Saturday, 27 November 2010

Hyperbole

Train wreck. Disaster zone. Highway to Hell. Car crash. Calamity. Carnage. A selection of juicy hyperbolic terms often used inappropriately to amplify mundane incidents and inflate banality with exaggerated importance.

Which is exactly the way I intend to report the sheer and unadulterated devastation that is my 40 to follow project.

Approaching the end of November I am languishing on –25.3 points. My worst ever start to the season.  Bruv is over the horizon with some long shot, high profile winners and even Dad is kicking up a dust cloud for me to choke on. Don’t believe the guff that the non-believers dish out about storm-in-teacup, only-a-game, escapist-nonsense. Because this does matter. I am weeping.

It’s desperate stuff. I could claim near misses, but I’m kidding myself. The veneer of bad luck - three place finishes last Saturday and another today - is a mere fig leaf decomposing under a ruthless analysis: they were all completely stuffed by the winners. Thursday was a new low, though. Always nice to explore unchartered waters.  Except this is like a trip to murkey depths strapped to a ticking depth charge. The catalyst for this outpouring of self-loathing was the performance of two horses, Swincombe Rock and Foynes Island. They brutally highlighted the ineptitude and gutlessnesness of the bunch of losers in my stable. They each lacked appetite, ambition and ability round the even and fair Newbury circuit.

The crushing realisation is that I have picked all the wrong horses for all the wrong reasons.

Nearly.

Today, I have concluded, was the turning point. Newbury’s Winter Festival is another jewell of the jumps season. It was the only turf meeting to survive the current cold snap. This meant that the Fighting Fifth transferred from Newcastle. Good marks to all concerned for getting the thing rescheduled, but presumably sponsorship interests stymied televising this top class event on C4? Rubbish. See below. However, it made today’s card even more glittering. So the turning point? Well, Peddlers Cross. My favourite horse in training, a star in the making and now the only horse in the 40tf to win at better than 2-1!

In the Fighting Fifth he stepped out of novice company for the first time to beat reigning Champion Hurdler Binocular and the talented and improving Starluck. The performance showed fluency, speed and above all, tenacity. Boy did he dig deep! Binocular didn’t. McCoy never got really serious with the champ and he’ll be back in the Spring. So will Peddlers.

I almost missed the race, though. I was up at Mrs A’s Mum’s and facing a bit of a struggle to get the Openzone working on the laptop and plug into RUK. (Not on terrestrial telly, see. See above.) This involved three discussions with BT’s subcontinental call centre, two password changes and one piece of quick and sensible advice from the fourth, presumably UK based adviser (“nah mate, you don’t need the @btwhatever bit, just put in your user name”).  I got there by 30 seconds and it made the race more sweet. And the girls were treated to the full-on screamadelica, huggy, heart-beat-y race climax floor show. I know they loved it.

The 40tf is a one-point stake, straight win competiton. Outside those tight confines, I’ve started to have some success with e-w and place punts. Restless Harry last week and Vino Griego today, both at nice prices, have helped. And punting beyond the 40tf altogether is OK too. Aigle D’Or yesterday on a rare going day off a low weight; and the hugely impressive Tocco Ferro (again) today.

For most punters, though, today is Hennessy Gold Cup Day. Or What’s Up Boys Day to me. WUB was my first ever ‘value’ win when he landed this race in 2001. (So overcome was I that whatsupboys became my password for every betting account I’ve ever opened*). It’s a race with wonderful provenance. Today lived up to - and in some ways, surpassed – the billing. Denman, carrying 8lb more than his monumental, thrilling victory last year, was favourite and faced a raft bantam-weighted, progressively-profiled 2nd season chasers.

