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The Saturday Sermon – Haydock Sprint Cup Day. Mothership Scoop 6. My Worcestershire landscape.

Good evening from the Major who writes from the comfort of the drawing-room gazing out over a dull hazy Worcestershire. The day has been unseasonably close and the Major has been out running in the busy lanes that fall from Defford to the old Eckington Bridge.  The backdrop to my endeavours was serene with the fields flowing towards Bredon Hill to the South East and Malvern far to the West.  Indulge me with a brief essay on my locale, we all live in richness if we were to lift our eyes from the floor.  We shall weave and meander through, not staying for long, just like the Avon which winds through this land peacefully still, the brown waters calming and banks teaming with life.

Eckington Bridge, a gorgeous stone multiple arch construction, has crossed the Lower Avon at this point since the early fifteenth century, although the present version is three centuries old.  It is of red sandstone and has a turreted design, very pretty and gloriously impractical for modern traffic.  The elegance of this scene inspired a poem by Quiller-Couch, a Cornishman who was writing in the early 19th century;

Of green days telling with a quiet beat
O wave into the sunset flowing calm
O tired lark descending on the wheat

The bridge always echos to me Parsons Folly, a small tower that sits atop of the aforementioned Bredons Hill just a few miles off.  The two structures are of entirely different material and style but the quaintness of them, the smallness, they sit almost lost in this sweeping English rural scene.  Yet these small man-made structures have disproportionate  impact.  From my bedroom as the summer sun sets against pale blue cool skies, I can see the sun glinting pink off the stone walls of that tower.  It is always there, watching over us.  There was a real Mr Parson that built the tower, he had purpose too, it stands at 39 feet tall and brings the hill height, including the tower to a round 1,000 feet.  The folly had an incumbent hermit before the second world war but now stands alone and locked.

Our ancient fathers were a literal lot.  Bre is ancient English for hill, as is Don, so Bredon is hill hill.  Later in our language, Bredon also became a word for hill, confused, you should be.  Avon comes from the Welsh, Afon meaning river, England has several Avons, this one, joins the Severn at Tewkesbury having been born in the Midland springs.

I once climbed Bredon Hill and met a fellow walker on the long broad ridge that leads to the summit.  He was a local historian and told me that the manor house, half way up the Western face of the hill, served as a magistrate in centuries past.  Capital punishment was served there and the method would chill you.  They would stake criminals onto the hillside and leave them there to starve and be taken by the wolves.  I have never been able to verify those claims, which to me seem improbable.  Certainly though, boar, wolf and even bear would have roamed here in centuries past.

It is a nice walk to the top of the hill and it has inspired several other poets.  Housman, a nineteenth century writer penned verse and I have added it to the post for your delectation.  I felt one poem snippet was enough to subject for your mandatory Sermon read and so have left it for you as a present at the bottom.  It speaks of death.

Mandatory reading you cry! Well, yes, skipping to the tips is ungentlemanly given I expect you to read the outpourings of my dark soul and share with me the riches and worthless thoughts contained in my spirit.  In any event, you are a damn lot poorer for cheating your way to the sports as you certainly cannot be coming here for the punting profits.  God alone knows that.

My entire locale has ancient secrets, the English Civil War came through with major battles at both Evesham and Tewkesbury with a warm skirmish over the destroyed Pershore Bridge.  That war bought Englishman upon Englishman, musketry, cannon, mortar and for the close warm work, the Pike.  What stories these old fields and trees could tell us.  What lessons we might learn.

What stories, perhaps one day, one might tell of a stubbornly brave or foolish Englishman who against all teaching pursued his dream and landed his morthership in the Ladbrooks at Pershore, thus driving the enemy foot and hand into the river mercilessly.  Daub thy warpaint friends and join me, we will meet them man to man with bayonets fixed, they shall see our intent, see in our eyes, our deep resolve and tremor shall infect their hand.

To the Sports

Haydock Tips – Including the Betfred Sprint.

