Good evening from the Major who writes from Northern Nottinghamshire under crystal clear skies where the quarter moon arcs towards the horizon, the brightly half orb chasing the dying sun which bathed the south-western horizon in golden reds.
It has been almost three months friends. The last time I picked up the keyboard in anger was on the eve of my work trip to Thirsk races, an unqualified success by the way (the day not the blog). I had friends and colleagues drowned in some of those new fashionable gin cocktails with the peppercorns afloat; what a merry bunch we were. After making the chauffeur wait a suitably inappropriate and debauched time, we sang our way back down the M1, forging memories.
Most Important: I have a big favour to ask, you shall see at the end!
I have been compelled to pick up the blog as tomorrow I attend Cheltenham. If you are of the view that jump racing HQ is overhyped, I have some sympathy for your standpoint. Yet, I am one weaned on its irresistible pull. Too many memories echo in the bars and the view is too good to miss.
This week I had time alone in London. Following my morning meeting, wandering the streets of Shoreditch just beyond Old Street, I was overwhelmed by the sheer youthful arrogance of it. I felt like I was on the set of Nathan Barley (a magnificent dark comedy premonition if you have never seen it, though likely not for everyone). The lack of humility and the lack of diversity. The last sounds like an odd statement, the area is renowned for its hipster vibe but I think that is my point. It is so forced that I feel sorry for them, they know not how ridiculous they look. I sported a suit, my shirt was buttoned up and I wore a tie. I learned to dress like that when I grew up. God, I am old aren’t I, it all changed and I didn’t notice, the mistake to which we all will fall.
Lunch was nearer Kings Cross in the streets just to the south of the station across the Euston Road, in an area I quite dislike. It just feels like people would spit at you rather than look at you. The foodie pub though was rather good and did much to lighten my mood. A bit dark inside but the chef knew his business and served a fine simple salmon, new potatoes and pine nuts, bravo.
With some time to spare before my return train, I spent an hour in the British Library. To see some of the written works of Michelangelo and Galileo is quite something and for no charge? Well, who can see fairer than that.
On the return train, something a little unusual unravelled. To understand, we need to rewind the clock a month, to find me at an awards function, an afternoon one at a swanky enough joint with enough booze to make you forget it was still light outside. It was a Friday and swaying my way back through the London mayhem, I was happy to collapse into my train seat.
I always try to travel first class on the train if the tickets are not too eye-watering. I find train travel lovely, as long as I have the one thing that I possibly treasure above all else. Not love, wealth or fortune but peace. The nicer seats are bigger, personal space is less invaded and the carriage is quieter. Forgive me the indulgence, I can imagine how this sounds.
To understand the next piece of the tale, one needs to understand some other things too, so we are going to jump around. Pay attention. We are going to visit a previous train journey via my sons academic achievements.
My number one son took his 11+ exam this year and I am proud to say he did me proud. His score was such that I half expected calls from MI6, NASA and Cern to flow in. I ask your forgiveness again, this time for the pride of the father. I did not employ a tutor, I worked the little so and so myself, see, more pride, I can’t be that sorry after all!
I know that Grammar schools are a little bit like Marmite. I must declare my interest having attended Bishop Vesey in my youth, an ancient school and a wonderful experience. So yes, I am a solid supporter of the ‘for’ camp.
When I prepared for my entrance exam, nobody was tutored. We rocked up, took our chances and I don’t remember it being a big deal. Compare that to number one son, whose entire class was tutored before the big day, the stresses evident to all. Not only did I dislike the tension, the thousands invested in preparing all the little pipsqueaks for their exams bothers me greatly.
Of all the criticisms of selective education, the unfairness of tutoring is the one that does strike a chord with me. I like the idea of selection in a wholesome way, bringing together capable young minds from across the social spectrum, not an incubator of the children of sharp elbowed middle class parents, spending money on someone to prepare their kids to get in.
