Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Saturday Sermon – Fairyhouse, Wetherby and Sandown – Tips for all, the mothership awaits

Good evening from the Major who writes from a sharp winter Worcestershire where rain bites against pink skin, stinging and streaking down into cold puddles on the neck.  The damp seeps into bone and tests the recovery capabilities of your circulation.

The Major arrives at the weekend tired having washed about aimlessly for much of the week in an ill-tide.  In the rhythmic patterns my wayward faculties subject me to, I recognise the times where sleep will be scarce.  Last night, I slept shortly but intensely and had one of those dreams that is so vivid, you wake still consumed by the emotion of it.  In my case, my heart racing.  I shall subject you to the mundane detail, irrespective of the value to you – I do this partly because I am self-absorbed and mainly because this blog is the anchor of my week.

So, at the risk of boring you, I shall recount what I can, although as dreams will be, the nitty-gritty is at best sketchy and peculiar, not strong enough for a conviction.

My first recollection was of being part of a large crowd making an orderly way towards a town at the bottom of a valley, we were walking not in strict formation but were strung out for miles along the road.  The valley we travelled down was straight with the destination town some way off in the distance and some way below us.  There was a feeling of enforcement about the march although I do not know by whom.  To my left, over a short barrier, the side of the valley fell sharply into a deep and steep sandstone crevice which dropped all the way to a deep blue still water many hundreds of metres below.

For some reason, without warning, I jumped.  It seemed honourable, surprising to my fellow hikers and the leap carried an uncertain outcome.  I cannot tell you why I did it but it was exciting, the sense of falling as the water hurtled towards me, unsure of how deep it was.

I hit the water and knew that I could not surface immediately, lest some unknown benign malevolent watcher saw me surface.  So I very peacefully looked around well beneath the surface.  I did not seem to be suffering any shortage of breath and so, I could float effortlessly, looking down to a deep green peacefulness that dropped endlessly down, there were long strands of weed waving gently, interspersed at pleasing distances.  All was silent and rather beautiful.  Rolling onto my back, I looked up and saw the surface some twenty metres above with the cliff faces, a deep red sandstone rising powerfully skywards.

I kicked backwards like you might for breaststroke, still lying on my back and slowly made my way down the peaceful cool lake towards the town.  The dream tapered off momentarily although resurfaced to some later detail.  A day had passed, I was now in the town, having checked into a hotel, it was some sort of work convention and an old colleague was stood with me in an outdoor reception asking for directions.  A local was suggesting a taxi for it was a twenty-minute walk but my colleague was insisting we would walk, almost scoffing at the suggestion of laziness.

That was it.  I woke with my heart racing, still recalling my plunge into the unknown.  If any of you might suggest a meaning to all of this, I have a comments section.

It left me uneasy this morning as I shabbily dressed and prepared to walk my two boys up to the village primary school.  It would be charitable to describe my condition as dishevelled, I had taken some time to shake off my precarious demeanour but had barely washed and was not fit for parade.

Having never been a man of habit, discipline or even good organisation, I had not considered that being Friday, it was the morning of the parental assembly and to my horror, I was expected to stand quietly in the company of fellow village parents and look responsible, normal.  Realising this belatedly as I saw an eager throng of folk loitering at the gate, I would have given my sharpest heel turn and marched with conviction to safety but ahead of my reaction, my name was called and I was ushered in by a Governor that wanted to tap me up, someone I could not easily refuse  So there I was in the uncomfortable company of 40 small children, fifteen odd parents and a hand full of the teaching staff.

Head teacher awards were distributed, a prayer spoken, work proudly shown off.  My eyes were darting from side to side, it was an effort to provide normal responses to the banal friendly chit-chat and I was biding time until I could politely abscond.  That said, the proceedings provided cover, a distraction and as the social comportment requires, quiet.  With protection from the wholesale and well-meaning inquiry as to the wellbeing of me and the good lady, I could stay lost in my personal thoughts.  It was not peaceful but it was easier without the fear of what my face might give away.

I made a passing examination of the assembled parents.  To someone still building their psychological reserves for the day, I found them pleasing silent company. All warm thighs and pleasantness, genuine good will, soft fabrics and care of presentation.  It gave me great comfort.

The assembly came to a close with an orderly exit of children under the careful watchful eyes of the staff.  Then, Amy, the governor (and a fine sort) who had sought my attendance at the school gate, came over.  Any hope I had of a swift departure evaporated, it seemed that following the assembly was a parents forum with the head teacher.  So we gathered tiny chairs in a small circle and a dozen or so concerned parents quizzed the school on such vitals as the variety and standard of vegetables being cooked in school lunches and whether the fine tennis tuition would return in the spring and many other minutiae that glued together make up the life of a small village school.

Afraid to make eye contact, my gaze was distracted into the middle distance.  Both meetings had taken place in the small school hall and my eyes wandered.  I examined the old gym apparatus.  No ropes on a line, that I recall climbing as a child at my own primary school in Birmingham; instead a metal frame that folds out, not as demanding and less danger of burns.  Further along the wall, some sort of childrens display was fixed to the wall, I could not make out the work underneath in any detail but the heading emblazoned above was made of giant individually cut letters in an electric blue.  They simply read ‘TIME TO THINK’.

I am not sure how long I was looking at those words but I fear it was too long.  I became aware all of a sudden that the headteacher seemed to be looking directly at me, not harshly, but inquiringly.  I felt recognition was required and I raised a weak forced smile, it did not even convince me and I am afraid that was all evident on my face.

Eventually, the meeting wound up.  Pleasantries were exchanged, fat bottoms hauled from the low-lying children chairs which scraped on the herringbone floor.  Amy the Governor came over and pressing my arm ushered me onwards, outwards to a quiet spot.  Cold on my face, wonderful liberating free air.  She got straight to the point, the elders at the school wanted me to be a governor, would I consider it.  Goodness me, if only they knew.  I made my excuses but fear I might well be courted again on the subject and Amy, one of the most generous spirited people I know will be a hard person to deny.

Anyway, could that dream be a premonition.  Dare to jump with me dear friends?  Well that mothership is not going to land itself so join me in those calm cooling waters, allow the facts and my story to enchant you into a series of ill-advised bets.

To the sports.

Sandown – Scilly Isles Chase Day

Last weekend, I attended Cheltenham with the finest friends.  Without their permission because it’s ridiculous to think you might need it, here is our party on course.  Dinner was magnificent and the nightcaps numerous.

Fantastic day, refined comfortable company

Fantastic day, refined comfortable company

Olly made a good point.  He is not a regular horse racing gambler but I suspect he visits the blog from time to time.  He told me that he can tell when I am serious about a horse from my language and in his opinion, those selections fare much better.

