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 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.
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
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
All 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 http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here: http://www.cheltenham2014.net/cheltenham-festival-race-calendar-2014/
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 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
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
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 http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here:
What a wonderful day of racing. Hours away from the start of another fantastic Festival, the magic has become even more magnificent with a lineup that any of the world’s premier catwalks should be proud of. Milan, Paris, Tokyo…no, we’re in the bosom of Cleeve Hill at Prestubry Park for another magnificent Cheltenham Festival…
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh team up with not one, not two, but three Cheltenham Festival heroes; firstly two-time Festival winner Champagne Fever bids for a third victory in The Arkle, Hurricane Fly bids to emulate the great Istabraq by winning the Champion Hurdle for the third time, and Quevega aims to rewrite the record books with a 6th, yes SIXTH, victory at the Cheltenham Festival in the OLBG Mares race. And we haven’t even mentioned The New One, Irving, Rock On Ruby, My Tent Or Yours…oh, my mouth isn’t merely watering, I’m dribbling like an overflowing trough!
Nerves and the ability to handle the pressure on the big stage will be imperative. The stakes are at the highest in what is without doubt the pinnacle of the National Hunt calendar. Who can handle the pressure, the weight of expectation, the dreams and urgings of the 60,000-odd crowd will be those who can make their own luck and be at the business end when the cards are sorted. With so little room for error guaranteed by ultra-competitive racing, this really is a joyous spectacle as well as an intriguing betting contest.
It’s nice to be able to say that we are on the threshold of the first day of the finest festival in the world of National Hunt racing. No caveats, if or buts or maybes, just the first of four days of brilliance. This is the stuff of so many dreams, of owners and breeders and jockeys and stable staff, people who have put in money and effort, blood sweat and tears, culminating in this week. Many are about to go under starters orders and how they cope under that tremendous pressure, that tremendous honour, will be what divides champions from mere competitors.
Anyway, onto the feast in store. Wow, what a day! What a week! Momentum, belief, recent form and the knowledge of how to handle the big days and big races will be as vital as ever. Once again the big names occupy the main stage, and again give good reason to be feared. Nicky Henderson’s yard are doing their best to impersonate an unstoppable steam engine; Willie Mullins has a stellar cast with almost a favourite in every race; big names who love big days are licking their lips and eyeing up their prize.
Day One is the strongest I can remember for a very long time. The feature races, centring around the Champion Hurdle, but ably flanked by the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Arkle are all mouth-watering propositions. Featuring Champions galore, champions elect and deserved champions who may never quite reach those lofty heights, the racing is nothing short of absolutely first class.
As with every year there are the keys signs to look for in your quest for backing a winner. Course winning form around Cheltenham is extremely valuable, with a knowledge of how to handle the unique undulations, sharp corners and gruelling finish invaluable. JP McManus has always cited the ground as a key determinant of a horses chances, and the going will play a huge part this year. Sodden doesn’t do justice the quantities of water we have all endured, and as such form-lines may be turned on their head as horses who need to feel a little more traction for the turf finally feel ground they can kick on from. As ever the competition is fierce, the riddles enigma-esq and the potential prizes glorious.
In short, look for a horse that likes Cheltenham, has form on good ground (even though it may be a little while ago, before all the rain), has a trainer in good form and has a jockey who wears pretty colours. Double the age of your cat, subtract your IQ and that will give you the number of the winner. Easy.
RACE 1: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The first course on our menu is the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a Grade One (top class) race for young hurdlers over 2 miles. As ever the curtain raiser is a cracking event, with resounding strength in depth. There are 18 horses lined up to take on the event, and as ever when quality is deep a case can be made for many. Irving has done more than can have ever been asked of him in 4 hurdle starts so far, winning all four and beating some decent beasts at the same time. His form is rock solid, he has a serious turn of foot that may be needed come the home turn and he is a worthy favourite. His price of 4/1 is short, and there isn’t a lot of value when one sees 17 other high class horses. That said, you’d be a brave man to offer bigger odds. Willie Mullins has a full hand of potential winners, a theme you may see recurring throughout the week. Vantour, ridden by his number one jockey Ruby Walsh, come across the Irish Sea with a massive reputation. At 4/1 joint-favourite, we are spoilt with the best English and Irish novices opposing. Thereafter Mr Mullins has another two runners in Wicklow Brave and Valseur Lido who are also unbeaten over hurdles and could be anything. You could forgive Messers Mullins and Walsh for not knowing which of there 3 has the best chance, the strength is so impressive. Bryan Cooper, the newly appointed retained jockey to Gigginstwon Stud and Michael O’Leary (Mr Ryanair – aim your eggs….) had a fantastic Festival last year and his mount Valseur Lido shows a little more value at 16/1. However for strong each way value Josses Hill is put forward at 20/1. Although he appears the second string of Nicky Henderson’s horses on jockey bookings he has top form and is expected to step up to the mark for a yard that can do no wrong at present.
