DIARY – NEWBURY – LADBROKES TROPHY HANDICAP CHASE
(FORMERLY THE HENNESSY GOLD CUP)
SATURDAY 02 DECEMBER 2017
The winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy
Total Recall trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend
This would be my second racecourse outing of the 2017/2018 season, the first having been to Cheltenham two weeks previously. This Newbury fixture formerly featured the Hennessy Gold Cup; their sponsorship ended last year, with Ladbrokes taking over and rebranding the race as the Ladbrokes Trophy. The race is less than two months older than I am, having started in 1957; the first three runnings took place at Cheltenham before it moved to Newbury. Mandarin was the first winner, he also won it in 1961; the roll of honour includes Mill House (1963) and Arkle (1964 and 1965).
I am very familiar with the winners of the 1973 to 1978 races, because my mother has six ancient table place-mats featuring them – Red Candle, Royal Marshall II, April Seventh, Zeta’s Son, Bachelors Hall and Approaching! They are still in use and ‘Approaching’ is my favourite.
Gate opening time was 10:00, so I set my alarm clock for around 06:00 with the aim of leaving home at 08:30. I took a shower, washed and dried my hair and ate a breakfast of two croissants and drank half a cup of tea. As usual, if I’ve built into my schedule plenty of ‘wiggle time’, I tend to procrastinate; this being the case, I didn’t leave home until 08:40.
After a mild autumn, the weather had begun to turn colder by the time this fixture arrived. As luck would have it, the first day of the meeting was dry, sunny but very cold, whereas the forecast for the Saturday was warmer but also wet intermittently. After getting soaked at Cheltenham, I was beginning to think that things weren’t going to go my way this season, weather-wise. Especially as 2016/2017 had been noticeably dry for every one of my racing days out.
However, despite the forecast, I decided to dress for cold rather than wet. I wore a black polo-neck thermal T-shirt, a dark grey brushed cotton thermal T-shirt, a dark pink thermal T-shirt, a purple thermal T-shirt, magenta ribbed polo-neck sweater, mauve BHS v-neck cardigan, purple fleece, black fleece gillet, plum coloured jeggings with thermal tights underneath, dark grey double frill-edged M & S skirt, black and white horse-design socks, black ‘Cannes-style’ Hotter boots, black and white horse-print snood, plus shades of purple (Bumbleberry) Caron Cakes snood.
I also took my grey M & S fleece-lined snood and neon pink Fab Big hat, just in case I needed them; plus mittens. I didn’t take my waterproof hat as it hadn’t been of much use at Cheltenham; besides I had an umbrella.
My route took me around the ring-road and down to the London Colney roundabout. I then drove along the bypass to join the anticlockwise carriageway of the M25 at junction 22. There were no travel issues on the orbital motorway and at junction 15 I took the slip-road onto the westbound carriageway of the M4. Road-works continued at junction 10, and these had been extended further westwards; a 50 mph speed limit. The same situation existed on the eastbound carriageway.
I left the motorway at junction 12 and headed down the A4; all very familiar territory and even more so the first section, as this is part of the route I take to reach Noel Williams’ yard in Blewbury. Further on I got stuck behind a slow moving lorry, other vehicles did too. We headed through Woolhampton and onwards towards Thatcham. The lorry turned left at one of the roundabouts on the outskirts thereof. I continued through the town, fortunately the majority of traffic lights were showing green; in fact I reached the Northfield Road junction before being stopped by a red light.
At the far end I turned left and headed down Benham Hill, then turned left again at the second set of traffic lights. I had to wait a little longer than hoped here, as there wasn’t quite enough room for me to squeeze through the gap between the pavement and the vehicle in front of me in order to take advantage of the slip-road here. I continued along Hambridge Road to reach the roundabout just prior to the bridge over the railway which leads into the racecourse precinct; a car had broken down on said roundabout. The occupants were trying to push it out of the way; they didn’t seem to have much impetus, so good luck with that!
I continued over the bridge and turned right at the far side roundabout. There was a sign designating car park 5 as ‘grandstand’ so I continued upon the roadway, bearing right and then left, but not before I’d waited for a coach to reverse into the entrance to the Fitness Centre in order to turn around. Upon reaching car park 4, I asked a steward if it was okay to park there as I held a premier ticket. Yes, here or in the centre of the racecourse. I thus pulled into car park 4, as I certainly had no intention of parking in the alternative. Car park 4 is excellent, it has a tarmac surface and line-marked spaces ... just like a supermarket car park in fact. It was actually the second time I’d parked in this particular one – I wasn’t a premier ticket holder on that occasion, but got away with it anyway!
I’d arrived at 10:15. I’d taken 4 cheese rolls with me, so I ate two of these before I set off for the newly constructed eastern entrance. Whilst sitting in my car, I noticed two paragliders floating in the sky, to the north of the town.
Having put on my coat and Caron Cakes snood, I headed to towards the new eastern entrance. I’d also placed my fleece-lined snood and Fab Big hat in a drawstring bag and taken them with me, just in case temperatures got colder. Outside the entrance, a member of the security staff checked my bags; the woman waiting behind me said it had been bitterly cold at Newbury yesterday. No wonder RUK’s Rishi Persad had worn a beanie hat and a scarf when carrying out his interviewing tasks on Friday. I was also instructed to walk past a spaniel sniffer dog!
