Monday, 27 June 2011

Holland Park Boogie


Aah, the Great British Outdoor Gig season. Currently in the fullest of swings. And with it come the customary agonies of weather watching. I was sat in front of the gogglebox, watching Pendulum put in an epic set at Glasto yesterday, under a searing afternoon sun. It took a leap of imagination to picture our sodden Jools Holland concert less than 48 hours earlier.

We’d been looking forward to the gig for a while. (And, like buses, my mate Keith had offered me tickets to The Killers/Kaiser Chiefs in Hyde Park the same night. Normally, I’d have bitten his hand off.) But even as the four of us were packing up the car with picnics, blankets and folding chairs, the sky began to drip. By the time we were skirting Tring, the wipers were on full speed.  The BBC radar hinted heavily (a deep blue-grey mass obliterating the British Isles and heading slowly east) that this rain was set in for the evening. I wasn’t sure how the girls mood would hold up under a prolonged downpour.

Driving through the new-town-in-waiting of Berryfields (pristine Aylesbury Vale station and super-size car park adrift in a sea of churned-up fields that will soon be a 3,000 home little brother to Milton Keynes) we hit the traffic jam crawling towards Waddesdon Manor. Strangely, we found this reassuring. Despite a steady leaking from leaden clouds, I was comforted that all these optimistic car-loads had not caved in to the inevitable. Carry on regardless, en masse! It is the stiff upper lip English Summer way. Further spirit-bolstering came in the guise of a text from the Chausselets, with whom we were meeting. They hadn’t given in either and were not far behind us. And the Woods, the other family in our outing, had been spotted in between.

Indeed, we all arrived at the car park within 5 minutes of each other. Although not without some wheel spinning drama as the Zafira struggled with the incline, much to the concern of a grimacing steward.

The picnic was hilarious. Making the best of wet sarnies and soggy salad under brollies and waterproofs.


 The support act – some bloke called Mick, according to daughter no 2 who later spotted him in a tent forlornly waiting to sign autographs for non-existant fans – did not help. Miserable, dirgey acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter gruel. Bleaugghh.


The mood lifted immeasurably the very moment Jools Holland and his 19 piece band hit the stage. The park was filled with a big fat sounds pumped with rich brass, driving rhythms and that delicious boogie-woogie piano of the mercurial Mr Holland. The stage was framed by the astonishing Renaissance chateau style front of the former-Rothschild manor, suitably flood lit and viewed through the forest of golfing umbrellas. 




The band lived up to the setting.  A succession of guest vocalists lit up the gloom. Sandie Shaw was brilliant, reworking Love Me Do and Puppet on a String to the point of unrecognition; Louise Marshall provided some mellow tones and the remarkable Ruby Turner, possessor of a fine set of Grade A bellows, cranked out some high octane rhythm and blues. And always Jools Holland….cajoling the crowd, laying down those honkey tonk piano lines, taking the lead vocal on a couple of ska-infused ditties and even lead guitar at one point.

The five youngsters in our gang had a blast. The three older ones were able to wander down the front and check out the trumpet techniques, potter round to the merchandise stall and refuel from the hot chocolate concession. The youngest in our party taught us all a lesson in choreographed piano and air trombone before maxing out on adrenaline and taking a well deserved nap.

I took daughter no 2 down to the front and on my shoulders she had a great view of the stage and seemed to take equal delight in nudging the umbrellas around us so that little rivulets of water dripped over me and anyone else daft enough to get too close. 

But the rain was irrelevant by now. Dad dancing had already broken out in feverish abandon, accompanied by daughters expressing simultaneous horror and amusement. Thierry took the prize for uncontained grooving. He has previous form, having wowed the dance floor at a recent 60’s retro night, but I’m pretty sure the girls were unprepared for a triple-headed patriarchal bootie shake! The Mums were as bad….

The climax arrived with the three singers on stage, belting out Enjoy Yourself backed by a full force ska work out. So good, it blew the fuses. Literally. Water in the junction box presumably. But the blackout didn’t last long and power was back within 5 minutes for the riotous encores.

A triumph, then, of resolve over rainfall, partying over precipitation, good-time boogie over bad-timed weather…. (I could go on).  The Woods have got a taste for this and are off to the Cornbury Festival this weekend. Great line up. Hope the weather holds though. Another dose of wet gigging would be just too much bad luck. 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Throwing in the towel


OK, I know when I’m beaten.  




