DIARY – NEWBURY
SATURDAY 24 MARCH 2012
THE EUROPEAN BREEDERS’ FUND MARES’
ONLY FINALE DAY
A photo-call for the winner of the Mares’ National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Race Finale:
Choc and Tante Sissi
The end of the National Hunt season was fast approaching, with just 5 more weekends to go including this one; so I knew I had to go to Newbury. Summers can seem very long, with very few opportunities to see Choc, so I have to make the most of them whilst I can. Besides the weather was forecast to be sunny and warm; work is a total drag, so I feel the need to spend my free time wisely, enjoying myself ... and seeing the man I adore, of course!
I awoke early, at 06:00, still not totally certain of my outfit for the day.
It seemed strange to choose an outfit for warmer weather, accustomed as I am to wearing thermal vests and layer upon layer of clothing! I choose my dark blue jacket, which I can’t actually recall wearing since 2010, the one I wore when I walked Newbury racecourse with Choc in March of that year. I’d ironed a red top the previous evening and intended to wear a red cardigan underneath the jacket too but, upon referring to one of my Trinny and Susannah books for suggestions on colour co-ordination, I decided to try a shocking pink top, together with my cerise ribbed frill-edged cardigan, the latter not being visible underneath my jacket.
Perfect ... it looked fabulous. Although I did wear a bright pink vest top underneath too, to ensure I wasn’t cold and because the shocking pink top was a little too low cut. One has to be so careful not to look tarty when one has big boobies! I wore a mid-grey skirt, which hadn’t made my Cheltenham line-up due to the cold weather, and a pair of tan sling-back wedge shoes. One of my work colleagues, Ashleigh, made a comment a few weeks ago that I’d “got no arse” which, strangely enough, I take to be a compliment!
At 07:20 I took a shower, washed and dried my hair, before tuning into Channel 4’s The Morning Line. The programme was a little disappointing, as it concentrated on the upcoming flat racing season. I don’t do flat racing! Breakfast, as usual on a racing day, was toast and croissants. Having applied my make-up, put in my contact lenses, and loaded up the car, I was ready to go. I selected three CDs from my collection to play in the car – The Best of the Osmonds, with the following week’s concert in mind; The Monkees; and David Cassidy and the Partridge Family. My usual favourites are a compilation of songs from Strictly Come Dancing and one of the CDs from a collection of hits from the 1970s! That ages me! Especially as I know all the words off by heart!
I left home at 09:25, having decided to drive via the petrol station at London Colney to fill up the tank before continuing on my journey to Newbury. Junction 22 of the M25 is very close by, so I joined the motorway at that point. There were no hold-ups, so I reached the M4 without a hitch. There were a couple of 50 mph sections on this part of my journey, at Datchet and just before the Maidenhead turning. As is my preference I left the motorway at the Reading West junction, to drive along the A4 into Newbury. It was surprisingly quiet on the A4, and I felt no pressure to drive at speed to my destination.
Having arrived in Newbury, I turned left and travelled along Hambridge Road to reach the main entrance of the racecourse, drove over the railway bridge and took a left turn to travel along the road beside the perimeter fence to reach the free car parking area. I was directed to park on the front row by a steward; oh no, the gypsies were there again, selling their lucky heather. No thank you; please go away. It was 11:10.
Having put on my jacket and changed into my slingback shoes, I proceded to the grandstand entrance to purchase a ticket, £16 today, paid for by credit card; £3 for a race-card at the kiosk just opposite the turnstiles. Being a lovely day, I decided to walk along the concourse and sit on one of the benches opposite the entrance to the Weighing Room ... you just never know who you might see! Although I did take time out to write notes for this diary whilst I was waiting.
At around 11:30 I saw Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy and, shortly afterwards, Joe Tizzard arrive. Trainer Sarah Humphrey stood outside the building for a few minutes chatting to her companions. I also saw Mattie Batchelor and Josh Moore arrive; and at 11:55 Dominic Elsworth. At around noon I glanced up from my notebook... was that Choc just disappearing through the door? It is typical to miss the person I most want to see!
