Tag Archives: mr watson

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.

Cheltenham Wednesday Tips – The Champion Chase, Champion Bumper… and Taquin Du Seuil

Good evening from the Major who returns to an icy Worcestershire scene from the equally frigid Cheltenham air.  Post racing, I dined in Pershore tonight, the company was good, the dinner reasonable but the restaurant odd.   The subtleties required that underpin a good service were lost on my hosts.  Still 6/10.

The same score could apply to the review of day one of Cheltenham, we went to battle but no definitive blows were struck, we danced around our enemy, driving into their lines in small neat packs, sharp fast movements, not overly committal and retreating quickly under threat from their rearguard.  There were some warm engagements as Champagne Fever struck at 15/2 and then the more obvious Simonsig and Quevega results bolstered our position.  Yet the gloss was tarnished by the no-show of Hazy Tom, Monkerty Tunkerty, Loch Ba and Grandouet, ah Grandouet.

Still very healthy profits from day one.  I did though get the Champion Hurdle all wrong.  Fair play Hurricane Fly, he was sublime.  Other day one observations.  The ground is not proper soft and being prominent is still important.  Easy.

Performance of Champion Hurdle day has to go to Quevega who looked beat on the downhill run but the game old girl plugged on, christ she knows where the finish line is.  With my yelps of KICK RUBY KICK KICK KICK urging her up the hill and an expectant crowd waiting to pay homage to her… a special Cheltenham moment.  I do hope that next year she competes to win the race again, an unprecedented sixth festival win.  I also wonder if we cannot jiggle the race namings so that she gets to run in the Quevega Mares Hurdle.

So much about Cheltenham is good that it is sometimes easy to brush over what is bad.  The diversity of life on show is one of the main attractions.   Throw in opportunities for merriment and skullduggery and any soul who still has an ache for life can’t fail to enjoy yourself.

Today, I saw the happy drunk, the unhappy drunk, the obnoxious drunk and my favourite, the delirious drunk.  Myself, I am abstaining from alcohol for a year… yes a whole year and so the entire laddish culture that exists around Cheltenham probably stood out more to me as a consequence.

When you love something, (as do I concerning our glorious National Hunt pinnacle), then you become protective of the hallowed ground.  Certain behaviours, a decorousness is preferable and established within the community who appreciate the same thing.  I don’t want to complain about it but I would observe that by acting upon a thing, the experience can change.  Should the number of people there to solely drink be proportionately greater than the people there to enjoy National Hunt racing, then our shrine will suffer, not at first but at last.. a thousand cuts.

Are we ready for day two?  Cast aside the rigours of what has passed.  Allow the sensations of victory and defeat to slip from you, wash over you like water.  As Kipling suggested, treat both those imposters the same.  Win or lose we need to prepare.  Defeat teaches you this more readily than victory.  In defeat you analyse, in victory, too often you simply accept.  Let us prepare, as Pasteur said ‘Fortune favours the prepared mind

The National Hunt Chase

What a challenge for amateur riders, four miles of the Cheltenham undulations – The National Hunt is a real test.  Without doubt we need a thorough stayer and a top amateur rider.  Jonjo O Neill has a good record in the race too.

Of these factors, for me the most important is jockey.  If we can find a talented young soul who can switch their mount off and make them forget they are in a major staying race then we can be halfway to a decent performance.

Two obvious candidates stand out.  Nina Carberry and Mullins Jnr – Bear in mind that no other rider has ridden half the amount of rides that either of these guys have had in the last two years and they boast the best strike rate of all riders here.  Put simply, they have the experience and they have the talent (even allowing for the excellent rides they are granted).

Carberry is on Tofino Bay, an interesting candidate whom the Major has followed before – He has ability but comes with a health waning and I am not sure a trip across the Irish Sea is what he needs.

Patrick Mullins is on Back in Focus, the 3/1 favourite.  The Mullins operation are flying this week with three winners on day one and I am sure all of their runners will get plenty of backing.  This one with good reason.  He has grown into his role of staying chaser with some aplomb, makes few mistakes and has won at the top level.

That is enough for the Major who thinks Buddy Bolero, despite having potential progression is not going to be good enough.

The Neptune Novices

So Mullins is on fire and he is on record as saying that Pont Alexandre is the best novice he has… obvious then?

Well…. It is time to declare an interest.  You might need to make up your own mind after I have explained why the Major is biased.

