DIARY – SANDOWN PARK SEASON FINALE

– CELEBRATING THE CROWNING OF A

NEW CHAMPION JUMP JOCKEY – RICHARD JOHNSON

SATURDAY 23 APRIL 2016

 

 

 

Race 2j.jpg

 

Champion Jockey Richard Johnson is interviewed by

Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett following his win aboard Menorah.

 

 

Race 3o.jpg

 

Winner of the Grade 1 Celebration Chase –

Sprinter Sacre ridden by Nico de Boinville

 

 

The Sandown Park finale has become my annual farewell to the current season since it became an all jumps card in 2014.  I attended alone in 2014, but last year and this I was accompanied by my friend Lesley.  Being April, the day will always be prone to showers, but one has to be forever hopeful that it might be warm and sunny as it was in 2008 when I undertook my first trip to the Esher track.  In fact that was my first ever visit to the races and, of course, the first time I ever saw Choc in the flesh.  I miss him ... sigh.

 

Lesley had arranged to pick me up at around 10:00; in the event it was 10:25.  The previous evening she’d attended a dance show at St Albans City Hall – showcasing Strictly’s Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite; I had been asked, but felt unable to fit in both events on consecutive days.  In fact by this stage of the season I felt I needed a holiday to get over my Cheltenham and Aintree holidays!!!    

As it was cold today, I wore three thermal t-shirts – violet, grey with black doves, and purple, a bright blue BHS cardigan, a M & S purple fleece, tweed M & S double-frill skirt, purple thick BHS tights, teal BHS jacket, black Hotter ‘Cannes’ boots, a River Island scarf, also a black snood with white horses design, plus a purple Kipling handbag.  I think it was a ‘full house’ for my skirt this season – I’d worn it to the Hennessy Gold Cup, King George VI Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Grand National and now the Season Finale.   

Anyway, we set off via Highfield Park and the London Colney roundabout to reach Junction 22 and join the anti-clockwise carriageway of the M25.  There had been an accident close to the slip-road at Junction 21A involving three or four cars; there were emergency vehicles in attendance and cones prevented any vehicles leaving the motorway to join the A405. 

We continued on our way, without any holdups until we approached the M3 junction; at this point we came to a standstill.  There was also a warning of a road closure on the northbound A3, and we had no idea whether this would affect us or not.  Later research suggested it might have been connected with the A2043 at Maldon, so this would not have caused a problem to us had we remained on our original route.  But, without a map or satnav, we had two options.

Either head up the M3 in a north-easterly direction and leave at Junction 1 to travel via Kempton Park and Hampton Court, or remain on the M25 with the possibility of travelling at a snail’s pace for two junctions and then not knowing if a road closure would also delay us.  We chose the former option.

However, that would have been all well and good, had it not been for the fact there were two sets of road-works on the route between the M3 and Hampton Court; the latter close to Tagg’s Island!  We were thus stuck in two queues for ages on each occasion.  Having chosen this route, it then took us via the Scilly Isles roundabouts ... but, having seen but not followed the temporary signage indicating the route to the Sandown Park car parking area, we discovered there was a tailback all the way along Esher High Street to the aforementioned traffic islands.  Fortunately it was not too late to re-route, and we did a 360-degree turn at the roundabouts and headed back in the direction we’d already come from!  

We then followed the signage along Weston Green Road, which subsequently took us along Lower Green Road, under the railway line and into More Lane, which meant we approached the entrance to the free car park from the opposite direction!  I’d always been curious to try this alternative route, and today was that day!

Gates opening time was 11:30; we arrived at 12:10.  This being the case, we were too late to find a space on the tarmac area adjacent to the golf range.  Stewards directed us to park on the grass, near the far rail, in the first row directly facing the tarmac car park.  Having left the car, we headed along the driveway to the pavilion marking the entrance to the Premier Enclosure; I’d purchased our tickets for £22.50 each, taking advantage of a reduced price during an early offer period prior to 01 April.  A group of punters in front of us were directed to the other entrance, as they had grandstand tickets.

Our tickets were scanned and we headed across the home straight upon a track of plastic pontoons; these protected the turf from heavy footfall ahead of racing.  Our route then took us up the pathway beside the rhododendron walk and into the Grandstand Enclosure; we stopped opposite the winners’ podium which had been erected in the centre of the Parade Ring.

Shortly afterwards, whilst Lesley saved our space, I headed over towards the entrance opposite the main car park, to purchase two race-cards; £5 each.  Once I returned, Lesley set off to buy coffees, etc.

As always on the final day of the season there is a Champions’ Parade; however, this year, Champions were a little thin on the ground because many of our feature races had been won by Irish-based horses, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National.  And, others had prior engagements, such as Cue Card travelling over to Punchestown the following week, and Thistlecrack had an issue with pus in his foot.  Also, Sprinter Sacre would be running in the Celebration Chase, the third race on the card.

There were six horses listed in the race-card as taking part in the parade; one of these was a no-show, namely Blaklion, winner of the Cheltenham Festival’s Grade 1 RSA Chase.  However, Smad Place did attend; having won the Hennessy Gold Cup last November.  Also Altior, winner of the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.  The others were retirees ... Balthazar King and Bobs Worth having retired at the end of this season, together with Looks Like Trouble who is now 24 years old.  The latter won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2000, partnered by Richard Johnson; having been trained by Richard’s father-in-law Noel Chance, he’s now the Johnson’s family pet!    

Richard Johnson’s trophy as Champion Jockey would not be presented until later in the afternoon, and the Champion Trainer’s trophy was still being contested between current Champion Paul Nicholls and his challenger Willie Mullins.   

I suppose it should not have been a surprise that Gigginstown Stud, in other words Michael O’Leary, was Champion Owner this season, having won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Don Cossack and the Crabbies Grand National with Rule The World.  Michael wasn’t in attendance, but sent a female representative instead.  

 

The Sandown Park special contribution to the racing industry award was presented to Nicky Henderson; he was surprised, and recalled the day earlier in the season when he’d jokingly told Willie Mullins to ‘go back to Ireland’; but many a thing said in jest!

 

I had no idea who the Champion Conditional jockey would be; it turned out to be 22-year-old Craig Nichol with 36 winining rides.  His closest challengers were Harry Cobden and Sean Bowen; the latter was last year’s winner.

 

I thought there was a trophy for ‘Horse of the Year’ but, although Colin Tizzard was interviewed and mainly about Thistlecrack I recall, there didn’t appear to be a presentation.  There definitely was last year, with Many Clouds taking the accolade.  I know I voted for Cue Card this year ... so it’s a total mystery.  

 

There was a fairly heavy shower whilst these presentations were taking place.  Lesley had her Percy Pig umbrella with her, I’d left my umbrella in the car, preferring to rely upon my black faux fur trimmed waterproof hat which I’d worn at Aintree on Grand National day.  She admired my hat, saying she’d like one similar to wear whilst walking her dog Max!  I’ve owned it two or three years, and purchased it from BHS ... where else?  And, in light of more recent events, I won’t be able to buy anything at BHS any more ... so where am I going to buy my cardigans and coats?  L

 

The initial presentations over, we headed back into the Premier Enclosure and stood at the top of the steppings overlooking the Parade Ring; at one point Lesley went to put a bet on her selection in the first race, Duke Street.  Earlier she admitted to having placed a bet on Rule The World in the Grand National; she’s a Take That fan ... the connection hadn’t even registered with me, as I’m not!!!  We repositioned to a vantage point beside the rhododendron walk just prior to the horses leaving the Parade Ring; this enabled me to take photographs of the competitors.

 

The favourite for this event was Voix Du Reve, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Grand National winning jockey, and nephew, David Mullins; price 9-4.  The Wylie-owned horse had fallen at the last when running in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, and would probably have won that day.  Representing Paul Nicholls in the Champion Trainers’ battle was second-favourite Tommy Silver.

