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The Saturday Sermon – Shergar Cup Day Full Card – Pretty poor Saturday fayre…..

Good evening from the Major who, for once, writes from his office with the stillness beyond the door of a business exhausted of effort for the week and lying still, discarded for weekends joyous freedom.  The Gloucestershire weather is intensively muggy with a heaviness and warmth suffocating the body and foreboding of the maelstrom to come, lock down the windows.

The Major remains in situ as the good lady has the Mercedes and I remain at her whim, like a cat with a mouse, she will turn up on her own schedule.  I am minded to start work on the blog but may interrupt this piece if the pubs siren call beckons with the promise of sweet cold beer.

Update: The Major evacuated with a fire alarm, mid composition and retired to the pub.  Two pints and the carriage home arrived.  A minor detour and we had curry, back at the pile, we settled in and well, it is now a fine Worcestershire morning, warmth carrying on the breeze through my open window and a slight aching within the skull.  I have written a lot.  Do not cheat and skip to the tips… Why would you do that anyway?  The Major is barely profitable, oh I find the odd rich seam from time to time but I shall not make you rich, in a rush.  One day though my friends, that mothership will land and I live in fear of that day for what follows in uncertain.

What troubles ail our world, men of tempestuous hearts and thin intellects wreak havoc and our burden is to bear witness.  Such madness unfolds in Syria where refugees by the millions, over half being Children are herded into Jordanian refugee camps.  Zaatari is almost a permanent city, the fourth largest in Jordan.  In that country at this time of year, the breathless air heats to above 40 degrees Celsius on hot days that are dry as a bone such is the sub Arabian desert land.  Come winter, they will bear near freezing nights and the rains can come.

In Iraq, Christians fearful of the IS forces tearing through the North of their country as well as Syria have fled towns to take shelter in the Sinjar hills.  Those hills have no running water and are surrounded by hostile jihadi territory.  Those Nineveh plains are cold at night, and the wind will whip over those hills while terrified families keep cover, praying that the Sunni militants keep at bay and that the morning might bring more ‘air dropped’ relief supplies from those glinting US hulls.

Then Gaza, where two sides blinded by fury, spit violent slaughterous rage at each other, both equal in vitriol of exchange, if not in the effectiveness of the force.  Not even the heartbreaking images of childrens broken bodies lying crumpled in the streets can sober them up, that always astonishes me.  The futility drains all my souls energy.

In spite of having the richness of history to draw upon, we are all bound to sit on this merry-go-round.  This week I have sent for a copy of ‘Travels in Bokhara’ the fine work of Sir Alexandra Burnes, a Montrose man who was one of the Victorian greats, possibly our finest diplomat / spy, certainly a natural linguist and observer of life.  This book details his journey from British India up through modern-day Pakistan crossing to Afghanistan either through the Khyber or Bolan pass (I am yet to read it!).

Burnes was ultimately destined for Bukhara in what is now Uzbekistan, a place I would like to visit with its fine proud minaret and fortress with long high sloping walls.  The book is his detailed study of what he encountered, travelling in native dress with a small camp of followers – What spirit of adventure.

His end was to come in Kabul.  With the British terrified of a perceived Russian interest in India, the ‘Army of the Indus’ was despatched to seize Kabul, place a puppet on the throne and take the country.  Burnes was an ideal political, he had the tongue, was well-respected and was proven in country.  the man was confident too, he took a house in Kabul, rather than lodging inside the cantonment the British built a few miles from the city.  As the history of Afghanistan teaches, getting in is easy enough, it is the way out that brings trouble.

Burnes also had a taste for sport with Afghan women and it is said that this also led to his demise.  When the uprising came against the British, as the tribes rallied towards the call of the son of the deposed King, a mob surrounded the home of Burnes.  He spoke to them from his balcony but could not assuage the anger and his attempted flight was short-lived, he was hacked to pieces, the kyhber knives flailing and his head piked and displayed at the bazaar.

What followed was the worst military disaster Britain has arguably seen, possibly worse than the fall of Singapore.  Under a disastrously weak leadership, we negotiated an effective surrender and set the entire camp to march in winter to Jalalabad through the snowy hilly bitterly cold Afghan winter.  As soon as we were out of the camp, the Afghans were in, slaughtering the few left behind and engaging the rear guard in some bloody skirmishing.

