DIARY – KEMPTON PARK
SATURDAY 15 MARCH 2014
FEATURING THE SILVER BOWL AND SILVER PLATE
Miles To Memphis, ridden by Choc,
wins the Maiden Open NH Flat Race
This particular fixture followed on from the 4-day Cheltenham Festival and two races, the Silver Plate and the Silver Bowl, offered connections the opportunity to run their horses having been balloted out of over-subscribed races at the aforementioned event.
And me? I got home from spending four days travelling to and from the Gloucestershire venue actually feeling a little less tired than in recent years. Something I put down to the fact that I turned in earlier each night, so was able to get approximately one extra hour’s sleep than has often been the case in the past; this was afforded because I didn’t write a blog entry.
Friday, however, had been the exception and, for some reason, I didn’t turn in until just gone midnight despite not writing a blog; although I had checked the Kempton Park race-card to see if Choc was scheduled to ride at the fixture and, if so, how many riding engagements he had. Four. Okay, that was a yes to a trip then ... with the proviso that I wasn’t totally sure he’d survived his last race fall at Cheltenham totally unscathed, where poor Raya Star had been a fatality. And I’d actually plucked up the courage to ask his mum Sally if he was okay ... walking wounded, requiring application of ice to his knee; not sure which one, good or bad (right). Later in the evening he’d sent a tweet to his followers thanking them for their kind messages.
Despite the late night, I was awake by 06:15 on Saturday morning and seeking confirmation that Choc would be riding at Kempton Park today; no Choc no racing! Shortly after 08:00 I walked down the road to the local supermarket to purchase the racing papers, just in case there was any news of injury; nothing. I understood Channel 4’s The Morning Line was scheduled to begin at 09:00 today but couldn’t find it on their normal channel/HD due to the Paralympics coverage, or listed on the schedules either. Where was it? I know, I’d try More4 and found it; why didn’t I think of that sooner, as I frequently find programmes to watch on that particular channel when nothing is suitable on others!
I’d tuned in just in time; one of the presenters was going through a list of jockey changes affecting today’s racing and he announced Choc would be taking over from AP McCoy aboard Bar De Ligne in the Silver Bowl chase. Sadly there had been much carnage at Cheltenham this year; both horse and jockey. Four horses lost their lives – Our Conor, Akdam, Stack The Deck and Raya Star. Jockeys injured included Bryan Cooper, Ruby Walsh and Daryl Jacob; AP McCoy had already been walking wounded, when a fall from Mr Mole in the last race of the Festival had forced him to take a few days off to recover too (a mere 4 days actually ... he’s the hardest of them all ... and crazy!)
Anyway, that meant that Choc would have 5 riding engagements ... so a trip to Kempton Park was confirmed. I waited until the end of The Morning Line (10:00) before showering, washing and drying my hair, applying make-up, eating a crust of bread (I love crusts) and selecting my outfit.
Today’s ‘gear’ was three thermal t-shirts (plum, violet, and dark rose), cerise frill-edged cardigan, purple fleece, black gillet, tweed M&S skirt (one of my favourites and not quite so tight following a week on limited rations!), cerise jacket, turquoise swan-print per una scarf, black/white horse-print snood, purple tights, capacious burgundy handbag, and black mocassin style wedges. It would turn out to be a lovely day; blue sky with a few white clouds, although a brisk breeze too in exposed places!
I was ready to leave at 11:35; I estimated gates opening time would be 12:20 as the first race was due off at 14:20. My route took me to Junction 22 of the M25, and around via the anticlockwise carriageway to the M3; I left the latter motorway at Junction 1, heading along Staines Road East, past the main entrance to Kempton Park, and entering the gates further along in order to reach the free car parking area in front of the Silver Ring grandstand. I parked up at 12:25, having experienced no major holdups on either motorway ... although I had yawned a few times!!!
Having changed from my driving mocassins into my walking shoes, and put on my jacket and scarf, I set off to purchase a ticket. The south entrance was in fact open today but, for the hell of it, I walked around the perimeter fence to reach the main entrance ... just in case there was an outside possibility of spotting my favourite jockey. But no luck today!
