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Thursday Aintree Card – Why I’m Bypassing the Grand National

Good evening from the Major who writes tired from his bed and thus will keep things brief, if that is OK with you.

When you are being slung out of the office by the security guard and find yourself buying an 11pm kebab for dinner (not ideal Paris Marathon, Sunday, prep), you know it has been a day.  Yet, a damn productive one too.  I was not there under sufferance, more capturing the spirit of productivity coursing through my veins.

Sleep beckons though.  I started typing at midnight and plan to be finished by twenty to one.  That means 40 minutes, to fit in a diatribe about the national and give some tips.   Now you can do the maths but you can see that not a  lot of time in this equation is dedicated to the fine art of studying form.  I am not selling this well am I.  Come to think of it, I never do.

The Major remains free, slightly profitable and unhinged.  Here for your delectation.

Why the Major is Bypassing the Grand National

This week I am going to receive thousands of visitors seeking a tip on the national.  It is a moment of the year when our sport is in the nation’s mind.  we will be front page and not just back page.

Yet, it is race that I, for one, am done with.  At essence, it does not compare to the national hunt racing I love, baring few similarities.

No other race is run over four and a half miles.   The obstacles are like no other these horses face and the melee of the scene and forty horses piling around makes for an ugly spectacle.

Now some will think that I am either soft or a hypocrite.  Let me take those in turn.  To the first I say that I love racing despite its inherent dangers.  The thrill of watching these fine athletes strut their stuff… well, I find it intoxicating.  Yet, with the National, the danger is no longer a feared risk which is the by-product of the challenge… no, the danger becomes the spectacle.

The commentator excitedly calling the spills, betting markets on whether they all survive the first fence, I find it less appealing.

I hope all 40 horses make it round safely but I’d rather give it a miss myself.  If racing wanted a safer national, less runners is where I would start, followed by severe changes to some of the jumps, particularly those, like Bechers, with a severe drop.  Then, National fans, would wring their hands and exclaim that the heart of the race has gone.  Good riddance would be my reply.  This is no good advert for racing.

That is my other issue with the National.  The controversy around it may threaten racing more widely.  Further tragedies may create more popular support for banning the race.  I would prefer we dealt with it now.

I have it off my chest.

Thursday Aintree Card

Aintree and Punchestown can throw some odd results.  It is a time of the year when the ground is changing and horses that have been running on softer ground, meet spring ground, changing their prospects.  Horses who have been on the go a lot, or mainly prepared with Cheltenham in mind can also throw some shockers too.  Thus, a little caution is advised.

In the opener a prime example of a must back horse is there.  Irish Saint bypassed Cheltenham for a crack at Aintree and clearly Paul Nicholls thinks a flat track is what he needs.  Judged on his performance up the Cheltenham hill when second to Rolling Star previously, I am sure he is right.  10/3 Stan James.

Flaxen Flare is a danger to all if reproducing an astonishing Fred Winter performance that came after the application of headgear.

Silviniaco Conti is an unbelievable 10/11 shot.  He has been a much improved horse this season and would certainly (in my eyes) have played a part in the finish of the Gold Cup had he not fell coming down the hill.  Load the cannons.

The New One is a hugely likeable horse having just beaten My Tent or Yours at Cheltenham in a warm up before winning the Neptune Novices.  Good ground holds no fears and what is not to like?  Yet he is meeting older horses for the first time here and we should be fearful of several.  Oscar Whisky ran too badly to be true in the World Hurdle and is a considered beast on ground he likes.

Zarkander has been fitted with headgear which is odd as I see nothing wrong with the attitude of the horse but having run well earlier in the year, looked just short of top class when fourth in the Champion.

It is Grandouet I side with who was still travelling well when falling in the Champion, runs well on good and can be forgiven finishing behind Zarkander on reappearance after a long lay off.

The foxhunters is run on the national course and considering my earlier rant, it is one I shall leave, even though it is a far safer race and not one I oppose in itself.

In the Red Rum, Kid Cassidy is of clear interest having finished second to another JP owned horse in the Grand Annual last time out.  That race is bound to throw up more handicap winners and this one is a clear contender.  However, I side with Astracad who loves good ground, is young enough to improve and races off a similar mark to when placing in this last year.  The Twiston Davies family have had a good year and I back it to continue.

