DIARY – SANDOWN PARK SEASON FINALE
– CELEBRATING AP MCCOY’S RETIREMENT
SATURDAY 25 APRIL 2015
AP McCoy is interviewed by Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett following
his final career ride when he partnered Box Office to finish 3rd.
I had it in mind to attend Sandown’s 2014/2015 Jump Season Finale fixture, and had already checked the racecourse website to ascertain when tickets would go on sale. However, with AP McCoy making the announcement during Newbury’s Super Saturday fixture in February that he would retire at season’s end, the Esher racecourse brought forward ticket availability. But not only that, tickets were also being offered 2 for the price of 1! With this in mind, I contacted Lesley to ask if she’d like to go and, having received an affirmative answer, I booked two Premier Enclosure tickets for a total cost of £40. A bargain!
In the event, this fixture was a sell-out with no tickets available on the gate on the day. The tickets were late in arriving though, as the racecourse had not arranged for them to be printed and despatched until week commencing 13 April; mine arrived on Thursday 16 April by recorded delivery.
This was to be my 12th racing outing of the 2014/2015 Jump’s season; eight of which occurred during March and April 2015! Six visits had been to Cheltenham, three to Aintree, with one each to Newbury, Kempton Park and Sandown Park. But sadly on this day, namely 25 April, Choc would have been sidelined for exactly one year.
I woke up at 06:30 and showered, and washed and dried my hair before applying my make-up. Breakfast today was two croissants and two slices of brown buttered toast. I also tuned into Channel 4’s The Morning Line to see special guest AP McCoy; no surprise there then!
Following a drier than average April, and very pleasant weather leading up to today, it had been wet overnight as a weather front moved in. This lasted until breakfast time on Saturday morning too.
Today’s outfit was a purple M & S Per Una top, plus M & S Limited Edition skirt; both as worn on Grand National Day. Also a turquoise M & S Per Una hip-length frill-edged cardigan and irredescent burgundy-coloured triple-frilled M & S raincoat; the latter having been hanging in the wardrobe for a number of years unworn ... because I like it so much! I’ve also got an identical silver-grey one ... which I have worn once, when Choc rode his 1000th winner at Towcester! It’s a problem I have, not wearing clothes because I like them too much! And today there was not a thermal vest or scarf in sight!
A handbag and pair shoes were an issue, in that I couldn’t make up my mind; in the end I settled for my usual burgundy/brown/pink Next handbag and burgundy M & S wedges.
As Lesley had been attending a concert in Stevenage the previous evening, and staying in a hotel overnight too, she agreed to drive us to Sandown Park. I know that her timekeeping isn’t always the best, so arranged for her to pick me up between 09:15 and 09:30, with gate opening time being 11:00. In the event, she picked me up a little after 09:30 having popped into the local supermarket to fill up her petrol tank first; she also arrived in the opposite direction than I’d expected, so had to turn around to collect me from the pavement opposite my house!
Our route took us around the local ring-road and down to the London Colney roundabout, to join the M25 via Junction 20. Traffic was moving well, apart from a little congestion as we approached Junction 12, the M3 interchange; Lesley was a little surprised the motorway was busy because it was the weekend! We needed to leave the motorway at Junction 10, which is the A3 turning, and head towards London. Traffic was quite heavy on the slip-road, but clear following that and until we left the carriageway at the Esher turning.
The road into Esher, namely Copsem Lane, wasn’t as congested as I’ve sometimes experienced and, at the second set of traffic lights, the ones on the Portsmouth Road, we crossed over into the one-way system, then negotiated Lammas Lane to enter More Lane. The road heads downhill, with the racecourse entrance located on the right-hand side.
Having entered the grounds, we drove across the racecourse to reach the free of charge parking area within. It was 10:45, and there was space upon the tarmac area close to the entrance of the Golf Centre; I’d hoped there would be, especially with the forecasted threat of cloud bursts during the afternoon. From past experience, I have an aversion to parking on the grass when there’s any chance of rain! Having parked up, we walked back up the slope to reach the main drive, turned right and walked along to the Premier entrance to join the short queue which had already formed.
We noticed a helicopter in green and gold livery ‘parked’ upon the grassed area to the side of the car park; was it JP McManus’ helicopter we wondered? Shortly afterwards it took off and headed west.
The queuing public were let in at 11:00 as expected; I purchased two racecards, one each, and we had our tickets scanned before crossing the racecourse and walking up beside the rhododendren walk then bearing left to enter the grandstand enclosure and take up our positions beside the Parade Ring to the rear of the main grandstand ... and opposite the presentations podium of course!
Having not eaten breakfast, Lesley pootled off to get herself a coffee and a sandwich, plus Kitkat bars for both of us and a hot chocolate for me.
An unofficial lady photographer was standing close by and I overheard her talking to a group of people about raising a glass to Balder Succes last weekend; Teambalder she said ... she should have said teambalderforever!
The Parade of Champions took place at 12:45. Today’s participants were Many Clouds, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup and Grand National; Coneygree, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup; Dodging Bullets, winner of the Tingle Creek Chase, Clarence House Chase, and Champion Chase; Cole Harden, winner of the World Hurdle; Silviniaco Conti, winner of this season’s Betfair Chase, the King George VI Chase and the Aintree Bowl. Putting in an appearance was Greatwood’s Deano’s Beeno; now 23, the horse was also a favourite of AP McCoy’s.
