Good Evening and Happy Christmas Eve from the Major who writes from a mild pleasant evening, above the North Nottinghamshire flatlands. Stepping outside, wood smoke fills the nostrils, listen closely, one can almost hear the bonhomie. The children might be excited, stirred with stories of flying deer and stoked by the prospect of such goodies to be unravelled in the morrow.
What do they know. They are mere children. The world of innocence has it’s merit. Unless, one is born unlucky, you do not have to concern yourself with dinner and the future remains unwritten and full of possibility.
Yet, gin and tonic is off limits, freedoms are limited and most significantly, the wonders of the Christmas racing card are entirely unknown.
Christmas is a wonderful time for the sport. The King George particularly has been the gift that keeps on giving; in recent memory, it has been a spectacle to savour. Not just Kauto’s magnificent dominance of the race but the other playactors have given such joy. Monet’s Garden, Racing Demon, Long Run, Madison du Berlais, Voy por Ustedes, Captain Chris, Exotic Dancer, Al Ferof et al.
I can only focus on a day at the time, else the Welsh National, the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and chase, The Desert Orchid Chase, Ryanair Hurdle would crowd my thoughts.
Shortly, to the action.
First some updates my old friends. I trust you are all well and send all of you the best of the seasons greetings. May your table be blessed with the richest of foods and may your indulgence cause just the minimum required belly ache.
I must confess that this year, my larder is well stocked. A neighbour popped around with a cake earlier today and I insisted she left with 3 pounds of fine cured ham. To be honest, we would never have gotten to it. The tantalus has a very fine brandy and a 20 year old Chivas Regal, I have taken the key, lest the good lady feels it appropriate to confiscate it herself.
Friends and family are gathered, the tapes are across the track. I type with a cold gin and tonic to hand, the pub beckoning.
Last Christmas, preparing for the big day, I asked followers what third meat I should consider alongside the traditional turkey and a gammon I had scored, honeyed and pressed chives into. There was a crescendo of noise in the reply from across the Irish Sea. Spiced Beef. I had no fathomable idea as to the nature of this but the clamour for this cured beef was such that it remained with me.
This year, as thoughts turned to festivities again, I decided to break new ground and add the spiced beef to the Christmas table. My choice was fortified by none other than the Milkman himself. Seanie, who I quote directly, described Spiced Beef as tasting like “the tears of an angel”.
Buying it was the most interesting escapade. Not that I want to propagate stereotypes but goodness. Having contacted a reputable butcher of the English Market in Cork, a few emails secured the advice and a pencilled order for 3 kilos of the angels tears, enough to douse a small fire. The price was indeterminate for reasons I still cannot fathom. The preferred method of settling the invoice was to email a gmail account with my credit card details. I called to gently express my own view of cyber security and felt a bit of a wimp but gave the details by phone, no doubt to be scribbled down on a pad somewhere.
Anyway, feeling a little uncertain about it all, I was wondering whether the order would come through but four days ago, in a polysterene coffin, encased in freeze blocks arrived a plastic wrapped lump of beef. The instructions are to boil it. I shall report back in time.
The in-laws have arrived for Christmas as has my brother. Good company. The mother in law will drink Brandy before the sun rises above the yard arm and frankly embodies the spirit of Christmas. They come heavy laden with unnecessary supplies which make the cupboards bulge obscene.
As for me. Business is well. Me and my business partner spent some time and money spoiling our team this year. During a morning of festivities, I saw one of my team breaking from the games to quietly make some calls to close some deals down before the break for Christmas. Gad, it bought a lump to my throat, every penny spent was earned double, I am sure of that.
This year, the Majors eldest made it into Grammar School with a score that If feared might have NASA and GCHQ on the phone. Most proud, especially (and I know how to blow my own trumpet) as we prepared him at the kitchen table.
That is the main points of 2017 that we shall file on the positive side of the ledger.
