Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Years Day Sermon – Cheltenham and the Football… Happy 2015 Sermon Readers! RTs always appreciated.

Good evening from a biting Worcestershire, the night sky looks clear, the roads are grimy, a slurry of grit discharged from charging violent lorries, beacons glaring.  The fire is red-hot, the beer is cold, the Major is weary.

The last two nights have been a whirlpool of ill thought and sparse restfulness.  Turning in the small hours, aching in body, muscled tensed against some imaginary foe in the darkness, malevolence incarnate.

The New Years Eve punting was a how to guide of mug decisions.  I lost money on odds on horses in big Irish fields and then watched them gift a half useful horse a furlong and never reel him in.  I backed Adam Kirby because he is the best jockey around Lingfield, even though I knew he was not riding at his best, I kept backing him too.  I also had to back the ‘old bean’ Bog Warrior.  Not because I thought he would win, in fact, when people tweeted me to garner a view, I replied that I felt the trip a bit short for him.  No, I backed him out of sentimentality.

I love the old chap.  I thought he was coming to win the World Hurdle in 2012, sweeping down the hill, picking his rivals off one by one before fading horribly to fifth.  That performance was odd to me at the time and it transpired later that he had broken a bone in his leg.  What a warrior.

I love his running style, head bowed, held tightly in his chest, cocked slightly to one side and an effortless gallop suited to the mud, thumping down those front legs.  I think he possibly under-achieved.  He was always far far worse as a chaser but connections persisted.  Now, I know, I am not an experienced trainer and I have no ownership in the horse, thus this is only a view.  As a libertarian, I believe the owners and trainers are entitled to do damn well what they would like.  I think though, a career of staying hurdling in the mud would have acquired  Bog Warrior a fine trophy cabinet, still time yet.

Anyway, he drifted from 6/4 to 7/2 and was unplaced and not harshly treated.  He was entitled to come on for his return, see you next time fella.

New Year, a time of renewal, fresh plans.  A chance to review one’s antepost position.  The positive side of the ledger includes several tickets on No More Heroes at 16/1 for the Albert Bartlett.  There are some more dubious investments in the Champion Chase where my allegiance has flip-flopped.  Vautour is looking less likely a runner by the day and as for God’s Own, well, what was I thinking.

I can only wish you warm thoughts for the new year.  Thank you for your continued support.  I have no idea why so many of you come so often for so little.  I only offer a piece of my soul, unhinged as it is; coupled with some barely profitable sporting advice.  I cannot offer enough gratitude and I offer heartfelt good wishes to you and yours for 2015.

My resolution, make fewer errors.  My wish, that the elusive mothership might come in and dock and fly us all to the promised land.  Courage friends, roll the dice.

Cheltenham New Years Day Tips

Cheltenham is good to soft for its New Years day meeting.  I was in half a mind to attend but I feel a day of recuperation will be in order and so I shall be happy to allow Channel 4 racing to be my companion.

We are due for a few showers around 1pm in Cheltenham which might make the ground sticky and by the time the listed bumper is run, more significant precipitation is expected.  So dress well with a collar you can turn to the wind and a generous pocket to keep a warming brandy flask.  At least the thermometer should hit double figures, positively balmy and no risk to losing the meeting to the frost.

A nice novice hurdle opens the card and it is the sort of race that Nicky Henderson has had a strong string for in the past.  However, he seems a little out-gunned lately, he will be back.  He does have the favourite in this, Different Gravey.  An expensive recruit from Irish points, he won in spite of himself at Newbury.  Previous Irish winner Ballagh was in second and in third was another Henderson runner, Days of Heaven, who went on to win very smartly at Ludlow. In other words, the form has some substance.

Henderson also runs Birch Hill but he looks a second string and since he had another two entries just a few days ago, you have to think he has some confidence around Different Gravey.

Zeroshadesofgrey provides value into the race as he is a very worthy opponent.  The King runner has been a revelation this year, winning three over hurdles, most impressively.  This drop in trip looks no problem as he is speedy enough by nature.

Brother Tedd deserves a step up in class after a couple of decent wins at Kempton, they were amongst the lesser lights but he despatched them with an ease and you cannot knock it.

Thomas Brown represents my favoured partnership of Longsden and Fehily.  Considering he conceded weight last time which might defy the 8l he lost by, plus throwing in a bad error, he may well be decent.

On balance, I think the Henderson horse, out of High Chaparral is the one to be on.  Different Gravey has arguably shown the most and did it while green.  Normal improvement and experience mean he is entitled to be even better and I recommend the 5/2 generally available.

In the second race a staying handicap chase, Pigeon Island makes an incredible 24th start at Cheltenham, seeking his third win.  He has plenty of fans but will not carry the Majors curse.

