Thursday, 5 December 2013

Music of the year

What can be better than going to steaming, sweaty gigs or being sent a bunch of albums and then being asked to review them?  As if I need any invitation to turn up the overblown verbosity to 11.

Every year the Get Ready To Rock! team lists our favourite albums and gigs of the year. As ever, it is a very eclectic mix and reflects broad, all-embracing tastes.

From Sunday 8th December, there is a popular vote over at GRTR! for the “Best of 2013″. My choices are below (with links to reviews where I've penned them). Check out the website for the others and a chance to win a selection of albums in a prize draw.

Top Albums

ALTER BRIDGE – Fortress (Roadrunner)
Relentless riffage, clean vocals, thunderous rhythms create epic tunes, complex arrangements and moments of calm and reflection. It’s all here, in polished spades. Alter Bridge’s trajectory remains as close to vertical as makes no difference.

KROKUS – Dirty Dynamite (The End Records)
Airbourne pushed out a decent album this year too, but in the battle of the accadacca clones, I bow before the altar Storace, Von Arb and Von Rohr. An unapologetic celebration of all that is right with blues hard rock, 40 years (count ‘em) in the making.

Young master Bonfanti comes of age on this powerful, Stones-Zep inspired blues album, marrying whisky drenched baritone with sweet dobro, thrilling slide and southern groove. The future is safe.

MOTORHEAD Aftershock (UDR)
How often do the words ‘Lemmy’ and ‘diversity’ appear in the same sentence, eh? Well it’s justified here. Sure there are fat, monstrous chugs and bile-laden lyrics to feed on hungrily. But the Big L, in his dotage, has found expansive room for acoustics, blues and melody. Well, well. More power to you, sir.

PEARL JAM – Lightning Bolt (Virgin EMI)
This eclectic grab-bag of moods and tones sees Eddie Vedder on top form and the band putting together an onion-layered grower that still surprises after a good few spins. Welcome back.

Top Gigs

WILKO JOHNSON – Koko, London
A deeply emotional gig. Only a month after he announced he had pancreatic cancer and was not taking any treatment, Wilko was strutting and agitating across the Koko stage, staring down the audience through the gun barrel of his Telecaster. He ripped out note-perfect barbs of life affirming rhythm and blues like there was no tomorrow. Uplifting.

MICHAEL SCHENKER – The Forum, London
I’d missed Schenker on his last tour and had previously seen too many moody shows. But he was in a good place on this night. Plundering a set list packed with UFO, Scorpions and MSG classics, Schenker played with fury, power and melody. He remains a genuine guitar genius, albeit shot through with genes of self-destruction.

MARCUS BONFANTI – Borderline, London
A hot, sweaty, joyous gig which stripped down much of the edgy blues material on ‘Shake The Walls’ into an intense and very confident delivery. This was Bonfanti’s first headline gig at the Borderline. He was enjoying it and it showed. Bigger things await.

RUSH – O2, London
A gig of two halves. Rush have so much good material tucked away in their lockers that they always throw up surprises. Kicking off with Subdivisions was one of many. One day they’ll play Jacob’s Ladder again. Just for me.

The second half moved the whole experience up to a giddy level. The excellent Clockwork Angels album was delivered meticulously and enthusiastically, backed by a string ensemble and in front of an audience that couldn’t get enough. Rush may even be getting better.

SLF gigs are always hallmarked by honest music, grainy humour and copper-bottomed credibility. On this night it was also a lean, confident full force Fingers that ripped through a strong back catalogue, alongside the beefiest new material heard in years. Life in the old dogs yet.

Watch Out 2014!  KILL FOR EDEN – a band that financed and self-released a highly accomplished debut this Spring, chock full of giant hooks, dynamic vocals and craftily insistent tunes. And in Lyla D’Souza they have a front woman who blends range, power and presence. November’s ‘Life On Mars’ EP showed healthy ambition, contrasting sharp grind with easy swagger in equal measure. Refreshing and dynamic. This lot have got plenty to look forward to.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Hennessy Gold Cup Chase

Ah, the Hennessy. Newbury shorn of its Summer frivolities and stripped back ready for a gritty staying handicap on, no doubt, a biting, gloomy Saturday afternoon. 

A classy handicap at that. Eight previous winners have also claimed the Cheltenham Gold Cup, including the current Champ, Bobs Worth off top weight last year. The provenance of the event, carrying racing’s longest continuous sponsorship, is pretty special. Arkle’s remarkable back-to-back victories in the 60’s were achieved under a specially devised handicapping system that had him weltered with 12st 6lb.

Denman achieved what was almost a comparable modern day double under a mere 11st 12lb in 2007 and 2009. The latter was an exhilarating, freewheeling performance of bold jumping and relentless galloping in which he gave away 13lb more to his rivals than in 2007.

Denman loved the broad, expansive furlongs of Newbury. The next year, The Tank almost repeated his Hennessy tricks when raised a further 8lb. He tired to an emotional 3rd. But not before he and Diamond Harry jumped for fun up the home straight "attacking fences like spawning salmons up Aysgarth Falls" (I noted at the time). That was when Harry was good. How dispiriting to see him in the cross-country egg and spoon thing at Cheltenham recently.

