Good evening from the Major who wrote this introduction, dead tired, slumped in the kitchen in a Worcestershire air brewing with trouble. Clammy and suffocating, in it I cannot rest, my eyes are alert and dart to each sudden noise. In old houses such as this, the bones creak and groan, each new sound aggravates the heart, palpitating with vigour. Perturbed, the mood, something dark hangs over me.
In these moments deep in the night, when the thoughts deep down bubble to the surface, fears emerge untethered by their daytime confinement. I am scared that when dawn breaks, this feeling will last, that somewhere in the system, it went wrong. Things that should be leashed at the midnight hour are somehow free to plague me.
My emotions stir thinking of Daniel Pelka a tragic loss of life. Just 4 years old, starved and beaten at home, he received further punishments for stealing food from other children at school. His mother warning teachers not to feed him and herself bribing the child with sweets to maintain his silence.
What confusion in that poor childs mind. What darkness seeps through the whole thing. The fragility of a child, the innocence. The intent, powerful emotions stir. Still and deep.
What troubles me most is whether the thoughts that run through my mind in the small hours could escape, somehow seep into the day world where everything carries with it, a sense that all will be well.
Morning breaks, a close cloud covered morning. The Major has risen and arrived at the office, fresh and revived, the words above appear now to be written by a stranger, let us move on.
What a load of nonsense the Royal Baby saga turned out to be. Journalists, standing outside a hospital with nothing to report on, straining to make something, anything newsworthy. Have you noticed the stock question a journalist asks any passer-by in such circumstances… ‘Can we have your reaction to…’ Then gushes forth the incontinent thoughts of the masses. I have no strong view on our monarchy itself, in fact, since the Queen is of a racing mind, I feel a kinship, tough old bitch.
In the coming weeks, I would like to pen a piece on my favourite jockeys and why I like them. I have commented often that I find, next to horse ability, the jockey ability to be a crucial part of my race reading. Although I gave up keeping records some time ago (when they were mildly profitable, I would point out!), my feeling is that this is a profitable field to plough, particularly in amateur races where the gulf in jockey quality is greatest.
The article will come, although maybe not as I have the habit of promising things I don’t get round to. Yet, I shall share with you now, some of the riches of my thinking so that you might judge me.
The top five flat jockeys, based on class and season form, that spring to the top of my mind are… Ryan Moore, of course, Neil Callan, the best damn independent there is, Jimmy Fortune, simple and strong, Silvestre de Sousa, what a season and Adam Kirby, not so much style as brute strength – A man I like to follow in the class 6 races at Lingfield that you know you should never be betting on. Clearly this needs some thought because Murtagh and Manning are missing, it might turn out to be a top ten – Don’t be upset, I am making this up as I go along, in case you failed to notice.
As for the jumps boys… McCoy, once again, a little obvious, forgive me, Slippers Madden, Jason Maguire, always presents his horses so well to a fence, Ruby, is like watching poetry and then take your pick from some under-rated sorts in Tom O’Brien, Doyle, Maurice Linehan….
Let us get to the sports… Sharpen that lance point young man, bring yourself up to attention for god is on parade and he wishes to see the cleanliness of your tunic. The deep red colours of our gallant Victorian splendour, looking so dapper in the full light of day, ready to fight the hoards of Satan himself….. Courage and Shabash.
King George Day Tips
Ascot is a hard card to read today, as a big uncertainty remains over the ground they will race upon.
Regardless, it is nothing short of a tragedy that St Nicholas Abbey, the splendid Ballydoyle warrior is fighting for his very life on King George day. This year the toll of casualty has been high in our sport both on the track and off it, both human and horse. Good luck old boy, just imagine it is 2009, you are back at Doncaster and Johnny Murtagh is just giving you that little squeeze, digging in his heels just a little and you know it is business time, quickening clear to be one of the most impressive winners of the Racing Post trophy I have seen. A touch of that spirit and the team of vets will soon be brushing you down and preparing you for your new kept life.
It has left the King George a poorer race. While Cirrus des Aigles is a fine horse, I am not with him. Don’t get me wrong, I like him – How can you not? Gelded, so lacking the illustrious connection to future progeny – That probably helped connections with their decision to come and take on the mighty Frankel when others cried enough and looked for cover. He gave Pegasus a damn good race too and on his preferred soft ground.
Today, I am not sure the rain will be there in time and as these top horses get older, they get less reliable.
The problem today is that we do not have much in our armoury to get him beat. Many are allotting credit to the Ascot form of Hillstar that I am not sure it is due. He is a handicapper who has clearly improved significantly but this is the top table now and we shall see how his form holds, shan’t we.
