DIARY – WORCESTER
– SUNDAY 06 SEPTEMBER 2009
‘Family Fun and Football Raceday’
In aid of Racing Welfare
Sunday’s weather forecast for the Worcester area looked pretty grim when I tuned in to watch it the previous day. Not as bad as last year though, when the fixture was abandoned due to the River Severn flooding the course! The forecast was revised by Sunday morning, with rain expected to arrive by 16:00. However, as it turned out, there were just a few raindrops shortly before 18:00 and apart from that I saw absolutely no rain all day!!!
As I wasn’t too sure how long it would take me to drive to Worcester, especially as I couldn’t make up my mind as to which route to take, I decided to give myself just under 3 hours to reach my destination, setting out at 09:10. I decided upon Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury, Bicester and then, thinking I was going to get there far too early, I took the road signposted Buckingham, which went past the lane to Stratton Audley (where Choc lived when his parents were in service with the Bicester Hunt) and also past the Bicester and Finmere showground. I then headed towards Brackley, followed by Banbury and Stratford Upon Avon. I then set off into the unknown, and the very winding A422 beyond Alcester.
However, I eventually found my way down the hill to Worcester town centre, past the cathedral, and around the one-way system, under the railway viaduct, turning left and left again, which took me over the back straight to park in the charge free centre course car park. It was 12:05. Having taken a packed lunch with me, I decided to eat that before I set off to the turnstiles to purchase my ticket and race-card. Whilst I was sitting in my car, I noticed a jockey jogging around the track and I presume, from his attire, it was Andrew Thornton! Having entered the course, I then went to sit on one of the course-side benches to read through the race-card.
On the front of the race-card was a photograph of a number of jockeys, including Choc, Sean Quinlan, Dominic Elsworth, and Wayne Hutchinson kicking footballs, the North vs. South Jockeys’ Football match being scheduled for after racing. Inside there was a list of possible team members for each side, although it would transpire that the teams would be made up of mainly younger jockeys.
Also listed were a number of charity auction items, and I noticed that, once again, Choc would be offering 2 tickets for Cheltenham races, plus the opportunity to walk the course with him. The prize I had bid for and won last year. There were also raffle prizes, including a signed photo of Choc winning the Champion Hurdle aboard Katchit, the signed football from the later game, and a photograph of the jockeys posing ‘Calendar Girls’ style in the weighing room at Worcester! Shortly afterwards I went to purchase 2 strips of raffle tickets, a bottle of water and a packet of Starburst sweets before returning to sit on the bench.
Being a Conditional Jockeys event, Choc wasn’t riding in the first race, but as soon as the arrival of the competing horses was imminent, I went across to stand by the Parade Ring to wait for them to appear. Once the jockeys had arrived in the Parade Ring, and prior to them getting mounted, a minute’s silence was held in memory of the two apprentice flat-race jockeys who had died in a fire at their hostel on Friday night. The jockeys who weren’t riding in the first race also came out of the Weighing Room to pay their respects.
It was then time for the jockeys to mount and canter their horses down to the start, which was at the beginning of the back straight. Amusingly the first race was sponsored by a supplier of portable toilets, and was called The Bursting to Go with Andyloos Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Steeplechase.
Then they were off. The field was led out by Tara Gale, followed by King Coal and Ballinruane. Also prominent were Follow Your Heart and Rifleman. King Coal made an error at the 5th, and then fell at the 7th, hampering Kavi. Classic Rock didn’t jump well throughout the race.
Cooldine Lad weakened approaching 4 out and fell. Having been the only horse who looked to be travelling by the time they reached the home straight, the Tim Vaughan trained Berkeley Court took the lead but he soon came under pressure, Rifleman coming to challenge and take over two out. Kavi then took 2nd place as they approached the last. A tired Berkeley Court capsized after jumping the final fence, which saw him come to rest under the plastic course-side rails. Gerard Tumelty, having switched Kavi to the stand side of Rifleman, forced his mount up to win on the line. A 50-1 winner!
