Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where bright clear skies leak the days warmth away, leaving a breathless chilly evening and stars that seem to shimmer and move like the surface of water gently rippling away.
We are here. Every tweeter in the world is tinkling at the keyboard, excited at what the morning brings. The Major will not dribble so trivially and waste your time. No.
Lest to say this. We shall witness the four days of Cheltenham, all of life shall be there, rich and poor, every social echelon, the equine athletes, the twinkle eyed Irish sirens at their betting pitches, the tatty commercialism, the genuine rush; it is all ours to savour my friends.
This year, I am attending proceedings on Tuesday and Friday, both will be tremendous occasions I am sure.
Two years prior, I attended all four days and drank and gambled at extreme pace on each. On the Friday, a fresh set of reserve troops arrived from Birmingham but they were reinforcements, not relief forces. As such, the expectation was to be back on it, Guinness and Champagne at breakfast and continuing in the spirit. Ah, I did… I soldiered on but I finished that day a ruin.
Cheltenham for the duration is a physical and emotional war of attrition.
In 1900, as part of force set to break the siege of Ladyship, Natal, Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft followed orders to lead his men to retrieve Spion Kop, a height occupied by Boer forces, which had good sight of the road. As a surprise tactic, Woodgate, giant of a man, led from the front up the 1500ft slope in complete darkness. What that must have been like, to be climbing through the mist, knowing you are about to engage the enemy , utter silence and a great hulking officer lumbering in front. The tactics worked and following a brief engagement with bayonets fixed, they were able to scatter the small Boer force that had been in situ. This success proved though to be a misjudgment.
The Engineers set about digging in but found hard rock just a foot into the earth. They managed to create a crescent-shaped, several hundred feet long, shallow trench and at daybreak, as the sun rose from some distant point over the Indian Ocean, it was clear that two heavy forces would be engaged heavily in action.
You see, there were several other heights at similar levels that gave the Boers excellent sight of the encamped British forces and so the bombardment commenced. Shells ranging from 80mm to 600mm rained onto the British position every 6 seconds for which they had little protection. The British realised that they had also mistaken the summit and the position they had dug, just slightly below had poor sight lines over the Northern crest.
By mid morning, the Boers had resolved to a sortie to recover the position and the Boers that climbed that hill did so with their leaders ears ringing ‘we shall be attacking the enemy and not all will be coming back; Do your duty, trust the Lord’. The Boers, who were excellent rifleman rushed the summit from the blind side, which the British position allowed, this was surprising and resulted in some warm action with bayonet, fists and knives flashing.
Both sides settled down to exchange rifle fire just a hundred yards from each other, bodies lying all amongst them, the heat of the day rising. The Boers were tired and morale was low, what they cannot have understood was either the losses of the British or the effectiveness of the continued bombardment which was taking its toll. The Boer gunners were finding their range and among their British casualties was General Woodcroft.
Confusion started to become prevalent. Reinforcements for the British were called for and sent but the mortars which may have been used against some key Boer positions were never bought against the enemy. As battle progressed into the second night, the lunacy of war was such that both the Boers and British were ready to surrender their positions. The Boers at one point started to but an officer persuaded them to stay and such is the balance of things, it proved decisive.
In the morning, Thorneycroft, receiving messages from the main army was able to lead a retreat down Skion Kop. He left a devastation at the summit. Nearly 250 British and 350 Boers were left dead. The Boers so badly hurt that they were unable to hold the position. The futility of it all.
Still, a few footnotes worthy of your attention. Winston Churchill, a journalist but drawn to action, was the runner on the private staff of General Buller in command of the 11,000 strong force from which Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft was despatched – Thus he was running the messages to Thorneycroft on the summit and would have seen the bloody mess. His schoolboy friend from Harrow also died on the summit. Baden-Powell also served in the action. It is also the reason that Liverpool has the Kop.
Our battle shall be entrenched too, just less bloody, for most of us. To the action, the Cheltenham action. Sabres drawn. The festival is underway…
Tuesday Cheltenham Tips
Now, if you cheated and have not read about Skion Kop, either go back or exit. Your sort is not welcome here.
