DIARY – NEWBURY – HENNESSY GOLD CUP
SATURDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2016
Native River and jockey Richard Johnson pose for photographs
following their victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup
Click here to read about my visit to Noel Williams’ Churn Stables yard earlier in the day
I drove out of Noel’s yard near Blewbury at around 10:40, following the one-way outbound route past the indoor school and out onto Boham Road. Having turned right, I headed along the lane, passing by a lady walking two dogs. Further down I waited for a vehicle to pass as it headed up the hill whilst, beside the sports club, a 4x4 waited for me. At the far end I turned left, to begin the journey towards the A34.
The road passes through Upton; there was a large country house to the left of the road – Upton Lodge evidently, and a pub (the George and Dragon) a little further on. Continuing along the road I arrived at a new roundabout where I turned left, following the signs indicating Newbury. The route headed uphill to another roundabout then, shortly afterwards yet another one; at this point I took the slip-road down onto the A34, heading in a southerly direction. Having experimented with this route on my way home from Jamie Snowdon’s yard, I knew I had to leave the dual carriageway in three junctions’ time, signposted Beedon.
There was a broken down vehicle parked on the Beedon slip-road; a second vehicle had stopped further down, presumably to check that the occupants were okay – someone appeared to be changing a wheel. Having headed downhill, the road passes underneath the dual carriageway before bearing left and heading through Beedon, then World’s End. It seemed like ages before I reached the T-junction with Graces Lane; strangely far longer than it had felt like on my previous excursion along this route.
Anyway, I turned left and headed over the A34 and into Priors Court Road. There was a Christmas craft fair taking place within the Newbury showground to the right-hand side of the road; too late for me, as I’d already bought and wrapped all my presents. Shortly afterwards the road passes over the M40 before meeting the A4009 at a roundabout in Hermitage; I turned right to head towards Newbury. The A4009 meanders through fields, with a number of houses soon bordering the left-hand side, before it opens out into countryside again.
Soon after entering the outskirts of Newbury there was a roundabout, with Love Lane heading in from the right. I continued straight ahead to reach a staggered double roundabout, taking a left turn at the second one of these to head up Kiln Road. This soon becomes Turnpike Road; along both thoroughfares are speed bumps. Just prior to the road exiting into the countryside once more, I turned right to head down Fir Tree Lane.
There had been absolutely no delays on my journey so far, but at the far end of the lane was a queue of traffic tailing back from the traffic lights on the A4. Cars ahead of me had left little space for vehicles heading in the opposite direction to pass a stationary car parked on the other side of the road; they had to squeeze slowly through the gap. It took two changes of light signals before I could drive across the A4 and enter Hambridge Road; at first it seemed that I might have encountered a tailback of traffic from the racecourse but no, the line of vehicles were actually moving fine.
The road passes over the River Kennet before reaching a roundabout, I headed straight on and over the railway bridge in order to enter the racecourse. The queue of traffic started at the roundabout on the far side thereof. As it was around 11:15, there was no opportunity to find a space in the tarmaced car park 4 like last year and ordinary ticketholders were being directed into the grassed car park close to the racecourse rails; designated as car park 5. I parked on the front row of two, three from the aforementioned rails, close to the two furlongs post.
The three blocks of apartments which were being built between the Dubai Duty Free stand and the health centre were nearing completion; the western one being the most advanced, and the eastern one the least so. Two large cranes were still on site too. However, unlike last year, a roadway now runs along the front of the building plot, making it a far cleaner proposition in wet weather.
As it was around an hour before the first race, I sat in my car and ate two of the four cheese rolls I’d brought with me before changing into my Hotter boots and putting on my faux sheepskin coat, scarf and neon pink hat. Having locked my car, I headed up through the vehicles before turning right to take advantage of the aforementioned roadway. A golf buggy was ferrying punters from the distant coach park to the entrance.
Ticket holders were able to enter the grounds via a gate facing out towards the car park, rather than having to head around to the railway side of the enclosures to enter via the usual grandstand enclosure gate. Once inside, I headed across the tarmac to the kiosk close to the turnstiles anyway, in order to purchase a race-card for £3.50. I was waylaid during my walk by a guy asking me if I vaped … he was selling them … I don’t think so!
Having purchased my race-card, I walked to the Dubai Duty Free stand and entered via the main doors; being later than I usually arrive, I had to fight my way through the crowds to get to the ladies loo. On the way out I exited via the small door at the far end of the corridor; far better than heading through the crowded stand once more. I headed over to the Parade Ring, where I climbed up one of the old concrete steppings to get a better view.
The racecourse enclosures are still undergoing redevelopment. The old owners and trainers pavilion and pre-parade ring are no more, with construction of a new facility underway. Currently, the pre-parade was restricted to the area immediately in front of the saddling boxes. The steppings on the far side of the Parade Ring had already been removed. The concrete on the remaining steppings had seen better days and was clearly crumbling now. The plan is to sink the Parade Ring, similar to Ascot I guess. The amphitheatre created will automatically provide viewing areas for the spectators.
Clare Balding was in the Parade Ring being interviewed when I arrived; she was plugging her new children’s book. Clare’s problem is that she’s now suffering from over-exposure in the media, which has caused her popularity to wane in recent times.
