Tea For Two had now advanced to take a share of third. The leader was less fluent at the next, and the field closed upon him. The following fence was the second open-ditch, and Josses Hill was relegated to last place having jumped it.
All five runners jumped the next in their stride, although Cue Card was the least tidy of the quintet. Silviniaco Conti continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they headed around the home turn and into the straight for the first time. Noel Fehily’s mount led over the seventh, from Thistlecrack, with Josses Hill, Cue Card and Tea For Two all disputing last place. The leader put himself right, in order to clear the next, after which Thistlecrack took over at the head of affairs.
Silviniaco Conti jumped the next slower than his rivals and, as a result, Cue Card and Tea For Tea joined him for second place; Josses Hill was now a couple of lengths in rear. Tom Scudamore eased back his mount as they headed up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel and Tea For Two swung out a little wide as they negotiated the top bend.
The horses began their journey down the side of the racecourse, passing through their starting point on the way to the next fence. Paddy Brennan aboard Cue Card was now Thistlecrack’s closest pursuer and the second favourite put in a short stride before the jumping the obstacle. The five runners then continued to the next, which was the penultimate open-ditch. Again, the leader took off almost outside the wings of the fence, but he cleared it with ease. The other four were far less extravagant!
Thistlecrack led the runners into the lake turn, with Tea For Two now his closest pursuer; Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card disputed third, with Josses Hill still bringing up the rear. Four or five lengths probably covered the field. Having entered the back straight, Cue Card made progress to the outside and was almost level with the leader as they jumped it. The Colin Tizzard-trained pair continued almost stride for stride as they headed towards six out, where Thistlecrack jumped it the more fluently.
Tea For Two was bustled up between the two leaders as they approached the final open-ditch. All three jumped it well, although Lizzie Kelly’s mount then dropped back having cleared it. Thistlecrack and Cue Card were still going at it hammer and tongs as they headed over the final fence in the back straight. However as they entered the home turn, Tom Scudamore allowed his mount to stride on, soon leaving his rivals in his wake.
Having entered the home straight and with just three more fences to take, Thistlecrack now had the race at his mercy; Cue Card continued in pursuit, from Tea For Two, Josses Hill and Silviniaco Conti. The leader cleared the third last with plenty of daylight to spare and continued his journey down to the penultimate obstacle. Again, he cleared this well.
Thistlecrack continued to extend his comfortable lead as the final fence approached and, once again, he gave it plenty of clearance. Initially Tom Scudamore pushed him out but, half way up the run-in, he had time to wave his fist to the madly cheering crowd; he then checked for danger, after which he waved his fist in celebration once more. Victory assured, Thistlecrack was eased down towards the line.
All four rivals having completed their jumping tasks, and with probably a length covering all of them at the final fence, there was nothing left for them but to fight it out for the runner-up spot. Josses Hill was the first to cry enough, with the other three involved in a very tight finish as they hit the line. A photograph.
The result was that Thistlecrack had won by 3¼ lengths having eased down, from Cue Card who got the verdict by a short-head over Silviniaco Conti, with Tea For Two a head away in 4th. Josses Hill was far from disgraced too, having completed 3½ lengths behind the 4th placed horse.
In previous years I’d headed back to the Winners’ Enclosure as soon as the King George VI victor had crossed the line; as a result I’d missed the winner parade in front of the stands. This year I decided to remain in the hope of seeing Thistlecrack at close quarters but, in the event, he was led down only as far as the near side end of the Premier Enclosure, before then heading back up the racecourse once more. Typical.
Anyway, this being the case, I then decided to head back to the Winners’ Enclosure in the hope of seeing him at closer quarters. Being later than usual in my quest, I had to stand on the nearest set of temporary steppings but fortunately the view wasn’t too bad. Having posed for the official photographs, Thistlecrack was led around the Parade Ring, in an anti-clockwise direction, to accept the applause from his many admirers.
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 5 - 3:15pm
The joint-favourites for this race were Spiritofthegames, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by brother Harry, along with Lisheen Prince, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; they were priced 9-2. Alan King had a runner in this event, Big Chief Benny, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
I also noticed that Willy Twiston-Davies was in the Parade Ring, dressed in jockey silks; evidently his re-application for a jump jockey licence had already been successful. He also hopes to continue race riding on the flat for the time being, using his skills to ride over jumps and thus keep his weight under control during the winter months.
The starting gate for the final race of the day was situated at the lake bend. Although it was one of the minor races on the card, the runners still cantered down past the grandstands before heading to the start.
