DIARY – NEWBURY – HENNESSY GOLD CUP
SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014
The Alan King-trained Medinas, ridden by Richard Johnson,
is the surprise winner of the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle
Click here to read Part 1 of my diary
There was no Alan King runner in the fourth race of the day. The favourite for this event was the Nicky Henderson representative, Hammersly Lake, priced at 5-2 and ridden by Barry Geraghty.
The starting gate for this race is located at the far end of the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel. I recall that Exitas went to the start early, with Home Run being led in at the start.
Then they were off. Triumphant led over the first flight, from the grey Albert Bridge to the outside, and Vice Et Vertu to the inside. Meanwhile back in the field, Germany Calling was pulling for his head. The runners continued up the home straight with Jamie Moore’s mount disputing the lead with Albert Bridge; Home Run travelled alongside Vice Et Vertu in third, followed by Exitas and Silsol, Hammersly Lake, Bordoni and First Avenue, with Germany Calling at the rear.
Having passed the packed grandstands the runners headed up around the top bend and out into the country for the one and only time; the pace was a modest one. The field cleared the first flight in the back straight and continued to the next; Bordoni was now marginally the back marker. The visored Triumphant travelled slightly ahead of Albert Bridge, from Home Run, Vice Et Vertu and Exitas matching strides a couple of lengths behind them.
The runners continued their journey down the back straight, clearing three more flights as they did so; there were no noticeable errors made by any of the horses apart from Exitas at the final one of these and around six lengths covered the field. There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed into the far turn. Conor Shoemark administered a few slaps with his whip down Exitas’ shoulder as they travelled around the bend.
Upon entering the home straight, Home Run began to lay down a challenge to the leader and had drawn alongside him as they cleared three out. The favourite Hammersly Lake, travelling in around fifth or sixth place, appeared to be struggling. Exitas began to fade as they approached the penultimate flight; meanwhile Silsol had made progress into third position, although he was a little clumsy at this obstacle.
Triumphant began to fade as they headed towards the last, as did Albert Bridge. This left Home Run with a narrow lead, and Silsol continuing to close to the nearside; to the far side Hammersly Lake was staying on. The Paul Nicholls runner had a couple of lengths in hand as they jumped the final hurdle, with Home Run veering off to his left as he attempted to retain runner-up position from the closing Hammersly Lake.
Silsol continued to stay on and was driven out by 7lb claimer Jack Sherwood, winning by 1¾ lengths at the line from Barry Geraghty’s mount. Home Run finished 3rd, five lengths back; Vice Et Vertu completed in 4th, a further 10 lengths behind.
It was Jack’s second winner at this Festival; he is currently Paul Nicholls’ conditional jockey. Jack is nephew of trainer Oliver Sherwood and son of former jockey Simon Sherwood.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure once more to see the horses arrive back.
It was then time for the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle race. One Alan King runner in this event, the diminutive Medinas ridden by Richard Johnson; he had been the runner-up in last year’s race. Alan’s aim was to pick up prize money, as the horse is too small to go chasing and his rating was too high to compete in handicap races.
The favourite was the Jonjo O’Neill-trained More Of That, winner of this year’s Cheltenham Festival World Hurdle and today priced at 4-7. Lac Fontana was a non-runner due to the ground.
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. The horses split into two groups as they headed to the first flight; Cole Harden leading More Of That, Medinas and Peckhamecho to the inside and Shotgun Paddy ahead of American Spin to the outside. Having cleared the first two flights without incident, the two groups merged as they headed into the far turn. Cole Harden held a three or four lengths advantage over More Of That and Shotgun Paddy; Medinas was a further three lengths back, followed closely by American Spin and Peckhamecho.
Having entered the home straight on the first occasion, the runners split into their respective groups once more. More Of That was a definite second behind the leader. There were no mishaps as the runners headed up towards the grandstands, clearing the three flights therein in their strides. Little Medinas was dwarfed by More Of That and Peckhamecho.
By the time Cole Harden had reached the winning post with one circuit to go, he held a four lengths advantage over AP McCoy’s mount, with Medinas ahead of the remainder, 8 lengths behind him. Peckhamecho was in 4th, Shotgun Paddy in 5th and American Spin brought up the rear.
The Warren Greatrex runner continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they negotiated the top bend and began the journey down the back straight. Peckhamecho had drawn almost alongside Medinas as they cleared the next flight. More Of That got a little close to the following flight; resulting in a clumsy leap from the favourite. Peckhamecho was a little awkward at the 8th. By this stage, Shotgun Paddy was being pushed along and American Spin’s jockey was resigned to tailing off in last position.