Win: Irving, 4/1 EW: Josses Hill, 20/1
RACE 2: The Arkle
Once the roar for the first has gently died down, we move on to race two which is no less intriguing and exciting. The Arkle is again a Grade One race, a novice chase for the best young chasers about. Last years Supreme Novice winner has progressed onto chasing and once again shows spades of ability in his new discipline. Champagne Fever, again for the Mullins-Walsh partnership, was a class act over hurdles and is a deserved favourite. He has won at the two last Cheltenham Festivals and undoubtedly has the class to make it a hat trick. That said, he made a hash of his jumping on his latest start at Leapordstown and there will be no room for similar errors. As such, he may be worth taking on at a very short 5/2. The primary alternative is Rock On Ruby, a previous Champion Hurdle winner who loves both Cheltenham and the Festival. He has only has two starts chasing, beaten two rivals on his first occasion, and only one on his second, but his young trainer Harry Fry is a master at setting a horse up for a race and he has a real chance. At 4/1 he is value to take on Champagne Fever and you can be sure he will be there or thereabouts coming to the last. The only question mark would be his lack of chasing experience, after only 2 starts in small fields. Dodging Bullets is appropriately named, and his form appears bullet-proof. With 3 of his 5 wins have come at Prestbury Park, the conditions will suit to a tee. He will be there fighting at the end. It should be very close between him and Rock On Ruby. For those looking for a little more value, Valdez at 7/1 could be the each way option. He has won his three chase starts for Alan King and looked like a natural chaser.
Win: Rock On Ruby, 4/1 EW: Valdez, 7/1
RACE 3: Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase
The third race is the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase, a big field handicap Grade 3 over 3 miles 1 furlong. With 24 runners it really is a bit of a lottery, however there are some little gems of information to pick upon with the chance of landing a jackpot. Ackertac is a course winner who is handled by the shrewd Tim Vaughan who knows how to ready a gamble for a big handicap. He should run a big race with a nice weight from the handicapper and at 25/1 there could be some nice place money for the each way punters. Alfie Sherrin is a rock solid favourite for champion jockey AP McCoy, having won the race before and coming 4th at last years Festival, but at 8/1 there isn’t much value, especially in such a competitive affair. Value can also be found with Time For Rupert, a high class on his day who has dropped right down the weights and must have a chance dropped upgrade (16/1), and King Massini is a horse on the up who could have no end of ability having won around Cheltenham earlier in the season. He must be worth a tipple at a juicy 25/1.
Ackertac, ew, 25/1 King Massini, ew, 25/1
RACE 4: Stan James Champion Hurdle
The fourth race is the feature event of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle over 2 miles. With all of the gems in the lineup, it is classier than can ever have been dreamt of a championship affair. The best horses from England and Ireland are fit, on form and descending on Prestbury Park with no excuses, no caveats, just glory in their sights. Where to start… Hurricane Fly was the first horse to ever regain his Champion Hurdle crown after losing it and comes into the race this year having beaten two of his principle competitors (Our Conor and Jezki) twice this season. Ruby Walsh has had the privilege of preparing perfectly for this year, having ridden Hurricane Fly in 3 previous Champion Hurdles, he should have every eventuality covered and have the experience, quality and nous to get his head in front when it really counts. At 7/2 co-favourite, he can use all his skill and cunning to keep the new young generation of hurdlers at bay. The obvious contender is The New One, a beautiful thoroughbred oozing quality. A gelding with a very high crushing speed, he also has an electric turn of foot at the death of a race. After stumbling on landing he was unlucky to go down to My Tent Or Yours earlier in the season and he will be challenging at the death for father and son team trainer Nigel and jockey Sam Twiston Davies. The aforementioned My Tent Or Yours gallops and will love the drying ground, but last years second in the Supreme Novices’ may have to settle for a supporting role today. For those looking for some each way value, try Melodic Rendezvous at 25/1. He has taken many scalps and is as genuine as they come, but he may be found out by the turn of foot of some of these. He’ll never stop galloping though and will being doing his very best for your money.
