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Champion Hurdle Day – Cheltenham

Good Evening from the Major who writes from the dark depths of a blustery Worcestershire, barely 25 miles north of the course, ahead of the festivities, sport and spectacle.

You are lucky that you have me. I am entertaining to Cheltenham this year, a good friend from Yorkshire. Bearded, smart, worldly; the sort of chap you do not mind having along. Most of all he is fun, good with the bottle.

Good gracious, the weather rolling in off the Atlantic looks full of spite. Tomorrow, the course will be full of forlorn racegoers, the folks coming in for a fine time of drinking in early spring weather might find it not to their liking. Us purists though, we shall revel in the cold wind, knowing the pure heart of our sport dances on those winds. The bars will be busy but there is standing room at the parade ring if you want to read the mood of the two leading mares for the champion hurdle.

Time ago, I would drink my way through four days, an oblivion of betting and debauchery, typing late at night, still drunken, as you might correctly assume I am now. These days, I am content to dress comfortably for the weather and slurp good brandy from an illicit flask.

We should not complain about the weather. For a start it could be a lot worse. Just 10,000 years ago, we were covered in ice, I assume the festival was cancelled that year.

In such conditions, heroes are born.

Think of Ernest, Ernest Shackleton (there is a current search for the Endurance in the Weddell Sea).

Never give in.

When chances are bleak, the hero never contemplates that all are doomed. After all, you have to live through hope, that is what a hero does. If you hit a problem, you find a solution. Shackleton hit ice and the Endurance was crushed, they hauled the boats and what remained over the pack ice, no rest.

They had no food so they ate the wildlife. Desolate conditions and a mood to match. Imagine not being able to see land for months and months. If you had to face the truth, you would never countenance your survival.

29 men were stranded and Shackleton got them all back. He gave everything and risked everything to rescue them. When one impossible feat was overcome, he was face with another.

It culminated in him sailing with a small crew, a tiny boat 800 miles across the coldest, roughest ocean Earth.

The hero is not the man who reaches the South Pole, it is the man who places trust in his comrades and has that trust returned in almighty doses. Getting every man home to their families. All of this conducted in the shadow of the Great War. What a timely story. Maybe it was the story Britain needed.

As you turn your collar to the wind and rain tomorrow. As a complaint, rumbles into life in your throat, kill it. Charge a glass of something warm (I recommend a Whisky Mac) and think of those boys, lost in the dark, deep in the Antarctic winter. Aye, our pleasures are hard-earned.

To the racing friends.

Cheltenham Tuesday: Champion Hurdle Day Tips

First of all, it is likely to be quite heavy going at Cheltenham. The ground itself

Do you remember the days in the Supreme when Willie Mullins would turn up with the winner? Maybe he will with Klassical Dream, a horse that was not a certainty for the race until late. Maybe the horse has been stepped back because the track has got sloppy. I like it, not least because I have tickets at fancy prices.

Yet, at tomorrows prices, would I be on? Al Dancer looks increasingly backable at 9/2, having won twice in softer ground and his handicap form is tasty and gives hope that further improvement might be to come.

I cannot do with the Triumph defect Fakir. I have a certain nervousness in making this assumption, after all, the connections are smarter than me. Yet, this is a big step and there is a lot to find. Not for me, even though I watched Our Conor and he would have won any Supreme and I do suspect that the ground will suit Fakir.

Angels Breath got credit in defeat but I am reluctant to show any favour myself. I will be on the losing side, if it proves me wrong.

I do like Elixir de Nutz – This one looked a fighter in the Tolworth and has worthy form. I would have a saver on Fakir if it drifts and Klassical but that is me admitting my strength of belief is weak. Elixir has at least done plenty of good work here.

Tip for the Arkle – Glen Forza Looks a solid prospect

The Ultima – Singlefarmpayment

The Champion Hurdle

The main deal of the day is a race that like a good recipe has every ingredient.

Buveur D’Air has been drifting slightly, maybe because folk think other challengers might fancy the better ground.

Apples Jade is fancied to race in front. There is so much pace that I reckon her jockey will be sensible and sit in.

I’m so tired.

It’s Apples Jade.

Then…

4.10 Benie des Dieux

4.50 Cubomania

5.30 Gun Digger

Forgive me I am tired.

Courage, roll the dice

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The King George Sermon – Boxing Day Tips

Good evening from the Major who writes from a hilly outcrop of North Nottinghamshire, back in the family home after a Christmas day of bustle and fun at my sisters home and smallholding in Northallerton. It is a mild winter evening with a murky mist hanging close, eerily silencing the usual background noise.

