Tag Archives: cheltenian

The Wednesday Punchestown Gold Cup Sermon and the Ascot Sagaro Stakes

Good Evening from the Major who writes from an extremely pleasant Worcestershire scene where spring light lasts deep into an evening of Gods creation blending deep greens, pale blue sky and clean cool air.

The Major had a flying visit to London today and with the tube strike in full militant action (there were real trade unionists with colourful ancient RMT banners), chaos was the order of the day.  Great snaking queues led to tables with volunteers handing maps of bus routes, the taxi rank was a seething mass of impatience and all of the time, outside, unknown to the panicking masses, a highly gratifying temperate climate awaited the walkers.

My destination was Kings Cross, two and a half miles, taking in some of the fine architecture and seeing the full spectrum of the denizens of this great city, very good indeed.

The return train, late in the afternoon was thick with homeward bound weary travellers.  The pressure released once we had despatched the Oxford crowd, then the remaining West Country folk collectively stretched into the new-found comfort and space and admired the North Oxfordshire countryside whirring past the window.

One of the memories I have from the Lambourn open weekend was of the drive home.  The landscape was spectacular, monstrous fields that stretched as far as the eye could see without interruption by hedge, thicket or even an old oak.  Industrial scale farming but the conformity and the scale, these things stayed with me as they sometimes do. In contrast, Worcestershire has a rural scene that is a patchwork of irregular design, variance, colour; what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in variety.  I am boring myself.

The blog had a decent opening day at Punchestown.  We had seven selections, one went non runner (Djakadam).  Three did not feature.  Diplomatic rattled the top of two down the back straight and lost interest.  Module fell and Disputed in the last led the field into it before demonstrating a lack of ability at the business end.

On the positive side, Be Positive was the only game in town as indicated and I advised a significant investment on Faugheen and you could have joined the queue for payout half way through the race, he simply loved leading them off the front, tremendous.  The turn up was our Mullins bumper selection that drifted to 12/1 (adv 7/1) but held on all the same, as they say, the horse knows not the price.

Faugheen may rightly feel a bit overshadowed this evening.  While his performance had us racing fans purring, it was not as stirring as the spectacle of Sizing Europe, admiral old servant, pinging away off the front like he was rolling back the years.  A tremendous win, a wonderful story but for the Major – I do not like my G1s won by a 12 year old.  Yes, I can hear the names you are calling me.

Wednesday Punchestown, Cheltenham Hunter Chase and Ascot Tips

I may not cover every race, certainly the opening race for conditional jockeys looks a minefield and an unappetising one for me to unpick.

The second is much more interesting and Cheltenian is an excellent starting point now that this former Champion Bumper horse has commenced a belated hurdling career.  He is proving a decent handicapper and his mark of 141 is marginally superior to anything else we have seen here, with Le Vent D’Antan a pound behind.  I prefer the British raider and 11/4 is available this evening.  The big danger must come from Carraig Mor who looked to the world a champion at Uttoxeter but has disappointed since, King is nobody’s fool and he brings him across, moderation, as my mother would say.

The third race, a Grade 1 novice hurdle is much more of Championship ilk and seemingly, two of the three key protagonists are Gigginstown.  I have an easy decision here because I think the Albert Bartlett form is superior and thus Very Wood gets a strong recommendation at 9/2 with Paddy Power.

This is not the strongest Gold Cup I have seen.  Do not be upset, it still is an interesting race but Boston Bob has never really translated from an accomplished hurdler to a top class chaser.  This might seem harsh given he just won a Grade 1 at Aintree but that Melling Chase was much poorer than this, even if Ballynagour ran respectably today (without beating the admirable pensioner).  Boston gets the benefit of a Ruby ride and there is enough to like.

Three of the last five winners returned at long prices, 14s and two at 20s.  I do not see something from left field but do suggest Lyreen Legend might go well off the front.  This has not been one of my favourite horses but is exceptionally capable and this track is sure to suit more than Cheltenham where the horse travelled but did not stay.

On balance, I think Boston Bob is the bet.  It was not his fault he beat lesser beasts well in the Melling.  He at least has a strike rate over fences that suggests more might be to come if he gets his jumping together.  The flatter track will suit I guess…. I feel dirty, 3/1.

