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.