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.

Saturday Sermon: Huge Cheltenham Card…. Plus Thistlecrack and Faugheen

Good evening from the Major who writes from a foul earth, north in Nottinghamshire. Dank filth drizzles from a black sky, in a carcass of metal I hurled across the land, visibility low, headlights thickened with muck throwing a weak tepid yellow light to the gloom.   Not even the threat of unseen dangers in the murk ahead, road definition at a minimum, even the sudden shock of a central reservation emerging unannounced, was not enough to provide the requisite adrenaline spike to raise the grey veil of damp depression that lay on me.

On such nights, the hope of gazing into the heavens is a pleasure out of reach.  Wednesday night gave a marvellous view of Venus which with just a little magnification was shown in glorious profile.  Venus is close enough that you can see the phases it goes through under just a small amplification.  IT is a wonderful thing to see, almost as good as the moons of Jupiter os Saturns rings, all available to you at the price of a cheap telescope.

The fire crackles and splutters as the draw varies.  I am too tired to even consider anything heavier than the cool simple beer I am taking in.

As I wandered through the innumerable TV options offered to me last night, I chanced upon a programme about the pilgrims and the voyage of the Mayflower to settle the Plymouth colony in New England.  With our own PM (not for you regular Irish readers) visiting the newly installed Orange Peril in the States, it struck me as good timing.  In a twist, it turns out that William Bradford was born just a few miles from where I now reside, the special relationship with the US, rooted in ancient northern Nottinghamshire, a quiet unremarkable corner of our green gem.

I thought Theresa gave a rousing speech.  Being a happy leave voter I think she is doing a sterling job.  Not giving too much away, letting our European friends know that we are happy to go it alone if we cannot get a fair agreement to suit all parties, sensible steps.  Watch out Europe, she is surely someone who will do as she says, she seems unruffled by the cries of anguish.

I am not one for partisanship.  I have voted for many parties in the past, there is no spiritual home for my politics.  I despise those that seek to define other with different views as somehow evil or, almost as bad, stupid or ignorant.  That only points to your own failing of imagination.  As Plato wrote of Socrates, Know one thing, that you know nothing.  That should guide your attitude in debate and discussion, though often the very subject is simply bad manners to raise, thus, I apologise for doing so here.

I personally find Trump a wonderfully awful candidate, someone who if presented as a character in a script would be dismissed as inconceivable.  From a distance, it seems astonishing that he made office.  Yet, in the cooler air of consideration, his difference was his strength.  He is certainly unlike any politician we have seen.

In all things, general elections, brexit, Trump.  The truth is, that once the bluster is done, business as usual carries on.  Very little will change, try not to get worked up.  We are but fleas on a rock hurtling around a gas fireball, we last a mere blip.

Devote more thinking time to critical matters such as, what lies beyond our universe?  Are the laws of physics, gods own rules?  What on Earth is going to win the Triumph?

I decided not to go to Champion Hurdle day this year.  That decision lasted all of two days until my friend said he was getting his ticket and that was that, there I was, online paying £82 for the privilege.  It is not cheap and I was planning on watching the action from the pub and spending that money on Yanworth, Thistlecrack and good wine.  Still, I can, can’t I and you know, we ought not forget that, we are the lucky ones, we are here.  It is good to be alive and in Cheltenham in the spring.

Yes, truth be told, I’d have regretted abstention.  Like last year, I will aim to be on the track early and will set up home in a suitable open bar for drinks with those that want to join in.  We managed a quorum of around 20 twitter users last year for pre race drinks.  All bought a £5 bet which were exchanged with strangers.  I think we shall do the same again.  Last year we called it Operation No More Heroes.  This year, I favour Operation Yanworth!

I am reading ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’, charming novel set in the second World War, recommended.  It captures the atmosphere of the war wonderfully without trying to take it all on, if that makes any sense.

I hope you are well.  May the burdens of life be lifted for a moment and I wish you the best things. Contentment, saftey, close frineds and loved ones, intrigue and a dash of excitement.

To the sports, Cheltenham, a fantastic card…

Saturday Cheltenham Tips

I am going to go through the card.  OK with you?  I am serious, I am going to nail all nine Cheltenham races and retire to sleep tomorrow evening at cruising altitude in a first class bed over the North Atlantic, heading for Aruba.

Shall we get started.

