The Saturday Sermon – All of Cheltenham, all of the Champions Day at Ascot et al. Football etc etc

Good morning from the Major who rises early while the sky is still deeply dark and my head hangs heavy.  The Major did dine in excess in excellent company and returning home was most merry.  The good lady entertained my drunken state including what she later described as an hilarious protracted exchange with the local curry house, to quote Kipling, We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.  Still, the Rogan Josh turned up in good order.

However to bed and the night bought terrors, terrible discomfort in my troubling lower back which wrenches and writhes, twists, spasms and stabs like the devils business.  To the morning where I slowly creak into a position from which I can type, at great pain.  I have downed a dose of Diazepam and hope for some comfort.  It is my first experience of the drug and I find it an interesting painkiller.  I would not say the sharp ache is dulled by the drug, more that I care less of it’s presence and in the end, that is as well.

I would like to file a comprehensive report for you concerning Cheltenham refurbishments and enhancements but alas, my mobility only allowed a sole shuffle from the table which my business associates had kindly booked for lunch, unto the grand stand to watch Frampton disappoint me greatly.  Then back to the table, a big screen and lashings of excellent vintages.

The blog had a middling day.  Court Minstrel and Commissioned although with no fun in the prices delivered as expected.  Definite Ruby who was entirely without support, drifted to 25/1 before giving us a hell of a race to just finish out of the places and  thought she had a decent chance until getting the third last all wrong.  Then we hit the bar with Henryville a double figure tip who again I thought was coming with a winning run until Syrabrite crossed his path which seemed to take some momentum from the final challenge, he may not have got there and perhaps I am looking to justify my ‘hard done by’ feelings.  We also had a double figure second in the last when Hammersly Lake, still looking a bit green ran on well but could not quite get to the winner, going down to a head defeat, deeply frustrating.  I had a significant win investment on this Hammersly and so was quite aggrieved.

Still, the master would mark me up as a B Minus, must try harder.

I would take Vincente out as one to follow from the days action.  He battled on well with the two of them coming clear up the hill.  Court Minstrel also won with plenty in hand coming to win easily and not being pressed for his maximum effort.  I suspect too that Court Minstrel might appreciate further, he is an impeccable jumper of fences.

What I did observe on my sole expedition from the restaurant was this.  I ambled across the new concourse by the old Guinness counter and the area is much improved with a smart new bar added.  Other than that, the building work continues and I cannot inform you any better.

What a Saturday, it is Champions Day and plenty of better folk than I have debated the merit and challenges of squeezing the end of season spectacular card in between the Arc meeting and the Breeders Cup meeting.  We certainly have lost some key ‘champions’.  Probably the star on show is Cirrus and the day does not have the lustre of previous seasons where we were treated to Frankel closing his season out.  You cannot blame connections, prize money and Group 1 races are in abundance at Longchamp and so, yes, this is second fiddle.  Yet a fine second fiddle so let us be happy with what we have.

I am not one to complain that the timing also draws a consequence of likely softer ground.  So what!  It is heavy ground, get over it.  It is mid October for gods sake!  Anyway, what would the alternative be, run in September and start to clash with the Irish version and the Leger?  No, no, we shall soldier on with the format and see how it is supported in the coming years, patience and let these things work themselves out.

Let us get straight into the business of Ascot and Cheltenham.  I am licking my wounds from yesterdays staking strategy which manifested itself in a loss.  Bring up my heavy charger and have the Sirdar prepare my lance.

Cheltenham and Ascot Tips

Let’s start with Cheltenham.  In the first, I want to get In the Rough beaten as I think his racing over the summer, while keeping him fit, might be a false premise.  He is meeting more serious opposition here at a stiffer track and while I can see merit in his sharpness and recent wins, I prefer to look elsewhere.

I like Vivaldi Collonges who has achieved as much as In the Rough with a decent handicap win at Ayr,  I think he is a chaser though and Nicholls seems to signal that in his comments on the horse at his stable tour

He’s still a novice over hurdles until 1 November, having won at Ayr in April, so we could start him in the Persian War Novice Hurdle at Chepstow and then go chasing.

So….. Value punt it is and I am going to play a small hand on Bally Beaufort who is a general 10s chance.  It is a big switch from pointing but he is in good hands and word has it that they like him.

The second race, a handicap affair is a lovely tricky conundrum with plenty of horses that I have liked in the past clouded by the confusing fog of their seasonal debuts.  Champion Court feels like he has raced for many more years than his 9yo status would allow.  He is a reliable yardstick and sure to put a good tempo in and create an honest race.  He is also not without a chance.

The Major though is backing two and starting with an investment into Johns Spirit who has won two of his previous three seasonal debut and came a respectable 5th in the other.  Yes he has not been given much leeway by the handicapper for some shocking later season runs but I think in that respect the handicapper has a good point, after all he won a Paddy Power – In fact he has a distinct liking for Cheltenham boasting the best strike rate at the track in this field.  I also think this race might pan out his way, Champion Court, Astracad and others will ensure a reasonable clip and Johns Spirit will be doing his best work at the close, lugging up that sapping hill to the delight of his fans.

The other I feel a saver for is Astracad, Twiston-Davies had a winner here (both father and son) and he is well-tried round this circuit, he has had a seasonal pipe opener and we may see some marked improvement today.  6/1 and 8/1 the tips if you shop around, back them for wins and a reverse forecast.

