DIARY – NEWBURY – HENNESSY GOLD CUP
SATURDAY 30 NOVEMBER 2013
Choc and Valdez win the Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase
This would be my 6th 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 and Bobs Worth in 2012. Who’s turn would it be in 2013? Might it be Choc, who would be riding Invictus; the horse returning from a 651-day injury absence? The trainer and jockey thought it a tall order but, regardless, he’d been installed as the anti-post favourite for the race.
I’d booked both the preceding Thursday and Friday as annual leave but, following last year’s trip to Newbury on the first day of the Festival and the horrendous travel problems I’d encountered in Reading due to an accident on the M4, I decided not to attend on either of the first two days; I would keep my powder dry until Saturday, Hennessy Gold Cup Day. This would also enable me to complete my diary following a trip to Kempton Park the previous Monday; I hate it when I go racing and my diaries begin to snowball without any hope of completion before the quiet spring and summer period. And I would be in trouble if it began to happen as early as late November!
By the time I’d spent time on Wednesday evening working on Monday’s diary, all I needed to do was write an overview of each race; this I planned to do on Thursday. However, before I turned in, I did decide to begin construction of a pine shoerack I’d purchased from Argos on the Monday. It took longer than expected and I only managed to piece together two of the four shelves before I turned in at well past midnight; and one of those had a couple of loose screws which wouldn’t bed-in in any further. As much as I hate to admit it, it needed a man’s strength!
My original plan had been to wake early and begin the race descriptions by 06:00 or 07:00 in the morning ... fat chance of that, I was too tired after my late night. I also got sidetracked constructing another shelf, but again a couple of screws wouldn’t go in tight enough ... I’d leave it until I saw my younger brother the following Sunday, he’d be able to fix it for me. So drafting of the race notes finally began at 10:30 and was completed by 20:45. I had proof-read the copy and unloaded it by 22:30. Job done.
I’d recorded RUK’s coverage of day 1 of the Heritage Festival so as not to miss anything should I dose off to sleep during the afternoon ... and it wouldn’t be the first time ... but in the event, the recording failed, as the planner couldn’t locate and play it despite it being listed. So before turning in on Thursday I had to re-build the planner in the hope of rescueing the recording but, for the first time, it didn’t work – Tuesday’s missing Lingfield recording appeared but Newbury did not. Damn. However, having realised I’d need to transfer the races from RUK’s replay, the timings meant I could obtain two before I turned in, and the third one at 07:30 on Friday morning!
I then drove down to the local supermarket to fill up my car’s petrol tank ahead of my Newbury trip the following day, and a little later on went to the bank in order to pay a number of bills and withdraw some cash ... it was pay day!!! And to buy a lotto ticket too. The afternoon as spent watching the second day of the Heritage Festival, with Choc riding a winner in the final race, a National Hunt Maiden Hurdle, aboard Wilde Blue Yonder.
From memory, it takes me around 90 minutes to reach Newbury ... provided there are no accidents or delays en route. This being the case, I intended to leave home at 08:00 because the gates opened at 09:30 on Hennessy Gold Cup day. I set the alarm clock for 05:30 which gave me more than enough time to get ready. I showered, washed and dried my hair, ate a breakfast of two slices of buttered toast and croissants. I applied my makeup and was ready to depart a couple of minutes before 08:00.
My outfit today comprised, a black thermal vest, a rose pink long-sleeved thermal vest, cerise frill-edged cardigan, purple fleece, black gillet fleece, burgundy Per Una frill-edged cardigan, green Cotton Traders heavyweight fleece, black tights, brown leggings, long black handkerchief hemmed skirt, black faux fur jacket, black engineer boots, black/white horses snood, and cerise Katia Big Snow scarf. The weather was forecast to be fine, if a little windy and it did turn out to be a sunny day, which was great as late November is usually dank ... and I hate dank! And, of course, my Magic Branches necklace for luck.
It was a little disconcerting however, to back out of the drive and see a single magpie on the driveway of a nearby house. I knew what I had to do ... I decided to drive along the perimeter road of a housing estate en route to the M25 and, as expected, saw a number of other magpies. In total I saw seven today, at various places on my way to the racecourse.
I joined the M25 at Junction 22. There were no problems on the motorway and I reached the M4 at 08:30. Traffic on the M4 westbound carriageway was okay too, after all it was Saturday. There was a brief section with a 50-mph limit, coinciding with the Slough West junction where bridge repairs were taking place. I’d reached the Reading West junction by 09:00. My route then took me along the A4, through Woolhampton, and Thatcham to Newbury.
I noted one idiot cyclist in Thatcham who rode through red lights; I got caught by possibly all of them. Cyclists drive me nuts ... they either ride through red lights and narrowly miss knocking you over as a pedestrian trying to cross at a junction or they ride on the path and nearly collide with you too. They haven’t a clue that you can’t hear them approaching from behind or they whizz around blind corners and almost hit you. They are dangerous idiots.
