Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Saturday Sermon – Newbury, Leopardstown, Kelso and Doncaster

Good evening from the Major who writes from a crisp cold late winter night in Worcestershire where the sky fought to the end to hold its light from the stars relentless rising.  Clean distinct clouds hang in the cold breathless air as the light blue blends to dark and washes away the pinks and peaches of dusk.

The Major is exhausted and will be to bed for deep slumber.  The week had me up North for business, a dinner that may prove important in the path of life, more in the months to come when I can.  A shoddy hotel which was doing it’s best to be top class but fell some way short.

Come Sunday, I am in flight to Germany for studies.  I do like Germany.  The people are so obedient and pleasant, the place so clean and the language attainable.  My last Germanic trip was for the Berlin marathon, three years and three stone ago.  That was an incredible trip.  Some memories remain with me, as they will.

Berlin is a place I would highly recommend.  It has all of the sophistication of a worlds leading city but none of the pretension.  Play ping-pong in an old East Berlin bar at 3am amid the smoke and the smell of beer, tis good.

The memory that really stays with me of Berlin is of its dark history which edges all elements of the city.  To walk through the exhibition named ‘The Topography of Terror’ is a life experience.  It is set in the basement of the former Gestapo building where the foundations  and wall structures of cells are clearly made out. The rest of the building is gone so that you walk in the open air but below ground level.

In each cell were several display units, heavily text laden standing perhaps ten feet tall.  There were perhaps thirty cells and to peruse the entire display would take three hours, that is how long it took myself anyway.

The exhibition charts the rise, the impact and the fall of Nazism.  Through any medium of education, word of mouth, culture or entertainment, I never really grasped just quite how Nazism came into the popular mainstream.  I have an inherent belief that as humans we are all born broadly equal.  It always bemused me to encounter football fans causing some other clan of being different as though certain clubs attract certain people.  Not for me.

How then do you explain the resources of a nation being efficiently and effectively applied to the demonic eradication of another race?

This exhibition takes so long because it covers it in detail.  I came away having shed that lifetime confusion.  I got it.  Layer by layer it tells a story that I cannot do justice to here but suffice to say this.  If it happened there, it can happen again and that surely is the best reason to visit.

In Berlin you will find holocaust memorials which befuddle your mind with scale.  Some of the horror is lost in the enormity.  The barbarism so vast, it escapes application of emotion.

The Topography of Terror varies between this and more personal moments.  I came away troubled by one particular piece.  The Nazi machine, were killing their own where it met the desires of the leaders.  One such group were the disabled.  Children…. Think about this.  Children were taken from their homes and their parents told that because of the war effort and their childs needs, they were to be housed by the government in specially dedicated hospitals.  Parents often never knew of the true evil intent.

A letter, a father writing to the administrator of a death processing plant masquerading as a hospital; he spoke of sweet treats he had enclosed which he hoped might be passed to his daughter (her favourites to remind her of him) and a longing request, through in his tone carried a sense of desperation, could he see his daughter at Christmas as he missed her dreadfully.  The sense of foreboding revealed a suppressed terror, he knows something darker and more awful to be true.  His undying love for a daughter he longs to be safe cannot let him admit the awfulness in.  She had been gone for two years…..  A father missing his daughter at Christmas…

She was processed and killed weeks after she had been taken.

I have said it before but at what point, at what price of morality will the most depraved human acts be prevented?  What would sober such a twisted existence?  How do you straighten such a perversion of the decent.  The only way is for Private Johnston and Private Mills, gritted teeth and a pair of Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and a handful of mills bombs between them.

I don’t wish to project onto Berlin a morbidity it does not deserve.  The city is one of the finest there is, speak to those nice folk at Lufthansa and get yourself over there.

In the morning I am in the best company heading for a stable tour of the Robin Dickin operation.  @frankelslowbro (worth a follow if not already) and I won tickets at an early seasonal preview night.  His partner is coming and their gorgeous daughter Fran.  My company will be an old colleague and acquaintance, Kelly, fine company, an english pallor framed in an angular face, an elegant frame which has a statuesque quality, moving at lengthy angles like some great cat, blazing oily dark eyes and curt of lip, just the sort to keep the Major in good order.  Son number two come along too, all part of my long term plan to induce him into being a top class jockey.

To all of you grouches who dislike the enthusiastic childlike countdowns of us that are excited by the events just 11 days hence, well let you wish that we might change.  I accept the immature accusation but as Kant suggested, it is best that we remain childlike to get the most from our short spin.  As the Major oft decries, we float by the once, grab onto whatever flotsam you may come across.  Or as the Chinese proclaimed… Lick up the honey strangers, ask no questions.

11 days to build a warchest.  We need a good one.  Mullins Tuesday presents an opportunity to rout the enemy.  First we need to warm up.  I draw on history and our expedition to China in the second Opium War.  We landed near Tianjin, a river-mouth protected by the Taku Forts, hard rock defences thought impenetrable in the region but they had never seen the Victorian Military Modern Warfare tactics and technology that our forces wrought.  Martini-Henry rifles, self-loading.  Armstrong Rockets, Congreve Rockets fired by experienced Navy Gunners, we settled the forts and moved on.

We met the main action at the spectacular site of Eight Mile Bridge, a marble bridgehead above a large plain upon which Grant and Montauban, the main actors bought their troops.  Heavy and lights riding boot to boot, French infantry skirmishing ahead and those rockets concentrated and terrifying.  It was an unfair fight, we bought 3,000 to the field, the Imperial army perhaps 25,000, they had the high ground.  Numerical and ground supremacy were poor advantages.  They bought their ancient huge bronze guns to bear and were met with a reply they could not compute.

The Imperial Chinese Army lost perhaps a thousand souls, the Allied force, lost 5.

Today we set the ground out, let us not grant the enemy a foothold from which they might resist our irresistible pressing.

To the sports.

Saturday Racing Tips – Doncaster

Good ground at Doncaster, spring is here my good friends, beware.  How many a devilishly good National Hunt horse has suffered form reversals at the festival, Punchestown and all of the other big spring meetings as they finally get their desired ground.

In the opener, two potentially decent novices face off in Cardinal Walter (representing Henderson) and Fort Worth (O’Neill).  The former carries favouritism after losing out tot he highly useful Dewy last time out.

Such form assumptions bother me somewhat, it can be dangerous to assume the proximity to the victor represents the class difference between the two.  Consider, if the beaten horse had run ten lengths better, would he have won or would his competitor have raised the game too?