Win: Hurricane Fly, 5/2 EW: Melodic Rendezvous, 25/1
RACE 5: OLBG Mares Hurdle
The fifth race off at 16:00 is the OLBG Mares Hurdle, for the ladies out there over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Quevega, the star mare, aims to rewrite the record books and win the same race for the sixth time. Yes, the sixth race in succession. That would be a remarkable feat, as the quality of the opposition aside, it is a minor miracle to keep a mare on top of her game and fit for 6 years in a row. It would be a pleasure to see her add the the £669k she has already earned in her career and to set a serious bit of history at the same time. At 4/6 there isn’t a lot of value, but there is more to earn for her victory than just money. Those demanding more value, I would suggest two good value each way shouts; Highland Retreat from the Harry Kane yard is an interesting option at 14/1. The young trainer is a specialist with the mares and she has been set up for the face perfectly. The ground may be a little too fast for her but she is definitely a classy mare. Otherwise the top horse, Callin Annamh is an interesting runner for Jessie Harrington and should run nicely at 16/1.
Win: Quevega, 4/6 EW: Callin Annamh, 14/1
RACE 6: National Hunt Chase
The sixth race of the day is run in honour of Terry Buddlecombe, a father of racing who put so much into our sport. A true character, the race will run in an entertaining and eventful way, truly befitting the man it was named after. For amateur jockeys, literally anything could happen, and the advice is to side with a horse who has a pilot who gives you some trust (or knows how to sit on a horse and which way to go). Favourites have a great record in the race, winning the last three renewals, and Foxrock is a worthy favourite, being trained by Ted and ridden by Mark, father and brother to Ruby Walsh respectively. However at 11/4, in a race where the only thing that is guaranteed is drama, the price is far too short. Better value can be found with Rogue Angel for a shrewd pair, who could be there or thereabouts at the post at a tasty 14/1. Elsewhere Milborough could run into a place under a jockey who recently recorded a victory under rules, Mr B Gibbs, and is value at 33/1.
Win: Foxrock, 11/4 EW: Rogue Angel, 14/1 EW: Milborough, 33/1
RACE 7: Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase
The seventh and final race is the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. This handicap is bound to have some well weighted horses looking to make the most of the return to a better surface. The ever-impressive Bryan Cooper seems to have a great chance on Art of Logistics. Sounding like the love-child of Eddie Stobart, the Dessie Hughes trained gelding should relish the return to a firmer surface and has a great shout at 8/1. There is also further great value in the race, with Attaglance looking to have found a ready opportunity to open his chasing account. He has good form around Cheltenham and, having been 4th in the Paddy Power earlier in the season, he should be challenging Art of Logistics coming to the last.
Wn, Art of Logistics, 8/1 EW, Attaglance, 14/1
All in all we are graced with a fantastic day ahead of us. The customary roar of the crowd cannot be loud enough, so deserving are those in the line up. For those having a flutter, I wish you Godspeed. Follow your gut instinct and don’t overcomplicate it – and certainly don’t change your mind at the last minute! Coupling this beautiful spectacle is a ruthless war against the bookmakers and I wish you luck as you advance on your chosen gentleman’s turf accountant.
We’re under starters orders, and the mighty roar will soon be unleashed. Welcome to the Cheltenham Festival…
by The Ferret
All odds supplied by http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here:
The Correspondents – Puppet Loosely Strung
In the trendy, neophillic world of music, everyone is perpetually looking to say that they “discovered” a band. That they were at that breakthrough gig. That they championed them when others hadn’t heard the name. It’s a sentiment that can be heard echoing around the skinny-jean-adorned streets of Hoxton and beyond.
By the time a band has released their first album, six months down the line, they’re old hat. Yesterday’s news.