Cole Harden made a slight error at the last flight in the back straight, and More Of That landed almost on all fours over it too. Heading into the far turn, both Medinas and Peckhamecho had closed upon the two leaders, Richard Johnson’s mount travelling in their slipstream. Having entered the home straight, Gavin Sheehan pressed on again aboard the leader.
As they approached three out, AP McCoy became animated aboard his mount. However, as Peckhamecho began to lose touch with the leaders, Medinas kept pace with them and it appeared that he might be travelling the best. Having cleared the penultimate flight, AP hit his mount with his whip, followed by a backhander. However, Medinas stayed with them and had soon overtaken More Of That. Having reached the final flight, Alan King’s runner jumped it in unison with the long-time leader.
Medinas then just flew up the run-in, drawing away from his rivals to win by 7 lengths at the line from Cole Harden. The very tired More Of That was eased and finished 18 lengths away in 3rd, with Peckhamecho another 17 lengths away in 4th.
A triumph for the very good little horse over the very good big horses. Conditions had been in Medinas’ favour today, as he loves running on soft ground.
I headed back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses return. As Alan had two runners in the feature race to follow, he went to collect their saddles from the Weighing Room. Alan’s wife Rachel and daughter Georgia were at the races today, so Georgia went to the podium to accept the trainer’s prize.
Here is an excerpt from the blog on Alan King’s website published the following day:
"Medinas is so tough, and he has certainly postponed any thoughts of retirement now.
"I had talked with his owners (Frank and Hilda Bell) about calling it a day at the end of last season as Medinas is too small to go over fences and he falls between two stools over hurdles, being too high in the handicap, yet invariably falling just short of the top level.
"However, he made full use of the 8lb he was getting from his two main rivals at Newbury, and he is one who was glad to see the autumn so wet as he simply loves this soft ground.
"The two leaders went off very hard and Richard hung on in there, but Medinas is an absolute legend and we all love him to bits. We'll have to think about the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot now."
It was now time for the feature race of the day, in which Alan King had two runners – Smad Place, runner-up in last season’s Cheltenham Festival RSA Chase, and Midnight Prayer, winner of the long distance amateur riders’ chase at the same Festival. Today Smad Place would be ridden by Denis O’Regan and Midnight Prayer by Tom Bellamy.
Martin Keighley also had his first runner in the race, Annacotty, winner of last season’s Feltham Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day; today he would be ridden by Gavin Sheehan, with Ian Popham not quite 100% fit following injury. The favourite for this race was Irish raider, Djakadam, trained by Willie Mullins, ridden by Ruby Walsh and priced at 5-1.
A number of celebrities were in attendance today, and they gathering in the Parade Ring. However the only person I spotted was Patrick Grant from the Great British Sewing Bee!
Once the horses had begun to leave the crowded Parade Ring, I set off to find the best position I could attain beside the course-side rails. The on-course security staff were finally asking spectators not to stand upon the course-side picnic tables whilst the feature race was taking place.
There was a parade ahead of race, led by top-weight Houblon Des Obeaux. Smad Place was number 5 in the line, Annacotty 11 and Midnight Prayer 16. Surprisingly I got a better view than usual of the runners as they were led down the racecourse, despite being one row from the front. I think it was because the line ‘broke’ later than usual; the light conditions were good too. The sun had been a hindrance earlier in the afternoon, as it had been almost head on when viewing the big screens opposite the enclosures.
The starting gate for this race was at the beginning of the back straight, with almost two circuits of the track to cover.
The runners approached the tape at an orderly pace and then they were off; this new ruling stating nothing faster than a jog is working wonders! In the front line approaching the first fence was What A Warrior to the inside, Annacotty centre, to his outside Merry King, Midnight Prayer and Le Reve. The former rose first and all nineteen runners cleared it without incident. The back marker was Ballynagour.
They headed to fence number two, the first of the open-ditches. What A Warrior and Annacotty were now setting a good pace at the head of affairs; there were no casualties at the fence. The runners headed over the third fence; Le Reve travelled in third position, although now closer to the inside rail than before. Close behind him was Midnight Prayer, Merry King, and Vino Griego to the wide outside.
Annacotty jumped into the lead at the fourth fence, although he did get in a little close to it. However, both What A Warrior and Le Reve out-jumped the leader at the next. Having negotiated all five obstacles in the back straight, the runners headed towards the far bend. What A Warrior and Le Reve led, from Annacotty, Midnight Prayer, Rocky Creek, Djakadam, Merry King, Fingal Bay and Vino Griego. Behind these were Unioniste, Many Clouds, Wychwoods Brook, Houblon Des Obeaux, Smad Place, to the inside The Druids Nephew, to the outside Monbeg Dude; at the rear of the field, Ballynagour, Via Sundown and last year’s winner Triolo D’Alene.