Anyway, there are other reasons to back Fort Worth.  He is proven on good ground, he is out of Presenting, he cost a small fortune and I said so.  6/4. If you are more a Cardinal sort of person then I would say that I was tempted by Nicky and his formidable Doncaster record (19 from 46 in previous two years).

In the 3.10pm, Batavir has shown himself a typical sort that Pipe has improved since joining his yard, winning a couple of handicaps and arriving up the weights again but full of promise.  I am against him though because I am not sure conditions suit, does he want it rattling?

Seldom Inn is of some interest but I am swayed by the case of Call the Cops who is a Henderson runner that might well improve greatly now stepped up to staying hurdles.  3/1.

I will have a tentative pop at the Grimthorpe and I am opting for 12/1 shot Samingarry.  The horse at least likes the better ground and on a form line with Annacotty might have more to offer yet.  Well weighted and I think a strong pace will suit and am hoping the race pans out that way.

Leopardstown

One of the more interesting runners of the day is Golantilla.  Although his halcyon bumper days (placed in a champion bumper) seem some way behind him, there still remains hope he might reproduce the form over hurdles.  Tony Martin is one of my favourite trainers.  Not because of sheer ability, no.  Rather he knows how to prepare a gambled horse and he can do OK with these quirky sorts too.

Yet surely Felix Younger will hold a more reliable chance and a better form prospect too?  His placed form in the Neptune is stronger and having not quite reached the level of form desired by his trainers high standards over fences, he reverts to the lesser obstacles in an attempt to revive top table form.  Well worth backing at 11/10.  Strong bet.

Sizing Granite won a very useful race last time out, the form of which has been franked.  4/5 is very fair despite the weight he has to give away.

A short price double raid on Ireland.

Newbury Tips

Having looked through the Newbury card, I see nothing but pain.  Yet, since there is a Grade 3 I feel I have to comment on the Greatwood.

I am choosing to back the most intriguing horse in the race, Westward Point, representing the hugely impressive Greater operation.  He has been missing in action for over a year but previously was a lightly raced progressive sort.  He has shown plenty of good ground form and since I trust the stable to have the beast prepared, I have to imagine that 10/1 (Paddy Power) is the price to take.

Kelso Thoughts

The jury is out on Ballybolley who was an excellent bumper horse but has been a bit disappointing so far over timber.  Yes, he might spring back but I’d prefer the McCain horse, especially as this is a race he has done well with.  No bet though, I just don’t want to oppose quality in this way.

Redemption for another of the owners horses is in the 3pm where Bristol de Mai lines up after chasing home Jollyallan and Garde la Victoria last time out.

Funnily enough, since the team decided that Peace and Co was the principle horse and that Bristol de Mai was only a back up for Cheltenham, I have been out to get this one.  I think it may have flattered to deceive and so my attentions are firmly upon Intense Tango and Glingerburn who carry better pilots too.

Those pilots are the best in the north, along with Mr Maguire, both Harding and Hughes are solid sorts.  In my view, Hughes looks the better balanced but Harding has a touch of the McCoy about him, he gets stuck in and horses respond.

The two horses I am focussed on are very different profiles,  Intense Tango is a flat bred sort out of Mastercraftsmen, a sire whose stud value will be on the up.  Particularly as he seems capable of siring national hunt sorts as well as blue blood flat machines.  Intense Tango has shown promise in his juvenile hurdle races.

In the other corner, Glingerburn.  From the national hunt sire of sires, Kings Theatre.  He has gone from strength to strength this year winning three hurdles, since making little impression in his two bumper starts.  I particularly liked his last run, staying on well to defeat Hawk High, a decent sort.

I think this is my bet of the day.  Glingerburn 11/4.  Set your watch by it.

In the football…..

I am not at all convinced by the appointment of Sherwood at Aston Villa.  I am going to back Newcastle and I hope Villa get relegated.

Oh Major, I hear you cry, particularly the Villa fans who may wring their hands and think me some sort of West Brom partisan sort that just wishes ill on the neighbour.  Surely you know me better than small-minded?

It is not that.  Growing up, I knew lots of Villa fans at school.  In the inaugural Premier League season, the team finished runner-up.  Expectations have always been high and while I followed my team up to the old Springfield Park, to stand in the cold rain, on a grass bank, to see Albion defeat Wigan one-nil in the worst game of football you can imagine (Shakespeare penalty), Villa held their visions of grandeur.  Bob Taylor was my hero, they went through a series of more expensive heroes.

I am not bitter, I promise.  I just feel the experience of lower league football makes you more thankful.  I think Villa fans resent Albion fans cheering them down not so much because it is bad form (which it is, you should never wish ill luck) but because the sensibilities hurt with the thought.  The impenetrable visage, already the parapets bought asunder, seems ready to crumble,

I have this to say for any Villa fans reading.  Should Sherwood not muster the requisite fighting spirit of the 21 Sikhs who fought off thousands of Afghan Pashtun fighters in the North West Frontiers of Saragarhi in 1897; then rest assured that defeat shall bring a sweet drink.  Even if you stay relegated for a season or two or four.  You will emerge better for the experience, more thankful more circumspect of life in general.

I do not wish for you to think me a hypocrite.  Was I not early in the sermon extolling a paragon that we are all equal in the end.  Well yes,  I think Villa fans no different to any other, apart from one crucial respect, experience.

The Martin Hill: Call the Cops, Newcastle and Glingerburn.  Trixie or Treble?  Trixie.  Now is not the time for foolishness.

May your dinner be fine and taken in great state, good wines of vintage years and fine company, sharply dressed and with that wanton glint.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

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The Saturday Sermon…. Chepstow, Kempton and Fairyhouse

Good Evening from the Major who writes late into the night with sleep calling.  Worcestershire is at rest as well it should be.  Settling down, the light blue shades of early evening slip northwards into the unknown cold heavens leaving a barley and peach swirling tinge to the horizon, beautiful and clear.  If you ever find yourself short of inspiration, turning your gaze skywards in the darkness for ample stimulation.

Last week, we almost….. almost landed that mothership, the lament of the gambler.  We struck six winners from nine racing tips and Ma Filleuele and Fletchers Flyer were close up seconds, so very close, I could taste it.

