DIARY – STRATFORD UPON AVON – SUNDAY 12 JULY 2009
When it became apparent that Choc would be riding at Stratford on this day (provided he returned safe and sound from his Stag-Do in Hamburg!) and that he and a number of other participants in his German excursion would be having their moustaches shaved off in public at some point during the afternoon (more about the background to this later), I knew that I just had to be there!
Besides, he had 4 riding engagements on the day, and I hadn’t attended a fixture for 6 weeks … and Stratford is my favourite racecourse after Cheltenham and Aintree, because I’ve had some fabulous Choc related ‘experiences’ during my visits to the racecourse!
So here is an account of my day ...
As my car was low on petrol, at just before 08:00 I set off for the local supermarket to fill up my Fiesta’s tank. Having returned, showered and applied make-up and sun-block, I set off for Stratford at just after 10:00.
My route took me via Hemel Hempstead to reach the A41 by-pass road, and I noticed the herd of Belted Galloway cattle were in their field at Boxmoor. It is at this point that I shall put in a reference to Robert Snooks, the last man to be executed in England for Highway robbery - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Snooks, for it is within this field that his grave and memorial stone lie! There is also a legend that if you dance around the grave three times at midnight and shout ‘Snooks’ the robber will obligingly join you in a danse macabre. I wouldn’t be keen to put this legend to the test, not because I believe it to be true, but because I understand Belted Galloways can be more unpredictable than a number of other breeds of cattle!
Anyway, returning to my journey to Stratford. My route took me to Aylesbury, then westwards along the A41 to Bicester (it’s always a pleasure to drive this section of my journey – provided I don’t get stuck behind any slow moving vehicles!), then southwards along the A34 to join the M40 northbound carriageway. It was whilst driving along the motorway that I encountered the only rain shower of the day.
Upon reaching Junction 15, I turned westwards towards Stratford and took the route along the bypass, encountering a traffic queue as I approached the Bishopton roundabout on the A3400, where traffic is directed to turn left if wishing to reach the town centre and the racecourse too. As I pulled into the outside lane in order to continue my journey via Shottery, I noticed JG Portman’s horsebox in the inside lane waiting to turn left – and onboard would be Minder, Choc’s first mount of the day!
It amazes me how contrasting the routes into Stratford can be – the Bishopton turning tails back for over a mile during the Sunday lunchtime period, but the route via Shottery is clear all the way, the only delay being the wait to exit onto the sometimes busy B439. Having travelled via my ‘quiet’ route, I arrived at the gates just after midday, leaving my car in the £3 parking area. I changed into my ‘heels’ and took my coral-coloured jacket with me just in case there were any further rain showers or the day turned chilly.
Having bought my ticket and gone through the turnstiles, I went to sit by the Parade Ring, having purchased my race-card en-route. At around 13:00 there was an announcement that Choc and a number of his weighing room colleagues (ones which had attended his Hamburg Stag-Do AND had grown facial hair as part of a fundraising effort on behalf of the Midlands Air Ambulance and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool - Jockeys Grow Moustaches.htm) would shortly be appearing in the Winners’ Enclosure to have their whiskers shaved off. I therefore made my way to the enclosure, where Sam Thomas, William Kennedy, AN Other (sorry I didn’t recognise him and can’t recall his name) plus the lovely Choc had already arrived in preparation for the ‘shave-off’.
Having been briefly ‘prepared’ with a battery shaver, the cut-throat razors were put into action on the jockeys. Sam, being more facially hirsute than Choc, took the longer to be shaved. Although, as mentioned in my blogs during late June/early July 2009, Choc had done remarkably well at growing a goatee, which presumably meant he would not have needed to perform a forfeit as one of the ‘non-triers’! Whilst the shaving was being completed, William Kennedy, by now clean-shaven, came round with the bucket to collect our donations.
Clean-shaven once more, Choc was interviewed firstly by a newspaper hack and then by Tim Peters, the Race Day presenter, where he gave details of his 8th August wedding. Finally, Choc signed autographs for a number of the spectators before returning to the Weighing Room.
And if you’d like to see my ‘shaving’ montages of Choc (looking extremely cute … although when doesn’t he?) please click here:
The jockey shearing completed, I decided to position myself between the Parade Ring and the course-side rails in preparation for the first race of the day, in which Choc’s mount would be Minder. Today’s going was good, good to firm in places.
Soon the horses arrived to parade, then the jockeys came out to join the connections and to mount their horses. Choc was first out onto the course, cantering down past the spectators to view the final hurdle before turning and cantering to the start in the far corner of the track. AP McCoy had just one ride at the track today, before heading off to Southwell. The punters were reading a lot into this, as his mount Barizan’s price shortened to become favourite. Choc’s mount was 4th favourite of the 8 runners, and was sweating noticeably.
