The Saturday Sermon on 2017 Lanzarote Hurdle Day

Good evening from the Major who writes from the deep cold of North Nottinghamshire where driving cold fronts leak through substandard fabrics and bring such sudden frigid shock to the skin, my season.  The wood smoke hangs in the cold air, the pub lights dim and warm, look so inviting.  Yet here I am, writing from the lounge, fire slowly crackling into some sort of life, Chianti in hand.

After a little run of sermons last year, I have been quite over Christmas and this is my first post of 2017.  I cannot predict my wayward motivation and apologise if the sporadic nature of posts is reducing the little magic we had before.  I cannot pretend that I am going to find the rhythm required to produce this each week.  Now, it is as and when.

So, what’s new?  On the punting front, I enjoyed  a healthy Christmas.  Anyone on the receiving end of some of my traditional seasonal punting gifts would have been pleased too with the performances of Yanworth and Thistlecrack which bedecked my gifts of good will to celebrate the birth of our saviour.  I am sure Jesus would have approved.

Yanworth still looks a little awkward at times to me but class prevailed and his hurdling looked a little more fluent the faster they went, with doubts over the Mullins Champion Hurdle first order, I’d be a buyer at 5/1 with Stan James.

Thistlecrack was splendid.  A few weeks prior, I was thinking the experience and quality of Cue Card made him an appealing price.  The minute it was clear through, that Tizzard was undaunted and throwing Thistlecrack in at that level, well, the pleasant doubts started and what a performance on the day.

My only fear for Thistlecrack now is that if he is that brave at Cheltenham, he might do himself a mischief.  His jumping was at times spectacularly bold.  Standing a heart stopping distance away on the take off side, launching himself and jockey skywards and splendid with the arrogance and confidence of youth.  It had me reminiscing of Master Minded, Un de Sceaux, Sprinter Sacre and Kauto Star.  Us National Hunt fans love that sort of performance, it remains with you, how you felt.  Still, it can give you the conniptions around Prestbury Park where Kings and paupers are made from singular equine misjudgements.

Thinking of Cheltenham, I’d love to see Vroum Vroum Mag in a Gold Cup.  What a magnificent beast she is and it is a testament to her capability and versatility that she is quoted both in the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup markets!

Ah, Cheltenham.  This might be the first year in ten that I do not make a day at the festival.  Being so much further away and a busy life full of stresses and strains, well it cannot silence the melody from the temptress flute but the costs involved don’t help either.

I would be able to call in at a few houses near Cheltenham for hospitality but event so, £80 for a Champion Hurdle day ticket before I have even set eyes on the seafood, champagne and good whisky or, god forbid, burdened some poor beast with the additional weight of my bet.  I don’t know how some of you folk manage it.

Let’s see how that arithmetic holds up as we get closer to March, whether my resolve felt now, fortified by distance can remain resolute as the bluebells arrive and the equinox draws close and the antepost haze clears and simple questions remain.  Evidence strewn through a season of Kemptons, Sandowns, Chepstows, Ascots, Haydocks, Newburys et al need to be pieced together into a coherent betting strategy, ideas need formation.

In other news.  Business is well.  Family good, my father had a health scare but it was minor.  I have started something that I am enjoying immensely, an astronomy club at the local primary school.  I have 15 children on a Monday and I am teaching them the basics about the motions of the heavens, the depths of space and the beautiful objects found within.

Children ask such good questions, founded in an innocent honesty, there minds closer to wonderment and you can only bask in that sentiment, letting the enthusiasm course into your veins too.  I have always felt an envy to people who work in a job they hold a passion for.  That must be so satisfying.

Full moon tonight which always looks spectacular but sadly bleaches out much of the sky.  Anyway, at tea time you can see Venus to the South South West looking magnificent, easily the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon.  Just a little more elevated is Mars a lot dimmer but still easy to spot with the naked eye and easy to identify with that clear rusty tinge.  In the morning you can see Jupiter and Saturn in the same spot in the sky at 7am.  With a cheap telescope, these objects all look magnificent.  The moons craters are so vivid and you will see so much more details.  Venus actually is close enough that you should be able to see it in crescent, yep, it is big enough in a scope that you can see the phases of Venus.

The show stoppers for me though in our solar system are Jupiter and Saturn.  Jupiter has four large moons easily visible with binoculars or a simple scope and there is something special about seeing them and thinking of the ancient mariners who would use them as a clock.

I would challenge anyone though to lay eyes on Saturns rings, even when so small you can only just distinguish them, yet be unmoved.  They are a magnificent sight and truly breathtaking to gaze upon with your own eyes.

