Good evening from the Major who writes from the bed, weary and aching. The evening has set still and dark and the Major lies rather content typing away at leisure for the day has worn on me and the best wine that Great Western can muster has contented my appetite but not resolved the twisted violence that bedevils my back.
The Major has been at his business in London today, two meetings. The first, a poc faced rounded man whose candour put you at ease instantly. I am always a little wary of such easiness that might belie a sharper intellect but this man had a watery eye and I think his success came from his affability and all luck to him for it.
The second meeting and a wholly different fellow, he walked in like he was inspecting god on parade, striding into the room observing me up and down as though I were his orderly of which he was appraising before a dressing down. Darn the rudeness of the man, I shaped up square and fronted him out, knowing well that, no business would I serve, with such an ill-mannered buffoon.
You know me well enough, you know where this ends. London and business led to a late lunch, running to wines. Then, my hairs rise, a sharp crack of a well cobbled heel on the tile of the restaurant floor announced the arrival of the latest love of my life. A deep grey suit, charcoal perhaps and cut to a slice above the knee, a cut that retained all dignity while releasing all the hounds of hell’s temptation. All glories of gentle curves fell from that knee arcing out gracefully before falling as your eyes wantonly fell to pristine ankles held aloft by those clippetty-clop smart shoes. Flaxen hair in waves fell tumbled to the shoulder, smartly hugged by that same grey cut of cloth and as she confidently arrived to her hosts, she warmly greeted her friends with such vibrancy that my heart ached, it ached for her, it ached for me, it ached for all of us.
Enough. Good order needs to be bought about this post. For one, the good lady might stray this way and wonder upon the utility and intention of my London business, well, that would not do.
Tomorrow, Cheltenham begins. We shall emerge slowly from the cocoon aching and stretching but we have dreams in our mind… Dreams of March when memories past conjure glorious hopes for the future. Of Punjabi sticking that head out one last time to deny Celestial and Binocular, of Jane Mangan exiting from the side door in front of the throngs when glory was presented, of Our Conor sauntering; and of my favourite memory, of Denman and Kauto coming down that hill for one last ding-dong, but for that to be a facade, for the greatness to be with us, the memories bought to the surface and then the reality of Long Run, all gangly uncoordinated but staying on beyond to tell us of a new era.
What stories this season might tell.
As for tomorrow, I am attending at the kind hosting of Hiscox, long-term business partner, excellent company all round. Now you might be thinking that I offer this praise because they let me order the wines. Oh no… I can do all of that on my very own thank you. No, as a rogue, rascal and disreputable scoundrel, I know honest company when I find it and in Martin, with whom I have conducted good business; I can only say this. Thank You.
For the Major is moving on from his current employ. I am thinking of something a little entrepreneurial, I have a few backers (fools) but as you know, my philosophy is to allow the river to dictate my flow, should the opportunity present, as the Chinese say, I shall lick up the honey…. asking few questions.
Now to the sports.. We have a Cheltenham card to crack.
Friday Cheltenham Open Tips
First of all, living just 15 miles north of the course, I am surprised that the going is just Good to Soft. Sat in the mid Atlantic is a tremendous low, hurling front after front our way. As a result, we have seen plenty of precipitation fall but according to the course, it is good to soft…. hmmmm.
2.05 – Neptune Novice Hurdle
Given that Present View has an entry for the Paddy Power, you have to assume this is a pipe opener for the boy. Could be that connections are confident enough that the mark will be fine if he destroys them but I expect a quiet ride and a decent performance only.
That leaves us the two at the head of the market who both have big appealing claims Blaklion has won his last 4 races including a decent point to point, two bumpers and then a reasonable race at Perth. At this stage, he looks versatile as far as ground goes. Despite that record, arguably Vicente has achieved more to date having won a decent handicap at Wincanton.
Vincente is trained by Nicholls who aims to follow up on Saint Roque’s win last year while Blaklion has illustrious hoofprints to follow in as Twiston-Davies won this with stable star The New One in 2012. Both stables are off to a good start.
Yet, the Major is swayed by the excellent form of another yard, young Longsden has upgraded his field guns for this campaign and the way that Frampton battled on with the more experienced Milord last time out bodes well. Yes, this is up in class but come on, we have Fehily in the saddle. Get involved, plenty of 11/2 about.
2.40 Novice Chase Tips
I will get straight to the point, there is a horse I have been looking forward to here. When I say straight to the point, I am simply dangling the carrot…
The favourite Court Minstrel has won this season already and that is well and good. In fact the Major always likes a run at this stage of affairs and the yard has had 6 winners from 18 runners to date. So why the hesitation Major? Well, this is not Newton Abbot and I feel the price has over-estimated his win. He really blundered the last and at Cheltenham, the fences won’t let you do that and win, less you are a star and I do not think he is. That said he did win a Scots Champion Hurdle, albeit a handicap poor mans CH…..
