The Surprise Thursday Night Sermon – Thirsk… and a couple at Goodwood

Good evening from the Major who writes from the pastel skies of Northern Nottinghamshire.  The drained swamps stretch flat to the horizon, bustling with harvests to come.

I last wrote a piece two months ago, in terrible touch.  I must have shown some soreness in the legs afterwards because I have been on the easy list for the last few months.

All is well good readers.  It is nice to say hello again to you all.  I wish you all health, happiness and glorious winners raining from God’s good heaven.

All is reasonable with the Major.  Family, home and business are all on form.  Personally, I have my moments as you know I will.  I get so lost in things sometimes that I wonder whether I am doing the right or wrong things.  Then I ponder on whether either of those things is anything other than the devils imposter.  Like Zuangzi, I am no longer sure if I am a good man dreaming I am bad, or whether I am inherently bad and occasionally dream of being pure at heart.

In my village, Gringley on the Hill, I am working on a puzzle.  Some years ago, the village had an old camp, the entrance road was called Minster View.  The site has since been developed, consigning to history the borstel, the camp et al.  Now a small road loop shows off smart new homes sits on the same spot.

The reason for mentioning it is that there is a suggestion locally that the road was called Minster View because you could see York Minster from the site.  When someone told me this I was immediately dubious as York is 40 miles further North and ‘on-the-hill’ is a generous term for the 135 feet we rise above the carrs that stretch north from here.

The big issue with seeing objects on the horizon is that the horizon is falling away.  No matter at what point you stand on any sphere, the horizon in any direction is falling away from you.  On Earth, it equates to about eight inches in every mile.  Between any two points, as the ground falls away from either in the direction of the other, one must have the height at one or both ends to see over the inevitable hump in the middle.  If there are any hills, trees or buildings in the way, then you need more height.  I fear Drax power station, an enormous petcoke and bio fuel power station with imposing cooling towers, might be in the way, even though it is 20 miles due North, it is big enough to blot part of the horizon.

Using the height of York Minster, I have calculated that you might see the top 25 metres of the building.  I have not found anyone, including the chair of the Gringley History Society (of course there had to be one!) who has seen York Minster.  I am planning on taking my telescope to the highest point of the village and training it on where York should be.  I shall then settle the matter, once and for all.

That was interesting wasn’t it!  I can only apologise.

This year, my business is supporting two charities.  One is Bluebell Woods Children’s Hospice and I recently ran an astronomy club with some children there.  Now that is sobering.  The other charity we are supporting is close to one of my team and tomorrow, our annual race day to Thirsk is partly to support that cause.

We shall act disgracefully, laugh and drink like it was the last days of Rome.  I shall do my bit too, providing a range of tips that will dampen the merry-making.  Well, they cannot have it all.

Thirsk Tips…. Plus a bit of Goodwood and Galway if I can.

To be fair the card at Thirsk is not a disgrace.  Some class 6’s give us a taste of the bargain basement of racing but we scale the dizzying heights of a class 3 too.  On rain softened ground, I feel I crack a few of these puzzles.

The opener is a seller.  Tie em up Tal has a win under his belt in selling company, while half the field have no official rating yet, this Evans trained horse is the highest officially on ratings.  Furthermore, Evans has a good record at Thirsk and John Egan is not a terrible jockey to have at Thirsk on a busy day of racing.

Egan is no Hanagan though and he gets the right on the evens favourite, Jean Paget.  Mick Channons horses have been running OK at Thirsk but overall the yard is hardly flying.  Looks a bit tight on price to me, despite the jockey booking.

I am going to take a chance on Sandama, 14/1 in the opener who represents top Northern yard, Fahey.  the horse has not shown a lot to date but it is a Footstepsinthesand sort and while it might be seen to better effect on good ground, nothing jumps off the page in a poor race and so I’d rather be on a price.

Time Trail looks like being returned to a more realistic level in the Fillies Nursery Sprint.  However, it is the favourite Tulip Fever that immediately stands out.  She is going good guns and the Haggas team are in good form.  Georgia Cox, claiming five pounds has a strike rate of over 20% in the last few months and clearly capable.

Although friendless in the market, I am going to play Silver Starlight at 9/2.  She also arrives with experience, form with a bit of toe in the ground and a course win.

In the 2.45pm, John Kirkup heads the market and I can understand why.  After a successful run though, he carries a fair few extra pounds, we have to investigate those with the lighter loads.  Angel Force has finished behind the favourite previously but may have improved when winning last time out in similar conditions.

The Mark Johnstone runner and the Tom Dascombe horse are both noteworthy in different ways but I think the answer here is to stick with the horse that has shown he has the tools, John Kirkup it is, 6/4.

The 3.20pm conditions stakes sees Mitchum Swagger drop out of pattern level and of course, that makes the horse of significant interest.  However, I’d prefer it if he were a bit more consistent, especially when the market is asking us for more than they will put up if he does win, no deal.

Sound Advice has some ability but needs the firmer conditions.  This leaves me considering burdening That is the Spirit with my money at 9/1.  He definitely will not mind any more rain if it comes and could go well but I am put off by the zero wins in the last sixty runners record of the O’Meara camp.

No bet.

