DIARY – SANDOWN PARK SEASON FINALE
SATURDAY 29 APRIL 2017
The star of the day ...
Menorah won the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase for the fourth consecutive year
and now heads into an honourable retirement
The 2016-2017 Jumps’ season had flown by in a flash; my trip to Sandown Park was my 11th trip to the races during this period. The previous season I’d been to the races on 13 occasions, 6 days racing before the New Year and 7 after; this time around, just 2 before but 9 after. In fact the 9 days had all occurred during March and April!
Amazingly, too, I cannot remember any serious weather issues during my race-days this season – no downpours or freezing cold conditions either. The worst that was thrown at me was drizzle after racing on Cheltenham Gold Cup day!
As I write this, I still have a lot of work to do on my Cheltenham and Aintree diaries, not to mention the uploading of my photos. Another long summer, full of website updates, beckoned as a result. Anyway, I’m now just 11 fixtures short of 200 racecourse visits!
The previous fixture had been all three days of the Aintree Festival, but I’d been busy in the interim. I attended the Lambourn Open Day on Good Friday, went with Lesley to see Strictly’s Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite’s dance show, and also attended Pasha Kovalev’s dance show.
Gate opening time for Sandown Park’s Season Finale fixture was 11:00, so I arranged for Lesley to collect me between 09:45 and 10:00. It’s always best to state an early time, as she always runs late! This being the case I didn’t need to set my alarm clock to wake me on Saturday morning, but rose at my normal time of 06:45.
I showered, washed and dried my hair and ate a breakfast of two croissants. I applied my make-up whilst listening to The Opening Show; it was broadcast two hours earlier than usual because of ITV4’s coverage of the Tour de Yorkshire cycling event.
I was ready to go at 09:35 … Lesley texted me shortly afterwards to say she was just leaving home. As she lives the other side of Dunstable, I now didn’t expect her to arrive until well gone 10:00!
Today’s outfit was two thermal T-shirts – turquoise and purple; M & S Limited Edition pull-on skirt coloured turquoise, purple and black; granite-coloured tights. Viridian coloured Per Una frill-edge cardigan, black Hotter ‘Danielle’ ankle boots, mauve Per Una raincoat, multi-coloured River Island scarf, plus mauve Kipling Defea handbag. However, having been stood waiting by the roadside for a few minutes, I decided it might be a little chilly today, so I went back to find my mauve BHS cardigan too. Better too warm than too cold!
Lesley arrived at around 10:20. After being briefly delayed by temporary traffic lights due to road-works, our route took us via Highfield Park – fortunately we saw more than one magpie! We then headed down the dual carriageway to join the M25 at Junction 22. Traffic was running freely until we neared the M40 junction, after which it was slow moving until we were beyond Junction 11. It had been slow-moving last year, so-much-so that we took a detour via Kempton Park and Hampton Court on that occasion! It then dawned on me that this was a Bank Holiday weekend too, so traffic was bound to be heavy as people made the most of their time off.
This year we persevered and left the M25 at Junction 10; the A3. Traffic was flowing freely here too, until we left the carriageway to head into Esher upon the A244, Copsem Lane; in fact it was queued all the way back to the roundabout beneath the A3! It didn’t take too long to reach the High Street however, and we headed straight across into Church Street, through Esher Green and into More Lane. Shortly afterwards, we turned right and entered the grounds of the racecourse.
It’s so convenient to park in the centre of the racecourse, and free too, unlike the Portsmouth Road car park. Having crossed the track, we headed down the tarmac drive to where a steward was directing cars to park. It was around 11:30 when we arrived and we’d missed the opportunity to use the tarmac area adjacent to the golf range; it was full. Fewer than half a dozen cars were parked on the adjacent grass, beside the rails which bordered the straight 5-furlong flat-racing track. Fortunately there hadn’t been any recent rain, so the ‘going’ was dry and Lesley’s recently purchased, brand-new car, remained clean.
We set off across the nearby tarmac car park, heading up the driveway to reach the ‘gazebo’ denoting the entrance to the Premier Enclosure. Having purchased two race-cards and had our tickets scanned, we headed across the track upon a walkway of plastic pontoons.
We then continued alongside the rhododendron walk, before heading across the pathway at back of the main grandstand and entering the Grandstand enclosure. A large podium had been erected within the Parade Ring, in preparation for the Season-end prize giving; we stopped opposite it. The seats which had previously occupied positions along the perimeter on the grandstand-side of the paddock had been removed. They were still in place along the side close to the Weighing Room.
Lesley popped away to buy coffees and snacks, whilst I remained to reserve our place. She returned with Costa coffees and chocolate brownies. I saved the latter for later; the next morning in fact! Unfortunately the squidgy coffee cup had been filled to the rim and coffee ran down my left hand and onto the sleeves of both my cardigans as soon as I took the lid off to add sugar. Drat. An extra laundry task for Sunday. Fortunately it didn’t affect my coat. A number of tissues and wet-wipes later, the issue had been sorted to my satisfaction.
There was a trophy display in the main entrance foyer (that of the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase, and Cheltenham Gold Cup, plus the trophies to be awarded today) but I didn’t venture inside to see it. Nor did I join the long queue of race-goers waiting for Richard Johnson and Aidan Coleman to sign their race-cards!
A number of presentations took place in the Parade Ring, commencing at 12:35. Firstly a cheque for £1000, which was profits raised from March’s Cheltenham Festival Preview, was donated to the Injured Jockeys Fund; it was presented to Sir AP McCoy, the President thereof.
There were 8 horses taking part in this year’s Parade of Champions – namely Ballyandy, Bristol De Mai, Buveur D’Air, Cue Card, Might Bite, Sire De Grugy, Sprinter Sacre and Willoughby Court. Sadly no Grand National winner again this year, as One For Arthur had been touring the Scottish racecourses instead, prior to going on his summer holiday.
