Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cheltenham Day 4 Post-Mortem and General Review

I confined my bets to two races on the final day. The Gold Cup and the final race of the meeting the Martin Pipe Conditional. I backed both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo in the Gold cup and they finished first and second - well clear of last year’s winner Al Boum Photo. Minella Indo was my fancy all year but I was discouraged by his last two runs.  I backed him anyway on the grounds that he was a better horse at Cheltenham and he obliged handsomely at 9-1. The tragic part of these bets was that I omitted to do a forecast which paid 29-1. I normally do when I back two horses in the same race but just plain forgot - it was the end of a tiring week. My other bet was Langer Dan in the last race and he finished second at 13-2. The horse that beat him, Galopin Des Champs, trained by Mullins was a Grade 1 horse lurking sneakily in a handicap. The two were well clear of the third.

Overall it was my best Cheltenham ever with nine winners and a host of bloody seconds. I made a profit on each day (albeit a small one on Day 3) and ended up with a handsome overall profit. The excruciatingly narrow defeats of Concertista in the Mare’s Hurdle and Kilcruit in the Champion Bumber cost me dearly - certainly four figures. Mullins’ stable jockey Paul Townend rode both these losers and I’m convinced that if Rachel Blackmore had been riding them they would have won. I backed five of her six winners so herself and Henry De Bromhead were the makings of my week. The highlights were the handsome win of Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, the gameness of Put the Kettle On in the Champion Chase, and of course my old friend Minella Indo setting things right in the Gold Cup. An unexpected bonus was getting paid for fourth place when I backed Aspire Tower at 33-1 in the Champion Hurdle. Another unearned bonus was impulsively backing the frustrating Mrs. Milner at 12-1 following a comment by Kevin Blake on ITV. When your luck is in these things happen. But we mustn’t get complacent - the wheel keeps turning. I will bide my time now until Aintree - apart of course from a stab at the Lincoln this Saturday. I have always done well in this race going back to Monawin in 1963 at 28-1. I tipped it to my whole class at CBC and enjoyed a brief burst of popularity. We all backed it with Joe Donnelly’s (Al Boum Photo owner) father who had a betting shop across the road in MacCurtain Street.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Cheltenham Day 4: Prognostications and Day 3 Post-Mortem

 Day 3 would have been a heavy losing day were it not for the divine intervention of Irish pundit Kevin Blake on ITV. My first two selections Fusil Raffles and Champagne Platinum were placed at 16-1 and 17-2 respectively - and my each way Yankee was looking good. However then Min ran a stinker in the Ryanair and Fury Road followed suit in the Stayer’s Hurdle. Joseph O’Brien’s poor run continued with Wave of the Sea petering out - so my morning fancies largely failed me. However, listening to Blake on TV after the first race I was persuaded to bet on Mrs. Milner in the second race and de Bromhead’s Telesomething Girl in the 4.15. Both won at 12-1 and 5-1 respectively. Modest enough bets but enough to get me back in the black for the day.

So after an unprecedented three winning days in a row I can face into final day with complacency knowing that I will finish ahead overall. I will be restrained. I will have an interest in both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo in the Gold Cup and will end the meeting with a bet on Langer Dan in the last race - he’s going for the £100K bonus after a very impressive win in the Imperial Cup.I’d love to see my old favourite Minella Indo win the Gold Cup but his jumping in his last race was very sketchy and he fell in the previous one. Sentiment rather than  reason will make me back him. And he loves Cheltenham. I just hope that old plodder Al Boum Photo doesn’t win again - we can’t have such a horse emulating Arkle and Best Mate.

Cheltenham Day 3: Prognostications and Day 2 Post-Mortem

Another profitable day thanks to Henry de Bromhead’s pair Bob Olinger and Put the Kettle On. The former was my strongest fancy of the week and featured in all my multiples as well as in an individual bet. He won very easily and looks a class act. The latter was backed more in the hope of place money than confidence as I didn’t see Chacon Pour Soi been beaten. However, she stayed on very gamely up the hill to confirm her liking for the course - and deliver on de Bromhead’s positivity in a pre-Cheltenham podcast I caught. In addition to these I had two agonizing seconds: Entoucas and Kilcruit. Entoucas would have won easily but for a mistake at the third last - as it was he only failed by a diminishing head. Painful - although I had him each way at 9-1. Even more painful was the narrow defeat of Kilcruit in the last. He was the victim of a resourceful ride by Rachel Blackmore on the winner Sir Gerhard who controlled a slow pace from the front and kicked clear at a crucial stage. Paul Townend on Kilcruit will look back in anger at his performance. Elsewhere I managed to back the only one of Nicky Henderson’s four horses (Monte Christo) that didn’t get placed in the Coral Cup. Annoying. Eklat de Rire was doing fine in Monkfish’s race until he unseated my good buddy Rachel.

