Sunday, 10 July 2016

Destination Perth

It was all a bit mad really: A day trip Perth races. An idea conceived one morning with Tim on the shuttle from Clapham Junction to Esher for the Tingle Creek meeting. I had always fancied a trip to Britain’s most northerly racetrack. Tim was a regular visitor to the June meeting when he and his other half visited her in-laws in nearby Dundee. ‘I’ll join you!” I boldly declared.

By the time Spring arrived, I was still committed to the trip. I had some half-hearted squints at B&Bs and timetables, but I was already fondly recalling my sleeper journey of a few years previously to Fort William. Eager to recapture something of the earlier experience, I duly booked up the sleeper either side of the Perth meeting, arriving Edinburgh early in the morning and heading back down south late the same evening.

The Yorkshireman in me couldn’t sanction the outlay on a cabin for what would be a much shorter journey than the Fort William epic; and with much less in the way of attractive countryside upon which to feast my reddening eyes. So I plumped for a seat instead. My decision to slum it almost backfired.

The Caledonian Sleeper web portal has a handy carriage plan so that you can book your preferred seat (and at no extra cost, please note EasyJet). I'd paid particular attention to booking a single seat next to the window in airline configuration, with the double seats on the other side of the aisle. I didn't want to disturb anyone, nor them to disturb me.

Well I messed that one up. Maybe the seat directions were wrong on the plan. Or more likely I just wasn't looking properly. I matched up my ticket reservation with the badge on the baggage rack and my shoulders drooped. I was wedged at the end of a car where a thin bloke with legs like beanpoles and an array of bags at his feet was looking back at me from his seat. "Cosy isn't it?" he observed.

I returned a thin smile and shuftied my feet around until he moved one of his holdalls to the rack above. After we left Euston (bang on time), I found an empty seat behind him in my preferred airline set up and settled in for the journey.


The sleeper car had a strange atmosphere. Most people were solo travellers and once the lights were dimmed, there was a sense of intrusion on other people’s habits. The old chap across the way from me said he’d been sent in error to King’s Cross to pick up the train. He had two seats to himself, but even this luxury was insufficient, judging by his twitching and restlessness. At various intervals, I’d catch glimpses of his deep red cords in a new angle in, around and over the reclined seat.

Before we departed, a young businessman in an expensive open necked shirt with glinty cufflinks and sporting eye-catching brogues in two tones of brown was talking on his mobile phone just loud enough for us to hear about his day. This had involved meetings at which Richard Branson had talked about trade options in Brexit fallout-World, before he was whisked off to meet Theresa May. I did wonder what such a high-flying executive was doing in the sleeper cheap seats. Anyway, after Watford, the guard tapped him on the shoulder and off he went. A spare cabin had presumably been found.

A middle-aged American lady, travelling slowly around Europe, was going back to Edinburgh to hook up with friends she’d met on a previous journey. She fell in to intriguing conversation with a Polish woman with whom there was a shared interest in whisky and face creams. The latter was heading up to Islay to start a new job in a distillery.

For my part, I had something in common with King’s Cross Man. Others around me were fast asleep in exactly the same position as they were sitting. Feet neatly tucked away, arms folded, head back. Me? Fidgetting and squirming. I accidentally kicked my M&S bag, full of discarded plastic food wrappers. In the muted sleeper carriage it sounded like a cat in a waste bin. A few people glanced over, even lifting up their blindfolds (thoughtfully provided by Caledonian Sleeper, together with yellow earplugs) to check what was the noise. Then I snapped down the little metal footrest with too much vigour. It clicked into position with a resonant clang. More looks.

Eventually I nodded off for a couple of hours, stirring as the first fingers of morning light were spreading from behind dark clouds. The last time I took the sleeper, soft early sunshine played delightfully in the mist rising from Loch Lomand. Here, a few tentative rays illuminated a deserted and bleak Preston station where a train of car transporters was rumbling though on the adjacent freight line. I hate Preston. Always have.