The horses having all exited the Parade Ring and headed down to the racecourse, we walked down the concourse to find a space at the top of the grass slope beside the main grandstand from which to view the race. 

 

The starting gate was at the far end of the home straight, with this and one full circuit to travel; having circled within the pen to the inside of the track, the runners were called out onto the racecourse.

 

Race 1

Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Distance

2 miles 110 yards (8 flights)

No. of Runners

11

Voix Du Reve, Tommy Silver, Wolf Of Windlesham, Duke Street, Doubly Clever, Nabhan, Ashoka, Darebin, Big Mcintosh, Deebaj, Sikandar

 

Initially it appeared that the jockeys were approaching the tape too quickly, with Big McIntosh bounding forward, but the Starter released the tape and then they were off; first time.  The aforementioned led the runners away, from Duke Street and Nabhan.  However, at the rear of the field, Harry Skelton was glancing down, as his mount seemed to be having an issue with its hindquarters; Ashoka didn’t appear to be sound.  Harry pulled him up before he reached the first flight.  It didn’t appear to be too serious though, as the jockey was able to stand within the ‘island’ enclosure, holding his mount, whilst the race was in progress.  There was never any suggestion that green screens needed to be erected.

Meanwhile, Big McIntosh had set up a clear lead having jumped the first flight, with the hooded and keen Doubly Clever soon taking second place at the head of the main field; at the rear was Sikandar.  Having cleared the next flight, the leader had soon set up an advantage of around 10 lengths as the field continued up the hill and past the winning post with one circuit now to travel.  Leading the main pack was Duke Street, from Doubly Clever, Nabhan, Darebin, Tommy Silver, Voix Du Reve, Wolf Of Windlesham, Deebaj and, slightly detached, Sikandar. 

Having reached the top of the hill, the runners turned right-handed, crossing the track which leads to the centre of the racecourse car park, before heading downhill and bearing right again to enter the back straight for the one and only time.  The leader wasn’t as far ahead now, as they jumped the third flight; there were no jumping issues at the hurdle, although Deebaj had now been relegated to last position.

The runners continued the short distance to the next, with Big McIntosh’s lead now reduced to not much more than a length.  Behind him were Duke Street, Doubly Clever, Tommy Silver and, to the outside, the white-faced Wolf Of Windlesham.  The field headed to, and over, flight number five with Mattie Batchelor’s mount still leading; both Deebaj and Sikandar were being ridden along at the rear of the field. 

They now crossed over the steeplechase track before reaching the sixth flight; although being ridden too, Big McIntosh led over this one also.  However, a number of the runners were continuing to stalk him as they headed into the far bend; going particularly well were Tommy Silver, Wolf Of Windlesham and Voix Du Reve.  Sikandar was managing to just hang onto the coattails of the main group, but Deebaj’s chance had gone. 

Although struggling to do so, Big McIntosh managed to keep his head in front as they turned the bend into the home straight, but not for long.  He was swallowed up as Duke Street to the inside and Tommy Silver to the outside, sailed into the lead.  Meanwhile, to the nearside rail Wolf Of Windlesham was laying down a challenge, with Voix Du Reve being urged along by David Mullins and soon taking fourth position.  In fact Wolf Of Windlesham was just the leader as they cleared two out, from Tommy Silver to the far side and the Irish raider continuing to close between them; Duke Street to the far side of the Paul Nicholls runner was still a close fourth.

The leaders all jumped the last flight well, and continued their journey up the hill to the line; Wolf Of Windlesham began to drift right under pressure, with Voix Du Reve continuing to close all the way to the line; Tommy Silver continued to close too.  Phew … Wolf Of Windlesham held on to win by half a length from Voix Du Reve, with the Paul Nicholls runner just a head away in 3rd.  It was close for 4th too, with Sikandar snatching that position in the last few strides, from Duke Street and Doubly Clever.

So Willie Mullins had outdone Paul Nicholls in this one, but it would have been far worse in terms of prize money difference had the Irish raider won and Tommy Silver had finished 2nd! 

When writing this diary, I checked Dan Skelton’s website to see if Ashoka is still listed … and he is; so I presume his injury wasn’t too serious.  

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Wolf Of Windlesham

Joshua Moore

Stuart Edmunds

2nd

Voix Du Reve

David Mullins

Willie Mullins

3rd

Tommy Silver

Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls

4th

Sikandar

Gavin Sheehan

Brian Ellison

 

We returned to the area between the Parade Ring and the rhododendron walk following the race.  I actually followed close behind Willie Mullins and his son Patrick as they headed back to the Winners’ Enclosure.

 

Race 1 - 2:20pm THE bet365 JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 2)
The Stewards considered the apparent improvement in form of the winner, WOLF OF WINDLESHAM (IRE), ridden by Joshua Moore and trained by Stuart Edmunds, compared with its previous run at Cheltenham on 30 January 2016 where the gelding finished last of six, beaten 71¼ lengths. They noted the trainer’s explanation that the gelding had been better suited by the going, which was good, good to soft in places. They ordered WOLF OF WINDLESHAM (IRE) to be routine tested.

The Stewards also enquired into why ASHOKA (IRE), ridden by Harry Skelton and trained by Dan Skelton, was pulled up before the first hurdle. Having heard evidence from the rider, and viewed recordings of the start, the Stewards noted his explanation that the gelding felt fine going down to the start but within ten strides of the race starting he felt it had gone wrong behind. The Veterinary Officer also reported that a post-race examination revealed the gelding was lame on the left hind.

 

The odds-on favourite for the next was Valseur Lido, again trained by Willie Mullins. Being a Gigginstown horse, the jockey was Bryan Cooper; price 4-5.  Willie also fielded Ballycasey.  Paul Nicholls wasn’t taking any chances and had three runners – Saphir Du Rheu, Rocky Creek and Wonderful Charm.  Making up the numbers was the winner for the past two years, namely Menorah, and also Colin Tizzard’s Third Intention. 

The starting gate for the next race was at the beginning of the back straight; the horses therefore turned left upon exiting the walkway to head to the start. 

 

Once again we watched the race from the top of the grassed slope beside the main grandstand. 

 

Race 2

Oaksey Chase (Grade 2)

Distance

2 miles and 6 furlongs (20 fences)

No. of Runners

7

Menorah, Saphir Du Rheu, Rocky Creek, Third Intention, Wonderful Charm, Valseur Lido, Ballycasey

 

The experienced chasers were very calm as they approached the tape and then they were off, first time.  Third Intention and Rocky Creek disputed the lead as they headed towards the first fence, from Valseur Lido, first-time blinkered Saphir Du Rheu to the outside of the field, Ballycasey, also first-time blinkered Wonderful Charm and, narrowly last, Menorah.  Third Intention also sported blinkers.  

The leading duo jumped the first fence well; in contrast, the favourite was very ponderous and was now no longer a clear third.  Third Intention had taken a clear lead as they negotiated fence number two, from Rocky Creek, with Menorah the nearest pursuer; all seven jumped this one well.  The next was the first open-ditch; Rocky Creek and Ballycasey were both slow here.

There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed to the water-jump; Ballycasey bunny-hopped the smallest fence on the course and dropped his hind-legs in the water as a result.  The runners galloped across the hurdles track to reach the first of the railway fences; Saphir Du Rheu was now second from last, with Ballycasey last.  The horses all jumped this one well, although Third Intention showed a preference to jump out to his left.

All seven judged their strides to perfection and thus cleared the middle railway fence without any issues.  The runners continued to the seventh, which they all jumped well, notwithstanding Saphir Du Rheu which went through the very top of the birch.  Heading into the far turn, Third Intention continued to lob along at the front of the field, with Menorah having now improved into second position. 

