Good evening from the Major who writes from a stifling Worcestershire scene where the warm and heavy evening feels dirty against a clammy skin. There is a peach moon hanging at twenty degrees above the horizon, some cool white clouds crossing its face, like thin brittle fingers suspended in the soupy air.
The Major has had an exhausting week and as I arrive at the weekend, sleep beckons, the warm embrace of oblivion with the promise of a fresh mental state at the other end. Not that I can claim to take many fulsome nights of slumber, no, in the small hours, the night world there exists whirring sounds, strange creaks and dark feelings haunting the corners, these do not ooze into consciousness slowly, no they race through my mind constantly changing, heart beating, adrenaline chemically enhancing and amplifying my already alert self. I would give you tens that I cannot rest the full night.
I have tried drugs, they are good at getting me to sleep just not very good at keeping me there. No, exercise is the real key and the Major is running again. Thank you to those kind readers, none of whom I have met in the flesh, who kindly supported my charitable run on Sunday in the British 10k. It is to raise
funds for Footsteps Foundation, a marvellous charity that help children with severe physical and developmental needs, just like my gorgeous niece, Izzy, who at the age of 4 has a serious undiagnosed condition. Bless her gorgeous soul.
Anyway, if you have a couple of shekels to spare, then I promise that my not inconsiderate frame, lungs screeching in pain, jelly legs staggering forwards like some awfully wounded animal flailing my way around our great capital; will earn every penny and it is a smashing cause. You can donate on this link and the Major will remember you when you are at the gates of hell, for that is where I shall be, there is to be no deliverance from purgatory for the Major, no forgiveness for my sins, yet I can at least put a good word in for you. Thank you to @sar6ie, @onedeswalker, @ruthmuckle, @jimknight88 Keith and Simon and possibly more who all have been so very generous.
There is so much racing to talk about that this might be my longest ever post. There are 6 daytime meetings including some excellent cards at York (100 runners), Newmarket (93), Chester (66) and Ascot (83). There are a further two day time meetings in Ireland and so the day will be stretched – This pile up has been criticised but not from my corner – It looks like a tremendous typhoon of a Saturday and I am looking for those interesting moves. Which jockeys have gone where? and why? Can we find a thin line of evidence to lead us to paradise? Is there a thread on the satchel which our enemy carries into battle that we might just get our finger nails on, then cling on as the stitching unravels? Let us see my friends. Before that I have no strong lecture but a small personal tale to tell so sit back and take in that pungent fresh coffee aroma.
In rush hour, the main arteries of A-road asphalt propel the tin cans and their tiny inhabitants to their cottage homes. They are tiring to drive along, the monotony suffocates the mind and your reflexes are dulled. Suffice to say, last night, I was shaken from my stuporous torpor by an animal darting across the carriageway. This is not uncommon in these parts but normally the larger animals that might leap from the verges, with a maniacal suicidal lunge, come at night, foxes, badgers and deer.
This was a dog and I like dogs. Stopping, I got out of the car warily. I am not afraid of dogs, quite the contrary, I grew up with them. At risk of losing half of my readers, they are far superior company than cats. They are at times selfless, caring, loyal and fierce defenders of their family. Admirable traits in a servant. No, my caginess was simply the situation. As a child, my mother stopped to tend to a German Shepherd late at night in Walsall town centre, he had been hit by a car and was looking sorry for himself. Through terror he acted, you know what is coming and my mother should have been wiser, no serious harm was done but I was too young to recall his fate so that part of our journal shall remain incomplete. Suffice to say that it imprinted a caution around wounded beasts.
Anyhow, my animal, a gorgeous young boxer, a pup I would say, had no road sense whatsoever, but seemed entirely unharmed. In fact, he struck me as damned pleased with himself, bounding around blissfully unaware of the dangers of the 60mph section of the A38 on which he was intent on scampering. He was friendly enough to approach but reaching for the silver tag dangling from his collar triggered a game in which he would dart off at a pace thrice that of which I am capable, stop after 20 yards and look pitifully back at me. It reminded me of playing my father once at squash, he, a more accomplished player than I, had a knowing look as he started the game, he commanded the T, sent me scurrying around the court at his leisure and seemed to score at pleasure, he carried the same look; one part disdain, one part pity; one part mocking.
