DIARY – SANDOWN PARK
– SATURDAY 08 JANUARY 2011
Having missed 5 months of racecourse action due to a serious knee injury, Choc had returned to race riding on Sunday 05 December 2010 at Exeter. However, snow had arrived in early December in some areas, resulting in the loss of Sandown’s 2-day Tingle Creek fixture on the first weekend of the month, then a further and prolonged spell of snow meant the loss of Ascot’s two day pre-Christmas meeting, and both days of Kempton Park’s Winter Festival too, although the latter course did hold a special ‘Bumpers for Jumpers’ fixture on 21 December.
National Hunt racing returned to ‘almost normal’ service with Ffos Las on 28 December, and continued with at least one fixture a day (although a number of abandonments were still occurring) until my first local opportunity to see Choc in action happened when Sandown Park’s 08 January 2011 fixture passed an early inspection following heavy rain.
However, the period between Choc’s return and this fixture had not passed without a major event occurring, as his wife Meally had given birth to their first child, William Robert, on Thursday 30 December, weighing in at 6lb 13oz. A Capricorn like yours truly!
Anyway, I have to confess that, initially, I had decided not to attend this Sandown fixture (mainly because Choc had just two rides), and was instead going to wait until Saturday 15 January which was the date of the re-scheduled King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, for which I’d already purchased a ticket. On that date, Kauto Star would be attempting to win his 5th consecutive King George and, hopefully, Choc would also be riding in the race, retaining the engagement aboard Irish raider Forpadydeplasterer (a nightmare name to spell and type!).
On the night prior to Sandown’s meeting I went to bed with absolutely no intention of going to the races the next day. I was awake by 07:30 and tuned into Channel 4’s The Morning Line a short time later. It was as I watched the programme (their special guest was Jason Maguire, making his first ever appearance on the show) that I began to feel terribly guilty that I wasn’t going to the Esher track. And why not, I asked myself? I like Sandown Park (and prefer it to Kempton and Ascot in fact); the overnight rain had cleared and there were due to be sunny spells during the afternoon – in fact it was due to be positively ‘balmy’ in comparison to recent temperatures; for me, the journey to the course is simple – a trip around the M25 and up the A3 to Esher; and, of course, Choc would be there and it would be my first opportunity to see him ‘live’ since his return to action following his long lay off due to injury. Besides his rides certainly weren’t ‘no hopers’ – being Oh Crick in the Handicap Chase and Mille Chief in the Handicap Hurdle.
So, by 08:30 I’d had a complete change of heart – I was going to Sandown Park to see Choc. No time to waste then. I showered, washed and dried my hair. I applied my war paint and selected some warm clothing to wear – long sleeved thermal vest, sleeveless thermal vest, pink sweater, purple fleece, purple cardigan, thermal tights, navy blue cords, faux sheepkin jacket, mauve ‘loopa’ scarf, socks and ankle boots – positively underdressed in fact by comparison to my trip to freezing cold Newbury on Hennessy Day! I checked my ‘raceday’ handbag – money, mobile phone, camera, paper tissues, car keys, ordinary glasses (I’m short-sighted and carry them just in case I need to remove my contact lenses), reading glasses (because I can’t read close-up items or see to take photographs when I’m wearing contact lenses) and an album of photos of Choc which I like to carry with me too!
In addition, I’d made a ‘cross stitch’ card for Meally and Choc to congratulate them on the birth of William which, hopefully, I’d have the opportunity to present to Choc at some stage during the afternoon. So, having set up the videos to record the afternoon’s racing action from Sandown Park (on both Channel 4 and Racing UK), I set off at 10:15 to drive to the races.
I was surprised how well the journey went, I joined the M25 at junction 19 at Watford, although I could have joined at junction 21A as there appeared to be no traffic holdups in the contraflow system. I left the M25 at Junction 10, and took the A3 towards London, a very familiar route to me, as I used to regularly attend the Wimbledon tennis tournament. I then exited left and headed towards Esher. As it was still quite early, traffic was freeflowing and, today, I decided to be ‘extravagant’ – I would pay £5 to park in the Portsmouth Road car park, instead of heading for the free car parking area in the centre of the course. This was because I was slightly worried that I might get stuck in the mud if they directed me to park on the grass, hence my decision. Having paid £5, I parked on a gravel area, so no worries on that account!
As I’d brought food along, and black coffee, I ate and drank a little before putting on my coat and heading for the main entrance hall. I purchased a grandstand ticket (£18 cash) and a racecard (£2.50) before setting off to sit by the Parade Ring, with the Weighing Room in front of me. I then spent time reading through the racecard, glancing up every now and then to see if Choc might make an appearance.
