Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Six


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Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode where so much happened I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire cast of Coronation Street had made an appearance…

Edith’s bad news
See here, Julian Fellowes gets it totally wrong. What normally happens in a drama is: all the characters are convinced something is going to happen, they all say it’s going to happen and then…it doesn’t happen. So, the fact that both upstairs and downstairs predict Gregson’s death and then it’s actually confirmed, is totally, totally wrong. Fellowes should go back to writer’s school and play particular attention to the class titled ‘Suspense and Surprise.’

Lady Mary and Anna’s Tete a Tete
Re: Gregson’s demise
Mez: Well, of course it’s terrible, but what did she think he was doing – living in a tree?
Come now Mary, you can do better than that.
Mez: No, I am sorry, truly, he was a nice man. Though what he saw in Edith…
Yes Mary… what he saw in Edith, YES? Have you gone soft or something woman?
Re: Blake and Gillingham riding in the York and Ainsty Point-to-Point
Here’s a point-to-point-out: why does Mez have to enunciate irrelevant words to try to make them sound posher when it makes precisely no sense to do so? Example: ‘York and Eins-te-i’

Bates, the JOKE nurse
Bates comments on Barrow’s health ‘you’ve never looked worse’ and we suddenly catch a glimpse of Bates, a few years on, in the medical profession:

Open wide...

Open wide…

More [bore] Bates
Porky Bates hobbles in with his stick, munching on something, and finds a saucy book and Lady Mary’s Dutch Cap. As predicted Bates gets into a…bait (a murderous one) and we prepare ourselves for a heated ‘I might murder you’ chat with Anna which, as predicted, plays out later on.

Is it, could it be… a door?
The Dowager gets completely dumfounded by a door that has NO knocker. We must therefore assume that all her doors – bathroom and bedroom included – have the aforementioned brass attachment.

Curse of Bunting
Bunting gets name-checked again by Daisy and Mrs Patmore and I realise I have to accept that this woman will never go away, and Downton Abbey should probably decorate itself in bunting just to confirm this stupid and irritating fact.

Not a teacup to his name…
Prince Igor: ‘How comforting to be back in a world where ladies are accompanied by their maids.’
Actually, what’s more comforting to know is that when rich Russians flee their homeland they don’t forget to pack their glass Russian teacups. A HUGE weight lifted!

Russian Romance
Igor: I wanted you from the moment I first saw you. More than mortal man ever wanted woman.
Dowager: That is a historical detail! And a fricking creepy one at that.
Igor: Nonsense. If Irina were dead, I’d ask you to run away with me now…
Dowager: ME? RUN?! Are you INSANE?
(That said it was a rather touching scene – purely down to Maggie)

Small issue
Is the Dowager’s ladies maid seriously called ‘Stinker’ or is that my imagination? Either way, it’s quite ironic Stinker throws a stinker at Sprat for having to wash the Dowager’s smalls. Out of all households I’d have thought the Dowager’s would be the very last place where dirty laundry would be aired in public. I guess not.

Bebe Bates
Bates: ‘I found a cunning piece of equipment to assure there’d be no baby Bates.’
Anyone who didn’t give themselves a hernia after hearing the expression ‘Baby Bates’ is just not allowed to watch this programme.

Sex tug of war
Cora: What have you told Bates?
Lord G: Nothing
Cora: I wondered if you might like to change your mind and come back?
Lord G: [Huff, puff, struggle with blankets and duvets] No, I will not have sex with you.
Cora: You heard Bricker say he was not in my room by my invitation.
Lord G: How do I know that wasn’t just his gallantry?
Cora: Because I’m telling you. Nothing happened. Please come back to bed [and have sex with me?].
Lord G: You allowed him into your private life. A man who thought he could just step into my place just like that [and have sex with you].
Cora: He thought it, but he was mistaken. Very well, if you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we were married [THINK: dislike/underlying sexual attraction to Miss B**ting]. If you have never given a woman the wrong impression [THINK: that maid you had a rumble tumble with a few seasons ago] then by all means stay away. Otherwise, I expect you back in my room tonight [to have sex with me].
Lord G: Huff, puff, no I …oh, ok then…

Dog Days; Isis – the only story worth paying attention to
Isis lies asleep – or maybe comatosed, exhausted (no doubt) from the never-ending stream of storylines thrown up by this episode. What can we say? Pup, we know the feeling.

Barrow’s Bow of Resolution
The sweetest part of this episode. Barrow, his boils and Baxter, all tied up neatly in a ‘be the best you can be’ bow. Love it.

True meaning of modernity
In this day and age, when driverless cars were invented and photogaphs taken on Mars, we thought we were well and truly modern. How wrong we were! Because, as we have just learnt, the TRUE definition of modernity is for a member of our family to get a slightly different haircut from the one they had before. Ladies, cover your eyes, Fellowes would like to present you with… Mary’s bob.

Sisterly spat
Mary: Everyone, ready? Look at my haircut!
Edith: Everyone, MORE ready? Look at my suffering heart!
Mary: #Awkward. We only care for hairdos and horse races here…
Goneril and Regan – are back.

Bates The Murderer (Part MILLION)
Bates: You think I’m a murderer.
Anna: Yes, yes I do think you’re a murderer.
Bates: Well, let me tell you, I am not a murderer. And I have a non-ripped ticket to prove it.
Anna: Oh hurray, hurray, in that case you’re right, you not a murderer! I mean, there’s no way you could have just avoided the ticket man all journey! Or bought TWO tickets, one to use and one to leave dud as an alibi! Or stolen a ticket off someone else to get ripped! After all, you’ve never been in prison to learn how to do such things! And it wasn’t you who criminally forged that letter in the last series either, was it?!

What’s the betting Bates’ un-ripped ticket turns up hidden in a book in the library, where all of Matthew’s correspondence was carefully and conveniently concealed until the appropriate moment? That said we can’t actually remember what happened to the damn ticket…did Mrs Hughes eat it?

Was this not the most disapPOINTing race you’ve ever seen? No one falls off, no one seems to win, or lose, no one has the least notion to… zzZZZZ

Never Downton, only Upton
Atticus’s father on being invited to Downton: That seems rather an imposition…
Cora: Not at all! We’re very rich!

More romance
Just when you thought nothing else could possibly happen in this episode, Carson asks to buy a house with Mrs Hughes – who turns red and tells him to ‘go ring that gong…’ Ooh, aii, Mrs Hughes, which gong might that be?!

Edith escapes
Edith kidnaps her child and scurries to London to eat ice cream and drink champagne. Could this episode get any more ridiculous?

Thankfully not – there it ends.

We have an insight into next week’s escapades – changes a-coming (are they ever not?) and Mary gets snogged, again – I tell you, if I don’t need to wait till Episode Seven gets its own Wikipedia page to get my head around it, t’will be a small miracle.

That said, this episode was a corker.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 5


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No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

Things I jotted down during last night’s episode, in case you’re interested, in any way, in what I think…

To help with you
Lord Grantham on Rosamund’s un-announced week-long visit: ‘Great, you can help…’. Fantastic that Julian Fellowes opens the episode with one of Lord G’s famous blunders; for we all know that any character who enters Downton from the outside will only ever be a hindrance.

Critical information
The Dowager accuses Mrs Crawley of ‘stringing out moments’ and we wonder if Fellowes has mistakenly inserted a line from one of his many critical reviews.

Taxing storyline
Mrs Patmore comes in to boast about her inheritance and we immediately think to ourselves (since it’s topical) after she’s paid her inheritance tax she’ll probably be left with… [we take out our calculators and tap on them a bit]…0.001p. She should probably forget about it altogether.

History lessons
Rosamund recaps the history of how she nursed Edith through her pregnancy for 10 whole months in secret (to those not in-the-know), and the rest of us think: ‘What a way to reward those who have actually managed to keep up with this debacle.’ The least Fellowes could do is leave those who haven’t bothered in the dark.

Putting up [with] Bunting
Tom says Bunting’s not coming for dinner again. Ever. I throw my mug in the air and shower in the downpour of scalding tea.

Lord G lifts a finger – and for once, it’s the right one
Lord Grantham announces he has poured his own drink by his very own self; I start to laminate him his very own certificate.