We rolled into Edinburgh Waverley bang on time. I took the chance to wash and brush up in the loos, once the concourse geography had been navigated: this is the only station I've ever been to with more roads than platforms and more vehicles than trains.

Edinburgh is a handsome, stately place; known as the English City to the independence- & EU Remain-seeking Scots. Although a while since my last visit, I wanted to explore a new district and so caught the No 22 fuel-hybrid, wifi-enabled Lothian Transport bus out to Leith. Breakfast was next on the itinerary.

Leith used to have a seedy, crime-ridden reputation based on its declining ship building and dock-related activities. Like many British ports, since the 1980’s Leith has seen significant renewal, regeneration and repurposing of maritime infrastructure. The fine granite warehouses that lined Leith Water now house gastro-pubs, galleries and gift shops. At the end of the bus route, Ocean Terminal has a top-end shopping centre with the Royal Yacht Britannia moored alongside.


I ambled around the handsome buildings and over bridges that criss-crossed the Water, before settling on the Clock Café, a former pub, for a top quality fry up. The exact level of that quality had to be established in real time via facebook photos and commentary before a tough jury comprising Colin, Bryn and Bacchy over 400 miles away.

The docks are connected to the city centre via the mile-long Leith Walk. If ever a street told the story of recent waves of immigration, this was it. Many of the Victorian edifices that form the backbone of the walk remain – converted factories and workshops, protestant churches, gin palaces and the Central Railway Station, saved from demolition and given a new lease of life. However, building signage gave away a more recent history. Early 20th century Asian cultural centres, money shops and food stores have made their mark. Then Turkish community’s late 20th century stamp is seen in a few places, notably to my eye, one take-away sign declaring ‘The Best Kebab Shop’. No geographical or temporal delineation necessary. Simply the best. Except that, rather confusingly, three doors up stood ‘The Original Best kebab shop’. I was picking up mixed messages. A little further down the road, the story was brought up to date where the most recent settlers had opened a collection of Polish shops – a large deli called ‘Polonia’ and a few other a groceries and newsagents.  

There was even a racecourse here until it moved to Musselburgh in 1816. It’s been there ever since. Talking of racecourses, it was time to make my way to Perth to meet Tim and Sarah.

The train journey took me across the Firth of Forth, a stretch of water that is to bridge building what the M42 is to junction remodeling, only much more attractive. My four-car unit felt like a pawn in a giant game of Sim City. The line then took in an oversized arc from south-east to north-east around the coast, through Kirkaldy, Markinch and Ladybank, whilst Google Maps showed a much more direct route north along the line of the M90…


Anyway, I arrived eventually and Tim and Sarah were waiting in the garden bar of the rambling Victorian Station Hotel. It was full of ladies in strappy shoes and stringy tops ready for the races. I tried to photo bomb their selfie in the loo corridor, but was too slow. Someone should tell them that this is Perth, the most northerly racecourse in Britain. Not Ascot.  We saw them later, staggering out of the dining marquee towards the rails bookies, high heels sinking into the grass like knives into butter. Highly amusing.

We boarded a London routemaster bus, chartered by the track for the shuttle from the town centre, and enjoyed some expansive views of the Tay whilst trapped in a line of traffic heading up to the track. It was highly tempting to ring the phone number on London Transport sign left over from the vehicle’s last days in active service to complain about the delay.



Perth racecourse had been on my radar for some time. I enjoy the three-day Spring festival that comes hard on the quality meetings of Aintree and Ayr. The track doesn’t offer up anything like the same level of prize money as those, but the races are always supported by some good trainers. Last season Willie Mullins dispatched Up For Review to land the decent novice hurdle on the same card. At the time he was in hot pursuit of Paul Nicholls in the British Trainers Championship. That April Festival is the first of its season of Summer jumps fixtures. It had been a while since I last went Summer jumping. Probably Newton Abbot in 1982 on a Torbay family holiday before I was old enough to gamble. So it doesn’t really count.

