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The Saturday Sermon – Ascot Champions Day Tips | Cheltenham and a bit of football… Shabash

Good evening from the Major who writes, weary and happy, settling into the weekend, like a well worn glove.  It is late, very late, the Worcestershire scene tonight is dank, driving home, orange streetlights in the distance flickered, seemingly to fizzing and humming in the wet like a live wire gently caressing the damp earth.

I have been out with colleagues and friends this evening eating a thoroughly average meal but in such damn fine raucous company that the cuisine was merely a distraction.  Laughs so deep and primal, deep within, they are fine for the soul and in the company of good people, well… Ah, All is well in the world.

I remain on the cusp of exhaustion, as I write I hear the patter of rain against window glass and it sounds like tiny fingers tapping a rhythm.  I know I am warm and I know out there in the darkness, there are things moving.

I love the winter and it is coming to us now.   Even recently, while  deep into Autumn, the late days of summer held on dearly but now, things are changing.  The rain that kisses you now is cold and taking a morning walk, toes feel numb, fingers tingle.  Summer has had its time at the front, running freely, wild times of chaos.  Now is nearly the time for winter, climbing the hill relentlessly, coming home on a tight rein and the Major is pleased.

I have enjoyed the flat season immensely this summer.  While the classic crop was an average bunch, there were some great memories of which my favourites were Dawn Approach and Toranado going to battle, Talent fighting for her head and still finishing like a train in the Oaks and… momentarily the triumphant victory of War Command in the Coventry, to name but a few.

Yet, todays racing at Cheltenham has reminded me that the flat season is always the poorer cousin to the Majors real passion, National Hunt.  I think the reason I prefer it is the longevity of the horses.  It allows for much greater stories to develop.  Horses that start in bumpers, transcend to hurdling and become novice chasers before joining the staying chaser ranks and those glorious old servants that win ten years after their bumper dreams.  They become like old friends.

Today’s cards offer the perfect handover from flat to the jumps season.  Yes, we still have a few big days to come, particularly the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster but the Ascot Champions Day is a perfect climax to the summer contests and the first days of the Cheltenham season whet the appetite for the narrative untold.  Be still my friends, it is our season.  To the sports..

Ascot – Champions Day Card

There has been a real fuss over Champions Day and the prospect of moving key Newmarket races next year to create Future Champions Day.  In all honestly, it strikes me that a lot of the antipathy is simple resistance to change.  After all, why not try it and if it does not work, we can go back!  This is a superb card, FIVE group ones, we are spoilt.

One criticism of the timing of the card is that it is likely to have high-profile defections due to winterish ground.  That is true of tomorrow but you either have an end of season finale of you do not.  We definitely need some soft ground horses tomorrow…

In the opener, the horses that I think will go well on the going are Estimate, Harris Tweed, Biographer, Aiken, Pale Mimosa and Eye of the Storm.

Aiken ran well in this last year and likes it soft under foot but I am not convinced he is good enough.  The Queens horse Estimate must rate a huge danger to all having won all of her Ascot starts but I just fancy the chances of Eye of the Storm, 7/1, who won a listed contest latest and has a valuable weight-for-age allowance.  He is a smart colt who needs to up his game again but well could do that with plenty progressive profile and the Ballydoyle machine is purring again.  Pale Mimosa is no 14/1 shot either and I also like the favourite a lot so it shall be small stakes.

The Champion Sprint Stake is one of these top class races that could typically go to any of the protagonists.  Maarek was good when winning the Prix Abbaye and loves it soft but the home team has such a candidate too in Jack Dexter who the dogs have been barking for all week down from 12s into 4s overnight.  I have to say that it is hugely attractive, Jack Dexter has won 6 from 6 on soft or worse.  Yet I am loathed to support either at the prices and instead opt for 13/2 shot Viztoria who also has an unblemished record on soft ground (although only 2 races).  It is a concern that man of the moment Johnny Murtagh is not aboard the girl but I think this is his inability to do the weight rather than him feeling he has a better shot with Belmont Mast.

Regular readers will know what is coming next.