Dyna Might and Sheriff Garrett are the two I want on side in the 3.55 and you think I’d be able to split them easily enough, especially as the former lost to the latter already.   The Sheriff may not have finished improving having won last time out with head-gear on that might have focussed the horse nicely.  Ladbrokes though are offering 9/1 on Dyna Might and I have to play at that price.

I am playing Broughtons Knight in the 4.30pm, it is a horse that has been backed before and arguably unlucky.  It was suggested to me too and so makes the roster!

I shall take the last two races on chance, the better side of a few bottles of the best claret Thirsk can muster.

Goodwood Tips

I have not played too hard at Goodwood this week, thank goodness!  It looks like a nightmare for punters at times although Winter gave the form backers some pleasure today, winning in lovely style.

I am going to be a little lumpy about Profitable in the main race of the day, the King George Stakes at 3.35pm.  The form is rock solid and the ground no issue.  I have to be involved at 11/4.  Baattash is a worry as the ceiling of his ability has not been fully tested yet.

I also like the Given horse, Gift in Time, I think this one might have a lot to give in handicap company.

I hope your company is as good as that which I shall keep.  Fine sorts.  We go round the once my friends, enjoy it.

Courage, roll the dice.

Surprise Epsom Oaks Day Sermon

Good evening from the Major who picks up a laptop to write from the delightfully warm blue skies of the lost North Nottinghamshire flat lands.

Surprise!  A sermon.  I would reckon that you were not expecting that.

It has been some time friends and then today, I received a text from a friend attending Epsom on Friday seeking tips, misguided fool.  You can judge a man by those from whom he seeks counsel, I think my friend is found wanting.  Still, he is the old sort of old acquaintance who knew me with long hair and acne, the sort that you like to oblige, to relight a synapse, an old connection but a conduit that has permanence to survive the examination of time.

Time has passed so for the fast updates on the Major.  I have taken up cycling, no lycra yet involved, furthest distance achieved: 31 miles.  The family are well.  The business is successful in a moderate way, this year I will survive without spending my own capital which, I suppose, is an early desirable tick box on all entrepreneurial adventures.

Earlier in the year, I sporadically released a few sermons and was starting to enjoy the swing of it again.  The pulse quickened with the idea of writing.  That soon dissipated and we are at the end of two months of radio silence.  Two months in which astronomy, military history and any other thoughts that cross my mind in the dark hours of night have not spilled onto these pages for your appraisal.

Here we are friends.

I was tempted by Oaks day because it was the scene of an almost monumental win for me in 2013, Talents year.

What a day it was, I had £20 spread in little multiples across Thistle Bird (WON), Resurge (WON), Gregorian (WON), Talent (WON 20/1) and Mister Music (LOST).  It returned £1500ish, slightly less, I can’t recall exactly.  However, my bookmaker kindly told me that had the other selection not run a dog of a race, the win would have been £48,000.  That would have taken me upstairs on the trip to the Caribbean.

Mister Music finished plum last of the 12 at 17/2 that day.  It was not to be seen again until August where it ran another bad race finishing last of 5 before winning at Bath by two lengths at 25/1.  Not a penny was carried in the Majors name at Bath and in the countless races that it ran afterwards, including winning off a mark of 99, I only had ill wishes for that one.  You see, I am not very nice really, I’ll call it what it was, a grudge.

You can read about it in my after-timing special on Derby Day 2013.  I don’t care, why should I, I was there and I know the length of perseverance required, the depth of long term losses and the simple bad luck one must endure before turning a single banknote into a holiday with extremely little calculation.

So yes, Epsom Oaks day has a fond place in my heart.  I thought Talent was very good, I wanted her in the Arc.  That looked more foolish as time went by.  I had exactly the same thoughts of Taghrooda.  I am sucker for fancying an Oaks winner for glory in the cool Parisian autumnal days.  It is those generous three year old filly allowances.

Anyway, this is 2017.  Former glory duly advertised our minds must turn to this renewal.  Solutions to puzzles must be found.  Kennedy described the Mariner probe sent to Venus as requiring engineering finer than that to go into the finest watches to produce the capability of the accuracy required.  He described the challenge of putting a probe into orbit around Venus was akin to landing a rocket across half a continent and landing it between the 40 yard lines on one of those American Football fields.  I suggest the Oaks card is more difficult but I am afraid he is not about to debate the difference.  That conversation will have to wait.

Still for anyone who longs for some aspirational politics, I recommend his Rice University speech which stirs something in the soul.  Listening to it, you cannot but feel galvanised into his mission, to put man on the moon in the name of peace, of technological advancement and of national pride.  Oh, how I long for such a politician now.

The challenges are there.  We are yet to conquer global warming.  To harness the tides, wind and sun for all of our energy needs – That would be something we could make a national mission.

I would not describe the current bun fight as boring mind.  In summary, we have a marginal wing of the Labour party entrenched in a history of Marxism, anti British sentiment and not a jot of meaningful front bench leadership between them, putting across a strong coherent message of investment.  They have warmed to the task, buoyed by a groundswell of supporters even if they are not perhaps convincing from a competency viewpoint.

