A fine late autumn morning to you all from the Major who has been up early, reading form and walking through the market town of Pershore, as like I, it woke from slumber.
It is cool and dry in Worcestershire and the purpose of my early morning constitutional sojourn was to take air, collect the racing publication and to absorb a little of life.
The smell of the bakers was a delight, the cheery hello from the grocer as he stacked trays of colourful produce outside the store. These elements were straight from a stereotypical market town, acknowledged.
Walking early in the morning, you notice make observations that other times of day blind you to. I had never noticed the Baptist Church in the market square before. The fine Georgian building has some interesting features and is fairly prominent. When the Major is visiting the market square though late at night for a bottle of something fine, I am oblivious to this building.
A change of pace reveals camouflaged detail. Sometimes it is good and neccessary to do exactly that. For this mornings stroll in the cold air, I wore no coat. Not a deliberate act, simply an ommission. However, the cold feel of air on the skin is a sensation that many people dismiss as simply unpleasant. The Major disagrees. Cold ears can make you feel the sense that it is much better to be alive.
Thus, the Majors recent form requires new angles into todays races, rebirth, regeneration. If you are a new follower (of which we had a couple of subscribers this week) or a regular, I can only apologise for the recent run of form. The Major did his conkers on Long Run last week and yesterdays tip felt good but trailed in last of the finishers at Newbury.
Today we reload, the Major has bought a fresh mind to the day. Let us daub the war paint once more to battle our devious enemy. He of sleight of hand and deception of the mind.
What a day of sport we have too. The Hennessy is the finest handicap there is in the Majors view. More sensible than the Grand National and full of quality. The big yards are all represented, they know what is required to win the race, more of that soon.
We also have the fighting fifth, made to be one of the Majors favourite races by Punjabi, who has a place in the Majors heart. The year Punjabi won the fighting fifth, he had been kept on the go on the flat in the summer. The Major fancied his as a leading Champion Hurdle contender and had been backing him in drips since his third in the championship race at the previous Cheltenham Festival. Punjabi won the fighting fifth and went on to win the Champion Hurdle which was the Majors largest ever win, enough to pay for some fabulous women, not enough to keep them!
To the sports and in the words of a Mr Redmond, whom I know carries the essence of the Majors gambling spirit in his heart, go large or go home.
With last weeks Kauto Star explosion at Haydock, there must be a pang in the air of Newbury that Denman, the other elder statesmen of the Nicholls yard goes direct to the Lexus rather than take in the Hennessy.
I have to say that surely this is the correct decision though. Asking Denman to shoulder top weight (he is rated 9lbs superior to Neptune Collonges, running him would leave just 5 rivals in the handicap proper) and stick it to horses some 5 years his junior would be a cruel task to set in the Majors view.
Take a moment of your life and revel in the Tanks 2009 win in this race. That day he could have carried me around. If your hairs do not stand on end as he clears the cross rail fence without touching the birch; or when hearing the crowd cheer him on, even as What a Friend (who was in receipt of 2 STONE!!!) could not get to him on the run in…….. awesome, relentless power, a true champion – Watch and enjoy one of the best steeplechase performances of all time, the Tank was the right nickname, he just drew the sting out of all of them.
Todays race. I think Great Endeavour is going to be all the rage. Currently 6/1, the cosy Paddy Power winner carries a modest penalty for that race and is sure to go well. Some punters may make more of the fact that he has never been extended to this distance but the way he finished up the Hill at Cheltenham, he should easily get a Newbury three miles. The Pipe team have taken a couple of Hennessy Gold Cups in the last ten years, they know what it takes, he has a favourites chance.
Michel Le Bon carries the hopes of the Ditcheat team and could be anything, he fits the second season chaser trend of many Hennessy winners (taking Denmans other wins out). Noel Fehily is one of the Majors favourite pilots and another that is highly considered, particularly as it is trading shorter than the Walsh ridden Nicholls horse.
Muirhead is the first of a couple I like at a price. At 25/1 with Boylesports, I think you are getting terrific value. Just slightly outside of the 6/7 year old bracket, Muirhead looked terrific in winning the Munster National and will not be inconvenienced by goodish ground.