The race-day compère then introduced Harry Derham, who is now his uncle’s Assistant Trainer; his uncle being Paul Nicholls. Harry said it had been a rush to get to the racecourse but they were here now and he kindly spoke about the yard’s fancied runners today. Finally, a representative from the sponsoring company, bet365 was interviewed.
It was then time for the first race of the day.
The favourite for this event was La Bague Au Roi trained by Warren Greatrex and ridden by Harry Bannister; price 5-4. Alan King had a representative in this race, namely Dusky Legend to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring, I headed along the concourse between the Dubai Duty Free and Berkshire stands, then through the betting ring to reach the area close to the rails; I didn’t venture onto the grass which occupies a four metre strip immediately adjacent to the rails.
The starting gate for this event was in the home straight, close to the 2-furlong mark, with just over one full circuit to be completed and one hurdle to be negotiated twice during the race.
And then they were off, with the field led away by the favourite, La Bague Au Roi, from the hooded Ms Parfois, followed by Dusky Legend, Happy Diva, Copper Kay and the very keen Soiesauvage; the latter hit the first but continued without loss of impetus. The leader had settled well to her task as they headed up past the grandstands and out into the country for the one and only time.
Having reached the first flight in the back straight, all six runners took the obstacle in their stride. Copper Kay was a little slower than the others as they cleared the third, with Soiesauvage still keen at the rear of the field. La Bague Au Roi continued to hold the advantage as they jumped the next flight, with all six runners still travelling well within themselves as they then reached and cleared the final one in the back straight.
The long-time leader led the closely packed field into the far turn, from Ms Parfois, Dusky Legend, Copper Kay, Happy Diva and Soiesauvage. Happy Diva made ground on the outside of the runners as they headed towards the home turn; Josh Moore aboard Soiesauvage began to become animated at this point. Happy Diva then lost her place as they entered the home straight.
Harry Bannister began to increase the pace as they headed towards three out and his mount flew it; Dusky Legend rapped the top of it as she tried to close in on the leader whilst disputing second position with Copper Kay. Wayne Hutchison soon administered a slap down his mount’s shoulder as he tried to encourage Dusky Legend to close upon the La Bague Au Roi. Meanwhile in fourth position, Ms Parfois was receiving far more vigorous encouragement.
Both Dusky Legend and Copper Kay had closed to within a length of the leader as they cleared the second last. However, La Bague Au Roi continued to gallop relentlessly on and had extended her lead slightly by the time they reached the final flight. Then, on the run-in, she began to stretch away from her rivals once more and won by 3¼ lengths from Dusky Legend at the line. Copper Kay completed a further 2¾ lengths back in 3rd, with 19 lengths back to Ms Parfois in 4th.
The winner’s trainer Warren Greatrex said they would now give the mare a holiday and bring her back for a spring campaign; whether that would be straight to the Cheltenham Festival or with a run beforehand he didn’t yet know.
I set off on a route march back to the Winners Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
The odds-on favourite for the next race was Thistlecrack trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Tom Scudamore; price 1-8.
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring I headed to the edge of the tarmaced area, three or four metres from the course-side rails. I noticed that one young woman, who was on crutches due to what appeared to be severe bruising to one of her ankles, was wearing stilletto shoes! Despite wearing a skirt, she wasn’t wearing tights either; surely she was cold and in pain?
The starting gate for race two was part way down the back straight, with two fences to negotiate prior to the far turn and then one full circuit of the course having passed the grandstands.
And then they were off, with Thistlecrack holding a slight advantage as they jumped the first, from Bigbadjohn and Ibis Du Rheu; Pinnacle Panda and Tajseer cleared it in unison as they brought up the rear. After the hiccups which had occurred at Cheltenham’s open-ditches a fortnight ago, when his mount had initially been held up behind the front runner, Tom Scudamore decided to set the pace today. Besides, Thistlecrack is far too talented and exuberant to travel at his novice rivals’ speed.
Thus Colin Tizzard’s star novice chaser led the runners over the second fence, with Pinnacle Panda the least fluent in rear. The horses then headed into the far turn, travelling downhill to the tricky cross-fence. All five runners cleared the obstacle in their stride, with Bigbadjohn three lengths behind the leader followed by Ibis Du Rheu and Tajseer; Pinnacle Panda was already detached in rear.
The horses were well spaced as they jumped the first in the home straight, before heading to the first of the open-ditches. Thistlecrack measured it well, before popping over the fence; there was no need for extravagant jumping today. Meanwhile Pinnacle Panda ran down the obstacle and jumped it slowly.
The main group of four continued up the home straight and over the next without incident; Jamie Moore’s mount still well adrift of them at the rear. Having cleared the following fence, Thistlecrack headed to the water-jump; Ibis Du Rheu now his nearest pursuer. Both jumped it big and bold. The John Hales-owned runner snuck up the inside of the leader as they headed around the top turn, before Thistlecrack strode on again to face the line of five fences ahead of them.
The leader accelerated into the fence and jumped it well. Ibis Du Rheu was now three lengths behind him, with a further six lengths back to Bigbadjohn, and Tajseer three lengths behind him; meanwhile Pinnacle Panda was labouring in rear, although less than a fence behind. The next fence was another open-ditch, which Thistlecrack flew over and where Bigbadjohn was a little slow. Tajseer made an error at the following fence, when looking likely to take over third position from the Rebecca Curtis runner.