In the wise words of Rainbow:

I surrender, I surrender
I’m giving up the role of pretender

I surrender
I remember, seems like a lifetime
Can’t believe it’s a matter of days

Five days of Royal Ascot to be precise. 30 races, 3 winners, big loss.

Maybe I should have a little rest from these kind of frontal assaults. Instead, these mugpunting pages could be dedicated to something more wholesome. Tales from my allotment, steam train spotting or a Good Kebab Guide, maybe. Something satisfying, rewarding and achievable…

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Battered


Battered...er....chicken?

Battered. Pummelled. Ragged. This is a tough week. Three winners from 24 races is too bad to be true.

Nathaniel was a bright spot in a wet scene yesterday. The only one.  Two of the selections actually finished last!

Immortal Verse was brilliant in the Coronation Stakes. Blistering turn of foot. “I declare that this filly is the best I’ve ever had”, said trainer Robert Collet through his lovely interpreter, as well as slapping down interviewer, Rishi Persad for suggesting  she had “a temperament”. The horse not the interpreter.

Last day of this marathon meeting today. Racegoers will be pleased to note that the course management have decided to lift footwear restrictions in the Royal Enclosure because of the wet conditions. So strappy Jimmy Choos out and 16-eyelet Doc Martens in, no doubt.

Fantastic card though. Several highlights. Inevitably, I feel obliged to lift my head from the canvas, squint through bloodied eyes and come out fighting one last time. Back for more punishment in some sort of ritualistic test of (mental) endurance and (financial) sacrifice.

And I’m feeling strangely bullish. Hallucinagenically confident.  (Too much baileys on the porridge again? Thanks for that one Granny!)

Some of my better list horses are out today. Starting with the Hardwicke Stakes at 3.05, Laaheb although a fraction disappointing on his seasonal return, has winning form on good to soft and should like the ground today. In truth, Await The Dawn looks the one to beat and will be a short price, so my boy is a solid e-w pick.

The Golden Jubillee looks like a belter and Star Witness will be backed to go one better than Tuesday’s fast finishing 2nd in the King’s Stand. Delegator - special when winning at York last time – has just been withdrawn because of the going. I’m on my list horse Hooray who dropped back to 7f in an easy enough win at Epsom and looks well worth a try in this company at 6f on ground she’ll love. Another each way shout.

I would have been much more confident about Mick Easterby’s Hoof It in the Wokingham without the rain. He has some form on soft, but I’m not certain he’ll love it. I’m sticking with him on the basis of his confident win at York in May. Still on the upgrade and they love him at the yard.

Another list horse, Modun, goes in the Duke of Edinburgh. Stoutey’s had a quiet time this week, but here’s a very decent prospect to get him off the mark. Looked all class last time, but needs to oercome a 15lb hike in the weights and trip into the unknown on this ground.

The curtain comes down on the week with the longest race in the flat racing calender, the 2m6f Queen Alexandra Stakes. And I’m going with a jumping stable that knows all about getting one ready for these races. Deutschland from the imperious yard of Willie Mullins will get the trip and should eat up the ground. I’d have loved to watch Overturn try to make all from the front in this , but McCain has taken him out because of going concerns.

So, back to the front one final time this Royal meeting.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Head in the sand

It’s not going well.

Winners that came from high draws on Tuesday and Wednesday yesterday bolted down the middle of the track after the rain came. I was still backing the high numbers.

Duncan patently didn’t stay in the Gold Cup. It cost me my placepot. 5/6 on a £200+ dividend. Credit to Aiden O’Brien and team though. Fame and Glory was a class winner, given a patient ride by a grateful Jamie Spencer. O’Brien dispatched one of his most animated interviews to the BBC ever. “Sure, listen now Richie, he’s all about class, if ye understand? Listen, he’s all class and when you have an animal like that, listen, the class is the ting, Richie.”

My banker, Alkimos was beaten into 2nd by a horse that loved the soft even more than he did.

That’s as near as I got. I should really take the hint.

But I can’t.



