DIARY – STRATFORD UPON AVON
– SUNDAY 13 JUNE 2010
My ‘Chocolate’ Umbrella!
When did I decide to take a trip to this particular Stratford fixture? At 07:30 on the morning of the races! I’d been very indecisive since downloading the declarations at lunchtime the previous Friday, to discover that Choc had 3 riding engagements. Stratford thus became a ‘maybe’ fixture.
Let me explain. If a fixture is within reasonable driving distance, I then weigh up my options – if Choc has just 1 or 2 riding engagements it could transpire that either or both might be non-runners, so then I will wait to attend a more suitable fixture at a later date. If he has 3 riding engagements, then it’s a ‘maybe’ and I have to make a decision whether to go. Four or more riding engagements is a ‘yes’, my finances permitting of course. Although there may always be exceptions to my rule!
So what tipped the balance from a ‘maybe’ to a ‘yes’? Firstly, I’d not seen Choc competing ‘live’ since 09 April, which was the day before the Grand National. And, secondly, I knew that my next available opportunity might be mid-July at Stratford or Southwell ... which would be another four weeks to wait. And, Martin Keighley had a runner in one of the other races at this fixture, so that created an additional interest on the day.
Okay, so I was due to have my hair cut this day, by my sister-in-law Anita. But it wouldn’t be the first occasion I’d foregone a haircut to go racing ... and it probably won’t be the last occasion either! Although at this particular time I resembled a skewbald pony, due to an allergy to hair dye which now prevents me covering all those greys!!! Not a good look.
Anyway, I logged onto my PC to double-check Choc’s riding engagements, and the weather forecast too. The weather news wasn’t quite as good as had been forecasted earlier, it was now sunny intervals with heavy rain showers due to arrive at around 16:00. I then took a look at Martin Keighley’s latest blog message, from the previous day, where he revealed the exciting news that Choc and his wife Meally are expectant parents, the baby being due at Christmas! Perhaps if I went to the races I’d have the opportunity to congratulate Choc in person on the wonderful news ...
So, having eaten breakfast, taken a shower, and applied on my ‘war paint’, I was ready to set off at 10:10. As rain was expected later in the day I took my ‘Chocolate’ umbrella (pictured above), my blue raincoat, and wore my blue cowboy boots too. And I took a small picnic lunch to eat upon arrival at the course.
I had intended to drive to Hemel Hempstead in order to take the A41 to Aylesbury and onwards to Bicester. However, it transpired that my route was blocked due to the local half marathon taking place this day. I suppose it should have crossed my mind, as a work colleague, another work colleague’s mum, and a third work colleague’s husband were all participating in the event!
So, having found the road blocked by a police car and marshals, I diverted through a nearby housing estate and headed north to Harpenden, then west to Redbourn. Another decision required, should I backtrack to Hemel Hempstead, or head north-westwards along the A5 to Dunstable. I choose the latter option. It even occurred to me that I could drive up the M1 and then cut across country via Warwick, but I don’t know that particular route ... although I can improvise quite well despite not having satnav in my car! Another option was to drive up the A5 to Milton Keynes and then travel via Buckingham, a route I know quite well.
In the event, I decided to skirt around Dunstable, taking the road through Totternhoe, not far from my friend Lesley’s home in fact. I soon joined the Leighton Buzzard bypass, drove through Wing, and onwards to Aylesbury to re-join my original route. I then headed west along the A41, through Waddesdon, although frustratingly the car at the head of the line of traffic was ‘pootling’ along at 40 mph where the limit was 60 mph! Fortunately the car causing the holdup turned off the main road when we reached Kingswood, and this enabled the pace to quicken as the queue headed for Bicester. Although there were still two very impatient sports car drivers who weaved in and out of the traffic along this mainly straight stretch of road, it being an old Roman road – Akeman Street. And I’d already seen a few spots of rain on my windscreen.
At Bicester I took the A34 southbound to join the M40 northbound carriageway at Junction 9. I drove just 2 junctions, leaving at 11, the Banbury exit. From experience, I’ve discovered that lunchtime traffic, even on a Sunday, can cause queues on the A46 Stratford bypass, so I now take the scenic route along the A422 through the picturesque villages of Drayton and Wroxton, past Upton House, down the steep incline at Edgehill, past the Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Oxhill, and through Ettington.
Upon arrival at the outskirts of Stratford, I took the route signed-post ‘through traffic’ which skirts the southwest perimeter of the town and, after negotiating a number of roundabouts, I turned left onto the Bidford-on-Avon Road, and then left again down the lane to the racecourse entrance. I prefer to park inside the gates, paying £3 for the privilege, I’d arrived at 12:25, 25 minutes after gate opening time.
I ate my packed lunch before setting off to buy a Tattersalls ticket (£14) from the kiosk, and a race programme (£2.50).
After a brief visit to the ‘little girls’ room’ (more information than you needed) I went to sit beside the Parade Ring to read the racecard. At 13:15 I decided to switch position, walking around to the course side of the Parade Ring, where I found a space near to the winning post. I was very pleased to note that the ‘sand traps’ at the course entry and exit points have been replaced by a rubberised surface, the same material that is used for the pathways within the Parade Ring. The sand has always caused me a problem when I’m wearing sandals, as I really don’t appreciate having sand within my shoes under the soles of my feet!
Shortly afterwards I noticed jockey Joe Tizzard heading out to walk the course. Throughout the afternoon, swallows would be flitting up and down the course.
It was soon time for the first race of the day, in which Choc was competing aboard the Ian Williams trained Hilfiger. This German bred horse had run twice over hurdles in England, Choc being the pilot on both occasions. He’d finished 3rd at Huntingdon and 2nd at Uttoxeter, so would this be his ‘Dusty Bin 3-2-1’ moment?
The jockeys took their horses to look at the final flight, before they cantered down to the start, which was over in the far corner of the track.
One of the runners, Princess Soraya, appeared very reluctant to go out onto the course. Her trainer, Brendan Powell, was not in attendance, so trainer Peter Bowen went to help the stable-lass, the horse having almost to be pushed across the Parade Ring, after which she was backed out onto the course! Once there, jockey Aiden Coleman was legged up and the partnership then set off for the start.
Another competitor in this race was ex-Alan King inmate Saltagioo, who had recently recorded a win at Newton Abbot for his new stable. Today the horse was ridden by AP McCoy and started as second favourite; Hilfiger was the third favourite.
Then they were off. Choc’s intentions were clear, as he came out onto the course first, setting off almost upsides Saltagioo, Choc taking this preferred inside berth aboard Hilfiger. The two front runners were followed by Den Maschine and Cool Touch; Swiss Guard and Society Venue brought up the rear. Although not jumping quite as fluently as Saltagioo over the initial obstacles, Hilfiger took up the running from the second flight.
Swiss Guard, Society Venue and Welcome Wonder were already some distance behind as the field headed past the winning post with one circuit to go. Saltagioo soon received reminders from AP McCoy. Choc, giving Hilfiger a very positive ride, had established a lead over his rivals by the time they reached 4 out. Den Maschine looked like being his only possible challenger as the remaining runners dropped away. The pursuers were now led by Danimix and Society Venue.
Turning into the final straight, Hilfiger soon took command and, although steadied and not fluent at the last, went on to win by 5 lengths with plenty in hand from Den Maschine, 9 lengths back in 3rd was Danimix, with Society Venue 16 lengths behind him.
Choc’s 8th winner of the season and my first ‘in person’ as a spectator since Mille Chief won at Kempton on 27 December 2009!
Leaving my vantage point near the winning post, I decided to walk along to the Winners’ Enclosure, positioning myself near the No.1 spot in order to get a good view of Choc as he returned. As always, Choc acknowledged the applause as he rode back in, dismounted, unsaddled and spoke with the trainer Ian Williams and the owner. It was then time for a brief photo-call with the horse and winning connections before he headed for the Weighing Room.
Having read the exciting ‘baby news’ on Martin Keighley’s blog earlier in the day, I wanted to offer my congratulations to Choc so, as he exited the Parade Ring I said “Well Done” on his win and “Congratulations” regarding the forthcoming arrival, for which he thanked me before he returned to the Weighing Room.
It was soon time for the second race of the day. The start of this race was at the top corner of the track, heading away from the stands. Choc was not competing in this event.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Glengarra, followed by De Luain Gorm, Silver Dollars, and Tampa Boy; with Benefit Game in rear. De Luain Gorm soon took up the running, Foreign King making an error at the second open ditch, as a result dropping back to dispute last place with Benefit Game.
Foreign King showed a tendency to jump to its right at some of the obstacles. The early leader, Glengarra, soon started to struggle, dropping back and tailing off before being pulled up by jockey Timmy Murphy. De Luain Gorm continued to jump boldly at the head of the field. Benefit Game was fencing slowly and eventually clobbered the 3rd from home, unseating AP McCoy.
De Luain Gorm entered the home straight with a 3-length advantage over Tampa Boy and Silver Dollars and, despite an error at the last, ran on to record a 3¾ lengths victory. Tampa Boy completed in 2nd, Prince Noora finished 3rd, and Silver Dollars 4th.
AP, having parted company with Benefit Game 3 out, got a lift back from his departure point and he returned through the Parade Ring, grass stains visible on his breeches.
It was then time for the third race of the afternoon. The start of this race was at the bottom end of the home straight, with just over 2 circuits to travel. Choc wasn’t competing in this race either.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Putney Bridge and Ballycarney; at the back were Cruchain and The Duke’s Speech. Pheidias made a slight error at the 4th obstacle, Buck The Legend a worse one. Gaelic Flight jumped left and hit the birch upright at the 5th, the open ditch, but survived, Present Gale made a mistake at this obstacle too. Tot Of The Knar was soon urged on.
Gaelic Flight jumped slowly over the 7th, another open-ditch, and Painter Man wasn’t fluent at the obstacle either. Into the home straight for the first time, Putney Bridge still led, with Painter Man now in second, and Ballycarney third. Cruchain still in rear, blundered badly at the 9th, Nostringsattached having made headway wasn’t fluent at the water jump.
Putney Bridge and Painter Man were clear of the field as they headed down the back straight for the final time, the former soon setting up a clear advantage over all his pursuers despite having led since the start. Cruchain, in rear, blundered at the second last, unseating jockey Dougie Costello.
Putney Bridge went on the win by 12 lengths from Ballycarney, the latter rallying to overtake Painter Man on the run-in. Tot Of The Knar stayed on at the same pace to complete in 4th.
It was now time for Choc’s second ride of the day, this time aboard the diminutive Aohna, trained by Alan King. His mount races in the colours of the Jenny and Mark Pitman Racing Club and, as usual, the members were on hand for a photo-call before the race. Choc certainly couldn’t fail to find his ‘owners’ as they were by far the largest group in the Parade Ring! Noel Williams, Alan King’s Assistant Trainer, was on duty today representing the yard.
One of the runners in this race, Exulto, is owned by Sir Peter O’Sullevan and he was here to see his horse run. Earlier in the afternoon he’d chatted briefly with AP McCoy as the latter was returning across the Parade Ring to the Weighing Room.
The start of this race was over in the far corner of the track.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Olympian Boy, followed by Agente Romano, and Aohna, Choc taking his favoured inside line. These were followed by Dishdasha, Nordwind, Exulto and Stumped.
Olympian Boy led the field into the straight, Agente Romano still in second, with Aohna in third; neither of the latter two horses jumped fluently at the 4th flight. Agente Romano also hit the next. The field was closely packed as they turned into the back straight for the final time.
Agente Romano took up the running at the 6th flight. Aohna moved up on the inside to take 2nd. The leader blundered 3 out, and was then ridden and headed by Aohna as they approached 2 out.
Aohna wasn’t fluent at the obstacle, veering right on landing and slightly hampering Dishdasha, who was switched left as a result. However, Aohna appeared to be in command when she caught her near fore on the top of the final flight and, as a result, stumbled after it thus shooting Choc up her neck. Luckily Choc recovered his racing position but it was too late to regain the advantage on the short run-in, Exulto just failing to hold off the late challenge of Dishdasha at the line.
Choc and Aohna were very unlucky losers but, looking on the bright side, at least Choc didn’t fall off!
It was now time for the fifth race of the day, in which trainer Martin Keighley had a runner. The Fox’s Decree was owned by Martin at this time, although he was looking for a buyer who would keep the horse in training with him. Stable jockey Warren Marston, who had been injured as a result of a fall at Worcester in early June, joined Martin’s group in the paddock. Today The Fox’s Decree was ridden by Jimmy Derham.
The start of this race was at the far end of the home straight, with just over 2 circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Basford Lass, followed by Strumble Head, the grey Arctic Ghost prominent on the outside. In rear, River Beauty wasn’t fluent at the first. The Fox’s Decree was two thirds of the way down the field.
When still leading, Basford Lass blundered badly at the third, her jockey Alan O’Keeffe clinging to the reins to no avail as he was unseated. This left Arctic Ghost to lead, retaining it despite a mistake at the next. Arctic Ghost held the lead until a less than fluent jump at the 6th enabled Strumble Head to take over. The Fox’s Decree had begun to make progress and was in 6th place as they headed away from the stands with one circuit to go.
