Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Saturday Sermon: Tips from Ascot, Long Walk Hurdle Day

Good evening from the Major who writes from the other worldly Nottinghamshire Lincolnshire borders where the fog rolls off the Trent leaving all ghostly and quieted.

Driving down fog tunnelled roads, the headlights illuminating domed walls of the encasing grey murk, I feel like the car is sliding along, not propelled, more like slipping downwards.  Limbs of trees vaguely appear in the milky mass, like the tunnel has some unfathomable structure.  Wisps of grey brown grass wisp on the banks of the lane, I can taste the dank, I can smell the cold earth.  I swear, I am one slip away from losing consciousness altogether, it is such a thin line.

Tonight, I took my two boys to collect our Christmas tree.  We have it up, furnished with pale white lights, all simple.  The smell of pine is superb, heavy freshness, a sweet pungent reminder of that same cold earth.

I have had a lot to drink this week.  For reasons that are beyond me, an anxiousness lay in wait in the dark, one that was not so easy to shake and was only partly muffled by the application of red wine.  When I spill my next news, some of you good folk might exhale, ah Major, the cause is obvious then, I can only assure you it is not.

Last weekend was my 40th birthday.  You almost got a Saturday Sermon but family and friends gathered in Birmingham to surprise me and time was against me.

As or the surprise, I had smelt the rat.  Suspicious activities in my inner circle, remarks that strained a little bit, wavered in their delivered tone or lingering in the air just that moment too long.  Lies pitched down at my wicket are scuppered when the narrator has tended to oversell.  That bit to keen to see their well signalled prepared line land.

I am a confirmed cad myself, it is hard to fool us, we know the signs.  Bless my good lady and her clean heart.

Anyway, forced smiles aside, it was glorious to see so many good friends.  My wife has often accused me of only liking attractive people.  While not a deliberate choice, I have to say, there seems to be a ring of truth in it.  The guests were from all walks of my former life but so many of them play music in my heart.  Wonderful smiles, turns of lip, glinting eyes… wanton appetites for the fun in life, how I love them all.

It is the stories within too.  People from decades ago, they knew a different me.  Better than my own memories, they bind strands of time together.  After all, what are we in the end, some mish mash of instincts, a bundle of unreliable evidence and failing synapses, burning out over the years, the lights slowing dimming.  Is that us?  It feels like it is inescapable, yet, in a room full of people who know you, each with their own individual image, slightly morphed from the next persons, I reach a different conclusion.

I feel like an amalgam of all of their images.  Like Plato assigned blueprints to animals, we are all lines on tracing paper, one laid on top of the next.  The composite image not like any one of the component layers but not indistinguishable either.  Our strands fling out and in the end, they come back to a singularity.  We all end up there.  Use your time wisely.

I am wallowing melancholic and I don’t think it is what you come for.  Alas, it is what you got this week.  Let us get to the sports and try to land that mothership.

Ascot – Tips for Long Walk Hurdle Saturday

The staying hurdle division has been dominated by a few horses in the last few decades.  Big Bucks was unrivalled in his years, in this race, Reve de Sivola took over and scored a hat-trick of his own, he is back out today, turning 12.  Both trail in the wake of the mighty four-time winner Barracouda.

We have a potential card-carrying new staying player in Unowhatimeanharry who has been enjoying life in the Fry yard, remaining unbeaten and following up his Albert Bartlett victory with an impressive win in the Long Distance Hurdle.

The ground at Ascot is likely to ride quite good.  No forecast rain and Ascot drains and dries well.  Good to soft is the best it will be.  We are looking for the speedsters who skip not thump in their footwork.

The only conceivable risk in my view is Alex de Larredya.  This fella is only 6 and has an impressive french record.  That can be hard to interpret but it seems to stack up when you consider that he has slapped down a few of these.

The trainer has only bought one horse over the channel in the last few years and it didn’t go to plan.  Yet, this is a serious horse making a serious effort to win a decent British prize.  You have to wonder about the travel when it is the first time.

In the end I have to settle on Unowhatimeanharry at 11/8.  The french raider is a danger but the favourite is a solid enough prospect.  Boring.  Come on Major, raise the stakes.

The Silver Cup Handicap is a race that I would normally not feel I have much of a chance in.  My head initially was turned to the Henderson inmate Triolo D’Alene, 22/1 (in a place, 20s and 16s common).

I put him up for the Hennessy not thinking he was done and I still hold a candle.  My issue is that he has only fallen 8lbs from his pinnacle and I would think his lacklustre efforts would cause the handicapper to give more room, alas.

