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.

 

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot Betfair Chase Tip and the Haydock Rendlesham

Good evening from the Major who writes from the warm, clearing and fresh North Nottinghamshire flatlands.  Sirius twinkles brilliantly low in the sky and Venus, now in opposition and unnaturally bright gives us Mars, a feint red dot relative to the jewel.

Driving through morning mists that swim and swirl, I see things that are not there.  Patterns suggest shapes as the damp eddies and I am glad for the peace as I come through to blue sky.

Another week has passed, the siren call of Cheltenham crescendos.  At this stage, we often suffer high profile defections and we feel obligated to roll out our shock in the customary fashion.

This year we seem to have suffered this drill on too many occasions although the fitness of Annie & Faugheen and their subsequent participation in March were perhaps fodder for even the more amateur of soothsayer.  Be sure mind, there are still one or two more to come, you can never sleep easily on an antepost ticket.

Unusually, I have built just a modest financial portfolio this year.  I am not sure why, perhaps I had a lull in my mid season interest.  It has been an essentially tempest of a last 8 months, moving house, a business to run and new lives for a family to settle into.  Grooves to be forged, schools, clubs (for the children), pubs (less so), the regular rhythms of a new life to be cast.  I am getting there.

It makes a change from last year where I would have benefitted from NASA mathematicians to decipher the best outcomes for me.

Anyhow.  What would I like to be on?  The dogs were barking about Death Duty early on.  Gordon trains a staying novice hurdler well, I wish I had those fancy prices but shall continue to support him should the weekend winnings allow.

I dialled up On the Fringe into my meagre multiples when it was 3/1 and am happy with that pick, there is only one plan for that horse, whose ability is too good for the Foxhunter division really.  I think JP will win the Cross Country too with Cantlow who on the day, with conditions, should prove the best.

Thistlecrack remains a worthy Gold Cup favourite despite a brave, losing and tragic battle with Many Clouds.   I repeat my call from last year to throw Vroum Vroum Mag at the Gold Cup.  She is a beautiful mover, a lovely jumper and I really do think she could be the mare that does it.  That won’t happen though, so Thistlecrack it is, with reckless abandon.  Think too, whose heart won’t be lifted, on behalf of Many Clouds, if he should prevail?

Anyway, what do I know.  I could do with a new war chest, my ammunition is short.  Like Malta, during the second world war siege, I am awaiting the convoys to break through.  Plus, aside from the above advice, I feel ill-equipped for many of the races.  Dandridge looks like a Grand Annual player, another campaigned with a race in mind.  There is an afterthought for you!

Anyway.  I am looking forward to spring.  Snowdrops have crept through in a tiny, thick grass like patch, on my drive, weeping their blooms, such prettiness.  Soon the bluebells will grace the dank forest floor.  They will strike optimistically upwards, in amongst the crawling insects which themselves call for the birds of summer.  The arc of our rock around our sun, daily exposes our northern hemisphere to slightly less of deep space and slightly more of our nuclear source of heat and light.  It is coming my friends.

I do not often seek comments on my posts but today I ask – Leave your Cheltenham bets.  I ask you to consider a £10 stake and give me three horses. One on which the vicar might stake the money of the plate, one that might buy me a steak dinner and a third that might buy a new tweed coat for the good lady.  

There is your challenge.  Go on, nobody will bite.  The Major only allows for the decent sort to frequent these calm shores.

I fell in love again this week past.  At my sons football game (under 9s) last weekend, while the bitter rain bit at the spectators faces while toes were iced and scarves drawn closer, well my pulse revved.

It was cold to the bone, to the soul.  Of a sudden, I noticed a huddle of parents, the other team, they were caressing closely warm coffee mugs, sugary steam rising.  Thank God, I almost exclaimed aloud and set my back to the football, unapologetic to my son, and marched towards the clubhouse.

