Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Saturday Sermon on Lincoln Day 2017

Good evening strangers from the Major who writes from a North Nottinghamshire gently cloaked in pastel cloud, the warmth of spring clings to the skin, gentle breezes promises.

I saw ants today, marvellously successful little critters, 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, (ten thousand trillion) of them share this rock with us, all hutling round the same nuclear reactor.  Ants come in 12,000 flavours.  They are social sorts and as long as there aren’t too many of them in one go, well, I have a soft spot for the black ant that might crawl on your arm while you lie with your back caressing Mother Earth.  All shapes and sizes my friends.

We have so much to catch up on, I fear if I get distracted this easily by ants, that this might go on a little longer than is either necessary or desirable. Focus, Major, focus.

Let’s start with an apology about Cheltenham week.  In years gone by, it would have been utterly implausible that the Major who had not missed a Saturday Sermon in five years through illness, holidays, drunkenness; should not contribute during the festival?  Has his heart fallen so far?

Well no, not quite.  I was quite geared up for writing the blog during Cheltenham week.  Before attending the course on Tuesday, I published day one (a complete train wreck if you must ask) and I was formulating the thoughts for comeback Wednesday when a rather odd and alarming turn of events unfolded.

Having moved north this year, festival plans changed.  Instead of the usual Worcestershire base, I was returning to the parents place in Birmingham.  I had friends in tow, one who lives in Birmingham anyway and one who was to stay with me and my family.  We got the train back to Birmingham after racing at about 7pm with the intention of keeping our table reservation at a decent Birmingham curry house, ideal succour after the wallet has had a Champion Hurdle beating.

Arriving back into Birmingham, tired and emotional, I took one of the scarier calls I can recall.  With her permission, I shall recall the events but I shall start by saying that all ends perfectly well.  It is not that sort of drama that I provide.  No, no. We are a better set here.

The good lady called me as the cross country train came past the red tower marking Birmingham University.  Answering took me from a world of boyish free spirit pleasure, back into a real world.  The good lady asked if I would administer some ‘over the phone’ discipline to our two young boys.  She took some time to explain this to me and at first, the drinker blames himself for any incomprehension.

It is not also unheard of for a phone bollocking to be called for (I apologise for the crudeness) and at first I thought she was probably checking in on my debauched day and reminding me that none everyone was having quite as much fun.  I also shamefully recall how I felt about that, before I realised this was a medical issue, I was angry.  After all, everyone knows my year points at Cheltenham.  I kept that reaction in, after all my mother taught me not to flinch, no matter what.  Yet in the sanctity of the sermon, I can admit that yes, in the first instance, wilder regrettable emotions were stirred.

What was increasingly apparent though was her inability to describe what I was meant to be admonishing the young masters about.  A woman that was normally so articulate was struck dumb by being asked to repeat something she said just a few moments previous.

It became increasingly troubling and despite a hefty dose of brandy swishing in my system, I knew it was not me.  I am a good drunk like that, I’m the sort of drunk you go to.

The fearful reality descended on me when the good lady could not recall if she had called me or if I had called her.  Something was clearly fundamentally amiss.

The train was not yet in the station, it was busy and noisy, I had friends there.  I could not drive and I was worried for her and the boys.  My worst fear, gladly disproven was that this was a stroke.

The train pulled in, I explained to my companions that something was up and that I would need to make other arrangements.  I urged them to carry on, I knew I would be better travelling alone and needed the clarity that comes from single mindedness to calculate the next moves.

I called my neighbour.  A lovely proper sort.  From the busy and very impressive New Street concourse, I endeavoured to explain the conversation and fears that I had to my neighbour.  She agreed to go round and see for herself and report back while I investigated the return journey.

When she did call, she confirmed what I knew.  The good lady was quite happy in herself but confused and unable to retain short term information.

I would be wrong to deny that I was scared.  You take your health for granted, we suffer with the illusion of immortality, most of our deteriorations come on us so subtlety we never notice them.  To have your invincibility, or as impactful, that of a loved one, so suddenly withdrawn, it is to face the certainty we all face.  These are the good days, worse is ahead.