Today’s selections, then, in bloody minded ignorance of the writing on the wall:

2.30 Albany Stakes               Switcher
3.05 King Edward VII            Nathaniel
3.45 Coronation Stakes        Clinical, e-w
4.25 Wolferton Handicap      Spanish Duke
5.00 Queen’s Vase                Ittirad
5.35 Buckingham Palace      Our Jonathan; Advanced, e-w

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Whipping up a storm


The bookies have a had right royal hoot at Ascot today. Enough bankers went west across the card to fill a large Barclays staff convention in Bristol. SPs for the six race winners were 11-1, 11-1, 17-2, 12-1, 12-1, 8-1. What chance does a poor punter have? Bookies with grins like they had fish kettles in their gobs could be spotted stuffing fat rolls of notes into bulging satchels with every defeated favourite. Five of ‘em beaten into 2nd, including the memorable chinning of red hot Prince of Wales fancy So You Think.

That race provided a thrilling finish. Best of the meeting so far. Frankie Dettori in irresistible form, galvanised sufficient momentum from Rewilding to collar Coolmore’s newly acquired Aussie sensation close to the line. Connections were simply ecstatic. Sheikh Mohammad, august ruler of Dubai, was captured on the telly at least an hour later, punching the air and executing a shimmy that any dancing Dad would be proud of.

Frankie’s ride ignited the already simmering debate about whip use. He incurred a nine-day ban for excessive use. He hit Rewilding 24 times in the final two furlongs. The BHA is currently busying itself with a review of whip use. This will have to deliver some credible changes. The sport is under the cruelty spotlight following incidents at Newbury and Aintree earlier this season. For a start, whip use guidelines are flouted far more than perpetrators are punished and those punishments are themselves inconsistent and ineffective. But the more fundamental question is whether whips should be used for encouragement at all. Unless a workable and acceptable set of principles and penalties is developed – no easy task – the answer must surely be that they should not.

I managed to pour my profit from day 1 back into the bookies coffers on day 2. I was well off the pace today. Seta and Planteur were both particularly disappointing and failed to give their true running.

So am I losing the faith? By Jove, no! Never let it be said.

Tomorrow’s mug punts, then. Nothing in the Norfolk Stakes. I haven’t seen enough of this season’s two-year-olds to have an opinion (like that makes any difference…). In the Ribblesdale, I’m not convinced that market principles Rumh and Banimpire will be at the top of their game after winning seven and four days ago, respectively. So I’m interested in Aiden O’Brien’s Make My Heart Sing who has the sort of profile - and the sort of handler - to find improvement enough to make the frame.  

The Gold Cup is sadly missing last year’s winner Right of Passage. In his absence, I’m looking for one to take on favourite Fame and Glory with. I like Duncan who has been improving for the last 18 months and should have the stamina and class for this test.

Next up, the Britannia Stakes, another impossible 30-runner handicap. Without any great confidence, Baptist is interesting from a favoured high draw and should be an improver, if his last run from a bad draw at York is scratched.

The Hampton Court Stakes, chock full of class horses just below group 1 level, offers up three or four with very solid claims. I’m taking Alkimos to frank some pretty strong form lines with Lajooj. Slumber, Hunter’s Light and Tazahum bring good form too and Marksmanship holds a string of Group 1 entries. I’m looking forward to this one.

Another big handicap to close Ladies Day, the King George V Stakes. Again, I’m attracted to the unexposed improvers, though here there are about 10 that fit the description. Hmm. I saw Charles Camoin win in taking fashion at Epsom on Oaks day, showing good resolution. He’ll be suited by the trip and deserves to take his chance here at around 20-1.

Batten the hatches, I’m going in again….

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

What's a pound worth?


What’s a pound worth? On the first day of Royal Ascot today, Goldikova’s jockey Olivier Peslier was overweight by two of ‘em. Only one of which was declared before the much anticipated Queen Anne Stakes began. So he picked up a £650 fine for the extra, extra weight (explained by him changing into heavier riding boots). But what was the true cost of his misdemeanour? Aboard the wonderful Goldikova, he was beaten barely a length into 2nd by Canford Cliffs. Does that distance represent a couple of lengths’ worth?  Not far off over a mile, I’ll wager. The mare ran a cracking race and was beaten by a bull of a horse at the top of his game in a tactical, cat and mouse battle. A compelling race delivering the scripted finish. In truth, this is mischievous side-story. Canford looked to have more in his locker, but it might have been closer if Goldikova had been steered by a more streamlined jockey.   

