DIARY – SANDOWN PARK – SEASON FINALE
SATURDAY 26 APRIL 2014
Sire De Grugy wins the Grade 1 Celebration Chase
to end an exceptional season for the horse, jockey and trainer
Today was to be possibly my penultimate visit to the races ahead of the quiet summer jumping period; with maybe the final one being a visit to Kempton Park on Early Spring Bank Holiday Monday. Everything had been planned, I’d even treated myself to a Premier Enclosure ticket purchased online on Easter Sunday, there being a note on Sandown’s website to the effect that tickets for this particular enclosure were now strictly limited. I’d never visited the Premier Enclosure at the track, despite having been to the racecourse on a number of occasions in the past. And I’d have to collect the ticket on the day, having left too little time for it to be posted to me. Also this year, the fixture would consist of solely jump racing, not a mixed card as in previous years. And I didn’t mind in the least!!!
Easter weekend hadn’t gone to plan however, I’d decided against a trip to the Lambourn Open Day having failed to find anyone to go with on this occasion. Saturday had been a ‘family’ day. Sunday might have been a trip to Towcester but for the weather and, in the event, all four of Choc’s intended rides had been non-runners due to problems with the ground; so I’d saved myself a wasted trip. I was hoping Choc might be at Huntingdon on Bank Holiday Monday, but no, he went to Chepstow instead.
Although not my choice, this had enabled me to work on my website, with the uploading of my Aintree photos completed and one diary too, namely for Kempton Park on 15 March. I’d even completed my Newbury diary for 22 March bar the proofing by close of play on Thursday, ahead of my proposed visit to Sandown.
And everything was going swimmingly up until Friday evening; Choc had ridden a winner at Chepstow on his first ride of the evening (his 37th of the season with just one more day to go), I’d chosen the outfit I’d wear on Saturday, my handbag had been packed and all I needed now was a good night’s sleep ahead of my day out.
Then at around 20:15 in the evening with Choc aboard his last ride of the day, Say When in the National Hunt Maiden Hurdle at Chepstow, everything came crashing down, literally in the case of my gorgeous jockey. His mount was travelling downhill to the far bend when he stumbled and fell; the incident wasn’t even visible within camera shot, all I knew was that he was no longer with the field as they entered the home straight. The legs of a horse could be seen at the top of the TV screen, cantering out towards the far rail but, again, it was impossible to ascertain whether he had a jockey on board.
The atmospheric conditions at the racecourse added to the mystery; a thick mist lingered in the dip within the centre of the track and, every now and then, it spread its fingers out onto the course itself. As the runners passed the winning post, Travelling Head Lad Matt Howells and the stable lad/lass could be seen standing against the nearside rail; it seemed as though they were unsure as to why there was no sign of Choc and his mount.
I checked the ATR and Racing Post post-race comments to see what had been reported. ATR stated ‘Mid-division, jumped slowly 3rd, mid-division when stumbled and fell on bend before 4 out’. The Racing Post website commented ‘Held up, stumbled and fell after 4th.’ Anyway, for some unknown reason, I stayed tuned to ATR after the race finished despite the broadcast now concentrating on the American racing which is of little interest to me. Then, at around 21:10 the studio presenter announced that Choc had been taken to Frenchay Hospital for precautionary x-rays. Oh no, Choc may have been injured again.
In a way, I’d not expected any injury to happen before the end of September, and the reason doesn’t actually make any logical sense; but there has been a pattern on the last three occasions when he’s had a long spell on the sidelines. When he injured his knee in July 2010 Choc returned to action in early December that year only to break his arm a year and a few days later. He returned to action again in mid to late February 2012 and spent a serious-injury free year until breaking his arm again on 04 March 2013. He returned to action again on 17 September last year, therefore it’s been only 7½ months since he returned to the saddle on this occasion … but would he have been back in action at around this time last year if it had coincided with a major Festival rather than the beginning of the quieter summer period thus making it just over a year again? Very strange coincidences.
What should I do? Go to Sandown or not go to Sandown? I decided that I’d get up at the intended time, prepare as usual, watch Channel 4’s The Morning Line in case of news, and then make my decision. I actually went to bed thinking it was probably 60/40 against my going ... but not before I’d demolished an entire Easter Egg! At times like this one needs Chocolate in all senses of the word!!!
Thus I awoke before 07:00, showered, washed and dried my hair, ate a breakfast of two croissants, and tuned- in to The Morning Line whilst logged onto my laptop ... and there was still no news of Choc or resultant jockey changes. So I made the decision at 09:10 to log off and complete my preparations for a day at the races.
My outfit today was three thermal t-shirts – purple, pink and violet – I was still not ready to give up my insulation despite it being late April. I also wore my black frill-edged cardigan, mauve and black flowered M&S skirt, purple fleece, purple tights, black Clarks wedges, pink/mauve scarf. But no gillet or wristwarmers. I had a last minute dither regarding coat – bargain black BHS one - or mauve jacket; I chose the latter because the pattern on my skirt was more visible! Plus my favourite Fired Creations earrings and necklace. And burgundy/brown/pink handbag because there’s so much room in it!
I set off at 09:50; gates opening time was 11:00. My route took me to Junction 22 of the M25 and around the anticlockwise carriageway to the A3, Junction 10. There were no problems on the motorway, just a suggested speed limit of 60 approaching the M4 junction. Heading towards London I left the carriageway at the second turning and took a left along Copsem Lane towards Esher. A couple of riders taking their horses for a hack crossed the road at Arbrook Common, the vehicles ahead of me stopping to permit their passage across the road.