Having exited the A4 and travelled down the Hambridge Road, I took a left turn at the new roundabout to head through the industrial estate; it was signposted ‘parking’ but I didn’t follow anyone and no-one else followed me! There is a section of lane just before the single-track railway bridge underpass in dire need to repair ... but I guess it’s no longer of relevance since the planned redevelopment includes a new bridge over the railway. The road to the bridge will commence at the roundabout situated at the entrance to the industrial estate.
So, today, I saw no vehicles when I drove up the driveway through the golf course and past the club house. There were, however, a number of cars which passed me in the opposite direction on their way to the health club. It was 09:25 when I parked up on the front row of the general car park area. There was a small section cordoned off to the front of my car, where bookmakers were being instructed to park.
Redevelopment having begun in certain areas of the racecourse, there will soon be a line of apartment blocks built between the free car parking area and the racecourse. One block was already well under way, five storeys already constructed alongside the top bend. Before leaving my parked car, I decided to eat two of the cheese rolls I’d brought with me, saving the other two until I returned to my vehicle after racing.
I changed into my boots, put on my coat and wristwarmers, packed my thermal gloves and woolley hat in my handbag and set off to the grandstand extrance. One of the stewards asked if I was warm enough ... ‘I hope so’ I said, ‘I’m wearing seven or eight layers’. Security staff waited beside tables close the turnstiles, ready to check racegoers’ bags. Once checked, I headed to the turnstile, where my pre-purchased ticket was scanned and I was permitted to enter the racecourse precincts. I bought a race-card from the nearby kiosk, cost £3.00.
Having popped to the loo within the Dubai Duty Free grandstand, I set off to the Parade Ring expecting Mark Your Card to begin at 10:00. However as it turned out, the timetable was completely wayward, a second promise of Mark Your Card at 11:15 didn’t materialise either; in fact it was well past 11:30 before Emma Spencer, Bet365’s Andrew Holding and raceday presenter Philip Brannan turned up in the Parade Ring.
In the meantime they’d wandered around the shopping village, with Emma suggesting items which might be suitable for Philip to buy his wife for Christmas! I recall they visited the Espayo marquee, the company retailing a collection of high quality cutting-edge equestrian fashions and accessories sourced throughout Europe. In other words, expensive equestrian items for people with more money than sense!!!
They also visited equestrian artist Liz Armstrong’s marquee; amongst her collection were paintings where she’d used betting tickets to provide the background for her art. Within the Bus Bar, they encountered musician Aaron Norton; elsewhere Derek Thompson who was plugging his new autobiography. They also caught up with those overseeing the catering operation today.
There was an opportunity to win a luxury trip for two to Dubai, for the Dubai World Cup horserace; it did not appeal to me whatsoever! Another competition involved answering questions within the race-card to win one of six sets of Racing Post books – Henderson’s Heros, Brough Scott’s Henry Cecil biography, Tommo’s autobiography and AP McCoy’s new novel ... that was more my style. With the questions relating to the Hennessy Gold Cup itself, you could actually find many of the answers within race-card!
Daryl Jacob was okay to take up his rides today, having stood himself down before the end of yesterday’s engagements having suffered a fall on Thursday and aggrevated a shoulder injury which had been operated upon during the summer.
However, there had been two notable jockey changes ahead of the big race, the first being the replacement of Lord Windermere’s jockey Robbie McNamara who had broken his collarbone in a training accident the day before the big race; Dougie Costello taking up the engagement instead. The second replacement was bizarre, and occurred when Timmy Murphy, who was scheduled to ride Our Father, was taken to hospital following an incident in the Weighing Room – evidently he’d had an altercation with Dominic Elsworth during which his shoulder had been dislocated! More As a result, Conor O’Farrell took over the ride aboard the David Pipe-trained runner.
Today’s going was good, good to soft in places on the chase track; good to soft, soft in places on the hurdles track.
It would be a Choc-filled day, with my favourite jockey having a ride in all but the last of the seven races.
It was soon time for the first race of the day, due off at 12:20. Choc’s mount in this event was the diminuative The Pirate’s Queen, for trainer Alan King at a price of 12-1. The favourite was the Willie Mullins runner, Vicky De L’Oasis, ridden by Ruby Walsh. As I Am went to the start a little ahead of the others and her handler led her around once there.
A group of young smartly dressed men decided to stand beside me at the top of the steppings overlooking the Parade Ring; one of them dropped his plastic beer glass on the steps, the drink splashing everywhere. I would not have been amused if I’d been standing in front of them and my skirt had got soaked. People can be such a nuisance sometimes. Personally I can’t wait until the Parade Ring area is re-developed to provide a far better viewing platform for the punters. I gather the Weighing Room will be re-located to the far side of it, to the area where the saddling boxes are now sited.
Choc having headed out onto the racecourse, I set off to find a vantage point as close to the course-side rails as possible. And, despite there being a big crowd today, I did manage to get almost to the front.
The starting gate for the first race was part way down the home straight, the horses having one flight of hurdles to jump before heading out onto one complete circuit of the track.