Course experience in these races is useful, you want to know your chaser is going to run to his or her mark around Cheltenham with its tough fences, particularly the open ditch at the top of the hill.  I was going to have a punt on Alfie Spinner.   He has run well here before (although never won), including a second in this race last year when partnered by McCoy.  Noel Fehily is up for the ride and after a good spin around Aintree, I think the horse is well wound up for a crack at the race.

However, I am tempted to back another Henderson horse, Shakalakaboomboom at 16/1.  I punted him at Aintree too in the Becher race and was pretty pleased with the progress until he weakened later on.  I think they might be aiming the horse at a National and while that requires a clever campaign of managing a mark, I think the horse is already very well handicapped on his best form.  Yes, you have to go back to the International meeting of 2011 when he won a Grade 3 off 140.  That sounds a bit more impressive than it was looking at the race with the beauty of hindsight but he had previous nice form too.  Now off 130 and clearly retaining some ability and with the bonus of Geraghty steering, shabash!

Then a tidy grade 2 chase at 1.20pm.  It brings Champagne West back to the track.  He was 4th in an average looking Albert Bartlett but there is no shame in that and either side, he has decent form.  He gave Urban Hymn a good beating here last time and for me it is between him and Ptit Zig.

I am backing Champagne West.  He has won twice at Cheltenham already, something Ptit Zig has failed to do on two attempts.  He is also the sort that might be better suited by better ground and as long as the heavens have not opened by twenty past one, he may hold that advantage over Ptit Zig who has done his winning on soft or worse.  10/3 Bet 365.

The 1.55 is a Grade 3 handicap and the one I want to be with is Caid du Berlais.  He rattled home to win the Paddy Power from my pick Johns Spirit who I thought was a tad unlucky.  That takes nothing away from Caid du Berlais who gave plenty of reasons to follow up again.  John’s Spirit ran well for a long way in the King George and at 5 (technically 6 when he races!), CDB can deliver us New Years joy at 6/1.

Ulzana’s Raid goes again in the 2.30pm after delivering me a winner here last time.  Gutsy yes but obviously classy no.  That said, he was inconvenienced last time and still overcame it to win.  Potentially vulnerable to one, if we can find it, should we not, I am happy to return.  Sybarite finished like a train that day and a few pounds better off has to be considered.  Ryan Hatch also takes another 5lbs off his back which is a bonus.  the thing is though, these claims are there for a reason.  Sam Twiston-Davies is a top class young jockey (although he gets his critics), Ryan Hatch is not as good.

Be Bop Boru ran well at Fakenham and performed with credit at Cheltenham in November.  His trainers record is highly interesting at the track.  Tim Vaughan has sent 128 runners to Cheltenham and remains without a winner, ever.  Stunning and odd stat.  You have to wonder why but in all stats, I urge folk not to read too much into them.  You have to combine the fact with a reasonable story of credibility.  It is perfectly possible that this is simply an anomaly.  If you roll a dice 6 times, you should roll a six.  Enough people rolling enough dice and someone will roll a hundred times and not roll a six.

So why would he have such a bad Cheltenham record?  Not that bothered?  Seems unlikely.  Not enough quality in the yard but likes to tilt at windmills?  I don’t think so but maybe.

Anyway, I give his boy a chance!  I cannot find something obvious to get me off Ulzana’s Raid and so I shall stay with it at 5/1 with Ladbrokes.  I must confess, I think there will be a horse to get to it, I just don’t know which one, so stakes are small.

Then at 3.05pm we get the second instalment of Rock on Ruby’s season.  While his win here last time was pleasing, mainly to see that he retains ability but also because it highlights what a fine trainer Harry Fry is.  How gutted that his World Hurdle is registered to Nicholls by the way!  Anyway, I think he gets beat today by a decent one in Vaniteux.  There was quite a buzz about the Henderson horse when he got a drubbing by my beast The New One but since the latter is the Champion Hurdler in waiting (Faugheen fans, be prepared to be disappointed with your hard luck story…. oh he hit one three out, he got cramped, he was forced wide…. etc), then being outpaced was no great shakes.  He gets 8lbs from Rock on Ruby and although the Henderson hurdling division without the injured My Tent or Yours looks a bit light, Vaniteux can add some cheer to the New Year.  Load both cannons.

Camlann is 13/2 for the listed bumper and what the hell.  Geraghty being booked to ride an unarmed Irish horse, a first booking for the yard and aboard a horse that cost just £800, well…. It is intriguing!  If you need more analysis than that, well I don’t have it!

The Football

Villa have a good time to play Palace, in between managers and 7/5 for them to squeeze a result suits me.  West Ham to beat West Brom at 17/20 is a gift from God.  How?  Why?  Has anyone watched the Albion lately, we are in need of Pulis.  Mr Martin Hill will not be happy with me.  However his bet this week is Vaniteux, Caid du Berlais, Villa and West Ham in a Yankee he will struggle to put on!