Also the retired Don’t Push It, AP having won the Grand National aboard the horse in 2010; he has been boarding with Jonjo O’Neill since his appearance in the Parade of Stars at Aintree, the horse normally lives at JP McManus’ stud in Ireland.
Following the parade, there were a number of presentations made. Firstly for the Horse of the Year, the winner having been voted for by the readers of the Racing Post; the recipient was Trevor Hemmings in respect of Many Clouds. Personally I’d have awarded the trophy to Coneygree!
The Racing Recognition award went to AP McCoy, for his significant contribution to the racing industry. Being an Arsenal fan, the trophy was awarded by Liam Brady. AP’s daughter Eve also joined in the celebration.
JP McManus received the trophy for the Leading Owner, having won around £500,000 more this season than his nearest rival Trevor Hemmings; Uxizandre and Jezki getting a special mention in the programme as major contributors this season.
Paul Nicholls was crowned Champion Trainer for the ninth time! He saddled at least one winner on each Saturday between 01 November and 21 March! Special mention was given to Silviniaco Conti and Dodging Bullets.
Having all accepted their trophies individually, they then lined up for a group photo call.
Both the Conditional Jockey Championship trophy and the Champion Jockey trophy would be awarded later in the afternoon. The former following the first race, the latter prior to race number 3.
There was news late yesterday that Noel Fehily had decided to split, amicably, from his arrangement to ride for trainer Charlie Longsdon. Presumably well-timed to coincide with AP’s retirement with an eye, going forward, to picking up mounts which may have previously been offered to the Champ.
Prior to the first race of the afternoon, we relocated to stand beside the rails along the edge of the rhododendron walk. Whilst loitering there, who should I encounter but a lady named Tula who lives in a town adjacent to St Albans; we’d never met before but had corresponded via twitter and she recognised me from photographs I’d tweeted.
The favourite for the first race of the day was the Sean Bowen ridden Lil Rockerfeller, trained by Neil King; priced 5-1.
The horses having 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 and headed away from the starter before turning and walking, in the main, back towards the gate.
Then they were off and heading to the first flight. Sebastian Beach held a narrow advantage clearing it, from first-time blinkered Mercoeur to his outside and Aristocracy to his inside. Nearer last than first, Alzammaar jumped it a little too big and knuckled over on landing; there was no damage done to the horse or jockey, but Baron Alco had been hampered slightly.
The remaining ten runners headed over the next; there was no change at the head of affairs, with Sternrubin now pulling his way up to join the leading group and Old Guard slightly less than fluent at the rear of the field. Heading up past the winning post and continuing to the top of the hill, Aristocracy took a narrow lead travelling to the inside of Sebastian Beach. Sternrubin travelled just ahead of Mercoeur; they were three lengths clear of Lil Rockerfeller and Unanimite, Baron Alco followed in seventh position, from Vosne Romanee alongside Bishop Wulstan, with Old Guard bringing up the rear.
Having reached the top turn, the runners turned right-handed and bowled along down the hill; the distance from first to last was around 15 lengths by the time they entered the back straight. Richie McLernon aboard Sebastian Beach, travelling in a close second position, wasn’t particularly happy with the way his horse was travelling because he gave his mount a couple of backhanders as they approached flight number three. Despite this encouragement, Sebastian Beach jumped this flight more slowly than his rivals and was soon joined by Sternrubin.
In rear, Bishop Wulstan cleared the next flight very slowly and began to tail off; he jumped out to his left over the next. Meanwhile, up front, Sternrubin had taken the lead and Sebastian Beach received more reminders as they crossed over the steeplechase track to reach the final flight in the back straight; now in mid-field, Mercoeur flattened a panel with a hind-leg as he jumped it.
Sternrubin was travelling well at the head of affairs as they entered the far bend; Aristocracy was three lengths behind him, from Sebastian Beach, with Richie McLernon still animated aboard him. Behind these were Mercoeur and Unaminite, then Vosne Romanee and Lil Rockerfeller; the latter being pushed along by Sean Bowen. At the rear of the group were Old Guard and Baron Alco; Bishop Wulstan would be pulled up before the next.
Turning into the home straight Richard Johnson, aboard the leader, glanced beneath his left arm for dangers. As it turned out, Sean Bowen’s efforts were being rewarded as his mount had made up ground around the outside of the field and he was looking the main danger as they headed towards the penultimate flight. In fact he was upsides, to the nearside, as they cleared it; however, despite dragging his hind-legs through the obstacle, Sternrubin was more quickly away from it.
Richard and Sean continued to cajole their mounts as they headed towards the final flight; both responding to pressure, but Lil Rockerfeller more so. The Neil King representative was slightly ahead as they took off but, once again, Sternrubin was quicker through the air. It was neck and neck for a few strides after the flight, but Sean’s mount soon asserted and went away to win by 2¾ lengths at the line.
Meanwhile Old Guard, Unanimite and Vosne Romanee had stayed on some lengths behind the first and second, and finished in that order; Old Guard completing 14 lengths behind the runner-up. Eight completed, Mercoeur also having been pulled up.
The hood-wearing Sternrubin is a bit ‘quirky’, and Lil Rockerfeller is a little bit lazy; but Sean Bowen made up the horse’s mind and he won well today.