The track didn’t disappoint. Set in the stunning parkland grounds of Scone (that’s ‘Skyooon’ - I learned quick) Palace, the racecourse sits above the city and grand has views to encircling hills. The racecourse buildings suit the landscape and help to create the welcoming atmosphere: modest, characterful stands with the accessible parade ring at the back.


The beer tent was a little gem. Real ales from a few different local brewers served up by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic patron. Ossian from the Inveralmond Brewery was amber and sharp; whilst Head East from the Strathbraan Brewery a couple of stops further up the line at Pitlochry was smooth, fruity and dry in the finish.

The finishes of each of the seven races on the card were drier still. For me anyway. I barely troubled the frame all afternoon. Meanwhile Tim was hoovering up, and not just with his customary 25p each way online bets either. Folding stuff came out of his wallet at the rails bookies on more than one occasion. I was left regretting the missed opportunity of some serious form study that a broken night’s sleep on the train should have presented me. I did not even take advantage of some basic facts. Such as Gordon Elliott and Richard Johnson being top trainer and top jockey at the track. Together they took the opener with Faraway Mountain at a perfectly respectable 4/1 and then landed another one each.

"Arrested for shit tipping" said Sarah. Ho.Ho.
The racecourse is good for viewing. It’s configuration is a little like Doncaster’s teardrop shape, except that the narrow end was close to the stands, affording some fine sights when the fields navigated the tight bends. Taking photos on the rail was literally as near as I got to a winner all day.



Back in the Fair City after the races, we stumbled seamlessly off the shuttle bus and into Dickens on South Street. Perth’s premier malt whisky bar was a top place: a sustainable mix of back street local and welcoming tourist joint. Like much of Perth, low on pretension but high on impact.  

My eyes goggled at the choices. The top rail of the bar was lined with whisky bottles of all shapes and sizes fighting for attention. Thoughtfully, the handy A4 menu on the table detailed alphabetically each of the staggering 100-plus malts on offer. We all began carefully with sensible choices of medium-proof shots. I was even allowed a couple of begrudged chunks of ice with my Highland Park. We were unable to stay on an even keel for long. Last thing before we bailed for the curry house across the road, we were supping some fearsome concoction of peat, heather, bog water and naked flame from Islay known as Bunnahabhain 18-year-old. Wow.

A curry really was the only option by that stage of the evening. Tim and I were rolling and I don’t think Sarah was far behind, though she was sharp enough to keep taking photos for the running social media commentary of our day.  Another nice venue. The main room was a high ceilinged, elaborately mullioned and moulded affair that may once have been a chapel. Not that architectural badinage overwhelmed enjoyment of the fare laid before us. Not at all. I was also full of appreciation for the rogani naan that accompanied my karahi: flatbread made with egg yolk. A day full of new experiences.


I was done in by then. We parted at Perth station and I headed back to Edinburgh drifting in and out of sleep. That became the template for the rest of my night. After a head clearing stroll along the beautifully lit Princes Street and Royal Mile, fitful probably best describes the journey back to Berko. I wasn’t so lucky in my seat alignment for the return trip and there was a little footsie with the young man opposite me before we fell into a mutually agreed but unspoken personal space arrangement. To be fair, he was always going to be on the wrong side of the argument. Apart from my involuntarily twitching feet emanating 98%-proof bromodosis, I was also giving off a proper acrid whisky-sweat and a fine blend of garlic and lime pickle fragrance oozing from most of my visible pores.

I jumped off at Watford in the early morning drizzle and was home in bed for some proper shut-eye by about 7am.

Quite the day trip.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Chasing losers

In an avalanche of follow-them-over-a-cliff misguided loyalty, my early season flat profits have been largely eroded.