I guess that makes some sense.  I often feel obliged to cover the major races and most weekends pick a card to go through.  Yet in reality, there are only a few races in which I think I have a good angle into the likely winner.  Should I reduce this to a couple of tips?  Well no.  I will continue to post as always a selection of the best racing and my most favoured horses and will do my best to guide as to my own confidence.

All of that assumes that there are folk backing these selections blind, confident in my ability, I doubt that happens much.  I never assume that I am the oracle, merely a commentator and perhaps a poor one at that.

Sandown has a decent card including the Grade 1 Scilly Isles.  While Grade 1 might be a bit glamorous for this line up, it remains a small quality field of five set to go to post.

With the exception of Gitane du Berlais, they are all proven good ground sorts, that horse is also stepping up in trip so is a bit of an unknown, especially with weight in hand.  It is also far to suggest that the poor chasing record of Mullins on this side of the Irish Sea has kept the price even more honest.

None of the yards represented in the Scilly can be ruled out of form, neither can any be said to be red-hot at the moment.  Therefore, with conditions to suit for most, it comes down to the best horse and jockey combination.

Paul Nicholls might have some idea of where Irish Saint stands against Champagne West since he got the horse beat by his best novice chase, Ptit Zig last time out.  That form is very solid from the Hobbs horse and he has some other strong form too.  Irish Saint though has impressed being stepped up in trip, I always found him a bit hit and miss, he was once beaten by Splash of Ginge who is a horse I like but should be beaten here in my estimation.

In the end, I think Champagne West has the better potential here and am advising at 5/2 generally.

Money says that The Saint James in the Sandown opener is a good thing having been a third of a million purchase by JP out of the French provinces.  I am cautious though, particularly with the Jackdaws form remaining so frustrating.

This leaves two of interest.  Alan King runs a tidy Plumpton winner, Pain au Chocolat who like the rest is unexposed – Nothing wrong with that.

However, I am very drawn at the prices to the chances of Old Guard who already has been a bit tricky.  He won his hurdling debut and was suitably supported in a grade 1 at Chepstow, over Christmas.  That day he fought violently for his head and burned away the crucial energy he would need in that relentless Chepstow straight, way too early.

I have a good feeling we might expect better and with a vulnerable favourite, he is the one I want at 4/1.

In the 1.15pm, 4 horses line up in a an exciting contest which boasts Binocular and Celestial Halo amongst the roll call of previous winners.  Garde la Victoire returns to the minimum trip and most folk will see that as a good thing.  I think, while a very good horse, he will struggle against two real rising stars in Jollyallan and Bristol de Mai.

Jollyallan represents Harry Fry, a stable I have all respect for and AP rides on account of the JP ownership.  His record with the Fry team is excellent and the horse looks progressive and classy.

Yet, I am drawn like a moth to the flame I was tempted with Bristol de Mai.  In a grade 1 last time, the horses in behind, namely Golden Doyen and Karezak are not superstars but solid 140 sorts that provide some comfort.  It was breathless and as long as the animal performs as well on better ground, he is a threat but it is a big ask and in the end, Jollyallan edges it for me at 2/1.

Barry Geraghty is positive about French Opera running now on better ground in the 1.50pm Handicap Chase.  I have never and will never have my money on the beast who while boasting very decent form has not won in almost four years and I don’t think a 14b fall from his heights would be enough to persuade me to be on.

I would much rather back the progressive Ballygarvey who did really well at Ascot last time.  Returning from injury he dealt a decent beating to Ulck du Lin and I do not think he will get stopped here.  Tasty bet at 5/1.

Other Racing – Wetherby and Fairyhouse

There is a grade 2 at Wetherby, the Towton Chase and while the line up is not stellar, it is a decent puzzle.

Return Spring is my selection having backed him at Cheltenham in the race won by Kings Palace.  He travelled and jumped really well that day and I think a race like this is within his reach.  5/2.

At Fairyhouse, I am only interested in the run of Morning Run in the 1.55pm Grade 3, her runs have shown her form well and Mullins is one I trust to bring her back from a break well.  Not much of a pick but there you go.

In the football…. Stoke to beat QPR at 4/6 is the sole bet.

The Martin Hill bet…. Ballygarvey, Return Spring and Old Guard in a power trixie.

I trust your dinner will be in the best company, go with people you know, friends you can trust and enjoy yourself as though it is the last time you will see them.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

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The Saturday Sermon – Tips for Cheltenham Trials Day and Doncaster

Good evening to you all from a Worcestershire cloaked in a blanket of milky grey cloud which brings not comfort but a terrifying depth to the darkness.  Yet while suffocating, the light, such cover brings comfort that tomorrows card at Cheltenham faces no icy hazards.

The Major is greatly looking forward to entertaining fine friends who are coming to stay for the Cheltenham races.  Fine folk each.  Pierre with his greying wolf like features, South African harsh edged tones and generous nature.  Richard, straight as a lance, hawk like and peering at you sober as a judge.  Olly, a roundness of joviality and sharpness but not to be fooled, sharp as a pin. Nataliya, drawling alto Russian accent, wide-eyed and damn good fun.

All are bringing families which bears well as it happens to be number one sons’ (Daniel) eighth birthday.  This small fact had slipped my mind when organising the whole event and when informing the good lady of my social plans, myself looking pleased as a cat with cream on its chops; she politely and patiently reminded me of my family commitments.  She might try to correct me but I fear I am a hopeless project.

Another week slips on past and the festival looms large.  My mind wanders quickly from one stratagem to another, plots and stories are told in my mind before I appraise a different form line and a new fiction comes on.  In the week, a commercial twitter account, I cannot recall, asked what was special about the enthusiastic roar each year as the tapes go up on the Supreme.

I pondered that partly it is an acknowledgement of the celebration to come, the grand opening.  I hear the tourists (and tourists are welcome in our sport) joining in eagerly.  Yet, there is something else in our hearts, nest pas?  Accuse me on over-sentimentality, I accept the charge.  Yet, at that moment, before the first result is weighed-in, all of those stories we concocted, all those hopes, many antepost dreams, they all are unblemished, intact and glorious.

Stood on the terrace as the tapes go up for the opener, that thought fills my heart.  I cheer because I know that whatever comes, discouragement or exaltation, right there, at that point, the future is unsullied by the tarnish of what will be.

What a stir the Page 3 saga drew this week.  I must confess, I did chuckle when the Sun seemingly reneged on their removal of bare breasts from page three.  Twitter once again proved entirely the wrong forum in which any reasoned debate might exist.  Sides were formed with some opting for the view that it has been a terrible stain, others decrying that we have become too prudish and some even bringing comparison to the Charlie Hebdo affair.  Grievous offence was thrown towards feminists and chauvinists, each fighting for control of how we are all made to think.