There were some cottages set back from the road down a dirt track, a mere 50 yards aft and thinking that my renegade might be a defector from those parts, I made my way swiftly along the verge with ‘Bertie Bounder’ following. From time to time I waved a clenched fist at him indicating some sort of treat may well be within and the brainless exuberant free spirit fell for it readily enough. Oh, I can lead the gullible when I have to.
At the last in the line of small terraced cottages, I could detect movement in the garden and hollering a welcome drew around a man who looked startled to have a caller. These are quiet parts you see. The dog was his as it turned out and he was at pains to thank me for stopping and rescuing him before some terrible misadventure occurred. There was something very odd about this chap. He was a biker I would guess, a dark beard, dark clothing and wayward look that told of a life lived. It was not his appearance though, no, he seemed distracted and I was about to find out why.
In the awkwardness that fell between our sentences, our polite and civil exchanges, something was simply not right. I asked matter of fact if the dog had escaped through an open gate and he did not answer, rather he seemed puzzled. He was looking through me now, rather than at me and then he simply stuttered… No, the wife was out walking him. The realisation of the words and the the thoughts which moments before had been hanging in the air, settled now suddenly.
The cold fell over us like a blanket. We both started back up the track at a vigorous pace but being British, not running you see, even feeling that someone might be hurt, we wish to keep some dignity, god help her. I was asking whether she always took the same route and as a plan, we decided to cross the road, split down the path that ran parallel opposite and see if we could see her. To allay his worry, I suggested that most likely, she was wandering in the woods or across some hay-field, looking for our chum but this mans peace was only going to come once that was fact and not conjecture.
We crossed, we split and a mere 50 yards up my path, with my search partner well out of sight, I thought I caught voices drifting back from the direction he had set off in. Standing breathless straining at the wind, I heard them again and decided that coming back to him was the judgement. I did not need to get far. Returning to the gate, I could hear very well the two of them, a loud female voice booming I CAN’T FIND THE BLOODY DOG! It did not sound happy but in consideration of the feelings pouring from her husbands face mere moments earlier, it made me smile to think of him now under the whip.
I slinked away, through the gate, back across the road, slipping into the seat and driving off without stopping to acknowledge. Why you wonder? Well, a favour is an odd thing sometimes, do it and the recipient can feel at odds, unsure how to show their generosity. From the timbre of her pitch too, it seemed to me that my retired Hells Angel had enough on his plate.
Is there a moral to this tale. Well, it would be this. Terrible things lurk in our future, we do not know the time of their coming but they punctuate the normality that exists between. So my friends, take a keen hold of that normality, we drift by the once on the river, grab on to whatever floats by. Ask few questions, let banal troubles wash away on the river.
To the sports and daub thy war paint, the maul is thick with limbs thrashing violently, confusion reigns, we shall take on the enemy at close quarters with a mere ten rounds per man and bayonets fixed.
The July Cup
I am going to start with the big one. My favourite July Cup moment was Hayley Turner winning her first Group One aboard Dream Ahead, how she scythed through the melee that day, poise perfect, power packed finish and gloriously triumphant afterwards. What a shame she has been so dogged with injury, this season is not progressing well either, she is at half the strike rate she was in 2011 when she picked up her only two G1 winners.
This July Cup is a tremendous renewal. A top quality field, I hope that the ground ends up good to soft and we keep them all in. The forecast is for no more rain but it remains soft and showers threaten.
I know who I want in the July Cup but feel I am about to be thwarted by the conditions. I was mightily taken with Due Diligence in the Diamond Jubilee. He is entitled to be improving anyway but that was a damned good run having been drawn on the wrong side for all of the pace. He made his way over and only failed to get to Slade Power by a length and was snatched in the final strides anyway. O’Brien has said that he is a fast ground horse, despite him winning on yielding to soft in Ireland – On those grounds, I do not think he will appear. Sole Power is less likely to run on account of the ground too and one of the other Ballydoyle string, Fountain of Youth is also a probable scratch.
There are a host of others who are unlikely to want to feel their toe sinking, they include the American raider from the Wesley Ward team, Undrafted (quite a nice story behind that name, the owner is a famous American Footballer but was undrafted himself) and Aljamaaheer
Slade Power is well worth considering. He will stand at stud next year with Darley and may well turn out to be a strong producer of precocious sorts. For now, he remains right at the top of the tree for European sprinters and he has a darn fine chance here.
The thing is, the sprinting divisions can be odd affairs, you think you have the form nailed down and then the key actors decide to switch roles. In the last ten runnings of the July Cup, there have been five double figure returns, including a 20/1 and 22/1 shot so we should not rule too many out.
