Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thursday #Punchestown Festival Tips 2015

Good evening from the Major who writes from a splendid clean Worcestershire sky with pastel blues draining of vibrancy and rusting into the horizon.

We had a decent day at Punchestown.  Our 33/1 nag plugged on into a place as did all but one of the selections.  In the failed race, Binge Drinker was somewhat disappointing but I take some solace from identifying the weakness at the head of affairs with Shaneshill and No More Heroes under performing as anticipated.

Anyway, justice does not equal results.

I am going to get straight into it as am tired and wish to sleep.

Thursday Punchestown Tips

As Punchestown unfurls through the week, the quality becomes patchier and as such, this is a short post covering not all races but those I feel able to take on.

I am starting in the second race, the handicap 2m chase.  I was on Ned Buntline at Cheltenham feeling the AP factor would surely get him over the line.  Watching Michael Scudamore’s stable star Next Sensation absolutely jumped for fun off the front.  I am not sure Ned having been so well set for that day will be at peak here.

It was only a three runner event that USA won last time out but it is a progressive looking horse that jumps well and cannot be dismissed.

I am going to chance Blacklough who is receiving some backing already.  The horse runs off bottom weight but has shown as a hurdler that he has some talent.  He has moved yard to the De Bromheads and in good hands, I would be hopeful of a big run at a best price 10/1 with Ladbrokes.

Quantativeeasing surely wins the cross-country.  Sorry but I do not want to complicate things at all.  Nina has already won on the cross-country fences on Tuesday and is a great asset in these races.  The horse has achieved an excellent level of form in the distant past and has shown glimmers this season of being more enthusiastic about the work assigned to him.  In these hands though, you can almost throw the book out, Enda gets them ready for the cross-country.

The clear and present danger is Rivage D’or but Quantativeeasing is only ten and I fancy it to get the job done.

The ageing legs of Hurricane Fly step up to 3 miles for the first time and there will be utter scenes if he can stomp his authority on another G1.  I have to say, of all horses, Hurricane Fly has cost me the most over the years.  I was in the guilty camp of thinking he was an Irish small field bully.  Then I felt he won a poor Champion Hurdle and the misery continued as in recent years, I have thought that he now, surely, must be passed his best.  Hurricane Fly travels nicely but please, please God, at 11, let his speedy spent finish, his true weapon, be ineffective at this staying trip.

I am persuaded by the claims of Lieutenant Colonel who did not give best at Cheltenham but had shown plenty of talent over the winter.  He goes on decent ground and is young enough that we still might not yet have bottomed him out.  10/1 is an absolute standout with Paddy Power.

I backed Pleasant Company when gambled on last time out and thought I was due to collect but the horse never quite mastered his opposition.  I am happy to stay involved at 7/2 and hope he has learned from his first Irish experience.

Enjoy Un de Sceaux, I think he is the horse of a generation.  He is yet to set out of novice class but by god, the way he travels, none can live with him.  How long his career will be; racing as he does with such an aggressive attitude, I do worry about.  Yet, for now, all we can do is marvel.

Short, simple and sweet from the Major for Thursday.

Courage, roll the dice.

Wednesday Punchestown Tips

Good evening from the Major who writes from a cooling clear clean Worcestershire night, the sort that you can sleep deeply in and be lost in the deep caverns of the night.

Forgive the lack of an opening day Punchestown post, I don’t have a decent excuse and I do not intend it as an insult to what is the real end of the National Hunt season for me.  I seek your understanding in a busy life.

What would I have tipped?  Well.  I would have ducked Don Poli, I tweeted last night that I felt that the spring was not his time, those attritional stayers need the cold mud to be seen to best effect, to be relentlessly motoring on when others cry for the towel.  I may have backed the winner but I may also have backed Apache Stronghold.

Felix Yonger would have been in my selections.  Now I know by now you are thinking, Major! What Rot!! What demeaning after timing!!! All I can say is that I am committed to the truth and I would have backed that one.  Twilight is an appalling excuse for a Grade 2 winner already, Champagne Fever either has been fully exposed or has lost the will trace or some combination of the two.  Felix looked progressive.

Douvan was easy.  I would have had the wrong bumper horses which looked easy after the event.

So a pretty good post that I never wrote.

Revisiting Douvan, surely he is Arkle bound.  I can only imagine two scenarios and one is that Faugheen stays put and Douvan goes steeplechasing.  T’other is that Faugheen steps up to three miles and a World Hurdle, which may well suit.  I am invested in a Douvan Arkle at 4/1 and so am hoping for the latter.  The glorious fluency with which he takes his hurdles does not necessarily guarantee a Masterminded-like slickness over the bigger obstacles but if it does, he will be unstoppable in next years top novice chases.

I am tempering my enthusiasm for the ‘Douvan Arkle Certainty’ though because it might just occur to Willie, as it has to me, that a rather delicious first could be available with Douvan in the Champion Hurdle, Un de Sceaux a steering job in the Champion Chase, Faugheen a classy World Hurdle player and three powerful Gold Cup shots in Don Poli, Vroum Vroum Mag and of course, the rock star, Vautour.  Could he be the first trainer to win all four championship races at the festival in one season?  That might persuade you to step Faugheen up.