A week of study as the Major finished proceedings in pursuit of a Masters in Business Administration.  Good company at Warwick Business School but Managerial Economics is a subject where the content swings from the quite absorbing to the particularly dry.  Travelling to and from University is draining too and I am pleased to be at the weekend and the refuge of sports.  The whole vista spread before us.

Last weekend, while the Majors selections served me proud, I took pleasure in the results from a distance having taken the family (two boys aged 6 and 8) to London and the Science Museum.  A fantastic place and although we had to scamper across London late, we arrived in time to sneak in and watch a film we were booked into, a cartoon interspersed with old footage of the first moon landings.

Afterwards, sat in the smart restaurant magnificently set in a corner of the cavernous concrete halls, we talked about this remarkable piece of history and it sparked something in me as it had in the boys.

The political election machines are creaking into gear with each piece of news fashioned into an instrument to batter the enemy.  It’s all cheap and it garners little elevation in the electorate.  You need not to scratch far to find partisan political fans treating their allegiance like a test of loyalty, family heritage; akin to supporting a football team.  Personally I believe, like many things, politics is a spectrum not a binary choice.

The current crop of leaders are a poor lot.  It has been some time since we had a good one.  Think about the last… Do so without considering  your approval for policy, try to abandon the unfair judgement which the filter of hindsight allows and just remember the electricity which each potential prime minister injected into the system in the first instance.

Whatever your particular persuasion, you cannot have missed the enthusiasm injected into Britain by youthful Blair rocking into Downing Street with a shot of adrenaline for the country or by Thatcher speaking of bringing hope where there is despair and giving the much needed comfort of  a hand on the tiller.  They did more than set policy, they caught a mood and even if things did not work out in the end; well, few prime ministers leave office in good circumstances.

Which present leader could possibly offer us this sentiment in May?  Who has caught the mood rightly and can articulate it powerfully?  In the end, we are offered variations on a theme from men whose aim is to avoid criticism rather than challenge accepted norms.

It was the trip to the Science Museum which recalled in me a long-standing admiration of John F Kennedy, a fine man, a fine politician.  My hero for many years prior to his passing was Sir Clement Freud.  I loved his variety, wit and carefree attitude.  He might not have quite matched Kennedys’ gravitas but he had the same spark, that which Descartes may have written of at length.

Kennedy was an ill man, he was administered last rites on a trans-atlantic cruise as a young chap but came through.  He came to power in an incredible time, the cold war was ratcheting up, Vietnam was on the horizon, the US had fallen behind in the space race and he led a country racked and split by racial tension.  Then there was the Cuban crisis.

Just listening to the mans speeches during this time give a sense of what a powerful leader he was.  The overwhelming sense that comes in his rhetoric is that of hope.  He explains challenges in sensible terms but addressing people like adults and speaking directly.  Underpinning it all is a sense that not only will you be OK but you have a role to play in making the whole nation OK.  All spoken by a man who was decorated at the highest military level, a purple heart no less.

He offered the olive branch to the Soviet Union, though it was not taken.  He suggested a joint space race but the idea was rejected by Kruschchev.  He made one single terrible error in his episode with the Bay of Pigs.  Yet, he was able to recognise that error and move forwards despite it.

Defeating the racist stand of Governor Wallace on the steps of learning in Alabama.  That was moving.  He understood the words of his great forebear and inspired a translation into action and improvement, a rallying point….. all men created equal.

His inaugural speech is excellent.  His speech for peace is better.  His speech, for civil rights, though dated, is powerful.  His speech defending his right to be the first Catholic president, superb.  Ich bin ein Berliner, legendary.  His speech around terror not being a novel weapon is apt for our time as it was then.  Yet, one speech above all, stays with me more than these.

In the heat of a Texan summer, in downtown Houston, at the seat of learning that is Rice University, he launched his shot at the moon.  To think what it meant then.  An unthinkable project, with uncertain ends, almost unbelievable in scope, a fantasy.  The sense of being behind the enemy in the race.  Kennedy in one speech galvanised a nation and revived a teetering national pride.  It was delivered in such a responsible way, not the vitriol of defeating rivals, rather that in securing the advantage in technology, they might be able to secure a peaceful future for all, human conflict does not yet exist in space, after all.  I offer no apology for giving you link to the full speech.  Yes, the two-minute version gives you a flavour but the full version allows you to wallow in his rhetoric, not a bad place to spend some time.

I played it to my boys at lunch in the Science Museum, explaining to them the timing and the significance.  They were gripped, as was I.  His ability to place a historical context, condensing mans history to 50 years and declaring that last month came automobiles, last week penicillin and by midnight tonight, we will have reached the stars.  Accepting the challenges of it, accepting the lack of capability to deliver it.  Drawing Mallory, our great climber into the debate on his side, that we do these things, because they are there.  The conquest that deserves the best of all mankind.  It has my hairs on end well before he delivers his killer line…. We choose to go to the moon.

Kennedy was in power for less that three years prior to assassination.  His legacy is served well by this shortened term.  He did not have to deal with some of the difficulties to come.  Yet while it may be an unfair comparison, which of our present leaders might even hold a candle to this sort of ambition, positivity and unity.

Today, we are offered a choice between an NHS budget of £112bn or £114bn and whether 4% or 6% of its’ services are outsourced to the private sector.  We have a choice of gaining a small budget surplus or simply erasing a deficit in the next parliament.  We are tinkering at the edges.

We need a leader unafraid to shake us from our complacency.  I do not like or agree with Russell Brand.  He is right in one crucial respect though, recognising the apathy towards voting.  Where I part with the man is in the causation.  He believes the system is permanently corrupted.  I believe we are in need of a hero but cannot yet see one.

Now… to the sports.  Let us choose to land this mothership.

Kempton Tips

I am going to start by looking at the big card of the day, Kempton.

The Adonis hurdle is a two mile Grade two contest in soft ground and for juveniles.  It says something of the quality of the race that the favourite, Bivouac can currently be backed for the Triumph hurdle at 50/1, suggesting that this race as a trial is an irrelevance.  That is a slight disappointment as previous winners include Champion Hurdlers Punjabi (my biggest ever single winner with those lovely white socks) and Binocular.

Still, we have a race to solve and the favourite is justified partly because of a course and distance display.  Bivouac stepped up to Grade 2 company last time at Cheltenham and was seemingly exposed and defeated although it was behind Peace and Co, a piece of form that might yet hold him in decent light.

