DIARY – KEMPTON PARK – WINTER FESTIVAL
BOXING DAY – WEDNESDAY 26 DECEMBER 2018
The King George VI Chase winner, Clan Des Obeaux,
in the winners’ enclosure
This was my tenth visit to the Boxing Day fixture at Kempton Park, having missed 2017 due to a bad head cold. Again this year, cold viruses had been rampant at work in the days running up to the Christmas break, but I hadn’t succumbed on this occasion. Phew!
This year’s renewal of the King George would feature the best ‘line-up’ in years:
Bristol De Mai – winner of the 2017 and 2018 Betfair chases, in the latter of which he’d beaten four of today’s rivals, namely Native River (2nd), Thistlecrack (3rd), Clan Des Obeaux (4th) and Might Bite (5th and last).
Clan Des Obeaux – the young pretender, trained by Paul Nicholls; the trainer having won nine previous King George VI chases – See More Business (1997 & 1999), Kauto Star (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), Silviniaco Conti (2013 & 2014).
Coneygree – winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice, but plagued by injury ever since.
Thistlecrack – the winner of this race in 2016, when a novice; also winner of the 2015 Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, the 2015 Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle and 2015 Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, the 2016 Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, the 2016 Grade 1 World Hurdle and 2016 Grade 1 Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle. However, having gone down to Many Clouds at Cheltenham in January 2017, in the latter’s final race, he’d been plagued by set-backs; this would be just his 4th run since that race. Injury-prone as a youngster too, he was already a 7-year-old by the time he won the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle on only his 8th-ever career start. Thistlecrack was now rising 11.
Native River – winner of the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, not to mention the 2016 Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National too! Also dual winner of the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury (2017 & 2018), and the 2016 Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. He is also one of my very favourite horses in training ... I first noticed him in January 2015, at Cheltenham on Trials Day ... before he was ‘famous’!
Politologue – winner of the 2017 Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup, the 2017 Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase, the 2018 Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree and the 2018 Grade 2 1965 Chase at Ascot; he was stepping up in trip today.
Double Shuffle – runner-up to Might Bite in this race last year.
Tea For Two – winner of the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in 2015 and the 2017 Grade 1 Bowl Chase at Aintree.
Might Bite – winner of the 2017 Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase, the 2017 Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase, the 2017 Grade 1 King George VI Chase, and the Grade 1 2018 Bowl Chase at Aintree; also runner-up in the 2018 Gold Cup behind Native River.
Waiting Patiently – winner of the 2018 Grade 1 Ascot Chase, where he beat Cue Card; also stepping up in trip today.
Anyway, after spending Christmas Day with my younger brother and his family, along with my mum and his in-laws too, I was set fair for a day at the races on Boxing Day.
It doesn’t take very long to reach Kempton Park, around 50 minutes with no travel problems, so I set my alarm clock for 06:30. I showered, washed and dried my hair and applied make-up too. In fact I was ready to go by 08:40, but didn’t want or need to leave until 09:00. On this occasion it meant that I had a 20-minute window of opportunity to search for my eye-drops!
I didn’t find the eye-drop bottle, but decided to wear my disposable contact lenses regardless! I’d been floating the lenses out after recent ‘wearings’ but, having received a refresher course from the optician during my last contact lenses appointment, was hopeful I’d be able to remove them with or without the help of eye-drops.
Having loaded my car, I was ready to depart a minute or two before 09:00.
Today’s outfit was black jeggings, with thermal tights underneath, grey with black birds design thermal t-shirt, black thermal t-shirt, navy/cream thermal t-shirt with a brushed lining (it didn’t complement my colour scheme but was warm and no-one would see anyway), a red ribbed polo-neck sweater, poppy-coloured fleece, charcoal gilet, grey double-frill tweed M & S skirt, black with white horses design socks, grey ladybird design fleece snood, Katia Paint brown/grey/red crocheted snood, black Hotter ‘Danville’ ankle boots, black BHS £20 coat, brown M & S trilby with a gold thread running through the fabric (I have two brown trilby hats, both M & S, and this was the lighter brown of the two), my mauve Kipling ‘Defea’ handbag and, finally, a pair of ‘shades of rusty red’ butterfly earrings.
Having set off, I decided to travel via the ring-road, before heading down London Road to the roundabout upon the A414. I subsequently headed down the London Colney bypass in order to join the M25 anti-clockwise carriageway at Junction 22.
Being quite early on Boxing Day morning, traffic was flowing freely on the motorway and I’d soon reached Junction 12, where I joined the M3 in order to head towards London. Having reached Junction 1, where the road transforms into the A316, I followed the yellow temporary road-signs which indicated I should continue to the next junction, before heading down the slip-road and around a roundabout. I would then re-join the A316, but in the opposite direction, before bearing off to the left shortly afterwards in order to enter Park Road!