However, I wasn’t very observant, as just before noon I glanced to my right, only to see Choc ‘passing the time of day’ with a couple of the raceday stewarding staff as he crossed the pathway where the horses enter the Parade Ring before he then set off down the horsewalk, going stick in hand, to take a walk around the course. What should I do now? Should I wait for him to return, which might be ages, or walk through to the front of the grandstand to see if I can see him out on the course and perhaps present the congratulations card to him when he returns up the home straight. I choose the latter option.
Thus I went to stand on the grandstand steppings and, despite not having a pair of binoculars, I watched as Choc progressed around the course (and, yes, I did feel like a stalker!). He was inspecting the course thoroughly, and it wasn’t until 12:35 that he reached the ‘pedestrian crossing’ where racegoers who have parked centre course, and those who have arrived by train, enter the enclosures. I asked one of the stewards if it was okay to walk out onto the crossing (the protecting ‘pontoons’ having already been removed prior to racing) as I wished to speak with Choc briefly as he reached that point. I also explained that Choc knew me. Yes, that would be fine, just so long as I didn’t stray off the crossing.
Choc recognised me as he approached and asked ‘How are you doing?’ I welcomed him back, congratulated him on the birth of baby William and handed him the card I’d made, then wished him luck for the afternoon and, as always, requested that he take care. And, yes, I did give him a peck on the cheek! We then went our separate ways.
I thanked the steward for allowing me to speak with Choc and then I returned to the Parade Ring. Choc finished his coursewalk before returning along the horsewalk. As he approached the Weighing Room he was met by Alan King, and they spent a few minutes chatting before Choc returned inside.
I remained by the Parade Ring as it was soon time for the first race, with an off time of 13:00.
For the record, the going was heavy on the hurdles course and soft to heavy on the steeplechase track; this had resulted in one hurdle being omitted on the back straight; and the open-ditch in the home straight was dolled off, the adjacent plain fence being jumped instead on all circuits.
Once the horses had set off for the start, I walked through to the front of the grandstand in order to find a vantage point in the stand from which to watch the race. I would watch each of the first four races from the grandstand steppings, returning to the Winners’ Enclosure on each occasion to see the victors return, before heading to the Parade Ring to look at the competitors for the each of the following races.
This race started midway down the back straight, with the horses cantering past the stands on their way to the gate. However, the ‘flag’ stewards weren’t properly in position when the first two horses set off down the straight and they cantered down past the hurdles instead of taking a route along the stand-side rails beside the steeplechase course. But the following four runners were successfully directed down the correct route.
Then they were off. Banjaxed Girl led the field away; Alasi diving at the first when in rear. Turning into the home straight for the first time, the order was Banjaxed Girl, Silver Gypsy, Synthe Davis, Mizzurka, with Alegralil and Alasi bringing up the rear. Mizzurka jumped the 2nd flight slowly, and Silver Gypsy was awkward at the 3rd. Sam Twiston-Davies, aboard the leader, glanced up at the big screen as he passed – presumably to see the whereabouts of his pursuers.
The horses headed across the road track almost in two by two formation; but as they turned into the back straight it was mainly single file. Mizzurka was slow at the 4th flight, her jockey briefly urging her along to retain their position, Jason Maguire soon likewise aboard Alegralil as she began to struggle.
Into the final straight Banjaxed Girl still held the advantage ahead of Silver Gypsy and Synthe Davis. Having travelled well for most of the race, the latter now came under pressure and dropped back. The final challenger to the long time leader was Alasi but, having cleared the final hurdle one length up, Banjaxed Girl dug deep and went on the win by 2½ lengths.
It was now time for the second race of the day, a Juvenile Hurdle event.
This race started at the far end of the home straight, with just over one circuit to travel. The field was led away by Jason Maguire aboard the Warren Greatrex trained Professeur Emery; Missionaire ‘kissed’ the turf when blundering at the first flight. Missionaire jumped the 2nd slowly, and at the back of the field Terra Bleu, with a tendency to jump to his right, blundered too. As the field progressed around the top bend, Music Of The Moor and Terra Bleu brought up the rear of the field.
Down the hill, Professeur Emery had gained at least 6 lengths on the field; Comedy Act not fluent at the third. Having lost confidence, Missionaire flattened the 4th; Terra Bleu ungainly as he dived through the resulting gap, his jockey briefly losing an iron. As the field turned into the final straight, Professeur Emery still led, pursued by Comedy Act, Kayef and Music Of The Moor, the latter travelling very smoothly.
Approaching the 2nd last flight, Music Of The Moor came to challenge the long time leader, although he didn’t jump as fluently. Despite this, Music Of The Moor soon took the lead, only to blunder at the last and hand the initiative back to Professeur Emery. However, James Reveley soon gathered up his mount and retook the lead, holding the very late challenge of the 66-1 shot Lamps who ‘came from the clouds’ to take second, beaten by just 1¼ lengths.
