Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Boxing Day Sermon | The Kempton King George Winner et al

Good evening from the Major who writes from Birmingham with deep long skies, a bright moon lighting silvery vapour trails, gentle cloud, excellent visibility and home lights twinkling, thousands upon thousands of them, all like us, all like you.  It is Christmas.

Have I missed writing this blog?  No, not exactly.  I cannot deny that after 6 years of Saturday Sermons there is a pang.  My longing has not been so much about giving my sporting viewpoint, no, it was more about spilling the thoughts from my mind.  A release, loosen the valve and outwards rushes the pressure.

The brief precis of my whereabouts in the last few weeks is as follows.  Not a lot to report, sir.  The Worcestershire pad is still for sale and the good man @pieaytollah27 (Steve) has been generous in his hospitality at his Sheffield flat.    Business is good, distance upon family life a strain.  Regrets, well, I’ve had a few.  Yet, there is many a slip between the crouch and the leap.

I like Sheffield.  I like all cities to be honest.  In the morning, awaking early, the city is a marvellous place.  At 6am, Sheffield feels surreal.  A memorable morning has stuck in my mind, as these things will.  A pale sky of breaking blue light with magnificent pink strokes.  Cities feel like great machines to me, millions of working parts, people, buildings, transports.  What are they all doing?  It seems a miracle, held together in a loose order.

In the thin light, from the safety of my metal and glass box, I observe the machine.  The baker preparing the shop, the bus quietly skulking, three passengers, one with head pressed against the window pane.  Walking along the pavement, her dark coat matched in hair, her dark boots tight against her calves, huddled in her step, where is she heading, what part of the machine does she work.

At that time of morning, before the rush, you are less hurried, more able to see the working parts.   In that grainy early light, there is telling promise of a wondrous day.  High above the train station is a 1960s concrete block, Park Hill, it is huge and was almost derelict before being reinvigorated, injected with a modern twist, brightly coloured panels.  It reminds me of Birmingham library, the old one, a brutalist masterpiece, sadly scheduled for demolition to be replaced by meaningless modern blocks, well enough designed but lacking the terrifying charisma of the former.  On the Sheffield Park Hill estate, lofty concrete walkways connect the huge blocks, high above the city on one, written in a white phosphorescent paint that positively glows neon in the dawn light, the words ‘I love U Will U Marry me?’

Who in the machine broke rank and rule to write this, I do not know, I will never know, bless them though, they are young, you can feel it in the action and the grammar.  Good luck to them, I just wish I knew whether she said yes.

I would recommend this documentary on the Park Hill block.

The city is massive, a system so large, it could take one a lifetime to explore it.  Yet, in context, the city is a mere dot.  The country, the continent, the Earth itself, so large, so vast, hundreds of languages, billions of people.  Our planet, a dot next to our sun, one day to be engulfed by it, in its late devouring red life.  Yet our sun, on its lap of the Milky Way, is one of a billion stars, taking 250 million years to turn one cycle in the spiral formation.  The entire human existence, our first venture out of the trees (were we wise?), our creation of fire, clothes, jewelery, religion and mastery of nuclear fusion has all taken place in less than 10% of a single degree of the turn of the Milky Way.

Yet this great system, billions of stars, is just one of billions of other galaxies.  Some younger, some older, all hurtling way from us, none toward us.  Billions of billions.  It baffles the mind.

One day, trillions of years from now, a time so far away it is inconsequential.  All the stars will fall dark.  The final fuel will be burned and the heavens will be dark, all of space black, suns burned out to space dust.  Imagine the heavens with no light on a clear night.  All things pass.  We float by just the once.  We are nothing, not even a minor tremor.  What is there? other than our own satisfaction and to take time to admire it all.

Whenever I am lost in the terrifying scale of it all, I recall to myself that the small always trumps the unfathomable.  There are more planets in the known universe than there are grains of sand on earth.  Yet, the number of molecules in a sip of brandy is more numerical than all those planets and grains of sand combined.