We returned to the area beside the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.
Race 1 - 2:00pm
THE bet365 JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE RACE (CLASS 2)
Whilst waiting for the Stewards Enquiry to finish, I noticed Jeremy Kyle and his wife walking across the Winners’ Enclosure. His wife was wearing stiletto heels and one of them got stuck in the gap between the grass and the centre pathway; she appeared concerned that she’d damaged her shoe. Stiletto heels are so unsuitable for wearing outdoors ... because you just look silly if they get trapped between paving stones, etc!
Coincidentally the Conditional Jockeys’ Championship was won by Sean Bowen, son of Peter; a very proud mum and dad arriving in the Winners’ Enclosure following the race. Sean rode 51 winners from 255 rides, a winning percentage of 20%; he finished 20th overall in the general Championship race. It had been a neck and neck tussle with Nico de Boinville in recent days; the latter finished with 44 winners.
The favourite for the next race was the Philip Hobbs-trained Menorah, ridden by Richard Johnson; the partnership had won last year’s renewal too. Today’s starting price was 11-4. There was also one non-runner, namely Raajih.
The starting gate for the next race was in the back straight, with six of the seven fences jumped therein; 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.
Then they were off. Third Intention led over the first fence, from Rolling Aces; initially a close-up third, Home Farm jumped this fence very slowly, having put in a small stride before take-off. The second obstacle was the first of the open-ditches, and Rolling Aces held the lead as the field jumped it; Menorah brought up the rear. The nine runners headed to the water-jump, with Pepite Rose nodding on landing over this one.
The final three fences in the back straight are the closely-positioned railway fences; all nine runners cleared these without incident. Heading into the far turn the order was Rolling Aces, from Third Intention, Rebel Rebellion, Home Farm, Pepite Rose, Al Ferof, Argocat, Off The Ground and Menorah.
There was no change at the head of affairs as the horses headed over the Pond Fence without incident; the fence must be the ‘safest’ in the country as only ‘once in a blue moon’ does anything happen at this obstacle! First-time blinkered Rolling Aces was enjoying himself as he bowled along ahead of his rivals, ears pricked. Al Ferof jumped the next a little slowly; he was in last position now.
The runners angled across to their left to jump the next open-ditch, almost in front of the stands; Third Intention took an almighty leap to clear this one. The horses continued up the hill to the winning post, now just one more circuit to travel; Off The Ground now brought up the rear of this still closely packed field.
Having reached the top bend, they turned right-handed to head downhill to the next fence. Home Farm put in a short-stride and jumped this one slowly, receiving a reminder for his troubles; Menorah hit it. Off The Ground was extremely slow in rear; he jumped out to his left and had lost a number of lengths upon his rivals as they entered the back straight for the final time.
Third Intention took a narrow advantage as they cleared the first fence therein. The pace increased as the runners headed over the next, and then the final open-ditch before clearing the water-jump. By this stage of the race, Home Farm was struggling and had dropped to the rear of the main field, and Off The Ground under Leighton Aspell had tailed off, well and truly.
Meanwhile Third Intention continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they cleared the three railway fences; he appeared happy, travelling with his ears pricked. Menorah hit the middle-railway fence, and Home Farm blundered at the last of these. Off The Ground was pulled up.
The Colin Tizzard-runner led the field entering the final bend; he was pursued by Rolling Aces and Rebel Rebellion, Pepite Rose, Al Ferof and Argocat, Menorah and the struggling Home Farm. As the runners headed towards the Pond Fence, it was all change just behind the leader; Menorah, Argocat and Al Ferof took closer order, Pepite Rose just behind these, as Rolling Aces and Rebel Rebellion dropped out.
In fact Menorah jumped the penultimate fence upsides Third Intention; they were followed a couple of lengths adrift by Al Ferof, Argocat and Pepite Rose. Daryl Jacob’s mount continued to battle on gamely as they headed to the last fence and it was not until after they’d cleared it that Menorah began to pull away from his rivals; he headed up the hill to win by 1¼ lengths at the line from Al Ferof who had begun to stay on, followed by the game Third Intention and Pepite Rose.
Having left our course-side viewing point, it was hoped we’d make it back to the Parade Ring in time to find a good position opposite the podium ahead of the presentation of the Champion Jump Jockey trophy to AP McCoy. However, I wasn’t surprised to find a crowd had already gathered there, making it impossible for us to regain our earlier, pre-racing position; I presume those spectators had not even bothered to watch race two. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!
Instead we remained beside the rhododendron walk to see Menorah, et al, return. Everything appeared fine as the runners began to walk by, but the jockeys were soon aware that something was amiss, for they were glancing back over their shoulders. It soon became apparent that Rolling Aces had collapsed on the walkway no more than 15 yards away from where we were standing; we didn't actually see him go down, because he was obscured by the horses returning ahead of him.
The vet took a little while to arrive, and the green screens even longer. Nick Scholfield couldn't weigh back in because his saddle was trapped beneath the horse, but they gave him special dispensation so that sixth prize could be claimed. Very little consolation for losing your horse though. Paul Nicholls had no option but to walk away and leave the deceased Rolling Aces to be 'cleared away', which was sad; he had to saddle Mr Mole and Vibrato Valtat in the next race.