Entry was £16; I paid cash. I handed the purchased ticket to one of the stewards manning the entry doors so that he could tear off the detachable strip and he promptly ripped off the other end of the ticket instead. My memento ticket had been multilated. Damn! Once inside, I purchased a race-card from the guy at the nearby kiosk - £3.50 today ... that’s more expensive than the cards at the Festival (£3.00); a rip-off!
Having paid a quick visit to the loo, and exited onto the concourse beside the Parade Ring; at 13:00 I decided I’d take a walk down to the course-side rails via the steps to the side of the grandstand to see if anyone was walking the course; not that I ever really expect to see Choc out on this particular track as it’s never been known yet! Apart from when in his role as ‘The Face of National Hunt Racing’ during his injury period in the 2010/2011 season when punters were give the opportunity to walk the final furlong at Kempton Park with him. After 15 minutes I returned to the Parade Ring area in preparation for the first race of the day.
Presenting from the racecourse for RUK today were Olly Bell and Dave Yates. I positioned myself to the far side of the Parade Ring, as usual; it was in the shade today but more sheltered from the breeze.
Choc’s mount in the first race was the Alan King-trained mare Tante Sissi; led up by her lad Steve Ayres, he also looks after Balder Succes. She was the 7-2 favourite for this event. One post-Cheltenham jockey change for this race, with Tom Scudamore deputising for Daryl Jacob aboard the Karl Burke-trained Doynosaur.
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails; I was in time to see Choc and his mount canter past on their way to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
The horses approached the starting gate, which is situated on the apex of the bend, at a sensible pace and then they were off. The horses were soon heading towards the first of three fences in the home straight, they were led by Arkaim. Two or three lengths behind was Noche Des Reyes, fighting a little for his head, to his outside Kitegen, behind these the other mare in the race Doynosaur, to her inside Able Deputy, then Tante Sissi and finally Easily Pleased held up in rear. There were no scares over the first two fences, although Choc’s mount was a less than fluent over the third.
The field then headed up past the winning post and headed out to complete one full circuit. The runners were quite strung out as they negotiated the top bend, Arkaim six or seven lengths clear and Tante Sissi now sharing last place with Easily Pleased. By the time the horses had reached the next fence, the lead was much reduced; Tante Sissi now taking closer order on the outside of the field, in fifth position. However, the mare was a little slower at the first open-ditch than her rivals and was relegated to last place heading into the lake bend.
Travelling around this bend the order was Arkaim approximately four lengths clear, Noche Des Reyes (in other words, Twelfth Night) in second, sharing third place were Doynosaur and Kitegen, then stride for stride Easily Pleased and Able Deputy, with Tante Sissi two lengths in rear. Choc’s mount had closed up on the field as they approached the first down the back, but again lost momentum with an awkward jump at this fence; after which her jockey chivvied her along in order to keep tabs on the other runners.
Arkaim remained in the lead over the next two, the second of which is an open-ditch; Kitegen had advanced into second position by this stage. Close up to his inside were Noche Des Reyes and Doynosaur, then a couple of lengths back, disputing last position, were Easily Pleased, Able Deputy and Tante Sissi. However the long-time leader put in a slow jump at the next, permitting Noche Des Reyes and Kitegen to go on; but Arkaim, with the benefit of the inside line on the long final bend was able to wrestle the lead back again. At this point, Kitegen became outpaced and dropped back into fourth position, with Tante Sissi weakening fast and beginning to tail off.
Entering the home straight there were just three fences now to negotiate. Arkaim held a narrow advantage over Noche Des Reyes over the first of these, from Doynosaur, the rallying Kitegen, Easily Pleased and Able Deputy. The runners were very closely grouped as they approached two out, with Arkaim, Kitegen and Able Deputy just a length ahead of the other three; Tante Sissi now toiling in their wake.