Anyway, these things are 45 weeks away and so we shall still those busy thoughts, rise our lances until the points glint in the morning bursts of light and cry Shabash!  To Wednesday, Punchestown and the mothership.

Punchestown Wednesday Tips

The opening handicap hurdle is wide open at 10/1 the field and Nickname Exit looks interesting as he definitely looks like a sort where ‘the further the better’ applies.  I cannot back it on the evidence so far mind.  I would consider Riviera Sun at 12/1.  The hurdle he won last time was on heavy but there is not much to suggest this son of Milan would not be at least OK on the better ground.

However the selection is one from the more generous priced aisles of the supermarket.  Phantom Prince would not leap of the page but actually has a surprising amount going for it.  It is in the hands of one of the better trainers, it prefers top of the ground and has been racing knee-deep through an Irish winter and his handicap mark has been tumbling not unduly but perhaps suspiciously quickly.  33/1 is freely available, I’d hold out for forty and then strike like the cobra you are with the reckless confidence of a wanton drunk.

Identity Thief is an easy pick in the second, stepping up and in an easier race than last time, he sets the standard.  Sadlers Risk is the danger and the market has it correct, I expect the two of them to be fighting it out and my selection to prove more progressive.

No More Heroes has been one of my absolute horses of the season.  I was backing the beast early and hard for the Albert Bartlett after picking up the not very subtle hints from Gordon Elliot early on.  The horse races a little bit wobbly.  Unusual description I know, he reminds me of one part Long Run (gangly), one part Don Poli (lazy) and one part Bog Warrior (just relentless).  As such, I cannot have him at 3/1 for tomorrow.

That would leave Shaneshill unopposed perhaps?  Maybe.  I do think No More Heroes might prove a better horse in the long run if kept to the right conditions but maybe it is for Shaneshill tomorrow.

Punchestown is an odd festival.  In all racing, you are not looking for the best horse but the most appropriate horse on the day.  This is never more true than at Punchestown where over the top class acts like the Don (I’m banging on about it now) meet unsuitable spring ground after giving their all at Cheltenham and winning well; which often deceives you to thinking they are not as ‘well used’.

So, I am diving in on a long shot.  Rebecca Curtis is not exactly a regular raider on Ireland from her Welsh base but she brings over Binge Drinker at 16/1 and for some unknown, perhaps Freudian sense, I feel I should back it.  The horse, unusually for the yard, seems to prefer good ground, relishes conditions and although lacks the class of the top two in the market, I am happy to take 20/1 each way on it when the top two in the market look less than certain to produce the goods.

Fast forward to the race…. ‘and over the last No More Heroes and Shaneshill settle down to fight this out, a mile clear….’

The Punchestown Gold Cup Tip

Some good horses have won this race but the best often don’t.  This is a classic Punchestown race where horses that were racing up the Cheltenham hill having been prepped for it all season, are asked to go again and fail to produce.  I like Road to Riches, I backed it at Cheltenham.  Djakadam is one I would never back but I have clearly underestimated him.  Both are ruled out on exertions to date.

I am torn between two.

Don Cossack and Ballynagour.  Now I know that both had tough races, even more recently at Aintree and I get that this makes it harder to exert my prejudice, especially as I still believe it stands.  Yet I think they are the ones to concentrate on.  Ballynagour travelled like a dream into the Bettered Bowl and I though he was the winner turning for home, yet he was outstayed by the classiest of prove ‘flat track bullies’ Silvi.  His Byrne Group Plate win signalled his form turn in advance.  I am not sure Ballynagour will ever win with my money down and I skip him tomorrow on account of his schedule.

I dare to go to Don Cossack when others seem to avoid.  Gordon has his string well and fit for the festival and Don Cossack is a fine specimen of a horse.  I think he will relish this staying trip.  I know the Gold Cup form is being trumpeted as good, I disagree (with the exception of the unexposed winner).  I make a prediction.  Neither Silvi, Road to Riches or Djakadam will place next year.  Djakadam might prove a thorn in my side, after all he is only 6.  Anyway 10/3 is available in a single place, Bettered (no affiliations, the Major remains free and unhinged for your punting delectation).  Need more reason?

What really persuaded me is the jockey, Jamie Spencer might be the flat fans ‘hold up jock’ pin up boy.  In proper racing, that role belongs to Carberry.  He has  the patience of rock.  He employs tactics that send horses to sleep and he is so good at it.  Sometimes he leaves it late, it is an occupational risk and I confess to being critical occasionally, yet generally, he gets it right.  In a race where they might start to seek honours early, I want a man with ice in his veins, prepared to win it on the last jump.  10/3?  Lunacy.

I am happy to have a big bet on Disko in the 6.05 bumper at 4/1 for the yard that targets the race and with he ‘go to’ Irish bumper jockey booked.  Go Nina.

I can’t be arsed with the 6.40 or 7.15.  I stared at them for hours and got myself a headache.