Berkeley Court lay under the rails, exhausted, and the green screens were erected as a precaution. The stable lass, Tim Vaughan’s wife, and then Tim Vaughan set off down the track to where the horse lay. Fortunately, after a few minutes, Berkeley Court rose to his feet and was greeted by relieved applause. The horse was led away back to the stables.
Once the winner and places horses had been led away, it was then time for the first two auctions of the day – a framed Honda Formula One shirt signed by Jenson Button; and a framed and signed Birmingham City shirt. There was a guy sitting on the Weighing Room steps wearing an Aston Villa shirt, so the auctioneer held some friendly banter with him then, and throughout the afternoon!
It was now time for Choc’s first ride of the day, aboard the Neil Mulholland trained Aconitum. The start of this race was in the home straight, two flights to be jumped before passing the winning post with one circuit to go.
Upon arrival at the starting gate, Jonjo O’Neill’s runner Raise You Five, decided to decant her jockey and canter off towards the back straight. However, a couple of brave (or foolhardy?) bystanders stepped out to prevent her going any further and they caught her and led her back to be reunited with her jockey, Richie McLernon. Shortly afterwards they were off.
The field was led off by Raise the Heights, with the keen running ex-Alan King trained horse, Calaficial, soon pulling his way to the front. I shall always remember Calaficial giving Choc a clattering (Choc’s description) when falling at Market Rasen the day after the Grand National. Mr Rev was prominent, and so too was Choc aboard Aconitum. Evelith Regent soon progressed into 2nd place, Aconitum making an error at the 3rd flight, as did Duneen Dream.
Racing against the rails, Choc’s mount dropped back as they raced around the final turn. Having slipped his field, Calaficial was 15 lengths clear coming into the final straight. And the only horse to get anywhere near him as they approached the winning line was Commit to Memory, but Calaficial held on to win by ¾ of a length. Choc finished 6th and, as an unplaced horse, he unsaddled his mount out on the course, spoke with connections and walked back through the Parade Ring to return to the Weighing Room.
Having recognised Jenny Cheshire, the Hospitality Manager, from an interview she’d given on Attheraces earlier in the year, I walked around the Parade Ring to reach the area in front of the Weighing Room to introduce myself, as she’d helped organise my Cheltenham ‘Choc’ prize last autumn. She asked if I’d be bidding for Choc’s prize again, and strangely enough I already had a feeling that I might go for it again, if the price was right!!!
It was now time for the third and fourth auction items of the day – an invitation for 2 to attend the Sponsorship launch party at Ian Williams’ Dominion Racing Stables; and tickets, lunch, and afternoon tea for 2 at Cheltenham and the opportunity to walk the course with Choc Thornton! The prize I’d won last year in the belated blind auction!
The third auction prize went for a very reasonable bid.
Choc was then persuaded to make an appearance prior to the bidding starting for his item. When he noticed me he asked ‘Not you again?’ I really couldn’t help myself, but I did find myself in a bidding war with one other person, but I did win out in the end!!! Poor piggy bank ... it took a real pounding today! I hope Choc was just kidding ... and I do feel a little guilty about monopolising his prize two years running. However, I did get to kiss Choc on the cheek 3 times ... as Les Hurley, who was the official photographer today, missed the first two shots and I was forced to go for a third attempt!!! JJJ
Having been successful for the second year running, Jenny escorted me to the Winning Owners’ area, where I partook in a glass of champagne. Also in the small office were the owners of Calaficial, celebrating their win.
Being Division II of the Maiden Hurdle, the race started with two flights to jump before passing the winning post with one circuit to go. Choc wasn’t competing in this race. Then they were off.
The hard pulling grey, Australia Day, led them off, with Drumacole Artist, Sagunt, Art Value and Fred Kennet prominent. However, Australia Day led them a merry dance, and soon a number of runners were toiling in his wake. It was Indian file around the final bend, with the field coming home in procession behind Andrew Thornton’s mount, who won by a distance!