Anyway, to the sports.

Saturday Tips – Lanzarote Day at Kempton

It is not a huge Saturday in the racing calendar but I don’t care, on some such day our mothership will land.

At Kempton, the opening juvenile race sees the British debut of Poker Play, a quarter million pound French import housed with Pipe.  David Pipe is a trainer I could never send a high value horse too.  I do not wish to be rude but for my money, he seems to return the least from any potential top class stock he holds.  Anyway, what foul temper bought me to offer that titbit I do not know.  I doubt David will care too much.

Anyway, while Poker Play may live up to his lofty reputation and 2/5 odds, he will do so without my ringing endorsement.  No bet race for me.

I much prefer the handicap chase at 12.55.  Of huge interest to me is Rhapando who was a decent horse when last seen. This is a decent race to be making a come back run in but 12/1 feels a bit dismissive of his former ability.

Ericht has some qualities and is in OK touch, back down in this grade, he is a real threat.  Return Flight runs for the Skeltons, a really good yard and having won at the second attempt over fences, he is fancied at 7/4 to go in again.  I have my reservations here too because this is a better race and he has more weight to carry now.

In general, when looking at two profiles of a good horse dropping in class and a horse of potential climbing in class, I err towards the former.  I find the pricing more generous.

Ericht is eleven years young now though and has never been the most reliable.  Full circle, I am coming back to Rhapando, 12/1 – That is how we like them.

The novice hurdle at 1.30 is another interesting affair.  Bravely I am ignoring Ballymalin who has been on a winning streak.  This is a better race and he barely won his last with a 10lb claimer on board.  Now claimers help with the weight but Sam will give the horse a better ride so really it is a debatable balance.  Anyway, this one likes to lead and in a better race, I feel uncanny certain that he will be the hare that these greyhounds will get to.

Alpha Male has sent all the signals that a staying trip will suit.  I find myself wary of such beasts though.  Even crap horses look like stayers plugging on when beaten.  That is probably a bit harsh on this favourite who ran pretty well at Ascot anyway, but all the same.

Nope – The two I prefer are Robinroyale and Laugharne at 11/2 and 20/1 respectably.  Robinroyale did really well at Chepstow in a reasonable race that is starting to look quite hot and this young jockey clearly gets on well with the horse.  Laugharne is only 20/1 with two markets, 888 and 32Red, other than that you have to settle for a general 16/1.  Taunton is not a track I take too seriously as a guide for form, some horses like those tight turns, many do not.  Still, the horse did well and the price takes into account my sniffy attitude.  A single on Laugharne and both in my multiples.

2.05 and we are into listed territory with a four runner chase.  I quite liked Activial but he has been sold out of Frys yard and I would not want to bet that he will subsequently improve.  Quite by Chance had Vaniteux behind last time out with there is best part of a stone swing in the weights now in the favour of the latter.  Vaniteux is not an evens shot though, he seems not to have gone on from a promising novice year and so I vote for Vibrato Valtat.  I think the step up in trip will suit and if he comes over the last in sight of the favourite, I know which horse I’d rather have my money on to actually put some work in when required!  5/2.

The Lanzarote Hurdle is at 2.40pm.  It is nine years since a double figure priced horse won this race and Nick Williams has won half of the last six renewals.  That last bit would be useful information if he had a runner.  Now I have given you something useless.

Venetia Williams won the Lanzarote last year with a novice, Yala Enki and runs another in Benny’s King who can be backed at 8/1.  A god profile.

Favourite Doesyourdogbite has the benefit of a good name but has been very decent sent hurdling.  An excellent chance it seems.

Jaleo also has done well but I would want a more experienced pilot in a race of this nature.

Old Guard must get a mention.  He is not a fashionable runner but he is only 6 and in good hands.  No winner of the Lanzarote has done it off top weight and his price of 25/1 reflects the general view but I would not put you off if you were a fan.

I am staying simple – Doesyourdogbite has been campaigned sensibly, gradually improving and may well have more to come.  I am sure this was the plan.

The handicap chase that follows at 3.15pm is also one where I will be taking the favourites chance at 4/1 in Sandy Beach.  We all know how well Tizzard has been going this year and this horse has coped with a variety of different challenges.

In the football…. I keep playing my old tune but I fancy Villa to win at Wolves at 9/4 too.   I also fancy Cardiff to win at Bristol City in the early kick off.  12/5 there.