From previous experience, I knew that the stewards wouldn’t let me enter via Gate 1, before 10:00. So, having headed over the railway bridge, I continued past this gate until I reached a T-junction with the A308 Staines Road East. I turned left at this point, before reaching the main gate shortly afterwards. I showed my parking pass and a steward moved a traffic cone to allow me to enter the main car park. I followed the perimeter roadway until I encountered a vehicle blocking my path; the driver was manoeuvring and seemed lost!
Finally, once my route was clear, I was required to show my pass yet again, before being allowed to enter the area adjacent to the railway track where ordinary punters were permitted to park their vehicles. The first two rows were already full, which was fortuitous, so I parked on the third row, the front of two; it’s not always easy to back out when the roadway behind is blocked by vehicles queuing to exit!
Having parked up just before 10:00, I waited in my car for a while; I ate the two cheese rolls I’d bought with me too. Whilst sitting in my car, I saw a number of unnamed horse boxes arrive, plus two named ones – both small – those of Harry Fry and Philip Hobbs. Having changed into my boots and put on my coat, snoods and hat too, I set off for the Paddock entrance at around 10:25. I flock of parakeets flew over as I set off; a common sight in the southwest London area. Having reached the turnstiles, I headed through an open gateway to the left-hand side thereof … but upon presenting my ticket I was told I’d have to return outside in order to have my bag checked!
I did as I was instructed, before re-entering the gate and having my ticket scanned. I then headed across to where programmes were being sold; £5 today. The picture on the front cover was that of a jockey sitting upon a throne made out of birch branches arranged to resemble the Game of Thrones Iron Throne … until I discovered the very talented ... and extremely attractive ... Richard Madden recently, who played the role of the ill-fated Robb Stark, eldest son of Ned Stark, I would not have had any notion about an Iron Throne! The punch-line on the programme cover was ‘Only One will claim the Throne‘.
I headed through one of the doors leading to the ground floor of the main grandstand; I was on a mission to visit to ladies’ loo before too many people arrived! Since my previous visit to Kempton Park, in December 2016, the ladies’ room had been refurbished; there was even a shelf along the wall behind each loo … was that intended for one to place a glass of beer … although I wouldn’t fancy drinking it after flushing a toilet in the vicinity, knowing that water droplets from a toilet can travel many feet during a flush!!!
Having spent a penny, I headed outside to the steppings beside the Parade Ring. The ITV Racing crew was assembling; including Ed Chamberlin and AP McCoy. The presenter on duty for Racing TV (formerly Racing UK) was the lovely Tom Stanley; the racing pundit for the channel would be Steve Mellish. Hayley Moore was Kempton Park’s race-day presenter today.
Having waited a while, I headed to the course-side rails to reserve my spot ahead of racing. Apart from security staff in yellow jackets, I was the first person to arrive there. The grassed area was well maintained, if a little damp, as my boots brushed through said grass. The railing itself was damp, so I didn’t lean upon it, and I also noticed a number of tiny money spiders running up and down it!
The weather was dry but overcast today, with no visibility issues apart from mistiness encountered around Rickmansworth area during my inbound journey. The temperature was around 8 or 9 degrees and I remained cosy having layered my clothing.
There seemed to be less going on, on track before racing, this year than there usually is. However, I did see Gavin Sheehan returning from a jog around the course. At one point, having rummaged for something in my bag, I finally located my eye-drops; they were in one of the pockets!!! That was very strange, as I’d done quite a thorough search of the bag earlier.
I continued to watch the world go by whilst waiting for the first race, off time 12:50. I saw three helicopters arrive, at least one of which also departed again. Numerous people posed beside the final fence in order for photographs to be taken, or selfies. It seemed quieter than usual this year, with fewer vehicles parked within the in-field area. Along with the cherry-picker camera position, to the inside of the final fence, there was another TV camera position situated just the other side of the hedge which separates the main enclosure from the Silver Ring area.
The favourite for the first race was the Olly Murphy-trained Thomas Darby, ridden by Richard Johnson; price 5-2.
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, with Rouge Vif leading the way from the keen Mister Fisher as the runners headed towards the first flight; Fly To Mars jumped this awkwardly. The six competitors continued their journey up the home straight towards the next obstacle, with Rouge Vif continuing to lead from Mister Fisher, Fly To Mars, The Big Bite, Thomas Darby and Didtheyleaveuoutto. The runners cleared this one well, before heading up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel.
The runners crossed the all-weather strip as they turned the top bend, followed by a stretch of turf and then the return strip of all-weather surface. Rouge Vif remained at the head of affairs, from the improving Fly To Mars, then Mister Fisher and The Big Bite, with Thomas Darby and Didtheyleaveuoutto continuing to bring up the rear; The Big Bite made an error at the third.
