DIARY – STRATFORD UPON AVON
– THURSDAY EVENING 13 AUGUST 2009
As I like to attend meetings at Stratford Upon Avon and, with Choc having 4 rides scheduled, I just had to take a trip to this fixture, my first ever evening card. Also advertised in the Stratford race-card from 19 July’s fixture (Ladies Day) was a camel race, to be held prior to racing, as part of filming for a future Blue Peter programme.
I set off at 13:45, and decided to try my new route to Stratford, avoiding the M40. This was also partly due to my wishing to return via the same route this evening, because I still don’t trust myself not to lose concentration when driving alone on a motorway after dark. Dark country roads pose no problem however!
My route took me via Dunstable, Milton Keynes, and Buckingham, which I safely negotiated with the help of a post-IT note applied to my dashboard, but upon reaching the A43 I turned left instead of right, so missed Brackley and ended up at Junction 10 of the M40! But not being one to panic (or retrace my route) I took the M40 northbound and left at the next exit, Banbury, to resume my planned route along the A422 to Stratford. The road took me through the picturesque villages of Drayton and Wroxton, descending Edge Hill, past the Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Oxhill, to arrive at the ‘weird sculpture’ roundabout on the southern outskirts of Stratford Upon Avon. I took the road signposted ‘through traffic’ until turning left onto the Bidford-on-Avon road, a short distance along which I turned into Luddington Lane and the racecourse entrance. It was just before 16:00.
Once again I decided to park inside, paying a £3 fee. Having changed into my heels, I walked along to the turnstiles, purchasing a £14 Tattersalls ticket, and went to sit by the side of the Parade Ring, opposite the Tote building. Disappointingly there was no camel racing, so I could have left home a little later, the first race being at 17:40.
As the time approached for the horses to arrive in the Parade Ring in preparation for the first race, I set off to sit in my favourite spot, between Parade Ring and course-side rails, just a few metres past the winning post.
Choc was riding in the first race. His mount was Danetime Panther, owned by the Jenny and Mark Pitman Racing Club and trained by Ian Williams. Not surprisingly, there were a large number of members in the Parade Ring waiting for their jockey to appear. Danetime Panther was probably the last horse to arrive in the Paddock.
Soon it was time for the jockeys to enter the Parade Ring, Choc going to speak with the large group of owners, then he was legged up onto his mount and left the Paddock, cantering down to inspect an obstacle before heading to the start in the far corner of the track. He was accompanied by Warren Marston aboard Sagunt.
Then they were off. Agente Romano was sent into the lead, Scotsbrook Cloud making an error at the first flight. Prominent were the greys Moment Present and Civil Servant, also Sir Billy Nick. Choc was in around 7th position, taking a mid line, as they travelled towards the home straight for the first time. He had moved up to dispute 4th as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go.
Soon all bar 6 of the field were struggling. Those still travelling were the long-time leader Agente Romano, Danetime Panther, Civil Servant, Dream of Fortune, Moment Present and Sagunt, who had made headway from the rear of the field. Hammer was chasing these, the remainder of the field all toiling in their wake, although all 15 runners were to complete the race.
Around the final bend, Choc’s mount was disputing 2nd with, on his inside, Dream of Fortune. Having jumped the penultimate flight it appeared that he might be held, however he switched out from the rails and cleared the final obstacle running, sweeping past the weakening long-time leader, Agente Romano, to win by 1¾ lengths. Civil Servant kept on well behind him to finish 2nd.
I left the course-side rails to walk to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc arrive back aboard his 16th winner of the season. He unsaddled and spoke with Jenny Pitman, surrounded by members of the Racing Club, all listening intently. He then posed for a group photo with the members and the horse before returning to the Weighing Room.
I remained beside the Winners’ Enclosure to watch the horses parading prior to the next event, a Juvenile Selling Hurdle. Choc was not competing in this one. Again the start of this race was in the far corner of the track.
Then they were off. The favourite, Royal Max, was sent into the lead, followed by Rannoch Rose, Pure Crystal, Bathwick Pursuit and Paymaster in Chief. Wise Princess made a mistake at the first flight. There was already 20 lengths covering the field as they entered the straight for the first time.