As I Am was led out onto the track, soon to be joined by the others. Then they were off. She set off at the head of affairs, followed by the two Nicky Henderson runners Rosie Probert and Free Thinking. These were followed by Vicky De L’Oasis, Brijomi Queen and The Pirate’s Queen. All six runners cleared the first flight in their stride before heading up past the winning post on the first occasion.
The field proceeded around the top turn, the leader extending her advantage over her rivals to around eight lengths, which she maintained for much of the back straight; all six runners clearing the four flights therein satisfactorily. Upon entering the far turn, As I Am’s lead had shrunk to around four lengths, the second favourite Free Thinking now her nearest pursuer; The Pirate’s Queen close up in last place.
Exiting the turn, the leader was now a mere two lengths ahead of her rivals, Free Thinking travelled in second place, from Rosie Probert, Brijomi Queen, Vicky De L’Oasis and The Pirate’s Queen. The field closed up as they approached and cleared three out, As I Am still with a clear advantage, the other five runners in a line across the track, preparing to make their challenges.
The first to drop out was the Sam Waley-Cohen ridden second-favourite, Free Thinking, then Brijomi Queen as they cleared two out. Choc had taken his mount to the inside of the track, with Rosie Probert travelling to his right and Ruby Walsh’s mount to the nearside of these three. But, as they approached the last flight, As I Am began to draw away from her rivals once more, leaving Vicky De L’Oasis and The Pirate’s Queen to fight it out for the minor honours as Rosie Probert began to retreat in their wake.
Having cleared the final obstacle, the long time leader continued to stay-on strongly on the flat to win by 9 lengths at the line. Choc’s mount had blundered at the last, but he kept her up to her work and she stayed-on to beat the Willie Mullins runner by 1¼ lengths, with Rosie Probert completing in 4th.
Don Cantillon’s winning home-bred mare has only one eye, having lost her near-side (left) one in an accident as a youngster. Evidently she needs someone to sit outside her box whilst at the races in order to keep her calm; she’d also had two people leading her around the Parade Ring prior to the race.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Again, I’d managed to manoeuvre through the spectators within the betting ring and return at speed to the paddock area, doing so ahead of many of the other racegoers. In fact it was surprisingly easy to move around today, and I don’t imagine there were fewer people than usual attending on Hennessy Day.
Choc’s mount in the next race was flashy chestnut Valdez, again trained by Alan King; he was the 2-1 second favourite. The favourite being the Paul Nicholls-trained runner, Black River, a French import and half-brother to Spirit River; this was his chasing debut in the UK, having won two juvenile events in his native country.
Once again, the starting gate for this race was located part way down the home straight, with three fences to jump, including the water before setting off upon one complete circuit of the track.
Valdez exited the track behind the other four runners and then they were off; four almost in line as they approached the first fence, where Un Bon P’tit Gars was the first to rise, from Earls Quarter, Flaming Charmer and Black River; Choc held up his mount in rear. Earls Quarter made an error at the second fence, the jockey re-gathering his knitting as they travelled up towards the water-jump for the one and only time; all the horses cleared this safely.
Richard Johnson’s mount continued to lead the way as the runners galloped around the top turn and entered the back straight; Black River and Flaming Charmer joined Earls Quarter in joint second position as they did so. All five runners cleared the fourth fence with ease; Earls Quarter making a further error when jumping the next, the first open-ditch. There were no problems in the jumping department as they horses cleared the next two plain fences and galloped on to approach the final obstacle before the far turn.
However, the favourite departed at the next, having put in an extra stride which resulted in him hitting the top of the fence. It looked like quite a nasty fall, but both horse and jockey were soon on their feet. The remaining four runners soon reached the far turn, Valdez having improved his position to track Un Bon P’tit Gars who had led the race since the start.
Arriving at the cross-fence, five from home, Choc’s mount jumped into the lead and started to pull away as they entered the home straight. By this stage of the race, both Earls Quarter and Flaming Charmer had become outpaced and were being pushed along in rear. In fact Valdez was travelling well within himself at the head of affairs as the field travelled up the home straight; he jumped markedly to his right three out, the final open-ditch, but this was solely to put himself on the right stride to clear the obstacle.
Valdez jumped straight as a die over two out and continued to cruise away from his three remaining rivals. He leapt the last with ease, Choc glancing over his left shoulder to check for any dangers as he sped away from the fence. They were so far behind that his jockey was able to ease down by the time he’d reached the elbow, and went on the win by 24 lengths at the line. Un Bon P’tit Gars completed in 2nd, with Flaming Charmer a further 9 lengths back in 3rd having overtaken Earls Quarter on the run-in.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc and his mount arrive back. It was nice for me to see him triumph in person at Newbury as, despite my frequent visits to the racecourse since the 2008/2009 season, this was only the third time I’d seen him win! The first was aboard Turbo Du Ranch in March 2011, and the second time aboard Tante Sissi in March 2012.