The Hennessy is one of my favourite punting events to boot. I’ll be getting stuck in this year.  My long etched template of focusing on second season chasers cheekily concealing a competitive handicap mark has sometimes paid off – Trabolgan (though this was too was off top weight) and State Of Play, but mostly it hasn’t. I’ll nevertheless hold the race in teary affection since it commemorates one of my first decent ‘value’ wins in a grown up race. What’s Up Boys in 2001 recalled here from a chapter in Mug Punting:
I’ve looked at the form and it stacks up. He goes well fresh, his jumping has come together and he fits the profile of 2nd season chasers. Against the choice is a slight doubt about the going which will probably be on the soft side and some old bollocks about him being a spring horse. This is plainly nonsense. He’s only 7 and hasn’t been racing that long. Out of his eight wins up to this point, four were in November and December. It’s just that he got his jumping together over fences in the Spring last season. But of course this time it’s working in my favour. This is why he’s such a big price. Hallelujah! I’ve discovered value! So I’m on at 16-1. 
The race isn’t quite so simple. I’m sat on the edge of my sofa at home staring at the tiny telly in the corner. Normally the telly’s fine. I don’t like big screens that dominate rooms. But today it’s too small. I did contemplate disappearing off to the bookies to watch the race, but they can be such soulless places. I stick with the homely feel of the cosy living room which is being torn apart by my rampaging children. Mrs A is hiding in the dining room. There is a decent field of 14 runners and they’re off. “They’re off, Helen.” No response. Not vocal anyway...
The pace seems pretty solid to me. What’s Up Boys takes handy order in the middle of the pack as Grey Abbey and Monifault lead them round the first circuit or so. Grey Abbey falls and suddenly the race kicks on a gear. There’s a mile to go and the soft ground/decent pace combination is already taking it’s toll. Frantic Tan, Jocks Cross and Hindiana are all dropping away. Turning out of the back straight, What’s Up Boys, easy to pick out as the only grey left standing and with jockey Paul Flynn resplendent in red and black silks is on the tail of the leading three - Behrajan, Take Control and Lord Noelie. I think he’s going to be right there in the mix. 
Hectic now. Everything is off the bridle and jockeys are rowing away like it’s the Head of the River Race. Two out and What’s Up Boys is in the picture, but there are still two ahead of him. I think he’s closing but it’s not fast enough. At the last fence Flynn asks for a big jump andits not pretty. The flying grey lunges like he’s leaping cartoon-style off a rocky crevice. Except he’s over-balanced. For a moment I think he’s going to tip over, but the horse somehow finds a lovely stride. 
I’m off the sofa now, edging towards the telly. There’s a long finishing straight at Newbury and I’m willing What’s Up Boys to make use of every yard. He catches Take Control who is being driven strongly by Tony McCoy.
Behrajan in front is not stopping though. What’s Up Boys has found that extra gear and is tearing along. It’s a magnificent sight as he eats up Behrajan’s advantage. 
But the jockey has to pull him round the leader to launch his final assault up the stands rail. Has it broken his momentum? I am on my knees. Literally. Genuflecting in front of the screen with my nose about six inches from my horse’s flowing grey mane. I’m screaming at him. “Come on the Boys”. 
And he is. Like a bullet. Where has he found this speed after a 3 mile slog? Is it too late? I can see the finishing line. One last effort. I can’t hear the commentary any more. Too many competing voices in my head. But I call the result as both beasts thunder past the post. What’s Up Boys by gossamer thread. “Yes. You absolute beauty!”  
What a finish. He was like an Exocet up the home straight. I’m palpitating and hyper-ventilating. “Mummy what’s wrong with Daddy?” I look round and my eldest daughter hugging my youngest as if protecting her from some horrible monster that has invaded the living room. Does she mean me?

There is a better chance of a 16-1 winner in Saturday’s field than in plenty of other years. Very open looking heat with potential piled up higher than match-fixing arrest warrants at New Scotland Yard. And that old second season chaser rule could happily deployed here. But it might not reduce the live contenders that much.

So, an exercise in indecision:

Lord Windermere brings some priceless Grade 1 form-book franking quality.  Last season’s RSA Chase is hard to assess though and he doesn’t look like a Bob’s Worth or a Denman.

Current market leader Invictus, lightly raced, claimed the scalps of both Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti last time out. Trouble is that was in February 2012. Both have obviously improved since whilst Invictus has been off the track with injury.

The following year’s Reynoldstown was won by Rocky Creek and he is close to the top of the market here. Nicholls’ leading contender was a long way behind Dynaste at Aintree and his best form seems to be with give underfoot.  There won’t be much rain around before 3pm on Saturday.

Our Father is too inconsistent to risk at 8-1. He looked like a world beater 1st time out last season though. And this will be his seasonal debut.

Merry King was an eye-catcher in the United House Chase at Ascot earlier this month. Unfortunately I spotted this about a fortnight after Pricewise who put him up at a proper value 20-1. He’s now 10s. 

The weather could also do for Katenko. This massively improving chaser from Venetia Williams’ yard is in my 40 to follow. I can’t really see a victory of 11st 11lb without deep ground, and there is a doubt around his recovery from injury. That said, the horse has never encountered anything better than soft in his 24 race career, so he may well go OK on the ground. It’s a risk, but having ruled out most other rivals, I’ll have a small each-way bet out of misguided loyalty to the project at 12-1.

The other I haven’t ruled out is Hadrians Approach. 11-1 or so is OK here off an even 11st, with a 5lb claimer getting the leg up. He was a 7 length 3rd behind Lord Windermere in the RSA and stands a decent chance of reversing that form. His reappearance at Kempton over an inadequate 2 ½ miles was encouraging and should have put him spot on for this.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Racing England

I was put on the trail of Patrick R Chalmers’ curiosity, Racing England when stumbling across a reproduction of the front cover in one of those nostalgia heavy, romanticised visions of Britain that the National Trust do so lavishly. Flicking distractedly through its pages in the gift shop of the Rothschild’s neo-Renaissance pile at Waddeson Manor, I stopped immediately at Brian Cook’s block coloured representation of Ascot Gold Cup Day from the early 20th century. It was a thing of simple beauty.

Brian Caldwell Cook, was born in the leafy lanes of Gerrards Cross in 1910. He created the lithograph that would become the cover to Racing England in 1937 and the book was eventually published in 1939 by Batsfords, the old-established London publishing company of which his Mother was a member. Cook would go on to produce many covers for the company in this series, with titles such as Hunting England, Farming England and Villages of England.

Tracking down copies of the book online wasn’t difficult. But finding one with an intact dust cover of the lithograph proved harder. I don’t think the book or the cover are particularly collectable, but I was prepared to part with a few quid to get a reasonably nice one. So when one turned up through a second hand specialist requiring the investment of a whole £6 it seemed like decent value. The transaction was made.

I am pleased with the book. Opening up the packaging, the mustiness of the volume hit me immediately. The 145 pages of text are stiff, a little mottled and almost coarse to the touch. The thickness of the age-beiged paper has absorbed 64 years of atmosphere on shelves, in boxes, under beds…who knows. They almost crackled as I turned over the leaves. The text is bold and large. If it had been printed today, it would be squeezed into a flimsy-paged, small-scripted book of half the size and presence. It’s a pre-loved book, too. Still in good condition, despite the mottling, and has a charming inscription on the flyleaf: “To Mary, with love from Mother.”

Cook’s art is still wrapped right around the book from front to back and the condition is pretty good, given its likely exposure to the years. The colours have faded a little compared to the copy I saw in the National Trust book. But not much. The spine is darker than the rest of the image. I guess it has attracted dirt through grubby fingers and pawing thumbs.  

