Tag Archives: the new one

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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Boxing Day Sermon – Kempton et al. Shabash. Courage, roll the dice.

Good morning from the Major who writes from Cork, all full of Christmas hangover, weary from the excess.  The sky here is large, full of Atlantic glory, the ground crisp, my head hurts.

The Major is not well acquainted with Ireland.  Driving down from Dublin, the signs were racecourse after racecourse, each stirring a memory.

Christmas Day was spent with Jim and Mary, he from Waterford, she from Cork.  Their hospitality was excellent.  From the sole served to me for Christmas lunch (I am vegetarian for a year) to the fine wines and brandy that washed it down, all was good.

Jim worked at Winson Green and Wormwood Scrubs, he is a solid sort, keeps things simple – It is fair to say I liked him from the start.  We connected immediately because of a mutual appreciation of racing – Sometimes you can look at a man and know you have that in common.

I trust your Christmas was as merry as mine.  Forgive the lateness of the post, I type from the hotel I am residing at.  My head hurts and we badly need a turn in fortune.  Such things happen at times like these.

To the sports.  Saddle up my kindred warriors.  It is time for us to daub the war paint.  We may have needed credit to enter the Christmas period but we shall emerge dripping in cash, victory upon victory, sedimentary layers of success building relentlessly until the enemy cries no more and we give out of sheer generosity for the spirit of the season.

Kempton – Boxing Day Tips

I love this card.  It is one of my favourite days of racing.  Memories bubble up of Kauto sailing over the fences, leaving Madison de Berlais or the Tom George trained grey whose name momentarily escapes me (forgive the drunken haze), in his glorious wake.  Or of Long Run, battling on like a true warrior.  The King George has taken its rightful place as the second best race of the season.

To win 5 King Georges.  Think of that.  Incredible.

Two meetings have been called off and the Major does not care.  Partly because of my wine flown state, partly because Boxing Day is hectic enough.  Jockeys you have never heard of pressed into action and races going off back to back, remorseless and relentless, painfully busy.

Let us begin like  all good stories at the start.

The opener looks like a good opportunity for Dubai Prince who is a very good convert to the hurdling game and won on debut.  He is definitely not a straight forward sort but clearly has talent and his Donnie win has been franked since with the second going in again.

In the second, Western Warhorse is one I have followed after hitting the bar at Cheltenham.  Disappointing next time out and the Major abandons him for Ericht who is a fine bet at 7/2.  The Henderson horse made a decent start over the big obstacles in a race won by Funny Star, a decent Nicholls horse  who has gone on to win again.

Although it looks a spot kick for Just a Par, I am siding with Green Flag who has looked very impressive to the eye and a natural jumper.

Then the Christmas hurdle.  Take your pick of the top two – Both incredibly impressive hurdling prospects, My Tent or Yours and The New One make this a very good renewal.  I remember the race that cemented Punjabi in my mind as a Champion Hurdler, even though he fell when chasing leg 2 of the £1 million WBX bonus… Ahhhhhh.  I think we will have a new favourite for the Champion Hurdle today and I believe it to be My Tent or Yours.  When you consider that McCoy > Twiston Davies, it becomes an easy choice.

Then the big one.  For my money, Cue Card will get beaten.  It is a tough one ruling him out because I was quite impressed with his Betfair win.  As I said before that race, I am not concerned about his stamina, even though he has pace to burn.  Yet, some races just fall completely right for a horse and I believe the betfair to be that way fir Cue Card.  No, the Major has interest in others.  Al Ferof is of interest but again, I just think there are better horses.  The King George is won by a class animal and for me that means either Silviniaco Conti or Long Run.

Regular readers will know there is a touch of the heart about Long Run for me, I cannot deny it.  I love his gangly style and despite the amateur rider who is a definite handicap, this is a superb horse.  I think people overlook just how young he was when he won a Gold Cup – Not may do that at such  a tender age.  Since then, his career has gone one way but this is an excellent chance for him on ground he will relish and with the spotlight and pressure on others.

However, the money goes to Silviniaco Conti who is a very very good horse in his own right.  I thought he was travelling as well as Bobs Worth when coming down in the Gold Cup and frankly, he is one of my horses for the season.  9/2 is available with some outfit I have never heard of but 4/1 is the general price.

Sportingbet go 8/1 about Beyeh in the last and it will stay in my top pocket as a Get Out of Jail card.