The incident happened just prior to AP's Championship presentation so, whilst everyone's attention was drawn back to the Parade Ring, they were able to move the horse's body; you would never have known that anything had happened once it had been dealt with. Buckets of water were placed along the walkway for the remainder of the afternoon, and a number of jockeys dismounted after each race rather than riding their horses back.
Race 2 - 2:35pm
THE bet365 OAKSEY STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 1) (Listed Race)
There was just enough space for us to gain a view across the Parade Ring from the raised steppings adjacent to the rhododendron walk ahead of the Champion Jump Jockey presentation. AP’s colleagues had formed a guard of honour from the jockeys’ entrance stretching across towards the podium. The Champ’s wife Chanelle, and his daughter Eve and son Archie joined him for the presentation; this was carried out by another Arsenal legend, namely Ian Wright.
At one point, senior weighing room colleagues Andrew Thornton and David Casey joined the celebrations to lift AP onto their shoulders so that the crowd could get a better view of their departing hero. AP was also persuaded to do a tour of the Parade Ring perimeter so that fans could take close-up photographs of him too. The Champ was permitted to keep the trophy, which I gather was introduced in the ‘noughties’.
For the record, AP finished with 231 winners this season from 827 rides, which is an amazing 28% strike rate.
It was soon time for the third race of the day, this year re-titled the AP McCoy Celebration Chase. It also featured AP’s first of two rides of the day; his mount being the quirky Mr Mole. The favourite was Irish raider Special Tiara, ridden by Noel Fehily; he’d won a Grade 1 event at Kempton Park on 27 December, beating the ill-fated Balder Succes, and followed up with a third place in the Champion Chase.
Also in the line-up was Sprinter Sacre, who’d been pulled up in the Champion Chase having appeared a shadow of his former self that day. However, with reports of possible retirement looming for the horse following that particular disappointment, trainer Nicky Henderson had decided to give him another go. Today he was ridden by Nico de Boinville, his regular work rider, as Barry Geraghty remained on the injury sidelines.
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.
Then they were off, with Special Tiara leading the way from Mr Mole and God’s Own. Somersby landed awkwardly over the first, having slightly over-jumped and bumped into Mr Mole’s hindquarters; the latter having put in a short stride on take-off. As a result, both Sprinter Sacre and Vibrato Valtat overtook him. Court Minstrel continued to bring up the rear. The runners angled to their left to jump the open-ditch.
However, the second-year novice God’s Own took off far too early, he ploughed through the fence and fell. Jockey Paddy Brennan was catapulted into the path of Vibrato Valtat; the horse kicked him but the grey wasn’t brought down. Special Tiara continued to lead the runners up the hill and past the winning post, one circuit to go. He was followed by Mr Mole, Sprinter Sacre and Somersby; Vibrato Valtat was now a few lengths adrift, with Court Minstrel continuing to bring up the rear. The loose horse, which was unscathed, followed the others.
Having reached the top turn, the runners headed right-handed and down the hill to the next fence; where Mr Mole out-jumped Special Tiara and took the lead. The remaining six horses turned into the back straight and began their journey over the seven fences therein. AP’s mount continued to hold a half length advantage over the Irish raider clearing the first two of these, before Special Tiara rejoined him at the second and final open-ditch.
The runners headed to the water-jump, with Noel Fehily’s mount just ahead of Mr Mole, followed by Sprinter Sacre and Somersby; the latter wasn’t particularly fluent at this fence. The two leaders jumped the first of the railway fences in unison, Vibrato Valtat nodded slightly on landing and Court Minstrel, who was well behind the others, jumped away to his right. There were no noticeable errors at the second or third of the railway obstacles.
Special Tiara, who was far from being a tearaway today, continued to match strides with Mr Mole as they entered the far bend. Sprinter Sacre was three lengths behind them, with Somersby a couple of lengths behind him and Vibrato Valtat slightly closer now. The runners crossed the hurdles track and approached the Pond fence. Having cleared this, Special Tiara pressed on and took the advantage, as AP McCoy gave his mount encouragement with a strike from his whip. Sprinter Sacre had joined Mr Mole for second position by the time they had reached the penultimate obstacle, the latter jumping out to his left over it.
Noel Fehily gave Special Tiara a couple of hits with his whip as they headed to the final fence, and he put in a big leap at it; this enabled him to gain plenty of momentum which put him in good stead to gallop up the hill to the line to win by 6 lengths.
Sprinter Sacre completed in second, a shadow of his former self but a much improved effort compared to his Cheltenham run. Mr Mole completed in third, with Vibrato Valtat just getting the better of Somersby by a nose to take fourth; even the loose God’s Own had closely pursued those two to the line. Court Minstrel finished a tailed off sixth.
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.
The favourite for the next event was the Warren Greatrex-trained Paint The Clouds, ridden by Mr Sam Waley-Cohen; price 13-2. The horse had, most recently, finished third in the Fox Hunter race at the Cheltenham Festival. Also in the race was Rocky Creek who had ran disappointingly in the Grand National, finishing only 17th this year. Unioniste who had fallen at the 5th therein, and Royale Knight who had finished 6th in the big race.
Also Duke Of Lucca who had won the listed handicap at Aintree on the same day and Wonderful Charm who had finished 3rd in that race. There was also Grand Jesture, who had been runner-up to The Druids Nephew on Day One at Cheltenham; although he had displayed a certain amount of temperament on the way to the start that day, he didn’t look keen! The former Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth was also taking part following a disappointing season. Plus The Package, the veteran having won this year’s Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival.