So toast your part in the machinery heartily this Christmas and recall the Majors mantra.  We float by the once, enjoy whatever comes your way on the tide.

To the sports.

King George Day – Kempton Tips

I do love the Kempton card at Christmas, rarely has it failed to deliver on excitement and often has it given me a profitable backdrop to the festive season.

It is one of 11 different race meetings which means that some unfamiliar jockeys will be in action on the smaller tracks.  There is so much action, being in a bookie is baffling, races clashing into each other, a frenzy of equine sport.

The King George is such a great race.  As trials for Cheltenham go, there is no better.  Long Run, Best Mate and Kicking King have all taken both races (admittedly not in the same season) but the undoubted King of the all is Kauto.  The minute a ne record is set in sport is the moment contenders start to aspire to the new height.  Yet, five King Georges.  Across all those billions of alternate Earths, I doubt there is a horse that has six!

I am going to start with the winner of the feature race of the day.

It is a classic looking King George.  A resurgent Smad Place and Cue Card are in the tier two considerations behind two of the hugely exciting team that form the key players in the Gold Cup antepost market.  The King George is a sizzler for the presence of Don Cossack and Vautour, I hope they serve up something we will talk about for years.  The race would have been a sensation with the addition of Coneygree who might not even make the Blue Riband come March.

Smad Place was fantastic in his Hennessy, although I must confess, I thought it a below par race on quality compared to recent years.  Smad thoroughly deserved a big win after running with credit so often.  The big question is whether his new form was produced because of a wind operation or because he exploited an OK mark against a poor field, many of whom did not handle conditions.  I would not put anyone playing with their Hennessy winnings (I did tip the boy on twitter, a rare success) from having an each way dabble.

Cue Card similarly is reaching new heights and looking like he has stepped up.  He seems to have been around for ever, entering our thoughts after winning his Champion Bumper as an unconsidered runner (for me and most folk anyway).  Could he be improving?  It seems unlikely but again, like Smad Place he has been under the knife and perhaps put some long-standing problem to bed.

I smear Cue Card with the same brush as Smad Place, I think in another year, they might be worthy winners of a slightly mid to lower standard King George, it just feels like this is not that sort of year.

I see the Lexus and the King George as essentially semi finals for the Gold Cup.   We have a changing of the guard and the horses in the staying division look highly exciting and full of the sort of potential of which legends could be made.  In this leg, we have Vautour and Don Cossack, in the other leg, we have Don Poli, Road to Riches and Djakadam.  Let’s bring those glorious form lines together again in March, let it ask us questions.

Vautour or Don Cossack.   Neither have done much wrong and the prices have shown that Don Cossack seems the safest bet.

Vautour it is for me (10/3 William Hill) and I feel confident.  He looks an absolute star to me and I have none of the qualms of his staying power.  Don Cossack is clearly not a horse to be written off, he has performed to exceptional standards, this is the beauty of the division.  Can I envisage Vautour beating him, well yes.  Ruby and Willie have clearly stated where they see the horse so putting aside the staying concerns, it makes it easy to back the second favourite, I will be doing so with gusto.

I shall stick my neck out.  Vautour is 14/1 to win the King George and the Gold Cup, Paddy Power.  Have a slice and thank me in March.

In the preceding race, the Christmas Hurdle, Faugheen bids to get back to winning ways.  It was odd last time out, his performance looked flat, fans will want a bounce back.  No bet market for me, just a Christmas Hurdle to enjoy.  It does remind me though, that a year ago I was trying to persuade folk that The New One, with his valuable experience would trump Faugheen, what foolish thoughts!

Am I still allowed to call the 2pm, the Feltham?  Well I am.  This is advice chase and so it is an obvious remark but I think the two at the head of the market are vulnerable and I do feel that Southfield Royale has an excellent chance at 7/1.  Native River put Un Temps Pour Tout to the sword last time out and hs to be respected but we get Noel Fehily and that is a big plus.

