Tag Archives: highland retreat

The Saturday Sermon – Newbury and some other bits!

Good evening from the Major writing enveloped in the cool evening air of Worcestershire where high clouds pass over at speed and closer to the earth, the air scurries around, droplets of dirty water thrown in the gusts.

The Major writes from a peaceful home, the endeavours of Dundalk and Wolverhampton playing out jovially in the background, a cool beer is at my side, it is good to be alive.

The week was another in which the Major slept in snatches, stop-start nights, with consciousness existing in short fraudulent periods.  When drifting from the real, into the darkness, there comes sharply focussed dreams, involving vast cavernous places, dimly lit and full of danger.  I have no idea what these portend, in many of them I am climbing, sometimes with other people, often in silence.  The vividness fools me into thinking it is authentic life, as Zhuangzi, I dreamed I was a butterfly and now I am uncertain whether I have awoken or am a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

I know of folk who seem entirely normal, thoroughly so, every move precise, each action measured.  You know the sort, living lives that exist in childs books, Ikea or Channel 4 property documentaries.  I am never sure whether it is a veneer covering a seething ocean underneath, or indeed whether such a state of utter normality is abnormal in itself, it is hard to tell.

I prefer the former thought, I think such folk are terrified of letting it slip and slide, lest the mask fall further.  Yet I would say this, as Freud pointed out, the ego, our survival tool fashions what we see, it fashions it in our own image – We perceive everything as we wish and what terrifies me is that an uneven keel might be so unusual.  We are not masters in our own house, please let it be so.

Oscar Wilde described the condition well during his time spent in Reading Jail.  He was serving time for indecency, unkind and unfair times you would agree.  While a resident, Wilde penned some of his darkest works and they are well worth your time.  In describing the abuses he caused to himself which ended with his spell incarcerated, he used the line, I ceased to be lord over myself,  I was no longer the captain of my soul.

This was a line he borrowed and inverted from the oft quoted poem Invictus by Henley, of which the final stanza…

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

To be in charge of our future or to be washed about on the tide.  I might want us all to be touched by madness but in the case of ascertaining destiny?  Well, I am for the former, read Frankl Mans Search for Meaning – He more than most men knows how to find purpose in the deepest recesses of existence.

I embrace my beating heart when I awake from my active sleep, I can’t describe the dreams themselves as pleasurable, they do serve to remind me though that I am alive.  In the night, I may not be master of the house, come the day, I retain captaincy of my soul, for now.  The night world and the day world remain separate.

To the sports.

Newbury

It is not the best day of racing we are going to witness.  While I might throw a few thoughts in regarding the Lingfield listed races, I am going to have a closer examination of affairs at Newbury.

The card is to be run on good ground and we must seek out the fair spring horses that prance across the surface!

In the opener, it looks a penalty kick for Signs of a Victory who think will go off at 8/13.  I quite liked the chance of Shes Late who will go well on the ground but oddly, jockey booking (McCoy on Matripajo) suggests the other Jonjo horse .  All this is irrelevant – Henderson had three bullets at Newbury on Friday and hit the bullseye each time.

I like two at bigger prices in the 2.20.  Grandads Horse ran respectably at Cheltenham until belting a fence and letting his chances slip.  He has a good strike rate on the ground and in general – 11/1 is OK.  The other I like is Pepite Rose – She is unusual in the Venetia yard, being a horse that favours decent surfaces.  Her last two runs may not be sparkling but she gets her surface here and with plenty of others not guaranteed to act, she is worth a squeak at 12s.

The third race is a wide open listed mares limited hurdle.  As such, we have some decent sorts turning up.  There are a lot of progressive sorts in the field – Fairytale Theatre looks one that will come in for support, being a Nicholls horse and showing great improvement – Her last two wins coming on heavy temper my enthusiasm.  Down Ace will like the ground and a line through her effort in the Mares hurdle at Cheltenham which was a huge step up in class and you can see her chances.

Free Thinking goes in the Long Run colours and given my advertisement for Hendersons form, she has to be considered.  To amplify that, his record in this specific race is impressive too having won it with Polly Peachum, Line Freedom, Ryde Back and Karello Bay in the last ten years.  Considered.

Yet the Major settles on an unfashionable runner up in Joanne One who is going to love the ground and since I don’t trust the form of jumpers bumpers in relation to proper hurdling, I see her as a danger.  Yet, I cannot help but be taken by Massannie at 16/1 (14s generally) for the Pipe team.  She has not been the same since a heavy fall but Pipe persists and a return to form puts her right back in this.  She won thrice from three on good to firm, so let the sun shine.