At Leopardstown, Anifleet and Champagne Fever both look like 1/2 spot kicks – Not much fun there.  Limerick has an even shorter 1/4 certainty in Felix Younger – Where has the fun of Christmas gone?

It is to Wetherby and the Roland Meyrick for the other selection to add to your Christmas acca.  I am interested in two of the bigger priced runners.  While Cloudy Too is a good starting point for Sue Smith, I think this race is far more open than the market suggests.  My two are…. Cape Tribulation at 8/1 and Master of the Hall at 25/1.  The first is the bet, the second the saver.  Malcolm Jefferson has won this in the last few years and I think the form that Cape Tribulation has shown at Cheltenham has been close to top class.  I am surprised he is this price but understand that we need to return to form.

To the football.

I have asked my brother-in-law to guest tip the Premier League.  He is a good drinking partner and will see you right…

Man United will beat Hull in an old score style – By that he means draw half time and Man Utd at full time.  Villa Palace is a dreadful prospect (he is a Villa fan too) and unders is the way to go.  Cardiff v Southampton is a BTTS certainty.  Chelsea a 1-0 scoreline against Swansea.  Everton v Sunderland is a nil nil! Surprised me too.  Fulham might get the points out of Norwich at a price.  Newcastle v Stoke is worth backing in the overs market.  Arsenal to beat West Ham to nil.  Spurs v West Brom is a 2-2 – Reminds me of when we did come away with that scoreline and Scott Dobie scored a blinder! Finally, over 4.5 goals in Man City v Liverpool.

Outlandish calls… big prices… Merry Christmas.

For the Major – I would be a buyer of Villa t close to evens because even though they are poor, Palace are worse.  I would also back Spurs to beat Albion because they have more conviction currently.  Regulars will know that I believe Wigan to be constantly overpriced and that is true today too.

I hope your Boxing Day is in fine family company and that you indulge to the right amount.  Think of me and toast to all that is good in this world.

From Cork, I wish you and yours well.  Courage… Roll those dice.

The Saturday Sermon – Full Cheltenham International Card Tips – Let’s get Christmas paid for!

Good evening from the Major who writes from a pleasant Worcestershire evening with the family happily all around and Chinese food in, fit to burst.

The Major is full of business this evening, all bustling and bristling to get to the racing action.  A nice card at Cheltenham awaits and below is a full run down of my thoughts for tomorrow.  I am looking forward to seeing the New One in action – He is a serious contender for the Champion Hurdle although I confess to holding ante post tickets on Our Conor who was breathtaking in March, delivering a performance from the gods, a rare thing, winning a festival race on such a tight rein.

Such joyous days, I was not on but could only admire.

Lately, such times have been hard to recall.  I am suffering with an anxiety, dark and malevolent.  Blood surging, pressure building inside the skull, little respite.  Waking in the dark hours, restless, thoughts whirring away and not the pleasant sort.  Early in the mornings, in the worst moments, I struggle to shake it off.  The night world invading the day.

Yet now as I sit here, the fire underway, all is swept aside and a contentment lightens my mood.  Tomorrow I am to Birmingham and to spend some time watching the sport in great company.  Sport is wonderful.  All of life is contained within.

We are on this path just the once stranger.  We have no dress rehearsal.  I repeat my oft-repeated plea, we drift by on the tide just the once, grab on to what floats by, take up the fortune my friends.  If there are two simple things, just two to make your aim.. make it these… Experience and Companionship.

Daub thy war paint for it is December and we have a Christmas to pay for.  Mount the heavy horse for we will skirmish in open formation into their forward lines, meeting them man to man with our lance points flashing in the bright sunlight.  To the sports.

Cheltenham Tips

In the Cheltenham opener, the Triumph trial, I am interested in two near the top of the market.

All three fancied horses come from strong yards with Henderson holding the favourite, Kentucky Hyden; Nicholls with French import, Vicenzo Mio and John Ferguson represented by Commissioned.  All three yards arrive is good form and it is noteworthy that Nicholls has used this race to launch the British careers of some decent sorts in the past, winning it twice in the last two years.

The Henderson horse won by half the track at Sandown but that small field was easier pickings than this.  I prefer the Nicholls horse who has won a decent race at Auteuil and is a definite contender.  Yet I am more persuaded by the Ferguson horse, Commissioned.  I know the record of the yard at jumping HQ is atrocious (0 wins, 2 places, 15 runners – 2 Years) but look beyond that and there is a lot to like about my tip.