Billie Magern carried the Majors money when disappointing last time but I am willing to keep faith. He is highly tried and out of the Twiston Davies yard, I am sure they are not tilting at windmills so they must genuinely think better is possible. He is only an effective 1lb better off with Great Endeavour for a 13l defeat in the Paddy Power but I am willing to take a punt that at 33/1 (much bigger on Betfair) he can be competitive in these conditions.
Aiteen Thirtythree is the other favoured Nicholls runner that has already shown some class as a novice. You have to suspect that the reappearance run over a trip that was never going to suit was designed to protect a handicap mark. With Ruby aboard and the opportunity to benchmark against Michel Le Bon, money would be significant.
The Major has to make a selection from these five and with a poor recent record, I am tempted to suggest Great Endeavour and Michel le Bon who have excellent and more obvious chances. However, I am loading up the value guns on Muirhead and Billie Magern. 25/1 and 33/1 (bigger on the exchanges) – Load the cannons and thank me for my bravery later.
The Fighting Fifth
Thinking of bravery. The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (5th Regiment of foot) have a distinguished service history dating back to action in the 17th century. They have seen service in the American Revolution but it was action in the Peninsular war of the early 19th century that earned the nickname of the fighting fifth.
It is not a bad nickname given some of the exploits of their soldiers in later warm engagements in India, particularly during the first mutiny. Read the account of Private Patrick McHale VC who lead skirmishing to the gun positions when fighting the Sikhs at Cawnpore, or that of Peter McManus who also won a VC fighting in the streets of Lucknow rescuing a senior under fire from enemy sepoys.
In the year Punjabi won the fighting fifth, there was a £1m bonus for a horse that could collect this prize, the Christmas hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle. The removal of this bonus brings just 5 contenders and I am not sure any of them will come close in Cheltenham in March.
The race has to be won though. Binocular if anything like on top of his game will win. It is hard to keep in mind that this horse is only 7. He has shown dazzling brilliance and pretty shocking awfulness too. First time out, will he go well?
It is all about match fitness for the Major. Binocular has beaten Overturn in a fair fight and there is no good reason to expect that Overturn is better, there is good reason to suspect that he is fitter. Celestial Halo while having a winning reappearance to the Major looks worse bet of the three. I am not sure the reappearance amounted to much.
So the question is fitness or class?
I am going with Class. Binocular. Nicky Henderson may not have had the big winners in the last few weeks but there is no doubt that he is the apple of the McManus eye. Fitness is a big concern. Binocular is a bull of a horse and takes a lot of getting fit. However, trainer comments seem to gently suggest he is in grander shape now then when narrowly losing out last year, this is not a strong a field, on that balance, I am in, odds against at 11/10 is very fair.
Yes, the Major reviews the top races of the day and also brings you his thoughts on the Bookiefreebies.com Handicap at Wolverhampton tonight.
The horse that catches my eye is the Ed Dunlop trained Voodoo Prince. Off a long break, this three year old returns to action after being gelded. I often wonder if we gelded the England football team whether it would have the desired effect of getting them focussed back on the sport…
However, in this case, I think they have taken action as the horse should be better than shown. He has been defeated favourite on his last two starts after winning a very nice mile race at Haydock in the spring.
The question is whether this is to get a run into the horse or whether we have a bit of a good thing. What settled the Majors mind was the jockey booking. McLaughlin is a sound booking and he turns up at Wolverhampton for this single ride, a bit of effort.
I am willing to overlook the breeding record on the surface which is poor and pile in at a tasty 6/1 that we have found a good thing.
To the football…….
Mr Hill of the good ship Hiscox will once again denounce the Major selecting against the mighty West Brom but Spurs at Evens is an absurd price. They are one of the best teams in the division and are playing very good stuff. Albion will be missing key players, potentially including Long and I would take Spurs every time at that price.
I like the concession with Bet365 (could be a few punts with them today) on their double and treble the goalscorer in the Charlton, Liverpool v Man City and Stoke v Blackburn fixtures. Essentially you get the price if a single goal is scored but double and treble the price if 2 goals or a hat-trick is bagged by your selection. They are best price Jon Parkin too at 7/1 so I suggest an investment for Monday night.
QPR are a monster price to win at Carrow Road. 5/2 does not reflect the fact that they are the better team. They were last season and they are this season too both on results and on the additions to their squad. Get stuck in.
Tonight, curry is the order of the day, keep it nice and simple, local fare, eat with your hands. Take a friend.
Courage, roll those dice.