What A Warrior, Le Reve and Annacotty were two or three lengths clear of the main field as they headed towards the cross-fence; The Druids Nephew, who has a reputation for wayward jumping, clouted this fence and dropped to the rear of the field. The runners entered the home straight and cleared all four fences therein without mishap. By the time they had reached the water-jump, Annacotty had lost ground upon the two leaders but remained ahead of the others; Triolo D’Alene and The Druids Nephew remained at the rear of the field.
The nineteen-strong field headed up around the top bend and began their journey down the back straight having completed one circuit of the track. Annacotty jumped the next fence slowly and began to drift back through the field. In contrast, Houblon Des Obeaux had improved his position to the outside and now disputed the lead with What A Warrior and Le Reve. Fingal Bay also jumped up to take a share of the lead as they cleared the open-ditch; Le Reve began to struggle having jumped the middle fence in this line of five.
Houblon Des Obeaux held a slight advantage over the following fence; The Druids Nephew had recovered from his earlier blunder and, racing to the wide outside, was now placed better than mid-field. By the time the runners had successfully negotiated the final fence in the back straight, the back-markers were Unioniste, Annacotty, last year’s runner-up Rocky Creek and Vino Griego. Triolo D’Alene had improved to the inside and now travelled in mid-field.
Le Reve and Houblon Des Obeaux led the runners into the final bend; What A Warrior having weakened rapidly through the field. The two leaders were tracked by Many Clouds and Merry King; the latter ridden by AP McCoy who had still to add this race to his CV. Following these Djakadam and The Druids Nephew; close behind these were both Midnight Appeal and Smad Place. Calling it a day before the cross-fence were Annacotty and Vino Griego; towards the rear of the field Wychwoods Brook made an error here and he was pulled up before the next; also pulled up at this point were Via Sundown and one time leader What A Warrior.
Turning into the home straight, the Venetia Williams runner held a one length advantage over Many Clouds, closely pursued by The Druids Nephew and Merry King. The favourite travelled in fifth, with Smad Place continuing to make ground behind him. Back in the field, Ballynagour blundered at the fourth last. Le Reve who had been travelling to the inside of the track, was pulled up before the final open-ditch; his jockey steering him diagonally across the course between runners to avoid the obstacle. Triolo D’Alene was pulled up here too, as was the struggling Rocky Creek.
Houblon Des Obeaux held a half length advantage over Many Clouds to his inside as they cleared the fence; Merry King was in third position. To the outside, currently holding fourth place, The Druids Nephew dived over the fence but remained standing. Smad Place stumbled slightly in fifth, to the far side, with Djakadam in sixth, closely followed by Midnight Prayer and Monbeg Dude. Unioniste jumped the ditch okay, but Fingal Bay barely scrambled over it and was pulled up; Ballynagour was pulled up too.
The leaders headed over the penultimate fence, with Houblon Des Obeaux still leading from Many Clouds and Merry King. Having cleared this, they began to draw away from their remaining rivals approaching the last. The tiring favourite blundered at this fence, and Monbeg Dude continued to stay on. Oliver Sherwood’s runner took a half length advantage as they cleared the final fence, with Merry King marginally second ahead of Houblon Des Obeaux.
These three were driven out to the line, with Many Clouds prevailing by 3¼ lengths from the rallying Houblon Des Obeaux. Having put in his best effort, Merry King faded in the final few yards and finished a length behind the second. Monbeg Dude claimed 4th, 15 lengths back; Smad Place just ¾ of a length behind him. Unioniste claimed 6th, he hit the last and was never nearer, from The Druids Nephew who had blundered away his place claims at the final fence. Djakadam was a tired 8th and Midnight Prayer, was the last of those who finished.
Nine had finished; no fallers or unseats, ten pulled up.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the placed horses arrive back. Smad Place and Midnight Prayer were unsaddled in the main part of the Parade Ring, none the worse for their exertions; although Alan King latter admitted that he’d learnt his lesson in that horses needed a preparation run ahead of a race like this as his two representatives had got tired in the closing stages.
Instead of taking the usual route along the far side of the Parade Ring to return to the Winners’ Enclosure, Many Clouds was led in an anti-clockwise direction in order to receive the applause of the spectators who had returned to the steppings. Being a popular figure in Lambourn, trainer Oliver Sherwood received numerous congratulations from his friends and colleagues.