Courage my friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon: Tips from Ascot, Long Walk Hurdle Day

Good evening from the Major who writes from the other worldly Nottinghamshire Lincolnshire borders where the fog rolls off the Trent leaving all ghostly and quieted.

Driving down fog tunnelled roads, the headlights illuminating domed walls of the encasing grey murk, I feel like the car is sliding along, not propelled, more like slipping downwards.  Limbs of trees vaguely appear in the milky mass, like the tunnel has some unfathomable structure.  Wisps of grey brown grass wisp on the banks of the lane, I can taste the dank, I can smell the cold earth.  I swear, I am one slip away from losing consciousness altogether, it is such a thin line.

Tonight, I took my two boys to collect our Christmas tree.  We have it up, furnished with pale white lights, all simple.  The smell of pine is superb, heavy freshness, a sweet pungent reminder of that same cold earth.

I have had a lot to drink this week.  For reasons that are beyond me, an anxiousness lay in wait in the dark, one that was not so easy to shake and was only partly muffled by the application of red wine.  When I spill my next news, some of you good folk might exhale, ah Major, the cause is obvious then, I can only assure you it is not.

Last weekend was my 40th birthday.  You almost got a Saturday Sermon but family and friends gathered in Birmingham to surprise me and time was against me.

As or the surprise, I had smelt the rat.  Suspicious activities in my inner circle, remarks that strained a little bit, wavered in their delivered tone or lingering in the air just that moment too long.  Lies pitched down at my wicket are scuppered when the narrator has tended to oversell.  That bit to keen to see their well signalled prepared line land.

I am a confirmed cad myself, it is hard to fool us, we know the signs.  Bless my good lady and her clean heart.

Anyway, forced smiles aside, it was glorious to see so many good friends.  My wife has often accused me of only liking attractive people.  While not a deliberate choice, I have to say, there seems to be a ring of truth in it.  The guests were from all walks of my former life but so many of them play music in my heart.  Wonderful smiles, turns of lip, glinting eyes… wanton appetites for the fun in life, how I love them all.

It is the stories within too.  People from decades ago, they knew a different me.  Better than my own memories, they bind strands of time together.  After all, what are we in the end, some mish mash of instincts, a bundle of unreliable evidence and failing synapses, burning out over the years, the lights slowing dimming.  Is that us?  It feels like it is inescapable, yet, in a room full of people who know you, each with their own individual image, slightly morphed from the next persons, I reach a different conclusion.

I feel like an amalgam of all of their images.  Like Plato assigned blueprints to animals, we are all lines on tracing paper, one laid on top of the next.  The composite image not like any one of the component layers but not indistinguishable either.  Our strands fling out and in the end, they come back to a singularity.  We all end up there.  Use your time wisely.

I am wallowing melancholic and I don’t think it is what you come for.  Alas, it is what you got this week.  Let us get to the sports and try to land that mothership.

Ascot – Tips for Long Walk Hurdle Saturday

The staying hurdle division has been dominated by a few horses in the last few decades.  Big Bucks was unrivalled in his years, in this race, Reve de Sivola took over and scored a hat-trick of his own, he is back out today, turning 12.  Both trail in the wake of the mighty four-time winner Barracouda.

We have a potential card-carrying new staying player in Unowhatimeanharry who has been enjoying life in the Fry yard, remaining unbeaten and following up his Albert Bartlett victory with an impressive win in the Long Distance Hurdle.

The ground at Ascot is likely to ride quite good.  No forecast rain and Ascot drains and dries well.  Good to soft is the best it will be.  We are looking for the speedsters who skip not thump in their footwork.

The only conceivable risk in my view is Alex de Larredya.  This fella is only 6 and has an impressive french record.  That can be hard to interpret but it seems to stack up when you consider that he has slapped down a few of these.

The trainer has only bought one horse over the channel in the last few years and it didn’t go to plan.  Yet, this is a serious horse making a serious effort to win a decent British prize.  You have to wonder about the travel when it is the first time.

In the end I have to settle on Unowhatimeanharry at 11/8.  The french raider is a danger but the favourite is a solid enough prospect.  Boring.  Come on Major, raise the stakes.

The Silver Cup Handicap is a race that I would normally not feel I have much of a chance in.  My head initially was turned to the Henderson inmate Triolo D’Alene, 22/1 (in a place, 20s and 16s common).

I put him up for the Hennessy not thinking he was done and I still hold a candle.  My issue is that he has only fallen 8lbs from his pinnacle and I would think his lacklustre efforts would cause the handicapper to give more room, alas.

