DIARY – NEWBURY – HENNESSY GOLD CUP
SATURDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2015
Smad Place and jockey Wayne Hutchinson pose for photographs
following their victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup
This would be my 8th consecutive Hennessy Gold Cup – I’d seen Madison du Berlais win in 2008, Denman win his second in 2009, Diamond Harry in 2010, Carruthers in 2011, Bobs Worth in 2012, Triolo D’Alene in 2013, and Many Clouds in 2014. Who’s turn would it be this year? The photo above is a bit of a give away!
It would also be my second consecutive day at Newbury, having attended the previous day in the hope of seeing Choc ... but he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I’d be luckier in my Choc quest today, with Ned Stark being one of two Alan King runners in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Gates opening time was 10:00; so I set my alarm for 05:30 with the hope of departing from home by 08:15. This meant that I should arrive at the racecourse by 09:45. In the event, I woke at 05:00 ... with a headache; I’d been tossing and turning all night, and just knew I’d have a headache having been stuck on the road for extended periods the previous day. It was wholly or partly due to the arthritis in my neck and, possibly, dehydration was also a factor. I made myself a cup of tea, and even put on a wooley hat for half an hour! And it actually did the trick because, by the time I went into the shower, my headache had more or less disappeared.
After showering, washing and drying my hair, I ate a breakfast of two croissants before applying my make-up. My outfit today was two thermal vest t-shirts – purple and plum, a teal heatgen polo neck t-shirt, a bright blue BHS v-neck sweater, purple fleece, black gillet, grey tights, burgundy pull-on jeggings, dark grey double-frill tweed skirt, Hotter Danville flint-coloured ankle boots, socks, black faux sheepskin coat, long striped wristwarmers, horse-design black/white cowl, purple and mauve M & S fabric scarf, plus capacious burgundy/brown/pink Next handbag. I love my new Hotter boots; the heel is just the right height for striding out around the racecourse. Although dampness initially marks the leather, they do dry out very quickly.
Having looked out of the window earlier, I had a feeling I’d find frost on the car so, when I first ventured out to place my coat upon the back seat some while prior to departure, I had to scrape the windows thereof. There were blobs of frozen water on the roof too, resultant from the rain the previous evening. I wiped the windows again just prior to leaving, at 08:18.
Being a Saturday and quiet on the roads, I travelled around the ring-road to join London Road and headed down to the London Colney roundabout. I then drove down the dual carriageway to join the M25 anticlockwise carriageway at junction 22. Traffic was travelling smoothly on the motorway as I journeyed around to junction 15 ahead of joining the westbound carriageway of the M4. Today I was actually on the lookout for the view of Windsor Castle and I spotted it! The Queen’s residence can be seen to the right-hand side as you travel over the Langley junction bridge; a little further on, it is visible to the left of the road. Technically, it’s to the south of the road, so it is to the left of the road, but ‘moves’ due to the curvature of the motorway at this point.
There were no road-works or delays on the M4 today; although work is still being carried out to create a new bridge over the carriageway prior to junction 11, Reading Central. Unlike yesterday, today I wasn’t in need of a comfort break at the service station just prior to junction 12; I had travelled on and off behind a red car full of passengers for much of my time upon the M4, the vehicle eventually headed into the motorway at the service station. I headed up the slip-road at the aforementioned junction 12, staying in the second lane in order to overtake a slow moving M & S lorry in the inside lane.
I then headed westwards along the A4, through the 30mph zone at Woolhampton, before driving through Thatcham with its many sets of traffic lights, and turning left at a large roundabout and continuing down through two further sets of traffic lights; at the second of which I turned left in Hambridge Road. The road heads down over a couple of small bridges, spanning the Kennet and the Lambourn rivers; they converge just downstream.
The next road feature is the roundabout where the new racecourse bridge heads off over the main Great Western Railway; I took this route, straight across to reach another roundabout located close to the course’s home straight. There was a sign instructing coaches to turn left to park, and for cars to turn right. Having followed this request, I was intending to park in the same grassed area as the previous day, but the steward at the entrance asked if I was ‘staff’ and, when I replied no, he directed me to carry on around the right-hand bend. I then took a left to head along the road which runs along the back of the site, parallel to the railway line.
To the left-hand side was a newly laid-out and tarmaced car park, occupying the space where I’d been parking ever since my first trip to the racecourse in November 2008. There were many entry points, but the majority were blocked by temporary metal posts. I headed along to the opening and was able to park in a vacant space of my choice; although not within the area closest to the racecourse buildings, which appeared to have been reserved for any premier enclosure customers who didn’t wish to park in the centre of the racecourse. I chose the front row of two; the car park was probably at least three quarters empty. Lamp-posts had been installed too, to provide illumination after dark.
I’d seen just one magpie during my journey today; poo! I saw two yesterday, one early and one late, but it hadn’t brought me any particular luck. Mind you, I don’t need betting luck, as I rarely place a bet; just luck in travelling and luck in seeing Choc ... and I certainly didn’t receive any of either the previous day!
As it was only 09:45, I decided to eat two of the cheese rolls I’d brought with me. A large 4x4 had pulled into the space to my left but, after the occupants who appeared to be racecourse workers had headed towards the entrance, one of them returned to move the vehicle. Presumably they needed or wanted to park elsewhere. I love the new car park, and hopefully will always be able to park there if I arrive early enough, unlike on the previous day. It would have saved getting my car so muddy too; and it still hadn’t washed off despite the heavy rain of the previous evening.
Having eaten, I put on my coat and gloves and headed along to the temporary marquee-style eastern entrance; my bag was briefly checked by a security man standing at a table just prior to this. I didn’t have to wait long before the gates were opened and my pre-purchased ticket was scanned to allow me entry. I bought a race-card, £3, from the kiosk opposite the entrance before heading along the concourse to the Dubai Duty Free Stand, entering the main doors to the rear of the building before paying a visit to the little girls’ room.
