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!
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.