DIARY – VISIT TO CHURN STABLES AND
NEWBURY RACECOURSE – JUMP SEASON FINALE
SATURDAY 25 MARCH 2017
On the gallops;
Undisputed, Midnight Merlot and ‘Molly’
Today I was hoping to pay a visit to Noel Williams’ yard just outside Blewbury and see Pride of Pemberley run in the Goffs UK Spring Sales Bumper at Newbury but, as you will learn later, it didn’t quite work out as planned.
Having completed my initial Cheltenham blogs, less than a week after the completion of the Festival, I was feeling okay about my website and hopeful that I’d get my life back with regards to writing my more detailed post-Festival diaries too – I shall endeavour to do them, but will pace myself moving forwards. I’ve also got to bear in mind that I’ll have less free time available after the end of June, because my journey time to work will more than triple due to the relocation of my employer after that date.
However, in the short term, this meant that I could venture out on this day, rather than be ruled by my website-related workload. At the time of writing, I don’t possess a RUK recording of Day 3’s action due to running out of space on my Skybox; I do, however, have Day 1, 2 and 4.
Anyway, I confirmed attendance of the yard visit mid-week and requested an owners’ badge for the Berkshire course too. Not surprisingly, requests for badges proved very popular, with Pride of Pemberley’s direct owners having priority. However, it was possible to obtain additional badges at 50% discount, so I was more than happy to go along with that! The day was thus planned.
I hadn’t yet cleaned my car, post Cheltenham; it was filthy, covered in dust. I had to wipe the windows in order to see properly but it wouldn’t be worth washing the bodywork or wheels until just before Aintree. It had been pristine before Cheltenham too, but even gets very dusty standing under the carport when not in use.
Checking back to previous visits, I knew that leaving home at around 07:40 would allow me to arrive at the yard within the stipulated timescale of 09:00 to 09:30. I thus set my alarm clock for approximately 05:30; it would have helped me to be less tired, however, had I not woken at 04:30 and found it impossible to get back to sleep again!
Having showered, washed and dried my hair, applied make-up and eaten a breakfast of two croissants, I was ready to depart at 07:38. I made a last minute decision to drop by the local supermarket to top up the tank en route to Oxfordshire.
My outfit today, or I should say outfits, were a black thermal t-shirt, a purple thermal t-shirt, my M&S bright purple fleece and black jeggings worn over granite-coloured thermal tights. Also my burgundy ‘stable-visits’ jacket with brown trimmings, plus black snow-boots. Today’s handbag was a mauve Kipling one, Defea in design.
My second outfit, for Newbury, was a black peplum cardigan; Dottie Perkins grey/black dog tooth check flippy hem skirt; a mauve Per Una raincoat; a grey, mauve, pink and black scarf; a pair of Hotter ‘Danielle’ black ankle boots; a Chaotic Rainbow pendant named ‘Violetfire’ plus earrings.
Having joined the M25 at Junction 22, I travelled around to Junction 15 in order to join the westbound carriageway of the M4. I left the motorway at Junction 12, Reading West and initially headed along the A4 before taking the road to Pangbourne. Having driven under the railway bridge within the town, I headed along beside the Thames and had soon passed the entrance to Beale Wildlife Park before arriving at the traffic-light controlled bridge over the railway line.
At this point I, along with a number of motorists ahead of me and behind, got stuck behind a slow moving tanker vehicle all the way to the Thames-side village of Streatley. Having been delayed at the traffic lights in the centre of the village, I was hopeful that the tanker lorry was now heading to Wallingford; unfortunately not, as I soon encountered it again, on the road to Blewbury! It eventually turned right at the B4016 on the outskirts of the aforementioned village.
Noel’s new yard is located off Boham’s Road, which is a turning to the left-hand side, opposite the garden centre at the far end of Blewbury. I was soon heading up the hill to the downs; there was a car in front of me and a 4x4 behind, presumably all heading to the yard. The lane was ‘booby-trapped’ with potholes but I managed to avoid the majority of these. A farm vehicle briefly delayed us, but we soon headed into the driveway and around the one-way system to park on the grass area to the far side of the barn.
