The Cheltenham New Years Day Sermon of 2014…. Courage friends, roll those dice

Happy New Year from the Major who writes from the comfort of the living room with the stove crackling away, the wine open and the dinner of King Prawn Vermicelli bringing a contentment.

The close of the year is a moment of reflection for all of us.  Should the Major trot out the expected staid lines about the new opportunities the arbitrary turn of date brings; of course I shall not, I shall leave that task to the banality of the rest.  You do not come here for that.  No, indeed, the Major only attracts those of a sound constitution.  Folk who understand about gambling, the roller-coaster, the lessons, the rush of the heart and the solemn self-reflection.

In spite of the Majors reticence to become a faux-reluctant reporter of the years events, I shall proffer my own best / worst moments of the year.  May I add that these are not researched, they come to me in this wine-flown state and so I am sure I have missed significant moments.  Feel free to correct me (@tdl123).

On the side of the highs…. Bobs Worth was a fine winner of the Gold Cup, stayed on forever.  Talent was my classic highlight, she held her head so high down the hill and then came wider to accelerate past much more fancied foes… It won’t be on many lists but it got my pulse going.  Wise Dan.  Treve, wow.  The Toranado and Dawn Approach battles…

On the debit side of the ledger, the year took a heavy toll.  Darlan was a tragic loss and in amongst many others, @efc1967 reminded me of Little Josh – There is a high price paid.

What did I learn this year?  Definitely that to be profitable, I should bet less.  Yet, to enjoy life, I should bet more.  Figure that.

I certainly wish to never write Lingfield on a betting slip again, or Downpatrick for that matter, you can add Dundalk too.  I know I will but I should not.  Jockey skill, so long given a huge prominence in my calculation, shall be downgraded – Not significantly, just adjustment.  I shall continue to follow my instincts for quality in the training work of Longsden and Fry.

The greatest lesson I could give (and it is issued ever so humbly) is that you should treat victory with the same attention as you may treat defeat.  In this, I do not infer, as Kipling did, that each lacks credibility.  No, I just suggest that you should apply the same vigour to winning bets as you might to a lost one.  We often do not – A fortunate winner is treated kindly, we accept the luck as due to us and never question the validity of our logic.  Conversely, a defeat causes our mind to explore every nook and cranny of our original thought, self-doubt, analysis and a change to future behaviours…

To be careful now.  To make sure sentiment rests to one side.  It is difficult.  I type as the witching hour falls, the turn of the year is here.  It does not feel a good year for the Major, yet surely this is my prime?  I feel at odds with myself, as though I am floating above situations and not an active participant.  The day world has been infected with the night.  The commodity I crave is not wealth, neither women or power… it is peace of mind.  I wish contentment for you in this new year.  Courage my friends, stay the course.

There are few things to wish for in my own opinion. Health, contentment, experience and companionship, perhaps they are the greatest.  I raise a glass tonight to you my faithful friends.  I wish us to land the mothership this year.  The same I have wished in each year, a prayer unanswered.

To the sports…

Cheltenham New Years Day

The opener is a decent looking race and I am looking forward to the return of Ballyalton – A general 2/1 shot, you can find a touch of 9/4 about the place with some outfits you may never have heard of!  Ian Williams has a dual licence, operating out of the South Midlands – He deserves a big jumps horse and I think he has one here.  My tip did really well to win here last time when beating a horse I hold in high regard, Garde la Victoire.  That day he was very slow away and hit the hurdle at the top of the hill so to go on to beat prestigious opposition was a real achievement.  Large bet advised.

In the second, Mendip Express comes out of novice races in good spirits but I am not sure this is an entirely reasonable mark on which to start proceedings.  De le Bech mind comes off a win at Chepstow, the style of which to me suggests a mere third of a stone rise is well in reach.  The one I like though is Bradley who has often run a good race at jumps HQ.  I am struggling to understand why Alvarado is two points clear after a 4 length defeat and a 7lb swing… 10/1 William Hill.

Once again Oscar Whiskey is fancied to better long-term fancy of my own, Taquin du Seuil.  The Cheltenham win last time out for Taquin was impressive in one regard which was that he seemed to have a superior turn of foot to Oscar Whiskey but  think that might be misleading.  Oscar was forced to lead that day and never settled, the early pace was a walk and while I remain surprised that Taquin is faster than Oscar, I think the whole affair a shambles.  Off revised weights, with further experience to Oscar Whiskey, who since beat Wonderful Charm a very decent yardstick and previous winner, well… I am reduced to saying this.  McCoy gave me Taquin and I am staying loyal at 11/8 in spite of logical protest.  That said, there is a bit of logic to my side of the debate too… Distance… and ground. It will be tough and for that, the gangly and hardcore Taquin Du Seuil is your horse.

To think that the Giant Bolster who has finished ahead of Gold Cup winner, Long Run in a Gold Cup is 11/1 in a hurdle tells you a lot of his fall from grace.  I was never feeling he would repeat that form and cannot have him here either.  Burton Port is another former high-class chaser who is thrown into this hurdling lark again and I am sure will be slow and jumping large.   No  Whispering Gallery for the ever improving Ferguson team is the one for the Major.  He is a G3 Dubai winner and has done nothing wrong to date, I always have a thing about Ferguson horses wanting better ground and while Cheltenham seems to be advertising OK conditions for the 1st Jan, I cannot help but think that it will be much heavier which would be an inconvenience.  In that event, tough Return Spring might be the one to be doing his best work at the end.

I am looking forward to the 2.30 – I like Drumshambo a lot.  Venetia Williams deserves some big Cheltenham Festival successes and this horse is one I think could go well if handled correctly.  As such, I find i difficult to assess if this one is well treated – I actually think it would not be out of company in some of the bigger group staying races but here it is.  Cedre Bleu is a horse I also like even though he is a tricky son of a gun.  Yet the Major is settled on Carrickboy at 9/1 who is the second Venetia runner, is notably being backed tonight and gets the ground he loves for the first time in a few races.

Annie Power is 4lbs the worse than when receiving 11lbs and dishing an absolute beating to Zarkander last time.  She has bags of talent and potential and I see no reason to desert at 4/11.   Psychologically she has the measure of Zarkander.

In the bumper, there are a plethora of reasonable choices and I opt for an outsider in Solstice Star, 20/1, Honeyball has had some decent sorts and may not be throwing blind darts here.

I hope your New Year is plentiful and victorious.  For dining, taste the joy of a good Fish Pie, glaze some carrots alongside and chill a Chablis.

Courage all and roll those dice.  Happy New Year.

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