Bog off Bunting
For the first of many times in this episode [see post above re: ‘stringing out moments’], Bunting get’s rej’ed by Tom. Only a million more times to go now…

Icing on the…
Rose lets the poor Russians eat cake and we almost hear her refer to Downton as Château de Versailles.

On Newsnight tonight…
‘“Mr Carson’s giving me investment advice, and Miss Bunting is leaving Downton because Tom won’t stand up to her.” This has been Mrs Patmore, reporting for ITV1, from Downton Abbey.’

Whoopsie Daisy
Daisy tells Branson about Bunting leaving and I scowl at the telly and bite my nails.

The Last Straw
Farmer Drew gives a very convincing performance of ‘irritated workman’ by prodding the straw with purpose, and a fork.

Sex-onds away from turning off the TV
Mr Bates and Anna Bates talk about children as a euphemism for lots of sex-having, and I scowl at the telly harder and try to eat my own fist.

Take down the Bunting
Bunting, with her Lady Mary-imitation hat, gets hassled by the driver to hurry the fuck up into the car, so she can hurry the fuck off. Yes, Branson, yes – hustle the bloody woman into the car and slam the bunting door. Bye-bye Bunting, By-eeeeee!

The Beginning of the Affair
Bricker: ‘Downton is like home…’
Cora: ‘You’re very welcome – as long as you behave!’ [wink-wink-smirk-smirk].
And what about you Cora? Will you behave?

Act 3, Scene Atticus
In the dusty, decrepit dungeons, Rose wears a skimpy shirt and the Russians – who are accustomed to temperatures well-below zero in their natural habitat – wear the thickest of beards, hefty overcoats and massive rugs to ward off frostbite. Audience, just accept.

Moss on Mary
Mary rushes to London to start dating Charles Blake before she’s even struck Lord Gillingham off her Little Black Book. That’s the spirit Mez, you feisty lass, you… Or, as Kate Moss rather uncharitably refers to you in the Stand Up For Cancer Gogglebox clip of last week: ‘SLAAAAAG’. *

The perpetual thorn
So Bunting has finally fucked off and still Fellowes insists Mrs Crawley note her absence and ask for the millionth time this season whether the fucking woman is coming for dinner. I despair.

With Nails
Is there anything better in life than a lithe Richard E Grant corridor-creeping in his dressing gown?

The End of the Affair
Lord Grantham tries to murder Bricker and we realise Bates has rubbed off on him more than any of us could ever have realised.

Bates’ Proposed Murder List uncovered
1.) Thomas Barrow
2.) Everyone else

*(I personally prefer Naomi Campbell’s: ‘She’s in bed with one man I wouldn’t call her a fucking slag’)

Easier to follow than last week’s episode, and because Bunting has finally left the program I have to up this week’s score by at least four points…


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Four


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Say cheese... (c) ITV1

Say cheese… (c) ITV1

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode…

Barrow back at work
Carson opens the episode with the characteristic bluntness we have come to love about him: ‘Thomas, you’ve missed lunch, but look, clear it up anyway.’

Rose and Russian Slippers
‘They talk about the old days and they have holes in their shoes,’ Rose squeaks mournfully. This is the point where she should have announced she’s holding a house sale of Downton’s shoe collection and distributing the proceeds to every formerly rich Russian she happens to lay eyes on. She doesn’t do this, of course, because she couldn’t care less about the Russians and their shoes.

Tom thumbs the reference books
Taking a stroll with Lord G and Mary, Tom uses the word ‘dwellings’ and we can’t help but envisage Julian Fellowes thesaurus-ing the word: ‘house’.

Downton Darklight
Mrs Crawley and the Dowager see poverty for the first time ever, it seems, visiting the Russians in their dungeons. We try to concentrate on what they’re saying but mostly we’re thinking: just because they’re new to poverty do they have to live in tunnels like moles? Can’t impoverished aristocrats afford daylight?

Anna [the] Christie
Anna hints once again she knows Bates is a murderer.
‘Do the Sergeant’s enquiries bother you?’ she innocently (shrewdly) asks her husband.
‘No,’ he replies, ‘he doesn’t bother me.’
You know what Bates? YOU bother me.

Glorious revelation
Isn’t it enough for us to know that Daisy is learning stuff, do we really have to have it spelled out that she’s studying the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Or is it just that, once again, Fellowes feels the need to educate us by bringing to our attention there was a revolution in 1688?

Love is in the…title
If someone offered you their hand in marriage you’d probably dispense with formal titles, wouldn’t you? Not if you’re Mrs Crawley you wouldn’t. Her ‘Lord Merton this’ and ‘Lord Merton that’ would have continued had he actually gotten down on one knee and, as predicted, not gotten up again.

Laying the breadcrumbs
Lots of divorce chat about Prawny (or was it Shrimpy?) and then Lady G mentions Bricker and it’s clear divorce is in the air.

Thomas and his treatment
I’m too upset to think about what Thomas might be trying to do to himself and have now decided he might be my favourite character.

Seen and not heard
Is George and Cybie’s only contribution to each episode to be paraded around the hallway so Fellowes can prove to us he’s not forgotten about them?

Hearts bleedeth for Edith
Not only is Edith pitied by virtually every character but she’s then presented as a stalker – hiding behind walls and diving into hedgerows to catch a glimpse of the bouncing Marigold. Is there no end to this character’s torment and humiliation?

Blake’s Back
How exciting Mary’s infinitely more handsome suitor, Charles Blake, returns to raise eyebrows at her across catwalks and take her out for un-chaperoned dinners in London. Hope she remembered her Dutch cap, if only to match her fetching red one.

Sitting room
What happened in the sitting room? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen in the sitting room?
1.) Edith talks to the Dowager about Marigold and family duties.
2.) Lady G and Bricker flirt away in the corner and Lord G throws a wobbly.
3.) Dowager talks divorce to Prawny and something about never taking sides, which is possibly the most controversial thing she has said all season.
4.) And fucking Bunting comes up yet again, so I throw my sock at the television.

In saucy, arty conversation with Lady G, Bricker talks about his need to ‘burst’ and – boom – in BURSTS Lord G. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Oh wait…

Mary had a little man
The alternative break-up chat:
Lord Gill: Am I bad lover?
Mary: It’s like I was in a dream.
Lord Gill: How flattering. We go to bed together and then you wake up.
Mary: At least one of us was ‘up’.

What happened over dinner? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen over dinner?
1.) Lady G and Bricker sit next to each other and flirt away in baby voices.
2.) Bunting makes a bloody nuisance of herself and the television gets smacked by my other sock.
3.) Daisy and Mrs Patmore are wheeled in liked fools and then questioned like criminals in a scene reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, which I reckon is what Mrs Bunting will be teaching Daisy about in next week’s episode.
4.) Lord G huffs and puffs and blows his house down – or was it his napkin, and also his candle?

Bolshy in beddies
Lord G’s: ‘You were flirting and twinkling with that ghastly travelling salesman’ was quite possibly his most hysterical comment to date, and for the first time ever, I actually agree with him.

Curiosity kills the courtship
Anna’s curiosity may well be the undoing of her husband; at last we can raise our mugs of cocoa to the long-awaited departure of this evil, evil man.

A truly extraordinary episode where so much happened I don’t quite know what happened. The only surprising element, really, was that the ghost of Matthew Crawley didn’t appear from down the chimney to chase Miss Bunting out of the house with a hot poker. Then again, there’s always next week.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 3


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The Morning After...

The Morning After… (c) ITV Nick Briggs

Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during last night’s episode

A dose of ick
So you settle in to watch Downton with supper on a tray, and the first thing you hear is Lord Gillingham’s post-coital announcement: ‘We’ve worked up an appetite.’ I think, Lord Gill, you didn’t ‘work up’ an appetite so much as you ‘stole’ mine.

Spratt’s a fact
Where would Spratt go if Spratt happened to have a day off and enjoy a family wedding? York? London? (the only two places people go when they leave Downton?) No, Liverpool – to witness Mary and Lord Gill exit their hotel. Now, I don’t want to call this a coincidence… but I’m going to anyway.