Courage, roll the dice.

The #ThanksAP Saturday Sermon – Saluting a true legend – Happy Retirement Tony McCoy

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where close dirty air clings like a film to the skin, the pressure builds as the hazy yellowing light fades, motorists feel it and speed in bad temper, a correction is required, some cool air, rain, wash away the sins of the earth.

This weeks post, quite predictably, will be dedicated to our sports greatest champion, Tony McCoy.  There is little I could add to the public wave of emotion but I shall try my sorry best, I will get to that.

The Major has had another week of manual labour on the household.  Decking boards have been restored, a sand pit built, outbuildings painted, decorating done.  Time spent in the sun, alone, then late at night, filthy from endeavour and a sickly vinegar smell to my body odour (I apologise but I am interested in reporting the strict truth as you know!), the detritus of the day is burned in a great roaring incinerator.  Orange flames leap skyward with great optimism and ambition, the flicker across my face and I feel their warmth on my skin and contrast the intensity with a cooling cider, well, this is Worcestershire.

I have a cider house just 800 metres from my door.  It has been in existence for 400 years and in the same family for half of them.  The lady that runs it threatens to close it when she retires, none of her lineage is showing the desire to take up the reigns.

It is my only experience of an old-fashioned cider house, designed to serve the farm hands during breaks from their field labour.  I do not know if other cider houses are similar to this one.  The crooked beamed building has a thatched roof and you do not get to go in.  It is the landlady home.  She serves through a small hatch and apart from their own cider, you can get wine, they even provide a choice; red or white.  No beer.

The gentleman facilities are essentially a small breeze block structure to head height and open to the air, no cubicles, just a wall to relieve yourself against.

If the weather is accommodating, you drink on the lawn in front of the house with a series of left-field characters.  Inclement conditions and you head for the shed, a simple corrugated roof single story building that houses a wood stove for heating.

It is known as The Monkey House.  This name dates 30 years or so and came about when a regular drinker, a little well oiled, did not make it home and woke in a ditch.  He maintained to his death that he was attacked by monkeys on his walk home causing him to lose consciousness.  Quite.

I understand his condition though.  For fun, while marathon training once, myself and a friend invented the Defford Cider House Famous Five.  We knew it was five miles from my acquaintances home to the Cider House and so we embarked to run it and then drink 5 pints of cider.  It is potent stuff and in the post running adrenaline, we knocked back the grog in 80 minutes before we properly realised what we were doing, well we were roaring drunk.

We were collected by our significant others for a meal, for which we were in no fit state to fulfil.

Tomorrow is the last day where you might scan down a card and find the legendary AP McCoy.  Ever since he announced his retirement, the press and public have not been able to get enough of him.  His mount was backed into an unworthy favouritism on national day, tributes have poured and general fawning has been the order of the day.

For once, it is quite justified.  AP McCoy is undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen to have even lived.  The longevity of his accomplishments is one thing.  His ability is another.  Without wishing to detract one iota from the great mans capability, I must say that he is not the jockey whose skill I rate the highest.  I find Geraghty, Walsh and Fehily all greater exponents of a balanced ride.

Before someone calls for my head, allow me to expand.  While those jockeys might have more ability in some aspects, APs own strengths are complete and incontestable.

I would firstly rate his work ethic above all others.  Walsh has won most races at Punchestown and Cheltenham, Grade 1 tracks.  AP names Worcester, Newton Abbot and Uttoxeter as his three most successful tracks.  Whether JP had rides or not for the man, he would get himself down to Taunton for some low class handicap because he loves winners.  19 jockeys championships on the bounce are testament to it.  What drive.  Part of me would have likes to see him retire after a mid-week small meeting at Plumpton or some other far-flung corner of our racing landscape.  In my heart, that is where I see and think of him.

His drive also comes through in his race competitiveness.  AP has numerous stunning victories snatching victory from certain defeat.  I was once told a story by a coach of the national rugby league team.  They had taken the large squad down to train with the marines and to decide which eight players to drop before a tour to Australia.  On the last day, he was sat opposite the commanding officer who had observed his squad.  The man slipped him a piece of paper with names on it and said, ‘if we were to face a numerically superior enemy in the field tomorrow, these are the names of your squad who I’d first take into the yard and shoot’.

Attitude is everything and AP gives punters an astonishing effort.  So many horses over the years who looked beaten half way round have been dragged kicking and screaming into the race and manfully hauled over the line by the champ.  Don’t Push It was excellent but for me, Wichita Lineman was the pinnacle.  I have watched that replay several times and on the last circuit, Wichita is 25l down on the strong travelling leaders and belting every fence.  You know the script but it is a thing of beauty.  Not the beauty of Un de Sceaux, Masterminded or Sprinter Sacre skewering a top class field and not touching a twig, rather a beauty of raw desire, compelling his partner to win.  Wichita got up in the last strides, it was stunning, the crowd roared and AP roared in reply.