Royal Ascot was a shocker. The one bright spot was Profitable about whom I have been on the right side of the argument in his three wins this season. He obliged on a stunning opening day in the King’s Stand.

That was it. Nothing else. Part of the trouble was backing a few near misses in the preceding weeks. Encouraged by selections that ran well on the undulations of Epsom Downs, I pretty much blindly backed Architecture in the Ribblesdale (left her race behind in The Oaks), Haalick in the Jersey (outclassed at that level), and Make Fast in the Sandringham (possibly unlucky).

Other ill-judged Ascot allegiances included sprinter Suedois in the Diamond Jubilee on the basis of a good run in the Duke of York; Muntahaa in the King Edward VII after an impressive maiden win; and most woefully, Pallasator in the Gold Cup after his Henry II Stakes win on good ground, ffs!

My niece Robyn went to the Royal meeting on Prince of Wales Stakes day. She asked me for some advice and after a little thought, I duly offered up a whole bunch of losers.

“Hi Dave, thanks so much for the tips”, she messaged, “unfortunately I didn't have any winners but did make some back on a second!”

That would be Al Johra, beaten a country mile by Wesley Ward’s bullet, Lady Aurelia.

“A fantastic day out though!!” she continued “We had the hats and afternoon tea. Then to finish it off I saw the Queen!”

“Sorry about the rubbish tips I replied”

“No, thanks for those. I'd have had no idea what I was doing otherwise!”

So touching to be thanked for finding some losers. Like she couldn’t do that by herself. Sharp quaffed boy in the office didn't see it that way when I also offered him some dross. I shouted out Suedois for his girlfriend who was Royal Ascot-bound on the Saturday. He had asked for a pointer or two. This one ran well, but, was still a well beaten 7th.

There were no thanks from quiff-boy. Robyn could teach him some manners. He simply questioned whether I had ever given him any winning tips at all. Ever! I protested that this was miles away from the actuality. When my mate Tim's cousin Paul Stafford who is a trainer in County Dublin sent over three runners to a mid-week Musselbrugh, I told the boy that one of them would win. It's not my fault he steamed in to the wrong one. I also devilishly encouraged him into the famous Mullins' four timer at Festival 15, when Annie fluffed the last. Three winners out of four, right there.

A few of us caught the last knockings of Gold Cup day in Billy Hills after watching England v Wales in the pub. The only bright spot in England's desperate Euro 16 campaign. I was steaming that afternoon. Not just because we were ordering double rounds resulting from the five-deep scrum at the bar; but also because the informal fanzone created by the manager had us shoe-horned in front of the telly, shoulder to sweaty shoulder with dozens of others. The beers flowed and the sauna cooked.

I've got a couple of footie bets still alive. Poland outright at 50/1 each way is probably worth laying off now they are down at 18s. Part of me thinks they will give Portugal a game, so I might sit tight. Belgium outright at 12/1 also looks like one with which to enjoy the ride. Other combos, top scorers and group winners went out with Croatia’s last 16 exit.

The other big event on which I've been on the wrong side of the argument is of course the EU Referendum. On a strict value play, the Leave market was clearly the rick in the market. For once, I couldn't bring myself to bet against my better judgement. Leaving the EU seems wrong on so many levels.

Even a week later, by turns, I’m still numb, confused and angry. Quite apart from the crushing negative ramifications for the economy, equality and social justice, I also realise just how little I have in common with the majority of English people. A stranger in my own country. Ironic. That so many people voted to leave in the areas receiving the greatest amount of EU aid was baffling. The protest vote was pointless and misdirected. The racism underpinning the immigration row was vile and has unleashed hate crime on British streets. The lies peddled by Johnson, Gove and Farage were unforgiveable.

A mate commented that his solitary protest would be not to give up his seat on the bus “to the old folks who have messed up our future”.

And the bright spot? Like they have at the end of the news? Well, I drew Iceland in the office sweepstake..!