Eclectic London duo The Correspondents are a very different animal though, not least because they seem to have already been around for an eternity.
Owing initially to the fact that everyone seemed to “know someone who knew them”, then supported by the ferocious live reputation they steadily built (culminating in barnstorming performances at Glastonbury, Bestival and Secret Garden Party), the band have for some time seemed a household name. Which was an impressive feat, given that (one limited edition EP aside) they had never actually released anything.
DJ Chucks and flamboyant frontman Mr Bruce have taken their time in putting together a dozen tracks, a feat which is all the more impressive given the pair’s reluctance to take the easy option and include old live favourites like What Happened To Soho or Jungle Book mash-up, King Of The Swingers.
Puppet Loosely Strung opens with quirky slow number What Did I Do, a meandering waltz that occasionally breaks into dubby bass, before heralding in the familiar scat-heavy swing territory of excellent lead single Fear & Delight.
Many a promising young band has run aground on their failure to translate the energy and excitement of their live sets onto record. Often a performer, stripped of the bells and whistles of their live show, can disappoint in the confines of one’s own headphones.
It’s not easy to replace the experience of watching Mr Bruce dancing on a treadmill while looking like a court jester on acid, for example. Indeed the band’s natural showmanship could well have been the metaphorical albatross that led to letdown.
Happily, this appears not to be a concern for The Correspondents, owing to the evolution of the pair’s songwriting. Chucks’ basslines groove exquisitely on tracks such as Kind Of Love, while Mr Bruce’s witty vocals now have a great range of depth and annunciation, proving the singer to be much more than merely the gifted scat man that he started out as.
The variety on show here is a huge positive. From the 80s feel of The Last Time, to the futuristic Alarm Call via the underlying swing revivalism of the whole thing, this is a release that is hard to pigeon-hole in terms of a defining era. In sounding a little bit like a lot of things, yet nothing much like anything in particular, Puppet Loosely Strung is a breath of fresh air in a music scene that often appears lost for ideas.
The Correspondents will doubtless continue to wow fans on stage, that much is guaranteed. However what is genuinely pleasing is that, on this evidence, they have the ability to do so on record too.
It is a rare gift.
Puppet Loosely Strung is released on Monday 10th March and is available on iTunes
by Harry Harland
Rising like a cliff in the midst of the floods, Cleeve Hill and the mite of the Cheltenham Festival is once again upon us.
The recent months may have been damper than a Majorcan wet t-shirt competition, with the National Hunt season doing its utmost to avoid the puddles, fords and minor tsunami’s that would have struck terror into Noah’s heart. Now the sight of a few snowdrops amongst the trees and four days of absolutely unrivalled competition at the sacred home of jump racing have arrived in a very timely manner.
Every year the quality seems to be higher, the competition tougher, the riddles harder to solve; this year is no different, only exacerbated by the wettest of winters, yearning for the reflection of a ray of light from the gleaming armour of equine champions.
A party without the belle of the ball starts slowly, but soon those present forget those absent and move onto the real feast in store.
Regrettably the highest rated chaser in our world is injured, and the masses visiting and tuning into the Festival will have to do without the site of the wonderful Sprinter Sacre. A magnificent beast of giant proportions, he needs to be made up of every hand and inch just to carry the lofty reputation that he has deservedly established. A beautiful, natural creature, he crafts his art in arguably the most impressive of equine fields, the 2 mile chase. Over the minimum trip and attacking fences at top speed, athleticism, precision and nerve are the order of the day. Attributes he holds in spades.
No one who loves the sport has ever wanted to see Sprinter Sacre do anything but spread his wings and win, emphatically, and as such the Festival will be lacking without him. Nonetheless, it is better that a horse who is not showing the master that is the ruddy-cheeked Nicky Henderson his true self stays out of the limelight until he is back to full song. And the supporting cast for the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday), as well as all of the other Championship races, certainly serve up more courses of Michelin-starred cuisine than even the most pie-eyed of scoffers could demand at his table.
Day One, Tuesday 11th March, centres around the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Arguably the most competitive race of the whole week, the quality is astounding, with all the best 2 mile hurdlers from Britain and Ireland fit, on form and in line to start.