Following this, the Champion Jumps Jockey trophy was awarded to Richard Johnson, the Conditional Jockeys’ trophy to Harry Cobden, the Sandown Park ‘Special contribution’ trophy to Sprinter Sacre (the horse returned to the Parade Ring for an additional tour thereof), the Horse of the Year trophy which was awarded posthumously to Many Clouds. His trainer Oliver Sherwood accepted the trophy; Many Clouds had received 65% of the votes, a record; I voted for him too. The Champion Jumps Owner was JP McManus. The Champion Trainer presentation would be made later in the afternoon, once Nicky Henderson’s lead had become unassailable.
Those making the presentations included Nick Skelton, members of the women’s GB Gold medal-winning hockey team, and ex-footballer Wayne Bridge.
And who should I spot in the Parade Ring but Choc’s ex-wife, Meally (that’s short for Amelia)! Her skirt was very short, as usual; she seemed conscious of the fact too, especially as her coat was split to the waist at the back.
Presentations completed, and a number of horses having arrived in the Parade Ring, we headed briefly to the Premier Enclosure steppings before crossing over to the rails beside the rhododendron walk in preparation for the horses to leave the paddock ahead of the first race. I thought Fixed Rate was very pretty! But being pretty doesn’t necessarily mean you can run fast! Strangely, his dam is named Pretty Face … so he’d obviously inherited his looks from her.
Gregarious was slightly delayed; the horse stood beneath one of the huge gnarled trees within the post-race unsaddling area whilst trainer Lucy Wadham adjusted his tongue-tie. The grey horse was also wearing a hood. Jockey Leighton Aspell waited patiently by, before being legged up and the partnership then began their journey down the rhododendron walk.
Once he’d made his way past us, we headed down the hill beside the walkway, to find a space at the top of the slope overlooking the racecourse beyond the winning post. I think it was probably ahead of the first race that we actually matched strides with Paul Nicholls and his party; they were also heading to down the pathway en route to view the race.
The race favourite was recent French import, Call Me Lord, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Daryl Jacob; price 5-1. He was top weight. Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Fidux ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; he was a 16-1 shot having disappointed in recent runs, including in the Cheltenham Festival’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The starting gate for the first race was at the far end of the home straight; this being the case, the horses headed down beside the rails in front of the grandstands to reach it. They circled within a small enclosure to the inside of the hurdles course until it was time for them to exit back onto the track as the off-time approached. Gregarious was on his toes and kicked out a number of times; fortunately he didn’t land a blow upon any of his rivals!
And then they were off, with I See You Well leading narrowly as they headed towards the first flight; he was flanked by Lambeau Field to the inside and Gregarious to the outer. The second-favourite, Dolos, travelled just behind these. Fixed Rate jumped the obstacle a little slower than his rivals, having put in a short-stride before take-off; he was rousted along for a few strides afterwards.
I See You Well continued to lead as they headed over the next, with the hooded Vincent’s Forever bringing up the rear. The runners continued up the hill and past the winning post with one circuit now to travel; Fidux was being held-up three from the rear of the field.
The horses had soon headed across the driveway entrance, now covered to prevent injury to the competitors. They then headed downhill led by I See You Then, from Lambeau Field, Gregarious, Dolos, Hazamar, Call Me Lord matching strides with Fixed Rate, Landin, Fidux, Hollywood Road, Quids In and Vincent’s Forever.
Having turned into the back straight, Fidux was a little slow at the first flight therein. The runners continued to the next, which they all cleared well. However, a few strides after the hurdle, Fidux stumbled and lost a couple of lengths as a result; he’d possibly clipped heels. I See You Well remained at the head of affairs as they jumped the fifth. Fortunately Fidux was soon back on an even-keel once again and was in touch at the rear of the main group; in contrast, Vincent’s Forever had lost touch with his rivals.
Today’s hurdle route involved crossing the chase course between the water-jump and the first of the railway fences; so it was three hurdles and then one today, as opposed to two and two which it seems to be earlier in the season. Anyway, the horses soon arrived at the final obstacle in the back straight, with I See You Well continuing to lead from Dolos and Hazamar. The detached David Pipe runner jumped out severely to his left over this one.
Having dropped to the rear of the main group, Landin received reminders as the runners headed into the far turn. Meanwhile, up front, the long-time leader was joined by Hazamar. Room was a little tight on the bend, with Fidux slightly inconvenienced as Hollywood Road began to back-peddle.
However, having entered the home straight, the runners were soon able to fan out, and with the running rail terminating, the favourite was able to slip up the inside of the field to commence his challenge. Wayne Hutchinson also decided to take this route, although his mount wasn’t so quick to respond.
Thus, heading to the penultimate flight, it was Dolos to the nearside that came to challenge the long-time leader and he took the advantage as they cleared it. The dark grey Hazamar had dropped back quickly and was pulled up before two out by Paddy Brennan.
Daryl Jacob hadn’t yet asked any serious questions of his mount Call Me Lord, and continued to travel well in third position. However, as had been the case throughout the race, he wasn’t always fluent at his jumps, and he had to be shaken up as they approached the last in order to overtake I See You Well and close the gap upon Dolos. Meanwhile, behind the leading three, Fidux continued to stay on up the hill having overtaken Fixed Rate and Hollywood Road.
Call Me Lord and Dolos jumped the final flight in unison, but the former wasn’t fluent. However, Daryl had soon galvanised his mount and he took the lead as they continued up the hill to the line; he won by 3¾ lengths going away.
Fidux kept on up the hill and mastered the gallant I See You Well to claim 3rd place by half a length. Quids In was 5th, Fixed Rate 6th, Landin 7th, Hollywood Road 8th, Gregarious 9th and Lambeau Field last; Vincent’s Forever also having been pulled up before two out.