The evergreen Martin Hill called me this week.  For those who did not catch my news a few weeks hence, I am leaving my employer for pastures new.  That the pastures are unidentified yet is both exciting and terrifying.  Mr Hill is a business contact who in short time, became a friend.  I could tell early in our acquaintance, from the glint in his eye, that his mind ran to skullduggery.  He became a regular reader and would always ask me to post him a multiple.  To this day he backs them all religiously.  We have had some good results too but in recent weeks, the negative ledger has seen plenty of entries and so I promised him today that I would find him gold.  Stand on me, today’s Martin Hill bet will land.

The Group 3 Superior Mile, 2.40pm, is a race in which I am going to advise a bet.  Ocean Tempest landed a 14/1 win at Chester last Saturday and what an incredible performance that was.  He carried the burden of a welterweight around that tight little track and was brave in the home straight to come between horses and get up, incredible stuff, what we all love to see.  Can he repeat it here, no.  That is my verdict!  For one, that win was the only piece of worthwhile form his yard have recorded in the last few weeks and it must have taken some toll, he is brave but not super-equine.

Anyway, Charlton has a great record at Haydock and has won this race twice in the last 5 years… Thus Captain Cat is an excellent bet at a general 7/4.  Yes he swings his head high but does not look ungenuine and both his G3 win at Salisbury and his effort in the Celebration Mile give him excellent chances here. Particularly the last run which if you had been one of his many backers (went off 9/4), you might have validly vented your spleen as jockey error gave the horse (cruising a few furlongs out), way too much to do.  To be fair to Mr Doyle, he was quick to apologise, fair enough, public error, public apology.  Anyway, lump on.

In the 3.15, I can smell a Prescott gamble developing and am advising an early investment on Big Thunder.  My case is such m’lord.  This time last year, the horse looked highly progressive and won off a mark of 93 here in a campaign that saw him lower the colours of Salutation and Glenard.  This campaign has been poor and the handicapper has not yet released his icy grip, the bastard.  MAJOR!  Where did that outburst come from!  I do hope my mother is not reading.  Anyway, Prescott is in form and that yard is one that are well worth following when in good spirits so the last remnants of 12s should be gobbled up before they are mere memories, because those prices are not long for this world.

The the big Saturday race, the G1 Betfred Sprint.  This race was won by Gordon Lord Byron last year and prior to that Society Rock, Dream Ahead; names to earn that top draw status.  This line up is worthy.  Gordon Lord Byron is back, Sole Power one half of a powerful sprint duo et al.

First of all, Es Que Love.  No chance.  Yet how much racing has this horse seen?  When with Johnson, he seemed to be declared every other day!  A worthy yardstick but not a G1 sprinter surely.  Sole Power troubles me.  This is going to be an all out pace assault and the horse has never seen out 6f having had 5 attempts at it.  I am going to look for something else.

I like G Force although he has yet to fulfill on some of his potential.  He looked a G1 sprinter in the making to my eye early in the season but maybe next year is the time to return to this project.   He only gets 2lbs from some serious top draw sprinters here.

I am left with wanting some value and I am going to opt for two.  Tropics is available at an astonishing 11/1 with Paddy Power and if you can get it take some.  His July Cup form is not to be sniffed at.  The other I think is worthy of a tickle at a big price is Pearl Secret  at 28s with Corals and 25s generally.  The horse has a good Temple Stakes piece of form and came back to form with a listed win last time.

Finally at Haydock, I can smell a talented Godolphin runner with Latharnack in the 5pm.  The competition seems to be the Prescott horse and I have extolled the stable form there already but I have a feeling that this boy in blue might give them a well needed quality boost a genuine contender for the G1 juvenile Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.

Ascot Tips

Have a few shekels on Highland Acclaim in the Ascot opener.  Course form is important here as it is deceptively tough.  The O’Meara yard is in OK touch and the Shergar Cup win last time was decent enough.  A small rise was justifiable and at a 14/1 stand out BetVicotr price, well worth a punt.

