Tag Archives: the giant bolster

The Saturday Sermon – National Hunt Feast from Cheltenham, Doncaster and Leopardstown – A splash of FA Cup Magic too

Good morning from the Major who writes from the bed gazing serenely across a brightening Worcestershire dawn.  Once again the land is waterlogged, the brook over my road and down 50 metres has flooded, the temporary lake resting with the confidence of permanence.

The Major caught rest in snatches through the night, the time between filled with a headphone in one ear, dreamily listening to the World Service, drifting in and out of concentration.  The words and stories came to me as images, patchy and alarming.  Two dead building World Cup stadiums in Brazil, one fell from a roof.  Syrian refugees.  A bomb, half a ton of high explosive in Cairo destroying the oldest Islamic museum in the world, thousands of artefacts dating to before the time of Christ.

Coming awake is like leaving another world behind.  I need a shower to leave that night world where it belongs.  To delineate properly the border, reinforcements are needed to stop it seeping into the day world.

This week, Barney Curley landed a mothership.  Now, enough has been said for me not to bore you with my opinions but safe to say I love the skullduggery of racing as much as the next man and the suggestion it puts people off is a nonsense.  People are attracted to the richness.  It helps that I managed a touch on it myself.  I saw the Eye of the Tiger gamble and got 7/2 overnight, thanks to @yahwey I caught one other too, Indus Valley which I got at 10s.  Attractive prices but oh, how I wish I had gotten wind of the other two…

Cheltenham races today – Trials day.  I would be present but for the birthday of number one son, Daniel, he eight – Under ideal circumstances I would have taken him but at the age, the Science Museum and friends and family seems more attractive to him… He is a long term project, give me time.

Last week showed well, we travelled into the Sermon perfectly with a 6/1 winner and hit the mark with Melodic Rendevouz – I still managed to make the weekend a losing one after piling in most my bets to multiples including Wigan… They lost three nil at Doncaster.  The misery piled up in sedimentary layers… I saw they went one nil down… Then we went live to the Keepmoat for a goal update and it was two… The energy for the weekends punting seeping away, rapidly draining.

The same was true yesterday, after lunch I tuned in to see that Noel Fehily had won in the opener at 12/1 – What a start to the day… My Fehily multiple was looking in fine order.. It was to be the last winner he had – In fact, I did not manage another placed horse.  Disappointing.  Still, there will be many a false dawn before our own Curley sized mothership.  Indeed, you may have time to grow an oak from an acorn or you may be planning the spending tonight… who can tell.

Daub thy warpaint young warriors, we shall ride flank to flank, tight formation, with lances raised awaiting the order…. To the sports..

Cheltenham Card

No surprise, Cheltenham has gone heavy overnight so we are looking for some horses who can take it.  Out goes, The Giant Bolster (never liked him anyway), in comes Restless Harry (loves heavy and is Pricewise).

Goodwood Mirage is one of the most expensive national hunt recruits you will find, reaching 380k for his services, you would expect a lot.  Yet, price does not buy success in racing, particularly national hunt and the memory of Un Temps Pour Tout, who tempted me in with his 450k price tag (most expensive ever by the way) and failed.

Nick Williams has not had many runners but has Le Rocher who held Kentucky Hyden on heavy at Chepstow – On that form he is of clear interest and proven on the ground, hmmm.  Then the favourite, Vincezio Mio – Clearly Nicholls thinks a lot of him.  Ronaldinho is not a forlorn 20/1 shot if you read the list of horses the trainer has won this race with in the past – Katchit, Franchoek, Walkon and Grumeti.  Plus a 100/1 shot took this in 2010.  His Newbury race might not be that bad and although he was well beaten, he was prominent until after the last – He may be a non stayer, he may have needed it – We should certainly afford him the same flexibility we might afford Goodwood Mirage or Vincenzo Mio on those grounds.

It is a difficult race to make a call on.  Nicholls thinks a lot of Vincenzo Mio but he has not traditionally aimed his top guns at this.  I have to support Le Rocher over Kentucky Hyden but Nick Williams has not had many runners lately.  Sod it, I am sticking with the money… Goodwood Mirage  gets the tentative nod at 5/1.

Dark Lover has both course and ground form and so gets the nod in the second race which is a trappy handicap.  I considered the chances of Samingarry and Renard D’Irlande who both could go well, the former having the measure of subsequent grade 1 winner, Annacotty who I struggle to see overhauling him on these terms.  Anyway, 9/1 is available about my selection, with 10s in a place, if you have ever heard of Unibet!

I am not convinced that genuine heavy ground will suit Double Ross and so with an 8lb rise to contend with, I am going against the improver who I backed last time out.  Cedre Bleu is a horse I have followed and I like his chances but I am sticking with Venetia Williams and Aiden Coleman, a combination that is having a great season.  Shangani was a good festival runner and should be OK in conditions.

The Argento Chase market is led by Rocky Creek who is decent but at the prices, I am overlooking.  The same combination I liked in the previous saddle up with Houblon Des Obeaux, who has a number of fans.  Pricewise beat me to the punch with pointing out the chances of Restless Harry who loves it this soft and came back with a bang last time out.  The Giant Bolster needs good ground and Harry Topper is ridiculously burdened with the most weight of all.  No, regardless of ones thunder having been stolen, I am with Restless Harry too.

Maybe Lizzie Kelly will prove a great jockey, maybe it is the folly of love (she is the daughter of the trainers wife, who is also the owner – follow?) but I am surprised that a jockey with just ten rides to her name gets a ride on a horse with a live Grade 2 chance.  That said, she has won 4 starts, including twice with this horse, last time on New Years Day at this course.  Not for me.

