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The Saturday Sermon – A cut of York Ebor Saturday and a dash of Newmarket and the Curragh.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire scene where Autumn peaks at you around the door and in comes the fresh cool draft.  Unruffled white clouds dust the sky with peninsular like fingers reaching stretching across the horizon.  Winter rattles its drums and blow its horns, as specs on the distance, we hear it as a tinkling, yet it comes, inexorably and resolutely and with it, the jumpers, both woolen sort and equine.  Glorious.

The Major is rested.  This week, both Major jnrs (aged 6 and 7) fell to a 24 hour bug.  Violent sickness, uncontrollable expulsions, ah the horrors.  Wednesday night was a write off as far as rest was concerned and with continued disorder in the barracks, I cancelled my Thursday evening in raucous company to provide the moral and sanitation support required.  The two poor wretches were rested on Thursday night and never looked like wakening until the morning and I must say that I slept well.  This might not be news for most but for I, it is a welcome thought and one on which, even as I type, I feel contented.  As youngsters will, their recovery was almost immediate.

We have not had a good week for several moons, one might argue that the dice are due to roll our way, who knows.  Expectancy of victory is something I dismissed as a folly in the distant past.  Positivism is a marvelous thing but it must be matched by ones own obstinacy.  I shall stride into this weeks cards with my usual purposefulness because you cannot dull my saber at the first cut of battle.

Virgil, the great Roman poet had a great preachers trick with his short astute musings.  Love conquers all…. trust not appearances…,  Fate will find a way.  I think his sentience towards time is quite apt for us gamblers and if I had not already commandeered the wicked eyed Lola Montez mantra and corrupted it from Courage, Shuffle the cards to Courage, roll the dice; then perhaps Virgils line would have concluded my sermons for these past five years.  He wrote, all bad fortune will be conquered by patience.

As Lincoln was sworn in as President in April 1861, it was the commencement of Americas grievous civil war.  As lines were drawn, small skirmishes were fought over the assets which emerged behind the enemy lines, such as the fort in Charleston harbour.  It was not until July that the action turned to the entrenched grisly battles, each side trading bloody abhorrent exchanges which were to become the incessant pattern to which the armies of the Union and Confederacy would commit.

That first action was on the green fertile lands to the north of the great Potomac river squeezed between Maryland and Virginia, just 35 miles from Washington DC.  The Union forces had been itching for a fight, convinced that the war would be brief and victory assured.  Troop numbers trumped experience and technology and the first battle, Bull Run as the North named it or Mannasas as coined by the South, was characterised by poor communication, indecision and chaos.  

McDowell commanded the Union force which was being urged on by an expectant band of political cheerleaders.  Christ, Washington society followed the march South bringing picnics, expectant of a swift bloody advantage.  As far as they were concerned, there would be a few warm meetings at which the Unions superiority would be clear and it would be double time to Richmond and to force surrender.

The South though knew what was coming  The had worked a good network of informers and knew McDowells field movements before they were executed.  McDowell was coming with 35,000 regulars, artillery and horse.  He planned a frontal assault on the confederates dug in at Bull Run while a column would swing to the West then South to cut off the railroad retreat to Virginia.  All of his actions, judged with the unfair advantage of history , were rushed and based on his faith, not belief you see, in victory; as well as the pressure of expectation from Washington.  

Once he split his force, communications started to fail and the great beasts fists flailed without synchronisation.  The Confederates had been outnumbered 3 to 2 but the heat of the march and subsequent required (and sensible) rest of the Union army, coupled with the good spies, they had embedded, allowed Johnstone, commanding the South, to run reinforcements up the railway.

The Confederates also employed semaphore in battle as a new communication technique and this enabled a more dynamic response to the Union advance across Stone Bridge.  The ebb and flow that ensued owed much to each sides inability to press any advantages won.  Artillery pieces were taken and the recaptured.  At one point, the guns did not fire on the blue tunics of the approaching Virginian 33rd because they confused them for Union troops.  All day advances halted and faltered but when the two bristling bears touched, it was in venomous exchanges.  

One man earned his name that day.  General Jackson, commanding the 4th Virginian at the base of the hill and outnumbered two to one, told his troops that they must hold ground, not fire from afar but to let the enemy see your eyes and when we charge, we shall scream and yell like furies.  He urged them to fight knowing that defeat meant death and this stubborn unbending resolve would bring triumph.  A fellow officer gave him the moniker Stonewall.