Meanwhile up front, Ibis Du Rheu under Nick Scholfield was trying his best to keep tabs upon the leader. The leading duo cleared the fourth fence in the back straight well, whereas the outpaced Bigbadjohn ran down it. Tajseer made another error at the final obstacle therein and the trailing Pinnacle Panda continued to close upon him.
Heading into the far turn, Thistlecrack continued to gallop on relentlessly, closely followed by Ibis Du Rheu; BigbadJohn was twelve lengths behind them, and Pinnacle Panda overtook the also struggling Tajseer. All five cleared the cross-fence without incident, and Bigbadjohn was much closer to the leaders as they entered the home straight for the final time.
Thistlecrack was still going well within himself as he cleared the fourth last, with his two nearest rivals being ridden along in an attempt to keep tabs on him. The next fence was the final open ditch; the leading three jumped it well, although Bigbadjohn did jump it out to his right as seemed his preference. Ears pricked, the leader popped over the penultimate fence, with Bigbadjohn now upsides Ibis Du Rheu; the latter hit the fence and skewed in the air, he stayed on his feet but had lost runner-up position.
Tom Scudamore glanced over his right shoulder to check on his rivals as his mount headed towards the final fence; it was a leisurely one, as he knew he had much in hand. With Thistlecrack still travelling well within himself, he flew the last; Bigbadjohn hit it, but still had enough impetus to retain his position from the now tired Ibis Du Rheu.
Thistlecrack continued the gallop as he headed towards the line, with Tom taking a final glance over his right shoulder as he passed the elbow. Job done, he was able to ease his mount in the final few strides and they won by 8 lengths at the line. Bigbadjohn finished in 2nd position, with Ibis Du Rheu on his chasing debut 6 lengths away in 3rd; Pinnacle Panda claimed 4th, 103 lengths behind him! Having blundered at the final open-ditch, Tajseer was pulled up before two out.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back.
Being a guest at the races today, and with the task of presenting the mementos for the Hennessy Gold Cup later in the afternoon, the Duchess of Cornwall also paid a visit to the Winners’ Enclosure at this point in order to speak with the connections of Thistlecrack as an interested race fan.
The favourite for the next race was Antony trained by Gary Moore and ridden by Jamie Moore; price 5-1. To mark the occasion, jockey Barry Geraghty wore the Peter O’Sullivan silks aboard JP McManus’ In The Rough.
As I’d done for the previous two races, and for the remainder of the afternoon too, once the horses had exited the Parade Ring, I headed down towards the course-side rails to view the races; although I remained on the tarmac area each time.
The starting gate for this race was in the back straight, with one fence to negotiate before the far bend; equating to approximately one and three quarters circuits.
And then they were off. The field was led away by Indian Temple; in the front rank were Antony, Gentleman Jon, the grey Mystifiable, and nosebanded Violets Boy. All sixteen competitors cleared the first fence successfully before they headed into the far bend on the first occasion. Indian Temple was quite keen and led by three lengths from Violets Boy, Gentleman Jon, and Antony, with Henllan Harri to the outside of the runners. Generous Ransom had already lost his place near the head of affairs; In The Rough and Tjongejonge brought up the rear. Fox Appeal, to the fore of midfield and with Wayne Hutchinson aboard, blundered at the cross-fence.
Having entered the home straight, Indian Temple continued to lead as the horses headed over the third fence. Generous Ransom, who jumped out to his right over it, soon dropped to the rear of the field and appeared to be struggling. There were no noticeable errors as the runners jumped the first open-ditch but, at the next, Fox Appeal made another mistake.
They continued their journey up the home straight, jumping the next without incident; Generous Ransom had now lost touch at the rear of the field. Heading towards the water-jump, Indian Temple led, from Gentleman Jon, Violets Boy, Henllan Harri, Antony, Mystifiable, Little Jon, Fox Appeal, Warriors Tale, Full Shift, On Tour, Final Assault, Tjongejonge, In The Rough, O Maonlai and the struggling Generous Ransom.
The next obstacle was the water-jump, which they all cleared in their stride before heading around the top bend still led by Indian Temple. Having entered the back straight, they began their journey over the line of five fences; all sixteen negotiated the first of these, although Generous Ransom jumped it slowly at the back of the field. The next was an open-ditch and, again, they all cleared it successfully; Mystifiable was a little awkward however.
Henllan Harri almost joined the leader as they jumped the middle fence along the back straight; still prominent were Violets Boy, Gentleman Jon, Fox Appeal, Little Jon and Mystifiable. Having jumped this one, Richard Johnson pulled up Generous Ransom. Indian Temple made an error at the next fence, after which Henllan Harri took the lead. The remaining fifteen runners cleared the final fence in the back straight without incident and the Peter Bowen-trained horse continued to lead as they headed into the far bend.