Go Conquer threatens to do well over further, has the champion booked and at 5/1 is a safe option.  Not for me.

Minella Daddy is one that will relish the rattling ground and is on the improve.  I like Sean Bowen, even if he has not yet leapt up from the promising young rider category yet.  The horse is on the improve and Paddy Power should be punished for their 10/1.

TWO HORSES!!! That is all you offer?

Yes, I am tired.  I am sorry if this has been off-key.  I don’t feel I am quite there, unable to offer you the elegance you deserve.

West Ham to beat Hull.  Lincoln to beat Tranmere.  Two more in the football.

My dinner tomorrow will be entertaining my team and their companions.  I have picked a fine Italian and will wave the booze over like it is the last days of Rome.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon on 2016 Tingle Creek Day

Good Evening from the Major who writes from a perfectly pleasant and mild early winters evening in Gringley on the Hill.  The wine is open, the logs burning bright merriness, all is well in the world.

I spent a couple of days in London, returning this afternoon as the sun died to the west like a giant bonfire just beyond the horizon.  I saw this grand scape from the comfort of my train seat, such a marvellous way to travel, especially when you have the luxury of the bigger seats and the table service.  Not to brag of course, I’m just saying it is fine to be alive and to have that, a small moment.

My contemplations were spoilt somewhat by a loud man, carrying such misplaced confidence in the awe he would inspire as he conducted his business hands free and freed from the polite bonds which otherwise might tie us too.  I hope Dante reserves a small outer ring for such folk.

These flat landscapes unnerve me.  I cannot explain it well but the land seems to have such little detail for as far as I can see.  It feels like you could be swept from it, as if there is no comfort or cover, no thicket, no gorge, nothing.  For someone whose chemical flows to the brain fluctuate like a blinking light, intermittently triggering between enhanced sentiment and cold blankness, I’d like a little more topography to wrestle with.

What a furore from the ante post crowd this week as first Douvans price crashes in from a sporting ‘will they won’t they’ 4/1 all the way to a ‘Yes! They Will’ 4/7.  At which point a cheerful Ruby seemingly blessed it commentating on how mad bookmakers must have been to price so generously in the first place.  How delighted we all felt for a moment.  I didn’t have a penny down but Douvan certainly livens up a Tingle Creek that has falls just below the standard.  Those on at the fancy prices felt correctly smug and even the more cautious, previously uninvested Douvan fans felt emboldened to take some 4/7, after all, on the day 1/3 was probably a more likely SP.

Then it broke.  Douvan did not make the final decs for the Tingle Creek.  From the yard that has given us a Vautour conundrum and whose news of Faugheens non participation in the Champion Hurdle was broken through the exchanges, we add this sorry saga.

I shall not get too high and mighty.  There are those who quite rightly will point out that the antepost transaction is a risk one.  You are always gambling on the participation.  When folk are betting on a Cheltenham runner, normally you know your fate early on.  You hear a noise for a Mullins bumper runner that hasn’t been introduced to the track yet, get on at 25/1 and then kiss the money goodbye in early January when your young star proves not to be Pegasus and not at all up for a career on a racetrack.  Still, you had a month, holding that 40/1 ticket.  It gave you some glimmer of hope didn’t it.

This sort of arrangement where you back a horse on Monday and learn your fate on Wednesday is just no fun.  Still, it is the pitfalls of the ante post markets.  That said, you can see my view, I do think the Mullins team have been less than transparent at times in the past, when the markets tell you before the announcement comes, my fellow gamblers rightly feel like the wheel was crocked.

I cannot be too hypocritical though.  From time to time one of you lovely people drop me a little note to tell me of some plot or other and I spend little time then considering the injustice of the inequality of information between me and my bookmaker on those rare occasions.   If anyone has any such information, I am always a discrete and enthusiastic recipient.

My own racing ante post book is non-existent at the minute, I haven’t built up the sufficient enthusiasm for Cheltenham yet.  I am enjoying my 66/1 ticket for Villa to win the Championship, that is starting to prove fun.  Plus, I was advised to have a little flutter on Lincoln to win the National League at the start of the campaign and that is also proving a fun bet to follow at 20/1.  Let’s not mention the money burned on Hilary Clinton, let’s stick to warm thoughts and safe spaces.

To the sports, Tingle Creek day.

