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.