The Rowland Metric at Wetherby (1.45pm) sees Holywell try to recapture some of that promising form he once had.  It might seem harsh but it seems to me Jonjo has a lot of horses that are hit and miss.  Holywell has the class but I would not trust him to turn up.  Splash of Ginge was off the pace when blundering and finally unseating in the Hennessy, I would prefer him but my money is with another.

I would back with some gusto What a Good Night who represents the Skelton team, a really progressive yard.  The horse looks a likely improver and gets the benefit of a Brian Hughes ride.  He seems a bit quieter this season but he remains a powerful aid on these Northern courses.  5/1, Paddy Power.

At Leopardstown, although Ttebob has the look of an underestimated best, I am always going to back Douvan, even at the cramped odds of 4/7 – Get it in your accumulators.

In the football…. Arsenal at Southampton 11/10, Bristol City to beat Charlton 5/6 and Coventry to beat Port Vale 5/6 – That is a powerful treble.

The Martin Hill bet – Arsenal, Vautour and Coventry in a powerful treble.

Thank you so much to @pieaytollah27, @frankelslobro, @rog1409, @onedeswalker, @EmmaKGts and @adamclarke501 for posting guest blogs in the last few months.  If you fancy having a crack, let me know because I am not sure after Christmas, whether regular posts will continue…. Work is demanding, a temptress with an avaricious appetite.

Merry Christmas.  May your dinner be with great family, all having much joy in each others company.  I offer you little but wish you all a happy and successful 2016.

Courage, roll the dice.

The @rog1409 Guest Sermon… Ascot, Haydock and Lingfield

Good evening friends.

Let me start by wishing all of you the compliments of the season.

As a lifelong Chelsea FC supporter it has been a strange week! It was agreed by any of us that witnessed the appalling no show of our team at Leicester on Monday evening last that something had to give. Take nothing away from Claudio Ranieri and his team who played to the very maximum of their abilities to secure a deserved win. How ironic that the man whi took Chelsea to second place before Mourinho replaced The Tinker Man at CFC.

The board in their infinite wisdom have once again decided that the Manager that I regard as The Special One – one of our own has once again reached the end of the road. This time it seems there will be no remarriage! Guus Hudinnk will inherit a different team this time around – no Cech who is now supplying a more stable goalkeeping option at Arsenal, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole – John Terry is coming toward the autumn of his playing days now as well. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Believe absolutely nobody who says “Too good to be relegated!”

On a personal note it has been a week when we remembered my late Dad Don who gave me so much before being taken aged just 67 on 17 Dec 1992. 23 have passed but I still hear Dads wisdom everyday. His two greatest pieces of advice and wisdom were these. Firstly spend as much as you can afford on a comfy bed and good shoes – because if you are not in one you are in the other! Sound words Dad.

Dad’s second piece of wisdom was his explanation as to why there was no long hair in the fifties. Dad mused that the old barbers shops were the main place young men could purchase French Letters (contraceptives) was the barbers. They were sold in packets of three – and when brushing your shoulders of the cropped trimmings of hair the barber would quietly enquire “Something for the weekend Sir?” – however since there were only three “opportunities” in each packet should a young man require more than three he had to have his haircut twice!!

Also on a personal note my brother Dennis achieved 65 years old on Tuesday last – he is without doubt my mentor and guide but also a very best friend and Worlds greatest brother keeping a guiding eye on this younger errant – nearly 9 years his minor! He is also hosting our Christmas this year. The table will creek under the weight of the spread and much merriment and memories will be shared. Hope you will all be similarly able to enjoy a peaceful day with your loved one – or if she is not there the wife!I guess I should finish with my favourite Christmas Joke – PRE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS!