I hadn’t realised in Monday’s preview that Cape Blanco would be ridden as a pacemaker. Derek Smith and Michael Tabor of the Coolmore operation have recently bought into the Canford Cliffs ownership partnership, the Heffer Syndicate. These two guys also own Cape Blanco and explains why, to my surprise, this dual Group 1 winner and bearer of my combi exacta wedge was ridden for maximum speed for 6 ½ furlongs. Anothermugpunt © 

No less compelling was Frankel’s performance in the St James’ Palace Stakes. He showed again his scintillating turn of foot. But he showed it after only 2 ½ furlongs when Queally, bizarrely, decided to kick for home. Frankel took off like a scalded cat round the bend, driven by a jockey either panicking that his useless pacemaker had opened up too big a gap, or chasing another thumping 10 length victory. Either way, Queally looked like a prat as his charge was being reeled in by Zoffany 200 yards from home. But he held on. And for 7/8ths of the race Frankel looked like the superstar everyone wants him to be. A puff of the cheeks from Sir H told its own story.  

The multi-national King’s Stand Stakes featured a raft of highly strung, pepped up, super charged sprinters strutting a full range of nervous ticks, pulls and bucks before the start. It was won by Prohibit. A first group success for trainer/jockey combination Robert Cowell and Jim Crowley.  

Elsewhere, my best return of the day was a win with Nicky Henderson’s Veiled and an each way return with Emyn Lodge, both in the Ascot Stakes. I once backed Veiled for the Triumph Hurdle when with small-time trainer Jeff Pearce. He never showed up in that race. But he did today.

Tomorrow….hmmm. Doesn’t excite me as much as today. Maybe I’m feeling a bit After The Lord Mayor’s Show. But let’s get stuck in. I like the look of Western Aristocrat in a muddling Jersey at 13/2. Seta has been a slow learner in Group races these last two years, but I’m prepared to take another chance that Cumani has her right for this slightly less demanding Windsor Forest event. The Prince of Wales doesn’t get the pulse racing either. But I loved Planteur’s win in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp 6 weeks ago when she saw off one of my favourite fillies, Sarafina. That one has subsequently come out again and won well. So I’ll take Planteur against the odds-on, hotpot Ballydoyle runner So You Think.

And so to the 30 runner Royal Hunt Cup. A tangled mystery wrapped up in an impenetrable sudoku. Where to start… I love Fareer over this course and distance. But off top weight I’m hesitant (and the application of blinkers, following tongue-ties earlier hints at lottery time). So I may also look to the other end of the handicap where lurks Bronze Prince, a lightly raced progressive contender from John Gosden. Probably split my e-w stake on these two.

Nothing in the Queen Mary. Last up, the Sandringham. Blimey. Another tough one. Can’t find an angle on many of these. Cumani’s plot horse, Dubai Queen looks credible, but a bit short for my liking. Maybe Secret Love who wasn’t disgraced last time in Classic-winning Dancing Rain’s Oaks trial and has a more realistic chance here.

Ding, ding. Round 2.


Monday, 13 June 2011

Wet blanket


Royal Ascot. Where the fashion pantomime and society mash up all but swamps the finest five days of flat racing in the land. Insufferably posh debs, nobs and freeloaders in rented finery crammed into the Royal Enclosure, jostling for vacuous attention with 27,000 other mates of Her Maj. The rest of the stands rammed with tacky bling and tattoo encrusted imitators, hell-bent on early oblivion courtesy of crap, expensive champagne. Or a refined symbol of what Britain does best. A chance to show off and glow at an occasion given dignity by the daily attendance of The Queen. As a punter, and having been to Royal Ascot only once before, I know which camp I am in. On the other hand, racing is absolutely dependent on such showpieces. These stunning races would be watched from half-empty stands were it not for the toff-inspired glamour and gaudiness that underpins the event. (But they might at least recognise what they were looking at…)

Sorry. I’ll put my wet blanket away and focus on the racing. I know my place. And what racing it is. The pick of tomorrow’s action is probably the first race on the card, the Queen Anne Stakes at 2.30pm. Canford Cliffs versus Goldikova.  Chuck in Cape Blanco as a wild card and it’s a mouth-watering festival opener.  Goldikova is the record-breaking winner of 13 Group 1 races, mostly at a mile. The six year old filly from France is a sensation. Canford Cliffs burst on to the scene as a precocious two-year-old before warming to his task beautifully last year, landing three Group 1s, the latter at Goodwood in brilliant style. Both have had winning Group 1 debuts this season and come here ready and ripe. Delicious. Cape Blanco is capable of a surprise, but this is arguably not his best trip (1m2f would be that). He blows hot and cold – pretty chilly so far this year. But in the Irish Champion and Irish Derby last season, he was blisteringly hot.  So my dodgy logic says it’s the improving Canford Cliffs to get the better of Goldikova who may just have peaked in a close run thing. Cape Blanco? Who knows? I’ll back him as the outsider, though!

