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.
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.
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.