3 guys on a building site – the Foreman says “When we get back on Monday bring something festive to make the site look more Christmas like.”

Monday arrives and the English chap brings in lots of coloured lights to string along the scaffold poles.

The Scots lad arrives with a huge box of tinsel, baubles and hanging Santa’s.

Paddy arrives seemingly empty handed.

“Pat” they asked “What did you bring for the site for Christmas?”

With that Pat puts his hand deep into hid donkey jacket pocket and produces a pair of tights!!

“Pat – what have a pair of tights got to do with Christmas?” ask the others almost as one.

Big Pat replies “THESE ARE CAROLS!”

I know get on with the sport!!

As a welcome distraction to pushing around your local Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Argos and spending half the day attempting and failing to find a parking space only to then enjoy youngsters throwing a hissy fit in the aisles –we have the pleasant distraction of Ascot, Haydock, Lingfield et al to concentrate on.

If any of you read my previous efforts covering for Tim (not in a racing sense!) you may recall I will be working again at Ascot in the Event Control Room on the CCTV. I have worked at a number of racecourses but principally Ascot for some 38 years. This should not be taken as any more than a little knowledge of the unique undulations of the Berkshire track. I sadly have no inside information to pass your way regards my selections! I lived in Course Road, Ascot some 25 plus years and grew up playing football, cricket and all sorts on the inside of the racecourse so I have an idea how steep the finish is on a push bike though not on horseback!

Christmas presents won’t pay for themselves but I hope to at least win us all enough to buy the wrapping paper – even if it is 10 rolls a £1 from the Pound Shop!!

Let’s aim high!! Ascot 1:50 I will start with a 20/1 outsider BIG CASINO trained by Nigel Twiston Davies and ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. Fridays results showed that long shots do oblige at this time of the national hunt season and this 9 year old still has a good race in him having slipped down the handicap. Each way value if that is your bag.

In the following race 2:25 Long Walk 3mile Hurdle we can expect to see some of the pretenders to the World Hurdle crown competing. THISTLECRACK ridden by the suspension reprieved Tom Scudamore is an exciting 7 year old but around 2/1 short enough in such a competitive heat. It will be a watching brief for me here.

At 3:00 The Sodexho Silver Cup has 14 going to post. A large field and Pendra for Charlie Longsdon ridden by Barry Gerraghty are the 6/1 favourite a course and distance winner too gives him a strong chance of being involved at the business end of the race. For my selection I am looking to FINGAL BAY for Champion elect Richard Johnson and the modest but hugely successful Philip Hobbs yard still available at 8/1 in places tonight. Maybe even a cheeky forecast!

The final race at 3:35 at Ascot a large field of 21 go to post and many of the trainers are double handed – I could have sat for several hours chewing through the form for this race and not got anywhere near the winner. I have taken instinct again and based puyrely on what my own “mince pies” saw on his last run it’s Hobbs/Johnson again for me with STERNRUBIN if we can get 12/1 each way is definitely the way to play – either with a bookmaker offering 5 places or a money back if 2nd place offer.

Up at Haydock the 2:40 Tommy Whittle Rehearsal Chase gives CLOUDY TOO another opportunity to exploit a low handicap mark. I again will trust what I saw last time he ran and back forecasted 4/1 favourite SPOOKYDOOKY rather oddly named but Johnjo O’Neill is brilliant with young chasers and Joshua Moore is underrated in the saddle. If you have the opportunity to see his run at Newbury last time out you will see why he left an impression on this scribes memory to back him next time he runs.

Brian Ellison can get us in the pay out queue in the 3:15 with OSCAR BLUE under Paddy Brennans steering. 6/1 would be nice.

Finally one for the Sand Fans at Lingfield it has to be GRENDISAR for Botti/Kirby in the Listed 2:20 race.

May I wish you well – and that all horses/jockeys come home safely.