Go Conquer threatens to do well over further, has the champion booked and at 5/1 is a safe option.  Not for me.

Minella Daddy is one that will relish the rattling ground and is on the improve.  I like Sean Bowen, even if he has not yet leapt up from the promising young rider category yet.  The horse is on the improve and Paddy Power should be punished for their 10/1.

TWO HORSES!!! That is all you offer?

Yes, I am tired.  I am sorry if this has been off-key.  I don’t feel I am quite there, unable to offer you the elegance you deserve.

West Ham to beat Hull.  Lincoln to beat Tranmere.  Two more in the football.

My dinner tomorrow will be entertaining my team and their companions.  I have picked a fine Italian and will wave the booze over like it is the last days of Rome.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon on 2016 Tingle Creek Day

Good Evening from the Major who writes from a perfectly pleasant and mild early winters evening in Gringley on the Hill.  The wine is open, the logs burning bright merriness, all is well in the world.

I spent a couple of days in London, returning this afternoon as the sun died to the west like a giant bonfire just beyond the horizon.  I saw this grand scape from the comfort of my train seat, such a marvellous way to travel, especially when you have the luxury of the bigger seats and the table service.  Not to brag of course, I’m just saying it is fine to be alive and to have that, a small moment.

My contemplations were spoilt somewhat by a loud man, carrying such misplaced confidence in the awe he would inspire as he conducted his business hands free and freed from the polite bonds which otherwise might tie us too.  I hope Dante reserves a small outer ring for such folk.

These flat landscapes unnerve me.  I cannot explain it well but the land seems to have such little detail for as far as I can see.  It feels like you could be swept from it, as if there is no comfort or cover, no thicket, no gorge, nothing.  For someone whose chemical flows to the brain fluctuate like a blinking light, intermittently triggering between enhanced sentiment and cold blankness, I’d like a little more topography to wrestle with.

What a furore from the ante post crowd this week as first Douvans price crashes in from a sporting ‘will they won’t they’ 4/1 all the way to a ‘Yes! They Will’ 4/7.  At which point a cheerful Ruby seemingly blessed it commentating on how mad bookmakers must have been to price so generously in the first place.  How delighted we all felt for a moment.  I didn’t have a penny down but Douvan certainly livens up a Tingle Creek that has falls just below the standard.  Those on at the fancy prices felt correctly smug and even the more cautious, previously uninvested Douvan fans felt emboldened to take some 4/7, after all, on the day 1/3 was probably a more likely SP.

Then it broke.  Douvan did not make the final decs for the Tingle Creek.  From the yard that has given us a Vautour conundrum and whose news of Faugheens non participation in the Champion Hurdle was broken through the exchanges, we add this sorry saga.

I shall not get too high and mighty.  There are those who quite rightly will point out that the antepost transaction is a risk one.  You are always gambling on the participation.  When folk are betting on a Cheltenham runner, normally you know your fate early on.  You hear a noise for a Mullins bumper runner that hasn’t been introduced to the track yet, get on at 25/1 and then kiss the money goodbye in early January when your young star proves not to be Pegasus and not at all up for a career on a racetrack.  Still, you had a month, holding that 40/1 ticket.  It gave you some glimmer of hope didn’t it.

This sort of arrangement where you back a horse on Monday and learn your fate on Wednesday is just no fun.  Still, it is the pitfalls of the ante post markets.  That said, you can see my view, I do think the Mullins team have been less than transparent at times in the past, when the markets tell you before the announcement comes, my fellow gamblers rightly feel like the wheel was crocked.

I cannot be too hypocritical though.  From time to time one of you lovely people drop me a little note to tell me of some plot or other and I spend little time then considering the injustice of the inequality of information between me and my bookmaker on those rare occasions.   If anyone has any such information, I am always a discrete and enthusiastic recipient.

My own racing ante post book is non-existent at the minute, I haven’t built up the sufficient enthusiasm for Cheltenham yet.  I am enjoying my 66/1 ticket for Villa to win the Championship, that is starting to prove fun.  Plus, I was advised to have a little flutter on Lincoln to win the National League at the start of the campaign and that is also proving a fun bet to follow at 20/1.  Let’s not mention the money burned on Hilary Clinton, let’s stick to warm thoughts and safe spaces.

To the sports, Tingle Creek day.

Tingle Creek – Sandown Tips

I love the Tingle, it is one of favourite races in the season.  I have said before that while Denmans Hennessy lugging lumps around Newbury was a performance fit for a King.  The season in which Kauto won this and the Gold Cup for me resides as the greatest national hunt achievement of recent years.