Commissioned is an ex Mark Johnstone horse and has excellent form on good ground, which is a handy advantage.  The yard have had 6 winners in the last two weeks and with some handy flat form, I think the 5/1 offered by Ladbrokes is well worth taking… Get invested.

Only 4 runners make it for the stayers novice chase but it is an intriguing race all the same.  A lot of folk are going to take the way Shutthefrontdoor was closing on Le Bec last time at Cheltenham as a significant positive over this extra distance.  It certainly looks like he should be able to reverse form but I am not convinced – To me Le Bec kept finding more too and I am not convinced that the defeated foe necessarily has the upper hand tomorrow with an extra furlong and 3lbs to help him.

Le Bec was sixth in the Albert Bartlett and looks pretty assured at his fences, although he did hit one at Cheltenham last time and still finished well.

It is between these two in my book.  I am going for the reverse and a bet on Shutthefrontdoor at 11/8.  There is a further more powerful reason for a reverse in my eyes.  That is the replacement of Le Bec of Noel Fehily by Aiden Coleman.  Now I have nothing against Coleman, he is a good jockey in his own right but I am a huge Fehily fan who is surely worth some lengths to the horse.

In the Jenny Mould memorial, I am opting for Astracad (8/1) who will definitely pop up in a race like this sooner or later.  The horse has picked up a couple of course wins, although has been highly tried at Cheltenham.  I think he prefers the better ground and his trainer would like to win the Jenny Mould memorial as she was a big supporter of his yard.  Of the others, Shooters Wood would have been very interesting but I think conditions are against.  It might also be that we have not bottomed out the potential of Drumshambo who also made the short-list.

Kings Palace looks like a solid favourite for the 1.50pm.  The Pipe horse won really well here last time, loves good conditions and 5/4 does not put me off… Load the heavy cannon.

I was a big fan of Colour Squadron and thought we were desperately unlucky not to win with him at the November meeting.  A better jump two out and he was definitely going to be involved.  How confident we can be in a second such performance, I am not sure.  Johns Spirit was showing further improved form though that day and 9lbs raise may not have bottomed him out.

I am opposing both though with a chance that Salut Flo returns in some sort of good order.  My selection loves decent ground and was a serious horse when last seen in competitive action.  Clearly time off tempers the enthusiasm but Pipe can ready one and this could be a seriously good mark.  Ataglance is a horse I would not put you off, he was also involved in that Johns Spirit / Colour Squadron dust-up and while finishing further behind in fourth, it is worth noting that he was racing out of the handicap that day and is much better off on tomorrows revised terms.

I do not see any dangers to The New One in the meetings feature race.  Yes it is 1/2 on but this is a serious Champion Hurdle contender and I think he should readily have the measure of Zarkander who while decent is not top class.  I would offer a word of optimism for Albert Hall who has limited British experience but has capable french form and 100/1 would be dismissive of his place chances if there were 8 runners, sadly, currently only 7 go to post.

I can make a case for all of the runners in the last.  Gemix is hard to assess, he certainly has some top class form but I am not sure what he will make of hurdling in a small field in this company.  I prefer More of That who smashed up a Folkestone race and two wins this season have been better again – More to come.

Yet, in the last, I am minded to go with Glenns Melody, she has a good strike rate and won really handsomely last time.  Since Ruby has made the effort to come over, well I take it as a positive, 7/2 is a stand out with Coral, with 3/1 more generally on offer.

At Lingfield, I would back Black Thunder in their feature race, soft ground is great for him and he was pulling clear readily at Haydock last time, easy.

In the football, I like QPR and Forest both at 5/4.

I trust that your dinner is in the best of company, generous, full of humour and mischief and that the only inconvenience is the uncomfortable wad of notes denoting the drubbing you dished out to our beautiful enemy.

The Martin Hill bet is each way doubles and trebles on all of the Cheltenham selections above with the exception of The New One and Astracad.  That’s 40 bets… Get Christmas paid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Hunt Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Neptune Novices

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

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

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

AP McCoy and the Major

AP McCoy and the Major

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

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

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

The RSA Chase

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

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

Champion Chase

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

Coral Cup

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

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

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

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

The Fred Winter

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

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

The Champion Bumper

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

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

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