A group of cyclists caused a slight holdup to vehicles as they travelled towards the traffic lights at the Milbourne Lane junction. Having overtaken these, I soon arrived at the A307 Portsmouth Road, lining up in the middle lane in order to drive straight across once the lights turned to green, and taking the right-hand lane to cross over Lammas Lane and enter More Lane. It’s picturesque at this point, with a church and pub overlooking a triangle of green, hidden away behind the main shopping area of the Portsmouth Road.
Travelling down the hill I soon arrived at the entrance on my right leading to the free car parking area; I drove across the track to enter the area within. It was 10:50; I thought it took longer to reach Sandown Park, but perhaps I was thinking of Wimbledon further up the A3! Anyway, I was early enough to find parking availability on the tarmac area adjacent to the golf centre. Wicked. The same had happened in December on Tingle Creek day. I always used to park in this area, during my first few visits to Sandown Park; after which the situation changed and it was then reserved for, perhaps, members rather than just any Tom, Dick or Harry! And reassuring on a very damp day when there might be the possibility of requiring a tractor to pull vehicles out of the mud!
I parked up, next to the grass area, facing towards the grandstands. I spent a few minutes in the car before setting off to the Premier entrance; I wasn’t sure where I needed to go to collect my ticket. A steward at that entrance re-directed me to my usual entrance opposite the grandstand enclosure, saying that they’d indicate which route I needed to take to get to the main foyer. So I asked there, was instructed to cross the track as usual and then head over to the left, out through the gates and into the main car park. I purchased a race-card enroute. What a pulavar???
Having entered through the doors to the main foyer I glanced around but could not see a ticket collection point for the general public. A further steward noticed that I looked lost and re-directed me out through the doors again and around to the right, where three kiosks were being used as collection points; the nearest was surnames O to Z ... that’s me! I showed my credit card and driving licence as identification and the guy in the kiosk rummaged through to find my lonely single ticket, housed within a window envelope, which he handed to me.
I entered via the turnstile and climbed a flight of steps to reach the area beside the Parade Ring. A young lady scanned my ticket, once I’d opened up the envelope to find it inside. I then walked anticlockwise around the perimeter of the paddock to reach the concourse area to the front of the podium where the annual award presentations would take place at 13:00, after the Parade of Champion horses. The heather plants around the Parade Ring were in bloom, pale pink, along with yellow/orange coloured pansies. The tree between the Weighing Room and the Parade Ring was also in bloom – it’s a horse chestnut tree – I love them when the candle blossom is in bloom.
Gina Bryce and Luke Harvey were broadcasting on behalf of the racecourse today. And Anthony Kemp was doing the announcements; as well as announcing the afternoon’s non-runners, he also announced three jockey changes – namely aboard the three horses due to be ridden by Choc. Noel Fehily would now ride Saint Jerome, Jamie Moore would ride Midnight Appeal and Wayne Hutchinson would transfer to L’Unique, the Alan-King trained Vendor now being a non-runner in the same race. But he did say that Choc would be back in action again soon.
There was a lady collecting for the local hospice; she admired my earrings, lovely colours she said. And at 11:55 I noticed Wayne heading along the terrace above the Parade Ring and beside the horse-walk, he was returning from walking the course; this was before the jockey change announcements were made.
Replays of past Whitbread Gold Cups (the bet365 Chase in its former guise) were being shown on the big screen overlooking the paddock; these included Arkle (1965), Mill House (1967), Andy Pandy (1977), Diamond Edge (1981), Special Cargo (1984), Lean Ar Aghaidh (1987), Desert Orchid (1988), Mr Frisk (1990), Docklands Express (1991), Topsham Bay (1992), Life Of A Lord (1996), and Ad Hoc (2003).
The Parade of Champions began at 12:50. This featured the recently retired Big Bucks, Dynaste, Silviniaco Conti, Taquin De Seuil, My Tent Or Yours, The New One, Triolo D’Alene, Tidal Bay and Pineau De Re. During the parade it was announced that 13-year-old Tidal Bay had been retired too. I was particularly taken with Taquin De Seuil, he’s a beautiful horse.
This was followed by the end of season awards. First up was the award for Jumps Horse of the Year as voted for by the public and sponsored by the Racing Post. Not surprisingly, it went to Sire De Grugy; he would have been my choice too, if the software on my laptop had permitted me to vote! I tried twice and it didn’t work on either occasion; the Preston family and friends were on hand to accept the award. The Sandown Park Special award went to Sire De Grugy’s trainer, Gary Moore.
This season’s Champion Conditional jockey was Gavin Sheehan who, evidently, all the girls are now after! Clare Balding presented the Champion Owner award to JP McManus. Champion Trainer was Paul Nicholls, having wrestled the title back from Nicky Henderson. Champion jockey for the 19th successive season was AP McCoy, the award presented by Charlie George, ex-Arsenal footballer (having an older brother who supports the club I remember him well). AP is a big Arsenal fan. AP carried his baby son, Archie, onto the podium with him. A group photograph was taken of AP with his wife Chanelle, daughter Eve and son and the trophy.
Finally all the award winners mounted the podium ahead of a group photograph. Following this I walked a short distance along the concourse to pass through the entrance to the Premier Enclosure, walking around to my left to take up a vantage point above the Parade Ring ahead of the horses arriving therein prior to the first race.
There was an Alan King representative in this race, namely Ronaldinho to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. This was also the event in which Saint Jerome was due to take part; with Noel Fehily deputising for the injured Choc. The favourite was Dolores Delightful, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Richard Johnson; starting price 5-1.