With the race over, we headed back up the hill to find a space beside the rhododendron walk so that I could take photographs of the runners as they headed back. It was slightly worrying that Lesley was able to keep pace with me today; presumably I’m beginning to slow down due to old age!
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 1 - 1:50pm
The Stewards held an enquiry to consider why HOLLYWOOD ROAD (IRE), trained by Don Cantillon, entered the Parade Ring after the signal to mount had been given. Having heard his evidence they found him in breach of Rule (B)27.5 and fined him £140.
Paddy Brennan, the rider of HAZAMAR (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding stopped quickly.
The Veterinary Officer reported that FIDUX (FR), placed third, trained by Alan King, lost a left-fore shoe.
During the interlude between the first and second races, we headed to the ladies loo. As I wasn’t sure about the location of the facilities within the Premier Enclosure, we visited the ones in the main foyer.
However, Lesley dropped a safety pin which was securing her trousers and she couldn’t find it. Oops. She was currently ‘in between’ sizes. The new solution was to turn the waistband over and hope for the best!
Stupidly, neither of us carries a sewing kit in our handbag; they usually contain a safety pin. My emergency sewing kit resides in my new vanity case … not a lot of use when it’s at home!
The favourite for the next was Traffic Fluide, trained by Gary Moore and ridden by Joshua Moore; price 15-8. Also taking part was Menorah which had won the race for the past three years!
Having arrived back in time to see the runners head down the rhododendron walk, we then headed down the hill and passed between the Eclipse Pavilion and the main grandstand to reach our viewpoint beyond the winning post.
The horses had already headed to the starting gate which was at the beginning of the back straight.
And then they were off, with Josses Hill and Art Mauresque leading the way. Third Intention travelled in third, from the grey Vibrato Valtat to the inside of Menorah and Traffic Fluide bringing up the rear. However, Josses Hill was hesitant over the first and dropped back to third place, with Menorah soon closing down upon the leader.
Once more, Josses Hill was hesitant as they cleared the second; in contrast, Menorah flew over it and took the lead. The third fence is the first of the open-ditches. Richard Johnson remained quiet upon his mount and this enabled Josses Hill to jump back into the lead once more. The runners then headed towards and over the water-jump. Josses Hill led from Art Mauresque, Menorah with Third Intention; Vibrato Valtat and Traffic Fluide matched strides at the rear of the field, three lengths off the leading group.
Nico de Boinville’s mount continued to lead, ears pricked, as they headed to the first of the railway fences; all six runners took it in their stride. The experienced chasers cleared the two remaining railway obstacles without issue and headed into the far bend, still led by Josses Hill. The next was the Pond fence and, once again, the competitors cleared this well, with Traffic Fluide just brushing through the top of it.
Mind you, for some strange reason, the Pond Fence hardly ever causes a problem; even less than ‘once in a blue moon’ in fact! Occasionally it has to be bypassed because it’s the one fence at Sandown Park which can be affected by low sun during the winter months.
The runners continued their journey into the home straight, clearing fence number nine without incident before veering across to their left to take the open-ditch option at the next. They then headed up past the grandstands with one circuit now to travel; the horses travelled two-by-two, Art Mauresque upsides Josses Hill, Third Intention to the nearside of Menorah, with Vibrato Valtat and Traffic Fluide bringing up the rear.
Having reached the top of the hill, they crossed the entrance roadway which leads to the free of charge car park before heading down the slope to the next fence. Josses Hill held a one-length advantage as they jumped it, with Vibrato Valtat having to make the most effort to clear it. The six runners then began their journey down the back straight once more.
Approaching the next fence, Menorah crept up into second position and then, clearing the following one, he nosed ahead of his rivals. Vibrato Valtat got a little close to this one and, as a result, lost a couple of lengths. Traffic Fluide had begun to make a move from the rear of the field by this point. Josses Hill and Menorah jumped the final open-ditch in unison, with Art Mauresque and the favourite in close touch, although Nick Scholfield was bumping his mount along intermittently as they headed towards the water-jump once more. Menorah held a slight advantage as they cleared it.
The runners continued to the first of the railway fences. Richard Johnson’s mount led over this one, from Josses Hill, Traffic Fluide, Vibrato Valtat, the now weakening Art Mauresque and finally Third Intention. They progressed to the middle one, with Art Mauresque jumping it in a laboured manner; he had now been relegated to last place.
Having cleared the last of the railway fences, Menorah headed into the far turn with a one length advantage over Josses Hill. The favourite travelled two lengths further back and he was ahead of Vibrato Valtat. Third Intention was no longer on terms and Nick Scholfield decided to pull up Art Mauresque before the next.
At the crown of the bend, Richard Johnson glanced beneath his left arm to check on his nearest rivals. Traffic Fluide had now joined Josses Hill, but both of these were now showing signs of distress. They headed towards and jumped the Pond Fence with solely Menorah travelling well and he began to stretch his advantage even more as they continued towards the penultimate fence.
The leader did get a little close to this one, with the jockey going to the buckle end of his reins, but he’d soon re-gathered his ‘knitting’ as Menorah headed to the final obstacle; the only thing now between him and certain victory. Meanwhile Traffic Fluide had finally mastered Josses Hill but posed no danger to the leader.
In contrast to his jump at the previous fence, Menorah flew the final obstacle and continued up the hill to the line; never threatened although tiring as he did so. Traffic Fluide had stayed on after the last and closed down upon the leader but was still beaten by 4½ lengths at the line. Josses Hill completed a further 16 lengths back, just 2 lengths in front of Third Intention; Vibrato Valtat completed the course too.
It was the 12-year-old’s fourth consecutive win in this race. What a horse!