I put on my snow-boots and jacket and headed across to join a small group of EPDS syndicate members who had congregated in the area outside the barn; John Powell, MD of EPDS Racing, had headed inside to speak with Noel as the latter organised the horses for the next lot.
As you know, horses are not machines and have a habit of throwing a spanner in the works; today was no exception. I’d left home too early to read the email message which had arrived at 08:10 to inform everyone that Pride of Pemberley would be a non-runner today. His off-fore foot was discovered to be slightly swollen when trainer Jamie Snowden checked him early that morning; possibly a result of mud ingress to a small graze. Antibiotics had immediately been administered with the hope of one further run this season before his summer break.
The news was thus passed on to me by another syndicate member whilst we waited. However, looking on the bright-side and as I was out and about, an owner’s badge would continue to be available on the gate at Newbury for today’s racing.
John returned, with Noel; six horses were now being warmed up on the circuit to the far side of the barn – Midnight Merlot, Undisputed), ‘Molly’, Daliance and Midnight Jitterbug. Theatre Goer was also warmed up, although she didn’t go to the gallops today; perhaps she did some work in the indoor school instead. We headed across to see them.
It was soon time to head up to the gallops in the 4x4 vehicles which were available. Today, I got to ride in the back of Noel’s 4x4. He did apologise that the vehicle wasn’t pristine inside … I told him not to worry as it wasn’t as bad as Jamie Snowden’s 4x4! A lady and her young daughter shared the back seat with me.
The usual route to the gallops was too muddy at the present time, so we headed out via the driveway instead, to join the track further up; Noel led the way. At the top, the lady who’d occupied the front passenger seat had to open my door for me as the kiddie lock was in operation! Despite it being a bright and sunny Spring morning, it was very windy at the top of the gallops; it always is!
Whilst we waited for the horses to head up the gallops towards us, Noel pointed out a number and variety of different gallops available to him. Former trainer Peter Cundell used to train horses on a grass gallop close to the bottom of the valley. I understand Hughie Morrison now trains his horses on it, with Noel using the gallop too. There’s also the track of a dismantled railway line in the valley bottom; it used to join up with the main line at Didcot, having been used to transport horses to the races before horseboxes were commonplace.
Noel’s main all-weather gallop has been re-routed slightly and extended to assist with the training of NH horses. A number of the older grass gallops on the Churn Estate have fallen into disrepair having not been used for a number of years – moles being the main issue. Noel had a number of mole-traps stored in the compartment on inside of the front passenger door of his 4x4!
Once ready, the horses headed up the gallop in two groups – the first one led by Undisputed, then Midnight Merlot and ‘Molly’. Daliance led Midnight Jitterbug a few moments later; the EPDS horse was pretty chubby having recently returned from a holiday break. The five horses then headed back down to the bottom of the gallop before doing the run for a second time. On this occasion, once at the top, they stopped to circle around so that we could take a closer look at them; following this, they began their walk back to the yard.
We loaded into the 4x4’s and headed back too. We caught up with the group close to the yard. Daliance was now being walked back by his rider, Will Featherstone! Noel did ask if anything was wrong; no, everything was fine. Perhaps Dali was having one of his temperamental moments. Noel had given the horse its recent break from racing because he’d refused to go up the gallops, after which the decision was made. Dali does what Dali wants to do ... he’s a wily character!!!
Having alighted from the vehicles once more, we headed onto the barn. Noel said hello to a number of the horses as he passed by them, including my favourite mare, Chance Taken; it was no surprise that I made a beeline for her too! I love Chance!!!
In addition to the ones we’d seen on the gallops today, others in the barn included Authorized Too, Hot Whiskey N Ice (he’s waiting to go to his retirement home), Bingo D’Olivate (he’s shares his birthday with Andre Agassi – 29 April), Minella Treasure, Samson The Man, Minella Mischief (purchased recently by Mrs Prowting at the Cheltenham Festival Sales), Passing Shadow who was paying an extended visit as part of his racing education (he’s one of Mrs Prowting’s home-bred horses – a half-brother to Midnight Merlot, Letsby Avenue, Coyaba and Sultan’s Dancer), Paloma’s Prince, Balli Martine, Another Crick and the Cheltenham Festival fifth-placed horse in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, and star of the yard, Briery Queen.