To draw sense from the noise  is hard.  In raising the issue, my intention is not to preach.

I do not buy the Sun.  My exposure was at my old place of employment, lunch-speckled copies would be left discarded and I would peruse with one hand, fork in other.  I liked the cartoon nature of the journalism, the tongue in cheek tone of voice and the fervent sports speculation, undertaken with some gusto.

I always jumped page 3, I found it embarrassing in company.  Even if I wanted to read some side article, the suggestion that I was some leery cove, well people know me for a scoundrel but I don’t want to play the role overtly.

Now I am conscious that this self-awareness paints me somewhat in an unflattering light.  I make no moralistic case for not having bare ladies in the Sun, as you can read, I was more concerned with my own reputation than anything else.  This hypcorisy is charge which I would plead guilty.  Regular readers know that my weekly sermon is not designed to credit the author.  No, no.  Rather I am interested in telling the most truth that I dare.

Anyway, I disagree that the campaigns to stop Page 3 models have any parallel with the French tragedy.  The campaigners in this case are not asking for a ban but rightfully asking a publisher to reconsider some content as inappropriate.  Neither do I subscribe to the fact that being a family newspaper, it is an inappropriate spot.  My objection to that is simply that I don’t think children read the paper.

When I heard that the tradition of bare breasts was coming to an end, my reaction was simple… about time.  When I heard they were coming back, my reaction?  I laughed!  It really did bring a delightful chuckle, an exclamation, rascals.  Having seen the smug celebration of their removal in such heady circles, it just seemed just deserts, for those judgemental sorts.  You see, while I personally did not approve of their presence and it made me feel uncomfortable…. As an adult and as a libertarian, my belief generally is that other grown adults should be able to do pretty much what they choose, with the caveat of causing others no harm.

To the people whom protest that this outdated tradition is some terrible drag on woman, well, I find some credit in the argument.  Yet I can swallow little of it when it is presented so sanctimoniously.  Are we to become afraid of each other?  Are we to fear being a little rude from time to time, to embrace things that others find distasteful?  Should these permissions be broken down to the lowest denominator?

Locally, our school system is going through a possible period of transition.  Passionate decries of change have surfaced, each more furious than the last.  I do not deny that they are well-intentioned.  I do not portray myself as having the virtue of their ‘action with conviction’.  I just wish folk could reflect on what is genuinely important from time to time.  The clock is ticking, you might wake up one day, old, losing your sharpness and wonder where you wasted your young wanton mind.

A great philosopher, which I forget, perhaps Kant, described our lives akin to sparks leaping from a great fire.  As the spark spits out into the inky black night, it dims, the further from the source it goes, until extinguished.  That childhood wonderment and excitement is left behind.

Hold on to your spark dear friends.  Through racing, we can rekindle it a little.  The quivering sensation as they turn for home, the thundering resonance of them climbing that hill, heads dipping for the line; live in the moment my brethren.

Finally, a few recommendations for you, if you will allow me.  Both inspired by Radio 4.  They have been playing an abridged version of Jonathan Franzens’ The Corrections.  I would class this as one of the finest pieces of American literature since Tom Wolfe wrote both Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full.  I would not recommend the radio version which cut too much but would say the book and the two Tom Wolfe classics are all excellent, you will recognise influences on me throughout.

Secondly, Radio 4 are playing out Newman’s The Corrupted and it is well worth picking that up on Iplayer.  Atmospheric.

To the sports.

Cheltenham Trials Day Tips

Due to travel arrangements, there is a sad chance I will miss the opener which is a fine fine race.  Maybe not from a punting perspective mind as Peace and Co is expected to go off at 4/9, a short price on account of the entirely dismissive debut to British racing made at Doncaster in December.  It was only a mediocre set of opponents but he brushed them aside with all the swagger of a champion and many competent judges were very taken with the display.

It is not a lot of evidence but it is compelling enough for me.  I can’t see his triumph price getting shorter so I would leave the antepost slips where they are.  Peace and Co is available at 1/2 in some markets, one for the multiples.

The second race on the card is a decent quality class 2 handicap chase which has amongst its holders, The Giant Bolster, Vino Griego and Hey Big Spender.

Stellar Notion looks a good favourite and I am in two minds about whether the step up in trip is going to bring further improvement. Tom George is a good trainer and had a positive early season and so we must trust that it will.  Having won on heavy in one attempt, we should not be concerned about the softer ground.  Considered.

Caroles Destrier was well fancied at Chepstow but was quite a disappointment, Cheltenham being a similar track and seeing no clear reasons, I swerve but with trepidation.

Ned Stark was going well but no match at the business end for Ptit Zig on New Years Day, I think he will find one or two too good here too.

Paul Nicholls has been sending fewer runners out in the last fortnight but has been winning races.  As such, Black River is interesting but far too hit and miss for my liking.

My tip is Horatio Hornblower.  I have been a fan of Nick Williams this season and this horse has shown pretty good progressive form during his whole career.  Winning a beginners chase at Towcester is some way of what is required here but he is improving, looks OK on the ground and has hurdle form which entitles him to good respect.  9/1 is available (Skybet and Stan James).

The Betbright Cup Chase (Grade 2) is a nice race.  Dynaste, formerly a dodgy stayer in my eyes, changed my mind with a staying on performance in the King George behind Silviniaco Conti.  Whether genuine soft ground is his forte, I do not know.  The Pipe yard are in mediocre form too, not iron clad, despite his form in the book.

To read the chances of Many Clouds, you have to take a view on the Hennessy form and perhaps read a little earlier.  Many Clouds was an RSA contender last year but fell meaning we had no idea of his true ability.  While not golden, the win of O’Faolains Boy in the race did the form of Many Clouds a boost as he featured amongst his former beaten foes having chased him home in the Ascot trial.

The Giant Bolster has won 2 from 12 on ground the worse side of good to soft.  I have never been his greatest fan, despite his finishing twice placed in a Gold Cup.

On balance, I am backing Many Clouds 10/3.

Back to handicap chases and a Grade 3.  I like Easter Day but the suggestion is that he is heading up north.  On Boxing Day, Quincy des Pictons gave a striking performance at Chepstow in deep ground and on a similar course, undulating and left-handed.  He went up a stone for that and has to lumber top weight as a result which sobers the enthusiasm a little.

Sew on Target likes to move off the front and ran well when winning over the minimum distance here last time.  He seems ground versatile and ordinarily, I would begrudge him step up in trip.  Combining those two changes though, causes some reservation.