Their incompetence incredibly it seems has almost been eclipsed by that of the conservative campaign.  Basically, the main message there is that they want to sell your Nans house when she gets ill.  Now I know the policy intention is different, I know Granny has to sell her house under todays conditions and that these proposals are actually a bit fairer and at least are an attempt to tackle a great challenge.  We are all getting older.  Yet, the manifesto and campaign has been so badly managed that the message has been lost and the positivity of Team Labour has come up on the rails to join the odds on favourite in the final furlong.

Speaking politics is a bore, forgive me.  Also I beg forgiveness if your views differ from mine somewhat.  I promise you that if we sat down, you’d find me as reasonable as yourself.  I must confess to an irritation I have with how the debate is conducted these days.  Polarisation and partisan support is the only order of the day.

Let me give you an example, bedroom tax.  It is my conjecture, as controversial as it sounds, that everyone believes in it.

Think about it like this.  Take two ends of the spectrum.  Do you think that the most needy in society should be provided with housing?  Yes, I hear you collectively shrug, where is this going Major?  Do you think that those in need of social housing should be able to demand any criteria of property from the state such as a three bedroom Mayfair pad on Berkeley Square (which would be mine by the way)?  Well of course not.

Then I reiterate my point, everyone believes in bedroom tax.  The only question is where the lines are drawn.  Most people are reasonable.

On my Facebook timeline, yes, I am there occasionally, to read which folk I barely remember are now married, divorced or having kids; there are folk espousing political views.  I ask you for a third time to forgive me doing the same here.  I am not peddling a side, though my small state politics and reluctance to get too public about my wider views, probably show my hand for any discerning reader… and you all are.  Should your allegiances and sensibilities lie in other directions, be assured, I have probably voted for your team too at some stage – I tend to back the side I think will do best in charge, irrespective.

I often think that those advertising a certain side, do so in such a partisan way, it must put more people off than it persuades.  Still, thrice I asked for your forgiveness.  I hope it was forthcoming.  Since I have acted the terrible bore, I shall furnish you with a joke before we head to the Epsom Oaks day tips.

Fred and his wife Maureen went to the local air show every year, and every year Fred would say,

‘Maureen, I’d like to ride in that helicopter’.  She’d always reply,  ‘I know Fred, but that helicopter ride is £50, and £50 is £50’

One year Fred and Maureen went to the air show, and Fred said, ‘Maureen, I’m now 85 years old and if I don’t ride that helicopter, I fear, I might never get another chance’.  To this, Maureen replied, ‘I know Fred, but that helicopter ride is £50, and £50 is £50’

The pilot overheard the exchange and interjected, ‘I’ll make you both a deal. I’ll take the both of you for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say a word I won’t charge you a penny! But if you say one word it’s £50.’  Fred and Maureen agreed and up they went.

The pilot did all kinds of incredible manoeuvres, loop the loop, stalling and free falling before starting again but not a word was heard from the passengers. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still not a word…  When they landed, the pilot turned to Fred and said,

‘Christ! I did everything I could to get you to shout and scream, but you didn’t. I’m impressed!’

Fred replied, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, I almost said something when Maureen fell out, but you know, £50 is £50!’

To Epsom

Epsom Oaks Day Tips

Epsom is a tough course.  The sweeping fall of the ground, the bawdy crowd and the tight turn into the home straight to encounter a camber that horses then encounter.  Many a good horse from an impressive maiden at Leicester, flounder in these strange conditions.

I rate course form as a huge asset but also look for similar track form, Bath, Brighton, Goodwood.

The opener is one of those open affairs with plenty of talented upstarts to chose from.  De Bruyne looked first rate at Ripon and since Hannon has taken three of the last four runnings, we know he is keen on putting a good one in this race.  Moore is booked, what is not to like.  Nothing really.

Cardsharp actually fits my stated profile a little better having won at Brighton before probably running to a better standard when going down at Ascot.  Sense probably should lead me this way but I have a feeling that De Bruyne might be a bit better than this lot, at Ripon he beat a debut Godolphin winner by a good 7 lengths, quality can tell.  13/8.

Sixties Groove ticks a lot of boxes in the 2.35pm but given his engagement in the Curragh International Cup suggests this might be the season pipe opener with a mile, perhaps not far enough to get the best from the horse.  If they go too quick, maybe.

I am going to chance my money on an unfashionable one, Mutarakez for Brian Meehan.  Again, I have gone against my stated frame because this one has never run on a course like this and is hardly the most reliable to deliver a maximum effort.  However, signs that the ability remains were there last time out and after he hit the front at Newbury, he played up.  Kieran Fox rides again and maybe will get a better tune today.  9/1.

Fresh from completing the Guineas double double, O’Brien sends over the favourite Highland Reel for the Coronation Cup.  It is possible he needed the run in Dubai, it is also possible that he was below just par on the surface.  A Breeders Cup Turf winner and a runner up in the Arc makes it the stand out star in the race for me.

The embarrassment of Ballydoyle riches is amply shown by the fact that he also saddles the two placed horses from last years Derby, both will know their business and will run well.  With the help of triple Coronation Cup star, St Nicholas Abbey, O’Brien has won seven of the last twelve renewals,

The Appleby stable are flying with almost a 50% success rate in the last fortnight.  I am not sure Frontiersman is quite up to winning this but as a place bet, his 10/1 odds feel good.