The six competitors cleared the next without incident and they headed into the far turn still led by Rouge Vif; all were travelling okay as they did so. Having entered the back straight, the runners had soon reached the fifth flight, where Fly To Mars landed awkwardly once more. The Harry Whittington representative continued to spearhead the field on the run to the next; the field remained closely grouped. Both Fly To Mars and The Big Bite were less fluent than the others as they cleared it.
Vif Rouge held the advantage over Mister Fisher as they began the home turn, from Thomas Darby, Fly To Mars Didtheyleaveuoutto and The Big Bite; Fly To Mars and The Big Bite soon received slaps down their shoulders. This galvanised the Tom George runner but Fly To Mars dropped to the back of the field. Having entered the home straight, the latter dropped away, as the others began to mount their challenges.
To the near side, Mister Fisher came to join the long-time leader as they jumped two out, with Thomas Darby a very close-up third. However, the latter soon came under pressure as the Nicky Henderson runner took the lead on the run to the final obstacle. The leader jumped this really well and landed running, leaving the others to follow in his wake as he headed up to the line to win by 2¾ lengths.
Rouge Vif stayed on well to claim 2nd prize, from Thomas Darby and The Big Bite. The leading four were well clear of Didtheyleaveyououtto and the tailed off outsider of the party Fly To Mars.
Mister Fisher is by Jeremy, so the name is fitting … as in Mr Jeremy Fisher!
I remained beside the course-side rails in order to retain my position.
The favourite for the second race was Lough Derg Spirit, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 3-1.
Surprisingly, the jockeys took their horses to look at the last fence before heading to the 2 mile 4½ furlongs starting gate situated upon the lake turn. This would be expected ahead of the two Grade 1 chases, but maybe not ahead of this particular race. Presumably they wouldn’t have if it had been a run-of-the-mill weekday fixture.
And then they were off, with the sole grey Warthog leading the way as the runners headed through the starting gate and into the back straight. Twelve of the thirteen competitors cleared the first well, the exception being Storm Home who landed awkwardly and shot jockey Sean Bowen forward; the partnership survived this early scare.
The field headed on towards fence number two, which they all negotiated in their stride. The third obstacle was an open-ditch and Storm Home, having dropped to the back of the field, made another jumping error here. Warthog continued to set the pace as the runners continued towards and jumped over the final fence in the back straight, from Glen Forsa, Carlos Du Fruitier, Lough Derg Spirit, Envoye Special, Delire D’Estruval, Lisdoonvarna Lad, Awake At Midnight, Turtle Wars, Vivas, Dell Oro, Glen Rocco and, finally, Storm Home.
With the first four fences negotiated successfully, the thirteen runners headed around the bend and into the home straight on the first occasion. Warthog continued to lead as they jumped the next fence without incident and headed on to the next; again this was cleared successfully, as was the one closest to the grandstands. Storm Home was now a number of lengths adrift of the others.
Passing the winning post with one circuit to travel, the grey led, from Glen Forsa, Carlos Du Fruitier, Envoye Special, Delire D’Estruval, Lough Derg Spirit, Awake At Midnight, Turtle Wars, Lisdoonvarna Lad, Vivas, Dell Oro, Glen Rocco and Storm Home. The runners travelled across the all-weather strip as they swung right-handed to begin the next leg of their journey. As they crossed the second strip of all-weather track, Sean Bowen decided to pull up Storm Home.
The remaining twelve runners continued over the next, where Envoye Special made an error. The following fence was an open-ditch, which Glen Forsa jumped upsides Warthog. All of the competitors jumped this one well, and the grey went on again as they headed into the long sweeping turn which brought them into the back straight. Travelling at the rear of the field was the chestnut Glen Rocco, and he was three lengths adrift and under pressure.
Having entered the back straight, the runners had soon reached the seventh fence from home; Warthog blundered here, allowing the strong-travelling Glen Forsa to take the advantage. The grey began to weaken now, losing his prominent position as the horses cleared the next; Dell Oro jumped awkwardly and out to his left over this one.
The following fence was the final open-ditch; Glen Forsa held a clear advantage as he jumped this one, his nearest rivals being Carlos Du Fruitier, Envoye Special and Awake At Midnight. Warthog made a further error here and Tom Scudamore decided to pull him up before the next. Meanwhile the Mick Channon-trained runner continued to travel strongly and held a four lengths lead as they headed over the final fence in the back straight. Turtle Wars, travelling towards the rear of the field, made an error here; he was subsequently bumped along by jockey Noel Fehily.
Glen Forsa continued to show his rivals a clean pair of heels as he headed around the long swinging bend leading to the home straight; staying on noticeably at this point was Dell Oro. His rivals were beginning to cut back the deficit as they continued their journey to three out. Glen Forsa retained an advantage as they jumped this one, with Carlos Du Fruitier his nearest pursuer, closely followed by Dell Oro and Awake At Midnight; the latter jumped out badly to his left over this one. Glen Rocco had moved into fifth position now, with the tiring Envoye Special blundering here.