Winning owner Grahame Whateley was in tears after the race, when interviewed by a member of ITV Racing upon the rhododendron walk. He announced that this would be the veteran’s last race; Menorah would spend his final days living at the farm of regular jockey Richard Johnson. The Champion jockey looked forward to hacking him alongside his children, Willow, Casper and Percy, on their ponies.
The Racing Post race notes state “… tired and driven out from last but kept on splendidly, retired with honours”.
Having stayed to take photos of the horses as they returned, we then headed to the Winners’ Enclosure. The race being named in honour of Lord Oaksey, his daughter Sara Bradstock and widow ‘Chicky’ presented the mementos to the winning connections.
We then returned to the rail beside the rhododendron walk ahead of the next race. The favourite for this event was this year’s Champion 2-mile Novice Chaser Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 30-100. He had three rivals – the winner of this season’s Champion Chase Special Tiara, San Benedeto which had won a Grade 1 Chase at Aintree on Grand National Day although fortuitous in that Politologue stumbled and fell having cleared the final fence with the race in the bag, and the talented Vaniteux too.
Lesley placed a bet on Special Tiara; it’s not worth betting on an odds-on favourite and there’s no challenge either!
The starting gate for this race was at the far end of the home straight, so the competitors cantered down past the grandstands to reach it. Again Lesley and I headed to the slope above the track, just beyond the winning post, to view the event.
And then they were off, with Special Tiara taking the lead from Altior, San Benedeto and Vaniteux. It didn’t seem like the break-neck speed displayed by the Champion Chase victor when running at Cheltenham, but perhaps that was because it had been a long season by this stage. The leader put in a prodigious leap at the first fence.
Both Special Tiara and Altior took off a long way in front of the second fence, an open-ditch, but they cleared it well. It was Indian file as the runners headed up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. Having reached the top of the hill, they swung right-handed to descend towards fence number three.
They gained speed as they approach it and all cleared the obstacle well. The runners then headed into the back straight for the one and only time. Altior cleared the next in better style than the leader. All four jumped the fifth fence well and then headed to the final open-ditch. There were no problems here, with the front two drawing away from their two rivals slightly.
All four hopped over the water-jump and continued on to the first of the railway fences. Special Tiara didn’t quite meet this one right, but shortened up nicely in order to clear it. The leader continued to jump slightly left-handed as he headed over the next; San Benedeto had to put in a short stride to meet the final of the three fences but continued in third position as they entered the far turn.
Special Tiara continued to lead as they headed towards the Pond Fence; the pace still seemed quite sedate and none of his rivals had been dropped. Aidan Coleman became more animated aboard Vaniteux as the jump approached. The favourite drew almost alongside having cleared it. Vaniteux also followed through, relegating San Benedeto to last at this stage.
Altior was shadowing the leader as they cleared the second last; Nico just waiting to press the ‘booster’ button. He then moved smoothly into the lead, as they headed towards the final fence. Altior got a little close to the fence but it was not enough to stop his momentum and he galloped up the hill, stretching the margin, to win by 8 lengths at the line.
Vaniteux and San Benedeto held their own private battle for the remaining places, with the latter staying on up the hill better to claim 3rd, 4½ lengths behind Special Tiara.
On this occasion we didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race; instead we remained beside the rhododendron walk. Meanwhile, the trophy for the Trainers’ Championship was presented in the Parade Ring, to Nicky Henderson; his lead now unassailable.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
3 - 3:00pm
The Stewards noted that ALTIOR (IRE), trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs.
It was now time for the feature race of the day. The favourite for this event was Doing Fine, trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Tom Scudamore; price 9-2. Last year’s winner The Young Master was taking part again, as was Just A Par which had been runner-up in 2016 and had won in 2015.
Lesley placed two £2 each-way bets, on The Young Master and Henllan Harri. I’m not sure what drew her to the latter apart from the fact his name was the only one ‘over-the-page’ in the race-card! Anyway, he was out of the handicap and a 40-1 outsider.
Usually there is a pre-race parade ahead of the bet365 Gold Cup but, with just 13 runners and the smallest field for a decade evidently, the first of the runners were already heading down to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight by the time we arrived at our viewing point.
And then they were off. The field was led away by Sugar Baron and the blinkered Henllan Harri; also keen to be up with the pace were Le Reve and Present Man. Sugar Baron jumped the first a little skew-whiff. Although seemingly making no error, jockey Sam Waley-Cohen was thrown forward in the saddle aboard The Young Master.
The horses continued towards the first open-ditch; Henllan Harri hesitated slightly before jumping it and the favourite brought up the rear. Heading up the hill towards the line, Sean Bowen’s mount stretched his advantage over the field. Following him was Present Man, Sugar Baron and Le Reve. After these travelled Whats Happening, the sole grey Vyta Du Roc, The Young Master, Rock The Kasbah, Just A Par, Benbens, Theatre Guide, The Druids Nephew and Doing Fine.
Having reached the top of the hill, the field swung right-handed to head down the slope towards fence number three. Sugar Baron was a little hesitant at this one; at the rear of the field Doing Fine was detached.
Henllan Harri continued to lead the way as they entered the back straight, and Present Man was briefly restrained for a few strides. All thirteen runners cleared the next in their stride before heading to the following fence, where Whats Happening was a little slower than his rivals. The race continued to the second open-ditch which they all cleared without problem; Doing Fine remained at the back of the field.
The next fence was the water-jump, where Le Reve made a strange shape in the air. They then headed to the first of the three railway fences, where Whats Happening and Doing Fine were less tidy than the others. There were no real issues at the middle of these, but Le Reve dragged his hind-legs through the third one. However, considering he had a bad accident at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting when causing a melee whilst loose, it’s amazing he’s still racing.