Beltor is a fascinating contender being a convert from the Prescott yard where he attained a mark of 76 on the flat, perfectly respectable.  He outperformed market expectations at Ludlow, leaving Arabian Revolution, another of Ferguson’s well-bred behind.  He was in receipt of 9lbs but both the former and subsequent victories of Arabian Revolution and the visual appearance of the win of Beltor were impressive.

Then the Paul Nicholls horse, All Yours.  He fell on debut and then was sauntering to an easy victory at Taunton when getting a mind of his own at the last and wandering around like a lunatic.

Primogeniture is being backed like he will make an important debut  but this is tough enough for a horse to make a hurdling debut in.

The nature of the beast is that we are second guessing where the improvement is coming from.  I see it like this.  Bivouac has the best form in the book but has been shown to be wanting at the top table, Henderson has a good record in the race but it looks vulnerable.  Beltor is less fashionable and if reproducing the form of his win at Ludlow can progress past Bivouac.  Then All Yours, Nicholls also has a good record in the Adonis and at 4/1, this also interests me more than the favourite.

In the end, I am leaving the conventions behind and backing 3/1 Beltor.  That last win did look good and has been franked.  More progress could be to come from a horse very well-bred for the job.  Authorized, the 2007 derby winner is proving a top National Hunt sire and this Danehill cross might be decent.  Also 50s for the Triumph, I would not put you off a small slice of that too right now in case I am incredibly right.

The 2.35pm is the Pendil Novice Chase.  Arguably the best horse in the race is Melodic Rendezvous a highly respected hurdler who only made a chase debut in December.  I am always a bit suspect about that sort of profile, late game changes do not make champions.

The two to concentrate on in my opinion are Gods Own and Irish Saint and the choice comes easily enough.  Gods Own was a horse I liked more than I should at the start of the year.  Though a quirk in dates, the horse was qualified to run in novice events although bringing a wealth of chasing experience to the table.  His Exeter run near the start of the year was excellent.  He is a right-handed runner by record although I am always dubious about using that sort of information.  Most concerning is the ground, Gods Own is a top of the ground sort.

That leaves me with an obvious selection in Irish Saint but I find it hard to back this one too.  He emptied last time at Sandown and that only franks his earlier efforts, very decent but not the finest.

Having assessed all three and found them all wanting, I am overcoming my discomfort to back Melodic Rendezvous at 9/4.   He is certain to appreciate and more rain and gets a valuable weight allowance from the top two.

Then the Dovecote Novice Hurdle another Grade 2 hurdle, this time over two miles.  No less than seven of the last ten winners came out of Ditcheat although interestingly, none of the top luminaries are amongst those winners.  This race looks a straight punch up between Vago Collonges and Days of Heaven.

The former is the Nicholls runner who is stepping back in trip after looking a smooth winner and seemingly not staying last time.  In the other corner, Days of Heaven is improving markedly since a hood made the penny drop for this horse.  He looks a better horse for this sharper test and the 5/4 selection.

Then the Betbright Chase, formerly known as the Racing Post.  A 3 mile test and one that usually favours better proven horses than up and coming sorts.

On these grounds, I like Rocky Creek who might be seen to good effect now that the National weights are out, though he might need further than 3 miles.  Easter Day is a stable mate and has been backed heavily all week.  There is a good chance he will run well off the present allocation but my eyes are elsewhere.

Le Reve did the donkey work in the Hennessy before being picked up easily enough.  He bookended that decent run with two wins and the 7-year-old has improvement left you would think to defy a 7lb rise.  9/1 is a working mans price for a progressive classy sort.

Beau Phil is my pick in the bumper as I believe Ghost river to look more exposed, in spite of his last victory.  3/1 is available.

T’other Sport

I had the measure of Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre on their returns this season and I remain unconvinced that either of them will win a race again.  It is such a difficult division to return to.  Moore is talking up his Champion Chaser and there will be support enough to drive it odds on in my view.

This is Chepstow and it is soft with a splash of rain forecast for 1pm.  That means it will be a test and if I am going to get Sire beat again, it will be because of the strain of returning to the two mile races, burdened with a welter weight in Welsh mud.  I don’t have to convince myself too hard that he can be beaten again.

That simply leaves the choice of Grey Gold or Far West.  My choice for the Nicholls 5/2 shot is influenced by the young and highly capable Sherwood who still claims 5lbs in the saddle and looks a top class jockey prospect.

I would not recommend it for those easily angered but Vercingetorix in the opener at Fairyhouse at 10/11 is a bet for me.  Elliot was very sweet on this one who won like a future star at Limerick.  We need to assume that something was amiss last time and business will be resumed but  am happy to make that assumption.

I like betting against teams where the wheels may have come off and West Ham were thoroughly beaten by a workmanlike Albion last weekend.  Despite Tottenham having the exerting of midweek, I fancy them to win easily enough and Harry Kane was rested for this game.  Tottenham (-1) is 21/10 and that is my bet.

The Martin Hill bet is Far West, Days of Heaven, Beltor and Tottenham (-1) in a power yankee.

May your dinner be taken in great company at home.  Call someone to cook and deliver it for you and let the good laughter and booze flow freely as you enjoy the moment.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot Run through… It’s all about confidence you know.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a uncomfortably warm hotel room, somewhere in the badlands to the East of Kings Cross.  Well, badlands might be a bit strong to describe Angel but all things are relative and the woodburner in Worcestershire is in a alternate universe from this one.  We are visiting as a family for the weekend, sensible, healthy activities.

If you are one for DIY, which I am certainly not then you might scoff at my poor abilities around the home.  I have never been particularly handy; wiring a plug, perhaps, but beyond that, my DIY skills largely entail selecting an expensive tradesperson to execute the job properly and with minimal disruption to my own debauched endeavours.  I think it is a generational thing.

My father in law, Graham, was a buildings engineer at the sprawling Rover complex outside Solihull.  He is entirely the opposite, electrics, plumbing; he can perform or cause to be performed almost any project around the home.

I once was in his spare bedroom to witness his latest absurdity which he delighted in revealing.  He remarked that he had recently been up in the loft and felt it a waste of valuable internal space.  Yet he did not want to embark on a serious loft conversion project.  So, his eyes gleaming alive with whimsical fury, he reached for a long brass rod and poked it into a hole in the ceiling.  Silently and smoothly, a set of perfectly counterbalanced shelves dropped elegantly into the middle of the room.  My mouth gaped at the simple beauty and the rampant madness of it.