When interviewed after the race, Alan King admitted that he was very fond of Valdez; the horse’s next engagement is likely to be at Kempton Park over the Christmas period – the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, again over the two-mile minimum trip.
Choc was engaged to ride the Graeme McPherson trained Kilcrea Asla in the next race, a 66-1 shot; the favourite was the Philip Hobbs-trained, Richard Johnson-ridden, Carrigmorna King. Handy Andy was late arriving in the Parade Ring, but no reason given.
The starting gate for this race was in the back straight, with one plain fence to jump before the far turn on the first occasion.
Then they were off. Heading for the first fence and spread wide across the course, prominent were Hector’s Choice, No Secrets, Handy Andy, Mr Gardner and What A Warrior. Travelling just behind Handy Andy was the cheek-pieced second favourite, The Druid’s Nephew, who capsized at the fence, as did Opera Og. Ruben Cotter was fortunate not to be brought down by the former and was badly hampered; Carrigmorna King side- stepped the latter. Choc avoided the fallers, as he was travelling to the rear but on the outside of the field. Both the departed horses and the jockeys were fine following their independent mishaps.
The next obstacle was the cross-fence, the leading trio being What A Warrior, Mr Gardner and No Secrets as they jumped this fence; bringing up the rear as they turned into the home straight on the first occasion were Kilcrea Asla, Tatenen and Carrigmorna King. All the runners cleared the next fence without incident, with Rendl Beach on the inside near the rear of the field blundering badly at the first open-ditch where he almost unseated his jockey Richie McLernon.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners jumped the next two plain fences and headed towards the water-jump for the one and only time. These were followed by Gus Macrae, Handy Andy, Arthur’s Pass and Solix. Hector’s Choice was just in behind these, then came Ruben Cotter, Sir Du Bearn, Violin Davis, Valoroso, Tatenen, Kilcrea Asla, Rendl Beach, Carrigmorna King and one of the loose horses!
The remaining 16 runners set off down the back straight, with five fences ahead of them before they reached the far turn. There were no major incidents; there was little change in the order at the front of the field, Tatenen had begun to make ground, Carrigmorna King continued to jump with a lack of fluency near the rear, and Kilcrea Asla had just one rival behind him, Rendl Beach. There was a bit of an argy bargy at the beginning of the far turn, involving Solix, Hector’s Choice and Tatenen, which shuffled the latter back through the field.
The runners cleared the cross-fence once more and rounded the corner into the home straight. Carrigmorna King had made very noticeable progress on the outside of the field and had advanced into third place as they straightened up to jump the final four fences. No Secrets and Gus Macrae led at this point. Having jumped the first fence in the home straight, Richard Johnson’s mount challenged and led over the final open-ditch, although he was still not jumping as fluently as his rivals.
However, having made good headway since turning in, Tatenen now mounted his challenge and took over the lead from Carrigmorna King as they landed over two out. Still in contention for the minor honours were No Secrets, Ruben Cotter, Violin Davis and Gus Macrae. The leader was well in command as he flew the last fence and stayed on strongly to win by 8 lengths at the line. Carrigmorna King completed in 2nd, with Ruben Cotter 2½ lengths behind in 3rd and No Secrets in 4th. A 14-1 winner.
Kilcrea Asla was tailed off and completed last of the 13 who finished, Arthur’s Pass, Handy Andy and Rendl Beach having been pulled up.
Again I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. Also, as the unplaced horses are unsaddled in the Parade Ring, I saw Choc debrief trainer Graeme McPherson and head back to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for the fourth race of the day, in which Choc’s mount would be the Alan King-trained Batonnier; the horse was returning from a 672-day absence through injury. Alan’s other representative was Vendor, making his seasonal reappearance following a very disappointing 2012/2013 season, much having been expected after he’d finished 3rd in the Fred Winter Novices’ Hurdle at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. With Wayne Hutchinson in action on Grumeti in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle today, the ride upon the grey was given to Jack Doyle, the jockey having recently recommenced riding out at the Barbury Castle yard; which he done initially for a couple of years when arriving from Ireland.
When Choc arrived in the Parade Ring he headed over to join the Thurloe 52 syndicate group connected with Vendor, initially failing to located the Moulds, the owners of Batonnier. He was re-directed to the smaller group, where they had been joined by the Princess Royal; Choc chatted to them whilst he waited for the bell to be rung, which was the signal for the jockeys to mount their horses.
Gibb River arrived late into parade ring as he had to be re-plated. The race favourite was the Oliver Sherwood trained Mischievous Milly, ridden by Leighton Aspell. There were three greys in this race, the aforementioned Vendor, Native Gallery and Saphir Du Rheu; although the latter was so dark grey that it was difficult to tell!
The starting gate for this event was at the far end of the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Shotavodka, from Native Gallery, Citizenship and Punjabi. Choc, in his favoured inside berth, tracked Native Gallery aboard the keen-going Batonnier; Vendor was held up at the rear of the field and made a mistake at the first flight. The pace was slow for a large field in a competitive handicap. Having cleared the first two flights, coming to the fore was the nose-banded Notus De La Tour.