The Tingle is a special race.  Taking those railway fences at speed is the making of it, ping, ping, ping…. great sport.

This year is not a vintage renewal but it is not that bad that you might complain about the quality.  Sire de Grugy and Un de Sceaux give the race a bit of sparkle.  Particularly the former, we are getting used to improbable come back tales and like Cue Card completed a hat trick of Betfair Chases a fortnight back, Sire de Grugy gets the same chance here, to complete his hat-trick.

Un de Sceaux finished second on good ground in the Champion Chase.  There are strong suspicions that he would prefer softer conditions and I can accept that.  The way he slaps his front legs down, he needs the give.  That said, his class got him to be second in a champion chase and there is no Sprinter Sacre here.  What worries me a bit more is his jumping, it is super slick in the main but like a lot of the fast flashy chasers, he belts a few.  On the first run of the season, if he is a bit skittish, as he has been in the past, those railway fences may prove the end of his chances.  15/8 is fair but I probably want a bit more.

Ar Mad is very interesting.  How fit he will be is an unknown but he looked an exciting prospect and won here last year as a novice, that bodes well.

Sire de Grugy knows this race and although rising 11, has always looked the sort to do well as an elder statesmen.  This division takes its toll and he would be sure of a rousing well deserved reception if he can pull this off.

God’s Own is likeable and match fit but I prefer the others.  Ar Mad has been injured and that is a concern, hmmmm.

Neither Sire or UDS are likely to perform to their top credit on good ground but both should cope.  Then it will come down to what class they can compensate with.  UDS might go off like a hare again.  On a seasonal reappearance this might be a problem.

There are doubts over all and in the end, I will go with the one hose whose is proven at the course, will enjoy the ground and only has to prove match fit.  Ar Mad – 4/1.

The Henry VIII Chase means we get another look at Altior over chase fences.  With Min shaping well enough, we get the opportunity of a developing rivalry, let’s hope so.  Plenty of Min supporters will be hoping to revenge that Supreme result but let’s be honest the Henderson horse won that round fair and square.

Altior should win, of course he should and a 1/3 it would not make you rich.  Plus, these fences are tough, it is no place to backing a novice jumper.  No bet.

My other Sandown bet is in the opener where Cruiseaweigh currently sits as 11/8 favourite which is keeping the price on my pick, Bardd, a mighty honest 9/4.  Henderson has a tremendous record in this race, he clearly unleashes his better novices here and I shall be aboard.

Fingal Bay is out at Sandown too, remember when Hobbs said that it was the best he had ever had?  No bet for me but I do like that one.

Becher Chase Tip – Aintree

The Becher Chase is a grand old race and on decent ground, it is bound to be a bit eventful as the large field try to take the national fences at pace.

Becher winners have tended to shoulder a lower burden but this is not an up and comers race.  It is rare for a 7 / 8-year-old to win and previous geriatric sorts that have come back the winner include not only Hello Bud, winner at 12 and 14!,  (what a bloody grand old campaigner) and Oscar Time, won aged 12.

So, my profile is an experienced fallen from grace sort.  Rogue Angel is a former favourite of mine having won the Irish National for me.  He definitely wants it slower than this though.

The other one I really like is The Young Master though I’d also consider Ucello Conti for Gordon Elliott who can do no wrong.  The latter is not in the mould I was looking for but clearly is a plot animal for the big staying chases.

Anyway, none of these are my pick…. which is, Highland Lodge, won’t be the popular punt but crucially, he bears a CV packed with experience.  A former winner of the race, he is a few pounds heavier now.  Last year the plan must have been the national but it is such a crazy world, that he missed the cut.  The ground should be OK and at 20/1 I shall be adding the Majors’ burden to his 10 stone 4.

The 2.40 listed chase is a lovely 5 runner race.  Many Clouds and Minella Rocco are serious staying handicap chasers, the former already a classy national winner.  Neither are my idea here though.  I quite fancy Le Mercurey at 8/1.  There does need to be some improvement in form but I have doubts that some of the others will be in peak condition and so, I have to take the value angle.

In the football.  My beautiful dream of seeing the inexorable rise of Villa took another step with tonight Newcastle losing again.  Anyway 15/8, they win at Leeds!

May your dinner be fine, good cuts of meat and fine wines.  The company delectable.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon on Hennessy Day – My 33/1 pick…

Good evening from the Major who writes from a mild fine Bassetlaw where the salmons and purples of the dying day have faded to the irresistible depth of night’s solitude, we gaze to the universe, unimpeded by our nuclear fireball which drowns out the beauty during the noise of the day.