So here is where I am. Slade Power has an excellent chance and I would not put you off at 5/2. Yet, I am playing the upset card and thinking that Jack Dexter and Cougar Mountain might have bigger roles to play.
They are very different profiles – Jack Dexter has shown his best form in soft ground and so some more rain would be excellent. He finished midfield at Ascot but the ground was against him there and he will relish this. If the ground and the race cuts up, I would expect a much better run and 20/1 with Laddies and Hills will soon go if the heavens open.
Cougar Mountain could be anything. He has had very favourable reports and the reason he is on the list is that he is likely to be the main Ballydoyle contender now. Inexperienced, thrown in but out of Fastnet Rock and in the best of hands.
I am opting for Jack Dexter and I hear those form students scoffing at me for having the effrontery to suggest he is up to winning a Group One. Yet three year olds have a questionable July Cup record and I will go with experience and conditions above the vague promise of potential.
Newmarket – Tip for Bunbury Cup
This race is likely to be cutting up as well as the runners are protected from getting their legs muddy, wimps. There are two things I am primarily looking for to create the shortlist. A good draw as I think the pace is going to be on the low side with Best of Order likely to tow them all along and Moss Glen and Horsted Keynes being willing followers – Yet the bias often favours the high draw, a quandary. Soft ground form as I am planning on another shower or two to keep it this way.
The swing in the weights that Horsted Keynes receives after what I considered to be pilot error (Spencer hold up job) at Ascot is a damn handy pull and if I had more confidence of the horse acting on the ground, he might be my winner (never raced on anything worse than good).
That race was a key piece of form and the winner was Louis the Pious who is now accompanied by one of my favourite jockeys Neil Callan returning from injury. I am also very interested in this ones stablemate, the second O’Meara horse is Best of Order who is now ridden by Jamie Spencer (was on Louis at Ascot for his win), that is intriguing n’est pas?
One that draws me in is the Luca Cumani runner, Ayaar at 9/1 with Bet Bright but 8s with proper firms! I am not sure they want to race him on soft and so it is with thin reasoning that I leave him and focus my firepower on Absolutely So who is being smashed up again, just like he was in the Wokingham where he finished out the back, possibly unsuited by the rattling Ascot ground. Of significant interest at 7/1 and the Majors tip.
Newmarket – The Superlative 2.40pm
Hannon has won this (well of course he has it is a top class juvenile!) twice in recent years with King Torus and then the ‘destined for better things’ Olympic Glory. He runs Estidhkaar a winner at Newbury in mid June. That race is starting to look quite hot since the 4th, another Hannon inmate, St Brelades Bay went to Windsor (again Hannon, standard) and won. The second, Mustadeem also won his next race at Sandown.
Gleneagles will have obvious claims being bred from the top stuff and winning impressively at the Curragh.
Lieutenant Kaffee is a highly interesting runner for Fahey. He does not throw many darts at these sorts of races and he tends to hit his doubles so that alone is a signpost. The races the horse has competed in are hard to assess but that is true of the whole field, not to be underestimated. Archie for the Manor House team is a similar profile, shrewd trainer…
In the end, the Superlative often goes to a fancied runner and it is either the Hannon hottie or the Ballydoyle runner for me. I have settled on Gleneagles, his win was taking, out of Galileo and You’resothrilling I think he is a very worthy favourite at 2/1.
I’d put nobody off a forecast with the Hannon horse though, even a reverse one if you don’t have the kahunas to see your convictions through.
Now a man of commerce I know well, who resides in the beautiful rolling Yorkshire landscape has put in a request for some of the action at York to be covered. Firstly, Matt, have a wonderful day, York is in my view, one of the very finest courses we have and I hope the sun shines, the cold crisp wine flows and the company shines. As I always respond to requests, here is the full card for your delectation and possibly later, derision.
Completely different conditions will prevail up north where we are seeking the speedster types, those smooth operators that float over the turf in delicate, rhythmic and efficient style.
I mentioned at the outset that jockey movements were of clear interest on a day like today and the fact that Ryan Moore, the best in the world has gone to York is telling. Yes York has a quality card but surely Moore would have been a shoe in on a ride in the July Cup, certainly he might have gotten himself a Ballydoyle fancy there. So what is he at York for?
