Good morning from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire that once again is smothered in a cold, thick, grey, severely uninviting blanket of grey dampness.
Each object in my horizon looks indistinct and each thing cold as though it might infect you with chills and dampness too, if you touch it. Thus the Major writes with the fire crackling away, the gentle sound of the air being drawn and the occasional breaking of the rhythm by a sudden crackle or violent spit.
Racing today seems to fall between the cracks, neither top class nor is it entirely unappetising. We know better is to come, next week we see the Cheltenham Open fixture with the likely reappearance of some genuine Championship horses, coming together to ascertain their place in the early pecking order, but today, we enjoy a more gentile existence.
This is also a likely shorter post as the Major is troubled with other matters. I shall not bore you with the gremlins that trouble my mind but suffice to say that add up to little compared with real hardship and so would be an embarrassment to air. I suspect most of yours are the same. Anyway, the moralists among you, who have been here often and know my mind well might suspect I was well served for my thoughts.
Confidence in your position underpins the fabric on which you build your self-esteem. Socrates was drinking his deadly hemlock in utter serenity, entirely confident that is was the logical conclusion and therefore should be accepted with grace. I am also minded of the Italian security contractor captured in Iraq, forced to dig his own grave and then defiantly as he knelt alongside it waiting to be shot, he tried to remove his hood and declare Vi faccio vedere come muore un Italiano!…. I will show you how an Italian dies.
These things stay with me, whirling around, in amongst the mundane daily noise, these signals break through. Accepting of your own fate, the inevitability of it all, we are all due the same settlement in the finish.
I could not write this weeks blog without a gentle nod in the direction of the champion jump jockey AP McCoy – You all know about his magnificent achievements and I shall not try to do what others are far better capable of. Yet I proffer that Drill Sergeant who stopped to a walk mid race but was got going again and galvanised to victory plus the incredible ride on Wichita Lineman who got there in the nick of time, at a Cheltenham Festival too… These two rides for I, symbolise best what McCoy is about. All from a man who does not drink and works so diligently. He deserves every plaudit.
I once met McCoy at the Sports Personality Awards. He was in good company and he took the time to have his picture taken with me. I troubled him for a horse to follow and he gave me Taquin Du Seuil – This was mid December last year and Taquin won his next two before letting down my significant antepost investment for Cheltenham. What did I get from that encounter? Good hair, smart shoes, polite….. Class act all the way!
I encourage one and all to embrace gambling. So many of the simple lessons of life are contained within the complex construction. In gambling you can seek solace and company, hubris, happenstance and distress…. So, to the racing, we shall try to land our mothership and in good grace too.
Let’s start with the Grade 2 limited handicap that is the Elite Hurdle. Since Nicholls has won six of the last dozen runnings of the race with horses such as Zarkander, Celestial Halo and Azertyuiop, then his entries are a good place to start.
The Nicholls team has had a mixed start to the season, some of the runners have looked like they needed a run, which is not too unusual for the yard. The reality is that 5 of his last 34 runners have won, a strike rate of 15% which is not a complete disgrace but 7% lower than the same stat for the last twelve months. The Ditcheat operation is one of the most consistently excellent racing yards of our age, that 22-23% strike rate has been consistent in all of the last ten years with two exceptions, 2008, a fine vintage of 27% and 2004 a poor crop of 19%.
There does feel though some malaise over the yard. Perhaps it is the embarrassment of riches that UK rival Henderson has at his disposal, perhaps it is the Mullins yard opening a UK base, perhaps it is Ruby and his decision to only ride the key UK meetings, stripping Nicholls of his most able rider mid week.
In such times, renewal is required. Mahon and Jacob need to step up and prove they are good enough to ride for a potential champion trainer. Nicholls himself needs to work that magic and turn those useful novices into accomplished second season chasers. He needs to do what he has been best at, in spite of the rising competition, he needs to work his magic eye over the Auteil runners and bring home some new stars.
