Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Saturday Sermon – Chester and Sandown, Mothership Scoop6… Shabash, roll the dice my friends.

Good evening good friends, gather round, it is dark in Worcestershire, the light is failing and we slide down the face of autumn, firstly into the glorious Arc, then sliding down, into Champions Day and a Cheltenham warm up before we keep sliding and slide all the way to winter, the official meteorological version commencing at the outset of the first day of the coldest three months of the year.  Mine begins with the Paddy Power at Cheltenham.  Ah, I cannot wait for us to slide all the way down to you, that sacred day with frosted ground and shrill morning air.  I have a PP hip flask which they smartly concealed into a fake bible, that will carry my Whisky Mac.

Now I know you are all gentlemen of the highest order, never complaining and of impeccable manner and standing.  Thus, you might readily be tasting that Whisky Mac as I typed it.  Should you be sat in wonderment, simply take a good blended whisky (don’t be fooled into thinking single malt makes you a better soul) and Stones ginger wine, mix one part equal and serve, ideally on ice but through the steel throat of a flask is adequate and may add something metallic and worthy to the sensation, especially when handling one of the biggest early season National Hunt handicaps, turning it over in your mind.

I remember Granit Jack cruising down that hill, I was counting my winnings mentally when he fell horribly at the fence that Cheltenham later moved, judging it dangerous as horses were meeting it too quickly.  He never got up from that fall and money was the last thing on my mind.  National Hunt can do that to you, it holds your sensibilities in its terrible grasp, it knows your hopes and desires, remorse, desire, agitation, ecstasy and sorrow, what else could you ask of a sport?  I also remember wanting to back Monkerhostin and being persuaded by a lilting Irish voice, mesmeric in inflection, that Our Vic was the winner, I jumped ship and grew a lifelong affection for the late David Johnson colours.

You might also be thinking, Major… Shame on you, unfettered unashamed promotion of the enemy in paragraph one and we thought you were independent of spirit and message.  Well I am, fear not.  It just happened that Paddy Power provided a fine day of hospitality in March which was good fun.  Twitter legend @eeyore94 invited me and in return, I offered a bed for the night in my spider-ridden annexe, a poor exchange but being Northern and of the sort of stock that displays dignity, my guest made good, I hope you are well Simon should you have strayed this way.  Regardless, I remain, entirely free, barely profitable and certainly unhinged – No bookmaker impinges this dark madness with their malevolent presence, not now, nor never.

I had a request on twitter, to write something of the Boer War.  My immediate thought was, which one?  Most people think to Zulu which pre-dates the Boer Wars.  The magnificence of Rorke’s Drift was equaled by the jaw dropping action of Isandlwana.

Regular British troops had spent plenty of time in native country all around the globe and with the advantage and confident of superior weaponry had stamped the Queens presence on the globe.  The sun never set….

The technology must have been terrifying for the enemy.  The Martini-Henry rifles, the heavy field guns, even worse the rocket batteries.  The early Congreves were developed and our chaps had half a century to perfect their fire.  Imagine that, a community used to settling difference at short order with bladed weapons suddenly coming under fire from a distant enemy with such sorcery that it can drop mortar fire and burst rockets above your head.

Thus was the shock that awaited the British public when the Zulu warriors slayed two in three of them at close quarters.  The Zulus had moved into the valley at night and concealed themselves silently in the long grasses, silently waiting.  How a force of near on 20,000 managed such a feat, particularly after covering a great distance (55m) in the previous 5 days.

The British forces were over-confident for two reasons.  Firstly they knew that they had the military hardware, secondly they had something they felt was more important, purpose, a discipline if you will.  We were exporting the three C’s of Civilisation, Christianity and Commerce; it was for the good of these savages and we had recent form, the lads were match fit, recent action in India, Afghanistan; we knew that thin red line of red tunics with white cross belts would stand strong (even before Crimea); we knew that those heavy lancers would ride hard and we felt invincible.

The main reason for the British humiliation lay away from the Zulu stealthy advance defeating superior prowess.  No, it was simple stupidity.  The British failed in preparation, which is feeble-minded, as any Boy Scout or Aston Villa fan (they share a motto) would tell you.

We prepared no strong fortifications, no trenches or ramparts, our forces were spread to cover a wide arc, we were weak and the fist of the enemy forces drove into us wailing, limbs slashing in furious abundance.  The British were overwhelmed by purpose, driven to confusion.  The colours lost, strewn and in horror, we looked to Rorke’s Drift to make an heroic story but Isandlwana remains, it stays there on our conscience.

We do not have the upper hand on our enemies, they hold the superior ground and ability.  Yet we have purpose, we can drive into their positions with an  intensity, troublesome to repel.

The poor man is not poor because of his feeble assets, as Sir Walter Scott said for success, attitude is equally as important as ability.

Which brings me to Scots independence.  I have a view, as an Englishman, I believe I am aligned to he Scot in one crucial view.  I value freedom and independence, we both do; that is what makes us ultimately great allies, ignoring the occasional warm exchange.

Vote yes my friends because nobody has ever regretted more freedoms granted even in spite of short-term loss.

To the sports;

The Scoop6

Prices quotes are best singles.  It is insane but here is my pop…

10/1 Race 1 : 2:05 Sandown – I am playing Pearl Blue, swims and loves it here

10/1 Race 2 : 2:20 Chester – Ballesteros and B Fifty Two have both won on their only viit to this tight track, but Dungannon has the ground, tight track and required form of his master to serve us well.

13/2 Race 3 : 2:45 Newton Abbot – Henryville might just be a bit better than his official burden and  love Fehily but I am bound to abandon because I think Azza will make it as a quality sort, even if his early efforts suggest not.

Race 4 : 2:55 Chester – It takes a brave man to back Foxtrot Romeo, the strike rate is hardly inspiring but the last effort at Newbury warrants respect.  Yet I disregard those chances for Apostle who is available at 15/2 

Race 5 : 3:05 Beverley – Margrets Gift looks obvious after a course and distance last time but as an outsider for a jockey I hold in high order, Hamilton, Thatcherite, is available at 9/1.

Race 6 : 3:50 Sandown – Then we are thrown to the gods.  Even though Hayley has not hit the heights I reckon on Mount Shamsan with an 8/1 chance.