I am having a big slice of Captain Conan in the novice chase.  Many did not like the look of his Sandown win and judged him a non stayer.  Whether that is correct or not, I am unsure but his defeat by Benefficient (indeed behind Changing Times too) in the Jewson was more the result of poor jumping in my view.  Many of these might not act on good drying ground and Captain Conans physique and style suggest he might be one but I struggle to find a much better one to beat him.

In the last race, the three mile handicap hurdle, I am going to opt for Many Clouds who really impressed me last time out and looked a shade classy.  He has big field experience and is my idea of the winner at 14/1.  One at 20s worth a mention and probably wholly unfancied is Connectivity.   He is likely to much prefer this ground to his Warwick reappearance and I would not rule his involvement out.

 

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The Saturday Sermon – Festival Tips | Cheltenham Charity Tipping Contest – Imperial Cup Tips

Good morning from the Major who writes from a darkened Worcestershire where the sky carries a grey heaviness, dripping in uncertainty.

The dampness is omnipresent, seeping into everything, forming an unholy alliance with the chill air.  So pervasive are conditions, it is hard to imagine the whole world is not enveloped in the same.  How we long for the sun to burn through.

Can you beat this shrewd tipster!  Young Matthew is ready to take you on!

Can you beat this shrewd tipster! Young Matthew is ready to take you on!

The fact I feel unsettled is amplified by the weather based Cheltenham worries.  Temperatures are forecast to be -5 degrees overnight on Monday as the Russian Eastern front rolls in, enough to have the course scrambling to get the covers down.  At the moment they are on the take offs and landings but the whole course might be covered if needs be.

Is the festival in danger?  I have known Cheltenham survive minus seven overnight.  To do so, the daytime recovery is vital.  Should we only be looking at 1/2 degrees on Tuesday by mid morning then we all might be in for a mighty disappointment, damn you weather front.

A lot of the enjoyment of any event is in the waiting.  Like the holiday you have booked, the pleasant thoughts that precede it can lighten your mood from a cold gloomy Saturday and 19 miles of marathon training that you are due to put in.  With the thing itself at risk, the impact is on the anticipation too.

The Major has posted a couple of antepost tips but I shall spill my Cheltenham festival thoughts out here instead and then invite you all followers to take part in my free Cheltenham charity tipping competition (might cost you!).  As usual I shall be your eminent guide as to where you might lose your money today.  Let’s be honest, it is not a day to be bold.

I will write up a daily blog next week but here are my thoughts on Cheltenham.

Cheltenham Tips

My Tent or Yours will win the Supreme, load the cannons now because there is not a lot else to back at the top of the market, now AP is booked, Jezki is not going to shorten at the same rate and I see MTOY going off very short. Load the Cannons at 7/4  and be in a position where the Supreme dictates your week!

I am a Simonsig rather than an Overturn man for the Arkle.  The former looks unstoppable.

Zarkander looks a bet in the Champion Hurdle.  What has he done wrong? Arabella Boy for the Cross Country and Quevega in the Mares.

The Neptune carries my biggest Antepost exposure in Taquin du Seuil.  I have been putting this horse about to friends and anyone daft enough to listen – If it goes in, you will hear me.

Of course Sprinter Sacre wins… I cannot wait for that.  I have a 40/1 ticket on Son of Flicka in the Coral Cup but he needs decent ground.  I like Regal Encore in the bumper although blimey… you are comparing the incomparable.

Dynaste turning up in the Jewson is going to be my biggest antepost disappointment.  I have some investments on him storming up the hill as the winner of the RSA… damn you Pipe.

The Ryanair looks unbelievably good as horses flee the Aeroplane.  Cue Card really looks like he is fulfilling his promise and I take him.

Everyone thinks Oscar Whiskey is a non stayer but not me.  I think he stayed well up the hill at Cheltenham in January and he will have needed that run.  We are missing Big Bucks, Monksland and Reve de Sivola so the World Hurdle is not the strongest anyway.  Despite me thinking Oscar Whiskey is the best bet, my biggest bets are going to be on the horse that I love to watch, Bog Warrior, he has a chance too… Just bear in mind that I would back him to beat Gary Kasparov at chess too.