May your dinner be excellent and in fine company.  I hope you are with a fine sort that you really don’t deserve, tassels of hair falling to the shoulder, a wanton glint in the eye and a curl of lip to have the heart racing.

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Monday Christmas Racing Tips – #Leopardstown and #Newbury – RTs appreciated as ever

Good morning from the Major who writes from a bitter Worcestershire.  A clear night and biting wind were enough to provide a proper frost and I, for one, am impressed that Newbury got their card on.

As I type, we have already lost Kelso, Southwell and Doncaster.  Southwell being all-weather can surely only be due to a snow covering or perhaps unsafe spectator conditions.  Makes a bit of a mockery of the ‘all weather’ moniker mind.

After a pretty poor Saturday, selecting four horses that seemed allergic to getting near the front, yesterday saw a sparky revival.  Five selections.  Three seconds and two winners at 9/2 and 7/1.  That saw some liquidity return to the Majors account.

I thought it interesting that Bobs Worth did not quite fire on his return, he will be mothballed up for the Gold Cup now but it goes to show, the point I was making yesterday I feel is very valid.  Horses returning from injury can face an enormous challenge.  I have time for those given time.  For example, I am often tempted by a horse Paul Nicholls might run after a promising novice campaign but then a year off injured, when returning in a well targeted race.  However, when the target is set in cement, March, trainers are up against it to get their stable stars ready.  Race readiness is one of the hallowed selection criteria for the Major, alongside ground, jockey booking and trainer form.

I spent the night entirely restless, partly my aching back, partly overindulgence and partly a general anxiety, anchored in little I could deal with.  Still, I awaken to a fresh cold morning and thrilling action at Newbury and Leopardstown.  There are spoils to be won for the bravest of us and so saddle up my friends.

Leopardstown Tips – Monday 29th December

Call me crazy but I like a bit of a hype horse and the dogs have been barking about Windsor Park.  A flat convert, he was a pretty good competitor winning pretty readily and he is surely a very exciting prospect if he can translate it well to national hunt.  Last time out on the flat, he beat Marchese Marconi a 90 rated O’Brien inmate and did it in consummate ease.  That is a reliable yardstick and I will be a small buyer of the 11/8 available.

That was a cheap selection and we move from it into a bit of a conundrum, the Ryanair sees Jezki renew a rivalry with Hurricane Fly.  I have a personal issue in the selection process here.  Both horses have been significantly underestimated by myself at some stage or other.

I know it is hard to fathom why a record-breaking Grade 1 winner and dual Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly should be underestimated by anyone but I managed it.  Each time he won an Irish G1, I harboured a nagging concert that the opposition were not up to much and I even managed to ignore the obvious when he won his first championship in March.  I am not one of these that always devalues Irish racing, believing the top races are in the UK, no no no.

Yesterday, Road to Riches was a winner for the blog and a horse that I think is a serious Gold Cup contender.  The nay sayers that decry the horse has not achieved as much credit as the King George win of Silviniaco Conti I found a little shallow.  I think it was an excellent piece of form.

I am conscious that I now sound like a man who has just said that he is not a racist due to diverse friends.  Anyway, my Irish readers of which there are many, will hopefully not take offence.

Anyway, the winner of the Ryanair.  The step up in trip arguably suits Jezki who looked seriously outpaced over the minimum Morgana trip.  Jerk mastered Hurricane Fly twice at the end of last season, first in the Champion Hurdle and secondly in the Punchestown equivalent, being outpaced by the Fly on seasonal debut might not be a signal that the old boy has the measure of him yet.

However, Hurricane Fly, I would think, is much more flexible in terms of race riding tactics.  He is able to be held up.  If they crawl, he has the turn of foot, if they go fast, he has the class to come off a good pace to pick up the pieces.  Here is the nub of it, I am not sure that there is going to be any pace in the race.  It is not in Ruby’s interests to set a gallop on Hurricane Fly and this might be a significant problem for Jezki.

Hurricane Fly is the winner of 22 of 27 starts and has never been beaten at Leopardstown.  Yet, with pace in the race, I would back Jezki.  The two horses are on different curves now and Jezki showed that when fit, with a proper test, he can master the Fly.

The pace, I think comes down to the role of Alderwood and Plinth, two outsiders owned by JP.  Are they there to set fractions, give JPs Champion Hurdle hopeful something to aim at?

I honestly do not know what to do.  Back against the Fly and he wins and I am forced again to examine why I thought a horse with his stellar record would get beaten.  Change a habit and get stuck into the Fly to find out that Jezki has his measure again, that might feel worse.