The runners continued around the bottom bend with very little change in the order. The next obstacle was the Pond fence and they all cleared this without issue before heading into the home straight with one circuit now completed. Having jumped the next, there was a little bit of argy-bargy between Theatre Guide and The Druids Nephew; it appeared that Paddy Brennan knew he needed to tack across towards the open-ditch option but Noel Fehily wasn’t quite so intent on doing so!
It was Vyta Du Roc’s turn to make the first really noticeable error of the race when taking off too early and landing back on his haunches as a result. Heading up past the enclosures once more, it was noticeable that Theatre Guide had improved his position and now raced in sixth position; Henllan Harri still led.
Upon reaching the top bend, the runners headed down-hill to the fourteenth fence; Whats Happening jumped this one more slowly than his rivals. Having turned into the back straight, Le Reve began to drop back quickly through the field. There was no change at the head of affairs as they cleared the next; Present Man, Sugar Baron, The Young Master and Theatre Guide travelling close on his heels; the latter jumped the following fence more slowly than those around him. Vyta Du Roc led the next group, also comprising The Druids Nephew and Whats Happening.
Having jumped the final open-ditch, Doing Fine was no longer at the rear of the field; he was trailed by both Just A Par and Le Reve. The latter began to tail off, although Leighton Aspell continued to persevere. The main group had soon hopped over the water-jump and were now heading to the first of the railway fences. Having jumped this, Rock The Kasbah and Just A Par began to show signs of distress; Doing Fine was also with them but his jockey was less animated.
Thus, having cleared the next two obstacles, these three runners were detached from the back of the main group; also, with three fences now to take, the struggling Le Reve was pulled up. Meanwhile, Henllan Harri continued to lead the way home, from Sugar Baron, Theatre Guide, The Young Master, Present Man, The Druids Nephew, Whats Happening, Vyta Du Roc and Benbens.
Present Man continued back-peddle as they headed towards the Pond fence; Sugar Baron was almost upsides the leader as they jumped it. However, Sean Bowen’s mount battled on to repel this initial challenge as they headed towards the penultimate fence. Benbens, having looked to be struggling at the rear of the main group moments earlier, had begun to stay on and was now in fourth position.
The leaders having cleared the fence, Sugar Baron renewed his challenge on the run to the final obstacle, as did Theatre Guide; but again Henllan Harri remained marginally ahead as they jumped it. There was now a posse pursuing the Welsh-trained runner as he began his journey to the finishing line. He’d soon gained a couple of lengths over his rivals, but Benbens, Theatre Guide, The Druids Nephew and Vyta Du Roc were all laying down their final challenges as Sugar Baron began to fade.
And it was the grey Vyta Du Roc which stayed on the best, gaining with every stride as the winning post approached. Photograph! In fact there were eight horses which flashed past the line within four lengths of each other! And that’s what handicaps are all about!
It was definitely one for the judge. I think Sean Bowen believed he had won, until Daryl Jacob said he thought he’d won aboard Vyta Du Roc. Anyway, the result was soon announced … it was a winner for the father and son combination of Sean and Peter Bowen with Henllan Harri; the jockey was obviously delighted. The winning distance was a head. There is always a confusion regarding the winning post at Sandown Park as there are two, one for jumps and one for hurdles! This is because the chase and hurdle tracks converge.
Theatre Guide was a neck 3rd, and Benbens a neck 4th. The favourite Doing Fine finished 1¼ lengths away in 5th, Rock The Kasbah a neck 6th, Sugar Baron a head 7th and The Druids Nephew a head away in 8th!
Having taken photographs as the horses passed by upon the rhododendron horse-walk, we then returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the trophy presentation.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
4 - 3:35pm
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Daryl Jacob, the rider of VYTA DU ROC (FR), placed second, from approaching the last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Jacob for 2 days as follows: Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 May 2017.
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Sean Bowen, the rider of the winner, HENLLAN HARRI (IRE), from approaching the last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Bowen for 2 days as follows: Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 May 2017.
When interviewed, Sean Bowen said that there had not been many front-runners in the race so nothing wanted to take on his horse and he enjoyed himself up front. Earlier in the week, the jockey said he’d thought his dad was a ‘muppet’ for entering his horse in the race, but today he was confident that he’d run well despite being 4lbs out of the handicap. Henllan Harri is related to the Grand National winner, Silver Birch.
It had been Sean Bowen’s best season yet, with 79 winners to his name.
I returned briefly to the area above the Parade Ring, opposite the horse-walk, whilst Lesley went to collect her winnings … she’s won over £100!
The next race was a Grade 2 event, and it was the Twiston-Davies’ vs. Nicky Henderson vs. Paul Nicholls! The favourite was The New One, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by son Sam; price 5-2. It had been a long season for the former Cheltenham Festival Neptune Investment Hurdle winner (2013); he beat Rule The World that day!
The four Nicky Henderson runners were Rather Be, Beat That, L’Ami Serge and Volnay De Thaix; representing Paul Nicholls were Old Guard, Ptit Zig and Modus. Ptit Zig (aka Ziggy) won the race last year.
Beat That is a half-brother to Might Bite; their dam being Knotted Midge. He was returning from a racecourse absence of 849 days. Beat That’s mane could only be described as wild and free, unlike the usual turnout of the Seven Barrows’ runners which always make their racecourse appearances with plaited manes!
Paul Nicholls charges don’t have their manes plaited, nor do Alan King’s; this carries on to their former assistants – Jamie Snowden’s horses have plaited manes, whereas Noel Williams’ runners don’t! Nigel Twiston-Davies’ staff plait manes and tails, as with The New One, and so does Fergal O’Brien’s team! Personally I don’t mind either way regarding manes, but I don’t like to see plaited tails!