The last of the runners having passed me by on their way to the racecourse, I set off to follow the crowds as they headed towards the spectating areas within the Premier Enclosure. We headed downhill and around the side of the main grandstand, to the left was a smaller grandstand consisting of hospitality boxes. After a fairly level area of tarmac between the two buildings and an adjacent picnic table area set upon grass, the land dropped away to the course-side rails. Few people actually ventured onto the latter area so, as I have no objection to climbing hills, I decided to make this my vantage point during today’s races.
The owners and trainers viewing point was located to the nearside end within the main grandstand but I think they actually prefer to remain on or close to the tarmac area between the two grandstands, affording them quick and easy access to their charges as they return along the horsewalk. This is because on a number of occasions I found myself following or passing by them on my way back to the Winners’ Enclosure!
The starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, with this and one full circuit to travel.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Saint Jerome, whose front-running style is a feature, and had helped him gain three hurdle victories this season; two of these having taken place at Ludlow under Choc. He was followed by Dispour, Stiff Upper Lip, Fitzwilly and Baradari. Bringing up the rear were Vodka Wells and Raven’s Tower. Having cleared the first two flights without incident, the horses headed up past the winning post with one full circuit to travel. The leader held a three length advantage over his rivals and Fitzwilly had drifted back noticeably through the field.
Having reached the top turn, Saint Jerome jinked away slightly from the rails as he reached the covered roadway crossing; possibly he’d noticed the three ground staff standing close by in the in-field. The runners headed downhill towards the bend into the back straight. The leader still held a clear advantage over Dispour and Baradari who disputed second. These in turn were a few lengths clear of the main body of the field; Fitzwilly had continued to lose ground and was soon at the rear.
The horses cleared the third flight without incident; Baradari made a mistake at the fourth, Raven’s Tower at the next. The runners then travelled across the intersection with the chase track and headed towards the last flight in the back straight. Saint Jerome pressed on, continuing to lead from Dispour, Baradari, Dolores Delightful, Ronaldinho, Keltus, Stiff Upper Lip, Sleepy Haven, Vodka Wells, Stephen Hero, Raven’s Tower and Ballyglasheen; Fitzwilly was detached in rear.
Heading into the far turn, Saint Jerome held a three length advantage over his nearest rivals, which remained Dispour, Baradari and Dolores Delightful. However, having entered the home straight and begun the gallop to the second last, there was a group of runners queuing up behind him ready to make a challenge. As they neared this flight, Dispour, Ronaldinho and Keltus were almost upsides; Sleepy Haven and Dolores Delightful in his slipstream, with Raven’s Tower to the inside.
Saint Jerome and Dispour jumped the flight in unison, with AP’s mount beginning to assert on their run to the final obstacle; although his mount did wander off a straight line and slightly into the path of the long-time leader as the Champion Jockey gave his mount a right-handed a crack with his whip. The runners cleared the last, Dispour now with a couple of lengths advantage; the closing Sleepy Haven was a little awkward here, losing a bit of momentum.
AP drove his tiring mount up the hill and hung on to win by half a length from the running-on Sleepy Haven. Saint Jerome stayed on bravely to claim 3rd, with the grey Keltus 4th and Dolores Delightful 5th. Ronaldinho weakened on the run-in to finish 8th.
I did my usual route march back. This involved a climb up the grassy slope, then uphill beside the horse-walk, across the pathway leading to the Parade Ring, then a left turn and downhill to ‘amphitheatre’ surrounding the Winners’ Enclosure.
Once the winner had been led back to the stables, I headed back to the raised area above the Parade Ring in preparation for the runners arriving ahead of the second race of the day. The favourite for this event was the Nicky Henderson-trained Hunt Ball ridden by Barry Geraghty, starting price 2-1.
I was more clued up about moving the few short metres from the rails above the Parade Ring to the rails beside the horse-walk prior to the second race of the day and was therefore in time to see each of the five runners pass by.
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.
Then they were off. Gullinbursti and Rolling Aces jumped the first in unison; Hunt Ball disputing last place, jumped the first slowly and lost a length on the field. Having clearing the initial obstacle, the Emma Lavelle representative then went into a clear lead as they approached the open-ditch; they all cleared this well. The third fence was the water-jump, after which they headed towards the first of the railway fences. The leader put in a short-stride at the first of these, and was therefore less than fluent.
Having cleared the next two railway fences, Rolling Aces was again travelling upsides Gullinbursti and continued to do so as they negotiated the far bend and headed towards the Pond fence; the latter jumped into the lead once more. The runners cleared the next and angled out towards the second open-ditch; the leader giving this obstacle plenty of air as he jumped it.
The pace steady, the five runners were travelling well within themselves as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go. Gullinbursti still led, from Rolling Aces, with Hunt Ball, Menorah and Maggio disputing last place. Having crossed the roadway, the horses headed downhill, Aidan Coleman pressing on to make the most of the momentum gained on this stretch of the track. All five successfully negotiated the downhill fence, Menorah jumping upsides Rolling Aces as they cleared it.
It was time for Richard Johnson’s mount to continue his progress through the small field; he flew the first in the back straight and was now travelling upsides the leader’s quarters. Gullinbursti was less than fluent at the 12th, enabling Menorah to gain ground in the air before the former went on again heading towards the final open-ditch where Menorah again out-jumped his rival.
Richard Johnson bided his time as the field cleared the water-jump and travelled on to reach the railway fences; he jumped into the lead at the first of these and also met the following two on a good stride. All five having negotiated the last of the obstacles in the back straight, Gullinbursti received a reminder heading into the far turn. The leader pressed on, Aidan Coleman’s mount continued in second position, with Hunt Ball third, Rolling Aces losing touch in fourth and Maggio fifth.