I am jumping to the 4.40 at Ascot and the Ryan Moore assisted Fray.  I thought the horse deserved to be whacked for a very smart Newmarket handicap debut win and the rise of 7lbs did not stop a good effort behind Water Hole, last time out.  That her conqueror went on to place in a G3 gives me some hope, that she is lightly raced and progressing helps me more, go for it at 3/1 with Paddy Power.

Scoop 6 Mothership

It is another Scoop6 mothership.  Here is my full single sniper shot at the massive prize.

Race 1 : 1:55 Ascot – Highland Acclaim
Race 2 : 2:05 Haydock – Barnet Fair
Race 3 : 2:55 Kempton – Tenor
Race 4 : 3:15 Haydock – Big Thunder
Race 5 : 3:30 Ascot – Montaly
Race 6 : 3:50 Haydock – Tropics

The Football

One bet this weekend and it is Sunday.  Portsmouth are 21/10 to win at (admittedly top of the league) Burton on Sunday and I would urge a lumpy lumpy bet on the visitors.

The Martin Hill Winning Bet

Mr Hill.  Take a sprinkling of Captain Cat, add to a base layer of Latharnack and then Fray at Ascot.  Mix in a trixie 1pt (to be 4pts) and add a further 1pt treble.

I trust that all of you dear readers are bedecked in your finery at dinner with cash to spare.  Good wine, delectable dining and the finest company.  A raven haired sort with lilting mesmeric voice and dark watery eyes that you can swim right into.

Courage friends and roll the dice.

Bredon Hill by Housman

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.
The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away;
“Come all to church, good people;
Good people come and pray.”
But here my love would stay.
And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
“Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.”
But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.
They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.
The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum,
“Come all to church, good people.”
O noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

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The Saturday Sermon – A cut of York Ebor Saturday and a dash of Newmarket and the Curragh.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire scene where Autumn peaks at you around the door and in comes the fresh cool draft.  Unruffled white clouds dust the sky with peninsular like fingers reaching stretching across the horizon.  Winter rattles its drums and blow its horns, as specs on the distance, we hear it as a tinkling, yet it comes, inexorably and resolutely and with it, the jumpers, both woolen sort and equine.  Glorious.

The Major is rested.  This week, both Major jnrs (aged 6 and 7) fell to a 24 hour bug.  Violent sickness, uncontrollable expulsions, ah the horrors.  Wednesday night was a write off as far as rest was concerned and with continued disorder in the barracks, I cancelled my Thursday evening in raucous company to provide the moral and sanitation support required.  The two poor wretches were rested on Thursday night and never looked like wakening until the morning and I must say that I slept well.  This might not be news for most but for I, it is a welcome thought and one on which, even as I type, I feel contented.  As youngsters will, their recovery was almost immediate.

We have not had a good week for several moons, one might argue that the dice are due to roll our way, who knows.  Expectancy of victory is something I dismissed as a folly in the distant past.  Positivism is a marvelous thing but it must be matched by ones own obstinacy.  I shall stride into this weeks cards with my usual purposefulness because you cannot dull my saber at the first cut of battle.

Virgil, the great Roman poet had a great preachers trick with his short astute musings.  Love conquers all…. trust not appearances…,  Fate will find a way.  I think his sentience towards time is quite apt for us gamblers and if I had not already commandeered the wicked eyed Lola Montez mantra and corrupted it from Courage, Shuffle the cards to Courage, roll the dice; then perhaps Virgils line would have concluded my sermons for these past five years.  He wrote, all bad fortune will be conquered by patience.

As Lincoln was sworn in as President in April 1861, it was the commencement of Americas grievous civil war.  As lines were drawn, small skirmishes were fought over the assets which emerged behind the enemy lines, such as the fort in Charleston harbour.  It was not until July that the action turned to the entrenched grisly battles, each side trading bloody abhorrent exchanges which were to become the incessant pattern to which the armies of the Union and Confederacy would commit.

That first action was on the green fertile lands to the north of the great Potomac river squeezed between Maryland and Virginia, just 35 miles from Washington DC.  The Union forces had been itching for a fight, convinced that the war would be brief and victory assured.  Troop numbers trumped experience and technology and the first battle, Bull Run as the North named it or Mannasas as coined by the South, was characterised by poor communication, indecision and chaos.  