I headed in through the new building, where my ticket was scanned; I also had a premier enclosure badge attached to my handbag. I was using my ‘monkey-design Gabbie-style’ Kipling handbag again today. I might have been pushing my luck somewhat as, at Cheltenham, the contents of my bag had become rather soggy; I thought the bags would be waterproof ... but, come to think of it, I didn’t get wet at the races last season so had no previous experience of using Kipling bags during wet weather!
Opposite the entrance was a kiosk selling race-cards; the young lady therein refused to take the £10 note I offered – “It’s an old one” she said. So what? It had been given to me by my bank earlier in the week, so it must have still been legal tender ... and would be so until 01 March 2018. I had to rummage in my bag for a fiver instead. Race-cards cost £3.50.
Firstly I headed to the ladies loo within the Dubai Duty Free stand, before heading over to the Parade Ring. Members of the ITV Racing team were making preparations ahead of their afternoon broadcast.
Martin Kelly was race-day presenter and he interviewed Richie McLernon about his mount in the big race, Regal Encore.
Standing upon the steppings offers an opportunity to listen in to other people’s conversations. One couple were berating the talents of Barry Geraghty, saying how poor his ride had been aboard Yanworth the previous day. Personally I’ve lost faith in Barry’s judgement ever since the fatal injury to Laissez Dire at Plumpton last January.
It was now time for the first race of the day, off time 12:10.
The odds-on favourite for this event was the Fergal O’Brien-trained Cap Soleil, ridden by Paddy Brennan; price 2-5. Also taking part was Dame Rose, winner of the Mares’ Grade 2 Bumper at the Aintree Festival back in April; on her previous outing this season she’d been beaten by today’s favourite.
I wanted to call her ‘Day-m Rose’ not ‘Dam Rose’ or even ‘Darm Rose’ but, as she’s a French-bred, I guess it should be Dame as in Notre Dame … which I actually pronounce ‘Darm’ not ‘Dam’!
Once the horses had left the Parade Ring, I headed along the concourse between the Dubai Duty Free and Berkshire stands, then turned right to enter the Premier Enclosure. There were spaces to be had beside the rails so I headed for one of these.
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.
Having led the runners out of the holding pen, alongside the Di Walters-owned runner, it was Dame Rose who set off at the head of affairs too, closely followed by Angels Antics. These were followed by Cap Soleil and Monar Rose with, bringing up the rear, Banjo Girl and All Currencies. Banjo Girl was the least fluent at the first but it didn’t affect her momentum.
The six runners headed up past the grandstands, with Richard Johnson allowing the leader to stride on into a five or six lengths advantage as they continued around the top bend. Having entered the back straight, the favourite was a little clumsy at the first therein. Dame Rose jumped the third slightly more slowly than the others, which allowed the field to reduce the deficit. The six competitors continued on their journey over the next flight; the field now close of the leader’s heels.
Dame Rose remained ahead however as they headed to, and over, the final flight in the back straight; her lead over Angel’s Antics was just one length now and four lengths covered the entire field. Having reached the end of the back straight and taking advantage of the descent into the bottom bend, Richard Johnson permitted his mount to stride on once more. She was travelling smoothly as she entered the home straight, whereas the jockeys aboard her rivals were now becoming animated.
Dame Rose flew over the third last with a four or five lengths advantage over Angels Antics; the favourite was a further length away. Heading down to the three furlongs post, both the hooded Banjo Girl and Monar Rose received stern reminders as their jockeys endeavoured to keep in touch with the main group comprising of Angels Antics, Cap Soleil and All Currencies; Monar Rose dropped away, leaving the other four to pursue the long-time leader.
Cap Soleil jumped to her right over the penultimate flight and, subsequently, drifted towards the stand-side rail; Paddy Brennan gave her a reminder to straighten her out again. Richard Johnson’s mount came under a little bit of pressure as they approached the final flight, but the partnership was still travelling better than any of their rivals. Dame Rose jumped it well; in contrast both Angels Antics and Cap Soleil put in clumsy, tired leaps. Having been more fluent, All Currencies moved into runner-up position at this point.
However, the bird had flown and Dame Rose galloped up the run-in to win by 9 lengths at the line. There ensured a battle for the runner-up position, with Cap Soleil drifting back towards the far side of the track and triumphing over All Currencies by three quarters of a length. Angels Antics, who is a strapping filly, completed less than two lengths further away in 4th. Banjo Girl and Monar Rose completed in 5th and 6th respectively.
Winning trainer Richard Hobson later reported that two weeks prior to her previous race she’d knocked a hind fetlock joint so had missed some of the preparation for that one; thus she was fitter today.
I set off on a route march back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back.
The favourite for the second race was the Anthony Honeyball-trained Fountains Windfall, ridden by Aidan Coleman; price 7-4. The horse had also been a winner at this year’s Aintree Festival, over hurdles. Also taking part in this race was Black Corton, a prolific winner this season, ridden again by Bryony Frost.
Fountains Windfall was taken back to the saddling boxes before reappearing again; presumably a tack adjustment had been needed.
With the horses having exited onto the racecourse, I headed into the Premier Enclosure once more. Again there was room for me to stand beside the course-side rails.
The starting gate for race two was part way down the back straight, with two fences to negotiate prior to the far turn and then one full circuit of the course having passed the grandstands.
And then they were off, with Elegant Escape disputing the lead to the inside of Fountains Windfall. The latter dived over the first slightly, but got to the other side safely. Sir Ivan and Black Corton tracked the leading duo, and Wait For Me brought up the rear. The latter skewed in the air slightly as he landed over the second.
