Tag Archives: captain chris

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot, Gowran, Wincanton and Haydock, plus the football

Good evening from the Major who writes from the bed, dead tired and with a low tremulous wind signalling the latest violent front being launched off the Atlantic, up the Severn Estuary and smashing into the first significant land since the Caribbean.

The Major has dined this evening with the good lady.  Now I know a few of you are wondering whether I am the romantic type and I might settle that thought by telling you that today is also my wedding anniversary, the twelfth to be accurate.  12 years, it goes by in the blink of an eye.  We were married in Sri Lanka and I shall not bore you with the travel detail that others may crow about – To dwell for long on such trivia is crass and wastes your time.  Suffice to say, I found the woman to come in rounded shapes, with toothy beaming smiles and a hearty wish for your contentment.  Excellent curry too, almost as good as the homeland, Birmingham, home of the balti.  The pleasure of a finely balanced dish, coriander, fresh accompanied by a cold fresh mango juice – God has been good to us.

Usually I detest dining on Valentines night, the expense, lack of choice, busyness and sense that you are being forced to behave a certain way, not for me – It is unsettling, lacks class, decorum wearing thin at the edges.  Tonight thought, we ate simply, in a decent pub, hotel slash restaurant..

The pub has its own farm and the pork was exceptional.  I don’t think the scallops were from its grounds, the flooding is not so bad yet.  It all went down well, mission accomplished.

The weather is fantastic.  I do not truck with these folk who wring their hands and decry flood and storm.  Naturally, I am as sorry for those who have their home flooded as the next man, it must be a terrible show.  No, I contend that Violenti Non Fit Injuria – You bought the home on the plain or river – You cannot claim victimhood when such water course overspills its guts.

I find the urges of some to cancel overseas aid disproportionate.  Less than a thousand homes, largely insured, have been flooded.  This does not construe a crisis.  As a nation, we used to withstand constant nightly shelling from the Luftwaffe, I think we can cope with this.  The old proverb of bringing your troubles to a common room with your fellow-man and choosing to leave with your own applies.  Syria has a population of 22m, approximately 8m are displaced and mostly living in tents, some in desperate condition.  2m of the 8m are children.  Do I sound callous?  I do not mean to – Anyone with a flooded home must be going through a terrible experience and I hope the spell of dry weather coming in persists.

I enjoy the excitement of a good storm, the violence of it.  Driving home in the middle evening this week, great waves of water were smashing into the windscreen, sheet after sheet, the horizon suddenly visible and then gone again.  I could make out the shapes of great terrifying trees, blackened against an already dark backdrop, moving in fast menacing ways, limbs twisting and thrusting, side to side, they looked like giant monsters fighting a deathly duel, all exaggerated by the low light.

I hope that all four of Ascot, Gowran, Wincanton and Haydock get the go ahead.  With extra rain and all four already at ‘heavy’ I fear we may lose some.

For weeks, I have heard the same view expressed, that come Cheltenham, on good to soft ground, we are going to see some surprising results.  Who knows what ground we will get.  I care little for this argument, my antepost has been building on ability only.  I have multiples galore and am most happy with the positions on Silviniaco Conti, Bobs Worth (yes I was backing both), Annie Power (WH so need her to turn up there), Vautour and a few more.  I am less confident about Our Conor (backed a lot) and have plenty of others I would ask for my money back on if the bookie were such inclined.

Anyway, it is time to start building our war chest.  Last week was not a great week.  A couple of winners but largely I made poor calls.  The Tom George horse Module hurt me the most, I had him written off but he won like a lunatic.

The mothership left the dock and deposited none of her kind cargo, no generosity was served.  Be warned too, my run this week continued with a series of ‘good things’ getting turned over – Arsenal, Barca – Christ, the account has taken a right beating.  At such times, one might retreat, draw breath, lick ones wounds and assess a new route.  Not for the Major, no… I shall polish my lancepoint because I know that my destiny is unquestionable.  I do not think it, I know it.

There will be another full frontal assort and these are my weapons of choice.  To the sports…..

Wincanton

Let us hope that this track survives the night intact and can get their excellent card on.

In the second race, a novice hurdle, the three useful looking favourites are all sired by super National Hunt stud, Kings Theatre.  One of his should win and I am taking Paul Nicholls charge Tagrita who is proven on the ground and has won three times this season.   Blue Buttons looks a threat and with Kings string coming back to form, The Pirates Queen may well improve from her earlier season exploits and the further distance, keep it sensible.

The Kingwell Hurdle goes off at  3.35 and pits Melodic Rendevous meets Zarkander and Grumeti giving 8lbs to the latter.  The easy pick here is Melodic and  suggest you smash in with nerves of steel.  Bet like a man possessed and be thankful.  The reasoning?  Well, Zarkander is decent, aptly demonstrated by his seconds this season to Annie Power and The New One.  While the ground will help him deal with such a short distance, this is a warm up for the World Hurdle.  The favourite is a tremendous traveller and given he has Notarfbad in the field (for pace surely) there will be no hiding place here.

Grumeti is definitely  better ground horse and if they leave him in, it will be the first time he has raced on heavy (record on soft 1/3, record on good to soft, 4/4).  Easily overlooked.