In other racing, I like one in the 4.05 at Chester. Blue Aegean meets many criteria and is a bet at 4/1 (volatile price) – I like Mulrennan in the saddle, have a bet.

How to pick the Martin Hill bet?  Blue Aegean and Dungannon… double, Shabash,

In the football, Burnley are massive at 11/2.  Throw the  form heritage book from the top floor window on fire.  I do not know that United have the firepower to respond or the will.  I also think West Ham will have the grit to overcome a ‘learning’ Southampton at 2/1.  Double at your discretion.  Yet risk no other bets by inadvertently mixing them with Cardiff at Fulham – I always love finding a team in collapse…

and so…. to dinner… treat the one you love.  Martin Hill, yes he of the weekly bet fame, once remarked to me that I should (after a fortuitous victory) ask the good lady out uttering the words, where might you like to eat dinner. I suggest you take  your loved one to wherever turns your heart.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – A cut of York Ebor Saturday and a dash of Newmarket and the Curragh.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire scene where Autumn peaks at you around the door and in comes the fresh cool draft.  Unruffled white clouds dust the sky with peninsular like fingers reaching stretching across the horizon.  Winter rattles its drums and blow its horns, as specs on the distance, we hear it as a tinkling, yet it comes, inexorably and resolutely and with it, the jumpers, both woolen sort and equine.  Glorious.

The Major is rested.  This week, both Major jnrs (aged 6 and 7) fell to a 24 hour bug.  Violent sickness, uncontrollable expulsions, ah the horrors.  Wednesday night was a write off as far as rest was concerned and with continued disorder in the barracks, I cancelled my Thursday evening in raucous company to provide the moral and sanitation support required.  The two poor wretches were rested on Thursday night and never looked like wakening until the morning and I must say that I slept well.  This might not be news for most but for I, it is a welcome thought and one on which, even as I type, I feel contented.  As youngsters will, their recovery was almost immediate.

We have not had a good week for several moons, one might argue that the dice are due to roll our way, who knows.  Expectancy of victory is something I dismissed as a folly in the distant past.  Positivism is a marvelous thing but it must be matched by ones own obstinacy.  I shall stride into this weeks cards with my usual purposefulness because you cannot dull my saber at the first cut of battle.

Virgil, the great Roman poet had a great preachers trick with his short astute musings.  Love conquers all…. trust not appearances…,  Fate will find a way.  I think his sentience towards time is quite apt for us gamblers and if I had not already commandeered the wicked eyed Lola Montez mantra and corrupted it from Courage, Shuffle the cards to Courage, roll the dice; then perhaps Virgils line would have concluded my sermons for these past five years.  He wrote, all bad fortune will be conquered by patience.

As Lincoln was sworn in as President in April 1861, it was the commencement of Americas grievous civil war.  As lines were drawn, small skirmishes were fought over the assets which emerged behind the enemy lines, such as the fort in Charleston harbour.  It was not until July that the action turned to the entrenched grisly battles, each side trading bloody abhorrent exchanges which were to become the incessant pattern to which the armies of the Union and Confederacy would commit.

That first action was on the green fertile lands to the north of the great Potomac river squeezed between Maryland and Virginia, just 35 miles from Washington DC.  The Union forces had been itching for a fight, convinced that the war would be brief and victory assured.  Troop numbers trumped experience and technology and the first battle, Bull Run as the North named it or Mannasas as coined by the South, was characterised by poor communication, indecision and chaos.  

McDowell commanded the Union force which was being urged on by an expectant band of political cheerleaders.  Christ, Washington society followed the march South bringing picnics, expectant of a swift bloody advantage.  As far as they were concerned, there would be a few warm meetings at which the Unions superiority would be clear and it would be double time to Richmond and to force surrender.

The South though knew what was coming  The had worked a good network of informers and knew McDowells field movements before they were executed.  McDowell was coming with 35,000 regulars, artillery and horse.  He planned a frontal assault on the confederates dug in at Bull Run while a column would swing to the West then South to cut off the railroad retreat to Virginia.  All of his actions, judged with the unfair advantage of history , were rushed and based on his faith, not belief you see, in victory; as well as the pressure of expectation from Washington.  

Once he split his force, communications started to fail and the great beasts fists flailed without synchronisation.  The Confederates had been outnumbered 3 to 2 but the heat of the march and subsequent required (and sensible) rest of the Union army, coupled with the good spies, they had embedded, allowed Johnstone, commanding the South, to run reinforcements up the railway.

The Confederates also employed semaphore in battle as a new communication technique and this enabled a more dynamic response to the Union advance across Stone Bridge.  The ebb and flow that ensued owed much to each sides inability to press any advantages won.  Artillery pieces were taken and the recaptured.  At one point, the guns did not fire on the blue tunics of the approaching Virginian 33rd because they confused them for Union troops.  All day advances halted and faltered but when the two bristling bears touched, it was in venomous exchanges.  

One man earned his name that day.  General Jackson, commanding the 4th Virginian at the base of the hill and outnumbered two to one, told his troops that they must hold ground, not fire from afar but to let the enemy see your eyes and when we charge, we shall scream and yell like furies.  He urged them to fight knowing that defeat meant death and this stubborn unbending resolve would bring triumph.  A fellow officer gave him the moniker Stonewall.

At sundown, the Unions were in disorderly retreat but the Confederate unable to press any advantage through their own wounds and chaotic lines of command and communication.  Both sides had learned one thing.  The war was not to be settled lightly.  Maybe 1,000 souls had been lost, Lincoln called up 500,000 men.  

Conflicts continue to rage in Syria (200,000 dead) as well as Iraq, Israel and Gaza.  That men are stupid comes with historic proof but I cannot quite understand why the deaths of children fail to sober up even the most bloodthirsty lunatics.  Perhaps our ancestors were all fools to stray from our caves and forests.

To the sports and let us not shy from the persistence required to land our mothership.  

York Ebor Day Tips

Some rain is forecast for York at Midday on Saturday lending some uncertainty to the description of good.  A brief heavy shower may scupper the best made plans and make things most unpleasant for those attending the Knavesmire.