Barry Geraghty took his mount wide on the approach to the Pond fence, but he almost bumped into Gullinbursti as they jumped it; ahead, the leader wasn’t particularly fluent at this obstacle. However, Richard Johnson’s mount continued to put distance between himself and his pursuers having cleared two out; the jockey peering below his right arm to check on his rivals. Aidan Coleman rousted his mount to make another effort and had soon shaken off Hunt Ball once more.
Menorah popped over the last with ease, and galloped on up the hill towards the line; his jockey checking first left, then right, to ensure there was no danger before easing down just before the winning post; he won by 17 lengths! Gullinbursti claimed 2nd, with Hunt Ball 3rd and Rolling Aces 4th.
The runners having passed the line, I route marched back to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Menorah return, before repositioning to the raised area above the Parade Ring. Then, once the horses began their journey along the horse-walk, I transferred to the railings opposite to get a close view of the horses as they passed by.
The next race, the Celebration Chase, had been upgraded to Grade 1 this year, from being a Grade 2 last year. The event starred Sire De Grugy, voted the Jump Racehorse of the Year. Australia Day and Claret Cloak were non-runners and no surprise that Gary Moore’s charge was the 2-7 favourite to win the event for the second year running.
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. The runners were led away by Special Tiara, to the inside almost upsides was the first-time hooded Kauto Stone, Pepite Rose travelled in third position, behind her French Opera, to his inside Lancetto and, on the inner, Sire De Grugy. The horses cleared the first two fences without incident, the second of which is an open-ditch, before galloping up past the crowded enclosures towards the winning post; just one circuit to go.
Heading up towards the top turn, Special Tiara held a three lengths lead over Kauto Stone and Pepite Rose who disputed second position; three across the track in rear, from the inside rail, were Sire De Grugy, Lancetto and French Opera. Having negotiated the covered roadway, the field headed downhill to the third fence; the leader stuttered into it slightly, making the necessary adjustments to clear it without problem. Turning the far corner, Pepite Rose travelled up into second position. The runners then began their journey along the back straight.
There was no change in the order as the horses successfully negotiated the next three fences with ease; the last of these three the second and final open-ditch, which Sire De Grugy reached for slightly. They then headed to the water-jump, the favourite now in a clear fourth position; French Opera at the rear of the field.
The runners soon reached the first of the railway fences; Pepite Rose got a little too close to this one, with debris launched in her wake. Kauto Stone wasn’t fluent at the middle one. The Irish raider continued to lead as the runners headed into the far turn. Sire De Grugy had travelled up to join Kauto Stone and Pepite Rose, the former to his inside, the latter to his outside. Lancetto was two or three lengths behind these and the elder statesman, French Opera, was being ridden along a few lengths in rear.
Pepite Rose had drawn level with Special Tiara as they jumped the Pond fence; Sire De Grugy almost upsides between them. Heading into the final bend, the mare and the favourite moved ahead, disputing the lead as they approached two out. Pepite Rose took the lead due to a better jump at this fence, Sire De Grugy having got in a little too close. However, the latter soon asserted, as Aidan Coleman gave his mount three cracks with his whip.
The Jump Horse of the Year was a length up clearing the last, although he did jump slightly out to his left and into the path of Pepite Rose. Jamie Moore rode his mount out to the line, winning by 3¼ lengths, from Pepite Rose. Special Tiara stayed on to claim 3rd prize, with Lancetto in 4th. French Opera completed in 5th with Kauto Stone in last place.
Jamie Moore rode his mount down past the grandstand to accept the applause of spectators before entering the horse-walk.
On this occasion, having walked part-way back to the Winners’ Enclosure, I waited for Sire De Grugy to pass by before completing the journey. As a result, I was unable to reach my usual vantage point before the crowds of spectators had closed in upon the area and I was left to take up a position a number of metres back from the rails and closer to the runner-up and third placed horses’ designated unsaddling areas.
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the bet365 Handicap Chase; otherwise known as the Whitbread Gold Cup by all of us golden oldies!!! Alan King had two runners in this race, Godsmejudge to be ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and, as mentioned earlier, Midnight Appeal to be ridden by Jamie Moore deputising for Choc. There was one non-runner, Twirling Magnet.
There were four 8-1 co-favourites for this event, Ardkilly Witness representing the Grand National-winning trainer Dr Richard Newland, Burton Port ridden by AP McCoy, Roalco De Farges ridden by Richard Johnson and Same Difference ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies.
It began to spit with rain as the horses headed down the walkway to the racecourse; so, not surprisingly, the lense of my camera began to mist up. This is beginning to become a bit of a problem ... I want a bridge camera! I’m currently mulling over whether to spend my £150 PC World voucher on a new laptop or a bridge camera.
Anyway, it had turned into a proper April shower by the time I reached my vantage point on the slope in front of the hospitality boxes. Having exited onto the racecourse and arranged themselves in number order, apart from Bury Parade who’d gone to the start early, the pre-race parade began. I have to mention that it was a little pointless, as the horses broke the line and began to canter down once they’d reached the area immediately in front of me so they didn’t even get to the main grandstand before their pace had increased!
Fortunately the rain soon eased, and a rainbow could be seen in the distance arcing over the starting gate at the far end of the home straight!
The horses wheeled into the start and they were off, spread wide across the track. The hooded Bury Parade consenting to start too; which he’d refused to do three runs ago! To the inside of the course, Opening Batsman probably held the call as they headed to the first fence; also in the front line at this stage were Ardkilly Witness, Same Difference, Spring Heeled, Carruthers, Poungach, Godsmejudge and Houblon Des Obeaux.