This was the second time he had trained the winner of this race, the other being Arctic Call in 1990; Jamie Osborne, the jockey that day, and now also a trainer, was on hand to congratulate the connections too. It was owner Trevor Hemmings second win in this race, the previous one was Trabologan in 2005, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald. Trevor was not in attendance today as he was unavailable due to business commitments in the Isle of Man where he lives.
The prizes having been presented to the connections, winning jockey Leighton Aspell was hoisted onto the shoulders of friends and colleagues to celebrate.
It was then time for the final race of the day and the Festival; a Handicap Chase in memory of Jim Joel ... who was well known in my home county of Hertfordshire, where he owned a stud farm and estate at Childwickbury situated in the countryside between St Albans and Harpenden.
The favourite for this race was Monetaire, trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore; price 2-1.
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. It was no surprise that the bold front-running Next Sensation led the runners to the first fence; disputing second was Monetaire to the outside, Rody centre and Anquetta to the inside. In fifth position, Arthur’s Secret dived at the fence and lost his place to Solar Impulse; Rio De Sivola and Ut Majeur Aulmes brought up the rear.
Next Sensation had set up a lead of around six lengths as he jumped the second fence; all eight runners cleared this without incident. They headed for the water-jump for the one and only time and the leader further stretched his advantage as they travelled around the top turn and into the back straight. Anquetta, Rody and Monetaire disputed second position, with Solar Impulse and Arthur’s Secret behind these, followed by Rio De Sivola and Ut Majeur Aulmes.
The runners cleared the third fence in their stride; the next, an open-ditch, caused Rody to land awkwardly and he began to drop back through the field. Richard Johnson’s mount continued to jump from fence to fence, pursued by his rivals. Solar Impulse began to take closer order and had joined Monetaire and Anquetta by the time they jumped the middle of the line of fences.
However, by the end of the back straight, the leader’s advantage had been reduced to around three lengths; Rody was now at the rear of the field. Second from last, Arthur’s Secret made an error at the cross-fence and received a couple of reminders for his trouble.
Next Sensation led the runners into the home straight, from Anquetta, Monetaire, Rio De Sivola, Solar Impulse and Ut Majeur Aulmes. Both Rody and Arthur’s Secret were adrift of the main group, with the latter receiving further reminders. The favourite was almost upsides the long-time leader as they jumped four out. The runners then headed to the final open-ditch, where again the two leaders jumped it in unison.
Monetaire held a one length lead as they jumped the penultimate fence; Next Sensation clouted the fence and dropped back to third behind the improving Solar Impulse. On the run to the final obstacle it had appeared that the Paul Nicholls runner might draw alongside to challenge Monetaire, but the latter pulled out a little bit more and retained his advantage.
They jumped the last, and despite the best efforts of Sam Twiston-Davies to close the gap on the run to the line, Monetaire held on to win by 2¼ lengths. Ut Majeur Aulmes claimed 3rd on the line by just a head from Next Sensation. All eight completed the course.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses come back for the final time today.
The final presentations having been made, including a memento to Tom Scudamore as the winning-most jockey at the Festival (with 4 winners), it was time for me to depart. I was kind of hoping there would be a leading trainer prize too, but no. It would have gone to Alan King, also with four winners.
I exited via the Grandstand gate, turning right and heading back to the far side of the car parking area. I have to say it was pleasant to arrive back at my car without feeling in the slightest bit cold! It was certainly unseasonal weather for the penultimate day of November. I’m so accustomed to cold, and/or dank, Hennessy Festivals. My feet were a little bit sore underfoot; I’ve experienced the same problem with my burgundy boots before. Although I was hoping the recently installed insoles would help, but no. Mind you, the main reason for these was to use up space for when I wear just tights, not socks. Having eaten the two remaining cheese rolls, I texted Den to let her know I’d be leaving very shortly.
There was traffic queuing to exit the racecourse via the golf course gate, this consisted of premier enclosure punters and a few cars from the non-label punters area where I’d been parked. However, having seen the car adjacent to mine leave via an open gate onto the newly tarmaced drive which runs alongside the racecourse itself, and it being the way I’d entered too, I drove out through it, turned left and headed to join the queue. The far end of this drive remains cindery and the junction with the ‘labels’ drive was badly worn; so I drove over slightly to the right, onto the grass, to ensure my little car suffered no ill effects when joining the slightly raised tarmac drive once more. Using this route did result in me gaining an advantage, as I joined prior to the end of the queue.
