DIARY – STRATFORD UPON AVON – SUNDAY 31 MAY 2009
I made up my mind on Saturday that I’d like to go to the races at Stratford Upon Avon the following day. The weather had been beautifully warm for the previous two days and was set to continue in the same vein. Choc was scheduled for 2 rides, Minder (an untried juvenile in the Novices’ Hurdle) and Rien A Perdre (an Irish import whose last 2 races had been UK Hunter Chases).
Stratford Upon Avon is a drive of around 90 miles from my home, and was expected to take around 2 hours. I woke early on Sunday, before 06:00, did my washing and took a shower with the intention of filling my car with petrol before 08:00. However, when I went to unlock the car, I got no response. I’d not taken the car out for a drive for 14 days, and that was a very short journey to my local railway station. Prior to that, my last trip had been to Sandown Park at the end of April. I had an inkling that the battery might be flat, which used to happen often with my old car (nicknamed Dobbin).
Anyway, I called the RAC and a guy soon arrived to get the car started, and I was instructed to drive around for about 30 minutes to charge the battery up, which I did before going to the petrol station. When I arrived back home I spent time searching for details of the code for my car radio/CD player – but no luck. Another age old problem which occurs when a car battery goes flat – the radio/CD player cannot be used until it is reset. That would mean no music during today’s journey.
I was finally ready to go and set off at 10:55. My outward trip took me via Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury, Bicester and then northwards up the M40 to Junction 15, the Stratford turning. Whilst on the motorway I drove past two horseboxes travelling to Stratford races – those of Luke Dace and Ben De Haan. I drove westwards along the A46 and took the bypass route. However, as I approached the A3400 roundabout, there was a tailback of traffic. But, being a very good navigator - no, I don’t have satnav in my car – once I’d reached the roundabout I carried on along the A46 to the next roundabout before turning left towards Shottery.
I had exited via Shottery on my last visit to Stratford in July last year, so vaguely recalled the route in the opposite direction. I’d done my research, having looked at Streetmap and Googlemaps , so knew the way on paper and it was so easy to find my way through to the B439 which goes to Bidford-on-Avon. I turned right, and took the first left and entered the driveway into Stratford racecourse.
Having paid to park in the main car park, I changed into my pretty pink espadrilles (which matched the colour of my bolero style cardigan), and set off to buy my ticket and race-card. Once inside I went to sit by the paddock, read my race-card and people watch!
Before the horses began to arrive in the Parade Ring, I walked around to the far side, between it and the course-side rails in preparation for viewing the first race. The horses soon arrived, followed by connections and jockeys. Once the bell had been rung to mount, Choc and the trainer went across to the far side of the Parade Ring where he was legged up onto his first ride of the day, Minder. As soon as he reached the exit he went straight out onto the course, rather than take another circuit of the Parade Ring.
The jockeys cantered down the home straight to take a look at the last hurdle, before cantering back up past the winning post and around the top bend to reach the start. Evidently, Minder and Lagan Handout (ridden by Colin Bolger) accidently jumped one of the flights on their way to the start, as the jockeys struggled to gain control of their horses! This was reported to the stewards but Choc’s and Colin’s explanations were accepted.
After milling around and having their girths checked in the enclosed area by the starting gate, the competitors were called out onto the track and then they were off.
The field was led off by the grey mare, Abby Belle, followed by Four Green Fields, and Rupestrian. Near the rear, and jumping the first flight slowly, was Niceonefrankie. Choc was travelling on the outside of the field, in around 9th position. Takelli was already receiving reminders before they came into the home straight for the first time. Abby Belle had established a big lead by this time.
However, she had been overtaken as she reached ‘the mound’ and she fell at the next flight (but got up okay). Three horses disputed the lead as they approached the final straight – Rupestrian, Minder and Niceonefrankie, the latter being the first to drop back. Rupestrian ran on nicely to win for the Select Racing Club (and would triumph again at Hexham 6 days later) with Minder just holding on for 2nd place despite not jumping the last two very fluently and hanging in towards the rail. Key Regard was the challenger who took 3rd, with Telling Stories in 4th.
I walked around to the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc come back in, unsaddle, speak with connections and return to the Weighing Room. Key Regard, who was still a colt, almost took a bite out of Telling Stories as they were led around in the Winners’ Enclosure!
