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Thursday, 13 August 2015

Visit England

The dog’s arrival has had some unexpected impacts on our lives. As well stressful hours chasing her around half of Hertfordshire when she does the Escape To Victory routine, we also decided to have a Nuca-friendly holiday this Summer. No kennels in her first year with us. Instead we spent a couple of weeks in pet-compliant gaffs. First up north with my Dad and Bruv and, after a pause back home where I lost and then won back holiday spending money via Glorious Goodwood, a week on the Isle of Wight en famille.

Staying in England afforded the opportunity to establish some new and revisit some old holiday facts:  

Always – no, never – set up an ‘Out of office’ message 
I managed to send out about a billion or so ‘out of office’ messages. By accident, of course. I’m not really sure how this happened. Something to do with the way I applied the filters, I believe. Even the polite little warning from Apple, saying “Are you sure?” didn’t alert me. About 30 seconds after clicking to activate, I realised that I had sent an e-mail about my holiday plans in reply to every e-mail in my work in-box.

I’d sent an apology text to those that got the most. Brian said ‘”Just the 300-odd!” and Andy said “Don’t worry. Just replying to them all now”.

There were a couple of unexpected consequences. Some colleagues I hadn’t been in touch with for ages replied “I think you’ve got a bug. By the way, why don’t we meet up soon?” One guy replied with some useful advice about employment law that I had originally asked for in 2013. He hadn’t bothered the first time.

Si went “Let’s get some dates sorted for horse racing this Summer.” “Top plan”, I replied “l’ll get on to it after my hols. As you know, I’m away for a while”.

The moral of the story is empty your in box.

Hot tubs are brilliant
Dad and Bruv joined us after their day at Cartmel races where they had no joy at all with the bookies and got rained on in the process. We were more lucky, but in any event it didn’t matter. By 8pm we were all wet, splashing about in a vat of fomenting water on the decking, supping beers under a warm northern sun.

It was about then that Bruv barked “Hot Tub – Time Machine” in a Samuel L Jackson-does-drill-seargent pastiche. The adults looked at him with incredulity. The teenagers roared with laughter. His utterance was more than the ramblings of a deranged holidaymaker, but in fact the title of a film they recognised. It’s true. A Chevy Chase farce set in a ski resort. Unbelievable. Sometimes, to mix things up, he spat “Hot Tub - Time Machine Two”. This, though was a step too far. The remake remains nothing more than a virtual storyboard in the wistful director’s mind.

Anyway, I’m digging up my carefully tended flowerbeds and installing a hot tub in the garden instead. It’s the only way.

Lancashire isn’t all bad
Startling, I know. Even though we had very clearly booked a lodge in the Ribblesdale Valley, I was aghast to realise, on closer scrutiny of OS Explorer Sheet 141, that the park, perched above a wide bend of said river, had somehow shimmied out of the Dales and over the border into Lanc… Lan… no, can’t say it.

I tried to conceal this disturbing fact from Dad and Bruv. But they were already aware. And cared not a jot. Later in the week, I noticed with an ironic grin an old 1930’s iron signpost with a loop on the top proclaiming ‘Yorkshire WR’ (as in West Riding) picked out in black lettering.

At the time, we were sat outside a closed down pub in Bolton by Bowland, a village of no little appeal cast stoutly in quartz-flecked granite. Many of the neighbouring villages were also stuffed with millstone loveliness (some with open pubs) but pleasingly devoid of bustling tourist hum. The southern part of this AONB resembled the Dales: pretty villages, livestock and arable farming, Pennine outcrops and a rolling landscape that is easy on the eye.


The northern part is very different: bleak, remarkably feature-free and boggy. There’s nothing there.  No people, no roads, no farms. My map even went as far as naming ‘pile of stones’, so little of note was there to actually cartograph.  I feel like asking for a 30% refund on the purchase price to compensate me for the empty bits.

Mobile OS maps are the future - mostly
Having just slagged them off, I have cause to laud OS richly for their fantastic phone app. From it I could download the maps I had purchased and link them to GSI in order to provide an accurate pinpoint of my precise location. Even in the remoteness of Lancashire.

Until the mobile signal dropped out of course. At that point we were stuffed because I’d left the physical map at home. Relying on my rigorously honed geographic instincts only cost us a couple of scenic miles or so… The app couldn’t do anything for the dog-unfriendly stiles either. We were reduced to gathering up the hairy beast and bodily lifting her over fences. It could have been worse. She could have been an Irish Wolf Hound.