Heading back along the ground floor of the stand, I was surprised to see a group of young women dressed as though they were attending a summer fixture; maybe you don’t feel the cold once you’ve drunk too much! Personally I’d rather be warm and sober! I’d even seen a girl on the concourse yesterday with bare legs and wearing sandals.
I exited the building via the main rear doors, and headed over to the Parade Ring, via the pathway to the right of the betting office. I would remain there until the horses left the paddock ahead of the first race. There was a brisk south-westerly breeze again today, with the early morning sun giving way to cloud later in the morning. As my bag was proving heavy, I’d left my umbrella in my car, deciding instead to wear a black quilted hat with grey fur trim; it was cold beside the Parade Ring, so I soon popped this on. I seem to be getting to an age where I don’t care what I look like either!!! Or at least not always! I have three trilby hats, a fedora, an Australian bush-hat and a brown felt hat but, as it was breezy, I didn’t want to risk them blowing away, because that would be embarrassing!
Today’s jockey autograph signing session began at 11:15 in the IJF tent on the Hennessy High Street; Sam Twiston-Davies and Leighton Aspell doing the honours.
There was a race-day preview in the Outside Chance Bar within the Premier Enclosure, with Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy. For everyone else, Martin Kelly interviewed race-day connections within the Parade Ring. First was Saphir Du Rheu’s owner Andy Stewart; he was worried that the Hennessy Gold Cup would now be at the mercy of Smad Place, now that the weights had risen following Coneygree’s defection. He was also concerned that his horse might be too young, at 6, but he had no worries about the going, which was soft.
The second person interviewed by Martin was Warren Greatrex; he spoke about Cole Harden’s participation in the Long Distance Hurdle, race 5. He explained that his charge had undergone a second wind operation in September but was hopeful he’d run well today. However, he was very keen on his runner in the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase, Aloomomo; he explained that the horse had been suffering from ulcers but has shown much improved form since this issue was resolved. Warren also mentioned that his bumper winner on Thursday was the McNeill Family’s first success at Newbury, their local racecourse; a very surprising fact since they’ve owned many good horses over the years – including Walkon, Grumeti and the ill-fated Mille Chief.
Graham Bradley was the third guest; he won the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1982 aboard subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bregawn and also aboard popular grey Suny Bay in 1997. Brad mentioned Houblon Des Obeaux, Smad Place, Bobs Worth, Ned Stark, If In Doubt and First Lieutenant; but his personal choice today was Saphir Du Rheu.
Oliver Sherwood was also interviewed, having won the race last year with subsequent Grand National winner Many Clouds; he explained that his Hennessy winner would head to Aintree the following weekend for a Listed Chase, having bypassed this year’s renewal of the Newbury event. Oliver’s choice to win was Smad Place.
RUK’s Lydia Hislop and Jonathan Neesom were presenting from Newbury today; also Dave Nevison reporting from the betting ring, I’m not at all keen on the latter. As for Channel 4 racing, I saw Nick Luck, AP McCoy and Rishi Persad, the latter carrying a satchel and paper notes as he headed across the Parade Ring to the C4 trailer.
The off time of the first race was 12:15 and the favourite was the Evan Williams-trained Tea In Transvaal, ridden by Paul Moloney; price 11-8. Alan King had a runner in this race, Lady Persephone ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
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 fillies and mares were led away by Tea in Transvaal, from the larger Ruby Rambler, Fortunata Fashions, Hope’s Wishes to the outside, with Lady Persephone to the inside, Irish raider Colla Pier and, bringing up the rear, the sole chestnut Very Extravagant. Alan King’s runner was brown, the other five being bays. The runners cleared the first flight without bother and headed up past the grandstands and winning post with one circuit to go.
At the head of affairs, the Evan Williams runner was enjoying herself ears pricked, as they set off around the top turn and into the back straight. Very Extravagant, at the rear of the field, was less fluent than the others at the second flight. Fortunata Fashions had already begun to drift back through the field, as Noel Fehily’s mount continued detached from the others, not aided by her lack of fluency at every obstacle.
Fortunata Fashions landed on all fours over the fourth flight. Meanwhile Tea In Transvaal continued to lead the way, with a two length advantage over her nearest rival, Ruby Rambler. Lady Persephone disputed third position with Hope’s Wishes as they jumped the next, before heading into the far turn. Fortunata Fashions now began to lose touch with the leading group and had been overtaken by Very Extravagant before they entered the home straight. At this point, Hope’s Wishes received reminders.
Meanwhile Tea In Transvaal continued to lead, from Ruby Rambler, with Colla Pier easing her way up the inside of Lady Persphone as Hope’s Wishes dropped away. The leader took off a little earlier than expected at the third last flight, but made the distance and remained ahead. The Irish raider, however, was waiting in her slipstream and still travelling very easily. Ruby Rambler was now receiving slaps down her neck from Leighton Aspell, as was Lady Persephone which was now adrift of the leading group. Further back, Very Extravagant was staying on and had now moved into fifth position.
Tea In Transvaal continued to lead over the penultimate flight, with Colla Pier switched to her right in order to begin her challenge. But just when it looked like the latter had got the measure of the long time leader, Evan Williams’ charge began to dig deep into her reserves and it was Colla Pier which came under pressure instead. So much so, that Paul Moloney was able to extend his margin as he drove his mount to the line to win by 6 lengths.
Ruby Rambler, which had made an error when tiring two out, plugged on to complete in 3rd, 15 lengths back. Very Extravagant stayed on to pass beaten horses and claim 4th. Lady Persephone had weakened before two out, tailing off to finished 17 lengths behind Noel Fehily’s mount. Fortunata Fashions completed in 6th, with Hope’s Wishes last of the seven.