Having cleared the first okay, the latter stumbled a few strides after it, ejecting Aidan Coleman out over his left shoulder. Aidan had spent the least time of any of the jockeys in the saddle prior to the race, walking beside his mount as it was led down the horse-walk to the racecourse; presumably wishing to give his mount the best possible chance prior to carrying top weight in the race. The plan had backfired. Stable-mate Summery Justice avoided the prostrate jockey, although pilot Liam Treadwell did glance back to check upon his colleague; Aidan was fine and walked away.
The runners headed towards the open-ditch which all the runners jumped okay; Opening Batsman had the lead, from Spring Heeled, Carruthers and Same Difference. Bringing up the rear were Midnight Appeal and Summery Justice; Godsmejudge travelled in eighth position, on the outside of the field. The horses travelled up past the winning post, around the bend, crossed the covered roadway and headed downhill towards the third fence. Opening Batsman held a clear advantage of around four lengths over the field.
The runners cleared the fence without problem although Summery Justice was a little slow in rear. The loose horse bypassed the obstacle but rejoined the field before the inside rail re-commenced to guide the runners around the corner and into the back straight. Travelling on the outside of the field, Restless Harry clobbered the first in the back straight and lost a number of lengths. The leader fenced a little slowly at the next, which allowed the field to close upon him. The loose horse continued to jump the fences; he was at the rear of the field.
They headed to the second open-ditch where, on the inside of the runners, Same Difference made an error which caused him to drop back to worse than mid-division. By the time they’d reached the water-jump, Emperor’s Choice had become detached from the back of the field; Opening Batsman continued to lead, from Carruthers, Spring Heeled, Burton Port and Godsmejudge. They headed to the railway fences. There were no serious errors at any of these, although Tom Scudamore’s mount continued to jump slowly at the rear of the field.
Travelling around the far turn, both Hadrian’s Approach and Midnight Appeal had improved their positions within the field. Summery Justice made an error at the Pond fence. Turning into the home straight, Opening Batsman held a clear lead from Carruthers, Spring Heeled, Godsmejudge and Ardkilly Witness. All the horses cleared the next without problem; reins swinging, the loose Houblon Des Obeaux nearly tripped himself as he continued to chase the field.
Jumping the open-ditch, Godsmejudge skewed slightly in the air with Wayne almost going out of the nearside door! Fortunately he recovered and soon continued on an even keel once more. There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners headed up past the winning post with one circuit to go; Carruthers and Godsmejudge sharing second position from Spring Heeled and Burton Port. Robbie Dunne pulled up Rigadin De Beauchene after the ditch; time for an early bath for that runner having lost touch. Both Emperor’s Choice and Same Difference gave up the ghost before the next too. So then there were fifteen to tackle the final circuit.
The runners continued to the downhill fence, where both Bury Parade and Summery Justice put in slow leaps at the rear of the field. The horses then negotiated the turn and headed into the back straight. Opening Batsman continued to lead from Burton Port, Carruthers and Godsmejudge; with a slow jump at the next, the leader was joined by AP’s mount. All the runners cleared the following two fences safely, Nick Scholfield’s mount continuing to nose ahead on the flat, with Burton Port gaining ground in the air each time.
The field cleared the water-jump and headed to the railway fences for the final time; where Burton Port disputed the lead with Opening Batsman. Close on their heels were Carruthers, Godsmejudge and Ardkilly Witness. One of the greys, Rose Of The Moon, was at the back of the field; just ahead of him, Poungach and Summery Justice. By the time they had cleared the last of the railway fences, Roalco De Farges had progressed into third position.
The field headed around the long sweeping bend at the end of the back straight; Ardkilly Witness, Godsmejudge and Hadrian’s Approach were all being ridden along in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively and received backhanders from their jockeys before they had reached the Pond fence. Midnight Appeal travelled in eighth position and he, too, received an encouraging smack from his jockey. Having tailed off, both Rose Of The Moon and Bury Parade were pulled up before jumping this fence.
Burton Port assumed the lead as he jumped the Pond fence, Roalco De Farges now his closest pursuer as Opening Batsman began to fade. However, Barry Geraghty continued to roust his mount and closed upon the leader. Staying on from the back of the field, Restless Harry began to get into contention too. Hadrian’s Approach took over in second place when a slow jump from Roalco De Farges stopped his momentum at the penultimate fence. Barry’s mount was still one length adrift as they cleared the final fence, with Restless Harry and Godsmejudge a further length back; Roalco De Farges had faded into fifth position by this point.
It was a long run to the line and, of course, uphill all the way. Hadrian’s Approach was driven out strongly by his jockey to mount a challenge to the nearside and, despite the best efforts of AP McCoy and rallying slightly as the line approached, the tired Burton Port could find little more. He went down by ¾ of a length at the line. But, if it’s any consolation, his jockey stayed within the whip strokes limit ... which wasn’t the case for the winning jockey!
Following Godsmejudge’s brave runner-up effort to defend his Scottish National title just two weeks ago, and after a season when apart from that and his first outing, his runs had been under par, Wayne’s mount claimed 3rd place, a head in front of Restless Harry. Spring Heeled claimed 5th for Ireland, with Summery Justice never nearer in 6th. Midnight Appeal finished last of the 13 which completed.