No, I shall focus on the two market leaders, Red Sherlock and Rathvinden, both of whom are proven in the mud.  I am readily behind Red Sherlock who has been winning lesser races effortlessly.  His preparation is one that suggests the stable (although not my favourite yard) hold him in high regard and I am minded that he at least has the course form.

Then the big one and the big question – What remains of the incredible ability of Big Bucks?  He is only eleven but is bidding to win having been off the course for over a year.  If he was not so talented, passing him over would be easy.  His age and these injuries mean are hard to overcome and there are a couple of progressive horses lining up against him.

In these staying races, age can play less of a part as speed is less important than class.  Yet, the age does trouble me.  Big Bucks has occasionally looked like a horse that is not straight forward.  He has lost the jockey that really understood him too.  It is enough for me to look elsewhere.  I may well look very foolish come 3pm but my prediction is… pulled up.  I really hope that he comes home OK – Nobody wants to see a champion humbled, let alone injured.

I was a big fan of At Fishers Cross coming into the season but you have to be tempered by his performances.  I am not sure what has happened there but he looks one to pick up again after he has had a summer on his back.  Mind you, a return to form would be dangerous for the field as he is unbeaten at Cheltenham in three starts.

Reve de Sivola is a horse I have backed on a few occasions but never quite get right.  He seems better than ever now back in staying hurdles and my thinking is torn between his proven class and the potential of the Mullins raider Boston Bob.  Reve de Sivola causes me some consternation about Cheltenham having won twice from twelve starts…

Sod it, 9/1 is too big – I am hoping, it is hope, that At Fishers Cross has whatever issues behind him and can bring back the magic.  Surprise!

It could be that throughout the card I have not scored a single winner.  On the other hand, we could be holding that mothership ticket going into the last.  Seeing a Brian Ellison horse being backed (Totalize) is a signal but I am thinking that the handicapper may have taken a chance with Lac Fontana who is 7/1 generally and 8s with 888.com ironically.

Doncaster Tips

Is the drop in trip for Annie Power going to inconvenience her… no.  Is 1/5 a backable price… probably – She has been dominant in her races and looks a top class prospect.  It certainly looks like this is a signal that she is heading for the Champion Hurdle, which makes the Pricewise (third time I have mentioned him this morning!) 14/1 advice very sound.  Reading between the lines, I cannot understand why the yard would want to do it and have come to an unfounded speculative conclusion that Mullins himself would go to the stayers race but that Ricci wants a Champion Hurdle runner and ultimately, it is the owners horse.

Anyway, the two horses I am interested in at Doncaster are Caid Du Berlais who I want a lumpy piece of at an incredible 9/2 with 888.com (generally 11/4).  That price may be wrong and I am happy at 11/4 if I cannot get on.

I find Mart Lane an interesting runner in the Sky Bet Chase and his last run looks interesting.  Unioniste is no doubt a very good stayer but I am concerned that his exploits in Ireland both expose his limitations at the top level (Still excellent in this context) and more troubling, may have taken a physical toll – It was a tough race.

Alas, I am following a horse that will enjoy conditions and may well have some more improvement – Kruzhlinin.  He can be backed at 11s… Have a slice.

Leopardstown

Paul Townend has suffered the effect of Ruby being at home more weekends this year but gets a chance today on the Mullins first string in Ireland.  I rate him as a jockey and think he can take the Grade 2 Novice Chase on Djakadam.   Only 6/4 but I think this one will make a better chaser than hurdler and although less experienced and younger than his rivals, he gets some handy weight too.

Will Quick Jack keep up his relentless rise through the weights… Yes.

FA Cup action continues and my usual aim is to find overpriced Premier LEague teams away at Championship of League one clubs.  Swansea 21/20 at Birmingham City, Hull 10/11 at Southend and in League 1, Walsall at 7/5 and Wolves at 10/7.

The Martin Hill bet is a yankee including Quick Jack, Caid du Berlais, Red Sherlock and Wolves (if he can keep his breakfast down).

May your dinner be extravagant and in the best of company, with her wanton eye telling you to where her mind runs.

Courage friends, roll those dice.

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The Saturday Sermon – Aintree and Sandown

Good evening from the Major who writes from a darkened Worcestershire night where the prickles of bright starlight strike wonderment into my mind.   The fire is lit and the Ashes coverage is soon to start.

My mind is racing with troubles untold.  I shall not burden you, dear reader, with the weight of my own darkness.  I feel vain even to mention it.  Yet, you will forgive a short post as my mind is to weary to expound the usual sermon.  I imagine you are breathing a sigh of relief, yet consider what that means – You came for the sport tips.  Now consider what that means – It is not good my friends, not for you or for me – For the Major is barely profitable and I think you come for routine, for the deep swirling thoughts of a mind unhinged, for familiarity.

I am not going to write anything of Nelson Mandela, lest you think I believe myself a more capable commentator than the many others who take up that mantle.  Yet in his life, I draw one comforting conclusion.

A man should take enormous comfort from his freedoms, particularly those that his mind allows.  Nothing is more important than remembering that your own personal privilege to think and make thoughts your own, it is the most sacrosanct commodity you have.  No matter what ill might befall you, you retain the freedom of your own mind.  Each and every one of us.

Now to the sports.

The Tingle Creek

The defection of superstar Sprinter Sacre has removed a little sparkle from the 2013 Tingle Creek but there remains an interesting race to unpick.

The Tingle Creek always makes me think of Kauto, I am not sure many horses throughout history could complete a Tingle Creek, Gold Cup double… in the same season.  Just think about that achievement, the pace, flair and accuracy for a two mile chase and then being able to win the great stamina sapping, quality testing Cheltenham show-piece that is the Gold Cup.. Magnifique, n’est pas?

The running tomorrow has a market with three clear favourites in focus.  Captain Conan, the next best from the Henderson camp, Sire de Grugy, the Gary Moore star player and Somersby, the more mature of the market leaders.