Charlie Poste drove his mount into the lead heading towards the last, Able Deputy attempting to lay down a challenge to the outside of the field; Arkaim, Easily Pleased and Noche Des Reyes still not without a chance as they cleared the fence. Having jumped the obstacle, Kitegen was driven out to win by two lengths, from Able Deputy who got the better of Easily Pleased by a neck, with Arkaim just a length away in 4th and Noche Des Reyes a further half a length back in 5th.
Doynosaur completed in 6th; Tanti Sissi trailing in 21 lengths behind the other mare. It was Kitegen’s first outing over the bigger obstacles.
With Choc’s mount finishing a disappointing last of the seven runners and therefore not returning to the Winners’ Enclosure, I returned briefly to the area above it to see the victor return before heading off to buy some chips from the outlet positioned beside the corner of the grandstand. Although I did feel a little short-changed when compared to my last visit to the racecourse, as on this occasion £2.50 resulted in a smaller container of chips! Although, having said that, there were still plenty!
I’d finished eating the chips before the horses arrived ahead of race two. Alan King had two runners in this event; Lord Of Scotland to be ridden by Choc and, top weight, Seventh Sign ridden by Stephen O’Donovan claiming 7lbs. The latter had been a surprise winner at Doncaster the previous month. Benbane Head, trained by Martin Keighley, was also a runner in this race. The race favourite was the David Pipe-trained, Tom Scudamore ridden mare, Legacy Gold.
Additional jockey changes too, with Harry Derham replacing the injured Daryl Jacob aboard Empire Levant and Maurice Linehan deputising for AP McCoy aboard Another Hero. Traditional Bob was ridden by Conor Ring instead of Paul Moloney.
Having exited the Parade Ring, the horses cantered along the straight heading out towards the lake bend; I set off to my usual vantage point beside the course-side rails.
All twenty runners were closely bunched as they headed towards the tape ahead of the off. Special Catch squeezed up the inside of the runners before being eased back; maybe he disturbed Choc’s right iron in the process, as my favourite jockey adjusted it as the runners moved up towards the line, or maybe he just caught it on the plastic rail to his inside at one point.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Benbane Head, Bygones Sovereign and Prideofthecastle; Empire Levant was clearly visible, being a light grey, on the outside of the field although nearer last than first. Having cleared the first, Special Catch was already detached a little in rear and Home Run was being urged along to keep his place in the centre of the main group.
Benbane Head led over the second flight, from Bygones Sovereign; they held a two lengths advantage over the main body of the field which was led by Prideofthecastle. Choc and Lord Of Scotland travelled to the inside, around two thirds of the way back through the field; the other Alan King runner also took the inside line, positioned just ahead of him.
Travelling around the bend and into the home straight on the first occasion, Benbane Head continued to lead. He held a couple of lengths advantage over Bygones Sovereign; PrideoftheCastle, Marcilhac and Portway Flyer led the main body of the field a further two lengths behind. All the horses cleared the first flight in the home straight without incident, but Empire Levant was very clumsy at the next, dragging his near-hind through the hurdle and losing momentum.
Heading up past the grandstands and around the top turn, the field was very tightly bunched, Benbane Head and Bygones Sovereign now disputing the lead; Traditional Bob brought up the rear, with Empire Levant on the wide outside of the entire field. Holding a narrow advantage as they jumped the fifth flight, Bygones Sovereign made an error and lost it again; Imperial Leader also made a mistake at this obstacle. Lord Of Scotland travelled okay, to the inside of the field, with six or seven horses behind him. Having cleared the next flight, the back marker was Home Run.
The horses headed around the lake turn and straightened up to face the fourth last flight; there was no change at the head of affairs. It was at this point that Choc felt his mount falter; being to the inside of the runners he pulled him over to his right, onto the steeplechase track and quickly pulled him up, the horse limping to a standstill; he dismounted and waited for assistance to arrive. The race continued.
There were no jumping casualties at the hurdle, but Empire Levant was struggling in the wake of the field and Harry Derham pulled him up before the next. Both Home Run and Imperial Leader were detached from the others at this point. Benbane Head lead over three out, from Marcilhac and Portway Flyer. Closing on these around the final bend were Another Hero, Carole’s Destrier and Carrigmorna King, followed by the favourite Legacy Gold; behind these Lord Protector and Seventh Sign.
