Good morning from Worcestershire where the Major has stirred from such magnificent slumber that I feel as though I have awoken to a different existence. I have such fleeting memories of last night, drinking a single cold beer and eating a glorious chicken and potato curry, wishing Hull KR might win in the handicap and falling asleep just as that game was slipping from their grasp.
Flinging open the windows to welcome the day, the land is alive. Dazzling light blazes from an orb elevated above the horizon, telling me in advance that I have slept beyond my usual boundary. The distant land is cloaked in a greying hazy shadow, it erases the colour, screeching birds are busy at work, collecting grubs and eyeing the sky with great wariness for ominous shadows.
This weeks report from Sheffield notes that Steve and I, were joined by his German associate, Malta and two other friends for the Wednesday night quiz. We came joint top with Steve blazing away again in grand style. Dead heating, unlike in racing, does not cause a sharing of the spoils of war. No, there must be a winner in this despotic contest and the quiz-master, an awful man, has a preferred modus operandi of an eating contest. Quite.
At this stage, I am always happy to withdraw gracefully. Should someone be content to cram their mouths full of peanuts and race to eat them, well; good luck to them I say, enjoy your beer and good night.
I had observed throughout the evening that one of our companions, Rob, bore a wild-eyed slightly maniacal look as though he were constantly suppressing some raging impulse and my spirits were raised when he volunteered to represent us. His foe was a swarthy student girl, part of a gaggling set and I would have wagered 2/9 that we had the boss hand.
Sadly, while Rob laboured into a large pork pie as best he might, his demonic competitor devoured hers in uncommon style, to a point where I thought she may be dislocating her jaw, unsportsmanlike you’d agree. What folk will do for eight pints of good ale and some recognition. The result was a turn up, none was more surprised than I. Still, I should have known better; the mighty Seabiscuit looked like a London Pony compared to the finely composed War Admiral and we all know how that ended. Looks can be deceiving.
On Tuesday night, to give Steve a break from my late night boozy company which will not be doing him any favours; I made a break for the leafy suburbs and to Olly in Dore, South West of the city, touching the peak district. Olly is a good friend, a jet setting sort, compact round face, always adorned in the latest tech accessories but full of fun and generous in spirit. If I paint Olly well, then I wish to have saved the finer colours for his wife Sally who combines fine hospitality with an excellent sense of humour and that rare quality one finds in wonderful people, the power to make you feel good about yourself.
The pair keep a fine house and I slept well on a soft bed with the window flung open to the air and the stars.
Pluto, ice mountains. What great words, what wondrous images flung four and a half hours across space to reach us on our small blue marble. The machine was gunning along at 14km per second having made Pluto by means of slingshot around Mars many years previous. The calculations, technology, invention and sheer genius involved in such a scheme lead me to think it more artistic than scientific. Bravo to all concerned, vos pervenio astrum.
To the sports.
Carmel, Newbury, Newmarket and Market Rasen Tips.
Last week was not bad. 4 tips, a winner at 11/4, a place at 11/4 and a place at 16/1. It won’t excite the bank manager but it halted a poor run which I am glad to see broken.
Cartmel…. 5pm. an odd place to start Major? Well, maybe. Yet, my bet of the day is Kilfinichen Bay who can be backed at a healthy 5/1. Longsden and Johnson are proving a valuable partnership (29 runners, 12 winners). The horse is in splendid form and the seemingly wide open nature of the contest provides some honesty to the price. I say ‘seemingly’ because if you, like I, remain convinced that Kilfinchen will win, it is not wide open at all.
24 juveniles line up for the super sprint at Newbury, a race in which it is hard to be overly committal on anything. Consider, 24 horses thundering down the Newbury straight, all inexperienced on an oddly tough course, interference expected. You need a touch of clairvoyance in addition to form and bloodline reading to crack this.
Still, being the feature race, I feel obliged to throw a dart.
The Fahey yard have gone a little quiet of late, just 8 winners from their last 108 runners (fortnightly stats) but they have 1 in 3 of the field today,
Excessable is a likeable favourite with the last defeat looking a much more handsome formalise since the victor went on to score again. Great Page showed quality form in the penultimate run which simply repeated gives the horse a chance.
My bet though has to be at an each way price and I think Hawatif gives us an fighting chance at 8/1. De Sousa is now 2/5 for the jockeys title and must be riding every race with excellent confidence and a laser like focus. Johnstone is back to business with his juveniles and the win at Carlisle while lacking depth in obvious class, looked very good. I feel more confident than I should and should remember my earlier caution, looks can be deceiving.