After the horses’ girths had been checked, they were off. The blinkered mare, Fongoli led them off. Choc held Minder up near the back of the field, taking a mid to inner line. He didn’t jump the first too cleanly. Then into the straight for the first time, Forty Thirty slipping and falling when jumping the 4th flight (the final flight next time around). Despite being AP’s only riding engagement here, Barizan was not jumping fluently, and received reminders. Minder also received a reminder or two as they set off down the back straight for the final time, but he did take closer order, there appearing to be just 3 horses in with a chance by this stage – Fongoli still leading, then Barizan and Minder.
By the time they had reached the ‘mound’, AP’s mount had dropped away, leaving Minder to closely pursue Fongoli around the final bend into the straight. However the latter was still going the best and, despite making an error at the second last flight, Fongoli held on to win, although Minder was only beaten one length at the line. In 3rd, a distance behind, was AP’s mount, with Niceonefrankie a further distance behind in 4th. Only 5 finished.
I set off for the Winners’ Enclosure, crossing the sandy Parade Ring exit track with care – I was wearing a pair of high-heeled sandals – positioning myself by the 2nd place spot to see Choc come back in, unsaddle, speak with connections and return to the Weighing Room.
As Choc didn’t have a ride in the second event, I remained beside the Winners’ Enclosure, watching the next race on the big screen.
Again, the start of this race was in the far corner of the track. Lethal Gun was so keen to start that he broke the tape and galloped off down the course until Derek Laverty got control of him and trotted back to rejoin the other competitors.
When the race was properly underway, Lethal Gun took up the running and led until the 2nd, remaining prominent. In mid-division, Harry May blundered and unseated his rider. Rookery Lad then took over and led until the 4th fence, before No Greater Love took over. Gazump was the next to lead, before No Greater Love took over again. Kenwyn fell at the 7th obstacle, hampering Lethal Gun, who was then pulled up. The Walnut Tree was pulled up before the 7th. Rookery Lad had retaken the lead by the 8th obstacle.
Having been held up in rear, Cloonavery came through to lead after 2 out, and was first into the home straight. However, Classic Shot joined him at the last and went on the win by 2¾ lengths. Billyandi was 14 lengths behind in 3rd and Past Heritage a further 9 lengths away in 4th.
Martin Keighley http://www.martinkeighleyracing.com had a runner in the next event, Mr Newton, the horse sporting first-time blinkers. The horse was proving a handful and needed both his handler (Dave Cull) and Martin to restrain him as he walked around the Parade Ring. Once the horses had exited onto the course, and Martin had returned, I called across to say hello to him. We had a brief chat about Mr Newton’s chances – evidently it is always difficult to tell whether the horse will be having a ‘going’ day or not!
Initially, Brigadore, Sagredo and Mr Newton were hanging back behind the other runners at the start. When the field finally set off, Deadline, Dovedale, and Mr Newton were slowly away.
Calgary Jack took up the running, followed by Bathwick Man, Nawamees, and Segal. Calgary Jack was less than fluent at the 6th and was soon headed. Bathwick Man took over the running and, although making a mistake at the 2nd last, stayed on to win by 3½ lengths from the JP McManus owned Sagredo. Mr Newton was pulled up before the 3rd last flight, having always been in rear.
It was now time for Choc’s second ride of the day, his mount being Mango Catcher. As always, once mounted, Choc exited onto the course early, and cantered down to the start alongside Ruby Walsh, chatting as they went. The start of this race was over in the far corner of the track.
Then they were off. Nudge and Nurdle, wearing first-time blinkers, led them off, followed by Gaelic Flight and Lord Ryeford. Choc travelled on the inside in mid-division aboard Mango Catcher. The horses soon appeared in the straight for the first time.
Having found a good vantage point (my usual spot in fact) to see the horses clear the water jump, I was just preparing to take a photograph when the commentator announced that Mango Catcher had fallen at the previous fence (the first in the straight, and the last fence next time around). I glanced down the course, and saw Choc lying on his back with his legs in the air! Having now watched the recording of the race, Choc rolled up into a ball like a hedgehog as the horse fell, but gradually became ‘unfurled’ and failed to complete his final roll, thus the strange position he found himself in! I am very pleased to report that both horse and jockey were fine following this incident.
Histoire de Moeurs joined Nudge and Nurdle at the 6th fence, the latter becoming tired and dropping back by 4 fences out. Having been held up towards the rear of the field, it was time for Ruby’s mount, Jubilant Note to make a challenge as the race entered its final stages, but he couldn’t catch Histoire de Moeurs which, having taken the lead 4 fences out, stayed on well to win (carrying 2lbs overweight) and at 9-1.
Having made his way back up the course whilst the race continued, Choc arrived at the lower Parade Ring entrance as the horses galloped up the final straight towards the line. Slightly muddied, he made his way through the Winners’ Enclosure to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for Choc’s third ride of the day, aboard Miss Phoebe, who had run up a sequence of 3 wins prior to this race. I noticed that Anita Cusack, former Travelling Head Lad to Alan King, was helping with Ferdy Murphy’s runner, Pillar of Hercules. Next to me, there was a lady taking photos and I heard her say to her companion “Didn’t that girl formerly work for Alan King?” I enlightened her, mentioning that I thought Anita had left Barbury Castle in March this year.
