DIARY – NEWBURY
– SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2010
This was my first opportunity to go racing since Sunday 27 December, when I went to Kempton Park for the second day of their Christmas fixture. In the interim there’s been bad weather – 13 days of National Hunt racing lost; or Choc has been riding at far distant fixtures – such as Haydock Park; and by far the worst of all, he missed 14 days following a terrible fall at Leicester on Tuesday 26 January in which he injured his spine.
Despite having spent the night after his crashing fall from Cracboumwiz in Leicester Royal Infirmary, the injury was said to be classed as minor, although he was signed off for 2 to 3 weeks. In the event, and although in later reports it mentioned that he’d actually suffered fractures to 3 vertebrae (L1, L2, L3) it was a non-weight bearing injury and, following physiotherapy and gym exercise at Oaksey House in Lambourn (IJF funded), he was passed fit to return to the saddle on Wednesday 10 February.
I decided to set out for Newbury races at 09:00, having watched The Morning Line on Channel 4 – their special guest was Ruby Walsh ... I thought it might be him, as he’d ridden at Kempton Park the previous day and was therefore available, having not just flown in from Ireland on the day. He probably stayed overnight at AP McCoy’s – presumably in ‘Ruby’s Room’!
The Newbury gates were due to open at 11:00, but I wanted to visit Next and M & S during my outbound trip, the former shop to discover if they had any sunglasses available yet, as I broke my favourite pair back in October – not whilst on a sun-filled holiday, but because I was hiding behind them due to an allergic reaction to something unknown which resulted in my forehead and eyes swelling up. No, none in store yet. My trip to M & S was to find a pair of black long length bootcut jeans, as my high street store hadn’t got my size. I’m now experimenting with ‘sit on the waist’ jeans, as my low waist jeans have become a problem because my bottom is too flat (that’s FLAT not FAT). In addition, I’ve got an allergy to ‘nickel’, in that uncovered belt buckles bring me out in a red itchy rash. I hasten to add that I carry all my weight at the front ... on my boobs and stomach ... sorry, that’s more information than you needed! M & S sell an excellent value for money jeans range – just £12 a pair – so, having earned £5 in vouchers on my credit card, they cost me just £7! A bargain.
Having completed my shopping, I started out for Newbury at 09:45. The M25 runs alongside the Retail Park, so I joined it at the nearby junction. Everything was going well until I reached the road widening and associated contraflow system just before junction 18. There must have been a recent accident in the contraflow lane as it had been closed, which resulted in an initial traffic jam on the two remaining lanes. However this soon cleared and the traffic was able to travel at the 50 mph speed limit once again. Further on, I noticed two stationary vehicles in the blocked off lane, the traffic in front of them barely moving at all. Fortunately the inside lanes continued to move okay, even after the outside lane had merged with it again.
Usually I take the M40 to High Wycombe and from there head south towards the M4, but today I decided to continue on the M25 for one additional junction and join the westbound M4 directly. Having enjoyed a quick glimpse of Windsor Castle as I headed west, there was another 50 mph speed limit through the roadworks at the Slough Central junction, and again at Reading Central.
I left the motorway at Reading West, travelling along the A40 to Newbury, although it was a little frustrating to get stuck behind a slow moving ‘Tesco’ lorry. Luckily that turned left before I reached Thatcham, and I had a clear run through to the racecourse from there, entering via the main entrance, over the narrow railway bridge. Once inside I turned left, driving along the perimeter fence to reach the free car parking area beyond the grandstand entrance gates. It was 11:05 when I parked.
Having brought a snack with me, consisting of 4 cheese rolls, I ate 3 of these before heading for the turnstiles. It wasn’t my first meal of the day – breakfast had been 2 Weetabix, 2 croissants and 2 cups of tea. I purchased a racecard before going to spend a penny – obviously I’d had too many cups of tea before leaving home! I then went to sit on one of the picnic benches beside the course-side rails. My body was warm as I was wearing 6 layers (thermal vest, long sleeved t-shirt, jumper, fleece, cardigan, gillet) plus my faux sheepskin coat, but my hands were freezing cold despite wearing mittens! The ‘cowboy’ style boots I’d chosen to wear would prove invaluable later in the day for walking quickly between Parade Ring and course-side rails and vice versa.
At 12:10 I went to sit beside the Parade Ring. The Tote ‘Denman’ Battle Bus was parked nearby, Derek Thompson, the race day presenter ,was broadcasting from the open top deck. Derek was later joined by George Primarolo to explain all the types of betting options available.