Having had entries for the race in the name of his stable, Alan King has withdrawn them all… odd.  It is darn hard to find a winner in this, Bucks Bond makes up his own mind but is a threat if going for it.  It is dangerous opting for a front runner in such a big field but despite having an instinct that he might set the race up, I am going to back Highland Retreat with a small fun stake as I have always admired him and on a going galloping day, he is good.  Newbury from the front just might suit him and he may have a number of these at it turning to home.

I love Newbury.. Its straight is as fair as they come, long, flat, tough jumps – The best horse wins.

Aldopicgros looks the best choice in the 4.05 – He won’t mind the ground and up half a stone for the defeat of a very progressive rival should be fine.

That is it for Newbury.

The Lingfield races are not my area of specialism – In the big one, the Winter Derby, Vodkata looks interesting making the trip from France.  Rebellious Guest loves the all weather, Grandeur boasts solid claims but has a hell of a draw – I am going to throw a dart at the popular former Johnstone horse Windhoek (13/2) – He has some tapeta form and there is no reason to think the surface will be an inconvenience.  De Sousa is a jockey I like and 13/2 is available with Hills – Have a slice.

Vicky De L’Oasis is a penalty kick 4/5 shot at Gowran.  Her form is easily the best and I see no obvious reason to oppose.

In the football Newcastle are 17/20 to beat Crystal Palace and that should go in.  Man City -2 at evens is in too – I think they are coming back to the boil.  I’d have Derby to beat Forest at 23/20.  The add a dash of Wigan at just the right side of evens…

The Martin Hill bet is Windhoek, Aldopicgros, Vicky De L’Oasis and Wigan in a Yankee, straight.

May your dinner be excellent, with a fine accomplice, her raven hair flowing down onto bare shoulder – Tip well, it is good to be alive.

Courage, roll the dice.

The Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Day Sermon…. Includes a 40/1 shot…. Courage and roll the dice

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where bright clear skies leak the days warmth away, leaving a breathless chilly evening and stars that seem to shimmer and move like the surface of water gently rippling away.

We are here.  Every tweeter in the world is tinkling at the keyboard, excited at what the morning brings.  The Major will not dribble so trivially and waste your time.  No.

Lest to say this.  We shall witness the four days of Cheltenham, all of life shall be there, rich and poor, every social echelon, the equine athletes, the twinkle eyed Irish sirens at their betting pitches, the tatty commercialism, the genuine rush; it is all ours to savour my friends.

This year, I am attending proceedings on Tuesday and Friday, both will be tremendous occasions I am sure.

Two years prior, I attended all four days and drank and gambled at extreme pace on each.  On the Friday, a fresh set of reserve troops arrived from Birmingham but they were reinforcements, not relief forces.  As such, the expectation was to be back on it, Guinness and Champagne at breakfast and continuing in the spirit.  Ah, I did… I soldiered on but I finished that day a ruin.

Cheltenham for the duration is a physical and emotional war of attrition.

In 1900, as part of force set to break the siege of Ladyship, Natal, Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft followed orders to lead his men to retrieve Spion Kop, a height occupied by Boer forces, which had good sight of the road.  As a surprise tactic, Woodgate, giant of a man, led from the front  up the 1500ft slope in complete darkness.  What that must have been like, to be climbing through the mist, knowing you are about to engage the enemy , utter silence and a great hulking officer lumbering in front.  The tactics worked and following a brief engagement with bayonets fixed, they were able to scatter the small Boer force that had been in situ.  This success proved though to be a misjudgment.

The Engineers set about digging in but found hard rock just a foot into the earth. They managed to create a crescent-shaped, several hundred feet long, shallow trench and at daybreak, as the sun rose from some distant point over the Indian Ocean, it was clear that two heavy forces would be engaged heavily in action.

You see, there were several other heights at similar levels that gave the Boers excellent sight of the encamped British forces and so the bombardment commenced.  Shells ranging from 80mm to 600mm rained onto the British position every 6 seconds for which they had little protection.    The British realised that they had also mistaken the summit and the position they had dug, just slightly below had poor sight lines over the Northern crest.

