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The Aintree Opening Day Sermon – Plus, Why I am no National fan… Don’t shoot.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where the dirty air clings to your skin in a thin film.  The warmness, the itchiness, unsettling, anxiety droops slowly from all buildings, all structures, losing their integrity, slowly, watch your step my friends.

Aintree is here and the Major has decided to run through the card of each day with a notable race exception being the Grand National itself.  Regular followers might know that it is not my race but I shall clarify anyway.

It is darn difficult to find a winner in a 40 runner handicap full of Irish handicap smugglers and horses experiencing the challenging fences of the Mildmay for the first time, but this is not the trouble.  It is the safety record.  I shall not be crass and crow but I am uncomfortable with the fatality rate, which I feel is just too high .  It is about as likely as not that one of the competitors will die on Saturday, this compares to a death in approximately every 25 races in normal National Hunt racing.

Two things about this before some of you explode.  Firstly, I truly hope the changes implemented last year, in which a much safer race ensued, continue to have effect.  I am not hoping to be proven right about a bad safety record at all and I want it to be a safe (not sanitised) race.

Secondly, I recognise that my position could be reasonably criticised as hypocritical, I cannot deny the claim.  My objection is purely on quantum and not utter moral.  The positive side of racing as a sport, industry and spectacle is a very hefty ledger too.  In the sense of balance, I just feel the loss of horses in the National has been too much.

As you can see, I am wrestling with it.  This, mixed amongst many other facets of life that trouble me too, last night again was entirely restless, turning constantly, too warm or too cold, rolling from side to side, listening over and over to the Divine Comedy regarding Dantes passage through hell (worth a listen on Iplayer Radio).  As the night broke, I stared at the horizon and the edge of the sky thinned, slowly,  almost imperceptibly from black to a band of deep dark blue, I started to shake myself into order, I broke cover in the dusky morning for Pershore and first light in the old Georgian market square was pleasant, I bought fresh croissants whose warm crisp layer dented to the touch.  I surprised the good lady by presenting them with good coffee and all was well again.

For those following my twitter feed (@tdl123) – I have been in good form this week, picking 6 Southwell winners from just 11 selections.  A strike rate of more than one in two would be some result on this card, we shall endeavour.

Ready the mothership.

Aintree Thursday Tips

Now as a rule, when it comes to Cheltenham and Punchestown, I like to find good ground horses that have been laid out for these specific festivals.  This is a markedly different track to Cheltenham, it has a slight rise but is largely flat, the cornering is tighter too.  We must balance this desire for horses that have been targeted and will enjoy the course without dismissing any classy sorts that simply might outclass their rival in spite of these impediments.  Let me see…

We start with a juvenile hurdle where the favourite is one of the hard luck stories of the festival.  Who knows whether Calipto would have won but for the breaking of his gear, he certainly was travelling sweetly to that point.  There are a lot of folk thinking that Activial, for in form Harry Fry, might have the measure of Calipto but I am not sure.  Regardless, I like Fox Norton, who has distinguished himself well on these shores and in France.  A key piece of form was giving half a stone and a narrow beating to Broughton – Crucially he has been targeted to this and Nick Williams is in decent form.

The Ryanair gave Dynaste a fine opportunity to win a Grade 1 festival race but it might be that he finds this a step too far this season.  He did win on his only other visit to Aintree mind and while the Major has found him quirky, he is clearly some talent on his day.  Silviniaco Conti had an even tougher race in the Gold Cup when seemingly in with a chance at the last before fading badly to be unplaced, although some way clear of fifth.  He faded so quickly, I wondered if something was amiss but he is turned out again quickly and so it seems not.  He had the measure of Dynaste in the King George and if he is over those exerts, he will definitely be a contender as I rate him the best in the field.

That is a big if though, it was a big gruelling effort and he looked bottomed out.  I am not a First Lieutenant fan and so am left with a decision between a quirky but talented sort and a horse that gave his heart just under three weeks ago.  Not an easy choice but I go for Dynaste at 15/8 because I was very worried about the exertions of his main market rival.