IF you have never sat a Verbal Reasoning paper, let alone, practised many to refine your speed and techniques, you do not stand a chance. Here is a stat for you (and I promise this is all leading back to a mediocre story), 70% of children not on free school meals that achieve level 5 at Key Stage 2 (that’s basically a bright primary pupil) will pass a grammar school entrance exam if they take it. compare that to 30% of the kids on free school meals. What is the difference? The latter set doesn’t have those sharp elbowed parents.
You might think that is all well and good Major but so what? Well, I shall tell you. I am planning on setting up a charity to tackle this injustice. A charity that will provide tuition and resource to such kids. I am currently writing the plan. I am going to look to for some start-up funding but then seek sponsors from successful executives. You can see the idea.
Anyway, back to the train. My mind addled slightly but not enough to cause a scene. Who should sit across the aisle from me but ex grammar boy, David Davis, he of the Brexit. As I write this, it is obvious that in a slightly wined state, one should not strike up a conversation with a minister of the crown about a charity you are in the incubation stages of mentally developing…. Quite. In the sober light, such decisions are easy, keep your counsel Major, sobriety was not in the ascendency.
The ensuing short conversation was stilted and awkward as you might expect. Conversation might be doing it an undue compliment, let’s call it an exchange. I could not recollect it exactly for you due to a slightly foggy indexing of the component parts. Yet, in an endeavour to demonstrate that my intention is never to extol personal virtues, I shall replay for your sniggering, one, two-line, interchange which stayed with me for all of the wrong cringing reasons.
Me: Well since you have shown a modicum of interest, might I might drop you a note once the finer details of my idea are coming together. (at this point I think I gave him my card, oh Christ, I remember doing that).
Rt Hon David Davis MP: Well, it is interesting and I wish you luck but I think I am going to be tied up for the next two years.
I kid you not. I apologised as I disembarked.
Anyway, back to yesterday, if you are still following the thread of this.
Who should be on the train but David Davis again. I found that my willingness to talk to him had diminished precisely in line with my blood alcohol levels. He did however sit in my seat, after waiting patiently to see that nobody else was to take it. For one moment, I thought I might have round two, this time sober.
I kept my head down, you don’t want to anger those ex special forces sorts, best manners or none.
I am looking forward to tomorrow. I saw some of the racing today and was pretty taken by Slate House, we shall see how that form stands up but played from the front, he showed a nice gallop. It struck me that Sceau Royal might already need further, not taking anything from North Hill Harvey who showed fine spirit up the hill.
At this time of year, what am I looking for in the card. Well….
Number one would be trainer form. These early season national hunt meetings are ones where trainers can have the string firing on all cylinders or two good pieces of work behind.
Everyone raves about Cheltenham form and there is something in it but I am not as wedded as some.
Some of the horses we will see have been campaigned in the summer meetings. They arrive either in tune or already spent, judgement is required. If you are backing a horse out for the first time this year, a propensity to do well first time out, or as the former line I have indicated, a stable in form, is important to me.
Before we dive in to the horses. I have a favour that should not take you more than a few minutes and will not cost you a penny. My business is supporting Ernie’s Wish, a charity set up to support families with children cope with bereavement. The founder, Carla, lost her baby, Ernie, at 39 weeks last year and has gone on a mission to improve services for effected families. One of her best friends, Shelley is a trustee, she works for me and I can vouch that she is one of those salt of the earth types. Hard as nails, no-nonsense but with a glint in the eye of mischief too.
Ernie’s Wish are building a counselling suite, making a website and preparing bereavement packs for kids. We have helped them put in a bid for £5,000 to help with this and now they need votes. I have never asked much of you have I. To be fair, I think I have only offered you bad meandering stories, ill-written prose and poor tips but still, I have asked nothing in return.
I told Shelley that the horseracing fraternity are a good bunch, she did not look convinced so please do not let me down.
It does not take long to visit the page to cast your votes. You get ten, use them all on Ernie: Click and vote here.