On another occasion he fitted an electric shower in a flat, myself and the good lady owned in Birmingham City Centre.  It took days, not because of Grahams’ capability, rather that his perfectionist persona ensured a painstakingly immaculate installation.  Once again, I marvelled at the folly of the man.  When the job was complete though, I could not see a single wire, join or pipe.

When a young man, he converted (with help from some friends) a short wheel base Landrover into a 6 wheel drive version.  They bought the vehicle on the cheap at a military vehicle auction.  They undertook this engineering challenge to enable a planned adventure through Africa, they called the project Sandtrekker.  Their ambition was to travel from Morocco to Cairo to the Cape and they did it.

They wrote a book about it and I have not the time to do it justice here.  I am however reading the book with my 6-year-old son.  He loves it, after all the star of the show is Grandad.  I am hoping it instills within him an inspiration to follow suit.  Not some tepid trail followed by thousands of Western wealthy youngsters but a real trip into the unknown.

Graham ended up staying on in Africa, working in the mining industries of Zambia.  He was there for years, he took his wife out and gave birth to a son and a daughter, who was to have no small effect in my own life.

Where do you start adding an extra powered axle to a Landrover though? Confidence.  It is all born from confidence.  Allow me to expand, while deliberate in in everything he does, Graham is more aggressive during the early stages.  He has been helping me remove and replace a fireplace for the woodburner.  We have been working at it odd days at a time, for months.  Firstly cutting out the hefty oak floor to bed down a smart slate hearth, then removing the original slate bed for replacing.

In the removal stages, Graham cares a lot less than I do for the impact of his actions.  Where I sit concerned that we might damage the plasterboard or not understand what we might reveal by ripping something off a wall or floor, Graham is unperturbed, wielding an axe with magnificent abandon.  Confidence.  Confident he can put right whatever his actions create.  There I am trying to prise some piece of stone out gently, he standing over me, a sledgehammer swinging gently and him suggesting we give it a kiss with the hammer end.

I know he is taking great pride in my newfound interest in DIY.  He has been my overqualified odd job man for twelve years and this is the first time I have shown serious interest in joining in.  Formerly being a busy professional I had good reason.  Now languishing in a career break, being entirely unproductive, that impediment has been removed.

A new excuse, my wretched back (slipped disc in October for those not keeping up) has replaced it but Graham being 72 and already a procrastinater extraordinaire works at my sort of pace.  One hour on, one hour to catch up on the doings at Chepstow and to take a refreshing beer.  It is good time spent together.

Meetings in London on Wednesday and following the cheaper and better trains, I went to Birmingham for the run to Euston.  I sat opposite a good-looking young couple discussing their valentine plans.  He was to cook but had no idea what.  If you make no eye contact and sit quietly on a train, it is remarkable how quickly a couple at your table will drop their guard and discuss most private matters.  I felt rather the gooseberry.

She was truly beautiful, lucky guy.  Vigorous healthy brunette curls fell to a slender shoulder encased in fine black wool.  Her face was pale and striking with well-structured cheekbones which, coupled with a healthy length of limb, told of good breeding, exercise and nutrition.  Dark set eyes flashed wildly and she was attentive and active as a panther.  God, she seemed so nice as well, generous with her smile, evident good company.

Ah Major, falling in love again?  Well, no.  You see, they were so nice they I daren’t sully their existence with my own base desires.  They were both polite and carried that derided Birmingham accent, decried as ugliest in the land (pah!).  How so, they spoke in rhythmic fashion, drawling out the end of sentences, finishing with upwards inflections, the sound of hope.

Birmingham is a fine place for hope.  Graham (a resident himself) once said that whatever you wish to buy, you can find it 10% cheaper somewhere in Birmingham.  We are a city of traders, sprawling old industries, inventor of the Balti, more canals than Venice, Noble Peace Winner Malala, one of the worlds finest University Hospitals and the HQ of our latest national engineering project, High Speed 2.  I rest the case for the defence your Honour.

Now to the sports.  Tuesday is the three week marker so I am conscious that we all need winners.  If we are to raise an army to defeat the bookmaker at Cheltenham, then we must build up an appropriate war chest to fund such a prolonged battle.  For the next few weeks, we shall concentrate our action on small forays into the enemy supply lines, raiding a wagon here, picking off an ammunition train there.  Just enough to line our pockets with the gelt for more serious contact.  Weaponise the Mothership.

To the sports…

Ascot Saturday Tips

Lizzie Kelly has been making a bit of a name for herself with some big-ticket Saturday rides on Aubusson and she gets the chance to fire another winner in, this time at Ascot when aboard Tea for Two.  The conditions of the race mean that she cannot make her usual claim but the form book points strongly to her mount being the best horse.  Tea for Two dotted up in the Lanzarote and realistically only looks to have Arpege D’Alane to beat.

However, that rival looks a decent sort himself.  He walked an easy maiden before being stepped up into Grade 1 company in the Challow at Newbury.  There were no obvious impediments bar experience and so you have to take the form literally, he is not from the top drawer of novices but clearly has some talent.

On balance, I like the bigger priced horse, we get a better jockey (sorry Lizzie) and I think there could be plenty to come from a horse trained by the master of them all.  Arpege D’Alane, 11/4 with Ladbrokes and Stan James.

Another four runner affair is second on the card in the 3m Grade 2 novice chase. It may not boast the quantum but it carries the quality.   Last year this race produced the RSA winner, that seems unlikely from this line up.

Virak has given Deputy Dan a beating earlier in the season, to be fair to the Deputy, it was his seasonal debut, the yard were a bit undercooked and I maintained a flame.  I felt very vindicated when the horse reappeared to beat Far West in his next run.  Since then, the improvement has stopped, he is a nice jumper and an efficient traveller but might not be much more than that.

Virak himself was a bit poor when a country mile behind Coneygree on the King George card.  His previous three wins were good and maybe he emptied so quickly at Kempton having raced 13 days prior on soft ground at Doncaster, once too often to the well perhaps.  We could give him another chance, especially with Mr Nicholls hovering up the Saturday pots like a trailer possessed.

Ainsi Fiddles perhaps has the profile of a slightly less high calibre horse but he has been reliable, racing up a series of wins starting in the summer.  Finishing second last time, he has been given a break and comes here with something the other three cannot offer.  Good ground form.  Ascot is good to soft and frankly it drains and dries very quickly.  Thus, this is a significant boost.