The Aintree Hurdle is a testimonial for The New One if you believe the markets – Many folks feel that he was also a very unlucky horse in the Champion Hurdle although I am unconvinced, not a doubter just open-minded.  Anyway, being only 3l down at the finish anyway proves he is better than this lot and he has already served up Rock on Ruby on a plate.  Should win.  Not much fun.

The Foxhunters can go to current favourite Mossey Joe who as an eleven year old can recoup some of his enormous fee by taking this.  Boxer Georg has the assistance of Mullins who is the best amateur rider in this race.  Best because of skills, best because of experience (almost twice as many rides in the last year as any other jockey in the field) and best for strike rate (30% owing to the exceptional book of rides his father supplies!). I was initially whole heartedly into Mossey Joe, his jockey is a steadier 2 wins from 46 rides…. A saver on Boxer Georg is definitely required (20/1).

In the 4.15 I am chancing Off the Ground for Emma Lavelle.  He ran an OK race for most of the way at Cheltenham last time and I am not concerned about this shorter trip.  He likes good ground (2 from 3) and at 16/1 I give him a squeak but it is a tentative bet.

Back for a fourth Grade 1 of an excellent card and the Novice Chase.  Western Warhorse caused a stink by narrowly defeating the crowd favourite Champagne Fever.  He could go in again here but as an unpredicatble sort, I am not sure I would want to be on and I am equally uncertain that the tighter track will suit.  Oscar Whisky is a much more solid sort and providing he was not set back in his fall at Cheltenham he will be fit and not overcooked.

In the last, there are a number of likely sorts in such an open hurdle handicap.  Riverside Theatre has the class to take them on but is older, less consistent and more exposed than most, even though his chase mark is a stone higher.  Nope, Doctor Harper is the one for me, he has progressed as a hurdler and enjoys these conditions, David Pipe won this three years ago and his father had a decent record in the race too.  12/1 is available but 11/1 generally.

Good luck if you are at Aintree tomorrow, have a great day…… Courage and roll the dice.

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The 2014 Cheltenham World Hurdle Card Sermon – Forwards in courage

Good evening from the Majors abode where I write from the comfort of the lounge, shoes off, kicking back with a bottle of decent Malbec, the gentle neon glow of events in Catalonia providing a gentile fuzzy backdrop.  Outside, the evening brings a chill to prickle the skin, all pleasant, the smell of spring on the air.  The daffodils are at their brightest, the magnolia buds splendid and luxurious – Ah, it is good to be alive in England at such a time my friends – Be thankful for your lives, thankful for the incredible coincidence that created you and thankful for the wealth that life has bestowed on you.

Wednesday saw us draw blood, our sabres clashed with sparks and we drew a mark on the enemy.  Faugheen was the horse that I had lumped into and was a key part of many multiples – If we can get wins for Annie Power, Kings Palace, Silviniaco Conti and On the Fringe – Then a small mothership will have landed.

Faugheens victory appeared as though God was replicating the Supreme, trying to draw it again, only better, Ruby to set the fractions getting his beast into a lovely rhythm (although Faugheen doesn’t pay the obstacles any respect does he!) and then go for him off the turn…

On Tuesday as Ruby rousting Vautour from the bottom of the hill, I screamed like a man possessed, I was possessed…. KICK RUBY, KICK, KICK,KICK, KICK…. There was no doubt, to those within my locale as to where my money had been staked… Let me tell you, lest you not have experienced the sensation yourself, a winner under Ruby is 20% sweeter, 40% more energetic and 100% more memorable.  Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby… the crowd love it and so do I my friends, so do I.

I was working today and so have reviewed the proceedings this evening.  As such, I cannot embellish your apprehension and appreciation of the day.  I shall record this… Sire de Grugy must be one of the most popular winners of the week.  A bargain purchase, small owners (no discredit to their stature you understand!), what a dream.  I enjoyed the picture of Ryan Moore, who is himself accustomed to the splendours of Hong Kong, Japan and Ascot stood politely and in fine sartorial style, in support of the family ventures in National Hunt.

How unlucky was Katgary.  Now, you may notice that I tipped this horse yesterday and please understand, as a gentleman, I am not crowing at this misfortune, merely observing that having almost been bought down and after deciding to walk through the last hurdle, well there will be another day for that one!  Unlucky if like I, you were invested.