Elegant Escape held a narrow advantage as the runners headed into the far turn, with the hooded Wait For Me travelling three of four lengths detached from the main group. The next obstacle was the cross-fence, where Fountains Windfall was less fluent than his rivals having put in a short-stride before take-off.
Having turned into the home straight on the first of two occasions, the runners faced a line of five fences, the second was an open-ditch, the final one the water-jump. Sir Ivan made a jumping error at the first of these. All five competitors cleared the open-ditch in their stride, with Wait For Me continuing detached from the others; a fitting name evidently!
The runners continued over the next two plain fences, there were no noticeable jumping errors at these, before heading to the water-jump. Fountains Windfall jumped this one whilst upsides Elegant Escape and then took a narrow lead as they continued around the top bend and into the back straight once more. All five runners cleared the first fence therein stylishly. The following fence was another open-ditch.
There were no issues at this one, with Black Corton moving up on the outside of the field to take closer order. Fountains Windfall spearheaded the runners as they headed over the next fence, after which Elegant Escape joined the leader as they continued over the following obstacle. Seeing a good stride, Harry Cobden rode the Colin Tizzard-trained runner in towards the final fence within the back straight and cleared it well. In contrast, at the rear of the field, Wait For Me hit it; he survived.
Entering the far turn, Sir Ivan received a slap down his neck but began to lose touch with the leading three. Once again, Fountains Windfall got a little close to the cross-fence but he was still almost matching strides as the runners headed into the home straight with just four further obstacles now to negotiate.
Both Sir Ivan and Wait For Me had rallied by this point and weren’t far behind the leaders as they all successfully cleared four out, before heading towards the final open-ditch. However, having appeared to jump it okay, if a little too big, Fountains Windfall’s legs buckled on landing and he was out of the race; jockey Aidan Coleman was thrown clear.
This left Black Corton to lay down his challenge to Elegant Escape as they headed towards the penultimate fence; he was upsides as they cleared it. The other two continued but were of no danger to the leading duo. Bryony Frost’s mount had gained a very slight advantage as they duelled on their way towards the final fence but, whereas Elegant Escape jumped it big and hold, Black Corton got too close and hit it; this stemmed his momentum, allowing Harry Cobden’s mount to take the lead once more.
Both horses were driven to the line by their young jockeys, but Elegant Escape was able to retain his advantage and won by three quarters of a length. These two had pulled away from their tired rivals, with Sir Ivan holding off Wait For Me to claim 3rd; he finished 13 lengths behind the runner-up and 2¼ lengths ahead of the 4th.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back.
The favourite for this event was the Caroline Bailey-trained Crosspark, ridden by Richard Johnson; price 9-2. Warriors Tale was bred by Alan King, although he is trained by Paul Nicholls. Bouvreuil’s pilot was sporting the racing silks of the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan; they had been bequeathed to owner JP McManus. It was strange to see Bouvreuil without a hood … I had no idea he had a blaze! Wayne Hutchinson was riding Different Gravey for trainer Polly Gundry and owners Mr & Mrs Kelvin-Hughes.
As I’d done for the previous two races and would do for all bar the final race of the day, once the horses had exited the Parade Ring, I headed into the Premier Enclosure to view the event from beside the course-side rails.
As the Peter O’Sullevan Trust supports the retraining of racehorses, former Hennessy Gold Cup winners Bobs Worth and Carruthers, along with talented ex-racehorse Rocky Creek, paraded on the course ahead of this race.
Bobs Worth is now 12 years old and lives at the Hillwood Stud with Charlie and Tracy Vigors and family. He helps educate the young horses, goes hunting and enjoys hacking with the children and their ponies. Charlie rode him in today’s parade.
Carruthers is 14 and has remained with the Bradstock family; he goes drag hunting, point-to-pointing and aims to take part in team chasing too for their daughter Lily. I think there was also mention that he might do some show-jumping with son Alfie. Carruthers is known as ‘The Boss’, as he does pretty much what he wants to do. Lily rode him today.
Rocky Creek is 11 and was runner-up in the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup. Owners, the Johnson and Stewart families, gifted him to his work rider Camilla Orttewell; she works for his former trainer Paul Nicholls. He’s been hunting and Camilla, who was riding him today, hopes to compete in some ROR competitions during the summer of 2018.
The starting gate for this race was in the back straight, with one fence to negotiate before the far bend; equating to approximately one and three quarters circuits.
And then they were off, with Gold Present coming through the dispute the lead with Different Gravey as the runners cleared the first fence. All twelve partnerships remained intact as the runners continued into the far turn led by the Nicky Henderson representative. Different Gravey wasn’t particularly fluent at the sometimes tricky cross-fence.
Subsequently, Gold Present held the advantage as the runners headed into the home straight, from Different Gravey, Gentleman Jon, No Buts, Junction Fourteen, Crosspark, Potters Cross, Little Jon, Bouvreuil, Warriors Tale, O Maonlai and On Tour. There are five fences in the home straight, and they all cleared the first of these well.
The fourth fence was the first open-ditch and the leader jumped noticeably out to his right as he cleared it; On Tour continued to bring up the rear. The runners headed to the next where, once again, there were no noticeable jumping errors. The following fence was the one before the water, with Gold Present continuing to lead over it from Different Gravey, Junction Fourteen and Gentleman Jon. It was noticeable that the favourite, Crosspark, had lost his place.