Having lost some of his advantage initially, Glen Forsa was staying-on well as they approached two out and the leading four had pulled well clear of the others as they jumped this and continued on their journey to the final fence. Jonathan Burke’s mount flew the last, with Carlos Du Fruitier now winning the battle with Dell Oro for the runner-up spot; the latter made an error here.
Glen Forsa then galloped on strongly all the way to the line to win by 2¾ lengths from the fast finishing Glen Rocco who had overtaken Carlos Du Fruitier on the run-in. Dell Oro came home in 4th position, from the favourite Lough Derg Spirit, Envoye Special and Awake At Midnight. The remaining three came home in their own time.
The trainer’s son Jack, said the winner would hopefully be aimed at the Novices’ Handicap Chase run on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival; Glen Forsa is owned by Tim Radford, who owns last year’s winner of that race Mister Whitaker, also trained by Mick Channon.
I remained beside the course-side rails once more.
The favourite for the third race was Santini, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 11-10.
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.
A member of the ground staff had to chase a couple of wild geese off the track just prior to the race; large birds can be a menace and have been known to bring down a horse – this happened to the later ill-fated Dark Energy a few years ago.
And then they were off, with a line of five across the course as they headed towards the first fence; Bags Groove to the inside of Santini, Topofthegame, La Bague Au Roi and Red Indian. Close behind travelled No Hassle Hoff and The Worlds End.
There were a number of errant jumps here, with Topofthegame jumping across in front of Santini and Daryl Jacob briefly letting go of his mount’s reins as No Hassle Hoff over-jumped! Bags Groove and Red Indian went on as they headed towards and over the second fence, which was the first open-ditch; The Worlds End made an error here.
Bags Groove and Red Indian continued to dispute the lead as the runners headed around the far turn; they were pursued by Santini to the inside of Topofthegame, then La Bague Au Roi, The Worlds End and No Hassle Hoff. Having entered the back straight, Red Indian held a narrow advantage as the runners cleared the first fence therein. The mare, travelling to the outside of the field, had improved into third position.
The horses continued to the fourth, which they all cleared well; The Worlds End had been relegated to last position now. The following fence was another open-ditch; this was jumped without incident. Having safely negotiated the next, which was the last in the back straight, the seven-strong field entered the bend which led into the home straight; at the rear of the field, The Worlds End was already being niggled along.
Bags Groove and Red Indian led the field over the next, just ahead of La Bague Au Roi. Santini travelled just behind this trio, from Topofthegame, No Hassle Hoff and The Worlds End. The runners continued their journey to the middle of the three fences in the home straight and they all cleared this well. The leading five runners held clear daylight over the remainder as they jumped the ninth fence, before heading up past the winning post with one circuit still to travel.
The runners subsequently swung right-handed, heading across the all-weather track as they did so. This was followed by a stretch of turf and the all-weather return, prior to reaching the next fence. Red Indian and La Bague Au Roi, at the head of affairs, jumped this in unison; No Hassle Hoff travelled at the rear of the field, although all seven runners were quite closely grouped at this stage.
The next fence was another open-ditch, which Bags Groove jumped more slowly than Santini and Topofthegame who were travelling upsides him. The Worlds End had to be pushed along as they entered the far turn and, as a result, he had soon closed the deficit; the Tom George-trained runner was definitely running in snatches.
Having entered the back straight, the runners soon encountered their next obstacle. However, No Hassle Hoff caught his hind-legs in the fence and, as a result, catapulted Daryl Jacob over his off-side shoulder. It was recorded as unseated rider, because the horse didn’t actually fall; it just briefly lost its hind-legs upon landing and galloped away unharmed.
Meanwhile the remaining runners continued their journey to the next; six from the finish. La Bague Au Roi held the advantage as they jumped this one. The following fence was the final open-ditch, with Nico de Boinville steering Santini towards the outer as they approached it. Richard Johnson saw a good stride on the approach and sailed over it. The field had soon reached four out, where the leader jumped slightly out to her left.
Red Indian had dropped to the back of the leading group now, with Topofthegame and Santini travelling in second and third place respectively as they headed around the final turn; however, the favourite was soon pushed along. The runners entered the home straight and the Paul Nicholls-trained runner had joined La Bague Au Roi as they cleared three out; she landed a little awkwardly over this one.
However, despite this, the mare continued to battle against her larger rival as they galloped towards the second last. Topofthegame jumped this big and bold, too big and bold in fact, as he spent more time in the air than his speedier opponent. This meant that the leading two were fighting neck and neck as they headed towards the final fence; they took off in unison.