I was a bit miffed that Black Hercules could not hold the place but that was fair and square.  Bloody bumper, seduces me with a siren call each year.

Half way through now… and in dangerous territory.  Tomorrow, I am not going to go too hard.  The final assault on Friday requires suitable ammunition and energy, let us not leave ourselves short.  I haven’t the time to detail the 18th century exploits of General Gottfried von Clausewitzs but, I will find another sermon for that (I know…. you cannot wait), his simple words will suffice for you this evening, let them ring in your ears across the next 48 hours:

Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.

To the World Hurdle card, Shabash my Friends, roll the dice.

Thursday Cheltenham Tips

Once again, regular readers will be aware that I have already posted some thoughts on the Grade One races on the card which you can find on this link.  I will be referring to it throughout.

The further we get into the week, the more that good ground form is becoming a must.  With decent weather expected, we want those speedy sorts with youthful knees and plenty of healthy cartilage!

The opening race is the JLT novices, as a newly upgraded race to G1 status, I have already written up my thoughts a week earlier on the aforementioned link.

I have not really changed my mind… but I sort of have.  If you are on Oscar Whisky, I do not think you have a bad hand.  However, I am being swayed by Wonderful Charm.  Both horses have good ground form so I cannot claim it is that.  Someone quizzed my decision on twitter as to whether I had fully considered the weight allowance from their last encounter… Partly this and partly the fact that WC is less exposed has me switching allegiances…  Being proud and not recognising ‘confirmation bias’ is a fast road to the gambling poorhouse.  11/2 is available with Bet365 and a handful of others.

The Pertemps Final is a more tricky affair by nature.  If it were a girl, your mother would have warned you about her.  The Major also offers caution… I am having a slender stake on Utopie Des Bordes at 25/1.  It might be the Henderson second string but I think good ground might return the girl to good form.

Then the Ryanair – Again this has been covered on the previous post and this time I stick with my guns on Benefficient.  He was 9/2 then but the drying ground and common sense has trimmed him in to a best priced 7/2.  If you wish an alternative, I would go no further than Boston Bob who is a best priced 10/1 shot which is a reflection of his poor jumping.  Yet, he was a contender in last years RSA and if he puts in a clean round, I’d be surprised not to see him get close.

The World Hurdle is also covered on my earlier post.  No change.  Annie Power is bet of the meeting for me.  She is surely only going to get even shorter.  I am in the lucky position of having done a lot of business on her when her plans were unconfirmed and my portfolio holds some juicy 5/1 slices, many in multiples, that sounds boastful…. but I’m leaving it in.

She is a best priced 6/4, I am sure some generous bookie will go 2/1 for ten minutes in the morning and good luck getting on.  I think she will shorten further, because events influence prices.  Fresh in punters memories are images of The Flys defeat on Tuesday, his aged legs unable to keep pace with the new guard.  Big Bucks, come on in, your time is up.

The two races that complete the card are viciously difficult to interpret.  The Byrne Plate is possibly the more difficult with just a single winner in the last ten years returning at under 10/1.  I cannot really find a reliable sort for the ground.  I was half interested in Shangani for Venetia but, would you want hers on a rattling surface?  Hmmmmm Colour Squadron can go well here but 8/1 is no bet in this sort of race… Jonjo has to be feared in any festival handicap (as per Holywell on Tuesday) and Johns Spirit ran a blinder in the Paddy Power… Ballynagour was one I felt confident in last year but god only knows what to expect… The pin drops onto Third Intention who may not have the splash of stardom about him, but winners of this race rarely do.  New headgear, preferred ground….  I don’t know…. ask the bloody cat for all I care, he probably has a better idea.

The finale, is a little less perplexing – Indian Castle was likely going to be my selection but Annacotty let that form down in todays RSA and so I am less warm about the favourite this evening.  Our Father once looked awesome but goes on a long list of Pipe horses that I cannot fathom.  I am taking two (still to small stakes).  The first was my original thought, Night Alliance – I have liked the way this one has travelled at times and given a break after a gruelling trial around Haydock on suitably heavy ground, I am banking on a come back.  The other is back to Jonjo – I cannot leave Twirling Magnet unbacked at 14/1 – He won’t mind the sun on his back and a speedy surface and the master may have another prepared to perfection.