There I found a lone slightly unkempt kitchen, the smell of damp did little to put me off the warm nectar I sought.  And, there she was, all tight jeans, sharp dark bob of hair, wide mouth, dark eyes flashing, maybe 40.  There was a certain vitality in her colour, that despite the cold and despite the pallor of a grey kitchenette, bore through the cheeks to give pale pink dots amongst the paleness.  Hello Major, careful now… Oh, I know, I will rot in hell.

We live in a world in which we are now terrified to live a little, all seems sanitised, all mischief erased.  Terrified we might offend, that another grown adult might not be able to handle our flirtatious bedevilment.  What rot.  One politician leaned in to give another a peck on the cheek.  She told him, with fantastic use of profanity, to move along.  Bravo, neither did much wrong in my view and those who preach the sensibilities of the permanently offended either way have little truck with me.

You wish to know what happened.  Well, I didn’t lean in for a kiss.  Manners, after all.  Instead, fabulous coffee was prepared and I offered payment, which was refused.  We talked a little.  She had a marvellous lilting Geordie accent and a wicked smile which spread like fire across her face.  we were getting along famously until she told me her vocation.  Think raiki, healing stones, that sort of nonsense… I almost choked on the brew.  Coquetry cut short, I returned to the bitter winds and watched my boy complete a famous 2-1 victory, Shabash!

To the sports.

Saturday Racing Tips – Gowran, Ascot, Haydock 

Let’s start with the race of the day, the Betfair Chase.  Cue Card really should win this.  The regulars amongst you know that I am a huge Taquin du Seuil fan but even I cannot bring myself to suggest he might best Cue Card.

The thing is that although Cue Card has looked pretty evergreen this season, we all know there will come a time where his age will tell.  This is the thing that makes a 4/9 investment hard and so I will probably leave this well alone.

If I had to oppose, I think I would go with the potential of Traffic Fluide or the mercurial Irish Cavalier, both available at attractive prices.

I shall content myself to watch, engrossed without significant financial involvement.  No bet recommended.

In the 1.50pm at Ascot, the novice chase, I fancy the chances of Fletchers Flyer at 9/2.  He probably needed the blow out in December where he disappointed but I remain unperturbed and have been impressed with him several times over.  I do not need too much more encouragement but Noel Fehily in the saddle does more than tip any remaining balance.

I like Sausalito Sunrise but I have to concede that spotting everyone weight in the 2.25pm Swinley Chase is going to be tough.  Especially when a potential fly in the ointment like Chef D’oeuvre is sporting just 10-4.  OK, this is still 5lbs above his true handicap but in this ground and with that potential, I doubt it will make a blind bit of difference.  7/2 is available and I intend to fill my boots.

In fact, it is rare I really pull one out of the selections for special credit but this bet looks a fantastic chance for some pre Cheltenham account filler.  Do as you see fit but I shall be enthusiastically following my instinct here.

At Gowran, it is Red Mills Chase day.  Balleycasey is 2/5 in a 4 runner race and I respect Clarcam too much to make a bet.  If I had to, I would sway towards the latter but these staying races in small fields produce strange tactical results.  No thank you.

Instead, Haydock.

The 2.05 is an interesting affair and I am putting 2/1 Agrapart into my slips.  I love backing Lizzie Kelly in the saddle, she rides a fine race and this horse looks a solid sort.  Zarkander is wayward and crocked and the other Nicholls runner Aux Ptits Soins is error prone.  Worth a tickle but not a race to get the big guns out for.

The 3.50pm is a puzzle with a case to be made for most.  The strongest prosecution though is in the name of At Worlds End who I really liked the look of last time up.  Tom George runners rarely go backwards when stepping up in trip and I will be investing in the general 11/4.

Two short priced football tips.  Burnley are a fine team at home and one that are ideally suited to tackle non league opposition.  2/7 is on my multiples.  Chelsea will enjoy playing at Wolves with a full team, why not, they have no other commitments and why disturb a winning run?