To hell with it.  Jezki, 6/4.

Analifet looked a star in the making when winning a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse just over a year ago.  That run set up a red-hot Boxing Day clash here in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle, a small field but very select, including Clarcam and Guitar Pete.  Disaster struck early on as Analifet lost her action and was pulled up after just a handful of hurdles with a pelvic injury that ruled her out until a recent return at Naas.

It was hardly the returning run of a champion, she weakened very badly and went down 16l to Kitten Rock.  Visually, it did not fill you with confidence.  Yet, Mullins does not risk them, he knows what to do and given a small break, perhaps she is set to put it together again.  At 4/1 (Coral) I am happy to pay to find out if I am right.

Then the Topaz, a nice staying Novice Chase and a race I am looking forward to the most from a pure racing perspective.  I can pretty much make a compelling case for most of the runners.

At the start of the campaign, many a head was turned by the debut over fences of The Tallow Tank, he subsequently disappointed over fences, a race that many judges are willing to give him some ‘benefit of the doubt’ over.  I am not sure.  A strict interpretation of his Vautour form over hurdles makes hm look a potential chasing star but that was a field of 6.  Yes, his chasing debut looked very nice, he looked naturally adept to the larger obstacles but I wonder if he won’t be found out at the top-level.  I am not sure heavier ground is ideal either.

Very Wood also needs an excuse for his last run and the Albert Bartlett form is looking highly questionable.  He has not done too much wrong for the outsider of seven and if there were another runner, I would consider an each way punt.

However, winners, that is our concern.  At the risk of offending those anti-favourite-backers, I am going to get stuck into Don Poli, the Mullins runner.  He beat a good horse in Wounded Warrior at Gowran last time out and could not have done it in more imperious fashion.  He looked like a seasoned chaser, presenting well at each fence and a nice clean round.  Come the close, he looked the only likely winner and moved away readily.  The way he saw that out, three miles looks right up his street and I have a feeling we might be quite excited about this horse at c3.12pm this afternoon.  As such, load the big cannons.  5/2 is about.

Finally, in the bumper, Bellshill carries my money for the Champion Bumper and so he needs to put a workmanlike win on bumper debut aside and deal with a fine rival in Vigil.  The money is already pouring in for mine though and I think we will have flip flopping favourites here.  Bellshill, 7/4 today still available… Maybe though, the 20/1 for the Championship race in March should also be bought before the tapes go up.

Newbury – Challow Hurdle Tip

I am only seeking to play one race at Newbury, the feature.  The Challow is a pretty low-key G1 race but this renewal looks interesting enough.  I was starting to think Blacklion was found out after Parlour Games outpaced him on the run up the Cheltenham hill.  Yet a return to that venue for the International meeting saw him win quite dominantly under this rider.

Three very tasty opponents line up.  Vita du Roc rates the favourite in the markets after a brace of G2 wins.  He looks to me like a thorough stayer at Cheltenham and when upped another half mile, he accordingly won again but hardly any more impressively.  Nothing wrong with two G2 wins but he might be vulnerable and Henderson, although going OK, is not the force of a couple of seasons ago when set to sweep all comers from before him.

Parlour Games was highly impressive in that win over Blacklion at Cheltenham and while his defeated foe bounced back and may present a greater challenge now, he has Noel Fehily to steer.

Finally, the Ditcheat runner, a horse all about potential, another french import for Nicholls, Arpege D’Alene.  He surprised a few when winning at Ascot, having been allowed to go off at 12/1, he had a string of maidens concertina’d out across Berkshire, it looked very good.  Nicholls knows what to do with his promising youngsters and has promoted the horse into the top company immediately.

Newbury is a funny course.  Although it looks flat, it requires a fine stayer, rather than a pace horse.  Something about that relenting straight gets horses at it early and you want a good stayer.  In that sense, it reminds me a bit of Ascot, an awful lot can happen on the run in.

I am going to go for Arpege D’Alene who I think will be well suited to the challenge.  He is likely a better horse for cut in the ground being out of Dom Alco and at 11/2, I fancy a few slices!

Courage, roll the dice.

Sunday Leopardstown, Limerick and Leicester, try saying that quickly after a few too many sherries.

Good morning from the major who writes from a cool breezy corner of Worcestershire that dodged the white dusting that had folk in an ecstatic fervour yesterday.

The sermon recommended four horses and I think you can be quite impressed with their performance.  None a single place was achieved.  One was left sprawling and the closest we came was a 10/1, 7th of 18.  I started with some good angles, excellent data, the latest news, recent evidence and strong trend data.  I managed with unerring ease to sweep these obstacles from in front of me and deliver a relentless chain of disappointing runners.

I shall get a pin and hit the reset button.