He couldn’t prevail, in the end, but he went down all guns blazing (©, Clichés R Us). Denman and the deeply impressive winner Diamond Harry went eyeball to eyeball round the last circuit, attacking fences like spawning salmon up Aysgarth Falls. Bloody marvellous. Denman tired under his burden and Burton Port came out of the pack to close down Harry. But the leader dug deep, found more and was going away at the post. A very, very good win. Some guys were tweeting about short prices for the Gold Cup just afterwards. (The twittersphere is quite vibrant amongst racing professionals and punters alike.  It’s just the brevity I struggle with. 140 characters? Pah!) Denman was greeted like a hero in third and did nothing but add lustre to his towering reputation.

In racing terms, this day was one of affirmation. The entire card at Newbury delivered quality racing, tingling excitement and burgeoning talent. And a nice bit of passion too. I’ll stop whinging about my 40 to follow after this.

*Of course, I would never reveal my passwords in such a public sphere. So I’ve changed them all. To Peddlers Cross, naturally. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Slo Mo


So I’m three weeks into this moustache-growing extravaganza known as Movember.  It’s all for charidee mate. But I can’t say it’s too much fun. As with many charitable enterprises it is humiliation that unlocks the donations. Some fund raising activities are based on achievement: marathons, climbs and swims all spring to mind; others are about rewards: auctions, competitions, raffles are the standard fodder of garden parties and school fetes up and down the country; and then others are simply about making a prat of oneself in return for support. I guess Children In Need and Movember both fall into the latter category. Funny that I should be attracted to this one. Here's My Movember donation page

I nearly joined in last year. But not quite.  A couple of mates were doing the mo thing and I said I’d go for it. Then I lost my nerve. I landed a project interview early doors in November with clients I’d never met before. I bottled it! I couldn’t face up to dishing out my usual high-grade unadulterated tender-speak with a malformed hairy slug under my nose. I didn’t like the prospect of squeaking in a self conscious little voice, “Erm, sorry about this look. Hehe. It’s a charity thing, honest!”
Week 1

So no messing about this year. I’m in. A bloke on the BBC is writing a diary of his Movember challenge. "Who grows a moustache these days?" Patrick Heery's blog Mrs A calls him my soul mate. Maybe that’s about right, because I share Patrick’s grief. My moustache refuses to grow with anything like gusto. It is not a bushy, even, profuse coverage of tawny bristles. Sad to say there are holes and gaps. And it is taking for ever! I put it down to my Viking blood, being a good northerner. The Scandinavians don’t shave much. Or is that just a myth?

Week 2
The slow grow is compounded by odd coloration. Ginger. Black. Mousey. And lots of grey. “Blond!” I defiantly claim. Hoots of derision from Mrs A and the daughters. If the mo is not really growing on me, then it is certainly not growing on them. Mrs A won’t come anywhere near me. The girls have an occasional rummage which is more often than not accompanied by a shivered spine and a curled lip. Theirs, not mine.  Like Pat Heery, my beast itches too. I sit in meetings or in front of the telly, stroking my top lip, massaging my chin and kneading the unruly bristles.

Week 3
Perhaps my choice of ‘tache hasn’t helped either. I had in mind a kind of James Hetfield (Metallica), Robert Plant droopy cowboy moustache. Not quite sure I’ve pulled that off. (I didn’t anticipate the intricate shaving skills required, for a start!). Comments have veered from Lemmy to Peter Sutcliffe via C&W check-shirt good ole boy-ness. Ho ‘kin ho!

But the bottom line is people have been fantastically generous. And it’s a good cause for prostrate cancer awareness and action. Some 36,000 men are diagnosed with this cancer every year and more than 10,000 die from the condition.

So, for that reason, this month has to be worth the curious glances and puzzled looks (…”you’ve got something on your…oh  no, I think it’s a…. is that a moustache?”). Two weeks and counting. 

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Thick Of It


It’s all go now. Not just the punting. Everything. I looked at the wall calendar this morning (in these electronic, virtual times I am strangely reassured that synching and sharing our household appointments is still physically delivered with thick indelible ink). It is filled with school fairs, concerts, landmark birthday parties, Christmas parties and assorted social engagements. I’m not moaning. These will all be top notch events (with the possible exception of the girls’ violin concert for the old folks. I don’t know who to feel most sorry for. Bless ‘em). But there goes Christmas.