Once again, the mare was more quickly into her stride than Topofthegame and she’d soon gone a couple of lengths up; the chestnut stayed on well too, but he couldn’t peg back La Bague Au Roi and she won by 1½ lengths at the line. Having made no impression early in the home straight, Santini stayed on after the last and finished just two lengths further back in 3rd. Red Indian completed in 4th, with Bags Groove 5th and The Worlds End a disappointing 6th.
Okay, so she was in receipt of 7lbs from her rivals, but she was so game; this was her thirteenth victory from 18 runs. It just goes to prove that you cannot give away weight to a very good mare!
Winning jockey Richard Johnson said she produces her best form on flatter tracks; so connections have found that Cheltenham doesn’t suit her as much as Aintree does.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the next event.
The favourite for the feature Christmas Hurdle race was Buveur D’Air, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 1-4 on!
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, with Global Citizen taking the lead, from Boite, If The Cap Fits, Buveur D’Air and the mare Verdana Blue. Global Citizen had made all at Newbury on 01 December, to win the Listed Intermediate (Gerry Feilden) Hurdle, but this would be a totally different kettle of fish! The dual Champion Hurdle winner brushed through the top of the first flight.
The five competitors continued their journey up the home straight towards the next obstacle. The leader hit this one and wobbled slightly on landing but remained a number of lengths ahead of this rivals as they headed up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel; Boite, in turn, was clear of the other three.
Having reached the top corner, the runners swung right-handed; heading over the all-weather strip as they began their journey down the side of the racecourse. They subsequently traversed the all-weather return before reaching flight number three; Boite had now closed upon the leader, but the other three remained some distance behind this duo. The quintet cleared the obstacle in their stride before continuing to the next, which Boite hit.
Global Citizen extended his lead over Boite as they travelled around the far turn, with If The Cap Fits continuing to head the remainder of the field. Having entered the back straight, Buveur D’Air began to improve his position; he jumped the first flight therein smoothly and was now up into third position. The main group soon reeled-in Boite, and they were also gaining ground on the long-time leader.
However, having moved into second position, Buveur D’Air misjudged his take-off over the third last and galloped straight through it; the panel was flattened. Fortunately the favourite didn’t appear to lose too much impetus. The runners headed into the final turn now, with Boite relegated to last place and being pushed along.
Global Citizen was just a couple of lengths clear of the field as they entered the home straight. Barry Geraghty pulled his mount out of the leader’s slipstream as they approached the penultimate flight and was upsides Global Citizen as they jumped it; Verdana Blue was stalking both of these and was just half a length behind them.
Buveur D’Air had assumed the lead as they galloped towards the final flight, with the mare now a clear second; If The Cap fits was disputing third position with Global Citizen, whilst Boite was trailing the field. They all jumped the last well and Buveur D’Air set sail up the run-in, seemingly with the race in the bag.
However Nico de Boinville had other ideas and, having given his mount a couple of smacks with his whip, Verdana Blue ran on strongly and was gaining upon the leader all the way up the run-in. It was a photo finish as they flashed past the winning line together; and she was definitely in front after the line.
And the result of that photograph was that Verdana Blue, receiving the 7lbs mares’ allowance and on ground that she loved, had won by a short-head. If The Cap Fits completed in 3rd, with Global Citizen 4th and Boite last.
The winning owner explained that the plan is to go to the Melbourne Cup with this mare; they had run her in a Listed race on the all-weather at Kempton just three weeks previously in order to get her some black type. Verdana Blue doesn’t like soft ground so, when it transpired the ground on Boxing Day was going to be suitable and only a few runners were going to turn up, it was decided to run her in the Christmas Hurdle! He said she’d ‘done nothing’ for three weeks, having sat in her box, and now come out and won!
The plan moving forward, would be to run in the Champion Hurdle, but only if the ground was okay. If not, she would head to Lingfield Park on Good Friday for a 2-mile flat race on the all-weather, which is worth a lot of money.
The owner jokingly said that Nicky Henderson was ‘bloody furious’ that his second-string had beaten his first-string today; jockey Nico de Boinville had even apologised to the trainer for doing so!!! He said the mare was the best National Hunt horse they’d ever had; they own Crimbourne Stud. Verdana Blue had won Wincanton’s Elite Hurdle earlier in the season too. Topsham Bay and Seagram being former representatives for the owners.
I remained beside the course-side rails ahead of the feature race.
The favourite for the King George VI Chase was Might Bite, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 3-1. My favourite racehorse, Native River, was also taking part.
Politologue led the pre-race parade; he was out of alphabetical order, the other nine were not. The jockeys then took their mounts to look at what would be the final fence before cantering back to the start at the beginning of the side straight.
And then they were off, with Coneygree bounding into the lead as they traversed the all-weather return on their way to the first fence. Prominent were Native River, Might Bite, Bristol De Mai, Thistlecrack and Double Shuffle. Bristol De Mai jumped this over-big and bumped into Thistlecrack as a result; they both survived and continued.
