Avispa for diary.jpg


Avispa finished 2nd in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle



This would be my 7th 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 and Triolo D’Alene last year.


Sadly still no Choc, who continued to recover from the neck and back injuries he sustained at Chepstow on 25 April 2014.  And no Wayne Hutchinson either, who had been advised to rest having strained a medial knee ligament as a result of a fall at Southwell during October and aggrevated again at Doncaster on 18 November.  Today’s beneficiaries of these absencies would be Richard Johnson, Denis O’Regan and Alan King’s conditional jockey Tom Bellamy.


The first two days of the Hennessy Festival had been excellent for the Alan King yard, with three winners and a second from four runners!  Namely Carraig Mor ridden by Noel Fehily; Ned Stark ridden by Denis O’Regan, the jockey having an agreement to ride horses for the Dunkley & Reilly partnership; and the JP McManus-owned Yanworth ridden by AP McCoy.  Yesterday there was just one runner, Karazak, who finished a neck second in the Juvenile Hurdle under Richard Johnson.


I’d been on annual leave all week, needing to use up eight days before the end of the year.  But, for some reason, I’d felt apprehensive all the time and never able to really settle.  I  presume it was because I’m not presently accustomed to going out and about on trips, the last time I’d driven anywhere was mid-October to Cheltenham!  This week I’d been obliged to visit my brother and his family for lunch on Sunday, the weather was horrible, very wet and included driving upon the M1.  On Wednesday I’d been to the theatre in Milton Keynes to see the musical Calamity Jane and today, of course, a visit to Newbury races was planned.   


However, the trip to Milton Keynes to see Calamity Jane didn’t quite go to plan, time wise.  In fact we arrived ten minutes late.  I’d researched the time it would take me to drive from my home to collect Lesley from her workplace in Watford – two days previously Google informed me that in current traffic conditions it would take 42 minutes if I set out at 16:45.  It took me 55 minutes on the day.  And I didn’t want to journey up to Milton Keynes via the M1 in case there were any accidents to delay us, so we decided upon the A41 to Tring, then across country via Ivinghoe and the Leighton Buzzard bypass.  Unfortunately it took ages to escape from Watford, which would have happened whether we’d gone for the A41 or M1 option, because she works on the Croxley Green side of the town. 

It also didn’t help that it became foggy as we approached the Tring area; darkness and reduced visibility ... that’s all I needed!  I only have a vague recollection of the road from Tring to Ivinghoe, dating back to when I used to go rambling with Mark.  And the road from Ivinghoe to Leighton Buzzard was completely new to me; although I did know there was a sharp right-hand bend followed by a sharp left-hand bend respectively before and after the hamlet of Horton.  The road also passes close to the site of the 1963 Great Train Robbery.

The Milton Keynes Theatre is to the eastern end of the shopping centre, the A5 to the west of it.  This being the case, we decided to drive to the far end, before entering the inner road circuit surrounding the shops.  I wasn’t keen to park in the multi-storey car park close to the theatre, instead choosing a ground-level one but, unfortunately, there were no spaces to be found even after 19:15!  It was ridiculous; I thought there were acres and acres of car parking space available in Milton Keynes.  So we set off around the block once more and parked in the multi-storey after all!

Having arrived in the foyer a young man escorted us to entrance 1 of the auditorium.  We apologised for being late as we couldn’t find anywhere to park.  “Christmas shoppers”, he said.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that this might be the case in late November, as I’ve already completed my Christmas shopping!   We were shown to our seats once the cast had completed their first singing number – The Deadwood Stage.  Luckily we were sitting at the end of a row, four back from the stage; although this was a distinct disadvantage during the interval when all and sundry wished to leave their seats. 

Anyway, we really enjoyed the show, which starred Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok.  I gather Tom spent a number of years playing the part of Carl King in Emmerdale.  Jodie won I’d Do Anything in 2008, which gave her the opportunity to play the part of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver.  I went to see that show.