At sundown, the Unions were in disorderly retreat but the Confederate unable to press any advantage through their own wounds and chaotic lines of command and communication.  Both sides had learned one thing.  The war was not to be settled lightly.  Maybe 1,000 souls had been lost, Lincoln called up 500,000 men.  

Conflicts continue to rage in Syria (200,000 dead) as well as Iraq, Israel and Gaza.  That men are stupid comes with historic proof but I cannot quite understand why the deaths of children fail to sober up even the most bloodthirsty lunatics.  Perhaps our ancestors were all fools to stray from our caves and forests.

To the sports and let us not shy from the persistence required to land our mothership.  

York Ebor Day Tips

Some rain is forecast for York at Midday on Saturday lending some uncertainty to the description of good.  A brief heavy shower may scupper the best made plans and make things most unpleasant for those attending the Knavesmire.

Still, the Major is preparing for good ground, with the potential for good to soft.  

The Johns Smiths winner Farraaj had decent horses like Educate in behind and his former win at Epsom reads well too but he has been raised to a mark of 116, a full 8lbs higher than he has won off before and while he is clearly in good nick, I am looking for some value.  Godolphin have won 6 of the last 10 runnings of this race but, as a sign of their current prominence perhaps, they have no competitor.  

I can pick holes in the all of the front four and so I am going to have a tentative play down the card with Flying the Flag who can be backed at 16/1 with Stan James if you are quick.  His time at Ballydoyle was not spectacular but he did sign off in decent style in a Group 3 and even though he has been off the track for a bit, Mick de Kock can prepare them and with holes in Graphic (ground), Trade Storm (recent form) and the favourite, I will have a tickle.

Jump to the Gimcrack.  This is one of the juvenile races that Hannon does not tend to dominate but he has a live contender in Baitha Alga at 11/4.  Like a lot of Hannon sorts, he is getting a lot of racing in a short space of time but has been rested up after a busy early summer culminating in a Norfolk win.  Beacon also runs for Hannon and his last placed effort in the Molecomb (less than a length defeat) was a decent effort and he looks to have achieved as much as the favourite and gets Moore on board.

On the subject of Ryan, he broke my heart beating Taghrooda earlier in the week and did you see his sensational double at Arlington last weekend?  Simply the best.

Anyway, you need my vote for the Gimcrack.  I do like Accepted, for Stack to bring him over, he must think he has the chance.  I am not sure you can rate the Tipperary listed affair as highly as a Woodcote, Molecomb or Norfolk and the breeding is more national hunt than blue blooded flat royalty but I do like a trier.  We all do don’t we.  I really want to back three… Baitha Alga, Beacon and Fendale.  Fendale has won twice, beating a decent Mussleburgh field last time and of the northern jockeys, Mulrennan is up there with Gibbons and McDonald as far as the Major is concerned.  

Let’s keep it simple; back Hannons two in a reverse forecast and since I need to get off the fence, Baitha Alga at a general 11/4.

The Ebor.  Pallastor is receiving all sorts of support and I am sure Spencer and Qatar would love to win this ahead of him moving upstairs in the operation at the end of the season.  Not for the Major though.  I am looking for a trends horse, sub 9st 4lbs for a start.  I have an obvious candidate and friend from Cheltenham in Ted Veale at 16/1 generally. My tip has an excellent flat record and I take the trip across the Irish Sea as a big vote of confidence in his ability to compete at 1m 6f on the flat still.  I think he will have plenty of pace to aim at and that will help bring his stamina to the table as a pair of aces.

We saw a super sprinter filly in Tiggy Wiggy this week and it has reignited my liking for those small perfectly formed speedsters.  Showing Character goes for a yard and jockey I respect greatly.  The Manor House operation under Dascombe, looks professional and Richard Kingscote is improving.  Whether they have a top one here, we shall see.  The Major thought has voted for Moonraking who is having her third start.  She did not act on the Goodwood camber last time and faded badly but so many horses struggle with that and as a juvenile filly, it is entirely forgivable.  Given this straight dash and the assistance of Ryan Moore, we have a player at 9/2.

That will do me at York.

Newmarket Saturday Tips

I am only visiting HQ for a single sniper shot with Tropics who is my pick in the listed race.  He won this last year and while most of his runs in this campaign have been off peak, he ran arguably his best ever race when second in the July Cup.  