Still, the Major is preparing for good ground, with the potential for good to soft.  

The Johns Smiths winner Farraaj had decent horses like Educate in behind and his former win at Epsom reads well too but he has been raised to a mark of 116, a full 8lbs higher than he has won off before and while he is clearly in good nick, I am looking for some value.  Godolphin have won 6 of the last 10 runnings of this race but, as a sign of their current prominence perhaps, they have no competitor.  

I can pick holes in the all of the front four and so I am going to have a tentative play down the card with Flying the Flag who can be backed at 16/1 with Stan James if you are quick.  His time at Ballydoyle was not spectacular but he did sign off in decent style in a Group 3 and even though he has been off the track for a bit, Mick de Kock can prepare them and with holes in Graphic (ground), Trade Storm (recent form) and the favourite, I will have a tickle.

Jump to the Gimcrack.  This is one of the juvenile races that Hannon does not tend to dominate but he has a live contender in Baitha Alga at 11/4.  Like a lot of Hannon sorts, he is getting a lot of racing in a short space of time but has been rested up after a busy early summer culminating in a Norfolk win.  Beacon also runs for Hannon and his last placed effort in the Molecomb (less than a length defeat) was a decent effort and he looks to have achieved as much as the favourite and gets Moore on board.

On the subject of Ryan, he broke my heart beating Taghrooda earlier in the week and did you see his sensational double at Arlington last weekend?  Simply the best.

Anyway, you need my vote for the Gimcrack.  I do like Accepted, for Stack to bring him over, he must think he has the chance.  I am not sure you can rate the Tipperary listed affair as highly as a Woodcote, Molecomb or Norfolk and the breeding is more national hunt than blue blooded flat royalty but I do like a trier.  We all do don’t we.  I really want to back three… Baitha Alga, Beacon and Fendale.  Fendale has won twice, beating a decent Mussleburgh field last time and of the northern jockeys, Mulrennan is up there with Gibbons and McDonald as far as the Major is concerned.  

Let’s keep it simple; back Hannons two in a reverse forecast and since I need to get off the fence, Baitha Alga at a general 11/4.

The Ebor.  Pallastor is receiving all sorts of support and I am sure Spencer and Qatar would love to win this ahead of him moving upstairs in the operation at the end of the season.  Not for the Major though.  I am looking for a trends horse, sub 9st 4lbs for a start.  I have an obvious candidate and friend from Cheltenham in Ted Veale at 16/1 generally. My tip has an excellent flat record and I take the trip across the Irish Sea as a big vote of confidence in his ability to compete at 1m 6f on the flat still.  I think he will have plenty of pace to aim at and that will help bring his stamina to the table as a pair of aces.

We saw a super sprinter filly in Tiggy Wiggy this week and it has reignited my liking for those small perfectly formed speedsters.  Showing Character goes for a yard and jockey I respect greatly.  The Manor House operation under Dascombe, looks professional and Richard Kingscote is improving.  Whether they have a top one here, we shall see.  The Major thought has voted for Moonraking who is having her third start.  She did not act on the Goodwood camber last time and faded badly but so many horses struggle with that and as a juvenile filly, it is entirely forgivable.  Given this straight dash and the assistance of Ryan Moore, we have a player at 9/2.

That will do me at York.

Newmarket Saturday Tips

I am only visiting HQ for a single sniper shot with Tropics who is my pick in the listed race.  He won this last year and while most of his runs in this campaign have been off peak, he ran arguably his best ever race when second in the July Cup.  

The Curragh

The Sunday Curragh card offers up some very tasty morsels but Saturday is not bad at all either.  The race I am interested in of course is the 3.10, the Renaissance Stakes.  

Gordon Lord Byron and Maarek lead the market at 10/3 a piece but I think a look at their records on good ground make interesting reading.  Combined it looks like this:

Good or better: 19 runs, 1 win

Good to soft or worse: 28, 12 wins

Quite.  So, who are the alternates to these proven class horses who do not have their conditions? Unlike York, no rain is forecast and so I go down, deeper down.

My finger rests on Russian Soul who won the race last year, has never been unplaced on good ground and gets the services of Shane Foley.  Now I rate myself as one of the best armchair jockey judges of my age and let me bestow my verdict.  The man has some talent, he is sometimes more agricultural than sophisticated but it is effective, certainly no impediment.

The Football

Last week we scored a 4/1 winner with Villa and my waters are tingling with instinct about the teams on the up.  Swansea are a steal at home to Burnley who offer spirit beyond their ability and it will not be enough, 4/6.  I rarely tip my own team West Brom but at 10/3 I think there is some value in the trip to Southampton.  The south coast teams price is based on last seasons exploits with a different team.  Wolves buoyed from their defeat of Fulham can dispatch Cardiff at home, 5/4.

May your dinner be served in great state, celebrating the day.  Remember that you are a long time in the ground and so even if you cannot afford it, let the creditors worry and not yourself.  I hope your company is as fine as the girl I remembered in my daydreams today.  A bob of dark hair, blazing dark eyes, pools of activity and a wicked curl of the lip, peppery skin and a husky but silken voice that still sends a shiver down my spine.

The Martin Hill bet is a Moonraking, Swansea and Baitha Alga Trixie.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Arlington, Chester and Newbury…. Shabash

Good morning from the Major who writes from a serene Worcestershire scene where the hues of heaven are glorious in their tranquility.  Splices of grey cloud smudged by the early morning purple telling of the suns imminence, in places spliced open to reveal the vulnerable cornflower blue sky beyond.

The Major is up early and the coffee pot has been bubbling away, concentration is required, honing the decision-making, sharpening the judgement and galvanising the spirit into another drive into the melee, lancepoint lowered, handling all 9 feet with the razor-sharp end able to spit a man should the need arise.  That mothership is elusive.

I have written this blog for over 5 years.  I am no Johnny-come-lately no, no my friends.  That equates to nearly a millions words and perhaps 90,000 minutes of my life.  Tick, tick, tick…. the inexorable march continues and I am just as afraid as you are of where that march ends.  Is anything we are doing worth it?