And then, breathlessly, it is the Kings Stand Stakes. 5f of multi-national sprinting excellence. I am compelled to back my 20-to-follow horse, Rose Blossom at 33-1 and bigger, but more in hope that she rediscovers some of her three-year-old form than expectation. On the book this year, she has no right to be in the mix. Australia, USA, Canada, Hungary, France, Ireland and Great Britain are represented. A lot of the foreign form is hard to decipher, but this is an event that has regularly been cleaned up by raiders. Closer to home, I’ve been most impressed with Sole Power who ran cracker at Haydock last time after winning the Nunthorpe last year at 100-1.

Blimey, another contender for race of the meeting next. St James’s Palace Stakes. Another mile race, this time for three-year-olds and featuring newly knighted Sir Henry Cecil’s wonder horse, Frankel. He’ll be short odds-on. This is a decent enough field with the likes of Excelebration, Dream Ahead and Wootton Bassett in opposition. But if Frankel is in anything like the frightening form of his 2,000 guineas win, he will massacre this lot. Wootton Bassett, who should be at home on the ground and give a better show than his last outing in France, is my each way shout.

Of the remainer, I’ll merely be watching with interest the two-year old races. But I’ll have dabble in the Ascot Stakes at 5pm with Veiled, Junior and Ermyn Lodge on the shortlist. 

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Popular Classics

Epsom’s classic meeting delivered the goods again.

Friday’s Oaks threw the spotlight onto Johnny Murtagh for an exquisite ride of perfectly judged pace from the front in a slowly run race. Johnny, gifted an uncontested lead, cranked up the gas on Dancing Rain round Tattenham Corner and hit top gear by the two furlong pole. She found more for him close home too, making the rest of the field look like mugs. Top jocks in Johnny’s wake woke up too late and began flapping like herring gulls behind a hydrofoil, sending out increasingly desperate distress signals as their hold up tactics sank in the backwash. My tip, Havant, was among them. Bumped too and reportedly not liking the firmish ground, she’s got something to prove now.

The Derby was an even better spectacle. The story about Carlton House’s participation was shunted aside for one about an injunction received by Keiron Fallon preventing him from taking the mount on Recital because of a previous agreement to ride Native Khan. A High Court session that very morning had confirmed that Fallon had indeed broken a contract with Khan’s owner, Ibrahim Araci. Yet more controversial material for the Fallon canon: a gifted jockey who flies too high (in many senses…) too often and has received another wing clipping. File under F in the well-stuffed drawer for Flawed Geniuses. 

The race was all about timing, just as the Oaks was. But this time acceleration won the day. Twelve-year-old jockey (approx) Mikael Barcelona flicked on Pour Moi’s afterburners with a furlong to go and blitzed passed Carlton House and then Treasure Beach (whose owner was convinced he was winning it). Barcelona’s out-of-saddle, wide-mouthed, stick-punching celebration before he’d even crossed the line caused a ripple of tutting amongst commentators (why is Carson still employed by the beeb? Great jockey but inarticulate, inaccurate and irrelevant punditry). However, to me it looked like uncontainable ecstasy and disbelief overtook him. Nice one son.

So the winners of Epsom’s brace of classics both eluded me. Across both days I did just enough to scrape a meagre profit. A St Nicholas Abbey/Hooray win double was the only return of note, and combined with some skinny place returns on Clinical in the opener and St Moritz in the Diomed on Saturday, I kept my head above water. The biggest disappointments had to be Falasteen and Masamah in the Dash who both missed the break. Their race was over in the first five seconds. Boo.

That same day I tipped up a 9-1 winner for my mate Stuart who was going Kilbeggan races on Sunday. Later on I was boasting of this to Mrs A. “Did you back it then?” she inquired. “Er, no. Actually I didn’t”, I confessed. “Hmm. You tipped the winner of the Grand National to Keith without backing it as well. Not getting this right are you?” Fair cop.

The weekend’s back-to-back classics up on Epsom Downs were punctuated by our own participation in classics of a different nature. Friday night was Great British Proms night at Spirit of Tring 2011.

