Stratford Upon Avon

Saturday 08 September 2012



Choc & Henry San for blog.jpg


Choc aboard Henry San,

winner of the 2 Miles 1½ furlong Handicap Chase


For me to attend a fixture, other than the Aintree Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Kempton Park on Boxing Day, or Hennessy Gold Cup Day at Newbury, which I pre-book not knowing his plans, Choc needs to have at least two riding engagements.  And it helps if one or more of these horses has a chance of visiting the winners’ enclosure too, having been placed in the first four, otherwise I become very downhearted on my drive home.   

Therefore, with Choc having very few rides during the summer months of the 2012/2013 season, it became difficult to attend the races.  In fact I’d not been racing since Grand National day!  Although I had seen Choc twice during June, at the Heythrop Summer Fair and at the Barbury Horse Trials. 

It takes around an hour to reach the nearest racecourses in my local area, and courses such as Ascot, Sandown Park and Kempton Park hold solely flat racing fixtures during the summer.  The other two, Huntingdon and Towcester, have summer breaks. 

This leaves me with Stratford Upon Avon and Worcester in the summer.  The former, via my preferred route, takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach; the latter over 3 hours because I take the scenic route via Stratford Upon Avon on the way out, returning by the shorter route through Morton-in-Marsh on the way back! 

Anyway, I kept a watch on Choc’s forthcoming rides during the days running up to this Stratford fixture and early in the week it seemed that he would have two rides, so I put myself on ‘standby’.  Then, as the week progressed it seemed less likely, as his rides were ‘double-booked’; there being a possibility of them running at Fontwell Park or Newton Abbot on Sunday or Monday respectively.  I stood myself down! 

I checked the final entry list mid-afternoon on Friday ... the two Stratford rides had been confirmed, with nothing at Fontwell or Newton Abbot.  My trip to the races was on again.  It was too late to go to the bank, as I don’t use ATM machines, but I discovered that luckily I had around £70 in my ‘going out’ purse. 

I had spent Friday evening trying to decide what to wear, and finally made a decision when lying in bed early Saturday morning.  The weather was forecast to be warm so I wore a flower patterned Per Una skirt, in cerise, blue and white, a white top with vest underneath as the front is a cut a little low (I have enough problems with men talking to my chest!) plus a blue Wallis cardigan.  I chose to wear my pink espadrilles; my choice of shoes a little difficult as a different pair of sandals had given me a burst blister the previous day.  I put my neon blue fleece in the car just in case, as September evenings can be chilly.

My first task of Saturday was to fill up my car’s petrol tank, which I did at 07:30.  Upon arriving back home, I ate a breakfast of two croissants, before showering and washing and drying my hair. 


I had recently suffered a strange chemical taste in my mouth following application of sun block and hair volume building products one morning; also when applying Carex ‘no water’ hand gel on a separate occasion; and on another day when applying solely sun block.  So I decided to wear rubber gloves when applying sun block today.  It did the trick, and I tasted nothing untoward throughout the day.  It’s very similar to the problems I have with hair dye, but to a lesser extent.

Gate opening time for Stratford was 12:00 noon, so I envisaged setting out at 10:00.  In the event I began my journey at 10:15.   

My route took me via Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury and Bicester, before joining the M40 northbound carriageway.  There was a slight delay in Aylesbury, traffic queuing for a few minutes on the ring-road waiting to rejoin the A41 due to heavy eastbound traffic on the latter road.  I like to take the scenic route for the final section of my journey, so I left the M40 at the Banbury junction and drove along the A422 to reach my destination.  There were no more hold-ups until the final section of the Stratford bypass, where a queue of traffic had formed leading to the roundabout on the Evesham Road.

I turned left along the latter road, and then left again into Luddington Lane.  The racecourse entrance is a short distance down this thoroughfare, on the left-hand side.  It was 12:25.  Although I usually take the cheapest option when parking, at Stratford I drive through the gates to park on the grassed area between the two driveways.  It costs £3.00, and today I was directed to park immediately beside the driveway closest to the stable block.  The horseboxes pull up alongside this area and the jockeys park their cars along the section closest to the buildings. 

I was feeling quite hungry by now, so I ate one of the cheese rolls I’d brought along with me, and began the second one too.  But I didn’t finish it, too much bread at a single sitting; I saved the remainder for later.  Whilst in the car I did glance out the window to see if I could spot any jockeys arriving and, having rummaged in the passenger seat well, I sat up to see Choc drive by and park up.  A first; I’d never seen him arrive on any of my previous visits to the racecourse!  He’s identifiable by his personal number-plate.  Earlier in the summer he’d tweeted about changing his car ... same make and colour, different model.

Choc sat in his car for a minute or two, before fetching his red kitbag from the boot, locking his vehicle and setting off for the entrance.  I waited in my car until Choc had gone, as I didn’t want my favourite jockey to think I was stalking him!  Especially as I’d bumped into Choc when I was leaving the Barbury Horse Trials on the last occasion I’d seen him; it being a total coincidence that day. 