The runners cleared the third flight and headed up past the stands with one circuit to go. Shotavodka still led the way, from Citizenship, Native Gallery, Notus De La Tour and Gibb River, with Punjabi and Master Of The Game to the nearside, Batonnier to the inner, Azure Fly, the Stewart Family’s Saphir Du Rheu, Gassin Golf, Aegean Dawn, Imperial Leader, The Bear Trap sporting the first colours of JP McManus, the favourite Mischievous Milly, the other McManus runner Don’t Be Late and finally Vendor.
The runners galloped around the top turn, the David Pipe representative still at the head of affairs, ears-pricked; the horses were 6-deep on the track further back in the field. They then set off to face the four flights of hurdles in the back straight. Having cleared two of these, the white-faced Citizenship came to share the lead, the remaining runners tightly packed, with Vendor still bringing up the rear.
Having jumped the sixth flight, Notus De La Tour retreated rapidly through the field, and by the end of the back straight he was relegated to last place. Shotavodka led the runners around the turn, from Citizenship and Imperial Leader. Behind these were Native Gallery, Gibb River, Master Of The Game and Punjabi; Batonnier still tracked the former.
The runners turned into the home straight, spread wide across the track as they began their challenges. Shotavodka still led as they crossed the third last flight; the favourite, Mischievous Milly making noticeable progress towards the stand-side rails; Gibb River and Gassin Golf close on the leader’s tail. Batonnier, to the inside of every runner, was soon being pushed along; but, Vendor, also to the inside, appeared to be cruising and had overtaken his stable-mate by the time they reached two out, although he did hit this flight.
On the run to the last, Shotavodka still held court at the head of affairs, despite the best efforts of his rivals. However, it soon became apparent that Vendor had plenty left in his tank and he cruised up alongside the leader and took over the running shortly after the final flight; Don’t Be Late also came out of the pack to put in a challenge.
Having headed the field, Jack Doyle drove his mount outn to win by 2½ lengths at the line; the David Pipe-trained runner gamely held on to 2nd, with Don’t Be Late a short-head away in 3rd and Saphir Du Rheu in 4th. Batonnier claimed 7th, a promising run on his first outing for nearly two years.
I returned to the stepping beside the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Alan King concentrated on unsaddling Batonnier before turning his attention to the winner; however he must have said something very amusing to Choc, as my favourite jockey was in near hysterics as he headed back across the Parade Ring. He stopped to chat with a couple waiting nearby, before standing and looking a little lost for a minute or two, perhaps expecting to see the owners. He then set off back to the Weighing Room, stopping en route to sign autographs and to have his photograph taken with race-goers.
Following his poor recent form, his trainer explained that Vendor underwent three ‘MOTs’, spending time during the summer at the Bristol University veterinary department where work was carried out on his breathing; although, evidently, Alan King wasn’t convinced the horse was back to form ... until he won this race! It was a good prize too, with £19,494 to the winner. However his chasing career would be kept on hold, having far from enjoyed his novice outings over the larger obstacles last season.
Next up was the Long Distance Hurdle; with Big Buck’s still on the comeback trail following injury, this would allow for a new winner of the race. Choc’s mount was the diminutive Medinas, winner of last season’s Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. The 10-11 favourite was At Fishers Cross, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival; today ridden by Barry Geraghty, with AP McCoy having travelled to Newcastle to ride My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Representing the connections of Big Buck’s was able-deputy Celestial Halo; fresh from his Grade 1 triumph in France, Reve De Sivola, and Battle Group.
The start of this race was partway down the back straight, with two flights to jump before reaching the far turn.
Then they were off. Or rather four of them were, Battle Group had dug in his toes and refused to take part. Celestial Halo, sporting his usual blinkers, led them away from At Fishers Cross, Reve De Sivola and Medinas. Both At Fishers Cross and Medinas were a little awkward at the first, and I think Choc may have lost his nearside iron for a few strides! And at the second the JP McManus runner jumped away to his right, bumping Reve De Sivola in the process.
Heading into the far turn, the Paul Nicholls representative held a six or seven lengths advantage as he bowled along at the head of affairs. At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola travelled together, with Medinas bringing up the rear. There was no real change in the order as the runners headed up the home straight on the first occasion, bar the fact that Richard Johnson’s mount was now a clear second; Celestial Halo’s advantage just two or three lengths now.
The runners headed around the top turn and set off down the back straight; Medinas was less fluent than the others at the first flight therein, Choc riding his mount along for a few strides to ensure he didn’t lose any ground as a result. Having taken the next in his stride, he was again less fluent at the following hurdle, the 8th. Having completed the jumping in the back straight, Medinas appeared to be a little outpaced by his rivals, a slap of the whip was administered down the horse’s shoulder before they headed into the final bend.