Joint-favouritism is shared between two-time Champion Hurdle victor Hurricane Fly, who will be attempting to maintain his crown, and the comparatively sprightly The New One, who weighs in at four years the junior. Both recorded victories at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013, boast 5 wins from 6 starts between them this season and deserve to be Champion.
However this is by no means a two horse race; My Tent or Yours, owned by the enigmatic JP McManus, has speed to burn and has winning form against The New One, taking his scalp by half a length at Kempton on Boxing Day; Our Conor looked a Champion Hurdle winner all over when romping home in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle by a colossal 15 lengths, a rare distance when the competition is so intense; as well as the ‘no-hopers’, including the unbeaten Un De Sceaux for Willie Mullins, McManus’ second hope Jezki that the Champ AP McCoy regrettably had to discard in favour of My Tent or Yours, and Melodic Rendezvous, who has time and again shown his quality against the top opposition.
It seems the most hardy sports fan, looking for a proper riddle to solve, has already bitten of more than they can chew. And that’s before we get onto the other 6 races on Day One, including a sensational Supreme Novices Hurdle, an astounding Arkle Chase and a potential history maker in Quevega, bidding to be the first horse to win six times at the Cheltenham Festival.
The rest of the week continues in similar fashion. A Sprinter Sacre-less Wednesday is only slightly poorer than the most optimistic of fan could have hoped for. Sire de Grugy has stood in as an able deputy all season for SS, and he will go eye to eye with some fierce opponents.
Thursday centres around the World Hurdle, the Championship race for staying hurdlers over 3 miles. While one hero may be absent, another household name has dragged himself away from the physio and masseuse to take his chance: Big Bucks racked up 18 victories on the bounce before returning from almost 14 months off with a brave three-quarters of a length defeat at HQ in January. The roar he will receive from the crowd will be from the bottom of everyone’s heart, he is loved so much, but he will have more on his plate and more to prove than ever before. He is the wizened pro who has been around the block, the Tom Jones of the field, and he squares up against a sassy little blonde-bombshell Kylie Minogue-esque number… Annie Power, the star mare, is a mouth-watering proposition who has been victorious in all ten of her starts. She has already won in the knee-deep mud around Cheltenham on New Years Day, albeit over half a mile shorter, and if seeing out the trip, which one must expect with the drier ground, she could throw down the gauntlet and demand every ounce of fierce ferocity that Big Bucks can muster. The drama, oh, the drama!
The week will culminate in the minor spectacle of the Gold Cup, the dream of every owner, breeder, jockey, fan, pundit, gambler, bookie, and anyone else who may exist in this humble world. Quality is very much to the fore, and Bobs Worth, victorious twelve months ago, appears to have an excellent chance to retain his crown. In recent years we have been spoilt with the multiple Gold Cup winning feats of Best Mate, the epic duels between Kauto Star and Denman, and the lowering of both their flags by the immense Long Run.
It would be greedy to expect anything similar to this class once again, but forgive me for licking my lips at the juicy proposition. Bobs Worth is a real Champion and a true ‘Gold Cup horse’, running and jumping like the purest, classiest of thoroughbred that an equine artist could ever dream to draw. Silviniaco Conti, a faller when the screw began to turn last year, now has a King George VI win under his belt, and must be taken more seriously than ever. The rest of the field are also no slugs, and whoever turns up on the day will ensure that we have a wonderful treat ahead of us.
The 2014 Festival also marks the beginning of the Prestbury Cup. As if the natural rivalry between the British and Irish is not enough, a Ryder Cup-styled trophy will be presented to the most successful ‘team’, whichever side can show more victories. With only an Irish Sea in between the rivalry has never been anything but friendly, and fierce, and will have an added degree of spice this year. Even with the mighty stable that Willie Mullins will undoubtedly present, the Brits are offered at 1/5 versus the Irish at 7/2 – surely a little value in the Paddies and a chance to get the week off to a flyer?
