Good evening from the Major who writes from a damp Worcestershire where the car tyres kiss the wet tarmac, dirty brown puddles pooling on the roadside, yet a clear sky, pinkish and cold, a moon covered in a thin cloth, the defined edges smudged in a haze, a heavy mist shall roll off the Avon tonight. Settle in, this is a monster, you might need to refresh the coffee pot, mid sermon.
The Major is home, horizontal and the homely stove stoked into action. Not roaring for I am low on wood. That I have any is due to the generosity of my landlord, returning from a bookie run to collect some winnings, more of that in a moment, I stopped in to say hello and enjoy an early evening pot of ale. My Worcestershire local has a permanent fire roaring, good furniture, no music, no neon fruit machine and good beer on tap.
They hold my ceramic mug behind the bar and to the disdain of any cider drinkers out there, I fill it with beer, as is my choice. The locals fish in the river, farm their land and are handy sorts, friendly to the end. Anyway, I mentioned that I had run out of wood and that was enough to send him scuttling into his grounds to recover some Hawthorn he had felled and dismembered in the summer. Hawthorn burns nicely, slowly and warm; I can lay personal testament to that.
My winnings were thin. What is more, they were almost glorious. I had backed five horses in each way trebles and an accumulator (always have to play for the mothership). The first, the Hobbs horse in the opener obliged at 8/15. The second, a former point to pointer at Hexham was rather more interesting and when they flew home at 20/1 (took 14s foolishly), the mothership was on. Sadly of the remaining three at 11/8, 5/2 and 2/1. One won, one placed and one lost. In an hour, I had gone from contemplating calling BA and having them reserve me and the lady a seat upstairs heading for anywhere in the Caribbean, to driving to Upton upon Severn where an independent wine merchant sells his wares.
The gamblers curse has struck me twice this week. I was a single football result away from another fine win. Why not cash out Major? I hear the cry and I reply to you. For I, am a man. I play for fun, thrills, challenge and a test of nerve. I have lectured on the virtues of cashing out before and let me summarise my view.
If you are placing a four selection accumulator and you know that if the first three legs won that you would want to consider cashing out, then simply only bet the treble. A useful exercise and question to ask yourself before betting any roll up bet. Calculate the winnings before the final leg and ask; If I had that money would I stake it all on the final leg or would I want more options? Cashing out simply gives a percentage back to your turf accountant that they did not earn.
The state of my health is fast improving. I can only walk for half a mile before my muscles, some of which are in overtime compensating for my slipped disc, cry enough. Yet, I am mobile again and continuing to take the excellent advice from my excellent physio George. Ah, that one has dancing dark eyes that tell of a wicked sense of humour. She knows me for a scoundrel already and I think she likes me all the more for it. Now, do not think I am ahead of myself, nothing out of the orderly is to happen but the merry enjoyment of company is plenty little sin and as I extol to you often, we float by on the river just the once my friends.
She had me reminiscing of a girl of my acquaintance in a younger more innocent time. I cannot disclose too much to protect the innocent but we all have our inner thoughts, that one remains with me and I think about her from time to time and wonder aloud in my mind. We all carry a portfolio of secrets, of things we dare not share or cannot, or even refuse to admit to our own selves.
Some consider secrets destructive, I consider them a glue that binds many of the dysfunctional aspects of your soul together. Whether yours be an indiscretion, a crime or some other thought; I urge you not to dwell on it. Why allow yourself the pain of inner turmoil. Let it go. We drift by on life’s river just the once, time is too short and whatever ails you too slight.
There is a film either released or about to be, named Unbroken and I would advise you to put it on your watch list. It concerns the life of an American who has one of the most amazing stories of hellish torture to tell.
An Olympian pre Second World War, Louis Zamperini was an American Air Force pilot. He served in the Pacific theatre with credit and partook in an extraordinary event. An American bomber had been downed and Zamperini was assigned a search and rescue mission for which two planes were involved. With his own plane badly damaged from a previous bombing raid on the Japanese held island of Nuara, East North East of Papua New Guinea; Zamperini was given a barely serviceable alternate plane to conduct the search.