We are already some way into the evening and you may wonder at how sober I am. I think you would be surprised.  At the outset of typing, I am quite clear-headed.  As I am planning on punishing the claret as I type, well, you might be the judge as to the sobriety come the final paragraphs.

First of all, a fine Christmas to you all. I hope your families are well fed, full of good humour, in rude health and that Grandpa has been at the port all afternoon.

The last time I posted a sermon was exactly a year ago.

I might tell you that business and family and al manner of distraction have interrupted the Major’s sermons but the truth is, I fell out of love with it. When the hobby becomes a drag, you need a new hobby. I missed you all though. I even might presumptuously suggest that the world of horseracing is just a smidgen, a mote of dust in a sunbeam, worse off for my absence, I shall let you be the judge of that.

Anyway, @Canstastic asked if I was going to write one and @frankelslowbro seconded. This in itself was only a spark.

Today, I enjoyed a wholesome family Christmas but found myself being the sensible one and picked up the duties. So, driving home from Northallerton, on an empty A1, family asleep in the warm car, one has time to think.

The only thought that occupied my mind was a plan, ‘When I get back, I’ll dust that keyboard off, run my eye over a couple of cards and drown a bottle off the good shelf.’ I felt that the world owed me that and so there.

Earlier in the day, I had been gifted the Cornelius Lysaght book ‘World Racecourses’. It’s a lovely book and I must confess that it also had its part in stirring something within.

Anyway, here I am. It is King George day and that is ample enough motivation. On reflection, I think it is my favourite race of the season. I have always seemed to do quite well in it, though that might be explained by the fact that in the last 15 years, all the winners have been 5/1 or less. It has been a little Christmas present for us all.

I also have been in the tradition of buying my ‘non racing fan’ brother in law a King George slip. Given he has enjoyed winners in most years, it has become rather a rather celebrated custom. It has also done much to exaggerate my own expertise in the subject of national hunt. A falsehood I have yet to dispossess him of.

At the heyday of the sermon, we had a hearty readership of over a thousand folk a week (during major festivals, many hundreds in the quieter weeks!). I felt that the sermon had a particular place in racing tipping. It was never a serious tipping service. In fact, it was quite uncommon to find more text dedicated to the racing review that the preamble.

I might presume to give forth some view of piece of history and prevaricate about the weather. Rarely politics, I’ll leave that to the uncouth lecturers, there are enough of them. Then we would fall into some sporting chance and I would explain how I planned to wager my stakes for the weekend.

I would share with you the horses that caught my eye and those that I found particularly hard to stop backing. It is a horseracing fans curse that the desire to support our most favoured animals far out lives and outweighs the more sensible cerebral deliberations. Taquin du Seuil, or worse, Bog Warrior.

Occasionally, I would strike out well (remember Arabian Queen @ 100/1+). Normal service though was to deliver Advice of muddling standard. It was the company and the journey, I enjoyed.

There is little shattering news to break from this past year. Family, business and pleasure have all been pretty much the same. You know me, I still fall in love thrice weekly with each latest the best, for at least a few days. The good lady is still humouring me. My two boys are turning 11 and 12 and showing all of the unfortunate signs of ill discipline that I once carried in my own youth. The apple never falls far.

As for racing, it has been the quietest of years. I was quite ill during Cheltenham which is why I did not write. I held tickets for three days, struggled up to course on day one and regretted it, retired home and decided that 2018 was not for me. Fell at the first, found to be lame.

I made it to York in the late summer but that was more of an entertaining thing. I have probably read and watched less racing than any of the last fifteen years. I plan on fixing this in 2019 because as I sit here, I miss it. Whether this translates into more sermons, I cannot tell for the liquor is taking hold.

I have just finished watching the excellent documentary on the American Civil war on Netflix. I cannot recommend that enough. I had no idea of the detail of that conflict and over eight or ten (I can’t remember) programmes, the picture is well laid out with some excellent contributing views.

One in seven Americans was a slave at the outset of the conflict. There must be lots of grandchildren of people born into American slavery alive today, this history isn’t that old.

Christ it was a brutal war. About as many Americans died at Gettysburg as the whole Vietnam conflict. That was just one of a long series of the most bloody clashes you could imagine. Casualties above 10% would be utterly shocking in modern conflict, they frequently hit 25% and upwards. More shocking still was that more soldiers died of disease than bullet and shrapnel wounds.