Let’s take each.  Captain Conan is a good horse, he has two good wins at Sandown and three wins at the top-level (while a novice)  but I have found him a bit of a boat at times and think he wants further, in time a lot further – I say this even though he has struggled at 3m trips to date.  Given that the yard planned to aim Sprinter at this race and that this horse (who was running at more staying trips at the end of last year) has not had a race, I find him easy to overlook.

I am quite impressed by the Somersby who won the Haldon Gold Cup with Cue card, hero of last weeks Betfair Chase back in third – That was extremely decent and assures us of his fitness.  He has plenty of decent form in the book historically too but is not a horse I necessarily trust to string two good efforts together.  That said, his experience will serve him well over these tough fences.

Of the outsiders, Tataniano might seem a no hoper but will like the drying ground.  33/1 is not the worst outside chance of a place I have seen.

Sire de Grugy has been talked up by his trainer and since his defeat to Captain Conan last year, has arguably shown improved form.  He is going to go off a worthy favourite.

On balance, I think Sire de Grugy and Somersby are the two to concentrate on and I am swayed by the Haldon Gold Cup – Somersby is often a neat jumper and at the railway fences, that can make or break a race over the minimum trip at Sandown.

Other Sandown Tips

In the earlier Grade 1 novice chase, Taquin du Seuil is my pick.  You could be put off by the minimum trip given that he looks a bit more of a stayer, I am less concerned.  He always looked a chaser to me, when a hurdler and I am convinced he will be very decent in this field.  Grandouet carries no concern for me as I think he will want easier fences than these.  The main danger I see is Balder Succes who looks a top horse now in his own right with his last win well boosted.  Yet, I stick with Taquin, regular readers will remember that McCoy gave me the horse to follow and follow I shall…

In the last race of the day, I have an angle on two horses that I quite like.

Godsmejudge was a horse I tipped up for Cheltenham at the Open meeting and I thought he was coming with a run when he smacked the fence at the bottom of the hill and was never getting going again.  He has a good record on better ground and I think this sort of track will suit.  Never forget that he was a Scottish National winner.

The other horse I like is Franklin Roosevelt at 16/1.  Pipe is running the horse who is out of the handicap by a couple of pounds but has a useful 7lb claimer aboard.  I have no fear about backing the second string of the Pipe operation.  If he jumps better he could well be involved.

Aintree Tips

It is Becher Chase day and at 11/1 the field it is a minefield of possibility.  Yet the race tends to have a positive shape of experienced chasers who can handle the National fences.   Remember last year when Hello Bud bought the house down at the grand old age of 14.. That was special.  He also won the race as a 12-year-old but the more normal age is 9 or 10.  Baby Run is representing the same connections and he actually has some merit.  He does well over these fences and loves decent ground… Do not rule out a sensational story.

The profile I am after is a horse carrying less weight.  So lightly weighted, yet experienced…. The one I am going for is Bostons Angel at 16/1.  It is another Pipe horse and I think fits my idea of the winner exactly.  A former RSA chase winner, this should have been a high-class animal.  He has been dogged with a few issues and has not enjoyed the best of times with Jessica Harrington recently.  Having switched yards I am hoping that a return to some sort of form is in order.  He is well weighted, potentially classy, mature enough to be OK over these fences and is my selection.

The other Aintree selection is Unioniste who runs in the 2.40 at odds of 4/1 – Surely the Nicholls horse will improve dramatically for getting a run under his belt and since I think The Giant Bolster is oft over-rated and Katenko wants heavier ground, I am minded that the likeliest danger is Wayward Prince who won this last year and will have been primed for a repeat.

In the football I fancy two bets; QPR to beat Blackburn at 8/11, West Brom to beat Norwich at 5/6.

The Martin Hill bet is a brave each way double on the two Pipe long shots Bostons Angel and Franklin Roosevelt.

May your dinner be in fine company, may the weight of your wallet sag your jacket and may the owner accompany you to the cellar to demonstrate how he has cared for the expensive wine you have ordered.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Ascot, Haydock and my favourite weekend football bets

Good evening from the Major who writes from a crisp Worcestershire night under a spectacular heavenly orb.  The cold is biting enough that the sand coloured grit has been scattered across the roads.  The Major has the fire crackling away, delightful popping and sizzling sounds – All is well with the world.

The Major had a decent enough Cheltenham Open weekend.  I had the pleasure of attending course on the Friday and the blog performed to a profit over the three days.  With the benefit of wisdom emerging during the time lapsed, some thoughts have incubated.  Of the performances, my old friend Taquin du Seuil stands out well.  While the race was a farce, he always looked to be besting Oscar Whiskey in travelling speed and jumping accuracy and now with a taste of Cheltenham fences on his CV, I am hoping for bigger things later this year – He remains a key horse in focus for me.

I am often asked (when I say often, I mean rarely) how I arrive at a set of tips.  While the results may suggest a haphazard and drunken lurching from one week to the next, the reality is probably even less comforting.  I have a system, strecth to deep analysis and recognise the futility of it too.

At heart, I am a value based punter.  If I think something is overpriced, I back it.  I remember suggesting to a racing virgin at Cheltenham  (hospitality guests) that a 33/1 shot was my selection.  When he backed the horse, he sought me out ticket in fingers and checked he had the right selection… ‘So, you think it has a real chance?’… I wish he had not asked, the inevitable disappointment in my answer when I told him that I thought the horse had little chance but one that was better than 3.3%.

Most of my activity and energy are focussed nearer the top of markets.  I prefer to invest in discerning the chances of the shorter priced horses than I do seeking value in an all-weather long shot.  Do not get me wrong I have had my moments but generally if we are to get rich together, it will because one week, I land all selections, the mothership.