I feel dirty, a film of ugly consumerism clings to me, you see I bought a TV on Black Friday.  I caught a case of TV envy seeing my fathers new Sony and bleating like a sheep I walked into our nations electrical retailer Curry’s to spend a few hundred more than intended.  I kept my screen budget well but was tempted into picking up a sound bar which now means that my teeth rattle at critical dramatic cinematic moments.  These ultra HD screens are impressive and offer such detail that the Major will still have excellent definition of my horse, despite it labouring away 70 lengths down the field.

I had just a few hours sleep last night and today has been written off.  I knew late in the evening I was in trouble, I had the urge for solitude, a sense always amplified by the application of good alcohol.  My thoughts were lost in amongst the schmaltz and dazzle of the NFL Thanksgiving schedule and before I knew it I was fighting sleep in the first half of the late game, knowingly well beyond the event horizon, no point paddling any more, you may as well let go and let yourself fall through it all.

Our politics feel desperately stupid once again.  I watched the most mind numbing bland and intellectually barren Question Time.  The simplicity with which arguments are made, conjecture assumed as fact, opposing sentiment assumed as evil intent and such little grace and humility.  Ah, let’s not talk politics, it will do little to raise the stench of filth I carry around already after buying a Black Friday TV.

My favourite film is The Sting.  If you have not seen it, you must.  I always feel it was influential in my gambling career.  There is a scene in which a young naive Robert Redford loses a newly found fortune in a single hand of crooked roulette.  His friend spinning the wheel urged him not to place the bet knowing the wheel was bent but couldn’t say as much under the beady eye of the muscle.  As Robert Redford sees the ball drop in an unprofitable slot, he sucks it up, clicks his mouth and just let’s it go.  I have always held the ambition of facing defeat with the same sanguine passivity, there is a wonderful detachment to him in the moment, as he tips his hat down to cover his eyes a little.

Last week, I scored a hat-trick.

I have little else to offer this week.  Let’s get to business.  To the sports.

Hennessy Day and the Fighting Fifth

The Hennessy brings such memories doesn’t it, old smouldering memories suddenly flicker into life again, a sudden violence of flame and all in the moment we return to Denman whose second Hennessy carrying a jockey, two sacks of coal and towing a caravan; yet braving it out, showing all his class, gosh, was that not his finest performance?

The Carruthers Hennessy was as equally uplifting, that horse deserved a big one.  So did Many Clouds.  The Hennessy is a lovely race.  A staple in our diet.  That Denman performance…. I know I am wallowing but Christ, the sheer bravery and exertion of brilliance.  Foot perfect, relentless power, eyeballing rivals who wilted away like smoke in the breeze…. Denman was a force of nature.

The Fighting Fifth carries memories as well.  Punjabi – What a glorious season that was, the £1m bonus available for the Fighting Fifth, the Christmas Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle.  A fall at Kempton meant it was unclaimed but 22/1 in the Champion Hurdle was a price I was on and to be fair, I’d be claiming bits of 40s+ all season.  After-timing is a terrible crime, guilty M’lud.  Actually, not guilty at all, I bleated about Punjabi to anyone that would listen.

Let’s start with the Hennessy, I feel I can solve it this year.  It is officially good to soft but I think that we want to be on the good ground horses.

Regal Encore is not the worst 40/1 runner I have ever seen.  There is an awful lot you need to get past and with those problems in clear view, it makes it harder backing it off a career high mark but I am always reminded of the early promise of this one who had JP reaching for a very large cheque.  Not for me in the end but one I shall feel bitter about if it runs a place or worse without my money on.

Jonjo is in a list of illustrious trainers that I never quite get right.  A current 7% strike rate does not inspire confidence but this is the sort of yard that might well defy that and Holywell will enjoy the ground.

The one I am settling on does require a leap of faith but I think it is justified.  Triolo D’Alene is in good training hands and won the race in 2013 of a similar mark.  Performances have obviously jumped around since.  Yet, many of the poor shows (not all but c’mon look at the price!) have been explained by conditions, Triolo needs good ground.  A touch of class and a hefty price.  33/1.

It will be a great 20-25 minutes in racing.  The Fighting Fifth is an interesting if not stellar renewal.  The most interesting runner has to be 11-year-old Hidden Cyclone.  How might he be considered?  Well he did beat Apples Jade who’s bubble was burst again subsequently.  Soft ground and a handler that is shrewd… Well well 25/1.