It was almost Indian file as they galloped away from the stands, with 50/1 shot Bertie Bacon unseating his rider at the 5th flight. By the 3rd last a group of 3 had pulled clear of the remainder, long-time leader Royal Max, Rannoch Rose, and Pure Crystal. However, Royal Max went 10 lengths clear of his nearest pursuers as he came around the final bend, and had stretched his winning margin to 21 lengths on the line, despite easing down.
By the time the horses were walking back in, I had repositioned myself next to the course-side rails. Being a Selling Hurdle, Royal Max was put up for auction in the Winners’ Enclosure, the reserve price being 2,900 guineas. Following eager bidding, the horse was finally sold to MC Chapman for 10,000 guineas.
It was now time for Choc’s 2nd ride of the day, aboard the Irish trained Stepchange. Choc came into the Parade Ring to receive his orders from trainer Jimmy Lambe before mounting the horse and exiting onto the course. I was very pleased that the distance of this race was 2 miles 5 furlongs, as this meant the horses and jockeys would be circling in front of the stands before the off. There were 3 greys in this race – Alecia, Silver Dollars and Pas De Baratin.
Having inspected a fence, Choc arrived at the start with Richard Johnson, girths were checked, and I could hear the jockeys discussing their tactics – Andrew Thornton confirming that he intended to lead the runners aboard Mysaynoway.
Then they were off. As expected Mysaynoway was sent into the lead, the grey Alecia prominent, Choc was towards the outside, near the back of the closely grouped field. However he made a mistake at the first obstacle and continued to jump a little erratically. The favourite, Pure Magic, suffered a serious injury when ploughing through the 5th obstacle and was swiftly pulled up.
Mysaynoway was joined by Ma Chara as they began the final circuit. A group of 8 had pulled away from the remainder as they headed down the back straight for the final time – Mysaynoway, Pas De Baratin, Paperchaser, Alecia, Think Lucky, Paradise Expected and Moulin De La Croix.
The horses were waived around the 3rd last fence, the open-ditch, where the injured Pure Magic had been pulled up on the previous circuit. I noticed the concerned trainer and stable-hands heading across the course towards the horse-box that had already arrived at the scene to collect the stricken horse.
The grey, Pas De Baratin lead the field into the final straight, with Paperchaser and Think Lucky closing fast. Paperchaser took over the lead just before the last, but was collared by Think Lucky as they approached the line. Pas De Baratin faded quickly but held on for 3rd.
Choc’s mount, Stepchange, had begun to tail off by the 12th obstacle and was pulled up 2 out. I remained by the Parade Ring to see Choc as he returned to unsaddle.
Martin Keighley had a runner in the 4th event, Hareem, reverting to hurdles after his recent disappointing run at Bangor on Dee over fences. The horse was to be ridden by Ian Popham, taking 7 pounds off the weight. Choc was not taking part in this race.
Again the start of this event was over in the far corner of the track. Then they were off.
The field was led off by Kingscourt Lad, followed by Moon Bear, Laybach, and Crystal Crown. Hareem was in rear. The same group of 4 were ahead of the main field as they headed up the straight for the first time. The favourite, Bundle Up, fell at the 4th last.
Massams Lane, having made progress through the field, took over the lead at the 3rd last and he was chased into the home straight by the Richard Johnson ridden Something Inside. Closing quickly as they approached the 2nd last, and switching towards the inside rail, Richard’s mount took a heavy fall which proved fatal. The horse had broken its neck, colliding with the plastic rails as it fell, his jockey being thrown clear on the in-field. Green screens were quickly erected, and fortunately Richard emerged unscathed. Despite blundering at the last, Massams Lane galloped on to win at 28/1.
A hush fell upon the crowd, many of the experienced punters realising the horse’s fall had been fatal. The atmosphere remained subdued as the horses returned to the Winners’ Enclosure.
I forgot to say that, despite never being in contention, Hareem did finish the race in 9th place.
It was now time for Choc’s 3rd ride of the evening, aboard the Jimmy Lambe trained Trotsky. I noticed his new wife, Meally, was sitting alongside the entrance to the Winners’ Enclosure/Parade Ring, where the jockeys pass through on their route from the Weighing Room.