I decided to call for a paramedic.  What was to lose?  I persuaded my neighbour to sit in until they arrived.  I hot footed it back and joined her at the hospital.  She was in decent spirits.

Diagnosis.  Temporary Global Amnesia.  No lasting effects and rare but not unheard of for sufferers of regular migraine.  We left the hospital at 4am and even if my weariness had subsided enough for me to pen a Champion Chase sermon, the thoughts that had earlier seemed so accessible were at that point, as distant as the far flung galaxies.

I tried not to be dramatic in relaying this information at the time but I was not sure quite how to put it.  I was still processing the whole affair.  Wind removed from sails, the sermons were done for this festival.

Of course, the good lady made an impeccable recovery, such is the condition.

I have not had chance to remark on Cheltenham week as this is my first post since.  It was not a good week for the Major.  Death Duty and Yanworth were my main lines.  I did have the bumper winner which was tremendously good fun.

I thought it was a great festival.  New stars were born.  Labaik and Might Bite were uber talented and both mad as a box of frogs, it is fair to say I will be rooting for them again.  Defi Du Seuil and Yorkhill both were excellent.  We have a superb list of potential winners of the King George this year.  Un de Sceaux, Yorkill, Might Bite, Coneygree, Sizing John, Thistlecrack, Douvan and Native River.  If we get half of those there fit, we will have a superb race on our hands.

Anyway, to the Lincoln.

Saturday Sermon – Lincoln Day

A couple of years I had an absolute blinder on Lincoln Day.  Traditionally I had always felt it best left alone.  Funny ground, early season unpredictable form… it was never a recipe for my success.  All that changed in 2015 when I landed 4 out of 5 winners on the blog, two at 16/1 and my modest investment returned a tasty bag of sand.

Well us blind squirrels etc etc.

We can but hope that we strike lucky again.

Gabrial is back but carrying nearer ten stone this time round and not quite the profile I am looking for.  My pick though is a Fahey horse, Dolphin Vista, who gets Hanagan in the saddle.  Fahey has his usual strong hand in the race and the jockey booking alone suggest this one could be one of his more forward ones.  The horse has been running well with the sun on his back in Dubai and 14/1 (12/1 generally) is my play.

Crazy Horse in the mile (3pm) is in my list of bets tomorrow.  Gosden and Dettori team up on a horse I am sure there is more to come from.  On breeding I was uncertain that a bit of give under hoof would be the thing for this one but so far, 2 from 2 on good to soft.  My pick brings French classic form to the table (6th in the Poule D’Essai des Poulains)

There are of course plenty of other candidates… Stormy Antarctic gets Spencer, has group winning form and is a threat but Crazy Horse is the Major’s pick.

They have split the Brocklesby up and I’ll be darned if I even attempt to find that pin.

My last horse is a lively outsider.  At Stratford in the 3.20pm Class 3 handicap, Burchell saddles One for the Boss, a 22/1 shot (BetVictor).  When a horse has a bad run, you can forgive it, as the saying goes, they are not machines.  When a horse has three bad runs, like my pick, you have to consider other variables.  Were there underlying reasons?  Well I do think a return to this ground will help, after that, I am relying on a few vagaries

In the football, Leicester will beat Stoker 21/20.  Villa will beat Norwich 13/10 and Brentford 7/5 will beat Bristol City, that is a tasty treble.

I have no right to will you to enjoy this sermon.  I have found it hard to write over the last year, choosing moments rather than forcing words through.  I know the above is not my finest, not as interesting, it lacks a certain je ne sais quai.

I hope your dinner is hearty, wholesome, tasty and in the company of fine sorts.  Laughter.  Be charitable because more unsettled times will visit, don’t leave a debt, leave a credit, it will make you feel better.

Courage, roll the dice.

The 2017 Champion Hurdle Day Sermon – Cheltenham Tips

Good evening from the Major who writes from a wonderfully colourful sky, gods palette dancing for us, splashed frivolously along the edge of the horizon.  Birmingham for me on Cheltenham Eve, the fathers – Cold beer and football.

