DIARY – SANDOWN PARK
– SATURDAY 13 MARCH 2010
Surprisingly this was my first trip of the season to Sandown Park. It was a 6 race card, and Choc had 3 riding engagements. So it was a ‘maybe’ fixture. Generally speaking, 1 or 2 riding engagements is a no, 3 is a maybe, and 4 or above is a yes! So, as I hadn’t got anything else planned, and the weather was set fair, I decided to go racing again.
I believe the gates opened at noon today, as the first race was scheduled for 14:00. This being the case, I set off from home at 10:40, travelling around the M25 and up the A3 to reach the Esher-based course. Whilst driving on the M25, I passed trainer Pam Sly’s box as I drove past the King’s Langley junction. I believe she trains near Peterborough.
With the M25 contraflow system moving freely, I arrived at Sandown Park at 11:50, the only delay being a queue encountered as I drove into Esher having left the A3. As always, I parked in the free area in the centre of the track although, unfortunately, I was instructed to park my recently cleaned car on the grass, not the tarmac area. It wasn’t me who had cleaned my car on this occasion, as it was serviced the previous Monday and they cleaned it for me – which was a first!
Although I had been slightly ‘lame’ for the preceding 8 days, I believe due to pain associated with the ligament on the inside of my right knee (perhaps I twisted it), I decided to wear my gold wedge sandals with jeans today, as I was fed up with wearing ‘granny’ shoes (although I do recommend them for the majority of conditions encountered on a racecourse during the winter months). I did, however, wish I’d worn more layers ... as I felt a little cold – I wore a thermal vest, long sleeved top, cardigan and jacket. I shouldn’t have listened to the forecast – 10 degrees sounded warm when compared to recent figures, but it’s only 50 degrees Fahrenheit in ‘old money’! Brrrrrrrrrr!!!
Having parked up, I set off for the kiosk to purchase a grandstand ticket. The guy in the kiosk struck up a conversation with me about the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival. Having eventually excused myself, I walked across the course, purchased my race-card and went to sit beside the Parade Ring, initially with my back to the grandstand then, latterly, in my favourite location with my back to the Winners’ Enclosure.
The first event of the day in the Parade Ring was the Punters Panel, and this was followed by a re-prise of last year’s charity Spacehopper race. Three teams took part, this year’s contestants being Paddy Power and Paddy Brennan; Liam Treadwell and Andrew Thornton; Alice Plunkett and John Francome. Instead of a circuit of the Parade Ring, it was a straight relay sprint this year, the competitors required to pick up and wear a baseball cap and socks en route. Alice and John won ... although, personally, I’d have disqualified Alice for not actually sitting on her Spacehopper! Choc took part in last year’s race but was unavailable this year as he’d ridden out in the morning, and then gone into the sauna to lose weight in preparation for his ride aboard Stoney’s Treasure in the first race (he was due to carry a mere 10 stone 2 lbs). How do I know this you ask? A little birdie told me!
The next event was the ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) Parade. Eight ex-racehorses were paraded, the most famous ones being Make A Stand (Champion Hurdle winner), Moscow Flyer (twice winner of the Tingle Creek Chase and the Champion Chase), Brave Inca (Champion Hurdle winner) and Blowing Wind (Imperial Cup winner and remembered for being re-mounted by AP McCoy to finish 3rd in ‘Red Marauder’s Grand National’). Barry Geraghty made an appearance, speaking with the presenter, as he had ridden both Moscow Flyer and Brave Inca. I have to say that Brave Inca looked particularly fit, although that’s probably because he was retired just last Spring! Brave Inca and Make A Stand then went to the Winners’ Enclosure for the public to get ‘up close and personal’, AP coming out of the Weighing Room to have his photo taken with the former.
Soon it was time for the first race of the day. As mentioned earlier, Choc was riding Stoney’s Treasure (bottom weight), with Wayne Hutchinson aboard Alan King’s other runner, Swansbrook. The favourite for this race was the Paul Nicholls trained Red Harbour, ridden by Ruby Walsh.
Once the jockeys had been legged up, I set off through the grandstand to reach the course-side rails. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite early enough to take a photograph as Choc cantered by on his way to the start, the horses cantering via a track across the centre of the course to reach the far side, where the race began.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Empty Sky, accompanied by Emperor Concerto. They were tracked by Babysitter, Bangkok Pete (who made an error at the first), Fabulous Fred and Alfie Spinner. The Ruby Walsh ridden favourite, Red Harbour, travelled near the outside in mid-division, Choc also travelled mid-field, taking a centre line. The Trevor Hemmings owned pair were placed in around 6th and 7th as they travelled downhill away from the stands.
Swansbrook was not hurdling fluently, with mistakes at the 2nd and 5th flights. Stoney’s Treasure had begun to take closer order by the 5th flight.
Empty Sky and Babysitter led the field towards the third last, with Larks Lad and Bangkok Pete on their heels. Babysitter having then gone on, was challenged by Red Harbour as they approached the second last, the latter taking a narrow advantage. Choc angled his mount to the outside to make his challenge but he was always held, staying on at one pace to finish 5th.