What engrosses me about this piece of graphic art is the style as much as the subject. The ‘blatant and strident’ colours (in the words of the artist) used liberally to create a vibrant, uplifting scene. They must have been stunning on the original. It echoes many of the optimistic, bucolic art-deco designs used to advertise the inter-war golden age of steam like LNER’s ‘East Coast Joys’ (Tom Purvis) and the expanding public transport network, ‘Box Hill by Motor Bus’ (F Gregory Brown). I know now that the process is achieved by the Jean Berté process, which used rubber plates and water-based inks.

That said, the  subject is equally engaging. It depicts the finish to the Ascot Stakes handicap at Royal Ascot viewed from within the betting ring on the heath. Three closely matched horses are bearing down on the finish line framed by a ramshackle collection of packed stands.

This Ascot is unrecognizable from the current course. A corporate-friendly building styled more like an airport terminal with the atmosphere of a doctor’s waiting room now occupies the approximate site of these tiny helter-skelter stands. The wrought iron three column race information indicator – fore-runner of the tote boards - is also long gone. In fact the heath side of the track has not hosted bookies or punters for many years. Even the track itself has been realigned.

Take a look at the jockeys, too. Long legged, upright positions which seems to push them half way round the horses’ necks. 

As much as anything else in the image, this dates the scene to probably sometime just after the turn of the century. But that’s not quite precise enough. Cook created the image from a photo that appears in the book. The photo is captioned, ‘Royal Ascot on Gold Cup Day’, alongside others from the turn of the century. So the cover was not necessarily of a contemporary scene. I can see from the results board that the race in progress is the Ascot Stakes, but none of the runners’ or riders’ names are clear enough to make out and research. (If anyone knows, or can work out the date from the visual clues here, let me know!)

Patrick Chalmers was an Irish writer, biographer and poet. A lot of his output seems to be related to field sports. ‘The Angler’s England’ and ‘The Shooting Man’s England’ for instance, alongside this volume. However, I was mildly interested to note the etymology behind the phrase ‘its all swings and roundabouts’, not inappropriate to a blog about gambling, derives from one of his poems:
“But lookin' at it broad, an' while it ain't no merchant king's,
What's lost upon the roundabouts we pulls up on the swings!"

The linguistic style of Racing England is very much of its day. The book is a loose account of the development of racing in the country and Chalmers employs a charming, if ramblingly anecdotal, approach to the story. It is dominated by discussion, in the circuitous and opaque language of the day, almost entirely of flat racing. The jumps game hardly gets a look in. Prefacing a chapter on ‘Some English racecourses’, Chalmers says, 
“Twenty three meeting-places in all. For we cannot include here the many steeplechasing courses and simple days of good sport, good sportsmanship and open air.”
 That said, the Grand National, held at an Aintree that in those days predominantly hosted flat meetings, is described in lavish terms: 
“To the spring meeting, the ‘national’ draws all that is best in sport from all parts of the Empire. On no English course do so many Irishmen foregather, in no paddock, not even that of Ascot, may you see fifty masters of foxhounds at once, and at no other fixture will you find the leading cross-country owners and jockeys rubbing shoulders with their flat-racing kind.”
 Some of the earlier chapters deal with formative events and early luminaries of the game. Admiral Rous, Bunbury and lineage of the thoroughbred racehorse get some laboured, rather prosaic coverage. Much more interesting are the sections devoted to horses, jockeys and owners. Alongside the profiles of better known jockeys such as Sir Gordon Richards and Steve Donoghue is an interesting piece profiling the American rider Tod Sloan.
“Sloan was the pioneer, and possibly the greatest exponent of the new style – the monkey-on-a-stick style, the style that rides ‘short’, the knees tucked up, the chin upon the horse’s withers.
Fred Archer’s career is also examined in depth. Chalmers describes the devastating wasting (10 stone out of season down to 8 ½ stone when riding) and tragic suicide at the age of 29 in typically thorough, though surprisingly matter of fact terms, given the predilection towards flabby yarns about trifling incidents elsewhere in the book.

He also describes Archer’s ride aboard Melton to win the 1885 Derby as his greatest ever ride. Paradox was favourite for the race and was regarded as “infinitely the better horse”. Archer rode a spectacular ‘finish’, employing what we would term exaggerated hold up tactics in today’s game, to steal the race by stealth: 
“Melton drew up to Paradox 150 yards from home and thenceforward to the winning post the two horses were engaged in a tremendous struggle for the mastery. 
Paradox had a shade the better of it when fifty yards from home; three strides from the post he looked like winning by a neck. Archer seemed to wrap his legs round Melton’s girth and up went his whip. He hit Melton a terrific one-two. Those two mighty welts, delivered almost simultaneously and smacking out like pistol shots, achieved their object. Melton leapt convulsively forward and, in the last second of time, his head was in front. It seemed to the spectators that Archer had, literally, lifted him past the post.”
 As entertaining (for some part) as Chalmers’ stories are, I find the illustrations, plates, engravings and photos equally and some times more compelling. Of course the stunning cover by Cook is the reason I tracked down the book. That powerful image and the photos dating from the late 19th century up to the verge of World War II capture a phase of the sport long gone. Defunct racecourses, outmoded betting practices, changed fashions, rebuilt architecture and infrastructure.

But above all, the vast, vast crowds. There were fewer meetings at each course back then, and, by and large, sport did not have so many rival distractions as now. Attendances at football matches and greyhound meetings were similarly huge. Every image here seems to feature people wedged into terraces, platforms and stands, rows of bookies five deep at mid-week fixtures, or punters lining both sides of the running rail for furlongs up the track. The queue for a pint and a pie does not bear thinking about.

This book hardly gets a mention in the top rank of racing literature. That’s probably about right, given the overall scope of the material. But it’s a fascinating period piece at worst and will take high order in my own library, spine displayed proudly to attract another generation’s grubbiness.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Unchained Melody

Winning the quiz night at my daughter’s school in 2012 was a bit unexpected. ‘Men Only - Xmas Edition’, we called ourselves. In deference not only to a top quality, top-shelf publication of our misspent youths, but in recognition of the fact that our wives had formed their own team and quite evidently saw no role for gentlemen amongst their ranks.

So we milked the moment of victory. I saw a couple of the defeated wives team in Waitrose the next morning and made sure to gloat insufferably. A bit like punting the horses, it’s hard to know when the chance might come round again. Walking up the road the next day, Andy from our team wound down the window as he passed me and shouted “Men Only! We showed ‘em!”