Minella Treasure and Another Crick sport the well-known yellow with red spot colours of David Sewell; colours made famous by Araldur and Oh Crick.
Driving back from the gallops, Noel had recounted that Briery Queen’s owners were offered a six-figure sum for the mare following her win at Newbury in last year’s EBF & TBA Mares’ NH Novices’ Hurdle Finale. They turned it down, as the mare is a home-bred and they wish to continue the line; they also own the talented Briery Belle. Evidently Briery Belle scoped poorly following her outing at the Cheltenham Festival, hence the disappointing run in the RSA Chase. Noel was of the opinion that Briery Queen would have finished 4th in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle had she not made an error at the final flight; in other words, she’d have been the best of the British behind Ireland’s Apple’s Jade, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini!
Will Featherstone unsaddled Daliance on the grassed area outside the barn and allowed his mount a pick of grass. Either John or Noel joked that they were trying to get the weight back off of Daliance following the recent break, not adding to it!
Noel spoke about his breeding plans for the mare Theatre Goer, which he owns. He’s been investigating suitable stallions, but cannot send her to an Irish-based stallion for her first foal because she’s remaining in training for the allowable period (up to the 150th day of pregnancy).
He wants to breed from a substantially-sized stallion, as Theatre Goer is quite small. Noel is seriously considering Scorpion despite the fact that he can produce horses with temperament (he’s by Montjeu) but, as Noel’s mare has no such issues, the trainer thinks it may be a good match. He’s hopeful they could sell a colt foal but would keep a filly. Might Bite’s sire is Scorpion.
Mind you, both King’s Theatre (Theatre Goer) and Montjeu (Scorpion) are by Saddler’s Wells which makes it more of an inbred rather than an outbred cross. I’ve read that ‘inbred’ crosses are better for sprinters and ‘outbred’ crosses are better for stamina!
Having eaten a couple of small pastries which were on offer, I was ready to depart for Newbury. Another of the attendees asked John about Wilma (Wildehearted Woman) – she continues to recover well from her career-ending injury and will be syndicated as a broodmare in due course. I asked after Menace, he’s okay too; he will soon be scanned in an endeavour to find out exactly what is causing the mild long-term lameness.
I made a point of saying goodbye to Chance Taken as I headed out of the barn; I almost kissed her on the nose … but not quite!!! Anyway, a couple from Sussex were also attending Newbury races today; they were unpacking their posh gear in order to get changed before their journey. I returned to my car and changed into my smart clothes too.
The gates opened at Newbury at 11:00, with the off-time of the first race being 13:50. I think I left Noel’s at around 10:50. I headed back down Boham’s Road and turned left in order to reach the A34; I joined the dual carriageway and headed south towards Newbury. I got trapped behind a slow moving lorry but I didn’t want to overtake as I wasn’t quite sure whereabouts the turning to Beedon was; the A34 heads over the downs, so it’s uphill and down dale.
Having left the main road, I headed down the slip-road and underneath the carriageway as the village is situated to the west thereof. I continued through World’s End; it’s pretty remote, but not that bad!!! The journey to the T-junction at the far end of the lane didn’t seem to take a long as previously, but that’s the effect of growing familiarity. I turned left here and headed across a bridge over the A34. Shortly afterwards, I headed over the M4 too.
On the outskirts of Hermitage, I encountered temporary traffic lights; road repairs on a Saturday! Having reached the small roundabout upon the B4009, I turned right to continue my journey. Further along the road there was another set of temporary traffic lights; on this occasion, a digger was excavating the bank to the right of the road.
I continued to Newbury, driving straight ahead at the first roundabout then left at the second of two adjacent mini-roundabouts. I now headed along Kiln Road; there are speed bumps the entire length of the road – presumably traffic calming measures on a busy cut-through. Near the far end, just before open countryside, I turned right at a mini-roundabout in order to head down Fir Tree Lane.
At the far end, the traffic lights turned to green as I approached. I thus headed across the A4 and into Hambridge Road. Upon arrival at a roundabout, I took the second turning in order to head over the new bridge, which evidently cost £7,000,000, crossing the railway line and thus entered the precincts of Newbury racecourse. At the far end I turned right and shortly afterwards entered car park 5; it’s situated between the home straight course-side rails and a number of new apartment blocks, some of which are still under construction.