I am down to Virak or Ainsi and with doubts about both, I give a very tentative nod to the Pipe horse, Ainsi is 3/1 in a few places.

The 2.40 is a limited handicap chase over 3 miles and in a Saturday staying chase, we are used to instinctively backing the Venetia horses.  However, the yard is having a quiet spell and Shangani, one I have followed in marathon slogs, has the line.

There was a lot to like about Clondaw Knights’ win at Wetherby last time and while I’m not too bothered about his stone rise, I am concerned about this better company.  respected though.  Capps Bleu loves the better ground and Evan Williams is in OK touch so I respect the veteran as I do Hey Big Spender who showed some heart in winning another Rehearsal Chase.

In the end though, I think they all might struggle with Carole’s Destrier who looks more progressive.  The fact connections went for a wind op mid-season suggests that they are expecting good things and Neil Mulholland has reached for a big time booking in Barry Geraghty.  9/4 is the general price.

The 3.15 is a handicap hurdle over almost two and a half miles.  I make a case for three horses… Unique de Cotte, Rolling Star and Diamond King.  Each in order.

Unique de Cotte did remarkably well to get up on the line in a conditional jockeys event under Kieron Edgar.  He was hampered, slipped but still made it back when it mattered to win.  McCoy took over last time at Newbury and there were some reasonable excuses for the run, tonight there is money and on the rolling bandwagon AP McCoy retirement spectacular, none would be surprised if this horse played a part.

Rolling Star has been desperately disappointing after a rather promising juvenile campaign.  It is also a bit concerning that we have not seen the horse this season to date which tells you something of the kid gloves required.  Yet, if you trusted someone to don the gloves, Henderson would be high on that list.  What I really like about the horse is that he has been aimed at damn good races and Nicky does not do that for fun, surely there is some talent still to be bought forward?

Then there is Diamond King.  He is sired by the daddy of national hunt stars, Kings Theatre and looked a promising sort in a bumper career that saw him dish out two 15+ length defeats to, admittedly, average sorts.  He looked in need of the run when returning and I must confess that Donald McCain is not exactly my most trusted ‘go to’ yard.  Yet, breeding and bumper form stay with me and while McCoys mount is receiving the buckets of JPs cash overnight, he might have a fight on his hands here… 7/1 with Coral.

The Ascot Chase is interesting… I have been backing Vautour for the JLT but Ptit Zig is in the back on my mind, niggling away.  I am not sure why Nicholls has put him into this race rather than keep him up against the novices but that can only be taken as a mark of confidence.

Balder Succes got back on the winning trail last time out but is not rock solid and the same comments apply to Ballycasey who while showing glimpses of quality, is not bulletproof.

Ma Filleuele…. hmmmmmm.  I wrote a piece extolling her virtues earlier in the season and when she showed up at Aintree but was beaten into third of four despite jumping beautifully for a long way.  I am not sure if her stamina was giving out but my hope remains that she makes the top frame.  Perhaps that is the idea in dropping her in trip.  It probably makes my Gold Cup tickets even more irrelevant if she wins but I really think you cannot give this girl 7lbs and not expect it back with interest.

I had to double-check what I was reading when looking at the 4.20.  Ruby Walsh, riding for Colin Tizzard.  I cannot find a ride for Tizzard in his history and in his refined years, he seems to me to be taking a more selective approach to his riding.  Thistlecrack, hmmm.

To muddy the water massively, Venetia Williams aims Otaga Trail at this and this beast has absolutely mullered the opposite in its last two outings.  There is a question about whether the horse needs deeper ground and my aforementioned concern over the yard form also tempers me throwing a bag of cash on it.

Saraband takes the muddy water and adds a black ink to it.  French import, Nicholls, what do you need to know?  Could be anything.

Saint Charles was a reasonably pricey pick for JP out of the points field and has done nothing wrong but probably lacks the appeal to me of the others.

This is difficult and I am not going to go long on it.  On what we have seen, Otaga Trail looks the best.  However… I cannot let that jockey booking go unbacked… Thistlecrack can be backed at 8/1 with Stan James.

Good luck, I will leave you alone with the bumper.

T’other Racing

Champagne Fever runs at Gowran.  I am a bit torn, I am not his greatest fan, he loses far too many races but then, what, in the opposition might beat him?  After all, he was second in an Ankle and won a Supreme.  He remains prominent in the Ryanair and the Champion Chase.

Bright New Dawn is reliable and to be fair has some good form.  He took a Flyingbolt and has run well enough, last time losing out to a speedier Hidden Cyclone.

I can’t back anything but my heart suggests Champagne Fever.

Kitten Rock however is 8/13 with Paddy Power and that my friends is finding it in the street!

At Haydock, the opener looks a penalty kick for Top Notch at an unbackable 1/4. At Fishers Cross who has always looked laboured since the reported back problems, this is amongst the weakest opposition I have faced but again, I cannot muster enough to bet.

The Grand National Trial is wide open and my tentative selection is Benbens who will be suited by conditions.

Ballagh is maturing fast but I think Fletchers Flyer has probably got his measure.  Harry Fry has been a bit quieter this year but his season is still going strong and frankly he makes the most appeal.

It is also Kingwell day at Wincanton and thank god there is an easy winner Irving, which needs no explanation.

Int he football.  For once, I fancy my boys, West Brom to beat West Ham.  6/4.  Sole bet. Brave.

From a plethora of bets, the Martin Hill selection…. West Brom, Kitten Rock, Arpege D’Alane and Ma Filleuele.  Trebles and a Fourfold.

May your dinner be taken not in the preferable independent unusual place… rather in a chain standardised place but in a mass of numbers… why Major why? because lots of friends and who cares about the fare.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Newbury and Warwick (Hopefully) et al.

Good evening from the Major who writes from the most glorious Worcestershire night, it is good to be alive.  The winter may stall in it’s search for spring, but each night lights edge clings a little longer, chipping at winters’ clock, it feels less repressive each week, our relentless march towards March, we sense the redemption.  We will know and right soon.  It is coming friends.

Tonight, the sky was as expansive as the human eye could take.  I drove at dusk, starlings flocking, a buzzard hulked on a branch, just a black silhouettes against a deepening blue background which was slipping to burned orange and dead red on the horizon.