At the conclusion of the war, the surrender was described in an utterly dignified way. General Lee distinguished and proud, even in defeat. Grant, more of a working soldier but as respectful as one could imagine in accepting the terms. I am glad these men could act so reverently but something about that moment stuck with me.

You come away wondering of the madness of it all. Still, slavery was at stake, so it had to be done.

Perhaps though, if the Americans had not been so damn headstrong in the late 18th century demanding their own independence, then all of this might have been avoided. Britain would have outlawed slavery in the US in the 1830’s as we did elsewhere in the empire. The US could still have slipped anchor peacefully enough at a later point and he world would have spun on its axis.

What do I know, I only watched a bit of TV.

Anyway, the folly of man shall be tested again as you consider the logical racing arguments I outline for your delectation below.  Be suitably warned, I am out of touch, possibly out of mind; unread and not entirely sober. Then again, you did not come for financial gain as the Major has never dispatched much of that.

To the sports.

Kempton Boxing Day Tips – The King George

Let us start with the big one and examine the case for the main actors on the stage. It certainly looks a fantastic race and we can only hope that enough of the protagonists have had their three Shredded Wheat and give us a show to remember.

The ground at Kempton is good to soft and with no rain forecast, I think we are looking at the faster sorts. Add to this the nature of the course, a flat right hander and it cements in my mind the profile I am seeking. A bully, a speedster, a regular experienced jumper and a fine pair of hands to do the steering. Let’s be honest, we are also looking for a star. Either the horse is 6-8 years old or it is one that is a bit special, such as Cue Card and Kauto Star.

We should not box ourselves too quickly into a corner. Let us see where the thinking takes us.

One of the most interesting runners for me is Bristol de Mai. I can understand why he has looked less fashionable in the markets. He is argued at times to be a Haydock specialist, a mud lover and an out-and-out stayer. You can make a number of arguments to support this case.I am not sure how much they stand scrutiny. His Betfair win, the best he has raced was on good ground, that surprised me. It was only his third from twelve attempts when the word good appeared in the going, yet it looked as convincing as it gets.

I must say, I wasn’t the horses biggest fan in the early days but since he went through the wind op last winter, he has looked the real deal. His preferred ground is not something I am confident about anymore but at a gentle drift to 15/2, he looks very backable to me for place thieves.

As is always the best with these big races, there is lots of intertwining form and plenty of differing stories one could tell about the form to draw a conclusion.

For example, Might Bite. When beaten by Bristol de Mai, in the Betfair (and finishing last of all though eased down), was the horse merely in need of the run? Was heavy ground against him? Yet, we know the horse is suited to this race after winning it with arguably something in hand last year. We know Might Bite can play up if he gets alone but last year he was beating Bristol de Mai, Thistlecrack and others who oppose again today. At 9 years old, this should be one of Might Bite’s prime seasons. Yet, for some, including myself, there is a worry about the Gold Cup in which he finished second.

Who can forget that Gold Cup. It looked two out like Might Bite was going to do Native Rivers homework for him, ranging up with all the time in the world. The Gold Cup though is rarely won by style alone. When the bullets started flying, it was Native River who dropped that head and galloped on as brave as a lion to a well deserved victory. Therein lies the concern for both of these candidates. What did such a contest take out of Might Bite? Can Native River be as effective without those conditions?

I do like Native River as a horse, it was also beaten by Bristol de Mai in the Betfair but showed well enough and if they go too fast, then it is the sort to be picking up the pieces. There is a final consideration and that is that the only time it visited Kempton previously, it finished a half respectable third, as a beaten favourite in the Feltham. That day, it might certainly have done much better if the jumping had been straighter. If it veers left again, it would be a major setback for backers. That said, how much should we worry about what a seasoned pro did as a novice? Not so much I guess.

It seems to me, barring accidents, we have three others to consider. Thistlecrack and the younger Politilogue and Waiting Patiently.

Let us start with Thistlecrack. This stablemate of Native River carried all before it when winning the 2016 renewal of this race. That followed eight straight victories and while other horses were staking their credible claims to the honour of top chaser, at the time, I was a Thistlecrack supporter.

The following month, Many Clouds beat him in another of those never say die battles up the Cheltenham hill. You will recall the tragedy of seeing Many Clouds not recover from that exertion, such things are hard to take, yet important to remember. It can be hard to reconcile the costs some days. I also wonder what the race did to Thistlecrack. We have seen him three times and perhaps the last time showed a sign of improvement but this has not looked the same horse.

Three runs is too short to be writing a horse off but it is time enough to build a concern.