By mid morning, the Boers had resolved to a sortie to recover the position and the Boers that climbed that hill did so with their leaders ears ringing ‘we shall be attacking the enemy and not all will be coming back; Do your duty, trust the Lord’.  The Boers, who were excellent rifleman rushed the summit from the blind side, which the British position allowed, this was surprising and resulted in some warm action with bayonet, fists and knives flashing.

Both sides settled down to exchange rifle fire just a hundred yards from each other, bodies lying all amongst them, the heat of the day rising.  The Boers were tired and morale was low, what they cannot have understood was either the losses of the British or the effectiveness of the continued bombardment which was taking its toll.  The Boer gunners were finding their range and among their British casualties was General Woodcroft.

Confusion started to become prevalent.  Reinforcements for the British were called for and sent but the mortars which may have been used against some key Boer positions were never bought against the enemy.  As battle progressed into the second night, the lunacy of war was such that both the Boers and British were ready to surrender their positions.  The Boers at one point started to but an officer persuaded them to stay and such is the balance of things, it proved decisive.

In the morning, Thorneycroft, receiving messages from the main army was able to lead a retreat down Skion Kop.  He left a devastation at the summit.  Nearly 250 British and 350 Boers were left dead.  The Boers so badly hurt that they were unable to hold the position.  The futility of it all.

Still, a few footnotes worthy of your attention.  Winston Churchill, a journalist but drawn to action, was the runner on the private staff of General Buller in command of the 11,000 strong force from which Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft was despatched – Thus he was running the messages to Thorneycroft on the summit and would have seen the bloody mess.  His schoolboy friend from Harrow also died on the summit.  Baden-Powell also served in the action.  It is also the reason that Liverpool has the Kop.

Our battle shall be entrenched too, just less bloody, for most of us.  To the action, the Cheltenham action.  Sabres drawn.  The festival is underway…

Tuesday Cheltenham Tips

Now, if you cheated and have not read about Skion Kop, either go back or exit.  Your sort is not welcome here.

For those who missed my stream of tweets last week, I have written up the Grade 1 races at the festival already and so will be drawing on that shortly.  This is where you will find my Tuesday Grade 1s but I shall summarise with brevity, something I value little, below.

In the Supreme, I have already tipped Vautour and am sticking with it.  I stand by my reasoning that Irving looks a flat track bully and my boy has been in a fight, which fancy dan Irving has yet to experience.  At a price, The Liquidator is an interesting runner and so is Vaniteux who will appreciate the better ground and is the favoured runner of Geraghty (over Josses Hill).

I am also sticking with Valdez who I wrote up in my antepost piece for the Arkle.  His price is unchanged and if anything might be bigger at the off.  The bottom line he is not a popular sort.  Perhaps people are put off by the fact he was not as good as hurdler as this lot but some horses are meant to go over the big obstacles and this season, we have seem him in fine form, even when the King stable was under a cloud.  Grandouet is a bit of a forgotten horse and all of the principles can be argued for, including Rock on Ruby who is a good ground horse in my view – This is not a big stakes race for the Major.

The 2.40 Handicap Chase is a minefield.  I would call out a few I like.  Alfie Sherrin and Holywell at 8/1 and 10/1 are of interest, particularly the latter.  Yet, in this sort of race, I want a tasty price, in the last eight years we have witnessed 28/1, 33/1 and even 50/1 shocks.  My runner to steal the money is King Massini at 20/1.  This Evan Williams horse has been a serious improver and was campaigned aggressively early in the season, unlucky not to complete a four timer.  He has been put away, most likely with this in mind.  As such, I am happy to have a pop but dangers lurk around every corner my friend.

Then the feature dish, the Champion Hurdle.  Again, you will find this on my G1 Tuesday Cheltenham Antepost page but a quick summary….

  • I have been backing Our Conor since my jaw rested on the Cheltenham tarmac as he sauntered over his Triumph field
  • I backed what my eyes saw with real money building up an antepost position
  • His runs in Ireland have been OK but not quite what I wanted, particularly the last
  • He might be better with the pace been forged by Captain Cee Bee
  • I suspect I am suffering from Confirmation Bias and am desperately turning everything I see in his favour
  • He likes good ground… Oh god, I am suffering confirmation bias
  • I will probably have a saver on the Fly – Not because I prefer him, in fact my next best is My Tent or Yours – Yet, I cannot let the place go wild and me not have a winning ticket to hand, no matter what the financial logic.