The winner and placed horses having returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, and been led away, it was now time for the fifth auction item to be offered, which was a morning on the gallops at David Pipe’s yard for 2 people. Tom Scudamore came out of the Weighing Room, before the bidding commenced, to represent the yard.
It was now time for the fourth race of the day, in which Choc would be riding the Ian Williams trained Baddam. The start of this event was at the beginning of the back straight.
I noticed that Choc’s mount was being a little mulish at the start, refusing to do as his jockey bid when he was circling around. However, Choc urged him forward as the starter prepared to let them go, Will If I Want taking the lead initially, but Choc taking over aboard Baddam shortly afterwards. Will If I Want came back to dispute the lead having reached the 3rd and continued to do so until the 7th flight.
Four horses were clear of the remainder of the field as they galloped around the final bend – Baddam, Converti, Sweet Seville and Alpha Beat. Having cleared the 3rd last, Choc took a glance behind him to see where his pursuers were, but they were a spent force as Baddam ran on to win by 13 lengths on the line from Converti.
Choc returned to the Winners’ Enclosure, unsaddled, and spoke with connections. Les Hurley then took a photo of the posed group, before Choc returned to the Weighing Room.
The sixth auction item was a morning on the gallops at Tim Vaughan’s yard for 6 people. That would be a very interesting trip; Tim is a very good ambassador for racing, being very articulate and helpful to the media.
It was then time for Choc’s third ride of the afternoon, which was aboard Mam Ratagan. The trainer had requested permission for his mount to go out early, so Choc set out before the other runners to head for the starting gate, which was at the beginning of the home straight. I noticed Ginger McCain in the Parade Ring, he was representing his son, the trainer of Ballabrook. I am, coincidently, reading Ginger’s autobiography at the moment ‘My Colourful Life – from Red to Amber’.
Then they were off. Emperor Titus led them off but, taking a middle line, Choc had assumed the lead by the 2nd fence. As they travelled down the back straight, the horses at the rear of the field were jumping poorly.
Around the final bend, Broom Battalion was Mam Ratagan’s closest rival, with Seven is My Number coasting just in behind them. However, the former blundered and unseated Denis O’Regan at the open-ditch 4 out. Seven is My Number stalked Choc all the way up the home straight, and took the lead after the last, Tom Scudamore shaking up his mount to win by 2½ lengths from Mam Ratagan. Magic Rush fell 2 out when a poor third.
Choc returned to the Winners’ Enclosure to unsaddle in the stall reserved for the runner-up. After speaking with the horse’s connections, he returned to the Weighing Room.
Two more auction items – a morning on the gallops at Noel Chance’s yard in Lambourn for 2 people. Noel is Richard Johnson’s father-in-law. Also a morning on the gallops at Richard Phillips’ yard in Adlestrop for 4 people – that would be a very interesting and entertaining visit too!
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the John Burke Memorial Novices’ Handicap Steeplechase. John Burke being only the fifth jockey in history to have ridden the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Royal Frolic) and the Grand National (Rag Trade) in the same year.
The start of this event was midway down the back straight. Conditional jockey, Mark Quinlan, took 10lbs off of the Neil Mulholland trained Sula’s Legend.
Then they were off. The field was led away by Koh Samui and Mysaynoway. The first casualty was the diminutive Tootsie Too who unseated at the 3rd, the open-ditch. Koh Samui still led as they passed the winning post with one circuit to go. Vintage Fabric and Shanahan filled the last two places.
At the end of the back straight, Mark Quinlan sent Sula’s Legend into the lead, with Early Wings gradually closing in on the leader as they progressed up the home straight, coming to challenge after the last. However, Sula’s Legend would not be denied, and held on to win by 1½ lengths on the line.
It was Mark’s first ride and win in the UK, although he had ridden and won in Ireland.
