Good evening from the Major who writes from the living room with a Worcestershire cold settling outside in a most pleasant way, for I am settled and content after an afternoon at Cheltenham races. The wood stove is emitting waves of comfort with log and smokeless coal, flaming red inside, the air vents narrowed and the chopped silver birch, such a travesty to serve such a lovely tree this way, it burns slowly, as will my pleasure, mellowing from within.
It has been an awfully long and testing week but it has drawn to a close in good order and I shall tell you a little of it. Today, I attended the track and enjoyed a pleasant meal of Gressingham Duck breast, most pleasant. The table company was excellent and I tried to choose the perfect moment to relieve myself from my obligations and absorb all of the benefits from the freedom of the course.
AP McCoy and the Major
I watched the cross-country on the inside of the course and held my breath during the tense climb up the hill where after the best part of four miles, Balthazar King had enough steel to hold off the last challenge of Uncle Junior.
I signed the Tony McCoy Wall in the Hall of Fame and remembered Taquin du Seuil who was the subject of a personal tip I received from AP last December before his two winter wins. Though McCoy won’t remember dispensing the information, it shall stay with me. These men of iron who take centre stage with their equine assistants, they are accessible to us, their humble observers, unlike any other sport, we can get close and personal and in such encounters, memories are created.
Memories, so much more precious than objects, yet we often invest more energy and place greater value in the latter, how fruitless. We are here for such a short spell and this is no dress rehearsal my friends. When I consider the value of the creation of memory, there is an Epicurean pleasure derived that is never replicated in the physical. Friendship, freedom, thought, observing the might and beauty of what is around you… these things you should pursue relentlessly my friends and leave the large flat screen TV, the expensive watch and the other accoutrement of wealth to those less thoughtful than yourself – It will all be dust in the end, as shall we.
Leaving Cheltenham after racing, the light was very low and set a sky of deep and azure blues, a cold sky. A hazy snake of red brake lights shimmering in the exhaust fumes lit the way to the exit of the bottom car park. The steam train was leaving billowing white fluffy clouds in great expulsions. With my window down, I could hear the high-pitched whining of the helicopter engines gaining their vicious momentum. Looking behind me, up across the course, a stunning scene of twinkling lights and busying folk at their business of clearing the detritus of the day and resetting the course for the morning. Maybe it was this scene, or maybe it was the bulging wallet, I shall let you be the judge but happiness was mine.
Back to Cheltenham for the Saturday Open card and we shall be at them again, our resolve set, draw thy sabre, take a cut on the forte and return, driving hard, running through their flesh. Tomorrow night, we feast.
Cheltenham Saturday Open Tips
I have fond and mixed memories of Paddy Power Saturday at Cheltenham. The fondest memory would be Old Vic in the David Johnson colours in a race where I had planned on backing Monkerhostin but was persuaded on course by an Irish stranger I met to get on Old Vic. The darkest was being heavily on Granite Jack who fatally fell at the fence that caught many out travelling at speed down the hill, sadly national hunt claims many and that one stuck with me, tarnishing the experience. Let us hope that all competitors return safely tomorrow.
I am going to take it race by race. Critical factors remain trainer form, the good ground and course form. Three winners from six yesterday but beware, past performance does not indicate future performance and the value of your investments may go down as well as up.
In the opening juvenile hurdle (12.40), Royal Irish Hussar is a worthy favourite as he brings a telling piece of form into the race from Wetherby. The race he won had a series of winners from both France and Britain and he won by some distance, that looked very useful indeed. Art Mauresque is an eye-catching acquisition for Nicholls who is to be feared with his French imports but the Henderson horse is the one for me. Looks obvious, probably is.
The second race is an interesting Novice Chase and there are some high potential chase recruits in the race. The two that have good ground form are the two at the head of the market, African Gold and Shutthefrontdoor. The former is a Twiston Davies horse and I think could be a real stable star. He was second in the Albert Bartlett to a high-class winner, At Fishers Cross. A key hesitation here is the form of the yard. There horses often need reappearance runs and I think Jonjo might have his string further forward. Thus Shutthefrontdoor gets my vote, he is fit after a run over fences at Aintree and that experience would have done him no harm. He was fourth in the Pertemps final, has won on good ground and has enough going for him at 11/4.
The third (1.50), the Murphy Group Handicap Chase is a trappy affair but I have a fancy for Quentin Collonges who is available at 12/1. He won a Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in staying on style – He does not mind a hill, he enjoys good ground and the Daly yard are in good nick. Key dangers come from Bradley, who stays forever and enjoys Cheltenham, which is a doubt for my own selection (a serious one too!) and also Alvarado who I will be having a small saver on, while out of the bottom of the handicap, looks like a horse that will thrive stepped up in trip.
The Paddy Power is a conundrum this year with plenty of potential angles. I like Finians Rainbow because he has Cheltenham and ground form but it is unusual for a horse to win over the age of 8, let alone a 10 year old, he has the class but not for me. Radjahni Express looks to have plenty of improvement left and he gave Tap night a hell of a beating at Ayr, whether good ground is the right underfoot conditions, well, I do not know.
Champion Court has conditions falling perfectly for him and I suspect he is going to be in the places. He is seriously in considerations as is Ballynagour who looked outstanding enough to warrant a stone and a half increase after a single race last year. The horse I am settling on though is one I think will take to the task well, Colour Squadron. He can be a handful but has some very useful hurdle form and is in this on a featherweight. I like Tom O’Brien in the saddle and am happy to take 12/1 on a bigger than expected run.
In the handicap hurdle that follows, Silver Eagle is of some interest, though I must confess to not being Sam Thomas’ greatest fan. Southfield Theatre is an obvious pick and I think he will definitely make the shake up. I am going to take a slice of Bally Legend at 25/1 – I think he will like conditions and may well improve for the step up to proper staying distances.
The novice hurdle event looks more straight forward and while Timesremembered looks an exciting prospect, the vibes are good about Port Melon (7/2) too and I am backing the Nicholls inmate to convert some good point form directly into this tidy novice standard.
The bumper could go several ways and I am opting for the Henderson trained 5/1 shot Mayfair Music. Plenty of dangers about but I think she will relish the goodish ground.
I trust you to dine in fine style and in great company. Courage and roll those dice.