At 2.55, in a corner of Berkshire…. TALENT WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS FILLIES AND MARES STAKES.  Get stuck in at 7/2 and thank me later.  She should have won the Leger (OK a bit stretched) and I would have like to have seen her in the Arc (next year) and she has nothing to fear here, I shall pray that she settles.  The Lark and the German horse Nymphea may be the closest to looking at Talents glorious behind at the finish.

The QEII is a cracking race and while it is a shame Toronado did not make the line up, we have plenty of quality to give Dawn Approach something to consider.  The one I think could completely outrun his price is Kingsbarns at 16/1.    This time last year, he had the world at his feet, was favourite for classics but his day in the sun has yet to come this year, missing most through injury.  His return was very poor but it is perfectly reasonable to think he may have needed that both physically and mentally.  We also get Joseph on board, the comfort that we know he has been in top hands (O’Brien is a master at getting these sorts to fire again) and he won both his juvenile starts on soft.  What is not to like?

In the Champion Stakes, Derby winner Ruler of the World is of key interest but is unproven on the ground, although he is a Galileo so perhaps we should not worry too much, of interest.  Mukhadram and Farhh are both classy sorts but all of them should really be paying homage to Cirrus Des Aigles.  We all remember him giving Frankel a good run last year and you may remember Cirrus winning the race in the previous year, he was 12/1 that day, tomorrow I can only advise you to be on at 5/4.

Cheltenham Tips

Poor old @limerickjfk – He tweeted me on Thursday night for some Friday Cheltenham tips and even promised me the benefit of a big drink should they come in.  I gave him a non runner and one that finished down the field.  I am the sort of friend you do not need.  Still, we shall try again and I shall stick a drink on the ledger the other way regardless, because it was nice to be asked!

There are some lovely sorts in the opener at Cheltenham, it is a tasty opening to proceedings.  Minella Fiveo is an interesting runner being an Irish raider with Noel Fehily up but the form is uncertain and despite a tempting price, I shall steer to more settled waters.  IT is the last time winners which I want to stick with and of them, Kings Palace stands out.  The Pipe trained horse won his last race at Fontwell very nicely indeed and I think may be better for further.  Oscar Magic rates a real danger as the stable has always been positive about him.  Others stand their chance too but I like my selection well enough.

Skipping a race and looking at the 3.10, I cannot get away from Samtegal, 9/4,  who was placed in a Scottish Champion Hurdle (a poorer handicap imitation of the Cheltenham masterpiece) which is good enough but he was also placed in a Triumph.  I am normally a bit hesitant about Paul Nicholls at this stage of the season, knowing he likes to leave a bit to work on but he had two winners here yesterday and I am in.

Finally in the 5.00, Balder Success is going to be a hot ticket after winning a Chepstow race latest, proving jumping and fitness.  I see those benefits but thought it a slightly odd race.  At the finish he appeared either idling or more likely running flat and I am not sure stiff tracks are what this horse needs.  Turned out again quickly, we will find out.  I shall back my argument with a stake on another.  Dark Lover, 2/1, was  a better hurdler than Balder Success and gets 8lbs here.  He also comes with the benefit of winning at Cheltenham before.  If you are feeling brace, Mr Watson could beat the lot if he decides to apply himself, a big if!

In football, one bet.  West Brom (my own team, I do declare an interest!) have a great chance of winning at Stoke – The team are brimming with talent and confidence, it is a good time to be a baggie.

May your dinner be as well as @limerickjfk who shall eat at Queens Hotel, in excellent company and with good wine, having solved several of the large Cheltenham handicaps.

He will be joined by Martin Hill should the Major break a string of bad losing advices to him with this suggested each way trixie: Talent, Kings Palace and Kingsbarns.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Newmarket and Chepstow

Good morning from the Major who writes wearily but contented.  It has been a long week and I shall not trouble you, my good friends, with the travails that sapped at the energy, suffice to say that there are many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Yet here we are at Saturday, the moment of the week I long for, before the sport has gotten underway, all of our hopes and dreams remain intact, untouched by the real world and the hazardous existence we live spinning on this fragile globe.  We can believe, just for a moment that today, we land the mothership.