Having changed from my deck shoes to my pink espadrilles, I set off to the turnstiles.  I purchased a race-card from the kiosk located near the entrance; £2.50.  I then purchased a Tattersalls ticket for £16:00 to gain access to the racecourse enclosure.  After visiting the ladies’ cloakroom, I went to sit beside the Parade Ring, in the area between there and the course-side rails.

To the side of the Parade Ring was a marquee where a group of musicians was performing ... unfortunately their singer was awful!

Tim Peters was today’s Race Day Presenter, ably assisted by Race Day Host and ex-jockey Colin Brown, best known for his partnership with Desert Orchid.

The first race was due off at 14:05.  The jockeys were sporting black arm bands today as a mark of respect for Lord John Oaksey who had passed away earlier in the week; John having founded the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.


Race 1

The first race of the day was a 2 mile 6½ furlong Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Handicap Hurdle, with 13 runners.  The race was delayed slightly whilst the ATR broadcast of the 14:00 at Ascot was completed.


Martin Keighley had an entry in this race, Tower ridden by Ian Popham, who was led in at the start; however he was not reluctant to race and led initially, remaining prominent for much of the race before taking the lead three flights out.


He was challenged by the favourite, Drummers Drumming, before the last; but the race was won by the fast finishing Princely Hero who came with a rattle up the inside of both Tower and Drummers Drumming to steal the race by a short-head.


Due to the lack of room on the inside, a Stewards’ Enquiry was held into the race, the outcome of which was as follows:

The Stewards held an enquiry into possible interference shortly before the line. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the race they found that DRUMMERS DRUMMING (USA), placed second, ridden by Lee Edwards, had interfered with the winner, PRINCELY HERO (IRE), ridden by Tom Cannon. The Stewards found Edwards in breach of Rule (B)54.1 and guilty of careless riding in that he allowed his mount to drift left. They suspended him for 1 day as follows: Sunday, 23 September.

The Stewards held an enquiry to consider why Lee Edwards, the rider of DRUMMERS DRUMMING (USA), placed second, had appeared to stop riding shortly before the winning post. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race they noted his explanation that having made contact with the winner, his own mount became unbalanced, causing him momentarily to lose his rhythm.

There were no auction bids for the winner, Princely Hero, so he remained an inmate of the Chris Gordon yard and would run again at Fontwell Park the following day.

Race 2

This was a 2 mile 4 furlong Beginners’ Chase, with 6 runners.  On the whole the horses jumped well throughout, apart from Steel Gold who was ponderous at many of the fences and finished last; perhaps a result of falling on his last and only outing in this country over fences last month.

The race was won by Geneva Geyser, ridden by Dickie Johnson.  It was a hot day, this particular horse having sweated more noticeably than his rivals, but this did not affect the result.


During a break in proceedings, actor David Bradley was interviewed by race day Presenter Tim Peters.  David, most recently famous for his role as Angus Filch in the Harry Potter film franchise, was excellent as Sir Pitt Crawley in the TV adaption of Vanity Fair.  I loved that programme, especially Philip Glenister who played William Dobbin.  Although why his character should adore the sickly sweet Amelia I just don’t know!  He also played Tom, the Green Man in the Midsomer Murder episode of the same name. 

Race 3

It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the day.  This race was a Novices’ Hurdle with 7 runners; all the horses were bay in colour, apart from Choc’s mount, the chestnut Alan King trained Danehill Dante.


Choc began the race in mid-field; the pace of the race being steady.  The odds on shot, the Rebecca Curtis trained One Term, ridden by AP McCoy, took them along and stayed in pole position throughout the race to win by 3¾ lengths at the line.


Danehill Dante had held the runner-up position as the field galloped down the back straight on the final occasion but he was challenged by Good Time Jackson at the final flight.  Unfortunately the former capsized at this obstacle, giving Choc his first fall of the current season.  On the head-on replay, it was clear that Good Time Jackson, who was marginally ahead at this point, had jumped across Danehill Dante, leaving the latter with no-where to go.  To add insult to injury, Putiacca Bella, who had been left in third by the departure, kicked the prostrate Choc for good measure.


Fortunately Choc was okay, and walked back up the course.  The guy acting as Alan King’s travelling head lad today ran across the racecourse, pursued by the trainer; the former lunging for Danehill Dante’s reins as the horse passed the line.  Got you; the horse was led in unscathed.


I went to meet Choc, and was stood by the lower walkway as he came in through the gate. “Pleased you’re okay Choc’, I told him.  ‘Thank you’ he said.  He then walked over to debrief connections, who were now in the Parade Ring.


There was a Stewards’ Enquiry into the incident at the last flight, and here are the findings:

The Stewards noted that GOOD BOY JACKSON, placed second, had interfered with DANEHILL DANTE (IRE), which fell jumping the final flight, but after viewing a recording of the incident they were satisfied that it neither involved a riding offence nor improved GOOD BOY JACKSON’s placing.


Race 4

This was the feature event of the day, a Handicap Hurdle run over 2 miles and half a furlong, with 14 runners taking part.  Total prize money was £20,000; £9,500 to the winner.


It was a competitive race, run at a good pace, with the favourite Monte Cavello being collared close to the line by the Dr Newland trained, Tom O’Brien ridden, Smalib Monterg.