Needless to say, both propeller engines surrendered during the flight and he was forced to abandon into the sea. He was unable due to the nature of the machine to complete a graceful landing and sadly 8 of the 11 souls aboard his bomber were lost in the crash, leaving himself and two others to scramble aboard a life raft.
47 days at sea. Raw fish and rainwater rations, the odd albatross; the odd maelstrom of mother natures indiscriminate cruelty, circled constantly by sharks, vultures of the ocean. Worse was to come, day 33 at sea, a Japanese fighter spotted them and ran several straffing runs on their feeble raft. His compatriots, Phillips and McNamara remained aboard but Zamperini chanced with the sharks and tried to get deep into the water to protect from the hellish bullets which zipped through the water.
For some it might offer proof that God exists that when climbing back aboard the punctured raft with the fighter plane returning to base; all three remained alive. Bullets had missed McNamaras groin by a mere inch, 48 holes existed on the tiny craft but incredibly, the men survived.
Sadly McNamara, effected badly by the raid, died six days later.
Phillips and Zamperini drifted on and were picked up by the Japanese just off the Marshall Islands, lucky to be alive, or perhaps not. For they were taken to Ofuna, the notorious prisoner of war camp where they were most mercilessly beaten. There was a strict rule of silence in the camp and prisoners were housed in isolation. Cruelty in men unbound.
Yet the real devil was to come. Transferred to Naoetsu, otherwise known as Death Island, Zamperini was subjected to the presence of a most famous, for famous read notorious, brutal bastard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe. He was known by the Americans as ‘The Bird’ and took great delight in exposing the dark reaches of his souls abandon and playing out his macabre creations. A true psychopath, he suffered violent mood swings, capable of the most depraved activity and equally wanton to acts of generosity. Nothing would sober the man up though when his black mood fell upon him, breaking teeth, necks; beating the helpless.
I would like to say that justice was served, that Watnabe got his own. It was not, he did not. After the war, he was one of the most wanted Japanese criminals but charges were never bought. He accepted his complicity in the evil doing. Such a state, to wash mens minds. The Japanese were wishing to revive their warrior classes, raise the samurai from their slumber. In such fervour of state, such beasts are created.
Watch the film, even if I did spoil it for you.
Anyway, I must clear something from my mind. I rarely write a political note but I feel I wish to air a thought. In recent times, the rise of UKIP has been a phenomenon and unwelcome to many. Now, I shall not share my own political leaning but I am backing them to win seats at the General Election and am placing a fresh £10 investment each week with Ladbrokes who are the only firm I know to run a seat by seat market. I am selecting fishing ports and less wealthy towns as well, of course, as Kent.
The predominant issues that UKIP stand for full, I believe will remain prominent and perhaps escalating up to election day and I think party support will continue to rise. The 2 MPs they will have as a minimum pre-election day will add credibility and I would not be surprised if they surpassed the expected 5/6 seats considerably.
I watch the debate around them therefore with some interest. What gives my betting position more confidence is the lack of comprehension of the attraction that people have to UKIP. Scared, some opponents are starting to slur an element of racism towards the party. I am sure that some supporters of UKIP are racist, as I am sure that some other parties host such people. Perhaps more so with UKIP. Let’s be honest too, the rise of the party has seen a demise in the popularity of the National Front and the BNP. The latter used to gain quite significant support, for this UKIP are a much more palatable alternate.
They address an issue that no other party can stray into. They have an approach that is different to others and I think, yet not necessarily wish, they will do well.
I believe it impolite to project your political beliefs onto another and so do not treat it as endorsement or party political broadcast. I merely state my case for a continuation of my £10 investments. Dover, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Grimsby, Cleethorpes et al. Think of me in May.
We shall not debate politics here, that would not be gentlemanly. Forgive me, it is a smell of opportunity I raise, not the stench of Realpolitik.
To the sports.
Flemington Darley Sprint
For those early birds, there is a G1 treat at 4.40am with plenty of rich context. Australian racing is fiercely defended down under and their pride has been greatly wounded the year as foreign raiders have taken three of their top races. This includes the Ryan Moore inspired Protectionist that won the worlds richest handicap, the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.