I set off on a route march back to the Winners Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
The favourite for the next race was Full Shift, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 7-2. No runners for Alan King in this race, but one for Martin Keighley, namely Johnny Og ridden by Ian Popham.
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.
The starting gate for this event was part way down the home straight, with two fences to negotiate prior to the water-jump and then one full circuit of the course.
And then they were off. The runners were line across the course as they headed to the first fence, with Arzal marginally the leader as they cleared it. Prominent were Balgarry, Javert, Aso and Johnny Og. The sole grey, For Two, was a little clumsy at the back of the field.
Disputing the lead over the second obstacle were Arzal, Javert and Johnny Og; in rear was the favourite Full Shift, sporting the green and gold silks of JP McManus. Javert landed a little awkwardly over the water-jump. Having sorted themselves out, the order heading into the top turn was Arzal, from Javert and Johnny Og disputing second, followed by Balgarry, Rock On Rocky, Aso, Laser Hawk, For Two, Wadswick Court and Full Shift.
Entering the back straight, Arzal got in a little close to the fourth but he continued to hold the advantage, very narrowly from Johnny Og; again the grey made a small error. There were no mishaps at the first open-ditch. The first casualty occurred at the following fence when Wadswick Court, which had already dropped to the rear of the field, clipped the top of the fence and capsized on landing. The horse rolled over due to momentum but fortunately Noel Fehily was thrown clear of his flailing hooves.
Meanwhile Arzal continued to lead, narrowly, from Johnny Og, Balgarry, Javert, and Aso; there was a slight gap in the field to For Two, Laser Hawk, Rock On Rocky and Full Shift. The nine remaining runners cleared fence number seven without incident. Javert had soon begun to drift back through the field. The leader got in close to the next, skewing slightly in the air, which enabled Martin Keighley’s runner to take a narrow advantage as they headed into the far turn. Gavin Sheehan had this move covered however, soon easing his mount up the inside of Johnny Og.
The next obstacle was the cross-fence, which Johnny Og hit hard and, as a result, was overtaken by both Balgarry and Aso. Just behind these, Javert sprawled on landing and catapulted his jockey Sean Bowen over his right shoulder. It’s always been a tricky fence; For Two hit it also. Meanwhile Arzal pressed on, Balgarry just a length behind, followed by Johnny Og and Aso. Behind these Laser Hawk and For Two. Both Rock On Rocky and Full Shift had lost touch by this stage.
Aso clobbered the first fence in the home straight and shot jockey Aidan Coleman up his neck; fortunately he clung on tightly and was soon back in the saddle. Arzal continued to lead as the runners headed over the final open-ditch, after which he continued to increase his advantage over Balgarry, Aso, Johnny Og, Laser Hawk and For Two. The leader was travelling so well that the only thing standing between him and victory were two more plain fences.
He duly cleared them in his stride and jockey Gavin Sheehan was able to ease him to a canter as the partnership approached the line; the winning distance 13 lengths. It was Aso which claimed second, having been fortunate not to depart at the fourth last. Although having made an error at the penultimate fence, Laser Hawk stayed on well on the flat to collar Balgarry and claim 3rd prize. Johnny Og, having run well, hit the last when tired and finished 5th. For Two completed in 6th, Rock On Rocky 7th and Full Shift, never at the races, finished last.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back.
The favourite for the next event was Abracadabra Sivola trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 9-2. Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Midnight Prayer which was returning from a 364 day absence having last run in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup.
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; with Abracadabra Sivola and Big Casino leading the way to the first fence. Nicky Henderson’s representative Ericht sprawled on landing over it and catapulted Nico de Boinville out of the saddle; O Maonlai was hampered as a result. Having jumped out to his right, Majala was already detached from the others. Meanwhile the favourite led the runners into the first turn, from Big Casino, Shangani, Si C’Etait Vrai, Phone Home, Aloomomo and Ceasar Milan.
The second obstacle was the cross-fence, where Aloomomo and Si C’Etait Vrai bumped in mid-air; the latter being the more disadvantaged of the two. Shangani now held a narrow advantage over Big Casino and Abracadabra Sivola as they entered the home straight for the first time. One of the brace of greys, Morning Reggie, departed at the next fence; he hit the top and skewed sideways as he landed, giving Leighton Aspell absolutely no chance of staying in the saddle. Fortunately Midnight Prayer, who was travelling in his slip-stream, was able to avoid both horse and jockey. The loose horse’s gait looked a little odd, but I think he’d got his reins caught around one of his forelegs; no damage done.
There were no casualties at the first open-ditch and, as they headed towards and over the next, the rider-less Ericht squeezed through the front-runners to join Shangani at the head of affairs. The horses continued their journey up the home straight to fence number six, with Majala continuing to bring up the rear. Having all cleared this one without any noticeable errors, the runners headed to the water-jump with Shangani continuing to lead from Abracadabra Sivola, Big Casino, Phone Home, Ceasar Milan, Aloomomo, La Vaticane, Si C’Etait Vrai, Mosspark, Simply Wings, Midnight Prayer, Loch Ba, O Maonlai and Majala. The Alan King runner landed in a bit of a heap over the water-jump and was rousted away from it by his jockey, who also administered a reminder.
The remaining fourteen horses headed around the top bend and into the back straight still led by Shangani. Meanwhile the loose Ericht galloped to the inside of the rails before rejoining the track and shadowing the herd, whilst bypassing to the nearside of the fences. There were no mishaps at the first in the line of five, although Loch Ba was a little slow over this one. Heading down towards the second open-ditch, Gavin Sheehan aboard Aloomomo decided to remove his first set of goggles. Having been swallowed up by his rivals, although still in the front line, Shangani clobbered the fence and almost lost Aidan Coleman over his head, as a result he dropped back through the field like a stone; jumping out to his right, O’Maonlai stumbled on landing.