My football advices for tomorrow are any 4 and all 5 from


Festive cheer to one and all

ROGER HAWKES (@roge1409)

















Saturday Sermon – Cheltenham, Doncaster, PDC World Darts, Cricket & Football

Good evening from the Maj…Who am I kidding.

I suppose I’d better introduce myself. I’m Adam otherwise known as @AdamClarke501 on twitter and was asked at my most fragile time – Friday night down the pub – to guest write this weekends sermon.
For my sins I once kept a blog which only lasted one season with weekly rantings and ravings about my beloved and of late desperately awful Aston Villa.
What didn’t help was that the season I decided to start the blog was also the beginning of our slow demise and became somewhat repetitive week in, week out.  So I stopped and until this week hadn’t even considered going back to writing one.
Football isn’t my only vice, Cricket (Warwickshire), Rugby Union (Northampton Saints), NFL (Vikings), MLB (Red Sox) & Formula 1 to name a few. And yes I’m one of those craft beer drinking w*nkers too. Minus the beard and poncey quiff!
I’m a freelance web developer, work can, on the odd occasion, be in short supply. You’ve caught me at a good time, mainly updating sites that I currently run in preparation for Xmas, so I’ve managed to spend a bit of time in putting something together.
The Major must be onto something though, he’s been badgering me a fair bit on twitter to guest write this blog for sometime. I am writing this on a promise though from The Major, he said he’d write up a Boxing Day special. A deal is a deal Major!
I met The Major through his younger brother (a pretty decent medium fast bowler at the time) many moons ago at our local cricket club, Streetly.  After that we’d no doubt bump into each other more often than not down our then local watering hole.
Unfortunately our meet ups have become less frequent due to work and family commitments, apart from that time when he forgot to meet up with me after the Ashes test at match at Edgbaston last year! But at least we have Twitter, so it’s not that I’ve missed him much!
His Saturday Sermon became an instant hit in our house and has certainly been missed.  I hope his hiatus is almost at an end.  He’s my go to expert on military battles from the past.
My betting habits are probably best described as here and there. The weekly 4 or 5 fold footy acca and the televised horse races on Channel 4 on Saturday’s when I’m not at a sporting event myself that day, don’t see the point in betting unless you’re paying attention to it. Thus, today’s racing tips are the televised races on C4.
My love for horse racing certainly doesn’t run as deep as The Major’s or a few others that have guest written this blog this past month or so, but National Hunt racing certainly holds my attention more than the flat variety.
Apologies in advance but you won’t see an in depth write up on each race as my racing knowledge doesn’t extend too far, however, from my experiences attending Cheltenham Festival every year since 2009 & an avid C4 Racing viewer, I’ve built up a dossier of horses that I keep track of on a regular basis, so I’d like to think I know enough to at least help you earn a few extra pounds this weekend. A mothership might not be on the cards this weekend, but who knows.
You’ll always find me at Cheltenham at least twice during Festival week. Usually Day 1 and Gold Cup Day. My preferred area is the Centaur, particularly handy if it’s lashing down or blowing an arctic gale. Next year might be different. I’ll be interested to see the changes that have been made course side, in particular as a wheelchair user. It’s certainly looked good on the television especially the new parade ring.
It’s always such a wonderful time of year even for the part time race goer like myself. The buzz on the train journey down, the annual visit to the Royal Oak near to Prestbury Park. Not forgetting the now customary stampede to the Guinness Bar once through the gate.
More often than not you come away knowing that you’ve probably just witnessed history made or even seen the beginning of a wonderful career ahead for another horse.
Certainly the 2016 Gold Cup has the makings of being the best ever judging by the current ante post list. ConeygreeVautour and Don Cossack stand out but you can’t write off the likes of DjakadamDon Poli and a personal favourite of mine, Cue Card.
I already have one or two ante post bets on for both the Festival & the King George, no doubt a few more will be added by the end of play this weekend.
I digress, the festival is much further in the distance and we have some exciting races to look forward to on Saturday from Doncaster & Cheltenham. Next week also sees the start of the World Darts Championships with an in-depth preview. And finally, looking slightly further ahead is the upcoming test match series between South Africa & England.
Plenty to take your mind off all what’s bad in the world we live in right now.
To the sports.
1:50 Gold Cup Handicap Chase – Champagne West (E/W) gets the nod for me. He’s yet to run this season but showed some useful form in novice chases last campaign, most notably when second to Ptit Zig at Cheltenham in January.
2:25 Novices Hurdle – Final Nudge trainer David Dennis is hoping Final Nudge can continue his progression as he steps up in class for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.  The six-year-old gets his chance after making hay in November, winning his last two starts at Wincanton and Bangor.  He’s is on a hat-trick but takes on stronger opposition in this Grade Two event and is upped in trip to three miles.