It is most likely that question that plagues my mind into the small hours.  With the death of Robin Williams this week, I do not wish for you to think that I am depressed, oh no.  I have experience of that in my close family but my condition is more of a wandering and fidgety mind than the illogical bleak destructiveness of that.  Fear not for I.

This week has been a significant one for the Major.  Me and my employer are parting ways for a second time you know.  All very amicable and my emotions are a mixture of fear, excitement, pride and sadness but overall I know I am doing the right thing.  I am yet to set a solid plan for the next step in my career, I might take a break and return a fresher soul.  It might give me a chance to tick off more racecourses in my desire to complete the full UK and Ireland circuit.

Steps into the unknown.  What courage and adventure we need.  Last week, the sermon talked about Sir Alexander Burnes and our exploits on the more lethal side of the Hindu Kush that cost him his life.  What each of our politicals and military commanders must have thought upon embarking on each military conquest into the unknown.

They had technology on their side; the Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle; the Armstrong gunners and naval rocketeers.  Our ability to drop mortar fire with accuracy.  We could take 5,000 men on an expedition and not fear that we were outnumbered 10 to 1, we would be prepared to dig our entrenchment and use our military disciplines, our murderous science to overcome the brutality and quantum of what we saw as the savage tide.  We would also be prepared to meet them man to man, in thin passes in some far-flung hell hole, bayonets fixed and shoulder to shoulder with your mates from back home as well as Indian troops, Pathan brutes who loved a fight.  That tradition continues in today’s army, we still have our Gurkhas don’t we.  The Queens reach was far, the sun never set on her empire, the pipers and the drummers kept marching, their foreign strange tinkling sound on the air, the glinting of the lances of the heavies, the dragoons, the red coats, the elephants, what a strange sight that must have made to a far off observer, could you have believed that it was to be a portent of doom.

So few in number, how many of our enemy took to the field to wipe our forces from the face of the earth, fully confident that brute strength in numbers was all that was required.  Then, to meet British regulars for the first time and to understand the ferocious efficiency and good order, to see that small band of unstoppable men, a powerful fist, coming on unwavering, resolute and complete.

What did these people make of us?  What did our commanders think as they led their baggage and military trains into the unknown?  Yes, the Major loves this part of history, what carnage was being wrought as our Christian beliefs, our worship of commerce and our desire to civilise; these things were the pretext for so many adventures and misadventures.  Our train tracks and buildings still stand, though few territories still fly the Union flag.  Folk don’t like being told and perhaps that was our ultimate miscalculation.

The Major has been in poor to moderate form.  Last week, we had most of our Shergar Cup picks placed but failed to find the conquering heroes.  Yet, our runners went with credit.  Perhaps this week is a full return to form, we shall see.

You might want some advice for Ripon but you can whistle for it.  It joins a swathe of Norther tracks at which I struggle to score.

Saturday Racing Tips – Chester

I know the Chester card is not high on the list for many this Saturday but it is on mine.  Put simply, you can identify the jockeys that ride the Roodee well, you know the draw is crucial, you know the track form can help – Throw in that it is soft ground and shabash!  Put simply, we have angles to play.

I hope the soft ground does not mean that the draw impact is lessened.  I have not the stats to analyse it but you could imagine.  Chester draw is so advantageous because the runners are slung off the last bend a mere 300 yards from the finish.  The bend is tight so no overtaking is going to happen there.  That means you have less time to get to those front-runners.  Hence, being drawn low, especially for the 5f / 6f contests is crucial.  As long as you can break from the stalls well, you can dictate the pace you like on the bend and then kick for home and it takes someone to come wider, losing the benefit of the rail and mow you down.  Maybe soft ground would give some more advantage to those in behind, slowing the finish enough to give them more time.

Well….. I don’t know, I am feeling though that we will find some winners in amongst this grievous calculation.

In the opener, Danielle McCormick, young trainer from the Mersey runs outsider Blythe Star – She is a fledgling yard and has only scored a couple of winners to date but you have to start somewhere.  It would be some surprise to the Major if she added another 50% to the winners tally today though.

It is Hungerford Stakes day, we will get to that and funnily enough the maiden auction race that opens Chester has a link to todays biggest British race in that Grenade, who runs for Hannon is a son of Paco Boy.  It seems though that the apple has fallen some way from the tree there and it is not my idea of a winner although his breeding suggests the cut in the ground will be OK.

It is not a strong fancy but I am opting for Bizzario.  He has an entry in the Derby and is the son of Ravens Pass.  I always thought his father was a skinny looking horse but I remember well that Breeders Cup Classic, ah… This Mark Johnstone runner will know his business and hopefully can bounce out of Stall 4 to get ahead of my principal opponent of concern, Pivot Point.  It will be in the multiples but this will be a low stakes race.

The same statement can be made of the second race which is a nursery and so a race where all of the evidential angles I mentioned before are reduced.  Indescribable is a typically highly used Johnstone runner but has won twice already, yet his four runs on anything with soft in the title have resulted in no placings and so it is to others I look.  You see, even though he is out of Invincible Spirit and those ones do not mind soft ground, proven form beats breeding.

I am tentatively playing Dittander from stall 4 who runs for Hannon.  Her last race at HQ went badly but prior to that she had looked progressive winning at Kempton and a tricky Bath where she kept on well.  In our favour, she is a January foal and out of Exceed and Excel, she is in tremendous hands.  Definitely against us is that 2/3 starts have been tardy.  That is a massive concern but 7/1 is generally available and I am willing to chance her.

In the 3.10, we can get much more involved as more of my elements are in play.  I like Roachdale House but over 7f, stall 9 is a serious leveler.  Almargo is being backed and a Johnstone low drawn Chester runner is a thing to be feared, we all know that his are tough as teak and hard to pass.  Nine of the fifteen runners are supplied by Johnstone, Fahey and Hannon and jockey bookings can be a bit confusing, especially as the top riders might be representing their stables at another venue.

This should be a race where I can find a suitable candidate but I am struggling to get enough boxes ticked and so I am chancing my arm on stall 8 and its occupant, The Hooded Claw.  It is a 14/1 shot and a little wider than ideal but it has a course win to name and should be fine on the soft ground.  The headgear has been left off and if Andrew Elliot can get a good break, I think we stand a greater than 1 in 15 chance.

The the 3.45, another race with plenty of evidence and over 6f so draw all the more crucial.  Panther Patrol has been doing a lot of improving lately and in the form he is in, must be considered.  However, spongy conditions are not his thing and it seems he is being withdrawn.  That form at Brighton latest takes me to the pick and it is an unusual one because I am going out to stall 12 for Ginzan,  8/1.

I am minded to break the golden rule of Chester because he has no company in stalls 9-11 so he has the space to break.  He has the assistance of Oisin in the saddle too and he knows well how to ride this track.  His latest run in behind the improving Panther Patrol must read well in this company and Ginzan is fine in good to soft (although soft record is poor).

The 4.20 is a nice looking maiden over 7f and Hanno, now devoid of his jewels has probably shown most of these even if he is a monkey.  Yet the run of Enliven last time has to go in the notebook as behind him at Carlisle were a couple of winners and several horses now rated much higher.  He is entitled to be better on just his third run.  Plus, Andrew Balding boasts a 27% strike rate at Chester.  Only 13/8 available.

There are two that I like in the 4.55.  Dolphin Rock for Ellison (4/1) will definitely attract my support as the money seems to be coming.  He is running off a mark he can exploit and the yard can ready one.  The one I was going to pick though was rank outsider Spanish Plume at 14/1.  Some think he does not like softer ground but I think that is not proven but that will have to wait for another day.

Notarised has been well backed twice now without scoring off his current mark but maybe third time the charm and so the lucky last sees the Major relying on on a 6/4 favourite.

Newbury – The Hungerford

I always find that Newbury, like Ascot, looks a fair bit easier than it rides.  A fair wide rack that can retell few hard luck stories, even the flat racing there can end with horses strung out like the washing and so a bit of track previous is a nice thing.

The outcome of this race depends much on Gregorian and how he is after his exploits in the G1 Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last week.  He raced in the clear that day and fell flat but it seems to me to be asking a lot to throw the boy at this so quickly.  Others have been more directly prepared but it is a hard one to duck with Gosden as trainer….

Breton Rock would be well suited to a shower or two but the forecast is dry, though th horse has the form to play a part.

The penny has dropped though for Chil the Kite and at 9/2 with Sportingbet, I think we have a shot.  His finish in the Royal Hunt Cup was excellent and with a clearer run earlier, he may have been closer if not the winner.  That form directly on the back a win at Newbury where he was held up and delivered late to win, gives me some confidence that he is continually improving.

I think Gregorian is a better horse but I think this one is in the form of his life and may be better prepared for this.


Ah how I wish I could be there tonight.  Sadly, should the mothership land, no plane in the world will carry me there quickly enough.  However…. Adelaide looks very napable at 11/10 but I am less keen on Magician instead opting for Smoking Son.  Stick those in a double!

The Premier League is back… I would always back goals on day one of the new season but I would not be in a rush to get lumpy about anything.  Some odd results on opening day, who is warmed up and ready to go? Which new signings are yet to settle in?

I think Villa are a massive 4/1 price at Stoke.  Villa are not a good team (and I am conscious I am saying this as an Albion fan*) but Stoke are hardly world-beating and it is not without hope that Villa can squeeze a thrilling 1-0.  Everton at 29/20 as well, in spite of the loss of Ross Barkley to injury is also a bet.

The Martin Hill is a treble involving Adelaide, Everton and Dolphin Rock.

*My brother-in-law made me chortle when he summed up the present condition of Midlands football by telling me that Albion were desperate to sign Villa fullback Alan Hutton and that Villa could not afford to let him go!

May your dinner be taken on that flight.  We might not make Arlington but we could make St Lucia for breakfast on the beach.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Shergar Cup Day Full Card – Pretty poor Saturday fayre…..

Good evening from the Major who, for once, writes from his office with the stillness beyond the door of a business exhausted of effort for the week and lying still, discarded for weekends joyous freedom.  The Gloucestershire weather is intensively muggy with a heaviness and warmth suffocating the body and foreboding of the maelstrom to come, lock down the windows.

The Major remains in situ as the good lady has the Mercedes and I remain at her whim, like a cat with a mouse, she will turn up on her own schedule.  I am minded to start work on the blog but may interrupt this piece if the pubs siren call beckons with the promise of sweet cold beer.

Update: The Major evacuated with a fire alarm, mid composition and retired to the pub.  Two pints and the carriage home arrived.  A minor detour and we had curry, back at the pile, we settled in and well, it is now a fine Worcestershire morning, warmth carrying on the breeze through my open window and a slight aching within the skull.  I have written a lot.  Do not cheat and skip to the tips… Why would you do that anyway?  The Major is barely profitable, oh I find the odd rich seam from time to time but I shall not make you rich, in a rush.  One day though my friends, that mothership will land and I live in fear of that day for what follows in uncertain.

What troubles ail our world, men of tempestuous hearts and thin intellects wreak havoc and our burden is to bear witness.  Such madness unfolds in Syria where refugees by the millions, over half being Children are herded into Jordanian refugee camps.  Zaatari is almost a permanent city, the fourth largest in Jordan.  In that country at this time of year, the breathless air heats to above 40 degrees Celsius on hot days that are dry as a bone such is the sub Arabian desert land.  Come winter, they will bear near freezing nights and the rains can come.

In Iraq, Christians fearful of the IS forces tearing through the North of their country as well as Syria have fled towns to take shelter in the Sinjar hills.  Those hills have no running water and are surrounded by hostile jihadi territory.  Those Nineveh plains are cold at night, and the wind will whip over those hills while terrified families keep cover, praying that the Sunni militants keep at bay and that the morning might bring more ‘air dropped’ relief supplies from those glinting US hulls.

Then Gaza, where two sides blinded by fury, spit violent slaughterous rage at each other, both equal in vitriol of exchange, if not in the effectiveness of the force.  Not even the heartbreaking images of childrens broken bodies lying crumpled in the streets can sober them up, that always astonishes me.  The futility drains all my souls energy.