The camps progress was hellish slow as it was bogged down with twice as many followers as there were professional soldiers.  Provisions ran low, bodies were left to die on the roadside and all the time, the Afghans picked us off from the hills with their long rifles or ran small troops of horseman into weak parts of the line before swiftly retreating.  Several new agreements were made on the march and to be fair to Akbar Khan who had united the tribes, while he was intent of the destruction of the army of the Indus, he did take woman and children as hostages.

The death of the remaining few of that army, once 14,000 strong came at Gandamak on a small knoll.  Just one man cut free from the carnage to tell the tale, Dr Brydon, a surgeon.  He made it to Jalalabad in think fog and when he told his tale of the fate of the army, Jalalabad was shocked.  They were fearful that others might be lost on the plains in the fog and dark and so they ordered the buglers to play all night.  Those buglers played but no more came.  The only other survivors of Kabul were those taken prisoner by the Afghans.  Those included Lady Sale who wrote a graphic account of the disaster.

The following year, Generals Sale and Knott took two respective armies through the passes.  The soldiers saw the bodies of their fallen comrades and their families lying at the side of the road, a strong reminder of the tragedy that had passed and enough to raise the blood.  They swept the Afghans from in front of them and while their mission of hostage recovery was not exactly revenge, it soon turned to it.  It the style of those that lead, Lord Ellenborough who commanded in Dehli gave no direct order that Kabul be raised, instead leaving it to the discretion of the men in the field.  No responsibility you see, it is the way of such men – He does not want to deny the event but does not want his signature on the order.  Whether Knott and Sale could have controlled the bloodlust anyway was a question unanswered as the red coats poured through the bazaars taking bloody revenge.  Queens honour restored.  We did not occupy, lessons had been learned, retreat and the safety of India beckoned.

The Saturday cards look a little thin on top class quality.  Still, we might in amongst it all find some treasure that we might hoard.  Shine that lance point and get on parade.

Saturday – Shergar Cup Tips

I like the Shergar Cup – It is not so much about the quality and more about the spectacle.  It is fun and we all can use that.

Last year, I seem to remember and will be happy to be corrected that Maktoum took a 1-2-3 in the Classic?  I also seem to remember Mark Johnstone having a good day too.

The European team are 13/8 to win the overall competition and I would have a punt on that.  Yes, they are favourites but by far and away the best team.  I can hear the indignation now but would point out that while Hughsie is a very capable jockey and I like the ‘keep it simple’ Jimmy Fortune style, the confidence of Queally is low and so a team comprising Dettori, De Vries and Peslier I think will ride them into the ground.

Ascot has taken some rain and while the good – good to soft official going might make some look for those who like a bit of cut, not for the Major.  Ascot drains so damn well that I doubt it will ride any worse than good, even though it took the best part of an inch of rain overnight.

It is also a bit of a specialist track, Ascot takes some riding and no jock present has a better than 10% strike rate!  That adds to the mystery of it all!

In the opener I am backing Move in Time at 6/1 (Skybet, 11/2 – 5/1 generally).  Pesliers ride was a very effective juvenile up to listed class and while some heavily laden runs have come earlier in the season, the last return to form in a conditions event at HQ was good.  That day he put over 3l between himself and Swiss Cross a useful yardstick, although it was only a four runner affair.

In the second, Sir Frank Morgan is the sort that Johnstone makes good use of and he has ready run FIFTEEN times this season and in fine form too, he has collected several pots and is now rated 82 from an opening season mark of 62.  His last run at Ripon was reasonable with the front three coming a little clear.  His record over further than two miles is excellent suggesting that stamina is an asset and on this course, that is a useful capability as while to the TV camera, Ascot looks flat and simple, as alluded to already, it takes some getting.  A stand out 9/1 is available with Coral.  That is some price and sixes is all you get with Bet365, dashes of 7s and 8s are about too.