The runners headed to the water-jump next, with Potters Cross getting a little close to it and landing awkwardly. The twelve-strong field then headed around the top turn and into the back straight once more. There were no departures at the first fence therein but, having been relegated to last place just before jumping it and subsequently making a mistake, Richard Johnson decided to pull up Crosspark; the favourite was out of the race.
The following fence was an open-ditch, with Gold Present still travelling in advance of his rivals and On Tour continuing to chase the field. Jumping the middle fence in the back straight, Gentleman Jon had advanced to chase the long-time leader. Potters Cross now struggled and had been relegated to last place as the runners headed over the eleventh fence; he jumped the next, after which his jockey Adam Wedge called it a day.
The remaining ten competitors headed into the far turn, with Gentleman Jon sneaking up the inside of Gold Present and taking the lead at this point. They were pursued by No Buts, who is always easy to identify due to one very long white stocking on his near-fore, then Little Jon, Different Gravey, Bouvreuil, Warriors Tale, Junction Fourteen, On Tour and last year’s winner O Maonlai.
The next obstacle was the cross-fence; Wayne Hutchinson aboard Different Gravey saw a stride, but his mount said no thanks and got too close. The horse landed safely but the jockey lost his balance and was hanging onto the reins for dear life. It looked briefly like Harry Cobden might push Wayne back into the saddle … he gave the jockey a nudge … whether it be to help or just to get him out of the way. It failed and Wayne landed unceremoniously on the ground with a thud.
Meanwhile Paddy Brennan’s mount continued to lead as they rounded the bend and entered the home straight, he was ahead of Gold Present, Warriors Tale, Little Jon and the improving On Tour; there were just four further fences to negotiate. However, On Tour took off too early and dragged his hind-legs through the fence as they jumped four out; this resulted in young Mitchell Bastyn becoming unbalanced before being unseated a number of strides after it. It was an almost identical landing to that of Wayne at the previous fence; Mitchell was lucky that O Maonlai didn’t kick him. However, last year’s winner was pulled up after the fence.
The third last was the final open-ditch, with Gentleman Jon to the far side, jumping it slightly in advance of Gold Present to the near-side and Warriors Tale in the centre; Little Jon was in fourth position. The three leading protagonists continued to battle as they headed down towards the second last; it was still all to play for. Meanwhile, in behind, there was a separate battle being fought, with Junction Fourteen staying on to overtake the Twiston-Davies-trained runner.
Having successfully negotiated the final fence, the prize was still up for grabs between the leading three, although at this point, Gold Present seemed the most unlikely winner. The loose On Tour, who had bypassed the final fence having jumped the previous two, now decided to drift back across to join them. As the runners met the elbow, all three were again racing stride for stride; the rider-less On Tour just ahead of them. To the inside, Gentleman Jon was the first beaten, which left Warriors Tale and Gold Present neck and neck. Unfortunately the loose horse seemed to hamper Bryony’s mount, very briefly, but it was enough for Nico de Boinville to claim an unlikely win by a neck at the line.
When interviewed, the winning jockey Nico de Boinville said he’d not intended to lead but didn’t want to disappoint the horse. He thought he’d win, although did admit the loose horse may have helped; he said he was able to get a breather into Gold Present with the aim of getting a second wind, which he did to great success.
I returned to the steppings above the Parade Ring to see the horses arrive back.
The joint-favourites for the next race were Old Guard trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Bryony Frost, and Air Horse One trained by Harry Fry and ridden by Noel Fehily; price 7-2.
Alan King had two runners in the event, firstly Coeur De Lion ridden by Kevin Dowling and also Dino Velvet ridden by Brendan Powell; both were year-olds and stepping up in trip today. Conditional stable jockey Kevin Dowling was able to claim 10 lbs off the former, whose original weight would have been 11 stone 5 lbs. Dino Velvet was on 10 stone, so had to be ridden by one of the jockeys who could do the minimum weight!
As I was heading down to the course-side rails, there was a broadcast announcement asking Alan King to report to the Weighing Room ... I surmised, correctly it later transpired, that Wayne Hutchinson wouldn’t be riding for the reminder of the afternoon following his unseating from Different Gravey. Alan now needed to find replacement jockeys for Cosmeapolitan in the Intermediate Hurdle and Label Des Obeaux in the feature race.
The starting gate for this race was located at the far corner of the track, with one and a half circuits to travel during the race.
And then they were off, with the outsider Vicenzo Mio leading the way from Doesyourdogbite and Old Guard. The runners had soon entered the home straight, with David Noonan’s mount now setting up a clear lead, over the Jonjo O’Neill and Paul Nicholls runners. They were followed by Remiluc to the outside of the grey Jabulani and the also grey Air Horse One. Dino Velvet was in the next rank, to the inside of Coeur De Lion and Maestro Royal. The final three were Jaleo, the third grey Master Dancer and, finally, Court Minstrel; the latter was ridden by Mitchell Bastyn, the jockey having been unharmed following the mishap in the previous race.
The gallop wasn’t strong and all twelve runners cleared the first flight without incident. The horses continued up the home straight, where Jabulani landed slightly awkwardly when he jumped the next. Ears pricked, the nose-banded Vicenzo Mio remained at the head of affairs as they headed to, and over, flight number three. There were seven more flights of hurdles to jump as the competitors headed past the winning post, around the top bend and out into the country for the one and only time. The pace was quite steady and a number of the jockeys had to restrain their mounts.