I met AP once in a tale I have recounted often.  It was in the after-party for the Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2012, Bradley Wiggins year.  It was loud, I interrupted him from company.  He shook my hand, gave me my 60 seconds with patience and politeness and then gave me Taquin du Seuil to follow.  I cannot blame him for what happened next, Taquin won a Challow Hurdle next time out and also he didn’t get into his Neptune, he won a JLT chasing.  Still, he has lost more than he has won and I have always felt compelled to bet him.  Why?  Well, it is obvious, n’est pas?  It was the horse that AP gave me.

AP is many things.  He is eloquent, gentle, a family man, a fierce competitor.   He lives his life and licks up every last drop of honey, savouring it and taking everything he can from it.

Our sport will miss him in the saddle but I hope that if a training career does not call him, that he might join the presenters team at Channel 4.

To the sports.  Good luck AP.

Sandown – The AP Retirement Bash

Think back to the opening day of Cheltenham – You might recall that I advised you to take a piece of the Mullins four timer for no other reason than being on the right side of popular hope.

I would think the same is true here of APs two rides.  Irrespective of whether you dislike Mr Moles’ quirkiness or whether you think Box Office was a hype horse before and does not deserve your cash, have yourself a double.  If they both won, don’t you want to be part of it?

My first bet would be Menorah in the Oaksey Chase at 2.35pm.  Argocat rates a danger, his best form has been on heavy ground but he has proven pretty versatile and some lines of his form read very well.  However, this is Menorah’s time of year and I am delighted to see 11/4 freely available about the beast.  Al Ferof is a classy sort but I am more concerned about the ground for him.  nine wins from thirteen on ground with the word soft in it, one from six on good.  Load up on Menorah.

Then the AP Celebration Chase.  Mr Mole has been a horse I have backed this season.  I always thought his quirky nature was over-played in the pricing and he won with my money on, a notable achievement as it is proven at least a 15lb handicap.  You know I will be having my AP double anyway but I think it is a worthy bet anyway.

I would not claim positives the horse does not deserve but he is up against some very questionable opposition.  Sprinter Sacre looks gone to me, I do not wish it, I would dearly love to be wrong and see the old boy roll back the clock.

Special Tiara is interesting.  Not enough credit was given for her all the way win at Christmas but they were proper horses in behind that day.  Noel Fehily is a decent booking but I’m not sure they will give the horse as much rope this time.  Gods Own was a horse I followed early on in the season and it certainly has some ability, I do not like the way it has been running on and off the bridle though.

Nothing wrong with Mr Mole, 4/1.

AP does not have a ride in the Gold Cup Chase which goes 9/1 the field.  I’ll be damned if I can find a highly positive angle into the race and so I’m left picking through a few I’d fancy.  Hobbs is in fine form but I can’t draw much enthusiasm about his three runners.  I liked the Druids Nephews win at Cheltenham which means I have to like Grand Jesture who ran well in the same race.

I like Wonderful Charm and although this is a race Nicholls has not dominated in recent years, he did win it with the superstar Tidal Bay.

Anyway, this is spring ground and I want a specialist.  Paint the Clouds has been a prolific hunter chaser and did well in the main event at Cheltenham.  The ground definitely did not suit that day as he is 12 from 17 on ground with the word good in it.  Greatrex has had a good season by anyones standards and off the minimum weight, I back Paint the Clouds tom come good at 10/1 (Boylesports) 9/1 generally.

In the 4.25, emotional scenes await and the crowds are backing Box Office as though the script is perfect.  The horse has not yet replicated its French promise on British soil but it has often been backed as though the trainer thinks he is deploying a tool.

As you can see in my words and detect in my candour of this farewell blog, I will be as emotional as anyone if he pulls it off.  Good luck AP.  Yet, with the coolness of time to consider it, I would consider L’Aigle Royal at 16/1 who gets to run off the same mark as when a perfectly respectable fourth by ten lengths in a Sandown Grade 3 last time.

Clondaw Kaempfer is a runner who I suspect will come good again at some point but I would like to see some signs of it before I include the horse on my slips.

I am going to back Wilberdragon at 9/1.  I like Longsden and while the horse has to keep improving, he is unexposed and I don’t think the trainer is the sort to just throw wild darts.

In the last, Polly Peachum and Southfield Vic are set for a ding-dong and I would back the latter to get the upper hand.  While Polly did well to finish second in the Mares Hurdle, that race is a G1 in name only and there was only one horse worthy of that grade, she fell.  I am a bit concerned that good ground might not be ideal for Southfield Vic but although the bare face of the form at Haydock is only moderate, he did it while being less than fluent at the obstacles; I think he will improve in technique with experience and I fancy the 5/2.

In the football, Watford can get a result at nervy Brighton, 17/20,

The Martin Hill bet is a Menorah and Southfield Vic power double.

May your dinner be communal and fun.  Good friendship, warm feelings and good wine.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Scottish Grand National and Champion Hurdle – Newbury Greenham Day

Good Evening from the Major who writes weary and beaten after a week of work renovating the expanse of decking, summer-house and children’s’ playhouse.  The day has been bright, breezy and cool, agreeable work conditions for hauling half a tonne of sand 60 metres up paddock.