Sunday, 26 June 2016

Four blokes at the Oaks

I’ve now been in every enclosure at Epsom racecourse. Granted, as bucket list-ticks go, this would rank a little below hang-gliding down the Grand Canyon or slamming a Ferrari around Silverstone. But then again I’m not very good with heights and I don’t drive.  

Ladies Day at the Derby meeting is a favourite day out and one with a rich history for the lads. Catching the Oaks card from the Lonsdale Pedestrians completed the nap hand at this fine track. The enclosure was a right bastard to find though. None of the stewards had a clue. First I went under the track via a foot tunnel, then sent left past the funfair and into a gravelly coach park. That was clearly all wrong. I retraced my steps and struck determinedly right, which was right. Eventually I snaked my way round the back of various pavilions and found the entrance that was no more than a gap in the chain link fence, policed by a steward with a cash apron round his middle. Very low tech. I put away my contactless credit card.

The Lonsdale, it became apparent, was really where all the vintage open top double-decker buses parked up. They had disgorged corporate jolly-seekers into private gazebos erected at the front, with pretty trestle tables straining under the weight of prawn vol-au-vents, cucumber sandwiches and high-end picnic food. I was taking in this charming scene, strolling down the side of the track when the lads hailed me with chuckles of derision at my lack of alertness. Bryn, Nick and Bacchy had been there about twenty minutes and I was soon joining them in Doom Bars.


The enclosure had a strange aspect. The ground fell away towards us from the main stands on the posh side of the course, continuing the uniquely testing adverse camber up the home straight. This meant we were looking up at the track. I commented that you’d be able to see the horse’s knackers, such was the odd angle. Bacchy muttered into his pint a derisory comment about “the Oaks being for fillies, Davoski”. Yes, yes, I know.

We were in good company over here. A dead ringer for Kid Creole and at least two of his Coconuts wandered past a few minutes later. Floppy fedoras, white tailored jackets and bright neckties. Maybe they were the lookey-likey entertainment in a corporate tent later. They left before the last, accompanied by tuneful strains of ‘Oh Annie, I’m not your Daddy’ from our approximate location.


The Doom Bar bar was housed in a polished aluminium airstream caravan conversion and stood next to it was a little two-wheeler extension purveying German sausages. Perfect to wash down the beer, though the frankfurter and chilli combi I opted for was perhaps unwise. The bratwurst would have been a better alternative.  

Later on in the afternoon, Bacchy unveiled his carefully honed technique of minesweeping unwanted and discarded corporate booty. His first sortie turned up a bottle of Faustino IV vino tinto from under the noses of a gaggle of lairy city bankers. I couldn’t for the life of me work out how he was getting away with it. After the last, I played his wingman, stood as a diversion near a bin full of expense-account fizz, pretending to text. I was so engrossed in my role that a good few seconds had passed before I clocked that Bacchy had rejoined the other two with a half-full bottle of Prosecco sticking out of his jacket pocket.

There was no such smash and grab on in the races. A winner in the first on the head-bob for me and Bryn suggested the makings of a good day. That was as good as it got. I’d shouted out Legendary Lunch as the winner about two furlongs from home. Ridiculously early. Blue Jacket screamed down the outside  and looked for all money  like he’d won. The replay confirmed that it was the Hannon horse that had held on by a lucky short head.

The rest of my selections ran to a similar script in so far as they made much of the running, but unlike the Lunch they failed to hold on. Muggings aplenty. What About Carlo, Custom Cut and Stamp Hill in the last all fared similar fates. Most achingly, Architecture, my nap of the day, was beaten in similar fashion. Frankie pulled the Hugo Palmer filly out wide with two to go and set sail. Once again I was screaming her home as the winner way too soon, jumping around like a skittery novice. The odds on favourite, Minding had met early trouble. Once Ryan Moore got her organised she mowed down Architecture with alacrity. Bacchy looked at me and said, “What’s the matter with you Davoski? Calling these horses the winners too early?” I shrugged. "Still in national hunt mode. Everything happens too fast on the flat for me!”