I do use some online tools, a rating engine (which I have adapted to my own preferences) coupled with a detailed stats analyser.  These provide a foundation.  I like to read trainer comments and I like to watch a lot of racing too – I feel much better if I have a good working memory of how a horse races and how previous form on which I based decisions panned out.

There is the context of history too.  The thousands of bets I have placed, the yards, the jockeys, the courses, the ground.  All of it not only exerts an influence of trend but it informs a deeper wisdom, a knowledge you think you have.  Intuition, neither to be ignored or trusted.

I use all of this to build up a story about a horse, the patterns in the numbers, the quotes, the memories, historic context, a wisdom builds, it underpins an overall profile I build in my mind.  While not necessarily sophisticated or entirely consistent, it is fair to describe it as complex.

Identifying winners is the same about identifying anything, you have a pattern you expect to see and you match as much data as you can before making a prediction. The ancient philosophers were concerned with how we identify anything.  That a horse has four legs, a mane and a shape we recognise, that it moves a certain way, that it neighs and brays and has a lolloping tongue, all these things we use to call a horse a horse.  When we glimpse in a field, from a fast moving train, the general outline of a horse, we might not have all of the sensory information we need to confirm what we saw, but we know what it was… or at least we think we do, there is some degree of certainty, sleight or great.

In the same way, we all seek our racing winners, I might know the general shape of what my mind seeks, the attributes I like, the course form at Brighton, Bath, Southwell and York.  I look for a strong jockey, this above most other things.  I want class in the form, or at least potential.  I don’t mind freshness as long as the trainer has a good record with it – You see, this adds more complexity, as some of the data, of which this last point is an example, has relationships.  I want the yard to be in form… It goes on and on and on and on and on…. Ad infinitum – The things we seek are close to indescribable, far too complex – Making sense of it, the swirling vortex of it all, it is baffling, exciting, exasperating, enticing and downright scary.

Yes, I know a rough shape of what I am looking for but the disturbances in what I think I see and the mental model I am comparing it to, are numerous, much noise around the signal.

Am I even receiving the right evidence, are the trainers comments accurate and did I witness and recall the last run with some diligence?  Secondly, once the profiles have been created in my mind, they are rarely well-defined.  Interpretation is needed, as though you were looking at an animal through a badly focussed lens or from that fast moving train, you know the model you expect to see, 4 long legs, you see what might be a mane, could it be a horse or is it a donkey?

This is the most sensitive part of the process.  Glimpses of something.  The data and the stories I have told myself converges into a mass.  The pattern matching process, it is infuriating but addictive.  A test of your mind.

It has not made me rich but I don’t do too badly.  Plus, I enjoy it and I know you do too.  If there is one thing I would offer to you, one piece of wisdom that would help in all this, though I am a poor sage.  There is just too much complexity for you to know anything.  There is also too much opportunity for the data to be polluted and irrelevant.  Most of all, your ability to understand the model you should see and to be able to see through the cloud itself, you will never have certainty.

All I am saying is the obvious.  Cultivate a healthy mistrust of your personal ability to match patterns.  Then enjoy trying.

To the sports my good friends, daub thy war paint and sharpen that lance point.  Fall on parade soldier, we are for battle.

The Betfair Chase

What an unbelievably fantastical renewal of the Betfair Chase.  You know this, so I shall not bore you repeating the obvious.  Rather, let us decide on the likely winner.

I will not consider The Giant Bolster, he is an over-rated horse in my view, the Gold Cup he was runner-up in was poor and these are not his conditions.  I am also not a Tidal Bay fan, he is a grand old servant but this is top top class and I cannot see him improving at his fine age.  Roi du Mee may have beaten Sizing Europe is some style but I do not think that form will stand up given the stamina challenges of the latter.

Then, there were 5.

Long Run is a horse I have backed for a long time.  I love him.  His long beautiful legs, the trouble he gets into at fences but the tremendous heart, ah how I love him.  I also felt he has been under-rated by many for some time but now think it was my own warm feelings that were the error.  That he needs a professional jockey is obvious.  More bothersome, he is not the horse he was.  I am not sure where he goes from here.  He is young enough to still be a player but I feel his lot will be a tragedy not a romance.  Plus, he needs another mile.

I have no doubt that Cue Card is a damn fine horse and the big question is whether he will stay.  The King George is the critical piece of evidence for this where he evidently threw the anchor out.  However, a closer inspection of that race reveals an intriguing element.  He smacked the first two fences which brings into question whether his falling away was a lack of stamina or as a consequence of his early mistakes.  I am not against this horse because of his ability and I have less problem with the stamina than most, my concern (and it is a big one) is the form of the Tizzard yard.  They have placed just 4 runners from 23 runners in the last fortnight.

Dynaste is the Pricewise horse and this is an excellent chance for us to assess whether this is a genuine Gold Cup horse.  He did not do a lot wrong last year and I thought it was interesting that Pipe swerved last weeks Paddy Power which looked an easier assignment) for this.  Of interest.

Silviniaco Conti looked to be travelling as well (if not better) than Bobs Worth coming down the hill in the Gold Cup.  Sadly, we do not know if that was due to translate into a genuine challenge due to the crashing fall he took.  However, it is clear that both he and Bobs Worth are the proven Gold Cup protagonists on the scene.  I see no reason not to focus on these two.  If Cue Card is to get involved, he has to run better than the yards recent runners.  Dynaste needs to step up slightly.  These two need only run to form.

They are joint favourites as I write and this leads me to an easy choice, I just have to decide the likelier.   Bobs Worth is a proven act and has been likely raced, I worry he might need a bit further.  Last year he was straight out to win the Hennessy, he has Geraghty on board – God, it feels good.  Silviniaco Conti won this race last year and gets Fehily in the saddle – He is class but so is Geraghty.  Oh it is close, so close.  Conti.  Bobs Worth.  Conti.  Bobs Worth.  The class of Bobs Worth.  It is Bobs Worth.