It had been 25 years since Nicky Henderson had trained his one winner of this race with Brown Windsor in 1989 and it was a first victory in the event for Barry Geraghty. Another first for the jockey, who rode his first Irish Grand National winner the previous Monday with Shutthefrontdoor for Jonjo O’Neill.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses arrive back therein before heading back to the area overlooking the Parade Ring ahead of the fifth race.
News from the Stewards Room:
Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Barry Geraghty, the rider of the winner, HADRIAN’S APPROACH
(IRE), from having jumped the second last. 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 Geraghty for 9 days as follows: Saturday 10, Sunday 11,
Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15, Friday 16, Saturday 17 and
Sunday 18 May 2014. Under Rule (B)54 the Stewards also fined the rider £3150.
The Alan King entry in the next race was Medinas; the favourite being Southfield Theatre at 15-8.
Another race where the competitors turned left having exited onto the racecourse. They then cantered up around the top bend to reach the starting gate, with three hurdles to jump in the back straight before the far turn.
Then they were off; Southfield Theatre poaching a few lengths at the start. Medinas led the small but select group, followed by Polly Peacham, Clerk’s Choice and Clondaw Kaempfer. All the runners were hurdling well as they cleared the first two flights, crossed the chase course intersection and headed towards the final flight before the far bend; the mare jumped this more fluently than her nearest rival, Clerk’s Choice.
The field galloped around the long sweeping bend and into the home straight; the pennant-tailed Southfield Theatre lobbing along happily at the head of affairs. Is it a throw-back to racehorses’ Arab bloodlines or a counterbalance in this instance to a fairly high head-carriage? Ears pricked, he headed towards the next flight, where Polly Peacham was the least fluent of the five; Clerk’s Choice was the least convincing at the next.
The runners headed up in front of the grandstand and past the winning post with one circuit to go; there was no change at the head of affairs. They continued up around the top bend, crossed the covered roadway and headed downhill; the field stretching out as they gained momentum towards right-handed corner. Into the back straight they turned, with four flights ahead of them on this part of the track.
The pace had increased, Southfield Theatre with a three or four lengths advantage over Clerk’s Choice and Medinas disputing second position, Polly Peacham followed these, with Clondaw Kaempfer bringing up the rear but only by a length. The horses cleared the next flight in their stride; the leader less than fluent at the next, his hind-legs momentarily breaking stride as he landed.
The field headed towards the final flight before the intersection, where both Southfield Theatre and Polly Peacham made slight errors. The runners had bunched up as they approached three out. There were no problems at the flight; Wayne Hutchinson reorganising his reins as they headed into the final turn with no more than three lengths covering the field.
They entered the home straight, Southfield Theatre drifting across to the nearside as they headed towards the penultimate flight; Wayne switching his mount when trying to mount a challenge. It was Clerk’s Choice who travelled almost upsides as they jumped the flight; Medinas’ challenge soon petered out. The leader, although still retaining a half length advantage, began to drift back towards the centre line again as they approached the last.
They jumped the last, Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount slightly ahead, from Clerk’s Choice to the far side, and Polly Peacham now mounting her challenge to the nearside having switched. It was nip and tuck up the run-in, the mare continued to gain ground on the leader but, despite appearing to dislike being slapped with a whip and the resultant tail swishing, he held on to win by a short-head. Clerk’s Choice claimed 3rd, with Clondaw Kaempfer 4th and Medinas fading to finish last of the 5.
A consolation prize for being narrowly beaten in the Pertemps Final at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Having climbed to the top of the grass embankment and begun my walk back to the Winners’ Enclosure, Paul Nicholls crossed my path as he went to greet his victorious charge.
Having seen the winning horse arrive back, I then returned to the area overlooking the Parade Ring ahead of the penultimate race of the day.
The 5-2 favourite for this event was Vesperal Dream, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; Sound Investment also represented the yard. Trainer Nick Gifford, son of Josh who the race commemorated, had a runner in the race too, Christopher Wren in the colours of JP McManus; the horse had won on the flat at Windsor earlier in the month!
Having reached the end of the walkway, the horses turned left and cantered up around the top bend to reach the starting gate; the first fence in this event was the first of the railway fences. Having taken photographs of all bar one of the competitors (namely Massena), I headed down to today’s vantage point on the embankment beyond the winning post.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Sound Investment and Foundation Man; in midfield Kitegen and De Blacksmith bumped each other as they cleared the first fence. A bit of dust and debris rose from the second fence as the runners cleared it, possibly caused by Sound Investment. Having cleared the last of the railway fences, Foundation Man took the lead before Massena crept up his inside to dispute it on the run to the Pond fence. All the runners cleared this obstacle successfully.
They headed around the turn and into the home straight on the first occasion; Christopher Wren and De Blacksmith brought up the rear, the latter the least fluent of all the runners at the fences. The horses continued up towards the grandstand enclosures, clearing a plain fence and then the open ditch; Foundation Man and Massena continuing to lead at a steady pace with the remainder of the field in close attendance.
The runners headed past the winning post and up around the top turn, over the covered roadway and headed downhill towards the next fence. Massena led the way, from Foundation Man; Ballincurrig and Sound Investment disputed third position, Vesperal Dream came next, from Kitegen, Christopher Wren and De Blacksmith. Whereas the leader shortened his stride to clear the fence, Foundation Man flew it. The runners then headed into the back straight, where the same thing happened at the next obstacle and AP’s mount took the lead.
However, Foundation Man took off a little too early at the next, lost a bit of momentum and permitted Massena to draw alongside and soon take the lead once more; at the back of the field De Blacksmith made an error. The horses then cleared the water-jump, went through their starting point and arrived at the first of the railway fences again. Heading over these, Ballincurrig came through to join the two leaders; AP McCoy administering a couple of backhanders to his mount as they entered the far turn.