If Carlsberg did Grandmothers…
When Spratt finally spits out he saw Mary in Liverpool, the Dowager quickly and coolly lies about why Mary was there, before dismissing him to enjoy her brandy. If I am ever a Grandmother, I want to be this one.

Lady G asks all and sundry to accompany her to London which makes us more convinced than ever what lies ahead for her and Withnail Richard E Grant Simon Bricker.

Rose invites the whole of Russia to Downton, under the pretence of ‘tea’, when actually all she wants to do is gloat about how rich she now is, and by extension, how poor they now are – all unconsciously, of course.

Let’s go Dutch
Lady Mary gives Anna her [used] Dutch Cap to hide, Anna mumbles something about ‘sin’ and we see Fellowes’ next story line: Bates finds Dutch Cap and travels to Holland to hunt the offending Dutch Man.

Most ridiculous idiom goes to…
Mrs Patmore and her ‘sympathy butters no parsnips’.
Perhaps a better phrase might be: ‘Writing a soap-drama butters up no Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable editors.’ Fellowes, take note.

Who doesn’t talk to Granny about sex?
Considering how prudish Yorkshire seems to be – well, Twenties Yorkshire according to Fellowes – I find it fairly unfeasible that Mary should choose to confide in her Grandmother about her sex life. ‘I learned a great deal that I never knew before,’ she s-u-b-t-l-y says of her Liverpudlian affair. Was this the beginning of Sex Education?

Baxter’s soup (2)
Baxter reveals her shameful story to Lady G and we finally find out it is the most shameful thing we’ve ever heard: ‘A bad man made me do bad things.’ My ears! My ears!

Bates blunders his alibi
For someone with such a feel for crime, Bates doesn’t half make a pigs ear of his story:
‘Well, I went to the opening of Browns in Queens Street [near the station]. I drank a cup of coffee [near the station], I left a whole day of time unaccounted for and think the best way to explain it is to say: ‘I walked around. I may have had a sandwich.’ And then I end by describing how I had a drink in a pub [by the station].’ Well and truly aced it.

Bricker’s back
Richard returns. That’s all.

Sharp note
Bricker calls Lady G ‘sharp’ and do you know what happens? I laugh out loud.

Cora’s conundrums
Cora admits her secret ambition is to impact on four centuries ‘with something’ she has done. I suppose the only way to accomplish this, Cors, is to actually do something.

Basic instincts
Bricker compliments Lady G on her instincts, and seconds later she says (of having dinner with him): ‘I probably shouldn’t, but I think I will’. This reveals, I’m sure you agree, quite how instinctive she really is.

Stupid and stupider
Lord G has a tantrum about Lady G’s dinner with Bricker and ends his argument by calling her stupid. As a feminist, I don’t want to agree with him, but as Downtonist, I absolutely can’t not.

Tom dumb
Does anyone care whether Tom snubs the luxury of Downton and f*cks off to America with Bunting? Anyone?

Bunting Blunders
Considering what happened the last two times she was involved, has Rose learnt her lesson re: including Bunting in Downton’s social engagements? No? OK then, let’s rerun this irritating episode once again for those who happened to have missed it the first two times…

Love is in the Heir
The Dowager gets given a fan by a… fan; a Prince Kuragin. We like where this story is going. If Granddaughter’s gettin’ some, it only makes sense for Granny to get some too.

This episode was largely disappointing and dull. Next week’s episode – with Daisy discovering all about the Revolution – is setting itself up to be a right corker.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey Series 5 Episode 2


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Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during the course of last night’s episode…

'I've just farted'  Photo: Carnival Films

Lady Grantham ‘I’ve just farted’*
Photo: Carnival Films *flirted

The game of Doubting Thomas
This episode is mainly about following the game of: Poor Thomas versus Evil Thomas. Scores after his emotional farewell to Jimmy lie at (if you haven’t seen last night’s episode, look away now):
Poor Tom, 1 – Evil Tom, Nil

First Footman Forward
Molesley asks to be promoted to first footman and Mrs Hughes puts him back in his place by way of predicting a world where there are no footmen at all. I reckon at the time of writing, Julian Fellowes was fantasising about having his own [first] footman.

Mrs Crawley demonstrates the acute Marple-esque skills in observation for which she is best-known
‘It’s funny how they change week by week at his age,’ she says of George. It’s like babies were meant to grow, isn’t it Mrs C?
THEN she interrupts what is frankly a disjointed and tedious lunch conversation to randomly talk about a Mrs Henderson and some radios. If Fellowes must repeatedly insert irrelevant subplots for Rose, I do wish he’d introduce them in a way that at least makes sense.

If Mr Drewe was such a good man, worthy enough to look after little Marigold [gloves], do you know what he’d most probably do about the #awkward Edith situation? Tell his wife.

Daisy’s a bright spark
‘Why do you have to be so nasty about everyone?’
Daisy comes straight to the point and asks Thomas the question nobody seems to have quite managed. And she thinks she needs educating…

Baxter Soup
Following Thomas’s bitchy exchange revealing all about Baxter to Molesley, the score of Poor Thomas vs Evil Thomas heats up, and we find ourselves on: 1-1.
ps Anyone notice how lovely Molesley’s hair is looking this week?

If Rose mentions the word ‘wireless’ one more time I’m going to smash my fucking telly.

Carlson gives Mrs Hughes one helluva telling off
‘I’m not cross with you, Mrs Hughes, I’m just disappointed’. As we all know this is far worse.

For all her socialist values, isn’t it funny that the well-to-do ‘middle class’ Miss Bunting makes ‘working class’ Daisy pay for her extra lessons? I’m aware the welfare state hasn’t arrived yet, but if the ruddy Bunting was so revolutionary and forward-thinking wouldn’t she have invented it?

Lord G – the ultimate buffoon
‘It’s a fad, it won’t last,’ he says of the radio. Is Fellowes intentionally trying to make us detest every word that comes out of this man’s mouth, cos if so, it’s working.

Molesley struggles to understand the concept of crime
I just, I won’t, I cannot believe that criminals exist – even though so many people who pass through Downton seem to either have been to, or belong in, prison…

Contrary Mary
If Fellowes really wanted to excite his audience, rather than Lord Gillingham un-sexily explaining he was going to take Mary out for dinner then shag her (sorry, ‘make love’ to her) all week long, couldn’t there have been no words at all and they just got on with it? Isn’t that what passion is supposed to look like? I understand the very mention of something so radical is most racy for a show of this nature, especially since Mary is, as we all know, a virgin…

Can I put Rose on mute?
As if Rose couldnt possibly get any more irritating, she then insists on inviting the ruddy Bunting for dinner – in spite of that fact not one person wants her to be there, least of all ruddy Bunting herself.

Kitten Cora changes her purr
Cora flirting is rather embarrassing but at last she’s finally showing she’s got an ounce of sass, eschewing (albeit briefly) the role of timid kitten to Lord G’s manly ‘Rabbit’.
p.s. – umm, is that it from Richard E. Grant, then? I’m probably missing something huge, but it seemed to me like he was written into the script because he was in Gosford Park, which, conveniently, was shown on ITV3 following last night’s episode. To use him simply for one ‘We’ve got history’ look at Cora (or do I mean Isis?) seems a bit of a waste to me. Does anybody know?

Gownton Grabby
Cora threatens to fire Baxter, and then hurls her dressing gown at her. If Baxter had been a proper criminal she’d have told Cora where to shove her stupid job and stolen the dressing gown.

Final Score
After Thomas’s ‘smoking broodily into the fire’ scene, we go up a goal to: Poor Thomas, 2 – Evil Thomas, 1. But then Bates turns up, sees Anna looking at Thomas forlornly and we sense Thomas’s life is in danger. So our sympathy goes up a further notch and the episode ends with the final score of: Evil Tom, 1 – Poor Tom, 1million.

In all, an OK episode. But the thought Bates might actually go to prison is such an exciting one, I’m not sure I can wait till next week. Sadly, we have no choice.


By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 1



Things will be great when you're Downton

Things will be great when you’re Downton (c) ITV

Downton’s back. And so is this: Trivial Pursuit’s blow-by-blow account of last night’s episode (or rather – stuff I tapped on my phone during it). So if you’ve not seen episode one, look away now.