Race 5

This event was a 2 miles 7 furlong Handicap Chase with 7 runners.  All the horses completed the course, with the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Papradon ridden by son Sam, leading all the way except where it really mattered.  He was beaten by Ballybough Gorta and Jamie Moore, the winning margin was ½ a length.  The horse’s 4th win of the summer.


Race 6

It was now time for Choc’s 2nd and final ride of the afternoon; his mount on this occasion was the Alan King trained Henry San, making his chasing debut, in this 2 mile 1½ furlong Handicap event.  There were a total of 9 runners in the race, and included the Martin Keighley trained mare, Sky Calling, who led or disputed the lead for much of the race.


Choc’s mount tracked the leaders and jumped well throughout the race but was being driven alongside the also pushed along 2011 winner of this event, Farleigh House, as the horses galloped around the final turn to approach the last obstacle.  Sky Calling held a 5-length advantage over her pursuers but put in a short stride, got too close and fell.


Both Henry San and Farleigh House were hampered by the faller, the latter more so, which enabled Choc’s mount to be driven out to win by half a length.  He had been lucky, but it had made up for his earlier misfortune.  Fortunately Sky was uninjured, as was her jockey, Ian Popham; the former cantered up past the lollipop before being caught.


I headed for the Winners’ Enclosure to see Choc return; I passed Martin and Belinda Keighley, commiserating briefly before continuing my progress.  Once dismounted, Choc briefed connections and then it was time for a brief photo-call with horse and trainer.  The grassed area where the winner stood now contained hoof prints filled with water, the horses having been cooled via buckets of the liquid throughout the afternoon.


Once my favourite jockey had returned to the Weighing Room I set off to resume my vantage point beside the course-side rails.


Race 7

The final race of the day was a 2 miles ½ a furlong Standard Open National Flat Race.  This event was won by the Peter Bowen trained Azure Fly, ridden by Donal Devereux; the jockey having now recovered from a recent injury time out.


The final race completed, it was time to leave.  There was a slight delay in crossing the walkway which leads from the Parade Ring to the Pre-Parade Ring, as the last of the horses were led back to the stables.  I decided it was sensible to visit the cloakroom before I began my long journey home.

Having exited the gate, I walked along the driveway to reach my car.  Choc had already ‘escaped’ the crush, his car was gone.  I waited but five minutes before setting off to join the traffic queuing to leave the racecourse confines.  Annoyingly, a number of vehicles decided to beat the rush by leaving the longest queue (mine), driving across the car park to join the other one and then pushed their way back in just before the gates.  Typical.  The car in front pushed their way in, and then the steward stopped my queue leaving when I’d reached the front at Luddington Lane.  I then had to wait for a number of coaches and vehicles from the free car parking area to leave ahead of me.  I need to be less polite!  

Fortunately, though, temporary traffic lights had been set up on the Evesham Road to aid traffic exiting the lane.  However, I was then stuck in traffic until I reached the first roundabout, where I turned right and set off to join the A422.  It had taken me at least 20 minutes to escape the queues.  In hindsight, I should have turned left off the Evesham Road and headed up Hathaway Lane, circumnavigated the one way system around the Bell pub and driven down Shottery Road back to join the roundabout, thus bypassing the long queue.

As always, it was a pleasant drive back to Banbury.  None of the cars on the road ahead of me, or behind, were going the distance, they all turned off into country lanes along the way.  Once at Banbury, I joined the southbound M40 to reach the A41; there was smoke blowing across the carriageway at one point, a number of stubble burning fires having been lit in an adjacent field. 

Having exited the M40 and joined the A41, I drove to Bicester and then Aylesbury.  I’d turned on my headlights when on the motorway, and light was definitely fading by this point.  I travelled around the ring-road before joining the A41 bypass which leads back to the M25.  Having skirted Tring, I noticed lights flashing in the distance; there had been an accident on the other carriageway, traffic queuing for a fair distance behind it.

With no such obstructions on my side of the road, I drove to the Hemel Hempstead junction, leaving the dual carriageway to take the slip road which led towards the infamous ‘magic roundabout’.  Having negotiated three of the islands, I drove up the steep hill which is St Albans Road, through Leverstock Green, ensuring that I kept to the camera controlled speed limits. 

Once on the outskirts of the city I drove around the ring-road to reach home; turning into my drive at 20:15.  Time for spaghetti on toast and strawberries and cream before uploading my photographs and updating my blog.

I turned on the TV to watch the end of the first semi-final of the men’s singles at the US Open tennis tournament, Berdych vs. Murray.  The latter winning in four sets.  High winds had caused problems during the match, and these conditions worsened when the second semi-final between Djokovic and Ferrer took to the court.  So much so, that before a set had been completed, the match was stopped and the stadium evacuated ... severe weather was on its way to New York with 45 minutes before it hit!   The women’s final, scheduled for later that evening, had already been postponed until the following day.

For the record, Andy Murray went on the win his first Grand Slam title; the first British player to win such an event since Fred Perry in 1936 ... 76 years ago!  He beat Djokovic in 5 sets, 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.

Time for bed then ... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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