Trading Leather is interesting. The Irish Derby winner seems to me to be a horse that has kept below the radar. The son of Teofilo is one that wants those storms to keep clear until after the race. Here is the rub though, to win the King George as a three year old you have to be elite. Galileo, Nathaniel etc etc… Trading Leather? Really?
Novellist is interesting… He has beaten Cirrus des Aigles this season and looks a certain improver – Of the main protagonists, this would be my call
So, the Major is going off piste… In a race I think could fall apart, I am going to advise you to back the outsider of the field Red Cadeuax at a freely available 40/1.
What is my case? Well OK, the first thing is that we need to ignore two poor runs this season, easily done – Both races were over 2f shorter than this and I think the old boy needs further these days. His Singapore form was not brilliant and he never got going at Ascot. Yet, let us not forget he was runner-up in the Dubai World Cup in March. Ed Dunlop knows the time of day, he is not in this to make up the numbers, they think they can get in the prize money.
If you follow the Majors thinking, then you have a favourite who might be beyond his best before date (as is my own selection to be fair), some three year olds that I don’t think are Galileo-esque and then this campaigner who is the most experienced of the lot of them. Have a slice and thank me later.
The Rest of Ascot
In the last 15 years, just one horse has won the Princess Margaret at odds larger than 6/1 and that was 25/1 shocker Mixed Blessing in 2005. It seems sensible thus, to focus upon Wind Fire, Queen Catrine, Along Again and Wee Jean.
My guess is Chroussa will lead them along like she did at the Curragh and again will play second fiddle to one of those four. Queen Catrine is the least appealing of them, I think the Newmarket form is good but needs to be better. Hannon is keen on Fig Roll and the master of juvenile horses is hard to ignore but I shall – She is too small (exactly what they said about Messi by the way)
Windfire came close in the Norfolk against the colts and that is very solid. She started that race at 16/1 and I am not convinced yet that is was our strongest renewal. It is dangerous to ignore Wind Fire because stepping up a furlong from the Norfolk looks exactly what this girl needs… but I am.
I am sticking to my ‘jockey angle’ and opting for Along Again to make the necessary improvement, take the 7/1.
The next race I am interested in is the 4.25 Lady Amateurs race – Let us test my amateur jockey record. We want experience and a good strike rate and completely ignore the horse!
Four of the jockeys have a 10%+ strike rate in the last two years, Jane Mangan, Miss Walton, King and Brotherton. Miss King has only had three winners from 18 rides in that time so slips off my considered list through inexperience.
Now I have to consider the horses and of them, Jane Mangan’s appeals the most, 7/1 shot, the most aptly names… See the Storm. Some good form preceded the third at Chester which was a dampener, I will admit. Yet, Chester is not to every horses liking with its tight turns and back on a more suitable track with what I consider the best jockey aboard… well.
Incidentally, do you remember poor Jane Mangan being thrown from her mount, Oscar Delta, as she was coming up the Cheltenham hill on a tight reign to victory? I have never felt so sorry for a jockey, about to claim her most famous moment on the famous Prestbury Park, in front of a huge throng and Oscar Delta decides that 4m is not enough and he is off for another circuit. Dumped on the floor, having to stand and tramp back past the crowd, many of whom were on the favourite Salsify, who was gifted the race, ouch. Not that I feel too bad for her, she has had plenty of days in the sun since then and good luck to her…..
Finally, Emirates Flyer looks a shoe in in the last and 15/8 should be taken with gusto.
Meanwhile at York
It is the Sky Bet York Stakes, group two action and Mukhadram is the obvious choice even at 8/13. He was desperately unlucky not to be second Ascot behind Al Kazeem after being snatched up on the rails. Before you get all angry at me for putting up the obvious, go and read the Red Cadeaux bit again… it’s about the balance, yin and yang… calm.
The contributions from twitter are as follows:
@TheParadeRing 5.00 Ascot Emirates Flyer
@Lukeyboy1325 boring, but Cirrus Des Aigles
@TheGolfBandit ES QUE LOVE 1515 ASCOT – The Major loves this horse!
@IamNotLuke Contemplating 2:05 Wild Fire but going for a bit better odds with Y 2:20 Smarty Socks
@mattjcollins165m Henry the aviator 2.40 ascot ew around the 12/1 mark – and this one too!!
@LegalWiggy 8s Lilo Lil 1720 Lingfield and Expert 1410 Newmarket
@h103efa captain royale 4.50
May your dinner be opulent in the company of ravishing beauties with the wanton look in their eye that tells you where their mind runs to. Eat lustily at a bloody steak, ah yes, allow the blood to rise a little, we are on the ride just the once you know.
The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Red Cadeaux, Along Again, See the Storm and Emirates Flyer.
Courage, roll those dice.