Well in the opener I hope he can get us underway with well backed Dusky Queen at 6/1. You might argue the horse should have won last time out at York and this track form, even in defeat gives me confidence. I consider York to be a bit of a specialist track, to the eye it looks straight forward with a long sweeping left hand turn into a generous flat to downhill straight but many horses do not seem to give best and so course form is a positive mark.
Moore could easily be on a double by the time the second race has finished as Waila looks the sort to click and win going away. The truth is it is hard to know what to expect and the master Stoute has reached for headgear on recent runs to try to focus the mind and get a consistent performance from the horse. The money is coming but 7/4 is short enough for a horse that might make its own mind up. I prefer the Godolphin runner Al Saham who has been improving and whilst another that needs the headgear, looks a little but more solid with it on. Plus if this comes down to a punch up, I’d prefer my tip to respond well enough to a robust Fallon drive. 4/1 – Take that.
Then the John Smiths Cup. Haggas has won two of the last three runnings both times with similar types. Four year olds, weighted below nine stones and he has another one here in Queensbury Rules who does not have a massive amount of obvious positives save these mentioned – He is being stepped up in distance after the Hunt Cup exploits and I just have a feeling he will come good in a race like this soon. In fact the last 8 runnings have gone to horses with a burden of less than nine stone and I think this might be a 14/1 turn up.
Then the sprint at 3.30 and I simply have to follow up on G Force. You might remember me giving this a big mention some weeks ago when he disappointed a bit at Sandown. that day he was caught out a bit in mid division and I think his third can be upgraded. He is lightly raced in this company and the way he won his handicap debut suggested that the later summer sprint group races would be on the agenda. If that is to be the case then 3/1 is a price we can make a mockery about. I am always hesitant with this big powerful strutting sprinters who like men on steroids can act like head-cases but even considering that, this remains a tremendous bet, pile in (10/3 BetVictor) – Load the large cannon is the message.
The 4.05 – Given that this race was won by none other than the Grey Gatsby last year who went on to French Derby glory for the Ryan yard, you have to be fully respectful of their runner here, Flaming Spear. He holds tickets for all the right races and cost a quarter of a mill so enough is expected. Polarisation is the one with the experience that appeals but given he made a debut at Southwell, it seems unlikely he is one of the fancied Johnstone beasts. No, no, no…. The Major is going to suggest a potentially bigger priced newcomer in Moonlightnavigator at a likely SP of 12/1. This son of HenrytheNavigator was also an expensive purchase for a yard where he would be a key player in the stable. The dam was a useful US sort and I would be really hopeful of a big run.
In the penultimate race at 4.40, I was planning a bit of a turn up. I am not sure that a lot of the horses near the head of the market are going to enjoy the forecast conditions and so I am considering Gabrials King at an unfashionable 18/1 shot with BetVictor to my slip. He won’t mind the rattling ground and there is every chance he has targeted at this race, a contest in which he placed last year. There have been some smatterings of form since and to his credit, he has been running at reasonable levels, to the extent that he is competing this year on 11lbs more. However, the main advice is to back Great Fighter for Godolphin at 7/1. He is less exposed than many of these and this track and this extra test might be the making of him.
In the lucky last, I am pinning my hopes on Billyoakes a general 6/1 shot who I think has an excellent chance. He beat Denzille Lane with ease when they met and that horse went on not to be disgraced in the Windsor Stakes at Ascot. Well worth an investment.
Best bets of the rest?
The riches are legion, the time so limited….
Pushkin Musuem is 3/1 in the 2.50 at Chester and being honest, if he jumps he wins. This one has the almost plum (I prefer box 2/3/4 to box 1) draw and a terrifying cruising speed, if the others want to beat him, they will have to come round the outside, incredibly tough at Chester…. Lump in 3/1. This horse has shown how capable he is on fast ground, no fears.
A similar story for Confessional in the 4pm at Chester who looks on a nice mark and has conditions and draw to suit. 8/1, going in!
I have not had time to go through the Ascot card, it is a tough life as a tipster on a night like tonight. My sole bet there will be 9/2 Kinshasa in the 4.15.
Had enough? I certainly have.
I trust you will be dining on the evening in the finest restaurant. The owner joining you at the table to thank you for the custom and to serve the good brandy. Your company lightly toasted by this stage and all well in the world.
The Martin Hill bet is G Force, Moonlightnavigator, Dusky Queen and Pushkin Museum in an each way yankee.
Courage friends, roll the dice.