Quite how we scraped enough points together on that intoxicating night to finish top of the 30-odd team pile, I will never know.  Brains and knowledge, of course. But some inspired guesstimating and gut feelings clearly came to our rescue. Where did the correct date for the completion of the Berlin underground really come from? 1912 is the answer in case anyone is interested.

We took our crate of wine and scarpered, vowing to defend the title in 2013.

When we met up in the pub, it seemed like we talked of precious little else. That’s what real winners do. Re-inforce the self-belief. Beer helps.

Over the year, we strengthened our team. Paul came in to fill the empty stool. Yes, we achieved that compelling victory even with a man down. In the run up to the big night, we had a practice run in The Lamb’s monthly quiz. Fourth. But well beaten.  Still, we had some key members missing, so we were too not down-hearted. The Ridgeway flowing deep into lock-in time also helped to staunch the grieving. 

A bit nearer the day and the banter was heating up a notch. It was about regulo 7 at the point Pete suggested that, with revenge in the air, the girls’ team name should be Angry Birds. It probably reached regulo 9 when Jane, from said team e-mailed round to say something like “Angry Birds? Pah. I think the Crowing Cocks might suit them!” No further comment was needed.

During our final motivational session during The Crown’s Halloween beer festival, Dave came up with a trump card. A trip to the Tring micro-brewery was planned on the eve of the quiz to stock up on nourishment for the team. The event adopts the time-honoured ‘bring your own policy’ and Andy was enthusiastic, commenting that last year his four bottles of Wychwood had disappeared in an adrenalin-fuelled frenzy by the end of round 5. We all heartily agreed. I’d had to beg dregs of Rioja from Mrs A and was accused by the girls of trying to peek at their answers. How very dared they!

Some quick calculations quantified the need for two boxes of 18 pint minipolies and that the remains of the whip would even offset some of the cost per head. Genius.

The omens were good as we entered the hall. The boys were stationed at exactly the same location as in 2012 with the girls just off to starboard in prime heckling position. Dave had set up the minipolies at the head of the table and we had collectively brought enough cheese and biscuits to keep Wallace and Gromit out of mischief for months.   

There was a picture/dingbats round already on the table, together with a large tray of multi-coloured plasticine for the model-making round. The boys had broken the seal on the Tring Blonde cask ale and Andy and Andy were wondering whether a team Haka might be appropriate before things seriously got under way.

In truth, there was a touch of tension around the table. A sense of enormity about repeating the feat of last year. That was dispelled as soon as the quizmaster made his high camp entrance. Mr Pipprell, brought kicking and screaming out of retirement just for this event, swept in from the back of the hall, dressed in a turquoise knee-length chemise draped with feather boas. He was introduced by a member of the Committee as The Duchess of Aston Clinton. “They thought they’d seen the end of me when they sacked me! But I’m back!” Later, during one of the many interludes, Pippers offered sumptuous prizes to the first person up to the stage with a stripy shirt. “Here he comes”, he said, as the school head advanced to the stage, “The best paid head teacher in Hertfordshire!” Retirement clearly frees the shackles. 

We were slow out of the blocks. It took us 10 minutes just to choose a team name. And then in a flash of searing decisiveness, we settled for ‘Men Only’ again.  We were behind the girls and about half way down the leader board after the first round. But the second was more promising: a focus on conversions, ratios, arithmetic and the like. Brilliant. We had a mathematician in our ranks. Thierry was definitely a mathematician. I know this because Nick, also on our team, told Mrs A he was a chef. Stay with me...

…Thierry came to my 40th birthday party a few years ago and we were so relieved when he said he really enjoyed the poached salmon. I mean, it’s not everday one of your guests is a kitchen professional. I bumped into him a little while later on the commute into town.  We were chatting about this and that and I asked “Where do you work?” “At the University of Westminster”, he answered. “Oh”, I was rather surprised at this.  “In the canteen?” I enquired. Thierry’s turn to be perplexed. “No, no”, he said, eyebrows knitting in confusion. “…I’m a Professor of Mathematics.” So not turning out bangers and mash for cheapskate students in the Union then. Cheers Nick.

But even Thierry and Dave, another mathematical wizard, couldn’t haul us level. Round three was spelling. Nightmare. We knew the girls would be strong on this. Although we successfully negotiated the pitfalls of siege and seize; and Thierry – the Frenchman - persisted with his (correct) interpretation of sacrilegious, we fell down with embarrassment. Our version had only one r. And our harass had two. Both incorect apparrently.

Nevertheless, we feared not. We boldly played the joker on the performances round, which we confidently anticipated would be music. Last year we scored a perfect 10 on the round, doubled up to 20 with the joker.

And indeed it was music. But not as we knew it, Jim. Rodgers & Hammerstein were just not our forte, never mind the classical guff. Though we scored a respectable 7, there was insufficient nerdy prog rock and 80’s power metal to play to our undoubted, if narrow, strengths. We also came a cropper on the song that has topped the charts four times, each recorded by a different artist. ‘”You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, maybe’, said Paul. ‘No’, he quickly corrected, ‘“Unchained Melody’”. That sounded good. We scribbled it down. And then the doubts set in. ‘What about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” There’s at least three of those.’ In the end, that was the answer that appeared on the sheet. Of course the correct one was ‘Unchained Melody’. Even Gareth Gates got to number 1 with it. This proved to be an expensive two-pointer that wriggled out of our clutches.

Nick, though absolutely pants at correctly identifying peoples’ careers, was however, a first class architectural designer and spatial engineer. He was busy at the end of the table constructing a visual representation of the school’s ‘Achieve and Aspire’ motto. This was for the modeliing round, which though it did not carry any points, weighed in with an enormous welter of respect. Nick, partially assisted by Pete – labouring duties only -  was raising a fine and detailed scale model of the school chapel from the table, columns and finials cast in garish fluorescent modelling resin. The structure was completed with a lifelike Mr Pipprell sprawled on the chapel steps, wrapped in his electric blue feather boa.

We didn’t win that either. But we put up a good show. Others, including the ladies had taken a lateral view: Achieve and Aspire became A Chief and A Spire, opening up a whole new world of plasticine possibilities. The creativity on show was impressive.

After the break, fuelled by Brock Bitter and the remnants of the Blonde, we raised our game. We smashed the sci-fi round (oh yes) and the rocked the geography questions. By the time the scores were flashing away on the interactive magic whiteboard thingy, we were in touching distance of the lead. Thierry was moving into full heckle mode. Though in a measure of our overall less confident demeanour when compared with last year, he had thus far refrained from lobbing cocktail sausages and moulded cheese onto the wives’ table. I’m sure they were grateful.