Journey only gets a few pounds from Highland Reel but is not that far off the form having recorded a superb win in the Champion Fillies and Mares race on Champions Day at Ascot last year.  She readily cranked up the tempo that day and positively surged clear down the Ascot straight.  She could be a real thorn in Highland Reels side and at 4/1, I’ll cheer her on and burden her with my money.

Fidaawy for Stoute in the 3.45pm handicap is the one that looks to be most progressive to me.  Stoute is in good form and this is exactly the sort that he could have on an upward curve.  Yet, at some point I should remain true to my track bias and given there are plenty with good experience, I shall find something else.

The one I settled on is Imshivalla at 18/1 with Coral (14s elsewhere).  Hanagan rides for Fahey and this is the horse trying to win the race for a second year on the bounce.  It would be a third win at Epsom for the horse and it is 8lbs lower than last years win.  There the positives end, it is 8lbs lower for a reason, a series of dodgy runs, a dozen in fact, since that win have shown that the horse is not a consistent sort.  That is priced in and I’ll take a stab that a return to these conditions might light the fuse again.

In the Oaks, Rhododendron is the O’Brien odds on favourite.  The Guineas run was decent, seeking room and then running on when Winter had already flown.  Certainly, it left the impression that further would be fine.  Odds on seems a bit short though and part of that pricing is surely the fact that O’Brien has taken four from four of the British and Irish classics to date.  How notable too, that it is the only Galileo filly to line up.

I am going to go against and am looking to the Deauville race for my Epsom hints.  Coronet, another Gosden horse has been overlooked by Dettori but was doing some very good late work in France, suggesting this trip might bring out the best.  The winner of that race though carries my ticket.  Sobetsu is a Dubawi filly and at 9/1, stands a fine chance.

The penultimate race is one in which I fancy a turn up.  Mr Scaramangafinely named, currently carries an outsiders 20/1 price but may well do better.  Back in the day, there was a Brighton win suggesting the horse can cope fine with the course.  Sutter County will be a good hare to aim at.

Finally.  Black Trilby looks the sort to improve from that mark and as long as the preliminaries go well, I would be aboard the money coming tonight at 4/1.

I hope your dinner is taken in fine state.  I shall be parked outside the pavilion of a glorious cricket club in Blyth, Nottinghamshire.  It has a fine row of lime trees and with blue skies and good beer, I shall watch my boys in training.  Ah, life is good, relish each moment.

It could be two weeks or it could be two months.  Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon on Lincoln Day 2017

Good evening strangers from the Major who writes from a North Nottinghamshire gently cloaked in pastel cloud, the warmth of spring clings to the skin, gentle breezes promises.

I saw ants today, marvellously successful little critters, 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, (ten thousand trillion) of them share this rock with us, all hutling round the same nuclear reactor.  Ants come in 12,000 flavours.  They are social sorts and as long as there aren’t too many of them in one go, well, I have a soft spot for the black ant that might crawl on your arm while you lie with your back caressing Mother Earth.  All shapes and sizes my friends.

We have so much to catch up on, I fear if I get distracted this easily by ants, that this might go on a little longer than is either necessary or desirable. Focus, Major, focus.

Let’s start with an apology about Cheltenham week.  In years gone by, it would have been utterly implausible that the Major who had not missed a Saturday Sermon in five years through illness, holidays, drunkenness; should not contribute during the festival?  Has his heart fallen so far?

Well no, not quite.  I was quite geared up for writing the blog during Cheltenham week.  Before attending the course on Tuesday, I published day one (a complete train wreck if you must ask) and I was formulating the thoughts for comeback Wednesday when a rather odd and alarming turn of events unfolded.

Having moved north this year, festival plans changed.  Instead of the usual Worcestershire base, I was returning to the parents place in Birmingham.  I had friends in tow, one who lives in Birmingham anyway and one who was to stay with me and my family.  We got the train back to Birmingham after racing at about 7pm with the intention of keeping our table reservation at a decent Birmingham curry house, ideal succour after the wallet has had a Champion Hurdle beating.

Arriving back into Birmingham, tired and emotional, I took one of the scarier calls I can recall.  With her permission, I shall recall the events but I shall start by saying that all ends perfectly well.  It is not that sort of drama that I provide.  No, no. We are a better set here.

The good lady called me as the cross country train came past the red tower marking Birmingham University.  Answering took me from a world of boyish free spirit pleasure, back into a real world.  The good lady asked if I would administer some ‘over the phone’ discipline to our two young boys.  She took some time to explain this to me and at first, the drinker blames himself for any incomprehension.

It is not also unheard of for a phone bollocking to be called for (I apologise for the crudeness) and at first I thought she was probably checking in on my debauched day and reminding me that none everyone was having quite as much fun.  I also shamefully recall how I felt about that, before I realised this was a medical issue, I was angry.  After all, everyone knows my year points at Cheltenham.  I kept that reaction in, after all my mother taught me not to flinch, no matter what.  Yet in the sanctity of the sermon, I can admit that yes, in the first instance, wilder regrettable emotions were stirred.

What was increasingly apparent though was her inability to describe what I was meant to be admonishing the young masters about.  A woman that was normally so articulate was struck dumb by being asked to repeat something she said just a few moments previous.