Having reached the first flight in the back straight, Doesyourdogbite was noticeably slower than his rivals when jumping it. At the rear of the field, Court Minstrel dislodged the protective strip having clattered his hind-legs through the top. There was no change at the head of the field as the runners jumped the fifth flight; Master Dancer and Court Minstrel continued to bring up the rear, three lengths detached. Ears still pricked, Vicenzo Mio led over the next too.
The runners had soon reached the final flight in the back straight, with Old Guard in second, followed by Air Horse One, Remiluc, Coeur De Lion, Dino Velvet, Jabulani, Doesyourdogbite, Maestro Royal, Jaleo, Master Dancer and Court Minstrel. Having cleared this one, the horses headed into the far turn and had soon completed a circuit. The field was still united as they entered the home straight, but jockey David Noonan aboard the long-time leader had begun to push his mount along.
Vicenzo Mio held a half-length advantage as the runners jumped three out, from Old Guard, Remiluc, Air Horse One, Jabulani and Coeur De Lion; Doesyourdogbite was now detached in rear. The horses galloped down to the second last, with Remiluc and Old Guard now disputing the lead; Master Dancer had made rapid progress to the inside of runners, joining those in behind, namely Air Horse One, Dino Velvet, Jabulani, Jaleo, Coeur De Lion and the fading Vicenzo Mio.
Old Guard and Remiluc continued to spearhead the field as they headed to the final flight; Coeur De Lion’s challenge now began to falter, as did that of Jaleo. Maestro Royal was already beaten, and Court Minstrel was unable to get on terms. The leading duo were still neck and neck as they jumped the last, with Old Guard finally getting the better of and pulling away from his rival as they headed to the line; the winning distance was 2¾ lengths.
Air Horse One had kept on after the last and closed to within a head of Remiluc to claim 3rd. Master Dancer completed in 4th, a further 1¼ lengths away. Dino Velvet was a good 5th, with Coeur De Lion fading into 11th place.
Finally a victory for Bryony Frost, after two runner-up spots today. Old Guard runs in the same colours as Black Corton; Jeremy Kyle being a part-owner. Old Guard is known as Ollie within the yard.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure once more to see the horses arrive back.
The next race was the Intermediate Hurdle, a limited handicap; the listed race is registered as the Gerry Feilden Hurdle. The favourite for this race was High Bridge, trained by Ben Pauling and ridden by Mr Alex Ferguson, claiming 7 lbs; price 9-4.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Cosmeapolitan; Barbury Castle Stud bred the horse, his dam is Cosmea … I remember her! Choc rode her three times, during the 2008/2009 season, winning twice! Anyway, Tom Bellamy replaced Wayne Hutchinson, the latter having been stood-down for the day.
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.
Amour De Nuit was shaking his head as he was ridden across the course to the starting gate, and the favourite’s tongue was hanging out of the left-hand side of his mouth!
And then they were off, or rather they weren’t for the first few seconds, with no-one appearing keen to make it. Alex Ferguson then decided that he’d lead them away and onwards towards the first flight. Just behind him travelled Amour De Nuit and the Hemmings-owned runner Mount Mews. After these were Cosmeapolitan and the mare Poppy Kay; in rear were Master Of Irony and the JP McManus-owned Charli Parcs. The leader stuttered into the flight slightly, in order to clear it safely.
Amour De Nuit was very keen as they headed up past the winning post and entered the top bend. High Bridge, Amour De Nuit and Mount Mews had soon set up a lead of five or six lengths, but this had been closed down by the time they entered the back straight.
The leader was striding on as they approached the next; as a result he hit this one. The Alan King runner nodded slightly on landing but it didn’t cost him any ground. The order remained the same as they continued their journey down the back straight, successfully negotiating the third flight as they did so. Ears pricked, High Bridge remained at the head of affairs as they cleared the next; Cosmeapolitan jumped this a little more slowly than his rivals.
Moving on, Alex Ferguson’s mount continued to lead; Amour De Nuit remained keen whilst disputing second position to the outside of Mount Mews. Heading into the far turn, Master Of Irony had become detached from the field by around two or three lengths. High Bridge led them into the home straight, with half a mile still to travel and just three more hurdles to negotiate. Having jumped the third last, the runners were queuing up behind the favourite, waiting to launch their challenges.
Alex was niggling at his mount slightly but he retained a narrow advantage as the runners neared two out; Charli Parcs, to the inside, was almost upsides as they jumped it. However, with a few slaps and one back hander, High Bridge continued to find more and remained ahead. The favourite was still half a length up as he cleared the final flight, from Charli Parcs, Amour De Nuit, Cosmeapolitan and Poppy Kay; Amour De Nuit jumped it awkwardly and dislodged the orange protective strip.
Alex Ferguson got serious with his mount after the last, administering encouragement with the whip held in his right hand, although High Bridge still drifted to his right. However, it was enough to hold off the challenge from the JP McManus runner and he won by 1¼ lengths at the line. Poppy Kay came through to claim 3rd place, just three quarters of a length further back.
Having initially looked booked for 4th, Cosmeapolitan faded close home and finished last, although 4 lengths covered the entire field at the line! In contrast, Master Of Irony flew home and claimed 4th position, just a neck behind Poppy Kay.
The winner is owned by the jockey’s grandmother, Margaret. High Bridge had been transferred from Godolphin to Bloomfields and had won bumpers whilst trained by Alex’s father John; he also finished 6th to Ballyandy in the Cheltenham Festival bumper. High Bridge also won his first three starts over hurdles, beating Alan King’s Top Tug and Azzerti respectively in two of them. He also finished 9th in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 3rd to Elgin at Ascot in October. No wonder he was the race favourite today!