For those who missed my stream of tweets last week, I have written up the Grade 1 races at the festival already and so will be drawing on that shortly. This is where you will find my Tuesday Grade 1s but I shall summarise with brevity, something I value little, below.
In the Supreme, I have already tipped Vautour and am sticking with it. I stand by my reasoning that Irving looks a flat track bully and my boy has been in a fight, which fancy dan Irving has yet to experience. At a price, The Liquidator is an interesting runner and so is Vaniteux who will appreciate the better ground and is the favoured runner of Geraghty (over Josses Hill).
I am also sticking with Valdez who I wrote up in my antepost piece for the Arkle. His price is unchanged and if anything might be bigger at the off. The bottom line he is not a popular sort. Perhaps people are put off by the fact he was not as good as hurdler as this lot but some horses are meant to go over the big obstacles and this season, we have seem him in fine form, even when the King stable was under a cloud. Grandouet is a bit of a forgotten horse and all of the principles can be argued for, including Rock on Ruby who is a good ground horse in my view – This is not a big stakes race for the Major.
The 2.40 Handicap Chase is a minefield. I would call out a few I like. Alfie Sherrin and Holywell at 8/1 and 10/1 are of interest, particularly the latter. Yet, in this sort of race, I want a tasty price, in the last eight years we have witnessed 28/1, 33/1 and even 50/1 shocks. My runner to steal the money is King Massini at 20/1. This Evan Williams horse has been a serious improver and was campaigned aggressively early in the season, unlucky not to complete a four timer. He has been put away, most likely with this in mind. As such, I am happy to have a pop but dangers lurk around every corner my friend.
Then the feature dish, the Champion Hurdle. Again, you will find this on my G1 Tuesday Cheltenham Antepost page but a quick summary….
- I have been backing Our Conor since my jaw rested on the Cheltenham tarmac as he sauntered over his Triumph field
- I backed what my eyes saw with real money building up an antepost position
- His runs in Ireland have been OK but not quite what I wanted, particularly the last
- He might be better with the pace been forged by Captain Cee Bee
- I suspect I am suffering from Confirmation Bias and am desperately turning everything I see in his favour
- He likes good ground… Oh god, I am suffering confirmation bias
- I will probably have a saver on the Fly – Not because I prefer him, in fact my next best is My Tent or Yours – Yet, I cannot let the place go wild and me not have a winning ticket to hand, no matter what the financial logic.
The Mares Hurdle is a potential moment of history with Quevega, the amazing Mare that the magician Mullins manages to get right for this one day, trying for a sixth Cheltenham Festival race. Will she? I hope so – I have some bets that include her name but I have to admit to it not being many. I was actually a little concerned last year. She finished well enough to win but to me needed to be niggled earlier than usual, maybe it will catch up with her this year?
I did like Highland Retreat but think the ground is going against her. So the one I offer as an alternate is Cailin Annamh who won a graded Irish race effortlessly and could be offering a viable alternative if improving a stone… and a bit…. and beating a legend… with the best national hunt jockey in the world aboard. What am I on about, back Quevega – If she wins, you will be gutted that you did not!
Then the four miler… amateur riders.. The Major is a fan of backing the best jockeys in these races and I also think over this distance, it makes an even bigger differential. Clements is good but McNamara, Carberry and Mullins are better.
McNamaras mount, Herdsmen, needed the mud, no. Nina (Carberry for the legion of irregular racing fans joining us today) takes the ride on the favourite, Shutthefrontdoor – That horse is going to love the drying ground and I love watching Nina ride a hold up sort, she has elegance, strength and resolve. It is hard to pass over but I am resting on Suntiep at 10/1 – There are lots of reasons why not, including the ground and lack of chase experience around such a tough course… take it easy.
Then the Novice Handicap Chase that closes the card and if we need this as a get out of jail, we are in a world of hurt.
I am going to put up two. First a horse I have watched for a while, Grandads Horse, currently available at 40/1 – Do you want the reasoning? Look, if you are backing a 40/1 shot in the last, you definitely do not… Don’t even start to think about the trainer having Pendra, a seeming much fancied runner…
My saver is another massive price. Venetia has been the talk of the year with her horses running to tremendous credit on heavy ground. I think Gardefort forgiven the last time out may be a snip at 40/1 also with BetVictor…
Courage and roll those dice.