By dint of holding the inside line Massena initially held the advantage, but as they straightened up heading towards the Pond fence, both Ballincurrig and Kitegen advanced to dispute the lead; although the latter was a little untidy jumping the fence. Massena weakened very quickly and found himself in last place entering the home straight. Ballincurrig, Kitegen, Sound Investment and Christopher Wren began to put distance between themselves and the remaining runners having cleared the penultimate fence.
Heading to the last it was Christopher Wren who began to close on the Dan Skelton runner, and was just a length behind as they jumped the final obstacle. It was heads down for the jockeys as they drove their respective mounts up the hill towards the line, the JP McManus runner gaining with every stride and the horses converging as they did so. Then, just as it seemed that Ballincurrig had no more to give, and with Christopher Wren close upsides, he pulled out just enough to fight off the challenge, prevailing by a neck at the line.
Sound Investment finished 3rd, with Kitegen 4th and De Blacksmith never nearer in 5th.
On this occasion it was time for me to keep pace with Jonjo O’Neill as he strode back ahead of me, returning to greet his unplaced charge, Foundation Man, in the area beneath the trees at the top of the Parade Ring exit/entry path. Earlier in the afternoon, it had been Marcus Armytage who I’d followed back to the Winners’ Enclosure after one of the races.
Having seen the winning horse unsaddled within the Winners’ enclosure, I returned to the area above the Parade Ring ahead of the runners arriving therein prior to the final race of the day.
There were four non-runners in this event, including the Alan King second-string Vendor, Wayne Hutchinson’s originally intended ride. This left him free to take the ride aboard the top weight, the mare L’Unique, deputising for Choc. The favourite for this event was the Paul Nicholls representative Ceasar Milan, ridden by Harry Derham, priced 4-1.
Having seen the horses pass by on their way down the horse-walk, I headed off to take up my usual vantage point on the raised embankment beyond the winning post.
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.
It was soon time for the heavens to open once again; these April showers are annoying!
Then they were off. The runners were led away by Ceasar Milan who had poached an easy lead at the start. He held a few lengths advantage over Phantom Prince, from L’Unique, Kaylif Aramis, Cash And Go, Henryville, Vasco Du Ronceray, Leo Luna and the grey Vaxalco. The horses crossed the chase course intersection and then headed without incident over the first flight of hurdles before entering the far bend.
The pace was steady as they journeyed around the turn, the rain now in their faces, then they began their progress up the straight; Ceasar Milan continued at the head of affairs, with Vaxalco still at the rear of the field. The leader’s ears were pricked as they headed towards the second flight, which all the runners cleared with assurance. No problems were experienced by the runners as they hurdled over the next flight.
The prevailing weather conditions on track were rather unpleasant as the horses galloped up past the winning post and set out on the final circuit; fortunately my umbrella was keeping me mainly dry as I stood out in the open upon the embankment.
Having crossed the covered roadway, the runners headed downhill. Sam Twiston-Davies took advantage of the momentum gained on this part of the track to overtake those ahead of him and take up the advantage as they headed around the bend and into the back straight; Vasco Du Ronceray also took closer order at this time.
The visibility was poor, but Kaylif Aramis led over the next flight, from Ceasar Milan, Phantom Prince, Vasco Du Ronceray upsides L’Unique, Cash And Go who was less than fluent, Henryville, Leo Luna and Vaxalco. Barry Geraghty’s mount hit the next flight. About eight lengths covered the field as they headed over the sixth flight and crossed the chase course intersection once more. It was still raining hard as they reached and jumped the next flight, the final one in the back straight; Phantom Prince flattened one of its panels.
Heading around the final turn, the field was still led by Kaylif Aramis and Ceasar Milan; behind these travelled Phantom Prince, from Vasco Du Ronceray, L’Unique, Cash And Go, Henryville, Vaxalco and the bumped along Leo Luna. The runners entered the home straight and headed towards the penultimate flight; the first horse beaten was Kaylif Aramis, for he soon lost his place as both Phantom Prince to the near side and L’Unique to the far side, offered up their challenge to Ceasar Milan.
Having cleared the flight Phantom Prince took the lead, Wayne Hutchinson’s mount continuing to press him as they drew towards the last. L’Unique was just starting to prevail when Phantom Prince’s jumping let him down and he capsized on landing over it. This left the mare with a considerable lead over the pursuing Cash And Go and Ceasar Milan, the latter fortunately narrowly missed the fallen horse as it rose to its feet, none the worse for the mishap.
This left L’Unique to stretch away from the field on the run-up to the line; her winning margin 8 lengths. Cash And Go claimed 2nd from Ceasar Milan and Vasco Du Ronceray. Having badly faded in the home straight, Kaylif Aramis was pulled up before the last.
As I arrived at the tarmac area just above the grass embankment immediately following the race, Alan King and the winning horse’s connections were just ahead of me receiving congratulations. Whilst the trainer headed over to greet L’Unique on the walkway, I turned left and headed back in the direction of the Winners’ Enclosure. I stopped part way through my walk to take a photograph of Wayne and L’Unique as they passed by, but I still arrived beside the Winners’ Enclosure in time to see the victors return; it had been another route march by yours truly.
The mare having been unsaddled and memento photographs having been taken, Wayne went to weigh in before he returned to join Alan and connections on the podium for the prize presentations.
And I have to mention that I thought it was good that the races were won by seven different stables; namely Donald McCain, Philip Hobbs, Gary Moore, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Dan Skelton and Alan King.