I am a portly weight and while I enjoy the life of a bon viveur and all folk know me as good with the bottle and generous at the bar; it does not feel so good. 2018 I feel needs to be healthier. I have started to play football in the week. the younger set there can see some old skills and it is dangerous to underestimate someone like me. Not that I have particular attributes but I carry enough skullduggery to deceive far better players. If only the ankles and knees did not ache so much in the morning after,
I managed to submit a dissertation to complete my masters studies. Yet, before you toast in my honour, I have to say I feel for the person who has to assess it. It is singly the most feeble piece of academic work. No, worse than that, it is not a piece of academic work at all. It is criminal. Still, I have submitted something and to date, the most important ingredient of success on this executive course has been the five figure annual course fee. Let us see if this holds true in the face of such a disgraceful submission.
The year has been bereft of significant racing winners. I blame not writing the blog. I have been amiss in my study and feel out of touch. Yet, the instincts are there. While Cheltenham in the spring was neutral, the classics were out of my comprehension and the early racing of the National Hunt season has been hit and miss.
Anyway. If you want a winner. Menghli Khan in the Future Champions race at Leopardstown on Wednesday is you horse. I cannot believe it is evens.
I will accept that I am not selling my Boxing Day tips to you well but consider yourself forewarned.
Boxing Day Racing Tips: Leopardstown and Kempton
Here we are and the Major dives straight into the King George.
As a race, it is one of my favourites. It is a test but a natural speed is vital. Sometimes the stayers cannot quite collar back the faster players over the three miles. It is a glorious sight seeing your horse bowling along jumping for fun on that second circuit, I am quite sure Jesus would approve and look forward to posing the question to him one day.
Six and Eleven Year olds have been recent winners. The last fifteen years have fancied the favoured market horses. Put simply, it is best often to look for the obvious choice.
The going is a question 48 hours out. We are due some rain in the previous night. I am going with good to soft to soft. Proper racing ground, excellent.
The problem is that this renewal does not make the obvious choice all that obvious. The market favours the troublemaker Might Bite who would be the sort of friend that would go loco on a stag do in Prague. Last years top novice has shown himself as a right character and the Major is a fan of that! Coming back in fine fettle, he beat Frodon by 8 lengths last time out.
Last year, Might Bite made a bad error when in winning position on this card last year. There is no doubt that this horse has plenty of talent but many displays have shown that errors will occur. Whether age and experience will expel these quirks, time will tell.
Bristol de Mai has been a little hard done by in my view. He is only 6 after all and while some of his previous form has been middling, the recent improvement is justified and can be taken on full face value in the Major’s opinion.
Thistlecrack had the world at his feet pre-injury and is only turning te so is hardly too long in the tooth to put it back together.
Whisper is an honest sort but for me falls a little short. Beaten when giving all again in a Hennessy, it strikes me that this renewal may not be the strongest once history has receipted and filed it.
Fox Norton has had good support but this will be a test of stamina. I know I made the case for the faster horses but I feel I should clarify. We need an accurate jumper, that can travel and because we have a few, I fear this will be a break neck King George.
I suggest the winner will not hit the front until after the last.
On reflection, I am placing my faith in the 4/1 shot Bristol de Mai.
Of course Buveur D’Air wins the Christmas Hurdle. 1/5 though. Good god.
Let’s work back instead to the Kauto Novice Chase at 1.55pm. I am not convinced it is the strongest field and none of the favourites jump off the page. Black Corton was campaigned as a summer horse but proved a little too good and the winter campaign almost feels like an accidental occurrence. Elegant Escape who defeated the aforementioned has a weights pull to deal with but if the former leaves me unconvinced, the latter must too.
Mia’s Storm has a fine winning record but again, I am not sold.
I’ll be honest. When the market throws up shorties that you do not like, you are left with little choice.
I am backing West Approach and Some Invitation at 9s and 25s accordingly. Both for the win, it is Christmas and I am the sort that prefers the dark leg meat.
Last bit from me is the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. I fully expect Death Duty to lower Footpads colours here and encourage you to take the 7/4 on offer.
Short and sweet on the racing views. Don’t sue, the pub beckons and I am already wine flown. I might try again later in the week.
Eat with good company and be grateful. We all have a limited number of Christmas celebrations so make it count.
Courage, shuffle the cards.