Haydock Tips

Celestial Halo has found an excellent prep race for his World Hurdle bid.  I would be interested in Restless Harry but believe he is Ascot bound.   Although it looks an easy and obvious pick (and what is wrong with that? Complaining?  See the manager!) Celestial looked at his very best when winning the Long Walk last time out.  Mickie would be the each way selection but I think they will all be enjoying a fine view of the Halo’s tail.

The Grand National trial is not my sort of race.  You may recall, you my not, that I am not a fan of the National in general.  Now the weights for the big race are out, we shall see some surprising steps up in form, I am sure.  Merry King and Our Father are both contenders for sudden returns to greater things.  The former has looked like a horse that needs 6m!  The latter was one of the best travelling horses I have seen.  Today I am having a small stake in the Venetia runner, Emporers Choice who will love conditions and we all know the form she is in in these big Saturday races.

Wolf Shield is drifting for the 3.30 but I would not dismiss it at 14s – Heavy ground and a return to form last time suggests it could get involved.  No, I rather stick with Flemenson or Horatio Hornblower.  On the grounds that he gets a lump of weight and the services of Maguire in the saddle, I am siding with the latter.

In the Albert Bartlett, I am interested in the proven mud sloggers, Wuff and Toubeera.  I got stung when writing off a Tom George horse last week (Module) but am happy to burden that concern again by suggesting a decent stake on 13/2 (Coral generally 11/2) Toubeera.  I prefer Aidan Coleman to Paddy Brennan, she gets some weight on grounds of sex, which will be a bigger help in deep ground.  I think the extra distance will suit also.  Have a slice.

Ascot Tips

It is a fine fine day of National Hunt and Ascot Chase Day is a superb card.

Ultra expensive Un Temps Pour Tout will want to win the opener if he is going to be considered a Supreme contender.  Given he cost £450k, it is the least you would want.

In the second, I am backing Gervey Chambertin at 5/2 – I always thought this classy hurdler would be an even better chaser and I would be disappointed if we did not see a good run.  It is unusual for me to back against a favourite that has much more chasing experience (Many clouds 3 runs) but those were easy schooling small field sessions and this is different.  Experience may not count if I have my theory right, that Gervey will be a spring heeled natural.  Let’s see.

In the 2.40 chase I do love Teaforthree – Here is something strange I learned this week.  Did you know he was the Sky Soccer AM horse?  Why they sold him I do not know but they would have had a placed Grand National horse on their hands!  Well, I am not backing him today as the main agenda will be Aintree.  No I think this is an excellent chance for Highland Lodge 7/2 but will be keeping stakes small.

Jump to the Ascot Chase at 3.50 – The most interesting runner of the day goes in this Grade 1 as Hunt Ball returning from his American adventures.  He can be backed today at 33/1.  Rolling Aces of some interest but on bare form, he cannot yet hold a candle to Captain Chris who should go in at 11/10. He loves the mud, loves going this way around, boasts good form that is strong this season… Looks one for the accumulators.

It can be a Hobbs / Johnson double as in the next Mountain King looks a great 6/4 shot – I was really taken with the way he travelled in the Ludlow mud and this progressive sort can go well again.

Gowran Park

At 2.25, I will be glued to At The Races in case Bog Warrior returns to the track.  I am this horses biggest fan, partly because I always felt he had tremendous ability but largely because of his distinctive style of running.  He lobs along, head firmly pressed down against his chest – Doing his own thing.  Now, I feel a bit frustrated for him.  He will love this heavy ground, his name is very apt.  Yet, I am perplexed as to why connections are taking him chasing again  He has often blundered at the bigger obstacles but is a classy hurdler.  Coming down the hill in the World Hurdle, I really thought he was going to play a hand – Then his serious injury effected him and he bottomed out quickly.  He has had lots of entries and I suspect he will be a NR again today but I look forward to his return.  For betting purposes, I am on Turban at 13/8.

Un De Sceaux has another procession planned for 3.35.

In the football.  Wolves are a penalty kick at 1/2 and I would lump in.  Southampton to win in the cup at Sunderland is a more tentative selection at 13/10.

The Martin Hill Multiple, which needs to land to build the man’s war chest is… Melodic Rendezvous, Horatio Hornblower and Turban in a trixie of glory.

I hope your dinner is kept simple but in the company of friends.  Eat with your hands, may I suggest Fajita – Becoming involved, mixing well people and food.  Drink well and be thankful.

Courage, roll those dice.

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The Saturday Sermon – Kempton, Wetherby and Warwick

Good evening from the Major who writes from a breezy but fair Worcestershire scene where the fire crackles, the beer is cold and the good lady is preparing a king prawn curry – Ah, it is good to be alive.

There are moments, flickers, moments in the script when the sense of being alive seems inexplicably to come to the fore of your mind.  Recently, you will recall the Majors sojourn to the emerald isle.  A most satisfactory time was had.  While driving through Dublin, Daniel, number one son and heir to the Majors fortune (not that there will be a fortune, more likely a debt) spied an unusual building and exclaimed that ‘how could anyone build that?’

