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The last Huzzah of the Winter Game

Capt. Kneesup

Capt. Kneesup

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The social whirl of dinners and drinks invitations this week suggested post-lockdown merriment is an unstoppable train.

We have been flat out on the supper front this week. I suspect this has more to do with availability, or perhaps we are known for our huge wardrobe of sensible layered clothing. What I hope no one is doing, is expecting an abundance of charm, after this last 13 weeks of “porridge”. My personal fear is that I have forgotten how to chat amiably, or as Nanny used to suggest; “Imagine you’re the radioman on The Carpathia dear and learn how to both send and receive.” Inevitably, with only six people permitted outside, the effort the hosts put in and the resulting invitations, become extraordinarily and rightly precious. Some hosts have waited to sense the mood before sending out the call; some are waiting to see whether they get invited. The Hyacinth Bucket’s of this world are trying to remember whether it’s de rigeur to provide individual hand sanitisers. Yet step by faltering step, much like one of those stop-start slo-mo nature films, sociable intercourse is bursting into life. What has become clear however is that in a world where everything is measured, Even numbers are Good, but Odd numbers are Bad. It was ever thus, even in a dining room sat at a table, Odd is a deadly step into Johnny- No-Mates land, but for the next two or three months at least, it’s a bloody sprint.

David and Lucy Snood, for example, realise that it’s socially acceptable to entertain again and invite four people for a “light kitchen supper on the terrace”. Sadly, and because the new norm is last-minute invites, Bob and Alice Scarffe (the f is silent) get a better invite from Hermione Dalrymple and her partner Kate, one of whom can cook and the other one is very high-up in the BBC and thus full of celeb gossip. They cry off from the Snoods with the excuse that they can’t get a sitter…. “Everyone keeps making lame excuses about Covid!” The poor old Snoods are now in a pickle. With the Scarffes now unavailable, she is down to four – which is irritating but OK. Then the Irish Peer calls to say can he bring his Labrador. No problemo says Alice. The IP then announces that the girlfriend is no longer an item and has gone walkabout, so it is just him. Two counties away, social klaxons start to howl. Alice is now down to one guest and a Labrador.  In social terms, this is a disaster for the Snoods, but for the Peer it is a blessed relief, as the girlfriend had become rather domineering and a bit Meghany. Then David suggests The Kneesups, who will attend the opening of an envelope if there is a bit of scran in the offing. Less than astonishingly, the Kneesup are free and can come. The Kneesups are generally thought of as alright, he can bang on a bit and she can get a bit toppy on minorities, sexual politics, gender imbalance and the impact of Brexit on impala meat, but otherwise they fill the space and make an effort. Despite the odd number, the Snoods have a jolly time and The Irish Peer tells a story about a racehorse trainer’s shenanigans with a Russian ballerina, who is now a Lambourn Stablemate, but ineligible for social housing on many grounds.

The Scarffes also have a splendid evening and discover a huge amount about a former Dr Who and a chap who played a Dalek. They recount the story the following evening, over a supper around a very smoky barbecue with the Kneesups at another soiree. The Kneesups are only there because they replaced the Farthingdales, who had cried off because they couldn’t get a dog-sitter… “Everyone keeps making lame excuses about Covid”. The Farthingdales are, in fact, having dinner with a former Dr Who, a Dalek actor, an over-sexed trainer, and his wife who is beginning to suspect. The only surprise is that the Kneesups couldn’t slot that dinner in as well.

As I write the rest of the week seems busy too, but many of the outdoor layers now smell of charred bangers and charcoal smoke, and there is a splodge of BBQ sauce that hadn’t been noticed in the dark, and which will not be removed by industrial-strength concrete solvent. Two more days of this and it will literally be a case of having nothing to wear. I must however remain steadfast in my determination to help out my chums, from an Odds social death. “Just wear more tee-shirts”, Madame declares

I am reminded of Noel Coward’s tale of unstinting sacrifice, which will rightly be one of my funeral readings.

Meanwhile, the NH season heads towards the last Huzzah at Sandown and at Punchestown next week and talking of social faux-pas, here are the suggestions for Saturday’s racing.

1:55 SANDOWN bet365 Novices’ Championship Final Hcap Hdl Cl2 (4yo+) 2m 18 run

ON TO VICTORY looks to have a decent chance in this and is only 2lbs shy of his last winning mark. GET BACK GET BACK catches the eye for his liking of the ground, but Harry Fry doesn’t appear to be flying at all. ROYAUME UNI has found himself a little niche at the bottom of the weights and he was second LTO to HERBIERS at Ascot, but I have a feeling this is too trappy for a Moore punt. However, there is a trainer stat for this meeting, which is that backing Paul Nicholls’ hurdlers blind at Sandown in April for the last fifteen years and at odds of 10/1 or less, would see you have 24 bets, 7 wins, and 12 places for an ROI of 24.85% and A/E figure of 1.27. Paul runs two in this, FLIC OU VOYOU (a Jean-Paul Belmondo french gangster film of the 70s which also has an appearance by Hayley Mills sister Juliette… but I digress) and the possible favourite at around 11/2 of CELESTIAL FORCE. He ran well at Newton Abbot at the beginning of the month, the first time since a wind op. He ran creditably giving he was having to concede 12lb to the favourite and this better ground will be to his advantage.