The tip though goes a little left field in Tap Night.  This is one of those bets where you have to leave the recent form book on the shelf and make some leaps. Thankfully, the price of 12/1 allows us to do that.  I think the horse has been campaigned for a win and he ran in this race last year, finishing in the places.  His performances since have been pretty woeful but as a result, he comes with nigh on a stone in hand on his mark last year.  Muddy ground is his nadir and the money has arrived already.  The best price left as I type is 12/1.

The Grade 2 at 3pm is a novice hurdle and we get to see the highly interesting Value at Risk again.  Down the field in the festival Champion bumper, he fared better when placing, just a couple of lengths down on the high-class Shaneshill in the Punchestown version.  His hurdle debut was pretty taking, coming well clear on a track that the Major considers it a challenge to do so.  He is proven in conditions and frankly, Dan Skelton is high on my list of favoured yards right now.  The chief danger and one I have tipped before (and considered again) is Robinsfirth.  Well bred and possibly more to come.

The Cleeve Hurdle.  The race last year when we knew that the curtain was falling on the mighty Big Bucks.  Does the World Hurdle winner lurk on this card?

I am torn.  Un Temps Pour Tout clearly has some talent but I just don’t know.  The fact he dealt a beating up to Cole Harden only strengthens my feelings that neither are on my top class list.  So could Saphir du Rheu make it?  Well yes.  I liked his Lanzarote an awful lot.  Yet, while Nicholls had a failed chase campaign with Big Bucks who he bought back in this race, are we to assume the same is therefore ordained for this horse in the same ownership?

Well no… You see, I think Big Bucks class was the determining factor that made that switch OK and generally I cannot support such a move.  That said, it makes a damn good story…

What to do.  In all honesty, it is the race I cannot read at all.  My instinct is to stick to proven form.  It feels wrong though.  Still a very small interest in Reve de Sivola will be taken on track and I will regret doubting Saphir du Rheu.

In the last… Lightentertainment has been winning plenty but I think has been doing so with smart entries and now might be found out, always a dangerous call.

However, Kiama Bay looks to have plenty in hand.  Jim Best, always a trainer not afraid to reach to the top shelves when handling his better horses, has booked Barry Geraghty.  Barry has had a ride for Jim in the last few years, just now, he won on it.  You can get 9/2 and this is my bet of the day, rather exciting as it is in the lucky last.  Load the big cannons.

Other Saturday Tips

The 12.55 Doncaster Grade 2 novice chase looks a match between Solar Impulse and Three Kingdoms.

The latter represents Ferguson who has had a strong year but I always feel his get vulnerable at this time.  Better pundits might correct my misjudgment but he recruits flat performers and often has a few early season wonders who (like sparks from the fire) fade as the true mischief of the winter weather gods set devilish demon ground in which his speedy wisps get stuck.  A sweeping generalisation I know.

Yet, I shall stick to those thoughts and have Solar Impulse in the multiples.

Aniflet is an interesting raider for Willie Mullins and one in which I have confidence.  Yes, she fell when a contender last time, yes Mulhollands mare looks useful but Ruby comes across just for this one ride.  Come on kids… 5/2.

The 2.40 sees Blacklion reappear and I was most impressed last time.  He is not my idea of the Albert Bartlett winner mind, that goes to No More Heroes, a horse I have been backing since the start of the season.  Still, Twiston-Davies has a good one here and he can take this at 6/4.

May your dinner be in great company.  Perhaps a whole number of people, as I will, drink flowing, happy encouragble behaviour… Tip well, we are only here for a short ride.

The Martin Hill bet…. Horatio Hornblower and Kiama Bay double.  I do like that Kiama Bay…

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Quality racing from Haydock, Ascot and Naas…. Courage friends, roll the dice.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a swirling Worcestershire where the wind creeps uninvited, slithering past fabric defences, seeking access to your core; sudden flurries of precipitation cling tensely to the skin.  A night for stoking the fire and sealing the home tight.

The Major is weary, the week has washed around me around, events; events dear friends.  At nightfall, I have dreamt wildly, as the sun rises, I awaken with the pulse racing and the mind working to establish the division between the night and the day world and seal the former away.

One dream took me back to my climbing days, I believe it’s presence was provoked by watching the footage of the climbers conquering El Capitan in Yosemite on a lead rope all the way.  My own climbing exploits were confined largely to indoors and far more modest.

Indoor climbing is a splendid inclusive sport to make friends to, there is a lot of trust built, manning a rope to catch your comrade as he comes off the wall.  You can climb indoors, with partners of a much higher standard, it is entirely inclusive.  Since one of you is tasked to belay while your partner climbs, the severity of the wall is irrelevant.  I was certainly the inferior partner in my climbing partnership.  Adam was indeed far better than I, a Barnsley chap with a thick accent, gentle and almost childlike in delivery, a thin flop of surfer hair and a lithe tall spider-like body, well suited to the sport.  He was a damn good egg, tremendous humour, good with the bottle, great guy.

He now lives in St Louis, we are not in touch any more.  I remember times with him well and a particular memory made me smile this week, as I lazily swam in my memories of the time and, since this exchange which I recall, barely paints me in a good light, you can know it to be a truthful recollection of events.

An ex girlfriend, of Adam’s, invited him on a European break having split from her new partner in the weeks building up to this trip which she had already paid for.  He sought my council with his problem being a delicate one, you might indeed judge it indecent but it is how mens minds can work, cheaply, especially in their youth and impudence, bad mannered,wild beasts we are, blundering on with no sophistication and little style, blind to the finer behaviours.

What troubled Adam was that the trip appealed if he could be confident that (and I shall try to be tactile) he would be at couples.  Put simply, he was not sure if the invitation was intended as entirely platonic, like one might ask an old friend, or perhaps a little more suggestive.

Now, myself, I have always been poorly equipped to advise on the minds and intentions of the fairer sex.  The mysteries of god to me, include their thoughts which have always been unfathomable.  I am thankful I found a decent sort willing to take me on as a sort of project.  Why Adam sought my counsel was based on trust not on expertise and I answered as best I could.

I declared that of course her mind ran to la gallop and that he should not worry one bit.  A little wine flown, I offered a deal.  If he returned and the trip had been merely pleasant, then I would take him to dinner in one of Birmingham’s finest curry houses, fine compensation for playing the good old friend.

I knew he was good for a gentleman’s gamble and being of the Yorkshire sort, was unfaltering honest.  A few years prior, I had offered a similar deal.  He was unsure as to whether he would get a university result of a 2:2, 2:1 or unthinkably (to him) a first.  Knowing him as a deprecating sort, I marked up the odds and created a market in which I paid him for underperformance and he paid me for overperformance, to hedge his result.