The Mares Hurdle is a potential moment of history with Quevega, the amazing Mare that the magician Mullins manages to get right for this one day, trying for a sixth Cheltenham Festival race.  Will she?  I hope so – I have some bets that include her name but I have to admit to it not being many.  I was actually a little concerned last year.  She finished well enough to win but to me needed to be niggled earlier than usual, maybe it will catch up with her this year?

I did like Highland Retreat but think the ground is going against her.  So the one I offer as an alternate is Cailin Annamh who won a graded Irish race effortlessly and could be offering a viable alternative if improving a stone… and a bit…. and beating a legend… with the best national hunt jockey in the world aboard.  What am I on about, back Quevega – If she wins, you will be gutted that you did not!

Then the four miler… amateur riders.. The Major is a fan of backing the best jockeys in these races and I also think over this distance, it makes an even bigger differential.  Clements is good but McNamara, Carberry and Mullins are better.

McNamaras mount, Herdsmen, needed the mud, no.  Nina (Carberry for the legion of irregular racing fans joining us today) takes the ride on the favourite, Shutthefrontdoor – That horse is going to love the drying ground and I love watching Nina ride a hold up sort, she has elegance, strength and resolve.  It is hard to pass over but I am resting on Suntiep at 10/1 – There are lots of reasons why not, including the ground and lack of chase experience around such a tough course… take it easy.

Then the Novice Handicap Chase that closes the card and if we need this as a get out of jail, we are in a world of hurt.

I am going to put up two.  First a horse I have watched for a while, Grandads Horse, currently available at 40/1 – Do you want the reasoning? Look, if you are backing a 40/1 shot in the last, you definitely do not… Don’t even start to think about the trainer having Pendra, a seeming much fancied runner…

My saver is another massive price.  Venetia has been the talk of the year with her horses running to tremendous credit on heavy ground.  I think Gardefort forgiven the last time out may be a snip at 40/1 also with BetVictor…

Courage and roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot, Haydock, Naas and some Football thoughts – Shabash

Good morning from the Major who writes from a wet Worcestershire scene.  Gazing out across the land at first light, menacing dark glimmers hint at the temporary lakes caused by inability of the Avon to drain quickly enough.  They are ominous, glinting and dark.  As the light comes, they lose their malevolent presence becoming peaceful rippling surfaces on which wetland birds glide.

How the darkness of night is lifted, a mirror for my thoughts.

Last night, listening to heavy rain outside was thoroughly relaxing, the patter accompanied by the whirring sound of high winds whipping around the solid brick.  All while you settle in to a dose of whatever you fancy while the woodburner roars away – Peace.

The Major has had a further challenging week, one that has been largely devoid of sleep and so the 11 hours that I enjoyed last night overdue and welcome.  I would not describe myself as feeling sharp as a result, more sluggish if anything but a contentment has come and it only means one thing… winners.  I can sense the moment before the victory and this morning reeks of it.

I am keeping the Sermon short this morning due to family commitments but wish you all the happiest punting victories.  Yet this high confidence means I am invested well into outcomes today.

Last week was a right off for the racing but we landed all three football bets.  To be fair, it was hard not to win on the football last week with all of the top teams in every division securing three points.

Daub thy war paint young warriors and mount thy horses.  We shall skirmish in open formation with the lancepoints dancing in the sunlight… to the sports.

Ascot Tips

The Ascot card that lies before us is a cracker and I dearly wish I was there.  The spectacular stand, a drop of something nice.  Still even from afar, I can feel that the card is solvable – Let us plunder away!

In the opening juvenile hurdle, I can see there being a mild upset.  The Jonjo horse, Masquerading, surely needs better ground and the current favourite, Handiwork was such a poor flat horse that I am taking his improvement to hurdles with a strong suspicion.  That said, his defeat of Aalim who was a subsequent winner is clearly decent.

Therefore I am investing in the French recruit to the Walford yard, Astre de la Cour,  6/1, which translates as Star of the Court.  The trainer has not had an Ascot runner in a long time and has booked Aspell (1 from 2 rides in the last year for the yard) – I suspect they are hoping for good things!

I skip to the first graded race, the 1.50, a 3 mile mares hurdle.  It is a nicely shaped race where Mickie, 11/8, is the present favourite.  She finished well ahead of Utopie Des Bordes at Kempton and I see little reason for a reversal of that form.  I was surprised to see a drift on the horse and think the main danger would be Highland Retreat who gets the assistance of the magnificent Noel Fehily.