What an intriguing start with Defi du Seuil and Charli Parcs, the two exciting JP prospects going head to head.  Regulars will know I am a Defi fan (perhaps the du Seuil tag has something to do with it!) and I see no reason to abandon my hope now.  Defi du Seuil will have to do the winning with Dickie Johnson aboard as Barry fancies I am wrong.  Yet, Defi has won twice at Cheltenham already, is proven in conditions and is more battle hardened.  6/4, all aboard.

The novice handicap chase, second race 12.35, is a little trickier at 5/1 the field.  Plenty of last time out winners are gathering in stronger company to put the potential shown so far to sterner testing.  Singlefarmpayment has useful course experience but at 5/1, I’d rather find one for my multiples with a bit more risk and reward on offer.  Dark Flame is considered but not enough, I rather fancy the chances of 8/1 shot Mercurian Prince too.

In the end, I am surprised that champion trainer Paul Nicholls runner, More Bucks (seemingly the less fancied of his two), can be backed at 16/1.  His Kempton run has dented confidence in many but this horse may well be able to step up again, having been made plenty use of last time out.  At least you will have a run for your money.

In the 1.10, Annacotty lines up to have a pop at a hat-trick of wins in this race.  I am rather surprised that the market is taking a 16/1 risk of this happening.  Yes, recent form is nothing to write home about but this race is clearly the target.  Thomas Crapper will be unleashed in one of these at some point and my selection has to spot that danger the best part of two stone.  That worries me enough to cover the both of them.

Then we are into the Clarence House Chase at 1.45pm.  It is a shame Ar Mad has dropped out and Un De Sceaux doesn’t quite have the same star-dust these days after Sprinter Sacre showed him what legend looks like in last years Champion Chase.  That opinion though treats the Mullins horse harshly as he is capable of a scintillating display himself and even at 8/15, I cannot oppose.  If you forced me to oppose, I’d be on Uxizandre at 20/1, can’t be too sniffy about a Ryanair winner who may well be doing best last if Special Tiara and Un de Sceaux are at each others necks all race.  Just saying.

That is four winners, five to go.

Of course Thistlecrack wins the 2.15 Cotswold Chase.  He looks very special and his main opponent is the fences.  He takes such liberties but has the athleticism to get away with standing a country mile off!  I may well have to watch with my eyes hidden behind my fingers at times.

I have never strayed from Enda Bolger in the cross-country and I have not seen the evidence to stray now either.  11/8 for Cantlow.  On the weights, you can easily make a case for Auvergnat especially with a claiming jockey, adding to the swing.  Yet, that claim comes at a price.  An experienced capable pilot is essential in a race like this, for a start, remembering the course is a bit tricky!  I’ll take 6/4 Cantlow any day.

Only three more races to win.  In anticipation I have cracked open a rather nice bottle of Australian Shiraz.  Normally, those are pretty punchy numbers but the one I have stumbled into is a tad more gentle.

The Neptune novice hurdle is an easy race for me because I have been a fan of Wholestone all season.  Plenty are a bit sniffy about him and I’m not sure his price will tighten much from 6/1.  Topofhegame worries me more than William Henry but I am sticking with my boy.

Then the Grade 2 Cleve Hurdle in which some real enigmas take to the track.  Cole Harden could laugh at a 20/1 price tag if finding some old magic but the flame has dimmed low in that one and can only be watched.  Ballyoptic was giving the favourite something to think about (probably not on top though) at Ascot when falling last time out and to be honest, everything is pointing at Unowwhatimeanharry who can be backed at odds against, 11/10 in places.

Just one to go and we have cleaned the bookies out, an across the card success!

I am backing Maestro Royal in the lucky last at 14/1 in a place (12s and 11s more common).  I thought the last run was pretty good.  Yes, his defeated rival, Robinshill, was maybe unlucky last time having blundered the last but I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been close anyway.  The two were well clear and I am opting for the unfashionable one.  I think a hold up ride is planned again and it may well play out well in this race.

I have only covered Cheltenham.  Don’t have a go, I am doing my poor best.  We shall all enjoy the Doncaster card too.  Vroum Vroum strutting her stuff, one of my favourites.  I’d love to see her having a go at Thistlecrack with the mares allowance in the Gold Cup.  Sunday, Faugheen runs.  A lot of people are waiting for this.  My advice, back Yanworth now for the Champion Hurdle.

May your dinner be in good company, maybe I shall see you upstairs on the plain.  Go on, spend a pound, do you want to miss out when the Major goes marching in?

Courage, roll the dice.

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.