It became increasingly troubling and despite a hefty dose of brandy swishing in my system, I knew it was not me.  I am a good drunk like that, I’m the sort of drunk you go to.

The fearful reality descended on me when the good lady could not recall if she had called me or if I had called her.  Something was clearly fundamentally amiss.

The train was not yet in the station, it was busy and noisy, I had friends there.  I could not drive and I was worried for her and the boys.  My worst fear, gladly disproven was that this was a stroke.

The train pulled in, I explained to my companions that something was up and that I would need to make other arrangements.  I urged them to carry on, I knew I would be better travelling alone and needed the clarity that comes from single mindedness to calculate the next moves.

I called my neighbour.  A lovely proper sort.  From the busy and very impressive New Street concourse, I endeavoured to explain the conversation and fears that I had to my neighbour.  She agreed to go round and see for herself and report back while I investigated the return journey.

When she did call, she confirmed what I knew.  The good lady was quite happy in herself but confused and unable to retain short term information.

I would be wrong to deny that I was scared.  You take your health for granted, we suffer with the illusion of immortality, most of our deteriorations come on us so subtlety we never notice them.  To have your invincibility, or as impactful, that of a loved one, so suddenly withdrawn, it is to face the certainty we all face.  These are the good days, worse is ahead.

I decided to call for a paramedic.  What was to lose?  I persuaded my neighbour to sit in until they arrived.  I hot footed it back and joined her at the hospital.  She was in decent spirits.

Diagnosis.  Temporary Global Amnesia.  No lasting effects and rare but not unheard of for sufferers of regular migraine.  We left the hospital at 4am and even if my weariness had subsided enough for me to pen a Champion Chase sermon, the thoughts that had earlier seemed so accessible were at that point, as distant as the far flung galaxies.

I tried not to be dramatic in relaying this information at the time but I was not sure quite how to put it.  I was still processing the whole affair.  Wind removed from sails, the sermons were done for this festival.

Of course, the good lady made an impeccable recovery, such is the condition.

I have not had chance to remark on Cheltenham week as this is my first post since.  It was not a good week for the Major.  Death Duty and Yanworth were my main lines.  I did have the bumper winner which was tremendously good fun.

I thought it was a great festival.  New stars were born.  Labaik and Might Bite were uber talented and both mad as a box of frogs, it is fair to say I will be rooting for them again.  Defi Du Seuil and Yorkhill both were excellent.  We have a superb list of potential winners of the King George this year.  Un de Sceaux, Yorkill, Might Bite, Coneygree, Sizing John, Thistlecrack, Douvan and Native River.  If we get half of those there fit, we will have a superb race on our hands.

Anyway, to the Lincoln.

Saturday Sermon – Lincoln Day

A couple of years I had an absolute blinder on Lincoln Day.  Traditionally I had always felt it best left alone.  Funny ground, early season unpredictable form… it was never a recipe for my success.  All that changed in 2015 when I landed 4 out of 5 winners on the blog, two at 16/1 and my modest investment returned a tasty bag of sand.

Well us blind squirrels etc etc.

We can but hope that we strike lucky again.

Gabrial is back but carrying nearer ten stone this time round and not quite the profile I am looking for.  My pick though is a Fahey horse, Dolphin Vista, who gets Hanagan in the saddle.  Fahey has his usual strong hand in the race and the jockey booking alone suggest this one could be one of his more forward ones.  The horse has been running well with the sun on his back in Dubai and 14/1 (12/1 generally) is my play.

Crazy Horse in the mile (3pm) is in my list of bets tomorrow.  Gosden and Dettori team up on a horse I am sure there is more to come from.  On breeding I was uncertain that a bit of give under hoof would be the thing for this one but so far, 2 from 2 on good to soft.  My pick brings French classic form to the table (6th in the Poule D’Essai des Poulains)

There are of course plenty of other candidates… Stormy Antarctic gets Spencer, has group winning form and is a threat but Crazy Horse is the Major’s pick.

They have split the Brocklesby up and I’ll be darned if I even attempt to find that pin.

My last horse is a lively outsider.  At Stratford in the 3.20pm Class 3 handicap, Burchell saddles One for the Boss, a 22/1 shot (BetVictor).  When a horse has a bad run, you can forgive it, as the saying goes, they are not machines.  When a horse has three bad runs, like my pick, you have to consider other variables.  Were there underlying reasons?  Well I do think a return to this ground will help, after that, I am relying on a few vagaries

In the football, Leicester will beat Stoker 21/20.  Villa will beat Norwich 13/10 and Brentford 7/5 will beat Bristol City, that is a tasty treble.

I have no right to will you to enjoy this sermon.  I have found it hard to write over the last year, choosing moments rather than forcing words through.  I know the above is not my finest, not as interesting, it lacks a certain je ne sais quai.

I hope your dinner is hearty, wholesome, tasty and in the company of fine sorts.  Laughter.  Be charitable because more unsettled times will visit, don’t leave a debt, leave a credit, it will make you feel better.

Courage, roll the dice.

The 2017 Champion Hurdle Day Sermon – Cheltenham Tips

Good evening from the Major who writes from a wonderfully colourful sky, gods palette dancing for us, splashed frivolously along the edge of the horizon.  Birmingham for me on Cheltenham Eve, the fathers – Cold beer and football.