In spite of having the richness of history to draw upon, we are all bound to sit on this merry-go-round.  This week I have sent for a copy of ‘Travels in Bokhara’ the fine work of Sir Alexandra Burnes, a Montrose man who was one of the Victorian greats, possibly our finest diplomat / spy, certainly a natural linguist and observer of life.  This book details his journey from British India up through modern-day Pakistan crossing to Afghanistan either through the Khyber or Bolan pass (I am yet to read it!).

Burnes was ultimately destined for Bukhara in what is now Uzbekistan, a place I would like to visit with its fine proud minaret and fortress with long high sloping walls.  The book is his detailed study of what he encountered, travelling in native dress with a small camp of followers – What spirit of adventure.

His end was to come in Kabul.  With the British terrified of a perceived Russian interest in India, the ‘Army of the Indus’ was despatched to seize Kabul, place a puppet on the throne and take the country.  Burnes was an ideal political, he had the tongue, was well-respected and was proven in country.  the man was confident too, he took a house in Kabul, rather than lodging inside the cantonment the British built a few miles from the city.  As the history of Afghanistan teaches, getting in is easy enough, it is the way out that brings trouble.

Burnes also had a taste for sport with Afghan women and it is said that this also led to his demise.  When the uprising came against the British, as the tribes rallied towards the call of the son of the deposed King, a mob surrounded the home of Burnes.  He spoke to them from his balcony but could not assuage the anger and his attempted flight was short-lived, he was hacked to pieces, the kyhber knives flailing and his head piked and displayed at the bazaar.

What followed was the worst military disaster Britain has arguably seen, possibly worse than the fall of Singapore.  Under a disastrously weak leadership, we negotiated an effective surrender and set the entire camp to march in winter to Jalalabad through the snowy hilly bitterly cold Afghan winter.  As soon as we were out of the camp, the Afghans were in, slaughtering the few left behind and engaging the rear guard in some bloody skirmishing.

The camps progress was hellish slow as it was bogged down with twice as many followers as there were professional soldiers.  Provisions ran low, bodies were left to die on the roadside and all the time, the Afghans picked us off from the hills with their long rifles or ran small troops of horseman into weak parts of the line before swiftly retreating.  Several new agreements were made on the march and to be fair to Akbar Khan who had united the tribes, while he was intent of the destruction of the army of the Indus, he did take woman and children as hostages.

The death of the remaining few of that army, once 14,000 strong came at Gandamak on a small knoll.  Just one man cut free from the carnage to tell the tale, Dr Brydon, a surgeon.  He made it to Jalalabad in think fog and when he told his tale of the fate of the army, Jalalabad was shocked.  They were fearful that others might be lost on the plains in the fog and dark and so they ordered the buglers to play all night.  Those buglers played but no more came.  The only other survivors of Kabul were those taken prisoner by the Afghans.  Those included Lady Sale who wrote a graphic account of the disaster.

The following year, Generals Sale and Knott took two respective armies through the passes.  The soldiers saw the bodies of their fallen comrades and their families lying at the side of the road, a strong reminder of the tragedy that had passed and enough to raise the blood.  They swept the Afghans from in front of them and while their mission of hostage recovery was not exactly revenge, it soon turned to it.  It the style of those that lead, Lord Ellenborough who commanded in Dehli gave no direct order that Kabul be raised, instead leaving it to the discretion of the men in the field.  No responsibility you see, it is the way of such men – He does not want to deny the event but does not want his signature on the order.  Whether Knott and Sale could have controlled the bloodlust anyway was a question unanswered as the red coats poured through the bazaars taking bloody revenge.  Queens honour restored.  We did not occupy, lessons had been learned, retreat and the safety of India beckoned.

The Saturday cards look a little thin on top class quality.  Still, we might in amongst it all find some treasure that we might hoard.  Shine that lance point and get on parade.

Saturday – Shergar Cup Tips

I like the Shergar Cup – It is not so much about the quality and more about the spectacle.  It is fun and we all can use that.

Last year, I seem to remember and will be happy to be corrected that Maktoum took a 1-2-3 in the Classic?  I also seem to remember Mark Johnstone having a good day too.

The European team are 13/8 to win the overall competition and I would have a punt on that.  Yes, they are favourites but by far and away the best team.  I can hear the indignation now but would point out that while Hughsie is a very capable jockey and I like the ‘keep it simple’ Jimmy Fortune style, the confidence of Queally is low and so a team comprising Dettori, De Vries and Peslier I think will ride them into the ground.

Ascot has taken some rain and while the good – good to soft official going might make some look for those who like a bit of cut, not for the Major.  Ascot drains so damn well that I doubt it will ride any worse than good, even though it took the best part of an inch of rain overnight.

It is also a bit of a specialist track, Ascot takes some riding and no jock present has a better than 10% strike rate!  That adds to the mystery of it all!

In the opener I am backing Move in Time at 6/1 (Skybet, 11/2 – 5/1 generally).  Pesliers ride was a very effective juvenile up to listed class and while some heavily laden runs have come earlier in the season, the last return to form in a conditions event at HQ was good.  That day he put over 3l between himself and Swiss Cross a useful yardstick, although it was only a four runner affair.

In the second, Sir Frank Morgan is the sort that Johnstone makes good use of and he has ready run FIFTEEN times this season and in fine form too, he has collected several pots and is now rated 82 from an opening season mark of 62.  His last run at Ripon was reasonable with the front three coming a little clear.  His record over further than two miles is excellent suggesting that stamina is an asset and on this course, that is a useful capability as while to the TV camera, Ascot looks flat and simple, as alluded to already, it takes some getting.  A stand out 9/1 is available with Coral.  That is some price and sixes is all you get with Bet365, dashes of 7s and 8s are about too.

The form of the Chester Cup looks OK and in the 2.05 I am following that line and backing another European Team horse, this time under the guidance of De Vries, in Communicator, 13/2 with BetVictor.  He finished third on the Roodee and is only a pound higher today.  He raced a bit keenly that day and I am not sure that the tight turns of Chester suited entirely.  He has been freshened up since that race with a three-month break and if he can iron out some of his racing quirks, then I believe we have a contender.

Samanka Khumalo is a jockey you might not have heard of but he is a South African champion having risen from the Townships to such glories.  I am sure he would get a tremendous reception if he can guide Tenor home and I think this is one of his better chances.  The horse was second last time out in the listed race at Pontefract when competing off just 91.  He has gone up the best part of a stone for that but it might be reasonable.  It was his attempt at a hat-trick and back in this standard, he might fare better.