Ruby headed across the concourse towards the Parade Ring, presumably he was going to record an interview with the presenters from Racing UK, the racing channel being his sponsors. People began to assemble outside the Weighing Room just before 12:30 in preparation for the Behind the Scenes Tour of the Weighing Room. I couldn’t participate again, as I’ve already done it twice, last March and last fixture when I was with my friend Lesley.
However, I was mulling over whether to take advantage of the Trip to the Start tour, which would take place in conjunction with the 5th race of the day. Choc had rides in race 3, 6 and 7, so I would be available at 15:20 to go to the starting gate.
Before 13:00 I set off to find a suitable vantage point on the steppings surrounding the Parade Ring, the first race was due off at 13:30.
Once the horses had vacated the Paddock, I set off to find a position beside the course-side rails. The weather being sunny and warm, with the attendance high, all spaces immediately beside the rails were already taken. But I got to within a yard or two anyway.
The starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one full circuit of the course to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Malanos, accompanied by Cuban Piece; these two were followed by One Lucky Lady, from Jackies Solitaire, Xenophon, Kambis, Mahayogin and Songsmith. The field was bunched up as they headed past the stands with one circuit to go.
Exiting the top turn, Cuban Piece held a clear advantage from Malanos; improving around the outside of the runners was Xenophon, followed by One Lucky Lady, Jackies Solitaire, Songsmith, Mahayogin and Kambis. Xenophon led narrowly over the 5th flight; Cuban Piece received reminders; Malanos upsides again soon. Around the far bend Cuban Piece weakened and dropped out.
Jackies Solitaire lead over 3 out, from Xenophon, Songsmith, Kambis, One Lucky Lady, Malanos, Mahayogin and the distant Cuban Piece. Kambis and Songsmith jumped the penultimate flight in unison; the latter, although not fluent at the flight, asserted before the last. He drew clear of the field on the run-in to win by 9 lengths, from Kambis, One Lucky Lady and the staying on Mahayogin.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
The majority of today’s races were sponsored by Ultima Business Solutions, the company founded by Max McNeill, sponsor to the Alan King yard and owner or co-owner of, amongst others, Grumeti, Walkon, Kumbeshwar and the ill-fated Mille Chief. This race being named in honour of two of the company’s employees, they were on hand to present the prizes to the winning connections.
Alan King had a runner in the next event, Way Back When, ridden by Charlie Huxley; taking advantage of the jockey’s 3lb claim. Once the horses had left the Parade Ring, I set off once more to find a vantage point as close as possible to the course-side rails.
The starting gate for this event was near the far end of the back straight, with one fence to negotiate before the turn and one and a half circuits to travel.
Then they were off. It was a ragged start and Time To Think held a clear advantage jumping the first fence; How’s Business tracked the leader, 66-1 outsider Catch The Rascal already in rear.
Heading up the home straight on the first occasion, Time To Think still led, although she was jumping very noticeably to her right. How’s Business was in second position, from Way Back When, Pepite Rose, Gan On and Catch The Rascal. With the leader continuing to jump to her right, jockey Noel Fehily had earlier wisely switched his mount How’s Business to take an inside line. Catch The Rascal made an error at the 4th fence, the open-ditch.
How’s Business took over the lead after the 5th fence; already losing touch in rear was Catch The Rascal. Noel’s mount continued to lead down the back straight, Way Back When soon started to struggle and dropped back through the field. Heading into the far turn there was no change at the head of affairs; Gan On made an error at the cross fence.
How’s Business led into the home straight, from Time To Think, the cruising along Pepite Rose and Gan On. The former held the advantage until after 2 out, when the Venetia Williams trained favourite coasted into the lead, flew the final fence and went on to win by 9 lengths. That’s Business completed in 2nd, Time To Think in 3rd; Gan On just held on to 4th from Way Back When. Catch The Rascal completed to claim a 6th prize of £400.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Way Back When was led away from the Parade Ring area very quickly, possibly a little stressed in such warm conditions after her exertions.
