Good evening from the Major who writes from the deep cold of North Nottinghamshire where driving cold fronts leak through substandard fabrics and bring such sudden frigid shock to the skin, my season. The wood smoke hangs in the cold air, the pub lights dim and warm, look so inviting. Yet here I am, writing from the lounge, fire slowly crackling into some sort of life, Chianti in hand.
After a little run of sermons last year, I have been quite over Christmas and this is my first post of 2017. I cannot predict my wayward motivation and apologise if the sporadic nature of posts is reducing the little magic we had before. I cannot pretend that I am going to find the rhythm required to produce this each week. Now, it is as and when.
So, what’s new? On the punting front, I enjoyed a healthy Christmas. Anyone on the receiving end of some of my traditional seasonal punting gifts would have been pleased too with the performances of Yanworth and Thistlecrack which bedecked my gifts of good will to celebrate the birth of our saviour. I am sure Jesus would have approved.
Yanworth still looks a little awkward at times to me but class prevailed and his hurdling looked a little more fluent the faster they went, with doubts over the Mullins Champion Hurdle first order, I’d be a buyer at 5/1 with Stan James.
Thistlecrack was splendid. A few weeks prior, I was thinking the experience and quality of Cue Card made him an appealing price. The minute it was clear through, that Tizzard was undaunted and throwing Thistlecrack in at that level, well, the pleasant doubts started and what a performance on the day.
My only fear for Thistlecrack now is that if he is that brave at Cheltenham, he might do himself a mischief. His jumping was at times spectacularly bold. Standing a heart stopping distance away on the take off side, launching himself and jockey skywards and splendid with the arrogance and confidence of youth. It had me reminiscing of Master Minded, Un de Sceaux, Sprinter Sacre and Kauto Star. Us National Hunt fans love that sort of performance, it remains with you, how you felt. Still, it can give you the conniptions around Prestbury Park where Kings and paupers are made from singular equine misjudgements.
Thinking of Cheltenham, I’d love to see Vroum Vroum Mag in a Gold Cup. What a magnificent beast she is and it is a testament to her capability and versatility that she is quoted both in the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup markets!
Ah, Cheltenham. This might be the first year in ten that I do not make a day at the festival. Being so much further away and a busy life full of stresses and strains, well it cannot silence the melody from the temptress flute but the costs involved don’t help either.
I would be able to call in at a few houses near Cheltenham for hospitality but event so, £80 for a Champion Hurdle day ticket before I have even set eyes on the seafood, champagne and good whisky or, god forbid, burdened some poor beast with the additional weight of my bet. I don’t know how some of you folk manage it.
Let’s see how that arithmetic holds up as we get closer to March, whether my resolve felt now, fortified by distance can remain resolute as the bluebells arrive and the equinox draws close and the antepost haze clears and simple questions remain. Evidence strewn through a season of Kemptons, Sandowns, Chepstows, Ascots, Haydocks, Newburys et al need to be pieced together into a coherent betting strategy, ideas need formation.
In other news. Business is well. Family good, my father had a health scare but it was minor. I have started something that I am enjoying immensely, an astronomy club at the local primary school. I have 15 children on a Monday and I am teaching them the basics about the motions of the heavens, the depths of space and the beautiful objects found within.
Children ask such good questions, founded in an innocent honesty, there minds closer to wonderment and you can only bask in that sentiment, letting the enthusiasm course into your veins too. I have always felt an envy to people who work in a job they hold a passion for. That must be so satisfying.
Full moon tonight which always looks spectacular but sadly bleaches out much of the sky. Anyway, at tea time you can see Venus to the South South West looking magnificent, easily the brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon. Just a little more elevated is Mars a lot dimmer but still easy to spot with the naked eye and easy to identify with that clear rusty tinge. In the morning you can see Jupiter and Saturn in the same spot in the sky at 7am. With a cheap telescope, these objects all look magnificent. The moons craters are so vivid and you will see so much more details. Venus actually is close enough that you should be able to see it in crescent, yep, it is big enough in a scope that you can see the phases of Venus.
The show stoppers for me though in our solar system are Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter has four large moons easily visible with binoculars or a simple scope and there is something special about seeing them and thinking of the ancient mariners who would use them as a clock.
I would challenge anyone though to lay eyes on Saturns rings, even when so small you can only just distinguish them, yet be unmoved. They are a magnificent sight and truly breathtaking to gaze upon with your own eyes.
