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The Saturday Sermon – Ascot Champions Day Tips | Cheltenham and a bit of football… Shabash

Good evening from the Major who writes, weary and happy, settling into the weekend, like a well worn glove.  It is late, very late, the Worcestershire scene tonight is dank, driving home, orange streetlights in the distance flickered, seemingly to fizzing and humming in the wet like a live wire gently caressing the damp earth.

I have been out with colleagues and friends this evening eating a thoroughly average meal but in such damn fine raucous company that the cuisine was merely a distraction.  Laughs so deep and primal, deep within, they are fine for the soul and in the company of good people, well… Ah, All is well in the world.

I remain on the cusp of exhaustion, as I write I hear the patter of rain against window glass and it sounds like tiny fingers tapping a rhythm.  I know I am warm and I know out there in the darkness, there are things moving.

I love the winter and it is coming to us now.   Even recently, while  deep into Autumn, the late days of summer held on dearly but now, things are changing.  The rain that kisses you now is cold and taking a morning walk, toes feel numb, fingers tingle.  Summer has had its time at the front, running freely, wild times of chaos.  Now is nearly the time for winter, climbing the hill relentlessly, coming home on a tight rein and the Major is pleased.

I have enjoyed the flat season immensely this summer.  While the classic crop was an average bunch, there were some great memories of which my favourites were Dawn Approach and Toranado going to battle, Talent fighting for her head and still finishing like a train in the Oaks and… momentarily the triumphant victory of War Command in the Coventry, to name but a few.

Yet, todays racing at Cheltenham has reminded me that the flat season is always the poorer cousin to the Majors real passion, National Hunt.  I think the reason I prefer it is the longevity of the horses.  It allows for much greater stories to develop.  Horses that start in bumpers, transcend to hurdling and become novice chasers before joining the staying chaser ranks and those glorious old servants that win ten years after their bumper dreams.  They become like old friends.

Today’s cards offer the perfect handover from flat to the jumps season.  Yes, we still have a few big days to come, particularly the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster but the Ascot Champions Day is a perfect climax to the summer contests and the first days of the Cheltenham season whet the appetite for the narrative untold.  Be still my friends, it is our season.  To the sports..

Ascot – Champions Day Card

There has been a real fuss over Champions Day and the prospect of moving key Newmarket races next year to create Future Champions Day.  In all honestly, it strikes me that a lot of the antipathy is simple resistance to change.  After all, why not try it and if it does not work, we can go back!  This is a superb card, FIVE group ones, we are spoilt.

One criticism of the timing of the card is that it is likely to have high-profile defections due to winterish ground.  That is true of tomorrow but you either have an end of season finale of you do not.  We definitely need some soft ground horses tomorrow…

In the opener, the horses that I think will go well on the going are Estimate, Harris Tweed, Biographer, Aiken, Pale Mimosa and Eye of the Storm.

Aiken ran well in this last year and likes it soft under foot but I am not convinced he is good enough.  The Queens horse Estimate must rate a huge danger to all having won all of her Ascot starts but I just fancy the chances of Eye of the Storm, 7/1, who won a listed contest latest and has a valuable weight-for-age allowance.  He is a smart colt who needs to up his game again but well could do that with plenty progressive profile and the Ballydoyle machine is purring again.  Pale Mimosa is no 14/1 shot either and I also like the favourite a lot so it shall be small stakes.

The Champion Sprint Stake is one of these top class races that could typically go to any of the protagonists.  Maarek was good when winning the Prix Abbaye and loves it soft but the home team has such a candidate too in Jack Dexter who the dogs have been barking for all week down from 12s into 4s overnight.  I have to say that it is hugely attractive, Jack Dexter has won 6 from 6 on soft or worse.  Yet I am loathed to support either at the prices and instead opt for 13/2 shot Viztoria who also has an unblemished record on soft ground (although only 2 races).  It is a concern that man of the moment Johnny Murtagh is not aboard the girl but I think this is his inability to do the weight rather than him feeling he has a better shot with Belmont Mast.

Regular readers will know what is coming next.

At 2.55, in a corner of Berkshire…. TALENT WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS FILLIES AND MARES STAKES.  Get stuck in at 7/2 and thank me later.  She should have won the Leger (OK a bit stretched) and I would have like to have seen her in the Arc (next year) and she has nothing to fear here, I shall pray that she settles.  The Lark and the German horse Nymphea may be the closest to looking at Talents glorious behind at the finish.