And then they were off. The field was led away by Southport; the back marker was the hooded Rothman. All 15 runners cleared the first flight without incident. They continued their journey along the back straight, with the Willy Twiston-Davies ridden runner spearheading the field. He was followed by Doesyourdogbite, Lisheen Prince and Dell’ Arca. Behind these came Big Chief Benny, the grey Moscato, and the also grey Mister Grez. Further back Mosspark, Spiritofthegames, Instant Karma, Muthabir, Vicenzo Mio, the third grey Omessa Has, King Cool and Rothman.
Having reached the second flight, there were no noticeable jumping errors and the horses continued at a steady pace as they headed around the long sweeping turn; Omessa Has took a couple of awkward steps as she travelled close to the inside rail, appearing slightly short of room at one point. King Cool was now at the rear of the field.
Ears pricked, Southport led the runners into the home straight; Mosspark received a couple of slaps down his shoulder as they approached the third flight, and Noel Fehily pushed him along for a few strides having jumped it. The runners were still closely grouped as they headed over the next, before continuing up the home straight past the grandstands and winning post; one circuit still to travel.
The field negotiated the top bend, with King Cool and Rothman continuing to bring up the rear. Southport led the runners over the second all-weather strip, followed by Lisheen Prince, Dell’ Arca and Mister Grez. Again there were no serious issues as the runners jumped the fifth flight; although Rothman was a little slow here, and Mosspark had to be encouraged along having cleared it.
Mister Grez was less than fluent at the sixth and, having jumped it, Mosspark was soon relegated to last position and he began to tail off as they headed around the lake turn. Having entered the back straight, Lisheen Prince jumped the next flight upsides the long-time leader; Southport actually hit the top of it and dislodged the orange protector strip. Mister Grez was less than fluent at this flight too and soon began to drop back.
There was some scrimmaging further back in the field as they headed to three out; with Instant Karma and Vicenzo Mio attempting to go for the same gap. Muthabir was bumped as a result, and Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount was squeezed out. Lisheen Prince and Southport were disputing the lead as they cleared the flight, however the latter was tiring and he blundered here; although he did recover and managed to keep pace with the leader initially as they headed into the final turn.
Entering the home straight, Lisheen Prince led, from the urged along Southport, Dell’ Arca, Big Chief Benny, Moscato, Spiritofthegames, Instant Karma, Muthabir, Omessa Has, Doesyourdogbite, and Vicenzo Mio; King Cool and Rothman were slightly detached from this group. Mister Grez and Mosspark were pulled up before reaching two out.
Dell’ Arca was ridden to lead two out, and Lisheen Prince made an error here; line across the track behind the leading duo at this stage were Doesyourdogbite, Big Chief Benny and Spiritofthegames. Tom Scudamore’s mount continued to lead as they headed to the final flight, but he jumped to his left and lost momentum. This enabled Doesyoudogbite to gain the advantage to the far side, with Spiritofthegames in hot pursuit and staying on.
Having taken the lead, Aidan Coleman then drove his mount out to win by 2 lengths at the line, with Spiritofthegames filling the runner-up position. Dell’ Arca held onto 3rd, a length further back, with Lisheen Prince in 4th. Having looked dangerous earlier in the straight, Big Chief Benny had tired, before blundering at the final flight. In the end, the Alan King runner had finished 10th; the step up in trip had proved too far today.
Despite the Skeltons being placed in all five races that they had been represented in, it must have been disappointing to have finished as runner-up in four of these, and 3rd in the other!
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
6 - 3:45pm
Barry Geraghty, the rider of INSTANT KARMA (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding lost action. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding revealed it to be stiff in front.
Final race over, I headed back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winner and placed horses arrive back. I always think it’s rude to depart without going to congratulate the winning connections of the final race of the day with a round of applause!
Before I left, I paid a return visit to the ladies’ room; this time the queue stretched out through the doors and into the betting hall within the main grandstand. As my car was parked on the railway station side of the main car park, I left via the main entrance; this meant crossing over the horse-walk and heading through the ticket hall.
Once outside, my progress across the car park was easier than earlier in the day, as the ropes sectioning off various areas had now been removed, although there was a queue of traffic tailing back from Gate 1. It comprised mainly of vehicles which had been parked in the free of charge car park situated within the centre of the racecourse. Having got back to my car and taken off my coat and boots, I sat in the vehicle for around 10 minutes whilst I consumed the two remaining cheese rolls. Unlike in previous years, I didn’t see any horseboxes depart; that was presumably because I wasn’t sat there for long.
