Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire shielding itself from the blizzard, winter clings doggedly to the year, yielding not to the start of the flat season, impervious to the date.
The coldest March in 50 years. I could have told you that stood at the one furlong marker on the Cheltenham hill on the opening day of the festival. Cold did not do it justice. Freezing would be more honest but then the wind blew and it was as though all layers of protective clothing as well as my skin, muscle and sinew were rendered worthless against the stabbing wind stricking right at the bone.
Saturday racing hangs in the balance. The Welsh, Scots, Irish and English have all been denied a meeting as Bangor, Kelso, Gowran and Stratford have abandoned. Southwell should be fine but Doncaster and Newbury have to survive morning inspections. Newbury looks to have more chance than Donnie as it rests on the ground not being waterlogged as opposed to snow. The course is optimistic but the Major is not so sure – We might face losing both Newbury and Doncaster.
A young dashing sort called Steve is hopefully off to Newbury in fine fettle and with good company, he asked me to mark the Newbury card and I shall. Good luck to you and your kith, wear layers concentrating on waterproofing and warmth. Consider several pairs of socks, gloves, scarves, hats, bright plastic ponchos and any other garment useful for fighting such foul elements. Comfort beats style eleven times from ten.
I had a three-hour drive in this awful weather earlier. Through the grim dark grey mess I witnessed some horrific driving and some furious reactions. Drivers wishing to go faster weaving through lanes aggressively, horns blaring, lights flashing. The reactions are what interest me. Some people when cut up on the motorway treat it as though their honour has been crossed. Such pointless energy expended in futile expression. People who drive badly are unlikely to change habits from your actions. Thus you achieve little and a better frame of mind is to let these instances wash over you as water from a ducks back.
Ask what such anger says about you… As Gandhi said The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
The opener looks an absolute shoe-in for classy flat convert Poet. Evens is available on Betfair this evening but I suspect 8/11 to be the morning price and I still would not put you off. There is little else in this field that could compete. Poet was a listed winner on the flat and although not turning to hurdling until late in life, he has put in enough to suggest he is well capable of winning this. For one, he is the only horse in the field to have won on heavy ground and conditions will be fine.
If there is a danger, it will come from Seventh Sky who put in his best performance last time out at Taunton, winning a handicap. I do not expect him to throw down too serious a challenge.
2.20 Mares Novice Chase
There is a solid argument that Fentara is lightly treated on her form against Super Duty who in turn was narrowly denied in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. Fentara has also won two from four on heavy ground. Yet this is competitive and this one is prone to big errors which is not ideal when facing the tough Newbury fences.
Marie Des Anges is interesting but I am not sure she is suited to a proper test in the mud over this trip. She is one of two decent shots that Anthony Honeyball has in the race and I actually prefer her to the other, Jackies Solitaire.
The two I am most interested in are Violin Davis and Tara Rose. The former had the better of the latter at Bangor earlier in the season when giving 3lbs. She has to concede a further 10 here but I think she can even in these conditions.
She has the advantage of the excellent Fehily in the saddle and Harry Fry the trainer has sent 5 to Newbury in recent times with 4 winning… Have a considerable slice of the 6/1 with Paddy Power and thank me later.
2.55 Mares Novice Hurdle
Henderson and Sherwood have won five of the last six runnings of this race and their runners have to be afforded respect. Only Henderson has an entry and Glorious Twelfth, a former Cheltenham bumper winner needs to prove that bottomless conditions are what she needs.
Ballinahow Star is where the money is tonight but I am always wary of backing horses returning from a break in such tough conditions.
I am struggling to split two in the race, Too Generous and Highland Retreat.
Both are proven in the mud and both are making handicap debuts. There is an argument that both are on workable marks. Too Generous is certainly on an upwards curve even if she had to work a bit for her last win. If pushed I would just favour Too Generous despite Highland Retreat being another horse to benefit from the excellent Noel Fehily.
3.30 Newbury Handicap Chase
Handy Andy is a Newbury specialist having won three of four starts at the course. The yard is in good touch but I wonder if the mark is catching up with him.
Loch Ba could potentially bounce back to glory after never looking at home at the Cheltenham Festival. Rhum is unlikely to get the soft lead he needs to be competitive.
The one I like the most is Cedre Bleu. Hailing from the Nicholls camp, he warrants a good look and of all of the runners, I think he rates the likeliest to act in these extreme conditions. Handy Andy rate the danger.
4.05 Juvenile Hurdle
The two French imports which Tony Carroll has in the race are both potential grenades. Lac Sacre beat Thinger Licht in a claimer in Enghien but Carroll claimed them both.
While it might not be too obvious that Handazan is well handicapped, at least he is proven in the conditions. The Major tentatively overlooks Handazan and Lac Sacre in favour of 7/1 In The Crowd who looks like an improver who will be happy to mix it in the mud.
Chase the Wind and Fabrika are the two I am interested in. The former finished narrowly behind Cheltenham Champion Bumper contender Vieux Lion Rouge on debut. The latter represents Henderson and Geraghty and will have lots of supporters.
Trainer comments regarding Fabrika, put me in her camp at 3/1.
5.10 Handicap Chase
Sustainability has not had his mark changed for a close up second at Wincanton and to the eye, this horse looks a thorough stayer. Newbury is likely to be a much more suitable venue and at 11/4, I feel a good bet in order.
Doncaster – The Lincoln
I am not going through the Doncaster card because I do not think it will make it. Should I be wrong then I will throw one tip out for the Lincoln.
Shamaal Nibras is a Hannon horse with a solid record in soft ground. I think it could be well treated and the break is of no concern given the hands the animal is in.
I promised you one Donnie tip but cannot help but give you another. If Bog Warrior captures my heart over obstacles, Jack Dexter is the love of my flat life. What a heart this horse has, winning back to back competitive handicaps last year. I do not see any reason not to be lumping on!
To the football…
Portsmouth have been showing some spirit of late but Coventry are overpriced at 5/4 to get a result on the South Coast. I am on Tranmere at 21/20 to take three points at home too.
The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Violin Davis, Cedre Bleu, Sustainability and Coventry.
Courage and roll those dice.