Farming is real
Walking back from the village near our lodge one night, we watched a farmer cutting down grass in a big, sloping field. We provided some ironic applause as his tractor finally mowed down the last tricky line of two-foot high blades. We suspect he enjoyed taking his revenge. The following day, he – surely it was the same farmer - spent an hour or so zipping back and forth in his Zetor, liberally spreading a thick layer of slurry over an adjacent 80 acre field. The sickly smell of rich silage hung in the air for days. Wafting particularly easily through our open patio doors when the warm summer breeze blew from the west.  

Shortly after we left, traces of cryptosporidium were found in the areas’ drinking water. The parasite, which can cause gastrointestinal complaints, left residents having to boil their water. It was not clear how the bug entered the water table. I think the authorities need to have a word with that Ribblesdale farmer.

Landscapes are brilliant
Despite the schizophrenic bleak and then bucolic charms of the Forest of Bowland, we were unable to resist the magnetic pull of the glorious Yorkshire Dales for long. We took a trip up the right end of the Ribblesdale valley to the Ingleton Waterfalls Walk. Even the zealous car park attendant and the overpriced tea and cakes in the gift shop could not spoil this rewarding yomp around half a dozen or so waterfalls of the rivers Doe and Twiss. Terms like, ‘ravine’, ‘gorge’, and ‘curtain of water’ might suggest something more akin to the drama of watery attractions on the USA/Canada border rather than a quiet corner of the Dales, but with rain swirling through the dank air we were all doing pretty good impressions of Maids of the Mist.  



At the top of the valley, the map indicated the location of a refreshment centre. We scoffed as we reached a converted, pre-loved caravan selling ice-creams and hot beverages. “Is that it?” whispered Bruv, and then “Right. What’s everyone having?” “Thanks very much. Four Zooms please!” answered some wag at the front of the queue. We were polishing off our 99 flakes as we rounded the corner for the final descent and came upon the real refreshment centre: a newly erected  stone and wood building in the shadow of Inglebrough with paved terraces, clean public toilets and an information point. Its café sold everything from scones to cooked breakfasts.  There was no queue though. Everyone had stuffed themselves giddy on cheap fare at the entrepreneur’s mobile up the hill.  



The Isle of Wight, by contrast, was all crumbly cliffs, sandstone outcrops and curvaceous beaches. There was a superb ‘blue’ moonrise over Bembridge Harbour one night and then I got up spectacularly early to capture my first ever Summer sunrise.



This part of the island is naturally photogenic. Not that the opposite side of the diamond was in any way overawed.

The Needles Park is a disaster area
Speaking of the western extremity, special mention must be made of The Needles Park. It is a crime scene of tack and tasteless crap nestled beneath a breathtaking headland that is home to one of the most iconic landmarks in Britain.  How this horrific collection of fast food, cheap tat and slow traffic ever managed to evade planning laws to scar such a beautiful corner of the world defies sense.

The gaudy vista was a sufficient jolt to our equilibrium even before the wind had dealt us a stinging slap of that famous multi-coloured sand, precisely funnelled through the parade of unsavoury retailing units from Alum Beach below. Events only took a humorous turn for the better when we witnessed a shockingly bad Bob Marley impersonator crank out ‘Jammin’ and ‘Three Little Birds’ at a ferocious wattage whilst eye-catchingly girating his ludicrous belt buckle and single handedly breaking the trajectory of the sand gale.

I came here once before, many years ago. Then there was a pleasant chair lift down the face of the cliff to the bay. It’s still there. “Lets see the Needles from the chairlift”, we had said to the girls that morning, “pretty view”. But no. This one modest relic of that innocent, bygone age was closed because of high winds.



The walk up to the batteries on the headland was a perfect antidote. The screaming wind blew away the bad taste. Views of the Needles, across to Lymington Harbour and back to Tennyson Down were as satisfying as they were refreshing.



Pubs are brilliant
Hardly news, I’ll grant that. Neverthess, after ‘Closed. Pub business to let’ and later, ‘Closed Mondays’, in Lancashire it was a relief to find a hostelry that was actually open. Paythorpe was a pleasant stroll up the Pennine Bridleway from Gisburn where The Buck welcomed us with honest enthusiasm and makeover-free facilities. It was a proper local retaining what an estate agent might call period fittings. Like an ‘80’s patterned carpet that might have been a prize on Bullseye once. We were only here for the beer – the pints of Copper Dragon were superb - but the food looked amazing. Traditional and comforting. I walked past a bloke in the dining room who was wide-eyed with excitement, and saying to his Missus, “ We’ve hit t’ jackpot here!” He was staring at a steaming volcano-like beef suet pudding with a scalding stream of lava gravy tricking down the outside.