Anyway, to the sports.
Saturday Tips – Lanzarote Day at Kempton
It is not a huge Saturday in the racing calendar but I don’t care, on some such day our mothership will land.
At Kempton, the opening juvenile race sees the British debut of Poker Play, a quarter million pound French import housed with Pipe. David Pipe is a trainer I could never send a high value horse too. I do not wish to be rude but for my money, he seems to return the least from any potential top class stock he holds. Anyway, what foul temper bought me to offer that titbit I do not know. I doubt David will care too much.
Anyway, while Poker Play may live up to his lofty reputation and 2/5 odds, he will do so without my ringing endorsement. No bet race for me.
I much prefer the handicap chase at 12.55. Of huge interest to me is Rhapando who was a decent horse when last seen. This is a decent race to be making a come back run in but 12/1 feels a bit dismissive of his former ability.
Ericht has some qualities and is in OK touch, back down in this grade, he is a real threat. Return Flight runs for the Skeltons, a really good yard and having won at the second attempt over fences, he is fancied at 7/4 to go in again. I have my reservations here too because this is a better race and he has more weight to carry now.
In general, when looking at two profiles of a good horse dropping in class and a horse of potential climbing in class, I err towards the former. I find the pricing more generous.
Ericht is eleven years young now though and has never been the most reliable. Full circle, I am coming back to Rhapando, 12/1 – That is how we like them.
The novice hurdle at 1.30 is another interesting affair. Bravely I am ignoring Ballymalin who has been on a winning streak. This is a better race and he barely won his last with a 10lb claimer on board. Now claimers help with the weight but Sam will give the horse a better ride so really it is a debatable balance. Anyway, this one likes to lead and in a better race, I feel uncanny certain that he will be the hare that these greyhounds will get to.
Alpha Male has sent all the signals that a staying trip will suit. I find myself wary of such beasts though. Even crap horses look like stayers plugging on when beaten. That is probably a bit harsh on this favourite who ran pretty well at Ascot anyway, but all the same.
Nope – The two I prefer are Robinroyale and Laugharne at 11/2 and 20/1 respectably. Robinroyale did really well at Chepstow in a reasonable race that is starting to look quite hot and this young jockey clearly gets on well with the horse. Laugharne is only 20/1 with two markets, 888 and 32Red, other than that you have to settle for a general 16/1. Taunton is not a track I take too seriously as a guide for form, some horses like those tight turns, many do not. Still, the horse did well and the price takes into account my sniffy attitude. A single on Laugharne and both in my multiples.
2.05 and we are into listed territory with a four runner chase. I quite liked Activial but he has been sold out of Frys yard and I would not want to bet that he will subsequently improve. Quite by Chance had Vaniteux behind last time out with there is best part of a stone swing in the weights now in the favour of the latter. Vaniteux is not an evens shot though, he seems not to have gone on from a promising novice year and so I vote for Vibrato Valtat. I think the step up in trip will suit and if he comes over the last in sight of the favourite, I know which horse I’d rather have my money on to actually put some work in when required! 5/2.
The Lanzarote Hurdle is at 2.40pm. It is nine years since a double figure priced horse won this race and Nick Williams has won half of the last six renewals. That last bit would be useful information if he had a runner. Now I have given you something useless.
Venetia Williams won the Lanzarote last year with a novice, Yala Enki and runs another in Benny’s King who can be backed at 8/1. A god profile.
Favourite Doesyourdogbite has the benefit of a good name but has been very decent sent hurdling. An excellent chance it seems.
Jaleo also has done well but I would want a more experienced pilot in a race of this nature.
Old Guard must get a mention. He is not a fashionable runner but he is only 6 and in good hands. No winner of the Lanzarote has done it off top weight and his price of 25/1 reflects the general view but I would not put you off if you were a fan.
I am staying simple – Doesyourdogbite has been campaigned sensibly, gradually improving and may well have more to come. I am sure this was the plan.
The handicap chase that follows at 3.15pm is also one where I will be taking the favourites chance at 4/1 in Sandy Beach. We all know how well Tizzard has been going this year and this horse has coped with a variety of different challenges.
In the football…. I keep playing my old tune but I fancy Villa to win at Wolves at 9/4 too. I also fancy Cardiff to win at Bristol City in the early kick off. 12/5 there.
Courage my friends, roll the dice.