The form of the Chester Cup looks OK and in the 2.05 I am following that line and backing another European Team horse, this time under the guidance of De Vries, in Communicator, 13/2 with BetVictor.  He finished third on the Roodee and is only a pound higher today.  He raced a bit keenly that day and I am not sure that the tight turns of Chester suited entirely.  He has been freshened up since that race with a three-month break and if he can iron out some of his racing quirks, then I believe we have a contender.

Samanka Khumalo is a jockey you might not have heard of but he is a South African champion having risen from the Townships to such glories.  I am sure he would get a tremendous reception if he can guide Tenor home and I think this is one of his better chances.  The horse was second last time out in the listed race at Pontefract when competing off just 91.  He has gone up the best part of a stone for that but it might be reasonable.  It was his attempt at a hat-trick and back in this standard, he might fare better.

Yet, as much as I am guarded by the presence of Tom Queally in the saddle (I am not slating his ability but he looks little short on confidence of late), I am backing Magic City, a general 3/1 shot and 7/2 with William Hill.  His run in the Betfred Mile was very interesting, perhaps not made enough use of by Hughsie, he finished a staying on third and so this trip makes a lot of sense.  That was certainly a tougher race than this and so the price looks very generous to me, smash it up.

If there is cut in the ground, it will suit Wrangler, a 7/2 shot, in the 3.15pm, though I think decent ground will be fine too.  This Haggas inmate is seeking a hat-trick and I always have a soft spot for one of his ‘improvers’.  Having won on soft, this staying track is going to suit and with the guidance of Dettori, I think this improving three year old will take all the beating – Another to feel confident about.

Telmeyd is another improver hailing from Haggas but Steff Hoffi may not be the jockey I want steering and so I am looking for a bit more value in the last.  Trip to Paris also looks on an upward curve and a 6th in a good King George V looks very well in the light of this card, following up last time back here and now rated 90.  I am placing my last shekels for Ascot on Remember who the markets (17/2) agree is well placed to reverse form with Deeds not Words (10/1).  That form looks good and the weight has leveled the issue which is excellent as I thought mine was a bit unlucky not to be closer anyway.

Newmarket Fancies

Now the rain has gotten more into the Newmarket Heathlands and so I am looking for soft ground horses here, particularly early on in the card before the moisture has gone.

I am pretty sure it will suit Englishman in the 3.05 who can be backed at 9/2 with BetVictor, though is 4/1 generally.  His early form was smart enough but he seemed to have lost his way a little until signs of life returned, particularly last time out at Windsor.  That was run on faster ground than ideal and this time, with Spencer in the saddle, I expect more.

The 3.35 is packed with young improvers and Winters Moon looked very well on appearance running on to beat Shagah, a Hannon horse who won next time out at Goodwood and Stroll Patrol, third, who also won next time out, at Leicester.  That is enough for me, although I might live to regret not backing 16/1 Savoy Showgirl who needs more but has shown that she copes in softer conditions.

Football Tips

Begrudgingly, I have to accept that possibly my football tips have been better than my racing over time.  Begrudging because that feels so low rent.  Oh you snob Major; I hear you cry – Well, I shall give you my teams.  Opening day is not a day to go long, pre season is not reliable form, new signings may be bedding in and who knows the effect of an extended break on teams and players.  As such, I am looking for turnups and am going to back Birmingham at 4/1, Clark has been given time there and his heart is in the right place.  I also think Reading (21/5) is another price worth buying with a trip to Wigan (oh how they cost me last year, time for revenge!).

The Martin Hill is an each way double with Coral (if you get there in time good sir) on Sir Frank Morgan and Magic City.

May your dinner be taken in great state with a wondrous creature bejeweled and dazzling.  I know you do not deserve it, but who does?  Let he without sin cast the first stone.  John 8:7.

Courage friends, roll the dice.

The Saturday 2,000 Guineas Sermon… Courage and roll the dice

Good morning from a glorious Worcestershire scene where the near unblemished sky carries a sole vapour-trail scar.  It zigzags across the higher strata as though the plane that left it led an effected path across the heaven.  First light was cool, as it is at this time of year but soon the brightness came and now the horizon glints and dazzles aggressively and my dislike of it alludes to a few glasses too many.

