Good evening from the Major who writes from a Nottinghamshire scene where Orion shines brightly giving faint suggestion of the violence he harbours. Spring is in the air and I can smell Cheltenham, I can almost touch it, close your eyes and it brushes by your cheek. Just a few weeks now until peak equine talent meets birch across a few miles of Gloucestershire green turf, nestled against those Cotswold stones that glow peach as the sun dies on our hopes or fears.
Brutal. That is the only way one might describe the ante post turmoil that has seen many a slip torn. Christ, Thistlecrack. I was going to get quite reckless with that one and he had cornered a few multiples I was gently building. How his bold silks might have bought our hearts to thunderous volume, we shall not know.
Many decry the linear nature of our season. All roads to Cheltenham is myopic, belittling the values of Aintree and Punchestown, as summer breaks. I do not share their thoughts. Without defamation to the latter festivals, fantastic centerpieces in their own right, there is something to behold at Cheltenham. So what of 2017?
This Cheltenham will not receive the services of any of last years championship winners, not one. Some might see this as a hollowing effect, not I, nor most seasoned sophisticated National Hunt veterans. A fine crowd, and a crowd in which I know I can count you in their number. Ah yes, no riff-raff here, only the finest gentleman gamblers stray this way. A strict door policy excludes any sort that lack a certain caliber. Experience and age matter little. Not compared to; how you react to a loss, your manners with others, a certain charm and humour and a wicked glint of mischief. Those are the pre requisite criteria. Welcome, you are in good company.
I have not stocked the hearth, it was a borderline decision. Pale Ale has replaced the red wine. We are closing.
I have had a rubbish season. I shall tell you now that I am in poor form. That bloody mothership, taunts me with tantalising tasters, a moment of closeness to the truth, that rich vein of form. The sensible straight sort mocks our sport as chance only, which is ridiculous. It is skill (trainer, horse and jockey) combined with conditions (track, going, obstacles, undulations, tightness and distance) and also luck.
We cannot deny that we require some fortune. My mind is the least superstitious of all, yet my scientific reason can overcome the urge to believe that my luck comes in seams. I find one and I mine it, I also should ease back on the machinery when it is clear that my way is lost. Ah, don’t we all wish w had those instincts more finely honed. There it is, that is the game in a moment.
I have been reading the American classic, The Grapes of Wrath. When a novel plunges you into an alien world to your own, there is language and tempo to understand. You have to take some time before the pleasure that a skilled writer will reward you with is revealed. A thirsty man is best quenched a little at a time.
The epic is set in the 1930s dust bowl of Oklahoma where a recently released prisoner is reunited with his family as they are turfed off their small holding and set out for California. Their plight is shared with hundreds of thousands of others – They are potless and fall by the roadside. If they make California, they find that their dream is not just tarnished but withered.
The story is political, about the power of the wealthy against the desperate, until the latter group realise the power in numbers and unity. It is also a story of changing times, of new corporate bodies, of an us and them. Most of all, I find it an evocative piece about what we all really crave, not quite security, more purpose. Yes, purpose. How we might feel if that was stripped from us.
Something about the places too. The Oklahoma wasteland, farmed to ruin. Across Texas and climbing to the high plains above New Mexico. Then, arid Arizona before the final mountains drop you to the deserts of California. Finally, the green glory of that state, ocean and mountain. Small towns. The wholesome view of having enough for you, yours and a little extra.
I’d recommend it if you haven’t read it and advise that the first few chapters are worth bearing through. You lefties should be proud of me. A son from the liberal centre right uttering these words. I might see your motivation, indeed, I emphasise with it as much. It is only the solution where we part.
I am sorry if this was meandering. My mind is such, in some moments, thoughts spill too watery to maintain a consensus.
To the sports….
Kempton, Newcastle Eider Day and the Winter Derby
Let’s start with the Eider chase at Newcastle. I have reservations about covering this race as I am not sure it is one that should be run in the heavy conditions we are going to get tomorrow. I am all for staying contests but I have seen Eiders finish with the walking wounded, a case of last horse walking and frankly it is not a dignified sight for the sport.
Putting aside the possible gruelling context of the race, there is no residual consistent model of a winner for this race. Older horses have won. Top weights in heavy ground, handicap plots…. we could be looking for anything.
What we can say is that it has to be a mud lark, it has to be a true stayer, a warrior. One that goes when the others cry enough.
Both the Scudamore horses are attractive to me. Streets of Promise might have others contesting the lead, yet, assuming it goes well for the extra distance, 20/1 is a generous ticket from Bet 365 and given it has always place on heavy and won 3 from 5, hmmmm.
The other Scudamore horse is second favourite, 9/1. Sporting 9lbs less, Mysteree is a new recruit to the gorgeous Herefordshire yard (I know I have been there for breakfast). Plenty to like about this placed horse from last year.
Kerry Lee, a trainer I do admire, has two absolute rock hard stayers. Mountainous and Russe Blanc are the sorts you’d dislike as company in the playground but might welcome alongside you in the trenches. I’d cheer either home for this prize.
I have to pick.
Coral are 12/1 about Russe Blanc and as much as it pains me to leave the potential improvement of Streets of Promise (a horse I enjoyed backing through a lovely winning spell when hugely under rated, I have to in this case. Russe Blanc has my favourite northern jockey Mr Brian Hughes in the saddle, a sensible steady hand. This is the right one.
The Winter Derby Tip
Here we are in the build up to Cheltenham and we are asked to contemplate this Group race on the all weather. Personally, I like it but I find it, well, not so much a distraction, more a shock. It pops up suddenly and I have to research rather than know the form lines into it.
The favourite is a classy sort finishing third in a Juddmonte International is probably the best piece of form but it is a lovely thing when a quality beast makes a debut on the all-weather, it does somewhat mess up the market. Sea the Stars sorts have been fine on the surface but that is no promise.
The favourite has a lot going for it, as favourites do but I fancy an outsider to sneak into the reckoning. Mythical Madness has Spencer up top and with a bit of new headgear might be able to compete. I’ll give fair warning that my interest in the horse is largely based on the failures I see in other profiles, yet 33/1… well, that would buy your mother some fine cuts of meat, n’est pas?
Tips for Kempton
Then the quality.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle – Kempton promises us a super good surface for February. Charli Parcs has given us a tasty performance and we will be anticipating his efforts with a view to Cheltenham. He is a quarter million pound horse and gave one of these a beating and weight last time up – Imagine lying on your back, listening to the calm click of the metronome and perhaps as well as the 4/7, one might consider the antepost position you hold with this one, before the tapes go up!
Noel Fehily is about my favourite jockey. He gets the leg up on Charmix, who Frodon has to spot 5lbs to. I’ll be on the 5/2 second favourite for two reasons. He likes it off the front and in a small field, it makes a difference.
In the 3pm novice hurdle, River Wylde would be a great bet if you were sure he would enjoy the race, chill out and give his best. That though is no certainty. That said, he keeps winning and keeps getting stepped up in class. I am going to stick with Noel Fehily and Peter the Mayo Man he can be backed at a price of 7/1.
The prices are large, the thinking thin. I’ll forgive you for tending your crops to a different regime.
May you celebrate your victories finely. I have guests, the finest guests, farmers from Worcestershire, potatoes. I shall cook for them and in the evening I shall find good brandy. The farmers wife is the generous sort, not for her own benefit, simply because she is a marvel.
May your dinner be in good company too, courage friends,
Roll the dice.