The QEII is a cracking race and while it is a shame Toronado did not make the line up, we have plenty of quality to give Dawn Approach something to consider.  The one I think could completely outrun his price is Kingsbarns at 16/1.    This time last year, he had the world at his feet, was favourite for classics but his day in the sun has yet to come this year, missing most through injury.  His return was very poor but it is perfectly reasonable to think he may have needed that both physically and mentally.  We also get Joseph on board, the comfort that we know he has been in top hands (O’Brien is a master at getting these sorts to fire again) and he won both his juvenile starts on soft.  What is not to like?

In the Champion Stakes, Derby winner Ruler of the World is of key interest but is unproven on the ground, although he is a Galileo so perhaps we should not worry too much, of interest.  Mukhadram and Farhh are both classy sorts but all of them should really be paying homage to Cirrus Des Aigles.  We all remember him giving Frankel a good run last year and you may remember Cirrus winning the race in the previous year, he was 12/1 that day, tomorrow I can only advise you to be on at 5/4.

Cheltenham Tips

Poor old @limerickjfk – He tweeted me on Thursday night for some Friday Cheltenham tips and even promised me the benefit of a big drink should they come in.  I gave him a non runner and one that finished down the field.  I am the sort of friend you do not need.  Still, we shall try again and I shall stick a drink on the ledger the other way regardless, because it was nice to be asked!

There are some lovely sorts in the opener at Cheltenham, it is a tasty opening to proceedings.  Minella Fiveo is an interesting runner being an Irish raider with Noel Fehily up but the form is uncertain and despite a tempting price, I shall steer to more settled waters.  IT is the last time winners which I want to stick with and of them, Kings Palace stands out.  The Pipe trained horse won his last race at Fontwell very nicely indeed and I think may be better for further.  Oscar Magic rates a real danger as the stable has always been positive about him.  Others stand their chance too but I like my selection well enough.

Skipping a race and looking at the 3.10, I cannot get away from Samtegal, 9/4,  who was placed in a Scottish Champion Hurdle (a poorer handicap imitation of the Cheltenham masterpiece) which is good enough but he was also placed in a Triumph.  I am normally a bit hesitant about Paul Nicholls at this stage of the season, knowing he likes to leave a bit to work on but he had two winners here yesterday and I am in.

Finally in the 5.00, Balder Success is going to be a hot ticket after winning a Chepstow race latest, proving jumping and fitness.  I see those benefits but thought it a slightly odd race.  At the finish he appeared either idling or more likely running flat and I am not sure stiff tracks are what this horse needs.  Turned out again quickly, we will find out.  I shall back my argument with a stake on another.  Dark Lover, 2/1, was  a better hurdler than Balder Success and gets 8lbs here.  He also comes with the benefit of winning at Cheltenham before.  If you are feeling brace, Mr Watson could beat the lot if he decides to apply himself, a big if!

In football, one bet.  West Brom (my own team, I do declare an interest!) have a great chance of winning at Stoke – The team are brimming with talent and confidence, it is a good time to be a baggie.

May your dinner be as well as @limerickjfk who shall eat at Queens Hotel, in excellent company and with good wine, having solved several of the large Cheltenham handicaps.

He will be joined by Martin Hill should the Major break a string of bad losing advices to him with this suggested each way trixie: Talent, Kings Palace and Kingsbarns.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Irish Champion Stakes Tip – A dash of serendipity… Leopardstown and Haydock etc

Good morning from the Major who writes from a glorious Worcestershire scene with stunning early morning light splashed across the deep green lawns.  A faint sharpness to the temperature betrays that we are at the edge of the seasons.  The jumps are coming my friends.

A few nights back, I was driving late at night across the Warwickshire countryside, the last flickering of a blood red sunset was extinguished and the peaceful nature of the empty road was in harmony with the dark sky, peace.  It was still warm enough to travel with the window open which is a ready preference to air conditioning to me.  If not for the freshness of the air then for, the rush of it over skin at high speeds, testing the resistance, very pleasant, very childlike.

While the road was fast, my mind wandered, as it will, I was able to tune into the radio in the background from time to time and what I heard, I found interesting.  The programme was concerned with Serendipity and the presenter seemed to be examining how it is created, it struck a chord.

