Good morning from the Major who writes from a glorious landscape of looming rocky outcrops whose towering edges are burned crimson with the rising sun and whose flanks are dressed with heavy deep green foliage. Frankly I have little idea of the Worcestershire weather, for I am in Gods chosen country, Switzerland, the Bernese Alps to be more precise and it has been damn glorious here for the last 5 days.
While I shall try to be brief, for travellers tales bore me like no other and I imagine you the same, I feel I must file my report for your examination. The place is magnificent. I am writing from the Valais, a spectacular corner of the world where rocky monstrosities rise suddenly and in gangs to intimidate the senses and leave you aghast at the damn splendour of it all. There are the snow-capped peaks, mountain forests, gulleys running fast with thundering torrid streams, neat disciplined vineyards clinging to the steep lower slopes and as much good air as your lungs can take.
For some scale, from my balcony I can take in 6 good peaks and each is in excess of 3,200 metres, perfectly ordinary for an Alpine mountain. Snowdon just breaks 1,000m, a mere trifle. What the Alpine folk must make of our national parks I do not know, although I defy any of them to not find our finest terrain, the lake district as at least of merit, mixing as it will such a varied palette of greens and blues. Committed atheist as I am, my faith in science is challenged by the glory of such creation, for creation is what it can feel like because surely some planning was required in such masterpieces.
There are other compensations to my locale, the scenery is matched by the people. Of Switzerland’s good denizens, I shall say this. I have found them to be modest, decent and impeccably well-mannered. Cars stop at crossings, truly a sign of a great civilisation. The food too is excellent, I breakfast on cured meats and eggs, leave lunch for the wimps and dine on any number of the Italian or French dishes.
Yet more, the attractions run to more than polite society and good cuisine, you shall think me indelicate to raise it but I care not. There is a certain style of Swiss woman, youthful with short dark hair, dark eyes, slender of figure and tall, smooth skinned and confident in her every move, sporting and fun. You know me, I fall in love with each and every new one.
Oh, I could imagine a life here if it were not for a few major flaws. Firstly, the sport, there is lots of it but I would miss too much the comforting seasonal rhythm of our racing schedule to which I am fatefully well tuned. Mainly though, it is the costs. The bills will bankrupt me long before I had finished the fun.
Anyway, while I have been away, York has been ploughing on regardless. Before now, I have only seen the results and read a few brief reports, as well as catching the drift of proceedings on twitter. So, I may be a little out of touch.
Yet, I arrive for this weeks battle, freshened and relaxed, I plan on a few short and sharp incursions into the enemies positions. No full frontal assault, no sweeping flanking manoeuvre, rather we shall skirmish in open formation, raiding the odd baggage train here, stealing the odd gun there. To the sports.
Saturday York Tips
I used to think that York was a pretty fair course with its wide open straight opening some distance from the finish. Whether there is much camber I do not know, whether the crowds that are attracted to the Knavesmire’s obvious charms intimidate the horses, I do not know but without obvious reason, it seems to me that it has become a specialist track and I often seek course form when appraising runners.
The York going could be the most significant factor though and this is the angle I attack with. Early in the week, runners were being withdrawn from the Ebor with the likely fast conditions cited. Now, after a sudden storm and further rain, we need a mudlark and since several are non runner already, you would think it gives us a chance to solve the puzzle.
Ebor day is a terrific bit of fun, the race can be a dark swirling mass of possibilities, the last 8 runnings have returned three 25/1 shots and a stunning 100/1 shocker from Mudawin in 2006. In honesty, it is rarely a race that lasts in the memory, if I were to recall to you the recent winners of Willing Foe or Sessenta, it is unlikely that your heart springs youthfully at the recollection. The latter was a winner for Willie Mullins in 2009 and in the subsequent year, Dirar was a winner for me, keeping the trophy Irish bound.
Recent years have seen a dominance of older horses winning as a result of the changing weight allowances for three year olds. We shall stick to that rule and seek an older horse who likes to get a toe in. Yet, before we arrive at the Ebor, there are other delights for us to review.
The listed City of York Stakes get the card off at 2.05 and Christoforo Colombo takes is favourite on his second start this season after finishing 5th in the 2,000 Guineas. The Guineas form stacks up, as it should being a G! classic, and this is a significant drop in class back in listed company, he also placed n soft to heavy as a juvenile and his sire had no problem with softer conditions. Yet, it concerns me that this is a race that O’Brien has never won and the break given to Christoforo Colombo may indicate that he has not been entirely straightforward. Given the price, if you disagree and think the drop from the Guineas to this is the key, then I would highlight the fact that Glory Awaits finished ahead of him in that race too.
The Major is going to tip up Sirius Prospect who under normal conditions I think would not be good enough for this. Yet he has won twice at York (important) and been placed in every run on soft ground (more important) and his trainer has an exemplary record from his select few runners at York.
The Melrose, 2.40pm, looks a tough race to call with none of the runners holding any York experience bar Dashing Star and Hawk Hill (both unplaced) but it will take some winning in these conditions.