We’re kicking off tonight with my bruv-in-law’s 50th. It’s a surprise. (I don’t think he reads this…..) My sis-in law is home especially for this, from Tenerife where she’s lived and worked for 20 years. That’s the surprise. This should be a good laugh.

But before we leave for revelries in Old Stratford, I have Day 2 of Cheltenham’s Open Meeting to savour. This is how we know we are in the thick of the jumps season. The Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase is about the first real crown jewel of the season. Good line up today. Long Run from Henderson’s yard is a class horse and will go off favourite. I like Mad Max from the same stable, with Barry Gerraghty up top. Massive beast, Mad Max. Closer to a dray horse than jumper. And acted like one in some of his races last year when he went through fences rather than over the top. But he got his act together in considerable style at Aintree in the Spring. The Pipe yard has Great Endeavour, Nicholls and Nigel NTD have three each and there are Irish raiders. This will be super-competitive. Tanya Stevenson has been tweeting her titbits this morning. (I’m digging the racing twitterati now.) “Nine of the last 12 winners came from the first three in the betting”, “No horse aged over nine has finished in the first three since 1992.” And perhaps less helpfully, “Since Fondmort won in 2003 Nicky Henderson’s last 9 runners have been beaten.” I’ve also got Cannington Brook in the 3m novice chase 1.20pm. That should be a good race, too.

Loved yesterday’s action from Prestbury Park. Day 1 of the Open meeting. Traditionally, the lads would blag the afternoon off work to base ourselves in the Jugged Hare and shuttle to the Laddy’s next door. This is the first meeting to feature in the precious Ten To Follow competition, run by the Racing Post and Tote. Inevitably, we have our own off-shoot comp with local rules. Bacchy runs it. This day used to be the beer-soaked, bravado fuelled great unveiling. We’re scattered to the four winds now, but the comp is still alive and well. I got off the mark with Cue Card yesterday, a seriously impressive novice hurdler and winner of last season’s Champion Bumper. It later transpired that Nev did too. And Brynaldo scored with the classy looking Time For Rupert in the belting staying novice chase last on the card. The day was a jolly for me after Rustarix went in at 16-1 in the opening amateur riders chase. Rustarix is a horse I’ve followed for a couple of years and he repaid all his debts with a beautiful round of jumping and the best attitude he’s ever shown up the hill.  

Monday night will be a belter too. Another of those calendar-busting social engagements. It’s our Fantasy Cricket Curry Night. Yes, one more piece of evidence for the prosecution’s allegations of anorak sadness. Well, guilty as charged. Because this year I’m the winner! Not only will I bag some CASH and retain a nice silver(ish), engraved (possibly) trophy to put on my shelf (Mrs A is delighted. It will be hidden, no doubt, behind the casserole pot that we never use next to the Fantasy Festival trophy that I also hold. Ahem.) But we will also be settling a few curry side bets too. This means I don’t go home hungry. I will be insufferable all night (what’s new). And I’m starting right here! 

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Tricky Harry

Maybe it’s dangerous to think I’ve turned the corner. But three wins from three bets yesterday cannot go unremarked.

Wymott, one of my forty to follow tips, put in a sparkling performance in a novice chase at Bangor. It was a warmish race too. Nice to see a decent line up for a cold Wednesday afternoon outside the Grade 1 tracks. Tarablaze for Philip Hobbs was rated highly over hurdles; Alfie Sherrin, bought out of Paul Nicholls’ yard at the Harry Findlay dispersal, was well thought of; and Silver Kate is an honest front running mare who ran in the Grade 1 staying novice hurdle at the Festival last year. But Wymott, from Donald McCain’s yard, was deeply impressive. He jumped confidently from the front and settled the issue with three furlongs to go, Jason Maguire expertly pushing him out. I was too busy luxuriating in the prospect of the horse turning up in the RSA Chase next March to actually get my arse into gear and avail myself of the fancy prices available in running for that very race. He was 18-1 by the time I’d got on.

