The elephant in the room at Villa Kneesup, is the inherited double oven gas Aga that pumps out about the same heat as Chernobyl as it melted the main core. It costs £20 a week to run and I have despised Agas all my life except, obs, for His Serenity The Aga Khan. (You might remember The Jockey Club treated him very badly when it disqualified his 1989 Oaks winner Aliysa, the result of a flawed drugs testing regime. I became a fan when AK ensured that his trainer Luca Cumani was looked after properly when AK subsequently withdrew 90 horses from Britain).
After a month, I have discovered that using the Aga, you can boil a kettle full of cold water, in something like the same time that it takes for me to write this column – notice I didn’t say select the tips! You can toast bread on the top if you like your toast to have the same dried, crisp consistency as that awful Escoffier creation, Melba Toast. (That bloody woman is responsible for much misery in culinary terms). If you take a piece of greasy paper and lay it on the right-hand plate, you can crack an egg on it and it will cook. DO NOT put the greasy paper on the left-hand plate, because you will spend the next two hours trying to remove broiled plastic. If you try to warm a Cornish Pasty in the top oven, it will be ash in just under a minute. Pop it in the bottom oven and you can wait until hell freezes over to put heat into the only dish in the world that can truly be considered a working-non-gender-specific-but-was-once-possibly-a-man’s-unless you-discount-munitions-workers-in-WW1-meal in a pastry case. Pirogs, empanadas, bridies, samosas – pah, the Cornish Pasty is a proper treat…. if warm. As for the rest of recipes-past and favourite dishes… I haven’t a clue. A week’s worth of Aga running costs has been spent on Aga advice books, written by people who look like Morris Dancers, with the exception of Mary Berry who looks as though she had a hand in the design of what is essentially an expensive hay box. That is, I suspect, the secret. The Aga is a huge domestic version of something that 1950 Catering Corps soldiers would easily understand. Think cooking in flat pans and not round pans. Sadly, there is the rub. I wasn’t in the Catering Corps in 1950. All the AGA adepts I know come from military stock. They grew up with hay boxes and dhobie-wallahs. I’m starting from scratch. There is a “20/80 Rule” apparently, which means using the plates 20% of the time and the ovens 80% of the time. You fill the ovens with rectangular dishes that fit on runners either N/S or E/W depending on their size, and they allegedly cook your food. The trouble is, by the time you discover that the Aga has lost heat and the chicken is still capable of clucking, Lambourn’s Nippy Chippy has closed and you’re back to a Fried Egg sandwich – the only dish I have mastered on the wretched beast. At this rate, my recreation of Belshazzar’s Feast might be ready about the same time as Babylon is rebuilt or I ascend the Peacock Throne.
Talking of unpalatable and nearly inedible – here are today’s selections
STOP PRESS: HUGE RESULT FOR KNEESUP Subject to there being a God, I might have sold the beast for £600! Look out induction plates. Stand back Turbine-powered Wok burners. Daddy’s coming home!
1:10 LEOPS Pertemps Network Hcap Hdl (Qualifier) (4yo+) 3m 27 run
COLTOR looks an obvious choice and will love the ground. Jess Harrington has helped SILVER SHEEN with 7lb claimer Jack Gilligan and first-time cheekpieces. He should be 12s at worse.
COLTOR Win – SILVER SHEEN e/w
1:25 CATTERICK Sky Bet Hcap Chs (Go North Red Rum Series Qualifier) Cl5 (4yo+ 0-105) 3m1f 11 run
SIGURD won this last year and he has very similar conditions today. He is a double CD winner and has 20% strike rate across chases – 8/1 looks very decent.
1:45 LEOPS Dornan Engineering Christmas Hdl (G1) (4yo+) 3m 11 run
SIRE DU BERLAIS is a truly consistent horse with podiums in all of his last six races. Elliott is flying this month and the jockey is hitting some fabulous stats. He was third in this last year and made a decent seasonal reappearance 20f. FLOORING PORTER is the obvious danger.
SIRE DU BERLAIS e/w
2:00 CATTERICK Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Hcap Hdl Cl4 (3yo+ 0-115) 2m3½f 11 run
HAPPY AND FINE e/w – LASKADINE e/w
2:20 LEOPS Savills Chs (G1) (5yo+) 3m 8 run
It’s hard to see past A PLUS TARD who won this race last year and was then a close runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He won the Betfair Chase by 22l on his seasonal debut and the world is his Lobster at the age of 7. Should I bother looking for something else? If I did it would be KEMBOY who looks generous at 12/1
A PLUS TARD Win
2:55 LEOPS Ballymaloe Relish Beginners Chs (4yo+) 2m5f 8 run
Of course, GALOPIN DES CHAMPS should take this, he does after all make most Irish talking horses look mute. Expectations are enormous… and yet… and yet… I shall have a little punt on AINT THAT A SHAME and trust that Henry de Bromhead and Rachel Blackmore can find a little extra magic at a solid each-way price. Won in heavy over 3m over hurdles and had a decent 3rd over today’s trip at Fairyhouse. Probably needs to find a 2lb improvement from that to make the frame – which is very achievable.
AINT THAT A SHAME e/w