McDowell commanded the Union force which was being urged on by an expectant band of political cheerleaders.  Christ, Washington society followed the march South bringing picnics, expectant of a swift bloody advantage.  As far as they were concerned, there would be a few warm meetings at which the Unions superiority would be clear and it would be double time to Richmond and to force surrender.

The South though knew what was coming  The had worked a good network of informers and knew McDowells field movements before they were executed.  McDowell was coming with 35,000 regulars, artillery and horse.  He planned a frontal assault on the confederates dug in at Bull Run while a column would swing to the West then South to cut off the railroad retreat to Virginia.  All of his actions, judged with the unfair advantage of history , were rushed and based on his faith, not belief you see, in victory; as well as the pressure of expectation from Washington.  

Once he split his force, communications started to fail and the great beasts fists flailed without synchronisation.  The Confederates had been outnumbered 3 to 2 but the heat of the march and subsequent required (and sensible) rest of the Union army, coupled with the good spies, they had embedded, allowed Johnstone, commanding the South, to run reinforcements up the railway.

The Confederates also employed semaphore in battle as a new communication technique and this enabled a more dynamic response to the Union advance across Stone Bridge.  The ebb and flow that ensued owed much to each sides inability to press any advantages won.  Artillery pieces were taken and the recaptured.  At one point, the guns did not fire on the blue tunics of the approaching Virginian 33rd because they confused them for Union troops.  All day advances halted and faltered but when the two bristling bears touched, it was in venomous exchanges.  

One man earned his name that day.  General Jackson, commanding the 4th Virginian at the base of the hill and outnumbered two to one, told his troops that they must hold ground, not fire from afar but to let the enemy see your eyes and when we charge, we shall scream and yell like furies.  He urged them to fight knowing that defeat meant death and this stubborn unbending resolve would bring triumph.  A fellow officer gave him the moniker Stonewall.

At sundown, the Unions were in disorderly retreat but the Confederate unable to press any advantage through their own wounds and chaotic lines of command and communication.  Both sides had learned one thing.  The war was not to be settled lightly.  Maybe 1,000 souls had been lost, Lincoln called up 500,000 men.  

Conflicts continue to rage in Syria (200,000 dead) as well as Iraq, Israel and Gaza.  That men are stupid comes with historic proof but I cannot quite understand why the deaths of children fail to sober up even the most bloodthirsty lunatics.  Perhaps our ancestors were all fools to stray from our caves and forests.

To the sports and let us not shy from the persistence required to land our mothership.  

York Ebor Day Tips

Some rain is forecast for York at Midday on Saturday lending some uncertainty to the description of good.  A brief heavy shower may scupper the best made plans and make things most unpleasant for those attending the Knavesmire.

Still, the Major is preparing for good ground, with the potential for good to soft.  

The Johns Smiths winner Farraaj had decent horses like Educate in behind and his former win at Epsom reads well too but he has been raised to a mark of 116, a full 8lbs higher than he has won off before and while he is clearly in good nick, I am looking for some value.  Godolphin have won 6 of the last 10 runnings of this race but, as a sign of their current prominence perhaps, they have no competitor.  

I can pick holes in the all of the front four and so I am going to have a tentative play down the card with Flying the Flag who can be backed at 16/1 with Stan James if you are quick.  His time at Ballydoyle was not spectacular but he did sign off in decent style in a Group 3 and even though he has been off the track for a bit, Mick de Kock can prepare them and with holes in Graphic (ground), Trade Storm (recent form) and the favourite, I will have a tickle.

Jump to the Gimcrack.  This is one of the juvenile races that Hannon does not tend to dominate but he has a live contender in Baitha Alga at 11/4.  Like a lot of Hannon sorts, he is getting a lot of racing in a short space of time but has been rested up after a busy early summer culminating in a Norfolk win.  Beacon also runs for Hannon and his last placed effort in the Molecomb (less than a length defeat) was a decent effort and he looks to have achieved as much as the favourite and gets Moore on board.