The landlady was a scream. Apart from relating all the gossip about her neighbours and the park we were staying in, she had a warning. I told her we were going to La Locanda in the village for dinner. She said, “It’s great there. Really nice. But don’t ask for garlic bread”. She pursed her lips. “Eh?” I queried. “They’re proper northern Italian in there. My sister went in and asked for garlic bread. ‘We don-na do dat in here. Deez is an outentic establishament!’ and she brought some bread and dips instead!”

We had a great meal, including a range of beautifully stone-baked Tuscan breads accompanied by oil, vinegar and just a hint of regional attitude.

On the Isle Of Wight, we managed to get round all the decent boozers in Bembridge and a couple beyond as well. The Crab & Lobster became our second home next to our cottage; and the view from the Culver Haven Inn was almost as tasty as its crab sandwiches.



Traditional pastimes are best
We rediscovered the enduring quality of rockpooling on Bembridge beach.

We rocked with mirth at Grandad trying to describe anything contemporary in Articulate.

We scowled everytime Daughter No 1 ruthlessly trashed our pieces in Ludo

We learned how to play Texas Hold Em poker with matches for betting chips and the hand rankings blinking back from the laptop screen. Daughter No 2 has the best poker face.

Wifi is a lie
Just as well we could gamble, play games and explore. Access to social media, the 21st century default pastime, was patchy. In Ribblesdale wifi services required regular visits to the café for frapalapamochachinos. In Bembridge, despite being promised full coverage, wifi was mostly unavailable. Often we resorted to waving devices in the general direction of the next door pub to catch their beams. The cottage owner popped round one afternoon whilst we were out. It’s not clear what he made of the four wooden chairs placed hard up against the fence adjacent to the pub. He moved them back around the lonely picnic table in the centre of the garden and went away.


So did we. Eventually. Refreshed, windswept and firmly in the dog’s good books. Back in time for exam results and the Ebor meeting. Happy holidays.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Glorious score draw

Oblivion avoided.

Just when hope was leaching away, when bookies were about to snap shut their satchels and as hog roast caravans were closing down and hitching up for York, the project began to deliver.

First Toofi came late and fast-ish to claim 2nd in the Stewards Cup for the place element of our 20/1 stake. 4pts net profit that ate away a little of the (by then) 20pt deficit. Then, after missing out in the maiden, it became the late, late show.

Enlace held on for the first of this exercise's Johnston winners at a backed price of 7/1. Then Balmoral Castle prevailed at an even more slender margin at a morning price of 10/1. That gave a net profit on the day of 21 points to exactly and precisely wipe out the accumulated losses.

In the very last breath of the Festival's 35 races, I was honours even with the bookies. Ridiculous and spectacular.

Blind value betting cannot be endorsed on the basis of this foolhardy exercise. Of course not. But it has been a tremendous ride. Where fields are as big as this and the races so competitive (the impact of the prize money injection by Qatar is clear), there is always a chance for the value punter. No matter how late!

The real lesson from this project is the wisdom, in big festivals like this, of getting on early and taking prices either the night before or first thing. All the winners here were backed at significantly bigger odds than SP. Without that, these five days would have yielded a double figure loss.

As it is, I'll settle for the score draw.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Inglourious punting

Barring a manoeuvre that would make the turning circle of a supertanker look like a handbrake turn in a Fiat 500, this wretched Goodwood value project has failed. Six points frittered away yesterday and again the best result was a non runner.

Only a couple of the selections ever looked competitive.

Humping a 16 point deficit, the project now resembling a guessing game rather than a carefully honed punting strategy, rumbles in to the final day of Glorious Goodwood.

2.00 6f Stewards' Sprint Stakes: The Hooded Claw, 20/1 ew

2.35 1m4 handicap: Novancia, 9/1 

3.10 1m2f Nassua Stakes: Diamondsandrubies, 4/1

3.45 6f Steward Cup: Toofi, 20/1 ew

4.20 7f Maiden stakes: Mediciman, 6/1

4.55 7f Qatar Stakes handicap: Enlace, 7/1 

6.00 Apprentice Stakes Handicap: Balmoral Castle, 10/1 

Thank God this is over...