Surely the most interesting and flaky ante post market has to be the Champion Chase?  The front two are currently recovering from injury, Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre, if they make the track and that is a big if, may be returning in the Champion Chase as a seasonal debut.  Then it is 8/1 the field.

The next best is Al Ferof at 8/1.  This is a new prominent player in the market after he finished a good 4th in the King George.  Al Ferof previously was tailed off in the Sprinter Sacre 2012 Champion Chase but apart from that (which let’s be fair was a proper demolition job by the highest rated horse in training at the time), his record over 2m is very decent.

Some might think a Ryanair is the ideal spot for Al Ferof but I think he has a chance of picking up a Championship race because below him, the winning options become thinner and the rationale for backing them more obtuse.

Champagne Fever can be backed at 12s but he does not look a confident or high class chasing prospect.  Dodging Bullets can be backed at 14/1 and I think would probably be my bet at the moment although the whole thing is in the air.  There was nothing wrong with his Tingle Creek win which has him rated at 165, in the realm of the winner.

Dynaste and Un de Sceaux have a couple of speculative quotes.  if Mullins was to enter one, I would have thought Vautour might be the plan and I must confess to having a 14/1 Paddy Power ticket on him.  Seeing the carnage to come in the CC, I felt Vautour might be a late parachute entry but given his lacklustre display in Ireland over Christmas, perhaps the novice division races and particularly the JLT are more likely destinations.

Uxiazandre disappointed in the Emerald Isle as well and can be backed at 20/1.

Special Tiara leaves in a  different parish.  Courtesy of @colmansweeney

Special Tiara leaves in a different parish. Courtesy of @colmansweeney

On the other hand, Special Tiara ran with such enthusiasm including this spectacular leap when winning the Desert Orchid at Kempton.  Barry Geraghty would have had his heart in his throat as the horse left the ground and the crowd gasped as they though Special Tiara had clearly got it all wrong but through the air the stag leapt and did not catch a twig.  It was a rare sight.  Quite a breath-taking performance overall.  The way the horse attacked the course, it was all Barry could do to point and sit, Special Tiara was aggressive and impressive.  Now rated in the mid 150s, still an outsider for the main event but a fun 25/1 one at that.

Anyway, let’s pick a few for Sunday and let’s hope we leave current form well behind.

Leopardstown, Limerick and Leicester.

One of the stand out points of this season for me is the performance of the Gordon Elliott yard.  When Vautour fluffed his lines, it was Clarcam, Elliott’s runner that picked up the pieces with ease.  He has a decent string and is increasingly looking the chief danger to the omnipresent, all-powerful Mullins.

He has four runners today, including Balbir du Mathan in the 1.20 at Leopardstown.  This horse in an example of the powerful backing Elliott is getting being an expensive recruit from France.  His Irish debut was going well, he looked the winner to me until falling 2 out in a race won by Adrian des Mottes.  Finishing in the places that day was Thunder and Roses who was running a blinder back at Fairyhouse when he took a tumble.

Balbir likes to bowl along and while that is dangerous at a course like this, he might be forcing errors from the talented but potentially mistake prone Un Atout whose only defeat in this arena came at the hands of Champagne Fever, maybe not such as a badge of honour as it was.

Elliott, like Nicholls often brings his seasonal debutantes on a lot and I am hoping Balbir du Mathan can go close at a best price of 9/2.

Then the Christmas Hurdle and a bit of a mess of a Grade 1.  At Fishers Cross owes a lot of people a lot of money but Curtis persists and in an attempt to revive his enthusiasm for the game, sends him across the sea.  The horse has had his back problems and this is surely why his early promise has faded.  Zaidpour is a horse that I would not put my enemies money on.  11/8, 5/4, 1/2, 6/4, 4/6, 11/10,  11/8, Evens, 1/4 – None of these prices stopped Zaidpour from losing.  It is a little harsh for a horse worth a mark of 156 and 10 rules wins from 33 races, I guess expectations have just been higher from time to time.

That Ruby chooses Zaidpour over Briars Hill who on paper should have a great chance in this race and this division is telling.  Is it the Ricci connection?  Surely not, Mr Ricci, although able to call upon Ruby to ride his best, would surely not connect that thought and Zaidpour.  The vibes for Briars Hill are not great, the horse is drifting, gallops reports a bit jaded.  Maybe the horse has lost his mojo after breaking cheekbones in his fall in the Albert Bartlett?

The Major settles on Lieutenant Colonel.  The horse failed to impress on chase debut and the call to return to the smaller obstacles paid handsomely when winning the Hattons Grace.  It might not have been the strongest renewal of that race but it went away and did everything that could have been asked.  Bryan Cooper has been a revelation himself, returning from injury this season.  He is arguably the least exposed and 9/2 in a place with Ladbrokes is a good price.