In the 2.25 ( a limited handicap) – I am a big fan of The Skyfarmer who can be backed at 5/1 in a place and 9/2 generally.  What attracts me is the form of Lyvius who my selection beat at Cheltenham.  Lyvius was a winner off his revised mark at Kempton over Christmas and that is a good sign that the higher mark for The Skyfarmer is manageable.  It is worth noting that the pair put a lot of daylight between them and third at Cheltenham.  Irish Saint has been a bit of a disappointment and I suspect he will come good one day.

The 3pm handicap chase is a race in which I can make an argument for several so I will be leaving my stakes light on Grandioso who I hope has not suffered too much from his fall last time out.

The comes bet of the year so far… Sire de Grugy has been a significant improver and quite rightly has the crown of 2m horse to beat (while Sprinter is absent).  You can make a case for Somersby on course form but I simply think that he is very vulnerable to a genuine top class horse.  All you then have to decide is whether Sire de Grugy is that and I do!

Haydock and Naas

You know the tale, so I do not need to explain why I am backing Taquin Du Seuil, 5/6, in the 1.30 at Haydock.  His jumping experience and bare form should give him the measure of these.

I am putting Taquin in a Haydock double with another hottie, Un Temps Pour Tout.  There is a big expectation on this French import having cost the best part of a cool half million.  He was placed in the Grade 1 hurdle that Ptit Zig won at Auteuil having previously won a Grade 3 at the same track – Both efforts in the mud.

In the big race, 2.40, I have every hope that we can get Ptit Zig turned over mind with Melodic Rendezvous, 9/4 – I think this is a classy classy horse and his Newcastle effort was not the right run – I think the ground was key that day and we might see an entirely different prospect here.  The way he picked up Far West at Wincanton was extremely eye-catching and I am having a chunky one.

No bet on their big chase but I think Katenko is the likeliest participant.

Is that what you came here for?  Two odds on tips and a second favourite?  Did you come for tips?  Madness, the Major reminds you once again, that this is barely profitable and always unhinged – My readers are typically regular and expect nothing more than an attempt to land the mothership.

At Naas, we have a great card and Dunguib returns to the racecourse for the first time in three years.  He was once the great new hope, winning his hurdle races so easily he was the Irish hotpot at the opening day of the festival.  He only managed a place that day and a bubble was burst.  I hope keeping him in training is for the right reasons but I cannot find myself tempted to backing him at this price.

No, I wait for the 1.35 and a 11/8 on Sizing Gold.  He looks good, this is a confident selection.

In the football…. I must highlight a good opportunity.  Now the Major has no sponsorship from any firm and never has.  Yet, I would suggest you take Ladbrokes up on their offer to give a free bet to £25 if both teams score and your main bet loses in the Chelsea v Manchester United game.  I fancy Chelsea for this anyway so the 4/5 they offer is decent and my thinking is that for the bet to lose it is either nil nil or Manchester United have to score.  Thus, as long as Chelsea score at some point, the bet pays or you get a free bet.  Shame they do not let you have it in multiples but it is generous enough!

I also like Newcastle to win at West Ham, 8/5, who are poor, do not be fooled by their Cardiff result.  Wigan to win at Doncaster 5/6 and QPR to win at home to Huddersfield 7/10.

The Martin Hill bet is a L31 on Wigan, Chelsea, Sire de Grugy, Sizing Gold and Melodic Rendezvous.

I trust that your dinner is taken in good order and in good company.  May the wine be expensive and plentiful and paid for from merely a few of those larger red notes bandily taut around a core of purple.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Newbury Tips, Anger, Weather and some football tips too

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire shielding itself from the blizzard, winter clings doggedly to the year, yielding not to the start of the flat season, impervious to the date.

The coldest March in 50 years.  I could have told you that stood at the one furlong marker on the Cheltenham hill on the opening day of the festival.  Cold did not do it justice.  Freezing would be more honest but then the wind blew and it was as though all layers of protective clothing as well as my skin, muscle and sinew were rendered worthless against the stabbing wind stricking right at the bone.

Saturday racing hangs in the balance.  The Welsh, Scots, Irish and English have all been denied a meeting as Bangor, Kelso, Gowran and Stratford have abandoned.  Southwell should be fine but Doncaster and Newbury have to survive morning inspections.  Newbury looks to have more chance than Donnie as it rests on the ground not being waterlogged as opposed to snow.  The course is optimistic but the Major is not so sure – We might face losing both Newbury and Doncaster.