It was now time for the third race of the day; Choc’s first ride of the day being Tante Sissi. Alan King had two representatives in this race, the other being Night Rose ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
There were three non-runners. Florafern and, notably, the fancied Jonjo O’Neill runner Cross The Flags, together with Kentford Grey Lady, runner-up to Quevega at the recent Cheltenham Festival. This being the case, Tante Sissi was now sent off as favourite. But you have to be in it to win it!
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring I set off to find a vantage point close to the course-side rails. I was there in time to see Choc’s mount taking a firm hold as she cantered down to the start! She was a little too keen in fact.
The starting gate for this race was in the far corner of the track; with one and a half circuits to travel.
They they were off. The field was led away by Wishes And Stars, from Miss Milborne, the keen Queens Bay, the grey Withy Mills, Lady Karabaya, A Little Swifter, Josh’s Dreamway, Lady Kathleen, Cue To Cue, Native Beauty, Night Rose, Tante Sissi, Heather Royal and Sapphire Rouge. The prominent Withy Mills hit the third flight, skewing upon landing.
Miss Milborne led briefly when not fluent at the 4th, before Wishes And Stars went on again. Heading towards the far turn, Withy Mills lost her place and began to lose touch.
Turning into the home straight, Aidan Coleman’s mount still led, from Lady Karabaya. The majority of runners were still in contention; with Sapphire Rouge, Queens Bay and Withy Mills struggling and tailing off. Native Beauty fell 3 out.
Choc cruised into a narrow lead after 2 out but he was being stalked by Barry Geraghty aboard Heather Royal. Tante Sissi was driven out to retain her lead after the last, although she edged to her right on the run-in. Choc won by half a length from Heather Royal, Lady Karabaya was a length back in 3rd, Miss Milborne completed in 4th, Night Rose a close 5th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Despite this being my 13th visit to Newbury, this was only the 2nd winner I’d seen Choc ride whilst there. His first had been on the equivalent day last year, when he’d won the Junior Bumper aboard Turbo Du Ranch; which just happened to be his 999th career winner too.
However, the claxon sounded as the horses headed back to the Winners’ Enclosure; a Stewards’ Enquiry had been announced. I turned around to view the replay on the big screen which overlooks the concourse to the rear of the Berkshire stand. The head-on replay showed Tante Sissi edging towards the stand-side rails under a strong drive from Choc; but, in his defence, Choc did hold his whip in his right hand, the correct hand in this instance. I, personally, was convinced Tante Sissi would keep the race, as she was always holding the challenge of the runner-up, Heather Royal; the distance at the line being half a length.
Choc having unsaddled his mount, spoken with connections and returned to the Weighing Room to face the Stewards’, we then had a long wait before the verdict was announced and the prizes could be presented. After what seemed like ages, we were informed that the result would stand; so Tante Sissi kept the race. Whew!
Representatives from the race sponsors, Ultima, presented the prizes to the owners and trainer. After a further delay, Choc jogged into the Parade Ring to join the others on the podium. The prizes presented, and photographs taken, I decided to head around to the Parade Ring entrance in the hope of catching Choc as he returned to the Weighing Room. I waited a minute or two before he came jogging past. “Well done Choc” I called. He glanced back and replied “Thank you Jane”, before continuing on his way. Mission accomplished.
It being almost time for the next race of the day, I immediately headed to the course-side rails to view it.
The starting gate for this race was part way down the home straight, with one flight to negotiate before heading out for one full circuit.
Then they were off. The field was led away by North Cape, from Romeo Americo, Bold Henry, Claret Cloak, Catchanova, Madame Allsorts and Victorian Number; in rear was War Singer. The horses were already strung out by the time they passed the winning post, despite having covered only a short distance.