In one sense I dread that day.  I think you know why.  I have such well tuned readers, the sorts of folk that risk it all in one turn of pitch and toss and lose and start again at their beginnings but never breathe a word of their loss.  You know why I fear catching the thing I chase, purpose.

For 200 odd Saturdays I have galvanised myself, come rain or shine, sickness and health, from green Worcestershire scenes to foreign fields; to collect and record my views of the weekend sport, maintaining the view that one day an amazing combination would land.  The pursuit gives me something to hold on to, a steady post in the maelstrom of existence, a commitment and a piece of unfinished business. Purpose.

To land the mothership, to remove that purpose, what then dear friends.  We do not know.  Things would change immeasurably, beyond the wild celebrations, accepting the accolades, a darkness exists, that I could fall between those cracks is certain..

So why pursue it then.  Why keep writing and sharing racing tips? Well for one, (and I shudder at the realisation) I must love the sound if my own voice. A fool uttereth all his mind but the wise man keep it in till afterward, Proverbs.

Is that it? Well no, consider this dear friends, imagine not pursuing glory, just think about that, 200 less moments of hope, of virgin dreams.  That is not to slip to the chasm, it is to lose your grip and plunge hurtling down permanently, twisting through the darkness, losing any sense of direction – The spark leaps from the fire and dims until extinguishing itself, so stay close to the fire, stay bright.  It is good to be alive.

To the sports.

I love Cesarewitch day, ever the heady days of 2007 when Sir Clement Freuds column which was worth the Racing post cover price alone tipped up Legspinner at 14/1.  I was at Cheltenham races that day and me and a couple of good friends were having a decent day, I seem to remember Joe Lively being our big course winner and topped up with Legspinner well, we had a royal time and steak for dinner.

Newmarket Future Champions Day

The ground at both Newmarket and Chepstow where the Major concentrates his energy could be a significant determinant factor in the outcome of the races and the Major has to take a view.  The decision I have made based on reports and forecasts is that both courses will play slow and soft and I want to be on horses where those conditions play to strengths.

The Dubai Challenge is the opener on the cards at Newmarket and one could do worse than focussing on three year olds who have a good record in the race.  Highland Colori showed last time that he has plenty of ability and a reproduction of that run might put him close.  My issue is though that with these sorts of runners, a reproduction of anything is a big question mark and so with a little caution I am opting for Amarillo the German raider who is certain to like soft conditions (should they arrive).

The Middle Park is the first of two Group 1 races where we get to see two of the big guns from the O’Brien yard unleashed and ready to do some damage.  Great White Eagle was about as visually impressive a winner as you can get on debut and I think may be very good.  He is out of Elusive Quality who is bred out of the Darley US operation and so you might be forgiven for thinking, what not a Galileo, not a Montjeu?  Elusive Quality has a progeny record of excellent juveniles (4 times has produced the US juvenile champion) and we would probably know his son Ravens Pass best.  Look, I know you are probably thinking, why did I come here to read that Great White Eagle might be brilliant, but what can I do?  He might be.  Get on.  2/1.

By the way, if Supplicant outruns his 8/1 price in this race, have your trigger finger on the bet button for the 3.55 at York where Rufford is 7/2 at the moment – The tied Mill Reef form would get a tremendous boost from Supplicant.

It gets worse.  I think War Command will also trounce the Dewhurst opposition.  A lot was made of the form of the Coventry with most speakers detracting from its value but again, the visual prowess of the win for War Command spoke volumes of the class he has.  He is out of another American Sire, War Front who has also sired Declaration of War (following all this?) – The Sire works out of Clairborne Farm and in the last few seasons seems to be producing much better crops (6th crop in all).  Dont shoot the messenger, I just think a tasty O’Brien double is in order.

In the big handicap, the Cesarewitch, I haven’t a clue.  I am guessing as much as the next man and so will opt for the well drawn, Murtagh assisted, Oriental Fox at 11/1.