Tim Vaughan was interviewed after the race, explaining that he’d paid far less for the horse than he’d expected and it had turned out to be a bargain. The Manager of the Select Racing Club was also interviewed, explaining details about the new racing club and how to become a member.
Once the horses had been taken back to the stables, I returned to the course-side rails in preparation for the next race.
As in the case of the first race, the start of this event was at the beginning of the back straight. The race was led off by Overspin and Tandori, closely followed by Forest Lass and Miss Phoebe. Richard Phillips’ mare On Yer Own, under Sean Quinlan, was living up to her name as she brought up the rear, soon tailing off. Sean pulled her up as they passed the stands with one circuit to go.
Magical Mimi now brought up the rear as they turned away from the stands and was soon struggling too. Nora Chrissie made ground down the back straight, with Miss Phoebe under AP McCoy joining Overspin, who then dropped back, as had Tandori by this stage. As they turned into the final straight, the nearest challengers to Miss Phoebe were Silver Bank and Nora Chrissie but AP’s mount went on to win well.
Again I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to see the horses come back. Being a Selling Hurdle, the winner was put up for auction, but was bought-in by the current owners.
Whilst I was there, Choc’s valet Phil, Sam Thomas (topless with a towel around his shoulders) and another jockey (I can’t recall who) walked through in front of me, exiting onto the course, presumably heading off for a ‘cigarette’ break. Wayne Hutchinson followed a short time later. Although at the time I was wondering where Choc was ... but I’d have that answer very soon!
As Choc wasn’t riding in the next race, I decided to remain seated by the Winners’ Enclosure and watch the event on the big screen.
Again this race started at the beginning of the back straight so, after the runners had inspected the first obstacle in the home straight, they cantered back up past the winning post to reach the start. Then they were off.
The field was led off by Dev and Laoch Dubh. At the back was Dominican Monk, who was jumping slowly. As they galloped up past the stands with one circuit to go, in 3rd and 4th positions were Norborne Bandit and Gentle John, these were followed by Passato, a German import, having its first outing over the larger obstacles.
Timmy Murphy pulled up Dominican Monk with just under a circuit to go. By the time the field had reached the mound, Norborne Bandit had taken over the lead, with Passato coming to jump the final fence alongside the leader. They duelled up the run-in, the result going to the judge, with Passato prevailing by a head.
Whilst the punters were waiting for the result to be announced, on the big screen they showed the jockeys walking up the course returning from their ‘cigarette break’, and Choc was also with them. So I must have missed seeing him on his outward trip ... that’s a shame, as I love to see him without his helmet on! (If you check out the end of the recording of the 15:30 race from Stratford on 31 May 2009 on the At The Races website you’ll see all the jockeys walking back up the course.)
However I had remained seated by the Winners’ Enclosure and my luck was now in, as I saw Choc walk back in through the gate and through the enclosure to return to the Weighing Room.
This was yet another race which started at the beginning of the back straight, with almost 3 circuits to complete. Soon the race was off.
The field was led off by All Things Equal under Wayne Hutchinson, followed by Iona Star, St Mellion Freeway and Arctic Echo. The grey, Mylo, brought up the rear. Jug of Punch soon received reminders, quickly dropped out and was pulled up before the 10th. The next to lose touch was Ambrossini, and Dizzy Future soon came under pressure too, although they both completed the course, a distance behind the others.
Four flights out, All Things Equal still led, St Mellion Freeway was in second position, Iona Star third, Arctic Echo under pressure in fourth and Mylo in fifth. However, by the time they turned in, Arctic Echo had taken over and was leading by 3 lengths from Iona Star. The latter’s jockey tried to come up the inside of AP aboard Arctic Echo, but the door was quickly closed. A mistake from Iona Star at the last put paid to any possible chance he may have had, and he was almost collared on the line by the very fast finishing Mylo. St Mellion Freeway completed in 4th, although it later transpired he’d slipped a tendon from his hock and may or may not run again.
Having remained by the Winners’ Enclosure I saw the victor come back to unsaddle. I then walked around to the area between the Parade Ring and course-side rails as it was now time for Choc’s second and final ride of the day, aboard Rien A Perdre. The horse had won 2 point-to-points and 2 hunter chases, and appears to have originated from Ireland having raced at a number of Irish racecourses in the past.