Heading into the back straight, North Cape continued to lead from Romeo Americo, Bold Henry, Claret Cloak, Catchanova, Victorian Number, Madame Allsorts; War Singer still bringing up the rear. Romeo Americo made an error at the fourth and began to drop back. North Cape and Bold Henry were clear of the field heading around the far turn and into the home straight. They were pursued by Catchanova, Romeo Americo, Claret Cloak and War Singer.
North Cape and Bold Henry still held the advantage over the final flight, but although he hit the hurdle, Claret Cloak was still edging closer on the inside of the track. Noel Fehily drove the latter out to win by 2½ lengths at the line, from North Cape, Bold Henry and War Singer.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. It was then time to join other members of the public queuing just outside the Weighing Room in preparation for the Trip to the Start of the next race. There were 16 places available, because that was how many people could fit inside the mini-bus. There were a few extra, so the lady organising the tour issued them with directions on how to reach the start using the gate beside the Hampshire stand.
The remainder of us headed out through the entrance to the Premier Enclosure and into the car park where the mini-bus was parked. Having climbed aboard, we were driven to a gate located on the top turn of the racecourse. As we were running a little late, we had to wait until the horses competing in this race had arrived at the starting gate before crossing the course to reach the infield. Alan King had one runner in this race, Quotica De Poyans, who had been very disappointing in his recent runs; in fact since finishing second at Bangor where he would have won but for a bad error at the last. The horse is owned by the McNeill family.
The horses circled and then headed away from the start before turning to canter in ... they were off. Whilst the horses set off on the first circuit we walked along to the first fence in the back straight, where we waited until the runners came around again to jump it. We then set off at top speed across the infield towards the winning post. There is a mound just after the ‘lollipop’ so we climbed to the top and waited for the winning horse to approach ...
Then they were off. The field was led away by Faasel, from Ethiopia, Ouzbeck; Pearlysteps made an error at the first. Benny Be Good and Mon Parrain were held up in rear. Ouzbeck was jumping slowly and losing ground at each fence; soon dropping to the rear of the field.
Faasel continued to lead as the horses travelled up the home straight, from Ethiopia. Quotica De Poyans made an error at the second open-ditch, Wayne administering a reminder or two. Having galvanised his mount, he led from the 9th until the 11th fence, and again from the 12th to the 15th; On Borrowed Wings his close companion. Ouzbeck was in rear, detached from the field. Swincombe Rock wasn’t fluent at the 14th fence, the middle one in the back straight.
Around the final turn, On Borrowed Wings led, from Ikorodu Road, Mon Parrain, Quotica De Poyans and Benny Be Good; Ouzbeck was beginning to stay on. Ethiopia, Faasel, Swincombe Rock and Pearlysteps having been pulled up before the cross-fence. Quotica De Poyans weakened very quickly and was pulled up before four out.
On Borrowed Wings jumped the final open-ditch ahead of Ikorodu Road and Mon Parrain. Tom Cannon’s mount was headed by Ikorodu Road at the last obstacle, the latter staying on well to win by 4½ lengths. Amazingly, Ouzbeck finished the race really well and got up to take 2nd place close home; On Borrowed Wings completed in 3rd, with Mon Parrain failing to see out the extended trip, in 4th. Ethiopia had unseated at the final open-ditch, 3 out.
The horses having completed the race, we crossed the course and exited via the gate beside the Hampshire Stand. I returned to the steppings overlooking the Parade Ring to see the winning horse being unsaddled.
As I was waiting for Choc to arrive ahead of his ride in the next race I heard a couple of guys chatting about a jockey ‘suspension’. Having ‘tuned-in’ during mid conversation, I could only presume they must be talking about Choc. Four days they were saying; harsh they thought, as Tante Sissi had kept the race and the jockey had held the whip in the correct hand too.
Choc arrived in the Parade Ring to greet his trainer ahead of the next race; there was a group of young ladies nearby, attired in short blush-coloured dresses. They had their photo taken with jockey Adam Wedge too. Later, Max McNeill’s racing manager, Iain Turner, tweeted to say he’d enjoyed his evening in the company of the “Group One Fillies”; Choc said he’d noticed the girls, and told Iain he was a “Jammy Git”. I’m gutted that I’m now an “Old Grey Mare”. L Although I am well preserved for my age ... apart from my grey hair.