Arguably the Lexus in 2012 was the race of the season and one that remains in the memory.  Tidal Bay, came late under Ruby to nick it in a three-way photo, incredible scenes and tremendous warriors refusing to give any quarter.

The yielding ground has gone soft to heavy and so another stamina laden performance is assured from the winner.  I think this might put pay to Sam Winner who looks to me a decent ground sort.  It also asks a question of Bobs Worth who has underachieved after his excellent Gold Cup season.

The horses I think best suited to the race are Lord Windermere, Boston Bob, On His Own and Road to Riches.

On His Own is reaching his elder years and while a roll the clock back performance cannot be rules out, I would rather focus on the other three.  Of the last twenty winners of the race, only two were over nine and one was the aforementioned incredible performance of Tidal Bay.

Ruby also shares the view having chosen Boston Bob as his preferred beast but again, this choice might not have been so hard and I am not sure that the nine-year old is the best on offer.  Like Lord Windermere, he went to the John Durkan as a seasonal start and while the trip was too short for either horse, I just think their form is patchy.  Odd thing to say about a Gold Cup winner I know.

That leaves me with Road to Riches.  An improving horse, he much better suits the profile of runner I want for a Lexus and I think Bryan Cooper might be set for a big day as the youngster shows his progression at the top table.  7/1 with Paddy Power.

Limerick….

I am having a slice of the odds on Vercingetorix purely on reputation and my admiration for the Gordon Elliott operation.  Don’t get too carried away clearly for such inexperience at 8/13 makes it an accumulator bet.

Keeping life simple, I am going to double this choice with Max Dynamite in the 2.05.  It is 5/4 so won’t make you rich but I think the french form, the ownership and the trainer boil it up as a nice winner.

As for Leicester, it has been abandoned so my early card work was for nought!

My only other selection is Abbeygrey in the opener at Catterick.  In those conditional jockey races, I always opt for the best rider and Ring is that.  The money has come and 5/2 is all you can get.  Have a slice.

I hope your dinner is better than the leftovers…. Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Welsh Grand National Day, Chepstow and Leopardstown

Good morning from the Major who writes from a glorious Worcestershire scene where Gods palette of pastel shades kisses the dark horizon.

The Major is writing a very short sermon on account of a stinging headache.  I must have had a bad pint for my brain feels detached and rolls around my skull like an egg yolk, my eyes are yellow, streaked with red.  When will the madness end.

The King George, well wasn’t that delightful!  Conti absolutely schooled a top class field, an impeccable run of jumping that was a pleasure to watch, especially with my money on him.

The rest of the card fared less well.  Sapphire crashed out, Vautour made an error but didn’t seem to travel with the same ease as expected and that race, hopefully, is just an aberration to be struck from the records soon enough.

Faugheen was spectacular, travelling like a powerful machine.  Now is the time to back The New One for the festival though because the race is littered with stories of the best horse being beaten by hard luck or inexperience.  The way, Faugheen bunny-hopped the last, he looks prime to be the horse who all declare as the moral winner.  However, moral victories don’t put steaks on the table, The New One at 7/2 does.

I wish someone would stop the Christmas madness.  I want to get off.  It is spinning so quickly.  Thankfully we lose two adults and three children from the household today.  That leaves 5 adults and 2 dogs plus the Majors own.  Christ, the maelstrom is clearing slowly.

Anyway, as much as I would like to find a quiet hole and crawl into it, I have not missed a Saturday post in five years and that is not a routine I plan on breaking.

Courage, roll the dice.

Chepstow – Welsh National

When Chepstow declare it as heavy, you need a beast of a stayer who revels in the mud, simple.  The Welsh National will be attritional.  When it has been heavy, only horses bearing less than 11 stone have won.  So a mud lover on a light weight… hmmm…..

Well the one that I settled upon in Woodfood County.  He is unexposed, particularly as a marathon horse but Hobbs is good at preparing them and I know the horse likes the mud.  He looks the type to probably benefit from a thorough test and I take confidence from the steady stream of cash pouring onto the beast.

In the juvenile hurdle which is a Grade 1, in spite of the drift, 11/2 about Old Guard looks a price to me.  He picked off two good horses in the style of a proper stayer last time out and while Karezak arguably was the better horse in the race, Ditcheat runners normally come on a bundle after their debut and the action of Old Guard suggested he is a proper battler.

Leopardstown Thoughts

The Dial a Bet Grade 1 chase is not as classy as I would have liked but I still would back Ballycasey at 4/1 in a place to get the better of Uxizandre who is surprisingly well positioned in the Champion Chase market.  That is more about the weakness in-depth of the top table two mile chasers than it is about the ability of Uxizandre in my view and Ruby can deliver at that price.

