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27th May 2024 3:37 am

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

Excuse me while I school my soul

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Once again I approach the weekend with a heart quickened by the conviction that this time, hope will triumph over experience. The cricket looks good, and the 3m golf isn’t a disaster, indeed as I write I can green up to get 4/15 about my money. The F1 looks interesting depending on the weather and yet a part of me is still reeling from the relentless collapse of almost every position last weekend.

The downward spiral started on Friday last, but much like top-quality food poisoning, a decent amount of time had passed before the potential damage became apparent. The cricket was going swimmingly well. The Golf selections looked as though the majority would make the cut and whilst Bryan Harman had posted a very decent score, he was patently not the sort of chap who could possibly win The Claret Jug. I mean for heaven’s sake… some asinine part of my brain, reassured me that he was a total hillbilly whose only skill was the ability to spank a golf ball.  If proof were needed of my entrenched position, there was an article I read all about his penchant for hunting, skinning and then butchering Bambi or Snorker “…that’s how I relax.” In the background, one could almost hear duelling banjos and the sound of squealing pigs.  Of course, he couldn’t win. He didn’t have the experience; the big-match temperament, the ability to stay calm under intense Majors pressure.


It was also natural and even understandable, that I had some reservations about the decision to keep batting, although I was disappointed by the social media antipathy towards Jonny Bairstow. I and many others felt at the time, that continuing to bat was wrong. That however was Stoke’s tactical call, in an effort to get a large enough 1st innings score, to ensure that we would not have to play a second innings. England finished with a first-innings lead of 275, and whilst an earlier declaration would certainly have given them more time to get ten wickets, the cost would have been a slimmer run advantage, swapped for a bigger time advantage. By scoring their runs at almost 5.5 an over and picking 15 wickets, England can hardly be accused of taking too long – but that is certainly something that needs to be considered – both here and in Australia, where Sydney can make Old Trafford look starved of rain. Earlier starts –  faster overs – penalties for time-wasting.

As Saturday rolled dismally on, I shed a grateful and relieved tear with Lewis Hamilton that after 35 Grand Prix, he was back on pole after a thrilling qualification. I was thrilled for McClaren and here at last was a chance however slim, for a once-in-a-decade British one-two. The racing results started coming in. “HUZZAH for Al Aasy” and that first triumphant cry became a sad echo as the rest of the day wore on. Two paying thirds and a fourth and the rest were either non-runners because the ground was never as bad as expected, or it was, or the selections were poor or the, or the, or the…

By Sunday one knew. Nothing could dig us out. Lewis started from Pole and within three seconds he was fourth. I still had some hopes with Fleetwood, but the rain and the losses were relentless; even Nicolai Smogosbordmitbrottundschwein managed to dump six strokes in as many holes. Fleetwood couldn’t putt and Brian Harman – who conspires to look like Ricky Ponting’s twin – couldn’t lose. God, I hate weekends.

Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

― John Keats

Talking of a World of Pain… the tips for this Saturday

1:50 ASCOT Princess Margaret Keeneland Stakes (G3) Cl1 (2yo) 6f (3p gen)

SACRED ANGEL won a C2 Maiden at The July meeting and the Mark Johnston/Ryan Moore partnership won this race in 2017 and 14/1 looks big. SOPRANO comes back after a 2-day break and KOMAT tries to improve on his Albany run. Of course, there are others – they’re all babies with ability and Black Type aspirations

SACRED ANGEL 2 pts e/w – KOMAT 2 pts e/w both with ½ pt RFC SOPRANO

2:05 YORK Sky Bet ‘Jump Jockeys’ Nunthorpe’ Handicap Cl4 (4yo+ 0-80) 5f (6p Skybet, PaddyP – 5p gen)

COUNT DORSAY 3 pts e/w – SOUL SEEKER 2 pts e/w

2:25 ASCOT Longines Valiant Stakes (G3) Cl1 (3yo+) 1m (4p Sky 3p Gen)

The trends suggest VETIVER – THORNBROOK. Forced to choose between the pair, I slightly favour Andrew Balding’s VETIVER who has been a consistent improver, landing a Carlisle Listed in the soft LTO. She beat a 97-rated rival that day and with conditions to suit should be able to continue her upward trajectory. VETIVER is now a non-runner. I also had a look at Ed Walker’s ROSE PRICK and her Chantilly run LTO. I’m not sure she’s Pattern-class, but she was definitely impeded in that race and might well have picked up some black type. That makes the current 33/1 way too big. RANDOM HARVEST is now the more likely winner, albeit CADEAU BELLE looked like a G1 horse in the making.

CADEAU BELLE 3 pts win – ROSE PRICK 1 pt e/w

2:40 YORK Sky Bet Dash Handicap Cl2 (3yo+ 0-105) 6f (6p Skybet – 4p gen)

HYPERFOCUS is a regular for this a bit of fishing suggests that he’s been laid out for this with a decent Hamilton prep race last week. He won’t mind the going and was 8th in 2020 and 4th last year on the wrong ground. He’s won the Ripon Silver Sprint this season and 16/1 looks value. David O’Meara is hoping his stable star brings the sun out and adds to his tally of 11 winners in the last fortnight. SUMMERGHAND for a small win bet.