Thursday, 30 July 2015

Value under pressure

A couple of crossbar hits at Goodwood today. But in a win-free zone, the best result was the non-runner. Depressing.

Frankie couldn't urge the waited-with Keble past the tough Gibeon in the opener, despite my screaming at the laptop. That was as near as the project came to a positive result. Tasleet was a runner-up too, but he was well beaten by the impressive Shalaa in the Richmond.

As Scotland was a non-runner in the Goodwood Cup, I backed my stated next best, Big Orange. 6-1 was a fair return, but it doesn't count for this project. No after timing here. So 6 points lost on the day, giving a net deficit of -10 for the Festival. Up against it now.

2.00 - 1m4f Glorious Stakes
Connecticut, not much value at 10/3, but in a seven runner field I can't make much of a case for the outsiders. Nancy From Nairobi's good showing here the other day franks this one's earlier form at Pontefract.

2.35 - 1m Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes
Aktabantay is much better than the form shown this season and is taken at 10/1 to recapture some of that quality now down in grade.

3.10 - 1m Golden Mile
You're Fired, 14/1. Two good runs either side of a poor showing in the Royal Hunt Cup, where he carried the burden of my money. Sticking with him again here. There's a big win in him somewhere.

3.45 - 5f King George Stakes
Move In Time, 13/2, admirably consistent and just favoured of the O'Meara pair.

4.20 - 6f Nursery handicap
Fashionable Spirit, 10/1. Surely this is the moment I snag my first Mark Johnston Glorious Goodwood winner this year.

4.55 - 7f Queen's Plate Stakes
Kiyoshi, 9/2. Good race this. Looks competitive. Track form of this Charles Hills inmate is the clincher.

5.30 - 1m3f handicap
Shell Bay, 14-1. Improving quickly, and jockey takes off 5lb. Tough closer though.



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Glorious value anyone?

The second day of my Glorious Goodwood value project was a pretty poor effort. 8 points staked and no winners, wiping out yesterday’s 4 points profit to leave a net 4 point deficit.

On a difficult day to oppose favourites in the big races, I got two out of three big calls wrong. Highland Reel eventually managed to put his best foot forward in the Gordon and Solow did not have an off day at all in the Sussex.  Though my selection Arod put in a mighty performance in failing to hold the class French horse. Backing against King Of Rooks in the Molecomb was a good shout and maybe my selection Lathom was unlucky, getting smashed up when making his move.

And that was it. Nothing else came close.

Day 3 on the Downs will be a pivotal one for the project. Let’s see what we can find to put us back on the right road.

2.05 – 1m2f handicap
These fields aren’t getting any easier... Another impossible handicap, this time for 3yos.  Even from a cursory glance, many have claims in contradictory and interwoven form lines. Johnston is four from the last nine in this. However, a chance is taken with Keble from John Gosden’s yard who has a c&d result and a decent handicap debut. 7/1.

2.35 – 6f Richmond Stakes
Shalaa looks the form pick, but I’m persuaded to look elsewhere because of the weight he has to concede and the tendency to flinch from the whip. Tasleet’s Rose Bowl win at Newbury was visually impressive and he gets the vote. 7/1.

3.10 – 2m Goodwood Cup
I’m passing over Trip To Paris who is giving weight away and was possibly flattered by the easy run he got up the rail in the Ascot Gold Cup. Scotland from the strong Andrew Balding yard is the fancy here, on the assumption he will be ridden closer to the pace over this shorter trip. 10/1. Big Orange stepping up in distance is feared the most.

3.45 – 1m6f Lillie Langtry Stakes
Lustrous has some strong Ribblesdale and Yorkshire Oaks from to bring to the table in a race with some inconsistent form lines. Lustrous too has questions to answer on the track, but the step up in trip should help. 8/1.

4.20 – 7f Maiden fillies stakes
These nurseries are so hard. Sunset Dream is the call on the basis of the trainer’s form in this race and in the field. Of his three runners, he looks like the preferred choice. 9/1.

4.55 – 7f Nursery handicap
My Amigo won up at Newcastle in handy style and holds a few fancy entries for such a conservative stable, so the 14/1 looks attractive in a relatively open looking heat.

5.30 – 5f Tatler Stakes handicap
A chance is taken with Roudee at 14/1 who is returned to 5f where the majority of his best form has been seen.


I can’t round off this blog without paying tribute to Sir Peter O’Sullevan who died today. One of the great commentators. More than that, a brilliant advocate for and supporter of this beautiful sport. A man who’s humility, generosity and wisdom will be missed.