Willie Mullins had any number of weapons grade juveniles to point at the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle and so his choice of Nichols Canyon at 4/7  is mine too.  Keep it simple, one for the multiples.

That is it.  Four selections.  Poor stuff?  You carry this hangover and see how it fits you.

I trust that your dinner is taken in fine state, full regalia, good company.

Courage, roll the dice.

RTs for The Boxing Day Sermon Appreciated – Merry Christmas to One and All. Courage, Roll the Dice.

I wish you all a good Christmas Eve from the Major who rests having been busy at the domestic preparations for a family invasion.  Worcestershire was blowy but pleasant today, the mild air though drifted away on the wind and as I sat this evening, drawing in the defences, stoking the fire to keep the night demons at bay, the lights twinkle on the tree, the vegetables lie in water, the beef, turkey and venison are thawing; time to relax. The wine hour is upon me.

I had a few beers in the early afternoon at a children’s birthday party.  Unfortunate chap to have his birthday on Christmas Eve but his family put up a good show.  Farmers.  The father collects old planes in barns he has converted to hangars.  The farmer’s wife is one of my favourite people.  Generous in every interpretation of the word.  Beaming smiles and enormous embraces welcome you over the threshold, a cut of humour to her conversation and lashings of what is good for you.  Cold beer, good wines and food everywhere.  Hospitality courses through her veins.

She had prepared pasta dishes which were better than passable but the highlight for me was a hearty chicken, ham and mushroom bake, spiced lightly with what I guessed was turmeric.  It sounds unlikely in construct but it was spectacular as it slipped down.

A far cry from Monday where business took me to a far-flung corner of Essex.  I have never visited such a bleak town, squat ugly buildings set against a dirty grey sky.  Residents that are used to not rising the eyes. Dilapidated buildings and businesses.  I waited at the pedestrian crossing as a ten-year old BMW, suspension lowered, ugly brute of a driver, disregarded the courtesy of stopping, sped by me, exhaust ear splittingly bad.  I guess his mother was proud, or not.

Anyway, that is all done and behind.  I could lament for some time on my own state of mind, I know you enjoy to hear my travails but it is Christmas and I have a different message in mind. Allow me to say this.

Each week, about 500 folk come and read the weekend Sermon.  I offer little of financial merit.  I remain barely profitable, certainly unhinged but entirely free.  Many of you I consider my friends, strange distant friends but the component parts of friendship are there.

I met @yourmaitred in London on my return trip on Monday and we slipped into conversation and agreed to meet at the festival. To all of you.  Those with humour, those blindly believing we will land the mothership one day, to those that play the Martin Hill bet, to those that have the odd knock, to those that criticise my errant ill thought through opinions; to all you saints and sinners, I wish you the very best for Christmas.

We float by the once, Christmas is time to embrace those closest to you and revel in warm company.  People who know the worst of you and love you the same.  Merry Christmas. Now, let’s make sure those Turkey leftovers slip down all the better accompanied with a fresh Sangiovese and an account balance that would make Abramovich blush. To the sports.

Kempton Boxing Day Tips

Boxing Day is a monumental bombardment of racing, a dozen meetings, jockeys called into action who you have barely heard of.  We should pick our battles wisely my friends.

I have to start with a review of the top class action at Kempton.  The King George, a tremendous pointer for the Gold Cup is one of my favourite races of the season.  Tuning in, stuffed, ironically as much as the Christmas turkey which got me in that state, the race that remains Kauto’s, it holds a lot of warm memories.

My present to you this Christmas is the winner, a good gift as it is a wide open race.  Double Ross is rated 159, not good enough and not progressive enough to warrant serious consideration, 50/1 represents that.  Such is the nature of national hunt racing that the second favourite for the race, Champagne Fever, 11/4, is officially rated the worst horse in the race, a pound inferior to Double Ross. Yet Champagne Fever has merits, significant merits.  he represents Mullins who is in permanently good form, setting new standards for the elite trainer division. His Arkle second was highly promising, his return in the Clonmel Oil looked an improvement.  He is on the upgrade and the questions are whether he will stay and whether he will improve.  The latter seems likely, the former question also is hard to prosecute strongly against.  While improvement is likely, this race might come early.

There are three entries from Ditcheat, including the favourite, Silviniaco Conti, 5/2.  He is not bullet proof, he has found reasons to lose races he was capable of winning.  Yet he comes boasting a favourites chances.  He won last years renewal in good order with Cue Card crying enough.  He advertised his well-being and form with a solid win in the Betfair Chase and with Noel Fehily aboard, the only doubt is that he does not revert to a lesser performance level, which he has done in the past.