Over-excitement like children causes many to tweet countdowns to Cheltenham.  I imagine many might scoff at these antics, being immature, even churlish.  For myself, I grant some accommodation for this sin.  It is born from good thought, a genuine rush of blood, we all must confess to a prickling of the skin and a dancing tickle along the spine.  I have much capacity for error made for the right reason.

A man was burned to death, the raw footage widely available.  His masters paraded him through rubble, once a building, rubbing his nose in their wounds before acting with a barbarism without check.  Thoughts of family (theirs, his) could not sober wild minds, neither could the tenderness of his skin or the sharp smell of paraffin filling their nostrils.  The wretched soul clutched at his face, then falling and suffering awful indescribable momentary agony which eventually led to the end, a blackened rigid frame, still locked in position.  It was just a minute and for that mercy I guess we can be thankful.

I want to think the insanity is underpinned by previous personal atrocity, maybe it is.  Not that I seek to justify, merely understand.  You see, I struggle to compute how the mind might cage a man, douse him and light a fuse.

Dinner in the week, London.  Business.  I asked for a recommendation from an old friend in PR and he gave me a place in Soho.  I know what you’re thinking, primitive lot, not that.  The place was busy, loud and dark. Pleasant in its’ way but a tad romantic for dinner.  My guest, a teetotaler was rather rudely treated by the waiter but we had already broken ice and so this acted as glue rather than ice.

Walking through the west end at night is a wonder of the world.  Every walk of life saunters the West End streets.  Ladies, for the love of god, put some tights on, its close to freezing, I fear , I am an old man.

I find the area troubling.  Effortless style so intensely put together.  I was glad to be on the train home with three loud students, eating rather pungent meat pies and talking about Mangoes of all things.  One had dreads, another a Yorkshireman was rapidly talking and needed a volume control.  She though, was lovely.  She swore, unconvincingly, needing to impress in company, her flaxen hair fell to the shoulder, large hoop earrings, gentle pouting lips and dark eyes framed in a face with a glorious smile, that came with spontaneous laughter.  You know me, I fall in love readily although my old friend Kelly used to say, Major, it is not love.

I spent the rest of the week at University at my studies.  A new group of fellow students to familiarise myself with.  1. A hefty Florida cove carrying premature years on his large frame boasting a  full beard… like me, he sat at the back seeking anonymity.  2. A lively flashy sort, troubled by her incessant phone, perfectly nice but little time for error and was clearly dealing with the stresses of a life run at full throttle. 3. From Calcutta, smooth skin, a hint of fun, very proper with impeccable manners, she moved like a well-groomed cat – She had that lovely sing-song quality that comes with an Indian accent and she often caught me out by often smiling and shaking her head when she agreed with me, I liked her the most but not in the way you degenerate sorts are thinking.  Finally, quiet but full of humour a chap from Lagos, the sort I immediately though was damn decent and he was sporting with the ale.

We had a group assignment which meant staying on beyond the class finish at 5.30 and piecing together work for a Friday assessment which is in the form of a presentation to fellow students and academics.  This caused me an issue, being committed to my London trip on Wednesday night.  Thankfully having breached the subject early in the week, my position was accepted.  I was even able to make good with them when it became apparent that there were not many extroverts, keen to stand up and present our work.  If there is one thing I can offer, it is bluster.  What I don’t know, I can bury in a veneer of confidence – Not an honourable quality, I know.

I am probably reaching the saturation point once again for the minutiae that makes up my existence.  Alas.

Still, I must mention last night, friends in the village put me up for the rugby.  He a well put together sort always in need of a major project in his life.  She a flame haired girl from beyond Ffos Las, hospitable but emotionally committed to the rugby and genuinely upset at the result.  Great night, flowing booze, lovely home and hence, a late sermon.

That summarises the Majors week.  To the sports.

 Antepost Dreams of Cheltenham

With under 5 weeks to go, a lot of the evidence we need for the major novice and championship races has been booked.  How then to play the banker cards?  I thought we would start the Saturday Sermon with a few tips for the festival… This is how my mind is running.

Vautour – Had one blip which was significant but now largely forgotten about.  I am sure he will end up in the JLT and although Ptit Zig is a highly creditable adversary, I think he should have the guns.

Un de Sceaux – The price has gone, a long time ago.  His effortless defeat of Gilgamboa and Clarcam, hard held, declared to the racing fraternity, I am here, I am Un de Sceaux and my Arkle rivals will be demolished.  Hugely impressive and a price to match.

Annie Power – I am surprised there is still money at odds against for Annie who surely only has to turn up.  She will.  Last weekend, Morning Run won very nicely, continuing her rise through the ranks and was immediately declared a Cheltenham non participant by Mullins…. You know why.  Yes she arrives without a preparation race but she could have won the World Hurdle last year, she will breeze the Mares.

I hear you wring your hands and cry foul.  I am telling you nothing new eh?  Well, I only want to declare my bankers.  Douvan, Don Poli; fine reserves.  OK well how about one at a price then….

Edeymi – The shrewd shrewdie Gordon Elliot ran this horse in a Pertemps qualifier at Mussleburgh last weekend.  He needed it to finish in the first four without ideally damaging it’s handicap mark.  Guess what… yep, fourth.  16/1 in a few places for Cheltenham.  Let’s face it, Gordon has had a pretty good season.

But Major… We want something left field…  Well, never let it be said that I do not allow for all comers.

Ma Filleule – The form with Holywell is excellent and this girl I think (although I am a little alone) could be a bit special.  She jumps will great accuracy and exuberance and although mares winning Gold Cups are like hens teeth, maybe, just maybe.  She might just be the best Henderson horse at the Blue Riband event too…  Maybe this is a cry for help and you send someone around.

Oh and Bellshill at 20/1 will win the Champion Bumper.

Racing Groups have asked me to write a piece on the Byrne Plate for their website the week ahead of the festival.  I shall happily oblige, their poor readership.

Todays Action – Newbury

A lovely card at Newbury and I have said it before but for a relatively flat track, I always sense it is worth siding with a stayer here, especially with a dash of cut to the ground.  The uber-long straight takes some getting and you need one with a relentless heart, whose mind cries keep going as others declare Enough!

Let’s start with a contentious one.  I am happy to back against Sire de Grugy.  He was a moderate Champion Chase winner.  The division has been rather poor since Sprinter Sacre lost his way and Sire de Grugy filled a gap, winning Grade 1s and enjoying a fine strike rate.  I am not trying to be deliberately provocative by tagging him moderate – A moderate Champion Chase horse is a 165 rated deserving champion, an excellent beast.