Upon completing the turn, the runners then headed across to the Pond Fence, which they all cleared well, and with Third Intention continuing to display a preference to jump out to this left.  They then entered the home straight and headed over the next, which the leader got a little bit low at.  The brace of greys continued to bring up the rear. 

The jockeys then steered their mounts towards the near-side of the racecourse in order to jump the second open-ditch.  They all cleared this well, with Ballycasey taking a big leap and landing slightly awkwardly as a result.  The runners continued up the hill in front of the grandstands with Third Intention leading by two or three lengths from Menorah, followed by Rocky Creek, Valseur Lido, Wonderful Charm, and Ballycasey with Saphir Du Rheu. 

Having passed the winning post, with one circuit to go, they’d soon reached the top of the hill before turning right-handed and heading across the ‘carpet’ which covered the roadway into the centre-course car park.  The track heads downhill on the approach to the fence on the side of the course; Menorah put in a better jump than the leader and almost drew alongside.  Shortly afterwards, the field headed into the back straight for the final time; one circuit now completed. 

The dual winner continued to stalk the leader as they headed over the first in the back straight; they were three or four lengths clear of Rocky Creek, Valseur Lido was within a length of him, with Ballycasey, Wonderful Charm and Saphir Du Rheu two or three lengths behind that duo.  The pace was increasing as they jumped the next, and Menorah drew alongside Third Intention as they headed over the final open-ditch. 

The leading duo was six or seven lengths ahead of their rivals as they headed to the water-jump once more.  All seven cleared this without incident on this circuit, and they then crossed the hurdles track on their way to the first of the railway fences; both Third Intention and Menorah were a little bit awkward at this one.  At the next, the Colin Tizzard runner jumped to his left once more, and Menorah made another slight mistake.  The others were closer now, with Valseur Lido in third, followed by Rocky Creek, Wonderful Charm, Ballycasey and Saphir Du Rheu.

Menorah was half a length up as he jumped the final railway fence.  Third Intention stuck with him as they headed into the far turn, with Valseur Lido travelling well just behind him and the remainder now under pressure.  At the apex of the bend, Richard Johnson glanced under his right arm to check on his rivals.  Valseur Lido was not far behind, but probably not going as well as connections might have hoped. 

The leader flew the Pond Fence, with the favourite in hot pursuit; Third Intention was now in third position, from Rocky Creek, Saphir Du Rheu, Ballycasey and Wonderful Charm.  Valseur Lido was carrying his head on one side as they approached two out.  Having jumped it, Bryan Cooper’s mount gradually closed the deficit and was alongside Menorah as they took off at the final fence.  However, the latter put in the more fluent leap and gained the upper hand once more.

This left him just over a length in front and he battled up the hill bravely to repel Valseur Lido’s continued challenge; Menorah won by a length at the line.  The horse loves this race, run on good spring ground; his third victory in three renewals!  And with the new Champion Jump jockey aboard too. 

Although having no chance with the leading pair, Rocky Creek kept on under pressure to take 3rd, 10 lengths back.  Third Intention finished 4th, with Saphir Du Rheu 5th, Ballycasey 6th and Wonderful Charm 7th.  The first six won prizes and for the second race in a row, Willie Mullins didn’t pick up the biggest one!   

The trainer, Philip Hobbs, put the victory down to the horse being fresh (140 days since he’d last run) and being trained with this race in mind.  He said he wouldn’t call Menorah ‘soft’ as such, but he just needs a race to ‘go his way’, which it did today. 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Menorah

Richard Johnson

Philip Hobbs

2nd

Valseur Lido

Bryan Cooper

Willie Mullins

3rd

Rocky Creek

Sean Bowen

Paul Nicholls

4th

Third Intention

Tom O’Brien

Colin Tizzard

 

We left our course-side viewing point, to walk up the concourse in order to reach my favourite vantage point beside the rhododendron ahead of the horses returning. 

 

Race 2 - 2:55pm THE bet365 OAKSEY STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 2)

No Stewards Enquiry.

 

The Veterinary Officer reported that VALSEUR LIDO (FR), placed second, trained by W P Mullins, lost a right fore shoe.

The representative of Paul Nicholls, the trainer of WONDERFUL CHARM (FR), unplaced, reported that the gelding had a breathing problem.

 

It was at this point in the proceedings that Richard Johnson was presented with his Champion Jump Jockey trophy.  As had happened last year when AP McCoy received his 20th and final Championship award, jockeys, friends and colleagues lined up to provide a guard of honour leading into the Parade Ring.  Richard’s three children, Willow, Casper and Percy also joined the line. 

 

As had happened last year, it was impossible to find a viewing point opposite the Parade Ring podium, as all space was already taken.  So, once again, we stood upon the raised area to the side of the paddock, just a few strides away from the rhododendron walk. 

 

Being a friend of Richard’s wife Fiona, I spotted Choc’s ex-wife Meally in the Parade Ring too.  She appeared to have come to the races accompanied by a couple of her friends.  She sported a small hat, and her dress sense hasn’t changed … her skirts are still far too short; she must be 35 now – as I believe she’s an Aries born in late March.   

 

The favourite for the next race was the ‘Comeback King’, Sprinter Sacre.  Evidently he’d been in such good form since regaining his Champion Chase title in March, that trainer Nicky Henderson said his hand had been forced into running him again today … he just couldn’t not do it!  Today Sprinter Sacre would be ridden by Nico de Boinville, as he had been all this season since Barry Geraghty’s appointment as JP McManus’ retained rider.  As today’s favourite, his starting price was 11-10.  The horse was on edge today, the paddock pundits put this down to the atmosphere and noise in the busy Parade Ring following the presentation of Richard Johnson’s Champion Jump Jockey trophy. 

The horses taking part for Paul Nicholls were Dodging Bullets, Solar Impulse and Ulck Du Lin; with Willie Mullins solely represented by Un De Sceaux.  There were a total of 6 runners, with former Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy (2014) being the other one.  And, of course, Dodging Bullets is also a former Champion Chaser (2015).

Again, once the horses had exited onto the racecourse, we set off down the concourse beside the rhododendron walk to find a vantage point at the top of the slope adjacent to the main grandstand.   

 

The two mile starting gate is positioned at the far end of the home straight, the horses cantering down past the grandstand to reach it.

 

Race 3

Celebration Chase (Grade 1)

Distance

2 miles (13 fences)

No. of Runners

6

Dodging Bullets, Sire De Grugy, Solar Impulse, Sprinter Sacre, Ulck Du Lin, Un De Sceaux

 

With girths having been checked, the runners were sent away from the start; in fact they headed back beyond the Pond Fence before turning and approaching the tape.  They took another two turns, with Dodging Bullets on his toes the most; before heading around a small fenced enclosure within which was the Starters rostrum.  And then they were off, first time.    

Heading towards the first fence, Un De Sceaux took the lead from Sire De Grugy, Ulck Du Lin, Sprinter Sacre; Solar Impulse disputed last place with Dodging Bullets.  All six runners cleared this well before bearing to the left slightly in order to take the open-ditch option as the second fence.  Again they all cleared this well; although the Grand Annual winner, Solar Impulse was a bit slow at both. 

The runners then continued up the hill in front of the grandstands, with the Irish raider holding a length or two’s advantage over his nearest rival, Ulck Du Lin.  Having passed the winning post with one circuit to go, the leading four were well grouped as they approached the top of the hill before bearing to their right and crossing the ‘carpet’ ahead of their descent to the next.  Dodging Bullets was now five lengths behind them, and Solar Impulse the same again. 

Wary of Un De Sceaux’s occasional jumping issues, Paul Townend eased his mount back as they approached the sometimes tricky downhill fence; his enabled him to meet it on a good stride.  However, it also meant that both Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre landed upsides, before the jockeys took a slight pull to allow Un De Sceaux to take the advantage once more.  Then, jumping the fourth, Sire De Grugy landed upsides him again. At the rear of the field, Solar Impulse landed awkwardly over this one.