I was freestyling and decided to replace some rotten decking at the base of a slide and playhouse with a sand pit.  I think the gamble has worked which is a miracle as I am not at all skilled in the manual trades, merely an enthusiastic amateur.

The work has afforded me time alone.  I find time to ponder quietly the most cherished commodity in life, hence, irrespective of the labour I have felt thoroughly satisfied by the lonely ocean on which my thoughts have been allowed to bob along.  Selfish, almost certainly.

The political game is afoot.  There are two prices which seem absolute stand outs to me.  A Labour minority government is freely available at 7/4 (Bet365) and you can back 43 seats or more for the SNP Party at 5/6.

Polls have the Conservative and Labour parties viewing for a marginal lead, barring significant change, neither will be in a position to form a majority government and while the Tories are closer, probably only 30 seats away, it is unlikely, it seems to me, that their position will change much.

Labour are also locked into this position.  Their main cards have been played and voters have largely chosen allegiance; they are also likely to be short, perhaps to the tune of 40 seats.

Even if the Tories do win more seats than Labour which is marginally likely, Cameron is unlikely to be able to form a coalition.  The credible influence of his potential ally, Nick Clegg, has been savaged.  He is not going to muster the number of seats the Tories would need to be supported.  Cameron will need them to come up with 40-50, they are likely to only produce 15-20.  After the Lib Dems, with the exception of UKIP (likely only a few at best) and possibly some Northern Irish seats, Cameron has no friends.  It will not be enough, there is a coalition of parties wishing to see an end to austerity and won’t countenance a deal with Cameron.

The SNP are likely to bring in 50+ seats, enough to prop up a Labour minority government.  Nicola Sturgeon has been very strong in her presentation skills and the campaign has fallen into her lap.  She is brimming with confidence whereas, the Labour leader in Scotland is only evens to keep his seat.  Add the Greens and Plaid and it is easy to see how Miliband will get there.  Yet, the SNP have firmly said, no coalition.  They mean it too.

Their goal is to get back to a referendum on independence and to do this; they need an enemy.  In a way, I think they would prefer a Conservative majority just so that they have their boogeyman.

Backing a Labour minority at almost 7/4 looks like finding money in the street to me.

As for my personal politics, I was always told it was rude to discuss; lest you be seen to be lecturing.  I think this shows my hand a little bit but I shall venture there.  I guess I have natural Conservative tendencies, though I feel these are poorly represented by the present party.

Being right of centre is a treacherous place to be.  Research has shown that left leaning voters are more likely to dislike those from the opposite side of the divide than vice versa.  I believe that boils down to a broth of facets of history.  Policies that were hurtful to the poor in society, it is a hard thing to forgive.

I would clarify my conservatism.  In doing so, I feel unnecessarily defensive.

I am broadly speaking towards the libertarian end of the spectrum.  I like grammar schools, though I must declare I went to one.  I think immigration is a good thing.  I question the economic scaremongering of leaving a political European arrangement but I am not particularly keen on us doing so.  I think generally adults should be empowered to do what they would like.  I have no problem with zero hours contracts for example and we should not ban wearing burkhas.  I think there is an important role of the state to ensure individuals are not exploited.

Most importantly, I think the state should be smaller.  A few years ago, my local authority issues an online survey seeking ideas for saving £3million.  I read the list of possible savings and ticked that I would be happy for most of them to go forward, it totalled twice the required saving.  When I submitted the online form, it was rejected with the error message being that I had gone over the savings target they were after!  When institutions do not have to concern themselves with raising money, thus providing a top service; they can lose sight of being progressive.

I think NHS buyers should be free to use as many private providers as they see fit.  It will improve quality, innovation and bring down costs.  The idea of capping profits of private providers to me is counter-productive.  It appeals to that sense we have that during our greatest need, ill heath and ultimately death, commercial interests are a travesty, slightly disgusting.

Consider that for a moment though.  Imagine you or a relative needs an operation.  Your GP knows that there is a specialist private provider in this sector and would like to refer you to them believing it is the best chance of a good outcome for you.  The cost to the state is similar to the cost of the NHS doing the operation themselves.  Yet, the Doctors’ hands are tied, because we don’t want profits in our NHS?  Surely not.  Surely this is not the best thing.  Like the parents of the child who took him from an NHS hospital and went to Europe to get the health service they wanted; in the end; we just want the best possible care and frankly who provides it should be up to your doctor.  We should trust them to decide on what is best for you and not tie them up.  That is my view.

In the instant, we might think profits and health are incompatible but in managing a National Health Service, we must be more pragmatic; particularly if we want world-class health.  Consider the capping of profits or abolition of profits in the service.  What motivation is there then for the improvement of service from external innovative sources?  Where is the competition which is required to reduce overall profit in the long run?

During the New Orleans flood aftermath, a regional monopoly occurred.  Companies were vilified for gouging prices, charging eye watering amounts for temporary accommodation and building supplies.  No doubt, they were taking advantage of limited local supply in a time of desperation.  The practice of being exorbitant, because you can, I get why that would be revulsive too but it is for our own good.  Scarcity always pushes prices up, greed on behalf of the supply side will charge what it can.