3:00 International Hurdle – Peace & Co load those cannons and let’s hope he meets Faugheen in March. My mouth is watering at the prospect already. My NAP of the day.
3:35 Mares Handicap Hurdle – Broxbourne has the staying power after taking Definite Outcome all the way back in November at Aintree and with Nico de Boinville in the saddle, he must have a great chance.
2:05 Handicap Hurdle – Sir Chauvelin won at a canter last time out in the Border Safeguard Hurdle and today’s trip will suit.
2:40 Novices Chase – It’s A Close Call much better at chasing despite winning twice over hurdles recently.  Paul Nicholls speaks highly of him too.
PDC World Darts Championship
December is here, we all know what is coming – and I’m not on about a fat bloke in a red suit popping down your chimney on Christmas Eve night either. Alexandra Palace in London will host the 2016 PDC version of the Darts World Championships from December 17th – January 3rd.
72 players will all have the dream of lifting aloft the Sid Waddell Trophy on finals’ night, and to walk away with a record prize winners’ cheque of £300,000. The opening cast will be drawn from every corner of the darting globe to offer a festive spectacle of tungsten action. You might gather from my opening gambit, that I’m quite a fan.
Scotland’s Gary Anderson is the current holder of the most prestigious trophy in World Darts, but he faces a stiff task from current favourite MIchael Van Gerwen & with several others to retain his crown.
Dutchman van Gerwen recently stated that he is in the “form of his life”, and who could really argue. The 26 year-old has swept all before him in 2015, and he is a worthy favourite to repeat his maiden win back in 2014. The lime green machine has claimed 18 PDC tournaments in the calendar year alone – including six major events.
Time waits for no man, even Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, and the 55 year-old darts legend not only has to battle with the finest players on the planet, but also the fight against his ageing body. Taylor is without question still a leading player on the PDC circuit, but his ‘powers’ – if you pardon the pun – are waning. The extended length of the World Championships matches towards the latter stages could be another hindrance for the 16 times former World Champion, who is currently not holding any PDC major title.
Reigning champion Gary Anderson will be desperate to hold onto his trophy, and the popular Scot is likely to be one of the major players at the business end of the tournament. Anderson, handed the second seeding, backed up his World Championship win with the 2015 Premier League title in May, but has been relatively quiet since. His form has to be taken on trust, but the 44 year-old has the game to retain the title if in last year’s form. However, at the back of my mind, having the tag of current world champion, puts me off this year. Good chance of a semi final berth though.
Former two-time World Champion Adrian Lewis has been in the darting wilderness in recent times, but is starting to show signs of his former glories. Lewis is seeded fifth, and has a tough quarter of the draw to overcome, but has the scoring power to trouble anyone.
Peter Wright is seeded fourth and the colourful Scot will be attempting to go better than his final appearance in 2014. Wright is another player who is in good recent form, and will be considered as a dark horse to claim the title.
Fellow Scot, Robert Thornton justified his 80/1 odds to win the World Grand Prix back in October, is also worthy of consideration. A quarter-final defeat at the hands of Michael van Gerwen in 2015 was his career best at the Ally Pally, but he is capable of better and is in the opposite half to MVG this time around.
It is very difficult to offer real confidence in any opposition stopping Michael van Gerwen claiming his second world crown in early January. MVG faces a potentially tricky last-16 tie against either fellow Dutchman, Raymond van Barneveld or England’s Stephen Bunting, and if the draw goes to seeding, a semi-final clash against Wright or Lewis.
The dominance that van Gerwen has shown in recent months suggests that none of those players are likely to stop the world’s number one player in his current form. Adrian Lewis & James Wade would have to be considered as potential long-shots, but having treaded the path to world glory, they rate as decent alternatives.
My picks are as follows
Michael Van Gerwen 11/10
Adrian Lewis 16/1
James Wade 20/1
Peter Wright 22/1
Robert Thornton 50/1
One final bet of note is to back two or more nine-dart finishes in the tournament (11/4), which looks a very likely occurrence this year.
Looking slightly further ahead, England will be taking on South Africa in a hotly anticipated series in which I am very lucky to say I shall be witnessing. Can’t say I’m looking forward to flying out on New Year’s Day though for the 2nd test starting around 2 hours after I land. But at least it’s an overnight flight!
Anyway, this could be England’s chance. South Africa struggling to field a full strength side with the recent announcement that fast bowler Vernon Philander will miss the opening 2 test matches & their recent struggles on the slow spinning pitches in India which didn’t suit them one bit, gives England, in my opinion, the edge. 3/1
My Premier League 5fold is Norwich, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Watford & Stoke City.
If you’ve got this far, thanks for sticking with me.  I’m sure we will all breath a collective sigh of relief when the Major returns from his hiatus on Boxing Day as promised for writing this, eh Major?
Have a great weekend everyone!