I headed back to the Parade Ring area to see the horses return.
This was formerly the Hennessy Gold Cup. The race favourite was Total Recall, winner of Limerick’s Munster National the previous month and trained by Willie Mullins; he was ridden by Paul Townend, as Ruby Walsh was currently on the injury side-lines. The favourite’s price was 9-2. The Harry Fry-trained American was very popular in the betting too; he was the early favourite.
Alan King had a runner in this event, namely Label Des Obeaux. Pleasant Company having been withdrawn with a vet’s certificate, Alan engaged his Grand National winning jockey David Mullins, nephew of Willie, to replace the stood-down Wayne Hutchinson.
This year, it felt like the race hadn’t attracted many ‘class’ horses, apart from Coneygree and Whisper; they headed the weights. Bearing in mind that, this being my tenth consecutive attendance, I’d seen the race won by Madison Du Berlais, Denman, Diamond Harry, Carruthers, Bobs Worth, Triolo D’Alene, Many Clouds, Smad Place and Native River.
There was a parade ahead of the race, led by a couple of mounted huntsmen. However, the hooded and keen Singlefarmpayment, led by two handlers, preceded them. The runners having completed the parade and cantered back towards the starting gate situated at the beginning of the back straight, the race was delayed by Present Man; he’d lost a shoe and, whilst standing upon the in-field, had to have his off-fore hoof re-shod. He was Bryony Frost’s mount.
Meanwhile, the other 19 runners we milling around in a group and, once re-shod, Bryony re-joined Present Man to the front of them, up against the outside rail. It would have been a first-time rolling start but for the fact that Double Ross decided to plunge forward, twice, taking him out of line and too close to the tape. As a result everyone was soon in a muddle, with the majority deciding to take a turn.
And then they were off, at the second attempt; it wasn’t quite a standing start for most. The runners were led away by Coneygree, Double Ross and Cogry. Also prominent were Carole’s Destrier, Braqueur D’Or and, to the outside, Southfield Royale. The runners cleared the first fence without incident and Singlefarmpayment brought up the rear.
The second fence was an open-ditch; again there were no departures, although Pilgrims Bay was untidy when travelling one from the rear. Settling down, Coneygree spearheaded the field as they jumped the third, Double Ross was almost upsides, closely followed by Present Man, Potters Legend, Cogry and Braqueur D’Or and Southfield Royale. Label Des Obeaux wasn’t travelling particularly well for his new rider David Mullins and was relegated to the back of the field as they jumped the fourth.
Coneygree was being pressed by Double Ross and Present Man as they continued their journey to the final fence in the back straight, where Southfield Royale made an error. All twenty runners remained as the Mark Bradstock runner led them into the far turn, closely pursued by Double Ross and Present Man. Potters Legend, Cogry, Braqueur D’Or and Southfield Royale continued in a group behind these, followed by Royal Vacation, American, Whisper and Total Recall.
The runners cleared the sometimes tricky cross-fence without incident before heading into the home straight on the first occasion. Coneygree continued to hold a very narrow advantage as the competitors cleared the next; the following fence was the second open-ditch. This posed no threat to the experienced chasers and they all jumped it well. The Alan King runner was now being pushed along to the rear of the field.
Coneygree continued to lead as they headed towards the grandstands, with Present Man his nearest pursuer as they cleared the ninth fence. Having jumped this one, Royal Vacation dropped back through the field and received reminders. Present Man jumped through to join the long-time leader as they all negotiated the next successfully. The following fence was the water-jump, where American made an error and lost a few places as a result.
The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner had regained the lead as they entered the back straight; his nearest pursuers being Present Man, Missed Approach, Potters Legend, Braqueur D’Or and Cogry. Having jumped the next fence, Missed Approach took the lead. The following fence was another open-ditch and Cogry didn’t jump it particularly well, after which he was pushed along for a few strides.
Missed Approach continued to lead as the horses headed over the next, from Potters Legend and Coneygree. Once again, Cogry had to be pushed along having jumped it. Now at the back of the field, Royal Vacation was pulled up by Paddy Brennan before the next. Blinkered for the first time and with the assistance of the Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, Missed Approach continued to lead as they jumped the fifteenth.
Coneygree was beating a fast retreat as the remaining 19 runners headed towards the final fence in the back straight. Although still in the race, Label Des Obeaux trailed the field. Missed Approach led over it, from Potters Legend, Braqueur D’Or, Present Man, Whisper, Total Recall, American and Double Ross. American began to drop back through the field as they headed into the far turn. Southfield Royale hadn’t been particularly fluent when jumping the previous two fences and was soon pulled up; as was Label Des Obeaux. Cogry was pulled up at the 17th too.
The remaining runners negotiated the cross-fence without issue; both Coneygree and American were pulled up having jumped it. This left Missed Approach to lead the runners into the home straight, from Potters Legend, Whisper, Braqueur D’Or, Present Man, Total Recall, Double Ross, Carole’s Destrier, Regal Encore, Pilgrims Bay, Singlefarmpayment, A Genie In Abottle, the sole grey Vyta Du Roc and, finally, Bigbadjohn.
Heading towards four out, creeping towards the leading duo and travelling well, were Whisper and Total Recall; also gaining was Regal Encore, along with Singlefarmpayment. All of the remaining fourteen runners negotiated this fence safely. The competitors continued to the final open-ditch, with Total Recall probably travelling the best at this point.