Both Wishfull Thinking and Menorah are tremendous soldiers for the Whateleys and Hobbs.  The former, although a Grade 2 winner at Huntingdon latest is getting on and short at this level in my view.  Menorah has a sporting chance, his second to Silviniaco Conti was excellent form and the hopes of reversing the placings are not beyond consideration.  He loves Kempton having won 3 from 4 times at the track, interesting at 8/1.

There are also questions about Johns Spirit in relation to staying.  Personally I think he will, I was very impressed with his Cheltenham performances this year and he deserves this crack at the top table.  Probably a little short at this level.

Dynaste will have his supporters on the improving ground but I am not a big fan.    The fact cheekpieces are applied does not endear his chances either. Cue Card is another with high-class form and the sacrificing of his previous prominent racing style I think suits him.

Decision time.  Conti is the safe choice.  Menorah is good value.  Yet, sometimes, when the staying division is cycling through a transitional period, it pays to spot improves who are joining the top table.  To that end, both Johns Spirit and Champagne Fever attract my eye.  I would opt for the latter because of Mullins capability and form.  Plus we get Ruby.  Then I remember, Conti has Noel Fehily and he won’t let down my faith in him.  5/2, invest like you want to spend next Christmas in Barbados.  Silviniaco Conti wins the King George.

I want to have Sempre Medici onside at 9/4 in the 12.50 too.  9/4 is lovely, his win at Cork was impressive, probably more so for the sloppiness.  He is sure to learn from that and I think may prove a valuable raider.

Saphir du Rheu is odds against for the 2pm and that is a tremendous gift.  I think he is destined for good things and while Virak boasts an unblemished chasing record, I was very impressed with Saphir and his run at Exeter.  5/4, load up.

Just before you defect to other parts for my unadventurous nature, allow to plant a 20/1 seed of doubt into the Faugheen cash machine.  Faugheen is currently favourite for the Champion Hurdle after his outstanding novice season and his return at Ascot was effortless.  Yet, I have serious doubts about the Champion Hurdle, not for the sake of contradicting the obvious (he is an outstanding prospect) but simply that experience in this division counts.  He can hit a hurdle, I am sure he will iron that out and currently, his raw ability has allowed him to defy error.

Each step he takes though deeper into this company exposes that inexperience more.  Of course, I would not be entirely shocked if he romped it and gained deserved plaudits, I would be at the front of that queue.  I am just observing my gut feeling that there may be a twist or turn yet in his journey. So having suggested that Faugheen might not be the Champion Hurdle winner, what advice do I offer?  Firstly, I believe The New One to be an outstanding antepost bet for the big one in March.  Secondly, I rather fancy an each way punt on Purple Bay who looked good travelling against Irving earlier in the season.  Being out of Dubawi, he has the good ground speed to cause some trouble if they dawdle too.  20/1 with Paddy Power.

Wetherby 1.10pm – No Through Road has won his last 4 and is a clear improver.  I think though he might struggle to give the best part of a stone to John Wades runner, Runswick Days (5/2) – Although he won his last two at Sedgefield with a whiff of course specialist about him, he ran as though further improvement was to come last time and Brian Hughes is an excellent jockey.

Wincanton 1.40pm – Last week Batavir served me well, returning an easy enough winner hitting the front early and staying, which is difficult enough at Ascot.  A penalty leaves him well in and although the presence of Ambion Wood (worth a saver at 20/1 with Paddy Power) is a concern as he is surely a classy actor, I am minded that Tom Scu is making a well advertised dash from Wincanton for his ride on Dynaste at Kempton and he must be putting that effort in for some good reason.  I have to ignore Une Artiste too as she has a spot in my heart although seems limited these days over hurdles.

Wincanton 2.15pm – Close Touch has been ff for some time but the Queens horse had plenty of novice potential and if returning in decent touch which Henderson can certainly pull off.  6/4

Towcester 2.40pm – Art Professor is a horse that I am going to back simply because Venetia has him and Liam Treadwell at Towcester on a day where they have booked any number of other rides.  Venetia uses Towcester and has an OK Record there but to have one of her key lieutenants suggests a run is in order.  Take the SP because no sense avails in the markets presently.

At Leopardstown, Vautour is going to win so stick him in any accumulators you like.  The other I like there is in the 12.50.  Black Zambezi is priced up with Paddy Power at 14/1 and if ignoring his dulled Down Royal performance and focussing on his earlier promise, well he may have more to deliver.  Plus I must confess to having had a whisper for the horse.  He has several engagements over Christmas.  14/1, Shabash!

May your Christmas be blessed with tremendous fun and good companionship. The Martin Hill Boxing Day Special?  Easy… Sempre Medici, Batavir, Saphir du Rheu, Runswick Days and Black Zambezi.  That is a Canadian to get us to the Caribbean.

Courage, roll the dice.  Merry Christmas.