On the subject of Ryan, he broke my heart beating Taghrooda earlier in the week and did you see his sensational double at Arlington last weekend?  Simply the best.

Anyway, you need my vote for the Gimcrack.  I do like Accepted, for Stack to bring him over, he must think he has the chance.  I am not sure you can rate the Tipperary listed affair as highly as a Woodcote, Molecomb or Norfolk and the breeding is more national hunt than blue blooded flat royalty but I do like a trier.  We all do don’t we.  I really want to back three… Baitha Alga, Beacon and Fendale.  Fendale has won twice, beating a decent Mussleburgh field last time and of the northern jockeys, Mulrennan is up there with Gibbons and McDonald as far as the Major is concerned.  

Let’s keep it simple; back Hannons two in a reverse forecast and since I need to get off the fence, Baitha Alga at a general 11/4.

The Ebor.  Pallastor is receiving all sorts of support and I am sure Spencer and Qatar would love to win this ahead of him moving upstairs in the operation at the end of the season.  Not for the Major though.  I am looking for a trends horse, sub 9st 4lbs for a start.  I have an obvious candidate and friend from Cheltenham in Ted Veale at 16/1 generally. My tip has an excellent flat record and I take the trip across the Irish Sea as a big vote of confidence in his ability to compete at 1m 6f on the flat still.  I think he will have plenty of pace to aim at and that will help bring his stamina to the table as a pair of aces.

We saw a super sprinter filly in Tiggy Wiggy this week and it has reignited my liking for those small perfectly formed speedsters.  Showing Character goes for a yard and jockey I respect greatly.  The Manor House operation under Dascombe, looks professional and Richard Kingscote is improving.  Whether they have a top one here, we shall see.  The Major thought has voted for Moonraking who is having her third start.  She did not act on the Goodwood camber last time and faded badly but so many horses struggle with that and as a juvenile filly, it is entirely forgivable.  Given this straight dash and the assistance of Ryan Moore, we have a player at 9/2.

That will do me at York.

Newmarket Saturday Tips

I am only visiting HQ for a single sniper shot with Tropics who is my pick in the listed race.  He won this last year and while most of his runs in this campaign have been off peak, he ran arguably his best ever race when second in the July Cup.  

The Curragh

The Sunday Curragh card offers up some very tasty morsels but Saturday is not bad at all either.  The race I am interested in of course is the 3.10, the Renaissance Stakes.  

Gordon Lord Byron and Maarek lead the market at 10/3 a piece but I think a look at their records on good ground make interesting reading.  Combined it looks like this:

Good or better: 19 runs, 1 win

Good to soft or worse: 28, 12 wins

Quite.  So, who are the alternates to these proven class horses who do not have their conditions? Unlike York, no rain is forecast and so I go down, deeper down.

My finger rests on Russian Soul who won the race last year, has never been unplaced on good ground and gets the services of Shane Foley.  Now I rate myself as one of the best armchair jockey judges of my age and let me bestow my verdict.  The man has some talent, he is sometimes more agricultural than sophisticated but it is effective, certainly no impediment.

The Football

Last week we scored a 4/1 winner with Villa and my waters are tingling with instinct about the teams on the up.  Swansea are a steal at home to Burnley who offer spirit beyond their ability and it will not be enough, 4/6.  I rarely tip my own team West Brom but at 10/3 I think there is some value in the trip to Southampton.  The south coast teams price is based on last seasons exploits with a different team.  Wolves buoyed from their defeat of Fulham can dispatch Cardiff at home, 5/4.

May your dinner be served in great state, celebrating the day.  Remember that you are a long time in the ground and so even if you cannot afford it, let the creditors worry and not yourself.  I hope your company is as fine as the girl I remembered in my daydreams today.  A bob of dark hair, blazing dark eyes, pools of activity and a wicked curl of the lip, peppery skin and a husky but silken voice that still sends a shiver down my spine.

The Martin Hill bet is a Moonraking, Swansea and Baitha Alga Trixie.
 

Courage friends, roll the dice.