Considering it was a two and three quarter mile chase, the runners were still quite closely grouped as they jumped the cross-fence for the final time; to the rear were Warriors Tale, Final Assault, Tjongejonge, On Tour and In The Rough. Henllan Harri continued to lead as they headed around the turn into the home straight, from Antony, Indian Temple, Little Jon, Gentleman Jon, Mystifiable, Fox Appeal, O Maonlai, Full Shift and Violets Boy.
The bottom weight was still ahead of his rivals as they jumped the fourth last; near the rear of the field Tjongejonge made an error here. The third last fence was the final open-ditch and to the outside of the field O Maonlai moved up into second place as they cleared it. Then, travelling down to the penultimate obstacle, Final Assault came to make his final assault on the lead, along with Warriors Tale. Henllan Harri held a very narrow advantage as they jumped this fence but O Maonlai was sent into the lead shortly afterwards and was three lengths clear of his rivals as he cleared the final fence; Warriors Tale, Final Assault and Henllan Harri jumped it in unison. Fox Appeal and Full Shift were behind these.
O Maonlai was then driven out to the line by his jockey Adrian Heskin; he won by 5 lengths. The battle for 2nd was won by Warriors Tale, which prevailed by a length from Henllan Harri, with Final Assault a further half length away in 4th. Fox Appeal was 5th and Full Shift 6th. The quite well fancied On Tour finished last, having tailed off due to breaking a blood vessel.
Winning trainer Tom George said that his charge was a very difficult horse to train and everything has to be just right for the horse to run well. If the horse is too close to the pace he’s too keen and too far off, he loses interest. Today was the target, with no long term plans. Best fresh, and runner-up in this race last year, it was the first time his new retained jockey had ridden him.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back.
The favourite for the next race was Born Survivor, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by Harry Skelton; price 2-1. Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Gibralfaro trying two and a half miles for the first time, and ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. It also marked the return to racecourse action of Meister Eckhart, formerly trained by Alan King; the horse had been absent for 968 days.
The starting gate for this race was located at the far corner of the track, with one and a half circuits to travel during the race.
And then they were off, initially at a steady pace, led by Robinshill, Battle Born and Beast Of Burden. Gibralfaro travelled to the inside, in mid-field. Having started at the far corner of the track, the runners then headed around the home bend to encounter the first of their flights, which they all cleared well. Disputed and Meister Eckhart were held up in rear. The horses continued their journey up the home straight, with Robinshill spear-heading the main group and Beast Of Burden ploughing a lone furrow closer to the stand-side rails.
Heading over the next, Oscar Sunset landed a little awkwardly whilst travelling in mid-field. The pace was still steady and set by Robinshill and Beast Of Burden as they jumped the third hurdle. Onefitzall was in third, close to the inside, from Born Survivor, Battle Born, Gibralfaro, Oscar Sunset, Favorito Buck’s, Gassin Golf, Meister Eckhart and Disputed; the latter jumped it less than fluently.
There were around 12 lengths covering the field as they headed up past the grandstands with one circuit now to travel. It was two by two up front, with Robinshill and Beast Of Burden still sharing the pace making, although steady, followed by Born Survivor upsides Onefitzall. The eleven runners continued around the top bend and out into the country for the one and only time.
Oscar Sunset was the least fluent at the first in the back straight and had now dropped to the rear of the field with only the race-rusty Meister Eckhart behind him. The still steady pace meant the runners continued to be well grouped at this stage of the race. Battle Born didn’t jump the next very well and drifted back further through the field; he was also race-rusty having been off the course for 772 days prior to today.
The field headed down over the next, with Battle Born now in rear and continuing to lose ground rapidly; he got a reminder for his troubles from jockey Aidan Coleman too. Meanwhile, up front, Robinshill and Beast Of Burden continued to set the pace at a steady gallop as they jumped the final obstacle in the back straight; travelling just behind the leaders, Born Survivor was a little ungainly at this one.
The runners headed out of the back straight, headed by Robinshill, from Beast Of Burden, Onefitzall, Born Survivor, Gassin Golf, Gibralfaro, Favorito Buck’s, Disputed, Oscar Sunset and Meister Eckhart; having completely lost touch and tailed off, Battle Born was now pulled up.
Meanwhile the remaining ten headed towards the home bend; Beast Of Burden began to struggle at this point and dropped back through the field. Long-time leader Robinshill lead them into the home straight, from Onefitzall, Born Survivor and Gassin Golf. The Nigel Twiston-Davies runner got a little bit close to the third last, which enabled his nearest rivals to gain ground on him; Born Survivor, although initially looking dangerous, was unable to quicken under pressure. This left Onefitzall to go on, with the closing Gibralfaro in hot pursuit of the leaders.
Richard Johnson’s mount was a length up as they cleared two out, with Gibralfaro, Robinshill, Gassin Golf and Born Survivor jumping the flight almost in unison. Robinshill was the first to cry enough, followed shortly afterwards by Gassin Golf. This left Onefitzall to be driven into the final flight, with Gibralfaro pressing him all the time. Disputed had closed from the rear into third and was now in pursuit of the leading duo; meanwhile Born Survivor continued to plug on in fourth.
Both Onefitzall and Gibralfaro cleared the last well, whereas Disputed bunny-hopped it. Richard Johnson and Wayne Hutchinson now drove their mounts towards the lollipop, with Onefitzall proving the stronger and enabling him to forge ahead on the flat and win by a length at the line. Disputed staying on at the same pace after the last and finished 1¼ lengths away in 3rd; Born Survivor was the best of the rest when completing in 4th, 8 lengths further back.