Mark returned triumphant to the Winners’ Enclosure, and I noticed Choc briefly appear in the doorway of the Weighing Room at this point.
The final auction prize was a morning on the gallops at Paul Nicholls’ yard for 2 people, plus tickets to either Taunton or Wincanton races.
I decided to seek out the loos at this point, and had a surreal moment when I discovered that the race commentary is actually relayed into the rest room!
It was now time for the 7th race of the day, Choc wasn’t riding in this event either. However, Transvestite was one of the competitors. Danny Cook, having been successful at Fontwell Park earlier in the afternoon, had travelled up to Worcester to compete in the last two races. The start of this event was between the third last and second last flights in the home straight.
Then they were off. Cool Bob led the field away, but the keen and wide running Border Fox soon took over and went 10 lengths clear around the top bend. The fancied Song in my Heart was already struggling as they went down the back straight. Border Fox had been caught by the time they approached the 3rd last.
A group of 4 were now leading – Golden Square, Peaceful Means, Wisteria Lane and Cool Bob. Peaceful Means took the lead before 2 out and went clear to win by 13 lengths. Star Tenor under Danny Cook came with a late run to take 2nd.
It was now time for Choc’s fourth and final ride of the day. This was Division II of the Handicap Hurdle, so the race started between the third and second last hurdles in the home straight.
Then they were off. The keen Olympian Boy led them off. Choc took an inside line, disputing 2nd with Gallant Hero. Adopted Hero was soon struggling at the rear of the field.
Choc had started to push his mount along by the time they reached the end of the back straight. Still ahead was Olympian Boy and he remained so until Le Toto challenged and took the lead after the last. However, the very game Olympian Boy rallied and regained the advantage close home to win.
Choc’s mount finished in 6th position, and it seemed that no-one wished to finish last, as the 5th to 8th placed horses were all vigorously pushed out to the line. Choc, having finished unplaced, unsaddled out on the course.
I waited for Choc to walk back and disappear through the doorway of the Weighing Room before setting off across the home straight to the football pitch located centre course.
The jockeys appeared in dribs and drabs, until both of the teams were assembled. Phil Taylor, Choc’s valet, was acting as commentator, walking around the perimeter of the pitch as he did so. Unfortunately Choc wasn’t playing BUT he did come along to watch. I was standing close to the side line, and he was over to my right, just beyond the goal. Initially he was in his shirt-sleeves (a pink shirt?) but, as the evening drew on, he must have felt cold as he went to get his coat from his car. But he did return and stayed until the end, chatting with the team members at half time and at the end of the match.
Other spectators obviously noticed Choc, as he was asked for his autograph and to pose for photographs too. And Phil also stopped to ask for his opinion on the match at one point during the first half!
Choc’s friend, Ollie McPhail, was playing in goal for the South, with Tom Scudamore’s brother Michael (who is a trainer) representing the North as their goalie. The ‘North’ scored 2 goals before the South had got on the score-sheet, but the ‘South’ equalised, only for the ‘North’ to go 2 ahead again. However, with the help of a hat-trick from Sean Quinlan (a very nifty player) the ‘South’ had equalised by full-time. The match was then decided by a penalty shoot-out, which the ‘South’ won on the final kick!
The jockeys made their way back to the Weighing Room after the match, with Choc setting off in his car for home. Jenny Cheshire and Phil drew all the winning raffle tickets, and I set off to collect my car. Darkness would soon fall.
I decided to return via the A44, which took me up the Cotswold escarpment near Broadway Tower, through Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Norton. I decided to take the cross country route through the Bartons to reach Bicester, instead of going via the outskirts of Oxford. After Bicester my route took me back along the A41 to Aylesbury, then via the Tring/ Berkhamsted/Hemel Hempstead bypass down to the M25 and home. (That’s a very short paragraph for what seemed like a very long journey!)
I arrived home at 22:30.