Having eaten two of the four cheese rolls I’d brought with me and changed into my ankle boots and put on my raincoat, I headed across the grass to reach the newly tarmacked driveway which runs between the apartment blocks and the enclosures. At this point I discovered that car park 4 still had plenty of space within it … it’s a fabulous car park, tarmacked and lit too. In hindsight I wish I driven around to that one instead.
I continued around to the temporary entrance marquee adjacent to the roadway which runs along beside the railway line; it occupies the site of the former grandstand enclosure turnstiles. A new entrance building was currently being constructed close by. As I wasn’t 100% sure which entrance I needed to report to in order to collect an owner’s badge, I spoke to a steward who was standing outside. I knew there was an owners and trainers entrance to the western end of the site, but I had also noticed the left-most entrance of this particular marquee was also signed as owners and trainers. He suggested I go in and ask, so I did!
The guy manning the desk checked his laptop, located my name and issued me with a ticket and a badge. Yippee … I discovered that I’d been promoted to a free of charge owner’s badge for entry; it transpired that several of Pride of Pemberley’s owners no longer wished to attend having heard the earlier news! Although I’d have loved to see the racehorse which I’d named run, it meant that my only additional financial outlay for the day was the cost of petrol. Owners are issued with free race-cards too.
Being a regular Grandstand ticket holder, firstly I headed to the loo familiar to me within the ground floor of the Dubai Duty Free stand. I then went to the Parade Ring to see if anything interesting was going on … no, not today. Soon afterwards I headed into the Premier Enclosure and sat upon one of the benches facing the weighing room entrance. The only other time I’ve been in the Premier Enclosure was when I walked the course with Choc back in 2010; he’d arranged for Lesley and I to be issued with complementary tickets that day too. That visit was the equivalent of this particular fixture and day too.
I was able to watch the coming and goings of the racing fraternity and also TV presenters, including Oli Bell and Luke Harvey. Lizzie Kelly arrived, carrying her kit bag and saddle; however, she was teetering on high stiletto heels! I looked like she’d raided her mother’s wardrobe, like little girls do!!!
It wasn’t particularly sheltered, and the breeze was swift despite the sunshine. Eventually I decided to take a circuit of walkways surrounding the Parade Ring; the competitors for the first race were circling the temporary Pre-Parade ring at this time. However, it proved almost impossible to walk upon the area of loose gravel which lay between the Rings; I walked upon the narrow strips of grass at the edge thereof wherever possible.
I returned to the grandstand side of the Parade Ring prior to the horses entering it ahead of the first race. The favourite for this event was Vieux Lille, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 4-1.
Once the horses had begun their journey along the horse-walk to the racecourse, I headed to the course-side rails within the Premier Enclosure, taking the route between the Berkshire Stand and the Dubai Duty Free Stand, before turning right and entering it close to the bookies’ pitches. I’d follow this route back and forth between the races throughout the day.
To briefly outline the first race ... Coolking led until the 17th fence, when Cloudy Too took over. Always going well whilst held up near the rear, Bodega made smooth headway to lead three out. He was clear of his rivals at the last and went on to win comfortably by 8 lengths.
The result was as follows:
The favourite for race two was Warriors Tale, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sean Bowen; price 9-2.
Warriors Tale was bred by Alan King! He still has the dam and hoped to sell a half-brother by Malinas at the Doncaster Spring Sale.
Casino Markets had been very excitable in the Parade Ring, requiring two handlers including trainer Emma Lavelle; it was no surprise therefore that he led until the fifth fence, when Ericht took over. When the Nicky Henderson runner made an error at the eighth, Casino Markets led once more, until the final open-ditch three out.
Warriors Tale took over at this point and was in control approaching the last and, although Gala Ball stayed on well on the run-in and closed upon the leader, the Paul Nicholls-trained favourite held on to win by 1¼ lengths at the line.
The result was as follows:
The joint-favourites for the next were the Charlie Longsdon-trained Aidan Coleman-ridden grey Snow Leopardess, and the Philip Hobbs-trained Copper Kay ridden by Richard Johnson; price 7-1.