The Curragh

The Sunday Curragh card offers up some very tasty morsels but Saturday is not bad at all either.  The race I am interested in of course is the 3.10, the Renaissance Stakes.  

Gordon Lord Byron and Maarek lead the market at 10/3 a piece but I think a look at their records on good ground make interesting reading.  Combined it looks like this:

Good or better: 19 runs, 1 win

Good to soft or worse: 28, 12 wins

Quite.  So, who are the alternates to these proven class horses who do not have their conditions? Unlike York, no rain is forecast and so I go down, deeper down.

My finger rests on Russian Soul who won the race last year, has never been unplaced on good ground and gets the services of Shane Foley.  Now I rate myself as one of the best armchair jockey judges of my age and let me bestow my verdict.  The man has some talent, he is sometimes more agricultural than sophisticated but it is effective, certainly no impediment.

The Football

Last week we scored a 4/1 winner with Villa and my waters are tingling with instinct about the teams on the up.  Swansea are a steal at home to Burnley who offer spirit beyond their ability and it will not be enough, 4/6.  I rarely tip my own team West Brom but at 10/3 I think there is some value in the trip to Southampton.  The south coast teams price is based on last seasons exploits with a different team.  Wolves buoyed from their defeat of Fulham can dispatch Cardiff at home, 5/4.

May your dinner be served in great state, celebrating the day.  Remember that you are a long time in the ground and so even if you cannot afford it, let the creditors worry and not yourself.  I hope your company is as fine as the girl I remembered in my daydreams today.  A bob of dark hair, blazing dark eyes, pools of activity and a wicked curl of the lip, peppery skin and a husky but silken voice that still sends a shiver down my spine.

The Martin Hill bet is a Moonraking, Swansea and Baitha Alga Trixie.
 

Courage friends, roll the dice.

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The Oaks Sermon…. Epsom Friday and etched memories of Talent…

Good Evening from the Major who writes from a cooling Worcestershire scene where extremist changeable weather has delivered sudden violent sheets of water before sharply turning on a penny piece and gifting strong electromagnetic radiation strengthened by the summer season and subsequent position of the Earth on is elliptical dance.

The Major is tired after a week of excesses.  A day at the cricket turned into an all you can drink real ale saga.  An evening fine dining, rich food, to bed in the witching hour and today, a day around a golf course in great company but with an aching sorry back and blistered hands.

Last year, the Oaks gave me a tremendous thrill with me being a single winner away from £30k.  I still managed a tidy sum from my £25 stake and the centrepiece was a tremendous performance from Talent of whom I remain convinced is a first-rate filly who was a touch unlucky in the St Leger and would not have been out-of-place in the Arc.  OK, I may accept that this last thought is a little optimistic or perhaps romantic but I stand true to my assertion in the general if not the detail.

Talent was superb in the Oaks, the lesser fancied stable runner, she had won well on the all-weather, was bred for it and had Hughsie booked, I had also seen a piece where Beckett explained that he was struggling to split her from the much more fancied Secret Gesture who had been the pick of Crowley – Talent raced the first two furlongs like a fresh precocious juvenile.  She bit hard and rocked her head from side to side as Hughes fought with her to settle her – She wanted to let rip and he knew it was a mile and a half. 

Still, I thought the race was gone already, it is not often a horse fights that strongly and goes on to win, let alone as readily as she did.  Coming down the hill, she had calmed down and switched wide she came smoothly into the mid pack at Tattenham Corner.  Hughsie feeling her come to him, man and filly fused in athletic poise, the spring coiled, shouted in boyish enthusiasm ‘can you believe how well I’m going!’ I think his remark was intended at Moore but memory fails on the detail.

With just under four furlongs to home, Hughes had the audacity to take a further pull.  What was his thinking, at the time, I silently cursed, why break the momentum?  Perhaps though, Hughes intended to be the last play actor to the stage.  He may have been minded of her energy spent early in the race and felt that if he were to win it would be on the line.  However, this moment became inconsequential as he slipped the girl her reign and she simply sliced her way down the outside, eating up the ground in spite of the camber she was experiencing for the first time. 