This time Choc cantered to the start with Noel Fehily (aboard Is It Me), chatting as they went.
Then they were off. The field was led off by the keen Rampant Ronnie, with Is It Me taking up the running at the 2nd flight. Treaty Flyer was in third, Miss Phoebe was held up near the rear of the field, with Pillar of Hercules at the back.
Treaty Flyer took up the running at the 4th, and then the hard pulling Pillar of Hercules went into the lead, before being headed again by the former at the 5th. Miss Phoebe was being pushed along at this stage. Treaty Flyer didn’t jump the 3rd last very well, which enabled Is It Me to re-take the lead, Choc being in 4th at this stage. Despite making a bad blunder at the last, through tiredness, Is It Me won by 3 lengths from Bedizan, 3rd was Treaty Flyer, Miss Phoebe 4th.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back in. The 4th placed horse, being unsaddled at the corner of the Winners’ Enclosure, allows a good view to take photos. Once Choc had unsaddled, spoken with connections and returned to the Weighing Room, I walked back alongside the course-side rails to return to my usual vantage point in preparation for Choc’s final ride of the day in the next.
Choc’s mount in this event was the chestnut, Alan King trained, Porters War. I didn’t recognise the training yard’s representative, as it wasn’t Alan or Noel.
Although I’ve now been to Stratford races on 4 occasions, I cannot recall watching any race which has started immediately in front of the stands (or at least not one which Choc has ridden in) but, as the distance was just in excess of 2 miles 5 furlongs, this one did. It was fabulous to see the jockeys and horses up close, seeing their girths being tightened, and hearing their discussion as to who would make the running, etc.
The field was led off my Glenn An Saggart, closely followed by Donaldson, with Choc aboard Porters War in 3rd. Spirit Wind, having hit the 7th, was pulled up before the water jump. Glenn An Saggart put up a front running display, until hitting the 11th obstacle, Donaldson then taking up the running. Porters War was ridden to chase Donaldson from 4 out, but hit 3 out (an open-ditch) and he tired quickly, losing 2nd position to Glenn An Saggart before 2 out.
The ex-Alan King trained Evelith Echo, having been held up at the back, had made headway to take 4th position approaching 4 out. As those in front of him tired, he went 2nd approaching the last.
I had decided that I would take a photograph as Choc passed the winning post, which I was expecting him to do in 4th position. However, the chestnut Porters War didn’t appear until after a delay, and he was rider-less! Choc had departed at the final fence, his mount clearing the obstacle but coming down having stumbled a stride or two afterwards. Once again Choc had to walk back in, hopefully with just his pride a little bruised! He appeared fine as he progressed through the Winners’ Enclosure and returned to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for the final race of the day, which I watched from the course-side rails just past the winning post. The start of this event, was over in the far corner of the track.
That Man Fox was very keen to begin and went into the lead. In 2nd was Moon Bear, followed by Quell the Storm, and Cootehill. That Man Fox retained the lead until after the 5th flight, when Ruby’s mount took over (Quell the Storm). Cootehill improved to take 2nd place. Outsider Turbo Shandy was in 3rd, running better than his starting price would suggest.
Cootehill then overtook Quell The Storm before the 2nd last flight and went on to win. Turbo Shandy came to grief at the last when a close 3rd.
William Kennedy, the rider of Turbo Shandy, walked back to the lower Parade Ring entrance, pausing to watch the replay of his fall and the finish on the big screen, before passing through the Winners’ Enclosure and returning to the Weighing Room.
Once the horses had returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the final race, I set off for the exit, although for Health and Safety reasons the way was barred for a few moments following the ‘Horses Away’ call as the animals returned to the stables. Before leaving, I visited the little girls’ room as it would be at least 2 hours before I reached home.
Considering the attendance numbers at this fixture had been large, I was surprised that the queues out of the car park were quite short. So, instead of feeding and watering as is usually my habit before I set off for home, I decided to leave immediately. As I drove to the exit I noticed that Alan King’s horsebox (with Porters War aboard) was just a couple of vehicles in front of me. There were police on hand to help control the traffic, and on the two occasions I encountered them I was the last car to be let through!
I decided to retrace my route through Shottery to rejoin the A46 by-pass. However, upon reaching the roundabout where the A439 comes out of Stratford town centre, it became apparent that there was a traffic jam all the way down to join the M40. Snap decision time ... I decided to return to Stratford along the aforementioned A439 and then took the A422 to Banbury. I am very impressed by Stratford Upon Avon, it has what appear to be some very pleasant residential areas!
Anyway, after a very pleasing drive through the Warwickshire countryside, and up Edge Hill, I reached the Oxfordshire boundary and Banbury. I then joined the M40 to travel south to Bicester, and back along the A41 to Aylesbury, then to Hemel Hempstead and on to my home City. I arrived back just after 19:45.