If there is one thing the Aussies have nailed in their racing, it is their sprinters. This is an area in which the Antipodeans have punched well above their weight in recent years. Of course, as you read these very words, your mind wanders to Black Caviar who came to the UK and hung on in the most fortunate fashion to win a Diamond Jubilee. Conditions were entirely against her that day and Luke Nolan might consider himself the luckiest man alive. Dropping his hands within the shadow of the post with the French raider Moonlight Cloud closing at the death, almost an entirely different ending. Nolan would have been lynched, he might have made it out of Ascot, he would not have landed in Sydney.
Anyway, it was damn sporting of the Black Caviar owners to come and take on Europe at the Royal meeting. How fitting that the Irish winner of this years Diamond Jubilee now is sent down under to have a pop at their best. Slade Power has been a revelation this year and followed that Diamond Jubilee win with another G1 in the Darley July Cup. What chance?
Well on form, a damn good one. There is no doubt that this horse is as good as we have for the job but I foresee problems. Firstly, there has been the issue of loading. This has been controversial, the Aussies have been sticking to their rules, loading in stall order. Slade Power is a known menace to himself and others in the stalls and ideally, he wants to go in last and thus out quickly like a bullet from the other end.
It seems that sense has prevailed and to accommodate the round the world trip, Australian authorities are willing to turn a bit of a blind eye and load our chap late. My main concern is that Slade Power arrives with a developing winter coat into the humid hot conditions of a mid Australian afternoon. I cannot believe this will help.
I also think that the pace on the draw is an interesting if not helpful factor. Slade Power wants to be prominent but ideally sit behind something, I think is only hope is Buffering who likes to bowl along and won this last year. On the other side of the track, forwards early will be Lankan Rupee (the early sizzler who now has a reputation to restore) and Temple of Boom. It is also notable that this side of the track has delivered the better results this week.
Chautauqua clearly has not been bottomed out yet and white this is the sights test to date, the market speaks in favour of a bold showing. I want more value.
The one I am suggesting for punting reasons is Rebel Dane at 20/1 with Paddy Power. I have doubts of a few at the top of the market. This is a new level for the favourite who I think is on the wrong side and this boy can race mid pack and come late and fast to pick off Lankan Rupee, Temple of Boom and Drefontien.
Criterium de Saint Cloud
The best race in Europe is run at 1.30pm and in heavy going this years renewal is interesting. Britain and Ireland are represented by Hannon and Tony Martin with their respective runners; Crafty Choice and Clonard Street.
Both hold a chance with, of the raiders, the Hannon horse, Crafty Choice, holding the best chance. That one looks more experienced, will go OK in the ground and has been progressive.
Paddy Power are the only market up at 10pm on the eve of the race, a shameful situation but credit to them. They suggest Palang at 14/1 which I think is generous. German horses are becoming more accepted in the top circles, they did just win the Melbourne Cup and for some of the summer and the favourite for the Arc in Sea the Moon. Poland won in Cologne on soft and I am sure the respected yard feel they have a sporting chance at this level.
Epicurus and Big Blue seem to hold the keys though and the former seemingly has the edge over the latter having beaten him in the Prix de Conde at Longchamp in suitably muddy ground. The hopes for a reversal lie with the increase in distance bringing improvement from Big Blue.
Let me wrap this up. I am often unconvinced by such arguments. Often it is easy to look for a reason for form reversal when in truth, the best horse won. It is not often I back Rail Link colts over Galileo ones but tomorrow, I have confidence that Epicurus will remain unbeaten and be an exciting prospect for 2015 and the classics.
Epicurean thinking is a major school of Greek philosophy and he has much to teach us sorry gentlemen gamblers. He believed that we should not worry of death as once we get there, we experience nothing and as such there is nothing to fear. He valued friendship and a bird in the hand over desire. In fact, he taught that the pursuit of wealth, fame and greed in general were an ill to be left behind. Perhaps though, this might be a mantra to recollect from time to time.