The English National Orchestra had been whistled up from their usual high-brow haunts round the Royal Albert Hall and The Barbican to lay down some classical grooves at the Grassroots Stadium, home of Tring Athletic FC. We joined our good friends Julie and Callum with picnic blankets, smoked salmon rolls and posh cheese for a perfect, late Spring evening concert in the company of a thousand
others.
Sausages on sticks anyone?

For me, the climax arrived rather early in the gig when the orchestra swelled through a trio of tub-thumping WWII memorials, comprising ‘633 squadron’, ‘The Spitfire Prelude’ and ‘Dambusters Theme’. But the thrill was less the music than the emergence of a Spitfire Mark Vb splitting the clump of trees away to the left before looping and barrel-rolling through the cobalt blue heavens, choreographed perfectly with the pitch and pace of the ENO. This iconic image brought a lump to my throat. I may not remember these magnificent machines and their young pilots slugging it out with Me109s in these skies 70 years ago, but the significance of that throaty engine tone and distinctive silhouette swept over all of us. Mine were not the only glistening eyes amongst the crowd.


G-g-go Compare!
The girls’ highlight was easier to explain. Tenor, Wynne Evans captured their imagination. Not because of his searing rendition of Nimrod or top-notch O Sole Mio, but because he’s the bloke who sings ‘Go Compare’ off those awful telly adverts. “Just met the Go Compare guy’” texted daughter no 1. “Cool” came the many replies.

To be fair he was a scream. In between the inevitable “Over there….go compare” gags, Wynne trotted out a very funny stand up routine aimed at ridiculing the musicians. “What’s the difference between a violin and a viola? Eh? Well, a viola burns for longer. Ha!” I liked that one. “Do you know what happens if you don’t practise your violin enough?” his bass Welsh voice boomed, “They give you sticks and make you play the drums at the back. Wave your drumsticks Gerald!” By now, he was in full rib-tickling stride. “And then if you’re really, really bad, they take one away, paint it white and make you stand here at the front.” Riotous applause. Conductor, Joe Alexander feigned outrage.

The conductor was the star of the show, though. He had a refreshing rapport with the punters and offered witty banter with Wynne and the other guest, soprano Sarah Ryan. He was so chock full of camp humour and corny one-liners that his Union Flag waiscoat was popping sequins all over the podium.  As the programme notes made clear, “Joe has a rare ability to form a bridge between the orchestra and audience. He is an entertainer”. True enough. He loved himself. “Any VIPs out there?” Sporadic cheering. “I’m one. A Very Important Puff!” This had Daughter No 1 reeling. “Hahaha! I can’t believe he said that!” “What’s a poof”, inquired Daughter No 2.

Aaaah!
The music delivered as well. A crescendo of crowd pleasers - the 1812 Overture (excerpts), Nessun Dorma, Rule Britannia and Jerusalem - built to a full flag-fest, celebratory Land of Hope Glory. A fitting and enjoyable climax. Cue big firework display and then home time. I don’t know what these talented bunch of serious musos really make of cheesy, informal, outdoor classics for the masses. But in my book this is how you sow the seeds for a sustainable and widespread love of classical music amongst a new audience. And if that audience moves on to appreciate po-faced, thin-lipped Mozart quartets in narrow seats and silent halls then so much the better. But I don’t think I’ll be with them!



Thursday, 2 June 2011

Carlton in da house


It’s Derby Festival eve and about time I gave some proper attention to the pick of the races.

The build up to Saturday’s Derby is dominated by the drift and tighten of ante-post favourite Carlton House in the markets. Sir Michael Stoute’s charge was discovered to have ‘slight filling in the near-fore limb’ after light work on Sunday evening. I think, on stripping away the mealy-mouthed pseudo-veterinary  opinion, that this means a swollen shin.

This story still has mileage and the markets have more turmoil ahead. Although declared today, the appearance of the Queen’s charge in the season’s showpiece will hinge on any reaction later today to a canter early this morning. We’ll know tonight. Or possibly tomorrow morning. Or maybe later than that….. A few more dramatic twists and turns yet. All the ingredients of a good story. Headline writers craving a first Derby winner for the Queen and for it to happen in Royal Wedding year will be poised by their netbooks.