The simplicity of the question took me by some surprise.  It is the wonderment that made my heart skip, the sheer astonishment that as a child you can experience but as a spark from the fire diminishes as we weary.

Such spirit, waking moments, it is the reason why I refuse to lay off when on a bet.  I was drinking with my brother a few weeks back and bought him a treble, in  which the first two legs landed.  He felt uncomfortable, even before he spoke I knew it, he was rubbing the ticket and twitching at the prospect of saying something.  The thing is, the win would have been useful and the conflict he felt was talking to me about laying off.

Now, I am a humble soul and would not begrudge you or any other man your own opinion.  Yet, my own brother, a man who knows his own mind well felt an impulsive hesitancy in my company.

As it happened, he was waiting on a Kidderminster win.  He played a few safety bets and it was financially rewarding as Kidderminster failed in the last leg of the treble, rather miserably losing with ten men.

Was this right?  Was his correction emotionally as well as rationally good value?  I am unsure.  A gift, the urge to see it through, his understanding of my own reluctance to lie down in the face of a gamble – I just feel it is cheating, it is robbing yourself of the thrill you might enjoy… After all, we spin by just the once and whatever raises the heart, engages the mind, brings the lust of blood, well… it is a rarer and most beautiful thing.

Leave your chips on the table my friends, to the sports…

The Tolworth

The Liquidator looks the bet to me being 9/4 and with obvious advantages.  I must confess to not being a fan of the Pipe stable but The Liquidator carries great form into the race and unlike my other fancy (Garde La Victoire) he has proven mudlark status.  Upazo does not appeal on pure form terms to me and the Henderson yard (who are in fine form, with fewer than usual runners in the last fortnight) send out two but both are overlooked.  Of them, Josses Hill is clearly the most interesting but I do not like the form as he has had to battle to victory the last twice – That said, greenness could be a factor and I would not be outraged to be corrected.

All the dogs are barking for Captain Chris but I cannot have him.  He is not the sort I trust at all, for a start I think three flat miles on good ground is his bag and this, while shorter and on softer (thus an acceptable compromise for many) will not be his ideal conditions.  Twinlight has been talked down by the trainer but honestly, I feel he has an excellent chance, one might question why they are bringing him across otherwise – The yard seem to be in perpetual good form which is something the Ditcheat team cannot boast and Ghizao while loving the ground is short on the required form.

Warwick

Black Thunder won in a small field last time which might put some off his short odds but I have to admit to being impressed enough to lump on today at 4/6 in this better company.  Corrin Wood is a decent opponent but my selection won going away and Nicholls is bringing him along quietly.

I am also a fan of African Gold, yes it is deep ground, yes he carries top weight but make no doubt, he is the class act.

Wetherby Tip

At Wetherby, I am looking to have a bet on McMurrough who is back hurdling after some smart chasing appearances.  He looks well placed for a win and races off almost a stone lighter than his chase mark.  At first glance his soft ground form is not great but this is a distraction, he is certainly ground versatile and the yard is are in absolute awesome form…  I suspect this is bet of the day.  6/1 – Major stakes required.

To the football….

Southampton are a fine 20/17 to beat West Brom with the latter not yet benefiting from the new managers guidance.  Likewise, long-term team to follow this season, Wigan, are 13/15 to win at home to Bournemouth, have a big slice.  I would also be a buyer of Burnley at 19/20 away at Yeovil.

May your dinner be magnificent, resplendent in its glorious elegance both in cuisine and company.  Of the latter, I trust it is well-mannered, not too gentle, more outrageously good fun…. She may be entertaining the idea, which gets settled as your wallet falls open to settle the bill, spilling the good fortune of the day.

The Martin hill bet, sure to be a winner is doubles and trebles on all horses selected -20 bets.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot, Haydock and my favourite weekend football bets

Good evening from the Major who writes from a crisp Worcestershire night under a spectacular heavenly orb.  The cold is biting enough that the sand coloured grit has been scattered across the roads.  The Major has the fire crackling away, delightful popping and sizzling sounds – All is well with the world.

The Major had a decent enough Cheltenham Open weekend.  I had the pleasure of attending course on the Friday and the blog performed to a profit over the three days.  With the benefit of wisdom emerging during the time lapsed, some thoughts have incubated.  Of the performances, my old friend Taquin du Seuil stands out well.  While the race was a farce, he always looked to be besting Oscar Whiskey in travelling speed and jumping accuracy and now with a taste of Cheltenham fences on his CV, I am hoping for bigger things later this year – He remains a key horse in focus for me.

I am often asked (when I say often, I mean rarely) how I arrive at a set of tips.  While the results may suggest a haphazard and drunken lurching from one week to the next, the reality is probably even less comforting.  I have a system, strecth to deep analysis and recognise the futility of it too.

At heart, I am a value based punter.  If I think something is overpriced, I back it.  I remember suggesting to a racing virgin at Cheltenham  (hospitality guests) that a 33/1 shot was my selection.  When he backed the horse, he sought me out ticket in fingers and checked he had the right selection… ‘So, you think it has a real chance?’… I wish he had not asked, the inevitable disappointment in my answer when I told him that I thought the horse had little chance but one that was better than 3.3%.