Us merry band of national hunt lovers crave this moment in time.  Our year of sport aims towards this single moment, where we invest such hope in our dreams, the drama to be played out in that green amphitheatre, perfectly embraced in a nook at the base of Cotswolds escarpments.  The golden stones tinge pink at dusk, an ancient warmth seeps gently onto the streets where we all gather, shuffling to town, our pockets laden with gelt or regret.

Right now, every thought we have held throughout our season, bits of form that caught our eye, performances that left you breathless and Pertemps runners from shrewd yards running late on into 4th places…. all of these cumulative thoughts, bubble away in a stewing pot of hope, the fare untainted by the cold light of reality.  It is why this moment is so precious, so important in the lives of us that consider the glass half full, this is the joyous time, we cheer at the raising of the tapes on the first, not because we expect but because we wish, we yearn and not a small number of us, say farewell to these moments of anticipation.  You might have a fancy ticket on Melon, you might have £2 on the tote on the wildest outsider, both conjure the same sense, both are equally right, until that tape goes up, we each share in the common pool of anticipation.

Champion Hurdle Tuesday is the greatest day of racing in the world.  The Supreme is a wonderful opener with the best and brightest novices proving their mettle.  The Mares Hurdle has a place in our hearts after Quevega made the race her own with some memorable late runs, weaving through flagging foes, that gutsy little mare.

The Champion Hurdle itself is a blistering two-mile whirlwind requiring accurate jumping and stamina to keep sticking a neck out when other beasts have called time.  Hurricane Fly was among one of my most ill-judged horses, twice proving me foolish with devastating displays.  Punjabi with that white face and socks gave me one of my greatest ever wins when one more stride would have been the undoing.  Faugheen is an awful loss to the proceedings having proven a true champion.  Just a little further back and the Hardy Eustace, Istabraq, Brave Inca and Rooster Booster memories are warm nuggets.

Yes, it is a fine day to be alive.  I shall be on course and in touch on twitter.  I will be in the Arkle Bar from 11.30ish until the Supreme.  I would encourage you to come visit, I’d be proud to meet you.  In a repeat of last years OperationNoMoreHeroes, we are running Operation Yanworth – The rules are simple, bring a £5 bet slip for any horse at the festival, a multiple if you like.  Write your twitter handle on it and exchange with someone else, simple.  Oh and mine is a Whisky Mac.

I am there with good friends.  What else could you need in the world.  Last week I went to a wedding, @mikedayuk.  I am not a fan generally of weddings, I dislike the intense detail, something among the fancy place settings, the small touches intended to luxuriate a magic, it does not sit with me.  However, this was a particularly good friend and should have anyone noticed my slightly watery eye, well, the pollen count was up.  It helped that so many beautiful people were there.  Fine souls, well cut dresses, one in a blue that I could have fallen into, well cut calves, bottle green.  You know me, I fall in love most days and the last is always the best.

I have to say, the good lady cut a fine figure.  Call me a cad all you like but it is time to pay the lady a compliment.  On the eve of the wedding with friends, she spoke of a small glass of wine.  Some time later, she was roaring with the best of them, leading a 1am march of a merry band she acquired off to the outdoor heated and covered swimming pool.  All of this in a grand old manor house somewhere near to Cirencester.  God bless her.

It is a funny thing marriage.  I might find weddings tiresome but the idea of marriage is one that appeals to me.  The security of the right soul at your side.  She knows me, smells the mischief and that is OK.  I know her blemishes too, after all.

We have a card to go through…. to Cheltenham – Let the fun begin.

Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle Day 2017 Tips

The curtain raiser is a much more open affair than some of the renewals that Mullins has plundered with Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever.

Melon is one that all the likely lads have fancy tickets on.  Yet, this Mullins runner looks a slightly weaker contender than previous balls of hype he has saddled.  That said, Ruby has made him the choice and given he had three other perfectly good options in Crack Mome, Bunk off Early and Cilaos Emery, it has to be noted.