The Major has little time to hold court this morning but thank goodness I stopped Punchestown when I did.  We were in clover on day one with a good strike rate and a 12/1 winner.  Day two was ugly with a sole 3/1 winner and plenty of shorties getting turned over.  I did not blog for Thursday and Friday and it was divine intervention as my own thoughts turned out to be poisoned feral errors that would only have weakened your bank and put your fine weekend dining in some doubt.  Courage to those who roll the dice today.

The Guineas day has often served me well, I feel good that we will be back to form today.  We also have a monster Scoop 6 to go at – Ah, it is good to be alive.

We shall not dwell in the pulpit this week, No – Let us get straight into the sports.  Suffice to say, I wish on us the fortune of the light brigade, we shall ride hard into the gunners positions, taking fire from all sides in our foolish endeavours but the glory is ours.  C’est magnifique, mais c’est ne pas guerre.

As a final thought – The Major must promote a fine endeavour undertaken by Simon Dawkins who is encouraging us gentleman gamblers to share the wealth of our winnings, or indeed to not bet and make a donation instead all for the good cause of Macmillan.  We all know someone touched by cancer and we all feel better in our hearts and souls for giving some of our own resources to provide better care for those effected by it.

Make a donation, or just give a share of your winnings, quantum is less important than participation.  Click here.

2000 Guineas Tips

What an absolutely cracking Guineas.  We have the main protagonists lining up to settle a fascinating dispute.  The stalls being central, I trust that the jockeys will chart a single course which would be good for all.

Kingman leads the market and, as with most of these, a lot of hype surrounds this horse.  We certainly did not get to see him in the bigger autumn juvenile challenges as he was recovering from ankle surgery.  Thus his key form line to supplement the stable noises is a very impressive victory in the Greenham on reappearance where he fairly demolished a decent field.  His breeding is not as blue-blooded as some of his rivals, he is match fit…

In the UK and Ireland, we have gotten used to Galileo and Montjeu being the stallions of our choicest colts but now there are new players on the scene.  New Approach had a tremendous season and is sure to be bred to better mares as a result.  Plus, Coolmore are importing to race War Front colts and War Command looks an excellent type.

I was really taken with his win in the Coventry and some of his subsequent loss of lustre is explainable.  He gets conditions and the worlds best flat jockey in Ryan Moore and so is not easy to dismiss.

Last season, Toranado stepped up to be a major player for Team Hannon and this year, that flag is flown by Toormore.  He has a lot of support, quite rightly as juvenile champion and has done little wrong.  Breeding does not support him as being the best of the best but we should not be dictated solely by the qualities of the blood.

Shocks in the race do occur, see Mafki.  Normally, they are under-rated European raiders and Noozhoh Canarias is going to have a popular support.  The Major however would give a token chance to Bookrunner at a massive 66/1 (BetVictor) – He was not disgraced in the Prix Djebel and the yard would not be over here for nothing.

The Major though opts for Australia at 4/1 with Coral.  Ballydoyle have been outspoken about this son of Galileo who has clearly being doing his best work off the course.  His form is little to crow about but being the pick of Joseph O’Brien from a yard that has won this classic in four of the last ten runnings, you have to take notice.  He is clearly a derby prospect, probably more than a miler but I am less concerned about that as I think he will have a tremendous lung bursting pace to aim at.

I do not think this will be the popular pick as the ‘thinkers’ will be angling into the other horses with a snazzy line about the ground or a line of form.  Let us not be afraid to be simple though.  Best yard, only Galileo in the race, highly talked of.  Shabash, load the large cannon.

The Monster Scoop6

I ma not going to dwell for long in these waters but thought I would share the single ticket I am entering:

Leg 1 – 2.05 Newmarket – Big Baz

Leg 2 – 2.40 Newmarket – Pearl Secret

Leg 3 – 3.oo Thirsk – Music in the Rain

Leg 4 – 3.30 Goodwood – Pal of the Cat

Leg 5 – 3.40 Thirsk – Off Art

Leg 6 – 3.50 Newmarket – Australia

Our chances of winning are nil if we have not entered.