It was Whisper who landed ahead over this one, from Total Recall, Missed Approach and Potters Legend. However, just behind them and with pilot Adrian Heskin riding his horse into the fence one-two-three up, Singlefarmpayment dived at it and capsized on landing. Present Man and Double Ross were hampered by this departure; the latter was pulled up as a result.
Meanwhile, Davy Russell and Whisper had got the lead as they headed towards the penultimate fence; Total Recall was tucked in behind him as they jumped it. Regal Encore had passed tiring horses and was now in third position, ahead of Braqueur D’Or. Paul Townend gave Total Recall two or three backhanders as they galloped towards the final obstacle but Whisper remained two lengths to the good as they cleared it.
Heading for the elbow, the advantage began to close; Whisper was carrying 11 stone 8 lbs as opposed to the 10 stone 8 lbs of his rival. Thus despite Davy Russell’s efforts, and with the far rail to help him, Total Recall closed the gap and got his head in front to pip Whisper by a neck at the line. Damn. An Irish-based winner of the race for the first time since Bright Highway in 1980 … although Be My Royal won the race in 2002 only to be disqualified due to traces of a banned substance! Be My Royal was trained by Willie Mullins too.
The first two had drawn well away from the third, Regal Encore; he finished 9 lengths behind. Braqueur D’Or claimed 4th, a further 3¾ lengths away. Pilgrims Bay was 5th, Missed Approach 6th, Potters Legend 7th, Carole Destrier 8th, A Genie In Abottle 9th, Bigbadjohn 10th, Vyta Du Roc 11th and Present Man last of those who completed.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the winning horse arrive back.
Having been beaten by a neck, Whisper’s trainer Nicky Henderson regretted the fact that his charge had picked up a 4 lb penalty for winning a 2-horse Kempton Park Graduation Chase early in November.
The favourite for the final race of the day was the Nicky Henderson-trained Theinval, ridden by Nico de Boinville today; his regular pilot Jeremiah McGrath had been injured in a fall from the same horse two weeks previously, at Cheltenham. Theinval’s price was 3-1. There was one grey in this race, the pretty Greybougg.
With the crowds now dispersed, I couldn’t be asked to walk into the Premier Enclosure; I headed down to the rails within the Grandstand enclosure instead.
The starting gate for this event was half way down the home straight, with that and one full circuit to travel.
Having exited the holding-pen and taken a turn, Festive Affair was a little too keen to get on with it and breasted the tape. The horses regrouped and it was turn and turn again, before they ambled in at a walk and were off.
Greybougg led the runners to the first, from Duke Of Navan, Rock On Rocky and Festive Affair; bringing up the rear were Overtown Express and Dream Bolt. All of the runners cleared this fence in their stride. Not so at the second, where Duke Of Navan took a tumbling fall, hampering Just Cameron and Baby King in the process. This left the grey with a lead of three or four lengths over Festive Affair as they headed to the water-jump for the one and only time; the remaining runners jumped this without incident. Meanwhile, Duke Of Navan was soon on his feet and had followed the field; jockey Davy Russell walked away unharmed.
Greybougg continued to lead as they headed into the top turn, from Festive Affair; Just Cameron disputed third position with the hooded Marracudja and Rock On Rocky. Behind these travelled Theinval, Overtown Express, Baby King, Dream Bolt and the loose horse. The runners continued their journey and had soon entered the back straight. Having reached the first fence therein, Greybougg jumped it well; Festive Affair in contrast almost walked through it, but survived.
The next fence was the first of two open-ditches and posed no problems. The nine remaining competitors continued to the next, which they all cleared well; although Baby King was briefly pushed along as they headed away from it. The leader got a little bit close to the seventh fence but still held a clear advantage over his nearest rivals on their journey towards the final fence in the back straight.
Having cleared this one without incident, the grey was four lengths clear of the main field, led by Marracudja, as they entered the far bend. Just Cameron and Rock On Rocky disputed third, from Theinval, Baby King, Festive Affair, Dream Bolt and Overtown Express. The loose horse continued to shadow the field, travelling beside the outside rail and out of harm’s way.
Greybougg’s lead was greatly reduced by the time they jumped the cross-fence. Marracudja got close to this one and Harry Cobden had to urge him along having landed over it. Meanwhile to the outside of the field, Overtown Express had begun to make noticeable progress; in fact he was in third position as they entered the home straight. And he was travelling so well, that he jumped into the lead at the fourth last.
The next fence was the final open-ditch and Noel Fehily’s mount held a half-length advantage over Rock On Rocky as they jumped it; Greybougg was in third position presently. Having cleared the fence, Jamie Bargary switched his mount to the nearside of the leader. Overtown Express, ears pricked suggesting he’d still got plenty left in the locker, jumped two out and began to draw smoothly away from his rivals. He popped over the last, whilst Rock On Rocky and Theinval continued their battle for the runner-up position.
Having been well in command since the third last, Noel Fehily had only to ride him out to the line to win by 10 lengths. Rock On Rocky got the better of Theinval to claim 2nd by 3¼ lengths, with Dream Bolt claiming 4th spot a further 2 lengths behind the Nicky Henderson runner. Marracudja was 5th and Greybougg 6th.