When exorbitant profits are made, they are short-lived.  Other companies see them and invade.  This has the effect of increasing supply and reducing pricing, returning the market to normal.  The bigger the profit,the faster competitors will move in.  If you had building supplies in another state, you would see what was happening in New Orleans and it would make sense to move your stuff there.  This would have the effect of increasing supply and reducing costs.

In a normal market, with normal profits, companies have to compete on service, quality and cost.  If the only market in the NHS is internal, then these motivations are reduced as other players; private companies or charities are excluded from offering patients better care.  The NHS buyers (Doctors) are just like any other company, restrict their supply chain options, you will restrict the services on offer to patients.

I think the reason this argument is one I am a lonely advocate of, is image.  It is consistent with a larger public distrust of the system in general.

I can understand this.  You see, despite my leaning, I have a severe problem with the current Tory team.  They look and sound too posh.  People don’t trust that their brand of privatisation is profiteering for friends, not the free and open market that I believe would improve the NHS.

Genuine aspirational Conservatives are hard to find and the accusation that this current lot are essentially hedge fund, Bullingdon Club chaps, well it sticks.  Unlike my conservative aspiration, I fear they do not share a genuine desire to raise up all boats.  The Lib Dem policy of raising income tax exemption to £10,000+ is my favourite coalition policy, it has Conservative stamped all over it but it was a Lid Dem manifesto pledge, not a Tory one.

I think the Lib Dems have had a particularly hard time.  To be fair, they deliberately attracted a student vote through a populist anti-fees policy and were left with egg on their face when it was never going to be implemented.  I actually only hold their crimes of populist appeal (of which all parties are guilty) with a touch of naivety (they didn’t expect power) against them lightly.

All of this leads to an environment crying out for a centre right hero to replace Cameron.  Someone who can change the argument and persuade people of the truth.  Cuts an austerity, the words sound vitriolic.  I see it another way.  We have not lived within our means since 2001.  All that debt, racks up, it is the next generation that pays and this is grossly unfair.  On principle to me, that is not right.  It seemed incredible to me that the last election was not won by the Conservatives outright, this only highlighted the weakness of their offering, the electorate do not trust that they are out to represent the ordinary folk.  That makes it hard to hold your head up and publicly say, I am a Conservative voter.

In saying these things, I understand I will elicit some emotional response.  You might agree, you might be ambivalent, you might disagree with the assertions I presented as though they were fact; you might even feel bitter.  While I have discussed a political leaning, understand that I voted for Blair too and am undecided currently as to where my X will go this time.

What I really want for the country is some ambition.  I want my leader to be JFK-esque – To be driven by something exciting.

In effect, the two lead parties this time are pretty close in policy terms.  This election will result in a nil-nil draw and I am happy to put money on it.  Labour Minority government, fill your boots, 7/4.

Forgive the politics – It is rude to discuss your personal views.  Let’s get to the sports.

The Dermot Weld Hat-trick

In Ireland, there is no doubt which yard has started the new campaign in blistering form.  15 winners from the last 35 runners, Weld is flying and he runs three at Navan today all in with excellent chances.

2.55pm: Rich Jade is 7/2; a filly out of Henrythenavigator, we have little to go on other than stable form.

3.30pm: Summaya is 10/3 in a couple of spots but generally a 10/3 shot.  I would back this one with some gusto.  There was a lot to like about the seasonal debut when Summaya beat Hans Holbein, a 1/2 Ballydoyle sort.  Now that horse won very well mid-week but was beaten by Summaya by 6 lengths.  I know O’Brien often leaves a lot off but it is still an exciting form line.

5.15pm Chinese Light is 5/4 – This horse has had a run this season and lost at odds on to a good one but it was respectable.  There is a potential fly in the ointment here too in that Ballydoyle throw in Fluff, a Galileo filly unarmed as a juvenile.  Still, in for a penny….  We have match fitness.

Newbury Saturday

2.15pm…. Will Tiggy Wiggy stay 7 furlongs?  What a question… She was a highlight of the last flat season for me.  Exploding from the stalls and blasting along, the gorgeous little speedball was a joy to bet on.  She has entries for the Guineas so the plan was always to test these staying distances.

What will Hughsie do?  Will he restrain her in the hope she can conserve some energy?  I am not sure this would work, she strikes me as unmanageable in that respect.  A bit like Frankels guineas, maybe we should just let her go at it.  Taking a pull might be confusing for her.

If there is a time to get her beat, then this might be it.  My problem is that I like her too much and so will be betting her regardless!  I know.  Betting with the heart is the fast way to losing your bank.  Beckett has a good record in the race and 14/1 Redstart is my tentative opposition but forgive me if I am all joyous over Tiggy Wiggy later, do not consider me a traitor as I scream kick kick kick at my screen.

2.50pm: The Guineas market has been falling apart as some of the principles have flopped on debut.  Today it is the turn of Ivawood and I am a considerable investor at 7/4.