To the sports, let us sharpen our lance points until thy glitter in the blinding morning light.
Saturday Cheltenham Tips
We start with a handicap chase.
I am Noel Fehily’s biggest fan. I was a fan before it was fashionable, so there.
Doing Fine thus, is the one my eye is naturally drawn to. However, I laid my rules out and Mulholland is not quite at top speed yet this season and although I have this one on the shortlist, I look elsewhere.
Southfield Vic is not one for maximum faith. He is seven from twelve in single figure fields and two from fourteen in larger fields. Of course, statistically, you are more likely to win in a smaller field but this is no numbers anomaly, rather this is a horse who needs some peacefulness, like myself really!
I like two, one less fashionable and my pick. Sonofpresenting is a front running sort who has been playing his heart out of late. Fancied to be undone by his rise up the weights, I am not sure that 20/1 does not do the 7-year-old gelding a bit of an injustice. I shall have a saver.
My main interest though is on Robinsfirth representing the Tizzards. The yard is cooking and Robinsfirth is exactly the sort that they will get a fine tune from. I feel very good about recommending this one. 7/1.
In the second race, a four runner affair, you think the choices would be simple. However complexity shall eternally befuddle the national hunt follower, until the sun swells and swallows the Earth and all form lines are made dust.
Bedrock is a flat convert that has shown well and done little wrong. Yet… I have always felt these sorts (think Ferguson runners) might have speed in the early season but don’t last like the hard knocks. Twobelucky has a more formal old boy national hunt profile. He was beaten by Le Richebourg at Galway but that is no disgrace.
On balance, I am backing Bedrock. It is tight though.
The 3.10pm handicap chase is a nice looking race. If Vaniteux wins, I’ll eat my socks. I never trusted that one and going from Henderson to Pipe these days has to be seen as a demotion. I remember not that long ago, checking a race card for Pipe and Nicholls runners, things have changed a lot since then.
6/1 isn’t a lot to be giving us about Le Prezien but he has a lot more going for him. His efforts last back end were not spectacular but there was some good novice form earlier and I would feel that this season might see him a player in handicap company.
I think I am going to settle on Poker School who can be backed at 12/1. There should be a fair bit of pace and he probably needs that over two miles. Yet, his yard are flying with the small number of runners they are booking. I think the mark might be fine and I am on.
In the 3.45, I fancy the Skelton runner Stick to the Plan. He was darn unlucky at Southwell when unseating with the race at mercy. This is a massive step up but might have been the plan anyway. There is a touch of 8/1 available and a bit of redemption is a fine thing.
The 4.20 is full of nice prospects. Arguably, Two Taffs has shown the most to date placing in the Close Brothers chase at the festival. Double Treasure was faultless in his last win but is picking on bigger boys here.
Alcala has been on the go all summer and with much success. I am always a little wary of horses losing their winning streak, they always seem to need a break before finding it again but there were valid excuses last time with the equipment.
Do you know, I might regret it but I am playing Double Treasure at 10/1. I get why he is less fancied but he deserves this crack.
At 4.55pm we have a the two and a half mile novice hurdle. For a novice, we have plenty of winning form in the field, yet much of it is in low-grade or even match races so hard to judge. Robinhannon is my pick, the favourite I know. 5/4 is the price and I am a little bit nervy and won’t be large on a horse that still looks green despite many runs under rules. Yet, the form is decent enough and the overriding theme through my selections is yard form.
In the bumper, your guess is as good as mine. For what it is worth, I am on the drifting 7/1, Kerry’s Boy. Pauling has a habit of getting these bumper runners-up to the job and frankly, that is all I have.
May your dinner be as rich as mine. I am at a Halloween party with friends and children. It sounds horrendous but the hostess is one incredible baker and I know for sure that post racing, with the decent wine open, we shall imbibe among friends and feel good with the world.
Courage, roll the dice.