In the Triumph I like Rolling Star, the defeat of Irish Saint shows he handles the rolling countryside of Cheltenham and as a debut goes, that was very very good!

In the Gold Cup, Sir Des Champs is the one I am ducking.  The value has been sapped from Long Run who has most of my antepost money.  Silviniaco Conti is the bet for me right now.

Tanks for That at 16s finishes the antepost position.

The Martin Hill Cheltenham Lucky 15 is Arabella Boy, My Tent or Yours, Cue Card and Oscar Whiskey.

The Cheltenham Contest

I want to raise some money for a charity that is close to my heart…. Footsteps Foundation.  I want to raise a few quid over Cheltenham and thus challenge any followers to take on the mighty tipster that is my four year old son Matthew (pictured).

All bets will be at SP.  Submit yours in the comments.  You have to cover… The Champion Hurdle, The Champion Chase, The World Hurdle, The Gold Cup, The Neptune, The Supreme, The Ryanair, The Champion Bumper, the RSA and the Jewson.

I will publish a list of the tips, including the ones that Matthew picks.  His method will be simple, I will show him the horses, read out their names and a combination of name and colours will guide his selection.  I won’t guide him, all selections will be his and his alone…

The Charity Bit…

I think Matthew can beat a few of you and so I will publish the results and will donate a fiver to the charity for each of you that beats him.  As a condition of entry, I ask you to donate a tenner in the unlikely event that you lose to him!  What say thee… dare to take on the mighty tipster!

All you need to do is post your tips for the selected races in the comments.  No money is required until the result and then it will be done on trust.  After all, the Major has readers that are sound of heart and of unquestionable integrity.

Tips for Saturday | Imperial Cup

Can you have a stronger smell of a horse plotted for a gamble than Mr Mole.  A JP horse with Nicholls who is put away for the Imperial… C’mon kids, take the hint and have a slice at 9/2.  There are good reasons to like many of the others including Tominator who will relish the bustle of the big field and Tanerko Emery representing the Pipe operation that have really made hay in this race (5 winners in the last 12 years).  Let us not forget though that Mr Mole also beat Melodic Rendevouz and that is top class form…  Load a cannon, in fact smash a massive cannon into the 9/2 with Paddy Power who give you 5 places.

The earlier race is the EBF Final (2.05) and a wide open novice awaits.  I can’t believe Many Clouds is 11/1.  The last race he won was impressive, not spectacular at first glance but beat a good Ditcheat yardstick and the two had pulled well clear.

Swatow Typhoon in the opening novice at Ayr is a backable evens prospect.  Have a small slice.

I also like Current Event in the 3.40 at Chepstow but am struggling to raise the energy to tell you why.

In the football, QPR at home at 13/10 versus a poor Sunderland needs your urgent attention.  Swansea at 11/5 to beat WBA will upset Mr Hill but I think they are a team that do not get enough credit.  The Watford money train that has served us so well at 5/6 needs to be backed again.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 for today is Watford, Mr Mole, Current Event and QPR.

May your dinner be most pleasant, an uncomfortable feeling in your pocket as you Cheltenham roll, large enough to choke a donkey digs into those ribs.  Hold your ground young man, we do not break the line until we see the whites of their eyes.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon | Full Ascot Tips | Black Caviar | Crowdsourcing a Multiple | Building a Cheltenham War Chest

Good evening from the Major who writes from a cooling damp Worcestershire scene.  The Major is tired and uneasy.  There is nothing like a good night of rest to resolve that but since the night lies between me and a refreshed state, then you have to take me as you find me…  Slipping into the night state, in that phase where the day and night merge with thoughts dancing on the edge of reason and fears you can almost touch.

We are used to the news being a repeating loop of misery but earlier today, a BBC report from Mali breached my usual bullet-proof emotionally barren defences.  The image is stark, the setting desperate and the mental conditions achieved to cut a man’s arm off… it is so unfathomably distant, it is hard to belief that it exists in the world we inhabit.

There were other items of news this week which scored direct hits on my usually high levels of mischief and boisterousness, anniversaries of tragedies, fresh tragedies, meteors missing the earth (a 6 mile one wiped out the Dinosaurs you know), food, trouble, more trouble, scandal, disgrace, death, disease, lying, filth.