The starting gate for this race was part-way down the back straight; the horses would jump 3 of the four flights therein. This being the case, the competitors headed up around the top bend to reach it. Meanwhile, Lesley and I headed down the concourse to find a good vantage point upon the slope above the track, just beyond the winning post.
The experienced hurdlers approached the flag at a collected walk and, having skirted to the outside of the first hurdle in the back straight, they were off. The runners were led away by The New One, with Old Guard almost upsides; L’Ami Serge brought up the rear.
Old Guard was a little slow when clearing the first flight and this enabled the keen Modus to briefly nose ahead of him. At hurdle number two, once again Nick Scholfield’s mount cleared it more slowly than his rivals and Volnay De Thaix made a slight error too; this relegated the latter to last place, marginally.
The eight runners then crossed the chase course to reach the third obstacle, after which The New One led the runners into the far bend pursued by Old Guard, the hooded Modus, the blinkered Ptit Zig, Rather Be, Beat That, Volnay De Thaix and L’Ami Serge.
Heading into the home straight on the first occasion, 9-year-old The New One continued to bowl along at the head of affairs, ears pricked. Rather Be was a little awkward at the first flight therein and Jeremiah McGrath briefly shook his mount up to ensure their position within the field was retained.
The runners continued their journey up the home straight and all cleared the next obstacle in their stride. Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount remained a length or two ahead of Old Guard, followed by Modus, Rather Be, Ptit Zig, Beat That, L’Ami Serge and Volnay De Thaix as they headed past the winning post with one circuit now to travel.
The eight runners headed to the top of the hill before they swung right-handed to travel down the slope and into the back straight. Having turned the corner, L’Ami Serge improved his position to the outside of the runners; he was still quite keen.
All of the competitors negotiated the next flight without issue and The New One continued to lead the way to flight number seven. Having jumped this hurdle Beat That and Volnay De Thaix had become slightly detached at the rear of the field. There was no holding L’Ami Serge as he joined Modus and Rather Be to dispute second position having landed over the next flight.
The runners headed across the chase track to reach three from home. Daryl Jacob endeavoured to restrain L’Ami Serge but without success; he was upsides the leader, wide on the track, as they jumped the flight. Modus had also been lit up by this move and was narrowly in third position, but he bunny-hopped the flight.
Heading into the final turn, L’Ami Serge now shared the lead with The New One; behind these travelled Rather Be with Modus, Ptit Zig and Old Guard, followed by Beat That and Volnay de Thaix. Beat That was bumped along by Aidan Coleman on the bend and Old Guard was being pushed along; however none had actually been ‘dropped’ as such.
Mindful of his mount’s tendency to flatter to deceive, Daryl was keen to hold on to L’Ami Serge for as long as possible; he remained half a length down upon the leader as they approached two out. Having appeared to be travelling well in third position, Rather Be made an error here and then began to struggle.
Daryl pressed the button as they headed down to the final flight and took the lead. Meanwhile The New One battled on to the far side, with Ptit Zig, Modus and Beat That also laying down their challenges; Volnay De Thaix was staying on from the rear of the field as Rather Be and Old Guard now brought up the rear.
However today, having cleared the final flight, L’Ami Serge put his best hooves forward and none of his rivals could catch him; he won by 1½ lengths from the staying on Ptit Zig. You have to say connections deserved it, following a number of near successes this season; admittedly everything has to go his way, and today it finally did.
Volnay De Thaix, having appeared outpaced earlier in the race, stayed on up the hill to finish 3rd, 6 lengths further back. The New One claimed 4th following a long season, with Modus in 5th and Beat That in 6th; the latter showed a lot of promise considering the amount of time he’d been off the track. Old Guard completed in 7th, with Rather Be last.
My selection in the race had been Rather Be, and Lesley’s was Old Guard … I didn’t place a bet, I’m not sure if Lesley did. But, obviously, we were both rubbish with our selections! Rather Be is a half-brother of Sign Of A Victory.
We didn’t go back to the Winners’ Enclosure following the race.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
5 - 4:10pm
The representative of Nicky Henderson, the trainer of RATHER BE (IRE), unplaced, reported that the gelding made a noise.
During the jockey’s de-brief with Nicky Henderson following the race, Daryl Jacob said that it had been Plan Z as far as tactics were concerned. The trainer had expected more pace today, and had been worried that his charge was racing like a 2-miler. Nicky was also very pleased with Volnay De Thaix after an unsuccessful foray into steeplechasing this year, and obviously with Beat That too.
Connections will try L’Ami Serge over fences again in the future, but Nicky did explain that the horse needs to run left-handed over jumps because he tends to hang out to his left; in his words, they can ‘get away with it’ over hurdles!
In June, L’Ami Serge won the Grade 1 Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil, in other words the French Champion Hurdle. Thus it is two years running that the horse which has won this race went on to triumph in the same race in Paris, Ptit Zig having triumphed in both in 2016!
The favourite for the penultimate race was Shantou Village, trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Noel Fehily; price 3-1. I like Theinval; he’s very game and consistent. Although he had been unlucky of late, with a runner-up spot in the Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree and two runner-up positions at Ayr on consecutive days. However, Jeremiah McGrath was aboard Kilcrea Vale today, and Nico de Boinville aboard Theinval.
The starting gate for this race was just prior to the first of the railway fences, so the horses cantered down past the grandstands and around the far bend in order to reach it. They used to head across the course via a pathway within the golf course … but not any more evidently!
Once again we headed down the concourse to find a vantage point on the slope just beyond the winning post.
And then they were off, with As De Mee, Casino Markets and Shantou Village disputing the lead as they headed over the first obstacle; Kilcrea Vale landed a little steeply here. They quickly moved on to the second fence, where Poker School got a little too close to it at the rear of the field. Having now warmed up, all ten runners cleared the third fence without issue.
