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;
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.