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 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.
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.