Sport was last up and we briefly thought victory could be ours again. The round should have been a home run. But it was tough. Beaten finalists were sought (Clermont), minority sports were explored (rugby league) and we stuttered across the line with a 7/10. In the final analysis, it was not quite good enough.

Our blistering second half performance, powered by real ale and vintage cheese (no in-competition drug testing was necessary) saw us rise to 3rd spot of 31 teams, 1 ½ points off the lead. Or, put it another way, an unchained melody away from winning.   

But it would be churlish to lay the blame at the Righteous Brothers’ door. There were too many other answers we messed up on. We gave defending our hard fought 2012 title a very solid shot. We drained off some very fine ale and even the Angry Birds seemed pacified. Mainly because we didn’t win again. But we just might next year. I’m practising my spelling already.

Friday, 8 November 2013


Despite the inestimable number of column inches rightly tapped out in praise of eighteen-time jump jockey on riding his 4,000th winner yesterday, I couldn't let the moment pass without a small tribute to AP McCoy from mugpunting. I'm old enough to remember when he was known simply as Tony McCoy. So we go back a way.

Alongside all the deserved plaudits about drive, determination, will to win, tenacity, mental strength, indestructible body, etc etc, we should not overlook the impact he has had on tactics and race riding. An elastic continuum of murky practices sadly continues to straddle racing. It has dodgy runs to protect handicap marks at one end and stretches mercilessly through to blatant doping and surgical maltreatment of horses at the other. Punters, I’ll wager, have never had any doubt, from day one of McCoy’s career, at any gaff track or aboard any outside rag, that he was ever doing anything other than riding to win. Time after time he has conjoured victory from certain defeat by dragging reluctant beasts up finishing straights by sheer force of will and muscle. When I started watching jumps racing, so often you’d see a horse make the early pace and fade to nothing. McCoy changed all that with bold front-running performance that took complacent, muddling-paced races by the scruff of the neck. He has given race riding a competitive kick up the arse and has changed it forever.

Peter O’Sullevan was erudite and precise in marking the occasion on the Today programme this morning. What a master of language he is compared to the generation of gaffmeisters and cliché peddlers that inherited his microphone. He said that McCoy rang him on his journey back from Towcester and, amongst other chat, offered his record breaking riding boots to O’Sullevan for the latter’s racing charity. There is the measure of the man.

Achieving his remarkable feat at my local track gives me a peculiar little thrill. I’m an advocate for the small tracks and Towcester is a favourite. Given that McCoy has hallmarked his career by turning up and riding just as hard at the byways and cul-de-sacs as at the major centres, it seems fitting that Towcester played host and not Cheltenham. They all come the same to McCoy.

And credit to the marketing gurus at the track. They had been trailing the potential climax to #AP4000 at this meeting for some while. The chips fell their way and what a massive boost for the course. Seven thousand ecstatic punters cheered McCoy and Mountain Tunes back to the paddock. JP McManus allegedly offered to buy them all a pint. 

Fates conspired to prevent me attending. A regret. But I’ll pencil in a date sometime in 2018 when, conservatively, he should be approaching 5,000. Mrs McCoy thinks it is not possible, I gather. But does she know him as well as we the punters?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hot streak

Is it me or is it hot in here? I've never had such a good start to the 40 to follow project and it's setting off some febrile palpitations.

A self-effacing sort would let the moments pass with calm reflection on a job well done. That's not happening here. I'm rocking some solid self-congratularoy vibes.

The first 25 bets have yielded 13 winners at a strike rate of 52% and a profit of +28.6 to a level £1 stake. Included within that lot is a run of six straight winners that began with Pine Creek at 11-2 on Saturday and ended with Annacotty at 8-1 this afternoon. Harry Topper (5-1) was the classy highlight in the Charlie Hall on Saturday and Le Reve (10-1) the comedy moment after Smad Place ejected Choc Thornton at the last fence with the race in his pocket won on Sunday.

Annacotty, plenty to like last season over hurdles, has jumped like a dog twice this Autumn already. Today, stepped up to 3 miles and allowed to run handily, he jumped with assurance. A different horse.

After that, I thought I could do no wrong. I simply swaggered up to the Billy Hill's in Mornington Crescent to watch Theatre Guide in the 3.10. I strode out confidently, grinning heartily and ruffling the blond locks of tiny children playing in the street, paying no attention to the No 24 bus swerving viciously to avoid my puffed out chest.

So it was a blow to see that Colin Tizzard's charge could not extend the sequence to seven. He looked a bit ring rusty and I thought he might have made a bolder showing behind the slicker Bury Parade and Hadrian's Approach.

Tomorrow we are off to Exeter. Nothing for the project in the marvellous Haldon Gold Cup, where I might have a little tickle on the progressive Module to give Cue Card a scare (though might need some rain).

However, list horse Champagne West should be in the mix in the opening novice hurdle. All eyes will be on Flemenson's jockey, McCoy who could be riding winner number 3999. Towcester racecourse has been bombarding my inbox with promo material for the last few days. The track's marketing guys are desperate for him to turn up at Thursday's meeting still needing a winner or two. Looking unlikely now.

In the closing handicap hurdle, an open looking heat, Tolkein's Tango runs for the list and at about 7-1 he should have a squeak.

Time for an ice bath.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Herr Nurman

It is with a bitter-sweet sense of regret and yet deep respect that Mug Punting marks the recent passing of Kadir Nurman in Berlin, aged 80.

Kadir, a Turkish immigrant to Germany, was a pioneer in popularising the doner kebab. The idea of grilling huge lumps of meat on a rotating skewer was not new but, so the BBC reports,  “Nurman had the idea of selling the sliced meat and salad sandwiched between flatbread so that it could be eaten on the move.” Genius, of course.

Nurman apparently set up a stall in the German capital back in 1972 so that late night Berliner revelers might partake of “something to offset the effects of large quantities of beer.” The number of kebabhauses in Berlin now tops a 1,000. Those Germans eh? Whodathunkit?
The explosion of taste derived from juicy, loosely lamb-related product, carved generously from a thick rotating skewer of the stuff, combined with pitta, salad and piquant chili sauce is now an indespensible modern day classic. Nurman's achievements were rightly recognised by the Association of Turkish Doner Manufacturers in 2011. However, he apparently distanced himself a little from the current manifestation of the beast he created, claiming they had too many ingredients.