When interviewed, Noel said his mount appreciated the ground and probably jumped the fences better than he’d ever done, getting from A to B quickly; it was Overtown Express’ first run of the season. He’d previously disappointed in Warwick’s Kingmaker Chase early in the year when not ‘right’ that day.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure for the final time today in order to see the horses arrive back.
Post-race presentations made, it was time for me to head back to the car park to collect my car. I popped to the loo within the Dubai Duty Free stand prior to departing; no queue, excellent, before heading out through the door to the rear of the grandstand. As I was parked in car park 4, I headed out through the newly constructed eastern ticket hall; it was deserted. I crossed the roadway via a pedestrian crossing, there was a buggy waiting to take people back to vehicles parked some distance away.
I continued along the pathway which runs to the back of the apartment blocks, before turning left to enter the car park in order to return to my car. The majority of the apartments are now occupied, but there was still a large crane in situ so, presumably, the block nearest the bridge had not yet been completed; there are five blocks in this area. Having changed out of my damp coat, I hung it over the back of the passenger seat to dry off. I laid other damp items along the back seat and placed my Hotter boots in a Really Useful box; they were less muddy than expected. I even removed my skirt ... I hasten to add that I was wearing jeggings beneath it! I also removed my disposable contact lenses. I’d wear my sight-vision glasses, along with my night vision ones for my drive home.
Not far away from my own vehicle, there was a group of three blokes enjoying a picnic; they’d even brought folding deckchairs with them! It wasn’t particularly cold, but it continued to drizzle with rain – not my idea of ideal picnicking weather. Meanwhile I settled down to eat the two remaining cheese rolls. Despite there being plenty of empty spaces in the car park, another vehicle arrived and parked directly beside me; strange.
There appeared to be no traffic queuing to leave the immediate area, so it was now time for me to begin my journey home; it was 16:20. I reversed out of my parking space and turned right having exited the car park. I headed towards the Fitness Centre, the road bears right at this point and then left at the exit point of car park 5; I joined the back of the queue here. It didn’t take long to reach the initial roundabout; I turned left at this point to drive slowly over the bridge, within the queue, and had soon reached the next roundabout at the junction with the Hambridge Road. I subsequently headed over the River Kennet and onwards towards the traffic lights upon the A4.
I had to wait in a long queue for the lights to change; I wanted to turn right. In hindsight it may have been quicker to carry on, straight ahead, into Fir Tree Lane. Once upon the A4, I continued to a large roundabout where I turned right to head through Thatcham. I got caught by one or two sets of traffic lights along this stretch of the road but was soon on my way past the industrial area and onwards to Woolhampton. There’s a 30 mph limit through the village, before I continued to the roundabout close to Aldermaston, and along a section of dual carriageway prior to the turning to Ufton Nervet; I believe Menace lives at Ufton Nervet.
I continued upon the A4, navigating another two roundabouts to arrive at Junction 12 of the M4; at this point I joined the eastbound carriageway thereof. This section of the M4 is lit, so there were no night vision issues. There are no lights between junctions 10 and 8/9 and for a short section before they recommence on the approach to Slough West, junction 7. I continued past the Slough Central and Langley junctions, and pulled over to the new inside lane which is created by the entry slip-road at Junction 5.
There was a queue of traffic at this point, as vehicles waited to join the M25. I subsequently joined the clockwise carriageway and continued around to Junction 21A. Once again, in hindsight, I should have continued to Junction 22 like I usually do. But traffic suddenly slowed on the approach to the earlier junction so I wondered if there was an additional problem on the motorway; there had been warning signs of a 30-minute delay between junctions 23 and 25. It transpired that the issue was weight of traffic on the North Orbital Road between Watford and St Albans, so it was a slip-road issue, not a motorway issue. Too late ... and I’d been thinking that I would be home by 18:00.
It took around 10 minutes to travel the short-distance from the motorway to the roundabout upon the North Orbital; I turned left and headed into St Albans. I decided upon a route along Watford Road, around the perimeter of Verulamium Park and along the ring-road to reach home. On the plus side I saw Smiley SID, but on the minus side there were two sets of temporary traffic lights to negotiate; these were due to road-works.
I arrived home at 18:20. I was in time to see the quarter-finals of Strictly Come Dancing and also had time to upload my photographs – I’d taken over 400 despite the weather being against me! I had hoped to write a blog before turning in but, at around 22:30, I was overcome by tiredness so went to bed, eventually! Once my head turns ‘muzzy’ there is no hope of getting any writing done.
It was reported that attendee numbers were down this year, Hennessy having ended its sponsorship of the big race. In hindsight it did seem fairly quiet on the steppings and concourses, and I always managed to find a spot beside the course-side rails too; although this was the first time I’d purchased a premier ticket rather than a grandstand one. My thought, this season, was that the Winners’ Enclosure might have been repositioned by the time this fixture arrived; it hadn’t but must be imminent. From viewing graphics of the new Parade Ring, it’s due to move towards the Premier Enclosure side, rather than the Grandstand side, hence my decision to purchase a more expensive ticket on this occasion.
It did seem quiet within the ground floor of the Dubai Duty Free grandstand, following racing, and there was no queue for the ladies loo either! Earlier in the day, there were adverts for available restaurant places and the Ladbrokes VIP pavilion was opened to the general public quite early in the afternoon – presumably due to lack of trade! I hated the very intrusive Ladbrokes signage; it was everywhere, even stuck to every railing around the Parade Ring. You just couldn’t miss it; very tacky.
Admittedly, it didn’t help my mood that Willie Mullins trained the winner of the feature race!!! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ...