DIARY – STRATFORD UPON AVON
– SATURDAY (EVENING) 28 MAY 2011
Choc and Nikos Extra
It had seemed like ages since I’d been racing; in fact it was a mere 48 days but, in the general scheme of things during 2011, that was an unusually long time. Anyway, as summer approaches it gets more difficult to find suitable fixtures to attend, my nearby courses having been ‘taken over’ by flat racing whilst others are having their mid-year break. That tends to leave me with just Stratford Upon Avon and Worcester within easy driving distance; if you can describe 90 miles and 110 miles respectively, easy driving distance! I enjoy taking the scenic routes, avoiding motorways if possible; this means that Stratford is over 2 hours away ... and Worcester over 3 hours away!
Having checked the At The Races website on Friday to discover where Choc would be this Bank Holiday weekend; it transpired that he had 3 riding engagements on Saturday evening at Stratford Upon Avon and 2 on Sunday at Uttoxeter. Any riding engagements on Monday wouldn’t be discovered until Sunday lunchtime ... which, in the event, proved to be none! So, if I was to go racing, it had to be to Warwickshire on Saturday. I checked to see what time the gates opened – according to the website it was 2 hours before racing at every meeting. As the first race was due off at 17:50, I decided that I should set off between 14:00 and 14:30; which meant I should arrive before 16:30.
Having woken early on Saturday, I drove to the local petrol station to fill my tank; at 07:15 to be precise. Following breakfast I spent two or three hours working on my 2011 Cheltenham Day 4 diary. Then I had a shower and washed my hair; ate dinner and set off at 14:15.
My journey took me via Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury and Bicester. I then headed northwards up the M40 to Banbury, passing a ‘Hatherden’ horsebox en route – trainer Emma Lavelle must have a runner at Stratford this evening. Leaving the motorway, I took the scenic approach to Stratford via the A422. Being a Saturday afternoon, all the roads were quite busy, apart from the A422, which was quieter than usual; although there were stretches of this road where speed restrictions were in place due to recent resurfacing work and the risk of loose chippings causing damage to vehicles. Luckily, though, most of the chippings had already ‘settled’. There were a few rain showers during my journey.
I arrived at the racecourse at 16:25; paying £3 to park in the area inside the main gates. As I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to eat for a few hours, I remained in my car for a few minutes, eating a couple of cheese rolls I’d brought along with me. Whilst sitting in my vehicle, I noticed numerous spectators had gathered on the roof above the turnstiles, just outside the owners and trainers room; however, I didn’t really think anything of it at the time.
Shortly afterwards I set off for the turnstiles to purchase a Tattersalls ticket; as I like to watch the races from a vantage point near the water-jump, in the area between the Parade Ring and the course-side rails. Having popped to the loo, I then went to sit beside the Parade Ring to read through the race-card I’d purchased.
Page 17 ... Camel Racing ... oh; that must have been what everyone was watching. Damn, I’d missed it. Evidently there had been five camels and their riders taking part in the event, raising money for charity. What a shame, I like camelids and I didn’t even see one hump today! If I’d known, I would have left home earlier.
Today’s racing was in aid of the Countryside Alliance and Help For Heroes.
Choc’s first ride of the evening was in the first race; aboard the Ben De Haan trained Looks Like Slim. Choc had already won twice aboard the horse this season.
AP’s mount, American Art, was a little fractious and his jockey hopped aboard once on the track (although I didn’t notice this at the time, having eyes only for Choc when he’s in the vicinity!). Unusually, the horses, having been shown the ‘last’ hurdle, set off up the track, past the winning post and then stewards directed them to canter across the ‘in-field’ to reach the starting gate in the far corner of the course. I’ve never previously seen them go via this route; they usually just keep to the actual racecourse track. However, the centre course ‘picnic’ area appears to have been newly fenced, thus making it safer for the public if the runners to take this shorter route.
Having circled with the other runners at the start, again American Art was a bit frisky but, after a little reluctance, did agree to exit onto the course.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Royal Max, followed by Tout Regulier, Maslak, First In The Queue, Callisto Moon, Praxiteles, Looks Like Slim to the inside, American Art and Maoi Chinn Tire.
Turning in, Royal Max was 10-12 lengths clear of the field; American Art wasn’t jumping particularly well. Maslak was soon struggling and dropped back to dispute last place with Maoi Chinn Tire. Heading down the side of the course, Royal Max continued to lead from Tout Regulier who blundered at the 5th. On the inside, Looks Like Slim was a little short of room around the far bend; Maslak began to tail off.
Down the back straight the order was Royal Max, Praxiteles, American Art, First In The Queue, Looks Like Slim, Maoi Chinn Tire, then a gap to Callisto Moon, Tout Regulier and the tailed off Maslak. Looks Like Slim hit the top of 3 out. Turning into the home straight, Praxiteles led having taken over at the head of affairs 3 out. Maoi Chinn Tire was in second having made good progress from the rear, Royal Max had dropped back to third, Looks Like Slim in fourth, then First In The Queue and the pushed along American Art. However, Choc’s mount stepped on the second last flight and lost that position to First In The Queue.
Praxiteles cleared the last well and went on to win by 6 lengths from Maoi Chinn Tire and long time leader Royal Max. Looks Like Slim completed in 5th, 1¼ lengths behind First In The Queue.
Having finished unplaced, Choc returned to the main Parade Ring area to unsaddle his mount and speak with connections and trainer Ben De Haan before returning to the Weighing Room. His next ride would be in the fourth race of the evening.
The start of the next race was at the beginning of the home straight, with just over two circuits of the course to travel.
Then they were off. The field was led away by AP McCoy aboard Practice Round; followed by Port Talbot; the latter was awkward at the first fence and initially lost his place. Past the post for the first time the order was Practice Round, Pergamon, Port Talbot, Uncle Keef, Joker Of The Pack, Citrus Mark, Whereveryougoigo, Before The War, Sufad, Living Proof and Mr Redwood.
The closely packed field headed down the back straight for the first time, Practice Round remaining at the head of affairs, Living Proof at the rear. Heading up the straight again, with one circuit to go, Uncle Keef disputed the lead with Practice Round and Port Talbot. Soon losing touch were Joker Of The Pack, Pergamon and Mr Redwood; the game was up for Sufad, who was pulled up after the 8th.
Turning the far corner, but still in the lead, AP gave his mount reminders. The fancied Uncle Keef was soon being ‘rowed’ along. Citrus Mark was travelling well and took over the lead 3 out, Practice Round now in second, Whereveryougoigo in third, then Living Proof, Before The War and a gap to Uncle Keef.
Whereveryougoigo came to challenge Citrus Mark as they approached two out; and they were upsides over the last flight. It was a close thing all the way to the line, where Whereveryougoigo prevailed by a neck. In third, 18 lengths back, was Living Proof; Before The War plugged on to complete in 4th.
It was now time for the first steeplechase of the evening; the start of this race being in the far corner of the track.
Then they were off. The field was led away by the ‘giant’ Fighting Chance, followed by Health Is Wealth and Passato. In rear was the Sir Peter O’Sullevan owned Exulto. Dominican Monk was slow at the third.
Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, Fighting Chance remained in the lead from Passato, Health Is Wealth, Viable, Marley Roca, Cruchain, Dominican Monk and Exulto. At the fourth, again Dominican Monk wasn’t fluent. Passato, last year’s victor under Choc, came under pressure after the 7th fence. Towards the rear, Cruchain unseated Donal Devereux at the 8th.
Turning down the back straight for the final time, the order was Viable from Passato and Fighting Chance, Marley Roca, Health is Wealth, Exulto and Dominican Monk. Passato soon dropped back, Viable continued to lead until 2 out when Marley Roca took over. Turning into the home straight Paul Webber’s charge cleared the last well, but Viable unseated jockey Gina Andrews when disputing second with Exulto.
Marley Roca galloped on to win by 7 lengths, Exulto having made no impression on the run to the line completed in 2nd; Health Is Wealth hung left on the run-in and completed 8 lengths back in 3rd; Passato was 4th.
The loose Viable was soon caught and led back; Gina Andrews, who was okay following the mishap, walked back up the straight, where she was met by trainer Pam Sly. Gina apologised for having fallen off, Pam was philosophical and said it was okay.
It was now time for Choc’s second ride of the evening, aboard the Alan King trained Nikos Extra. Choc’s mount went off as favourite; the popular grey, Swing Bill, was the second favourite. Swing Bill was, of course, the beneficiary of Choc’s ill luck at Newton Abbot on 05 July last year, Hell’s Bay having run out at the 2nd last when inflicting Choc’s serious knee injury.
A bonus, my favourite starting gate is used for the 2 miles 5½ furlong start, right in front of the stands, the horses having their girths checked and the runners circling immediately in front of my vantage point between racecourse and Parade Ring. This trip takes place over two full circuits of the track.
Then they were off. The field was led away by The Jigsaw Man, from Sunday City. Having cleared the first, Choc gave his mount a few reminders. At the back of the field were Swing Bill and Commemoration Day.