When Choc arrived in the Parade Ring he took fright at something, although I couldn’t see what it was! There was a horse nearby, but I didn’t think the animal was that close to him. The race was to begin at the far end of the home straight, with an outsider, Rosses Point, being withdrawn before the start on veterinary advice.
Then they were off. The senior member of the field, 13 year old Keltic Lord, took the lead, with Trotsky in 2nd position, the remaining 6 runners closely grouped behind them. Jackella made an error at the 4th obstacle, with Marrel doing the same at the 5th. Keltic Lord had gone clear by a few lengths, with Trotsky just ahead of the rest. Dasher Reilly blundered at the 2nd open-ditch, and Trotsky was untidy at the one before the water.
As they set out on the final circuit, 3 of the runners began to lose touch, these being Jackella, Feeling Peckish and Dasher Reilly. Wayne Hutchinson appeared to lose an iron as a result of his Richard Phillips trained mount, Rapid Return, hitting the 13th. The horse subsequently lost ground, as did Marrel. As they approached the end of the back straight, Keltic Lord had narrowly surrendered his lead to Trotsky.
Choc took the inside line around the final bend thus retaining his advantage but, as they approached the final fence, Choc had to administer encouragement with his whip. Keltic Lord was rallying, and after the last Trotsky showed a reluctant temperament as he began to swish his tail, appearing to resent Choc’s urgings. His very game challenger triumphed by a distance of 1½ lengths as Trotsky’s resolve faltered towards the winning post.
I remember Choc riding Keltic Lord at Plumpton last September, and his saddle slipped backwards during the race, but he survived to complete in 3rd place!
As Choc had finished placed, I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see him return to unsaddle, brief the trainer and return to the Weighing Room.
It was now time for the final race of the day, in which he would be riding Rhinestone Ruby for trainer Neil Mulholland. I guess Choc would have had the option to ride either Jimmy Lambe’s Quivvy Bridge or Rhinestone Ruby, and perhaps he chose Neil’s charge out of loyalty, as AP McCoy would undoubtedly get the ride aboard Jimmy Lambe’s UK raiders when available.
Unfortunately the evening light had now faded, so the quality of my photographs had degraded by this time.
I hadn’t realised how huge Rhinestone Ruby is, she dwarfed her rivals. She doesn’t look that big on TV! And I have to say she was being a little mulish today, although I don’t know whether that is her usual character trait. When Choc tried to push her in close to the inspection fence, she seemed a little reluctant. And then she didn’t seem too keen to join her compatriots as they circled at the start, which was at the top of the home straight.
Then they were off. Poppy Parade, fighting for her head, went into the lead, Rhinestone Ruby, also keen, took up an inside berth in 2nd spot. By the second flight, Choc had taken over at the front of the field. As they headed up the home straight for the first time, Rhinestone Ruby remained in front, with Quivvy Bridge, Cailin Na Ri and Poppy Parade prominent.
The first horse to lose touch was the 100-1 shot, Give A Lot. Choc relinquished the lead after the 3rd last flight, with Cailin Na Ri the first to enter the home straight, being followed through by Quivvy Bridge, the latter taking a narrow lead by 2 out. However Cailin Na Ri rallied, and Richard Johnson had to drive his mount out to win by 1 length on the line.
Having become tired, Rhinestone Ruby blundered badly at the 2nd last flight, at which point Choc eased her down to finish in 7th place. I waited by the Parade Ring for Choc to return, he spent time giving a detailed explanation of the run to the horse’s connections before heading for the Weighing Room.
By this time darkness would not be far away, so I set out to find my own trusty steed in the car park.
Having arrived back at my car, I took time out to eat a snack, not having eaten since lunchtime. And it would be at least 2 hours before I reached home. It was almost dark when I set off, but that’s not a problem, as it is frequently the case when I travel to fixtures during the winter.
I returned via the A422 to Banbury, and the road was surprisingly quiet considering it was only 21:00. Despite the hour, I actually enjoyed my drive back through Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire to my home county of Hertfordshire. I arrived home just after 23:00.