The runners were stringing out as they continued their journey over the next, which they all cleared safely. Travelling just behind the leading group, Simply Wings hit the top of the following fence and fell; having slithered along, rather than somersaulted, he was soon on his feet and galloped after the others. However, having cheated gravity once, Aidan Coleman’s time was up when his mount was hampered by this incident; Shangani was now out of the race too. Si C’Etait Vrai had been pulled up before the fence, and Majala was pulled up after it having gone lame.
The remaining ten runners headed down to the next, where Phone Home jumped out to his right, and Loch Ba was, once again, slow at the rear of the field. Big Casino led from Abracadabra Sivola, La Vaticane, Aloomomo, Ceasar Milan, Phone Home, Mosspark, Midnight Prayer, O’Maonlai and Loch Ba. There were a few dodgy jumps at the cross-fence, with the favourite getting into the bottom of it, also Phone Home and Ceasar Milan, plus O’Maonlai making errors.
Heading into the home straight, all bar one of the runners were now travelling in a group once more, led by Big Casino. Having cleared four out, Aloomomo challenged and took the lead, with the grey La Vaticane now his nearest pursuer as they jumped the final open-ditch. The tiring Phone Home took off too early, caught a leg and rolled over on landing. Gavin Sheehan’s mount continued to hold the advantage as they jumped two out, from the grey, O Maonlai had progressed into third place, with Big Casino endeavouring to hold off the challenge of Midnight Prayer. Mosspark began to rally as they headed to the final fence, hoping to steal fourth prize too.
Aloomomo was well in command as he jumped the last, with solely the rider-less Ericht for company; the latter continued on at the elbow and jumped the water. Meanwhile Gavin’s mount ran on strongly to claim first prize by 9 lengths at the line. O Maonlai stole 2nd by half a length, from La Vaticane, and Midnight Prayer finished 4th, 10 lengths further back. Mosspark had to settle for 5th, having blundered away any chance of a bigger prize at the last fence. Big Casino completed in 6th, Abracadabra Sivola in 7th, with Loch Ba last of the eight finishers.
As leading jockey for the Hennessy Festival, Gavin had been wearing an orange armband during the race. However, it had gradually slipped down his arm until it was caught around his wrist by the time he reached the line. It was at this point that he gave up with it and flicked the armband onto the ground!
The winner is part-owned by Ray Anderson Green, father of Verity Green who was formerly married to Timmy Murphy (or at least I presume this to be the case as she no longer uses the name Murphy). She was also at the track to join in the celebrations.
There was a sad postscript, as Phone Home lost his life in the fall at the final open-ditch. They gave him every chance to recover and rise, but to no avail; there was later an announcement to say that the next race would be slightly delayed whilst they ‘cleared the course’. It was at this point that I knew he hadn’t made it. RIP Phone Home.
It had been a promising return for Midnight Prayer, his aim now the Welsh Grand National shortly after Christmas. He’d been well-fancied for last year’s race but was withdrawn on the morning of the event when Alan King wasn’t 100% happy with the horse’s legs; he is prone to leg problems.
The favourite for the next race was Ma Filleule trained, of course, by Nicky Henderson and ridden today by Nico de Boinville. The 2014 Topham Chase winner had been plying her trade over hurdles so far this season, and she was the sole grey in this race. There was one chestnut, Laurium, the bay or brown Royal Guardman, the remaining six were bay.
The starting gate for this race is located at the far end of the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off. With Royal Guardsman taking a narrow advantage over Fitzwilly and Ma Filleule as they headed away from the starting gate; at the rear of the field was the hooded Ibis Du Rheu, a half brother to Saphir Du Rheu, sporting the yellow and red silks of John Hales, and behind him Auenwirbel. All nine runners cleared the first flight in their stride and continued their journey up the home straight and over the next obstacle. Also hooded, Sir Ivan was pulling for his head as he travelled in mid-field.
Gavin Sheehan aboard Royal Guardsman set a sensible pace at the head of affairs as they progressed further up the straight and over the third flight. Ma Filleule and Fitzwilly disputed second, from Laurium, Heath Hunter, Sir Ivan, Dubawi Island, Ibis Du Rheu and Auenwirbel. The runners headed up past the lollipop with one more circuit to go, around the top turn and into the back straight.
There were four flights of hurdles in the back straight; the runners headed over the first of these, with Laurium probably the least tidy of the competitors. At the next it was Fitzwilly and Auenwirbel which were the least fluent. There were no noticeable errors at the following flight and the runners headed on down to flight number seven, the final one in the back straight, with Royal Guardsman continuing to dictate the pace; it can be dangerous to let Gavin Sheehan lead from the front, as he’s a dab hand at getting it just right!
There were no mishaps at the seventh, although Fitzwilly jumped slightly out to his left and across Ma Filleule; Sir Ivan had been relegated to last place, marginally, although he still appeared to be travelling okay. Dubawi Island, two from the back, received reminders from Aidan Coleman as they headed into the far turn; Sir Ivan was given a slap down his neck, so perhaps he wasn’t travelling quite so well after all. Dubawi Island continued to struggle and was in rear as the runners entered the home straight. Both he and Sir Ivan now detached.
Meanwhile, Royal Guardsman continued to lead from Ma Filleule, the cheek-pieced Fitzwilly, chestnut Laurium, the blinkered Heath Hunter, the nose-banded Auenwirbel and the hooded Ibis Du Rheu. Gavin Sheehan was winding up the pace as they headed over three out; Laurium began to improve his position, although driven by his jockey. By contrast, Fitzwilly was already heading in the opposite direction as they cleared this flight.
Heading to the second last, Royal Guardsman remained narrowly ahead, with Ma Filleule and Heath Hunter close on his heels. Laurium’s challenge had been short-lived and he already appeared beaten when he hit the top of the flight and his pilot Freddie Mitchell lost his fight with gravity; unseated rider. Between the last two, the grey mare got her head in front, but the long-time leader battled on to her inside, with Heath Hunter also in close proximity and Ibis Du Rheu just behind these leading three; this group had now pulled well clear of the remaining four runners.
