Saturday Sermon – Tips for Champions Day and the Welsh Champion Hurdle

Good evening from the Major who writes tired and comfortable from the family home in the flatlands at the conjuncture of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.  My new landscape, where the wide Trent bends slowly and lazily north to the Humber and the lack of serious vertical topography allows the Major to enjoy my star-gazing with vigour.

Sadly tonight, the evil cloud spirits have swept in and spoilt a glorious view of a near full moon at perigree (closest it gets to Earth) and a nearby Uranus (stop sniggering at the back) which would have required the scope.  I am a little wine flown, as I hope you are.  It is the right place to be, nearer the edge where things blur and you contemplate the important things.

This week has been hectic.  I feel like I have been hurled through a washing machine, not sure which way is up, gasping and constantly in motion.  If there is one thing I value it is moments of privacy and peacefulness.  Children and business have merits but they take a pound of flesh, especially out of us daydreamer sorts.

Early mornings, hurtling along the black rain slickened roads, the tyres kissing the tarmac and the radio loud but somehow distant.  Heater and chair warmer on, the window open, aching for cold air on my face.  I think I want that cold rush to feel alive but maybe it’s just how I shake the slovenly starts that red wine drinkers are slaves to.

I have been asked to be a best man which was quite moving (@frankelslowbro).  I was surprised, not ungrateful, quite the opposite.  Thankfully, my master in this affair has similar ideas as I.  A separate friend is marrying in the spring and I fear his stag do will require a passport and a stiff appetite for the debaucheries for which others in the party might partake.  I am no prig and I have had my moments but my sins are restricted to those which my mother might tut at but would still leave open my invitation to the Christmas dinner table.

No no, my groom fancies a day at the races and frankly he has come to the right man.  I am currently reviewing my race day options for a Saturday in the early spring (pre Cheltenham I think).  Why not the festival you might wonder, surely that would make it?  Well yes.  Therein lies the problem though.  Who of us wants to spends Cheltenham hosting tourists to our great game?  No, no.  The finest company is required at the top table.  Call me a snob but you know I am right.

Another child mauled to death by a dog.  Aleppo reduced to rubble, humans to dust from where we came.  These things stay with me, late in the evening when the mind strays as it will and the breath comes shorter fuelling a quickening pace to circulation.

I have something to ask.  The business I acquired is going well.  We look like posting 15% growth this year which is not to be sniffed at.  I wish for you some success.  I am lucky.  I have a fine team, yes there are blemishes but we all carry those.

I want to ask a favour on behalf of one of them, Shelley.  If you met her, you would, so please allow me to do my poor best to persuade the merits of my case.  Shelley is that mix of hardened northern mother dealing with the realities of getting by and a darn fine soul who is generous enough to want good things for other people too.  You wouldn’t pick a fight with her but she’s the first you’d want on your team in a dust-up.  It’s fair to say I liked her when we first met.

This weekend, she is embarking on a  serious challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks.  In June her friends lost their baby at 39 weeks of their pregnancy.  If you stop and consider that for an awful moment it leaves you somewhat desperate and humble.  I would not know what to say to someone in that position and I am not convinced I’d have the stomach or courage for eye contact.  Aye, I’ve a taste for the prose from the safety of a keyboard.

24 miles, over 5,000 feet of ascent, starting and finishing in the autumnal dark (probably rain tomorrow too) all to raise monies for the charities that do help those families, including Shelley’s friend Carla.

I know I have not produced many sermons in the last year and that doesn’t place me well to ask on your favour.  Yet, if you have a few shekels free in your rich kitty (and before I offer you advice on how to do some serious balance damage), please visit their fundraising page – They are only a few hundred off their target.  Just a few pounds help, as much for the fundraising and equally for these ladies ascending three mountains tomorrow.

On the Major’s site, we have always dealt with the riff raff swiftly.  I know we have a readership of quality sorts and I invite you to consider Shelley as an extended member of our family.  Merci.