When making your choice, the fact that the Aintree Festival had taken place just a fortnight ago had to be taken into account.
Being the feature event of the day, there was a parade ahead of this race. Having exited onto the track, the horses circled around at the top of the hill before being sorted into race-card order and led down the course in front of the grandstands. Further down the course the competitors broke into a canter to head down to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
Then they were off ... or rather 19 of them were; Grand Jesture, who had been held away from the others as they circled around at the start, decided to plant himself in the corner as they set off!
The remaining runners headed to the first fence, with Rocky Creek, nearside, and Ely Brown the first to rise. As they continued to the second obstacle, the first of the open-ditches, prominent to the inside were Le Reve, Bally Legend and The Package; also Unioniste and Grandads Horse; at the rear were Guess Again, Duke Of Lucca and Wonderful Charm.
All the competitors having cleared the first two without incident, the field headed up the hill to the winning post, with Ely Brown now holding the advantage over Rocky Creek, The Package, Le Reve, Grandads Horse, Unioniste, Paint The Clouds, Bally Legend, Bobs Worth and Roalco De Farges; at the rear of the field was Duke Of Lucca. The runners soon negotiated the right-hand bend to head down the slope to fence number three, which they all jumped without problem.
Turning into the back straight, Sam Twiston-Davies moved up around the outside of the field to take second position and he joined the leader as they jumped the next fence. They continued to dispute the lead over fence number five and then, at the open-ditch, Unioniste was much more fluent and took over at the head of affairs, narrowly. The field then headed over the water-jump and had soon arrived at the first of the railway fences.
The runners cleared all three of these without major incident before heading around the bend, across the hurdles track to reach the Pond fence. Unioniste continued to lead from Ely Brown, Rocky Creek, Le Reve and The Package. At the rear of the field were Wonderful Charm, Duke Of Lucca and Just A Par; the horses had now completed one circuit. Duke Of Lucca blundered at the next fence, with jockey Richard Johnson unbalanced for a few strides as a result.
The field headed across to their left to jump the next, the third open-ditch. Unioniste continued to lead from Ely Brown, Le Reve and Rocky Creek; behind these were The Package, Paint The Clouds, Grandads Horse, Roalco De Farges, Bally Legend, Royale Knight, Lost Legend, Algernon Pazham, Vics Canvas, Bobs Worth, Return Spring, Guess Again, Duke Of Lucca, Wonderful Charm, and Just A Par. Ely Brown received a couple of reminders as they headed up the hill towards the line, just one circuit now to race.
Having reached the top of the hill, the horses negotiated the right-hand turn to head down the hill to the next fence; Le Reve was now close on the leader’s tail and they had set up a three or four lengths lead over their rivals. Having jumped the fence and already begun to lose his place, Ely Brown dropped back markedly through the field. He was one of a number of runners who appeared now to be struggling as they entered the back straight.
Meanwhile, Unioniste continued to lead over the next three fences from Le Reve, Lost Legend and The Package; the runners began to string out as the pace increased. Ely Brown was pulled up prior to the water-jump and Royale Knight after it; these departures left Wonderful Charm at the rear of the field. Unioniste continued ahead of Le Reve over the first of the railway fences; further back in the field, Vics Canvas almost became the meat in the sandwich when he got squeezed up between Algernon Pazham and the retreating Rocky Creek.
All the remaining runners having safely negotiated the final railway fence, the field headed into the far turn with Unioniste leading from Le Reve, Paint The Clouds, Lost Legend, Grandads Horse, Guess Again, Algernon Pazham, Bally Legend and Vics Canvas. Following this there was a gap in the field to Just A Par, Bobs Worth, Rocky Creek, the grey Roalco De Farges, Return Spring, Duke Of Lucca, The Package and Wonderful Charm.
There was a changing of the guard up front as they headed to the Pond Fence, with Paint The Clouds, Le Reve and Guess Again taking over from the now weakening Unioniste as they jumped it. The leaders headed around the final turn and into the home straight, with clear daylight between themselves and Vics Canvas who was beginning to stay on under Ruby Walsh; they were followed by Unioniste, Algernon Pazham, Grandads Horse, Bally Legend and the improving Just A Par.
Le Reve was a length up clearing the penultimate fence, with Guess Again and Paint The Clouds continuing to challenge for the lead as they headed to the final obstacle. However, despite it initially appearing to be a battle for the prize between the leading three, both Vics Canvas and the now fast closing Just A Par had different ideas and they were both on the heels of the leaders as they safely negotiated the final fence.
Sean Bowen aboard Just A Par drove his mount up the stands side of the group as they headed to the line, with Ruby Walsh aboard Vics Canvas to the far side. These two had soon left the others in their wake, with the Paul Nicholls runner proving the stronger as he went away to win by 1¼ lengths at the line. Le Reve completed 2¾ lengths behind in 3rd place; it was a further length back to Paint The Clouds in 4th and Guess Again two lengths behind him in 5th.
It was an amazing result, as the winner and runner-up had been in ninth and tenth places respectively heading into the final bend! There had been no fallers, 12 finishers; the others which pulled up were Rocky Creek, Wonderful Charm, The Package, Lost Legend and Roalco De Farges.
