Good evening from the Major who writes from a clear pleasant Worcestershire night, cool air pools and washes the land; ahead the raucous summer hazes, blistering and busy, insects and life blooming but now, just a faint promise.
The weeks slip by, without work, without anchors in life, time slides. I arrive into days confused, meandering and pottering, suddenly it is lunching then in the blink of an eye, it is time to collect the boys and dinner and the night.
Nights have always been a mixed blessing. I am largely a solitary beast. The good lady normally retires early, I always have enough mental enthusiasm to keep me from peaceful slumber. I should find better ways of dispensing it, more worthwhile endeavours. Instead, stockpiles of non-discharged thoughts keep me from rest in the small hours, sleep a scarce commodity and when I get it, such poor quality.
Solitary, that is how I like things. Being a married father of two, you might find that both odd and hurtful. If so, none is intended, though that might not excuse me.
Nobody gives you a leaflet when you are thinking of becoming a parent. You are young and have youthful thoughts. Pressure builds from parents itching to add grand to their titles.
I am not sure I am a good father. My desire to not be in the presence of my boys is a constant. I have often wondered if it such a bad thing. It certainly is frowned on by the more modern parent who seem to me to set the aim of having your children as best friends. My upbringing was not like that and although I confess that my own parenting style is selfish, it also encourages independence, at least that is what I tell myself.
My eldest son turned eight in January. At his Friday school assembly, which parents can attend (and I did after being strong armed into it) he was pulled up to the front to explain what plans his family had for his birthday. To mirth and mutters, he said that Dad was taking him to the racing. It did not sound good.
None of this paints me in a good light, which is why you know it is true.
Bloody heating oil. Ran out again. Thankfully Richard the farmer came over with his tools and 80 litres of kerosene. Topping up the tank is easy enough, although you do coat yourself in the stuff. The fun is in bleeding the boiler especially when you need a new O-ring. I can say this like I had a meaningful role in this work.
I asked Richard what I owed and he shrugged. A shrug that both said he did know and he did not care. The thing is, having thousands of tonnes of potatoes which happen to be near unsellable in the current climate, he bought in 12,000 litres of heating oil to help preserve the crop in storage. No avail, the produce he hoped to purvey to chip shops is now destined to feed Britain’s bovines.
Cash for oil is a poor man’s thank you. I asked him to check the social diary with the farmer’s wife for a dinner date, something decent I think.
I was going to write up some memories of Cheltenham but the moment seems to have passed. I got my first 2016 antepost bet down. I backed Douvan for the Arkle, Faugheen to repeat his trick, Un de Sceaux to take the Champion Chase and then I am torn between Don Poli and Vautour for a Gold Cup horse. I guessed Vautour but I am unsure and if Coneygree gets a clear run again, well, fireworks.
They are talking of taking Coneygree for a Hennessy next season, what madness. I know Denman did the whole, I’m class, see if you can get me with two stone in hand, but it is a dangerous game. Doesn’t take much to ruin a horse.
I often think about that, in this wonderful sport of ours, such juxtapositions.
Watch a beautiful hurdler, fluidly taking each flight without breaking stride, or witness a beautiful flat mover, floating across the good ground. Then go and watch the raw animal power in the winners enclosure, muscular torso, herculean, moving in great heaves of breath, sinews still strained, veins bulging.
Consider the great hulking beasts up close when acting out, precocious and strutting but with wise folk stray not near their back-end, being rightly wary, lest their sudden great powerful kick is unleashed. Nervousness around any horse is common, around these wound up monsters, even more understandable.
Yet, the juxtaposition, the frailty as they crumble; their slender forelegs with so little between the bone and the skin; their hollow bones susceptible to life ending breaks.
Anyway, I am again tired. Next week, I promise something interesting. Or as best I can muster anyway.
To the sports.
The Newbury Two
It is good to soft ground at Newbury, a wide galloping fair track that suits a stayer. Sounds odd but stiff fences and a straight that, like Chepstow, goes on forever can get them racing some way from home.
In the opener, the Greatrex / Sheehan, World Hurdle winning team have the favourite, Kings Tempest. A smartly named horse, out of Act One and Queen of Spades who herself was out of Strong Gale. Act One of the Tempest has the King of Naples aboard a doomed vessel in a storm.
There is plenty to like about the horse who was a good bumper winner before changing yards. Greater is one of the upcoming generation and this is the sort of ammunition he needs. He ran Kings Tempest in November and the 2nd at Exeter reads well. Why the horse has been off since, I cannot fathom and while the form and yard are attractive, it is a stalling factor.
No, I go for Hassle. The Henderson runner is a flat bred beast who will appreciate conditions. It has also been off the track for sometime but Henderson likes the race and has an overall two year 34% strike rate at Newbury. 2/1.
Connections clearly missed a shot at Cheltenham with Storm Force Ten but given what I imagine it has in hand, this should provide some solace. There is some 9/4 about and since he was within distance of Peace and Co, the ‘oh so’ good triumph winner, well.
Kelso – Sniper Shot
Some horses stay in the mind, Knockara Beau is one and I would not begrudge him a win in the 2.15. He has some character and at 12, holds no secrets but a return to his favourite haunt might elicit a response.
If the ground had come up soft, then the effort Lee has gone to sending Knock a Hand would hold more water.
I have two in the race that interest me and unusually they do not come with top class jockeys aboard.
Sharney Sike was progressive and as the Eider is a stamina test in the elite league, I would give it a chance. There is one better.
Harry the Viking chased a resurgent Lie Forrit home twice, the latter coming home well clear of a field including two former Welsh National winners. Frankly that is good form and while connections are less glamorous than some, il ne imports pas. 6/1. Immerse yourself.
The quality of racing at Bangor has been on the up, it is a course on my wishlist. I raid the Welsh badlands for a single horse, in the opener.
Scorplancer looked a good point horse and a natural for converting to national hunt fences. Hurdling he has got off well enough, marking up a win at Ludlow before chasing home a very good one at Kempton. Being out of Scorpion, I am encouraged that he now faces better ground, it might improve him.
What I really like is the partnership that Rebecca Curtis (with whom I am in love, one of many) has struck up with Paul Townend. 17 races,12 laces. 100% from one at the track.
Horse, tick. Trainer, tick. Course, tick. Jockey, tick. Get involved with the large cannon. 7/4 Bet365.
Villa, still poor in quality but high in what matters (1 part belief, 1 part desire) can beat Swansea at 7/5. At outlandish one for Sunday too. Everton have been poor all season and just got smashed in Europe. QPR are dismal but they need Everton and may well win at 12/5.
May your dinner be taken with such good friends as I have. I am not gloating, just hoping for you.
Courage, roll the dice.