Most of my activity and energy are focussed nearer the top of markets.  I prefer to invest in discerning the chances of the shorter priced horses than I do seeking value in an all-weather long shot.  Do not get me wrong I have had my moments but generally if we are to get rich together, it will because one week, I land all selections, the mothership.

I do use some online tools, a rating engine (which I have adapted to my own preferences) coupled with a detailed stats analyser.  These provide a foundation.  I like to read trainer comments and I like to watch a lot of racing too – I feel much better if I have a good working memory of how a horse races and how previous form on which I based decisions panned out.

There is the context of history too.  The thousands of bets I have placed, the yards, the jockeys, the courses, the ground.  All of it not only exerts an influence of trend but it informs a deeper wisdom, a knowledge you think you have.  Intuition, neither to be ignored or trusted.

I use all of this to build up a story about a horse, the patterns in the numbers, the quotes, the memories, historic context, a wisdom builds, it underpins an overall profile I build in my mind.  While not necessarily sophisticated or entirely consistent, it is fair to describe it as complex.

Identifying winners is the same about identifying anything, you have a pattern you expect to see and you match as much data as you can before making a prediction. The ancient philosophers were concerned with how we identify anything.  That a horse has four legs, a mane and a shape we recognise, that it moves a certain way, that it neighs and brays and has a lolloping tongue, all these things we use to call a horse a horse.  When we glimpse in a field, from a fast moving train, the general outline of a horse, we might not have all of the sensory information we need to confirm what we saw, but we know what it was… or at least we think we do, there is some degree of certainty, sleight or great.

In the same way, we all seek our racing winners, I might know the general shape of what my mind seeks, the attributes I like, the course form at Brighton, Bath, Southwell and York.  I look for a strong jockey, this above most other things.  I want class in the form, or at least potential.  I don’t mind freshness as long as the trainer has a good record with it – You see, this adds more complexity, as some of the data, of which this last point is an example, has relationships.  I want the yard to be in form… It goes on and on and on and on and on…. Ad infinitum – The things we seek are close to indescribable, far too complex – Making sense of it, the swirling vortex of it all, it is baffling, exciting, exasperating, enticing and downright scary.

Yes, I know a rough shape of what I am looking for but the disturbances in what I think I see and the mental model I am comparing it to, are numerous, much noise around the signal.

Am I even receiving the right evidence, are the trainers comments accurate and did I witness and recall the last run with some diligence?  Secondly, once the profiles have been created in my mind, they are rarely well-defined.  Interpretation is needed, as though you were looking at an animal through a badly focussed lens or from that fast moving train, you know the model you expect to see, 4 long legs, you see what might be a mane, could it be a horse or is it a donkey?

This is the most sensitive part of the process.  Glimpses of something.  The data and the stories I have told myself converges into a mass.  The pattern matching process, it is infuriating but addictive.  A test of your mind.

It has not made me rich but I don’t do too badly.  Plus, I enjoy it and I know you do too.  If there is one thing I would offer to you, one piece of wisdom that would help in all this, though I am a poor sage.  There is just too much complexity for you to know anything.  There is also too much opportunity for the data to be polluted and irrelevant.  Most of all, your ability to understand the model you should see and to be able to see through the cloud itself, you will never have certainty.

All I am saying is the obvious.  Cultivate a healthy mistrust of your personal ability to match patterns.  Then enjoy trying.

To the sports my good friends, daub thy war paint and sharpen that lance point.  Fall on parade soldier, we are for battle.

The Betfair Chase

What an unbelievably fantastical renewal of the Betfair Chase.  You know this, so I shall not bore you repeating the obvious.  Rather, let us decide on the likely winner.

I will not consider The Giant Bolster, he is an over-rated horse in my view, the Gold Cup he was runner-up in was poor and these are not his conditions.  I am also not a Tidal Bay fan, he is a grand old servant but this is top top class and I cannot see him improving at his fine age.  Roi du Mee may have beaten Sizing Europe is some style but I do not think that form will stand up given the stamina challenges of the latter.

Then, there were 5.

Long Run is a horse I have backed for a long time.  I love him.  His long beautiful legs, the trouble he gets into at fences but the tremendous heart, ah how I love him.  I also felt he has been under-rated by many for some time but now think it was my own warm feelings that were the error.  That he needs a professional jockey is obvious.  More bothersome, he is not the horse he was.  I am not sure where he goes from here.  He is young enough to still be a player but I feel his lot will be a tragedy not a romance.  Plus, he needs another mile.

I have no doubt that Cue Card is a damn fine horse and the big question is whether he will stay.  The King George is the critical piece of evidence for this where he evidently threw the anchor out.  However, a closer inspection of that race reveals an intriguing element.  He smacked the first two fences which brings into question whether his falling away was a lack of stamina or as a consequence of his early mistakes.  I am not against this horse because of his ability and I have less problem with the stamina than most, my concern (and it is a big one) is the form of the Tizzard yard.  They have placed just 4 runners from 23 runners in the last fortnight.

Dynaste is the Pricewise horse and this is an excellent chance for us to assess whether this is a genuine Gold Cup horse.  He did not do a lot wrong last year and I thought it was interesting that Pipe swerved last weeks Paddy Power which looked an easier assignment) for this.  Of interest.