The order heading down the side of the track was The Jigsaw Man, Sunday City, Qianshan Leader, Rebel Du Maquis, Chicago Alley, Invisible Man, Intac, Nikos Extra to the outside of the field, Swing Bill and Commemoration Day. Invisible Man dived through the third fence, the open-ditch, dropping back to second last position. The runners headed down the back straight for the first occasion; Sunday City and The Jigsaw Man disputing the lead; Nikos Extra made an error at the final fence therein, Commemoration Day was being ridden along in rear. Chicago Alley made an error at the fence before the water.
Around the top turn, Nikos Extra was being pushed along on the outside of the field, and was given a few taps down the neck. Over the open-ditch the order was Sunday City, The Jigsaw Man, Rebel Du Maquis, Intac, Qianshan Leader, Chicago Alley, Nikos Extra, Swing Bill, Invisible Man with Commemoration Day a little detached.
Sunday City and The Jigsaw Man disputed the lead down the back straight; Intac making an error at the middle fence therein. Sunday City and Rebel Du Maquis disputed the lead over 2 out, from the improving Invisible Man, then The Jigsaw Man, Nikos Extra, Intac and Swing Bill.
Rebel Du Maquis led them in, from Invisible Man, Sunday City, The Jigsaw Man and the closing Swing Bill. The former cleared the last well and went on to win by 11 lengths from Invisible Man; Swing Bill stayed on to take third, The Jigsaw Man completed in 4th; Nikos Extra was 5th winning £246 in prize money for his owners.
The winning jockey, Mr Ryan Mahon, who had won last season’s amateur jockeys’ title, was soon to set off for France to spend the summer with trainer Guillaume Macaire; after which he would be returning to England to ride as a Conditional (professional) jockey.
Having been unplaced, Choc returned to the main Parade Ring area to unsaddle his mount, before returning to the Weighing Room.
Following this race, foxhounds from the Old Berkshire Hunt were paraded on the course.
Fortunately it was dry at Stratford all evening but, with what seemed to be an ever-present cold breeze for the past few weeks, I was cold by the time the fifth race of the evening had arrived. And that’s despite wearing a thermal vest, a long sleeved knitted tunic, treggings, a fleece, a summer scarf and a winter coat!
Mick Fitzgerald, who was presenting from the course for At The Races, said it had turned chilly ... you can say that again!
One of the runners, Shammy Buskins, was a little reluctant to line up and was led in by trainer Lawney Hill’s husband, Alan. His jockey, Andrew Thornton, kept his feet out of the stirrups until after the horse had consented to run, thus enabling him to give the horse plenty of ‘leg’ encouragement!
Then they were off. Horsford led them away, followed by Hemington; the latter slightly slow at the first fence and dropped back through the field a little. Deep Pockets coming to dispute the lead instead. By the third fence, the order was Horsford, Deep Pockets, Sea Wall, The Ferbane Man, Estates Recovery, Hemington, Shammy Buskins, Oranger, Cold Mountain and Troy Tempest (Stingray!). Estates Recovery making a slight error here. Turning into the home straight on the first occasion, AP’s mount, Horsford, still led. Estates Recovery blundered at the next too.
Heading away from the stands the order was Horsford, Deep Pockets and Sea Wall, The Ferbane Man, Shammy Buskins, Estates Recovery, Hemington, Oranger, Cold Mountain with Troy Tempest still bringing up the rear. Estates Recovery was slow over the first fence down the side of the track. Oranger, Cold Mountain and Troy Tempest were a little detached as the field turned the far corner. Horsford wasn’t fluent at the middle fence in the back straight, the 10th. Cold Mountain was soon in rear and receiving reminders.
Turning into the home straight with just over one circuit to go, the order was Horsford, Sea Wall, Shammy Buskins, Deep Pockets, The Ferbane Man, Estates Recovery, Troy Tempest, Oranger, Hemington and Cold Mountain. The Ferbane Man made an error at the fence before the water. Cold Mountain, having tailed off, was pulled up prior to heading out onto the final circuit.
Heading down the side of the track, Horsford blundered at the fence before the open ditch, The Ferbane Man also blundered and, possibly baulked by Horsford, the latter fell, bringing down the favourite Troy Tempest. Both horses were fine, their respective jockeys rising in time to catch their mounts as they began to trot off; although Richard Johnson’s mount, The Ferbane Man, had lost his bridle, but the reins were still around the horse’s neck. Horsford, following his error, weakened and dropped back.