Us merry band of national hunt lovers crave this moment in time.  Our year of sport aims towards this single moment, where we invest such hope in our dreams, the drama to be played out in that green amphitheatre, perfectly embraced in a nook at the base of Cotswolds escarpments.  The golden stones tinge pink at dusk, an ancient warmth seeps gently onto the streets where we all gather, shuffling to town, our pockets laden with gelt or regret.

Right now, every thought we have held throughout our season, bits of form that caught our eye, performances that left you breathless and Pertemps runners from shrewd yards running late on into 4th places…. all of these cumulative thoughts, bubble away in a stewing pot of hope, the fare untainted by the cold light of reality.  It is why this moment is so precious, so important in the lives of us that consider the glass half full, this is the joyous time, we cheer at the raising of the tapes on the first, not because we expect but because we wish, we yearn and not a small number of us, say farewell to these moments of anticipation.  You might have a fancy ticket on Melon, you might have £2 on the tote on the wildest outsider, both conjure the same sense, both are equally right, until that tape goes up, we each share in the common pool of anticipation.

Champion Hurdle Tuesday is the greatest day of racing in the world.  The Supreme is a wonderful opener with the best and brightest novices proving their mettle.  The Mares Hurdle has a place in our hearts after Quevega made the race her own with some memorable late runs, weaving through flagging foes, that gutsy little mare.

The Champion Hurdle itself is a blistering two-mile whirlwind requiring accurate jumping and stamina to keep sticking a neck out when other beasts have called time.  Hurricane Fly was among one of my most ill-judged horses, twice proving me foolish with devastating displays.  Punjabi with that white face and socks gave me one of my greatest ever wins when one more stride would have been the undoing.  Faugheen is an awful loss to the proceedings having proven a true champion.  Just a little further back and the Hardy Eustace, Istabraq, Brave Inca and Rooster Booster memories are warm nuggets.

Yes, it is a fine day to be alive.  I shall be on course and in touch on twitter.  I will be in the Arkle Bar from 11.30ish until the Supreme.  I would encourage you to come visit, I’d be proud to meet you.  In a repeat of last years OperationNoMoreHeroes, we are running Operation Yanworth – The rules are simple, bring a £5 bet slip for any horse at the festival, a multiple if you like.  Write your twitter handle on it and exchange with someone else, simple.  Oh and mine is a Whisky Mac.

I am there with good friends.  What else could you need in the world.  Last week I went to a wedding, @mikedayuk.  I am not a fan generally of weddings, I dislike the intense detail, something among the fancy place settings, the small touches intended to luxuriate a magic, it does not sit with me.  However, this was a particularly good friend and should have anyone noticed my slightly watery eye, well, the pollen count was up.  It helped that so many beautiful people were there.  Fine souls, well cut dresses, one in a blue that I could have fallen into, well cut calves, bottle green.  You know me, I fall in love most days and the last is always the best.

I have to say, the good lady cut a fine figure.  Call me a cad all you like but it is time to pay the lady a compliment.  On the eve of the wedding with friends, she spoke of a small glass of wine.  Some time later, she was roaring with the best of them, leading a 1am march of a merry band she acquired off to the outdoor heated and covered swimming pool.  All of this in a grand old manor house somewhere near to Cirencester.  God bless her.

It is a funny thing marriage.  I might find weddings tiresome but the idea of marriage is one that appeals to me.  The security of the right soul at your side.  She knows me, smells the mischief and that is OK.  I know her blemishes too, after all.

We have a card to go through…. to Cheltenham – Let the fun begin.

Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle Day 2017 Tips

The curtain raiser is a much more open affair than some of the renewals that Mullins has plundered with Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever.

Melon is one that all the likely lads have fancy tickets on.  Yet, this Mullins runner looks a slightly weaker contender than previous balls of hype he has saddled.  That said, Ruby has made him the choice and given he had three other perfectly good options in Crack Mome, Bunk off Early and Cilaos Emery, it has to be noted.

Beyond Conceit has an unbeaten record but the form doesn’t amount to great shakes, though he does get the Fehily treatment and is a battler, could be a place bet.

My choice though, I reckon is the least fashionable in the field.  High Bridge ran a solid race in last years Champion Bumper and did better over hurdles this term, in my view giving him every right to give it a solid go tomorrow.  16/1.

Te Arkle is a race to watch.  If Altior stands up, no form line can suggest he gets beat.  Of course, he might make errors, he might have an off day, they are horses.  Yet, I detest betting on ‘without’ markets.  No, I’d rather enjoy Altior.  If you must, have a saver on Royal Caviar.

I have never had a winner in the Ultima Handicap Chase but trends are there to be broken.  Jonjo has had a bit of luck and Holywell has been a bit of class in the past.  I am not convinced, more wary.

The favourite is an obvious and deserved favourite.  Singlefarmpayment looks to have more to come and having performed well here before, is quite appealing.  The prices of the last five winners varied from 8/1 to 28/1, this is a bookies race, unless you can read the tea leaves.

I am going to have a play on Henri Parry Morgan at 12/1.  The Bowen runner is a bit hare ’em scare ’em, yet, he has caught the eye at times and this team could unleash one here.