Silviniaco Conti looked to be travelling as well (if not better) than Bobs Worth coming down the hill in the Gold Cup.  Sadly, we do not know if that was due to translate into a genuine challenge due to the crashing fall he took.  However, it is clear that both he and Bobs Worth are the proven Gold Cup protagonists on the scene.  I see no reason not to focus on these two.  If Cue Card is to get involved, he has to run better than the yards recent runners.  Dynaste needs to step up slightly.  These two need only run to form.

They are joint favourites as I write and this leads me to an easy choice, I just have to decide the likelier.   Bobs Worth is a proven act and has been likely raced, I worry he might need a bit further.  Last year he was straight out to win the Hennessy, he has Geraghty on board – God, it feels good.  Silviniaco Conti won this race last year and gets Fehily in the saddle – He is class but so is Geraghty.  Oh it is close, so close.  Conti.  Bobs Worth.  Conti.  Bobs Worth.  The class of Bobs Worth.  It is Bobs Worth.

The fixed brush hurdle on the same card is interesting.  Personally I am looking to be on Gervey Chambertin, it is not so much the Pipe record in the race (although that is inspiring) but more the early performances of this horse.  Clearly the spring was not his time, although backed off the boards at the festival, something was wrong.  Aintree was no better.  I am assuming all is well again, which is a danger considering they have gone for cheekpieces at the tender age of 5.  I am getting on at 7/1.

Gullinbursti rates a danger but I am bit perplexed as to why after a successful chase victory they are coming back to these easier obstacles.

In the 1.50, I am taken with the profile of More of That a 4/1 shot.  He was not fancied when he won his maiden and was injured shortly afterwards.  Returning this year, he looked very very good when winning the Wetherby reappearance and with the Jackdaws operation in such unbelievable form, I am more than happy to climb aboard at 4/1.

Saturday Ascot Tips

I was frustrated with myself to miss the reappearance of Drumshambo, a  horse that had a lot of improvement last year and was on my watch list.  Another 9lbs up in the weights and it bothers me so I am now looking elsewhere.  With just seven runners, I am hoping Saved By John a general 5/1 shot can gain compensation for a decent reappearance in which he was mugged.  His running style makes him vulnerable to that but I like him.

I like Volt Face in the Ascot bumper running for Pipe.  Although the Henderson horse brings franked form into the race, I think the Pipe one might be smart.

Captain Chris is also on my slip because I think there is only a paper between him and Al Ferof on form.  Throw in that my selection has less of a doubt over him regarding injury and the expectation that Captain Chris is primed for this in a way that Al Ferof is unlikely to be and well…

I know Annie Power is 8/13 but she should hose up.

In the football, I like Arsenal at 8/13, Newcastle at 4/5 and Wigan at evens.

The Martin Hill combination is a Wigan and Annie Power double with a separate Trixie on Saved by John, More of That and Gervey Chambertin.

I hope your own dinner is magnificent, a delectation of taste sensations, fine claret, finer company and the comfort that no matter how expensive the brandy you order, the uncomfortable lump in your ribs will barely be dented.

Courage, roll those dice.

Friday Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips – The Major is Chasing, JT McNamara, The Triumph… last chance for glory

Good evening from the Major who writes from an overcast Worcestershire scene that is positively balmy compared to recent conditions.

The Major is tired.  Three days of battle cling to my clothes and skin and there is a certain stench of defeat about it.  Today we scored a magnificent win with Cue Card, whom I gave a strong indication to load the cannons on, but there ends the success.

Should you feel  disappointed  I hope it eases your mind to understand that the Major was significantly invested in Sam Winner, Ballynagour and Oscar Whiskey all of which floundered hopelessly at one stage or another.

Twitter is alight with thoughts and prayers for JT McNamara who suffered a fall on Galaxy Rock in the Kim Muir, the consequence of which was him suffering a severe neck injury.  Powerful barbiturates were used to induce a coma and the racecourse medical team flew with him on the air ambulance to Bristol.  My own losses become inconsequential.

A bitter taste was left by that turn of events which unfurled as the racecourse team were dealing with Matuhi who suffered a fatal fall in the previous race.

This all followed the surprising news that Davy Russell had suffered a punctured lung, although the cause remains a mystery.  He is stood down and tonight there remains a mystery as to who will ride Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup on Friday…

The Major kept good company today and included in the group was a chap whose methodology involved selecting horses on a theme from current events.  He selected the papal election and so used that when reviewing each race.  To build my own knowledge of what is likely to transpire in the 2013 Cheltenham Festival championship races, I have invested hundreds of hours following national hunt racing.  You know already what happened.  He selected the winner of the first two races at 25/1 and 20/1 before following up with some rather tasty each way places including Celestial Halo (of course) at 40/1.  Good on him, I wish every man his good fortune, I just hope our own enterprise is rewarded tomorrow.

Today was a critical day and it swung things in the bookmakers direction.  We need winners.  We have just one day remaining.

Stick with me, it is darkest before the dawn.  As Roosevelt (Theodore) said it is better to be faithful than famous.  Either that, or pick a theme and knock yourself out!