Half an hour later the same McCain/Maguire team landed the odds again in the shape of Fiendish Flame. The style was the same bold, front running demolition job, too. “Jumped them ragged, galloped them silly” said commentator, Jim McGrath. Marvellous stuff.

But the strangest winner of the triple header was Harry Tricker at Huntingdon. Medermit, favourite for the Arkle, was making his second appearance over fences. At a forecast 1/5, this was far too short for me. I’ve been a fan of the horse for a couple of years. But his round at Aintree previously was not all that smooth where he clouted a couple. So, casting sentiment aside with steely logic, I opposed the horse on grounds of price and form. He jumped off bloody well, though. Some early leaps were quite beautiful. And then bizarrely, out of nowhere, the horse refused to jump a fence down the back. Very naughty. He pulled himself up in a few yards and ran out. No obvious explanation, nothing seemed to be amiss. 


So with the skinny favourite out of the way, I was counting my money. Harry Tricker was looking pretty confident out in front. At the second last he seemed to overjump – almost took the fence too well – and pitched on landing. He sprawled a bit, but Jamie Moore managed to sit tight and keep on going. This provided the impetus for the pursuing Sergeant Pink. Harry Tricker had lost momentum and the two were now side by side. But Tom Scudamore was having a shocking struggle to keep Sergeant Pink on the straight and narrow. All the way to the last, which Sergeant made a horlicks of, and then up the straight, he was lugging right, straight into mine. I was in the bookies at this point, shouting at the screen. Just before the post, both horses had to snatch up as Sergeant Pink was carrying them off the track. He managed to squeeze home first past the post. I was muttering “Stewards! Stewards! Bing bong!” in a plaintive little voice around the bookies, returned only with blank faces and unseeing eyes both behind the counter and from the punters. Even the studio announcer called the result as if nothing was amiss. I flounced out of the bookies, indignant, but resigned. It was true. When were decisions over the jumps ever reversed by the stewards?

Well, today. That’s the answer. Twenty minutes later, I checked the result on the RP website and Harry has been given the race. Cue a scramble for my jacket, knocking Mrs A out of the way to the cupboard under the stairs, to see if I’d held on to the ticket. I had. That old punter’s never-say-die instinct had saved me.

That’s the first time I’ve ever collected on the jumps courtesy of a stewards’ room decision. Turns out that Sergeant Pink’s saddle was slipping and that the award of the race to Harry was controversial. Not in my eyes, though. Dramatic race all round. Cornelius Lysaght on Twitter said that the jockey reported Medermit getting distracted by some ground staff just before the fence. Hmm. Not so sure. But he’s been pushed out to 16-1 for the Arkle. That’s not a bad price if this was just a blip.

There are a few trainers, jockies and commentators whom I now follow on Twitter. Chris Bealby’s a bit of a laugh. He used to train the horse – Dashing Charm – that I had a tiny share of once. He tweeted the other day “Powder King is an interesting runner in the Junior Bumper at Huntingdon tomorrow, very well bred Darley reject, should handle soft...”. He didn’t. The next day, Bealby tweets “Powder King too free early on and refuses to settle, did run on well in the closing stages, jockey says that he will be ok !” Yeak right. Sounds like some of my pathetic bleating on this blog! To be fair, at least he’s putting them up. He’s saying more than he did when I tried to get some views about my horse all those years ago. “Chaser in the making, probably”, he clichéd. That’s my line in the parade ring when I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mug Painting


My mate Pete – he of the damning verdict on my waning rock n roll credibility - is turning into a bit of a barometer for my fortunes. In a comment about this blog down the pub recently he said, “Yeah, I saw your link. ‘Mug painting’, I thought ‘Why’s ole Dave writing about painting some crockery?’ I mused. Funny, never had you down as the artistic type. Then I wondered if it was a sort of DIY self-help group.” Straight as a dye. Dry as a bone. “Oh, mug punting….yeah, horse racing…” Sometimes I don’t know how much leeway to swing by these blindies. Ever had your plonker pulled?