Good luck my friends.

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.

 

Cheltenham Day Three Tips – World Hurdle Thursday, Ryanair, Jewson… The awesome Aeroplane and another day sober in paradise

Good evening from the Major who writes from another bitterly cold Worcestershire which sports a biting wind.  The temperature remains cold enough to numb the touch and add a dull ache to knee and ankle joints.  The only antidote is the warming effect of winners and champions.

The former I had a couple of.  Only a couple and I am in no doubt that day two belonged to the enemy.

The latter we were blessed with, in fact we saw a new legend.  Sprinter Sacre was breath-takingly good.  He beat a Champion Chase field by 19 lengths, hard held.  The commentator summed it up suggesting that this steeplechaser was sent from celestial heavens… who could argue with that.  No doubt, we have a star and let us hope he remains centre stage for many years.

On Tuesday, I left the racecourse by the bottom car park and spent 90 minutes queuing.  Thus in a planned change of operational procedure, tonight I parked in town and walked, a test and learn.  It certainly was easier and it gave me the pleasure of a post-racing stroll through Pittville and across the park to my car.  It was all most pleasant but the trappings of the festival that you witness on this journey remain etched in my mind, as these things will.

The girls handing out cards for gentleman’s clubs look very different through the eyes of a sober man.  The language is the same… the use of the word ‘guys’ in a voice straining to suggest familiarity.  They aim to make the groups of men who average twenty years their senior comfortable, as though they are conversing in normal circumstances.  That level of performance though must tire and something in their body language, the slope of shoulder, the curl of a lip hides a disdain for the work.  It is cold and you can see it in their eyes.

Do not take me as a prude by the way.  I am a believer that consenting adults are perfectly able to choose what they want to do without my views and whatever contracts are struck are for those parties alone.  In fact I am generally in favour of skullduggery.  I just prefer it a bit more refined.

Sadly for the Major, Taquin Du Seuil did not win the Neptune.  I did not pass go, I did not collect significantly more than 200.  Still, the dream itself was worthwhile.  There will be another time.

We go into Thursday with our war chest intact.  Early exchanges have been searching, exploratory forays to test defences and reactions.  I almost fell into the trap of backing Coral Cup and Fred Winter horses with conviction, pure folly and I kept my losses sensible… The enemy allowed me fancy prices about Mullins Jnr and Nina Carberry in the amateur riders…  I took them.

The next two days could be taken easily, too concerned with the fear of loss to try to be glorious.  No, not for us, we know what we must do…  Read on only if you are prepared to come with me and face the abyss.  Fearless.

To Cheltenham…. load the heavy cannons, stand broad and tall.

The Jewson

Dynaste cost me a fortune when defecting from the RSA to the Jewson and I am not sure it was a great call.  His previous Feltham win was very strong defeating Third Intention and generally looking very good.  This is also my issue with Dynaste – He has only won one of four starts at Cheltenham and we know it is a specialist track

I think the RSA field was weaker and today he faces Captain Conan, a horse I can easily forgive a more lacklustre display at Sandown when winning latest.  That day he clearly was not himself but still finished well on the hill to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  He was not right that day and he is reported much better now – I think a 13/2 punt (Paddy Power) is in order.

Aupcharlie has looked an immensely powerful traveller who has not always found much off the bridle.  Interesting but overlooked.

The Pertemps Final

Look, let us keep this really simple.  When Paul Nicholls describes a handicap mark as a ‘gift from God’, one should sit up and pay attention.  Sam Winner heads the market at 9/2 and I think it is well worth backing.  He has won twice at Cheltenham from four visits so the track holds no fears.  His Triumph race was interesting, while only fourth, he was staying on at the end.  He has beaten Grandouet and been within half a dozen lengths of Zarkander.  That makes a mark of just 140 very manageable.. I have to agree with his trainer.