Waiting Patiently is the horse we know least about. As I type, it is proving extremely popular to back and one can understand why. Well bred out of Flemensfirth, this is a curiously lightly raced horse. Also on the positive side of the ledger is the pilot, I have a lot of time for Mr Hughes who seems to run a lot of his horses to the best of their ability. The inexperience is only a mild off-putting factor. The fact this is a season debut is also only a slight concern, given the low mileage campaigning this one does. It is definitely on the right path and has done nothing wrong. Such horses can be underrated and the market is taking no chances. Yet, the best form it shows is beating a 12-year-old Cue Card. This is a big step up. I hesitate in drawing the line through him as watching that race, he did do it in some style.

Politologue is a carefully managed horse and one of interest after it beat Min over the Mildmay course at Aintree. This horse used to do a lot of idling, though it jumps well. It fell once (also over the Mildmay) but that was at the last fence and I get the impression that it will give a reliable performance at Kempton. It is encouraging that from four attempts in good to soft, the horse is unbeaten. Yet, I write without bags of enthusiasm. I might be wrong and the horse is steady at 5/1 to 11/2 but I am not convinced.

A conclusion from this must be drawn. Which are the important lines of enquiry?

I think that there will be plenty of pace on. The field is too good and some players are going to have to show a hand early. In this scenario, I think the finest stayers might yet have their day. I wanted speed but too much speed will kill you.

Thus, my inquiries rest with Native River and Bristol de Mai.

I side with the former because I just feel the latter has to have a going day. We certainly saw that last time from Bristol de Mai but I am not convinced on the basis of that run, that is it replicable.

Native River it is. A few spots of 6/1 lie around still. There are so many dangers and it should be a great race. Let’s hope it is setting up a fantastic Gold Cup to see where the Irish challengers stand against this promising crop of steeplechasers.

A few more from me;

In the Kauto Star Novice, I am willing to bet against Santini. The credentials for the favourite are solid enough. Yet, I have the utmost respect for Noel Fehily who gets such a good understanding with horses. His ride, Bags Groove might have plenty to prove but was very easy on the eye at Huntingdon and gets my nominal vote at 5/1.

Buveur D’Air wins the procession but you did not need me to tell you that.

Leopardstown 2.20pm – While we are on the shorties, Menghli Khan is another that I have much admiration for and while backing a novice chaser at close to evens is not everyone’s cup of tea, I will be aboard at 11/10 with William Hill.

That is it from me.

May your Boxing Day be profitable and profligate. I hope you drown yourself in the finest booze and in the mid afternoon haze, realise that your fourfold has romped home.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Boxing Day Sermon: Kempton; King George, Christmas Hurdle.

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.

Agin.

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

Shabash!

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.

The Saturday Sermon: Cheltenham Tips and a few other bits

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.

The Surprise Thursday Night Sermon – Thirsk… and a couple at Goodwood

Good evening from the Major who writes from the pastel skies of Northern Nottinghamshire.  The drained swamps stretch flat to the horizon, bustling with harvests to come.

I last wrote a piece two months ago, in terrible touch.  I must have shown some soreness in the legs afterwards because I have been on the easy list for the last few months.

All is well good readers.  It is nice to say hello again to you all.  I wish you all health, happiness and glorious winners raining from God’s good heaven.

All is reasonable with the Major.  Family, home and business are all on form.  Personally, I have my moments as you know I will.  I get so lost in things sometimes that I wonder whether I am doing the right or wrong things.  Then I ponder on whether either of those things is anything other than the devils imposter.  Like Zuangzi, I am no longer sure if I am a good man dreaming I am bad, or whether I am inherently bad and occasionally dream of being pure at heart.

In my village, Gringley on the Hill, I am working on a puzzle.  Some years ago, the village had an old camp, the entrance road was called Minster View.  The site has since been developed, consigning to history the borstel, the camp et al.  Now a small road loop shows off smart new homes sits on the same spot.

The reason for mentioning it is that there is a suggestion locally that the road was called Minster View because you could see York Minster from the site.  When someone told me this I was immediately dubious as York is 40 miles further North and ‘on-the-hill’ is a generous term for the 135 feet we rise above the carrs that stretch north from here.

The big issue with seeing objects on the horizon is that the horizon is falling away.  No matter at what point you stand on any sphere, the horizon in any direction is falling away from you.  On Earth, it equates to about eight inches in every mile.  Between any two points, as the ground falls away from either in the direction of the other, one must have the height at one or both ends to see over the inevitable hump in the middle.  If there are any hills, trees or buildings in the way, then you need more height.  I fear Drax power station, an enormous petcoke and bio fuel power station with imposing cooling towers, might be in the way, even though it is 20 miles due North, it is big enough to blot part of the horizon.