The very game Babysitter rallied and Ranjobaie also came with a late challenge. As the three protagonists approached the line, all were in with a chance of victory. However, it was Red Harbour who prevailed by a short-head from Babysitter, with Ranjobaie a nose away in third.
After the race had been completed I walked around to the Winners’ Enclosure mainly, I confess, to see Choc walk back to the Weighing Room, which he did accompanied by Richard Johnson.
It was soon time for the second race of the day. Alan King had one runner in this event, the grey Stolen Moments, to be partnered by Wayne Hutchinson who seems to get on well with the horse. It also marked the return from injury of Jamie Moore, who was to ride Or Jaune for his father Gary.
As this was a steeplechase, I took up a vantage point near the open-ditch in front of the stands, hoping to take a photograph as the horses cleared the obstacle. The start of this event was over to my left, the first fence being the downhill one, the horses heading straight to the start.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Fresh Air and Fun and Stolen Moments. Meanus Dandy was disputing third, alongside Appleaday. Misty Dancer got close to the first, and then took off a little early at the second, but never looked like falling. Stolen Moments jumped to his left at the first and third of the railway fences. Ballygulleen was the first to struggle.
Approaching the open-ditch in front of the stands, Wayne Hutchinson administered some encouragement to Stolen Moments, who presumably was showing some reluctance today. Fresh Air and Fun had a clear advantage as they travelled downhill away from the stands. Having disputed 2nd place at the start of the back straight, Stolen Moments soon dropped to the rear of the field, Wayne pulling him up before the first of the railway fences.
Fresh Air and Fun led around the final bend, with Meanus Dandy stalking him, Appleaday was in third. Ruby then pushed his mount into the lead approaching the second last, setting sail for home. Meanus Dandy’s stamina did seem to come under scrutiny on the uphill stretch to the line, and it appeared that Appleaday might catch him, but Ruby drove his mount firmly on to win by 3¼ lengths at the line.
Again I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back. Following the presentation, I decided to buy lunch which, on this occasion, was chips ... just chips, which I ate whilst waiting for the jockeys to arrive in the Parade Ring prior to the feature race of the day, the Imperial Cup.
As I wasn’t intending to take any photos during the course of this race, I went to stand on the grandstand steppings. I was surprised to see JP McManus (owner of race favourite Qaspal) and his trainer’s wife Sarah Hobbs take up a vantage point no more than 3 metres away from me in order to watch the race. You’d think they would choose to be in the owners and trainers section! Philip Hobbs also trained Oldrik, who was to be ridden by stable jockey Richard Johnson.
Being a 2 mile race, it started at the far end of the home straight.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Numide, Treaty Flyer, and Press The Button, the latter taking the top bar out of the second flight. Aather, near the rear of the field, also hit the obstacle. Nearer last than first were the fancied Pepe Simo (Ruby Walsh) and Qaspal (AP McCoy).
As they turned down the back straight, Numide remained in the lead, Callisto Moon a close second, the remainder of the field closely bunched. Oldrik blundered at the third obstacle, with Caravel hitting 3 out. Numide was still leading into the far turn.
Turning in, Caravel and Tocca Ferro had taken over from the long-time leader. Cheshire Prince was also in contention. On the stands-side both of the Philip Hobbs runners were closing fast, Oldrik being the first to go for home. However, AP drove Qaspal after him and overtook them on the run-in to win by 2 lengths. Pepe Simo was unable to get on terms with the 2 leaders and had to settle for 3rd. Outsider, Tilt, ran on to claim 4th.
With 23 runners, and the race being run at a break-neck pace, this race proved a challenge to describe ... even my printout from the At The Races website was incomplete, whereby in running comments were missing for a number of the runners, including for the winner!
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back, before taking up a vantage point beside the Parade Ring in preparation for Choc’s second ride of the day, aboard Russie With Love for Sidmouth-based trainer Stewart Pike.
The mare was very ‘green’ and I think Choc may have had a problem getting aboard, as he didn’t appear for ages the people in the Parade Ring obscuring him. At one point the mare almost collided with the plastic rails, Choc patting her neck, and leaving his feet out of the stirrups as a safety precaution.
However, he made it safely down to the start, which was at the far end of the home straight. I stood beside the course-side rails to watch this race.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Deejan, Definitley Lovely (this spelling is correct), Mizzurka, Inkberrow Rose, Chicklemix, and between the latter two was Russie With Love. Bringing up the rear were Sparky May and Businessmoney Judi.
Deejan and Mizzurka led down the back straight, Choc moving up into fourth position aboard Russie With Love. However, as the race began to get serious, Choc’s mount started to struggle and, despite offering encouragement, soon faded. Choc eased her.
As Deejan weakened, Mizzurka took over, with Lifestyle and Risaala challenging. However, despite being briefly headed by Barry Geraghty’s mount, Mizzurka rallied and went on to win by 2 lengths from Risaala, with Lifestyle a short-head away in 3rd. The best finisher was Businessmoney Judi, who stayed on well to finish 4th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to watch the placed horses arrive back and, of course, to see Choc return to the Weighing Room, which he did accompanied by Timmy Murphy.
