Good evening from a blustery and wet Worcestershire. The fineness of the day which began like gods own awakening has retreated and with the dark night comes the warm rugged squalls from the Atlantic. It is December, I prefer the integrity of ice and frost, the tepid rugged wet weather feels dirty.
The Ascot ground looked like it was behaving today which surprised me, I thought they would be swimming on it. The Major did fairly poorly.
I fancied getting Puffin Billy beaten, which was proven mighty foolish. I couldn’t bring myself to back the obvious Simonsig. I mean…. Can you really back a novice chasing debutante at 1/6 on heavy ground no matter how impressive their novice hurdle season? Clearly yes. I did have the winner of the bumper, that protected some liquidity.
Last Sunday night I attended the Sports Personality Awards. I was a guest of some business associates. We dined before heading to the studio and sitting amongst the sporting glitterati. The after show party was a star-studded affair. My wingman for the night was far more comfortable approaching people for pictures and autographs than I.
I do find it uncomfortable disturbing people socialising and frankly, what is the point. Will you look at those pictures again? Class and decorum for me is to relax and let it go.
I held that mighty stance until he pointed out Tony McCoy, entertaining a couple of female guests across the room. Well, perhaps there is a shallow man struggling to get out after all as I could not contain the urge for a photo.
I interrupted as politely as possible for the picture and when I suggested Darlan to him, he was lukewarm, he gave me another horse to follow.
Now your correspondent will set the scene as best as I can…. The DJ (Comedy Dave) has the tunes cranked up, the silky green goddesses with their silver trays are breezing past, each stealing my heart (I fall in love most days)… I am a fair few Heinekens in to the evening and AP is giving me a horse to follow in his Irish lilt.
The first time, I missed it completely. Repeating the name, helped only moderately. Second time round, I was able to make out some key syllables and define the shape of the horses name. Asking a third time would have been rude and so I thanked him and left.
It took me a day and the work of a good friend Mike to track the animal down! Who is it? Well, that is between me, AP, my brother, Mike, anyone I have told so far and anyone who DMs me politely on twitter! Anyway, as for AP, is he what you would hope for in a champion jockey? Good teeth, clean shoes, class act all the way.
To the sports….
Tips for Ascot
The opening handicap is three miles through the mud so will take a lot of getting. I really like Okafranca who is on a hat trick. The last Taunton run was as good as anything in the field and he did that with plenty in hand. 7/1 (Paddy Power) is a very fair price – I feel good about this one but coping with another race within nine days as well as an 8lb rise might be tough enough.
Instead I am offering a 14/1 tip on Highland Retreat. My tip is a Harry Fry horse with Mr J Barber, a 7lb claimer aboard (has won on the other sole start for the stable). After showing a likeable attitude in winning an Exeter handicap (first two fought clear and second now rated 121), a disappointing effort at Hereford followed. There were problems with the girl that day (nose bleed) and if back to form, this unexposed mare might just get involved.
In the second race, Solix is clearly a decent opponent but I fancy Paul Nicholls to take this with Cedre Bleu. My tip gets 7lb in hand and is going to be sharper for the seasonal debut. It is interesting that connections go for a double dose of headgear, suggesting to me that the horse needs to concentrate and that we are yet to bottom out the talent. If right, Cedre Bleu is in the right hands… 13/8 have a slice.
Long Walk Hurdle Tip – Ascot 2pm
A horse that won me some considerable dough in last seasons World Hurdle rocks up as favourite in this years Long Walk. Smad Place had lots of supporters at Wetherby for his seasonal debut and so losing to Tidal Bay was a big dissapointment.
It is a bitter shame that Big Bucks is unable to defend his crown here and at Cheltenham in March. He looked as good as ever on debut and surely was booked to go to FIVE World Hurdles.
Prospect Wells looks like the horse that Ditcheat want to use as a main World Hurdle horse now that Big Bucks is out of the picture. I am not convinced, he was in receipt of a lot of weight against Zarkander and wonder whether the image of the two of them pulling clear is not a little flattering to Prospect Wells… maybe.
Reve de Sivola finished second to Big Bucks at Newbury although he was clearly not in the same league.
Master of the Hall is an interesting runner and gets the nod, perhaps a little disappointing and the hurdles mark is not generous either, the positives are that a switch to the smaller obstacles might spark enthusiasm and less error. He is certainly one of the more likely to thrive in the conditions. 8/1 and worth a bet.
Ascot Silver Cup Tips – 2.35pm
The Ascot Silver Cup boasts a small but interesting field line up. Roberto Goldbach has been switched to Nicky Henderson and it will be interesting to see whether he can take the horse further now he is turning eleven.
I am not convinced Hold on Julio will love the ground and I prefer Hey Big Spender who won a grade 3 at Warwick in January and was travelling well enough in the Welsh national last Christmas before coming down before the race got going in earnest. He has gone well fresh and 4/1 is fair but I wonder if there are more significant prizes that the horse will be prepared for this year.
Maybe, this line up is giving too much weight away to Wyck Hill at 7/1 and a few pounds out of the handicap. Racing off the minimum weight is going to be a big help and the horse has some signs of being progressive. The heavy ground run previously was poor but the soft form suggests another try is not without hope. 7/1 (Bet365) and worth backing.
The Ladbroke – Ascot 3.10pm
21 runners make this a damn hard race to geta solid angle into.
Petit Robin is an interesting horse at a big price. Chase form (and mark) is better than the current hurdles mark and a decent claimer is booked. Maybe at 25/1 it is hard to argue that Henderson thinks he is the yards best hope but the Major gives it a squeak.
Rattan has done his best work on heavy but Ruby is on Ranjaan who represents Nicholls and it is significant that the money has come this week. Ranjaan won comfortably at Taunton for Daryl Jacob and the rise of 9lb is not a big problem.
I just prefer a Jonjo horse who, on pricing, looks the best bet – Its a Gimme.
We have the champion jockey on our side and McManus likes some decent handicappers too – I am backing this tip to be progressive at five, the seasonal reappearance was fine and with natural progression, lets hope Its a Gimme can get involved.
Of course, Balder Success looks a decent sort but I am not sure he has the profile of the winner, it is a big ask at 4.
In the last Ulck Du Lin can prevail at 13/8.
I am hugely interested in Kruzhulinin in the second at 2/1. A winner on heavy racing for the connections that won last years renewal, surely a decent chance.
In the third, She Ranks Me looks a dubious 6/5 shot and instead I much readily prefer the chances of Dancingtilmidnight and Scholastica. Splitting them is difficult, both will love conditions. The Harry Fry horse is a points winner that looks a thorough stayer and is accompanied by my favourite Jockey Noel Fehily. Scholastica looks like a horse with any amount of improvement to come, absolutely stuffing a poor Uttoxeter field last time out (only 3 finishers).
On balance, I am going to take a chance on Dancingtilmidnight with the Fehily factor swinging it.
In the football…..
QPR look a touch big at 14/5 given the lack of confidence at Newcastle. I think Southampton have the guns to defeat Sunderland at home at 6/5. Norwich are a massive 16/5 to win at an Albion side that have taken one point from twelve. I am still thinking Watford offer value with a talented young squad and 13/10 is a good price for a team that can freshen it up.
The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Watford, Cedre Bleu, Ulck Du Lin and Kruzhulinin.
May your dinner be delicious, pasta perhaps. The company delightful, the ambience soft.
Courage and roll the dice….