Beyond Conceit has an unbeaten record but the form doesn’t amount to great shakes, though he does get the Fehily treatment and is a battler, could be a place bet.

My choice though, I reckon is the least fashionable in the field.  High Bridge ran a solid race in last years Champion Bumper and did better over hurdles this term, in my view giving him every right to give it a solid go tomorrow.  16/1.

Te Arkle is a race to watch.  If Altior stands up, no form line can suggest he gets beat.  Of course, he might make errors, he might have an off day, they are horses.  Yet, I detest betting on ‘without’ markets.  No, I’d rather enjoy Altior.  If you must, have a saver on Royal Caviar.

I have never had a winner in the Ultima Handicap Chase but trends are there to be broken.  Jonjo has had a bit of luck and Holywell has been a bit of class in the past.  I am not convinced, more wary.

The favourite is an obvious and deserved favourite.  Singlefarmpayment looks to have more to come and having performed well here before, is quite appealing.  The prices of the last five winners varied from 8/1 to 28/1, this is a bookies race, unless you can read the tea leaves.

I am going to have a play on Henri Parry Morgan at 12/1.  The Bowen runner is a bit hare ’em scare ’em, yet, he has caught the eye at times and this team could unleash one here.

The Champion Hurdle

Yanworth has been my play for some time and I am not going to abandon this choice now.  I like these sorts that win good races in a scruffy fashion, they often never get the credit they deserve.  Often Yanworth has looked gangly but he has competed in races where they dawdled and I don’t think my fella liked it.  He won’t have that problem tomorrow.

Now, the others I appreciate!  Buvuer D’Air has looked a fine sort and gets the benefit of Fehily in the saddle.  Probably he’d prefer a bit more toe in the ground though.

Petit Mouchoir, has almost lived up to the French reference in his name, le mettre dans la poche avec le mouchoir par dessus.  He is a hidden gem in the betting because 8/1 when they will go a fierce gallop is a fine price.  A grey too.  Ah, what has the handkerchief covered my friends.

Moon Racer is not for me and The New One has taught me not to back him, even while he will love the decent ground.  Sceau Royal and Wicklow Brave are considered for the places at big money but my heart and wallet remain fixated on Yanworth.

Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini line up against many expectations in the Mares Hurdle.  Apples Jade is a fine girl but I think she might get tapped for toe in the end.  VVM is a ruthless galloper but has been deposed for Limini, a massively interesting call from Ruby.

Put the protagonists aside and Indian Stream at 66/1 has my boy Fehily in the saddle and a good strike rate over bigger obstacles.

Frankly, my bet of the day is Vroum Vroum Mag at 3/1.  I am quite surprised she is this price and although many might turn an eyebrow at my confidence, I recall those effortless strides, that monstrous engine.  Bring on the challengers… I thought my girl could win a Gold Cup, come test her mettle.

In the four miler, I vouch for a decent jockey.  Putting aside Paddy Mullins on grounds of the horse he is on, Codd, Waley-Cohen and Biddick are the focus of my attentions.  Codd has been booked by Meade to ride A Genie in a Bottle and 5/1 looks a bit short.  Like all the rest (bar one) he is unproven at the trip and I would also be sceptical that good to soft is going to draw the best.

Arpege D’Alene is the ride of Biddick and this horse just looks too wayward for my liking.  Waley-Cohen at 8/1 on Beware the Bear is my pick, despite the distance, lots of 6/7 year old improvers win this and the profile looks strong.  All aboard.

If you haven’t lost enough money by 5.30, the novice handicap chase is designed to wring the last from your weakening grip.  There is a handful of pounds between the top and bottom weights, these are novices and we are trying to judge improvement and potential… this is a nigh on impossible race.  My tentative slip will be for Bun Doran who won really well on the penultimate start and the George yard are in good form.

May your dinner be taken drunken and in good company.  May your bets be blessed and your horses develop pegasus type abilities.

Courage, roll the dice.