Yet, as much as I am guarded by the presence of Tom Queally in the saddle (I am not slating his ability but he looks little short on confidence of late), I am backing Magic City, a general 3/1 shot and 7/2 with William Hill.  His run in the Betfred Mile was very interesting, perhaps not made enough use of by Hughsie, he finished a staying on third and so this trip makes a lot of sense.  That was certainly a tougher race than this and so the price looks very generous to me, smash it up.

If there is cut in the ground, it will suit Wrangler, a 7/2 shot, in the 3.15pm, though I think decent ground will be fine too.  This Haggas inmate is seeking a hat-trick and I always have a soft spot for one of his ‘improvers’.  Having won on soft, this staying track is going to suit and with the guidance of Dettori, I think this improving three year old will take all the beating – Another to feel confident about.

Telmeyd is another improver hailing from Haggas but Steff Hoffi may not be the jockey I want steering and so I am looking for a bit more value in the last.  Trip to Paris also looks on an upward curve and a 6th in a good King George V looks very well in the light of this card, following up last time back here and now rated 90.  I am placing my last shekels for Ascot on Remember who the markets (17/2) agree is well placed to reverse form with Deeds not Words (10/1).  That form looks good and the weight has leveled the issue which is excellent as I thought mine was a bit unlucky not to be closer anyway.

Newmarket Fancies

Now the rain has gotten more into the Newmarket Heathlands and so I am looking for soft ground horses here, particularly early on in the card before the moisture has gone.

I am pretty sure it will suit Englishman in the 3.05 who can be backed at 9/2 with BetVictor, though is 4/1 generally.  His early form was smart enough but he seemed to have lost his way a little until signs of life returned, particularly last time out at Windsor.  That was run on faster ground than ideal and this time, with Spencer in the saddle, I expect more.

The 3.35 is packed with young improvers and Winters Moon looked very well on appearance running on to beat Shagah, a Hannon horse who won next time out at Goodwood and Stroll Patrol, third, who also won next time out, at Leicester.  That is enough for me, although I might live to regret not backing 16/1 Savoy Showgirl who needs more but has shown that she copes in softer conditions.

Football Tips

Begrudgingly, I have to accept that possibly my football tips have been better than my racing over time.  Begrudging because that feels so low rent.  Oh you snob Major; I hear you cry – Well, I shall give you my teams.  Opening day is not a day to go long, pre season is not reliable form, new signings may be bedding in and who knows the effect of an extended break on teams and players.  As such, I am looking for turnups and am going to back Birmingham at 4/1, Clark has been given time there and his heart is in the right place.  I also think Reading (21/5) is another price worth buying with a trip to Wigan (oh how they cost me last year, time for revenge!).

The Martin Hill is an each way double with Coral (if you get there in time good sir) on Sir Frank Morgan and Magic City.

May your dinner be taken in great state with a wondrous creature bejeweled and dazzling.  I know you do not deserve it, but who does?  Let he without sin cast the first stone.  John 8:7.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Goodwood, Galway, Motherships Everywhere – 40/1 nonsense at Goodwood – Shabash!

Good morning from the Major who writes from a light grey Worcestershire scene where all things are kissed with the cold rain and the hazy distant Bredon Hill is barely visible from the Majors bed, shrouded in an opaque blanket.

The Major skipped lessons on Friday – My apologies if you arrived in these parts seeking some sort of guidance on how to play your Goodwood and Galway hand, if you are sensible, doing not as I say.  To be truthful, I was in London on the previous day at the good business of my employer.

That involved a very distinguished lunch with a knight of the realm at Roux, Parliament Square.  I can report that like all fine restaurants, the service was impeccable, the food tremendous and the entire episode drowning in pretension.  Montrechat, marvelous; Guinea Fowl, rich, gamey and delicious; the lamb and goats cheese, very good.  The room, pristine and unexciting.  Should you spend £200 to entertain good company there, no, not for me.

The afternoon took me to meetings in the city and then I met an old chum for drinks at the close of play.  We started in St Pauls and meandered south across Blackfriars and finished in two spots that shall stay with me.  the first a pub, the Ring, appropriate as it is an old boxing ring and the decor and theme carries.  As an expert on the subject, I know a good pub when I see it, recommended.  Then next door, a Polish Vodka bar and restaurant – one vodka became many and I felt for the chap as he went about his way, homewards to a wife and two children, myself wondering what reception he might receive in his wayward state.

This goes someway to explaining why you did not get a Friday post.  Returning from London on the late train from Paddington, even if the wifi coverage functioned, my skills of deduction (limited as they are) certainly were not.

This particular chap studied (I am refusing to use the word read) history at Cambridge.  I thought I might delve into that learning for some rich material to regale my Saturday Sermon followers with.  Under a heavy ethanol influence he made the compelling case of the medieval emperor, Charlemagne, the devout Catholic whose rise to power was, he argued a modern lesson in the powerful nature of storytelling.

Born in modern-day Belgium or Germany, nobody is sure, Charlemagne enjoyed the benefits of education, being a latin speaker.  His leadership was robust, indeed, he loved a scrap, the Saxons, the Moors, the Danes, the Slavs – That is essentially some Group 1 form when it comes to 8th century battles, particularly bringing the Saxons to heel and enforcing Christianity, thus, Charlie secured his place as one of the great military strategists.  He united the Germanic people and became so powerful that in the end, he was the dominant European power.

The most interesting part of this rich history was his coronation as Emporer of the Roman Empire.  Pope Leo III had his own issues, largely that people wanted him blinded and it was Charlemagne who he turned to.   Charlemagne might have been a foreigner to Rome but he was at least a devout Christian and he had spent his cash on the church too.  Yet, becoming Emporer was something bound to upset many folk and so the act was conducted with his apparent ignorance.  While kneeling at mass, the Pope placed the crown upon his head and there, it was done.

This allowed Charlemagne to accept with reluctance the position, he had not sought it you see.  As my friend extolled, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Now my friends, enough of this ancient time, we must concentrate on our battles at hand. Accidental coronation or not, we must fight our way onto the throne with our enemy slain before us, their satchels split and spilled upon the flags.  Courage, roll the dice.