He got a first to his delight and rang me on the day (before his family note!) to declare that he would give me the £200 as promised.  I hesitated, having made the bet after imbibing gods good liquor and not wanting to sully my friends great news, I declared the bet void and offered my congratulations.  It felt like a decent thing to do and told him he might buy me a beer instead.

When I got home that evening, the good lady, we’d just moved in together, handed me an envelope, it had been hand delivered.  It contained £200 cash and a note which simply read ‘I’d have taken your money, Adam‘. Sportsman.

Anyway, I’d forgotten about our more dubious agreement regarding his chances of fine fun.  It had clean slipped my mind after sobering up the next day.  So  when, landing at the airport following his trip to Barcelona, Adam called me, rather cheekily while still in the company of his travelling companion, the memory of the arrangement came back to me suddenly.  He was walking through the airport when he called, having just landed.  He called to inform me what a fine time he had and that wasn’t it time that me and him went for a curry, on him.  Sly dog.

Mountaineering is a fine sport.  Focuses the mind and if you have a head for heights, which I do, then the accomplishment one feels is excellent.  The danger side to the sport is left for the extremists.  The chaps on El Capitan, while dramatic are fairly safe, climbing a wall that has largely been bolted.

For a real sense of what madness lies in risk taking wild-eyed lunatics, watch Adam Honnolt, the sensational free climber.  Most of the climbing community think it is a matter of time until the mans death.  Until then, what he is doing sends shivers.

Do you know the most deadly mountain in the world?  Well the answer depends on how you characterise most deadly.  The measure I find most accurate is deaths per summit.  On this measure, Annapurna I or Kangchenjunga, compete for that macabre title.  Just over 180 souls have stood on the summit of Annapurna, it remains one of the most significant mountaineering challenges, being the tenth largest peak on Earth and in excess of 8,000 metres.  For those successes, 61 people have died attempting it.  Kangchenjunga has a similarly chilling death rate, it is the third highest mountain in the world.  If it is sheer numbers that you would class, then the Mont Blanc massif has claimed thousands and is unsurpassed in death toll.

These days, I am happy to make a successful ascent of the stairs, sometimes wondering if I soon require oxygen and a team of sherpas.

Anyway, sports tips, for that is what you fools have come for.  Last week was a story of near misses.  Lots of second places, close friends close.  Today we have some quality racing cards and once more I invite you to ante up.  I pity those who never gamble, such feeble existence, as Kipling said, stake it all on one turn of pitch and toss; you’ll be a man my son.

Let’s start with the main course.

Ascot – Sprinter Sacre

At about 3.06pm, we will know what remains of the highest rated horse in training, Sprinter Sacre.  We can all recall some of his extravagant leaps, like a stag and his demolition jobs where he was never troubled off the bridle.

His heart fell out of rhythm and being of such status, the horse was pulled up and since then, rumours abound of his well-being, his likelihood to return in anything like his best shape… controversy and conspiracy.

I can only proffer a view.  Henderson is a master but he faces a damn hard task.  There are many holding out that on his former best, Sprinter Sacre rated in the mid one eighties.  That would rate at least 15lbs better than any of his Champion Chase potential rivals and frankly he would be odds on for the main event in March if it were known that he can still perform at that level.

So the question that occupies all of our minds is the level that he is returning at.  Nicky did not want to run him on bottomless ground.  I think he will have avoided that.  Significant rain fell on Wednesday / Thursday but Ascot drains so well that I would not be concerned about that.  Potential heavy showers may pass over in the morning and I think genuine soft ground is to be expected.

I have my doubts about him.  It is not my wish that he falter, none wants to see a true great, scrabbling around confused, unable to dominate as they know they should.  No, no.  Yet, in this division, I think it is hard to return to the top table, the races look tough on the competitors.

My mind runs to Masterminded – He was rated 186 after he destroyed a Champion Chase field, coming home 20l clear, as the commentators turn of phrase goes, in splendid isolation.  When he went, he went.

Sprinter Sacre is nine and has raced just 17 times so is hardly burned out you would think.  Yet we are asking him to come back from a year off and at 9, return to his glorious highs.

I can only offer you a gut feel, I think the two mile chase division can be pretty brutal.  He last raced over a year ago, his heart irregularities while seemingly fixed remain closely monitored.  My greatest hope is that he returns OK.  He does not need disgrace or to be flogged, I know he will not be.  You can tell I am wavering.

All that said, in spite of my mind telling me to back Dodging Bullets, I won’t be able to celebrate properly unless he is in my multiple so against my better judgement I shall have a slice of him.  Yet I am not recommending it as a tip, no. No bet, watching brief.

The mares hurdle is a nice little race for those that do not look down their noses at such contests.  Carole’s Spirit is an improving sort and a deserving favourite.  She has only lost over hurdles the once, in this race last year when defeated by Highland Retreat.  She probably bettered that form in a listed race on seasonal debut when the Henderson trained odds-on favourite fell and she took advantage in pretty convincing fashion.

However, history may well repeat itself here and Carole’s Spirit may well again lose to a Harry Fry horse.  Both have a perfect record on soft but Bitofapuzzle gets 5lbs from the favourite and brings plenty of solid form in the book.  I think she has been crying our for a step up in trip and Noel Fehily gives us at least another 5lb advantage from his skill and strength.  4/1 have a slice.

I am going to stick with Fehily, this time for Nicholls and back La Mercurey in the Grade 2 limited handicap at 2.25pm.  Nicholls rarely brings a bad one over from France and the British debut looked too bad to be true.  I don’t have a lot to go on other than reputation, a strong record of being raced on soft ground and the finest jump jockey bar Ruby.  4/1 Again.

While Ascot is currently soft, Haydock is booked as heavy.  12.55 is an interesting novice chase where the mercurial and sometimes frustrating Colour Squadron aims to take a deserved Grade 2 chase.  I was very taken though with the flawless confident jumping of the Queens Close Touch at Wincanton over Christmas.  Nicky Henderson has hit top gear in the last week or two and even at 4/5, I think we have a multiple banker here.  Technically Colour Squadron is rated a few pounds superior but since the selection was a better hurdler, I have little doubt that he will improve again on his current chase mark even giving 4lbs to a chasing maiden of Colour Squadrons ilk.

The supreme trial looks a poorer Grade 2 all round and I am going to take a punt on Qewy for John Ferguson at 5/1 in places.  He was a decent flat horse for John Oxx and is in very good hands on hurdle debut.  Ferguson is having a fine season and it would not be a surprise to have another Cheltenham contender on his hands.  Ferguson seems to draw stamina out from flat profile sorts that seemingly do not seem the sort.  He is having a damn fine season and this race looks winnable.

The New One of course wins but you do not need me to tell you that.  It is not a bankable price but as a reminder, it is my idea of the Champion Hurdle winner.