Using the height of York Minster, I have calculated that you might see the top 25 metres of the building.  I have not found anyone, including the chair of the Gringley History Society (of course there had to be one!) who has seen York Minster.  I am planning on taking my telescope to the highest point of the village and training it on where York should be.  I shall then settle the matter, once and for all.

That was interesting wasn’t it!  I can only apologise.

This year, my business is supporting two charities.  One is Bluebell Woods Children’s Hospice and I recently ran an astronomy club with some children there.  Now that is sobering.  The other charity we are supporting is close to one of my team and tomorrow, our annual race day to Thirsk is partly to support that cause.

We shall act disgracefully, laugh and drink like it was the last days of Rome.  I shall do my bit too, providing a range of tips that will dampen the merry-making.  Well, they cannot have it all.

Thirsk Tips…. Plus a bit of Goodwood and Galway if I can.

To be fair the card at Thirsk is not a disgrace.  Some class 6’s give us a taste of the bargain basement of racing but we scale the dizzying heights of a class 3 too.  On rain softened ground, I feel I crack a few of these puzzles.

The opener is a seller.  Tie em up Tal has a win under his belt in selling company, while half the field have no official rating yet, this Evans trained horse is the highest officially on ratings.  Furthermore, Evans has a good record at Thirsk and John Egan is not a terrible jockey to have at Thirsk on a busy day of racing.

Egan is no Hanagan though and he gets the right on the evens favourite, Jean Paget.  Mick Channons horses have been running OK at Thirsk but overall the yard is hardly flying.  Looks a bit tight on price to me, despite the jockey booking.

I am going to take a chance on Sandama, 14/1 in the opener who represents top Northern yard, Fahey.  the horse has not shown a lot to date but it is a Footstepsinthesand sort and while it might be seen to better effect on good ground, nothing jumps off the page in a poor race and so I’d rather be on a price.

Time Trail looks like being returned to a more realistic level in the Fillies Nursery Sprint.  However, it is the favourite Tulip Fever that immediately stands out.  She is going good guns and the Haggas team are in good form.  Georgia Cox, claiming five pounds has a strike rate of over 20% in the last few months and clearly capable.

Although friendless in the market, I am going to play Silver Starlight at 9/2.  She also arrives with experience, form with a bit of toe in the ground and a course win.

In the 2.45pm, John Kirkup heads the market and I can understand why.  After a successful run though, he carries a fair few extra pounds, we have to investigate those with the lighter loads.  Angel Force has finished behind the favourite previously but may have improved when winning last time out in similar conditions.

The Mark Johnstone runner and the Tom Dascombe horse are both noteworthy in different ways but I think the answer here is to stick with the horse that has shown he has the tools, John Kirkup it is, 6/4.

The 3.20pm conditions stakes sees Mitchum Swagger drop out of pattern level and of course, that makes the horse of significant interest.  However, I’d prefer it if he were a bit more consistent, especially when the market is asking us for more than they will put up if he does win, no deal.

Sound Advice has some ability but needs the firmer conditions.  This leaves me considering burdening That is the Spirit with my money at 9/1.  He definitely will not mind any more rain if it comes and could go well but I am put off by the zero wins in the last sixty runners record of the O’Meara camp.

No bet.

Dyna Might and Sheriff Garrett are the two I want on side in the 3.55 and you think I’d be able to split them easily enough, especially as the former lost to the latter already.   The Sheriff may not have finished improving having won last time out with head-gear on that might have focussed the horse nicely.  Ladbrokes though are offering 9/1 on Dyna Might and I have to play at that price.

I am playing Broughtons Knight in the 4.30pm, it is a horse that has been backed before and arguably unlucky.  It was suggested to me too and so makes the roster!

I shall take the last two races on chance, the better side of a few bottles of the best claret Thirsk can muster.

Goodwood Tips

I have not played too hard at Goodwood this week, thank goodness!  It looks like a nightmare for punters at times although Winter gave the form backers some pleasure today, winning in lovely style.

I am going to be a little lumpy about Profitable in the main race of the day, the King George Stakes at 3.35pm.  The form is rock solid and the ground no issue.  I have to be involved at 11/4.  Baattash is a worry as the ceiling of his ability has not been fully tested yet.

I also like the Given horse, Gift in Time, I think this one might have a lot to give in handicap company.

I hope your company is as good as that which I shall keep.  Fine sorts.  We go round the once my friends, enjoy it.

Courage, roll the dice.