SUMMERGHAND 2 pt win – HYPERFOCUS 1½ pts e/w

3:00 ASCOT Moet & Chandon International Stakes Cl2 (3yo+) 7f (7p Sky – 6p Gen)

ZU RUN needs to drop to six furlongs. FRESH won this last year and is 3 lbs higher now. In theory that makes the second from that race, BLESS HIM, on 3lbs better terms for a short head. But BLESS HIM looks like a much better value bet at 16/1 than FRESH at around 7/1. However, BLESS HIM is 9yo and FRESH is a 6yo… and 18 of the last 20 winners were aged 5yo or younger. Damn. STAR OF ORION would be on my shortlist, but for his bad stall habit of dawdling; NORTHERN EXPRESS was 4th in this last year off a 10lb lower mark – that said he has really advanced this year and has maybe improved enough to be in with a podium shout. However, the horse I really want on board is VAFORTINO who won The Victoria Cup in ’22 and was third this year. He is ground versatile and looks certain of a place. He is handicapped up to his best but Kaiya Fraser takes off a handy 5lb. A bit of ease in the ground suits and he should go well. TACARIB BAY won a Haydock handicap on soft over 7f this time last year and finished a 3l third in the Balmoral Handicap here last October. He has now been gelded and as he has gone well fresh in the past, you can probably ignore the layoff. He is also back down to his last winning mark. BIGGLES was a comfortable winner of the Bunbury Cup LTO and heads the market. He’s got a 3lb penalty to carry for that success but remains nicely in. He also has C&D form for his Victoria Cup 2nd in May. He’s a worthy favourite in a race not known for winning favourites. BARADAR has been backed on the grounds of ground – and possibly the improvement of FTCP (First-time cheek-pieces) But this ground is now drying out and unless there’s rain he’s not for me. POPMASTER had a dismal ’22 season but his falling mark eventually his falling mark saw him winning a 6f race two runs back. His Bunbury Cup run can be forgiven and he stays 7f and his course form means he can’t be discounted. It’s quite likely I haven’t mentioned the winner but my shortlist would be…

VAFORTINO 3 pts e/w – TACARIB BAY 2 pts e/w –  the pair with BIGGLES – BARADAR and FRESH in a ¼pt CFC

3:15 YORK Sky Bet York Stakes (G2) Cl1 (3yo+) 1m2½f (2p gen)

Five runners and a shed load of my money taken, don’t forget, from the levy on the bookmakers whose income stems in part from my losing bets and which is redistributed in part to fund a G2 race no one is apparently interested in. Kneesup new Rules of Racing would simply eliminate any Group race that failed to attract eight starters (not entries)  at least once every three years.

MY PROSPERO Wins NO BET

3:40 ASCOT King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes (G1) Cl1 (3yo+) 1m4f (4p Bet365 Skybet – 3p gen)

Purely from a betting perspective, this is a really tricky renewal as a result of the inter-age quality in depth, obfuscated by uncertainty about the going. From the fan, and I suspect the professional perspective, we can say that this might very well be a Classical race that will be referenced well into the 2060s, as being a zenith of bloodlines, abilities, reputations and stamina – but possibly not of speed because of the ground. In the next dozen hours, you’ll be able to read race reports everywhere which will largely tell you the history of each of these runners – not one of which one would reject if one had the money to buy them.

The betting market has it about right. There has been a huge contraction in Irish Derby winner and G1 winner LTO, WESTOVER’s price from 25s to 12s and the market will contract further I suspect if one or two come out such as HAMISH who will surely not run unless the ground can take bog-snorkelling. That would suggest backing your selections sooner rather than later. Most of the chat is suggesting this is just between AUGUSTE RODIN (AR) and KING OF STEEL (KS). Kevin Stott was very down-in-the-dumps post-Derby suggesting he’d got his timing wrong. Tosh. Gap appeared, he went for it and KS surprised everyone with his burst of speed. He didn’t win but that was part of the run of the luck when it came to available gaps and part of KS’continuing improvement. His King Edward VII victory suggested he was still improving – yet his mark remains solid. AR’s Irish Derby victory probably raised more questions than it answered and that run and the manner of his victory make this King George hugely important for the whole Coolmore operation. Only Galileo has won the “Three Derbys”. The Derby, the Irish, and The King George. If AR does, then brilliant and whoopy do and it’s 40yo Bushmills all around. But if he’s beaten because he has a flaw – his very good engine doesn’t engage quickly enough let’s suggest – then he has a tactical weakness. He overcame that in The Derby and almost didn’t in the Irish Derby. But what about the rest?

HUKUM’s support is understandable as he loves Ascot (131), and he looked as good as ever on his return when beating Desert Crown by half a length in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown in May, but whilst he’s not been seen for 65 days – he runs best from a break these days. What was amiss with EMILY UPJOHN when she got beaten 25 lengths by PYLEDRIVER in this race last year? Connections attribute the loss to the filly’s hard race in the Oaks, 50 days earlier. She’s won the Champion F&M over C&D in proper Soft and then beat WESTOVER 1¾l  in the Coronation Cup. In the Eclipse, she ran Paddington to ½l while conceding the winner 7lbs. Why not her? That said – only a madman would declare that PYLEDRIVER cannot win. He won this last year by 2¾l last year and beat West Wind Blows in the Hardwicke Stakes, where he was very impressive, if a little wayward in the last 100yds hampering his rivals and getting the pilot a three-day ban. Six winners this century finished top 3 in the Hardwicke last time out, and at his best will be a tough nut to crack. DEAUVILLE LEGEND is irritating me and I might have the tiniest of pops at it without bothering to tell you.

If you cannot just enjoy this race for the race that it is, then I’d suggest:

KING OF STEEL 2 pts Win

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

Max looked a shambles in qualifying today and whilst his 5 grid place penalty will sharpen him, any rain again will make his task more difficult. There were definitely corners in qualification Q2 especially where he looked very uncertain.

Lay Max Verstappen @ 1.38 for 3.8 pts to win 10 pts

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