Alan King had two runners in this race, namely Tara View and Cajun Fiddle, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and Tom Bellamy respectively. Cajan Fiddle is a much bigger stamp of a mare than Tara View.
The race was won by the sole grey, Snow Leopardess. Tara View was outpaced early in the straight but stayed on to claim 4th; Cajun Fiddle also stayed on and finished 5th.
The winning horse was bred by Alice Plunkett’s mother-in-law, Mrs Fox-Pitt; the TV racing presenter was on hand to congratulate the winning connections.
The result was as follows:
The favourite for the 4th race was Don Bersy, trained by Tom Symonds and ridden by Aidan Coleman; price 2-1. Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Timoteo ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; the horse was sporting a first-time hood.
Hygrove Percy led initially, with Dusty Raven taking over at the third flight. The Martin Keighley-trained Buckle Street, having been prominent and keen, led three out but he hit the next and was headed by the Don Bersy.
However, the favourite was subsequently challenged by both Timoteo and the filly Deauville Crystal on the run-in; the latter winning by 2¼ lengths. Buckle Street finished 5th.
The result was as follows:
At some point, fairly late in the afternoon whilst I was standing on the steppings, I overheard snippets of a conversation between members of the group next to me. They were discussing Choc’s widely-publicised social media comments regarding Nico de Boinville’s ride aboard Might Bite in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival ... I think we can safely assume that Choc and Nico won’t be on speaking terms currently!
The favourite for the next race was the Alan King-trained Sir Antony Browne ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, price 8-11. He duly obliged, having taken the lead at the second last and found extra on the run-in when challenged by Most Celebrated.
Jamie Snowden’s Adrrastos had taken a keen hold and led for much of the race; he finished 3rd.
The result was as follows:
The favourite for the next race was Ligny trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 9-2.
Alan King had two runners in this race, namely Harefield ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and Deyrann De Carjac ridden by Tom Cannon. Despite Pride of Pemberley being a non-runner, Jamie Snowden had a second entry – Midnight Chill ridden by Aidan Coleman; the jockey having transferred from EPDS Racing’s horse.
The race was won my Bullionaire, trained by Harry Fry and ridden by Noel Fehily. Fortunately he held off the challenge of the Irish raider Midnight Stroll. Jamie Snowden’s runner, Midnight Chill, ran prominently until fading 2 furlongs out; he finished 8th. The best of Alan King’s pair was Harefield, which stayed on to finish 4th. Deyrann De Carjac had been outpaced but did stay on in the end to complete in 11th position.
I returned to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure expecting the horses to soon arrive back therein. However, only two horses returned, with none of the placed runners anywhere to be seen. Shortly afterwards, a steward rushed across the Parade Ring carrying a screen; a sign that something must have happened to one of the horses.
It transpired that Blackberry Wine, trained by Oliver Sherwood and ridden by Leighton Aspell, which had trailed in at the back of the field, subsequently collapsed at the entrance to the walkway and had died. The resulting obstruction meant that the majority of runners were marooned upon the racecourse; the only option was for them to return directly to the stables.
The jockeys returned to the Weighing Room one by one, and the presentation was conducted in the Winners’ Enclosure as usual.
The result was as follows:
The final race of the day was delayed following the unfortunate fate which had befallen Blackberry Wine.
The two joint-favourites for this were Doitforthevillage, trained by Paul Henderson and ridden by Paddy Brennan, and Greybougg trained by Nigel Hawke and ridden by Sean Bowen; their price 3-1.
One of my favourites, Pearls Legend ran in this event.
As the sun was now low in the sky, every fence in the home straight was cordoned off; this left just six to negotiate!
The race was won by Imperial Presence, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson. Pearls Legend finished last, having been up with the pace initially but then lost his place.
The result was a follows:
Having made the presentations to the winning connections of the last race, the final task of Newbury’s National Hunt season was to present the West Berkshire Racing Club’s challenge shield to the trainer whose yard had won the most ‘Best Turned Out Horse’ awards at the track during the 2016/2017 season. In fact it was two trainers on this occasion sharing the honours – namely Philip Hobbs and Nicky Henderson – Sarah Hobbs and Nicky’s partner accepted the shield on their behalf.