The colt’s credentials are solid enough. Carlton House did all that was necessary in quickening away from a decent field to win the Dante. Seville, considered to be Aiden O’Brien’s premier Derby contender at the time, was soundly beaten and left looking one-paced. Hard to see that form being reversed. Arguably a worthy favourite then. So when Carlton House drifted to bigger than 4-1 on Betfair, I struck - following 20 minutes dithering, pacing and general procrastination - with unswerving precision and decision.  Shortly after he was touching 9-2 and I was having kittens about his non-participation, tempered by temptations to go in again. Such is the Janus-like existence of a mug punter.

In the meantime, I’ve also opposed the Queen’s colt with Native Khan. Before the market shifts this week, I played my hand at 13.5-1 on the basis that Ed Dunlop’s colt will just love the step up to a mile-and-a-half on a sound surface. For me, he’s the one to take out of the 2,000 Guineas behind runaway Frankel and appears to have had a perfect build up to Saturday’s race.

Elsewhere, the best supported of Ballydoyle’s runners, Recital, looks a right handful and isn’t certain to take kindly to Epsom’s (frankly ridiculous) banks, cambers and bends. There’s a doubt about him staying this trip too. But it’s Coolmore’s French raider (how easily this tabloid drivel spews from my keyboard) Pour Moi that I fear the most. His win in the Prix Greffulhe is the best piece of form outside the Dante.

Kicking off the Festival is the Princess Elizabeth Stakes tomorrow at 1.40pm. Antarra won this last year and has been competing, not without credit, at Group 1 level since. So this, without a penalty, looks much easier. Timepiece looked great behind Midday in the Yorkshire Cup. But I’m looking at Clinical at 13-2 to step up on her decent two-year-old form and spring a surprise in the opener.

The Coronation Cup at 2.45 is a very special race. The Derby for older horses. This year a depleted field of five looks to be a match between back to form former two-year-old wonder horse St Nicholas Abbey and brilliant middle distance filly Midday. I could have kicked myself for not backing the former at Chester when he routed an average field in the Ormonde Stakes. So often O’Brien can rekindle the magic in these horses when seemingly it has gone. The horse is probably still on the upgrade and if so, Midday even at her superb best may not get close enough. I can’t see anything else getting into it.

The Oaks at 4.05 has a bit of strength in depth to it: Wonder of Wonders slapped down some strong form in the Dee Stakes at Chester last month; another other O’Brien contender Misty For Me landed the Irish 1,000 guineas; Godolphin’s Blue Bunting won Newmarket’s strangely run 1,000 Guineas last month and is bred for this trip; and Mickey Channon’s unfashionable Zain Al Boidan ran away with a weakish Lingfield Oaks trial. Pick the bones out of that lot. Well I’m sticking with my 20-to-follow filly Havant, from Stoute’s yard. She ran well enough in the 1,000 Guineas and if she settles better, could be seen to her best over this trip.

I’ve another list horse running in the Surrey Stakes at 4.50. Hooray was found out at the trip in the 1,000 Guineas and so reverts to 7f here. I like this filly and backed her plenty last year. But here she’ll be odds-on most likely and so I’ll be looking to double up…maybe with St Nicholas Abbey!  

Moving back to Saturday, the Diomed Stakes at 2.40pm features St Moritz who has come on leaps and bounds since moving to David Nicholls two years ago. He’s progressed from handicaps to pick up a listed prize earlier this year and now moves into pattern company over his best distance of a mile. Here he’s up against some seasoned Group performers, though I’m happy to give him a shot at likely good each way prices.

The Dash at 3.15 is the fasted 5 furlongs in the World. So says the PR blurb. Its true as well. This is a searing fast sprint, down hill all the way and starting from somewhere just outside Tattenham Corner station car park. This race is a great spectacle. I saw Falasteen smash down the track on this trip/track back in April to win as he pleased. He was breathtaking. So I’ll be all over him on Saturday at about 8-1. I’m boosted by the knowledge that my mate and untouchable Sprint King, Bacchy has also put him up. What can go wrong? I’ll likely split my stake with an old mate in a current rich vein of form, Masamah, who similarly loves to dominate. Don’t you just love front runners? This one falls into that class of beast that is simply beyond reproach: DNOMAP.

In the Surefooted Handicap at 4.50 I’m on yet another of my 20-to-follow beast, Bourne, from the Luca Cumani yard. He should have a good enough chance and is already being talked of as an Ebor horse.

That’s it for now. Sadly, I won’t be adding to my tally of Oaks Day appearances tomorrow. Logistical nightmare: last season’s crew are scattered to the four winds - Aldeburgh, La Coruna, Rugby and Tring Park. But we’ll be back next year.