Once Choc had been legged up aboard his mount, Mister Stickler, I set off to find a vantage point beside the course-side rails. The starting gate for this race was mid-way down the home straight, with two fences to negotiate before travelling one full circuit.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Hellfire Club, from Mister Stickler, last year’s winner of this race Quipe Me Posted, Marodima, Benartic, Novikov and Darceys Dancer. Marodima, although not keen at the off, soon took up his customary role at the head of affairs, taking the lead crossing the second obstacle. Mister Stickler flew the water jump in second position, from Quipe Me Posted and Hellfire Club; there was then a gap in the field to Novikov, Darceys Dancer and Benartic in rear.
The horses were travelling at a brisk pace. Hellfire Club hit the second in the back straight, the first open-ditch. Marodima wasnot fluent at the next but continued to lead. By the end of the back straight, Quipe Me Posted had moved up into second position, from Mister Stickler, followed by Hellfire Club, Benartic, Novikov and Darceys Dancer.
Marodima led into the home straight; Mister Stickler in second once more approaching 4 out but he was not fluent at the next and began to lose his position. In contrast, Hellfire Club, although jumping out to his left, led from 3 out. He was clear of the remainder by the last fence, Noel Fehily riding him out to win by 4½ lengths. The long-time leader Marodima stayed on to finish 2nd, with Quipe Me Posted 3rd and Darceys Dancer 4th. Mister Stickler having faded completed in 5th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Ahead of their upcoming tour, the pop group Steps presented the prizes. Click here
Choc entered the Parade Ring, soon spotting the lone representative of his final ride of the day, the trainer. Whilst Choc received his instructions, the jockey and trainer (NJ Vaughan) viewed the horse as he was led around the Paddock.
High Ball Roller, a flashy chestnut, was very ‘green’; once Choc had been legged up, his mount plunged forward a number of times, everyone standing well back! However, his jockey and lad were well in control by the time he exited onto the horse-walk leading to the racecourse.
Being a junior bumper, the starting gate for this event was at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Utopian, from Theatrelands, Lord Of The Dunes, High Ball Roller, Devon Drum, Daveron, Pod, Uncle Pettit, Pete The Pastor, Polly Peachum, Maison Royale, Pilkayski; On Command, bringing up the rear.
Heading towards the end of the back straight, Utopian continued to lead; Choc already animated aboard High Ball Roller.
No change at the head of affairs as the runners turned into the home straight. However, Devon Drum was travelling well to the inside of the runners and took the lead two furlongs out. He went clear in the final 150 yards, running on well to score by 4½ lengths from Polly Peachum, Theatrelands and long-time leader Utopian. Choc and High Ball Roller completed in 12th position.
I returned to the steppings overlooking the Parade Ring to see the horses return following the race. I waited for Choc to debrief the trainer before he returned to the Weighing Room for the last time today.
As it was the final National Hunt fixture of the season at the racecourse, there was one final trophy presentation to be made. The West Berkshire Racing Club provide a trophy for the stable which wins the greatest number of ‘Best Turned Out’ prizes during the season. Last season the trophy (a shield in fact) was awarded to the Paul Webber yard; this year the winner was the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard. Sam Twiston-Davies stepped forward to accept the award on behalf of his father.
With my last sighting of Choc for the day, it was time for me to set off home; but not before a quick trip to the little girls’ room ... you can never be too careful at my age! By now, my feet were killing me and, upon returning to my car, I was very relieved to change into my flat driving shoes! I cannot understand how anyone can drive in heels or bare-footed either; it must be dangerous.