This is turning into an obvious blog but why can anyone see any of the Champion Hurdle horses reversing form with Silver Concorde? I cannot, Carberry gave the horse a great ride and is replaced here by McNamara who had the Dermot Weld winner today (ps looked like an Ascot Gold Cup sort to me!).

To Ascot…..  I once took a group to the Sagaro Stakes day for charity – We had a spring buffet in the car park and a tremendous day of racing ensued.  Someone remind me of the horse (First Something?) definitely two words, that raced and won in the Mill reef colours – Very useful sort has had a good career – Well it won that day…. Interesting? Not really is it.

This is an excellent renewal and worthy of greater than a Group 3.  Simenon returns from his adventures including an excellent fourth in the Melbourne Cup, he will not mind the soft ground and is in good company because neither will Harris Tweed or Tac de Boistron, the latter boasts superb form from Longchamp after closing the season with a tremendous win.

When it comes down to it, I want trainer form at this stage and while Botti is only getting started, Mullins and Haggas are providing plenty of evidence that their string are in top order.  I am backing Simenon who is available at 5/1.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Friday Aintree Sermon… plus Grand National tickets charity appeal

Good evening from the Major who writes from the darkest Worcestershire scene where rain drifts, billows and swells, gentle suppression.  I have opened a bottle of fine red wine, comfort from the tempest, in vino veritas.

The Major tipped well enough for Thursday.  Oscar Whisky was second and not disgraced, Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti fought out the finish as the Major intended but I picked the wrong winner, well done Mr Fehily for an excellent ride on the increasingly quirky looking victor, friends know he is my favourite and can judge from afar as to how I felt having backed Dynaste.  The New One was an obvious pick and almost a boil-over but sustained his effort in time for the line to save him and we had to wait until the last for our redemption as Doctor Harper came home at an advised 12/1.  Shabash!

The Major did not sleep again last night, rest coming in gasps, sudden and inconsistent, thoughts and dreams mingling.  Tonight, some good wine, a handful of pills and oblivion.  If anyone expects more from me, well let them wish for it.

Anyway, there is a Friday card at Aintree to review, it is not quite as exciting as the action today but I shall cover each race.  Courage friends and roll those dice.

I have a good acquaintance attending the course tomorrow, she is the sort of good northern stock applying a straight forward forgiving logic to life.  She entertains her mother and I wish them the best, H, enjoy.

The Friday Aintree Card

The last two years have seen Nicky Henderson win the Friday opener with some very good horses, such as the ill fated, once Champion Hurdle ante post favourite, Darlan and the close Champion Hurdle second from the festival this year, My Tent or Yours.  Thus, it would be reasonable based on that evidence to assume that Josses Hill is a novice with a strong future, n’est pas?  Well, fortunately for the Major, I disagree, I like his form behind Vautour, who does not? Yet, I think there are plenty of other potential challenges in this field and he had a tough race that day.  The good aspect of my position is that the expectation is baked into his overnight price of 13/8, giving the rest of the field plenty of value.  As long as we can find a good one.  Simple, oui.

I like Sergeant Reckless but his profile is not quite right for me, No. Instead, I am opting for a horse who has the benefit of being ridden by a high class jockey who is riding at the peak of his ability at the moment.  Carberry gave Guitar Pete an absolute peach of a ride in the opener today and he might give Art of Payroll the same treatment tomorrow.  The horse did not get into the County but has the benefit therefore of not having been raced at Cheltenham.  11/2 in one place (Stan James*)

*For non regulars, please note the Major does not promote, endorse or hold any arrangements with bookmakers – I am at your service as a free tipping service, a word I use very lightly as it is more of an eclectic mix of racing thoughts, Victorian military history, the fragile state of my mind, the Worcestershire weather and who you should be taking to dinner.  I accept neither blame nor praise for the accuracy of my selections, I merely share them for your delectation.

The Novice Chase requires some of the best jumping skills and I think O’Faolains Boy might be the one to be on here.  There is some 11/4 with Paddy Power but 5/2 generally.  The RSA has a bad reputation for bottoming out horses but this Curtis inmate (surely the hottest trainer around!) is very lightly raced and has won his sole start on good ground.

Then the Melling Chase, Pepite Rose was a winner for the Major at Newbury but this looks a lot tougher for the girl.  Module looked impressive providing Tom George with a new stable star.  Thing is, the Melling Chase has been a race for absolute stars, Sprinter Sacre, Masterminded, Voy Por Ustedes, Moscows Flyer, Monets Garden – Do we have such a horse in this line up?  It is not likely, it looks a fairly poor renewal to me, yet I have looked and found a horse that might yet be a star.