The @onedeswalker Sermon – Aintree | Sandown Tingle Creek

I am at peace with the world. Friday night is a beautiful thing; the working week is behind us and the promise of sporting greatness and fun filled activity is before us. I have shared a relaxing bottle of Shiraz with my better half, I am now supping on a refreshing craft beer to aid my cogitation and there’s a bottle of Glenfiddich awaiting me as my post-Sermon reward.

Manchester has been beautiful; a crisp, clear day, watery blue sky and bright sunshine. A day to feel alive and appreciate it.

It seems very strange to be poaching The Major’s platform. It has been interesting & entertaining to read the guest pieces but we are all hoping Tim has a change of heart and returns to his public musings.  One of the many beauties of the sermon was the recurring voice; charting the highs & lows of his week, the female heads that grabbed his attention, the business deals, the tips! And now I am reduced to checking the Worcestershire weather via other sources than the good Major.

However, I do sympathise with Tim. For a few months I blogged a weekly tipping column at the now defunct, and not missed, Communitips website. I had a few days of fame after tipping Solemia the week before the Arc at 66-1; I like to remind people of this though fail to mention the following 7 weeks of tips without a winner. But the relentless handcuff of having Friday nights tied to the blog took their toll and I did begin to resent it.

The Major has earned his sabbatical and he may yet return refreshed. I think a Kempton, Boxing Day special may be in order. All quality programmes have a Christmas special, what about it Major?

One of the reasons I like Twitter is it enables me to interact with people who share my passions. My friends are neither horse-racing fans nor Nottingham Forest fans (poor deluded souls).  Twitter gives me an opportunity to share these passions and feel part of the fraternity.

I am also naturally introverted; I like people but can find social interaction draining.  Twitter enables me to link to a wider audience without the need for small-talk, eye contact or disinteresting (uninteresting?) discourse.  While one of Twitter’s plusses is its anonymity, I must tell of the day I very nearly met The Major.

We had texted each other earlier in the day & must have been within metres of each other, holding phones above our heads in the throng to reveal our positions, in the Guinness village at Cheltenham; licking our Silvinaico Conti wounds. Alas, fate did not bring us together; perhaps it will be this March after the greatest Gold Cup ever.