By the time they began their turn into the home straight, both Reve De Sivola and Medinas were being ridden along. Facing up to the third last Celestial Halo still held the advantage and was travelling the best of all, although Barry Geraghty had him in his sights by the time they’d reached the penultimate flight. But it nearly ended in disaster here, when At Fishers Cross skewed in the air and sprawled on landing; the other two runners had soon caught up and had related him to last place by the time they reached the final obstacle.
With an excellent clear round and only one brief glimpse of possibility that he’d lose his lead earlier in the home straight, Celestial Halo galloped on to win by 17 lengths at the line. Medinas had landed on all fours over the last, but won the battle with Reve De Sivola by a neck. At Fishers Cross, having not recovered from his error two out, was eased to finish 5 lengths back in fourth and last.
An able-deputy indeed; same trainer and same owners as the stable’s staying hurdle star, Big Buck’s. And their second winner of the day following Tatenen’s victory in the earlier Handicap Chase.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure, deciding to take my chance with regards to getting a decent berth beside the course-side rails ahead of the feature race. It’s always a gamble between Parade Ring and course-side rails during major fixtures – do I stay or do I go?
A number of celebrities had been invited to attend today, including Bear Grylls, James Corden, Jeremy Clarkson and AP McCoy ‘lookalike’ Rob Brydon. Ruby Wax appeared in the Winners’ Enclosure whilst photographs were being taken of Celestial Halo, and she got in on the act, also appearing on the podium when the prizes were being presented.
Despite having chosen to return to the Parade Ring, I was able to return to within one person’s distance of the course-side rails.
Choc’s mount in the feature race was Invictus, as mentioned earlier returning to action following a 651-day absence due to injury. Despite this, he was an 8-1 shot; the favourite was Our Father, at 11-2, Highland Lodge second favourite at 6-1.
Having reached the racecourse itself, the runners were organised into race-card order ahead of parading down in front of the stands, led by Cape Tribulation and preceded by a couple of huntsmen, mounted on one bay and one grey; Choc’s mount was number 15 of the 21 runners and I was close enough to the rails to take a photograph as he was led by. Today was also the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander’s final race before retirement beckoned.
The horses did a 180-degree turn to canter down to the starting gate which is situated at the beginning of the back straight, the horses having almost two complete circuits to cover during the 3 miles 2½ furlongs of the race.
The horses were sent a long way back from the tape; Loch Ba trotted back to join them belatedly as they jogged in, circled once, jogged in again and then they were off. The runners were led away by Whodoyouthink together with Imperial Commander, but they both fenced the first slowly, permitting Super Duty and Highland Lodge to take over at the head of affairs. The back markers were Loch Ba, Houblon Des Obeaux and Theatre Guide. Invictus was travelling to the outside, near the rear of the field.
The second fence was an open-ditch, all the horses clearing this without problem; Lord Windermere hit the third obstacle. Highland Lodge and Imperial Commander continued to lead the way as the runners negotiated the next fence. To the inside Super Duty blundered at the 5th, in mid-field Hadrian’s Approach stumbled badly on landing and unseated Nico de Boinville and towards the rear to the inside of the runners, Opening Batsmen fell.
There was no change at the head of affairs heading into the far turn; racing just behind the two leaders were Howdoyouthink matching strides with Katenko, a couple of lengths behind these were Super Duty, Rocky Creek and Cloudy Too. Following these were Triolo D’Alene and Prince De Beauchene; Theatre Guide and Our Father brought up the rear.
The loose Hadrian’s Approach preceded the runners as they headed up towards the grandstand on the first occasion, causing a bit of a scare as he swung across the field on approach to the fence following the open-ditch. Highland Lodge and Imperial Commander continued to lead the way; Katenko travelled in third place, alongside Rocky Creek and Prince De Beauchene. Close behind these were Super Duty, Triolo D’Alene, Cloudy Too, Lord Windermere, Terminal, Merry King, the visor-wearing Same Difference, Invictus to his outside, Whodoyouthink dropping back quickly through the field, Houblon Des Obeaux, Cape Tribulation to the inside, the grey Our Father, Loch Ba and Theatre Guide.
There was a further ‘loose horse scary moment’ as the rider-less Hadrian’s Approach chose the route between the innermost rail and the inside running rail, where he would have galloped past to the rear of the photographers who were taking photos as the field cleared the water-jump; he also passed close by to a cameraman and assistant at the apex of the top bend before exiting to rejoin the field, narrowly avoiding a collision with the leaders.
As they approached the first fence in the back straight for the second and final time, Highland Lodge and Imperial Commander still led from Katenko and Cloudy Too; Whodoyouthink was now bringing up the rear. The runners cleared the open-ditch without incident, but Katenko got too close to the next and fell, badly hampering Lord Windermere, and causing both Cape Tribulation and Super Duty to sidestep the prostrate runner. Same Difference hit the 15th fence.
Having cleared the next, it was noticeable that both Invictus and Theatre Guide had made progress through the field from the rear; Super Duty had, by now, tailed off. The runners entered the final turn, Highland Lodge and Imperial Commander still at the head of affairs; close on their heels were Cloudy Too, Prince De Beauchene and Rocky Creek, these were followed by Lord Windermere, Triolo D’Alene and Invictus.