Tingle Creek – Sandown Tips

I love the Tingle, it is one of favourite races in the season.  I have said before that while Denmans Hennessy lugging lumps around Newbury was a performance fit for a King.  The season in which Kauto won this and the Gold Cup for me resides as the greatest national hunt achievement of recent years.

The Tingle is a special race.  Taking those railway fences at speed is the making of it, ping, ping, ping…. great sport.

This year is not a vintage renewal but it is not that bad that you might complain about the quality.  Sire de Grugy and Un de Sceaux give the race a bit of sparkle.  Particularly the former, we are getting used to improbable come back tales and like Cue Card completed a hat trick of Betfair Chases a fortnight back, Sire de Grugy gets the same chance here, to complete his hat-trick.

Un de Sceaux finished second on good ground in the Champion Chase.  There are strong suspicions that he would prefer softer conditions and I can accept that.  The way he slaps his front legs down, he needs the give.  That said, his class got him to be second in a champion chase and there is no Sprinter Sacre here.  What worries me a bit more is his jumping, it is super slick in the main but like a lot of the fast flashy chasers, he belts a few.  On the first run of the season, if he is a bit skittish, as he has been in the past, those railway fences may prove the end of his chances.  15/8 is fair but I probably want a bit more.

Ar Mad is very interesting.  How fit he will be is an unknown but he looked an exciting prospect and won here last year as a novice, that bodes well.

Sire de Grugy knows this race and although rising 11, has always looked the sort to do well as an elder statesmen.  This division takes its toll and he would be sure of a rousing well deserved reception if he can pull this off.

God’s Own is likeable and match fit but I prefer the others.  Ar Mad has been injured and that is a concern, hmmmm.

Neither Sire or UDS are likely to perform to their top credit on good ground but both should cope.  Then it will come down to what class they can compensate with.  UDS might go off like a hare again.  On a seasonal reappearance this might be a problem.

There are doubts over all and in the end, I will go with the one hose whose is proven at the course, will enjoy the ground and only has to prove match fit.  Ar Mad – 4/1.

The Henry VIII Chase means we get another look at Altior over chase fences.  With Min shaping well enough, we get the opportunity of a developing rivalry, let’s hope so.  Plenty of Min supporters will be hoping to revenge that Supreme result but let’s be honest the Henderson horse won that round fair and square.

Altior should win, of course he should and a 1/3 it would not make you rich.  Plus, these fences are tough, it is no place to backing a novice jumper.  No bet.

My other Sandown bet is in the opener where Cruiseaweigh currently sits as 11/8 favourite which is keeping the price on my pick, Bardd, a mighty honest 9/4.  Henderson has a tremendous record in this race, he clearly unleashes his better novices here and I shall be aboard.

Fingal Bay is out at Sandown too, remember when Hobbs said that it was the best he had ever had?  No bet for me but I do like that one.

Becher Chase Tip – Aintree

The Becher Chase is a grand old race and on decent ground, it is bound to be a bit eventful as the large field try to take the national fences at pace.

Becher winners have tended to shoulder a lower burden but this is not an up and comers race.  It is rare for a 7 / 8-year-old to win and previous geriatric sorts that have come back the winner include not only Hello Bud, winner at 12 and 14!,  (what a bloody grand old campaigner) and Oscar Time, won aged 12.

So, my profile is an experienced fallen from grace sort.  Rogue Angel is a former favourite of mine having won the Irish National for me.  He definitely wants it slower than this though.

The other one I really like is The Young Master though I’d also consider Ucello Conti for Gordon Elliott who can do no wrong.  The latter is not in the mould I was looking for but clearly is a plot animal for the big staying chases.

Anyway, none of these are my pick…. which is, Highland Lodge, won’t be the popular punt but crucially, he bears a CV packed with experience.  A former winner of the race, he is a few pounds heavier now.  Last year the plan must have been the national but it is such a crazy world, that he missed the cut.  The ground should be OK and at 20/1 I shall be adding the Majors’ burden to his 10 stone 4.

The 2.40 listed chase is a lovely 5 runner race.  Many Clouds and Minella Rocco are serious staying handicap chasers, the former already a classy national winner.  Neither are my idea here though.  I quite fancy Le Mercurey at 8/1.  There does need to be some improvement in form but I have doubts that some of the others will be in peak condition and so, I have to take the value angle.

In the football.  My beautiful dream of seeing the inexorable rise of Villa took another step with tonight Newcastle losing again.  Anyway 15/8, they win at Leeds!

May your dinner be fine, good cuts of meat and fine wines.  The company delectable.

Courage friends, roll the dice.