Day 3 is my least favourite day and unlike the first two days I don’t have any very strong fancies. I will of course be betting but with restraint. I don’t want to fuck up what’s looking like a profitable meeting by going all Dostoyevsky. (I’m reading biography at the moment - he was notorious for cranking up the stakes when he was on a winning streak.) I’ll mainly be looking at each way value. I like a couple of Henderson’s in the earlier races. Fusil Raffles looks good value at 16-1 in the opening race although I expect Envoi Allen to win. There are just 8 runners so it’s a good race for each way value. In the Pertemps Final I fancy Champagne Platinum to run into a place at least - he’s one of the classier contestants and has a reasonable weight. The Ryanair is very tricky with Mullins having four runners - all with chances. I’ll go for Min (4-1) as he won it last year and is Townend’s selection. The Stayer’s Hurdle is a similar puzzle as Elliott/Foster has three lively contenders. Fury Road is a tentative choice as he’s the youngest and so seems the most likely to improve. Joseph O’Brien is due a winner, as is McManus so A Wave of the The Sea at 12-1 is worth a few bob in the Paddy Power Plate,

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cheltenham Day 2: Prognostications and Day 1 Post-mortem


A great beginning - four winners and an agonizingly close second. The jewel in the crown was Honeysuckle’s (above) scintillating win in the Champion Hurdle. Three of the four legs in my Yankee won and only the defeat of Concertista by inches in the Mare’s Hurdle thwarted an even more lucrative day. I had a saver on the winner Black Tears at 13-1. He was trained by Gordon Elliott’s stand in Denise Foster - the name seems somewhat apt. My major disappointment was Busselton who made a bad mistake four out and never figured. 

But I mustn’t get cocky - the wheel keeps turning. Today’s a similar kind of betting day with a number of short priced favourites dominating things. Monkfish and Chacon Pour Soi will be odds on and don’t interest me even though I think they’ll both win. I’ll be looking for each way value in their races in the form of Eklat de Rire (10-1) and Put the Kettle on (17-2) - both trained by Henry de Bromhead. The same trainer should win the first race with Bob Ollinger (13-8) - I have nibbled at him ante-post. For betting purposes the Coral Cup is paying 7 places so I’ll be having a go there. Nicky Henderson wins this race regularly and he has four runners - two of whom I fancy: Monte Christo (10-1) and Craignechie (7-1). The latter is a bit short so I may stick to the former - depending on prices nearer the off. The last race, the Champion Bumper, is nearly always won by Willie Mullins and he has three of the first four in the betting. I fancy Kilcruit (7-4) to thwart my old school mate Joe Donnelly’s Ramillies (12-1).

Monday, March 15, 2021

Cheltenham Day 1: Prognostications


My favourite day every year. I consider it a point of honor to get the winner of the first race, the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle. My successes over the years include Shishkin and Altior in recent times and go back to the likes of Brave Inca and that magic start I got in 1996 with Indefence at 25-1 for Jenny Pitman. So great expectations usually but alas my fancy this year, Appreciate It for Mullins at 5-4, is not a betting proposition. I rarely back anything less that 5-2 unless it’s in multiples such as Yankees. The first day this year contains three races with very strong favourites all of whom are unbackable for me: Appreciate It, Shishkin (in the Arkle) and Concertista (in the Mare’s Hurdle). I think they’ll all win but I’ll be admiring not betting. The Champion Hurdle is a truly mouth-watering contest and you could make a good case for over half the field. I am going to stick with Honeysuckle who  gets the mare’s allowance and will stay more stoutly up the hill than most. Goshen could be the main danger but I’m going to look for each way value with Aspire Tower (14-1) who like Honeysuckle is trained by Henry de Bromhead – a man who knows how to prepare a horse for Cheltenham. Elsewhere on the card I’ll have a few bob on Elliot/Foster’s Milan Native (9-1) in the Ultima Chase and Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton (9-1) in the Juvenile Hurdle. The final race is a novice chase which I will studiously avoid.            

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Sean O’Sullivan Giving Flann O’Brien a Hard Time


The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien is the ideal bog book. Congratulations to its editor Maebh Long for putting together this voluminous (nearly 600 pages) and occasionally hilarious compilation. There are plenty of tedious letters, especially in the later stages of his life, but here and there you’ll come upon a gem. The abiding tone is curmudgeonly – with a fair few downright abusive ones. There are also an inordinate number of letters apologizing for delays caused by sickness or accident. You suspect a lot of the accidents may have been drink related. 


A couple of letters concerning the planned jacket design for The Hard Life caught my eye recently. By the time Flann O’Brien got around to writing this later novel the cumulative effects of his dedicated drinking had eroded much of his talent. It seems the weakest of all his books. The humor is strained (Fr. Kurt Fahrt is a character) and the narrative grows tedious. Prior to the publication of The Hard Life he had prevailed on his friend and drinking buddy Sean O’Sullivan to do an illustration for the cover. O’Sullivan had been the most in-demand portrait painter in Dublin and so would add some cachet to the project. However he had grown unreliable due to his alcoholism and O’Brien recounts the problems of getting the finished art work from him. In a letter (dated 29 June 1961) to O’Keefe his  publisher O’Brien complains: “When I went to O’Sullivan to get the rough he had promised, I found he was on the piss. He did it, someone else saw it, and when we went to look for it all over his littered studio, it could not be found anywhere. He has promised to do it again tomorrow.”  In a subsequent letter dated the 8 August the saga continues: “As regards the cover, it was finished last week by S. O’S but the bugger incorporated the title in the design as HARD TIMES. After I made it plain that my name was not Dickens, he said he could easily make it right. I hope to post it this week.”


Regarding Sean O’Sullivan, his biographical notes in the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography refers rather primly to the fact that “His later work was adversely affected by heavy drinking”. The same sadly could be said of Flann O’Brien – The Hard Life is hard evidence of this.