It was now time for the fifth race of the day, in which Choc didn’t have a ride. I stayed beside the Parade Ring until the horses set off down the walkway to the course. I then walked through the grandstand to take up a vantage point on the grandstand steppings. Again the start of this race was at the beginning of the home straight.
Prior to the race, five of the ‘ROR’ horses paraded past the stands.
Then they were off. Three of the runners set off at an almost breakneck speed towards the first obstacle - Tchico Polos, King Edmund and Cockney Trucker. They all jumped it well, but King Edmund had too much momentum and took a very nasty tumble. Fortunately both horse and jockey were fine. Richard Johnson took a pull aboard Cockney Trucker as they galloped past the stands. Joe Jo Star and Show Winner disputed third, the former soon pursuing the leaders as they set off down the back straight.
Tchico Polos and Cockney Trucker were alternating good leaps, the former getting a little close to the open-ditch. Having closed up on the leaders, Joe Jo Star dived to the left when trying to put himself right at the first of the railway fences, and fell. Both horse and jockey, Timmy Murphy, were okay, the horse setting off after the 3 remaining runners.
Ruby urged Tchico Polos on having cleared the pond fence and had soon established a good lead. Cockney Trucker hit the second last, losing momentum. Ruby’s mount dragged his hind legs through the final fence but his lead was unassailable, and he went on to win by 7 lengths.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the victor return, after which I went to sit beside the Parade Ring in preparation for the final race of the day, in which Choc would be riding the Alan King trained Nikos Extra. The horse would be backed down to favouritism, and he was fresh, as he needed 2 handlers to control him.
Last year’s winner, Busy Isit, was making his seasonable reappearance. Choc had ridden him to victory last year and it had been a very exciting ride, the horse prevailing despite a number of bad jumping errors! Felix De Giles would ride the horse today.
Once Choc was mounted and on his way down the walkway to the course, I set off to take up a vantage point beside the open-ditch for a photo opportunity. The race commenced on the far side of the track, so the horses cantered down past the stands, before cutting across via the track through the centre-course golf course.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Soulard, Royal Wedding, Fit To Drive, and Boomshakalaka. Both Launde and Supreme Duke made errors at the first, which was the first of the railway fences, with the latter also blundering at the third. Choc was in mid-field, taking a centre line.
Last year’s winner, Busy Isit, soon chased the leaders. Lidjo De Rouge was in rear. Nikos Extra didn’t jump the open-ditch in front of the stands too well, but despite motoring down towards the downhill fence, he cleared it with ease. This set him up for the 7 fences down the back, all of which he met and cleared perfectly, his fine jumping taking him into third place.
Turning out of the back straight, Soulard still led, with Busy Isit challenging as they approached the pond fence. Nikos Extra got a little close to it, and as they turned into the straight Choc began to get animated aboard his mount. Soulard and Busy Isit battled up the hill, the latter prevailing by the shortest of distances.
However, there was a Stewards’ Inquiry, and the places were reversed, due to Felix’s mount hanging to its right, causing Soulard to collide with the plastic rails just before the line. It was deemed to have been just enough interference to have cost Soulard the race, as they were barely separable in the photograph, being almost a dead-heat.
Having completed the race in third place, I set off to see Choc return to the Winners’ Enclosure. He de-briefed Alan King and the owners before disappearing inside the Weighing Room. It was now time for me to leave.
A treble for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls, and a double for AP McCoy today.
After racing there was also a Cheltenham Festival Preview Panel, hosted by Nick Luck and including trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, along with owner Andy Stewart and bookmaker representative Paddy Power. Entry was on a ‘first come first served’ basis but I wanted to get home. Mind you, if it had been one of the preview events where Choc had been on the panel, I would have been there like a shot!!!
As I was in ‘Choc’ mode, it didn’t occur to me that there was a Stewards’ Enquiry in progress, which presumably accounted for the fact that there were many punters still in situ around the bookmakers stands as I set off to the gate in order to cross the course.
I was surprised that there was no queue to leave the course, especially as I hadn’t been in a rush to depart. Mind you, the car parks were already quite empty as it appeared that many people had left early! The first traffic queue I encountered was on the road outside the gates, leading up to the green. It is always difficult to filter into the one way system but, once through the traffic lights on the road out of Esher heading for the A3, the roadway was clear.
There were no problems on the M25, and I arrived home at around 18:20, having been to the petrol station on the way home. It was very busy and I had to queue to find a free pump ... it’s surprising how many people go shopping early evening, the petrol station being located at the Sainburys/Marks & Spencer Retail Park. But I guess that’s because I far prefer to shop first thing in the morning, to beat the crowds.
Then I spent the evening uploading photographs and watching the last in the current series of Most Haunted Live. I did attempt to start drafting this diary but, by gone midnight, I realised it was far too late to get my brain into creative mode! I crawled into bed at 12:30. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.