The Peter Marsh chase is always a tricky conundrum.  In the last 6 years we have had winners at 16/1, 20/1 and 33/1.

Broadway Buffalo has tremendous credentials at the top of the market.  He loves the mud and is unbeaten at Haydock, very good assets in this renewal.  However, it would not be Saturday if Venetia did not have a runner staying on past weary sorts, improving on prior form and in Shangani at 9/1 we have a perfect candidate.  Low in the weights, reasonable form and that cast iron guarantee that when others have cried enough, Ms Williams will have crafted this one a will of iron.

At Naas.  Rule the World put in a sterling performance giving bags of weight to the Mullins trained Adriana des Mottes last time out, going down fighting by the slimmest of margins.  If that effort has not left any mental of physical scars then I see no reason as to why a well deserved chase success does not await here. 6/4 – Fill your boots and your undercrackers.

In the previous race, Kitten Rock has been improving this year winning a Grade 3 already and I am to put off by 8/11 – A Naas double is in order.

Meanwhile in association football, just one tip.  I would take West Ham to carry on their good work with a home win over Hull who are slipping.  3/4.

The Martin Hill bet… Rule the World, West Ham and Close Touch – A powerful treble made with a steady hand and a fistful of notes.  Time to think of the Cheltenham war chest.

May your dinner be blessed in the fine company of a raven haired sort with a lilting Irish voice, all sing-song and magic.  She won’t respect you unless the restaurant is first rate, dress well and revel in the wonder of it all.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Lanzarote day at Kempton, tips for Warwick and Punchestown too.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a squally Worcestershire where the fire crackles lowly for comfort rather than necessity.  The edginess I feel, the anxiety twisting the muscles taut across my nape shall dissolve with children being bedded and the reassuring pop of the cork.

The Major has been busy today, pointing coping stones on the long wall that winds along the front of the house and meanders up the drive.  Having never attempted such building previously, I watched a single youtube video, then, one trip to my favourite ironmonger’s to pick up the essentials and then, ill-prepared, quickly bundled onto parade.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

Should you find yourself in a position to be pointing, my notes for what they are worth are as follows.  The tools are essential, find yourself a good builders trowel and a pointing trowel as well as a brick jointer. If the application of the official tools is not achieving the desired effect, find yourself some new tools.  Unofficial pieces crafted for the job work well, cardboard, wood scraps, an old spatula all made it into my arsenal.

The second important aspect is experiment.  Trying different techniques, for the amateur,  is vitally important.  You will find the best results from trial and error in the way you work.  Not being worried to err is essential.  Enjoy it.

Such lessons are universally applicable in punting.  Gather what you can to assist and use it in novel ways.

While working on this wall, the wind whipping around me, body warmth defended in several layers, weathered working gloves bearing proud scars of manly activity; I had a beautiful moment.  There is not much to say about it really that might do the moment justice, I fear you will find little in it.

I was lying on the floor, trying to seal a ridge under a coping stone, my mix dropping around me as I tried to work it in.  There are cracks in my render caused by water freezing on the brick wall behind, I am doing my best to keep the water out you see.  Anyway, as I lay there eyes skywards and crooked, the movement of the clouds became the sudden and captivating focus of my attention.  Shades of grey swirling and moving across the heavens with intent velocity, a man could drown in that magic.  I was listening to music at the time, headphones on and the track that happened to play at that moment was Asleep, The Smiths.  Those cracks in the render, I am trying to repair them, I am.  I fear they will be with me forever though, as long as I can patch them up my friends, is that not what we are all doing?

Do not judge the music, my taste is equal parts eclectic and questionable and it certainly runs to the odd.  My wife once, bemused by  my library of tunes questioned whether I was perhaps repressed homosexual.

‘Asleep’ has always haunted me.  Yes, you might think on first listening it is a bit bleak, it speaks of suicide.  Yet, I find something else haunting in those piano chords.  What it is about the construction of such a set of quavers arranged at certain pitches and in certain rhythms, I cannot fathom.  That man is great is contained within such witchcraft.

I lay there still watching those clouds swirl, wondering what a passing neighbour might think and resolving that I did not give a damn as to the answer.  In fact, no soul was around, just me, that was just for me.

I have wallowed enough my political and media views of late but once again, I found the reporting of the events in Paris today pretty poor stuff.  Tragedy as ‘entertaining drama’ belittles us all.  I find the expressions of solidarity thin and unnecessary.  It is not that I sympathise with the devil, no.  Neither is it that I fail to feel sorry for the victims.  If I am honest, I feel quite removed from it.  The threat of terrorism is amplified far beyond that which I feel applies to me, to us.  Security services need to feel valued, terrorists design acts to shock and the media sell the coverage to advertisers.  Yet, statistically, you are about 5 times more likely to die falling from a ladder, you just don’t think about it.

This is an oversimplification but only because I feel badgered.  There seems to be a correct way of thinking which irks my liberty.  Every worthless irrelevant commentator spoke of the need not to blame the muslim community.  I find those comments astonishing.  Not because I do blame a religion, more because the thought never occurred to me.  Yet it is repeated, condescendingly to an audience meant to be wide-eyed in wonderment, waiting to be told what to think.  The assumption is that there are a lot of fools, needing guidance.

When I close my eyes, what I prefer to think of are those clouds, wondrous, dancing, like milk stirred into hot coffee slowly, patterns you can trace but not capture.  A man can swim in that pool, isolated from fools, peace.

Anyway, there is sport to be had.  Courage friends.  Sharpen that lance point and join the orderly line as we ride to meet their cavalry in fine order.  The lights breaking from trot to canter, points lowered and crying Shabash!  The brilliance of the dragoons.

Kempton Lanzarote Day

Last week on the blog the tips purveyed were on the mark, not that I sell anything.  the Major remains free, unhinged and unsullied.  Four wins from five tips and the other placed – Not bad for a sermon!  The Martin Hill bet saw two horse tips win (9/2 and 5/2 I think – too lazy to go back) before QPR let us down in the cup, stupid advice.

‘Poor Martin’ you might think, yet do not.  QPR played on Sunday and late on Saturday I received a note from Mr Hill exclaiming how foolish he felt as he had accidentally backed QPR to beat Burnley the following (this) weekend and cursing himself for the error.  I imagine he feels slightly better about that error right now after QPR crashed out of the cup,  their victory this weekend will net him close to a bag of sand.  Up the hoops.

Anyway, as they say in investment adverts, the performance of your Major portfolio may go down as well as up.  Still, it was nice to have a damn good weekend.  More please.

The first leg of the Mothership runs in the 1pm.  Cocktails at Dawn represents Nicky Henderson and I thought that the Friday racing results were a sign of intent from Seven Barrows.  4 winners were sent out on the day and the stable who to date have been performing acceptably but below their personal high standards, look to me to be coming to the boil.