Mister Impatience (won twice on soft) is the sort of Johnstone runner that you have to fear in this field – Is there a better trainer for peaking a handicap runner, couple that with the legendary toughness of his horses and he is a threat. Argent Knight is a proven stayer but was withdrawn from soft ground earlier this year and I assume the same fate lies in store. Hawk Hill probably has the measure of Ambleside on these terms. The latter is a horse I love, he looks a talented sort that makes his own mind up as to when he puts his effort in! Hawk Hill is one I do like and is exactly the sort of quiet horse that you get more favourable prices about.
I am also fearful that Dark Crusader is not merely company in the horsebox for Ted Veale who runs in the Ebor (more of that later). The pointer though falls favourably in the direction of Havana Cooler who represents the Cumani yard, who last won the Melrose six times back with Speed Gifted. The yard is in tremendous nick and he looks a ready stayer, this race should suit his style of being held up, switched off and coming late… we shall see.
The Gimcrack, 3.15pm, has only attracted seven runners, yet it is a wide open 4/1 field. Astaire has the advantage of a Callan ride, a significant benefit in my opinion, yet a 4 runner conditions event at HQ is a departure from this company. Saayerr was a good winner of the Richmond but might find this harder and I am always wary of juveniles who are burdened with extra weight through penalty.
I find it easy to be attracted to the attributes of Parbold, a general 4/1 shot. He has won on soft and while some of his Group form has made him look a little flat-footed, with this distance and the conditions, I think he might be just the type for the job.
The Ebor, 3.50pm has seen plenty of non runners since the conditions turned. Tiger Cliff and Opinion are heading the market and receiving the morning support. Their compliments are that they are both progressive as an Ebor winner is likely to be.
Yet, the Major is smelling the mood in the camp and opting for Ted Veale at 9/1 with Stan James. To win a poor Bellewstown race and then step up to the Ebor is an unlikely achievement but exactly the sort of thing that Tony Martin would pull off. Ted Veale will love the conditions, will stay for ever and having got in from a penalty in the Irish race, looks well handicapped to do the business. Fran Berry has made the effort to come over and I am all aboard.
The Roses Stakes, 4.25pm is the last interest I have in York and there are a number of very interesting youngsters. Hot Streak won on debut and beat winners too but that was on fast ground and I am not sure the Ilfraaj colt will excel in this ground. Outer Space looked a good prospect when turning over the Haggas odds on shot Jacobs Pillow but Hannon has not won this race and you would suspect he has much better in the camp.
Instead, the Major focuses on the much more highly used runner, Excel’s Beauty. For a start, we are blessed with Callan, of whom I have extolled enough virtue. The horse though has much merit, he was runner-up in a Newbury listed event having looked the winner only to idle slightly in front. The horse that beat him (Wind Fire) has since placed in the Lowther and my selection has also strong form from beating Lilbourne Lass. Experience can tell.
Goodwood – Celebration Mile
A cracking contest in order on the downs as Afsare, Premier Loco, Thistle Bird and Trade Storm come together to contest this Group 2 race.
Premier Loco won the race a year ago but it was not a clean running and there is doubt over that form. Thistle Bird was amongst the defeated foe in that race but has improved significantly since and almost won a Group 1 last time out but could not match the turn of foot that Winsili produced (had first run).
Educate has his fans, myself included but surely is a handicapper at best.
All of them could be put away by the Major’s fancy, favourite Afsare at 9/4. The Cumani runner was pretty dominant in G3 company last time out at Salisbury and I think the main risk is that the gelded son of Dubawi does not handle the Goodwood camber (never raced here before).
I also will be backing Mount Athos at Goodwood who is a horse of considerable talent.
There is a most pleasing card to be had at the Curragh and I would advise a bet on Dutch Masterpiece in the 3.10pm. Moore has made the effort to go overseas and I suspect he was after the softer ground. Had he known, he may have stayed home. Yet, this boy has a live chance, he is hugely progressive and has O’Brien in the saddle.
It is the 4.20pm though that I want to tune in to, if I can find a way from these shores. In it, War Command, returns swiftly to the action after disappointing me so bitterly in the Phoenix. There was not an obvious reason for the flop and the Coventry form is now looking more suspect but I cannot deny the evidence that my eyes tell me from that race… This might be my cliff horse but I am all in even at evens.
To the football.
I fear for my West Brom team this year as we are significantly weakened. 8/13 that Everton beat us is a gift. Villa should not be 7/2 to beat Liverpool either. I also think that 4/5 Stoke to beat Palace is a bet. I think Wigan have bought well and 5/6 that they win at home to Middlesborough is a bet and despite their poor start, I still feel Sheffield United are a team who could do well this year in League One – They are 2/1 to beat Bradford away and I would want to be involved.
The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Sheff Utd, Afsare, Parbold and Havana Cooler.
May your dinner be delectable and in the finest of company. Courage and roll those dice.