Tiredness, stress, these things lower ones defences.

There are so many slices of pain which are upsetting to dwell upon, endless reams of stories, regenerating each day, the man from Mali made the limelight, many others are merely minor parts, in such a world, stab after stab, remorseless, brutal, without reason.  The reality of aging is coming to terms with the meaning of life… inevitable relentless decay, sometimes sudden and collapsing, sometimes protracted.  It comes for us all, if not at first, then at last.

You may be wondering whether I intend to remain in this sombre mood for the rest of the sermon.  The answer is no.  Having removed myself of the burden (thank you for listening), I feel lightened and able to move on.  I shall lament in these disconsolate streets no more.

You see, we are here, we are alive and we owe it as a duty to enjoy ourselves.  To open our eyes to the glory of possibility.  So today, observe, relax, laugh and enjoy, feel no guilt for that which the fickle hand of fate has given you.  For we are here, we are alive.  Enjoy it, consider it dutiful.

To the sports…

Cheltenham is coming.  In four weeks, all of our questions will be answered.  Is the Major right about Long Run being under-rated?  Will Sprinter Sacre dominate the Champion Chase?  Will he be the shortest priced winner ever?  Is Hurricane Fly the best two mile hurdler there is?  Are Dynaste, Quevega and Simonsig good things? Can Oscar Whisky reverse form with Reve de Sivola? but will Bog Warrior provide a surprise and come over the top of both of them?

Ah… the anticipation.  Right now all of our dreams are intact.  Well, that is unless your antepost bubbles have started to pop with the tragic death of Darlan or the withdrawal of Tidal Bay and Flemenstar.  I am afraid it is that time where we hold our breath, hoping they get the key players arrive in one piece, anxiously watching Betfair and twitching at the slightest move in the markets.

On that point, what a class act the Ditcheat yard are.  With a prominent position in the national and World Hurdle market, there was not a tremor before the news broke concerning Tidal Bay… fair play.

We don’t know what the festival holds but I am willing to be the answers to my questions are Yes, Yes, Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Probably not but I’m backing him anyway out of unadulterated love.

I hope your antepost portfolio is bulging like a drunk mans belly, fattening up nicely for the feast.  Today we shall try to add to your war chest.  We shall raise the capital required for war with a few tactical raids on the enemy supply lines.  I see a few opportunities, a few wagon carts of ammunition on the road guarded by merely a few dozen of their light lancers, we shall take them at the double, engage at close quarters and withdraw sharply with the Maria Theresa coins spilling from our saddle packs.  Shabash!

Anyone joining me at 5.30am to see Black Caviar?  The wonder mare is set to rock Flemington again and it is worth getting up for.  1/20 for Nelly to win in the morning, she is under rated in the UK by some after almost getting chinned at Royal Ascot.  She was legless in the conditions that day and was carrying injuries as well as being lighter after the exertions of travel.  Her terms, her turf tomorrow – Watch the monster devour the prey.

Jim Knight – Have a terrific day at Ascot, I would say be lucky, but you are… being there, the cold air on your face, the heaving hulks of sweating beasts after their exertions for your pleasure, drink beer, gamble with intent and have a ready eye for mischief.

I am focussing on Ascot, Haydock is left for someone else.

Saturday Ascot Tips

Conditions are soft and with Ascot being such a fast drying course and a dry forecast, I am edging towards good to soft horses.

The opening novice hurdle contains some decent sorts but looks short of a top class star.

Aaim to Prosper has not done an awful lot wrong – A late converter to hurdling, he was the only ever horse to win two Cesarewitch’s.  I am not convinced.

It is Up and Go that I think could be the pick of the bunch and probably offers the most scope.  He beat Many Clouds last time out at Wetherby and that horse went on to an Exeter success next time out.  Up and Go has fallen twice in the last year but was much more fluent last time.  I would get lumpy but the front running tactics concern me slightly.

I have no similar hesitations about recommending the 5/6 on offer about Rocky Creek in the second.  He looked to have the beating of Tour Des Champs last time before his rival fell and The Real Milan is not a convincing traveller.