Prior to racing, Paul Nicholls was signing copies of his autobiography, being sold from the bookshop located near the Weighing Room steps. Derek Thompson re-appeared to run through the fancied runners of the day, accompanied by Luke Harvey. Derek described Luke as wearing a ‘fashion’ raincoat ... it looked more like a ‘flasher’s’ raincoat to me!
Soon it was time for the first race of the day. There was one non-runner (Flight Leader ran at Warwick instead) thus reducing the field to 3. Choc would be riding Bensalem, who’d capsized at Haydock Park on his last outing. His two opponents were Inchidaly Rock, who’d fallen at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, and Diamond Harry making his second appearance over the larger obstacles having won the Haydock race in which Bensalem had fallen.
Bensalem is definitely the best looking of the three horses – a beautiful example of the steeplechaser. Diamond Harry (Timmy Murphy), although having filled out since last year, still looks lean, and Inchidaly Rock (Ruby Walsh) looked small compared to the other two!
Once Choc had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a pitch beside the course-side rails. The start of this race was on the far side of the track, the horses heading straight there. Bensalem started as the 4-1 outsider of the 3.
Then they were off. Inchidaly Rock led them away, followed by Diamond Harry, with Bensalem bringing up the rear. Ruby’s mount soon began to jump to its right, gradually drifting towards the outside of the track. As often happens, Bensalem and Diamond Harry ‘followed the leader ‘and both started to jump out to the right also. Diamond Harry wasn’t necessarily jumping as well as he might, Bensalem taking an extra look and putting in a short stride at the water which resulted in him not being particularly fluent at the jump.
All three horses put in a clear round until the cross fence, 5 from home. Inchidaly Rock had drifted across in front of Bensalem as they approached the jump, which may have caused Choc’s mount to be a little unsighted and he clouted the fence, but the partnership survived.
Choc managed to stoke up Bensalem again and was almost back on terms as they approached the next obstacle. Inchidaly Rock was the first beaten, Diamond Harry now in the lead. However, Timmy’s mount did wander off a straight course as he progressed up the straight, possibly slightly impeding Bensalem as they jumped the second last. Bensalem made a slight error at the last and Diamond Harry held on to win by 2 lengths. But I’m sure the result might have been different if Bensalem hadn’t hit the cross fence.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see Choc and Bensalem arrive back.
Derek Thompson, assisted by a girl called Emily who was collecting losing betting slips in a bucket, carried out a prize draw to give the selected punters a free £10 betting voucher.
The Parade Ring was very crowded prior to the next race as there were 18 runners. Alan King had 2 runners in this event – Squadron making his seasonal debut and ridden by Jimmy McCarthy; and the Sir Robert Ogden owned Forzy Origny ridden by Choc.
When they entered the Parade Ring, Choc and Jimmy stood together, along with the owners of Squadron. Sir Robert Ogden’s Racing Manager, Barry Simpson, arrived a little later, as did Alan King having supervised the saddling of his 2 runners.
Again, once Choc was heading out to the course, I set off to find a viewing space beside the course-side rails. The start of this race was on the far side of the track.
Then they were off. Night Orbit, The Real Deal and Quinz led them away. Tarateeno hit the first flight. Choc took an outside line on the grey Forzy Origny; with Jimmy McCarthy on the inside aboard Squadron. At the back were Tot of the Knar, Elusive Dream, and Dante Hall.
Into the straight first time around, Night Orbit, Queen Poline, Stripe Me Blue, The Real Deal and Quinz were leading the field. Down the back for the final time, Night Orbit still held the advantage. However, he blundered at the 8th flight, unseating Hadden Frost (son of ex-jockey Jimmy Frost). Unfortunately, having fallen off whilst leading, the entire field galloped over the stricken jockey, and it appeared that Quinz gave him a nasty kick. Forzy Origny was awkward at the next flight, but continued to make ground on the outside and was in 3rd as they turned in for the final time.
Once into the home straight, Choc’s mount soon dropped back, Squadron then putting in a challenge to the Ruby Walsh ridden Alfie Sherrin, who had assumed the lead by the second last. But Squadron faded too, with Triggerman and Woolfall Treasure chasing Alfie Sherrin home. Victory for the Paul Nicholls trained horse, in the Barber and Findlay colours.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see Choc unsaddle in the main paddock area, and then he returned to the Weighing Room, briefly speaking with the Clerk of the Course as he did so.