One horse, I think could be the catalyst for a lot of this is Silvianaco Conti. He is a slim fella but was desperately coming down when looking a threat descending the hill in the Gold Cup. With a sound campaign, Nicholls might just have a real live contender for Bobs Worth to face.
Anyway, all of this is background to the decision to be made for Far West, his entry in the Elite Hurdle. s you can see, I am a buyer at 9/4. Cotton Mill is OK and the Melodic Rendevouz yard of Scott is woefully out of sorts. Far west was defeated by Our Conor in the Triumph but come on, that is top class form. I suspect, Our Conor is a horse we will relish this season. The Triumph form has been boosted with the work of Diakali in France and I think Far West can pay the Dessie Hughes horse another compliment today. I feel confident about this one. Talk of the demise of Nicholls may be incredibly unsound.
Backing a Nicholls double requires some faith. I have that faith. His record at this Wincanton meeting is impressive and so it is with some ease that I tip doubling Far West with Wonderful Charm who goes in the novice chase. The Fakenham exploits were impressive and this one looks a natural.
First of all, I think Jack Dexter in the 2.25 is a tremendous bet. He will enjoy conditions (5 from 6 in soft) and while he flopped in this race last year, he had a more demanding schedule. He takes his racing well and I think is still capable of group class form. He has to concede weight here but deserves to on what he has achieved. He knows what racing is about and I back him to come home at 5/1.
I know you are after a November Handicap tip… lunatics. I have strayed in to have a look at it but my head hurts and so it is more of a dart than anything in suggesting three runners in Shrewd, Swnymor and Twelve Strings. The first is a Michael Bell horse who loves some cut and has not had such conditions all season, big improvement could come as a result. Swynmor is an interesting runner who will also relish the ground and races for the Rebecca Curtis yard. The final calculation is for Twelve Bells who is an Ellison runner (a yard I struggle to get right) a horse that will love deep ground too and arrives in good form over what I think is a more suitable trip.
Of them, I opt for Swynmor who could pose a big risk on the flat off this sort of mark and 25/1 is a big price.
Jumps at Sandown!! Fantastic.. I do like this course, it is tough and examines proper National Hunt horses. This makes it hard to back a novice with massive confidence as the fences are tough enough. You want to see some experience of fences certainly as this course rewards accuracy.
The beginners chase is a fine example of this. Grandouet is a 4/9 favourite for this race but has not jumped a fence in his life. Risky proposition if you ask me when there is a proven chaser in Hinterland in opposition. Yes the form behind Captain Conan does not add up to the same as what Grandouet achieved over hurdles but my selection is not a million miles behind. I accept that Grandouet on paper is a worthy favourite. He will have been well schooled and prepared, this is also a god race for him with a quiet small field and I like the horse but in these positions it seems crazy not to back a potentially improving chaser in Hinterland, from a top yard who has experience at these bigger obstacles. If this was Ffos Las, I would back Grandouet no problem but this is Sandown and he needs to treat it with respect.
I backed Grandads Horse in the listed race at Market Rasen and was disappointed. Fehily is replaced with Geraghty which is like for like in my view but signals that this horse is still on the up. This is a better race but soft ground suits and clearly with the high-profile jockey selection, Longsden thinks he is on a winner.
In the football, I think Everton should make light work of Palace 4/6, West Ham could take advantage of Norwich at 9/4 that is a bet and finally, Liverpool 2/7 to beat Fulham is a gift, that is a 28.6% return in one day, unless you are holding an entire families allocation of Royal Mail shares than there is no better investment!
The Martin Hill bet is a series of doubles and trebles each way on Grandads Horse, Jack Dexter, Far West, Wonderful Charm and Hinterlnd.
May your dinner be magnificent and free from cares or concerns. I wish things for you that I may never have. Your benefit is not my cost, do not begrudge a man his good fortune and I dearly hope you find yours my good friends…. Courage and roll those dice.