The 2014 Champion Chaser was marginally ahead as they jumped the second in the line of 7 fences in the back straight.  Nico de Boinville was happy for his mount to bowl along in third, three lengths behind the leading duo.  The following fence was an open-ditch, where Un De Sceaux took off too early and dragged his hind-legs through the birch; his landing wasn’t perfect as a result, but he survived.        

The chestnut continued to hold a narrow advantage as they headed over the water-jump, from Un De Sceaux, Sprinter Sacre, the improving Dodging Bullets, Ulck Du Lin and Solar Impulse; although the latter three were a number of lengths detached.  The leading duo jumped the first of the railway fences in unison, stalked by Sprinter Sacre; Dodging Bullets jumped out to this left.  Sire De Grugy was ahead slightly as they cleared the next, with Paul Townend’s mount having to put in a short stride in order to meet these correctly; and again at the next.  Un De Sceaux is not an ‘imposing’ type of horse.

Having reached the far side of the railway fences with all six still standing, Gary Moore’s charge held a two lengths advantage as they headed into the far turn; Un De Sceaux and Sprinter Sacre disputed second position, with the latter against the running rail.  This trio were many lengths ahead of Dodging Bullets, whose jockey Sam Twiston-Davies even checked under his left arm to see where his stable-mates were; that didn’t bode well!

Sire De Grugy was beginning to tire as they headed towards the Pond Fence, with Un De Sceaux now drawing alongside, and Sprinter Sacre too, to their outside latterly.  Nico de Boinville mount wasn’t perfect here, having got a little too close, but Un De Sceaux’s effort was far worse!  He put in a short stride and ploughed through it; Paul Townend had to let go of the reins with his left hand in order to retain his balance, as his mount’s nose almost kissed the turf.  Fortunately the horse’s head came back up quickly and he was forced back into the saddle.  Sire De Grugy, which narrowly avoided being hampered by this incident, was left in a clear second to pursue Sprinter Sacre around the home turn.

The Champion Chaser was clear as they headed over two out, with Un De Sceaux endeavouring to regain the lost ground but jumping it the least well of the leading trio.  However, there was only going to be one winner if Sprinter Sacre cleared the last, which he did easily.  He continued to draw away from his rivals, with encouragement from his jockey, on the ascent to the winning post.  He won by 15 lengths.  Nico rose in his irons in celebration as he crossed the winning line. 

Continuing to battle, Paul Townend’s mount had pegged back the deficit and was one length up on Sire De Grugy as he jumped the last.  In fact it was the fast finishing Dodging Bullets which proved a danger to his runner-up claims, with Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount staying on all the way to the line; the Irish raider was just one length ahead as they crossed it.  The tired Sire De Grugy just held on to 4th, with Solar Impulse just failing by half a length to catch him.  No doubt with instructions that ‘every little helps’, Ulck Du Lin also finished the race under Nick Scholfield, to claim 6th prize; he was 23 lengths behind the 5th.                   

The horses actually finished in the exact order that the betting predicted they would!

Another stunning performance from the Champion Chaser and an absolutely amazing season with four from four in top class chases ... especially following the health issues experienced by Sprinter Sacre since his previous glory days.     

It looks like Dodging Bullets needs further and, presumably, will be stepped up in trip next year. 

And I wonder what will happen when Douvan is thrown into the mix next season?

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Sprinter Sacre

Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson

2nd

Un De Sceaux

Paul Townend

Willie Mullins

3rd

Dodging Bullets

Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls

4th

Sire De Grugy

Jamie Moore

Gary Moore

 

We remained in our position beside the rhododendron walk until after the horses taking part in the next race had exited the Parade Ring and passed by on their way to the racecourse. 

 

Race 3 - 3:35pm THE bet365 CELEBRATION STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Grade 1)
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Nico de Boinville, the rider of the winner, SPRINTER SACRE (FR), after jumping the last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he used his whip when clearly winning. The Stewards suspended Boinville for 2 days as follows: Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 May 2016.

The Stewards noted that UN DE SCEAUX (FR), trained by W P Mullins, would wear earplugs.

The Stewards noted that SPRINTER SACRE (FR), trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs.

 

The favourite for the feature race was Henri Parry Morgan, trained by Peter Bowen and ridden by son Sean; price 5-1.  The 8-year-old had finished 2nd to Native River in a Grade 1 at the Aintree Festival on his last outing. 

Willie Mullins fielded Sir Des Champs, who’d taken a very heavy fall in the Grand National just two weeks ago, and Measureofmydreams, who’d departed at the third fence in the Scottish Grand National the previous weekend.  Paul Nicholls was represented by Southfield Theatre and last year’s winner Just A Par; the latter had also run in the Grand National, finishing 15th of 16 finishers. 

There were others on ‘rescue’ missions today, namely the Topham Chase favourite Bishops Road who’d unseated at the first fence that day, and The Druids Nephew who had run below par and been pulled up in the Grand National.  Saint Are and Le Reve had also run in the Grand National; the former was pulled up before the last and the latter finished 11th.  Hadrian’s Approach, the winner of this race two years ago, had unseated his rider at the first in Aintree’s feature race; I would never trust his jumping ability!

There was a parade ahead of this race, with the horses exiting onto the racecourse and connections organising them into number order whilst circling near the top of the hill.  Having been led down beside the nearside running rail, the horses then broke rank and cantered down to the start at the far end of the home straight. 

Race 4

bet365 Gold Cup [Grade 3 Handicap]

Distance

3 miles 5 furlongs (24 fences)

No. of Runners

20

Sausalito Sunrise, Dynaste, Sir Des Champs, Bishops Road, The Druids Nephew, Oscar Rock, Carole’s Destrier, Theatre Guide, Southfield Theatre, Saint Are, Henri Parry Morgan, Le Reve, The Young Master, Seventh Sky, Just A Par, Measureofmydreams, Drop Out Joe, Spring Heeled, Hadrian’s Approach, Gold Futures

 

The jockeys took their respective mounts to look at the take-off side of the Pond Fence, before returning to the starting area to have their girths checked, after which they formed into a group to circle around prior to the off.  Harry Skelton jumped off Le Reve in order to re-saddle his mount.  The Young Master was now running in the Waley-Cohen colours; presumably his dad and friends had splashed the cash at some point, to get his son Sam a ride in the big race!  Sounds familiar territory …

The runners approached the starting line in a sedate and organised fashion, and then they were off, first time.  Prominent heading for the first were the flashy chestnut Drop Out Joe, The Young Master and Saint Are; close-up to their inside, Le Reve.  At the rear of the field were Sir Des Champs, Seventh Sky, Sausalito Sunrise and The Druids Nephew. 

Having been shaking his head on the approach to the first fence, Bishops Road got too close to it and fell; he’d departed at the first in two consecutive races!  Sausalito Sunrise was lucky to stay on his feet, having encountered the prostrate horse in his path, and The Druids Nephew had to side-step too.  The remaining 19 runners steered across to their left in order to jump the open-ditch option at the next barrier.  Saint Are held a very narrow advantage from Dynaste, Measureofmydreams and Hadrian’s Approach to the nearside, with Drop Out Joe and Le Reve to his far-side.  The Nicky Henderson representative landed ahead slightly over this one; there were no serious jumping issues encountered at the fence.

Hadrian’s Approach having eased back, Saint Are and Drop Out Joe led them as they continued up the hill and past the winning post; two full circuits now to travel.  The former was now in third position, followed by Hadrian’s Approach, the sole grey Dynaste, The Young Master, Le Reve, Henri Parry Morgan, Southfield Theatre, Measureofmydreams, Gold Futures, Theatre Guide, Just A Par, Carole’s Destrier, Spring Heeled, Oscar Rock, Sausalito Sunrise, The Druids Nephew, Sir Des Champs and, finally, Seventh Sky two or three lengths adrift at the rear of the field.