The field depleted, the runners headed down the back straight for the final time. Sea Wall now led, from Shammy Buskins, Estates Recovery, Hemington, the pushed along Deep Pockets, Oranger; Horsford was eased and pulled up before 2 out. Estates Recovery took over 2 out, and led into the home straight; the grey Hemington came to challenge over the last and it was nip and tuck to the line; Estates Recovery prevailing by a neck. Shammy Buskins rallied on the flat to take third close home; with Sea Wall in fourth. A win for amateur rider Mr J A Best; and trainer Philip Hobbs.
The stable staff responsible for the ‘casualties’ went to collect their horses and led them back to the stables. Returning to the Weighing Room, it appeared that jockey Richard Johnson may have had blood on one of his sleeves rather than dirt.
It was soon time for the penultimate race of the evening.
Andrew Thornton’s mount in this event was being ‘difficult’ in the Parade Ring and he was some distance behind the other runners as he set off for the start; this being the case, he didn’t cut across the centre of the course but cantered his mount along the track instead.
Then they were off. The runners were led away by the AP McCoy ridden Street Dance; from Ballinteni, Kilburn and Big Time Billy. Northumberland and Sponge were in rear, neither jumping fluently. Turning into the home straight for the first time, the order was Street Dance, Kilburn, Ballinteni, Big Time Billy, Lava Lamp, Carter, Star Potential, Friendly Love, Catching Zeds, Sunny Spells and Sponge; tailing off and not jumping well was Northumberland.
Leader Street Dance wasn’t fluent at the 3rd flight, but flew the 4th. Catching Zeds was improving up the inside. Away from the stands, the order was Street Dance, Kilburn, Carter, Ballinteni, Lava Lamp, Catching Zeds, Big Time Billy, Friendly Love, Star Potential, Sunny Spells; Sponge made an error at the next and Northumberland was remote in rear. Big Time Billy was now being pushed along.
Three out, Street Dance made an error when still ahead, Carter was in second, Kilburn in third, Lava Lamp fourth, with debutant Catching Zeds staying on. Carter took the lead before 2 out and galloped on to win by 7 lengths. Lava Lamp completed in second. Although stumbling 2 out when disputing fourth, Catching Zeds stayed on to take third, with long time leader Street Dance in 4th.
It was now time for the final race of the evening; the off time being 21:00. It was getting towards dusk, and now too dark to take successful photographs. Choc’s third and final ride was in this race, aboard the Paul Green trained Rayavadee, a big strapping horse.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Highway Jack and Burway. In rear were Princesse Katie, Rayavadee and Leath Acra Mor.
Up the home straight on the first occasion the order was Highway Jack, Law Court alongside Burway, Sound Judgment, Douchkirk, Intoxicate, Ohms Law, Forever My Friend, Master Benjamin, The Omen, Princesse Katie, Rayavadee, Miss Morwood and Leath Acra Mor.
No change at the head of affairs around the far turn; Rayavadee soon came under pressure and the un-fancied Burway dropped away.
As the runners reached the mound, Douchkirk took up the running; and led into the home straight pursued by Master Benjamin, Highway Jack and Forever My Friend.
Douchkirk stayed on well to win by 5 lengths from Forever My Friend, Master Benjamin and Leath Acra Mor who was never nearer than at the finish. Highway Jack completed in 5th; Rayavadee finished tailed off in 13th.
Having seen Choc arrive back in the Parade Ring to unsaddle his unplaced mount before he returned to the Weighing Room, I then set off to collect my car. As I knew the trip home would probably take more than two hours, I decided to eat a small snack before joining the queue to leave.
My route took me back towards Stratford town centre, before I turned right and skirted the town to reach the Banbury Road. I hate driving long distances on the motorway at night, hence my choice to reduce the necessity to do so; my plan being to join the M40 at Banbury and leave it north of Oxford. However, my plans would be thwarted by road-works which resulted in the closure of the northbound carriageway of the A41; this meant that I couldn’t reach Bicester via my intended route.
Later research informed me that these road-works were related to the Bicester ‘Eco-Town’ development; I just knew they would be ... especially as I’d driven through a new housing development to the west of the town when returning through Stow On The Wold and Chipping Norton following an ‘accident related’ diversion on my way home after Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival!
Today, therefore, I had no option but to remain on the M40 and make a decision as to whether I’d try to reach Aylesbury via an alternative route or possibly travel via Princes Risborough and Wendover or Amersham and Chesham ... in the event, I stayed on the M40 until I reached the M25! But that’s only because everywhere tends to look a little different after dark and I don’t have satnav (and that is because I’m not ‘geographically challenged’ so don’t really need it!)
Having chosen this motorways dominated route, I arrived back home at 23:25.
I enjoyed my evening out, and it was a pleasure (as always) to see the lovely Choc again; but a little disappointing that he’d not made the Winners’ Enclosure aboard any of his three rides.