I’m probably on the side of Kadir. Simple and effective is best, as an earlier post of mine tried to explain: The Bella Doner

The UK’s first bona fide kebab shop opened in Stoke Newington in 1966. Once Nurman’s doner-on-the-go invention had reached these shores, the industry soon powered up. It currently employs about 70,000 people, supplying and running 17,000 outlets and is worth more than £2bn a year to the economy. Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi recently co-organised a competition to celebrate the achievements of the industry, along the lines of the British Curry Awards. Those Tories eh? Whodathunkit?

Rest easy, Herr Nurman.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


You couldn’t wish for a better crossover between the retreating flat season and the emerging sparkly new jumps campaign than the racing fare on offer this weekend.

Friday sees the dust being blown off the Old Course at Cheltenham for its seasonal curtain-raiser. My glossy brochure from those nice marketing people at Prestbury Park about the new season dropped through the letterbox a good few weeks ago advertising the track’s slickly themed fixtures. This weekend is ‘The Showcase’, followed in November by ‘The Open’ and then ‘The International’, The Trials Day’, ‘Festival’, etc. Classy Edward Whittaker photos of flying hooves and blurry silks decorate the pages in between adverts for pewter tankards, water colours of Long Run and the racehorse teddy collection. You wouldn't get that kind of tripe at my local tack. Oh no.

Here’s a quick preview of Friday’s action from Cheltenham Talk. Odd that only three line up for the £20k 2½ m novice chase. Decent prize for a Friday this early in the season. I'm generally looking forward to Taquin Du Seuil over jumps this season, but worry that the the ground may be against him (after getting stung in the Neptune back in March on good going). One of my 40 to follows lines up in the Pertemps qualifier at 3.15. At 12-1 I’ll be investing a little in On The Bridge. Massive improver last season, but this is competitive.

Saturday is all about Ascot, despite Cheltenham’s first Saturday fixture. I’m a fan of Champions Day. Even though it ripped the guts out of one of my favourite days on the flat. I thought the old Cesarewitch card had a great poise and breadth about it. Hey ho. Progress. Talking of balance, here’s a nice little preview from the ever thoughtful Lydia Hislop on the Ascot finale. 

Sunday, then, is all about the Champion Hurdle. Seriously. The New One takes on Rock On Ruby at Kempton. Tasty.   

Monday, 30 September 2013

Forty national hunt horses to follow 2013-14

1. Annacotty – Martin Keighley
Consistent in lower grade handicap hurdles last season (struggled a tad when stepped up in class) and has already made his mark in the point to point sphere, so every right to expect a profitable campaign this season. Debuts over fences under rules tomorrow at Chepstow and can kick off this project on a positive note.

2. Arbeo – Diana Grissell
Fairly progressive last season, though probably wants soft ground or 3 miles to be seen to best effect in handicap chases. Only 7 and still a useful prospect.

3. Bar De Ligne – Steve Gollings
The return of Gollings to the list! Whatever are things coming to? Rubbish debut over fences when apparently suffering stomach ulcers, but then ran out a handy winner in front of well-regarded Grandad’s Horse in the Summer, jumping well out of good ground. Should do well at around 2 ½ m.

4. Big Occasion – David Pipe
On this list last year and was a slow learner over fences, hitting the bar too many times for comfort. But he got his act together very well for the Midlands National and then ran into a good ‘un in the Scottish National. Obvious Welsh National credentials.

5. Carole’s Spirit – Robert Walford
Half sister to Carole’s Legacy, a distinguished former resident of this list. Looks to have a bit of stamina about her and one to take note of at around  2½m and up in novice hurdles this term.

6. Champagne West – Philip Hobbs
Related to Monsignor, scalper of Best Mate back in the day. Also has RSA Chase winner One Knight in his bloodline, who gave me one of my biggest and best Festival wins. What else is there to say? Except that breeding counts for bog all over the jumps. And that he failed to win his rules debut. But he did shape well. And he has winning point-to-point form, so could go straight over fences. Should relish a trip, too.

7. Diamond King – Donald McCain
Unbeaten in bumpers, winning a heat in April by 19 lengths. He clearly has some ability and will be interesting if he can translate that to hurdles.

8. Harry Topper – Kim Bailey
This resurgent trainer has been handling this one carefully. Unbeaten in the chases in which he has completed, he ended the season on a downer, unseating Timmy Murphy at Kelso and then being brought down early in the Grade 1 novice chase at Punchestown. Top prospect for 2013-14, though.

9. Ifyouletmefinish – Venetia Williams
Knuckled over on his only chase start last season when he looked a likely winner against a decent Easterby yardstick. Solid hurdles form to take into novice chases, despite that one blip. Left Jeremy Scott in the early Autumn.

10. Imperial Vic – Michael Smith
Likes to get his nose in front and seems to possess the stomach for a fight too, so should be a thrilling to follow in novice chases this year. Soft ground seems to suit and 3m looks the trip.

11. Jezki – Jessie Harrington
The Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be such a fantastic race this season. Already. And I reckon I say that every year. With a classic old guard (Hurricane Fly, Grandouet, Rock On Ruby) versus new pretenders (Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, The New One) scenario bubbling away, Jezki is the beast I’ll be going to war with. He was arguably a tad unlucky in last season’s Supreme and possibly lacking in experience too. At Punchestown he won very well and looked more complete.

12. Katenko – Venetia Williams
Good quality staying chases will be his game again. Became exciting to watch last year before colic wiped out his chance to run in the Gold Cup. Colic is a nasty thing and there’s a risk that this one won’t recover to build on his pulsating season. But there’s a chance he will too.

13. Legal Exit – Jim Culloty
Back to the breeding lines again. This novice chaser is related to Lucky Bay, another very old friend of mine whom Culloty rode when trained by Hen Knight. This one was stuffed by Champagne Fever in the Deloitte at Leopardstown last season, but picked up a decent race at Limerick in April, beating a fair sort in Bonisland. Seems versatile as regards ground.

14. Le Reve – Lucy Wadham
Staying novice chases this season. Another gutsy type who seems to like a scrap. Only 2 from 5 over hurdles, but enough promise to suggest his trainer will find suitable openings. 

15. Many Clouds – Oliver Sherwood
Looked class for a lot of last season, but blew up in the Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle at the Grand National meeting when I’d decided that was the race to pile in. Punter error: soft ground seems to be required and I’m on a recovery mission with him.

16. Melodic Rendezvous – Jeremy Scott
Tolworth Hurdle winner who I was convinced was set to break my duck in the Supreme before he picked up a late injury. That Supreme now looks like good form and whether he would have been in the mix is hard to say. But has a good turn of foot, even though he rarely encountered his favoured ground and will be more than interesting.