The Champion Hurdle

Yanworth has been my play for some time and I am not going to abandon this choice now.  I like these sorts that win good races in a scruffy fashion, they often never get the credit they deserve.  Often Yanworth has looked gangly but he has competed in races where they dawdled and I don’t think my fella liked it.  He won’t have that problem tomorrow.

Now, the others I appreciate!  Buvuer D’Air has looked a fine sort and gets the benefit of Fehily in the saddle.  Probably he’d prefer a bit more toe in the ground though.

Petit Mouchoir, has almost lived up to the French reference in his name, le mettre dans la poche avec le mouchoir par dessus.  He is a hidden gem in the betting because 8/1 when they will go a fierce gallop is a fine price.  A grey too.  Ah, what has the handkerchief covered my friends.

Moon Racer is not for me and The New One has taught me not to back him, even while he will love the decent ground.  Sceau Royal and Wicklow Brave are considered for the places at big money but my heart and wallet remain fixated on Yanworth.

Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini line up against many expectations in the Mares Hurdle.  Apples Jade is a fine girl but I think she might get tapped for toe in the end.  VVM is a ruthless galloper but has been deposed for Limini, a massively interesting call from Ruby.

Put the protagonists aside and Indian Stream at 66/1 has my boy Fehily in the saddle and a good strike rate over bigger obstacles.

Frankly, my bet of the day is Vroum Vroum Mag at 3/1.  I am quite surprised she is this price and although many might turn an eyebrow at my confidence, I recall those effortless strides, that monstrous engine.  Bring on the challengers… I thought my girl could win a Gold Cup, come test her mettle.

In the four miler, I vouch for a decent jockey.  Putting aside Paddy Mullins on grounds of the horse he is on, Codd, Waley-Cohen and Biddick are the focus of my attentions.  Codd has been booked by Meade to ride A Genie in a Bottle and 5/1 looks a bit short.  Like all the rest (bar one) he is unproven at the trip and I would also be sceptical that good to soft is going to draw the best.

Arpege D’Alene is the ride of Biddick and this horse just looks too wayward for my liking.  Waley-Cohen at 8/1 on Beware the Bear is my pick, despite the distance, lots of 6/7 year old improvers win this and the profile looks strong.  All aboard.

If you haven’t lost enough money by 5.30, the novice handicap chase is designed to wring the last from your weakening grip.  There is a handful of pounds between the top and bottom weights, these are novices and we are trying to judge improvement and potential… this is a nigh on impossible race.  My tentative slip will be for Bun Doran who won really well on the penultimate start and the George yard are in good form.

May your dinner be taken drunken and in good company.  May your bets be blessed and your horses develop pegasus type abilities.

Courage, roll the dice.

 

Saturday Sermon – Kempton, Winter Derby and Eider Chase

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Nottinghamshire scene where Orion shines brightly giving faint suggestion of the violence he harbours.  Spring is in the air and I can smell Cheltenham, I can almost touch it, close your eyes and it brushes by your cheek.  Just a few weeks now until peak equine talent meets birch across a few miles of Gloucestershire green turf, nestled against those Cotswold stones that glow peach as the sun dies on our hopes or fears.

Brutal.  That is the only way one might describe the ante post turmoil that has seen many a slip torn.  Christ, Thistlecrack.  I was going to get quite reckless with that one and he had cornered a few multiples I was gently building.  How his bold silks might have bought our hearts to thunderous volume, we shall not know.

Many decry the linear nature of our season.  All roads to Cheltenham is myopic, belittling the values of Aintree and Punchestown, as summer breaks.  I do not share their thoughts.  Without defamation to the latter festivals, fantastic centerpieces in their own right, there is something to behold at Cheltenham.  So what of 2017?

This Cheltenham will not receive the services of any of last years championship winners, not one.  Some might see this as a hollowing effect, not I, nor most seasoned sophisticated National Hunt veterans.  A fine crowd, and a crowd in which I know I can count you in their number.  Ah yes, no riff-raff here, only the finest gentleman gamblers stray this way.  A strict door policy excludes any sort that lack a certain caliber.  Experience and age matter little.  Not compared to; how you react to a loss, your manners with others, a certain charm and humour and a wicked glint of mischief.  Those are the pre requisite criteria.  Welcome, you are in good company.

I have not stocked the hearth, it was a borderline decision.  Pale Ale has replaced the red wine.  We are closing.

I have had a rubbish season.  I shall tell you now that I am in poor form.  That bloody mothership, taunts me with tantalising tasters, a moment of closeness to the truth, that rich vein of form.  The sensible straight sort mocks our sport as chance only, which is ridiculous.  It is skill (trainer, horse and jockey) combined with conditions (track, going, obstacles, undulations, tightness and distance) and also luck.

We cannot deny that we require some fortune.  My mind is the least superstitious of all, yet my scientific reason can overcome the urge to believe that my luck comes in seams.  I find one and I mine it, I also should ease back on the machinery when it is clear that my way is lost.  Ah, don’t we all wish w had those instincts more finely honed.  There it is, that is the game in a moment.

I have been reading the American classic, The Grapes of Wrath.  When a novel plunges you into an alien world to your own, there is language and tempo to understand.  You have to take some time before the pleasure that a skilled writer will reward you with is revealed.  A thirsty man is best quenched a little at a time.