I also noticed that the large hedge which separated the final fence from its adjacent open-ditch has disappeared to be replaced with ‘Red Robin’ which you see everywhere these days! It’s a variety of the photinia shrub.
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 - 3:50pm
THE bet365 GOLD CUP
STEEPLE CHASE (HANDICAP) (CLASS 1) (Grade 3)
It was now time for AP McCoy’s final career ride, aboard the Jonjo O’Neill-trained, JP McManus-owned, Box Office. Having arrived in the Parade Ring, the Champ was surrounded by a group of official photographers who wanted to take snaps of him with the connections.
The favourite for this race was the aforementioned Box Office, at 5-2; probably more of a wish for him to win than an actual favourite’s chance on this occasion. The second favourite was Wilberdragon priced at 7-1, third favourite Brother Tedd at 9-1. There were also a couple of latish non-runners, namely Sainglend and Clondaw Kaempfer, the latter having been due to be Wayne Hutchinson’s sole ride of the day.
AP’s agent, Dave Roberts, accompanied the Champ as he made his way down the rhododendron walk to the racecourse. Once out upon the track, the crowd applauded as AP and Box Office cantered down in front of the grandstands.
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.
Having congregated at the start to have their girths checked; the last to join the main group as they circled at the start were Gran Maestro, Brother Tedd and Chase The Wind. As per current protocol, the runners were sent away from the gate, on this occasion completing a circuit of a hurdle and the water-jump before approaching the tape at a sedate walk or jog.
And then they were off, led away by Rayvin Black and Big Hands Harry; also in the front line as they crossed the chase course to approach the first flight were Party Rock, Wilberdragon and Gran Maestro. All of the runners cleared the hurdle without incident, with Chase The Wind bringing up the rear.
The field then entered the far turn, with the Oliver Sherwood-trained runner leading the way by a length or two. He continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they turned into the home straight on the first occasion; he was pursued by Big Hands Harry, Wilberdragon, Gran Maestro, Party Rock, Kylemore Lough, Jayo Time, Lightentertainment, L’Aigle Royal, Factor Fifty, Brother Tedd, Money Talks, Box Office, Stephen Hero, Go Odee Go, Ossie’s Dancer, Romeo Americo and Chase The Wind.
Rayvin Black had set up a clear lead having negotiated the next two flights; there was applause for AP McCoy as the runners headed up past the grandstands on their journey to the top of the hill. Having reached the top bend, the leader appeared a little bit reluctant to continue his journey; for he shied away from the rails initially, but agreed to go on again once Big Hands Harry had moved up upon his inside.
Heading down the hill, Rayvin Black increased his lead upon the field once more and led them into the back straight. Chase The Wind continued to be slightly detached in rear; Party Rock, having already drifted back through the field, made an error at the fourth flight and soon found himself behind the Warren Greatrex runner. Meanwhile, up front, Thomas Garner’s mount continued to hold a clear advantage over his rivals as he cleared flight number five.
By this stage of the race, AP McCoy had angled his mount to the outside of the pack, and now travelled in the hoof prints of the grey Brother Tedd, with Chase The Wind also continuing to race out wide. There was still no change at the head of affairs as the runners jumped the next, before heading across the chase track to reach the final flight in the back straight; namely three out.
Rayvin Black led narrowly over this, from Gran Maestro, Big Hands Harry, Wilberdragon and Brother Tedd. Just behind these heading into the far turn were Jayo Time, Factor Fifty, Box Office and Light Entertainment. They entered the home straight, with Gran Maestro and Brother Tedd laying down their challenge to the long time leader as they approached the penultimate flight; Box Office was now in fourth position having stayed on to overtake Jayo Time.
Having jumped two out in unison, Gran Maestro and Brother Tedd were neck and neck on the run to the final flight; Will Kennedy resorting to the whip to give encouragement to the former, Richard Johnson still just hands and heels upon the grey.
Again there was nothing between them as they jumped the last; but then Brother Tedd began to pull away from his tiring rival, receiving four backhanders from his jockey on the run to the line as he did so. The winning distance 3¼ lengths. AP had continued to persevere with his mount, and he gained and retained third position; 7 lengths back. Go Odee Go stayed on to take 4th; long-time leader Rayvin Black faded into 7th.
Having completed the race, many of the jockeys rode over to AP to shake his hand, pat him on the back, or offer words of congratulations following his extraordinary career; it was the end of an era.
AP’s agent soon joined him and they headed down past the packed grandstands to accept the applause of the gathered masses.
Meanwhile, Lesley and I headed back to the rhododendron walk to find a space ready for when he returned.
Ruby Walsh decided to leave the Weighing Room in order to stand to the far side of the walkway, close to the ‘owl tree’ in order to applaud AP as he rode back in! We were unable to find a space further up the railings beside the rhododendron walk, so stood further down the slope to see the Champ pass by.
Due to weight of numbers, we didn’t attempt to make it to the Winners’ Enclosure, but I imagine his return to the third-place marker totally overshadowed the winner. But at least, on this occasion, it wasn’t as if Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson had not been there and done that, unlike poor Michael Scudamore’s first Cheltenham Festival winner which had been completely overshadowed by AP’s final ride at the Festival.
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.
The 5-1 favourite for race number six was Generous Ransom, ridden by Daryl Jacob and trained by Nick Gifford; the trainer hoping to win this event named in honour of his late father.