Not an awful lot goes on in the first 15 minutes that I can be bothered to comment on (probably because my TV conked out during the middle of it).

Next 15 minutes..
Lord G talks ‘honourably’ about not being worthy over all that war memorial business. ‘I should be praying in the background not the front,’ he sighs. Oh how the idiot changes his tune but minutes later…

Lady G reveals ignorance of ‘birds and the bees’ euphemism
Lord G mentions ‘Tom and the Teacher’ – which in everyone’s mind could only mean one thing. True to form however, what that thing could possibly be totally foxes Lady G.
Lady G [ purring] ‘Can’t I know the details?’ Why don’t you just guess them like the rest of us?

Mary supplies important information
‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat.’ Noted.

Lord G has a moan
Lord G, at the fireplace with Mary, chats crop rotations and drones on about not being wanted. You know what Lord G? Grow a pair.

Thomas takes lessons from Bates
Thomas has taken on Bates’ role of acting like a murderer, signified by the fact he gets his own ‘murder’ music as he threatens Baxter in the corner.

It just doesn’t add up
Daisy calling herself pig ignorant is mostly hilarious because no one disagrees with her.

Rose makes an important discovery
Most pointless scene involving (yup, you guessed it) Rose. This time, she ‘finds’ Tom’s office for no reason other than to plant an idea in his head that will become a new storyline.

It’s Halloween soon isn’t it?
Bates talks to Anna about getting his leg over and I throw up a bit in my mouth. Make it stop.

Horrifying news of what the kitchen staff get up to in their spare time.
Learn stuff? Well, I never… But you’re right Carson and Mrs P; Daisy should NOT get an education. Because a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Ask Lady G, she knows all about that…

Entertaining is SO difficult when I just have to sit there
And again, Lady G whinging. This time, about Lady Anstruther coming for tea. What is this woman’s problem? It’s not like she has to make the tea. From now on I call her ‘Lazy G’.

Criminal conundrums
Bates to Lord Gillingham: ‘You don’t travel with a valet?’
Subtext: ‘Who can I murder now?’

A fire hits Downton and everyone gets their priorities straight
Thomas: ‘Lady Edith!!’
Mary: ‘George!!’
Tom: ‘Cybbie!!’
Lord Grantham: ‘Get the dog!!’*

Mary finally reveals her sympathetic side
‘Lady Edith chose to set fire to her room.’

All in all, an excellent episode. Let’s hope Fellowes has started as he means to go on.

* I’m not saying that’s wrong or anything. I mean, I’d definitely save my dog.

By Beenie Langley

Woy ahead of the curve… How England can surprise a few people in Brazil


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And so the Premiership season reaches its natural conclusion, one in which (it seems) that an expensively-assembled team of global superstars triumphs over Sentimentality FC and another expensively-assembled team of global superstars with a slightly stunted grasp of irony.

"I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me..."

“I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me…”

Were this a battle for the charts, the number 1 spot would be going to One Direction (the sad indictment of modern music), narrowly beating a Facebook-fan-led drive from The Bee Gees (haven’t been big for years, mainly famous now for Tragedy) and Jennifer Lopez (“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m still Roman/Jose from the block”). This analogy sadly falls flat for Arsenal because no band on earth scores constant top-5 hits for almost a decade without either breaking up or hitting the top spot. In a way they are unique.

Anyhow, enough of all that. The point is that, as the sun sets on the domestic season, so it rises in Brazil and the eyes of the world are drawn on the World Cup, like Sauron on a ringed Halfling.

Of course, Brazil is a country that football pairs with as naturally as tea and Hob Nobs, meaning that (providing the stadia stay upright for the duration) this is obviously going to be the best tournament since the World Cup was last in Brazil… 1950 or 2001 – depending on whether you recognise Mike Bassett’s semi-final run as an official tournament.

Mike Bassett, a sort of prototype Roy Hodgson

Mike Bassett, a sort of prototype Roy Hodgson

England will arrive at their base in Rio at their longest tournament odds in recent memory. Indeed those three-lion-tattooed lunatics who fancy a wager on Woy’s Boys can do so at a universally-available price of 33/1, giving us some distance between the Germanys and Brazils of this world and closer to the more realistic benchmarks of Colombia and Portugal.

The Golden Generation™ has mostly moved on: Becks is now a full-time football ambassador, Joe Cole is the team mascot at his beloved West Ham and Emile Heskey has been put out to stud. Only Liverpool’s mournful-eyed skipper “Stevie G” and Plug from the Bash Street Kids still command a position of any real importance in the national setup, although given the monumental success of the team over the period 2000-2012, it’s possibly no crying shame.

The squad that went to South Africa was littered with title winners and Champions League heroes, yet amassed a total of three goals in the tournament and were humiliated in the first knock-out round by the hun. The squad that are likely to travel to Brazil this summer are, for the most part, still impressed by Capital One Cup and Europa League medals.

In the aforementioned Mike Bassett: England Manager, the titular hero states upon his underwhelming appointment to the role, that “a lot of very qualified people have done this job before and look how badly they’ve done”. This is a sentiment that many have sought solace in as, for the first time in my lifetime, we enter a tournament with a seemingly realistic level of ambition.

But who are the brave souls that we are sending off in the most fruitless foreign adventure since Dunkirk? Yes, it’s time the for the Trivial Pursuits Official 2014 World Cup squad.


HARTJoe Hart (Manchester City) – The most automatic of automatic selections, for reasons that become clearer when you see the next two names. Overcame an early-season bout of the Bonettis to reclaim his place in the Man City side and will probably remain England’s goalkeeper until some point in the 2050’s, when the reanimated corpse of Peter Shilton can take over between the sticks. Dandruff-free, which will be useful in the heat of Manaus.

BenFoster_1308242aBen Foster (West Brom) – A capable deputy, largely on the basis that he A) is English, B) plays in the Premiership and C) recently renewed his passport. Has a jaw that can cut through granite. Or is that Scott Carson? Anyhow, whichever one plays for West Brom gets the job. Probably.


Fraser+Forster+England+v+Chile+o50KDIpTlwdlFraser Forster (Celtic) – The third-choice keeper is up there with England Supporter’s Band trumpeter as one of the most pointless roles in any international tournament. Celtic’s Fraser Forster has actually won something this season (albeit the sort of league where players like Gary Hooper and Kris Commons are dubbed ‘unplayable’) and, as a Geordie, will be looking forward to getting ‘mortalled’ on the Copacabana and trying to shag a ladyboy. Should therefore travel.



glenjohnson_1461550aGlen Johnson (Liverpool) – It is now 11 years since Johnson made his international debut (in a game that, somewhat incredibly, also featured James Beattie and Jermain Jenas) and only since being arguably England’s best player in Euro 2012 has the Liverpool right-back been undisputed first choice. Seems to no longer score his annual goal-of-the-season contender, however also makes less head-slammingly crass defensive errors than he used to. On balance, you’d take that. 


jag_1518222aPhil Jagielka (Everton) – Big Phil Jagielka is the sort of functional, no-nonsense, versatile defender who would have been a water bottle-carrying number 23 in previous campaigns. Now finds himself as one of the first names on the team sheet. Jamie Carragher must look at Phil’s international career and cry himself to sleep some nights.


gary-cahill-englandGary Cahill (Chelsea) – Cahill has been a revelation this season as the least flawed, and therefore most present of Mourinho’s back line. Still looks like a character from a Siegfried Sassoon poem, but his inherent Englishness belies a surprisingly good technique. Like Jagielka, will start by default.


Baines_1622043aLeighton Baines (Everton) – It seems almost unbelievable that, in 2010, England left Baines out of the squad for something called a Stephen Warnock. Four years on and the Everton man seems to have made the left-back slot his own. Long-term will probably be harshly remembered as “that guy who was left back between Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw”, but for now his attacking verve and set-piece delivery is a welcome weapon in a team that can lack creativity.


smalling_1697969aChris Smalling (Manchester United) – Somewhat of an enigmatic figure, Smalling’s career to date has swung between the sublime and the ridiculous. Now 24 years old and with Ferdinand and Vidic vacating his club position, he must push on. Versatility and lack of options make him a bit of a no-brainer here.


