Good evening from the Major who writes reclining on the settee, a pleasant late autumn day in recess, for effect more than neccessity, I have lit the fire and have a fine Italian cold beer to hand.
Allow me to wallow in the glory of this peacefulness. I dislike Halloween intently and so and thankful that where I live, few little demons knock the door. The good lady booked tickets for some sort of steam train Halloween special for children, which, let’s be frank, sounds horrific; thankfully for me and tragically for her, she has gone alone.
Now you might find my attitude a little unchivalrous but following the week I have endured, should anyone want anything from the Major this evening, well; let them wish for it.
Regular readers and twitter followers will know that as of late I have been suffering with a physical injury. I have slipped a disc, or as the medical experts prefer, a bulging disc. Under the watchful gaze of a spirited physio, I was making tremendous progress. George, is clearly fun, lithe yet short, she is the sporting fun type, almost gallows humour, and a deep gravelly laugh that you can’t help but like.
All was going swimmingly until the fickle hand of fortune played out a devastating blow from an innocuous action. A sneeze. A slight irritation of the nasal membrane bought on the expectant convulsive expulsion of air. Such an innocent function, designed to remove foreign particles. The effect for me was to cause further grievous injury to that bulging disc and on Monday I hobbled in to see George all maudlin and seeking her cheer. Ah, she certainly can cheer a man, tight lips that purse and curl readily and dark darting eyes that study you.
Anyway, in abject pain, she despatched me to the Doctor to top up the powerful painkillers I’ve been running on. This was a fateful trip. The doctor eyed me up and down before writing out a prescription for more diazepam, it’s addictive stuff you know. However, leaving his surgery, paper in hand, the trouble started. My stride was shortening, I was resting on furniture, strategically moving through the waiting room shuffling and lurching.
The wide automatic doors welcomed me to the cool evening air. Just outside of the entrance is a small step down to the tarmac surface of the car park, my leg hovered out tentatively. One small step for mankind, one giant leap for my lumber region. Enough! Cried my back and it arched back in sudden violent agony, my personal knick knacks went flying and I too, arms flailing wildly like a wild beast. I met the paved floor in excruciating pain, my back still in spasm my face grotesquely scrunched up as though, through some great sinuous effort, I might conjure welcome relief.
That relief did come, the devils dagger subsided but I knew I was struck there, that a movement might trigger the same spasm again. My dramatics had not gone unnoticed and soon enough three GPs were with me, each, rather incredibly, having suffered similar back problems in their own lives. They knew that moving me themselves was out of the question.
I was able to make two brief phone calls. The first to cancel a private dining room intended for a leaving dinner with excellent company and wines. The second to alert the good lady, who duly arrived. Just one of the things I love about my significant better is that she panders little for melodrama, certainly not from me. I do not wish you to think of her as a cold fish but she is a mother of two young boys, she has a great understanding of pain herself you know.
At this point, covered in various coats and jackets (do you know for some reason, surgeries are unable to store blankets!) I could hear those two young boys shouting from the back seat of their mothers car. Daddy, you’re the best; We love you; Are you alright Dad.
My heart swung and in an instant I felt fear, here I was, a scoundrel, such as I… Surely undeservedly forced on such beautiful souls. Anyway, enough soapy nonsense, back to my pain which I feel you should enjoy more. Freud and Schopenhauer.
Lying prone in shorts and T shirt (physio attire you understand as normally I don finer strides to see a professional service!), the cold floor bought shivers, shuddering devils that tingled in my abdomen lurched dreadfully forward, each a foreboding of more evil spasms. We tried a number of remedies in vain but in the end, ambulance, spinal board, A&E, morphine, a warm bed and most importantly a doctor with great loops of red hair falling over her fulsome tightly clad black top and trousers.
Since then, I’ve made steady recovery, I’m sure I’ll be back to my fighting best soon. It did allow me a week of bed rest, watching sport, relaxing. The diazepam I was prescribed and the morphine (seemingly slipped into the bag by the kindly doctor!) have produced a wonderful peaceful mind, on Wednesday I slept until 11am, unheard of.
Today was my last day of employ and I went in to the office to say farewells. I did not expect the reception I received. A tremendous speech was given in front of a packed house, I was quite choked and did my poor best to reply. Words normally come easily to me, yet my mind was awash with all that goodwill.