Soon it was the turn of Lansdowne Princess to take over the lead. Cool Cliche was pulled up. Miss Saffron came to dispute the lead with Lansdowne Princess, the latter making a mistake 3 out after which Miss Saffron went on. The Fox’s Decree came through to chase the leader around the final turn, both preceded by the loose Basford Lass.
However, Miss Saffron was now in command and stayed on well to win by 2 lengths from The Fox’s Decree. The rider-less Basford Lass cleared the steeplechase water-jump as she galloped up the straight!
As promised by the weather forecast, the heavy rain arrived, it was 16:40. So it was time to use my ‘Chocolate’ umbrella. As I was well prepared for inclement weather, I remained in the area between the Parade Ring and course side rails.
It was now time for the penultimate race of the day, which started at the far end of the home straight, with just over two circuits to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Teri D Trixter, followed by Tisfreetdream, Billie Magern, City Heights, Walamo and Last Flight. In rear were Factotum and Port Talbot. The Hairy Mutt made a slight error at the 3rd. Factotum was soon being urged along by AP McCoy.
Down the back straight, Teri D Trixter still led the field. City Heights was jumping slowly near the rear. Port Talbot, still in last place, made a mistake at the 8th.
Teri D Trixter led past the stands with one circuit to go, Billie Magern was in second, and Last Flight having taken closer order was now in third. Tisfreetdream having hit the 12th, soon tailed off and would be pulled up before 4 out.
Billie Magern assumed the lead as the field approached 4 out, and he and Last Flight had drawn clear of the remaining runners as they turned into the home straight. Both cleared the last well, Billie Magern going on to win by 1½ lengths, always maintaining the advantage over his main rival. Port Talbot finished a distance behind in 3rd, with long time leader Teri D Trixter completing in 4th.
A number of people had decided to leave after the fifth race due to the arrival of the rain; and many more departed after the sixth. However, as Choc was competing in the final race of the day, obviously I stayed put! I suppose it was understandable that others would leave early due to the deteriorating weather conditions, as it was quite cold and many spectators were dressed for the warm summery conditions of early afternoon! I felt quite cold, despite the fact I was wearing a cardigan and a raincoat ...
Choc’s ride in this race was the Alan King trained Smoking. The start of this race was in the far corner of the track.
The field was led away by Snope, followed by Glacial Harry, Jump Up and Smoking, Choc’s mount taking a keen hold. The favourite, Whereveryougoigo was in mid-division. Total Effects and Quidam Blue were at the rear of the field.
Past the winning post with one circuit to go Snope still led, Glacial Harry soon being pushed along on the inside of the field.
Jump Up took the lead from Snope over 6 furlongs out. Smoking had been switched out from the rails to go around the fading Glacial Harry, but Choc’s mount began to weaken 4 furlongs from the finish and dropped out. Whereveryougoigo, having been pushed along at one stage, made headway.
Jump Up led the field into the home straight, pursued by Vicpol, Sohappyharry and Whereveryougoigo. Vicpol soon went on and won easily by 12 lengths from Wheneveryougoigo, Jump Up and Sohappyharry. A very unexpected 80-1 winner! Smoking was eased up and completed 11th of the 14 runners.
As another heavy rain shower had arrived during the course of the final race, Choc stood in the rain whilst debriefing Noel Williams and Smoking’s owner.
Once Choc had walked across the Parade Ring and had disappeared inside the Weighing Room it was time for me to leave.
Having reached my car I waited for the crowds to clear, as I hate pushing into or waiting in queues, so I stayed put until most of the traffic had left, leaving just before 18:10. Whilst waiting I believe I saw Choc leave too, driving a black BMW car between the remaining vehicles in order to ‘queue jump’, but I didn’t recognise the number plate ... that’s very mysterious!
I returned along the A422, joining the M40 at the Banbury junction. There was a heavy downpour as I drove southwards down the motorway and approached the junction with the A34. I slowed down, as the road conditions could have led to aquaplaning had anyone needed to suddenly apply their brakes. The rain had stopped by the time I reached the Junction 9 slip-road but, as I my route took me northwards again to Bicester, I drove back into the cloudburst!
The rain cleared as I drove eastwards along A41 towards Aylesbury. Taking the ring-road around the town, I then drove along the next section of A41 back to Hemel Hempstead, negotiating the infamous ‘magic roundabout’, and arrived home at 20:05. The milometer in my car had recorded a total journey distance of 176 miles today and, having spent 2 very quiet months away from the races, I’m now raring to attend another fixture!