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.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by The Ould Lad, and he held a narrow advantage over Horizontal Speed and Cocktails At Dawn as they jumped the first of the railway fences; in rear were Gores Island and Jay Are. Horizontal Speed and Cocktails At Dawn went into the lead as they cleared fence number two, where Dresden made an error. There were no problems at the final railway fence and the runners headed into the far bend with the Nicky Henderson runner now holding the advantage.
Having exited the bend, the horses travelled towards the Pond fence, which they all cleared in their stride. Cocktails At Dawn appeared happy with his lot as he entered the home straight to approach the next fence, ears pricked in anticipation; in rear, Vesperal Dream wasn’t particularly fluent at this one. The field then angled out to their left to jump the first of the open-ditches; Dresden had now taken third position, with Howlongisafoot in fourth. The Ould Lad, who was second favourite, had already begun to drift back through the field; it certainly wasn’t a going day for him.
Having cleared this fence without incident, the runners headed up the hill in front of the grandstands. Cocktails At Dawn was around 8 lengths clear of his nearest rival Horizontal Speed. The Ould Lad, who had fallen back to eighth place immediately after the open-ditch, received a reminder and closed up to the nearside to dispute third position as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go. And Phone Home, who had become so far detached from the rear of the field by the time they reached the top bend, was pulled up by Tom Scudamore.
Cocktails At Dawn led them down the hill to the next, although his lead had diminished somewhat. The Ould Lad had dropped back through the field once more and was being booted along by Denis O’Regan; Vesperal Dream at the rear of the field, made an error at the fence. Having turned into the back straight, Horizontal Speed joined Cocktails At Dawn as they cleared the next obstacle. Howlongisafoot was a clear third, from Dresden, Generous Ransom, Gores Island, Jay Are, Vesperal Dream and The Ould Lad.
Having cleared the next fence, Cocktails At Dawn went into the lead again. Dresden hit the final open-ditch when in fourth place; in rear, Denis O’Regan decided to pull up The Ould Lad having cleared it. Richard Johnson’s mount rejoined the leader as they cleared the water-jump, where Gores Island to the rear was a little awkward. Having completed one circuit, the runners headed to the first of the railway fences.
The leaders jumped this in unison, before heading to the next; Horizontal Speed jumped out to his left at the middle railway fence, and Howlongisafoot in third position was a little untidy. Having cleared the final one, Cocktails At Dawn took a three length advantage over Horizontal Speed into the final bend, with Sam Twiston-Davies very animated aboard Howlongisafoot as he tried to keep tabs on the front two. These three had pulled well clear of the remaining five, who were led by Generous Ransom.
The leader exited the bend and headed to the Pond fence; he continued to travel well within himself, and the gap between him and the remainder continued to grow as he entered the home straight and cleared the penultimate fence. Horizontal Speed had tired by this stage and had been overtaken by Howlongisafoot. Cocktails At Dawn flew the final fence, with jockey Nico de Boinville glancing behind having landed; there were no dangers whatsoever.
The leader continued up the hill to the winning line; his jockey eased him as he approached the lollipop but, despite this, the winning distance was still 26 lengths! Howlongisafoot, who had been hard work for some time for jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, claimed 2nd, with Horizontal Speed just holding off the challenge of Generous Ransom at the line; the distances between 2nd and 3rd being 12 lengths, and between 3rd and 4th one length.
We decided to return to the shallow steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure following this race. I’m not sure whether it was after the sixth race of the day or the seventh that we passed Chanelle McCoy and her entourage heading in the opposite direction as we walked back beside the rhododendron walk.
The prizes for this event were presented by Althea Gifford, widow of Josh. I remember Althea when she was Althea Roger-Smith, an international show-jumper. I’m getting old L
Race 6 - 5:00pm
THE bet365 JOSH GIFFORD NOVICES' HANDICAP STEEPLE CHASE (CLASS 2)
The favourite for the final race of the day was Polly Peachum, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by David Bass. The mare had been runner-up in this race last year and had also just failed to win the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month too. Her price today was 9-4.
With some spectators having lost interest by this stage of the day and probably having already set off for home, there was plenty of space available for us to stand at the top of the raised steppings above the Parade Ring ahead of the next race. Following that, we waited beside the rhododendron walk until all of the runners had passed by on their way to the racecourse before heading down to the top of the grassy slope overlooking the racecourse.
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.
Then they were off. The other mare in the race, Twentytwo’s Taken, led them away, with Southfield Vic almost upsides. Polly Peachum and Dragon’s Den followed these, from Irish-raider Bayan; at the rear was Aqalim who was a little slow clearing the first flight. The field cleared the next flight before crossing the chase track and heading to flight number three. Dragon’s Den hit this one, leaving his mark in the inside panel.
Southfield Vic took over the lead heading into the far bend; upon entering the straight the runners split into two groups, with Twentytwo’s Taken and Dragon’s Den deciding to remain close to the inside of the track whilst the other four led by the Paul Nicholls runner decided to head up the nearside. Dragon’s Den hit the next flight. There were no issues when jumping flight number five and the runners regrouped to head up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel.