If I was in near-miss territory, Nick was smashing in to the bullseye. “Imshivalla will like the soft ground” he declared, nose firmly in the RP give-away supplement. Richard Fahey’s charge galloped home unopposed at 25/1. Sensational scenes. Bacchy was at it as well. Smuggler’s Moon taking the Surrey Stakes at 14/1, eased down before the line. 
Imshivalli on Oaks day
By the time we left, we were all a little wobbly. Nevertheless, I was staggered that no-one wanted to go to the funfair beautifully and invitingly laid out before us on the heath. We had been talking up the rides so much, I just thought it was a given. I struck out across the grass and realised no-one was with me. “I don’t really think it’s a good idea, do you?” said Bryn, with his sensible parent face on.


Instead, Bacchy and I headed for the curry house whilst Bryn and Nick went off to Epsom BR. A curry made not have been a good idea either.

It started off so well, chatting to other racegoers about the day. I even gave the manager a pukka tip for the Derby. “Harzand”, I said. “Dermot Weld is serious about this one.” Hope he remembered. Hope Bacchy did, or I’m gonna be on the end of some more aftertiming slander.

"Harzand will win the Derby?"
The arrival of the food, bizarrely, inclined us into a steep dive. I contrived to knock the naan bread onto the floor as I reached over for the lime pickle, which Bacchy had typically been hogging. Being the gent he is, Bacchy attempted to retrieve the naan. Still sitting in his chair he lunged and tipped in one smooth motion. A fall flat on to his face was narrowly avoided by him planting a spread palm on the floor. That hand was now supporting the weight of his entire body, tilted at a geometrically pleasing 45 degrees. He was trapped. One move of his hand and he’d be over.

Once I stopped laughing I stood up to help him. I tripped on the metal naan bread tray and lurched forward into him, almost knocking him out of the chair. That’s when the waiters came to rescue us. Not even offering up the winner of the Dash would have saved us then.

We made it safely to the right train, going the right way. A minor achievement, though as Tattenham Corner is the end of the line, conditions were overwhelmingly in our favour. Bacchy, sorry to report, had completely zoned out by this stage. He muttered something about an ambitious plan to meet his wife and daughter in town. A long odds-against scenario, I reasoned clearly (even in my inebriated state). I looked up, and after a bit of frenetic texting, Bacchy was soundly asleep with his head resting on the back of the seat in front.

He didn’t move until Clapham Junction. At which point I had to wake him so that I could clamber passed and get out. “Top day Davoski. Christ I’m wankered.” His blurry, half open eyes struggled to focus on me. The crimson blotch on his forehead  where he had been leaning on the seat completed a particularly debonair look for a classy Epsom Oaks day.

For my part, Mrs A tells me that after I landed home in a wide-eyed state, I announced in a booming voice, with animated gestures, at many and regular intervals, how lucky I was not to be too pissed after all the alcohol consumed during the day.

The next day, I registered through fuzzy receptors that Harzand did indeed win the Derby and that I had expunged the various betting and sundry expenses of the previous day. It remains unlikely that I’ll be back to Chillies Contemporary Indian Diner of Tattenham Corner to crow about the result.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Awtaad joins illustrious entries at Royal Ascot

With next week’s events at Royal Ascot already looking likely to feature one of the highest quality fields in recent history, with a record number of overseas entrants taking part, the further announcement that Awtaad will be joining the list of names will certainly only increase expectation among race goers. The Irish 2,000 Guineas winner will take part in the St James’ Stakes, with trainer Kevin Prendergast hopeful of further success, 40 years on from his Irish Guineas victory with Northern Treasure.