The 3.10pm looks a straight punch up between the two Triumph horses and I am going to take the market view and opt for Calipto at 5/4.  I was on him in the Triumph and spitting feathers as the horse had traveled so smoothly before finding little – I did not know then what I came to understand later that he accomplished 4th with a snapped stirrup which on reflection is some achievement.  Mr Nicholls has this to say:

Was running a great race in the Triumph when the stirrup leather broke before two-out. He was still fourth but you can’t be winning at Cheltenham without stirrups. Physically, he’s done well. Along with Le Mercurey, he’s a possible for the French race we won with Ptit Zig last year. There are loads of races for a horse like this. He’ll be a chaser next year.

Tiger Roll has a lot going for him, he won a Triumph after all and Elliot is in tremendous form,  Mind you, Triumph horses often flatter to deceive, here is a question (answer at the bottom)… Which was the last Triumph winner to win a Champion Hurdle?

The 3.45 handicap is some puzzle to crack but my eye is drawn down from the Pipe and Lavelle horses trading at shorter prices and all the way down to the trainer of the moment, Mr Alan King (4 winners from 7 runners this last week) and his representative, Midnight Appeal, 14/1 available.  The horse can go well fresh and will enjoy the conditions enough.

In the 4.25 I think two have excellent chances and suggest backing both for wins and a reverse forecast again in Ulzanas Raid and Andy Kelly.  The former is Kings second runner at the meeting and haven backed his first, I have to remain committed to that plan.  He finished last year with a handicap win at Ayr which reads well and he has gotten away with a half stone rise in the weights.  Andy Kelly I like too but if forced for just one, Ulzanas every time…. In fact, pile in at 8/1 – It is going to look a great price later.

Ainsi Fideles should win the 5pm novice chase but while the form and fitness is not in doubt, will the horse enjoy Cheltenham?  It is a doubt and I cannot find an alternate in a muddling betting race.

In the bumper, Moon Racer turns out for Pipe and this one was an expensive purchase at a few quid short of a quarter mill.  Going for Gold beat an ordinary Uttoxeter field but did so well enough and Greatrex is a superb trainer of a bumper horse.  I prefer to back Noel Fehily who picks up a rare ride for Ferguson aboard Arabic History.  The horse has picked up two lesser bumper contests, the second under a penalty and 8/1 seems a generous price for him.

Ascot Tips

It is going to be bloody hard going at Ascot which is a track which is deceptively more tricky that you might think.  Expect them to be strung out like the washing!  As such, heavy ground form is a must.

The younger legs of Leading Light appeal very much in the opener with him already beating the Queens crack addled Estimate this year.  A drop in trip and a mud slog will suit even more and I think 5/2 is massive as I think he will win easily.  Stand on me.

In the sprint, I would only consider the following.  My old friend Jack Dexter who is not quite top draw but will love the squishy feeling he gets when he slaps his hooves down.  Gordon Lord Byron has lost a little lustre for me but again is one to consider in such conditions.  Maarek could pop up again and at a bigger price, Tropics is one I keep thinking will give us a good show (although not in this mud).  Anyway, I readily want to be onside with an in form mud loving sprinter and the horse that leaps off the page and onto my betting slip is Viztoria who is a general 7/1 shot.  She has not had much racing this year and likely has more to offer at this end of the season.  She readily won her last race in Ireland (I was not on) and I think this is perfect for her.

I am not a massive fan of the Fillies and Mares race, the last proper G1 winner in my view was Ouija Board all of ten years ago.  I considered a number but found the compelling evidence for Cubanita the Beckett yard are going OK (half of all runners hitting the places last fortnight) and this is the only girl in the line up to have won on heavy.  We get Ryan Moore which is a massive plus and 7/1 is a decent price.  Silk Sari and Seal of Approval head the dangers.

Then the big one, the QEII.  Will Night of Thunder show us that he is a proper classic winner?  Possibly, he has won both of his races on soft and so I don’t think the ground will be a problem.  However, I am going to stick my neck out a bit and back Kingsbarns at a generous 18/1 in a place (Coral), 14s generally.  I still think he has been unlucky on a few occasions and clearly the one time Derby favourite has had serious issues but O’Brien persists…. and so do I.  All aboard the ‘over the cliff’ bus.

Noble Mission has started running with some intent and is no longer a disgrace to his illustrious brother.  The house would be bought down for a winner in these colours for Lady Cecil, especially given his family.  However, I remain convinced that he is reliable yardstick material and not Champion Middle Distance stuff, even in the conditions.  Cirrus would bring an almost equal cheer for us Brits love a trier and this boy at the grand age of 8 for a G1 horse has persistently given his best, giving once one of the better challenges to Frankel himself.  7/4 is about and I suggest you speak to your money man and liquidate some assets.

The bookmakers will be happier in the last with an 8/1 field.  I am backing one of those favourites to give us value in the last.  Chatez has some of the best mud form in the race and hails from the King yard, whose recent form I have already advertised.  Have a slice 9/1.

Football

Fulham have been released from their despot ruler and 2/1 to beat Norwich at home is huge.  Load the big guns.  I’m giving up on Peterborough, good money after bad and all that.  MK Dons though continue to impress and are good enough on the road to suggest that 17/10 is a price worth taking.  The early kick off with Man City playing Spurs is an interesting game.  City hardly look at the top of their game and Spurs look better organised, although short on class.  I cannot see City dominating like they did last year (11-1 aggregate) and so I think a 16/1 punt on nil nil is worthwhile.

May your dinner be taken in good company with someone who cares for you.  Steak, juicy and pink in the middle, lightly salted and with none of your nonsense on the side (no béarnaise for me, I do not truck with witchcraft).

The Martin Hill bet is Ulzanas Raid, Viztoria, Leading Light and Cirrus des Aigles – Take an each way yankee and have BA on speed dial to check those flight times to St Lucia.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

Oh and the last Triumph winner to take a Champion Hurdle: Katchit

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