I was pleased with Meister Eckhart’s effort as, although well beaten, he did show promise on his return when staying on to finish 6th; besides he is rising 11. He probably needs a step up in trip now.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure once more to see the horses arrive back.
The joint-favourites for the next race was Ozzie The Oscar, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson and Tommy Silver trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sean Bowen. Alan King’s representative was Who Dares Wins ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
Interesting fact time … Theligny is a geologic chalk formation in France … the French-bred is grey – that’s a good choice of name!
The starting gate for this event was in the home straight, close to the 2-furlong mark, with just over one full circuit to be completed and one hurdle to be negotiated twice during the race.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by the visored Makethedifference, from the light grey Theligny, mid-division the nose-banded Tommy Silver, with Ritual Of Senses and Ozzie The Oscar to the inside; held up were Who Dares Wins and Holly Bush Henry with the dark grey filly Omessa Has at the rear. All eight runners cleared the first flight in their stride before heading up past the massed crowds in the grandstands.
A good gallop was set by the leader as they continued around the top bend and into the back straight for the one and only time. Makethedifference was a couple of lengths clear of his rivals as they jumped the second flight; Theligny was a little bit awkward at this one. Continuing down the back straight, Ozzie The Oscar flicked through the top of the next, although the standard of jumping was good all round so far.
Makethedifference continued to bowl along at the head of affairs, three lengths clear of the others, as they headed towards the fourth. Having cleared the flight, one of the joint favourites Tommy Silver received three slaps down his shoulder and Holly Bush Henry was given a reminder. The runners were now heading towards the final flight in the back straight; both Theligny and Tommy Silver received slaps down the neck following this one.
Makethedifference continued to lead, by two lengths, as the runners entered the far bend, from Ozzie The Oscar, Theligny, Ritual Of Senses, Tommy Silver, Who Dares Wins, Omessa Has; Holly Bush Henry brought up the rear and was now being pushed along by his jockey Kielan Woods. Charlie Deutsch, aboard Tom Vaughan’s second string Makethedifference, decided to take advantage of the descent to push on and was soon six or seven lengths clear of his rivals. This was their wake-up call and they endeavoured to close down upon the leader led by Ritual Of Senses.
Heading into the home straight and over the third last, bottom weight Makethedifference continued to hold his rivals at bay as he flew over the flight. As they continued to the penultimate obstable, it was left to Who Dares Wins to burst out of the pack in pursuit; the remainder of the field were all being ridden along by this stage. Having made no progress, Richard Johnson decided to pull up Ozzie The Oscar before this flight.
Makethedifference was still six lengths clear of his nearest challenger as they jumped two out. Currently in third and fourth were Ritual Of Senses and Omessa Has. Meanwhile Who Dares Wins continued to reel in the leader and was upsides as they jumped the final flight; Makethedifference, tired by this stage, blundered here. This left the Alan King top weight to gallop to the line, and he continued to stretch his advantage all the way to the line to win by 9 lengths. Tim Vaughan’s other representative Theligny continued to stay on and collared his stable companion by half a length close home; Ritual Of Senses claimed 4th.
I headed back to the Parade Ring area to see the horses return.
Channel 4 Racing’s Nick Luck interviewed the winning trainer, Alan King, prior to the horse arriving back in the Winners’ Enclosure. However, with the important task of saddling a runner in the following race, namely Smad Place, Alan’s daughter Georgia accepted the trainer’s trophy on his behalf.
The favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup was Native River trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 7-2. Alan King was represented by last year’s victor, Smad Place, again ridden by Wayne Hutchison. Also returning was the 2013 winner Triolo D’Alene; the horse had recently lost his best ‘friend’ Simonsig when the latter had suffered a fatal injury at Cheltenham earlier in the month. Race regular, Houblon Des Obeaux, was a non-runner.
The starting gate for this race was at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two circuits of the track to cover.
The main body of the field picked up stragglers having turned and begun jogging in to the tape and then they were off, first time. The runners were led off by last year’s winner, the almost white Smad Place; prominent were Local Show, Saphir Du Rheu, Holywell and Double Ross. Both Local Show and Saphir Du Rheu had been restrained by the time they jumped the first fence, with Native River and Coologue joining the front rank in their stead; former winner Triolo D’Alene hit the first and jockey Jerry McGrath struggled to regain an iron.
The second fence was the first of the open-ditches; Native River and Double Ross took the lead as they cleared this. The blinkered Upswing, travelling at the back of the field, made a mistake here. The favourite flew over the third fence, with Theatre Guide jumping it a little stickily to the rear of mid-field. Local Show stepped through the next but survived whereas, in contrast, Saphir Du Rheu made a customary bungle and fell; Nick Scholfield was piloting the horse today, in Sam Twiston-Davies’ absence. The Paul Nicholls runner was fine, got up and followed the field, but the fence suffered damage; Nick was okay too and walked away.