A young dashing sort called Steve is hopefully off to Newbury in fine fettle and with good company, he asked me to mark the Newbury card and I shall.  Good luck to you and your kith, wear layers concentrating on waterproofing and warmth.  Consider several pairs of socks, gloves, scarves, hats, bright plastic ponchos and any other garment useful for fighting such foul elements.  Comfort beats style eleven times from ten.

I had a three-hour drive in this awful weather earlier.  Through the grim dark grey mess I witnessed some horrific driving and some furious reactions.  Drivers wishing to go faster weaving through lanes aggressively, horns blaring, lights flashing.  The reactions are what interest me.  Some people when cut up on the motorway treat it as though their honour has been crossed.  Such pointless energy expended in futile expression.  People who drive badly are unlikely to change habits from your actions.  Thus you achieve little and a better frame of mind is to let these instances wash over you as water from a ducks back.

Ask what such anger says about you… As Gandhi said The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Newbury Tips

The opener looks an absolute shoe-in for classy flat convert Poet.  Evens is available on Betfair this evening but I suspect 8/11 to be the morning price and I still would not put you off.  There is little else in this field that could compete. Poet was a listed winner on the flat and although not turning to hurdling until late in life, he has put in enough to suggest he is well capable of winning this.  For one, he is the only horse in the field to have won on heavy ground and conditions will be fine.

If there is a danger, it will come from Seventh Sky who put in his best performance last time out at Taunton, winning a handicap.  I do not expect him to throw down too serious a challenge.

2.20 Mares Novice Chase

There is a solid argument that Fentara is lightly treated on her form against Super Duty who in turn was narrowly denied in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.  Fentara has also won two from four on heavy ground.  Yet this is competitive and this one is prone to big errors which is not ideal when facing the tough Newbury fences.

Marie Des Anges is interesting but I am not sure she is suited to a proper test in the mud over this trip.  She is one of two decent shots that Anthony Honeyball has in the race and I actually prefer her to the other, Jackies Solitaire.

The two I am most interested in are Violin Davis and Tara Rose.  The former had the better of the latter at Bangor earlier in the season when giving 3lbs.  She has to concede a further 10 here but I think she can even in these conditions.

She has the advantage of the excellent Fehily in the saddle and Harry Fry the trainer has sent 5 to Newbury in recent times with 4 winning… Have a considerable slice of the 6/1 with Paddy Power and thank me later.

2.55 Mares Novice Hurdle

Henderson and Sherwood have won five of the last six runnings of this race and their runners have to be afforded respect.  Only Henderson has an entry and Glorious Twelfth, a former Cheltenham bumper winner needs to prove that bottomless conditions are what she needs.

Ballinahow Star is where the money is tonight but I am always wary of backing horses returning from a break in such tough conditions.

I am struggling to split two in the race, Too Generous and Highland Retreat.

Both are proven in the mud and both are making handicap debuts.  There is an argument that both are on workable marks.  Too Generous is certainly on an upwards curve even if she had to work a bit for her last win.  If pushed I would just favour Too Generous despite Highland Retreat being another horse to benefit from the excellent Noel Fehily.

3.30 Newbury Handicap Chase

Handy Andy is a Newbury specialist having won three of four starts at the course.  The yard is in good touch but I wonder if the mark is catching up with him.

Loch Ba could potentially bounce back to glory after never looking at home at the Cheltenham Festival.  Rhum is unlikely to get the soft lead he needs to be competitive.

The one I like the most is Cedre Bleu.  Hailing from the Nicholls camp, he warrants a good look and of all of the runners, I think he rates the likeliest to act in these extreme conditions.  Handy Andy rate the danger.

4.05 Juvenile Hurdle

The two French imports which Tony Carroll has in the race are both potential grenades.  Lac Sacre beat Thinger Licht in a claimer in Enghien but Carroll claimed them both.

While it might not be too obvious that Handazan is well handicapped, at least he is proven in the conditions.  The Major tentatively overlooks Handazan and Lac Sacre in favour of 7/1 In The Crowd who looks like an improver who will be happy to mix it in the mud.

4.40 Bumper

Chase the Wind and Fabrika are the two I am interested in.  The former finished narrowly behind Cheltenham Champion Bumper contender Vieux Lion Rouge on debut.  The latter represents Henderson and Geraghty and will have lots of supporters.

Trainer comments regarding Fabrika, put me in her camp at 3/1.