The second fence was the first of the open-ditches; all ten jumped this one well, with Coneygree holding a clear advantage over Might Bite, Thistlecrack and Native River; the latter was pushed-along slightly in order to keep his place as he travelled beside the inside rail. Mark Bradstock’s representative continued to push the pace as they headed around the far turn and into the back straight; Waiting Patiently was doing exactly that, at the rear of the field.
Native River wasn’t particularly fluent at the third and Richard Johnston had to roust him along for a few strides. Kempton isn’t the horse’s type of course and the ground wouldn’t have suited today either; but, what can you do? There’s a limited number of 3-mile plus graded races for him to take part in during the season. The ten ‘heavyweights’ continued their journey along the back straight, with Coneygree continuing to lead, from Might Bite, Thistlecrack, Native River, Bristol De Mai, Double Shuffle, Politologue, Clan Des Obeaux, Tea For Two and Waiting Patiently. The runners cleared the next safely.
The fifth fence was another open-ditch and, once again, there were no jumping errors; although Native River was displaying a slight tendency to jump out to this left. The runner then headed on towards the final fence in the back straight, where Politologue made a slight error. Subsequently, Coneygree led the field as they headed around the long swinging turn into the home straight on the first occasion; he was a couple of lengths clear of Might Bite who spearheaded the remainder of the field.
All participants were travelling kindly as the well-grouped field continued over the first fence in the home straight without incident; and the same at the second therein too. However, this wasn’t the case at the fence in front of the grandstands. Bristol De Mai, who was travelling in sixth position at the time, hit the top of it and fell. Clan Des Obeaux was fortunate to be able to side-step the incident, but not so Waiting Patiently; he was so badly hampered that Brian Hughes was unable to retain his partnership with the latter.
That was the 4-1 second favourite knocked out of the race by the fall of the only horse who could have won the million pound bonus! It just wasn’t Daryl Jacob’s day. But, fortunately, both horses were fine, as were the jockeys involved; they would both ride in the final race of the day.
Meanwhile the remaining eight runners continued their journey up past the winning post, before swinging right-handed and heading out into the country once more; one circuit now completed. Coneygree remained at the head of affairs, from Might Bite, Thistlecrack and Native River. They all jumped the next obstacle well, before continuing to the penultimate open-ditch; the back-marker was Tea For Two.
It was another display of polished jumping as they cleared this fence and Coneygree remained at the head of affairs, from Might Bite, as they headed around the far turn with all to play for in this compact field. Politologue made an error at the first fence in the back straight, and the long-time leader was just beginning to show signs of distress as they headed towards six out. It was Might Bite’s turn to make an error as they jumped this one.
The 2016 winner, Thistlecrack, came to join Coneygree at the head of affairs as they continued to the final open-ditch; Clan Des Obeaux had also made progress through the field, and jumped it in fourth position. Politologue had regained the ground he’d lost following his error, but Native River had dropped back and was being pushed along by Richard Johnson.
Having subsequently cleared four out and headed into the final turn, a group of four had set up an advantage over the others. Thistlecrack, Coneygree and Might Bite were vying for the lead, with Clan Des Obeaux tucked in behind them. However, as they entered the final straight, it was Thistlecrack who struck for home first, followed by Clan Des Obeaux; Coneygree was tiring now, but surprisingly, last year’s winner Might Bite couldn’t go with them either.
Clan Des Obeaux was almost upsides Thistlecrack as they cleared three out, and it was Politologue who now overtook Might Bite in order to give chase to the leading duo. It soon became apparent that Clan Des Obeaux was travelling the best, as Thistlecrack had to be shaken-up by Tom Scudamore. The latter jumped slightly better at two out, but Harry Cobden was determined to hold onto his mount for as long as possible, bearing in mind he’d been beaten earlier in the day aboard Topofthegame in a very similar situation.
Harry saw a great stride at the last and flew over the fence, giving Clan Des Obeaux the order to quicken up on the run to the line. Having quickly gained a clear advantage, he held on to that, and went on to win by 1½ lengths. The first and second had drawn well clear of their rivals, with Native River staying on to claim 3rd place 12 lengths further back. Politologue was 4th, Double Shuffle 5th, Tea For Two was 6th and Might Bite 7th. Coneygree had blundered and unseated Sean Bowen two out, when in 7th position at the time.
I understand Coneygree had suffered another over-reach; and Might Bite bled from his nose and would undergo a breathing operation subsequently.
Tom Scudamore and Harry Cobden shook hands after the line. It was Paul Nicholls’ 10th winner of this race, with Clan Des Obeaux being the youngest horse in the field; a 6-year-old. Paul had claimed first and fourth, with Colin Tizzard’s horses 2nd and 3rd. Harry Cobden had the choice of mount, as the stable jockey, so chose Clan Des Obeaux; his 4th-placed effort in Haydock’s Betfair Chase had swayed his decision.