Irving has a fighting fifth to his name but I am never convinced by that one.

No, I shall advertise the chances of Sceau Royal who can be backed at 9/4.  Daryl Jabob is not everyone’s cup of tea but I have always found him an honest tryer even if he lacks a touch of the pizzazz.

Finally – Again because I am tired.  I think Dusty Legend in the Newbury opener.  13/8 and I’d back this one any day.  Funnily enough, I don’t fancy the evens favourite, La Bague Au Roi.  The one I would fancy in a forecast is Copper Kay.

So tired.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Betfair Chase Day

Good evening from the Major writing from a crystal clear cold November in North Notts, Gringley on the Hill, as the name suggests bears the brunt of the latest cold front streaming in from the Atlantic, whistling between these old buildings.  Draw sharp breath, high-pitched resonance in the roots of my teeth.

All seasons in one day.  I rose to snowfall with a ground temperature just too low for it to settle, we just don’t quite have the elevation.  Driving to work, as the slip road fell from the main carriageway, I entered a deep fog streaming off the Chesterfield Canal.  I stopped the car and got out into the dulled light, sounds and movement, distance all stifled.  Somehow the blanket of whiteness, snaking across the land with still canal waters was a comfort, life felt quieted and I wished for once that I might remain there for just a little longer than my travail would ever allow.  Someone has to push the wheel.

Regular readers will know that like many folk, the Major often veers from a straight thinking track.  This week, like many was, one of those.  Something innocuous troubled me and an anxiety so acute, it felt like an insect, buried deeply, gnawing away.

I could never claim that I have suffered the full face of depression or anxiety but I do sometimes feel like these illnesses brush my cheek.  Of the two, I would guess, in my naivety, that depression is the more comfortable, dangerously so.  An apathy and a darkness but one that lacks the horrid chemical urgency of an anxious mind.

My issue passed as easily as it had arrived, like the fog it lifted and new things occupied my thoughts, new space was created, a fresh canvas.

For a reason that is foreign to me, I am starting to look greatly towards Christmas with a fondness I have not previously felt for the season.   Call me Scrooge but Christmas was something that was a distasteful noise until 23rd December when I might start entering the spirit of the thing.  This year, I am already committing valuable brain time as to what I might prepare for the table and how the Major’s two sons might be wowed by their morning.  My heart is maudlin for those who have less and I am wondering what has happened to me, the me I know, the one that was dead on the inside.

Don’t think this is improvement, I am not sure what these signals mean am I have not settled yet on how I feel about them.

Enough of this self-reflection.  I do not wish to be a terrible bore to you.

That Chesterfield Canal is a lovely stretch.  It runs to the Trent and was used back in the day to run iron and coal from Derbyshire to the Trent and then the Humber.  The canal also ferried most of the stone used to build the current Houses of Parliament which was quarried just a few miles from my office and thus passed just a few miles from my house, 175 odd years prior.

Never enough time.  Running out on me.  I have to organise a stag do for @frankelslobro.  I have to write a 15,000 word dissertation to complete my MBA studies.  I have a business to run and a family.  In amongst it, there is little time to think.  The maelstrom whirls around and around, I find myself washed up here agin, the weekend upon me, the fire roaring and the supermarket shiraz (I didn’t feel I deserved better) slipping down.

I don’t have the simplicity that the great military leaders enjoy.  The certainty and fortitude required to act with the confidence not that you thought you were right but that you knew you were.  The sort of arrogance that would expect God to rise and greet you to the dinner table.

It won Trafalgar for Nelson and allowed Wellington to galavant across Spain and Portugal.  I am a ditherer, I want the analysis and I will change my mind.

In the case of the latter, his self-absorbed hubris was not beyond observing the same in others.  He said of Napoleon that his nemesis had the equivalent effect of adding 40,000 troops to the theatre.

The system of war is corrupt without a simple truth.  The person who has to break a moral code and conduct some violent action can only do so with a faith, remorselessly trained into them, in those people who supply the orders or at least the system, the hierarchy that does.  Likewise, the person giving the order can only do so, knowing they do not ultimately carry it through.

If there is one thing in our modern politic that I dislike, it is the rise of the moral perfectionist, the idea that the ideal is attainable.  Not that I am against the dreamers, I am one myself.  I am against those that still the true nature of the world under a deception that no ill is necessary.  Nothing will be perfect, get used to it.  Terrible difficult decisions have to be made.