The Greenham has been a tried and tested route for Hannon who has saddled victorious Olympic Glory, Dick Turpin, Paco Boy and Major Cadeaux in the race in the last ten years.  Ivawood is clearly an exciting prospect and the Middle Park might be an informative Guineas line in a weak year.  The horse was only stopped in that race by the ground in my view and today, business as usual will return.  Get stuck right in.

Ayr – Scottish Champion Hurdle and Grand National Day

The Scots version of the Champion Hurdle (2.35pm) is a limited handicap.  Understandably, the Northern trainers have a decent record in the race and some of the flashier raiders have returned in their fancy horse boxes without the rosettes.  Sign of a Victory and Irving look like they are in this camp to me, which leaves us some value in the open market.

The one I have settled on is Pearl Castle at 14/1 who represents Quinn who won the race last year with Cockney Sparrow.   The good ground will be no problem to Pearl Castle and Quinn has an unbelievable Ayr record, winning almost half of the races the yard contests there.

The previous race, the 2pm is a nice Grade 2 Novice Chase.  Stan James are 9/2 about Top Gamble and I would have been backing it if not for ground concerns.  On three starts on ground with ‘good’ in it he has yet to place.

I will have a small slice of Oscar Rock at 11/4 who will be fine with the ground and gets the assistance of Brian Hughes in the saddle, a jockey I always see as a big plus.

You want a horse in the Scottish National?

The Gallant Oscar angle with JP buying the horse is interesting and I am sure it will go off shorter than 12/1.

One at a massive 50/1 I like is Baileys Concerto who gets his ground and may well be a better stayer than we have yet seen as he has largely been raced at middle distances.

It is possible that Trustan Times has been laid out for a repeat crack at the race he placed in last year and 16/1 is still available.

However, with all of these possibilities, I am betting on Jonjo getting a bit of late season cheer and winning with Catching On who looks progressive and has won on good ground in the past.  Generally 16/1.

In the football.  I got the Villa game spot on last week and this week, I would be backing Crystal Palace to beat Albion with maximum velocity (sorry Martin) at 19/20.  My brother is less enthusiastic and he follows Albion a little more closely than me.  He warns that Pulis will be getting stuck into the players and we might see a reaction.  I disagree.  Albion are poor.  To rub salt into the Martin Hill wound, I am suggesting backing Wolves to beat Ipswich at home too.  I am sat on a 10/1 ticket that Wolves get promoted.  They concede but they score.  29/20 is available.

The Martin Hill bet is Ivawood and Summaya mixed into a powerful double.

May your dinner be outdoors and barbecued.  Cool beer in hand, early evening warming sun on your face.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Aintree Grand National Day

Good Evening from the Major who retires from a day on the fine Worcestershire land which was baked in a pleasant spring sun allowing the Major to lay about the summer-house with fence brush and paint in reckless abandon.

Twelve hours in the fresh air and the job is done.  Not exactly professional but much tidier and some relief for the sun bleached wood.  Working alone all day in my own thoughts was most pleasing, radio playing, physical labour, water, cap; lunch of hams and cheese.

Good god, tuning into the racing results was shocking mind.  My post for Friday returned awful results, not a sniff.  It seems my winning streak is at an end and I post today my thoughts and you can do with them as you wish, as always.  Free and unhinged.

The only race I came in to watch was the Topham and what carnage that was.  It reminded me of my apathy over these races on the National course.  Of which the Grand National is by far the worse.  Once again, I am not going to cover the National, it is not my thing.

At this time of year, folk who have my card marked (good with the bottle, mischief in the eye and a regular gambler on the horses) ask me for a tip for the Grand National.  They know I won’t have the winner, they don’t expect me to enhance their wealth in monetary terms, they just want to ask someone connected to them to give them a pointer, to make it a better story and raise their enjoyment of it.

The requests always catch me cold a little.  They are normally from people who would never bet on racing and something about these unlikely punters sharpen my own views on the race itself.  It is the national communal interest in the race, the mood, the media; they are engaged and people bet because they want to add their own spice, or remember someone, or just for damn traditions sake.

I try to mask my hesitation but it is there.  You see, I think the Grand National, is an awful advert for our sport.  I know my position is likely riddled with holes, I am conscious of an hypocrisy and I know there is another view but I shall try my best, a poor best I fear, to explain.

I am a hardened racing fan.  I love our sport because it is exotic, understanding the language of it is an art in itself.  I love it too because it plays you like a violin, through punchy Vivaldi numbers as your equine athletes strain sinew and perform in ways that stop your heart (Un de Sceaux, Frankel, Sprinter Sacre, Masterminded, Special Tiara even at Kempton! et al).  It then drops into Adagio for Strings sparing you no comfort as you watch some of these animals give their lives for the sport.

I am not a prude.  As I always say of arguments, people need to look at matters without seeking binary answers.  About a year ago, Ruby gave some quote about them being animals and not pets, caused a stir at the time.  He was right and wrong.  Of course he was right and the people in the sport have to be pragmatic and they, more than us supporters, live with the risks much more closely.