PhiljonesPhil Jones (Manchester United) – Another player who really needs to nail down a club position is Phil Jones. Huge versatility (could well play in midfield if England go down the “Mourinho route”), athleticism and the sort of dedicated gurn that you normally only see at footage of an illegal M25 rave all stack up in his favour. A lack of game time this season does not.


Northern Ireland v EnglandAshley Cole (Chelsea) – Sorry hipsters, if England are playing a better team than them in the World Cup (and given that two of our group fall into this category, it seems likely), I’d take Cashley over Luke Shaw any day. That said, he should probably retire from International duty as soon as the tournament is over, or “the knockout stages” as other countries know it.

The Controversial Issue – Only having seven defenders. I thought long(ish) and hard over this conundrum, but with James Milner able to fill in at full-back and the injured, muppet-headed Kyle Walker the only realistic alternative, I went for more entertaining picks further up the field. If Phil Jones is injured, expect an centre back to be picked who will probably win the only caps of his entire career in the warm-up friendlies.



GerrardSteven Gerrard (Liverpool) – Ah Stevie. Stevie, Stevie, Stevie… This season was so nearly the highlight of your career. That moment that you had waited your whole life for, that speech, your Trafalgar… Alas, football and indeed football studs are unpredictable things… Now back in the world of mediocrity after this season’s brief flirtation with success, England’s captain will hopefully continue his good club form into what should be his last major tournament.

Jordan HendersonJordan Henderson (Liverpool) – The star that keeps rising. It seems endemic of how bizarre this season has been that Henderson would probably get in most people’s starting XI. The idea is (theoretically) that he does a lot of the leg-work that allows the others to flourish around him. Whether this works in the stuffy heat of Manaus remains to be seen. A decent shout to be the scapegoat for whatever entirely predictable defeat ends our tournament.

Raheem+SterlingRaheem Sterling (Livepool) – Young, exciting, quick and with an exceptionally high sperm count, Sterling is the name sending the nation’s hype-o-meters spiralling from “meh…” to “we might do OK”. Has excelled across midfield this season, while goals against Man City and Arsenal suggest he likes the big occasion. Looks England’s next superstar in waiting, although we’re pretty sure that was said about Aaron Lennon at one stage.

LallaAdam Lallana (Southampton) – The trendy name to suggest when the subject of spare slots in the national team comes up. Two-footed and skilful, with a decent range of passing and finishing, Lallana has improved immeasurably as a footballer since Pochettino took over at Southampton. Critics will argue that he has not been tested in Europe yet, while his yearning for a fluid number 10 role might make him a Joe Cole-esque square peg in a nation of round holes in the long term. Deserves a chance though.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) – Strong, quick bulldozer of a midfielder who will probably end up playing centrally in the long-run. Can shoot off both feet, as a cracking strike against Brazil last year showed. Negatives include consistency and image association with the dire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Not impossible that Hodgson will give Kieron Gibbs his place by mistake.

James+Milner+England+v+Ireland+-xjF-nhhZrRlJames Milner (Manchester City) – Embodies everything that is wrong with the English national team. Not because he’s a bad player, his energy and versatility are valuable assets, but more because he summarises our lack of acceptance as to who we are. Whenever Milner is picked, you can hear the fans’ groans, as if he’s keeping some prodigious megastar out the side. The reality is, more often than not, that he’s keeping Adam Johnson out the side. And that’s a good thing. People need to take him for what he is: Our national identity made flesh.

Barkley EnglandRoss Barkley (Everton) – The new, new darling of the England setup and bullish driving force behind Everton’s strong year. At his best, he reminds you of when Rooney rampaged into Euro 2004 like a bull in a china shop. His lack of game time prior to this season is another stick to batter David Moyes’ credentials with. Unlikely to start in Brazil, but could prove a handful off the bench once Wazza’s 40 Lambert & Butlers catch up with him.

WilshereJack Wilshere (Arsenal) – Has struggled with injuries of late (see last 3 years) and frustratingly prone to ‘dying-swan-itis’ when fouled, but still one of the most technically gifted midfielders in the country. In a more gifted talent-pool, he probably would have missed out on this tournament due to fitness concerns, however we are England and the alternative is Tom Cleverley, so he has to go.

Fabian-Delph-Leeds-United-England-Under-19_1074587Fabian Delph (Aston Villa) – OK… Balls out time. I have set out with the intention of having an exciting, forward-looking squad and one player who deserves inclusion as such is Villa’s Fabian Delph. England are going to need energy and mobility if they are to surprise people in this tournament and for that reason, I’d have Delph as a back-up for Henderson. Absolutely ran the show against Ramires in March and would be a considerably more interesting pick than 47-year-old Frank Lampard.

The Controversial Issue – No Lampard, no Carrick. At least one of them is definitely going to go, aren’t they? Sigh…



Daniel+Sturridge+England+v+Montenegro+FIFA+C2JJrUIDLWylDaniel Sturridge (Liverpool) – After looking too big for his boots at Man City, then too selfish for his own good at Chelsea, Sturridge has been an astonishingly good signing for Liverpool. 35 goals in 48 games cannot be ignored and when you see the range of strikes he’s scored, it’s hard to deny that he looks the real deal. Able to run the channels, cut in from wide or drive on from deep, he could be the antithesis to the sort of stodgy displays England regularly produce on the big stage. Really needs to cut out that celebration though.

Wayne+Rooney+England+v+Brazil+International+N56o6d3M9G-lWayne Rooney (Manchester United) – It’s become fashionable to slag off Wayne, with his massive contract, permanent scowl, punchable face, off-the-field antics, punchable face, association to David Moyes, berating of his own fans, punchable face and the fact that he hasn’t produced in a tournament for a decade. Oh and his punchable face. But he is still one of the most talented members of the squad and one of the few to have scored big goals in Europe. If he can learn to operate behind Sturridge, it could prove to be one of the more dangerous partnerships in the tournament, which is exactly why it probably won’t work. Has a punchable face.

Danny_Welbeck_20120611Danny Welbeck (Manchester United) – Mystifying. It seems that no matter how many times I watch him play, I still can’t make my mind up as to whether he is brilliant or absolutely useless. A saner man would settle for somewhere in the middle, but this is English journalism and as such no place exists. Deserves credit as one of very few Man Utd players to enhance their reputation this season and genuinely caused Bayern Munich problems with his pace and movement. Can play on the left, albeit with all of the conviction of anyone else who has played left wing for England since Martin Peters.

lambert_1803244aRickie Lambert (Southampton) – For the record, I definitely would have taken his clubmate Jay Rodriguez, with his wonderful ability to bumble through tackles, ahead of Lambert. However injury intervened, so now I am delighted to pack the Southampton veteran onto the plane. Regardless of his potentially-useful penalty prowess and generally calm finishing, the main reason behind this is that he still bears the look of a man who cannot believe he has got to where he has. Lest we forget, this is a guy who was packing beetroot into bottles aged 21 and didn’t play in the top two divisions until he was 28. There’s something glorious about the idea of him swapping shirts with the academy-nurtured Neymar’s and Messi’s of this world.

The Controversial Issue – Given the lack of alternatives, the controversial issue up front appears to revolve around whether or not one-man wrecking mule Andy Carroll makes the trip. To give him his dues, Carroll can be a handful, but there’s something unsavoury about the way you have to play to get the best out of him. Connor Wickham’s one-man salvage job on Sunderland was too little, too late.



In previous campaigns, England’s game plan has usually seemed fairly robust but tended to resort to the worst sensibilities of the traditional 4-4-fucking-2 at the slightest sign of trouble. This is largely because, as any Sunday league manager will tell you, it’s the only way anyone in this country knows how to play. It’s how we’re taught from a young age. You’re unlikely to hear kids in the playground complaining that they’ve been asked to play as a “false 9” rather than an “enganche”, which on second thoughts is no bad thing.

However raising players who (bless them) are bears of little brain, in a country where using “wing backs” is considered a ludicrous tactical improvisation, does raise the problem of how to change things around and avoid getting mauled between the lines like we did in South Africa. To these ends I have a solution, and given that it worked when I coached Phaphane Primary School to the Mochudi Oros Cup in 2004, I expect it still works now…

Footballers might be simple, but they watch a lot of football. Therefore you simply take a successful team and you tell your footballers to emulate a player.