Last December, I met Tony McCoy at the Sports Personality awards.  I asked him for a horse to follow and he suggested Taquin Du Seuil.  I wrote all about it at the time.  Although I did not declare the horse he had tipped me publicly, I did offer to communicate it privately to those interested and several of the more regular sorts took me up on the offer.

AP McCoy and the Major

AP McCoy and the Major

Since that point, I have been backing Taquin Du Seuil relentlessly for the Neptune (and a little of burned money for the Albert Bartlett).

I don’t care for the stat about Challow winners and their subsequent Neptune records, means nothing.  I also think the ground will not matter too much either. He has form tied in with My Tent or Yours and I shall remain loyal.  should he win, then I shall be found purveying the fine shops of the Festival store-holders seeking a fancy coat for the good lady.

Taquin Du Seuil for me 5/1.  It is a fantastic race though and I would not put you off a saver on Two Rockers at 14/1. The New One comes with the advantage of being proven at the course and also has form tied in with My Tent or Yours.  Yet, the yard is going through a sparse time and I think conditions suit others better.  I am also unconvinced by Rule the World. So, the tip comes with fair warning… Should Taquin win though, you may find me in a state of utter delirium, identifiable by a mile wide grin.

The RSA Chase

The defection of Dynaste from the RSA to the Jewson has been the cause of significant damage to the Majors antepost position.  Still, you go early for the prices and you take the bumps that come along.  It has made me more wary of Pipe horse placement in the future though. Unioniste, 7/2, has done little wrong but as a five year old, I think this is an almighty tough ask over a searching three miles.  That said, Golden Chieftain who won on Tuesday has given the Newbury form a boost.  That and the fact that Ruby has abandoned Boston Bob for my selection are enough for me.

Boston Bob himself has a good chance but I think his form has an ordinary look to it.  Hadrians Approach almost got the better of Unioniste last time out and rates a danger but I just think mine is better.

Champion Chase

If Sizing Europe was at his peak (two years ago) he might have finished within ten lengths of Sprinter Sacre.  As it is the Black Aeroplane barring accident will live up to the billing.  Simple. 2/7.

Coral Cup

This contest is one of the festivals greatest puzzles with lots of form lines converging and plenty of puzzling handicap marks to decipher.  The best you can do is seek a few you prefer and take a punt.

A key piece of evidence concerns Mr Watson and AP McCoy.  In January, the latter slimmed down to minimum weight to win a gamble on the former and that looked pretty impressive.  The best part of a stone rise is probably not the limit of the horses ability.

Charlie Longsden is having a great year and runs Pendra a horse bought by JP McManus.  By virtue of the contract between the top owner JP and AP the top jockey, then it is understandable that Pendra is a short price.  Clearly they fancy winning with him.

Yet the Major cannot get away from that win by Mr Watson at 16/1.  Proven course form is a massive plus and who knows what APs thoughts are regarding the chances of the horse who now gets Richie McLernon in the saddle.

The Fred Winter

The Fred Winter is as difficult as puzzle as the Coral Cup.  24 runners go to post and many of them have highly progressive profiles making form reading difficult. The focus for the Major is again finding a likely sort and keeping stakes sensible. I do wonder if Ruby has his selection right opting for Saphir Du Rheu over Kalmann.  The Nicholls horse had a confidence booster at Taunton and arrives here with a good chance but I would prefer the chances of the Mullins horse who cost a pretty penny and whose French form has a very decent look about it – He is one of three representatives of yard and owner and jockey bookings suggest he is the most likely.

The Major though is going to tip a 40/1 shot in Habesh.  Like most runners we have a potential improver but this one has arrived after an unusual preparation.  I think it is a trainers Cheltenham debut and the unusual prep has been two runs on the Dundalk all weather track after a very good Limerick win.  His all weather handicap mark will hardly set pulses racing but he does seem a better hurdler.  It is worth noting that he beat Stocktons Wing at Limerick, who subsequently defeated Dogora at G2 level… interesting n’est pas?

The Champion Bumper

I like so many of the bumper horses it is difficult to narrow it down.  So many of them have destroyed average bumper fields, it is hard to get a good reading on which of those performances were the relevant ones.

There are so many other things to note and like… I like Regal Encore because JP bought him but did a deal to leave him with Honeyball.  I like Sergeant Reckless because Richard Hughes rides and is sure to want to bag a Cheltenham winner.  I like the Liquidator because Tom Scu rides it which in turn suggests it is the better of the Pipe horses.  I like Blackmail because he is coming to good hand and the form of his last win is very good.

Which do I like the most?  Regal Encore 10/1.  Kings Theatre bred, that will do for me. Courage, roll those dice.