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.
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.
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.