5.10 Handicap Chase

Sustainability has not had his mark changed for a close up second at Wincanton and to the eye, this horse looks a thorough stayer.  Newbury is likely to be a much more suitable venue and at 11/4, I feel a good bet in order.

Doncaster – The Lincoln

I am not going through the Doncaster card because I do not think it will make it.  Should I be wrong then I will throw one tip out for the Lincoln.

Shamaal Nibras is a Hannon horse with a solid record in soft ground.  I think it could be well treated and the break is of no concern given the hands the animal is in.

I promised you one Donnie tip but cannot help but give you another.  If Bog Warrior captures my heart over obstacles, Jack Dexter is the love of my flat life.  What a heart this horse has, winning back to back competitive handicaps last year.  I do not see any reason not to be lumping on!

To the football…

Portsmouth have been showing some spirit of late but Coventry are overpriced at 5/4 to get a result on the South Coast.  I am on Tranmere at 21/20 to take three points at home too.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Violin Davis, Cedre Bleu, Sustainability and Coventry.

Courage and roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot and Haydock Tips….. The Major meets AP McCoy

Good evening from a blustery and wet Worcestershire.  The fineness of the day which began like gods own awakening has retreated and with the dark night comes the warm rugged squalls from the Atlantic.  It is December, I prefer the integrity of ice and frost, the tepid rugged wet weather feels dirty.

The Ascot ground looked like it was behaving today which surprised me, I thought they would be swimming on it.  The Major did fairly poorly. 

I fancied getting Puffin Billy beaten, which was proven mighty foolish.  I couldn’t bring myself to back the obvious Simonsig.  I mean…. Can you really back a novice chasing debutante at 1/6 on heavy ground no matter how impressive their novice hurdle season?  Clearly yes.  I did have the winner of the bumper, that protected some liquidity.

Last Sunday night I attended the Sports Personality Awards.  I was a guest of some business associates.  We dined before heading to the studio and sitting amongst the sporting glitterati.  The after show party was a star-studded affair.  My wingman for the night was far more comfortable approaching people for pictures and autographs than I. 

I do find it uncomfortable disturbing people socialising and frankly, what is the point.  Will you look at those pictures again?  Class and decorum for me is to relax and let it go.

I held that mighty stance until he pointed out Tony McCoy, entertaining a couple of female guests across the room.  Well, perhaps there is a shallow man struggling to get out after all as I could not contain the urge for a photo.

I interrupted as politely as possible for the picture and when I suggested Darlan to him, he was lukewarm, he gave me another horse to follow. 

AP McCoy and the Major

AP McCoy and the Major – He must love it

Now your correspondent will set the scene as best as I can…. The DJ (Comedy Dave) has the tunes cranked up, the silky green goddesses with their silver trays are breezing past, each stealing my heart (I fall in love most days)… I am a fair few Heinekens in to the evening and AP is giving me a horse to follow in his Irish lilt. 

The first time, I missed it completely.  Repeating the name, helped only moderately.  Second time round, I was able to make out some key syllables and define the shape of the horses name.  Asking a third time would have been rude and so I thanked him and left.

It took me a day and the work of a good friend Mike to track the animal down!  Who is it?  Well, that is between me, AP, my brother, Mike, anyone I have told so far and anyone who DMs me politely on twitter!  Anyway, as for AP, is he what you would hope for in a champion jockey?  Good teeth, clean shoes, class act all the way.

To the sports….

Tips for Ascot

The opening handicap is three miles through the mud so will take a lot of getting.  I really like Okafranca who is on a hat trick.  The last Taunton run was as good as anything in the field and he did that with plenty in hand.  7/1 (Paddy Power) is a very fair price – I feel good about this one but coping with another race within nine days as well as an 8lb rise might be tough enough. 

Instead I am offering a 14/1 tip on Highland Retreat.  My tip is a Harry Fry horse with Mr J Barber, a 7lb claimer aboard (has won on the other sole start for the stable).  After showing a likeable attitude in winning an Exeter handicap (first two fought clear and second now rated 121), a disappointing effort at Hereford followed.  There were problems with the girl that day (nose bleed) and if back to form, this unexposed mare might just get involved.

In the second race, Solix is clearly a decent opponent but I fancy Paul Nicholls to take this with Cedre Bleu.  My tip gets 7lb in hand and is going to be sharper for the seasonal debut.  It is interesting that connections go for a double dose of headgear, suggesting to me that the horse needs to concentrate and that we are yet to bottom out the talent.  If right, Cedre Bleu is in the right hands… 13/8 have a slice.