One of Twitter’s other attributes is the diversity of opinion. I am pretty much left leaning on many issues but appreciate being able to understand alternative views. As I have this platform I feel obliged to make two points.

The relentless austerity drive of the government whatever its economic intentions and basis has fundamentally effected some of the most vulnerable in society.  I work with young people with learning disabilities and mental health issues; their access to support, education and employment has been seriously diminished by the cuts and this both saddens and angers me.

Secondly the level of political debate regarding whether we should bomb ISIS in Syria was somewhat disappointing. Everyone seemed to have taken a position before the debate which seemed to miss the point. Whether it was Cameron’s accusation of ‘terrorist sympathisers’ to the opposition leaders who dared to oppose him, the gleeful response to the yes vote or the heinous threats to those who dared to vote yes; no-one came out with much credit.  It is a serious and contentious decision to go to war and undoubtedly kill innocent bystanders; that is a not a reason to not do it but the complications and ambiguities should be acknowledged and treated soberly.

Apologies dear reader, I am prone to ranting, you do not want your Friday drink or Saturday breakfast besmirched by such ramblings. We are conjoined by our love of horses and to the sports we shall turn.

Despite the complaints that Cheltenham is the be all in National Hunt racing the pre-New Year crackers of the Betfair, Hennessey, Tingle Creek and King George stand perfectly in their own right.  The roll of owner is phenomenal in tomorrow’s Tingle Creek: Moscow Flyer, Flagship Uberallas, Kauto Star, Sizing Europe and Sprinter Sacre are all names to conjure with and set the pulse racing.

The last two winners despite claims of it being sub-standard went on to win the Champion Chase. Clearly the feature is poorer without the presence of the rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre and the machine that is Un De Sceaux. However our chances of finding a winner at a price have been increased by their absence.

I loved the ante-post market because Simonsig was a red herring. I can be smug having taken 6-1 earlier in the week on Special Tiara.  Vibrato Valtat is very solid and consistent but if he wasn’t trained by Mr Nicholls he wouldn’t be so short. Special Tiara is still the value punt.  Last season he had 2 valuable wins against the sadly missed Balder Succes & Sprinter Sacre, sandwiched with a decent 3rd in the Champion Chase. Having had a pipe opener last month I’m gambling on him returning to last season’s high class form. 7/2 still merits a hefty wager

The Becher Chase looks a belter and will be a tremendous spectacle. I have an Achilles heel of backing staying chasers who are high in the weights. I am aware that it is not the most fruitful of systems but I can’t get away from Saint Are who is a model of consistency and has a liking for the Liverpool fences.  There is always the danger he will find one too good but 10-1 looks a price worth playing at. For brave souls chuck in Goonyella for the forecast. We will not land the mothership without taking a chance!

I have a liking for Willow’s Saviour in a cracking novice chase at Sandown. He rattled of a decent 3 timer over hurdles at the end of last season, including the valuable Ladbroke; having won his first chase this season he is open to plenty of improvement. Trained by the admirable Nick Skelton 4-1 looks reasonable. Bristol De Mai is a clear threat.

For my last horse I am going to prove what a manacle my Achilles heel is by betting on Rocky Creek in the Grand Sefton. He does have top weight but also is the classiest horse in the race and run well behind Don Cossack first time out. He is very in and out but his Kempton win last February in similar conditions marks him out as the best horse in the race. I will chance he has a going day at 6-1.

I like to keep my football tips simple so a double on Watford and Birmingham who are both at home and both odds against should win back any horse racing losses!

Lastly if you have a fantasy football team Daniel Sturridge looks a shoe-in as captain against relegation certainties Newcastle. Both him and Klopp inspired Liverpool are in fire.

As the Major would say…..Courage, roll the dice. Good luck all.