Got it?

None of this individual thinking bollocks, you just tell them to do what ‘their player’ would have done in that situation. As such I propose that, much like Phaphane’s golden generation copied the system of Arsenal’s Invincibles, this England team ape the style of Liverpool.

For starters, 5 of the line-up are actually in the Liverpool side, while the keeper and other defenders are (if anything) an improvement on Brendan Rodgers’ team. Up front, you bring in the closest thing England have to Suarez (probably Rooney, if on form) and Coutinho (Lallana) and, hey presto! You have a team who might actually look like they know what positions they’re playing… It’s a novel concept.

England 2014

But then again, why try that when we could just put Lampard and Gerrard together one last time? Over to you Woy.

By Harry Harland

The 2014 Cheltenham Festival Day Four: Reaching the climax


The week continued with another great third day. Annie Power ran second in the World Hurdle, and although a brave effort, many were looking to the mare to get them back on an even keel for the week and unfortunately she was not the Florence Nightingale we all hoped for. As such, many enter the last day chasing losses. But do not lose faith, there will be a saviour yet, and his name is Bobs Worth.

The day is as difficult to find a winner as any. Shrewd punting with a clear mind is more essential than ever, which could allow some redemption.
RACE 1: Triumph Hurdle
Onto the first, the Triumph Hurdle, off at 13:30. Brought on was advised antepost but at 8/1 his price is now sharper. He could still show some value though. Calipto is likely to go off favourite for Paul Nicholls, although the champion trainer is without a winner so far this week he is likely to start at 4/1. More value is searched for in Lindenhurst, an interesting charge for Ireland, who is currently 11/1.
Win: Broughton, 8/1        EW: Lindenhurst, 11/1
RACE 2: Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle
Second up is the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at 14:05. With 28 runners its one for the mugs, but those looking to get their week back on track may feel a need to find a big price winner. The Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson duo, who teamed up to win the Pertemps with Fingal Bay yesterday, have their hopes in Cheltenian, a Champion Bumper winner at the Festival in the last who has the class to go close. Jumps Road, the affable little horse with heart and quality could run a big race at a big price, but each way preference is for Lyvius and Runswick Royal, at 25/1 and 40/1 respectively, who have intriguing profiles and could be the bacon-bringer-homers.
 Win: Cheltenian, 6/1      EW: Lyvius, 25/1       EW: Runswick Royal, 40/1
RACE 3: Albert Bartlett
The final novice hurdle of the 2014 festival is off third, in the shape of the Albert Bartlett over 3 miles. The Irish see Briar Hill, victorious in last years Champion Bumper, as their best novice hurdler, and after the demolition jobs of Vautaur and Faugheen, this must be taken seriously. He is expected to roll in at a sim 5/4. Value may be found elsewhere in Champagne West who is a progressive sort and shows value at a sumptuous 20/1.
Win: Briar Hill, 5/4         EW: Champagne West, 20/1
The main spectacle of the week is the fourth race, the race everyone associated with National Hunt racing dreams of winning. Bobs Worth, the reigning champion, has a great profile and is backed to follow up. He is a beautiful athlete and a worth favourite and should follow up at 2/1. Value seekers may go with First Lieutenant who has great Festival form, and The Giant Bolster, twice placed at the Festival.
Win: Bobs Worth, 2/1         EW: First Lieutenant, 9/1
Bob's Worth and Barry Geraghty celebrate their 2013 triumph

Bob’s Worth and Barry Geraghty celebrate their 2013 triumph

RACE 5: Foxhunters
The Foxhunters is the championship event for point to pointers. Bertie’s Dream, a previous Festival winner, could go close when charging up the hill at 16/1. The Irish are sweet in Tammys Hill, who at 6/1 could be won for the short priced favourite backers.
Win: Tammys Hill, 6/1      EW: Bertie’s Dream, 16/1
RACE 6: Martin Pipe Hurdle
The sixth race on the card is a handicap hurdle run in honour of the great Martin Pipe. A gamble is being launched on The Skyfarmer for Mr Hobbs, and at 16/1 he should be the mount to carry your money. Those needing a shorter priced runner to get them out of a hole should look towards Vieux Lion Rouge for the Pipe team at a slim 6/1.
Win: Vieux Lion Rouge, 6/1       EW: The Skyfarmer, 16/1
The last race to close the week is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual. Dare Me is a thoroughly likeable sort who is a good option to throw your money away on and, if you’re going to lose, you may as well find a charming charge to do it upon. At 20/1 his odds are attractive enough to justify a good losing bet.
It’s been a great week. Enjoy the last day. And lump on Bobs Worth. Good luck.
by The Ferret
All odds supplied by For more details on the festival, please check here:

The 2014 Cheltenham Festival Day Three: Moore than we could ask for…


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The feature race of Day Two at the Festival provided a wonderful story for all interested in sport, or for that matter anyone who just loves a wonderful fairytale. The Moore family’s pride and joy, Sire de Grugy, emphatically showed his class with a faultless round of jumping to earn a much deserved victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Bought for Mr Preston by his family for a birthday present, he was the owners first and only horse in training and my, what a journey they’ve had with the chestnut gelding with the big bold blaze.


All week Sire de Grugy had been weak in the market, but eventually went off the 11/4 favourite. Ridden by Jamie Moore in 22 of his 24 races, and to all of his 12 victories, the charismatic jockey has forged a bond with his charge reminiscent of any great partnerships; the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Alexander and Bucephalos. He is the apple of the eye for Jamie’s father Gary Moore, and in a yard not characterised by expensive Festival winners this really is a lovely story. The jockeys knew how much this meant to connections and received Jamie with a guard of honour. The crowd also showed their admiration, welcoming them into the winner’s enclosure with a cheer, the volume of which is rarely heard.

With two other favourites winning on the card this was a day of the punters getting their own back. Faugheen was impressive in the opener, forging clear under Ruby Walsh to repay the faith of punters at a short 6/4. This was the ideal way to start Day Two, and gave a much-needed positive mental attitude to those looking to claw back the losses of the first day. Later on the card Balthazar King defeated the brave Any Currency by a mere short head, another favourite bringing home the bacon at 4/1. After two days it’s fair to say that honours are even as we reach the half way marker.

Faugheen romps home to give the punters a good start to Wednesday

Faugheen romps home to give the punters a good start to Wednesday

Day Three promises to be equally as compelling as the two before. The feature championship race, the World Hurdle, is one of the most intriguing of the week and could be as competitive as the Champion Hurdle on Day One. With six top quality races it promises to offer exceptional sport, wonderful drama and some amazing stories.


RACE 1: JLT Novices’ Chase

The first race of the day off at 13:30 is the JLT Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. A highly competitive race with the the best charges from England and Ireland, there are many with a squeak and the odds reflect this. Willie Mullins’ hand is three strong and a case can be made for each. Felix Yonger, second in the 2012 Neptune, is the pick for Ruby Walsh and will relish the return to a sounder surface. He has to have a very strong chance and is likely to go off favourite. Wonderful Charm is from the Paul Nicholls yard who, without a winner in the first two days, are due one. He has some great chasing form, and has an eight pound pull in the weights against Oscar Whiskey, who beat him by half a length at Cheltenham in December. The latter however is a shrewd operator over this trip, loves Cheltenham, and although his jumping needs to polish up a little he is am exciting charge at 6/1.  Those looking for more value are pointed towards Tarquin Du Seuil at 8/1 who has solid form around Cheltenham.

Win: Oscar Whiskey, 6/1        EW: Tarquin Du Seuil, 8/1


RACE 2: Pertemps Network Final

Up next is the Pertemps Network Final, a handicap hurdle over 3 miles. With 24 declared runners it is the big lottery of the day, however there will be some juicy odds and an opportunity to try and land a gamble. Top weight Fingal Bay is a class above his opponents and a worthy favourite. He completed a very appealing return recently at Exeter, winning in good style, and should give you a good run for your money at 9/1. An alternative would be Josies Orders who, at the other end of the weights, looks an interesting proposition. Ridden by the capable Maurice Linehan, he takes an invaluable 5 pounds off his charges back which could be the difference as they approach the hill. At 12/1 he looks good value. Those looking for better value may look towards Lie Forrit who has be reinvigorated under the stewardship of Lucinda Russell. At 25/1, he could get your week back on track.