The horses then headed into the far bend led by Casino Markets, from Shantou Village, As De Mee, Kilcrea Vale alongside Fingerontheswitch, Royal Vacation, Plaisir D’Amour, the grey Brother Tedd, Theinval and Poker School. The field continued to the Pond fence where Theinval and Plaisir D’Amour almost bumped in mid-air.
Casino Markets led them into the home straight for the first time, the pace was steady; Fingerontheswitch got a little bit close to the first fence therein. The field then tacked across the track in order to tackle the open-ditch option at the next. Kilcrea Vale made a bad mistake here; he was sandwiched between Royal Vacation and Brother Tedd and took off at the same time as they did, despite being too far away from the obstacle. His jockey had to urge him away from the fence in order to not lose too much ground.
Meanwhile, Casino Markets continued to lead from Shantou Village as the runners headed up past the winning post with one circuit now to travel. Jeremiah McGrath continued to niggle away at his mount and this became more pronounced as they swung right-handed to travel down the hill.
As they approached the downhill fence, Paddy Brennan aboard Royal Vacation glanced down; he was concerned that his mount had become unsound. He eased back as the backmarkers swept past him; Paddy guided the Colin Tizzard runner to the inside of the fence and pulled up shortly afterwards, before dismounting.
The remaining nine cleared the fence without incident, with Casino Markets remaining at the head of affairs as the runners turned into the back straight. Fingerontheswitch began to lose ground as Kilcrea Vale continued to be niggled along three from the back of the field. They cleared the next two fences without incident, with Fingerontheswitch now in last place.
The next obstacle was the final open-ditch; the backmarker blundered here and could now be classed as tailed-off. The following fence was the water-jump, and the leader landed awkwardly over this one. The runners continued to the first of the railway fences; Shantou Village now at the head of affairs. However, he did take a chance when jumping this one, having dived over it. The horses continued to the middle of the line of three, after which Kilcrea Vale began to lose touch too.
Shantou Village still held a narrow advantage over his rivals as they cleared the fourth last, from Casino Markets, As De Mee alongside Brother Tedd, followed by Theinval, the mare Plaisir D’Amour, Poker School, the detached Kilcrea Vale and tailed off Fingerontheswitch. Tom Scudamore decided to call it a day aboard the latter having jumped this fence.
As they headed towards the Pond fence, Plaisir D’Amour began to show signs of tiredness too. Having jumped this one and entered the home straight, the only one not being ridden along was the leader Shantou Village. Brother Tedd, travelling in third position, didn’t jump the penultimate fence particularly well, but remained in contention, just behind the leading pair.
The runners continued to the final fence, with Noel Fehily’s mount landing half a length ahead of Casino Markets, with Brother Tedd half a length behind him; As De Mee wasn’t far behind too, nor Poker School and the keeping-on Plaisir D’Amour. It was now a race to the line.
Under a strong drive from Noel Fehily, Shantou Village continued to hold his rivals at bay as they headed up the hill; Brother Tedd was his final challenger and he continued to close as the line approached. However, the Neil Mulholland runner just clung on the win by a neck. Casino Markets claimed 3rd, with As De Mee 4th and Plaisir D’Amour 5th. Poker School crossed the line in 6th, Theinval some way back in 7th and Kilcrea Vale came home in his own time in last position.
We eventually returned to the Winners’ Enclosure; better late than never. As the race commemorated Josh Gifford, the presentations were made by his son Nick Gifford and widow Althea.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 6 - 4:45pm
Paddy Brennan, the rider of ROYAL VACATION (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding lost action. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding failed to reveal any abnormalities.
We headed across to the Pre-parade ring briefly, prior to heading to the area overlooking the Parade Ring. It was colder and more breezy there, hence the decision to move on quickly! We’d spent most of our day sheltered by the mound behind the rhododendron walk and by the main grandstand too. I’d worn a raincoat today, along with two cardigans and two thermal t-shirts but, in the main, I’d been warm enough; it was late April after all!
The joint-favourites for this, the final race of the current National Hunt season, were the Nicky Henderson-trained Thomas Campbell ridden by Nico de Boinville and Wait For Me trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson; price 5-1.
It was noted that Silverhow, a half-brother of Altior, also has a patch of white hair at the base of his tail! We sauntered across to the horse-walk prior to the first of the runners exiting the Parade Ring.
There was even a German raider in this event, namely Novalis trained by Christian von der Recke, but ridden by Jamie Moore. Former jockey Christian Williams, now turned trainer also had a representative, namely Limited Reserve ridden by Denis O’Regan.
The starting gate for this race was on the far side of the track, with one hurdle to jump before the far corner. This being the case, the horses cantered down past the grandstands to reach it. As the jockeys were required to keep right, following the line of the chase track, a steward with a chequered flag ensured they knew the correct route.
Once again, for the final time today, Lesley and I headed down the concourse to find a suitable vantage point near the top of the grassy slope just beyond the winning post. Lesley had chosen Valhalla in this one.
And then they were off, with Little Jon leading the runners to the first flight; as in Robin Hood, the horse wasn’t little, he was big! All sixteen runners cleared the obstacle without incident and the Nigel Twiston-Davies representative continued at the head of affairs as they headed into the far turn. Novalis travelled almost upsides the leader, from Tree Of Liberty, Valhalla and Oscar Hoof. Bringing up the rear at this stage was one of the joint-favourites, Wait For Me.
The runners had soon entered the home straight for the first time, with Little Jon leading from Novalis upsides Tree Of Liberty. Just behind these were Valhalla, Duke Street and Oscar Hoof. In mid-field were Black Corton, Thomas Campbell, Pilansberg, Curious Carlos and Chelsea Flyer. Towards the rear were Stowaway Magic, Silverhow, Kings Walk, Limited Reserve and Wait For Me.