Chepstow Tips

Chepstow has a decent day of racing for National Hunt fans and one stand out on the cards for me is Double Ross at 3/1.  This horse had to work hard to win over the chase fences at Perth but that was decent form and since he is proven over the big timber, I would take him against the obviously progressive looking Balder Success (Champion Hurdle runner) and Nicholls’ Chase debutante, Easter Day.

he 4.45 has a great value bet in my view in Swynmor at 15/2.  The Rebecca Curtis trained hurdler came down when arriving with a winning chance in the Grade 1 Future Champions race here in January and I think subsequent lacklustre performances were as a consequence of that fall.  If that proves right then this could prove a tremendous price.

The Martin Hill bet is a double on Swnymor and Amarillo.

May your dinner be of the finest quality and in the finest company.  courage and roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot and Haydock Tips….. The Major meets AP McCoy

Good evening from a blustery and wet Worcestershire.  The fineness of the day which began like gods own awakening has retreated and with the dark night comes the warm rugged squalls from the Atlantic.  It is December, I prefer the integrity of ice and frost, the tepid rugged wet weather feels dirty.

The Ascot ground looked like it was behaving today which surprised me, I thought they would be swimming on it.  The Major did fairly poorly. 

I fancied getting Puffin Billy beaten, which was proven mighty foolish.  I couldn’t bring myself to back the obvious Simonsig.  I mean…. Can you really back a novice chasing debutante at 1/6 on heavy ground no matter how impressive their novice hurdle season?  Clearly yes.  I did have the winner of the bumper, that protected some liquidity.

Last Sunday night I attended the Sports Personality Awards.  I was a guest of some business associates.  We dined before heading to the studio and sitting amongst the sporting glitterati.  The after show party was a star-studded affair.  My wingman for the night was far more comfortable approaching people for pictures and autographs than I. 

I do find it uncomfortable disturbing people socialising and frankly, what is the point.  Will you look at those pictures again?  Class and decorum for me is to relax and let it go.

I held that mighty stance until he pointed out Tony McCoy, entertaining a couple of female guests across the room.  Well, perhaps there is a shallow man struggling to get out after all as I could not contain the urge for a photo.

I interrupted as politely as possible for the picture and when I suggested Darlan to him, he was lukewarm, he gave me another horse to follow. 

AP McCoy and the Major

AP McCoy and the Major – He must love it

Now your correspondent will set the scene as best as I can…. The DJ (Comedy Dave) has the tunes cranked up, the silky green goddesses with their silver trays are breezing past, each stealing my heart (I fall in love most days)… I am a fair few Heinekens in to the evening and AP is giving me a horse to follow in his Irish lilt. 

The first time, I missed it completely.  Repeating the name, helped only moderately.  Second time round, I was able to make out some key syllables and define the shape of the horses name.  Asking a third time would have been rude and so I thanked him and left.

It took me a day and the work of a good friend Mike to track the animal down!  Who is it?  Well, that is between me, AP, my brother, Mike, anyone I have told so far and anyone who DMs me politely on twitter!  Anyway, as for AP, is he what you would hope for in a champion jockey?  Good teeth, clean shoes, class act all the way.

To the sports….

Tips for Ascot

The opening handicap is three miles through the mud so will take a lot of getting.  I really like Okafranca who is on a hat trick.  The last Taunton run was as good as anything in the field and he did that with plenty in hand.  7/1 (Paddy Power) is a very fair price – I feel good about this one but coping with another race within nine days as well as an 8lb rise might be tough enough. 

Instead I am offering a 14/1 tip on Highland Retreat.  My tip is a Harry Fry horse with Mr J Barber, a 7lb claimer aboard (has won on the other sole start for the stable).  After showing a likeable attitude in winning an Exeter handicap (first two fought clear and second now rated 121), a disappointing effort at Hereford followed.  There were problems with the girl that day (nose bleed) and if back to form, this unexposed mare might just get involved.

In the second race, Solix is clearly a decent opponent but I fancy Paul Nicholls to take this with Cedre Bleu.  My tip gets 7lb in hand and is going to be sharper for the seasonal debut.  It is interesting that connections go for a double dose of headgear, suggesting to me that the horse needs to concentrate and that we are yet to bottom out the talent.  If right, Cedre Bleu is in the right hands… 13/8 have a slice.