17. Midnight Minx – Anthony Honeyball
Campaigned in bumpers last year where took three average events before showing up well in the big mares bumper at Sandown in the Spring. One for the growing number of mares only hurdle races in the programme book. Another up and coming trainer.

18. Mrs Eff – Philip Kirby
I’m a big fan of the down to earth P Kirby and this one goes in the book as one of his half decent handicap hurdle types for a low profile campaign.

19. O’Faolains Boy – Rebecca Curtis
One for staying novice chases. Improved all season last year, including decent effort in the 3-miler at the Festival, albeit slammed by At Fisher’s Cross. Fine prospect if form on the Point To Point circuit means anything.

20. On The Bridge – Jeremy Scott
Handicap hurdler, most probably. He has gone up 47lb since August last year, I note. Campaigned over the Summer, which I never really warm to in a winter prospect, but after a rest it will be intriguing to see where his progress levels off.

21. Oscar Rock – Malcolm Jefferson 
This one seems to be on a lot of lists for this season. And no wonder after his eye-catching win in Newbury’s very decent bumper in February, when in the care of Harry Fry. Now with Jeffferson, looking forward to his hurdling debut.

22. Our Vinnie – Charles Byrnes
Dour stayer who gives everything. Best on soft or deeper. Love his spirit and has a touch of quality about him. Staying novice chases likely to be the game this season.

23. Pendra – Charlie Longsden
Overfaced in the Coral Cup, but previous efforts were all very sound and with more experience he should be a force in handicap hurdles. Could be a chaser this year as well. 2½ m could be best trip.

24. Pine Creek – John Ferguson
Good record in novice hurdles and then a creditable effort in the Imperial Cup. Still looking progressive and fancied to get his head in front again this season. 

25. Rare Legend – John Joseph Hanlon
A dark horse. Just one fair effort over the sticks as a novice behind Willie Mullins’ Suntiep. But already one win and two places from three PTP outings and would appear to be plenty of scope to make a mark.

26. Red Devil Boys – John Ferguson
Another that everyone has on their lists. Obvious really. Very impressive win at Doncaster in big field novice hurdle and another two bumper wins. And he’s Ferguson horse that is not a flat bred!

27. Red Sherlock – David Pipe.
Out of Shirocco – another mate of mine and by Lady Cricket. Related to Swing Bowler. Flashing tail when asked for pressure. Come on!

28. Sausalito Sunrise – Philip Hobbs
Picked on the back of a decent 3rd to McCain’s Up And Go at Ascot in February. That was only his second run. Out of Villaflor, which is a really nice town half way up Mount Teide in Tenerife. Am I taking this breeding stuff too far?

29. Seymour Eric - Martin Keighley
Another from the yard of a trainer I’ve a soft spot for. This horse makes the list courtesy of Roy Waterhouse who spotted that this gelding was the winner of the last ever jumps race at Hereford on 16th December 2012. Won three more since then and embarks on a chasing campaign this term where 3m will suit when the mud is flying up by his sheepskin cheekpieces.

30. Sire De Grugy – Gary Moore
Enjoyed a spectacular end to the season with a tanking victory in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on ground that would not have been ideal. I’ve been a fan of this horse since his handicap hurdling days. He seems to be still improving but any chance of real success this season depends on him avoiding Sprinter Sacre.

31. Suntiep – Willie Mullins
Staying novice chases this year are possible. Seems to jump well with plenty of dig in the ground. Unbeaten so far and maybe one of the lesser lights in the powerful Mullins barn.

32. Swing Bowler – David Pipe
Out of Lady Cricket…. Ran a really poor race in Quevega’s Mares Hurdle at the Festival, but a fair 3rd in the Betfair Hurdle and previously unbeaten suggests that race may have been an aberration. Prepared to give her another chance this term.  

33. Theatre Guide – Colin Tizzard
Maximum respect for the Tizzard team after the way they campaigned Cue Card last season. This one is leagues way from that class – he couldn’t lay a finger on Dynaste at Newbury and struggled at the Festival in the Byrne Group Plate -  but he was a decent novice and there should be scope if placed to advantage in staying handicap chases on no worse than soft.

34. The Skyfarmer – Philip Hobbs
Last season's steady improvement in bumpers hopefully bodes well for progress this.

35. Tolkeins Tango – Victor Dartnell
Modest rather than spectacular progress over hurdles last term. But fancied to pay his way this.

36. Trustan Times – Tim Easterby.
Has run very well in competitive hurdles, though probably found out in the Long Walk Hurdle as a touch below top class. Seems genuine enough and presumably connections will want to chance his improvement back over fences where his mark is lower.

37. Upswing – Jonjo O’Niell
Unexposed hurdler who has recorded just one win. But plenty more expected this year as a chaser. Seems happy in the mud and will probably handle a trip.

38. Up To Something – Charlie Longsden
Well touted last season, but didn’t really live up to expectations. Admittedly given some tough assignments and not all of that form has worked out. Signs of his real ability in final outing though and given another chance here to make a decent fist of fencing.

39. Wilde Pastures – James Ewart.
He pulled off a three-timer in handicap chases last season and consequently took a hike in the weights. He was very keen final start and maybe that explains the one-pacedness rather than the weight. So he’s here in the hope that there is still more to come at around 2 ½ miles.

40. Zarkandar – Paul Nicholls
Only because the step up the three miles is intriguing. The staying divison has a cloud over it with the likely absence of Big Buck’s ‘til later in the season and Solwhit can be ground dependent. This horse doesn’t owe me a penny. Massive respect. And he’s a half brother the world’s finest filly, Zarkava. It’s basically about time I had him in my list.

Friday, 13 September 2013


Some interesting and informed previews are kicking around for the final and oldest classic of the season tomorrow.

Jamie Lynch from Timeform takes a readable and informative sire's view and Steve Miller from the RP's Weekender uses the fine-grained Dosage Index (a matrix of performance and pedigree, apparently) and have both come up with Excess Knowledge. Oddschecker jumps that way too, though its scientific application is less well pronounced than the aforementioned posts. John Gosden's charge, winless this season though with a string of good (and unlucky) efforts to his name, is currently heading the market.

By contrast, Aiden O'Brien's Leading Light is unbeaten this season but has been drifting slowly for much of the week. But he is not friendless in this straw poll of the preview circuit. Professional handicapper, Ged Egan's preview for At The Races is a pace-influenced, entertaining analysis that sides with the Coolmore No 1.