The fixed brush hurdle on the same card is interesting.  Personally I am looking to be on Gervey Chambertin, it is not so much the Pipe record in the race (although that is inspiring) but more the early performances of this horse.  Clearly the spring was not his time, although backed off the boards at the festival, something was wrong.  Aintree was no better.  I am assuming all is well again, which is a danger considering they have gone for cheekpieces at the tender age of 5.  I am getting on at 7/1.

Gullinbursti rates a danger but I am bit perplexed as to why after a successful chase victory they are coming back to these easier obstacles.

In the 1.50, I am taken with the profile of More of That a 4/1 shot.  He was not fancied when he won his maiden and was injured shortly afterwards.  Returning this year, he looked very very good when winning the Wetherby reappearance and with the Jackdaws operation in such unbelievable form, I am more than happy to climb aboard at 4/1.

Saturday Ascot Tips

I was frustrated with myself to miss the reappearance of Drumshambo, a  horse that had a lot of improvement last year and was on my watch list.  Another 9lbs up in the weights and it bothers me so I am now looking elsewhere.  With just seven runners, I am hoping Saved By John a general 5/1 shot can gain compensation for a decent reappearance in which he was mugged.  His running style makes him vulnerable to that but I like him.

I like Volt Face in the Ascot bumper running for Pipe.  Although the Henderson horse brings franked form into the race, I think the Pipe one might be smart.

Captain Chris is also on my slip because I think there is only a paper between him and Al Ferof on form.  Throw in that my selection has less of a doubt over him regarding injury and the expectation that Captain Chris is primed for this in a way that Al Ferof is unlikely to be and well…

I know Annie Power is 8/13 but she should hose up.

In the football, I like Arsenal at 8/13, Newcastle at 4/5 and Wigan at evens.

The Martin Hill combination is a Wigan and Annie Power double with a separate Trixie on Saved by John, More of That and Gervey Chambertin.

I hope your own dinner is magnificent, a delectation of taste sensations, fine claret, finer company and the comfort that no matter how expensive the brandy you order, the uncomfortable lump in your ribs will barely be dented.

Courage, roll those dice.

Friday Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips – The Major is Chasing, JT McNamara, The Triumph… last chance for glory

Good evening from the Major who writes from an overcast Worcestershire scene that is positively balmy compared to recent conditions.

The Major is tired.  Three days of battle cling to my clothes and skin and there is a certain stench of defeat about it.  Today we scored a magnificent win with Cue Card, whom I gave a strong indication to load the cannons on, but there ends the success.

Should you feel  disappointed  I hope it eases your mind to understand that the Major was significantly invested in Sam Winner, Ballynagour and Oscar Whiskey all of which floundered hopelessly at one stage or another.

Twitter is alight with thoughts and prayers for JT McNamara who suffered a fall on Galaxy Rock in the Kim Muir, the consequence of which was him suffering a severe neck injury.  Powerful barbiturates were used to induce a coma and the racecourse medical team flew with him on the air ambulance to Bristol.  My own losses become inconsequential.

A bitter taste was left by that turn of events which unfurled as the racecourse team were dealing with Matuhi who suffered a fatal fall in the previous race.

This all followed the surprising news that Davy Russell had suffered a punctured lung, although the cause remains a mystery.  He is stood down and tonight there remains a mystery as to who will ride Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup on Friday…

The Major kept good company today and included in the group was a chap whose methodology involved selecting horses on a theme from current events.  He selected the papal election and so used that when reviewing each race.  To build my own knowledge of what is likely to transpire in the 2013 Cheltenham Festival championship races, I have invested hundreds of hours following national hunt racing.  You know already what happened.  He selected the winner of the first two races at 25/1 and 20/1 before following up with some rather tasty each way places including Celestial Halo (of course) at 40/1.  Good on him, I wish every man his good fortune, I just hope our own enterprise is rewarded tomorrow.

Today was a critical day and it swung things in the bookmakers direction.  We need winners.  We have just one day remaining.

Stick with me, it is darkest before the dawn.  As Roosevelt (Theodore) said it is better to be faithful than famous.  Either that, or pick a theme and knock yourself out!

The Triumph

Our Conor is going to give Ireland a terrific chance of winning a Triumph, not a traditionally strong race for the raiding team.  He has already had the measure of many of his Irish rivals this winter including Stocktons Wing and Diakali.

On the home team, the probable best chance is Rolling Star who beat Irish Saint  on British debut on heavy ground and could be anything.  That win was at Cheltenham and mighty impressive.  Henderson has won three of the last twelve Triumph hurdles and so clearly he is to be feared.

Complicating the scene is the ground / weather.  The rain is likely to not be serious until later in the afternoon and so this will be a good ground race.  That brings in some serious questions for Rolling Star and Our Conor, neither of whom have raced on good.

Lac Fontana has an interesting profile having not disgraced himself against better horses in novice company and now stepping down to juvenile grade for this.  Jockey booking suggests Far West has the measure of him at home.

On balance, Our Conor is getting the line – I am not convinced the yard is in the best shape, the horse has done better in smaller fields and he has the travel to contend with.

Both Far West and Rolling Star have won at Cheltenham.  I cannot split them but will do so on trainer form at the festival which means that Rolling Star gets the nod.

The County Hurdle

The favourite in the County is Cotton Mill, well thought of by Pricewise, enough to make him his antepost Champion Hurdle pick.  The County is a much less ambitious target.

Cotton Mill may have some class but the County is often won by a springer from lower in the weights and that is the Major’s angle into the race.  Age 5/6, Mullins horses particularly interesting…

This leads us straight to Tennis Cap at 12/1 who I think has an excellent chance.  Ranjaan has been the selection of Ruby which is an advert in itself but with Ditcheat not showing their usual swagger this week, I prefer Paul Townend aboard my pick

The Albert Bartlett

I am not sure how the Albert Bartlett will feel tomorrow after we witnessed the rise of equine and jockey stars Brindisi Breeze and Campbell Gillies and their tragic deaths last year.  I am sure the course will have some moment planned to commemorate them.