The misfortune of the wise compares better than the prosperity of the foolish.
Aside from these foreign adventures, I think I am tired of the flat. Doncaster has a nice card and on soft ground I am sure some better tipsters than I can work into which runners will likely do well. The thing is that at this stage of the flat season, we are into the same predicament as the Punchestown Festival. The ground is different and who knows which horses are over the top and crying out to be put to paddock and rest.
No sir, that mist I spoke of, it signals a cold frosty morning and the jumps are running through my veins.
Wincanton, Sundown and Naas
Feeling bruised that I spent time in France and Australia, well then, you are a dirty bigot, those foreign races can add to our richness of racing culture and value in our souls. I bet you support UKIP don’t you! Let’s not get back there shall we, I fear you think less of me for raising politics already.
Three excellent jumps cards and this week, the pulse of the jumping season has been returning to my veins. The Haldon Gold Cup, good action at Mussleburgh and some excellent novices being unleashed by the top yards.
The ones to watch at the moment are Warren Greatrex, Harry Fry, Mullins, Dessie Hughes, De Bromhead, Tom George, Nicky Richards and Hobbs.
It is a nice Saturday of varied jumping action and so I am going to dart between the venues accordingly, affording you the riches and cyclonic nature of my thoughts. Whirling away, darkness and light; the cold sanity of the day; the depth of night and with it the creatures.
At Naas, Mullins runs two; Aniflet (1pm) and Killer Crow (2.45pm). The first is a mare that has had her problems but was once a leading Triumph contender. In these hands, you can bet she has returned in full flight and odds on is to be expected. I am sorry.
Killer Crow might also go off odds-on but I am hoping we can secure a bit of evens at least if not odds against. He faces a decent opponent in Fine Article who ran pleasingly in the Punchestown Champion Bumper and is well related. My selection has already flopped over hurdles having jumped poorly on debut but if there is a yard to sort that out, this is it and let’s face it, the assistance of Bryan Cooper will be a massive boost. I am a huge fan of the young man who has come back from injury with some vengeance. He is destined for the top and fully deserves the surprising vote of confidence that Gigginstown gave him last year.
Tom George has a single runner tomorrow and Ballyalia Man should be considered at 3/1 (generally) in the 12.55 at Wincanton. This one goes well enough fresh and is being turned out for a yard that is doing good things at the moment. I think a bit of rain would help but good to soft at Exeter will be testing enough. That said, he is up against one with a better chance in the Majors book in Bincombe at 2/1. Oliver Sherwood runs one in this too and so it is a case of three yards on fire coming to the cauldron of Wincanton to settle their scores. A bit over-dramatic? Guilty as charged.
In the opener at Sandown, I was interested in Teochow who runs for Greatrex. It is the race conditions that put me off. It is a conditional jockeys event and his rider, though experienced has a 7% strike rate. Compare that to Charlie Deutsch and his 17%. Charlie gets the benefit of a lot of Charlie Longsden horses, a real up and coming yard who I think in a few years will be competing with the Hendersons, Nicholls and O’Neills of our theatre of war.
Thus, No No Mac gets a clear vote – He can go well fresh. Have a significant cannon loaded for the 6/1 at Betfred – Play that as a win bet.
I have to make a blog call on the 2.05 at Wincanton before having seen the 1.30 which is a shame as Southfield Theatre will be a useful guide to Polly Peachums chances. Personally I think the yard form of Fry, a yard to watch, the assistance of Fehily and a pull of over a stone will be enough to exact revenge for Blue Buttons. I am conscious of my earlier contradiction but what are you going to do about it? 4/1 generally, I like it.
The Martin Hill bet… My good friend, join me in a trixie with Blue Buttons, No No Mac and Bincombe.
I hope your dinner is spectacular. Old recollections, distant now, raised to the surface in the inebriation, hazy, enhanced with the passing of time. Tentative memories of the past made beautiful in the moment. Why not eat a good communal meal – I suggest Teppanyaki and think of this amazing cuisine from my warrior Japanese nation and consider their rich history.
Courage, roll the dice.