My chief concern with this runner is not the handicap mark but the lack of proven experience in soft conditions.  His sire stats are OK though and I’d take Barry Geraghty over most in the saddle.  13/8.

One of the trainers that has been impressing me this season, aside from the obvious Fry and Longsden operations has been the Oliver Sherwood yard.  He runs Come on Laurie in the 1.35pm and this improver has every chance used in class and distance.  Kingscourt Native is an obvious danger, the point convert had the Warwick race sewn up when taking a bad tumble at the last and the nature of the fall is partly the reason for me opposing.  That said, I know I will kick myself as Noel Fehily has taken over in the saddle and if the horse is well, it could be an obvious winner.

However, we are yet to get to the bottom of Come on Laurie too so, what the hell, roll the dice, 4/1.

The 2.10 is a three runner race and Hunt Ball looked very much revived to me last time out.  Balder Succes I believe will benefit from the step up in trip having been unable to get to the speedster that is Special Tiara last time out.  So, Hunt Ball who won’t hang about and will be there to be shot at by Balder.  Hmmmm.

As I contend for the prosecution, Henderson is coming back to the boil and Hunt Ball, although having taken some time to overcome his ‘ill thought out’ American exploits, is showing some of that class that had him once discussed as a Gold Cup horse.  13/8.

Then the feature, the Lanzarote, a big field handicap that in recent years, since becoming a staying race, has thrown up few surprises.

I have a cliff horse who may remain an excellent prospect never to win a race at this rate.  I backed Hammersley Lake firstly at Cheltenham when pulling clear and not pegging back the winner.  Then I went in again, at Newbury, when while proving his liking for soft ground, he seemed to throw his chance a little bit looking awkward , lazy or lonely at the business end but again, coming clear with his conqueror.

The handicapper is taking his pound of flesh for these solid runs but I still think Barry Geraghty can eek the right ride from a potentially tricky but talented sort and pay back my investment.  Hammersley Lake, perhaps not at first but at last will repay me.  7/1.

Open Hearted for her Majesty looks a likely contender for the Henderson and Geraghty team in the 3.15pm.  I am never sold on chase debutantes in this sort of field, it can get messy.

I mentioned earlier that Oliver Sherwood has been impressing but I also think Tom George is having a good campaign and Chartreux was a contender to carry my curse in this race.  He has not had a recent run but was improving on spring ground when last seen in Ireland.

Masters Hill is my tip, having shown previous strong hurdling form, including fifth in an Albert Bartlett, he has been amiss over fences.  That said, his last effort was his best and he is ridden by the excellent Fehily so I shall take the 5/1.

I am sticking with Noel in the finale, you know I admire him, sleek as silk, graceful and powerful.  Paul Nichols said of his young rising jockey star Sean Bowen that horses just seemed to want to run for him.  For me, Fehily is the essence of that thought.  Sleepy Haven at 10/3 looks an excellent price with the last race working out as golden form.  Embroil Silk (3rd) won a class 4 by 6 lengths next time out and Just Cameron (4th) beat up a class 3 field by 12l.  Fill your boots.

T’other Racing – Warwick and Punchestown

A quick mention for Douvan at Punchestown who is already prominent in many of the novice hurdle markets at Cheltenham, in fact, favourite for the Supreme, rather inheriting that position.  He should be shown tomorrow as another of the Willie Mullins battery of rockets for the festival.  1/3 mind, you’d have to put some down to buy a decent dinner as the payoff.

I am going to take a risk at Punchestown on Pencilhimin at 10/3 in the second race.  He is chucked in over the big boy fences given what he has since gone on to achieve over hurdles and connections look well advised to try to exploit his one and a half stone lower chase mark.  He has been scrappy to be fair when seen in this discipline and so the lower mark is needed if my plan to land the mothership is to be successful.

At Warwick, there is a very respectable card tomorrow and there are a couple I want to have onside in the Saturday portfolio.

Grand Vision at 12/1 is an interesting runner at a big price.  Plagued by injury since a high-class Albert Bartlett placing, this is only the horses third start over fences.  Connections have not given up and neither have I.  The last run looked much more like it and if putting it together on a course he might just like, well, 12s eh? Lovely.

At 3pm, Shantou Bob at evens is a very worth favourite and having only been beaten narrowly last time, is surely to be on the premises again.  However, his strong performances have bought more weight to his back and I think there might be one or two in this to give him a race again.

The one I like is 7/1 Ballabh who is entitled to improve again and the confident riding Daryl Jacob might get the best from him.  He was an expensive purchase after good Irish bumper form and stamina is likely to be his game so a step up in trip is just what the Majors accountant ordered.  Shabash!

In the football, Man City are 5/6 at Everton and despite injuries forcing the usage of Milner as a false 9, they have looked plenty dangerous coming forward.  MK Dons at Crawley should be a reliable 8/13 play too.

The Martin Hill bet… Grand Vision, Ballabh and Hammersley Lake in a powerful each way trixie.  Let’s not forget to cheer on QPR too!

May your dinner be the finest of steak in the finest of restaurants.  The sort where the service is so damn subtle, so sophisticated and you know it to be reflected in the bill, yet you savour and appreciate it all, glowing in the company of a glorious piece, all smiles and hair in jaunty bundles, itching to be released and fall to vulnerable shoulders, slender and delicious.  Her eyes letting you know how her mind runs, just like yours, to chiffon and flesh.  How the heart races.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Tolworth day at #Sandown and some other nonsense.

Good evening from the Major who rises from a cold Worcestershire with me too tired to raise my eyes to the heavens to check the cover.

I spent yesterday at my university library, marvellous place.  I realised some time ago that solitude suits me.  I feel at home walking into that place, walls dripping in knowledge, quietude, reverence and even amongst people, a reclusiveness I find hard to source elsewhere.  Occasionally that peace is ruptured by some group or other and a rare thing, I feel angry.  Disruption to the sanctuary you see.

I think it is a response to having two boys aged 6 and 7.  Everything a competition, squabbling an art form.  They know what I crave, I have made it a mantra with them, peace and quiet.  In an astonishingly shockingly bad parenting compromise, they understand that they can pretty do much what they want on my watch as long as it does not puncture the bubble.

The good lady resents this attitude somewhat.  If I were being charitable to myself, I would argue that I am teaching them an individuality and an independence.  I would like to think that.  The truth, something I am never afraid to gaze it, is that I am selfish.

New Years Day was not the start 2015 I imagined!  I had glorious visions of the mothership greeting the year like souls awakening.  Instead, I picked a succession of runners each seemingly with slightly more ability to disappoint than the last.  Still.