Awtaad will be joined in the race by Zonderland who is fresh off the back of an impressive victory at Sandown, and the duo will be looking to cause an upset by finishing ahead of current race favourite The Gurkha. As shown by the odds at bookies.com, the Aiden O’Brien trained horse is ahead of Galileo Gold and Massaat in the racing odds, having won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Deauville in only its third ever competitive race.

With over 160 international entries descending on Ascot this year, the meeting certainly has a different feel in the build-up this year, with US star Tepin perhaps being the standout name among the record figures. The former Breeders Cup Mile winner will take part in the much coveted Queen Anne Stakes, and with best odds of 3/1 from bookies.com, it is difficult to see any other winner at this stage.

Elsewhere, Japanese horse A Shin Hikari is set for a run in the Prince of Wales Stakes, and is also the favourite in the racing odds at Ascot. The five-year-old will face stiff competition from Time Test and New Bay among others, in what is looking likely to be one of the more open races at this year’s event.

Organisers are unsurprisingly delighted with both the quality and quantity of entrants this year, with over 300,000 visitors expected to embark on the iconic venue this summer. One disappointment for officials however is the withdrawal of famous Australian horse Chautauqua. Generally considered as the best sprinter in the world, trainers Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes have decided to withdraw their prized asset from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, having been the early favourite in the racing odds.


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Architecture


I’ve been watching rather more flat racing in recent weeks than I might normally expect at this time of year. (Where have all those Summer jumps fixtures come from the last few weeks? Bizarre!)

This culminated in a rather splendid four-timer on Temple Stakes Saturday which included Profitable in said feature race at 9/1, followed by Mobsta over in Ireland on his favoured soft ground, whom I screamed home at 16/1. 

Don’t give me that aftertiming twaddle. This is not a tipping site. You’ll just have to take my word for it. If you want provenance, Profitable was put up in a handy little guide of 60 unexposed types I purchased from Picks From The Paddock in April. I shortlisted a few that I liked the look of. Profitable aside, the rest have either run like dogs or started at 5/4 and ridiculously shorter still. I’m ahead here though. Together with the Palace House Stakes win at the end of April, the Clive Cox improver has paid handsomely for the guide and a few other bets as well.

Mobsta, on the other hand was all my own… lucky break.  I had backed him at Doncaster in the mud, then he struggled on better ground in better company next time out at Newmarket. After that I didn’t pay too much attention to his entry in the Greenland Stakes. It was Nick Luck that sealed the 16/1 deal on that Irish 2,000 Guineas afternoon when he said that the heavens had opened in Ireland ‘for all you Air Force Blue backers’. Never mind the O’Brien flop, I thought, get on the Channon beast.  

I should have stopped there. Not a squeak since.

We move on. In a bid to dispel any developing theories that I’m a Sprint Monkey (oh, how I wish…) there follows a short Oaks preview. On Friday, the lads are returning to Epsom for the fillies middle distance classic for the first time since the beautiful Sariska bumped and ground her way to a messy short head victory, powered by our ante-post punts, back in 2009.

I was planning to write a proper Oaks preview and then found that Jason Heavey over at Horse racing Chat has provided a perfectly well-reasoned and readable piece to which I couldn’t add a whole lot more. Except to put up a different selection. I particularly agree with the comments about the shallow field and paucity of the opposition to Coolmore.

I am opposing Minding. Happy to take that view on the basis of the likely soft ground and the stamina doubts. Take her out and there is a much more open feel to the race. I liked the way that Architecture shaped on her first run of the season in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. She still looked green in the early stages, but improved as the race unfolded and gave race-fit Seventh Heaven a decent scrap.

She will like the ease in the ground on Friday, having won her maiden on good to soft, and should come on a bundle for the Lingfield effort. There’s a question mark about the trip, as there are with many of these. She will also need to settle better in the early stages. There’s no better jockey than Frankie to do that, and teaming up with the mercurial Hugo Palmer, there’s plenty of reason to suggest the 11/1 with Paddy Power is decent value.