May your dinner be fine, a good steak cooked delicately.  A nice Barolo exposed to the oxygen for a few hours to further richen the already deep flavour.  Most of all, may the company be grand.  You know me, I fall in love at least twice a week.  I’m thankful that the good lord saw fit to make a good lady take me in.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon: Betfair Hurdle Day

Good evening from the Major, who graces your presence from a cold grey dampened North Nottinghamshire, distressed melting slush has lost it’s innocence, but haven’t we all.  I walked in a working town today, meandering from my office,  a dusting of fresh snow crinkling underfoot with a satisfying gentle crack, it fell in flurries, scurrying between cracks and settling lightly, like castor sugar sprinkled over a toy town.

It is amazing how snow muffles all sound, deadens the air.  With my collar turned up, I dropped my shoulder, the snow clung to my three quarter length coat and I felt the prickle of cold on my cheek, God it is good to be alive, we are the lucky ones.

This week, I have been sober.  Five nights of sobriety is enough for me to lose the evening habit, dismissing the usual urge post dinner.  I am an enthusiastic and persistent drinker.  I enjoy drinking alone and will contently chuckle at my own mischief reaching for the brandy when I know that the tantalus has no right to be opened.  In the wee hours, I seldom care, with works unwelcome embrace awaiting in the morning, so far away.

For two nights, I felt the tug, a gnawing inclination.  That has passed.  I spent a year dry once, to see that I could.  I am no alcoholic, not in the truly possessed sense, I just enjoy drinking, my abstinence is to reassure me that I don’t enjoy it too much.

What triggered such piety, this time round, was my weight.  I have slipped back up the scale, blossoming to sizes I would rather not be.  Suits were tight, some trousers did not fit, others felt inappropriately tight.  I felt bloated and uncomfortable and had little energy.  Time for some weight to come off.

Each day this week, I have kept myself under 1,000 calories and tried to walk a mile or so at a brisk pace.  This weekend, I will get on the bike and become one of those middle aged tragedies you sail past in your car.

Having run marathons in the last 5 years, it is a tad shameful and humbling to be back at fitness square one but you play from the place you are don’t you.  I know running is off the cards, my back will not countenance the violence of it.  Cycling is far more civilised and I have a 90 mile summer trip in mind, cycling across to Staffordshire to see friends.  That is the sort of goal that shall keep the tantalus closed for business.  The fine brandy within shall wait, it can await the day that BMI indexes no longer declare me overweight.

Some people are just me, me, me.  I apologise for this self absorbed outpouring, I am sure you are entirely uninterested and quite right too.

Another week, more childish politic.  Our speaker declared that Mr Trump was not welcome.  Team blue declared him unfit for office, Team Red applauded him standing up for decency.  It is getting so tiring.  Partisanship is at a peak, nuance seems dead to all but a few of us willing still to believe in the duality all around us, in spectrums not answers and in respect for those who think differently to ourselves.  My respect is not born out of some snooty goodness, rather I know that none of this matters.

Those who like to spout and get on their high horse might decry differently and good luck to them.  In the end, these concerns pale into the insignificance that we are.  More planets exist in our universe than grains of sand on Earth.  More atoms are present in a drop of water, than there are planets.  13.7 billion years ago, what we know started.  We will live for just 80 odd years.

What can any of it mean then?  To do good?  To try to seek some happiness?  Maybe contentment?  To achieve something? What?

I think I would settle for going across the Champion Hurdle card.  I am sure that God would notice that.  Being all powerful, the bastard would probably have had a tenner down and still wouldn’t get the round in.

I am not religious but who can be sure about God.  Why these laws of physics and not some others?  Perhaps it is the curse of each generation to think that we know enough that we might consider ourselves masterful.  The wonder is not in what we know but it is in what we do not yet understand.  Quantum physics, the physics of the small is as baffling as once the movement of the planets dancing across the sky was to the Greek and Islamic scholars.