Let us get into business.  Overall, Christmas was a pretty good period for me.  While today is not the finest day of racing in the calendar, there are some nice races and what we need if we are to light up the signals for the mothership is solvable puzzles above all else.

The Tolworth and other Sundown Tips

I do dislike using the word tips on here, it implies a relationship between us that regulars know does not exist.  Should you be new, I shall outline it briefly.  I am not really a tipster.  I know more about racing than the average Joe granted.  I write-up my views, throw in a few stats or trends I find interesting and add a story that glues it together.  What I write is what I bet.

You are free to do with this information as you choose.  As the last time of checking both you and I have entirely free agency.  You can choose to think I have found the rich seam and you can choose to sensibly dismiss much of my calculation as unsound.  Either way, the choices you make on the back of this, they are yours to bear the consequence from.

I am not admonishing myself of guilt when I mis-fire which is regular.  No.  I lose money too but you have to find accord, I will not accept your criticism for choices you make, no matter how enthusiastic my selection and how poor the performance.

Equally, the bargain works the other way too.  Should I help you strike gold with a rich seam of thought, then the credit for your success, is yours alone.  Agency, bloody wonderful.

So in the interest of full disclosure to enable you to decide what to do with what you read, I try to disclose recent form.  I have also at times kept a full record of bets and outcomes.  I did this twice, you can find it in the menu and recorded over 600 advices.  They made a profit of 15%.   That is pretty good, yet it is very hit and miss.  The Major, remains entirely free, slightly unhinged and barely profitable.

Anyway I regret two things about my tone.  Firstly it sounds condescending, a touch of patronising underlying in the tone.  Secondly it sounds colder than I intend.  For indeed, I am truly grateful for all who choose to make the Sermon part of their weekend ritual.  These past five years it has been part of mine, a regular anchor in the week around which the storm rages.

The Tolworth.

It has been a busy Christmas period with top quality racing but 4 runners in a Grade 1 hurdle, the only one on the Saturday cards, is a poor show.  Three of them have a chance and L’Ami Serge leads the field at 1/2.

Henderson was very glowing about his french import in his stable tour.  The horse has raced twice this season, firstly, at Newbury, defeating Kilcooley, a good-looking Longsden inmate who went on to smash a class 2 field a Haydock, stepped up a further half mile.  L’Ami Serge went on to show that was no fluke when he won at his leisure a three runner event which became two, with the only other finisher, Killutagh Vic someway behind.

Last year, Henderson had the one two in the race and the owner Simon Munir has had an absolute belter of a season with his new recruits, highly exciting times for them.  My favourite Munir horse is Une Artiste, not for ability but for a massive winner at Cheltenham!  Anyway, I cannot see beyond the 1/2 L’Ami Serge as Jollys Cracked It, despite looking nice, on all known form is not as good.  My selection has shown he can do it in small tactical races, uncomplicated.

Feel cheated?  What can I do?  Compensate by finding a big price one I like?  No, no my friends, I have to disengage from what you want to read, if this mothership is to land.

As such, I am also going to back the favourite in the second race, Aurora D’Estruval.  This Quinn runner looks to have this field in check after her latest exploits, running second to Irving in the Fighting Fifth.  Her record in the mud is excellent and the champion jockey booking just adds to the positive ledger.  Only evens.  With Mischievous Millie trying to come back from a big lay off, my prediction for the forecast would be Run Ructions Run who will be doing the best work at the end and is another that loves the slop.

I have mentioned the mud a couple of times.  The going, currently soft (hurdles, good to soft on the chase), might well deteriorate as it is currently raining as I understand.

In the 1.50pm, we see Williams Wishes prominent in the market.  I remember him being touted as a Champion Chase outsider a few years ago after winning this very race.  He was a bold front running jumper at the time that people found hard to peg back.  He has been exposed a bit more since then and now ten, he does not hold the profile of the likely winner for me.

Dance Floor King has been in sparkling form but the handicapper has reacted and he is out of the handicap so disadvantaged further.

Brick Red is a likeable sort and fits the category of Venetia Saturday runners that you kick yourself for not backing.  That said, he was well mastered by he slightly unreliable Mr Mole last time at Exeter and I do not think a small reverse of the weights will swing it.  It happened to be the latter debut for the season and Brick Red had already had his warm up.  My concern and hope for those who are trying to get the form reversed is that Brick Red might prefer the hustle and bustle of Sandown and those railway fences can sort them out you know.  Still 3/1 for my boy, take that.

Three races, three favourites.  I can see you shaking your head over your Eggs Benedict.

The 3pm from Sandown is an interesting looking hurdle.  What strikes me about the race is that there are a number that are going to want to go on forwards early on and I would be surprised if the race was won by a prominent racer.  Rather I think it will be set up for a closer.

On that note, Balgarry, the Pipe runner who looked to me a well handicapped dark horse last time, is of interest.  He fluffed his comeback lines and I would be interested in going in again if it were not the case that he will be amongst the chief throat cutters.

Instead, the Major rests his hopes on young sensation Sean Bowen and his Ditcheat trained, french import, Bouvreull.  Writing the blog tardy and late has given me the opportunity of seeing the market confidence for the horse which is now only available at a best price 5/1 but not for too long.  He is getting a stone and a half from the likes of Amore Alato and as the rain pours, every pound weighs heavier on the back of the favourite.

In the last, I am hoping for a Paul Nicholls quick fire double, Unioniste who I would back at the 7/2 generally available.  Oddly he is 6/1 with Ladbrokes.  Very odd.  Surely palpable error as there is no indication that it is a special offer.

Anyway, the horse looks set for a good run in softish ground, was far from disgraced in the Hennessy and last year was a top Grade One prospect for Ditcheat.  I have not yet given up hope.

Other Tips

There is a cracking card at Wincanton and I wish I had the energy.  If in doubt, just back Nicholls.

Instead, I am FA Cup focussed to finish off the advice and I generally look for Premier League teams playing Championship or League One opposition where the market suggests that the more senior team might not play a full team.  In these circumstances I find it advantageous to back the Premier side as invariably they play a better team and anyway, their reserves can be as good.

QPR to beat Sheffield United fits the bill, 3/4 is available.  Villa (struggling to score) to beat Blackpool (free fall) is probably something I will regret at 4/9 but surely Blackpool are poor enough to follow script here?  Sunderland to beat Leeds 6/10, that is in too.

The Martin Hill bet is Unioniste, Mr Mole and QPR in a powerful treble of glory.

May your dinner be taken in the best company.  Ah, one of those lively ones whose eyes race and in the excitement, good comportment, momentarily lost.  To the devil with manners, when it is this much fun.  Drink well, tip well.

Courage, roll the dice.