Goodwood Tips

The opener is the sort of race that goes to an older, experienced sort, trained by an astute second tier trainer.  I do not wish for that to sound harsh but there are the yards whose business it is to win the distinguished Group 1s for their owners in the Arabian Peninsular, then there are the accomplished yards who can ready a sort for the Bunbury Cup.

On the shortlist… Barnet Fair for Dandy Nicholls who has the assistance of young Cam Hardie who is proving an excellent pilot.  Nicholls has won the race in the past and I think this horse could be exactly the sort to go well.  What puts me off is the lack of Goodwood (or similar) experience.  Stepping Out is the most obvious candidate that suits my profile.  I am really impressed with Kingscote in the saddle this year, he is riding very well and this horse is improving.  It is a mighty step up and this is very different from the challenges he has faced to date but from this yard, considered.

I am sliding down the card though to firstly Slip Sliding Away who is a course specialist and if he had shown some glimmers of form earlier in the festival (ran and disappointed on Tuesday) then I might be more interested.

However, there is a horse I am going to tip at a big price.  One that lurks down where the duck eggs besmirch the form.  Pandar can be backed at 40/1 with Betvictor (28s generally) – I like the fact he has won here before and a year ago, he was finishing in a heap with Regal Parade in class 2 races.  He has always found listed company a bit hot but as a consequence, his mark has come down from 107 in his prime (just 18m ago) to 83 which he races off today.  I am not suggesting he was ever a 107 rated beast but he might be able to do something here and Milton Bradley has booked the services of Fallon, something the present trainer has not done often, although I accept Robert Cowell had booked Fallon for the horse when at the last yard.   Have a slice.

Kings Fete is widely backed for the Jaguar Handicap at 2.40 but I see little confident reason I can offer for why he would reverse form with Second Step, a 15/2 shot (again BetVictor stand out*) – The Cumani runner a son of Dalakhani is now rated 92 and looks an improver which is a shame for the owner as he has been gelded.  That said, perhaps with his equipment in full working order, his mind was less focused on his job – Some of us are born easily distracted.

*please note that the Major has no affiliation, places no advertisements or obligations on your companionship.  I am always barely profitable, hugely unhinged and entirely free.  Address any complaints to the devil and keep any praise and gifts for yourself – It is your judgement as to how you use my thoughts and any liabilities and rewards are yours and yours alone.

Two years ago, Gosden won the 3.15 with The Fugue and last year he retained the race with Winsili, thus, you might think Sultanina might be a hot ticket this morning but instead, she is a gentle drifter out to 5s.  I quite like her, I thought her Lancaster Oaks effort was excellent although I am not sure her run there behind stablemate Pomology suggested a drop of 2f was the wide move.

I am torn.  The sensible thing to do is back Narniyn who is a French raider from the stable of Royer-Dupre.  He doesn’t send them without a chance and the form reads well in the context of this race with Narniyn achieving a 4th in a G1 in the Grand Prix Saint Cloud only a head down to Noble Mission who is resurgent, decent and a reliable yardstick.

The less sensible angle is to be looking at the less fancied three year olds.  They have a decent record in the race but it does not at first glance look the best crop, yet there is one I like and I am going to stick my neck out and back Amazing Maria at 9s with Ladbrokes.  Now, she was a total flop in the Oaks and many do flop at Epsom being like Goodwood a challenging track.  Yet, she has won twice at Goodwood and very very well indeed.  I would accept that she beat poorer animals but the style in both, particularly the second race a Group 3, which she dictated and won as she liked was decent.  In the last two years we have seen two frighteningly good stallions arrive on the scene in Sea the Stars and New Approach – Both of whom look capable of producing many years of first rate thoroughbreds but her sire, Mastercraftsmen, is also producing well and with a line through her Epsom reappearance and a drop of 2f, back at her favoured course, who knows, the Major does.

Then the Stewards Cup, 3.50… There is a touch of 5s about Muthmir but all the fun prices have gone.  He is still the one I want to be on, you can read about his York run anywhere so I shall not regurgitate the obvious, let’s move on.

The two races for two year olds follow and I am looking at some obvious answers.  Secret Brief at 4/1 and crashing could well be one of Johnstones better juveniles and so I am on.  Then in the 5pm, I think the downhill nature of the course will help When Will It End a 13/8 shot for the Hannon team and we know what riches they have in these races.

I am not bothering with the last race.  The Japanese have a point of etiquette at dinner that if your guest has finished the food, they might still be hungry.

Galway Races

The better festival days are earlier in the week but luck to all attending Galway – May your evening be forgotten in a drunken haze.

It is a day of shorties and could well be one for the bookies to forget.  I cannot bring myself to bet in the opener as I dislike odds on favourites in novice hurdles, especially on tracks like Galway.  That might tempt me into an outsider but I cannot see any sensible horse to oppose with.  Barring accidents (entirely possible hence no bet) the favourite should win.  Confusing enough position?

I will put (both prices BetVictor again):

Spyrt, 11/10 –  (will improve surely from Listowel)


Call Vinnie, 5/4 – (tad unlucky earlier in the week)

into a powerful double that shall keep my Galway interest sensible.

Other Racing….

Newmarket, 2.55pm.  The dogs are barking wild for Enlace who has been backed all the way down from the sensible prices to a stinging 6/4, no thankee sir.

This is a nursery and I want one that has been campaigned with that in mind.  I think I have the answer too…. Who might prepare a horse for such a maiden?  A good yard, let’s say someone like the Faheys.  Plus what about the sponsor, Cheveley Park Stud, would they not want to advertise their credentials in their own race? That is why, I am backing Lacing at 16/1 – The daughter of Equiano has not shown the form yet but might improve now entering a nursery.  Watch yous slips there… lacing, enlace, easy mistakes to be made!

I trust that your dinner is made the better for the presence of a solid roll of notes digging into your ribs.  The company comfortable and the pretension at zero.

The Martin Hill bet, has some aggression about it.  Pandar, Muthmir and Lacing – Trixie.

Courage friends, roll the dice.