She flashed past the line with The Lark and Secret Gesture in powerless pursuit.  Glorious – I recite this all from memory not because I care little about the accuracy, no no no my friends – I care greatly that as a voice in our wonderful sport you come to me.  I wish to give you slices of fine cuts to remind, enhance or simply share the richness of this magnificent sport.  God, those classy two-tone grey stripes, that cherry red hat…. If you won money on a lucky dip lottery ticket, these things would not remain with you. 

Tomorrow, I am being entertained.  I shall be calculating carefully the balance between polite guest and wanting to have a proper look around Epsom.  I am driving too and shall be in fine company.  Here are my thoughts though, do with them as you see fit.

Epsom Friday – Oaks Card Tips

In the opener, Thistle Bird returns to the race she won on the card last year, bless her, since none of the other runners have won at Epsom, this win brings her right into consideration.  Yet, against her, you can argue that this is a stronger renewal and she has looked a bit ‘found out’ at times. 

Now when I say you can argue that the renewal is stronger, I have mixed feelings.  For example, Just the Judge, an Irish Classic winner has hardly looked reliable since but is trading at 9/2.  This is a challenge in the race… No horse running has been placed in their last two races, the volatility is concerning.  Arguably Mango Diva is the most reliable but although it is a hard race to call, I am drawn all the way back to Thistle Bird.  Epsom form you see…. 11/4. 

Air Pilot is a very interesting runner in the second race.  My best friend Beckett runs a handicap debutante against highly experienced and highly competent company.  Very interesting but on the bare face of the form, work to be done – Of course rapid improvement might come but I prefer my dishes in this race to be served hot.  As such, Sennockian Star the Johnstone runner gets my nod.  He has course form and clearly more was expected last time when a well beaten favourite… 12/1 in a place… 10/1 generally.

Just like Thistle Bird, Gregorian returns to try to retain his Diomed Group 3 crown and he does seem to go well on his seasonal debuts – Definitely considered.  Highland Knight is a talented sort of old but his legs are probably weary although the course is none  Graphic is improving and has Moore to help from the saddle – I have that feeling.

It looks like Abseil versus the field in the Investec Mile Handicap at 3.20 and his main competition in my eyes is Dance and Dance as well as Vainglory.  I probably would prefer the former of those two as he did very well at Newmarket and knows his business around Epsom.  These are all good reasons to back any of the above but the Major is drawn to a horse I fear will be something of a profit drain for me…. Henry the Aviator.  He was my selection in a monster Scoop6 race and did let me down but I still feel there is more to come and you can back the tip at 28/1 if you are selective.

Then the big one.  I am not going to stand on parade, I am just going to unleash my considered view.  I do not trust the market in the Oaks very much, the Derby has an issue too and it relates to the track bias which I have already alluded to.  Now with the colts, their talent often overcomes it but it strikes me that on the feminine side of the ledger, they are more vulnerable to trappy undulating tracks that imbalance and change the rhythm regularly.   None of this field have run at Epsom.

The race has been less dominated by O’Brien as some of the other classics.  It has also been claimed by 20/1 winners in the last three years…..

It is worth considering the horses whose connections have shelled out £30k to run.  Anipa – £30k means nothing to that owner but the horse has merit, a damn fine turn of foot and a stable speaking highly.  Marsh Daisy – This one is more interesting indeed, has won at Goodwood and in good style – That course has similarities.  Lily Rules is a strange addition to the race as I see little to suggest she might place despite her improvement.  Finally , for the latecomers, Honour Bound who has been a madam for the handlers runs at 20/1.  She is in the hands of my Beckett Oaks Training hero and won the same trial at Lingfield that Secret gesture won last year.

Sea the Stars has a building sire reputation and it would be wonderful for him to claim a first Group 1 and with Taghrooda.  This one is bred from the blue stuff as is a cross with the Sadlers Well line…. Unbeaten too…. Shortlist.

In summary, I would not put you off Taghrooda at 9/2 (only in a place), that is value.  I feel compelled to have a small saver at 28s on Honour Bound too.  Yet, I am drawn to Marsh Daisy who can be backed at 12s with Skybet.  The Major is an old romantic and if Jimmy Fortune were to win the Oaks given his recent personal tragedy, there will not be a dry eye in the house.  Go on Jimmy.

Parbold disappointed me last week and so in the penultimate, I side with That is the Spirit at evens.  Then for the lucky last….. and God alone knows we need it… Art Official 14/1 – Hannon Buick…. something to do with the ground and … I am so tired.

Good night.

Courage and roll the dice.