Having reached the top of the hill, the runners headed around the right-hand bend, crossing the carpet as they began the journey downhill to fence number three.  Drop Out Joe and Saint Are continued to lead as all nineteen runners cleared the obstacle successfully; they were already quite strung out by this early stage of the race.  They then swung right-handed to enter the back straight, with seven fences ahead of them therein.  Theatre Guide was a little slow jumping the first of these; the horse is always vulnerable to errors until he warms up!  Sir Des Champs appeared to be losing ground on the field, although he was still ahead of Seventh Sky.

The horses jumped the next without incident; there was no change at the head of affairs, with Hadrian’s Approach travelling in third position, just ahead of The Young Master.  The following fence was the second open-ditch, with Theatre Guide again slow, and Oscar Rock a little awkward on landing.  The middle fence in the back straight was the water-jump, with the sole chestnut holding a narrow advantage as they cleared it. 

Their route then took them across the hurdle track before they reached the first of the three railway fences.  Would any of the runners be caught out by this sometimes tricky ‘combination’, with stride pattern at a premium?  Saint Are rose marginally ahead at the initial one; they all jumped this one without problem and the next one too.  In fact it was a clear round for everyone, having negotiated the final one with no noticeable issues. 

There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed into the far turn; The Druids Nephew wasn’t travelling particularly well three from the rear, with Sir Des Champs and Seventh Sky still slightly adrift.  The next obstacle was the Pond Fence, which again they all jumped without an issue; although Dynaste was possibly a little short of room in midfield. 

Turning into the home straight for the penultimate time, Saint Are led them over the next.  Clearing the thirteenth fence, an open-ditch, Gold Futures and Carole’s Destrier had a bit of a ‘coming together’ in mid-air.  Wayne Hutchinson’s mount continued to lead as they headed up past the winning post with just one circuit to complete.  Drop Out Joe lay is second position, from The Young Master, Dynaste, Hadrian’s Approach, Henri Parry Morgan, Theatre Guide, Le Reve, Southfield Theatre, Carole’s Destrier, Gold Futures, Sausalito Sunrise, Just A Par, Measureofmydreams, The Druids Nephew, Oscar Rock, Spring Heeled and, still detached, Sir Des Champs and Seventh Sky.  (My short-term memory is okay, as I just identified each horse without further recall to the race-card!)

Having reached the top of the hill, again they crossed the carpet and headed down the slope to the fourteenth fence.  Due to the momentum, the field bunched up as the obstacle approached, but every runner cleared it okay; although Gold Futures wasn’t the most fluent and Spring Heeled had to be ridden away from the fence, receiving a slap from his jockey’s whip too. 

Heading over the first obstacle in the back straight, Saint Are led from Drop Out Joe and the improved Theatre Guide.  The Young Master jumped up into second position at the next.  Wayne rode his mount into the next, the final open-ditch, in order to take off on a good stride.  Nineteen were still standing as they headed towards water-jump for the final time.  Theatre Guide was narrowly ahead of the field as they cleared it; Oscar Rock, near the rear of the field, appeared to land awkwardly, and The Druids Nephew was untidy too.

All, bar Bishops Road, having completed a clear round so far, another was about to blot its copybook.  And it was the favourite, Henri Parry Morgan, which ploughed through the first of the railway fences and threw Sean Bowen over his head as a result; unseated rider.  The jockey went under the hooves of Southfield Theatre, hampering him slightly but Sean was on his feet quickly, with little damage appearing to have been done.

Travelling not far behind the leaders, Le Reve blundered badly at the next, with Harry Skelton being forced to the buckle-end of his reins as a result; following this error, the horse was being ridden along.  Saint Are still hadn’t relinquished the lead as they jumped the final railway fence, but he was being closely pressed by Dynaste, Theatre Guide and The Young Master. 

Wayne managed to keep his mount going until they’d almost reached the Pond Fence, at which point he was swallowed up by Theatre Guide and The Young Master.  There were a number of horses laying down their challenges just behind the leading duo as they jumped it, with Sausalito Sunrise looming up to their outside as they turned into the home straight.

In fact The Young Master was only marginally ahead of Richard Johnson’s mount as they jumped two out; only a length behind them were Southfield Theatre, Hadrian’s Approach, Theatre Guide and Just A Par.  However, heading to the final fence, a number of challenges began to falter, with The Young Master and Sausalito Sunrise still neck and neck at the head of affairs, but with solely last year’s winner Just A Par continuing to close.  Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount was the least fluent of the three jumping the last, and it appeared that his two rivals would be left to fight out the finish.  However, sandwiched between the two challengers, the weight began to tell aboard Sausalito Sunrise and it was left to Just A Par and The Young Master to battle up the hill to the line. 

And it was neck and neck all the way … a photograph!  A couple of minutes later the result was announced; The Young Master had triumphed by a short-head.  Sausalito Sunrise finished 2¼ lengths back in 3rd, with Southfield Theatre 4 lengths further away in 4th, The Druids Nephew 5th and Hadrian’s Approach 6th.  Sixteen runners finished the race, with Le Reve pulled up before 3 out, and Sir Des Champs the same before the last. 

So, with Paul Nicholls’ runners finishing 2nd and 4th, and Willie Mullins’ Measureofmydreams only 12th and Sir Des Champs pulled up, it became mathematically impossible for the Irish trainer to win the Trainers’ Championship. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!    

The winning trainer, who also ran The Druids Nephew and Carole’s Destrier during the race, said that The Young Master had originally been purchased to run on the flat, as he had more of a sprint pedigree!  The plan is to run the horse in next year’s Grand National … and he pointed out that it wouldn’t be the first time a ‘sprinter’ had won the Aintree feature – referring to the greatest winner of them all, Red Rum!

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

The Young Master

Mr Sam Waley-Cohen

Neil Mulholland

2nd

Just A Par

Harry Cobden

Paul Nicholls

3rd

Sausalito Sunrise

Richard Johnson

Philip Hobbs

4th

Southfield Theatre

Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls

 

Having returned to the rhododendron walk ahead of the horses returning, we didn’t even attempt to go to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.

 

Race 4 - 4:10pm THE bet365 GOLD CUP STEEPLE CHASE (HANDICAP) (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Harry Cobden, the rider of JUST A PAR (IRE), placed second, from turning into the home straight. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Cobden for 4 days as follows: Saturday 7, Sunday 8, Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 May 2016.

The Stewards gave permission for GOLD FUTURES (IRE), trained by Nicky Richards, to go first in the Parade.

The Stewards gave permission for DROP OUT JOE, trained by Charlie Longsdon, to go second in the Parade.

The Stewards noted that SEVENTH SKY (GER), trained by Charlie Mann, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.

 

With the 2015/2016 Trainers’ Championship decided, the trophy presentation took place in the Parade Ring following this race. 

With Willie Mullins vanquished, for this season at least, in a fit of pique the Irish trainer decided to withdraw Vroum Vroum Mag from the next race and save her for the Punchestown Festival the following week.  I imagine she would have been a short price odds-on favourite had she run.  This left just six runners, three from the Paul Nicholls yard – Ptit Zig, Silsol and San Benedeto.  The others were Ubak, winner of the handicap hurdle on Grand National Day, Vaniteux returning to hurdles having unseated in the Arkle, and Court Minstrel.

After the defection, Ptit Zig became the race favourite; he was ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies and priced at 7-4.

We had returned to the top of the slope adjacent to the main grandstand in order to view the race. 