What a great advert The New One gave for At Fishers Cross in his demolition job in the Neptune on Wednesday.  That Cheltenham race now looks key to this.

Utopie des Bordes has some experience which is an advantage but I am not sure it is good enough.

Ballycasey lines up to have a pop at At Fishers Cross where Inish Island failed.  Neither I think will get to the favourite.  All evidence to me says that At Fishers Cross is very very classy and has a great attitude.  If the rain is not soaked in by the time of the Albert Bartlett I would not be too concerned as the tip is an Oscar bred animal and should be fine under firmer conditions.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips

The 2013 Gold Cup has a decent feel to it with a number of potential winners and a great story to unfold.

At this point last year, I was convinced Sir Des Champs would go on to be crowned 2013 Gold Cup winner but he seems to have a lost a little edge.  That said he has improved with each run this year, looks a thorough stayer and clearly likes Cheltenham.  Yet, the standing down of Davy Russell is a final negative for the Major.

I cannot have the Giant Bolster.  Won’t place.  Neck on line.

At 10/1 Captain Chris would be a consideration having run Long Run so close in the King George but rain might put pay to his chances.

Bobs Worth, Long Run and Silviniaco Conti are harder to split.

Silviniaco Conti has two negatives that put him out of the picture for the Major.  Firstly, he has no Cheltenham win to his name and while he has looked mighty impressive this term, he has yet to face this sort of challenge.  Secondly, I alluded earlier to the fact that Ditcheat just look a little short of sparkle this week.

That leaves me with a Henderson 1-2.  The order is the tricky thing.  The trend of not regaining a Gold Cup (with the exception of Kauto Star) does not bother me.  Long Run picked up his at a very tender age and there is no reason why he cannot win another simply because others have not.  He probably was not on full song when Conti beat him on seasonal debut, his King George win was brave and overall the Major is not against him at all.

Bobs Worth won a Hennessy and showed he had staying power doing so.  He has 4 course wins from 4 starts, including an Albert Bartlett and an RSA.  The Hennessy makes me slightly nervous because Tidal Bay is a yardstick that I think over-rated.  I might be the only person to think this but it makes me concerned about the Irish Hennessy form too, a view supported by the trouncing Cue Card gave First Lieutenant.  A further concern would be deteriorating conditions with Bobs Worth only experience incredibly being on goodish ground.

That leaves me with Long Run.  11/2 is available and I think it is well worth a decent wedge even if we are hampered by the Amateur Jockey.

The Foxhunters

Jockey booking is essential and after that, horse quality is required.  I think Salisfy can defend his title but 11/4 is not much of a price, particularly as the ground is going to be getting away from him.

I much prefer the 10/1 about Cottage Oak available with Corals.  The more rain he better for this one whose price accounts for the talented looking but inexperienced rider.

The Martin Pipe

After Dynaste went down in the Jewson, Ballynagour seemed to empty fast in the Byrne Plate and it seems hard to trust Pipe horses at the head of affairs.  This puts Gervey Chambertin in a little doubt.

It is only a little doubt though and I think it telling that the Pipe yard are having a pop at the race named in honour of their own with just this entrant.  He is a full brother to Grand Crus and could have been entered in several of the novice hurdles.

Solix is not a 66/1 shot in my eyes and if Ian Williams has him firing, he could make a mockery of that price.

Bourne has shown some class and rates a credible winner if we get more rain, 20/1 is workable.

The Major is opting for the fantastic festival of Willie Mullins to continue with a big run from the unexposed Make your Mark at 12/1 – Clearly he has been well thought of at various stages and if he arrives here in form, perhaps we will see it happen in front of us!  A saver on the Pipe horse is recomended.

The Grand Annual

The former race is named after the Pipe yard and the Grand Annual also carries the name of a famous yard, the Hendersons.  Rather than take one good shot at the prize, the team have lined up six darts to throw and there are cases for many of them.

The yard had a one-two in the race last year but this year they may struggle to cope with the Tome George trained Rody (8/1).  The race has a tendency towards featherweights and Rody carries 10 8 – Have a slice.

Courage, roll those dice.

The Boxing Day Sermon – Kempton King George Tips – Scrub that – Here is the winner of the King George plus some other tips from the Kempton card

Merry Christmas and Good Evening from the Major who writes to you from the table of my parents home in Sutton Coldfield.

The weather is cold and blustery, walking the dogs earlier in Sutton Park I had to turn my collar to the wind and bear the brunt of the cold damp on my hat-less head.  The sun was setting and the dogs were rooting through the undergrowth, bounding and sliding through the mud.  As the dank gloom descended, a certain sanguine sense settled on me.  Sometimes, when cold, out, watching dogs becoming filthy, considering the weakness of your attire, on the brink of night, with a warm home waiting…. you are so close to life, it feels good.

The walk after Christmas lunch was in order, my good mother had prepared four meats, Turkey, Pork, Gammon and Beef.  Where was the lamb I cried, surely two cuts of pig was too many….. Apparently it is not the Christmas spirit and I was chastised.

My sister was meant to host Christmas but a new cooker was not arriving in time and with a fortnight to go, the switch was made.  That pretty much made my mothers Christmas, the combination of playing reluctant host coupled with the smell of a crisis.

I trust your Christmas has been fine and in perspective.  I wish all of you merry band the happiest of times, the best of health and gods own luck.  I know my followers are the decent sort, I try and root out the cads, they tend not to return.  As such, I shall not remind you to think of others less fortunate, you will be doing that already.