The off time for the final race of the day had been 15:45 and it was 16:20 when I decided to depart; often in previous years I’d waited for ages, even up to an hour after I’d returned to my car before I even contemplated leaving, due to weight of traffic. However, this year, it didn’t seem too bad, with traffic not stationary for long whilst queuing to leave.
I backed out of my space, before heading towards the thoroughfare adjacent to Park Road and the exit gate; although I could have driven through an empty space in the front row to join the queue instead. I then waited for the opportunity to enter said queue. I allowed a Porsche heading from the opposite direction within the car park to exit the gateway before me and, once outside, I turned right to head up the slope and over the railway bridge.
A number of vehicles were joining the queue from the right, having been parked in the car park situated on the other side of the railway line. Traffic was encouraged to use both lanes of the road as it turned to the left; a little further along, a parked car was partly blocking the nearside lane. However, having safely negotiated it, I was soon approaching the roundabout underneath Junction 1 of the M3.
The two lines of traffic had to merge as it approached the roundabout, but this occurred without fuss. It became apparent that the reason the queue was moving more freely this year, was because a steward was controlling the traffic as it approached from the right. This allowed race-day traffic to enter the roundabout with more regularity, rather than have to wait for the usual traffic light signals. In fact the traffic lights, for my stream of traffic, had been switched off!
I had soon negotiated said roundabout and was soon heading up the slip-road to join the M3; it was 16:29 according to the clock in my car. Excellent! I headed down the motorway towards the M25. As the junction approaches, traffic wishing to join the London orbital motorway has to move into the nearside lane, with those wishing to head anti-clockwise remaining on the left, whilst those wishing to head towards the west or north travel under the M25 before bearing around to the right to pass over the M3 prior to joining the clockwise carriageway of the former. As on the outbound journey, there were cones to either side of the slip-road, due to ongoing road-works.
As I progressed along the M25, I moved over into lane 3 in order to continue on the orbital motorway, rather than take the risk of getting stuck in the wrong lane as the M4 junction approached. Traffic was running smoothly, with just a slightly slower speed in operation as the inbound M4 traffic joined from the left. In fact the motorway and traffic conditions were so good, that I’d reached the M1 junction by 17:01!
As I wasn’t returning directly home, but heading via my older brother’s house in Luton, I headed up the M1. The Hemel Hempstead junction approaches quickly, the Friar’s Wash and Luton ones less so. I left at Junction 10, which serves Luton Airport. Having headed up the slip-road, I negotiated the roundabout at the top, where all traffic is directed around to the right. At this point I received a surprise; a fox scampered across the carriageway immediately in front of my car, heading towards the motorway embankment!
I continued down the dual carriageway, towards Luton, before taking the slip-road which bears off to the left. Having arrived at a roundabout, I took the first left, to double-back and head under the dual carriageway before arriving at yet another roundabout. I then took the turning towards Harpenden. However, a short way down the hill, I turned right to head along Newlands Road; this was the first time I’d encountered difficulty seeing in the dark during my home journey. The road heads under the dual carriageway which leads to the motorway, before emerging onto the Caddington Road. My brother lives close by. I think it was probably 17:20 when I arrived.
I stayed to tea and then took mum home. Strangely, on the drive back, I seemed to be able to see in the dark more easily than a couple of hours earlier. Once in St Albans, my route took me around the ring-road; there is a house along one section which is illuminated with Christmas lights each year – in fact people make a special pilgrimage to see it. However, ‘Smiley SID’, the Speed Indication Display, has now been re-sited further along the ring-road. There used to be one on either side of the road, but now I think there’s only one. I love Smiley Sid and always endeavour to remain within the 30 mph speed limit so that he smiles rather than frowns. I’ve also discovered that it can display the message ‘Too Fast’ … and it wasn’t me, as I was passing on foot at the time!
Although I’d recorded the entire day’s RUK coverage on my Skybox, once home, I managed to catch up with the highlights from Kempton Park and transfer them to disk. Today RUK had broadcast races from Wetherby, Wincanton, Huntingdon, and Market Rasen, along with Kempton Park; this meant that interviews recorded at the Sunbury-on-Thames track would probably only get air-time during their highlights round-up. Besides, I really didn’t wish to see the melee which caused a void race at Wincanton, in which two horses died; there was a third fatality at Wincanton also, plus one at Market Rasen.
However, by late evening I was feeling far too tired to even write my blog, and dozed off to sleep in the armchair instead.
Click here for photos – Races 1 & 2
Click here for photos – Race 3 (Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) & Race 4 (Christmas Hurdle – Grade 1)
Click here for photos – Race 5 (King George VI Chase – Grade 1) & Race 6