Not surprisingly, the trainer said that his winning charge would be aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, come March; with one more race in the interim. He said Clan does have a tendency to jump slightly right-handed, but it shouldn’t make much difference now that he’s maturing with experience. The winning owners included Paul Barber, who had also been involved with the dual King George winner See More Business, and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Since 2006, the race has only been won by Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Colin Tizzard!!! In other words, the current ‘big 3’!
I decided to head back to the Winners’ Enclosure area immediately following the race. The placed horses arrived therein shortly afterwards, followed a few minutes later by the winner; he would have been delayed due to parading in front of the stands before returning.
Photos taken, Clan Des Obeaux was led on two laps of honour around the Parade Ring before being taken back to the stables. The trophy was presented to connections by comedian Lee Mack!
I headed back to the betting ring area although, this time, there were no spaces directly beside the rails. It wasn’t too important though as, with the light fading fast, my camera wouldn’t be very effective at this point; it had been struggling during the feature race too.
There were three co-favourites for the final race of the day; namely top-weight Ballyandy trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by his son Sam, plus Divin Bere trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Harry Cobden, and one of the bottom-weights, The Sweeney trained by Emma Lavelle and ridden by Brian Hughes; price 6-1.
The starting gate for the final race of the day was situated at the lake bend. I believe the horses cantered down past the grandstands on their way to the start; although my memory doesn’t serve me well on this one, as I was quite late arriving course-side!
And then they were off and heading towards the first flight; prominent were Montalbano, Erick Le Rouge and Penn Lane. They all cleared this one well and journeyed on towards the next, which they all jumped okay too. However, following the obstacle, Stowaway Magic received a couple of reminders from jockey Daryl Jacob; he just wasn’t travelling today.
The fourteen-strong field subsequently headed into the long sweeping bend which led into the home straight with Montalbano, Erick Le Rouge and Penn Lane continuing to dispute the lead. They were followed by Lord Of The Island, The Sweeney, Who’s My Jockey, Crystal Lad, Divin Bere, Big Chief Benny, Et Moi Alors, Ballyandy, Mellow Ben, Stowaway Magic and Colonial Dreams.
Having entered the home straight the runners continued over the third flight; there were no errors noticeable here. The field then travelled on to the next obstacle where, again, there were no mistakes of note. Montalbano remained at the head of affairs, pressed by Erick Le Rouge and Penn Lane, as they galloped up in front of the stands, past the winning post and swung right-handed to head out into the country once again.
Their route had taken them across the all-weather strip, followed by a stretch of turf, and the all-weather return, before they reached the fifth flight. There was no change at the head of affairs as they jumped it, apart from Lord Of The Island having now joined the leading group. Crystal Lad had to be urged along by his jockey Jonathan Burke following the obstacle. Erick Le Rouge came through to take the lead having jumped the sixth; bringing up the rear was Stowaway Magic, having not travelled sweetly at any point today.
The runners headed around the far turn subsequently, with Montalbano losing his place as they entered the back straight; Et Moi Alors blundered at the first flight therein and was being pushed along as they travelled towards three out. Meanwhile, Erick Le Rouge, Lord Of The Island and Penn Lane continued at the head of affairs; with The Sweeney, Ballyandy, Colonial Dreams and Mellow Ben travelling behind these. However, Ballyandy made an error at this flight, flattening one of the panels as a result.
Erick Le Rouge spearheaded the runners as they headed around the final bend. Mellow Ben had made progress to dispute second position alongside Penn Lane, with The Sweeney, Colonial Dreams, the pushed along Lord Of The Island, Ballyandy and Big Chief Benny all members of the leading group; Who’s My Jockey was endeavouring to get on terms with these as he stayed on from further back.
Having entered the home straight, Erick Le Rouge continued to gallop on relentlessly as they approached two out; his nearest challengers being Mellow Ben to the stand-side, The Sweeney to the far-side, with Ballyandy between these. Having successfully cleared this flight, Mellow Ben came to challenge the Jane Williams-trained leader as they galloped towards the final obstacle. You got the feeling that Erick Le Rouge still had something in hand as, for much of the time, his ears were pricked!
Anyway, he jumped the last more fluently than his nearest rival and galloped on to win by a diminishing three-quarters of a length from Mellow Ben at the line. Who’s My Jockey had stayed on best of all in the home straight and completed a further three-quarters of a length away in 3rd, with Ballyandy in 4th. The Sweeney completed in 5th, Colonial Dreams in 6th and Big Chief Benny 7th. Twelve completed, with Stowaway Magic being the last of these; Montalbano and Crystal Lad didn’t jump the final two obstacles, having been pulled up.