CELESTIAL FORCE Win – FLIC OU VOYOU e/w

2:10 LEICESTER Elusive Bloodstock EBF Stallions King Richard III Stakes Cl1 (4yo+) 7f 11 run

Inevitably this year there will be horses that were impacted by the C19 pandemic. Staffing, travelling, routine, would all have been stopped, altered or generally curtailed and LORD CAMPARI might be one of those. His racing debut was a 6th place at Sandown against Palace Pier. Almost everything else from that race has won and so there were high hopes, and he did not disappoint, winning his novice stakes well at Newbury. He then went to the Henry Cecil Listed at HQ and looked unhappy at the challenge up front and seemed to throw the towel in, certainly, there was some temperament. Then a Gp3 at Deauville where perhaps a mile didn’t suit. He’s decent, but I am not enthused by the price. Andrew Balding’s Gp2 winner SHINE SO BRIGHT was disappointing last year. AB Still talks approvingly of him, but I think one would want to see the revival, before parting with the money. POGO has probably got the best chance in my eyes, albeit that three of his four wins have come over 1m. It looks like a congested market, reflective of the uncertainty. If you must, take POGO but my advice is

NO BET

2:30 SANDOWN bet365 Oaksey Chase (G2) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m6½f 7 run

Paul Nicholls’ has the admirable FRODON here, fifth in the Gold Cup which was almost entirely expected as had never really been happy beyond 3m, This on the other hand is absolutely within his comfort zone. I see nothing else here to give concern.

FRODON Win

2:50 HAYDOCK Casumo Best Odds Guaranteed Hcap Cl2 (4yo+) 7f 22 run

PERSUASION was a 250/1 outsider in the delayed 2,000 Guineas earlier in the year and was 2nd at Leicester LTO on heavy ground. His debut win at Goodwood over 7f was on G/F ground, so it looks as though it won’t matter what he runs on. FIRMAMENT looks interesting and has some decent bits of form. Not flashy, but OK. Heather Main, the operatic Trainer, runs MARSHAL DAN who was second to our selection Eton College LTO a couple of weekends ago. He’s a real battler, and I can see him and the other two scrapping it out.

FIRMAMENT e/w – Add Persuasion and Marshal Dan for a ½pt CFC

3:05 SANDOWN bet365 Celebration Chase (G1) Cl1 (5yo+) 1m7½f 9 run

I was about to say, surely this will be the last time we see ALTIOR, who is trying to win this for the fourth time – but then thought better of it. We only saw him race in the Desert Orchid Chase in December because of the ground in The Tingle Creek and although he never travelled with any real fluency, his guts, willpower and determination kept him in contention and he rallied after the last to get back up for a second to Nune Negra. He has won nine G1s, lost twice in seventeen runs, and considering Kempton wasn’t his ground and he’d been off for ten months prior to the Christmas meeting it was a decent performance. That said, he’s not getting any younger and may just have lost some of his old zest, but while I am enthusiastic about this 11yo’s chances, I need better than 5/2 to back him. PUT THE KETTLE ON benefitted from drying ground to beat the aforementioned Nube Negra in the QMCC and is thus favourite. Is that form line good enough? Hmm. Alan King runs SCEAU ROYAL and those of you who can remember further back than two Gins, will recall that SCEAU ROYAL was almost bought down and hampered irrecoverably at the third last and might well have won the race.

SCEAU ROYAL Win

3:40 SANDOWN bet365 Gold Cup Hcap Chase (G3) (GBB Race) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m5f 20 run

KITTY’S LIGHT is a decent 5yo Chaser and has a future, but is it just as a decent handicapper or is he a grade horse? He was 3rd in the Listed Badger Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton with EL PRESENTE in 1st and POTTERMAN in 2nd spots, but it’s not really a race that has presented us with much in the way of stars to date. Christian Williams then ran him in a couple of bumpers and then back to a handicap hurdle at Newbury. As career paths go it seemed unusual, but it seems to have worked, as he won LTO beating Venetia Williams’ Didero Valis. He’ll get the trip, but I just wonder whether his head’s right and I suspect there are other threats. EL PRESENTE’s price has shortened since it was announced that Clan des Obeaux would go to Punchestown, and he will like the ground. CHECKITOUT has always threatened to step up in graded company and seems the wrong price. POTTERMAN who has been saved for this better ground by Alan King and has not been seen since unseating in The Hennessy in November is also attractive at around 12/1. ENRILO is Paul Nicholls’ runner and he’ll love this faster ground and has a manageable 5lbs over his last win. PLAN OF ATTACK’s price of 9/2 favourite, suggests there is no fear of psychological scarring after taking a crashing fall in the Kim Muir at the Festival. He was 6lb higher than his Oct ’19 Aintree win on that day and was moving into contention at the third last. It was horrific and I wondered at the time whether it might have been caused by the first time blinkers, which he wears again today. I have the utmost faith in the connections but too short for me. GOLAN FORTUNE has been backed like a good thing and has halved in price in the last 48 hours. If I haven’t mentioned the winner yet, for me to be able to claim some sort of vicarious triumph, I shall be unsurprised. What I will back however is SUPREME ESCAPE who won a Chepstow 3m6f Handicap LTO and slightly smugly. I actually think he’d have won by much further than his 2¼l but he clattered the 3rd last which cost momentum but didn’t seem to bother him at all. I am not alone in thinking this is the winner and he is now 14s from 28s.

SUPREME ESCAPE e/w – POTTERMAN e/w – CHECKITOUT e/w

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