Yet, he was wrong in a crucial regard.  Whether or not you would like to see the racing footprint of fans grow, within the existing set of followers, consciousness of the equine risk is growing and appetite for the harms of the sport diminishing.

This is consistent with the world in general.  We are wealthier, healthier and better educated.  We are less violent.  We care more, we can afford to.  Fifty years ago, men smoked in pubs, it was illegal to be gay and racial discrimination was far more widespread and acceptable, you would live ten years less than expected today too.

Remember George Washington’s 2000 guineas?  I loved that horse, had his own way of doing things.  Wouldn’t enter the winners enclosure afterwards!  I also remember watching horrible images of him breaking down on the track in the States in utter slop.  It hurt to think of him going like that, he deserved a green field, a string of classy mares to breed with and an easy retirement afterwards.

Granit Jack.  That one got me too.  He was cruising into his Paddy Power and I think it was the brutality of the fall but it stayed with me, long, as some of these things will.

Safety.  This is why I am no fan of the National.  I read the report a few years ago, saw the improvements and the last couple of races have gone pretty well, all considered.  Yet, the course and conditions are still engineered (without the intention of the result) to be unsafe to race on.  That is not to knock the efforts already made.  The lowering of some drops, the levelling of landing areas, the softening of the fence core, the new start; all are improvements.

25%-30% of tomorrow runners will fall.  Unless the new safety measures have made a more significant effect than I believe, then it is as unlikely as not that one of the runners will die between 4.15 and 4.27.  This compares to a death in approximately every 25 races in normal National Hunt racing.

I know many of you will disagree with me and please feel free to comment below.  This is a gentlemen’s club so no riff raft please.  I am not abdicating from the sports risk and I cannot abide those that are against the sport who quasi-celebrate fatality as a proof of their argument.

I recognise that my position could be reasonably criticised as hypocritical, I cannot deny the claim.  My objection is purely on quantum and not utter moral, else I could not follow National Hunt at all.

When those tourists to our sport, ask me for a national tip, wanton glint to stray into racings’ heady environ; how can I explain this?  How can I say that the Grand National is a bit of a cartoon race, generally not our best horses and not really a fair contest but requiring a larger than normal dollop of luck?

I’ll probably give them The Druids Nephew and move on.

Aintree Tips (Just no Grand National)

1.30 – The Novice Hurdle Tip

Lots of improving sorts to pick through and Parlour Games and Nichols Canyon boost solid Neptune form but I am wary of Cheltenham form at Aintree.  A tight track, opponents fully prepped for the campaign and hard races just weeks ago all cause upset.  I back some but happily skip many looking for value.

The two I like are As De Mee (12/1) and Seedling.  The former is a Paul Nicholls handicap winner who boasts a similar profile to Lac Fontana, last years winner.  He won a Sandown Grade 3 handicap last time under a hefty burden and that gives him the nod for me.  Seedling is my risk, Greatrex is having an excellent campaign and this one fell before we knew anything in the Supreme, though he was fancied that day.

2.05 – The Maghull Novice Chase

I put Gods Own up as a horse to follow (albeit for the Champion Chase) at the start of the year and so was rather chuffed to see this highly experienced novice chase home Un de Sceaux in the Arkle.  Whether other horses burned their chances following UDS at breakneck pace, hard to tell but he was behind for a lot of the way and I can argue that his finish was passing beaten foes.  Either way, I want something else.

I like Sizing Granite a lot, he looks a player but although he has won his only start on good, being a Milan sort, I think his preferred ground will be softer.

Anyway, I might be ended to play Traffic Fluide anyway.  The way he has been winning his races suggests to me that he could be a top class player.  His trainer skipped Cheltenham altogether but has decided to come for this and at 9/2, I want a decent slice.

2.50pm – The Stayers Hurdle Tip

I really was not prepared for what Cole Harden (11/4) achieved at Cheltenham, I was very taken with his all the way win.  Amazing the effect of a wind operation on some horses!  Sapphire du Rheu did everything to boost the form yesterday, although he was converted to fences.

Zarkander bids to reverse form and backers will be hoping the shuddering error in the World Hurdle will give some hope.  I am not sure myself.

5.10pm – The Conditional Jockey Handicap Hurdle

I jump to the conditionals and go with the most upcoming of them. Sean Bowen partners Dormello Mo, a 12/1 shot.  I thought the Plumpton win was OK and frankly, in this environment, a good jockey and a champion trainer and 12/1 is too good to ignore.

That is it for horses for me on Grand National day.

In the football, what a game at Villa Park in the week.  In the topsy turvy world of Villa, it is hard to know what to expect but I think backing them at 5/1 to win at Spurs makes a lot of sense.  At this stage of the season, quality (on which they are very short) matters less than togetherness, organisation and will.  Villa will surely show some of that at their former bosses club and 5/1 is too big against a whimsical Spurs team.

Bolton struggled against Blackpool so might find Norwich have too many guns for them (11/13).

The Martin Hill is a yankee on the horses.

May your dinner be simple and taken in good family company.  Those bonds need nurturing, they will sustain you in your weaker times.

Courage, roll the dice.