Saturday Racing

I am looking forward to seeing Annie Power at Punchestown, I thought she was desperately unlucky not to be a winner of the World Hurdle although you can take little away from the winner.  She will slaughter this lot even if she were carrying an extra stone.  Her style of hurdling is a delight to watch, so fast and accurate over the obstacles, a joy to behold and one to look forward to chasing.  1/5 clearly shows that I have simply stated the obvious.

A horse that I would give a chance to at Punchestown is Adriana Des Mottes who fell early at Cheltenham but subsequently won a mares event.  12/1 might be a bit dismissive there.  Guitar Pete is a danger too, especially reunited with Carberry who delivered a peach of a ride at Aintree, yet Tiger Roll looked very good in the Triumph and remains lightly raced and full of top class potential.  3/1 Ladbrokes, get stuck right in!

Goodwood is very much a ‘horses for courses’ track.  In the 2.55 we have a runner that has won three times from three attempts here and it is a strong facet for the Major to punt Magic City at 7/2 with BetVictor.  The reason the course form is so important is that, like Epsom, Goodwood carries a significant camber and you need a runner that has experienced it and enjoys it.

On a Saturday where the Major seeks certainty, Trading Leather at Newmarket goes in at 5/4 (drifting).  The thing is, the horse has proven Group credentials with an Irish Derby win on his CV.  Nothing in this field boasts anything similar and it would be disappointing if we did not get a comfy win here.

The Major brings you the classics and the snippets… Hexham, 6.30; I bet you did not think you would read those words… Mohawk Ridge – I think this is an excellent handicapping mark and am able to draw a line through some of his rivals…. 3/1, get on.

To the football…. Just two selections.

Sunderland at 7/1 are a bet – Their resurgence gives them a squeak at United.  Millwall are 5/4 at home to Bournemouth and the great motivator will have the home team fully wound up.

The Martin Hill bet is Mohawk Ridge, Tiger Roll, Australia and Magic City – Yankee.

I trust that your dinner will be silver service and the finest of cuisine.  A choice wine and choicer company with her flaxen hair curled to the shoulder in a lazy effect.

Courage and roll the dice.

The Major at Ascot for Sagaro Stakes Day – Whizz Kidz Special

Ascot, finery, speed, thumping heartbeats, clean those saddlecloths young lancer, we ride at daybreak

The Major has to report that the Saturday Service was the most barren for some time without selecting a winning piece of advice.  Shame. Relentless positivity is the Majors mantra, it is always our move and so tomorrow we move to a new battleground in Berkshire.  A tipping service for each Ascot race is listed below.

Tomorrow the Major leads a troop of ten gallant young warriors for Sagaro Stakes Day.  The weather forecast is cool.  The car is packed with a marvelous luncheon of cut meats, lime and chilli skewered chicken, fresh  french style bread, salamis, cheeses, good ham, pimms based refreshments with some light beers and an interesting pear cider too… the Major has prepared stores for a lengthy battle with thanks reserved for Kelly who has performed quartermaster duty admirably. 

What a great day of racing too.  A moment to reflect on Sagaro who the feature race is named after.  This chestnut was the first horse to win three Ascot Gold Cups, an achievement only recently matched by Yeats.  This particular win is the Majors favourite, watch Lester in his 40s at this stage, remaining motionless in the leaders shadow, stalking silently, waiting, he knew what he had beneath him, then a shake of the reins and SHABASH the game is up.  Moments reflecting the past, make the achievement in the present more profound.

The purpose of the trip is both fun and in good cause.  You may remember that the Major suffered a knee injury recently, which happens to be a broken Patella.  It ruled me out of the marathon.  This is one of the fundraisers which we are going ahead with regardless as the cause is good and you try and stop us racing.

The Major is putting on the fun and the ten guests are coughing up a hearty donation to Whizz Kidz – A marvelous charity which provides mobility equipment and training, which changes the lives of many severely disabled children.  A great cause, it will be nice to sit in the hazy Berkshire sun in that fine surround knowing a great charity benefits.

To the cards and the winners.

2pm Aldemore Conditions Stakes

There was so much to like about Magic City in the Newbury victory although hanging left in the closing stages was a slight concern.