Long Walk Hurdle Tip – Ascot 2pm

A horse that won me some considerable dough in last seasons World Hurdle rocks up as favourite in this years Long Walk.  Smad Place had lots of supporters at Wetherby for his seasonal debut and so losing to Tidal Bay was a big dissapointment. 

It is a bitter shame that Big Bucks is unable to defend his crown here and at Cheltenham in March.  He looked as good as ever on debut and surely was booked to go to FIVE World Hurdles.

Prospect Wells looks like the horse that Ditcheat want to use as a main World Hurdle horse now that Big Bucks is out of the picture.  I am not convinced, he was in receipt of a lot of weight against Zarkander and wonder whether the image of the two of them pulling clear is not a little flattering to Prospect Wells… maybe.

Reve de Sivola finished second to Big Bucks at Newbury although he was clearly not in the same league. 

Master of the Hall is an interesting runner and gets the nod, perhaps a little disappointing and the hurdles mark is not generous either, the positives are that a switch to the smaller obstacles might spark enthusiasm and less error.  He is certainly one of the more likely to thrive in the conditions.  8/1 and worth a bet.

Ascot Silver Cup Tips – 2.35pm

The Ascot Silver Cup boasts a small but interesting field line up.  Roberto Goldbach has been switched to Nicky Henderson and it will be interesting to see whether he can take the horse further now he is turning eleven.

I am not convinced Hold on Julio will love the ground and I prefer Hey Big Spender who won a grade 3 at Warwick in January and was travelling well enough in the Welsh national last Christmas before coming down before the race got going in earnest.  He has gone well fresh and 4/1 is fair but I wonder if there are more significant prizes that the horse will be prepared for this year.

Maybe, this line up is giving too much weight away to Wyck Hill at 7/1 and a few pounds out of the handicap.  Racing off the minimum weight is going to be a big help and the horse has some signs of being progressive.  The heavy ground run previously was poor but the soft form suggests another try is not without hope.  7/1 (Bet365) and worth backing.

The Ladbroke – Ascot 3.10pm

21 runners make this a damn hard race to geta  solid angle into. 

Petit Robin is an interesting horse at a big price.  Chase form (and mark) is better than the current hurdles mark and a decent claimer is booked.  Maybe at 25/1 it is hard to argue that Henderson thinks he is the yards best hope but the Major gives it a squeak.

Rattan has done his best work on heavy but Ruby is on Ranjaan who represents Nicholls and it is significant that the money has come this week.  Ranjaan won comfortably at Taunton for Daryl Jacob and the rise of 9lb is not a big problem.

I just prefer a Jonjo horse who, on pricing, looks the best bet – Its a Gimme.

We have the champion jockey on our side and McManus likes some decent handicappers too – I am backing this tip to be progressive at five, the seasonal reappearance was fine and with natural progression, lets hope Its a Gimme can get involved.

Of course, Balder Success looks a decent sort but I am not sure he has the profile of the winner, it is a big ask at 4.

In the last Ulck Du Lin can prevail at 13/8.

Haydock Tips

I am hugely interested in Kruzhulinin in the second at 2/1.  A winner on heavy racing for the connections that won last years renewal, surely a decent chance.

In the third, She Ranks Me looks a dubious 6/5 shot and instead I much readily prefer the chances of Dancingtilmidnight and Scholastica.  Splitting them is difficult, both will love conditions.  The Harry Fry horse is a points winner that looks a thorough stayer and is accompanied by my favourite Jockey Noel Fehily.  Scholastica looks like a horse with any amount of improvement to come, absolutely stuffing a poor Uttoxeter field last time out (only 3 finishers).

On balance, I am going to take a chance on Dancingtilmidnight with the Fehily factor swinging it.

In the football…..

QPR look a touch big at 14/5 given the lack of confidence at Newcastle.  I think Southampton have the guns to defeat Sunderland at home at 6/5.  Norwich are a massive 16/5 to win at an Albion side that have taken one point from twelve.  I am still thinking Watford offer value with a talented young squad and 13/10 is a good price for a team that can freshen it up. 

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Watford, Cedre Bleu, Ulck Du Lin and Kruzhulinin.

May your dinner be delicious, pasta perhaps.  The company delightful, the ambience soft. 

Courage and roll the dice….