The one I really like is Thomas Crapper who is available at a princely price of 5/1 with Ladbrooks and if the rain had come, he would be my tip but as it stands, Court Minstrel for my misgivings is the safest bet, 11/8.
3.15 Pertemps Qualifier
I can think of no greater cheer than Knockara Beau leading bravely and battling on tomorrow to win this but I fear as much as Faltesjek gets on with the horse (and the jockey won the Velka Pardubicka, a race I would not care for), I say no. I know he had his finest hour as a senior horse when defeating two absolute top drawer staying hurdlers in At Fishers Cross and Big Bucks on New Years Day but I struggle to swallow the form.
The Major has two fancies in this though and the first is the Hobbs horse. The yard has started OK and what adds to the appeal is the course form of Return Spring. Cheltenham is a specialist track after all, not all horses get it but he does. Yes, his last runs last year were poor but the Hobbs yard can be a bit like that and 11/1, we have plenty priced in that a big return is on the cards, especially as he goes well after a break.
The other horse has to be the improving summer horse Henryville. We are assured of good fitness and while I am always nervous about replacing additional weight with a jockey claim* I still think it is worth following an in form horse, rain would do no favours to my saver.
* In many minds, if a jockey goes up 7lbs but a 5lb claimer takes the ride,they are happy to think that the difference of 2lb is the only calculation. In my mind it is far worse. A top jockey with no claim is worth far more than 5lbs of even the decent claimers and so it signals often to me tat th trainer thinks the mark is beyond the horse and he reaches for some help from the allowances of less experienced pilots.
3.50 Novice Chase Tips
The feature novice chase is a small but select group and I think the market over emphasises the chances of the favourites. It is a hard thing to type when you are a big fan of the Fry operation and a massive Fehily fan. I tweeted earlier that Fehily was close to Ruby the God but I would not care to live off the difference. Yet although Highland Retreat has some excellent form, these are decent fences and you’d want to be confident about the 6/5 shot’s jumping. A point to point does not a Cheltenham Chaser make.
The value for me has to be in the massive 12/1 (Stan James, 10s and 11s more freely) tip Definite Ruby who runs for the Elliot yard who have got off to a flying start, firing lots of bullets and finding their marks. 10 winners from 30 runners in a fortnight. Gordon has won the race twice with Traffic Article and Chicago Grey in the last 5 years and we cannot let this progressive little mare go off at such a heady price…. pile in.
4.25 Maiden Tips
This is a bit of a difficult task, there are no markets available but there is an obvious contender in Commissioned who is a former Johnston stayer who has translated his form well in the best of company. The fact he has placed in a Grade 2 and shown top form behind Cheltenham Festival winner Guitar Pete says he has class and really he should win, unless there is an unknown star in the mix. Ballyboley has some credibility as a challenger having won a grade 2 bumper but his last run was full of greenness and he is yet to show that hurdling is going to suit.
In all honesty, there is little opposition I can conjure against the favourite, Commissioned but you won’t thank me.
5.00pm Tips for The Amateur Riders
So… Regulars will know that I have a simple approach to these races…. Find a good bloody amateur. The jockey makes such a difference and frankly, some of these are experienced riders, as good as the pros, some are chancers.
At this sort of amateur race, you get a few more of the experienced riders. 9 of them have averaged over 45 rides a year: Carroll, Clements, Bannister, Blackmore, Stirling, Legg, Codd, Waley-Cohen, and Biddick. The remainder average 5 a year.
Of them, Waley-Cohen has the best strike rate but he is the best supported. Not to do him a disservice, the dentist knows his business and is a brave warrior, throwing his horses into fences when he needs a big one.
I’d be tempted by Buck Mulligan for Will Biddick but I suspect he will be tapped for toe and pushed along at the top of the hill, he needs a further half mile.
The Young Master has a very appealing profile but I am not convinced by the young pilot and I must stick to my advertised guns.
Although he has not quite been on the boil as 2 years prior, I maintain that Sam Clements is a fine jockey and thus bring you to Five Star Wilsham who can be backed at a general 7/1. The horse is patchy, yes he throws himself at the birch sometimes rather than over it but now with a good amateur jockey in a possibly more sedate pace, even over these tough obstacles…. do you know I have a most warming feeling.
The Lucky Last – Conditional Jockey Hurdle
Same thoughts apply in terms of jockeys but I am going to put in my NAP here with the Henderson yards Hammersley Lake in the colours of Michael Buckley well known for Finians Rainbow and international superstar, Toast of New York.
Henderson only has this runner here today and while he has kept some powder dry to date, I would not want to miss him here. 7/1 is well enough.
I hope to be writing the Saturday Sermon on a golden bed of bank notes being served my every whim.
Until then, courage and roll the dice.