Long Walk Hurdle Tip – Ascot 2pm

A horse that won me some considerable dough in last seasons World Hurdle rocks up as favourite in this years Long Walk.  Smad Place had lots of supporters at Wetherby for his seasonal debut and so losing to Tidal Bay was a big dissapointment. 

It is a bitter shame that Big Bucks is unable to defend his crown here and at Cheltenham in March.  He looked as good as ever on debut and surely was booked to go to FIVE World Hurdles.

Prospect Wells looks like the horse that Ditcheat want to use as a main World Hurdle horse now that Big Bucks is out of the picture.  I am not convinced, he was in receipt of a lot of weight against Zarkander and wonder whether the image of the two of them pulling clear is not a little flattering to Prospect Wells… maybe.

Reve de Sivola finished second to Big Bucks at Newbury although he was clearly not in the same league. 

Master of the Hall is an interesting runner and gets the nod, perhaps a little disappointing and the hurdles mark is not generous either, the positives are that a switch to the smaller obstacles might spark enthusiasm and less error.  He is certainly one of the more likely to thrive in the conditions.  8/1 and worth a bet.

Ascot Silver Cup Tips – 2.35pm

The Ascot Silver Cup boasts a small but interesting field line up.  Roberto Goldbach has been switched to Nicky Henderson and it will be interesting to see whether he can take the horse further now he is turning eleven.

I am not convinced Hold on Julio will love the ground and I prefer Hey Big Spender who won a grade 3 at Warwick in January and was travelling well enough in the Welsh national last Christmas before coming down before the race got going in earnest.  He has gone well fresh and 4/1 is fair but I wonder if there are more significant prizes that the horse will be prepared for this year.

Maybe, this line up is giving too much weight away to Wyck Hill at 7/1 and a few pounds out of the handicap.  Racing off the minimum weight is going to be a big help and the horse has some signs of being progressive.  The heavy ground run previously was poor but the soft form suggests another try is not without hope.  7/1 (Bet365) and worth backing.

The Ladbroke – Ascot 3.10pm

21 runners make this a damn hard race to geta  solid angle into. 

Petit Robin is an interesting horse at a big price.  Chase form (and mark) is better than the current hurdles mark and a decent claimer is booked.  Maybe at 25/1 it is hard to argue that Henderson thinks he is the yards best hope but the Major gives it a squeak.

Rattan has done his best work on heavy but Ruby is on Ranjaan who represents Nicholls and it is significant that the money has come this week.  Ranjaan won comfortably at Taunton for Daryl Jacob and the rise of 9lb is not a big problem.

I just prefer a Jonjo horse who, on pricing, looks the best bet – Its a Gimme.

We have the champion jockey on our side and McManus likes some decent handicappers too – I am backing this tip to be progressive at five, the seasonal reappearance was fine and with natural progression, lets hope Its a Gimme can get involved.

Of course, Balder Success looks a decent sort but I am not sure he has the profile of the winner, it is a big ask at 4.

In the last Ulck Du Lin can prevail at 13/8.

Haydock Tips

I am hugely interested in Kruzhulinin in the second at 2/1.  A winner on heavy racing for the connections that won last years renewal, surely a decent chance.

In the third, She Ranks Me looks a dubious 6/5 shot and instead I much readily prefer the chances of Dancingtilmidnight and Scholastica.  Splitting them is difficult, both will love conditions.  The Harry Fry horse is a points winner that looks a thorough stayer and is accompanied by my favourite Jockey Noel Fehily.  Scholastica looks like a horse with any amount of improvement to come, absolutely stuffing a poor Uttoxeter field last time out (only 3 finishers).

On balance, I am going to take a chance on Dancingtilmidnight with the Fehily factor swinging it.

In the football…..

QPR look a touch big at 14/5 given the lack of confidence at Newcastle.  I think Southampton have the guns to defeat Sunderland at home at 6/5.  Norwich are a massive 16/5 to win at an Albion side that have taken one point from twelve.  I am still thinking Watford offer value with a talented young squad and 13/10 is a good price for a team that can freshen it up. 

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Watford, Cedre Bleu, Ulck Du Lin and Kruzhulinin.

May your dinner be delicious, pasta perhaps.  The company delightful, the ambience soft. 

Courage and roll the dice….