Wellington said a whole number of things.  He called his men scum, drunks and suggested that as many signed up because of their bastard children as did those with a romantic draw to war.  His singlemindedness can be heard in some of his quotes too.  He said;

I shall see no officer under my command is debarred ….  from attending to his first duty, which is and always has been to train the private men under his command that they may without question beat any force opposed to them in the field.

and on his great victory at Waterloo…

It has been a damned serious business – Blücher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life…By God! I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.

Arrogance does not quite cut it.

To the sports.

Betfair Chase Day

Six go to post in the big one and it is a quality field although it is a shame we have lost Menorah.

We have a French raider which is an oddity but in the form, there is nothing to shout about.

After that, five quality British sorts.  Double King George winner Silviniaco Conti; Grade 2 hurdler and impressive listed chase debutante Seeyouatmidnight; Champion Bumper, King George Winner and two-time Betfair Chase winner, Cue Card; Irish Cavalier, who defeated Cue Card and Menorah in an already busy season (his fourth race) and finally, novice Gold Cup winner Coneygree.

Blimey.

Irish Cavalier gets my line.  I like him but I am not sure the soft conditions are going to be ideal.  He is versatile but this will go to a ‘toe in the ground’ pro.

Cue Card just faded in the Charlie Hall.  I have never been the biggest fan of Cue Card, a little like Hurricane Fly, it has cost me dearly many times!  He strikes me as the sort that will do well in his senior years and he is getting there, he will run the Gold Cup as an 11-year-old this season.  It is tight, but at 13/8 I have to say, no.  That said, he has been so consistent that a fading effort at Wetherby can hardly be the evidence on which to retire him can it!

Christ, what will we see of Coneygree?  If he is back to form, he wins, that is my view.  It is just a big if.  You might argue 2/1 bakes that in but does it?  Against this lot?  Yet, he is unbeaten after five goes over the big obstacles but he needs to be tuned up and after a period on the sidelines, who knows.

Conti, paired with Fehily, my favourite of jump jockeys is enticing at the price.  8/1 is plenty generous for a horse that has shown plenty of class but has a good share of critics.

I write as I think.  The head is swaying towards Cue Card, the more obvious sort.  The gambling instinct in me wants to play Coneygree and how sweet that would be, to hold the winning ticket as he swoops through.  There is a value itch for Silvi and Seeyouatmidnight is exactly the unfashionable under-rated sort I often play too.

I am going to back the second best horse in the race, the favourite, Cue Card.  15/8 Paddy Power.  In the end, I hope he wins too.  As much as I love undefeated sorts, Coneygree will be defeated.  There is not really the option of being undefeated in the sorts of races he runs in.  Coneygree has the opportunity of securing a great feat ahead.  Maybe the second horse to regain a Gold Cup.  Yet in the Betfair, Cue Card can cement his own name by securing his third win in the race, surely that is worth cheering on.

If I had to make the forecast, I’d say Coneygree to beat Silviniaco Conti.

Coral Hurdle Tip – Ascot

Only five rock up for this Grade 2 so all runners will pick up a minimum of £2.5k, not bad for fifth.

Anyway the winner will be Yanworth who is incredibly available at evens.  Tasty.  I enjoyed seeing this horse last year and feel JP has a good one here.  The course Barry charted in the Neptune seemed to think Yanworth wanted a lap of Gloucester Cathedral and still he almost beat Yorkhill.  I have always been a Garde La Victoire fan but am not a fan of horses campaigned over fences and hurdles in a zig zag pattern, no thank you.

Yanworth – Order up the good steaks.

Something Else for the Weekend Sir?

So far, I have offered you a 15/8 fav / joint fav and an evens shot.  Ouch.  Well, few of you come for any info, you are all here to imbibe in my poor state and read an opinion on the racing, a diseased opinion.

Haydock 1.15pm – Mysteree is a very interesting runner.  Michael Scudamore does not get many very good horses and when he does, he campaigns them smartly.  There is a bit of me thus, that thinks, that this horse might have a day marked up later in the season but money tomorrow would be informative.  Scu sends plenty up north but not that many to Haydock and Richard Johnson is an interesting booking (5th booking in two years, no wins in that time).

Chase the Spud would have been my pick because the yard form is solid and the horse is match fit.

Again, it is a classic, head v heart encounter.  Mysteree… has the nod.

In the football… I’d have Stoke to beat Bournemouth at 5/4.

I hope your dinner is taken in good company.  Mine will be.  Old friends, good curry, more wine that the doctor would say is right.

Courage, roll the dice.