The Pertemps is often won by a more experienced handicapper.  Maybe that is a reflection of the rigours of a big field.

If you like one at a price, Ely Brown at 20/1 does look a tad tasty.  Sam Winner for me.

The Ryanair

The quality of the Ryanair is superb this year as the Aeroplane scared people into stepping up half a mile in trip.

First Lieutenant is favourite and most argue that his form finishing in a heap with Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs and Tidal Bay is also key to the Gold Cup.  The Major remains unconvinced.  It is the presence of Tidal Bay that bothers me.  First Lieutenant is a top horse, he was a superb hurdler beating Rock on Ruby and showed promise as a novice hurdler.  Yet his last win was 9 starts back.  I know he has not been disgraced in any run since but I am always nervous with horses with bad strike rates no matter what their form lines.

Most people will be a fan of the favourite because of the stamina doubts of Cue Card based on a poor King George effort.  I don’t think that day had anything to do with stamina, I think he just had a bad day… it happens.

Champion Court has a lot of plusses but for me lacks the requisite je ne sais quoi.

No… Cue Card.. 7/2… smash it.

The World Hurdle

Reve de Sivola and Oscar Whisky are surely the key starting points in the World Hurdle.

Many had the latter down as a non stayer but I was never convinced about that and his last run at Cheltenham surely put pay to it.  I think he will be fitter for the effort and on much much better ground, he will have the measure of Reve de Sivola in my opinion.

My betting strategy is going to be clouded by the presence of Bog Warrior.  He is my favourite horse in training.  Top hurdle form looked like it might transfer to fences but some major jumping errors have seen them convert the horse back to hurdles and he has been awesome ever since.  If you want to see why I love the horse so much, have a look at the Drinmore he won on Youtube.  His style is head in chest, bowling along… How can you not love him?  He will carry a significant sum of the Majors wedge for that reason alone…

Yet my advice to you all is Oscar Whisky at 7/2.

The Bryne Group Plate

Sorry to be boring but I cannot get away from Ballynagour, 4/1.  The performance it put in suggested that we have missing a lot while he has been lightly raced.

Hunt Ball is eased back into handicap level and his mark may well be passable.  He won this off just over a stone lighter last year but is a class horse.

I cannot get away from the Pipe horse though… Join the money train.

The Kim Muir

The stakes here must be kept to a minimum as the puzzle is vast and the traps numerous.

There are only 5 horses in the vast field though that have won at Cheltenham and that is not a bad angle to take into this.  Super Duty, Prince of Pirates, Swing Bill, Galaxy Rock and Alfie Sherrin should all cope with the decent ground.

I put a line through Swing Bill because although some of his form is working out well, he is 12 and I do not like it.  Jumping puts me off Prince of Pirates but a clean round equals danger for all in my view.

The Major struck well in the John Oaksey by suggesting that the jockey in these amateur races is vital.  This brings other horses into contention too including Vesper Bell and Romanesco.

Class horses have no problems lumping weight around the Kim Muir so Super Duty and my selection should be fine if they have the minerals.  I am sticking with the boy who got the job done for us on Back in Focus…. Patrick Mullins is aboard Vesper Bell.. That one has placed form at the top level and the Irish National trial he competed in has worked out OK.  There is every reason to be excited about 16/1 so have a large slice and berate me later for being so interested in a horse in a ridiculously tricky handicap.

The Cross Country

Go back two days to see the reasoning for Arabella Boy to win the Cross Country.

Courage, roll those dice.

Saturday Sermon – Cheltenham Trials Day Tips | Leopardstown | FA Cup… Shabash and load those cannons

Good evening from the Major who writes relaxing, from the lounge. The television was proving a poor distraction, action was taken, a button pressed. Now silence envelops me in a soft bubble, occasionally punctuated by a car passing by, tyres kissing the dark wet tarmac. Thinking time.

Worcestershire feels unclean. Lumps of white snow whose edges are diminishing fast cling to the landscape, lit up by the passing lights, starved of their icy fuel, unable to fight off the rising temperatures, slowing eating themselves. Soon teh land will be free again.

