Good morning from the Major who writes from the bed with an unsteady hand. Wispy bands of cloud stretch along the horizon in shades of blue and grey pastels, the light is filtered, all soft and peaceful.
I must explain why this is a rather sloppy Saturday Sermon, delivered at mid morning.
On Thursday, we buried John who I mentioned some weeks hence. I am going to write to Ladbrokes separately but Barry, the manager at Stone Cross, led their delegation in attendance and led the collection (Birmingham Dogs Home). It reminded me that a good bookmakers is a social benefit, a meeting point.
John almost lost his life a few years back when his home burned down and the fireman who got him out, laid him on the lawn, for all the world dead.
Yet, the flame of life still flickered and after a few weeks in the world-class QE hospital in Birmingham with their class leading burns treatment wards (heavily in use from wounded servicemen from the Afghanistan campaign), John made a recovery, overcoming double pneumonia and horrendous burns.
I spent some time with him in hospital at the time, being a big racing fan it gave us time to meander through memories. His favourite jockey was Fallon, he preferred the flat to the jumps after a horse he backed died on course; we have all been there.
His favourite horse was Falbrav and when he was discharged and returned to a new flat, I purchased a photo of Falbrav from the Racing Post site. This was amongst the items recovered and will now hang on the wall of Ladbrokes at Stone Cross with a small plaque, remembering John, or ‘Joker Joe’ as was his not inconsiderable local fame.
My mother salvaged other family relics from Johns flat and we had various folk around in the morning delving through old photographs, military records and other keepsakes that instantly move you from one place in time to another.
Anyway, once the service was over, we congregated for drinks and sandwiches at a local small hotel. Old people fingered through the photos identifying the folk in them and linking them to events. This was the starting whistle of an almighty drinking session with my brother which had me in bed at midnight and unconscious.
Friday was written off. Weak and aching, I am not at an age anymore where a couple of paracetamol and a decent sleep can see off the worst of a hangover. It has rolled on into day two, a problem as I am hosting this evening, chaps coming down to watch the fight.
Funerals remind you of many things, The frailty of life, the bonds of family, the depth of history. As I oft say, we go by just the once my friends, grasp on to whatever floats by. Drain every last drop from life, lap it up with an appetite.
To the sports.
If the Cheltenham festival was criticised for moving to four days, thus diluting quality, Punchestown is twice as guilty. Personally I don’t mind.
What a week for Enda Bolger, he seems like such a character and a damn nice guy. My formula for Cross Country races is simply to run my finger down the trainer column, find his entries and pick one. Wish Ye Didn’t gets my vote here at 4/1. A winner on the opening day of the festival on Tuesday, he hacked up and didn’t appear to have a particularly heavy race, while Nina is booked for the favourite, I think we will get our monies worth, 9/2 Paddy and Boylesports.
Punchestown is serving us two Grade 1 races and the first is the mares hurdle. Annie will surely finish the job, she is currently favourite for the World Hurdle, she won’t have a problem with this lot, unless her fall has effected her. No bet, I am happy to watch.
The second grade 1 is the four year old hurdle. Petite Parisienne brings the best form from the Triumph Hurdle and that renewal looked a decent one so he has to be respected.
In a trappy race, I am sticking with Qualando who makes the trip for Nicholls. Not many British horses have come this year, probably due to the timing with Aintree and also the Mullins factor. If you got beat at Cheltenham, do you want to come and have another dose at Punchestown or instead head to Liverpool and take your chances in a largely Mullins-Free zone?
Anyway, this is the sort of french horse that Nichols works wonders with and clearly there is some talent. The way Qualando finished the Fred Winter suggested there was no issue with stamina and I want this one on side at 7/2, Stan James or Boylesports.
The 2,000 Guineas
Forgive me if you were passionate about Punchestown and felt I was being critical of the quality, it is not my intention to offend. If there is a card lacking top class action, it is the first classic of the season, the 2,000 guineas at Newmarket. It is the only group 1 on the card and considering we are trying to sell the race internationally, we could do with a bit more prestige, n’est pas?
Gleneagles heads the field and you can see the horse has a lot going for it, yet I remain unconvinced by the form. A drop of rain and I would have been all in on Elm Park but I am not sure that one will see the starting stalls as the Racing Post Trophy it won was testament to the conditions he needs.
Estidhkaar did very well in the Greenham, cutting out all of the early work and all and sundry were quick to jump on his performance, decrying he was the one to take out of the race. The Major is not so sure, unlucky in defeat never reads well in dispatches.
This is a year where I would consider looking for a bigger priced winner, a Mafki or a Night of Thunder. Yet, being a coward, I shall stick with the main playactors.
The two to focus on are Ivawood and Ol’ Man River. The former I can readily forgive lesser performance on soft ground and comes into the race having had a satisfactory prep run. There is no way Ivawood was fully wound up for the Greenham and while he finished a way off the from two, I think it will be a different horse today.
Ol’ Man River was eye-catchingly good in his first two runs and I want it to win for the sake of his parents. It is two years since Montjeu passed away but his ominous presence on the classics remains. Ol’ Man River is out of Finsceal Beo who was a tremendous filly and I want it to run well to do justice to the blue blood from which it has come. 8/1, Ladbrokes, Paddy, Boylesports. Ivawood is my saver at 12s generally.
Mayweather v Pacquiao
Now, I am not an in-depth boxing fan but I am adding an interest to my weekend portfolio. It looks to me to be a classic fight between Mayweather who has the power and the reach and Manny, who needs to get inside and brawl.
It typically goes to the classier fighter and thus Mayweather makes the sensible option. He is available at 10/11 but that is not my bet.
I am backing a unanimous points win for Mayweather at 13/8 with Ladbrokes. As well as the fighting advantage, Floyd has home advantage and while it should mean nothing, unfortunately, this is Vegas, home of the dodgy judge and we have that in Mayweathers camp too. Manny is chiseled from the rock and so I do not anticipate a knock down.
It is a shame because, like most, I will be supporting Manny with the heart.
One bet in the football and one that you might mock. i fancy Sunderland to beat Southampton at 16/5. They are the weaker team but at this stage of affairs, it does not matter. They have a lot to play for and the atmosphere will be electric.
The Martin Hill is a Mayweather unanimous 13/8 and Ol Man River 8/1 double with Ladbrokes.
May your dinner be sensible and simple. Don’t drink too much, you will regret it.
Courage, roll the dice.