From being in the front rank approaching the cross-fence, Imperial Commander lost his place very quickly and was soon pulled up. Turning into the final straight, Cloudy Too under Richard Johnson travelled up to join Highland Lodge; behind these were Prince De Beauchene, Rocky Creek and to their outside Invictus, at his girth Triolo D’Alene and behind these was Theatre Guide still travelling well.
Having cleared four out, Barry Geraghty’s mount cruised up to join the leaders and held a narrow advantage as they jumped the open-ditch. Sharing second place at this point were Rocky Creek, Highland Lodge and Invictus; Theatre Guide half a length down on these. As lack of race fitness appeared to get the better of Choc’s mount he began to drop back; four horses now ahead of him as he cleared two out; Triolo D’Alene spearheading the field.
Rocky Creek was almost upsides as they jumped the last, the Henderson runner’s momentum being briefly checked as he put in a short stride before it. But, on the run-up to the line, Triolo D’Alene’s stamina kicked in and he pulled away to win by 2¾ lengths from the Paul Nicholls representative at the line. Theatre Guide stayed on to complete in 3rd, 1¾ lengths further back; long-time leader Highland Lodge finished 4th. Merry King stayed-on through beaten runners to finish 5th.
Having looked like he would finish ‘best of the rest’, Invictus faded badly after the last and, pulling up on the run-in, completed in 11th.
In my rush to reach the Winners’ Enclosure I passed too close to the rear corner of the concrete steppings, scratching the corner of my new handbag slightly. Damn. Oh well, worse things happen at sea!
Despite being on the look-out for Choc and Invictus, I didn’t see them return to the Parade Ring to unsaddle following the race. This made me wonder if something was wrong.
I noticed the Clerk of the Course, Richard Osgood, had gained ‘ownership’ of a horse - Hadrian’s Approach – there being solely the lad in charge of it and he was unable to unsaddle the animal without assistance!
Prizes for the big race were presented to the winning connections by the Princess Royal.
There was a jockey change announced ahead of the final race, Noel Fehily who’d come to grief aboard Opening Batsman in the Hennessy Gold Cup was replaced by Sam Twiston-Davies aboard Greywell Boy. The race favourite was Next Sensation at 7-2. Three greys again – Anay Turge, Elenika and Greywell Boy, the former two being French-bred horses.
The starting gate for this race was part way down the home straight, with two fences to negotiate before the water-jump, followed by one complete circuit of the track. The top-weight, Rody, was late arriving within the starting enclosure where he’d have his girth checked, the remaining horses already waiting out upon the track for him to join them.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Next Sensation and Greywell Boy. To the inside of the field, last year’s winner Ulck Du Lin stepped through the first; having survived this mishap, jockey Daryl Jacob gathered in his reins once more. The horses cleared the next safely and, too, the water-jump.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed around the top turn and began their journey down the back straight for the one and only time. Leading the way was Next Sensation, from Greywell Boy, Parsnip Pete, Fairy Rath, Anay Turge, Tetlami, Rody, Elenika, Ulck Du Lin, Consignliere and Filbert.
All eleven runners successfully negotiated the first four fences in the line but not so the final one. Next Sensation put in a short stride before the fence, hit it and unseated his rider; Anay Turge pecked on landing with the same result, Tetlami neatly sidestepping the prostrate jockeys, Tom Scudamore and Mark Quinlan. So now there were nine.
The departures had left Greywell Boy in the lead, and he held a narrow advantage over Parsnip Pete and Fairy Rath; the loose Next Sensation galloped alongside Rody, followed by Tetlami, Elenika, Filbert, Ulck Du Lin and, in rear, the 2009 winner Consigliere. A few lengths behind was the rider-less Anay Turge, his right cheek-piece flapping loose as he galloped along; finally it fell to the ground as the horse approached the cross-fence.
The runners still contesting the race had cleared this obstacle without incident; exiting the turn ahead of the field was Parsnip Pete, all bar the other loose horse. Paddy Brennan’s mount still held a narrow advantage over four out. Having made steady progress on the outside of the field, it was now time for Richard Johnson to make his bid for success aboard Filbert, the horse taking over second position as they cleared the final open-ditch.
Parsnip Pete clung to his advantage over two out, the loose horse still accompanying the leaders; fortunately the latter decided to bypass the last, allowing Paddy Brennan’s and Richard Johnson’s mounts to clear the last and travel to the line uninterrupted. It was Filbert, driven out by his jockey who got the upper hand in the final 150 yards, winning by 3 lengths at the line. Parsnip Pete completed in 2nd, with Greywell Boy a further 7 lengths back in 3rd. Rody completed 2¾ lengths back in 4th.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring for the final time today, waiting to see the prizes presented to the winning connections of the final race. Filbert’s owner was confined to a motorised wheelchair, so the organisers kindly moved the ‘ceremony’ to the area in front of the podium so that he could take part.