Cheltenham, racing, it is on. Shabash. The Major is looking forward to entertaining friends on course. I suspect a crowd of good racing folk will be there, starved of recent action, craving the goodness that floweth at the Prestbury Park cup.

We are incredibly blessed with a day at National Hunt HQ that is as good as trials day ever recorded. The moving of the Victor Chandler Chase bought Sprinter Sacre to the card and even the loss of Bobs Worth did little to tarnish the sheer quality jumping off the pages.

Such riches… There is a buddhist parable of heaven and hell which suggests that the two after-lifes have little in common. A feast in each is laid before you and in hell you are furnished with just one long chopstick, frustration ensues as you are unable to feed with it. In heaven, the same feast and the same apparatus are present but each man feeds his neighbour. Sounds uncomfortable at best.

The moral point is not lost on tomorrow though. Racing is such a richness, how the heart pumps, that rising feeling as your horse turns up that Cheltenham hill, behind but plugging on and you just know it is a long way home and you have a chance…. The smells, the magnificent beasts, the sights… we are lucky to live in such times as these, Sprinter Sacre, Puffin Billy… tomorrow we dine on the feasts that racing has given us.

As the parable teaches too, we cannot do this alone, so enjoy it in company. Join the conversation on twitter (@tdl123) and while you are online, have a little look at this tribute song to Campbell Gillies who tragically died on holiday last year. The song is nice enough and features the jockey winning on Brindisi Breeze at last years festival.

When the tapes go up on this years Albert Bartlett, many will be casting a thought back to Campbell charging up the hill holding off Boston Bob in last years contest. Who would have thought it possible that two such bright young things would be dead before the summer was out. We float by on this river just the once.

Enjoy Cheltenham tomorrow, savour these times and be lucky. The Trials day is a fantastic taster of what is to come.

The Major has started recording his antepost thoughts for Cheltenham. Have a read when you get a chance, so far I have covered the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.

I feel able to claim that I am in reasonable touch over the last month, a small spell on the sidelines this week hopefully has done me good. I have been known to go well fresh and so today, returning from a break, here I am at your disposal.

Daub thy war paint, load the light cannon, prepare the mortars, the enemy comes from below to attempt to breach our line, we are dug in well on the ridge though. We shall fire mortar but dropping shot from above is difficult to gauge… if it comes to it, we shall engage them man to man with 5 cartridges each and bayonets fixed and glistening their evil reflections.

To the sports…

Cheltenham Trials Day Tips

The going is soft but it might be odd ground. The covers have been on all week so the top might be loose. Fresh rain is forecast too so it might get tacky. I am erring on proper soft ground sorts.

What a feast of action we have, eight races, six of them graded… let us sharpen our minds.

12.10 Grade 2 Triumph Trial

Irish Saint is currently 6/4 and I fancy him to go off a lot shorter after an impressive Kempton win last time out. Soft underfoot conditions have already proven no problem.

The race is marked by the absence of an Alan King runner. He has run the race in 5 of the last 7 runnings all with horses of 2/1 and under.

Rolling Star has to be the biggest eye-catching entry, while it is hard to rate the French form, Henderson does not throw darts at races like this and so despite an incredibly tough introduction to British hurdles, he is respected.

Of the others, Knight of Pleasure makes appeal. He could not have won more convincingly on debut at Sandown and the Moore yard are in fine form – A tremendous piece of each way value at 14/1 with Stan James.

On balance though, the Major feels that Nicholls has a good one on his hands in Irish Saint and at 6/4 generally, I think this evenings prices are the one to take.

12.40 Cheltenham Novice Chase

Radjhani Express gave Sam Waley-Cohen the first of two winners on the Kempton boxing Day card. His rise in the weights and dubious style at the obstacles are enough to put me off.

McMurrough has terrific form on the Northern circuit, winning two handicaps but this is a long way from Wetherby, interesting.

Gullinbursti has looked just short of class on a few occasions a dirty scope on the middle of three runs was an excuse but I am not convinced a tough track like Cheltenham is what he needs.

Venetia Williams stable jockey Aidan Coleman has opted for Renard D’Irlande over Benny Mist who was a last time winner in a small field at Taunton.