The Triumph

Our Conor is going to give Ireland a terrific chance of winning a Triumph, not a traditionally strong race for the raiding team.  He has already had the measure of many of his Irish rivals this winter including Stocktons Wing and Diakali.

On the home team, the probable best chance is Rolling Star who beat Irish Saint  on British debut on heavy ground and could be anything.  That win was at Cheltenham and mighty impressive.  Henderson has won three of the last twelve Triumph hurdles and so clearly he is to be feared.

Complicating the scene is the ground / weather.  The rain is likely to not be serious until later in the afternoon and so this will be a good ground race.  That brings in some serious questions for Rolling Star and Our Conor, neither of whom have raced on good.

Lac Fontana has an interesting profile having not disgraced himself against better horses in novice company and now stepping down to juvenile grade for this.  Jockey booking suggests Far West has the measure of him at home.

On balance, Our Conor is getting the line – I am not convinced the yard is in the best shape, the horse has done better in smaller fields and he has the travel to contend with.

Both Far West and Rolling Star have won at Cheltenham.  I cannot split them but will do so on trainer form at the festival which means that Rolling Star gets the nod.

The County Hurdle

The favourite in the County is Cotton Mill, well thought of by Pricewise, enough to make him his antepost Champion Hurdle pick.  The County is a much less ambitious target.

Cotton Mill may have some class but the County is often won by a springer from lower in the weights and that is the Major’s angle into the race.  Age 5/6, Mullins horses particularly interesting…

This leads us straight to Tennis Cap at 12/1 who I think has an excellent chance.  Ranjaan has been the selection of Ruby which is an advert in itself but with Ditcheat not showing their usual swagger this week, I prefer Paul Townend aboard my pick

The Albert Bartlett

I am not sure how the Albert Bartlett will feel tomorrow after we witnessed the rise of equine and jockey stars Brindisi Breeze and Campbell Gillies and their tragic deaths last year.  I am sure the course will have some moment planned to commemorate them.

What a great advert The New One gave for At Fishers Cross in his demolition job in the Neptune on Wednesday.  That Cheltenham race now looks key to this.

Utopie des Bordes has some experience which is an advantage but I am not sure it is good enough.

Ballycasey lines up to have a pop at At Fishers Cross where Inish Island failed.  Neither I think will get to the favourite.  All evidence to me says that At Fishers Cross is very very classy and has a great attitude.  If the rain is not soaked in by the time of the Albert Bartlett I would not be too concerned as the tip is an Oscar bred animal and should be fine under firmer conditions.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips

The 2013 Gold Cup has a decent feel to it with a number of potential winners and a great story to unfold.

At this point last year, I was convinced Sir Des Champs would go on to be crowned 2013 Gold Cup winner but he seems to have a lost a little edge.  That said he has improved with each run this year, looks a thorough stayer and clearly likes Cheltenham.  Yet, the standing down of Davy Russell is a final negative for the Major.

I cannot have the Giant Bolster.  Won’t place.  Neck on line.

At 10/1 Captain Chris would be a consideration having run Long Run so close in the King George but rain might put pay to his chances.

Bobs Worth, Long Run and Silviniaco Conti are harder to split.

Silviniaco Conti has two negatives that put him out of the picture for the Major.  Firstly, he has no Cheltenham win to his name and while he has looked mighty impressive this term, he has yet to face this sort of challenge.  Secondly, I alluded earlier to the fact that Ditcheat just look a little short of sparkle this week.

That leaves me with a Henderson 1-2.  The order is the tricky thing.  The trend of not regaining a Gold Cup (with the exception of Kauto Star) does not bother me.  Long Run picked up his at a very tender age and there is no reason why he cannot win another simply because others have not.  He probably was not on full song when Conti beat him on seasonal debut, his King George win was brave and overall the Major is not against him at all.

Bobs Worth won a Hennessy and showed he had staying power doing so.  He has 4 course wins from 4 starts, including an Albert Bartlett and an RSA.  The Hennessy makes me slightly nervous because Tidal Bay is a yardstick that I think over-rated.  I might be the only person to think this but it makes me concerned about the Irish Hennessy form too, a view supported by the trouncing Cue Card gave First Lieutenant.  A further concern would be deteriorating conditions with Bobs Worth only experience incredibly being on goodish ground.

That leaves me with Long Run.  11/2 is available and I think it is well worth a decent wedge even if we are hampered by the Amateur Jockey.

The Foxhunters

Jockey booking is essential and after that, horse quality is required.  I think Salisfy can defend his title but 11/4 is not much of a price, particularly as the ground is going to be getting away from him.

I much prefer the 10/1 about Cottage Oak available with Corals.  The more rain he better for this one whose price accounts for the talented looking but inexperienced rider.

The Martin Pipe

After Dynaste went down in the Jewson, Ballynagour seemed to empty fast in the Byrne Plate and it seems hard to trust Pipe horses at the head of affairs.  This puts Gervey Chambertin in a little doubt.

It is only a little doubt though and I think it telling that the Pipe yard are having a pop at the race named in honour of their own with just this entrant.  He is a full brother to Grand Crus and could have been entered in several of the novice hurdles.