 

To reach the starting gate, having turned right upon exiting onto the racecourse, the horses cantered down past the grandstands beside the nearside-side rail.  They then turned the corner just beyond the Pond, headed across the hurdles track and onto a narrow, railed track across the centre of the racecourse.  Cones marked out the route as they crossed the flat sprint track, and again as they cantered across the golf course to reach the back straight.  The competitors then turned left to reach the 2 miles 4 furlongs hurdles starting gate.

 

Race 5

Hurdle (Listed)

Distance

2 miles 5 furlongs 110 yards  (11 hurdles)

No. of Runners

6

Court Minstrel, Ubak, Ptit Zig, San Benedeto, Silsol, Vaniteux

The runners approached the tape, with Silsol waiting to lead, but San Benedeto looking less than keen and being kicked and cajoled by Nick Scholfield in order to take his place beside the former. And then they were off, with these two named horses leading the way to the first flight; they were followed by their stable-companion Ptit Zig, from Ubak, Vaniteux and Court Minstrel.

Silsol took off quite a long way from the first and, as a result, San Benedeto emerged as the leader having jumped it.  The leading duo were matching strides as they cleared the second flight.  The runners then headed across the steeplechase track, before reaching the final hurdle in the back straight; all six runners cleared this without incident.

The hooded chestnut continued to bowl along in the lead, accompanied by the blinkered Silsol to his outside, as they headed into the far bend.  The leading duo had set up a clear advantage by the time they turned into the home straight and were soon heading to the fourth flight; Silsol was slightly ahead as they jumped it.  San Benedeto and Silsol rose in unison as they cleared the fifth hurdle.

The six runners continued up the hill to the winning post; one circuit now to travel.  There was no change at the head of affairs, with Ptit Zig and Ubak matching strides four or five lengths behind the leading duo, following by Vaniteux, then Court Minstrel.  The gallop remained moderate as they reached the top of the incline, before turning right, crossing the carpet and heading downhill.  The pace increased on this stretch and they’d soon reached the back straight, with San Benedeto and Silsol continuing to match strides, from Ptit Zig now in a clear third, then Vaniteux and Ubak travelling upsides each other and, finally, Court Minstrel.

Jack Sherwood’s mount was a length up as they jumped the first flight in the back straight, as Nick Scholfield had steadied his horse in order to meet it on the correct stride.  The runners were very well bunched as they headed to and jumped the next; where San Benedeto was more fluent and took the lead.  Ubak had taken third position as they proceeded to the following flight, where Silsol had jumped to the head of affairs once more, narrowly.

The field crossed the steeplechase track, before heading to the final hurdle in the back straight; three out.  Silsol remained ahead clearing this one, but his rivals were queuing up behind him.  Having landed, Ubak was pushed along as they headed into the far bend; this continued to be the case and he’d soon dropped back to fifth position.

It was San Benedeto which led them into the home straight; Joshua Moore, aboard Ubak, had persevered with his mount and he’d regained third position to the outside of the runners at this point.  There was a difference of opinion as regards the ground in the home straight, with San Benedeto, Silsol, the strongly travelling Vaniteux, and Ptit Zig deciding to take the middle line, as did the well adrift Court Minstrel; whereas Ubak was brought over the near side to continue his renewed challenge.

It was Vaniteux, for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville which led over the penultimate flight. A length adrift were Silsol to the nearside and Ptit Zig to the far side; San Benedeto had begun to tire but, at this stage, he was still just ahead of Ubak.  Heading to the last it appeared that Vaniteux had the race in the bag but, as they neared it, his tank was beginning to run dry and both Ptit Zig and Silsol had closed the deficit.  In fact, Vaniteux bunny-hopped it and the favourite was now upsides.

Now full of momentum, having jumped the last well, Ptit Zig’s run took him clear of his rivals and he headed up the hill to win by an official 1¾ lengths at the line.  It was his stable-companion Silsol which had kept on up the run-in to claim 2nd, with Vaniteux relegated to 3rd, 1½ lengths behind.  Ubak completed in 4th, 3 lengths away.  San Benedeto completed in 5th, 12 lengths back, and the always last Court Minstrel came home in the same position; 27 lengths further away … but, with the defection of Vroum Vroum Mag, they all won prize money! 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Ptit Zig

Sam Twiston-Davies

Paul Nicholls

2nd

Silsol

Jack Sherwood

Paul Nicholls

3rd

Vaniteux

Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson

4th

Ubak

Joshua Moore

Gary Moore

 

At various times during the afternoon I’d noticed that Paul Nicholls’ nephew Harry Derham, and what I presumed was his family, had stood to the left of us whilst we viewed the races.  On this occasion they’d been animated as ‘Ziggy’ had galloped to the line.

 

Today was Paul Nicholls’ Assistant, Tom Jonason’s final day in the role; he’d recently got married and set up home in his wife’s home county of Leicestershire ... too far to commute each day to Somerset!  Although, having said that, he’d got a new job in the City of London!!!  But, of course, you can get a train into work from there.  Paul’s new Assistant trainer was none other than his nephew Harry Derham. 

 

Winning jockey Sam Twiston-Davies was sporting a bruised right cheek and adjacent black eye; this was presumably the result of his fall at Chepstow the previous evening when Simon Squirrel had taken a fatal fall at the final flight.

 

Race 5 - 4:45pm THE bet365 SELECT HURDLE RACE (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the circumstances under which W P Mullins, the trainer of VROUM VROUM MAG (FR), had withdrawn the mare nine minutes before the race was due to start. They heard evidence from the trainer who stated that, having realised it was no longer mathematically
possible for him to win the trainers’ title, he had decided it would be better to run the mare in a more valuable race at Punchestown next week instead. Having heard his evidence, the Stewards found Mullins in breach of Rule (F)96.4.2 in that he had shown a wilful disregard for the interests of racegoers and punters. They fined him £1000.

 

The favourite for the penultimate race was As De Mee, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sean Bowen; price 4-1.  However, the horse had run in the Topham at Aintree just two weeks previously.  The trainer had two further runners in this race, namely Calipto ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies and Some Buckle ridden by Nick Scholfield.

I like Viva Steve, trained by Mick Channon at this point; however, with the retirement of Somersby, owner Tim Radford’s jump race horses would be sold off in the spring, with Viva Steve heading to the Fergal O’Brien yard!

Once the horses had exited the Parade Ring and headed to the racecourse, we set off to find a vantage point at the top of the grassy slope beyond the main grandstand. 

 

Having reached the end of the walkway, the horses turned right and cantered down past the stands before heading across the golf course to reach the starting gate; the first fence in this event was the first of the railway fences. 

 

Race 6

Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase

Distance

2 miles 4 furlongs and 110 yards (17 fences)

No. of Runners

11

Volnay De Thaix, As De Mee, Junction Fourteen, Some Buckle, Calipto, Thomas Crapper, Viva Steve, Daveron, Blandfords Gunner, Antony, Gentleman Jon

 

With five seconds to go before the official off-time, the jockeys and their mounts were waiting patiently for 17:20 to arrive.  Some walked, whilst others jogged towards the tape and they were away, first time.  The runners had actually started the race from the hurdles track; this meant that the first obstacle was the first of the railway fences.  Having reached it, Junction Fourteen led narrowly to the inner, with Thomas Crapper to the outside, and Volnay De Thaix between them.  Just behind the latter two, Viva Steve was a little short of room at this one.  Some Buckle wasn’t the most fluent, and he also made a small mistake at the second; this left him in rear.  Nick Schofield’s mount was also slow at the third fence and he received a reminder for his troubles. 

Meanwhile, Junction Fourteen continued to lead as they headed into the far turn, from Thomas Crapper, Volnay De Thaix, Viva Steve, As De Mee, Gentleman Jon, Antony, Blandfords Gunner, Daveron, Calipto and Some Buckle.  Successfully galvanised, the latter appeared to be travelling far better as they headed out of the turn on their journey towards the Pond Fence; Junction Fourteen remained ahead as they all cleared it successfully.  It’s extremely rare for horses to fall at the Pond Fence … although earlier in the afternoon Un De Sceaux had almost joined that elite group!