Native River continued to lead the way, from Coologue, as they all successfully negotiated the final fence in the back straight; again, one of the two bottom-weights, Upswing was a little slow at the rear of the field. The remaining nineteen runners now headed into the far turn led narrowly by Coologue, from Native River, Double Ross and Smad Place; Aubusson led the main body of runners.
They all cleared the cross-fence without bother, although Local Show had begun to show signs of distress having made the earlier mistake. The runners then headed into the home straight on the first occasion, with the Charlie Longsdon runner continuing to hold a narrow advantage as they all successfully jumped the next. The following fence was the second open-ditch, and again there were no departures, with all competitors clearing it well. To the inside of midfield, Henri Parry Morgan hit the next, with jockey Sean Bowen momentarily losing his right-hand grip on the reins as a result. Double Ross now held a narrow advantage as they jumped the fence before the water-jump; travelling just behind the leaders, Un Temps Pour Tout hit this one.
Smad Place gave me a fright just before he took off at the water-jump; initially it looked like he was surprised by the nature of the fence, his head went up and he appeared in danger of paddling through it. However, being the experienced chaser that he is, he managed to spring over it despite the stuttering appearance of his approach. Phew, that was a close one.
Aubusson had drifted back noticeably through the field as they headed into the top turn and Local Show was struggling at the rear of the field, alongside Upswing. The front-running veteran Double Ross continued to hold sway over the entire field as he led narrowly from Native River, Coologue, Smad Place and Un Temps Pour Tout. Upswing clouted the first fence in the back straight but survived.
The next obstacle was another open-ditch and, at the rear of the field, Local Show jumped right and cannoned into Upswing as a result. Meanwhile, Native River, Double Ross and Coologue continued to jump boldly at the head of affairs; Triolo D’Alene was at the rear of the main group as they cleared the third fence in the line of 5.
Or rather it would have been a line of 5 had the next fence not been dolled off having been damaged on the previous circuit. The jockeys angled their mounts out wide, following the notification to bypass it; this was in the form of a steward leaning over the inside rail whilst waving a black and white chequered flag and ‘arrowed’ boards placed along the top of the fence.
With normal service resumed, the runners now headed towards the final obstacle in the back straight. Barry Geraghty decided to pull up the JP McManus-owned Regal Encore at this point, although both JP’s other runner Upswing, along with Ben Pauling’s Local Show continued over this one; the latter two bumped again in the air ... you’d have thought the jockeys involved would have been wise to that possibility by now!
There was no change upfront as they headed into the far bend; Holywell was now struggling at the rear of the main group. Improving their position as they continued to the cross-fence were Blaklion, Vicente and Carole’s Destrier. Double Ross out-jumped his younger rival as they cleared the fence. Richard Johnson urged his mount along in order to keep upsides the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner to his outside as they headed into the home straight; just four more fences now to jump. Blaklion followed in their wake, then came Smad Place and Carole’s Destrier.
Double Ross was still narrowly ahead of Native River as they jumped four out; Blaklion and Carole’s Destrier their closest pursuers. Behind these, the darker grey Vtya Du Roc, Theatre Guide, and Hadrian’s Approach had stayed on from the rear of the field, and Smad Place continued to battle bravely to the near side, despite his top-weight this year.
There were no serious jumping issues as they cleared the final open-ditch, although Hadrian’s Approach did nod on landing. The leaders now headed to the penultimate fence, with the veteran still marginally ahead of the favourite as they cleared it; the latter is a hard ride but digs deep when asked to by his jockey, so remains a danger. Hadrian’s Approach put in another scruffy jump here.
Just one fence to go now and, as they approached it, the brave Double Ross finally succumbed to the prolonged challenge from Native River as the latter took the lead; very tired, the veteran made a small error at the fence. Blaklion held a narrow third at this point, with Carole’s Destrier at his shoulder. Smad Place’s jumping had kept him in the race thus far and he still currently held on to 5th.
Ahead, Native River initially stretched six lengths clear as he headed toward the elbow, with Carole’s Destrier now in hot pursuit. Then suddenly, as the leader seemed to idle slightly in front, Noel Fehily’s mount was at his quarters and seemed determined to snatch the prize. But Native River is made of stern stuff and found enough close home to win by half a length at the line. Phew.
Double Ross claimed a thoroughly deserved 3rd prize, 5 lengths behind the runner-up, with Hadrian’s Approach 1¼ lengths 4th, Blaklion a length behind him in 5th, Vyta Du Roc 1¼ lengths away in 6th and Smad Place only three quarters of a length away in 7th.
There had been just two fallers, in fact both the Paul Nicholls-trained runners, with Vicente coming down at the last when well beaten. As mentioned earlier, Regal Encore had been pulled up, also Upswing, Local Show and Coologue. Last of the 13 finishers was Holywell who trailed in miles behind the others!
Who’d have thought when I’d admired him for his chestnut flashy-ness when running at Cheltenham a couple of years ago, that Native River would be very talented too!
The comment I actually made in my diary following that hurdle race on Cheltenham Trials Day in 2015, in which today’s Hennessy winner fell, was “And Native River was fine following his fall; he followed up his mishap with a win at Exeter two weeks later; I liked him, he was pretty!”
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winning horse arrive back.
As mentioned earlier, the Duchess of Cornwall presented the trophies.