Win: Josies Orders, 12/1          EW: Lie Forrit, 25/1


RACE 3: Ryanair Chase

At 14:40 we have a real riddle in the shape of the Ryanair Chase. With 6 of the 12 runners having winning form around Prestbury Park, all of a sudden my way of whittling down the field has become even less useful. In recent history the race has been won by some classy sorts, and last year the excellent and sadly missed Cue Card was victorious over First Lieutenant. A case can be made for many of the runners. Boston Bob is a quality animal who was full of running when falling at the last in the RSA. This may be his chance to redeem himself at a tasty 10/1. Benefficient did what Boston Bob didn’t manage to do, winning the now JLT Novices Chase on this day last year and as such must be taken very seriously, and is an interesting option at 5/1. Dynaste has got his season back on track after flopping at last years Festival and is likely to go off the favourite, currently priced around 4/1. Aside of these runners, a case can be made for many others, including the very classy Al Ferof who has been tried at the highest level this year, and Hidden Cyclone, who has great form around Cheltenham and is fancied to go one better and get his head in front at an attractive 9/1.

Win: Hidden Cyclone, 9/1              EW: Boston Bob, 10/1


RACE 4: Ladbrokes World Hurdle

The feature race of the day is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Off at 15:20 and over three miles, it is the championship race for staying hurdlers and will certainly be one of the most eagerly anticipated contests of the week. Star of the show is undoubtedly Big Bucks, victorious in this race no less than four times, a hero who racked up an immense 18 victories on the bounce prior to injury. A satisfactory return on unsatisfactory heavy ground back in January resulted in a third placed finish, however many question whether at the grand age of 11, the master will regain the regal heights of his former glories. Chinks in the old hero’s armour have also encouraged a competitive field to take their chance. At the fore is undoubtedly Annie Power, a super-mare in the making with a reputation that inflates with each appearance. Although untried over this distance, she was victorious around Cheltenham over 2 miles 4 furlongs in January on heavy ground and she has to be fancied to be there when the screw really turns. Hailing from the Mullins/Walsh team, there are many reasons to fear this new mare, who, at the tender age of six and five years younger than Big Bucks, surely is a name we will hear a lot more of in the future. Those looking for a little more value may turn to Medinas who won last years Coral Cup and is proven to stay over this trip.

Win: Annie Power, 6/4                EW: Medinas, 25/1

Collision course: Will this year see the baton passed from Big Bucks to Annie Power?

Collision course: Will this year see the baton passed from Big Bucks to Annie Power?

RACE 5: Byrne Group Plate

The penultimate race on the card is the Byrne Group Plate, a handicap chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. As ever the art is to try and beat the handicapper and find a charge who has a little in hand, and as such any form on the course, distance and ground should be taken very seriously. Colour Squadron is the McManus choice for AP McCoy and has solid form around Cheltenham this season. He could well go off favourite at 8/1. Venetia Williams however has an outstanding record in the event with three victories in the last seven years and has three options this year. Her Shangani is fancied to follow up on his recent success and give her another victory at 16/1.

Win: Colour Squadron, 8/1         EW: Shangani, 16/1


RACE 6: Kim Muir

The last race on the card is the Kim Muir for amateur riders over 3 miles one and a half furlongs. Jockey bookings could be key, as we have seen inexperienced pilots cause havoc in recents renewals. Same Differnce was victorious in the contest last year and could go close again for the Nigel Twiston Davies yard who deserve a slice of luck. The pick however is Indian Castle who has some very solid form lines and an able partner in Derek O’Connor. At 6/1, he is a short price and is likely to go off favourite. Those needing to get their day back on track in grand style may look to the bottom weight, Problema Tic, from the shrewd Pipe yard and with little weight on his back.

Win: Indian Castle, 6/1             EW: Problema Tic, 25/1


20481346All in all another mesmerising day of sport, with riddles galore and a case to be made for plenty of the runners. We haven’t been far away with the tips so far and managed to land a couple of victories yesterday with Faugheen and the juicy Whisper at 14/1 in the Coral Cup. A shrewd punt can be undone by a stumble at the last or being pipped a short head, but over 4 days luck will even itself out and we don’t want anyone feeling hard-done-by. Barry Geraghty recently pointed out the trick to winning round Cheltenham is to believe, truly believe, you’re on the winning horse and that you can’t get beaten. Whether circling at the start, watching from the armchair of yelling from the grandstand, this is a sound mantra, so keep faith in your charges and plough into Day Three.

by The Ferret

All odds supplied by For more details on the festival, please check here:

The 2014 Cheltenham Festival Day Two: The Glory, The Drama, The Tragedy


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Neither Homer, nor any of the other Ancient Greek classicists could have written a more compelling first chapter. With heart break and hard luck, starkly contrasting Herculean efforts that rewrote the records books, Day One of the Cheltenham Festival was rife with drama, glory and tragedy that even Odysseus could not carry on his shoulders.

Even with all of the headlines from the afternoon, special praise must be reserved for the wonder-mare Quevega, who triumphed in the OLBG Mares Hurdle for a sixth consecutive time. This isn’t just a good horse competing in an easy race and steam-rolling it once again, another walk over for a far superior creature. This is the stuff of legends that is deserving of the highest praise. To keep a horse sound and fit and to get them to the track 6 years in succession is in itself a minor miracle. To have them primed and ready to give their all, is again more impressive. But to overcome luck, or even to make your own luck, and to be there at the business end when it matters and to put your head in front and win, is what separate real legends, true heroes and heroines, for mere Champions. For the sixth year in a row Quevega, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh defied all in their path to forge an incredible bond and a record which will not be broken for many years. She surpasses the record of 5 Festival wins set by Golden Miller back in the 1930’s, and it’s quite conceivable we may have to wait another 80-odd years to see this record broken. If you ever have the pleasure of seeing Quevega in the flesh, please remember to bow or curtsey. She deserves every ounce of glory we can heap onto her.

That's 6... Count 'em...

That’s 6… Count ‘em…

That was not the only drama of the afternoon for the mighty team of Messers Mullins and Walsh. The deadly duo kicked the day off with a master class of tactics in a high quality Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Ruby conducting affairs from the front aboard Vantour, using Machiavellian control to ensure the race unfolded exactly how his charge required it. He quickened the pace, he took a pull, and he stormed up the hill with his competitors trailing in his wake. If ever we needed a wake up call to the ability of the Mullins/Walsh partnership and the calibre of their stable, they were kind enough to supply it early in the week when we have a chance to look, listen and learn. Vantour rolled in an impressive 7/2 joint favourite and got the meeting off to a great start. Irving, the fellow joint favourite who was so fancied in the morning, never got into the race to throw down a challenge. It is yet to be revealed what was amiss, but this was not a good day at the office for him.

The same partnership was in the spotlight in the Arkle, a race that appeared an unfathomable enigma before the tapes went up. Those who swiftly accepted the lessons from the first, to side with Mullins and Walsh, and employed them in the Arkle would have felt mighty proud coming to the last, with Champagne Fever looking the winner all over, a few lengths clear of the field. However it was a day when Western Warhorse had the wind in his sail, felt the power and surged up the hill. A foot perfect jump at the last meant he shot away from the obstacle with only Champagne Fever in his sights. He charged down his rival and got to him, desperately, in the final stride, sticking his head out to win by the slenderest of margins. Winning jockey Tom Scudamore timed his assault to perfection, as he attacked and passed Champagne Fever so late in the race that Ruby Walsh didn’t have a chance to react. Although a shock winner at 33/1, everyone likes to see an outsider belly his odds and Western Warhorse was a very impressive, and deserved victor. It added a further layer to the roller-coaster of an afternoon; Mullins and Walsh tasting glory and despair minutes apart, and a handsome dollop of drama thrown in for good measure.