However, Ma Filleule was unable to sustain her challenge under Nico de Boinville and the extremely game Royal Guardsman had wrestled back a very narrow advantage as they cleared the last. Heath Hunter began to tire and dropped back into fourth position, whilst the Paul Nicholls representative continued to stalk the two leaders. Gavin’s mount found more on the run-in, under a powerful drive, to gain a two lengths’ advantage over Ma Filluele. Having beaten off most of the opposition, there was just one final challenger to now overcome; Sam Twiston-Davies was galvanising his mount for a final effort, and Ibis Du Rheu was gaining ground with every single stride. Would Royal Guardsman be able to fight him off?
The line approached ... would he hold on? Would he? Would he? Yes!!! The very game Royal Guardsman claimed the prize by a head. The third win of the day for Gavin Sheehan, and the fifth of the Festival for him too.
A victory for trainer Ali Stronge, her first winner of the jumps season; she trains horses for EPDS Racing too, having had much success on the flat with their Agent Gibbs during the summer just gone. But Agent Gibbs is leased and won’t be going hurdling; I believe they wanted to buy the horse, but the owner said no and the lease will run out in May. When interviewed after the race, Ali said that Gavin had done a lot of work with Agent Gibbs over the summer.
Anyway, back to the race in hand. Ma Filleule finished 2¼ lengths back in 3rd, with Health Hunter 8 lengths behind in 4th. There was then a big gap to Sir Ivan, 15 lengths in fact, with Fitzwilly next, then Auenwirbel and Dubawi Island last.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure once more to see the horses arrive back. Being one of the EPDS syndicate trainers, I would have the option to visit Ali Stronge’s yard on an EPDS open day.
The favourite for the next race was Whisper, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 6-4. This was despite the current World Hurdle champion Cole Harden taking part in the race; Whisper had beaten Gavin Sheehan’s mount at Aintree in April.
The starting gate for this race was half way down the back straight with two flights to jump before the far turn; thus it took place over one and three quarters circuits of the track.
Then they were off. It was no surprise that Cole Harden led the runners away; behind him were Whisper, then Aqalim to the inside and Deputy Dan to the outside, with Thistlecrack bringing up the rear. Both Aqalim and Deputy Dan were sporting blinkers and a noseband. Cole Harden wore a tongue strap, despite recent breathing operations. Surprisingly, to think of Thistlecrack as the young pretender is incorrect in this instance, as he was 7-years-old, along with Whisper and Deputy Dan. Cole Harden was only six, and Aqalim five!
There were no problems at the first flight, although Whisper landed on all fours over the second. The runners then headed into the far turn, with Thistlecrack a little keen and now sharing third with Aqalim and Deputy Dan. Entering the home straight on the first occasion, Cole Harden continued to cut out the pace, a couple of lengths clear of Whisper; Deputy Dan progressed on the outside to jump the next flight almost upsides the Nicky Henderson runner.
They continued to the fourth flight where, once more, Whisper bunny-hopped it. The five horses headed to the next, and over it, with Deputy Dan now in second position. Cole Harden retained the advantage as the runners galloped up in front of the stands and past the winning post with one circuit to go; his jockey Gavin Sheehan mindful to set a sensible pace in the soft ground conditions. This being the case, all the horses were travelling well within themselves as they headed around the top bend and into the back straight once more.
All five runners negotiated the sixth flight with ease, the pace beginning to gather as they continued their journey to the next. Having jumped it, Aidan Coleman was just beginning to push Aqalim along at the rear of the field in order that the gap between him and Thistlecrack did not extend. Aidan was still working hard at this task as the runners headed away from flight number eight. Cole Harden and Deputy Dan cleared the final flight in the back straight in unison, from Whisper, Thistlecrack and the pushed along Aqalim.
The runners then headed into the final turn, with Aidan resorting to a bad hander for his mount as they did so. Further into the bend, Nico de Boinville began to niggle at the pennant-tailed Whisper too. In contrast, Thistlecrack was travelling very smoothly under Tom Scudamore. Turning into the home straight, it was Cole Harden’s turn to be pushed along, as Deputy Dan took a narrow advantage on the run to the third last flight. The latter had a one length advantage over his nearest rival as he cleared it.
Both Cole Harden and Whisper looked beaten as they headed down towards the second last. However Thistlecrack had soon moved smoothly through to track the leader. Deputy Dan remained a couple of lengths ahead as they cleared the penultimate flight but, although now being ridden along, Tom Scudamore’s mount continued to gain ground and jumped into the lead at the final hurdle; now tired, Deputy Dan blundered here.
Thistlecrack then stayed on up the run in to win by 6 lengths at the line. Cole Harden rallied after the last and was closing upon Deputy Dan as they approached the line, as was Aqalim. But Deputy Dan clung on to the runner-up position, with the World Hurdle holder just half a length behind him in 3rd, and Aqalim a further half length away in 4th. Whisper crossed the line well behind the others, and was dismounted soon after the finish.
Winning trainer Colin Tizzard thought his charge might need the run, so told Tom Scudamore to be mindful of this; he was therefore very pleased with the ride and the result. He had envisaged this as a warm-up run for Ascot’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle just before Christmas. Colin said Thistlecrack is a huge horse now, a powerful machine and with room for improvement. The long term plan would now be the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Novice chasing by Christmas had been an option if the top-class hurdling plan had failed.
I headed back to the Parade Ring area to see the horses return. However, for the first time ever and despite this being my 21st fixture visit to Newbury, I ventured over to the far side of the Paddock, to the area overlooking the closed saddling boxes. I was hoping for a close view of Smad Place and Ned Stark ahead of the feature race and of Choc too ... but I soon discovered that he wasn’t in attendance again today. I was very disappointed.