My other tip at Newbury is both late and lazy. Sealife at 6/4 is no value compared to the 9/4 about recently. This tells of confidence and why not. the Windsor debut win was bloodless and spoke of plenty more to come. Could be a good prospect.
At Newmarket, I am only going to attempt the Aphrodite at 2.15.
I thought Dream Child looked good at Deauville last month, looking far the best at the line and that was a listed contest beating Ed Walkers, Persona Grata, a previous winner, now rated 100. Dream Child is burdened with a touch of extra weight for that win which tempers enthusiasm a little.
Arabian Comet is closely matched on the books with Dream Child and given their meeting at Goodwood was a seasonal debut for the Comet, there is plenty that will feel confident that positions will be revised under these terms and with Arabian Comet now being fitter. I am never one to be so sure about those arguments. They are there if you look for them, but you can often look too hard. I would not be too quick to abandon Dream Child.
No, I am looking for value here and I find it in Desert Snow. The horse did nothing but improve last year and if still on an upward curve, might make a mockery of the 12/1 being touted about. I grant you, that improvement was made in handicaps but what can you do but improve in such circumstances. Bin Suroor remains in good form and I want this one on side today.
Then to Market Rasen and the ‘summer jumps’ scene.
The Summer Hurdle has been taken by John Fergusons distinctive black colours in both previous two runnings. Thus, punters are flocking to Buckwheat and Commissioned who are two of the top three in the betting. The trainer loves it here (6 from 13 runners in the last two years) and I fear I might be looking too hard to get his beat.
If you are a Ferguson sort of player, I would suggest, Commissioned to beat Buckwheat as a straight forecast would make for a pleasing dinner tonight.
However, I am strictly reporting the workings of my mind, which has despatched a message from deep within the mad swirling vortex. I calculate that the Ferguson craze is overheating. He had not won the race prior and who is to say that the flash in the pan will not end today? Two swallows do not make a summer, although in Birmingham, it is the happy conclusion for many a reveller on a Broad Street night out.
Ferguson does not boast the best recent strike rate at Market Rasen in spite of his seeming dominance. No, by a single meaningless percentage point, that honour goes to Nicky Henderson whose yard have been quiet of late although he did send out a nice maiden hurdle winner at Worcester this week.
I backed a horse early in the season at Cheltenham last year and was gutted to see it just outgunned on the hill, the pair coming well clear. For me, it felt like vindication of my thinking of it being half decent and I made an expensive mental note. Subsequent runs were either seemingly unlucky or just downright disappointing. Yet, the memory remains and like a immovable stain I present it to you now, once again.
We have been here before haven’t we. Talent. God, Talent – She was my Arc winner. Taquin du Seuil (to be fair a multiple winner) has also received far more of my attention than he perhaps deserved.
So, temper your action accordingly when I say that I am still expecting Hammersly Lake to repay me for my continual, unwavering, persistent, uncompromising and probably downright unwise support. 12/1 is available, don’t bother with the each way, bet like you mean it, fortune favours the brave.
Then the Summer Plate. Pumped Up Kicks is all the rage being an improver and seemingly unexposed. Cannot deny it looks a bet.
David Pipe is in the Brian Ellison pigeon-hole for me. Can never bring myself to back him, his horses seem to run to an unprectictable rhythm, one than my ear cannot decipher. Thus, Dell Arca also gets a cagey cautious line through it. It’s a Gimme returns and with Geraghty up on a JP horse in Britain on a Saturday big race handicap, well, that is enough for many. He is also last years winner but bearing an extra stone (give or take a few lbs) I am holding off.
Nobody could have not been moved by seeing Champion Court return to form. Never quite top class, this horse has never given his fans anything other than his best. He has been a magnificent sight leading fields out and ensuring great tempos in his races, I would not begrudge him the win and am delighted to see him back.
I am backing though a less fancied sort in Perfect Timing (14/1 Stan James). My case is this. He won on seasonal debut rather well, then missing a beat next time up. He resumed winning ways last time and represents a yard in form. He is piloted by Noel Fehily, as regulars know, one of my favourites. His weight is more where I want it to be, Dell Arca and Champion Court have class and classy types have taken this race before but… more often than not, they lag behind a less exposed up and comer.
Anyway, can anyone hear that? A strange whirring of engines and bleeps, clicks and whistles. Through the distant haze, strain your ear, it is coming on the breeze, slowly but building to a great crescendo. Yes, my friends, the mothership cometh and not a day too soon.
May your dinner be upstairs and to the left on a flight to Barbados, see you there, mine will be a Mojito.
The Martin Hill? Easy. An each way Kilfinichen Bay and Perfect Timing Double.
Courage, roll the dice.