However, I am a little surprised he has made it back to the racecourse this year.  Normally when the dreaded scan is needed, a season off is the answer.  Yet the team have nursed Sire back to the course and we get to see what shape he is in.

Two mile chases are physically the toughest National Hunt races in my view for two reasons.  Firstly, you have to take the large obstacles all that quicker meaning errors are often hard to correct.  How often in a staying race, a large chaser gets too close but being smart and athletic can make a late adjustment and minimise the error.  At the minimum trip, I suggest more end up walking through a fence half way up.  The second reason is jumping related too – You need a damn good rhythm to win 2m chases, losing that rhythm costs valuable lengths per fence which are hard to claw back over the minimum trip.

So, this is why I think being out for a period of time makes it hard for 2m chasers to come back.  This is why I am taking the unpopular decision to get Sire beat.  If this blog was seeking popularism, I must condemn it as an utter failure.  Sire de Grugy is a peoples’ horse, an owner full of fun and showing one and all that dreams in ownership can be fulfilled.

Game Theory should make me tip him because then if he loses, I am in the popular camp.  If I tip something else and he gets beat, I become part of the problem.  Tip something else and Sire wins?  Well that opens all the hordes of hell to have a pop!

Still, I have offered my view, it is a hard division to come back into.  In Sires favour, he has a small field so should not be too harassed.  However, having identified a weakness is not the same as picking a winner and we now have to find something to win.

Uxizandre has been disappointing and is not my sort.  Bar Mr Mole (and I may be insulting Upsilon here), there is no other meaningful opposition, so my Sherlock approach of eliminating the losers leaves me with the Nicholls, JP horse.

He is a sort that falls into the frustrating camp  having spent much of last year downing tools when it got to the business end.  This year though he looks a reformed character to me.  AP has discovered how to get a tune out of him and smaller fields seem to suit.  This is another step up in class but for a horse with a profile like his and who is to say where the talent of a beast with a 50% strike rate may top out.

One angle I want to take into Saturday is the potential resurgence of the Jackdaws operation.  At the start of the season, talk was of a credible threat to the trainers championship but after a bright start, Jonjo started to misfire and the yard has not found rhythm for months.  I noticed 4 winners going in this week and my ears pricked up.  Jonjo did not become a poor trainer overnight and his string, with 4 and a bit weeks until the main event, might just be coming to the boil with impeccable timing.

This is partly why I want to be backing Milan Bound in the 1.50pm who is a 3/1 favourite in this handicap hurdle.  Closing Ceremony is a good sort but has a stone swing (almost) for defeating Milan Bound in November and with the former stable factor coming into it, I want this one on the Saturday Mothership list.  Jonjo also saddles Merry King in the same race and if ever a horse needed a new five mile division to be created, this is it!

The Denman Chase.  Jon back to form and one of the Majors cliff horses running under his tutelage in the Denman Chase.  Regulars know my long roller coaster relationship with Taquin du Seuil who I cannot get off but I urge those of you with control over your own agency to do so.  I think Houblons has been excellent this year and rates a huge danger but my boy, all gangly and uncertain as a chaser still might have some Grade 1s to come – He is not fully extended yet over fences and the key to him is the jumping,  He is leggy, presented well, a clean round and he will keep going all the way up that straight.  4/1, you definitely need to send me help now!

The Betfair Hurdle is a cracking renewal full of interesting angles into the race.  My Tent or Yours backers a few years ago witnessed a tremendous performance off top weight.  With those memories still stirring, support will exist for a repeat yard performance from Hendersons, Sign of a Victory, not for me.

David Pipe is always to be feared in handicap hurdles but this race is one that has eluded him.  Support for Balgarry would warm me up a little but else, no, not for me.

The Harry Fry horse tops the market and Activial has his chances but just as O’Neill is coming to the boil, Harry Fry is looking to get back in the winners enclosure again, having a rare bare patch in a tremendous season.  Callipto represents Nicholls, Fry’s former chief and a tasty angle to the race will be the master and the former student being the two to come away from the field.

I like two in this race and I am going to back both. For clarity, I am sticking with my O’Neill bandwagon as the main bet.  I may be (probably correctly) accused of taking this line too far but it leads me to the chances of Goodwood Mirage.  I remember Dickie Johnson being quite keen on the horse at the Cheltenham preview I attended in November and forgiven a last run which was dire, perhaps we will start to see the real deal.  The potential is certainly there, having come a decent second in a flat handicap off 89 saw him finish his flat career on 95 – Credible.  Whether true soft will suit is unsure, I suspect he does not want it too deep but at 18/1, I think I have my main bet.

I said two for the Betfair hurdle and my other would have to be On Tour who was a very good bumper horse and has looked excellent on his hurdling runs, travelling like a dream.  That is a good profile for this race and the 10/1 is a very nice each way price.

Warwick and Naas – One Tip Each!

I hope it goes ahead as I have a single bet and an obvious one.  Vibrato Valtat should be winning the Kingmaker having won a Grade 1 and Grade 2 in his last two outings.  He has a nice bit of pace when asked and I think he could be a dark horse for the festival as his runs will not have earned as much credit as some of the other routes his opponents will have taken.  Watch this space.

At Naas, I am drawn to the bumper at 4.45 which is some sort of mock-up of Irish National Hunt racing at present.  Two horses, both full of potential, one trained by the seemingly omnipotent Mullins and the other by the young pretender Elliott.

Gordon Elliott is having a fine season and deserves to receive better horses to be a credible threat in years to come to the Mullins Team for the Irish Champion Trainer Championship.

Who comes out on top between Space Cadet (Elliot) and Pylonthepressure (Mullins)?  Well I am going for Space Cadet who benefits from a good claim and his yard have won with five of their last ten runners.  10/11.

In the football, Villa look truly in trouble this season, 11 goals all season has many fans believing this might be the year that they go down.  Certainly Chelsea should have way too many guns for them and I am backing them at 11/10 in the (-1) market.  MK Dons 11/10 tis the other.

The Martin Hill bet has been weaponised.  Goodwood Mirage, Vibrato Valtat and  Milan Bound in a powerful each way trixie.

I trust your dinner is taken in the best company, homely sorts that make you feel happy to be alive.  Drink generously.

Courage, roll the dice.