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.