Having not eaten the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me, I ate them before commencing my drive home. It was 17:35, and there was no longer a queue to exit the racecourse. I drove along the road beside the perimeter fence, a 20 mph speed limit being in operation. As I headed towards the railway bridge, I noticed a group of guys to my right, one of whom was dressed as a woman! A stag-do perhaps? As I drove past, he began to sprint along in the wake of my vehicle ... fortunately I’d exited onto Hambridge Road before he caught up with my car!
I headed past the Retail Park, over the canal and stopped at the traffic lights at the junction with the A4. Taking a right turn I headed towards Thatcham. However, it transpired that trainer Don Cantillon’s horsebox was heading back to Newmarket, and it was just two vehicles in front of me. It seemed to take ages to negotiate the traffic lights and roundabouts through Thatcham, the horsebox travelling from stop to go very slowly, and taking forever to manoeuvre around every roundabout. However, it did travel at around 50 mph between times; except through Woolhampton where a temporary 20 mph speed limit and traffic cones delayed progress. There was also a set of temporary traffic lights a little further along the A4, to enable traffic from a side-turning to exit safely onto the main road; there being a diversion due to a closed road over the canal a little further along.
Eventually the queue of traffic reached a short section of dual carriageway; my opportunity had arrived to overtake the horsebox. I was on my way. I soon joined the M4, heading in an easterly direction, towards London. However, I must have taken it a little too easy, speed wise, as Don Cantillon’s horsebox overtook me before I’d reached the Reading Central junction. How embarrassing is that?
I decided to speed up a little, in the hope of keeping tabs on the horsebox ... but no, the vehicle had totally lost me by the time we were approaching Slough. Having said that, I never ventured into the outside lane, which the horsebox certainly did, on a number of occasions!!! As mentioned earlier, in addition to a 50 mph limit just east of the Maidenhead junction, there was another speed limited section at Datchet. However, I soon reached the M25 and my journey progressed without a hitch.
Instead of leaving the motorway at Junction 21A as I usually do, I travelled to the next junction, exited onto the Bell roundabout and heading up the dual carriageway to St Albans.
I arrived home at 19:05. Time to eat a quick snack before uploading my photographs and writing my daily blog entry. I also checked the internet to find out if there was news regarding any punishment awarded to Choc. Yes, 4 days for careless riding. That was very harsh; especially as Choc had held his whip in the correct hand, and Heather Royal had never looked like winning, regardless of Tante Sissi edging towards the stand-side rails on the run-in. Very unlucky. But, having said that, the ban would take place on Saturday 07 April, Easter Sunday 08 April, Bank Holiday Monday 09 April and ... due to there being no National Hunt racing on 10 or 11 April, the fourth day had to be carried over to ... Sunday 15 April. Phew. There being Grade 1 races on each day of the Aintree Festival, special dispensation is granted.
Here is the official report from the BHA website:
The Stewards held an enquiry under Rule (B)11.6 into possible interference on the run in. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race they found that the winner, TANTE SISSI (FR), ridden by Robert Thornton, had interfered with HEATHER ROYAL, placed second, ridden by Barry Geraghty, and that the interference had not improved TANTE SISSI (FR)’s placing. They ordered the placings to remain unaltered. The Stewards found Thornton in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he allowed his horse to drift right handed. They suspended him for 4 days as follows: Saturday 7, Sunday 8, Monday 9 and Sunday 15 April 2012.
I turned in at around 10:20, in the knowledge that British Summer Time was due to commence overnight and I’d lose an hour this particular weekend. Having worn sun block, my face had survived the day ... but my décolleté was almost as bright pink as my top! Not a good look! However, I had been very pleased with my outfit, it was very ‘me’ ... and I expect it to make another appearance at Aintree.
The quality of the boosted satellite picture on my bedroom TV had been abysmal this evening, impossible to watch; the digital channels were okay. Had the booster failed I wondered. And there was no satellite picture whatsoever when I tried to view via the DVD/VCR input channel.
In the morning I checked the TV picture again and it had improved greatly; and the DVD/VCR input signal had returned too. Presumably atmospherics were affecting it during Saturday. Maybe something to do with the hot weather or intense activity on the sun at the present time?