There were also prizes for the winning-most jockey and the winning-most trainer during the three-day Festival. Daryl Jacob won the jockey prize with five winners and, strangely enough NOT, Paul Nicholls won the trainer’s prize. However when Paul arrived to receive his memento, he told the organisers that he had been in the car park about to leave when informed, having not realised he’d won!
For the record, Choc rode two winners (Wilde Blue Yonder and Valdez) and shared second-place with Barry Geraghty and Noel Fehily in the ‘winning-most’ jockey category. Alan King was runner-up trainer with three winners (Wilde Blue Yonder, Valdez and Vendor).
With darkness soon on the horizon, I decided to return to my car following these final presentations. I exited the racecourse via the gate closest to the car park. There were numerous spaces where vehicles had already departed and a queue of traffic waiting to leave via the main entrance. However, the golf course exit appeared to be free-flowing. Having taken off my boots, coat and other layers of clothing, I sat for a while and consumed the remaining two cheese rolls.
Whilst I was sitting in my car deciding whether to make a move or not, I checked my mobile phone and noticed a tweet suggesting that Invictus pulled up ‘very very lame’ after the race and was loaded into a horse ambulance. That would explain why I didn’t see Choc and his mount return to the Parade Ring to unsaddle, which had suggested something might be wrong. Oh dear, what a terrible shame. L
It was 16:25 when I decided to depart. I drove across the car park to avoid the traffic which was queuing westbound on the roadway and fully expected to find a tailback at any moment on the road which runs past the golf clubhouse and down through the fairways and greens to reach the gate and the lane leading to the industrial estate. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I couldn’t believe it. No queue whatsoever on the busiest National Hunt day at the Racecourse Newbury.
Apart from a large van or people-carrier which pulled across the lane to reach a gateway located on the unmade-up section which delayed me for a few moments, I reached the Hambridge Road without stopping. There was a police car parked to the side of the road just prior to this, but no sign of any officers directing the traffic.
As I was turning right at the roundabout, I had the right of way over all vehicles queuing from the direction of the racecourse’s main entrance. Even the traffic lights at the junction of the A4 soon changed to green and I was on my way out of Newbury; although those in Thatcham were definitely not on my side as I had to stop at each junction with the lights showing red.
My route took me back through Woolhampton, and onwards to join the M4 eastbound carriageway at the Reading West junction. I’d arranged to visit my friend Denise in Caversham after racing, so I left the motorway at Reading East to head along the A329(M) to reach the A4. Heading eastwards, I took the third Sonning turning, namely Charvil Lane, and doubled back on myself to reach the Sonning bridge over the River Thames. The first junction would have taken me through the narrow village lanes with parked vehicles obstructing the way, best avoided after dark, and I didn’t know the route along the second turning. Yellow lines prevent parking on the route I’d taken.
The traffic lights on the single track bridge were green as I approached and remained so, thus avoiding any delay. And it was so much more pleasant than my trip on this equivalent day last year, when the road had only just been re-opened following extensive flooding. In fact it was only fit for a 4x4 last year, not my poor little Fiesta! On that occasion I’d been too much of a sissy to return home via the Sonning short-cut due to the residue of flooding on the lane.
Having reached the roundabout on the Henley Road I turned left and headed towards Caversham, pulling up on the pavement outside Denise’s house to park. It was 17:15. Den had invited me to tea too, and I stayed until 21:15. It had also enabled me to drop off her Christmas presents, which I like to do in person because I’d hate for them to be lost in the post.
Today I returned via Sonning and the A4 to reach the A404(M), selecting the option to head for the M4, as opposed to the M40. Being quite late into the evening, traffic on the M25 was moving smoothly and I left the motorway at Junction 22. My route then took me via the London Colney bypass and into St Albans. I arrived home at 22:15.
Once home I was able to check the BHA website ‘Why They Ran Badly’ section and found this note: The Veterinary Officer reported that INVICTUS (IRE), unplaced, trained by Alan King, was lame.
By Monday, his name had been moved across to the ‘Resting Horses’ section on Alan King’s website reserved for horses on the injury sidelines.
Then, on Tuesday, the severity of his injury was revealed. It is such a shame, his heart is very willing but one of his legs is very fragile.
And shoe rack news ... my brother Neil put together the fourth and final shelf and was able to bed-in those loose screws, although not before he’d broken the handle of the old screwdriver! However we purchased a new one and that solved the problem. He ran out of time to attach the four uprights, but with the help of the new screwdriver, I was able to do this part myself. Wicked! I have a new shoe rack, and there’s even space for new pairs of shoes ... resist, resist!
And, what is my opinion about the new dress code introduced by the racecourse? Personally I can’t see anything wrong with people dressing up to go to the races. If men wish to wear denim or women wear skirts so short that they suffer from brain freeze, they can spend their day in the grandstand enclosure, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a grandstand enclosure person, despite my outfit passing muster on Hennessy Day.
The very sad postscript to this day is that Invictus was put to sleep, unable to be saved for a happy retirement as had been initially hoped.