Celebrities are invited to attend on Hennessy Gold Cup Day; I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine (Gurdon), but didn’t notice anyone else, including actor Eddie Redmayne who evidently was there too.
The winner’s details were unveiled upon a board placed in the corner of the Winners’ Enclosure. Also, a representative from sponsors Hennessy was presented with a memento containing the race-day badges for every year of their sponsorship of the race, 60 in total. It had already been reported that this would be their final year of said sponsorship and this was confirmed officially not long after.
The favourite for the final race of the day was Imjoeking, trained by Lucinda Russell and ridden by Derek Fox; price 4-1.
The starting gate for this event was half way down the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel.
And then they were off. The runners were led away by Whispering Harry to the near-side, to the farside Imjoeking who hit the first, with Raven’s Tower between them. Bringing up the rear was the enigmatic Mr Mole, still owned by JP McManus but now trained by Ben Haslam. Whispering Harry was the length leader as they cleared the next; having not been fluent at the first, Fou Et Sage jumped this one rather big. The third obstacle was the water-jump; jumping it in second position was Imjoeking, then Ulck Du Lin, Raven’s Tower, Ultragold, Fou Et Sage, Parsnip Pete, Ut Majeur Aulmes and finally Mr Mole.
Imjoeking snuck up the inside of Whispering Harry as they headed around the top turn and held a narrow advantage as they headed towards the first fence in the back straight. However, the latter hit the top of it before landing steeply and, as a result, he fell. Raven’s Tower cleverly side-stepped the prostrate horse as it somersaulted over and none of the others seemed to be affected by the departure. None the worse for his tumble, Whispering Harry was soon to his feet and galloped after the others; James Davies was left sitting up on the turf and shortly afterwards walked away unscathed.
Imjoeking led narrowly over the next, the first open-ditch, from Ulck Du Lin. Raven’s Tower took off a long way from the fence; he did clear it but lost ground as a result. The Paul Nicholls representative was upsides the leader as they jumped the next, with Ultragold in third position from Raven’s Tower, Parsnip Pete, Fou Et Sage, Ut Majeur Aulmes and Mr Mole. Having given himself a scare at the previous obstacle, Raven’s Tower hit this one.
The remaining eight continued their journey down the back straight; they had to bypass the next fence because it had been damaged when Saphir Du Rheu fell on the first circuit during the Hennessy Gold Cup. There was one more obstacle to jump in the back straight and Ulck Du Lin led over this one. Meanwhile, having cleared this fence, Mr Mole was being bumped along at the rear of the field. Sensibly, the rider-less Whispering Harry was bypassing the fences whilst galloping along beside the inside rail.
Heading into the far turn, Ulck Du Lin had set up a three lengths lead over his nearest rival, which was now Ultragold. Jumping the sometimes tricky cross-fence, both Ut Majeur Aulmes and Mr Mole had begun to lose touch with the others. Entering the home straight, Ulck Du Lin led over four out; Ut Majeur Aulmes was now beginning to stay on and closed on the main group.
The next fence was the final open ditch, with Imjoeking now rallying to the inside of the leader and both Ultragold and Parsnip Pete also in close contention. It was now the Colin Tizzard runner which closed upon the leader as they approached two out, but Ultragold blundered and dropped back, whereas Parsnip Pete jumped it well and took the lead.
Parsnip Pete spear-headed the charge as they galloped down to the final obstacle, with Ultragold and Ulck Du Lin as his wingmen, and Imjoeking and Raven’s Tower just behind these. Parsnip Pete ran down the last fence and got in close but cleared it in the lead. Imjoeking began to fade but Ultragold raised a second challenge and continued to close as the winning post approached.
Despite his best endeavours, Parsnip Pete had nothing more to give and Ultragold won by half a length at the line. Raven’s Tower claimed third despite having encountered jumping issues on the way round, with the chestnut Ut Majeur Aulmes staying on to claim 4th from Ulck Du Lin, with Imjoeking in 6th. And the loose Whispering Harry continued his progress along the inside rail and headed up the course to the inside of the water-jump; hopefully no photographers or ground staff got in his way!
What a fantastic day it had been for the Tizzards? Three winners, including the extremely talented Thistlecrack in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase and the stamina-laden Native River in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Colin is no longer described as a dairy farmer with a few racehorses; he’s definitely a racehorse trainer with a few cows! The winning jockeys for the Tizzards were Tom Scudamore, Richard Johnson and Tom O’Brien respectively.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure for the final time today to see the horses come back.
Final race over, it was now time for me to leave. Although I would be heading just a short distance to Caversham, I thought it sensible to pop to the loo before I left, especially as I didn’t quite know how long the race-day traffic would take to clear. Being a creature of habit, I headed through the still fairly crowded lower ground floor of the Dubai Duty Free stand to the ladies room I always use. There was a short queue, but not long enough to queue out of the door and into the corridor.
Penny spent, I headed out of the small door to the back of the stand and around the corner to exit via the gate I’d entered by earlier in the day. I headed along the roadway, which was now completely lined with vans and lorries, before heading across the grass to my car; my Fiesta was all on his own (yes, it’s a he not a she), so was easy to find. Not far in front of my car were a number of items of litter, presumably thrown out of one of the vehicles which had been parked in the row in front and was now departed. Why don’t people take their rubbish home, rather than expecting other people to clear up after them?