You see, if I close my eyes, I can take you back to the start of 2013, I still recall Ballynagour winning like a future superstar heavily eased but coming twenty lengths to the good over a Warwick field with good yardsticks like Golden Chieftan and Chance du Roy.  He has now bounced back after a spell in the doldrums and if they have found the keys to him, this could be a top class sort for Pipe.  7s in a place with William Hill, 6s generally.

Thirty go over the National fences for the Topham.  Last year, Triolo Dalene signalled his Hennessy credentials with a win and with the benefit of hindsight I should have credited that effort more highly.  Why? Well he has the wrong profile, this is normally won by a nine or ten year old and one that shoulders less than eleven stone.  This makes sense, it is a tough course, so experience and a light weight help.  Plus, do not be put off by a price.

So, with that in mind, I state the case for Poole Master at 40/1 with Bet Bright, although that might be an oddschecker error as he is 33/1 with Stan James but most firms are 20 or 25.  Now this horse is fine on the ground and many might be concerned with him trying to win on a peak mark but I think he has always had improvement in him and has needed the right headgear.  He has the experience and has completed on the course before so that bodes well.

The Sefton is an absolute cracker.  I love Seeyouatmidnight but at 5/2 I cannot buy, not against a field of classy improving novices.  I was disappointed to see Geraghty not choose Tistory, I thought that one might be better yet and revels on good ground.  I also like Giantofaman who could give Carberry another cracking chance.  On balance, I am sticking with Tistory, 20/1 with Hills and B365. Second string, I could not care less.

In the Grade 3 handicap, I am backing Cheltenian to finally start coming good on his early promise, lest we forget, he was a Champion Bumper.  I hope he settles, if he does, he is a danger to all.

The last requires some luck.  I am going with my favourite jockey, Mr Noel Fehily who takes Hannahs Princess for a spin, he is the finest, of her, I do not know, two simple bloodless victories against poor opposition tell us little.  Dangers aplenty, tread warily.

I wish you luck.  Do you fancy going on Saturday?  Well @eeyore94 is auctioning some tickets for his local childrens hospice, Zoes Place.  What a gent.  Have a look at his twitter timeline, DM him an offer by 3.30pm on Friday and he will express the tickets to you by 9am Saturday.  Imagine, you are in the throng at Aintree, you have a cold beer to hand and you know that you paid good money for the pleasure, not to some faceless tout but to help children whose lives are more limited than ours my good friend.  That beer will slip down well, because the destination of the money you spent was good and right. You know then, in that moment, it is good to be alive.  Be generous.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Newbury, Warwick and Naas

Good evening from the Major who writes from a cold, violent Worcestershire scene where waves of weather slam into the side of the Cotswold stone house in which my hosts have made comfort the default.

Waves of weather are slamming against the house, rolling off the hills, momentum raising the speed and the noise.  At crescendo, there is an alarming amount of noise.  I understand Newbury is likely to make it in the morning but through the Atlantic washing machine I am in, I do not quite know how.

Something happened this week which surprised me and bought a smile to my face.  The Major commutes to work through some back lanes and slipping in to the services on the M5 at Strensham.  The countryside here is excellent, fields gently roll down in polite contours to brooks which themselves operate at sedate paces.  The serenity underestimates the potential mind and right now, those watercourses have spilled over, defying convention and flooding the land.  Some fields are submerged in what I would describe as an ocean.  I use that word not because of volume but because the dirt brown water looks deep, even it you know it not to be and in high wind, the top whips up, froths and moves – It fools the mind.

Anyway, you have seen enough images of Somerset under water and so I shall not labour the beauty, excitement, destruction and desperation of the scenes in Worcestershire.

However, I do want to relate the relationship I have with a homeless man.  Firstly, I am speculating that he is indeed a tramp.  Each morning, I see him walking up the lane from the direction of the services, heading north.  Each morning, I know he walks miles, I do not where he goes or why but he carries on his back a large backpack.  He is unshaven.  I believe he must sleep at the services each night.  In fact, it can be a reliable indicator of whether I am late or early to the office at which point I pass him!