It might as well be mug painting. Or punting by numbers. This has been a pretty poor start to the jumps season. The project, that is, the forty beasts of burden selected to carry my colours this season, is looking badly planned, poorly managed and lacking in vision. In short, I seem to have picked all the wrong horses. October’s return is pitiful. -8.29 to a 1 point stake. From 13 outings there have been 5 winners (38%), but, and here’s the clincher, only one of those has been at better than evens. And that one – Weird Al on Saturday – finished dead-heated at 5-2. Not too many of those to the pound over the big ones. Early days for sure, but there’s no escaping the observation that those I picked as outsiders and long shots are looking, well, a bit crap. Nothing that a yankee permed from  class, guts, ability, fitness and talent couldn’t sort out, I’m sure. If there’s any compensation, it is that Dad (-3.8) and Paul (-2.4) are both in the red. Straws. Grasping.

I also note with some irony that the alternative of my two theories about Monet’s Garden came to pass. He was not past it. He did jump with vim and vigour. The house was duly brought down. Well done the flying grey.

I turned a corner on Saturday though. Two great cards at Ascot and Wetherby. Nice to see quality fields at the latter for their Charlie Hall Chase card. The course has suffered badly since a track realignment three years ago brought significant problems with firm going on the new ground. Road-widening of the adjacent A1 ate into a chunk of the course. For some trainers, the going on the new strip felt more like the motorway hard shoulder than traditional good-to-soft. Poor, thin cards followed and every fall or injury was magnified. Hopefully the course is back on track now. The north can’t afford reputational damage to one of its better jumps tracks. But it was in the south where I bagged my winners. Both involved close finishes. Tocca Ferro for Emma Lavelle looked comfortable in a listed handicap hurdle off a feather-weight, until idling in front and giving me palpitations. He prevailed by a generous neck. And the fine Massini’s Maguire (ex-Hobbs, please note Bacchy) enhanced his trainer’s massive reputation for getting one super-ready after a long lay off. Maguire jumped beautifully on the whole and travelled classily throughout. He was joined at the last by Take The Breeze and I feared the worst, but my lad dug deep – not always his strong point - and surged up the hill. That’s better.

On the gig front, I have to say that the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain were pretty damn good the other week. I promised a review. No genre or style is safe from the Ukes’ strumming re-interpretations. We were exposed to foot-stomping renditions of Back in Black , Wuthering Heights and Teenage Dirtbag delivered with the energy and spark of a truly diverse mix of innovation and skill (even the harshest critics wouldn’t contemplate the word traincrash, surely?).  Even the fidgety, minstrel-scoffing, coke-swilling, hair-twiddling, hoarse whisperer in front of me momentarily lost herself during a climactic balalaika-driven Russian dance epic that – I kid you not – wove in George Formby’s ‘leaning on a lamppost’ chorus for good measure. Top entertainment.

Nevertheless, after Tasmin Little (lead violin) and the Ukes (lead ukeleles) I was looking forward to some electrification this week, courtesy of the Manic Street Preachers (noisy guitars). Sadly,  James Dean Bradfield (lead vocal) cried off with a poorly throat. It will be better by January, apparently. In the meantime, I can restore the balance a little with Wilko Johnson at the Islington Academy on Thursday. This guy is a legend. Once Dr Feelgood’s driving force, he remains mercurial, manic and enigmatic: the most unique and under-rated r ‘n’ b guitarist in the land.  I’ll take my ceramic paints and best china for the quiet bits.