It was now time for one of the feature races of the day, with the Hennessy Gold Cup hero, Denman, making his re-appearance. AP McCoy would be riding him today, as he’d been booked to ride Denman in this year’s Gold Cup. Denman started the race at 1-6 on.
There was a pre-race parade, Denman leading the horses down beside the far rail before they turned and cantered to the 3 mile starting gate.
Then they were off. Niche Market led them away, with Tricky Trickster a close second. Once again, Denman appeared to need encouragement to get into top gear, but AP soon had him going keenly. Around the top bend Denman took a slight advantage, although Niche Market had regained it by the time they jumped the next obstacle.
Air Force One hit the 4th fence, and Wee Robbie wasn’t fluent at the 6th. Denman held the advantage down the back straight, mainly due to good jumping, and AP sent him into a clear lead around the final bend. However, he stumbled badly after the 4th last, allowing Niche Market to overtake him. Having lost momentum, AP urged him towards the final open ditch, but ‘The Tank’ (Denman) ploughed through it and almost destroyed the fence, decanting AP onto the turf. The spectators were stunned.
This left Niche Market in the lead and it looked like victory would be his. However, Ruby aboard Tricky Trickster had other ideas and urged his mount on having cleared the last, catching his rival on the line to win by a short-head. I think justice would have been served had Niche Market held on, but it was not to be.
A winner at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009, Tricky Trickster, was a Million in Mind syndicated horse with trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies last season. He was sold at the DBS Spring Sales (as are all the Million in Mind syndicated horses at season end) for £320,000! The top priced lot in fact. As a result of today’s win, the horse became the ante-post favourite for the 2010 Grand National. Paul Nicholls confirmed that the horse would also be aimed at the Gold Cup, with Sam Thomas taking the ride.
I returned to the Parade Ring to see the winner return.
Not surprisingly, there were numerous losing tickets placed in the ‘free bet’ bucket on this occasion! Later in the afternoon, pairs of tickets to various live music events taking place at Newbury during the summer (for groups such as Westlife and Simply Red) were given away to punters who were selected having placed their tickets in the bucket.
It was now time for the feature race of the day, the Totesports Trophy Hurdle. Choc’s mount in this race was the Alan King trained 5-year old Manyriverstocross. One non-runner, so 23 horses came under orders in this cavalry charge.
There was a pre-race parade, so once out on the course the horses circled to find their respective places in ‘number order’. This meant that Choc was nearer the rear of the line, being number 15. The parade was becoming ragged by the time Choc reached my area of the course-side rails, the horses setting off through a gap in the railings towards the start, which was just the far side of the final flight. The David Pipe trained Mamlook went off as favourite.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Simarian, Ring The Boss, Chaninbar and Fairyland. Mutual Friend and Oldrik were in rear. Choc held up Manyriverstocross in around 5th from last.
The blinkered Ring The Boss flattened the 3rd flight; Harry Tricker was hampered and fell at the 4th. The bottom weight, Chaninbar, lead the field around the final bend, staying in front until approaching 2 out. The fancied Spirit River, under Barry Geraghty, blundered badly 3 out when in second position and was eased up. Frontier Dancer fell 2 out.
Ronaldo Des Mottes, having taken over from Chaninbar, looked like the probable winner even after clearing the last, but AP McCoy aboard Get Me Out Of Here had other ideas. Having made steady progress up the straight, he drove his mount into the lead 150 yards from the line, taking the prize by 1¾ lengths.
Manyriverstocross ran very well, gradually picking off rivals up the home straight and coming home in third place. The favourite, Mamlook, finished in 4th position.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back aboard Manyriverstocross. The horse has engagements at this year’s Cheltenham Festival and Alan King is expecting to step the horse back up in distance again, having stayed on well at the finish in this extended 2 mile race.
Get Me Out of Here had suffered a bad cut to his fetlock, the blood dripping onto the grass in the enclosure.
It was now time for Choc’s final ride of the day, aboard another of Alan’s stable stars, Voy Por Ustedes. Reigning Champion Chaser Master Minded was making his comeback in this race following the diagnosis of a fractured rib after his disappointing run at Cheltenham in November.
No parade for this race, the horses cantering straight to the start along the track beside the home straight.
Then they were off. Confirmed front runner, Fix The Rib, led them away. He was followed by Voy Por Ustedes, Master Minded, Mahogany Blaze and Kinkeel. I imagine the latter horse must be so disheartened at being continually dropped in at the deep end against clearly far superior rivals – but I guess that’s me giving ‘human’ emotions to the horses.