The same hanging tendency struck The Penny Horse whose overall form is poorer and was certainly less eye-catching but is arguably the best bred in the race, certainly One Cool Cookie the Sire has a much better sprinting pedigree than Magic City.

Miss Work of Art won a maiden at class 5 level which qualifies the filly for a zero penalty, thus she should be carrying 8, 6 in the Majors working but she is marked as 8, 10 on the Racing Post card, something is not right.

Overall there is little not to like about Magic City but 1/3 is not a backable prospect for a two-year old sprinter.  14/1 about The Penny Horse for small stakes is the Majors view.

2.30 EBF Stakes

Gosden is well armed for this Stakes race with some great 3yo prospects.  Flood Plain, 3/1, is regarded well enough to have been shipped to America for the Breeders Cup meeting, that didn’t work out but I am sure Gosden wasn’t flying him out for the air.

Hezmah, 2/1, is a surprising favourite to the Major but given it is a Gosden horse too, there is a strong indication that it is a better animal than Flood lain, the jockey booking of Richard Hills supports that.

Hills has started the season in good touch and Mystic Dream is a decent 11/2 proposition.  It had an interesting start to life winning a Deauville all weather contest.  More British trainers are raiding Ireland and France for the prizemoney and maybe that was the thinking, who knows. 

It is Mystic Dream and Dubaianswer, 10/1, that the Major finds interesting.  The latter should go well on the surface and has won his only race. 

Hmmm.  On balance if they were not by the same trainer I would opt for Flood Plain.  3/1 seems fair now he is dropped back in grade.  I cannot bring myself to back Meznah at 2/1 given the comparative form but that makes it hard to back Flood Plain if training connections have had them work together!

Byrony is an interesting sort on his mixed 2yo form.  I would have prefered a run but he is experienced.  What puts me off is the ground, I am not sure he wants it rattling.

This is a tough call.  Dubaianswer at 10/1 is the selection but it is hard to put you off any of them.

3.05 Britains Got Talent Stakes Race

What a great name for a race.  Who knows if there is a production party on hand.

St Moritz is the choice of the Major who although set with the burden of top weight, will thrive on the jarring ground.

Zacinto will be a threat to all if the trainer has him back at his best.  This Dansili colt though might just need to wait for some cut in the ground to be seen back to his best.  That said 4 and a half lengths short of Goldikova, 1 and a half short of Paco Boy, if Zacinto is back to his best, game over.

Your choice, St Moritz each way at 7/1 for the sensible folk or load the cannon on Zacinto at 3/1.

3.40 Group 3 Sagaro Stakes

The Betchworth Kid made a winning return to the flat and is interesting having won on firm.  Not the most solid prospect though.

The ones that will love conditions are Asker Tau, Akmal, Rajik and possibly the Queens horse, Free Agent.

Akmal certainly has some questions to answer. 

Asker Tau and Rajik are the two to consider for the Major.  On balance, Asker Tau feels better value at a bigger price and with trainer form assured.  Rajik would be picked but the last ten runners of Charlie Mann have only returned one place.

4.15 Cleanevent Pavilion Stakes

An interesting line up, some real quality, some back in trip, others looking for a return to form.

Murbeh, 16/1, has a squeak back on more suitable ground but on seasonal debut is best watched.  I have seen worse 16/1 shots though for those that like a price.

Libranno for Hannon and Hughes is bound to be involved but will have to be resilient to win carrying a penalty.  That said, the Craven form has a touch of class about it.

On balance, the Major goes for Margot Did, 9/4.  This one will like conditions, has good form in the book and with Hayley on board, Shabash!

4.50 The Ascot Handicap

What a finish, a conundrum in a puzzle wrapped in a swirling vortex of possibility.  Thank God the Major has solved it.

Lord Aeryn is a tasty 13/2 and Prince Apollo is a tastier 12/1. 

On the former, conditions will not be a problem, recent form looks good and there can be more improvement, solid.

On the second, mixed form can correlate to ground conditions.  Back on the preferred rattling surface, having a recent win under his belt, with a red hot trainer (4 winners from 5 runners in last fortnight, a more hit and miss prospect but 12/1, at this stage of day, it is time for KABOOOM!

Good luck to you all.