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.