For what it is worth, I consider your chances of enjoying your life almost entirely dependent on you and bearing no correlation to the random nature of your environment.  There are those that believe themselves governed by luck, dark forces or benevolent powerful religious deities.  Crackpots aside, I would accept that to a point, fortune is an influential factor in your happiness but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

I believe you create your own luck in one crucial aspect, by seeking it with a healthy outgoing attitude.  Finding luck in my view is one part state of mind and one part fortune.

Consider coincidence for one moment.  When something seemingly, incredibly unlikely occurs, we could consider this to be an act of a hidden hand.  Yet, I would say that it is massively unusual that incredibly unlikely things do not happen all of the time.  This is just a statistical view, after all we are involved in hundreds of thousands of interactions each day.  Some are personal, others with objects, others with technology.  Is it not reasonable that if we are engaged in a thousand activities a day, then once in every three years, a one in a million event will occur?  Since you know 500 people, it is likely that you here of a one in a billion occurrence, twice in a decade.  In other words, incredibly strange things are surprisingly common.

We don’t believe this to be the case when a coincidence occurs because we only consider the coincidence in the context of that event.  If for example, you bought a second hand car and in the boot found an old possession of yours that you had left on a train some years ago, you would consider it a fateful act.  Considering the odds of an occurence such as this in isolation it is understandable that you might seek a solution that involves some hidden hand of fate.  Yet the solution is more boring in one sense.  While you found a possession in the boot, you did not perhaps crash into an old school friend on the way home, or find that the car dealer shared the same name and date of birth with you.  In other words, coincidence happens because of the massive number of opportunities it has to occur.

More vital as to whether coincidences will occur in your life is not whether it will happen but your ability to spot them.  Your ability to live a life enabling happiness to occur in the twists and turns of lifes path.

I think there are two facets to your ability to spot the swing of fate and fortune around you.  Firstly, it is about routine, if you live a clockwork existence, you will not be exposed to as many new experiences and will not have the framework for the serendipitous events that may occur.  Secondly, I believe attitude has a role to play.  My opinion is that you need to give good fortune your permission.

Last night, returning from a long week of study, I visited my local bookmaker and found him surprisingly busy for a Friday.  Not busy enough that he would not offer me a coffee, good man.  I got chatting to a very knowledgeable chap next to me about the chances of the Godolphin good thing in the 8.20 at Kempton.  The conversation was good and as it went on, I was taken by the good mans deep knowledge and strong views.  Turns out he has a string of horses across major trainers both sides of the Irish Sea.  He gave me one to follow.  Luck finds you my friends it is intrinsic in the materials and events around us.  It is happening now, relax and turn yourself in to that beautiful music.  I do not know where it might take you as there are billions of outcomes but I urge you to dismiss bad feelings as good events are upon you, if you let them be.

It might not be the best example I can give you but if you live your life in a generous and sharing manner and are open to the possibilities that may present themselves, such things will happen.  In each generation of human existence, our lives improve.

Irish Champion Stakes Tip

Without doubt, the sporting highlight of the weekend for me is the Irish Champion Stakes.  Being run as a twilight card, it is not until ten to seven this evening but I quite like that format.  It has the look of a cracking race.  I really hope that the rain has not been too heavy to persuade John Gosden to remove The Fugue who is a key actress on the stage.

Current Irish rain radar

Current Irish rain radar

That weather looks key to picking a camp to be in.  As you can see from the radar, there are some violently bright colours which look to me to be just to the north of Leopardstown.

If the track goes good to soft or worse is the key question .  So the Irish Champion tip is based firstly on how much water they are going to get and then on which horse will cope best with a downpour or the good to firm they advertised overnight.

I am gambling on a good dousing of rain.  I think the horse most unlikely to be involved if the ground goes soft is The Fugue.  She has only placed once on anything with soft in it and has more often than not, been withdrawn in such conditions.

O’Brien is claiming that Declaration of War is a better horse on good going but the stats seem to suggest he is less bothered by soft than his trainer thinks.  He has won in heavy and soft and in fact has never put a bad run in under those conditions.  There are times where I wonder if such statements are based on the trainers preference than the horses.  If you have a top horse, you might be reluctant to want to consider it versatile.  Like a utility footballer, the suggestion is jack of all trades, master of none.  For one, I am convinced that Declaration of War will love the conditions.