Solix is not a 66/1 shot in my eyes and if Ian Williams has him firing, he could make a mockery of that price.

Bourne has shown some class and rates a credible winner if we get more rain, 20/1 is workable.

The Major is opting for the fantastic festival of Willie Mullins to continue with a big run from the unexposed Make your Mark at 12/1 – Clearly he has been well thought of at various stages and if he arrives here in form, perhaps we will see it happen in front of us!  A saver on the Pipe horse is recomended.

The Grand Annual

The former race is named after the Pipe yard and the Grand Annual also carries the name of a famous yard, the Hendersons.  Rather than take one good shot at the prize, the team have lined up six darts to throw and there are cases for many of them.

The yard had a one-two in the race last year but this year they may struggle to cope with the Tome George trained Rody (8/1).  The race has a tendency towards featherweights and Rody carries 10 8 – Have a slice.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon | Full Ascot Tips | Black Caviar | Crowdsourcing a Multiple | Building a Cheltenham War Chest

Good evening from the Major who writes from a cooling damp Worcestershire scene.  The Major is tired and uneasy.  There is nothing like a good night of rest to resolve that but since the night lies between me and a refreshed state, then you have to take me as you find me…  Slipping into the night state, in that phase where the day and night merge with thoughts dancing on the edge of reason and fears you can almost touch.

We are used to the news being a repeating loop of misery but earlier today, a BBC report from Mali breached my usual bullet-proof emotionally barren defences.  The image is stark, the setting desperate and the mental conditions achieved to cut a man’s arm off… it is so unfathomably distant, it is hard to belief that it exists in the world we inhabit.

There were other items of news this week which scored direct hits on my usually high levels of mischief and boisterousness, anniversaries of tragedies, fresh tragedies, meteors missing the earth (a 6 mile one wiped out the Dinosaurs you know), food, trouble, more trouble, scandal, disgrace, death, disease, lying, filth.

Tiredness, stress, these things lower ones defences.

There are so many slices of pain which are upsetting to dwell upon, endless reams of stories, regenerating each day, the man from Mali made the limelight, many others are merely minor parts, in such a world, stab after stab, remorseless, brutal, without reason.  The reality of aging is coming to terms with the meaning of life… inevitable relentless decay, sometimes sudden and collapsing, sometimes protracted.  It comes for us all, if not at first, then at last.

You may be wondering whether I intend to remain in this sombre mood for the rest of the sermon.  The answer is no.  Having removed myself of the burden (thank you for listening), I feel lightened and able to move on.  I shall lament in these disconsolate streets no more.

You see, we are here, we are alive and we owe it as a duty to enjoy ourselves.  To open our eyes to the glory of possibility.  So today, observe, relax, laugh and enjoy, feel no guilt for that which the fickle hand of fate has given you.  For we are here, we are alive.  Enjoy it, consider it dutiful.

To the sports…

Cheltenham is coming.  In four weeks, all of our questions will be answered.  Is the Major right about Long Run being under-rated?  Will Sprinter Sacre dominate the Champion Chase?  Will he be the shortest priced winner ever?  Is Hurricane Fly the best two mile hurdler there is?  Are Dynaste, Quevega and Simonsig good things? Can Oscar Whisky reverse form with Reve de Sivola? but will Bog Warrior provide a surprise and come over the top of both of them?

Ah… the anticipation.  Right now all of our dreams are intact.  Well, that is unless your antepost bubbles have started to pop with the tragic death of Darlan or the withdrawal of Tidal Bay and Flemenstar.  I am afraid it is that time where we hold our breath, hoping they get the key players arrive in one piece, anxiously watching Betfair and twitching at the slightest move in the markets.

On that point, what a class act the Ditcheat yard are.  With a prominent position in the national and World Hurdle market, there was not a tremor before the news broke concerning Tidal Bay… fair play.

We don’t know what the festival holds but I am willing to be the answers to my questions are Yes, Yes, Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Probably not but I’m backing him anyway out of unadulterated love.

I hope your antepost portfolio is bulging like a drunk mans belly, fattening up nicely for the feast.  Today we shall try to add to your war chest.  We shall raise the capital required for war with a few tactical raids on the enemy supply lines.  I see a few opportunities, a few wagon carts of ammunition on the road guarded by merely a few dozen of their light lancers, we shall take them at the double, engage at close quarters and withdraw sharply with the Maria Theresa coins spilling from our saddle packs.  Shabash!

Anyone joining me at 5.30am to see Black Caviar?  The wonder mare is set to rock Flemington again and it is worth getting up for.  1/20 for Nelly to win in the morning, she is under rated in the UK by some after almost getting chinned at Royal Ascot.  She was legless in the conditions that day and was carrying injuries as well as being lighter after the exertions of travel.  Her terms, her turf tomorrow – Watch the monster devour the prey.

Jim Knight – Have a terrific day at Ascot, I would say be lucky, but you are… being there, the cold air on your face, the heaving hulks of sweating beasts after their exertions for your pleasure, drink beer, gamble with intent and have a ready eye for mischief.

I am focussing on Ascot, Haydock is left for someone else.