Choc was legged-up on the far side of the Parade Ring and did one full circuit before exiting onto the course.
The jockeys rode their horses down to inspect the last fence before cantering back up past the winning post to the start, which was located just after the top bend (the course being triangular in shape). Then they were off.
Choc led the field, followed by Donaldson, Martys Mission, Harper Valley, Font, Bold Policy, with Kayceecee bringing up the rear. Donaldson, under AP McCoy, was sent into the lead as they came into the straight for the first time. Choc administered reminders to Rien A Perdre after they’d jumped the water. Donaldson made a slight mistake at the 9th, and then blundered badly at the 4th fence from home, unseating AP.
This left Martys Mission in the lead, with Font in 2nd position, outsider Kayceecee in 3rd, Harper Valley in 4th, with Choc having by now faded into 5th. Bold Policy was pulled up before 3 out. Misfortune then befell Harper Valley, who took a very heavy fall at the 2nd last (fatal?).
Martys Mission went on to win nicely, Font plugged on for 2nd, with Kayceecee taking 3rd prize. There were only 3 finishers. Having seen these three gallop past the winning post I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to await their return.
Choc had pulled up his mount before the home turn and eventually dismounted before leading Rien A Perdre up the home straight to be met by the stable-hand and trainer. Having unsaddled his mount, he spoke with connections whilst walking back and came in through the course exit point, then through the Winners’ Enclosure to return to the Weighing Room.
Choc having finished his rides for the day, I re-located to the stands side of the Parade Ring to watch the horses arrive from the Pre-Parade ring before their participation in Division I of the NH Flat race, the penultimate race on the card.
One of the horses was very reluctant to enter the Parade Ring, rearing up and backing away. One of the trainers came to the assistance of the stable-hand and helped lead the horse along through the walkway. Sarah Hobbs (wife of trainer Philip) joked with the trainer about this, but he owned up to the fact that the horse wasn’t one of his, and he was just assisting the stable-hand with a difficult horse!
In the Parade Ring, the horses were soon mounted and set off down to the start, which again was at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off. The field was led by Patiently (trained by Luke Dace whose horsebox I’d seen on the M40). In second was The Donserelli, and in third I’ve Been Framed. Tim Vaughan’s Kaladan was at the rear of the field.
However, as they set off down the back straight for the final time, Kaladan began to make smooth progress through the field and, by the time they were turning into the home straight, was on the heels of the two leaders, I’ve Been Framed and The Donserelli. Richard Johnson sent Kaladan into the lead a furlong out and won by 2 lengths from The Donserelli, with I’ve Been Framed back in 3rd.
I remained seated by the stand side of the Parade Ring in preparation for the final race of the day, Division II of the NH Flat race.
The horses were mounted and set off for the start at the beginning of the back straight.
Then they were off. Theladnextdoor led them off, followed by Quousko De L’isop and The Cute Curate. Great Mates, in Jim Lewis’ Aston Villa colours was held up near the back of the field.
Theladnextdoor was headed 5 furlongs out when Quousko De L’isop took over. As they rounded the final bend, Chaser’s War was now in the lead, Reaping the Reward was in second, with Great Mates close on their heels. As they approached the final furlong, Harry Skelton sent Great Mates into the lead and he showed a good turn of foot to win by 7 lengths going away. Chaser’s War held on for 2nd, with Reaping the Reward 3rd and Nobel Play 4th.
As soon as the horses had returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the final race, I set off for the car park. However, as the traffic to exit the course was already building up, I decided to take time out to eat a snack and write some diary notes before I set off. In fact it wasn’t until 18:35 that the queues cleared. Having exited the course, I turned eastwards, and then took a residential road through Shottery to join the A46 bypass, heading for the M40.
However, as I approached the motorway, there was a tailback of traffic and I was stuck in a jam for around 20 minutes before I could get onto the M40 southbound carriageway. But the remainder of my trip home went without incident as I left the motorway at Bicester, then returned along the A41 to Aylesbury, driving around their ring-road, to re-join the A41, leaving it at the Hemel Hempstead junction. I navigated the infamous Hemel Hempstead ‘magic roundabout’ – which describes lots of mini-roundabouts around a larger roundabout, and headed for home, arriving back at 20:35.
A lovely day out, with beautiful weather, and the opportunity to see Choc – what more could I want?