I was minded this week of the ancient Greek astronomers.  On Monday as the sun set, the moon was a pretty good half-moon.  It was this that Aristarchus used to measure the relative distance of the moon and the sun, in what I consider one of the greatest moments of inspired thinking.

Imagine – Over 2,000 years ago, just after Aristotle had proposed that the Earth was not flat, you might have looked at the moon and the sun and wondered about these celestial objects.  They are both about the same size in the sky, something you could estimate with your thumb.  If you were around at the time of a full eclipse you would also know that the sun is further away from the moon but how much further and thus, how much bigger?  How could you know?  It was understandable that so many civilisations considered them gods.

Aristarchus calculated that the sun was much further using just his mind and an insatiable curiosity.  Ah…  he gazed upon the half-moon and using the beautiful Euclidian maths of a right-angled triangle, put together by Pythagoras a few hundred years hence, he worked out the relative lengths of the triangle connecting these three objects.  It is something you can do too, next time you see a half-moon above you.

Aristarchus figured that the sun was lighting the moon, just like it lit the Earth.  Therefore when there is a half-moon, the Sun – Moon – Earth angle must be a right angle.  He could measure the angle from him to the sun at this point too (easy if you can see the moon in the daytime, early evening or morning and know where your sun is).  He got it at 87 degrees.  That is not far off two parallel lines… 90 degrees at the moon and 87 degrees on the earth to the sun.  He did the maths and worked out the sun was 19 times further away and therefore 19 times larger than the moon.

He was way off of course.  Well, that is a tad unfair.  He was 2 degrees off.  It was 89 degrees 51 minutes.  That might not sound a lot on the angle but it makes those lines a lot more parallel.  As they come together so much slower, they finally meet at the sun a distance 400 times that of Earth to the moon.  Still, his work was not bad for someone with no accurate instruments.  Whatever the accuracy, the thinking is so graceful, n’est pas?

We like to think of ourselves as considerably more advanced now but I guess that is the crime of every generation.  Another great ancient Greek, Socrates taught us to know that we know little.

In my lifetime (child of ’76), I guess the day the twin towers came down was the one that shook up history the most.  For my parents, perhaps the moon landings or JFK, the great wars for their forebears.

All of this will pale before something I believe will happen in my children’s lifetime.  I believe we will first find evidence of previous or current microscopic life on other planets.   I also believe, either in their lifetime, or as a privilege of the next generation, we will discover intelligent life in our galaxy.

It is a big conundrum as to why we have not already.  We know life starts quickly given the right conditions.  It also appears that the right conditions while rare will occur commonly in our solar system.  Therefore, why aren’t there more intelligent lifeforms travelling and broadcasting their existence?  One theory is that competition in intelligent life means that those civilisations self destruct, if that sounds crazy, we have already created the means to do so and holding back nuclear capability from nations is like the boy with the finger in the dam.  Maybe it is a time thing.  The dinosaurs were destroyed by an object striking earth and creating temporary conditions that destroyed them.  Maybe that is the fate due to us before we can reach out and find others and maybe the others are hard to find because like matches, they burn such a short lifespan.

More sinister, maybe the dominant intelligent species in our galaxy of billions and billions of stars, wipes out species as they develop technologies and before they become too sophisticated to represent a threat.

Well let’s hope the green men hold off so I can enjoy the card at Ascot tomorrow.  To the sports my friends.  Sharpen those lance points, raise them to the skies and have them glint in the light.

Ascot Champions Day

Before I start on Champions day, I suspect the Directors, colleagues, customers and suppliers of Spire Brewing Company are set for a fine day at Market Rasen.  They are sponsoring the whole card after all!  It is not so far from me and if I did not have plans, I’d take my boys across.

Still we can enjoy the marvels of the Ascot end of season monster card.  Four group ones.

We open with the Group 2 staying race.  Order of St George is a hot favourite but I cannot help but think that the Arc may have taken some toll on him just a fortnight ago.  A this end of the season, horses with plans for specific dates beat best recent form and entered as an afterthought, for me anyway.

Forgotten Rules is a former winner of the race and a generous 9/1 is available there this evening which is an each way thieves price.