I sat in my car until the exiting queue was short enough for me to join it without me having to push in. During the time I’d been sitting in my car, I ate the two remaining cheese rolls. Having joined the queue to exit at around 16:45, myself and the cars ahead of me were being diverted through the overflow car park, rather than having to push into the queue leaving from car park 4. This meant driving upon a roadway of metal pontoons, thus ensuring that no-one got stuck in the mud; although, as it hadn’t been a wet day, this was probably unlikely anyway.
It was stop start, stop start for around 10 minutes. Exiting the far end of the overflow car park, it required a sharp left and then another left turn in order to join the roadway which led from the coach park. Stewards, standing at the roundabout just prior to the bridge, were directing the traffic and allowing the queues to alternate for a couple of minutes each to ensure that everyone got a chance to head over the railway bridge on a timely basis.
The traffic tailback wasn’t too bad at the other end of the bridge either, where it exited onto the Hambridge Road; vehicles from the racecourse having priority over those who had driven past the station. Having approached the traffic lights on the A4, I decided to head straight across into Fir Tree Lane rather than take a right turn here; the tailback to turn right was long, but there were only two cars ahead intending to follow the same route as me!
I thus headed up Fir Tree Lane to the top, where I took a right-hand turn at the first mini-roundabout before heading straight ahead at the next mini-roundabout before soon arriving at the large roundabout upon the A4; it may have been a slightly longer route but may well have been quicker. I headed straight across and drove into Thatcham, my route now very familiar territory. The sole time I’ve been seriously held up in Thatcham was in 2008 when travelling home from my first ever Hennessy Gold Cup Day.
I did get caught by a number of the traffic lights, but it was not too much of an issue today. My route took me back through Woolhampton to Junction 12 of the M4. My night vision glasses can be worn over glasses but, today, I wore them and left my contact lenses in for the journey to my friend Denise’s house. I think my night sight has deteriorated since I purchased these glasses, but it was still an improvement on not wearing them. Fortunately much of the route from Thatcham to the motorway has street lighting anyway. It had been daylight, although fading, when I left the Parade Ring but was dark by the time I drove out of the car park.
I recall someone sounded their horn when driving around the roundabout above Junction 12; I presume a driver was in the wrong lane to enter the slip-road – it wasn’t me in the wrong, as I was in the inside lane! Anyway, I joined the M4 and drove along the eastbound carriageway to Junction 10. There were currently road-works on the slip-roads which led to join the A329(M) and I negotiated this route safely before heading along the very dark dual carriageway in the direction of the A4. The A329(M) terminates at a business park, so I left at the junction prior to that, heading down the slip-road and driving around the roundabout below. I then drove in an easterly direction once more, leaving the A4 at the eastern-most lane which leads into Sonning.
Again, it was difficult to see without the assistance of street lights. When you think about it, people are now expected to work into their late 60’s but no-one takes into account the fact that during the months of winter they may not be able to drive safely once darkness falls; ridiculous. Anyway, I headed over a number of speed-bumps as the road descended towards the Thames; I had to wait briefly for the traffic lights to change so that I could cross over the river via the ancient single track bridge. There were two cars in front of me which I could follow.
It remained very dark until I reached the roundabout at the Henley Road junction, at which point I turned left to head along the thoroughfare to Denise’s house. I pulled off the busy road and parked just outside her front garden; the pavement is very wide at this point. Whilst I was still sitting in my car, Denise’s husband Terry arrived back in his 4x4; he’d popped down to the shop to get last minute provisions.
Dropping in to see Denise after racing on Hennessy Gold Cup Day has become a tradition, and it provides an excellent opportunity to drop off her Christmas presents too; this year I even remembered to deliver her Christmas card in person.
I never expect to be fed as well as watered during my visit, but she kindly made supper for all three of us. It was good to catch up with her again, having previously visited in mid-September. I stayed until 20:45; we didn’t watch Strictly Come Dancing on this occasion, but an old episode of Midsomer Murders – namely The Fisher King. It’s a strange episode from my point of view, because I can never remember who is who and what their family relationships are; I’m old and confused.
Anyway, I headed home via the dark narrow lane which leads through Sonning and back to the A4 once more. I then headed eastwards through Knowl Hill to reach the A404(M), at which point I turned right and drove along the unlit dual carriageway to reach the M4. Fortunately the motorway does have lighting, so my journey back to the M25 went smoothly with good night-time visibility and free moving traffic.
Having reached the M25, I headed along the slip-road to join the clockwise carriageway to head back to Hertfordshire. Again the motorway was well lit and traffic was moving freely. I left the M25 at London Colney; the carriageway of the bypass was very dark. At the far end I had to stop at the traffic signals located at the entry point to a large roundabout. However, the phasing wasn’t as expected this evening and, having driven at the correct speed to negotiate all the lights upon the roundabout without stopping again, I was surprised to encounter a red light. It would appear that the day-time phasing and night-time phasing are different.
Anyway, I continued up London Road before heading around the ring-road to reach home; I arrived before 22:00. However, I didn’t turn in until around 01:30 ... so it had been a very long day.