It was now time for a Handicap Steeplechase over 3 miles and half a furlong, the longest trip of the day.
It was very noticeable that trainer Charlie Longsdon’s entry, Far More Serious, was afflicted by a condition called stringhalt which affected both his hind legs, but obviously didn’t harm his ability to race.
The start of the race was delayed when the Peter Bowen runner, Quattrocento, suffered a broken rein and had to have his tack replaced before cantering down to the 3 mile start at the top of the hill.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the Kim Bailey trained Midnight Haze; the prominent Appleaday pecked slightly at the first; Quattrocento brought up the rear. Nicto de Beauchene soon came to take over the lead. The first casualty was Far More Serious, who unseated Tom Scudamore at the first of the Railway Fences.
Midnight Haze had retaken the lead by the 6th, Nicto de Beauchene still prominent at his girth, along with Soixante; in rear was Horner Woods, Barry Geraghty taking his mount wide on the turn. Quattrocento had made progress through the field by the time they reached the Pond Fence, where South O’The Border made an error; the loose horse decided not to follow the field but to take a shortcut up the hurdles course at a hack canter. The open-ditch being dolled off today, the field jumped the adjoining plain fence.
Leading Contender was noticeably closer to the action by the 13th obstacle, but Appleaday blundered here, unseating Dominic Elsworth. Midnight Haze jumped slowly at the ditch; a group of six now began to pull away from the remainder of the field. Heading the now ‘also rans’, Fortification blundered at the first of the Railway Fences; in the leading group Soixante skewed at the third in the sequence.
At this point, 2nd favourite Midnight Haze suddenly faded, Kim Bailey later reporting via Twitter that the horse burst a blood vessel. Nicto de Beauchene, Quattrocento, Leading Contender and Youngstown were at the head of affairs as they jumped the Pond Fence; the former two soon drawing away, with Nicto de Beauchene demonstrating his superiority today by going on to win by 16 lengths from Quattrocento. Only 7 of the 13 runners completed in the stamina sapping conditions.
It was now time for the Grade 1 feature event – the 32Red Novices’ Hurdle, better known as the Tolworth Hurdle.
Barry Geraghty’s mount, Minella Class, was the last to leave the Parade Ring, the horse being turned in its tracks as they realised another full circuit of the Parade Ring would result in the partnership being left behind as the other runners headed out onto the course.
Once the runners were heading down the walkway, again I set off through the grandstand concourse to find a vantage point on the steppings from which to watch the race.
Being the minimum trip, this race began at the far end of the home straight with just over one circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Act of Kalanisi with Richard Johnson aboard, followed by Minella Class, the hard pulling Megastar, Red Merlin and the grey Toubab. The field was closely packed around the top turn.
Act of Kalanisi hit the 3rd and 4th flights but retained the lead. Toubab soon relegated Red Merlin to last place, the latter beginning to struggle as the field entered the final turn.
Barry Geraghty sent the smooth travelling Minella Class into the lead as they approached the 2nd last flight; at which Megastar was clumsy. Having appeared a possible threat, on the heavy ground Toubab was unable to go through with his challenge and remained in 3rd.
Minella Class was driven clear of his pursuers after the last, winning by 7 lengths from Megastar, with Toubab a further 3½ lengths away in 3rd. Long time leader Act of Kalanisi completed in 4th, with Red Merlin a distance away and bringing up the rear having been eased in the home straight.
It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the afternoon, aboard the David Sewell owned chestnut, Oh Crick. Once Choc was aboard his mount and heading along the horse-walk, I set off to find a vantage point beside the rails, near to the final fence.
Being the minimum trip of 2 miles, the start of this race was at the far end of the home straight with just over one circuit to complete.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Fiendish Flame, followed by Tchico Polos and French Opera. These were followed by Cornas, Riguez Dancer, Oh Crick, the hard pulling I’msingingtheblues, then Free World with Leo’s Lucky Star bringing up the rear. Around the top turn, Fiendish Flame, Tchico Polos and French Opera had set up a slight lead over the remainder of the field. The latter was not fluent at the downhill fence, nor was Free World. Oh Crick travelled well as they set off down the back straight, Choc keeping to the outside of the field.
Second favourite French Opera had begun to struggle by the time the field reached the first of the Railway Fences; Fiendish Flame hit the middle of these. Oh Crick was in 6th place at this point; he was preceded by Tchico Polos, Fiendish Flame, Cornas, Leo’s Lucky Star and Riguez Dancer.