They continued over flight number two without incident; Novalis now held the advantage over the field as they headed to the next; Wait For Me made a small error at this one. The runners headed up past the winning post before bearing right around the top bend and heading down the slope towards the far corner; Silverhow, to the inside of runners, was chivvied along at this point.
Novalis remained at the head of affairs as the runners entered the back straight; he hit the first flight therein and, further back in the field, Silverhow wasn’t particularly fluent either. Travelling in second position, Valhalla bunny-hopped the following hurdle. Little Jon was clumsy at the sixth flight and soon pushed along; Curious Carlos was now marginally last.
The sixteen runners now headed across the chase track to reach the next flight; they’d completed one circuit. The leader wasn’t particularly fluent at this one, and Valhalla drew alongside him; Tree Of Liberty had dropped to the rear and was now tailed off.
Novalis went on again as they headed into the far turn, Kings Walk had made noticeable progress on the outside of the field, and Little Jon had dropped to the back of the main group. The latter would be pulled up before the next, as was Tree Of Liberty. Oscar Hoof also weakened rapidly as they runners headed to the penultimate flight and, he too, was pulled up.
Meanwhile up front, Valhalla had taken the lead, but there were a number of runners queuing up behind him in order to deliver their challenges; namely Kings Walk, Black Corton and Stowaway Magic. Just behind these were Pilansberg, Limited Reserve and, to the nearside, Wait For Me. Valhalla was swamped by his rivals as they cleared the flight; Kings Walk hit this one but was narrowly ahead of his rivals until overtaken by Wait For Me.
They continued the run to the final flight which Richard Johnson’s mount cleared well; he then pulled away from his rivals as they headed towards the finishing line. The winning margin was 6 lengths! Stowaway Magic got the better of Kings Walk close home to snatch the runner-up spot. And Black Corton completed in 4th, just a 1¼ lengths behind them. Limited Reserved finished 5th and Silverhow 6th.
It was fitting that the Champion Jockey had won the final race of the season, making it a total of 192 wins.
There had been no fallers today … which is never a bad thing; although it does make my race-notes less interesting!
We headed back to the rails beside the rhododendron walk to see the horses go past. Novalis seemed a little bit distressed after the race, with Jamie hopping off as they neared the unsaddling area. We remained until every horse had returned; I knew there was one latecomer, as I’d not seen Jeremiah McGrath go by!
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 7 - 5:20pm
The Stewards noted that THOMAS CAMPBELL, trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.
Brian Hughes, the rider of TREE OF LIBERTY (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding was never travelling.
The Veterinary Officer reported that OSCAR HOOF (IRE), which was pulled up, trained by Nicky Henderson, lost a left-fore shoe.
Anyway, once they’d all returned, we walked over to the Winners’ Enclosure for the final time today; we waited until after the presentations had been made. Richard Johnson was happy to sign a number of autographs for patient punters, before he headed back to the Weighing Room accompanied by his two sons.
Nicky Henderson had already been made favourite to retain next year’s Trainers’ Championship due to his very strong team of horses at the present time. Paul Nicholls remained the second favourite, with Colin Tizzard as third favourite at 6-1. Rishi Persad expressed an interest in Dan Skelton winning the title at odds of 25-1 … the presenter believed he’d trained over 100-second placed horses this season.
As we waited for the crowds to disperse, we sat upon stools to the Weighing Room-side of the Parade Ring, close to the horse chestnut tree which was coming into bloom. I just love the ‘candle’ blossom. Having taken photos of each other, just to prove we were here today, we sat and watched the world go by. Richard Johnson and his sons, Casper and Percy, headed up the slope beside the Winners’ Enclosure; there’s a statue of Special Cargo situated on the lawn and both boys headed playfully through the gap between the horse’s hind-legs!
We decided to pay a second visit to the ladies loo before departure; better safe than sorry, in case we got caught in traffic on the way home! Lesley asked me to keep a lookout for her missing safety pin, just in case I used the end cubicle. And, guess what? I found it on the floor! Panic over, especially as she was going to go to the supermarket on the way home and didn’t want her trousers to be falling down.
We headed back through the Surrey Hall and down across the betting ring in order to cross over the track. Having arrived back at Lesley’s car, we each consumed two cheese rolls which I brought along with me. The car park was fairly empty, but there was still a queue to exit; we joined the back of it.
Upon reaching the gateway, we discovered a long, stationary queue heading up More Lane towards Esher High Street. We decided to turn right, as we were familiar with the alternative route we’d used last year. We were soon heading along Lower Green Road towards the bridge under the railway line. The pathway across the racecourse exits just before the bridge and a number of race-goers were making their way along the thoroughfare below the embankment, heading to the nearby station.
We arrived at a cross-roads with Station Road, and headed across into Weston Green Road. At the far end we turned left to head along the A309 in the direction of Hampton Court Palace. Having crossed the River Thames, we turned left at the roundabout outside the aforementioned Palace in order to drive along the A308 which runs beside Bushy Park and parallel to the River, initially. The road continues through the edge of Hampton and eventually arrives at Kempton Park racecourse.
The racecourse and all-weather track occupies around 50% of the site, so why don’t Jockey Club Racecourses sell off the land for building which is not currently being used and retain the remainder?
Anyway, we headed around the perimeter of the racecourse and onwards to the roundabout below the M3. We joined the motorway and subsequently transferred onto the M25 at Junction 12. Traffic was moving freely and we’d soon arrived back in Hertfordshire, leaving the motorway at Junction 22. I arrived home at 19:30.
Not only did Menorah head off for a well-earned retirement following this fixture, but Sprinter Sacre also left Nicky’s yard to begin a new chapter of his life with eventer and TV presenter Spencer Sturmey; the rider lives near Stow-on-the-Wold.
Click here for Sandown Park photos (Index)