But I am philosophical about it – I’d rather go and discover that he’s not been at the races, than not go and find out later that he’s attended when I have not. Besides, today, I had a ticket for the event because since 2008 I’ve always attended the Hennessy Gold Cup regardless of whether Choc has been riding or on the sidelines injured. It’s one of my ‘must attend’ days which includes the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, all four days of the Cheltenham Festival and as many days as possible of the Aintree Grand National Festival too. And, going forward, I’m always keen to attend Sandown’s Season Finale; now that it’s an all jumps card.
Unfortunately, having now discovered this vantage point overlooking both the closed saddling boxes and the Parade Ring, it will soon be bulldozed to make way for the newly landscaped Paddock as part of the re-development plans. The closed saddling boxes will be replaced by hospitality pavilions.
The favourite for the feature event was Saphir Du Rheu, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; price 9-2. As eluded to above, Alan King had two runners, the grey Smad Place ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, and Ned Stark owned by the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership and ridden by Denis O’Regan, their retained jockey. This was the second race of the season for both horses, Smad Place having won a Graduation Chase at Kempton Park 26 days previously, and Ned Stark having run at Ascot on Halloween when he finished 6th. Alan King admitted that he’d learnt his lesson from last year when he had run both Smad Place and Midnight Prayer without a warm-up race.
There were two withdrawals on the day of the race, due to the ground, namely Fox Appeal and The Druids Nephew.
The starting gate for this race was at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two circuits of the track to cover.
And then they were off. Prominent heading to the first were The Giant Bolster, Splash Of Ginge and Smad Place; also Fingal Bay, First Lieutenant and Ned Stark. Travelling five from the back, The Young Master hit the fence and unseated Sam Waley-Cohen; fortunately Urano and Theatre Guide managed to avoid the prostrate jockey. Barry Geraghty aboard If In Doubt glanced down at Sam; I wonder if he spoke to him?
The Giant Bolster led the runners down to the next fence; the first of the open-ditches. The remaining fourteen competitors cleared this without mishap. Fingal Bay, under Richard Johnson, took a narrow advantage heading down to the third, from The Giant Bolster, with Smad Place against the inside rail, Ned Stark, and to the wide outside the favourite, Saphir Du Rheu. Behind these were Splash Of Ginge, First Lieutenant, Houblon Des Obeaux, Benbens, Urano and Al Co; Theatre Guide, If In Doubt and Bobs Worth brought up the rear. Theatre Guide was taking a little bit of time to warm up over his fences.
The runners had soon cleared fences three to five in the back straight without incident. Fingal Bay led them into the far turn, from Smad Place and The Giant Bolster disputing second, and Ned Stark matching strides with Saphir Du Rheu. The leading five had pulled three lengths clear of Splash Of Ginge which led the remaining group. The loose The Young Master squeezed his way up between the grey and Tom Scudamore’s mount; Wayne Hutchinson aboard the former glanced to his right to see who or what was making this manoeuvre. A number of yards further on, he had to check again to ensure the rider-less horse would not interfere with his mount.
Fingal Bay continued to hold the lead as the runners jumped the cross-fence, with Smad Place now a clear second, from The Giant Bolster, Saphir Du Rheu and Ned Stark. The pace was strong for the soft ground conditions and, as they entered the home straight to approach the next fence, the loose horse swung across to his left in front of the leader, with both Richard Johnson and Wayne Hutchinson having to take evasive action. Smad Place ran down the fence, to his right, in order to put himself right. But the jockey had soon straightened up his mount and now continued to the nearside of the leader.
All of the runners jumped the second open-ditch without problem, after which Wayne let his mount bound on into a marginal lead over Fingal Bay. Travelling four lengths off the pace were The Giant Bolster and Saphir Du Rheu, from Ned Stark, Splash Of Ginge, Benbens, the two Irish raiders, namely First Lieutenant and Urano, Theatre Guide, Houblon Des Obeaux, Al Co, Bobs Worth and If In Doubt. Smad Place kept close company with Fingal Bay as the field headed over the following two fences, after which Wayne let him have his head and he cleared the water-jump with a three lengths advantage. At the back of the field, If In Doubt, sporting the green and gold silks of JP McManus, landed over the obstacle with extreme awkwardness.
Smad Place continued to bowl along at the front of the field as they headed around the top bend and into the back straight with one circuit completed. The loose horse had found his way to the inside of the rails, but was a number of lengths ahead of the piloted runners and of no danger once the guiding rail had terminated. Heading into the back straight, the light grey continued to hold a clear advantage over Fingal Bay, The Giant Bolster, Saphir Du Rheu and Ned Stark. The main body of the field was three or four lengths behind the Dunkley & Reilly horse.
Three from the rear, Urano hit the next fence; he skewed in the air before landing but survived. The runners headed to the open-ditch; the leader reached with his forelegs to jump the fence and cleared it well. Wayne let his mount have a bit of a breather as they headed over the next, with Fingal Bay, The Giant Bolster and Saphir Du Rheu closing up to within a couple of lengths of him. Ned Stark travelled two or three lengths behind them. The favourite, the dark grey Saphir Du Rheu, blundered badly at the next; further back in the field, Theatre Guide hit it also and Urano was untidy too. Splash Of Ginge and Bobs Worth both made errors at the final fence in the back straight and Al Co and If In Doubt were beginning to tail off. The strong pace being set by Smad Place was beginning to take its toll.
Entering the final turn, Wayne glanced to his right to check on his rivals; Fingal Bay was travelling at his girth, with Saphir Du Rheu also in close attendance. The Giant Bolster followed these, from Ned Stark, First Lieutenant, Theatre Guide, Benbens, Urano, Splash Of Ginge, Bobs Worth and Houblon Des Obeaux. Having made a number of recent errors, Splash Of Ginge hit the cross-fence and unseated Jamie Bargary; the jockey was fortunate not to get his left foot stuck in the iron.
Meanwhile Smad Place galloped around the home turn, hotly pursued by a number of his rivals but he still had a length in hand over The Giant Bolster and Fingal Bay as he jumped the fourth last. By this point, Ned Stark was beginning to show signs of tiredness and began to drop back. In rear, Al Co blundered at this fence and was subsequently pulled up. And still Smad Place led as he cleared the open-ditch, although it looked like a little bit more of an effort as he jumped high, skewed slightly and landed more steeply than previously during the race.
Heading down to the penultimate fence, Fingal Bay, First Lieutenant and Saphir Du Rheu were all under extreme pressure as their pilots attempted to close the gap upon the leader. But Smad Place had got a second wind and began to draw away from them; narrowly at first but, having cleared the fence, he began to stay on strongly as his rivals began to flounder in his wake. So much so, that he must have been eight to ten lengths clear as he jumped the final obstacle; Fingal Bay blundered at the last.
It was a joy to watch Smad Place bound up the run-in towards the line, with his jockey saluting the crowd with his whip as he crossed it. It was great for the horse to finally win the big race he deserved, after so many good efforts in the past. The winning margin was 12 lengths at the line. Theatre Guide chased down First Lieutenant to pip him at the line by a neck for 2nd place; Fingal Bay was a further 9 lengths behind in 4th. Saphir Du Rheu finished 5th, Bobs Worth 6th, The Giant Bolster 7th, Ned Stark 8th, Houblon Des Obeaux 9th, Benbens 10th and Urano last of the finishers. If In Doubt , having lost touch, was pulled up at the 17th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winning horse arrive back. In fact I set off on my route march before Smad Place had crossed the line such was my urgency to get a good pitch on the steppings!
The favourite for the final race of the day was Stellar Notion, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; price 9-4, although the horse had been off the racecourse for 263 days.
The starting gate for this event was half way down the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off. Prominent as they headed to the first fence were Pearls Legend, Stellar Notion, Whispering Harry and Fairyinthewind. Pearls Legend led over it, with Owen Na View last to rise. There were no mishaps at the first and the field continued their journey up the home straight and over the second, again without incident.
So, heading up past the grandstands towards the next, Pearls Legend continued to lead, from Stellar Notion, Whispering Harry, Grey Gold to the inside, Lough Kent sporting the Sprinter Sacre silks, Fairyinthewind to the outside, then Eastlake and Gardefort, between these Mountain King, then Parsnip Pete and finally Owen Na View. The giant Stellar Notion jumped into the lead as they headed over the water-jump.
The runners then galloped up around the top bend, with Fairyinthewind being bumped along for a few strides on the outside of the field shortly before they entered the back straight. The field had soon arrived at the next fence, with Whispering Harry now the marginal leader as they cleared it; back in the field, Mountain King hit this one, with jockey Richard Johnson having to gather his ‘knitting’ as they headed towards the first of the open-ditches.
Whispering Harry continued to lead as they jumped it; there were no noticeable errors at this obstacle. Pearls Legend joined the leader as they negotiated the middle of the five fences in the back straight; once again Mountain King made an error and was relegated to last position as a result. Having lost the lead upon entering the back straight, Stellar Notion jumped the next more slowly than his rivals and was overtaken by a number of them. In contrast, Grey Gold had begun to improve his position. One from rear, Owen Na View was a little untidy at the next, which was the final obstacle in the back straight.
Whispering Harry and Pearls Legend led the runners into the final bend, from Fairyinthewind and Grey Gold, behind these were Lough Kent, Stellar Notion and Gardefort, Eastlake, Parsnip Pete, Mountain King and Owen Na View; the field was still closely grouped. Gardefort made an error at the cross-fence, which slightly hampered Parsnip Pete travelling in his wake; Mountain King made yet another mistake here.
Pearls Legend, next to the inside rail, led the runners into the home straight by a narrow margin. Grey Gold was now travelling at his girth, with Whispering Harry just to the latter’s outside. Meanwhile, Eastlake had crept up the inside around the home bend to be fourth, from Lough Kent and Fairyinthewind. It was Grey Gold which led over the first in the home straight, from Whispering Harry and Pearls Legend. Having jumped this fence and now relegated to last place, Aidan Coleman decided to pull Gardefort up.
Meanwhile, the leaders headed down to three out, the final open-ditch. Grey Gold was still marginally ahead of Whispering Harry as they cleared it, with Pearls Legend remaining in third position. They continued down towards the penultimate obstacle, the leader now a length up as they cleared it despite carrying the burden of top weight against the featherweight of his nearest pursuer.
The 11 stone 12 pounds was beginning to tell as he approached the final fence, with three lengths still covering Whispering Harry, Pearls Legend, the error strewn Mountain King and also Eastlake as all five successfully cleared it. In fact Whispering Harry took a length’s lead after the last, as the other three pursuers found no extra. But Grey Gold would not succumb and he fought back under a strong drive from Jamie Moore and it was soon neck and neck as they passed the elbow, with Kerry Lee’s charge prevailing within the final 100 yards to win by a length at the line.
Pearls Legend completed in 3rd, 8 lengths back; Mountain King in 4th, Eastlake 5th, Owen Na View 6th and Fairyinthewind 7th and last of the finishers.
Fairyinthewind, ex-Alan King and currently trained by Brendan Powell, sustained a leg injury during the race and was retired to stud.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses come back for the final time today.
As for the statistics of the 3-day meeting – the winning-most trainer was Warren Greatrex with 3 winners; Colin Tizzard and Dan Skelton had two each. Paul Nicholls had just one winner, as did Nicky Henderson; the order of the universe is changing! But Alan King won the feature race, the Hennessy Gold Cup, which you’d take above all the others!
Gavin Sheehan romped away with the top jockey award, with 5 winners! Those riding more than one winner were Noel Fehily, Richard Johnson, Harry Skelton and Tom Scudamore with 2 each.
Presentations over, I headed into the Dubai Duty Free Stand to pay a visit to the ladies loo situated at the far end of the ground floor. There was a queue, out of the door, so I had to wait a few minutes for it to be my turn to use one of the three tiny cubicles. Why is there never enough room inside, so that you have to struggle to close the door?
I exited the stand via the door to the back of the grandstand, at the end of the corridor which leads to the loos and stairwells. I left via the gates at the north-eastern corner of the site, next to the entrance marquee and opposite the railway line. A number of people were waiting in a queue for their taxi to arrive. I turned right and weaved my way around to the pathway which runs along the side of the car park, adjacent to the building site where a large crane was currently located. It was around 16:00.
I’d soon found my car within the well-lit car park; however, the roadway running parallel to the railway line was choc-a-bloc with traffic, in both directions. An equal number of spectators were choosing to head in a westerly direction; this was despite racecourse advice that the new bridge to the east of the site should be used by those wishing to disperse to the east, north and west.
I decided to sit in my car, eat the two remaining cheese rolls and then wait until the traffic had cleared a little; I waited, and waited, and waited. Whilst waiting, I noticed David Bridgwater’s horsebox heading in the direction of the bridge; The Giant Bolster’s head was visible through the window of the box. David’s Wyck Hill Farm yard is located not far from Stow-on-the-Wold.
At 16:45 I decided it was time for me to leave, as it was now possible to join the back of the eastbound queue, although I did have to manoeuvre my way through the stationary westbound queue. I managed to get just beyond the first corner without stopping, carefully avoiding a vehicle which was trying to exit the health centre to the left. A broadcast vehicle also squeezed past me whilst I was in the queue; and it didn’t help that cars from the ‘grass’ car park were being given priority over those already on the roadway, despite having to enter from the right-hand side of the road at the next corner.
However, I’d soon reached the roundabout, where I turned left to head over the bridge. Three panels of a temporary barrier had fallen into the roadway at the beginning of the slope, so I drove around these. The road surface was covered in a film of wet mud and I was a little worried about traction, as the queue was moving so slowly. A few minutes later I’d reached the head of the queue, negotiated the roundabout and travelled up the Hambridge Road to reach the traffic lights upon the A4. I turned right, headed through a second set of traffic lights to reach a large roundabout, where I turned right once more in order to remain on the A4 to journey through Thatcham.
I was being harried by another vehicle as I drove back to the M4, so I was not surprised when it overtook me on the dual carriageway after the Aldermaston turning. I’d reached the motorway by 17:15 and headed along the eastbound carriageway to Reading East, junction 10. I then travelled down the A329(M) to rejoin the A4 once more. I drove in an easterly direction before taking Charvil Lane into Sonning village. There’s a 20mph speed limit with speed bumps, starting at the outskirts and leading into the village.
I was first in the queue at the traffic lights just prior to the single track road bridge; a line of lights in the pavement to the left-hand side of the ancient bridge acting as a guide to vehicles. The road passes over a mill-stream and then a further stretch of the Thames before heading past The French Horn to the right of the road, and arriving at a small roundabout where a lane to the left leads to Sonning Eye. I continued along Playhatch Road to reach another roundabout upon the A4155. I then turned left and headed into Caversham, arriving at my friend Denise’s house shortly afterwards; the journey had taken an hour.
Denise, her husband Terry and I headed to Wetherspoons in Caversham for an evening meal before returning to watch the second half of Strictly Come Dancing. I’d also taken the opportunity to deliver a Christmas card and gifts for Denise during this visit.
I left Den’s at 21:10, heading back through Sonning and onto the eastbound carriageway of the A4 once more, passing through Hare Hatch, Kiln Green and Knowl Hill, and past the lane which leads to Littlewick Green; the latter village has frequently featured in Midsomer Murders. I drove to the outskirts of Maidenhead before heading southwards along the A404(M); in the opposite direction to that of the homeward journey the day before. You have to make up the route as you go along, depending on the prevailing road conditions!
I’d soon reached the M4 eastbound carriageway again and headed to the M25, joining the clockwise carriageway to travel back to Hertfordshire. However, it transpired that repairs were to be carried out on the M25 between junctions 19 and 21 after 22:00; the workers’ vehicles were lined up upon the bridge over the motorway at junction 18, the Chorleywood turning. Further on, workmen were already placing cones across the carriageway and gantry signs were funnelling vehicles into the inside lane.
I decided to leave the motorway at junction 19, because it was easier to return via the A405, than continue to junction 20; a number of vehicles having continued upon the motorway’s inside lane past the designated junction. I drove past Leavesden and through Garston, stopping at the traffic lights at the Horseshoe Lane junction before continuing under the M1 to reach junction 21A of the M25. I glanced down at the motorway as I drove over it, there were a handful of vehicles travelling in the inside lane, presumably having remained on the carriageway despite the imminent threat of closure.
I continued past the Noke Hotel and down to the Park Street roundabout, before heading to the London Colney roundabout and home. I arrived back at around 22:30. Having unloaded my car, I settled down in front of the TV to watch the racing highlights on RUK. However, before long, I began to feel nauseous and had to rush upstairs to be sick down the loo. Sadly that wasn’t the end of it because, having returned to the racing coverage, I began to feel sick once more and didn’t even make it upstairs on the second occasion; I was sick in the kitchen sink! I was sick twice more late evening, on the final occasion I had to rush to the loo having gone to bed!!!
I presume I must have got food poisoning from eating a chicken burger at Wetherspoons. I’m going to order a veggie-burger next time ...