The epic is set in the 1930s dust bowl of Oklahoma where a recently released prisoner is reunited with his family as they are turfed off their small holding and set out for California.  Their plight is shared with hundreds of thousands of others – They are potless and fall by the roadside.  If they make California, they find that their dream is not just tarnished but withered.

The story is political, about the power of the wealthy against the desperate, until the latter group realise the power in numbers and unity.  It is also a story of changing times, of new corporate bodies, of an us and them.  Most of all, I find it an evocative piece about what we all really crave, not quite security, more purpose.  Yes, purpose.  How we might feel if that was stripped from us.

Something about the places too.  The Oklahoma wasteland, farmed to ruin.  Across Texas and climbing to the high plains above New Mexico.  Then, arid Arizona before the final mountains drop you to the deserts of California.  Finally, the green glory of that state, ocean and mountain.  Small towns.  The wholesome view of having enough for you, yours and a little extra.

I’d recommend it if you haven’t read it and advise that the first few chapters are worth bearing through.  You lefties should be proud of me.  A son from the liberal centre right uttering these words.  I might see your motivation, indeed, I emphasise with it as much.  It is only the solution where we part.

I am sorry if this was meandering.  My mind is such, in some moments, thoughts spill too watery to maintain a consensus.

To the sports….

Kempton, Newcastle Eider Day and the Winter Derby

Let’s start with the Eider chase at Newcastle.  I have reservations about covering this race as I am not sure it is one that should be run in the heavy conditions we are going to get tomorrow.  I am all for staying contests but I have seen Eiders finish with the walking wounded, a case of last horse walking and frankly it is not a dignified sight for the sport.

Putting aside the possible gruelling context of the race, there is no residual consistent model of a winner for this race.  Older horses have won.  Top weights in heavy ground, handicap plots…. we could be looking for anything.

What we can say is that it has to be a mud lark, it has to be a true stayer, a warrior.  One that goes when the others cry enough.

Both the Scudamore horses are attractive to me.  Streets of Promise might have others contesting the lead, yet, assuming it goes well for the extra distance, 20/1 is a generous ticket from Bet 365 and given it has always place on heavy and won 3 from 5, hmmmm.

The other Scudamore horse is second favourite, 9/1.  Sporting 9lbs less, Mysteree is a new recruit to the gorgeous Herefordshire yard (I know I have been there for breakfast).  Plenty to like about this placed horse from last year.

Kerry Lee, a trainer I do admire, has two absolute rock hard stayers.  Mountainous and Russe Blanc are the sorts you’d dislike as company in the playground but might welcome alongside you in the trenches. I’d cheer either home for this prize.

I have to pick.

Coral are 12/1 about Russe Blanc and as much as it pains me to leave the potential improvement of Streets of Promise (a horse I enjoyed backing through a lovely winning spell when hugely under rated, I have to in this case.  Russe Blanc has my favourite northern jockey Mr Brian Hughes in the saddle, a sensible steady hand.  This is the right one.

The Winter Derby Tip

Here we are in the build up to Cheltenham and we are asked to contemplate this Group race on the all weather.  Personally, I like it but I find it, well, not so much a distraction, more a shock.  It pops up suddenly and I have to research rather than know the form lines into it.

The favourite is a classy sort finishing third in a Juddmonte International is probably the best piece of form but it is a lovely thing when a quality beast makes a debut on the all-weather, it does somewhat mess up the market.  Sea the Stars sorts have been fine on the surface but that is no promise.

The favourite has a lot going for it, as favourites do but I fancy an outsider to sneak into the reckoning.  Mythical Madness has Spencer up top and with a bit of new headgear might be able to compete.  I’ll give fair warning that my interest in the horse is largely based on the failures I see in other profiles, yet 33/1… well, that would buy your mother some fine cuts of meat, n’est pas?

Tips for Kempton

Then the quality.

The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle – Kempton promises us a super good surface for February.  Charli Parcs has given us a tasty performance and we will be anticipating his efforts with a view to Cheltenham.  He is a quarter million pound horse and gave one of these a beating and weight last time up – Imagine lying on your back, listening to the calm click of the metronome and perhaps as well as the 4/7, one might consider the antepost position you hold with this one, before the tapes go up!

Noel Fehily is about my favourite jockey.  He gets the leg up on Charmix, who Frodon has to spot 5lbs to.  I’ll be on the 5/2 second favourite for two reasons.  He likes it off the front and in a small field, it makes a difference.

In the 3pm novice hurdle, River Wylde would be a great bet if you were sure he would enjoy the race, chill out and give his best.  That though is no certainty.  That said, he keeps winning and keeps getting stepped up in class.  I am going to stick with Noel Fehily and Peter the Mayo Man he can be backed at a price of 7/1.

The prices are large, the thinking thin.  I’ll forgive you for tending your crops to a different regime.

May you celebrate your victories finely.  I have guests, the finest guests, farmers from Worcestershire, potatoes.  I shall cook for them and in the evening I shall find good brandy.  The farmers wife is the generous sort, not for her own benefit, simply because she is a marvel.

May your dinner be in good company too, courage friends,

Roll the dice.