Kingsbarns did his winning in the slop too and while O’Brien has stuck with Declaration of War, the belated return of Kingsbarns could be quite a story.  Off the track for so long, it is hard to interpret the signal of him being bought back in at this level.  I do have a view though.

Coolmore may have an embarrassment of riches but they like to tell good stories with their top horses.  If they felt that Kingsbarns was not ready, I am sure they would have found him an easier entry point.  As such, that does not concern me.  His inexperience does, he has only raced twice, even if one of those victories was a very good Racing Post Trophy in which Trading Leather could not lay a glove on him.

Joseph O’Brien has voted for Declaration of War.  What does he know.

Then we have Al Kazeem, one of the heroes of the flat season.  When this horse retires, I am sure my enduring memory will be of the day he truly popped Camelots bubble.  He has been brilliant this season.  I do not think that it was the ground that got the better of him at York (when defeated by Declaration of War and Trading Leather), I think it was York itself.  York is definitely a specialist track.

I could dance and dance in this race but this is my confirmed position.  Forget reason.  I want the excitement of a Kingsbarns bet in my life.  I really like Seamie Heffernan and this horse was favourite for classics before his setbacks.  He will love the ground.  My view is cemented by the opinion that both the main protagonists to my tip, Al Kazeem and Declaration of War are highly tried this season (13 runs between them).  My boy might well lack experience but he gets a generous weight allowance and is fresh.  At this stage of the season, that might be the key factor.

Lots of horses get turned over at this end of the year and post race, the trainer will be telling us that they are to be put away.  I can imagine that being the case with at least one from Al Kazeem and Declaration of War.  The Fugue, if she runs, will hate conditions and Trading Leather, needs further.  Kingsbarns may well lack experience but I want that edge in my life and at 7/1 with Stan James makes a great bet.  Watch your each way selections because without the Fugue we are reduced to 7 runners.  Pray for rain.

The rest of Leopardstown…

Free Eagle may be 1/2 but is a reliable bet for multiples in the juvenile race.  Already favourite for the Derby, this looks an exciting sort.

The Matron Stakes is the poorest Group 1 race I have seen in some time and this is underlined by the market who go 4/1 the field.  Kenhope probably has the best form in the book but I am never a fan of horses with good placings hoping to translate that well to a win at the top-level.  This race might not take much winning at all and I am interested in three.  Caponata, will not mind forecast softer conditions, while not electric, she has ability.  Lily’s Angel could easily run into a place although even I am wary of advertising her win potential, it just strikes me that 20/1 is wrong.

However, my tip for the Matron is the only truly progressive horse in the line up, Fiesolana.  She has improved massively on some OK French form and is being aimed at a race on Arc weekend.  She has placed on heavy in the past so bad weather might be OK and at 8/1 with Ladbrokes, I am a buyer.

Haydock Saturday Tips

Haydock boasts an excellent card starring the Sprint Cup.  There has been a fair amount of weather related change here too.

The favourite has been a star of the season, Lethal Force surprised a fair few at Ascot but upheld that form well and looks the real deal.  However, clearly the trainer feels he likes better ground and the slight toe in conditions surely give others a squeak here.  I am slightly cautious of this view as like Declaration of War, Lethal Force has a good record on good to soft and I have seen nothing to suggest he might suffer if it is truly deep.

More than most race types, sprints I find rotate form more frequently.  These highly strung racehorses can have off days more easily than their relaxed middle distance counterparts and I am always reluctant to be on at a short price.

I am less keen on Gordon Lord Byron but you cannot rule out any sprint horse with Johnny Murtagh up.

You know what, I am sticking with Lethal Force.… That drift might be the making of us.

It seems the Haydock card has me backing favourites…. In the 2.40, Monitridge at evens looks a fine bet as Tawhid needs more than a 4lb swing to get back at him and these conditions will suit my tip.  Sir Mark Prescott delayed the start to his season but has been sensational and Pallastor at 10/3 is all the rage in the Old Borough Cup, I am in.  I also find it hard to doubt that Musical Talent 5/4 is a bad bet on handicap debut for the Queen and Hannon.

My only football tip is to give Sheffield United their opportunity in the last chance saloon.  2/1 away to Rotherham.  They might have recorded some poor results but I remain convinced there is a good team there who play nicely and will come good.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Montiridge, Lethal Force, Fiesolona, Kingsbarns

I trust your dinner to be taken in the finest company.  Eat heartily, drink well and remember… Courage, roll those dice.