The Major has some experience with the homeless this as I volunteer at a charity in Worcester from time to time.  I was prompted to do this after listening to the Bishop of Birmingham speak on the radio at Christmas two years ago.  At the time I was queuing to access Merry Hill (or Merry Hell as the good lady calls it) shopping centre, surrounded by the salacious consumerism, you may well think I was ripe to listen to an alternate voice.  That is what the good bishop provided.  He described his schedule over the Christmas period and it was a non-stop agenda of good deeds.  When asked by the shows host what drove him, he replied that most people amble through each day without appreciating the proximity to slipping into such circumstances.  A failed marriage, a lost job, three missed mortgage payments – The journey is shorter than we may like to think.

It inspired me well enough and in that crucial observation I have to say that I find him quite correct.  When serving up dinner, most faces have etched into them the travails of their history, some bright red, betraying a casual approach to substance abuse.  These are not shocking though, more expected, no, the truly terrifying are those men that would not look out-of-place in any other scene you might set – You wonder why – They are like you and I, it breaks you from routine.

Anyway, my lane walking vagrant has always regarded me sternly, stopping his walking to stare at the car as I pass.  No flicker of pleasantry crosses his face, I suspect if I stopped, a few short words might be possible but that he would return to his haunched walk in as short an order as possible.   His choices indicate his reluctance for conversation.

Anyway, this week, we made some progress.  As I always do, as I saw his lonely figure emerge in the distance I slowed down, far more than is required as a sign of politeness and to respect the longevity of our relationship.  As I charted my wide berth, again with the focus being on over emphasis, he nodded at me.  The first time he has ever acknowledged me.  Years have passed, hundreds of encounters, this week we made the breakthrough.

That made me smile for a long time.  A genuine well-earned smile.

Anyway, to the sports and a mud splattered Newbury where a cracking card awaits.

Newbury Tips.

Newbury may well be a flat track but it will take some getting today – The fences are traditionally challenging and that log straight will break some wills, of that you can be sure.  We are after horses that enjoy swimming and are as tough as boots.

In the 1.50, I give a squeak to 25/1 shot Virginia Ash.  Yes, you have to suspect that the race won last time was the target (had one it in a previous year) and that this new mark and tougher company are significant obstacles… However, there are items on the positive side of the ledger too, significantly that the horses loves the mud.

No, my selection is 9/2 shot Andy Kelly – Emma Lavelle does not have a great Newbury record but this horse could enhance it for her.  Never raced on heavy but his style and the form completed on soft suggest it will not be a hindrance.  I like these improvers in such handicappers.

All of the horses in the Denman have won on heavy before so we should have a competitive race.  If Harry Topper wins any race, he will not carry the Majors money… He has some ability but can be too casual at fences.  No, this is a decision between Al Ferof and Katenko.  Connections of the former are suggesting he will better for the run and that Cheltenham is their main goal.  Regardless of that if Al Ferof is a potential Gold Cup horse then he has to win this and I think he will.  Katenko had previously looked like a top horse when giving a beating to Benefficient – Yet I remain unconvinced.

In the Game Spirit at 3pm I am a huge supporter of the 6/4 favourite, Dodging Bullets.  My 5 year old son calls him Dodgy Bullets which is enough to make you grin and young Matthew shall be with me as we watch this Nicholls novice strut his stuff – He is morphing into a much better chaser than hurdler.  I may be surprised but I think the price on Module is all wrong – I would be shocked if he won this and so am betting with conviction on my selection, at pace.  Load the cannons.

The Betfair looks a cracker and while it is 7/1 the field, history points us towards those near the top of the market.  There is a strong stat supporting the younger horses too but  am taking that on with my selection, Cheltenian at 10/1.  Trends are only useful if they can be supported in a story.  The fact that younger horses do well here is because of their improving nature, this is a top valuable handicap and the best yards send their up and comers.  Thus, the younger horse, with class and being ahead of the handicapper is a logical profile to follow.  Yet, my horse can buck the age trend because he is unexposed even at the age of 8.  He is a champion bumper winner and if back to fitness may well prove the best of these.  The task is hard – Irish Saint, Dell Arca, Rolling Star – They will all be queuing up to have a pop.

Noel Fehily likes the bumper favourite Thomas Brown 2/1 – That is enough for me too.

Warwick Selections

The Kingmaker is the big race on the Warwick card and it looks a cracker.  I am planning a strong bet on Brick Red at 3/1.  I suspect the favourite needs better ground than this and… as is well reported, Williams trains heavy ground chasers to perfection!