Saturday Ascot Tips

Conditions are soft and with Ascot being such a fast drying course and a dry forecast, I am edging towards good to soft horses.

The opening novice hurdle contains some decent sorts but looks short of a top class star.

Aaim to Prosper has not done an awful lot wrong – A late converter to hurdling, he was the only ever horse to win two Cesarewitch’s.  I am not convinced.

It is Up and Go that I think could be the pick of the bunch and probably offers the most scope.  He beat Many Clouds last time out at Wetherby and that horse went on to an Exeter success next time out.  Up and Go has fallen twice in the last year but was much more fluent last time.  I would get lumpy but the front running tactics concern me slightly.

I have no similar hesitations about recommending the 5/6 on offer about Rocky Creek in the second.  He looked to have the beating of Tour Des Champs last time before his rival fell and The Real Milan is not a convincing traveller.

The listed handicap chase is a trickier affair.  Vino Griego seemed to benefit from a much more patient ride last time out and looks a tempting prospect, despite a 10lb rise.  Instead, the Major is intrigued by the Kim Bailey trained The Rainbow Hunter at 9/1.  The horse has a national entry, Kim Bailey has an excellent Ascot record with his rare runners here and with a line through the last run at Chepstow (suspect not suited by the Welsh bog – When heavy there, it means swimming!) he has a live chance.  His winning form is over several subsequent winners and has a very solid feel to it… snap it up.

The 3.15 is a very trappy handicap, Bourne looked top draw when running down Dildar at Sandown before finding a lightweight but power packed McCoy way too good on Mr Watson at Cheltenham.  Not easily overlooked, but overlooked all the same.  Whitby Jack is of more interest having run well on return before picking up a race at Kempton last time out.  7lbs is unlikely to be a big problem.  Ruby Walsh is a very eye-catching booking for Queens Grove who looks a reasonable 9/1 shot.  On balance, Whitby Jack at 7/1 is the selection, have a slice and thank me later.

The main event is the very tasty morsel that is the Betfair Ascot Chase.  The Major is very interested to see Finians Rainbow return to chasing after a lengthy spell off.  Following last years thrilling and slightly controversial Champion Chase, Finians flopped and has been the subject of a wind operation.  His Champion Chase though was first class.  He beat an on form Sizing Europe fair and square in the Majors view, even if the omitted fence caused some issues.

I am not sure this will suit Captain Chris who looks more reliable this season but I am not entirely sure he will run as well today.  Hobbs could be in better form too.  Connections of Cue card are hoping that a drop back in trip will help the horse improved, the Major is watching this one only.

The real danger could be Somersby who has won at Ascot before and is a consistent sort who deserves a few Grade 1s.

On balance, I am siding with the horse I think could be top class and that is Finians Rainbow, 7/2 with Coral.

River Maigue and Far West will be battling out the penultimate contest and in receipt of a little weight, I gently suggest the latter.

In the bumper, Pipe probably has a good idea of where he stands with Red Sherlock 4/5 against Captain Cutter as the latter beat the formers’ stable companion last time out.  It is too hard to read into those form lines and while Red Sherlocks Towcester win was impressive, there was not a lot to beat.  He is 12/1 for the Champion Bumper though.

Good luck Jim.

Gowran Park – Zaidpour

The Saturday Gowran, Red Mills trial is a cracking days racing.  No bets for me, Zaidpour should do the business in a weak field for a Grade 2 but I just don’t trust him.

Wincanton – Zarkander

Zarkander and Grandouet are my main antepost interests for the Champion Hurdle and it would be a massive surprise to me if the Nicholls star could get beat here.  I think the 1/2 will look generous when he serves up a beating to this lot.

In the football – I am going to smash into Watford at 8/5 at Birmingham City.  The latter are in a bit of a state with the manager disciplining one of their most effective players (Zigic) over poor training (the worst he has ever seen apparently! The fans are siding with the player and all in, it is brewing for an unhappy camp and a venue that Watfords strong squad should easily garner three points from.

Picking Carlisle to win at Portsmouth 6/5 does not make me feel proud, yu have to feel for the Pompey fans but with their squad being peddled together from a series of short-term loans, there is little Guy Whittingham or his players can do for now.

The Crowdsourcing Multiple

I invited followers on the twitter feed to supply a NAP for the Saturday sport and had a number of responses… here they are:

@chesneywold – Somersby 3.50 Ascot

@charleah – Vino Griego – 2.40 Ascot

@doublehandful – Rocky Creek – 2.05 Ascot

@adamclarke501 – Luton to beat Millwall

@tankard999 – Bournemouth at Preston

@lukeyboy1325 – Swincombe Stone 3.05 Wincanton

My staking plan for this is an Alphabet.  That is a patent on Vino, Somersby and Rocky; a further patent on Luton, Bournemouth and Swincome and a yankee across the middle (Somersby, Rocky, Luton and Bournemouth).  Interesting!

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is: The Rainbow Hunter, Rocky Creek, Watford and Finians Rainbow

May your dinner be fuelled by the riches your fellow-man has provided.  May each help the other feast.  Open a bottle of something nice.

Courage, roll those dice.