Fix The Rib seemed a little hesitant at the water but cleared it okay. Jumping well and with enthusiasm, Voy Por Ustedes took the lead down the far side. Mahogany Blaze blundered at the 5th obstacle. However, as Voy Por was trying a reduced trip on this occasion, his 3 main rivals were breathing down his neck as he turned into the final straight.
Master Minded was coasting and took the lead 4 out. Voy Por made a slight jumping error 3 out, possibly put off by Mahogany Blaze blundering in front of him. It now looked like a ‘walk in the park’ for Master Minded, but amazingly he clobbered the final fence, Ruby Walsh performing miracles to stay in the saddle.
However, class got the Paul Nicholls trained horse home in front, with 13 lengths to spare over Mahogany Blaze, followed by Fix The Rib and Voy Por Ustedes. Kinkeel completed in a distant 5th but, as there were 5 prizes, he won almost £1,500 for completing the course!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and Voy Por return. The horse is definitely a 2½ mile horse now – unfortunately the pace of a 2 mile race is too quick for him, and 3 miles is too far. But, hopefully, he’ll still be able to pick up a good race or two later in the season, and presumably, all being well, will run in the Ryanair Chase at this year’s Festival.
Choc debriefed Alan King and Barry Simpson before returning to the Weighing Room.
Choc having finished for the day, and my fingers now being frozen from wearing my mittens in order that I could take photographs, I decided it was time to leave. This would give me the opportunity to beat the race-day traffic as I’d also promised to drop in on my friend Denise, who lives in Caversham, on the way home.
However, I will briefly describe the final two races of the day.
The field was led away by Paint The Clouds, followed by Gus Macrae. Tifernati pulled hard in rear, alongside Nobby Kivambo. The favourite, Bellvano, was also restrained near the back of the field. Always in rear, Etruscan jumped poorly throughout.
Paint The Clouds hit the 4th flight, but still held the lead until headed by Gus Macrae 2 out. Bellvano then took the lead after the last, challenged by Ruby Walsh aboard Tito Bustillo. However, although hanging left on the flat, the former went on to win under AP McCoy. Gus Macrae rallied to regain 2nd, with Tito Bustillo finishing 3rd.
The final race of the day was the Winter bumper flat race.
The field was led away by Amroth Bay, followed by the grey Ruby Walsh ridden Al Ferof, Carpincho pulling very hard in third. In rear, Marleno was also pulling very hard.
Any The Wiser improved to dispute 2nd position down the back straight before weakening 3 furlongs out. This allowed Ferof to retake 2nd and then go into the lead 2 furlongs out as Amroth Bay faded, galloping on to win by 5 lengths. Made In Time eventually winning the battle over Carpincho as they chased the grey to the line.
A fourth victory of the day for the Paul Nicholls/Ruby Walsh team. A 190-1 4-timer in fact!
I enjoyed my day out, but did come away feeling that Choc deserves a big ‘Saturday’ win, especially after all the setbacks he’s suffered during the course of this season. I would like to see Choc ride a winner at Newbury, as although he’s ridden winners at the course this season and last, none of these have occurred when I’ve been a spectator.
As I left the races early, the road leading to the main entrance and over the railway bridge was almost deserted. I turned right, and right again at the A4 traffic lights. The road through Thatcham was very free flowing too. I drove back along the A4 to reach the M4 Reading West junction, taking the motorway’s eastbound carriageway. I left the M4 at Reading East, heading northwards to join the A4 again.
I then took the lane towards Sonning village, heading down to the River Thames and over the traffic light controlled ancient single lane bridge. Upon reaching the Henley Road roundabout I turned left and then drove along this road to Denise’s house. Despite the lack of delays, it still took me around 50 minutes to reach my destination, which always surprises me because I think of Newbury as being very close to Reading ... but I have put my route details into Googlemap and it’s a trip of around 30 miles, and their timing is exactly the same!
I stayed to chat for a couple of hours, delivering her belated Christmas presents too – 7 pairs of sterling silver beaded earrings and a cross-stitched picture of a horse. She treated me to a large slice of carrot cake and a hot chocolate drink, which were very welcome after a cold day at the races!
I left Den’s at around 18:50 to drive home. I returned through Sonning village, taking the eastbound A4 towards Maidenhead, then the A404 northwards to join the M40 at High Wycombe. I then drove towards the M25, taking the clockwise carriageway back to Hertfordshire, arriving home at 20:00.
It would later transpire that Choc had paid another visit to hospital the previous day, having split his lower lip again, this time inside his mouth where it meets the gum, following his unseating from Epidavros at Kempton Park.