There is some nervousness about putting up Galileo Rock, even though he is mentioned in glowing dispatches everywhere. And that's because the uncertain weather forecast and possibility of the wrong conditions put his appearance in doubt. If there's anything worse than tipping a loser, it's tipping a non-runner. But that doesn't concern Tony McFadden, another of Timeform's luminaries, who sticks to the facts about the David Wachman beast. He also has a strong word for the filly and Oaks winner, Talent.

Jack Milner at Horseracing chat puts up Great Hall as the value punt whilst his colleague at the same blogsite smacked down the readies on Foundry earlier in the week. That's where I'm headed too. Backing on potential as usual.

A couple more tips for big outsiders merely underscores the fact that this is a very open and competitive renewal.  Sporting Life plunges for an outsider in Godolphin's second string, Secret Number on the basis of stamina and the trainer 'knowing how to win this' (!) Talking Horses puts up a small each way wager on their third string, Cap O' Rushes, still at 20-1 in the odd place.

Take out the rags Ralston Road and Havana Beat and we find every horse has its support amongst our preview sample, bar the Dante winner Libertarian. But I wouldn't take that as an indicator of his chances. He'll be out there somewhere, I just can't face reading another bloody preview!

Helpful? Possibly not.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Speed kings

Today will be a rare late Summer Saturday empty of commitments and devoid of distractions. There is not even much football or cricket to divert me from a proper go at the races.  This will make a change.

So taking my cue from the televised schedule:

1.55 Ascot – 7f Class 2 handicap
Not the easiest of starts. An open-looking and valuable handicap over a distance where it often pays to regard previous experience. That doesn’t help much here however. A field deep with campaigners hardened-off like frost-resistant perennials boasts 15 winners at the 7f trip. Six have winning track form too. ‘Highly tried’, I think, is the term for the majority of these boys with plenty of inconsistency and patchy form. This will have to be a cautious opening to the day. An each-way fun bet on Light Up My Life at 25-1. She has some decent form in listed company behind some good sorts (Stoute’s Integral) and ran well enough here in the Sandringham to suggest the track will be no problem. Needs to overcome a couple of moderate efforts the last twice. The price reflects that.  Only a three year old so shouldn’t be bottomed out yet.

2.05 Haydock – 5f Class 2 handicap
The big field sprint handicaps are hunting in pairs this afternoon. Prohibit is a real old war horse and there are a couple of others here who may be feeling their age. Hard to say that about Harrison George, 13-2, though. At 8, he’s landed a pair of fair handicaps this season. The track has copped plenty of rain and there are showers around today. George likes a bit of juice. Backing a horse on the basis of the prevailing atmospheric conditions is just one of the many follies I’ve adopted over the years. Time to dust it off here. Another I like is Above Standard but he looks to have a preference for good to firm, and connections turn to a hood in the hope of eeking out some improvement.

2.20 Kempton – 1m4f Group 3
Group races on the sand in England. Whatever next. Tasty little contest this, though. Royal Empire has taken big steps forward with every race this season, but 11-4 is a little short for my liking and can be opposed, bearing in mind the penalty he brings here. Main Sequence has a bit to prove since his 2nd in the 2012 Derby. Last year’s Arc 3rd Masterstroke, 5-1, is the boy for me. He will have come on a bundle for his seasonal reappearance at Goodwood when he was too fresh. Oodles of form last year. The small risk is whether he takes to the surface.

2.40 Haydock – 1m Group 3, Superior Mile
Decent enough race but I can’t find an angle to get Montiridge beaten. Looks to be well on the upgrade and has solid form at this level. But evens is never attractive (too many burnt fingers). There doesn’t look to be enough rain around to give Tawhid a realistic chance of reversing his most recent Goodwood encounter with Montiridge. Nine Realms is still progressive, though a bit unknown at this level and on this going.  The bet is a small exacta that sees the Haggis horse squeeze home behind Hannon’s gelding with Tawhid out of the picture. I may reverse it because I’m an optimist.  

2.55 Kempton – 1m Class 2, London Mile
Another valuable, big-field handicap where a case can be made for many. Market leaders Ehtedaam and Seek Again re-oppose after an informative clash at this venue last month. Clockmaker was deeply impressive when streaking away at Chester last week and seems to take his racing well. The worry is that was a bit out of character and he won’t be able to repeat the trick with an extra 7lb on his back. Graphic won well last time, but still looks a short price on the balance of his overall form. He beat Postscript into 4th in that race. Postscript is now double the price of Graphic even though he is pretty consistent at this level this season. I feel like I’m groping a little here, but am able to persuade myself through sheer bloody-mindedness that Simcock’s charge is a solid enough each way shout at 16-1. Needs to be ridden to come late from a wide draw. Possibly.

3.15 Haydock – 1m6f class 2 handicap, Old Borough Cup
Clowance Estate ran with a sliver of staying-on credit when we pitched up at Newmarket a couple of weeks ago. He may not yet have fulfilled all his potential (and I don’t know if he enjoyed McFly). Stepping him up a little bit further is definitely worth a try and it’s another each-way thievery job at 14-1 if I’m quick.

3.30 Ascot – 1m4f class 2 handicap
The day’s most valuable handicap, exclusively for 3-y-os, and 13 of them – most boasting upwardly mobile profiles - look like turning out. Elhaame, 9-1, is my pick. He has made great progress and can win ridden prominently or come through the field. His progress has not been as eye-catching as market leaders Café Society or Special Meaning, though. The latter has gone up 30lb this season and will be exciting to watch with her front running style (others in the race like to dictate too) and this race should be a great spectacle.

3.50 Haydock – 6f Group 1, Sprint Cup
Channel 4 saving the best ‘til last. By then we might have a proper view of the ground conditions. That will be crucial for favourite Lethal Force. Anything like a decent surface and he will be hard to beat. Conversely, any more rain getting into the ground will strengthen the hand of Gordon Lord Byron. Garswood is interesting, but it’s hard to judge what his best trip is. Never won at this trip, but effective at 7f on easy. I’m looking long here (oh, how many times…) and playing Heerat, 14-1, who has improved all season – trainer, Haggas has been in superb form – and put up his best showing when returned to this trip in July. Seems versatile as regards the ground and could well be in the mix.

And that’s me done. On Sunday I’ll be found in front of the e-bay screen attempting to hawk off our few remaining sticks of furniture (shirts having already gone) to raise funds for next week’s assault. Don’t try this without a responsible adult, kids.