It wasn’t the half dozen cars ahead of me of last year but, apart from a couple of stationary moments prior to the far gate, which lasted a matter of seconds rather than minutes, the journey through the exit, under the railway line and through the industrial estate to join the Hambridge Road suffered no delays. Because of its location, traffic exiting onto the roundabout from my route has priority over vehicles which may have travelled via Newbury’s main entrance. I turned right to reach the traffic lights upon the A4.
It was just one of two signal changes before I was on my way again, having turned right to head for Thatcham. Admittedly I got caught by every light on red as I drove through it, but had soon exited the town. My route took me back through Woolhampton to rejoin the M4 and I headed towards London. The M4 road-works relating to the bridge were affecting both carriageways; with the outside one on the eastbound carriageway being part of a contra-flow system. These began after the Reading Central turning.
However, as I was to visit Denise in Caversham, I left the motorway at Reading East, heading down the dark A329M to reach the A4. I took a right to head along the road towards Maidenhead. I find it easier to travel via the eastern-most lane into Sonning, rather than the nearer western and central roads, so this is what I did. There was little traffic on the roads, despite it being around 17:00. I had to queue for a few moments at the traffic lights prior to the ancient single carriageway bridge over the Thames, just one vehicle waiting ahead of me; it was the first time I’d noticed lights embedded in the single left-hand pathway. It provided guidance for traffic too.
Having passed the French Horn hotel and restaurant and the turning to Sonning Eye, I drove over another bridge, a tiny one, prior to reaching the roundabout at the beginning of the Henley Road. Shortly afterwards I was parked outside Denise’s house. Both Den and her husband Terry were at home when I arrived, and we enjoyed hot drinks and a couple each of the Viennese biscuits I’d brought with me. With both of my hosts having felt slightly under the weather yesterday, with few supplies at home, it was decided that we’d go out to supper at the Wetherspoons in Caversham.
There were concerns I’d be cold, having left my coat in the boot of my car, but I did point out that I was wearing three thermal vests, a cardigan and a fleece; so these were unfounded! I think both Den and Terry found the air-conditioning in the pub cold; again this caused no inconvenience to me!
Den and I went into the pub ahead of Terry, as initially we couldn’t find a free space in the car park to the back of the pub. My supper was a veggie burger and chips; I’ve decided against chicken when eating out at the moment, following recent supermarket scare stories. Drink was an apple and mango J2O; my favourite.
We returned in time to see the majority of Strictly Come Dancing; I missed Pixie and Trent, and Mark and Karen. I set off for home at 20:50. Having turned right to head over the River Thames via Sonning, a fox whizzed across the lane at the near end. Fortunately cars travelling in the opposite direction didn’t hit it. Not that we haven’t got too many foxes, but it would make a bit of a mess to vehicle and road if it got squashed!
Not surprisingly, it was misty near to the river Thames, but the traffic lights were showing green as I approached the single file crossing over the ancient river bridge. It’s a 20 mph zone through the village, with three speed humps before the residential area finishes. Having reached the A4 I turned left to travel along this road to the A404 before heading southwards to join the M4. It was a bit misty but not really foggy as I drove towards London, although there being lights on this stretch of the motorway did help.
I find driving on the motorways at this time of night a pleasure and I’d soon reached the M25, before joining the clockwise carriageway and heading for my exit point at Junction 20. It was only here that the fog became a problem, and it stayed with me until I reach home at 22:00.
I stayed up until gone midnight; having watched part 7 of 8 of Intruders. In fact I didn’t go to bed; I camped out on the sofa overnight! Which was cold, despite a fleece jacket, sleeved fleece blanket and a fleece throw ... and it hurt my hip too.
There was a false start the following morning when a recorded and finalised disk refused to play back in my ancient play-only model. It meant that I lost highlights of an Agassi vs Connors match from the 1989 US Open and RUK’s Racing Life Hennessy preview which included an interview with Alan King, and a recording of Smad Place and Midnight Prayer having a racecourse gallop on Newbury’s Hennessy press day. But I re-recorded RUK’s Hennessy Day highlights programme and it played okay on a new disk. So, fortunately, it was a faulty disk problem, not an equipment problem. Phew! But annoying none the less.
By the time next year’s Hennessy arrives, the promised new bridge over the railway line is due to be complete. RUK’s discussion the following morning mentioned the muddy car park ... I found my car park to be better than usual! It must be the difference between being part of the media scrum/premier division and the ordinary grandstand crowd.
Click here for photos – Races 1, 2 & 3
Click here for photos – Race 4, 5 & 7
Click here for photos – Race 6 – Hennessy Gold Cup