The Major’s penalty though will be carried by 11/2 shot Simple Verse.  This girl has some class and while only just winning last time up, it did seem to signal a return to form.  Ralph Beckett could be in better form but she is a Champions Day winner too from last year.  This is also her first time at the two-mile trip and I’ve a suspicion she might like it.  Win bet, you know me.

I always find sprints hard enough to solve and tend to look for cheap angles.  I don’t have the best results as a consequence.  Twilight Son is right up there on my list especially as he has been rested since a below par July Cup.  Quiet Reflection has G1 wins and a course win in the Coronation and is not the worst favourite but I just don’t want that profile in a sprint.

Shalaa was not good enough on the bare face of the form from his G3 return following injury but this was a highly promising sort who was perfectly entitled to need that.  Thing is, I always worry about these injured types getting back to best and so it is a value pick for me.

I am going to pin my hope on Signs of Blessing at 12/1.  Off the front with the skilled Pasquier setting the fractions, we will get our monies worth.

The Fillies and Mares does not look a great renewal to me but then I’ve been absent-minded this year and failed to follow things with the usual detail.

Here I am going to side with the favourite, 7/4 shot Seventh Heaven who has taken the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks well and seems to do well in a fight too.  I think the ground will stay firm enough to suit her and so she is the one for me.

The QEII is a much finer looking race and I am one not to be swayed by the improving Ribchester of whom I’ve struggled to build up a head of enthusiasm.  Minding is top class for my money and I am only concerned by the drop back to a mile.  When they go up in trip, they often stay there, maybe by design, maybe because it is best for them.

Galileo Gold was so revered after the St James and with Frankie aboard, if on form….

Hmmmm.  No. Minding 2/1. I don’t care what you think.

Finally the Champion Stakes.  It is a pleasure to see Arc winner and previous perennial bridesmaid at the top levels, Found, in this and she is only second favourite to French hot-pot Almanzor.

This horse is a bit of an odd one on the bloodstock front.  On the surface of things Wootton Bassett  is not a tremendously fashionable sire and the Criterium winner of 2010 has only ever produced 7 winners as a stud.  Of those, the highest winnings was £35k dwarfed by Almanzor who has clocked up £1.4m so far and may well add £737k at Ascot.  Even with a weak pound it makes the €6,000 stud fee somewhat good value right now!   The thing I really like is that at least he was laid out with Ascot in mind, as previously advertised, that is important to me.

So, a bridesmaid who came good in the Arc and was not laid out for this.  A French star from the rough side of the tracks.  Beyond that I don’t fancy the B Team list much so I have to decide.

In the end…. Almanzor.  Partly because I think the bay colt will win, partly because I want him too.  13/8 in places, 6/4 general.  Hard to go against an Arc winner but I have.

Welsh Champion Hurdle

I am immediately attracted to Garde La Victoire because I know the ground is right and it seems the class answer in the race.  Off 148, it is spotting 8lbs to the nearest rival but that is some rival in Welsh Shadow.  Dai Walters runners in this race always have to be watched.

Yet… on trainer form alone I would be interested in the 7/2 Nicholls runner Tommy Silver.  Ditcheat are off to a flyer and their entry here has the right profile.  A Scottish Champion Hurdler (also a handicap) and still only four, their must be more to come and with the yard firing in the early season winners, I am all aboard.

In the football.  I bought a ticket on Villa to win the league when they hit 25/1.  When they hit 66/1 I bought another.  They appointed Bruce and now, well, I feel like these are sensible investments.  People laughed at me at the Corbyn 66/1 and practically ignored the 100/1 Arabian Queen and I entirely agree that this view is improbable and as unlikely as those victories.  Yet, those things happened, I know, I was there.  I say this not to be boastful, it wouldn’t do here in our exclusive club.  55/1 is still about (Paddy Power) – just saying.  Villa are evens to beat Wolves tomorrow and I’ve never seen a better bet in my life.  Remind me about this at tea time.

Shelley, this blog is for you.  I doubt you got this far but for you….

Courage, roll the dice.

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