The daylight was still pretty good as I headed away from the Parade Ring after this final presentation of the day. Better safe than sorry, I popped to the loo situated at the far end of the ground floor of the Dubai Duty Free grandstand ... once a Grandstand Enclosure ticketholder, always a Grandstand Enclosure ticketholder!
Although I’d entered via the main gate, I headed out to the car park through the gate directly adjacent to Car Park number 5. A number of bookies were loading their equipment into their respective vehicles immediately outside the gate, so I weaved my way through these. I tend to leave fixtures a little latter than the majority of race-goers, so my blue Fiesta was easy to find, with few cars parked close by.
Having taken off my coat and changed from my ankle boots into my driving moccasins, I took a few minutes to consume the two remaining cheese rolls. As I was facing directly west, and the sun was very low in the sky; I had to pull down the visor because it was dazzling me. The driver of the 4x4 which was parked next to me returned to her vehicle; presumably she had a pressing evening engagement as she sat in her car applying her make-up!
I set off for home just after 18:10. I followed a large tech lorry out of the car park, the gravel surface of the roadway was very dry and dust blew everywhere; I was so pleased I hadn’t yet cleaned my car! Having joined the main link road within the racecourse grounds, I headed back to the initial roundabout. At which point I turned left and headed over the new bridge which spans the railway line.
I was delayed for a few moments at the far end, waiting for a stream of traffic heading down the Hambridge Road to clear. Having negotiated this roundabout I drove up to the traffic lights upon the A4. There was a tailback of traffic waiting to turn right at the junction, so I continued straight ahead and headed up Fir Tree Lane before turning right at the roundabout at the far end. I headed straight over at the following mini-roundabout and soon arrived back at the A4!
I had to wait for a break in the traffic flow, but shortly afterwards I was heading along the A4 through Thatcham. Today, it seemed like I was caught by a red light at every set of traffic lights. However, as lights are usually phased so that, if you are travelling at the correct speed, you either get caught by none or all, I suppose it was only to be expected!
I continued along the A4, negotiated a number of roundabouts, all familiar by now, before heading through Woolhampton, keeping within the village speed limit of 30 mph. Somewhere along the route, one of the right-hand turnings would have taken me to the yard where Menace and Wilma currently live, whilst recovering from their injuries.
Having been closely followed by a 4x4 for much of this route, it came as no surprise when it overtook me upon a short stretch of dual carriageway at Sulhamstead. After negotiating another couple of roundabouts, I reached the roundabout above junction 12 of the M4, Reading West. I joined the eastbound carriageway of the motorway at this point and began my journey towards the M25. As BST would not commence until 02:00 the following morning, the light soon began to fade. However, as I was wearing my anti-glare night vision glasses over my contact lenses, I was able to see okay; even for the brief sections of the carriageway where it was unlit.
Having reached the London Orbital Motorway, I headed onto the clockwise carriageway in order to continue my journey home. Traffic was slow moving, initially, but I’d soon eased by vehicle into lane 2 so that I could continue on my way back to Hertfordshire, rather than being siphoned off onto the M40 at the next junction!
I left the motorway at Junction 22, although I had been contemplating leaving via the previous one, but solely because I fancied heading along the western section of the ring-road in order to pass by a couple of Smiley SID (speed indication display) signs on the way home! Unbelievably, someone actually wrote to our local paper to complain about the Smiley SID signs ... I adore them and sometimes go slightly out of my way to drive by them! They definitely work too, or at least they do with me; I love to see SID smile!
Anyway, having changed my mind about this opportunity, I headed up the London Colney bypass, around another section of the ring-road and home.
I arrived back at 19:45. Having unloaded the car, I grabbed a bite to eat – a buttered crust of bread and a Magnum ice-cream! As is my habit, I then settled down in an armchair … and dozed off to sleep! It had been a long and busy day.
Click here for Photos – On the gallops at Churn Stables
Click here for Photos – Tour of the barn
Click here for Photos – Newbury Jump Season Finale – Races 1, 2, 3 & 4
Click here for Photos – Newbury Jump Season Finale – Races 5, 6 & 7