Having left the theatre at the end of the performance, we had to queue for a number of minutes to pay our parking charge because so many others were doing the same.   I needed to drop Lesley off in her home village and thus set off down a misty/foggy A5 once more.  I was hoping to travel via the southern section of the Leighton Buzzard bypass, rather than retrace our route around the northern and western sections thereof.  However, upon reaching our turning, we discovered that it was closed for repairs.  This being the case, we continued to Dunstable, only to be held up due to more road-works.   

Having reached the base of Dunstable Downs I set off via my usual route through Totternhoe and Church End.  The lane between there and Eaton Bray was foggy, 20 mph the maximum speed possible.  I dropped Lesley off at 23:00; this was actually the time I’d hoped to be home myself!  I retraced my route, it was very spooky driving back to Church End alone; I’m so glad no animals ... or ghosts ... decided to cross my path!  Having returned to Dunstable I drove through the housing estate – 20 mph and speed bumps all the way. 

Having exited onto the A5 once more, the fog turned to rain and it was wet for the remainder of my journey home.  I believe I arrived back at 23:40.  By this point I was paranoid about lateness, and worried about getting stuck in traffic jams on my way to Newbury on Saturday.  In addition, the website stated a gate opening time of 10:30, although in previous years it has been 09:30.    

However, my mind was put at rest when an email from the racecourse arrived on Friday evening setting out information for racegoers and this confirmed the gate opening time was indeed 10:30.  That being the case I aimed to begin my journey at 08:45 as, with a clear run, it takes 90 minutes to get there.  The plan for my day was to go racing and then visit my friend Denise on the way home; this would enable me to drop off her Christmas card and presents too.  I’d also given Lesley a Christmas card and presents on Wednesday.  And delivered Christmas cards for Neil and his family last Sunday too!  There’s nothing like being well ahead of the game!


With gate opening time confirmed, I set my alarm clock for 06:00.  I showered, washed and dried my hair before applying make-up.  I ate breakfast just after 08:00, whilst watching the beginning of Channel 4’s The Morning Line; breakfast was two croissants, plus two slices of buttered toast. 


My outfit today was three thermal vests – plum, violet and pink.  A beige/black/red cotton knee-length M & S skirt which has been sitting in the wardrobe for years, unworn!  40-denier black tights, burgundy M & S boots, black M & S frill-edged cardigan, purple fleece, burgundy/brown/beige material scarf, burgundy full length coat, again never worn!  Come to think of it, every item of my clothing was M & S, including underwear!  The only thing that wasn’t, was my home-constructed necklace and earrings – a silver coloured nickel-free pendant with burgundy glass pearls and amethyst facetted rondelle glass beads. 


I procrastinated slightly, which meant I left home at 08:55.  I drove to Junction 20 of the M25, via a local housing estate.  Traffic was moving fine on the anti-clockwise carriageway of the motorway, and I reached the M4 interchange at 09:30.  Again, there were no problems on the M4 westbound carriageway, although a 50- mph limit was in place to the west of the Maidenhead junction; continuing repairs or replacement of a bridge I believe.  I remained in the inside lane; the road-works extended well beyond the Reading East junction. 


It was a journey of three parts; I left the motorway at the Reading West exit at 10:00.  The reminder of my route took me along the A4, through Woolhampton and Thatcham to Newbury.  Having reached the Hambridge Road junction, I turned left and headed to the new roundabout which will soon mark the northern end of the Newbury racecourse exit road.  There was a yellow information sign directing vehicles wishing to park in car park number 4 to turn left in order to drive through the industrial estate and golf course to reach their destination.  Coaches were directed to turn right to proceed to the main entrance; it would have been impossible for them to take the other option, because of a narrow tunnel under the railway line and a sharp 45 degree right-hand turn just prior to the entry gate.  


Having negotiated these, I headed up the very worn driveway towards the grandstands.  A new high green wire fence has been erected to the right-hand side of the driveway but I was still expecting that not much of my route would have changed.  However, where the driveway kinks, there is a gateway through the fence; label-holders signed to turn right to enter through the gate (the old route), with public straight on, that’s me.  Straight on, initially, was a cinder track before newly laid tarmac was arrived upon.  Further on, two stewards were directing the public to enter via another gated entry point.  I turned right at this location and was instructed to park upon a grassed area, front row, one away from the green wire fence and adjacent the home straight.  Fortunately the grass was lush and green, so no problem there.  The old derelict buildings which used to mark the boundary between the grandstand car park and the racecourse have now been demolished.


However, as always at Newbury, and it gets on my nerves, a pair of didicoy women were acosting punters in an attempt to sell lucky heather.  I’ll give them lucky heather ... I’d run them over if it was permitted!  I’ve complained to the racecourse before about these crooks, ever since one of them actually opened my car door whilst I was sitting in my vehicle.  I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them.  I told one of them to go away, twice.  I amazed myself that I was so polite!!!      


Anyway, I put on my boots and then checked my mobile phone and found a message from Denise to say that she and her husband had felt a little unwell yesterday and asking if I still wished to pay them a visit after racing.  I confirmed that I’d still arrive at around 17:00 to 17:30, dependent on traffic; I’d let her know when I was leaving the racecourse to start the journey to her house.


Having eaten two of the cheese rolls I’d brought with me, I put on my coat and scarf and set off to the main entrance.  Fortunately, walking any distance is never an issue; right, left, right, left ... that’s not my steps but my route around the perimeter fence!  Security guards were on hand to check bags; I offered mine anyway, even though not asked specifically.  As always, I commiserated that my handbag contained so much to search through!  It was my large black ‘polyester’ bag; great for fine days like today, but prone to leaking in wet weather. 


The old turnstiles have been removed, a tent constructed above the area which offered entrances for owners/trainers, ticket purchasers, ticket collectors and the scanning of pre-purchased tickets too.  As I fell within the latter category, my ticket was scanned and I was permitted to enter the grandstand enclosure.  Having purchased a racecard for £3.00 from the nearby kiosk, I then headed to the Dubai Duty Free grandstand in order to visit the loo. 


The premier enclosure appears to have expanded slightly, with the boundary now level with the walkway into the Parade Ring from the Weighing Room.  A tented row of retail outlets, Hennessy High Street, lined the main concourse.  At the near end was the Racing Post bookshop, where Alistair Down, Gary Witheford and Clare Balding would be signing their books at intervals during the day.  It’s always too late for me, as I would have purchased a required book via the internet. 


The first race of the day had an off time of 12:20, so I then headed to the Parade Ring.  There wasn’t that long to wait until the first presentation of the day, at 11:30, when ATR presenter Martin Kelly hosted a preview of the day’s racing.  His guests were ex-jockey Willie Robinson, the only jockey to ride three winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup (Mandarin 1961, Mill House 1963 and Man Of The West 1968).  Also trainers Philip Hobbs and Paul Nicholls, plus racing pundit Sam Turner (aka Robin Goodfellow of the Daily Mail).  Philip followed on from Willie Robinson and they chatted briefly, before posing for a photograph taken by an official photographer.


The Premier Enclosure customers were treated to a pre-race preview held in The Outside Chance Bar, with AP McCoy and John Francome offering their picks for the day.


I spent a few minutes at around this point making a handful of notes in my notebook; I’d already discovered that there were none whatsoever recorded for my Cheltenham visit in October.  And that particular diary was enormous! 


It was soon time for the first race of the day, in which Alan King had a runner, namely Avispa ridden by Richard Johnson.  The race favourite was Irish raider Carrigmoorna Rock, priced at 11-8.


The horses having left the Parade Ring, I set off to watch the race.  Picnic tables had been placed upon the concourse, beside the betting stands; this hindered the free movement of spectators between the Parade Ring and the course-side rails, because punters loitered around them.  It was very annoying having to dodge at speed around them.


I didn’t venture onto the narrow strip of grass close to the rails, where further picnic tables are located.  I couldn’t actually reach the rails themselves, due to weight of spectator numbers today.  However, I wish people wouldn’t stand upon the tables, as they obstruct the view for those behind them. 


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.


Race 1

Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Listed)


2 miles 110 yards (8 flights)

No. of Runners


A Doll In Milan, Ardnahoe, Avispa, Broxbourne, Carrigmoorna Rock, Midnight Jazz, Taniokey


Then they were off, at a very slow pace towards the first flight.  Ardnahoe led the way, with Taniokey pulling hard for her head in second position; Avispa brought up the rear.  Taniokey jumped into the lead at the hurdle, but was quickly reined back to the outside of the field.  Meanwhile Ardnahoe and A Doll In Milan disputed the lead as they headed up past the grandstands and out into the country for the one and only time.


Into the back straight they galloped, A Doll In Milan with the slight advantage to the inside of Ardnahoe; close on their heels Taniokey and Carrigmoorna Rock. Behind these Broxbourne and Midnight Jazz, followed by Avispa, who was also fairly keen.  A Doll In Milan cleared the second flight better than Ardnahoe and thus had a clear advantage.  They headed towards flight number three; Noel Fehily’s mount regaining ground, only to lose it with a less fluent jump at this obstacle. 


There was no change at the head of affairs as they cleared flight number four, Taniokey was slow here.  The runners cleared flight number five without incident and headed into the far bend.  A Doll In Milan continued to lead, from Ardnahoe, Carrigmoorna Rock, Taniokey, Midnight Jazz upsides Broxbourne, and Avispa half a length down between them.


Entering the home straight, Broxbourne appeared to be the first in trouble having dropped to the rear of the field; although they were still closely bunched.  A Doll In Milan continued to lead as they cleared three out.  Carrigmoorna Rock disputing second with Ardnahoe; Avispa poking her nose through the gap between them.  There wasn’t much room as the runners headed towards the penultimate flight; Avispa in danger of becoming the meat in the sandwich as Midnight Jazz loomed up on the outside and Ardnahoe was squeezed out. 


However, it was Carrigmoorna Rock and Avispa who took up the running as they closed in upon the hurdle.  The Irish raider was slightly the more fluent at the jump and AP’s mount cruised into the lead.  But Avispa continued to pursue her as they headed towards the final flight.  A Doll In Milan held third position at this stage, with Midnight Jazz behind her and Broxbourne running on behind these.


Carrigmoorna Rock was two lengths up at the last, and she continued to draw away from her rivals as she approached the line.  The winning distance was 6 lengths.  Avispa completed in second, with Broxbourne staying on into third just 2¾ lengths behind.  The long time leader A Doll In Milan finished 4th, 7 lengths away.     







Carrigmoorna Rock

AP McCoy

Robert Tyner



Richard Johnson

Alan King



Barry Geraghty

Nicky Henderson


A Doll In Milan

Nigel Twiston-Davies

Sam Twiston-Davies


I set off on a route march back to the Winners Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. 


Alan King’s representative in the second race was Turn Over Sivola, ridden by Denis O’Regan; the horse remains a novice this season, having won just once over the larger obstacles, in May after season-end.  The race favourite was the Philip Hobbs-trained Royal Regatta, priced at 11-4.  This was the race won last year by Valdez; the horse had been sidelined for the remainder of 2014/2015 season due to a tendon injury picked up a couple of weeks after his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow when he’d fallen two out when looking like the winner that day.  


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 jump prior to water-jump and then one full circuit of the course.


Race 2

NovicesLimited Handicap Chase


2 miles and half a furlong (13 fences)

No. of Runners


Turn Over Sivola, Seventh Sky, The Clock Leary, Royal Regatta, Tara Road, Jumps Road, Keltus


Then they were off.  Seventh Sky led the runners over the first fence; to the outside The Clock Leary jumped out to his right, slightly hampering in his wake Jumps Road.  Turn Over Sivola travelled to the inside of the field; the grey Keltus was a little awkward, with jockey Sam Twiston-Davies’ right hand briefly losing grip of the reins as he cleared the obstacle.


The horses headed to the second fence; Daryl Jacob steering Jumps Road to the inside of the Venetia Willams runner to avoid further problems at this jump.  Bringing up the rear was Royal Regatta.  Heading over the water for the one and only time, the order was Seventh Sky, from The Clock Leary, Jumps Road, Tara Road, Keltus, Turn Over Sivola and Royal Regatta; Tara Road was a little slow here.


The field headed up around the top bend and into the back straight.  All the runners took the first fence in this line of five in their stride; the next fence was the first of two open-ditches.  It was another story here; the leader took off too far away from the jump, ploughed through the top of it, lost a lot of momentum although he survived.  Jumps Road was also a little awkward here.  Seventh Sky’s error permitted The Clock Leary to take the lead to the outside of the field.


There were no problems at the middle fence in the back straight, with Jumps Road now joining the leaders; they raced ahead of Tara Road and Keltus, followed by Turn Over Sivola and Royal Regatta.  The Clock Leary made an error at the next; there were no incidents at the final fence in the back straight.  Tara Road was probably travelling the least well as they headed into the far turn, Barry Geraghty pushing his mount along for a few strides. 


The Clock Leary led the runners to the cross-fence, but he gave away ground by jumping out to his right; this enabled Jumps Road to join him as they headed into the home straight.  Keltus had improved into third by this stage, with the tiring Seventh Sky in fourth; however the latter was soon relegated to last as the remaining runners improved their positions.


Jumps Road led over the fourth last, from Keltus, Turn Over Sivola and The Clock Leary; although the latter’s jumping had become very wayward as he wandered out to his right over every fence.  Having cleared the fence, Gavin Sheehan pulled up Seventh Sky.  The runners headed to the final open-ditch; Keltus had assumed a narrow lead by this point, from Jumps Road, Turn Over Sivola and The Clock Leary.  The favourite, Royal Regatta was making stealthy progress up the inside.


The field headed to two out, where Keltus still led by a length from Jumps Road, with Royal Regatta close behind, upsides Turn Over Sivola.  Jumps Road pecked on landing having hit the fence and soon dropped back to fourth.  This left the other two to pursue the grey down to the final obstacle.  Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount still held a length’s advantage over Royal Regatta to his inside as they jumped the fence, but as they approached the elbow the latter drew alongside and then pulled away to win by 2 lengths at the line. 


Turn Over Sivola had begun to get tire on the run-in but still held on to third position, finishing 6th lengths behind Keltus.  Tara Road had stayed on to claim fourth place, 2¼ lengths back.  Jumps Road completed in 5th, with The Clock Leary last of the finishers.







Royal Regatta

Richard Johnson

Philip Hobbs



Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls


Turn Over Sivola

Denis O’Regan

Alan King


Tara Road

Barry Geraghty

Rebecca Curtis


Another placed effort from the Alan King runner.  He must be so frustrating to own, as he always finds one or two better than himself.  In his next Weekender column Alan reported that the ground was too soft for the horse this day and he would have a mid-season break before returning for one run ahead of possibly being aimed at one of the big handicaps in the spring.  


Once again I did a route march back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back.


The favourite for the next race was Irish raider Dushrembrandt, ridden by Ruby Walsh, priced at 11-4.  Alan King’s representative was Midnight Appeal ridden by his stable conditional jockey, Tom Bellamy. 


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. 


Race 3

Handicap Chase (for the Fulke Walwyn Trophy)


2 miles 6 furlongs and 110 yards (17 fences)

No. of Runners


Count Salazar, Midnight Appeal, Baby Shine, Noble Legend, Bertie Boru, Listen Boy, Bobcatbilly, On Trend, Dushrembrandt, Farbreaga, Tolkeins Tango, Phone Home


Then they were off.  Midnight Appeal had a marginal advantage as they cleared the first fence.  Close up to his inside were Dushrembrandt, On Trend, Count Salazar and Bobcatbilly; to his outside Listen Boy.  Bertie Boru wasn’t particularly fluent in rear.  Tom Bellamy then took a pull aboard his mount, and this permitted On Trend to take a clear lead as they headed into the far turn to approach the cross fence. 


Listen Boy crashed out at this obstacle, having been travelling in second position; he badly hampered Phone Home who had been travelling behind him in mid-field.  Farbreaga also made a jumping error here.  The loose horse was fine following his mishap and galloped after the field; jockey Sam Twiston-Davies was soon on his feet too. 


On Trend led the field into the home straight.  The remaining eleven jumped the third fence without incident; although Noel Fehily aboard Farbreaga, who was now in rear, was already more animated than the others.  There were no mishaps at the first of the open-ditches; but Noel gave his mount a couple of backhanders as they headed away from the fence.


The loose horse, which had continued jockey-less over the fences, had joined On Trend, Dushrembrandt and Midnight Appeal at the head of affairs as they headed to the next obstacle.  There were no fallers at this fence or the next, and the runners then galloped to the water-jump for the one and only time.  Ruby Walsh’s mount held a slight advantage as they landed over this fence, from On Trend, Midnight Appeal, Phone Home, Count Salazar, Bobcatbilly, Baby Shine, Noble Legend, Bertie Boru, Tolkeins Tango and Farbreaga.


The loose horse had declined the opportunity to jump the water and now travelled close to the runners on the other side of the rails to the inside of the track.  He negotiated a small obstacle lying on the grass at the apex of the bend but luckily failed to cause havoc when he took a diagonal route across the racecourse just in front of the leader in order to avoid jumping the next obstacle.   


On Trend now had a four length advantage as he headed over the first in the back straight, from Midnight Appeal and Dushrembrandt; at the rear of the field Farbreaga made an error here.  The next fence is an open-ditch.  There were no jumping problems here, although the favourite had begun to drop back through the field and now travelled in sixth position. 


On Trend continued to lead over the next, from Phone Home; Bobcatbilly, Count Salazar and Midnight Appeal disputed third place at this point.  Baby Shine and Tolkeins Tango had joined Dushrembrandt three lengths behind these, closely followed by Bertie Boru.  Ruby’s mount continued to lose ground upon the leaders as they negotiated the next, solely the trailing Noble Legend and Farbreaga in his wake.


There were no mishaps at the final fence in the back straight, and a closely packed field of eight headed into the far turn, led by On Trend and Phone Home.  Near the rear of this group, the mare Baby Shine was receiving slaps down her neck from her jockey Leighton Aspell as they approached the cross fence.  Phone Home jumped out to his right over this one but still took the lead.  Tolkeins Tango was a little bit shabby at the back of the group.  The three trailers, Dushrembrant, Noble Legend and Farbreaga were pulled up at this point.


Phone Home led over four out, from Bobcatbilly and Midnight Appeal; at the back of the group both Bertie Boru and Tolkeins Tango made errors here.  The field headed down towards the final open-ditch, which they all cleared successfully; Baby Shine had progressed through the field and was now challenging for second position, although she was under pressure, as was Bobcatbilly to her inside and Midnight Appeal to her outside. 


The runners cleared two out.  The first to weaken was Bobcatbilly, and he’d soon lost fourth place to the staying on Bertie Boru; despite the latter having jumped less than fluently throughout the race.  Phone Home was four or five lengths clear as he jumped the last and appeared to have the race in his pocket.  However, Richard Johnson aboard Bertie Boru had other ideas, despite still having three rivals ahead of him. 


Having been in front for a long time, Phone Home’s legs seemed to turn to jelly on the run to the line.  Bertie Boru was driven up to the inside of Baby Shine, soon drawing alongside Tom Scudamore’s mount; and although the latter did rally once his rival had joined him, it was too late and Bertie Boru had triumphed by a head at the line.  Baby Shine finished 2¾ lengths behind, easing down, with Midnight Appeal 8 lengths back in 4th.







Bertie Boru

Richard Johnson

Philip Hobbs


Phone Home

Tom Scudamore

Nick Mitchell


Baby Shine

Leighton Aspell

Lucy Wadham


Midnight Appeal

Tom Bellamy

Alan King


I set off once more to the Winners’ Enclosure; this time standing upon the steppings across from the 3rd and 4th place markers in order to see Midnight Appeal arrive back.  


That’s it for part one of my diary, please click the link below to read part two.

Click here to read Part 2 of my diary



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