Johns Spirit at 5/1 (Boylesports) is the tentative choice for the Jonjo / McCoy partnership. He looks consistent enough and a small stake is advised as plenty of others could improve.

Sizing Santiago is the other that help some interest off a massive 14/1 but he is merely one of a few that persuade me to keep stakes on the selection low.

1.15 Grade 3 Handicap

Nadiya De La Vega has run well at Cheltenham but has a habit of getting worse as the season progresses.

Bless the Wings is a talented animal and this is the right time of the season to catch it but I fear the ground may be against the King horse.

Katenko looks a very tasty favourite at 4/1, the French import to the Williams yard is a powerful looking horse and this sort of contest may bring better.

I am opting though for the horse with a fantastic winning habit, Bold Sir Brian. My tip, smacks a few fences but the way he put away Pacha Du Polder and his penchant for softer conditions bodes very well. Have a meaty slice and thank me later.

Tips for the Victor Chandler Chase

Sprinter Sacre… The Aeroplane…. His judgement cometh and that right soon.

2.25 Argento Chase Tip

It is a shame that Bobs Worth is a non runner in the contest, it would have been fantastic to get another look at the Gold Cup favourite. However, as long as Tidal Bay stays in, we have a proper race on our hands here.

I must be the only National Hunt fan not to be that taken with the whole Lexus form. My own Gold Cup thoughts revolve around Bobs Worth, Long Run and Silviniaco Conti.

Grand Crus is starting to look like a list of excuses but that said they look valid. The wind op was a response to his poor efforts at Cheltenham and then he went well in the King George before blowing up, he arguably will strip fitter for that.

Imperial Commander will have his fans as a twelve-year-old former Gold Cup winner but not for the Major.

Midnight Chase won this last year but the creeping years and a tougher field might make a repeat bid a failing one, but he does love it round here.

Others with strong track form include Weird Al, Little Josh and Wayward Al.

The whole race feels like a weigh up between the older sorts out for a last hoorah and a few younger animals bidding to be better. Hunt Ball is one of those but I think his improving is done.

It is a younger chaser I am opting for though and it is Grand Crus that represents the value pick at 5/1. He can improve for his recent shows and will surely play a role.

3.00 The Novice Hurdle

At Fishers Cross has good handicap form and Coneygree looks like he has some of his half-brother Carruthers talent but neither appeal as much as The New One. Two and a half miles around Cheltenham looks a nice warm up for the Neptune after the tip destroyed a Warwick field last time. That race fell apart but there was no doubt over the ease in which the winner did his business.

Whisper is a potential fly in the ointment, the Henderson inmate could be anything but against a proven class animal, I am sticking with the New One.

3.35 The Cleeve Hurdle

It is the day that keeps on giving. The 3.35 is the Cleeve Hurdle, a race that sees Oscar Whiskey test his World Hurdle credentials with Reve de Sivola taking him on. He needs to win this to put to be the stamina concerns to bed ahead of the festival.

Reve de Sivola beat a good yard stick in Smad Place (placed in last years World Hurdle) last time at Ascot and that was an excellent effort coming back from a break.

Kauto Stone is starting to look tricky and Crack Away Jack owes me too much to contemplate.

I am sticking with 13/8 shot Oscar Whisky (Hills) who has the best Cheltenham record of the lot.

4.10 – The Lucky Last

Dildar to get me out of trouble at 9/2.

Leopardstown Tips

Just in case you are not drowning in the quality of the Cheltenham card, Leopardstown offer some excellent racing too.

Sadly only three go to post in the Arkle Novice which Avrika Ligeonniere should take at prohibitive 4/6 odds.

9/4 Marito for the same connections can make it a profitable day in the 2.15, one I very much like.

In the big handicap, 9/1 Carlingford Lough with Slippers aboard is my tip.

Football Tips

QPR 4/6, Wigan 4/7 and Hull 4/5 are an FA Cup treble.

Bournemouth 8/11 and Tranmere 23/10 are my league one picks.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Bold Sir Brian, Oscar Whisky, Irish Saint and Tranmere.

May your dinner be paid for by a trixie which made your wallet bulge. The company delectable.

Courage, roll those dice.