The listed handicap chase is a trickier affair.  Vino Griego seemed to benefit from a much more patient ride last time out and looks a tempting prospect, despite a 10lb rise.  Instead, the Major is intrigued by the Kim Bailey trained The Rainbow Hunter at 9/1.  The horse has a national entry, Kim Bailey has an excellent Ascot record with his rare runners here and with a line through the last run at Chepstow (suspect not suited by the Welsh bog – When heavy there, it means swimming!) he has a live chance.  His winning form is over several subsequent winners and has a very solid feel to it… snap it up.

The 3.15 is a very trappy handicap, Bourne looked top draw when running down Dildar at Sandown before finding a lightweight but power packed McCoy way too good on Mr Watson at Cheltenham.  Not easily overlooked, but overlooked all the same.  Whitby Jack is of more interest having run well on return before picking up a race at Kempton last time out.  7lbs is unlikely to be a big problem.  Ruby Walsh is a very eye-catching booking for Queens Grove who looks a reasonable 9/1 shot.  On balance, Whitby Jack at 7/1 is the selection, have a slice and thank me later.

The main event is the very tasty morsel that is the Betfair Ascot Chase.  The Major is very interested to see Finians Rainbow return to chasing after a lengthy spell off.  Following last years thrilling and slightly controversial Champion Chase, Finians flopped and has been the subject of a wind operation.  His Champion Chase though was first class.  He beat an on form Sizing Europe fair and square in the Majors view, even if the omitted fence caused some issues.

I am not sure this will suit Captain Chris who looks more reliable this season but I am not entirely sure he will run as well today.  Hobbs could be in better form too.  Connections of Cue card are hoping that a drop back in trip will help the horse improved, the Major is watching this one only.

The real danger could be Somersby who has won at Ascot before and is a consistent sort who deserves a few Grade 1s.

On balance, I am siding with the horse I think could be top class and that is Finians Rainbow, 7/2 with Coral.

River Maigue and Far West will be battling out the penultimate contest and in receipt of a little weight, I gently suggest the latter.

In the bumper, Pipe probably has a good idea of where he stands with Red Sherlock 4/5 against Captain Cutter as the latter beat the formers’ stable companion last time out.  It is too hard to read into those form lines and while Red Sherlocks Towcester win was impressive, there was not a lot to beat.  He is 12/1 for the Champion Bumper though.

Good luck Jim.

Gowran Park – Zaidpour

The Saturday Gowran, Red Mills trial is a cracking days racing.  No bets for me, Zaidpour should do the business in a weak field for a Grade 2 but I just don’t trust him.

Wincanton – Zarkander

Zarkander and Grandouet are my main antepost interests for the Champion Hurdle and it would be a massive surprise to me if the Nicholls star could get beat here.  I think the 1/2 will look generous when he serves up a beating to this lot.

In the football – I am going to smash into Watford at 8/5 at Birmingham City.  The latter are in a bit of a state with the manager disciplining one of their most effective players (Zigic) over poor training (the worst he has ever seen apparently! The fans are siding with the player and all in, it is brewing for an unhappy camp and a venue that Watfords strong squad should easily garner three points from.

Picking Carlisle to win at Portsmouth 6/5 does not make me feel proud, yu have to feel for the Pompey fans but with their squad being peddled together from a series of short-term loans, there is little Guy Whittingham or his players can do for now.

The Crowdsourcing Multiple

I invited followers on the twitter feed to supply a NAP for the Saturday sport and had a number of responses… here they are:

@chesneywold – Somersby 3.50 Ascot

@charleah – Vino Griego – 2.40 Ascot

@doublehandful – Rocky Creek – 2.05 Ascot

@adamclarke501 – Luton to beat Millwall

@tankard999 – Bournemouth at Preston

@lukeyboy1325 – Swincombe Stone 3.05 Wincanton

My staking plan for this is an Alphabet.  That is a patent on Vino, Somersby and Rocky; a further patent on Luton, Bournemouth and Swincome and a yankee across the middle (Somersby, Rocky, Luton and Bournemouth).  Interesting!

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is: The Rainbow Hunter, Rocky Creek, Watford and Finians Rainbow

May your dinner be fuelled by the riches your fellow-man has provided.  May each help the other feast.  Open a bottle of something nice.

Courage, roll those dice.