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 see them at the end of the day! To the connections, their horses are just as important as those running in the feature races.
Before I left, I had intended to pay a return visit to the ladies’ room. However when I got there, the queue was so long that I decided to leave without spending a penny. It’s imperative to depart the car park as soon as possible otherwise one might get trapped for ages therein!
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.
Although the main driveway wasn’t yet busy and therefore easy to navigate as a pedestrian, there was an issue with vehicles being driven through vacant parking spaces within the car park itself; this included a ‘thoroughfare’ close to my own vehicle. Having taken off my hat, coat, fleecy snood and slightly muddy Hotter boots, replacing the latter with my clean brown M & S footglove boots, I was ready to depart too.
I switched on my headlights and drove out of my parking space, turning right as I did so. In the time that it had taken me to prepare for my departure, a queue of vehicles had formed upon the main driveway, all heading towards gate number 1. Cars continued to join this, having driven through the gaps created by empty parking spaces. Another queue had formed along the thoroughfare at the far end of my row; this merged into the main queue too.
I waited my turn; I permitted one car to back-out ahead of me, and fortunately this freed up space at the corner of the front rows, enabling better manoeuvrability when I became part of the secondary queue. I was also able to sneak out into the main queue, just prior to the gate. As always on Boxing Day, it was a right-turn only upon entering Park Road; I drove over the railway bridge and around the corner before encountering the back of the queue which tailed back from the roundabout under Junction 1 of the M3.
One or two vehicles joined from the left further down, but it didn’t take long to reach the aforementioned roundabout, despite the two current lines of traffic having to merge into one just prior to the traffic lights. The lights turned to green once more and, having negotiated the traffic island, I headed up the slip-road onto the motorway. It was 16:05.
Traffic was moving freely on the motorway and, have travelled a number of miles, I took the slip-road which headed off to the left, before bearing right in order to join the clockwise carriageway of the M25. Traffic, for the most part, was moving freely here too and I was soon able to move into the middle carriageway, of 5; this would enable me to continue in this lane all the way around to my exit point without being siphoned off down any of the junction slip-roads along the way.
I did, however, find myself travelling behind a car whose driver kept braking … that was annoying. It also re-confirmed to me that the motorway beyond junction 16 is no longer lit during hours of darkness … that’s also very annoying, as my eye-sight at night isn’t what it used to be! Further along, as I approached junction 22 and just before I transferred into the inside lane ready to leave the motorway, I found myself driving behind a very slow moving car. Soon after that, a large lorry began to tailgate said car because he/she was so slow; between 35 to 50 mph at various points!
Having left the motorway, I drove up the London Colney bypass and into my home City, travelling via the ring-road to my destination; I arrived home at 16:55.
But that wasn’t the end of my outings for the day, as at 17:25 I set off to Luton to visit my older brother and family and to collect my mum who had spent the day in their company whilst I was at the races. I also took the opportunity to receive tuition on transferring photos from my new camera to my laptop; my older brother is a keen photographer. I have basic software on the PC, which came supplied when I bought it, but not a specific application. I either need to download the camera-specific one from the camera manufacturer’s website, or download another free application from the web, or purchase an application such as Photoshop Elements.
I finally arrived home again at 20:15. However, I didn’t get to sleep until gone 01:00 because I was waiting for the Racing TV highlights to be broadcast so that I could record them ahead of writing my race notes for this diary; it took ages today, due to the number of fixtures broadcast on the channel – Kempton Park, Wetherby, Huntingdon, Market Rasen and Wincanton.
Once Irish racing joins Racing TV in 2019, it’s going to be simply impossible to view racing on days like this. It’s already bad enough, having to broadcast five races within each 30 to 35 minute time-slot without adding Irish fixtures to that too; especially as I have absolutely no interest in the latter!
Notes from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 12:50pm
The performance of DIDTHEYLEAVEUOUTTO (IRE), which finished fifth, was considered. Nick Gifford’s explanation that the gelding was unsuited by the going on this occasion, which was officially described as Good to Soft, Good in places, and would prefer a faster surface was noted.
Race 2 - 1:20pm
CARLOS DU FRUITIER
(FR), trained by Ben Pauling, was late in the Parade Ring, due to Pauling
having two horses to saddle and experiencing difficulty in fitting the
blinkers of CARLOS DE FRUITIER (FR).
Race 3 - 1:55pm
SANTINI wore ear plugs which were removed at the start.
Race 4 - 2:30pm
BUVEUR D'AIR (FR) wore ear plugs.
Race 5 - 3:05pm
BRISTOL DE MAI (FR)
wore ear plugs. Permission was given for POLITOLOGUE (FR) to parade out of
order in that it would parade first.
Race 6 - 3:40pm
BALLYANDY wore ear plugs which were removed at the start.