A gift – A fine photograph framed and signed of Secretariat. Someone did their homework on me. More than that though, colleagues past and present had created a montage video for me. What is so moving is that they wanted to do this for me, I fear I deserved far less. Anyway, have a look if you like – I work with some damn fine looking pieces, should you be interested, I’d be happy to make discrete inquiry on your behalf.
So here I am, emotionally ruined, exhausted and elated, saddened and excited. I feel humbled by the kindness of others towards me. What shall I give in return, all I can offer is uncertainty, ever-presence and complicity. I am along for the same ride as you.
What else might I draw from this week? Well, my woes are minimal. A trip to A&E should not raise any great sympathetic outpouring. I have my mind, my family and for some reason unfathomable to me, the kindness of others. In the end what else is there? Many misfortunes close to home and on foreign shore make my own trauma a footnote in life’s trials. The kindness one shows to others is free so make yours generous.
What else? Well, as I lay there on that floor, I contemplated death. That is not to say I thought I was dying, rather I imagined what it would be if the medical condition happened to be far worse and do you know what I thought? Many of you won’t believe me but I thought, damn, I don’t know if Taquin will ever make a Gold Cup horse, this seemed a crying shame to me. You don’t know which Gold Cup is your last or even which Saturday is. If we are to land this mothership, we must treat each as such.
To the sports.
Wetherby and Charlie Hall Chase Day
Although the opening race is not priced up. The market suggests that Chieftans Choice is going to be available at 11/2 and I am a buyer. Quinn has a great record at the track and McCoy is a very particular booking. He is a treble bumper winner and although the improver Gabrials the Great absolutely loves this late good autumn ground, I think McCoy could be on the winner.
I cannot split very well, Solar Impulse and Pair of Jacks in the second at Wetherby. Katachenko has ability but the McCain yard is one I’m watching rather than backing and I’m unconvinced they are on top form.
Pair of Jacks could get an easy lead and Hughes knows how to settle them up front, plus on this ground, those tactics can work well. Although Fehily is my second favourite jump jockey and Ditcheat have a superb if light record of Wetherby runners, I am tempted by the 13/2 available about Pair of Jacks and will have a small bet.
It’s shocking that At Fishers Cross only drew two victims in the Grade 2 hurdle. Shame.
Let’s have a look at the Charlie Hall and move on to the other delights of Saturday, which incidentally, is end to end sporting beauty.
Silviniaco Conti is still a Gold Cup horse in the mind of Nicholls and I have to say that I like him a lot. I think he has got better each year and was stunned when he seemed not to stay after the last in the blue ribbon event in March. That said, I’m not sure that he will be fully wound up for the race he won the year before last.
Now I’m willing to duck for cover at the slings that will no doubt be unleashed my way when I tell you that it is another good ground specialist that I am backing Taquin du Seuil. Ah, Major I hear you cry, when will you learn, is this to be Talent Mark II? Well hear my case. He is a gangly jumper at times but a certain stayer and I think he has more class than people will give him credit for. He has had a seasonal warm up over a distance too short and now is set to show you why I hold a ticket (much to the disgust of @lukeelder13) at 33/1 for his Gold Cup chances. Call me a dreamer. 4/1.
I’m into Newmarket for just one horse and it is one that hails from a yards have on watch. Meade is on fire and his only runner tomorrow is Irish Rookie who can be backed at 12/1 with Bet365. He won a maiden which was poor enough but it had depth in numbers so there must be some merit to it. Stable form and a winning attitude in a race where to be fair, nothing else leaps off the page, have a slice.
Down Royal Tips
The Meade yard are going well but Willie Mullins, the trainer of many National Hunt riches, has come to the middle of the canvas punching.
He has two runners in the first, Verabal and Terabiyn. The first has a course and distance win to his name but the latter won as he liked (and with a touch of the Bog Warrior style I love) at Ballinrobe. The fact Ruby has selected him tells us something, the only question is, will we get anything close to evens? Both those horses are the Aga Khans and Willies other two runners at Down Royal are also a brace from a different set of connections.
Remember when Graham Wylie ran his horses with Johnson prior to the disgrace? It seems second nature now to see them under the Nicholls / Mullins names.
Let’s solve the JNWine. Firstly, this race has two notable double winners which National Hunt fans treat austerely and with tremendous reverence. Kauto, I need not trouble you with but Beef or Salmon. A great name and a tremendous horse, yes, never quite good enough but connections always aimed him for the top and his fans loved him all the more for never quite having the ability his heart deserved.