Cornas challenged for the lead over the Pond Fence and soon went on. Although not fluent over the last of the Railway Fences, Oh Crick had made headway and began to gain on those ahead of him. However, the outsider of the field Cornas had already flown; but Choc’s mount overtook Riguez Dancer as they cleared the last, and was gaining on 2nd placed Tchico Polos with every stride as they approached the line. However, he just failed to catch the latter by half a length.
I set off for the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back; my interest held by the horse which had finished 3rd rather than the winner! Once Choc had unsaddled, spoken with connections and returned to the Weighing Room I returned to the Parade Ring area in preparation for the next race.
Choc’s mount in this event was Mille Chief, a horse held in very high regard by his trainer; and one time favourite for last season’s Triumph Hurdle before injury had intervened. However, with the heavy going and top weight of 11st 12lb today (11lb more than his nearest rival), Mille Chief was merely second favourite for this race.
Once Choc was aboard his mount, I set off to find a vantage point beside the rails.
This was another race which started at the far end of the home straight with just over one circuit to complete. Initially there was a false start, Zazamix ‘fly jumping’ towards the tape as it rose; the jockeys directing their eager mounts towards the Pond Fence to stop their progress up the course. The runners were instructed to return to the ‘holding pen’ to regroup before re-exiting onto the course.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Rollwiththepunches, with Westlin’ Winds and Kudo Country prominent. Choc was in his customary place beside the inside rail, in around 8th position as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go. At the back of the field were Tiger O’Toole and Ultimate.
Rollwiththepunches retained the lead as they headed down the back straight, followed by Westlin’ Winds, Sophies Trophy, Kudo Country, Zazamix and Mille Chief, the latter travelling well within himself.
Sophies Trophy took over the lead as they cleared the final flight in the back straight, Westlin’ Winds and Rollwiththepunches remaining prominent. Around the final bend, Mille Chief was lying in 4th position, going easily, the ‘under-hoof’ conditions no problem to him. Sophies Trophy led into the home straight, initially challenged by Kudo Country, but Mille Chief was soon cruising alongside the leader, taking over as they cleared the last flight and going clear on the run-in to win by 6 lengths. The gallant Sophies Trophy finished 2nd, with Zazamix staying on to take 3rd.
Fabulous ... another ‘Saturday win’ for Choc, and his 16th winner of the season.
As with all the previous races I set off for the Winners’ Enclosure, this time to see Choc and Mille Chief arrive back. Choc acknowledged the applause as he rode in, he dismounted and unsaddled, and then went to speak with the owners (the McNeills) and Alan King. The McNeills and Choc then had their photograph taken with the horse and Choc returned to the Weighing Room.
Shortly afterwards Choc reappeared, now helmet-less, ready for the presentation ceremony. There were prizes for the owners, the trainer, the jockey and the stable lass too. Alan King was the last to mount the podium, delayed by an interview with Nick Luck of Racing UK. A number of photographs were taken before Choc set off back to the Weighing Room; my last glimpse of him today.
It was now time for me to head home. As I set off towards the grandstand exit point, an ambulance drove along the concourse; it appeared that one of the racegoers had suffered an accident or sudden illness and was lying near one of the doors to the lower level of the grandstand. The racegoer was being attended to and I hope they were okay.
I decided that I should pay a quick visit to the ‘little girls’ room’ before returning to my car, just in case I got caught up in traffic and was desperate to spend a penny before I got home. (Yes, more information than you needed!) I then set off to collect my car. As the traffic was queuing in both directions along the Portsmouth Road, I decided to wait a while before setting off. And to get into the mood for next Saturday, upon exiting the gate, I turned left heading towards London and at the roundabout another left towards Hampton Court. Upon crossing the Thames (with Hampton Court on my right), I turned left along the A308 (with Bushy Park on my right) heading for Staines. This route took me along the north bank of the Thames, then past a number of reservoirs and, of course, Kempton Park racecourse!
I joined the M3 at Junction 1 (as I would on a Kempton race day) and headed towards the M25. The journey home went smoothly, although I do get annoyed when cars travel slowly and hog lanes 2 or 3 (in the 4 lane section) – I rarely travel in the outside lane as I usually keep below 70 mph, but they are still slower than me.
I arrived home at 17:40. I watched Primeval on ITV, before spending the remainder of the evening writing my blog and selecting and uploading my photographs.
It had turned out to be a very good day at the races, especially as I’d spoken with Choc, and he’d ridden a winner too. I’m so pleased that I decided to go to Sandown Park after all.
And, following Mille Chief’s victory, the horse was raised by 13lb in the handicap ratings, putting him on a mark of 158. As a result, future plans became more fluid, with the Kingwell Hurdle (a Champion Hurdle trial) then being mooted as a possible target, instead of the totesport Gold Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Newbury. At this point in time, the current Champion Hurdler Binocular was rated 171; Menorah 164; and Peddlers Cross 162.