Into the home straight they travelled and approached the penultimate flight; Marcilhac taking the advantage, Tom Scudamore switching his mount to the inside to get a clear run and Carole’s Destrier’s jockey switching his mount to his left, also to get a clear view of the obstacle. The Venetia Williams runner jumped this with a narrow advantage and retained his lead as they headed to the final flight; both Legacy Gold and Carole’s Destrier continuing to lay down a challenge. Portway Flyer was staying on in fourth position, with the long-time leader Benbane Head remaining in fifth.
The leaders cleared the last successfully and it was then a battle to the line; Legacy Gold could give no more, and would soon be overtaken on the run-in by Portway Flyer. However, Marcilhac and Carole’s Destrier continued to battle to the line, the latter prevailing in the last few strides to win. Benbane Head completed in 5th, just holding off Seventh Sign by a neck.
With Choc having pulled up his mount due to an injury, and appearing to be walking wounded, I decided to forego a trip back to the Winners’ Enclosure in order to observe the proceedings on the far side of the track. The horse ambulance was quickly on the scene, and the horse presumably loaded into it. It drove back across the racecourse infield, across the ‘side straight’ and headed back to the stable complex. I didn’t catch a glimpse of Choc being driven back, but I did see Alan King’s Travelling Head Lad, Matt Howells, return in one of the emergency vehicles, with Choc’s saddle.
I think it must sometimes be a godforsaken job to be the Travelling Head Person; the one who needs to collect the saddle from any charge which may have suffered an injury during a race. I’d seen Matt walk past me on his way to the Weighing Room the previous day, carrying Choc’s saddle, having gone to collect it from the fatality injured Raya Star.
At the time, looking at the race recording, it had seemed that Lord Of Scotland’s injury was not that serious but, having checked the ‘Horses In Training’ page on Alan King’s website the following week, Lord Of Scotland’s name had disappeared. Nor was he listed on the ‘Horses Resting’ page reserved for those temporarily on the injury sidelines. Lord Of Scotland ran in the two shades of green colours of Simon Munir, the owner of Raya Star. A very bad two days for the owner if he’d lost both horses.
With nothing else to be observed, I returned to the far side of the Parade Ring ahead of the third race of the day. Choc’s mount in this event was the Steve Gollings-trained Bar De Ligne; deputising for the injured Daryl Jacob. A further jockey change was Richie McLernon standing in for AP McCoy; his original mount having been a non-runner. The race favourite was The Romford Pele.
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring and were heading to the start, I set off once more to my favourite vantage point beside the course-side rails.
The starting gate for this event was upon the lake bend.
Then they were off and heading towards the first fence; one of four in the back straight. Cloudy Bob, a pretty rocking horse grey, and Al Alfa were narrowly ahead over this obstacle; Bar De Ligne almost upsides between them, as was Saved By John and the other grey Elenika. At the rear of the field, Tom Scudamore was launched into space by his mount, Royal Guardsman.
The ten remaining runners headed to the next; Al Alfa put in a short stride before take-off, hit the top, sprawled on landing and fell. Then there were nine. Both horses and jockeys were reported by the commentator to be fine following these mishaps. There was no incident at the third; the first of the open ditches. Cloudy Bob and Bar De Ligne cutting out the running, with Saved By John almost upsides. Travelling in fourth position was Saved By John, from The Cockney Mackem, Elenika, Irish raider Nearest The Pin, Top Of The Range and The Romford Pele.
Having successfully negotiated the fourth fence, the runners travelled around the long right-hand turn and into the home straight on the first occasion. The next fence was cleared successfully by each runner; The Romford Pele, travelling in rear, made an error at the next. Bar De Ligne continued to lead as the horses jumped the next and travelled up towards the winning post with one circuit to go; Cloudy Bob initially his closest companion, superseded by Saved By John.
Heading out into the country again, Choc’s mount continued to hold a very narrow advantage; Cloudy Bob and Lost Legend to his inside, Saved By John and Elenika to his outside. Colin Bolger, aboard the grey rocking-horse, entered the lake bend with a slight lead over Bar De Ligne; Top Of The Range ridden by Barry Geraghty was being driven along in last position at this point.
Straightening up into the back straight, all of the runners negotiated the next successfully; Choc then began to show the first signs of distress as his mount travelled towards the next, which Saved By John led over. Having cleared the final open-ditch, the game was up for Bar De Ligne and he began to drop back through the field. Leading now were Cloudy Bob and Saved By John, with Lost Legend and Top Of The Range closing in on them. The Cockney Mackem fell at the fence.
Having cleared four out, Bar De Ligne was now struggling in last place. The field travelled around the final bend and into the home straight, just three more fences to go; Lost Legend now held the advantage over Cloudy Bob and Top Of The Range. The Irish raider Nearest The Pin soon loomed up behind them, preparing to make his challenge. Having cleared three out, he cruised up alongside Lost Legend and Cloudy Bob; the latter began to drop away.
However, Lost Legend and Richie McLernon continued to battle and they remained upsides Nearest The Pin as they jumped two out and continued to rally. The former took the lead once more, very narrowly, over the last and held off the Irish challenge all the way to the line; the winning distance three quarters of a length. Cloudy Bob completed in 3rd, with The Romford Pele in 4th. Bar De Ligne completed in a tailed-off 8th, last of the finishers.
Following the race I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure area briefly before heading back to the far side of the Parade Ring in preparation for the arrival of the runners ahead of the next race.
There was a sad postscript to this race, with The Cockney Mackem reported to have lost his life today. There seem to be conflicting reasons given for his unfortunate demise – either a back injury or a heart attack according to the Racing Forum’s Memorials page.
Alan King had two runners in the next race; First Mohican ridden by Choc, and Hung Parliament piloted by Jack Doyle. Another post-Cheltenham jockey change was required; this time Tom Scudamore taking over for Daryl Jacob aboard the Karl Burke-trained Fair Loch.
Once the horses had begun their journey down the walkway to the racecourse, I set off to my vantage point beside the course-side rails; having routed-marched to reach it, I was in time to see First Mohican, accompanied by Hung Parliament, canter to the start at the far end of the home straight.
The favourite for this event was the Nicky Henderson-trained, Barry Geraghty ridden Oscar Hoof at odds of 5-4.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Here I Am, from Fitzwilly, Oscar Hoof and Fair Loch. First Mohican travelled in behind the latter, taking an inside line; Hung Parliament, keen in mid-field, made a bit of a hash of the first flight! There were no incidents at the second flight, the runners travelling up past the winning post and out into the country for the one and only time; Gold Carrot brought up the rear.
Heading around the top bend Here I Am and Fitzwilly disputed the lead, with Gun Shy and Oscar Hoof close on their heels. Behind these were Fair Loch, No Such Number and Solar Sky. First Mohican followed, with Katie’s Massini and Miracle Cure. Money Talks was ahead of Devon Drum, Hung Parliament, Parting Way, Markttag, Mr Shantu and Gold Carrot.
The runners travelled down the side straight and over two flights of hurdles without incident. Having travelled upsides Here I Am from the off, Gavin Sheehan sent his mount into a clear lead as the field travelled around the lake turn; an advantage he still held over the first of two flights in the back straight. However, Oscar Hoof gradually gained on the leader approaching the next, and jumped into a slight lead over it; Fitzwilly soon upsides again due to holding the inside berth around the long bend into the home straight. Their nearest pursuers were Fair Loch, First Mohican, Solar Sky and Devon Drum.
Straightening up to face the last two flights, Barry Geraghty encouraged his mount to take the lead once more, the grey Fair Loch cruised up behind him, First Mohican now in third position to the inside, and Fitzwilly in fourth; a blanket would cover these four. Over the penultimate flight and Choc’s mount was the first to surrender his position. Oscar Hoof was being ridden to maintain his advantage, pursued by Fair Loch and the keeping on Fitzwilly.
They cleared the last and, despite looking a big danger in the home straight, Fair Loch was unable to catch Oscar Hoof on the run-in; the latter extending his margin of victory to 3¼ lengths at the line. Fitzwilly finished a further 2¼ lengths back in 3rd, with First Mohican 4th. Alan King’s second-string Hung Parliament completed in 14th position.
With Choc having made it into the Winners’ Enclosure for the first time today, I returned to the far side of the paddock; the fourth–placed horse is unsaddled in this area.
Once Choc was on his way back to the Weighing Room I re-positioned myself and went to sit upon one of the stools provided for the spectators. Whilst I was changing the battery in my camera, I heard a commotion from within the Parade Ring itself; I looked up to discover that the runner-up, Fair Loch, who’d been in a distressed state following the race, had collapsed (fainted) whilst being led around the main paddock area. A green screen was quickly erected to prevent the spectators from viewing the proceedings; or at least those on the grandstand side of the Parade Ring which, of course, didn’t include me. It’s fortunate that I’m not fazed by these things, having seen many incidents during my racecourse visits, including the two electrocutions at Newbury a few years back.
Anyway, the vet was in attendance and the horse’s handlers endeavoured to cool him down by throwing buckets of cold water over his body as he lay on the ground. A few minutes later Fair Loch rose to his feet and was led back to the stables. It was also reported that Hung Parliament had finished the race distressed.
Choc had been due to ride in the next race but, in the event, it was announced that the Alan King representative Ned Stark would be a non-runner. He was due to start as favourite for the race; this mantle was now assumed by the Emma Lavelle trained Andy Kelly who went off at odds of 4-6. The horse took a fair old hold on the way to the starting gate, but fortunately stopped when the accompanying horses pulled-up too.
Then they were off, at a very steady pace, especially considering the keen hold taken by Andy Kelly on the way to the start! Anyway, the leading horses were the aforementioned and Withoutdefavourite as the runners travelled towards the first flight; Generous Helpings was the back marker. There were no problems at the initial obstacle and the runners headed towards flight two; Couldhavehaditall stepped at the hurdle and crumpled on landing, seriously hampering Generous Helpings in the process. It was a soft fall and both horse and jockey were fine.
The remaining runners headed around the long bend and into the home straight on the first occasion; Withoutdefavourite and Andy Kelly led the way, from Blue Bear and Masquerade, Royal Ripple and Lemony Bay followed these, then Road to Freedom with a gap to Generous Helpings, the latter having lost a number of lengths when hampered (he was my favourite!). The loose horse followed in the field’s wake.
Andy Kelly was less fluent than the others over the next flight, Masquerade advancing to take the lead on the approach to the next hurdle; Withoutdefavourite travelling a little awkwardly to his inside. The runners then headed up past the winning post and out into the country, Generous Helpings still bringing up the rear but he’d soon closed up upon the field.
Masquerade led the field down the side of the course, the runners successfully negotiating two more flights in the process. There was no change at the head of affairs as they galloped around the lake bend, Blue Bear taking closer order and moving into second position, ahead of Withoutdefavourite and Andy Kelly. Having turned into the back straight, the leader jumped noticeably out to his left at the next flight but he still held a narrow advantage over three out.
The horses then travelled around the final bend, Masquerade retaining a narrow lead from Andy Kelly; Withoutdefavourite was being pushed along at this stage, Blue Bear more so and dropping back. Lemony Bay was travelling well, on the heels of Andy Kelly. Approaching two out, Generous Helpings was getting into contention having sneaked up the inside once the rail dividing the hurdle course from the chase course terminated.
Andy Kelly took the lead jumping the penultimate flight, drawing clear of his rivals heading to the last. This left Lemony Bay, Masquerade, Withoutdefavourite and Generous Helpings to fight it out for the minor honours, provided the leader successfully negotiated the last. He did and galloped on to win by 9 lengths from the keeping-on Withoutdefavourite, who had a neck in hand over Generous Helpings. Royal Ripple stayed on through beaten runners to steal 4th from Masquerade by a nose on the line.
It was the first winner under rules for his jockey Richard O’Dea.
No ride in the next event for Choc. The favourite for this race was Badgers Cove at 5-2, trained by Robin Dickin and ridden by Charlie Poste; the team seeking a double following Kitegen’s triumph in the first.
Being a three mile event, the starting gate for this race was at the beginning of the side straight, the horses cantering a short distance to reach it upon exiting the walkway. As usual, I stood beside the course-side rails at my favourite vantage point to view the race.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Badgers Cove; close up to his inside was last year’s winner of this race, Whispering Jack, and to his outside Midnight Macarena. All seven runners cleared the first two obstacles without incident and they headed around the lake bend on the first occasion; Badgers Cove leading, and Campbonnais bringing up the rear.
Ears pricked, the leader lobbed along at the head of affairs; all horses clearing the four fences within the back straight without problem. Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, Badgers Cove continued to lead; to the outside of the field was the mare Midnight Macarena, to her inside the grey Venetian Lad, in her wake Mic Aubin. In fifth and sixth were Billy Dutton and Whispering Jack; the latter having dropped quickly back through the field. Campbonnais remained in rear.
Straightening up, the runners soon cleared the seventh fence; Mic Audin blundered here. The leader’s ears were still pricked as he looked ahead to the next obstacle, thoroughly enjoying himself at the head of affairs. The first six runners continued on up the straight, clearing two more fences before they passed the winning post with one circuit to go; Whispering Jack was now being ridden along in their wake and had, by this time, become a little detached.
The field headed around the top bend and, in lengthening shadows, set off down the side straight once more.
Midnight Macarena almost joined the long-time leader as they negotiated the next fence, but he out-jumped the mare at the open-ditch to set up a clear advantage once more before heading into the lake bend. Having become seriously detached from the remaining runners, Whispering Jack was pulled up; there would be no repeat of last year’s victory. His jockey rode him back at a walk.
The half dozen runners remaining exited the bend and began their journey over the four fences therein; the third of which is an open-ditch. And still Badgers Cove led the field. By the time they reached the final turn; both Billy Dutton and Campbonnais were beginning to struggle and had begun to lose touch. Distress signals were soon also being shown by Midnight Macarena, Mic Aubin and Venetian Lad as they tried to remain in touch with the long-time leader.
Badgers Cove cleared three out still with an advantage; Mic Aubin walked through the fence when trying to mount a challenge, his jockey going to the buckle-end of the reins but the partnership survived. The Robin Dickin representative began to extend his lead as they approached two out, Mic Aubin soon shaking off the tiring Venetian Lad but Badgers Cove had already flown the coop. So, despite the best efforts of David Bass and his mount, they were unable to close in upon their prey as they jumped the final fence and ran to the line. The winning distance three lengths.
The grey, Venetian Lad, completed 18 lengths back in third; Billy Dutton plugged on after the last to claim 4th, with Campbonnais 5th. The very tired Midnight Macarena cantered over the line in last place.
Just for a change, I returned to the walkway leading to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. And I decided to remain there in preparation for the runners arriving ahead of the final event of the day, in which Choc’s mount would be newcomer Miles To Memphis. I guess I was seeking a new ‘angle’ for my photographs and was rewarded when Choc passed close by as he entered the Parade Ring and also on his way out to the racecourse aboard Miles To Memphis!
With no differentiation between the Premier area and the Paddock area at a fixture of this nature, on this occasion I decided to head up the concourse between the main grandstand and the Clubhouse; I settled for a vantage point beyond the winning post, beside the Members’ lawn from which to view the race.
Being a two mile bumper, the runners cantered down past the grandstand to reach the starting gate at the far end of the home straight. The only disadvantage with taking photographs at this time of the day is that light was fading, especially in the shadow of the grandstand.
Richie McLernon replaced the sidelined AP McCoy aboard the evens favourite, Oficial Ben, for this race.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Dancing Shadow, with Bo’s Return to his outside. Choc’s mount travelled in mid-field, in the centre of the pack; to his outside Loves Blind was pulling like a train under Colin Bolger. The field negotiated the wings of the now absent sets of hurdles and galloped up past the winning post with one circuit to go.