The eleven runners headed into the home straight, with Viva Steve getting a little close to the first fence therein; Blandfords Gunner was now at the rear of the field.  The jockeys steered their mounts towards the left in order to take the open-ditch option at the following obstacle; they all cleared this well.

Junction Fourteen retained the advantage as the closely packed field continued up the hill to the winning post; one circuit now to travel.  As they reached the top turn, it was noticeable that Viva Steve had currently lost his place amongst the leaders; he was now four from the back of the field.  Having crossed the carpeted car park crossing, the pace speeded up as the runners headed down the slope to the next fence.  There were no jumping issues at this sometimes tricky fence.

The runners had soon turned right and entered the back straight, with Junction Fourteen remaining just ahead of his rivals, the nearest being Thomas Crapper, Volnay De Thaix and Gentleman Jon.  The runners sailed over the next fence, with Some Buckle and Blandfords Gunner both becoming detached at the rear of the field.  The following fence was a plain one, and Viva Steve was now beginning to make progress back up through the field.

The third fence in the back straight was the final open-ditch and Thomas Crapper was a little slow here; he was then being pushed along slightly as they approached the water-jump for the one and only time.  Volnay De Thaix got a little close to this one and Some Buckle had re-joined the main field once more. 

Junction Fourteen remained marginally ahead of Volnay De Thaix and Gentleman Jon as they jumped the first of the railway fences.  However, the latter made an error at the middle one of these, with his jockey Paddy Brennan going to the buckle end of his reins as a result.  In fact, having cleared the final railway fence, all eleven were still standing, with solely Blandfords Gunner trailing well to the rear of the field.

Still not headed, Daryl Jacob’s mount led the field into the far bend, from Thomas Crapper and Volnay De Thaix.  They were followed by As De Mee, Viva Steve, Gentleman Jon, Antony, Calipto, Some Buckle, Daveron and Blandfords Gunner.  A number of runners were soon being bumped along by their jockeys, namely Gentleman Jon, Antony, Calipto and Daveron. 

In fact only a handful of the runners were travelling well as they began their approach to the Pond Fence, the long-time leader being one of them. Also, Volnay De Thaix, As De Mee and, surprisingly, Some Buckle; although the latter was still near the rear of the field.  However, having jumped it, Volnay De Thaix was then being ridden along also.  Because both Thomas Crapper and Viva Steve were responding to pressure to his outside, Sean Bowen aboard As De Mee found himself stuck in a pocket behind Junction Fourteen as they turned into the home straight.  However, by the time they reached two out and a gap had opened up, the jockey was now receiving little response to his urgings. 

In fact the long-time leader flew over the penultimate fence and began to extend his lead as they headed to the final obstacle.  Volnay De Thaix and Thomas Crapper were battling on in second as they jumped it, with Antony now in fourth, behind him As De Mee and Viva Steve.

At the beginning of the run-in it had appeared that Junction Fourteen would win easily, but Volnay De Thaix found a second wind under a strong drive from Nico de Boinville; in fact the latter was closing the gap all the way to the line and the long-time leader won by just 1¼ lengths.  Thomas Crapper was unlucky, as he was collared at the winning post for 3rd place by Antony; they were 5 lengths behind the 2nd.  Viva Steve was 5th and Some Buckle 6th; the latter having blundered away a better placing when stumbling after two out and unbalancing his jockey. 

The favourite As De Mee had flattered to deceive; he finished 9th of the 10 which completed; Gentleman Jon having been pulled up. 

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

Junction Fourteen

Daryl Jacob

Emma Lavelle

2nd

Volnay De Thaix

Nico de Boinville

Nicky Henderson

3rd

Antony

Jamie Moore

Gary Moore

4th

Thomas Crapper

Charlie Poste

Robin Dickin

 

We decided to return to the shallow steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following this race. 

 

Race 6 - 5:20pm THE bet365 JOSH GIFFORD NOVICES' HANDICAP STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 2)

No Stewards Enquiry.

 

The representative of Paul Nicholls, the trainer of CALIPTO, unplaced, reported that the gelding had a breathing problem.

 

The favourite for the final race of the day … and the 2015/2016 season … was Mad Jack Mytton, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by the Champion Jump Jockey Richard Johnson; price 5-1.  There were three last minute non-runners, namely Alcala for Paul Nicholls, Burgas for Willie Mullins and Chartbreaker also for Paul Nicholls … well, there’s a thing!  As a result, Bryan Cooper replaced Grand National winning jockey David Mullins aboard McKinley; it also meant that Sean Bowen and Tom Cannon didn’t get a ride. 

 

Despite the title race being over, Willie Mullins still had two runners in the race, the aforementioned McKinley and Bellow Mome.  Paul Nicholls also had two remaining, Qualando and Red Hanrahan.  In fact it was a race of multiple entries, with four for Nicky Henderson – Kilcrea Vale, Hunters Hoof, Gold Present and Close Touch; and even two for Warren Greatrex - Ma Du Fou and Bon Enfant!  So, by my calculations, that’s 10 runners for four trainers, leaving just 7 trainers with one runner each.  And it would have been even more weighted towards those multiple entries if the three non-runners had not occurred! 

This also marked the racecourse return of the Alan King-trained Wilde Blue Yonder to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; he’d been on the injury side-lines for 749 days but is still only a 7-year-old.  His previous run would have been at Aintree on Grand National Day 2014, when Choc rode him … I know because I was there!  He’d finished 4th in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle that day; it was a Grade 2 race back then, but has been upgraded to Grade 1 this year and last. 

As Wilde Blue Yonder was led by, I overheard Jamie Insole say that his charge was ‘gassy’ today.  The horse was probably excited to be back at the racecourse following the long absence.

 

We headed down the pathway beside the rhododendron walk to reach our usual vantage point at the top of the slope overlooking the racecourse, just beyond the winning post.  I glanced across to my right and noticed Alan King’s Assistant Ollie Wardle, Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells, and the aforementioned Jamie Insole not far away from where we were standing.  Ollie also had a chat to Warren Greatrex; they actually had a ‘fag break’ together.  

The starting gate for the final race of the day was situated after the first flight in the back straight; this being the case, the riders turned left upon exiting onto the course to canter up around the top bend to reach it.

Race 7

Handicap Hurdle

Distance

2 miles and 4 furlongs (9 flights)

No. of Runners

17

Kilcrea Vale, Qualando, Wilde Blue Yonder, Ma Du Fou, Hunters Hoof, Matorico, Party Rock, Close Touch, Gold Present, Mad Jack Mytton, Dell ‘Arca, McKinley, Red Hanrahan, Royal Vacation, Gioia Di Vita, Bellow Mome, Bon Enfant

 

The same starting gate was used as for the previous race, even though that was a steeplechase and this a hurdle event.  The now 17-strong field was led away by Aintree Festival winner Party Rock, ridden by Sean Quinlan; Lesley still thinks he’s cute!  Prominent were Dell’ Arca, Gioia Di Vita, one of the two greys Bon Enfant, and McKinley.  Wilde Blue Yonder was in rear, alongside Red Hanrahan and Bellow Mome; the latter was a little less than fluent at the first flight.

Party Rock continued to lead as the runners headed into the far bend, closely pressed by the keen Gioia Di Vita; they had already set up a three lengths advantage over the remainder of the field.  The leading duo continued to set a good pace as the runners entered the home straight for the first occasion; it was quite a long run to the next flight, which Dell’ Arca jumped rather extravagantly whilst disputing third position with Bon Enfant!  To the rear of mid-field, The Queen’s Close Touch was briefly bumped along by jockey Peter Carberry.  Wilde Blue Yonder had also improved a few places and was no longer disputing last position. 