When we can change the behaviour of electrons just by observing them (or not), we must concede that there is a mystery in the cosmos that is beyond our comprehension.  Some things are not yet for calculation, the quantum sits alongside the Pertemps Final in the unfathomable column.

We need a Cheltenham war chest, Betfair Hurdle day has to provide it.  To the sports.

Tips for Newbury Betfair Hurdle Day

A most acceptable day of racing between Newbury and Warwick and I shall try to pull out some winners for us.

While we are thinking of Cheltenham, I must say that I have very little antepost down so far.  If not for injury I would be be far more enthusiastic about my Yanworth tickets.  My bankers would start with Death Duty who has been campaigned well and has done everything well.  I was only encouraged by Thistlecrack at Cheltenham last time out and just hope he has not left his race there.

The Foxhunters may not excite you much but I’d wager that On the Fringe still retains enough ability to win it.

Anyway, these thoughts need to be tested and they cannot be suitably tested without a bank.  That bank needs to be built and we have the Warwick Kingmaker and Newbury Betfair Hurdle cards to do it in.

The Betfair Hurdle is always a tricky affair and this year, I have struggled with the card.  Several Champion Hurdle contenders have won this race including My Tent or Yours and Get Me Out of Here.  This is the lead for my selection.  It might not be a contender yet but the JP owned Movewiththetimes is my pick at 11/2. There is some 6/1 but it is with firms I would not play with.  My money says he wins this to throw himself into the Supreme frame.

Altior definitely wins the 3pm Chase on the card.  What a star that horse looks like.  He beat Min fair and square last year and there is nothing but stardom awaiting his chasing career.  8/15, I don’t care.

Working in the traditional ‘backwards through the card’ direction, we come to the enticing Bristol de Mai and Native River clash.  BDM really stepped up last time out at Haydock and the visual impression was impressive.  Otago Trail who he beat that day has won since and there is an awful lot to like about this slightly unfashionable grey.

Native River has been a sensation this year winning a Hennessy and then more impressively (as an achievement), the Welsh National, a gruelling race, under the top weight burden, bravo.  At the tender age of 7 for a  staying chaser, you have to admire the potential but also be a little concerned about the mileage on the clock at this stage.

On balance I am going to side with neither and place no bet.  On the side of Native River, is the seeming class of winning his two big handicap prizes this year, thought the Hennessy was hardly the best renewal.  BDM won well in the Peter Marsh and if I were to play him, it would be the trip that would sell it too me.  Native River looks like a thorough stayer and I would feel that BDM might have too much toe in favoured conditions over a trip probably just short of his opponents ideal.  Three runners will help that cause, none of the three are natural pace setters and so tactics will count.  I cannot split them – Good luck if you can.

4.45pm is the bumper and I fancy a little tickle on Kayf Mariner at 11/2.  Of course, it is hard to compare form lines in such a race where several unexposed, potentially high class bumper runners converge, yet the Bangor run looked good and I have doubts about a few key others and so it gets on the list.

The 2.40pm Kingmaker doesn’t always give us a king but it is a race that has been won by some good sorts.  Long Run, what a horse, among my leggy favourites.  Do we have his ilk here?

Knockgraffan is a good place to start, he was conceding lumps when beaten last time but that performance was pretty good.  I am not a Gino Trail sort, he is old enough not to be improving and I think his position behind Buveur D’Air probably was a little flattering.  No, I am a little lumpy about Overtown Express who gets the benefit of Noel Fehily in the saddle.  He is 9, so pretty experienced for a novice.  You might think it hypocritical that I count that in his favour but against Gino Trail but I don’t have to explain myself.  11/4, fill up while you can.

I am putting Listen Dear in who runs in the 3.20 at Naas.

May your dinner be taken in great state, fine lobster and steak, cheese, wine and allow yourself to gorge.  One of us has to.

Courage friends, roll the dice.