Bo’s Return and Dancing Shadow still travelled at the head of affairs heading for the top turn, from Kayf Blanco, Run On Sterling, Scarlett Lady, Loves Blind, Ryde By Knight, Free Of Charge, Miles To Memphis sandwiched between the latter two, Vinnie The Pooh, Manhattan Mead and Oficial Ben.
Having corned wider than the others, Sam Twiston-Davies kept his mount wide of the field initially; however, he steered back towards the others as they crossed the second section of the all-weather track due to there being at least three swans causing an obstruction on the course! Following this manoeuvre, Kayf Blanco found himself at the front of the field; Oficial Ben continued to bring up the rear.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners travelled around the lake bend; Bo’s Return and Dancing Shadow continued to follow the leader. Choc’s mount took closer order as they galloped along the back straight, and there was further deviation from a straight line to avoid another group of swans which had wandered onto the track at around the half way point along it. I counted a dozen of the birds when watching the race replay!
Kayf Blanco remained ahead of the field approaching the final bend, The Scarlett Lady now in second, with Dancing Shadow in third; Bo’s Return was just beginning to fade and Miles To Memphis had improved into fifth place by this stage. A group of five had put three lengths between themselves and the remainder as they straightened up; the favourite was being ridden along in sixth in an attempt to close on the leading group.
The race for the winning line was now on. Kayf Blanco continued to lead as they passed between the wings of the penultimate hurdle but Miles To Memphis and Choc, both jockey and horse heads down, were is hot pursuit and travelling strongly. So much so that, by the time they reached the wings of the final flight, Miles To Memphis had a four lengths advantage.
He drew further clear on the run-up to the line, winning by an impressive 8 lengths from Run On Sterling who had rallied to claim second over Dancing Shadow and long-time leader Kayf Blanco.
Excellent; a winner for Choc. After what had been a very frustrating Cheltenham Festival, with two close seconds this year and other placed efforts too, it was good to see Choc on the scoreboard again; winner of the lucky last.
Looking ahead, Miles To Memphis would also travel to the Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr to take part in the bumper and he won that too. Alan King holds this horse in high regard; he reminds me of Bobs Worth, heads down and galloping to the line. And he has nice big ears too – the horse that is!!!
Having chosen a spot just a short distance from the Parade Ring, or at least by comparison with my usual vantage point, I arrived at the walkway in plenty of time to see Choc arrive back. I remained here whilst Choc dismounted and it was noticeable that he was reluctant to put weight upon his right leg; he unsaddled and spoke with connections before he set off back to the Weighing Room.
I like to congratulate him personally, if possible, when he rides a winner when I’m in attendance and this was no exception. I’d headed in the direction of the pedestrian walkway crossing point in advance of him (which could be seen in the background on Olly Bell’s ‘final roundup’! on RUK) and spoke to him as he passed by. And, yes, I was also permitted to plant a kiss on his right cheek ... he was stubbly today! I also said that I hoped his knee was okay (he said ‘Don’t worry about it’) and told him that I was sorry about Raya Star too.
Mission accomplished it was time for me to leave and I set off to exit via the south entrance/exit point to return to my car. I’d brought two cheese rolls with me today, so I ate these before beginning my drive home. Being a Saturday and one of the quieter racedays at the Sunbury venue, the queue of traffic tailing back from the roundabout beneath the M3 was shorter than usual and moving steadily towards the junction.
There were no traffic problems on the M3 or the M25 and I arrived home at 19:15. Supper was salad with a baked potato covered with butter and cheese. I spent the remainder of the evening uploading my photographs, making a list of those which I intended to use on this website and, the biggest job of them all, I began to write my mega blog entry covering Day 1 to 4 of the Cheltenham Festival and Saturday’s blog too.
As the time began to draw close to midnight, I realised that my concentration was becoming severely compromised by tiredness. No surprise following five consecutive days at the races, with almost 900 miles driven! I cut my losses and turned in shortly afterwards.
I completed my backlog of blog entries the following morning, which enabled me to continue forward from that point. Also, the uploading of the Kempton Park photographs on my website. However, it would take until the following Friday evening to select and upload all of my selected Festival photographs!