There is so much racing tomorrow and so much I want to do that I wanted to provide two blog posts.  The first would be an in-depth analysis of the King George – I plan on giving you Christmas cheer with the winner.  I want to share the thought process that leads to the decision too, allowing you to part company with me at any given point.

I will then provide a less detailed summary of some of the other Kempton racing.

In a separate post, I planned on a whirlwind tipping ceremony of every race run tomorrow (that is a lot).  The analysis would have been surface level only but it feels like a fun thing to do.  Sadly, it is Christmas and I am snow blind by racing with no fewer than a million races tomorrow.

Before the tips though, racing royalty and a Sam Waley Cohen rant (not against him per se).

Recent History of Kempton’s King George and Long Run’s Jockey

Kauto Star will be in attendance at Kempton tomorrow and the sight of the five time race winner will warm the festive air with fans clamouring to be in the presence of greatness.

Winner of the race in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, defeated by Long Run in 2010 and regaining his title in 2011 – Is there a more impressive recent national hunt race record.  Add 4 Betfair Chase titles, 2 JN Wine Champion Chase runs and the first horse to regain a Gold Cup and you have a bone fide legend.

Spare a thought for Nacarat though.  Watching many of those Kauto wins, the horse that sets such a nice tempo and travels oh so well until the last half mile deserved more credit than history will give him.  I shall afford him what I can, my thanks for his brave efforts against superior flesh.

Without doubt, my favourite King George would be 2009.  Barbers Shop toiled on, Nacarat the same but Ruby and Kauto that day looked like perfection personified.  Some of the fences he cleared were majestic.  He looked a horse born knowing he was the greatest.

Should Long Run have beaten him in last years renewal?  Probably.  I know it is a well worn subject but the Major would add his two penneth worth to the views of the jockeyship of Long Run which in my view cost too much momentum in last years King George and in the Gold Cup.

Sam Waley-Cohen of the fabulously wealthy clan is a full-time dentist and for six months of the year, pretty much a full-time national hunt jockey too.  He works incredibly hard to do what he does.

The case for the defence is that…. 1) Sam has already won a King George and a Gold Cup aboard Long Run, thus it is a proven partnership worth protecting 2) Is it not the Corinthian spirit that the Major knocks…. ah the plucky amateur, playing with such straight a bat and steeled spirit as the best of them…. There is that too, granted.  3) Let us not forget too that Mr Robert Waley-Cohen has paid his money, it is his toy set and he can do what he wants, he who pays the piper….?

None of these assuage my frustration at the present situation.  My arguments are simple.  True champions in our sport are there to behold.  Kauto, Frankel, Denman, Arkle, Red Rum, Sea Bird…. take your pick, what they achieve is more than the purse for their owner, far more.

Horses like these achieve things that transcend the individual.  It is no longer one element of the race, it is the whole, it is the story.  The spontaneous round of applause as Kauto pulled up in the Gold Cup in March was beautiful, a crowd acknowledged a champion.  Ruby asked the first question but did not belittle the horse by asking again, Kauto said no once, it was enough and everyone appreciated the graceful departure.

In the case of Sam Waley-Cohen, he accepts that he is not the best jockey and this creates pressure, he clearly thrives on it too.  Sam might get 30-40 winners in a year but that compares poorly to the best jockeys riding hundreds of winners, you would expect it too as well, it is the benefit of being professional.

The skill of jockeyship in these races for me is in presenting the horse well at fences.  Geraghty, Walsh, McCoy, Fehily, O’Brien, Madden and Russell, among many of the top pro’s, do this exceptionally well.

If Long Run were aided by such a jockey, I am absolutely convinced that the horse would already hold two King George titles and two Gold Cups.  Both of the defeats came from scruffy jumping and the jockey looks awkward to me.

I accept I have never ridden a horse but while I will gladly bear the brunt of those that know far more than I from the saddle, I know what my eyes and what my sense tells me.

Long Run would be better served with a fully professional top class jockey, he would jump better and thus run to a better mark.  I not only feel a frustration born from a desire to see the best jockeys on the best horses, I also feel the greater sport is suffering as a result.  This is no ordinary chaser, trying to win a half valuable handicap.  This is potentially one of the best chasers we have seen, history beckons.  I wish we did not handicap him with an amateur in the saddle.

The owners pay the bills, they can do as they please, I just wish for the sake of racing that Geraghty would get the leg up tomorrow.

None of this is a slight on Sam Waley-Cohen either.  He accepts the basis of my argument, that he is not as good as the top professional riders.  I genuinely admire the work he must put in to ride at the standard he does.  He also seems like a top guy.  None of this is personally directed, he is doing his best, I just wish he would keep it to the likes of Radjhani Express.

The King George Winner

I said I would provide the name of the winner of the King George.  Here we go….

I analyse races to differing criteria and I want to share the process for selecting the winner of the King George with you.

I have used my judgement and some statistical base to analyse the horses chances on going, trainer form,horse age,  jockeyship, best horse form, recent horse form and likelihood of enjoying the track.

Yet, analysis like this is only useful in ensuring you do not miss elements of fact in the story you create.  Live your life by a model and the bumblebee cannot fly. So, once I have made this assessment, I shall make my case.

My scores came out, incredibly flat, suggesting this is a wide open King George.

Long Run 14.45%
Captain Chris 10.72%
Cue Card 9.36%
Riverside Theatre 10.14%
Junior 10.23%
For Non Stop 6.45%
The Giant Bolster 8.06%
Champion Court 8.55%
Grand Crus 10.81%
Kauto Stone 11.21%

In each the percentage is chance of winning on the scores allotted with my usual adjustments made.

In this case, I am going to throw them away.  It suggests a range of prices akin to a handicap from 6/1 Long Run to 16/1 For Non Stop.