Given Rocky Creek was was a Grand National horse, I’m not sure he’s going to be tuned up for a JNWine. Line through. Ma Filleule is a likeable improving sort and runs in the colours of one of my favourite mares, Une Artiste. Yet, Ma Filleule is not my sort.
First Lieutenant had an entry for the Charlie Hall where he would have had an excellent chance so the fact he comes here is interesting. I know the horse has been involved in some fantastic races but I must confess that I think it is a bridesmaid (2nd and 4th in this) and you know how that saying ends. Blinkers need to make him less of a boat and that won’t happen. Boat is harsh, I just mean he’s not as good as the best stayers.
First Lieutenant like a few others need a bit of rain and it is my view that looking at horses proven on better ground might be a starting point.
Both Mullins runners qualify under that criteria. I would be all over Boston Bob. He has Ruby to guide him around and the worlds best jump jockey only has this and Tarabiyn to ride on Saturday. Ruby double, you can see it can’t you, you can hear it! Ruby has been very particular of late, he is riding only once or twice a day, including tomorrow when, let’s face it, he could have his choice in a number of races.
Yet, I have a problem. Will Boston Bob stay. In many of his races he has looked like he might, he is reliable, consistent and deliberate but his record is disconcerting:
>3m Runs 5 Wins 1
<3m Runs 10 Wins 8
Now as horses mature, they tend to get further and Willie Mullins is a genius so it's hard to find against but I have to, in the interest of inquisitive value.
So, who then? Well I'm backing a solid second season chaser, whose up to fitness and Road to Riches suits me. He has the perfect pilot, with Carberry, he won’t even know he is in a race until 3f out. At 8/1 in two select places (Corals being one – The major never sells, advertises, provides dodgy links), I’m in.
Then the 3.05 Powers Grade 2 – Nicholls has an amazing record in this race and so it is no surprise to see Wonderful Charm out there as a joint favourite. I’d want it to be proper yielding for him as his good ground form drops from his good to soft form. His record in small fields is exceptional too and he seems the sort to like going it quiet.
Yet….. Gordon Elliot has started the season in fine form and Cooper is winning more races than he loses at the moment which is an unbelievable return from injury. Thus, Don Cossack at 7/4 (I think it will drift be on at best prices) is a bet.
The Breeders Cup
I love Breeders Cup night, the thrill of seeing some of our group operators cross the pond, the conundrum of form, the complication of Lasix; what emerges is a thrilling night. Group Ones to die for.
I’m going to pick a few winners out and let you relax into your Saturday evening.
7.43 Stephanie’s Kitten – I think this one would have been favourite if rides and journeys had been more favourable this summer. That said all fell into place in the Flower Bowl and while there’s nothing wrong with returning conquerer Dank, the Kitten can do her stuff here. 11/2 Hills.
The horse that wins the juvenile dirt is going to have to work for it. All of the fancied horses are drawn out in the car park. While I think one will win, it’s hard to back an inexperienced horse to show class to round a field at less than 6/1. For the record, I think Pletcher and Daredevil is the answer but I’ll probably watch.
I also found it hard to be enthused about the Breeders Cup Turf; to me they look like a bunch that couldn’t make it on the European Classic stages.
Clearly Main Sequence has found some form but I’m sorry, I’d hardly call his best, world class. Sir Michael has been pointing his Telescope at this and the fact that the horse should peak here is a plus. I simply don’t trust Flintshire, 2nd in an Arc, it’s excellent form on paper but many cannot convert strong placed form to winning rosettes, it’s simply not in them, ask Youmzaim.
The use of Lasix becomes a complication and rather than argue the merits I’d state my case that horses shouldn’t flip from being on it to not…. Thus I trust the American runner to give us a consistent run, Hardest Core is available at 11s.
Toranado is my NAP of the night, he is well ahead on figures. Ignore trainer form at the meeting, this is a race that goes to the best and this horse is it. Goldikova, bless her, owns this race; should Wise Dan have appeared then my boy had a race but as it is, place bet, go collect.
Then the big one for me….. I hate to say it but Toast should be beaten. Don’t get me wrong, Toast is terrific value at 14/1 for a place but Shared Belief, unbeaten on both surfaces and geared for this. 6/4, line the cannons up. The only hesitation is the tough race he endured last time, he’s had time to recover though and is in great hands.
I hope your dinner is taken in good spirit. Friendship is the most valuable commodity so eat tonight with people that deserve that moniker.
The Martin Hill bet: Terabiyn and Toranado. A win double.
Courage, roll the dice.