All the runners cleared flight number three in their stride, before continuing up the home straight and past the winning post; one circuit now to travel.  The leading duo were two or three lengths clear of Dell’ Arca as they reached the top of the hill; they then turned right and crossed the carpeted track before heading downhill and into the back straight.  The pace had quickened due to the descent and, as a result, the main body of the field had reduced the leaders’ advantage; however, Party Rock and Gioia Di Vita soon pressed on again.  Near the rear of the field, Red Hanrahan made a jumping error at the first flight in the back straight.  They continued their journey down to the next, where the favourite, Mad Jack Mytton, put in an excellent leap to the outside of the field and improved his position by a number of places as a result.  At the rear of the field were Hunters Hoof and Qualando.

There was no change at the head of affairs as they jumped the sixth flight, with Party Rock and Gioia Di Vita clearing it in unison.  Having completed one circuit, the runners headed across the steeplechase track in order to reach three out; at this point Qualando received a couple of backhanders from jockey Harry Cobden.  Gioia Di Vita landed a little awkwardly over the flight, but he was still travelling well.

So, heading into the far turn for the final time, the field was very closely packed.  Party Rock managed to just keep his head in front, from Gioia Di Vita, Ma Du Fou with Dell’ Arca to his inner, Mad Jack Mytton, McKinley, and Close Touch to the wide outside.  Bon Enfant travelled next, from Gold Present, Kilcrea Vale, Royal Vacation, Matorico, Bellow Mome, Hunters Hoof, Wilde Blue Yonder, Red Hanrahan and, finally, Qualando.  The latter two were both being bumped along by this point.

Mad Jack Mytton had lost his place as they travelled around the bend, finding himself stuck behind a wall of five horses as they entered the home straight.  Now under pressure, Party Rock was swallowed up on the run to the penultimate flight; challenging for the lead at this point were Gioia Di Vita, Dell’ Arca, Ma Du Fou and McKinley.  Finally in the clear to the nearside, Richard Johnson was endeavouring to close them down aboard Mad Jack Mytton; however, his progress was interrupted when he hit this flight.  

Meanwhile, at the head of affairs, Gioia Di Vita was battling to hold off McKinley’s challenge as they headed to the last.  However the latter, which was a bigger stamp of a horse, had just got the better of his rival as they cleared it.  The runners were tired as they headed up the final stretch of track towards the line, but McKinley was driven out to win by 1¼ lengths from the always prominent Gioia Di Vita. 

Having made late headway, the grey Matorico took 3rd place, 1¾ lengths behind him.  Dell’ Arca just half a length away in 4th.  The favourite Mad Jack Mytton was a further 2¾ lengths behind in 5th.   Wilde Blue Yonder ran okay to finish 12th; Party Rock finished last, with one non-finisher, Red Hanrahan, pulled up at the last.       

Oh well, the Irish had finally won a race … but it was too late!

Result

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1st

McKinley

Bryan Cooper

Willie Mullins

2nd

Gioia Di Vita

Charlie Hammond

Dr Richard Newland

3rd

Matorico

Barry Geraghty

Jonjo O’Neill

4th

Dell’ Arca

Tom Scudamore

David Pipe

 

Again we returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race. 

 

Ruby Walsh was in the Winners’ Enclosure when McKinley returned; he’d been saddling the Willie Mullins runners today, although I’d not noticed him earlier ... despite later discovering he’d appeared in a number of my photographs!

 

Race 7 - 5:55pm THE bet365 HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 2)

No Stewards Enquiry.

 

The Stewards noted that CLOSE TOUCH, trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs.

The Stewards noted that MA DU FOU (FR), trained by Warren Greatrex, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.

Richard Johnson, the rider of MAD JACK MYTTON (IRE), placed fifth, reported that the gelding suffered interference in running turning into the home straight on the final circuit.

 

Last race over, and the final presentation made to connections within the Winners’ Enclosure, we decided to sit down for a few minutes upon one of the seats overlooking it.  It was great to rest our feet!!!

 

Sensibly, we visited the loo before departing.  The queue wasn’t too bad, as it ended at the door; sometimes it stretches into the main foyer.  The Parade Ring area had been much quieter since after the feature race of the day, so many spectators must have headed home early.  Our exit route took us down the steps and into the Esher Hall, which was almost deserted, unlike the Surrey Hall where a band was playing.  We exited via the far doors, into the betting ring, and walked down the slope to reach the gateway which led across the racecourse. 

 

Unlike those punters who were heading back to the railway station, at the far side we turned left and headed along the roadway to the tarmac car park, it was just a short distance across the turf to reach Lesley’s car.

 

I’d brought along four cheese rolls, two each; we ate these before we set off on the journey home.  Having started the car, Lesley drove onto the tarmac area in front of us before heading up the hill to the main driveway where she turned right.  There was barely a queue tailing back from the road, in fact there were just four or five vehicles waiting to exit.  However, in More Lane, the queue into Esher itself was long and tailed back past the gate so, having found a new route, we eased out through the stationary traffic and turned right instead.  This took us down past the luxury apartments you see when viewing the racing on the TV.

 

Bearing right, we headed into Lower Green Road with its mock tudor houses, under the railway bridge to arrive back at the crossroads.  Many of the vehicles ahead of us turned left but, as that route was still beyond our local knowledge, we drove straight across into Weston Green Road; there are a number of vehicles parked on the left-hand carriageway so we had to give way to those heading in the opposite direction.  At the far end we turned left to head back towards Hampton Court Palace. 

 

Having crossed the bridge over the Thames, we turned left at the roundabout adjacent to Hampton Court Green.  Annoyingly, and despite it being around 19:00 on a Saturday evening, we encountered a long tailback of traffic from the road-works designated ‘Tagg’s Island’.  However, whilst waiting in the queue, we were able to admire the Palace gatehouse to our left!   One of the locals, a Canada goose, was feeding on one of the grassed areas beside the river.

 

Once past the road-works, we’d soon driven through Hampton and had reached Kempton Park in no time.  However, there was still one set of road-works negotiate and we thus encountered the back of another queue just beyond the corner beside the main car park entrance.  But it was not too late to divert along Park Road, so we turned right and headed up the aforementioned thoroughfare and over the railway bridge, following the route I use when exiting Kempton Park on Boxing Day!!!  Who needs a satnav?

 

Having negotiated the roundabout below the M3, we headed up the slip-road onto the motorway.  Our journey then took us to the M25, after which we joined the clockwise carriageway (actually referred to carriageway ‘A’; the anti-clockwise being ‘B’) to head back to Hertfordshire.  We encountered no holdups on the motorway and retraced our route back to my home in St Albans. 

 

Lesley dropped me off at 20:10; that was 2 hours and 15 minutes after the off time of the final race of the day at 17:55.  That was comparable with last year, when I’d arrived home 2 hours and 10 minutes after the last race off time.

 

So that was the end of the 2015/2016 season, during which Choc had announced his official retirement; on 21 September 2015.  However, he’d not been able to ride since his accident on the penultimate day of the 2013/2014 season. 

 

I’ve seen Choc 7 times since his accident, including 4 times this season.  I wonder what the 2016/2017 season will bring?

 

Click here for photos – Parade of Champions and End of Season Awards

Click here for photos Race 1

Click here for photos – Race 2 and Race 3 plus Champion Jump Jockey presentation – Richard Johnson

Click here for photos Race 4 – bet365 Gold Cup

Click here for photos – Race 5

Click here for photos Race 6

Click here for photos – Race 7

 

 

 

Rounded Rectangle: RETURN TO DIARY INDEX
Rounded Rectangle: RETURN TO HOME PAGE