And having already experienced a bounty of glory, drama and despair, the Stan James Champion Hurdle gave us tragedy. One of the strongest renewals in the recent years, and with all the top two mile hurdlers from England and Ireland pitting their wits, it was never going to be anything other than spectacular. Setting off at a break-neck speed the field attacked their hurdles like winged Pegasi, disappearing over the obstacles with grace and precision. In the back straight Our Conor sadly came to grief, falling when in the lead and impeding The New One. In a tragic hand of fate he was injured beyond repair and so sadly had to be put down. It again shows that when the stakes are so high, the competition so fierce, the risks are also terrible. It is because of this that the quality, ability and skill demonstrated is even more impressive.


In the episode The New One lost momentum, which in effect ruined his chances of winning, and the fight was left to three as they turned onto the home straight. Hurricane Fly, the reigning champ and old master gave his damnedest but the day was reserved for the new generation, and the JP McManus-owned pair of Jezki and My Tent Or Yours battled it out up the hill, the former victorious by just a neck. The New One regained his poise and momentum after the unlucky interruption and charged up the hill to earn an impressive third. Glory for McManus, Harrington and Geraghty and this should not be underestimated; they were the best horse on the day, made their own luck and deserve high praise. The race does emphasise the oh-so fine line between glory and tragedy, and make Quevega’s achievement appear even more remarkable.

The three handicaps were also fascinating affairs, with relatively short-priced fancied runners to the fore. No massive shocks were sprung and it appears that the solid form stood up.

In short, Day One was nothing short of spectacular. A microcosm to everything that makes the sport of horse racing so beautiful and so compelling. We have learnt not to underestimate Mullins/Walsh and to look for horses with form on undulating tracks. These clues are essential weapons in the coming three days. So, on to Day Two…


RACE 1: Neptune Investment Management Hurdle

The first race, off at 13:30, is the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle, a Grade One over two miles five furlongs. With great strength in depth across the 16 runners, Day Two gets off to an intriguing start. The horse of immediate interest is Faugheen, victorious over Josses Hill early in the season by 22 lengths (Josses Hill went on to be second in the Supreme Novices’ yesterday). That is rock solid form, as are his three further victories, and he is a worthy favourite at 7/4 that deserves all of our respect. He represents Messers Mullins and Walsh again, and we have already learnt the lesson from them through Vautour. David Pipe, already with a 2014 Festival winner, fancies Red Sherlock as his best chance of the week and at 4/1 he is going to be a tough opponent. He has won all 6 of his starts, including two around Cheltenham, form that must be respected, and he will be throwing down his challenge at the line. Those looking for a little more value would do well to side with Lieutenant Colonel who has rock solid form in Ireland and is an unexposed type who could be anything.

Win: Faugheen, 7/4         EW: Lieutenant Colonel, 12/1


RACE 2: RSA Chase

Up next, the second race on the card is the RSA Chase, an event that has been the spring board to glorious careers for many chasing stars. This is a very competitive renewal and the market reflects that with little to split the field. Smad Place was a high class hurdler and has translated his form to the larger obstacles. Sam Winner and Le Bec have both won over fences around Cheltenham, something to take very seriously, and the latter in particular looks to have a particularly good each way chance. Ballycasey is a talented operator, however, after a fall whilst schooling at the racecourse recently, question marks hang over his jumping and confidence, and therefore in an event where there is no room for error, the 5/1 favourite is worth taking on. An intriguing runner is Morning Assembly, who has very solid form lines and has run against the best in Ireland. He is yet to encounter good ground, but he appears to have the profile of an RSA winner and could go on to big things.

Win: Morning Assembly, 7/1            EW: Le Bec, 14/1


RACE 3: Coral Cup

The third race of the day is the Coral Cup, an ultra competitive handicap consisting of 28 runners. To win such an event one will need a huge degree of luck in running to be in the right place at the right time. A couple of horses with interesting profiles are Whisper from the Nicky Henderson yard, ridden by Nico de Boinville who will take a valuable 5lb of his back. He has winning form at Cheltenham and run close in defeat and should be there or thereabouts at the finish. Also Cotton Mill could run a big race, putting in a blinder in 2012 in the Neptune before unseating the jockey late on. He could run a nice race at an attractive price.

EW: Whisper, 18/1         EW: Cotton Mill, 16/1


RACE 4: Queen Mother Champion Chase

At 15:20 we have the championship race of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase over 2 miles. A highlight of the Festival, it is fast and furious with no room for error. Sadly this year is shadowed by the absence of the wonderful Sprinter Sacre, the highest rated chaser in training and victor in the last two renewals. As a result of SS not being with us, we have a more competitive affair, even if the quality is not so high. Sire de Grugy has been an able deputy all season, winning Grade One steeplechases in emphatic style, but many seem to think he is best when able to get his toe in and question his ability to handle the better going. A 3/1, he has drifted markedly in recent weeks and the bookies are doing their best to entice you. Alternatively Captain Conan for Nicky Henderson is a top class chaser who has beaten Sire de Grugy this season, has for round Cheltenham and is a solid option at 5/1. However Kid Cassidy is cited as a further alternative with better value at 11/1. Although a tricky customer, he has beaten Sire de Grugy over course and distance and the champion jockey, AP McCoy, knows how to get the very best out of him.

Win: Captain Conan, 5/1              EW: Kid Cassidy, 11/1

Can Captain Conan pounce in Sprinter Sacre's absence?

Can Captain Conan pounce in Sprinter Sacre’s absence?

RACE 5: Cross Country Chase

An entertaining race greets us at 16:00, with the Cross Country Chase over walls, hedges, ditches and all other obstacles the ground staff can find to throw at the horses. Enda Bolger has an unrivalled reputation in this unique discipline, largely through his supreme Spot Thedifference who won multiple runnings. Big Shu is general 9/2 favourite and deservedly so, having won many similar events already this season. Bolger’s Star Neuville is a good alternative though for respected connections at 7/1 with little weight on his back.

Win: Big Shu, 9/2          EW: Star Neuville, 7/1


RACE 6: Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle

The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is the sixth race of the day, a hurdle over 2 miles. Run at a frenetic gallop, this is a handicap for the youngest hurdlers all vying to make a name for themselves. It is not unusual to find a rough gem somewhere, an unexposed sort who has not had his ground or trip and will deliver his best on the big day. Dawalan has strong form for Henderson and Geraghty who have historically held a strong hand with these types, however there may be more value elsewhere and it may be worth taking on the 6/1 favourite. The form of Clarcam, hailing from the Gordon Elliott yard who was successful last in this race last year, has solid form against top horses and looks to be a good option at 14/1. Elsewhere and at a bigger price, Handiwork will appreciate the better ground and has recorded a couple of decent hurdle victories this season already. At 33/1 he could offer great value, with pilot Sam Twiston Davies looking to gain vengeance for his hard luck in Tuesdays Champion Hurdle.

EW: Clarcam, 14/1       EW: Handiwork, 33/1


RACE 7: Weatherby’s Champion Bumper

The final race is the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a 2 mile ‘flat race’ for young horses who are new to the game, aiming to give experience to the top-draw talents. Willie Mullins has a mightily impressive record in the race with multiple victories in recent years, and he is represented by three charges this year. His horses are almost inseparable in the market, with two at 7/1 and one at 8/1, and no one, including the master himself, will probably be able to tell who is superior until they turn for home. In the past son Patrick Mullins has picked the correct horse and again we will trust his judgement, with Black Hercules. Elsewhere, more value and something more to build dreams on could be found in Definitely Red for the home side, under champion jockey AP McCoy, a dual winner at a sumptuous 20/1.

Win: Black Hercules, 7/1      EW: Definitely Red, 20/1


His luck will end...

His luck will end…

I think it is fair to say that Day One was victory for the bookmakers. With Irving, Champagne Fever, The New One and Hurricane Fly all being turned over punters had a torrid time. Although all we could ever have demanded in drama and intrigue arrived in a mere 5 hours of racing, we have the pleasure, nay the privilege, to a further 3 days and 15 hours of stirring spectacle. We weren’t far away with our selections yesterday, the method is working. Keep faith, knuckle down and go forth. Today will be a great day, and the glory of the star horses will be mirrored with us, mere punters, in our field of combat, the betting ring. Good luck on Day Two and enjoy the feast of riches in this wonderful sport.

by The Ferret

All odds supplied by For more details on the festival, please check here:


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