Racing over, I headed back to the main foyer to join the queue for the ladies’ loo; it stretched out through the door. I probably queued for around 10 minutes; job done I headed through the double doors dividing the foyer and the cafe area within the Surrey Hall; it was very noisy, loud music blaring, as Toby Anstis was hosting the after-party celebrations within it.
I headed across the hall and out of the nearest door which overlooked the grandstand betting ring. As I walked down the slope I rummaged for a coin to put into the collection bucket; a lady was standing close to the racecourse crossing point. There were an additional couple of collectors on the far side of the track too, when I reached it.
I turned left and walked along the driveway towards the car parking area, although I had to resort to walking upon the grass for part of the way due to a tailback of stationary vehicles. Traffic was also gridlocked queuing to leave the tarmac area where my car was parked. There was absolutely no point in even starting the engine once I’d returned to my car. It was time to eat the four cheese rolls I’d brought with me; four sounds a lot but they were only small submarine rolls.
With the last race being at 17:30, I must have arrived back at my car before 18:00. Whilst I was waiting for the queues to shorten, I checked my old ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone – the one I use for phone calls and texting as opposed to the smartphone I use solely for twitter! There was a message from fellow Choc fan Sally Meek relaying information regarding Choc’s injury as reported by Clare Balding during Channel 4’s racing coverage. Oh dear, it didn’t sound good. Broken ribs, a bruised spinal cord and a chipped C4 vertebra; he had been detained in Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. I tweeted a message to him.
I still needed to get home. So I waited ... and I waited ... and I waited. In fact it was two or three minutes to seven before I switched on the engine; in know this because there was a clock on the grandstand right in front of me! I drove up the tarmac, turned right and up the slope to cross the racecourse track. There were maybe half a dozen cars queued ahead of me to join More Lane. A steward was enquiring of drivers whether they wanted to turn left or right upon reaching the road. The car in front wanted to turn right, so was able to skip the queue. I told him that unfortunately I had to turn left, because I needed to return to the M25.
However, it didn’t actually take that long to reach the one-way system, cross over into the far lane, and then keep to the left as the lane divided upon approach to the traffic lights upon the Portsmouth Road. Once these turned to green, I turned right, manoeuvring around a parked taxi which obstructed the curb-side of the lane. Why do drivers park to cause an obstruction? I clearly remember having the same problem at the same place the last time I visited Sandown Park! And you have to be careful swinging out around it because there are two lanes of traffic heading in the same direction.
Anyway, I then turned left and headed down to the traffic lights at the Milbourne Lane junction, retracing this morning’s route back to the roundabout below the A3. Having negotiated this, I drove up the slip-road, joined the main road and headed south-westwards towards the M25. Taking a further slip-road to reach the roundabout below the A3 flyover I turned right and joined the clockwise carriageway of the motorway.
There were no problems on the M25, and my journey to Junction 22 went smoothly with no hold-ups. And I have to say that it was a pleasure to drive home before sunset! Having left the motorway, I travelled up the London Colney bypass and into the London Road heading home. I don’t know whether it is superstition, but I like to retrace my steps when close to home, and today was no different.
I arrived home just before 20:00; proof that, with no delays, it takes an hour to reach Sandown Park and vice versa. Supper was salad, with a baked potato with grated cheese upon it; the heat melting the cheese. That’s a mega-dose of cholesterol in the past couple of hours!
It was then time to log on to my laptop to update my blog, and check for any news of Choc. ATR reported that he’d suffered a broken rib, and damage to one of his vertebrae; a small chip on C4 (that’s the centre one in his neck). The hospital would be keeping him in for a couple of days; he was still on a spinal board according to Alan King when interviewed, and in a bit of pain. No wonder he’d not tweeted any messages since his mishap.
I uploaded my Sandown photos too, and I recall feeling so tired that I actually placed cushions on the floor and dozed off to sleep for a while before finishing off my tasks, logging off and going to bed!
Sunday was spent compiling the 2013/2014 season statistics and updating my website accordingly. Choc got a mention on ATR’s Sunday Forum, in respect of currently injured jockeys. Racing journalist Alan Lee mentioned that Alan King had told him that Choc has the highest pain threshold of anyone he knows.
At tea-time, Choc tweeted to thank everyone for their kind messages and to say he was now out of hospital and hoped to see a specialist the following day.
Also note to self; when visiting Sandown Park on the next occasion I will also purchase a Premier ticket, as I rather liked today’s viewing options. And I noticed that I made a number of appearances on the RUK coverage too, easily spotted because I was wearing my mauve jacket!
The solely National hunt card, rather than mixed jump and flat racing had proved very popular. Okay, so there was no opportunity for an eighth race involving jump vs flat jockeys riding against each other but the crowd was reported to be almost 13,000 today, which was 2,000 more than last year; advanced ticket sales were much greater too.
On the Monday following this fixture it was announced that Sam Twiston-Davies had been officially appointed as Paul Nicholls’ first jockey for the 2014/2015 season, replacing Daryl Jacob who was currently on the sidelines having been injured in a freak accident at the Cheltenham Festival. The latter had been offered the role of second jockey but had declined, preferring to go freelance instead.
There was a sad postscript to the final race, with Kaylif Aramis losing his life as a result of a freak accident the following week; it was reported he broke his shoulder and had to be put to sleep. L
Click here for photos – Parade of Champions and End of Season Awards
Click here for photos – Races 1 & 2
Click here for photos – Race 3 – Celebration Chase
Click here for photos – Race 4 – bet365 Gold Cup
Click here for photos – Race 5 & 6
Click here for photos – Race 7 – L’Unique wins