My market, massively rates the chances of the outsiders. How does that fit with my feel for the race….. hmmmm, not very well.  This will be a case of drawing on some of the analysis but feeling my way through the back stories of each.

The most massive factor for me is class, it strikes me that our best chasers win the King George.  They are normally aged from 7-9, that is, in their peak racing years.  Look at the names… Kauto, Kicking King, See More Business – The multiple winners are class horses.

It is easy to get distracted by analysis, what we have to ascertain are two things – Are there serious impediments to you running your best?  Are you good enough?

In this race, I believe only the following have no serious impediment.  Long Run, Kauto Stone, Cue Card, Captain Chris and Riverside Theatre.

Grand Crus is perhaps my highest profile offcut, I feel will struggle on the ground.  He has much poorer form on soft and has never raced on worse.  A wind op may be crucial in proving me wrong but I am willing to bet that the spring will see him run his best races and maybe failing here might put the RSA on the cards.

I am not with the Giant Bolster who has shown one piece of top form in placing in a poor Gold Cup on summer ground.  Not for me.

Champion Court is good but looks thoroughly average in this company.

Likewise, For Non Stop, who has the added impediment of being unlikely to enjoy Kempton, in fact this horse has a surprisingly bad record going right handed.

Junior looks like a horse supplemented to try and win some place money, I don’t think it will pay off – Handicapper out of his depth is my reading.

So, to the protaganists and let us assess the chances and review the merits.

I want to start with two you might be surprised to find me rule out.  Kauto Stone and Cue Card.  Both have different profiles.

Kauto Stone is proven over trip and ground, his three mile win in Ireland on heavy represents his best form and Kauto’s half brother (what a story that would be!) should enjoy conditions.

Cue Card has to prove he will get the trip – Connections think it is no problem on on Kempton’s flat track and I might agree if it were not for the heavy conditions. This will make it a truly testing three miles and turning for home going well may mean nothing after the last fence.

The truth is that six year olds have won the race but they have to be top draw.  Kauto won aged six, winning a Tingle Creek in the same year (unbelievable really!) – So that is the standard to judge the chances of these two by.

Kauto Stone, definitely not in my view… Cue Card, maybe, just maybe.

Then there were three and as Holmes said, rule out the impossible and whatever remains, no matter how far fetched is the truth.

Riverside Theatre, Captain Chris and Long Run.  We have two horses that have placed in a King George and on that has won it and placed in it.

Captain Chris showed arguably his best form last time out encountering heavy for the first time.  If that form sticks then I think he is booked for a place as a minimum and represents a terrific 16/1 price.  He loves conditions and he loves Kempton (three from five).

Riverside Theatre has not had a run this year but that is not a concern.  His record fresh is immaculate and he will be wound up for this.  He also loves Kempton and gets Geraghty aboard.

This is why Long Run has to be the tip for the King George.  When it comes down to it, class is the compelling argument.  Riverside rates one of the two horses I rate in the contest and Long Run gave him a twelve length beating when only a novice.  Anything like that form and my selection should wipe the floor with this lot.  The jockey is the only impediment I can think of and I think he will win despite that.

People forget that this horse set the track record when winning the Gold Cup. That is some achievement and I think it is the class act in the field.

Cue Card rates a danger, there are lots of if’s – Of the two 6 year olds, the former Champion Bumper horse rates the one that could be of the quality to progress and win again.  Those if’s add up though, will he get heavy? Will he be good enough? Will he stay the trip?  A risky dodge, but a dodge.

My best each way alternative would be Captain Chris who only has to overcome his inconsistency to rate a very good place chance at 16/1.

Long Run will win the King George, class will tell.

The Christmas Hurdle

The talk is that Cinders and Ashes will be better for the last run and may reverse with Countrywide Flame who looked an easy winner on soft.

Darlan arrives as one of the best of last years novices but really this one needs better ground, surely.

For the Major, the art is to keep it simple, Countrywide Flame is the Christmas Hurdle tip and with good reason.  He loves the mud, he has just shown terrific form and the triumph is not looking bad as a form race.  15/8, keep it simple.

The Major will however have a slice of former Champion Hurdler, Punjabi.  This horse is the apple of my eye, I still see his white face on that little body as he held off Binocular and Celestial Halo to win me my biggest pile of notes ever.  That will be one for the heart and I would love to see him run a place.

The Feltham

Although I am going to win no friends with the value punting set, Dynaste looks as good as a bolt on bet as I know.  His facile chase victories mean that the 5/1 ante post for the RSA is my current favourite Cheltenham bet.

There is nothing in this field that scares me at all.  His jumping is immaculate, what is not to like.

The 3.45 Handicap Hurdle – Kempton

Four favourites on one card is probably not what you want from your tipping man but Katkeau is all the rage in the last.  The Pipe inmate looks a handicap good thing sort and one poor UK run is nowhere near enough to ignore this promising French sort….

Racing Post Novice Chase – Leopardstown

Avrika Ligeonniere is an evens favourite and it is understandable as to why.  When you are as blessed as Mullins is with Novice Chasers and you have a handful in at the five day stage, which you take out to rely on one brute shot, punters have to take notice.

Oscars Well though is the one for me.  This horse fell on the penultimate start but apart from that not a lot has gone wrong.  This is a classic case of my horse having more in the bank but reputation catapulting the other to the head of affairs.  Take the 7/4 on the second favourite… its a bet.

To the football…

Tottenham odds against at Villa look a bet.  Surely Villa will be fighting to restore some pride but it is a young team and they may struggle, particularly if they concede early.

Watford are my money train at the moment, hence 5/4 at Bristol City is Merry Christmas!

May your Boxing Day be better than mine.  I am booked for lunch at 2pm… what sort of sick person does that to me?  A wife of ten years is the answer… She claims innocence but really… She will pay.

Courage, roll the dice.