Twentytwo’s Taken and Southfield Vic disputed the lead as they turned the top bend and headed down the hill to reach the back straight; at which point the latter swept around the outside to go on again. Polly Peachum jumped through to take second position as she cleared the first flight down the back; Aqalim also made progress on the outside of the field to take fourth position. The leader landed a little awkwardly over the next flight and Polly Peachum hit the one after that.
The six runners then traversed the chase course to reach the third last flight; or rather they didn’t, because a steward was standing close to the flight and he was wavering a chequered flag to instruct the field to go to the outside of the obstacle as it had been trashed on the first circuit by Dragon’s Den! Tom Scudamore aboard Twentytwo’s Taken switched his whip to his left hand just after bypassing the flight.
Southfield Vic led the way into the far turn, from Twentytwo’s Taken, Polly Peachum, Bayan, Aqalim and Dragon’s Den; marginally last, Leighton Aspell was bumping his horse along by this stage. Turning into the home straight, the Nicky Henderson runner loomed up to the outside of the leader; the visored Aqalim, who appeared not to be the easiest of rides, had been encouraged into third place just behind these.
Polly Peachum had taken up the lead as they approached two out; Southfield Vic to the inside appeared to resent his rider’s urgings and was soon overtaken by Aqalim. The leader put in a good jump at the last, although she did dislodge the orange protective strip with a hind leg. Aidan Coleman had swapped his whip into his right hand approaching the final flight then, following it, he’d switched it back again.
David Bass resorted to his whip as he drove his mount out to the line, with Aqalim in hot pursuit. And, although the latter was closing the gap on the run up the hill to the line, Polly Peachum hung on to win by ¾ of a length. The two had pulled well away from Southfield Vic who was 10 lengths back in 3rd, with Bayan 1¼ lengths behind him in 4th.
Thus the final two races of the meeting, and the season, had gone the way of Nicky Henderson.
During the course of the final race, a trouser-less streaker had run across the home straight and into the mid-course car park; he was pursued by a security guard, but the latter had soon become out of breath and stopped as the guy disappeared between the parked vehicles!
Non-Race related incidents
Again we returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race; and I thought I recognised the guy in charge of Aqalim today ... it was none other than ex-jockey Alex Merriam who is now John Ferguson’s Assistant!
Last race over, and the final presentation made to connections within the Winners’ Enclosure, we headed across to the seats along the side of the Parade Ring. We ate the KitKats which Lesley had purchased earlier, before heading into the main building and across the entrance hall to the ladies loos. The queue wasn’t too long; in fact it was worse as we headed back out into the reception area!
I think we were probably intending to head back to the car park via the Premier Entrance, so initially we exited back into the concourse alongside the Parade Ring. However, we changed our minds, and entered the Surrey Hall further along in order to avoid the crowded area close to where a band was playing. Having then exited into the betting ring, we walked diagonally across the slope to reach the gateway to the path which leads across the racecourse.
Three or four people had decided to walk down the course to take a look at the nearest steeplechase fence within the home straight. Having reached the far side of the track, we turned left and walked along the roadway before turning right and heading down the tarmac drive which led to the area where we had parked.
I’d brought along four cheese rolls, two each; we ate these before we set off on the journey home. Despite it being a sell-out crowd, there was no sign of the gridlock I experienced in 2014. In fact we were able to proceed up the driveway as far as the Premier entrance before joining the back of the queue to leave. Cars not wishing to head towards Esher town centre were instructed to turn right prior to the main gate in order to exit via an alternative one. As we wanted to reach the M25, we exited the main gate and turned left; we had to merge into a queue of traffic which stretched back down More Lane.
On the way back, having been moving slowly while stuck in this tailback of traffic beside the green, I noticed that the pub to the left (the Wheatsheaf?) was closed for renovation at the present time. At the top of the road we turned left to enter the one-way system. Our route took us through the traffic lights and very briefly onto the Portsmouth Road before we turned off to the left to head back along Copsem Lane to join the A3; we followed a Lambourn Racehorse Transport lorry along this part of the route. Having headed south-westwards, we exited the carriageway to negotiate a roundabout and join the M25 at Junction 10. On the motorway we overtook Chris Gordon’s horsebox; it must have been on its way to join the M3, because his stable is situated at Winchester.
Further along our route, near to the Kings Langley junction, we saw a large Nad Al Sheba horsebox; it would have been carrying Arabian endurance racehorses.
Having experienced no rain whatsoever during the afternoon, apart from a few slight spits and spots when standing beside the Winners’ Enclosure following the final race of the day, it came as a surprise when we encountered heavy rain once on the M25; it followed us all the way home too. Lesley dropped me off at 19:45. I guess that was quite late, considering the last race began at 17:35!
When I undressed to go to bed I noticed that I’d caught the sun on my décolletage; and all because I’d not worn a scarf!
There was no sign of Choc at Sandown Park; in fact he’d spent the day at home in Gloucestershire with son William and girlfriend Jennie. However a number of jockeys did attend despite not having rides today – Dominic Elsworth (who was still on the injury sidelines), Andrew Tinkler, Sam Jones, Dave Crosse (who said he would be there) and Gerard Tumelty who has acted as AP’s chauffeur over the years; and I expect there were more too.
Click here for photos – Parade of Champions and End of Season Awards
Click here for photos – Races 1 & 2
Click here for photos – Champion Jump Jockey presentation & Race 3 – AP McCoy Celebration Chase
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
Click here for photos – Farewell to AP McCoy