I am also having a slice of Royal Player at 15/8 in the bumper.

In the football, Sunderland at 5/4 Walsall at 11/10 and Wigan at 6/4.  The latter has been a weakness of mine but I stand committed to the line.

The Martin Hill Saturday bet is Brick Red, Thomas Brown and Dodging Bullets in a powerful trixie.

May your dinner be taken in raucous fine company, good steak, nice wine, laughter is the best medicine.  Keep good company my friends.

Courage and roll those dice.



Pandora’s Box is open – Champion Chase Cheltenham Tips


The Major is off to a flyer on the opening day. 

That said, understanding followers appreciate that it was wonderful watching my nap get beaten by Hurricane Fly, Peddlers Cross ran a race and in the Majors view if Peddlers had held a greater lead, Hurricane would have reeled him in anyway, breathtaking.

If you fall low, like Lazarus, then awake my child, Lazarus started lowly and yet finished canonised - In the same way let us re-birth

We had winners though.  Reve de Sivola was a decent place, losing to the highlighted Bensalem.  9/1 Divers was the result of the day.

Day one was a firecracker of emotion.  Electricity crackled.  The fly made it good to be a racing man.  Drink was served.  Food delivered.  The Major held his own.

To all those whose day one battle was fruitless.  Well I say to thee that Lazarus started as a beggar and finished a saint.  The Major has not stooped so low, yet we shall raise ourselves higher still.

Get that harness on young man, ensure your preparation is complete.  We are engaged in the melee  The danger is to go to the front too soon.  With too much excitement you might exclude consideration, if in this mood, you find are rash and in over-optimism peak early……… well then draw breath, be still and settle thyself.  The battle dictates that you shall ready your stamina.

The Majors followers know this is right, this is a four day conflict.  There will be some warm work at the gate, a little skirmish perhaps, be prepared.

To Champion Chase day, have courage and shuffle the cards

First of all I offer you no advice for the opener simply because the Major refuses to truck with witchcraft.  If a beady eyed hobgoblin should stop thee and challenge, simply say ‘BESHABAR – Now get behind me SATAN’ – Does that constitute advice, probably, I shall count it as an each way bet.

The Neptune

In the second, Oscars Well needs a bigger trip, leaving Rock on Ruby and So Young for the Major.

So Young has been dismissive of the opposition in Ireland. Very impressive and a price to match.

On a strict line of form with Megastar, Minella Class holds Rock on Ruby – I support that. Both of them are held?

The one that appeals most on faster ground is Tornado Bob.  All of the form is on ‘probable’ unsuitable ground.  12/1 – Stick it in the microwave, let your taste buds explode when it goes ping!

RSA Chase

This is simple.  Time for Rupert is a quality animal that the Major has ignored before at a cost.  That said it is without a run this year.

Mullins knows that Mikael D’Haguenet has always been a champion of something in the making.  The Major thinks it is the RSA chase.  Ruby, on a high, surely he can get Mikael D’Haguenet into the rhythm that his trainer thinks could win a major event. 10/1 KABBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!

Champion Chase

OK Masterminded looks back to form.  However do you think his thin margin defeat of Somersby adds up to more that a Big Zeb defeat to Golden Silver?

The Major reckons that on times Big Zeb was the master.  On strictly the clock, Masterminded has something to find.

A tentative 3/1 is advised in the understanding that the Major would gladly tear up his ticket to see that stag like Masterminded leap at the last as he puts the field to bed.

Head – Big Zeb, heart – Masterminded.  3/1.

Coral Cup

The Coral Cup is always a challenge.  The Major has settled on Call the Police – Mullins and Walsh have an improver on their hands that the Major feels is able to take this, 6/1 WHAAAAMMMMMM!.

Fred Winter

The Major has been puzzling over the Fred Winter for some time.  The bottom line is that Whitby Jack is 12/1 and too damn intriguing!

The Lucky Last – The Bumper

Wow what a bumper – The Major fancied Keys but in the absence of the flat trained specialist, surely Cheltenian stands a better than 12/1 chance on a track going left-handed?  Dickie in the saddle – BOOM.

Good luck warriors, suffer thy losses well at the setting of the sun, tis only a while until daybreak, then we see the enemies eye, deep, dark, unmoving. Have vigour, be relentless.  Then peace, sleep, it is right.  Till dawn awakens the soul once more.