The sport will be wonderful and the admiration these horses command should have our attention alone. However, the races also offer differences of opinion, the breeding place for a good wager. As such, we will take out the tarot cards, tea leaves and astronomy guide everyday next week in the aim of plotting a path through the marvelous, sumptuous, twisting turns of four days of regal feasts. And once our bet has been placed, we can sit back and enjoy the race, because as Bill Barich points out in his excellent run up to the 2004 Cheltenham Festival, “there’s always relief in placing a bet. Like boarding an airplane or going broke, you’re delivered into the hands of fate”.
by Daniel Polak
Keep an eye out next week as we analyse patterns, mysteries, gossip and gut feelings, one more layer of subterfuge surrounding this magic of the Cheltenham Festival.
For more race details, please refer to the Cheltenham 2014 website:
Selfie (n). A photograph taken of oneself, by oneself, for oneself.
In my opinion, the fact this word exists highlights everything that is wrong with us as a species. Put simply: if it were a human, I’d slap it.
I realise I’m alienating probably everyone on Facebook by writing this. And yes, I admit, I have posted a couple of pictures of me-me-me up over the years. Though rarely taken by me, I hasten to add.
It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with liking the way that you look. It’s great. Quite refreshing. And I do think our world would be a better place if we didn’t hark on about how horrible we feel all the time.
Posting evidence of how great we think we look, so that others can reaffirm this greatness, is just – well – wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. On so many levels, WRONG.
[clearing throat] Or is it?
Mulling it over, I’ve considered I really shouldn’t knock it till I’ve tried it. It might be amazing, liberating even. Getting all my Instagram/Facebook/Twitter friends to ‘like’ truly marvellous and fantastical me… Come hither devil, this is rather enticing.
So I thought I’d give it a go.
Now, forgive me if I get it wrong…
…though I’m p r e t t y sure I won’t…
You see, the whole idea is to share every intimate detail of my life with the INTERNET.
I’ll leave you to decide if I should continue with this.
By Beenie Langley
As England dishevelled cricketers return home this week, heads bowed, to empty scenes at Heathrow airport, the inquest into quite what went so catastrophically wrong can begin.
For England, the last few months have lurched from disaster to embarrassment and lately, in the case of their Faulkner-inspired defeat in the 2nd ODI, pitiful farce. Egos have been shattered, players have thrown in the towel, some with more than a degree of permanency, and now the head coach has gone as well. It hasn’t so much been a chastening defeat as the end of an era.
The interesting thing is that, while it superficially seems to have been a sudden decline, with the benefit of hindsight the writing has been on the wall for some time. Much as Manchester United have recently shown in the Premiership, a declining great team can still win while not maintaining their previous standards, however once the wheels fall off, they fall off spectacularly. Chinks start to appear in the armour, but it takes the aura of invincibility to slip before the cracks become canyons.
For the Red Devils, this crossing of the Rubicon came with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, while in the more mental game of cricket, the England team’s problems stem from the bowling attack’s eventual disability to bail out our batsmen.
Despite series victories against New Zealand and the impressive feat of winning in India, England have not really looked a cohesive batting unit for some time. Indeed in England’s last 25 test matches, they have only passed 400 first innings runs (the minimum ambition in the vast majority of games) 5 times. By means of comparison, that is the same as the number of times they have been dismissed for an abject sub-200 score.
During the majority of that time, the fearsome bowling attack of Anderson, Swann, Broad and Finn/Bresnan has been enough to dig them out of trouble. This winter however, Swann and Bresnan (not to mention Tremlett) came back insufficiently from injury, Anderson had one of those series that he has been occasionally prone to while away from favourable home conditions and Finn forgot how to bowl completely, his confidence destroyed by coaches’ insistence on improving his action.
Swann, in particular had encountered a dramatic fall from grace. So much of England’s past success had come from the pressure his persistent brilliance had created from one end, while the seamers stayed rested and angry from the other. For spinners though, aura is everything. Once Swann’s elbow problems had robbed him of the extra drift and turn that used to trouble many of the world’s best, he was human. The signs were there over the summer, when (on pitches tailored for him) he failed to consistently outbowl Nathan Lyon.
At the Gabba, Warner and co set about about him with gay abandon. It was a totally premeditated plan, but one that Swann was powerless to avert. With their spinner hit out the attack, Cook could do nothing but bowl the quicks into the ground in wilting 40 degree heat. With little sideways movement and even less scoreboard pressure from their batsmen to assist them, they were lambs to the slaughter.
The limited overs matches that followed were a bloodbath, as shattered husks of England cricketers folded under the tidal wave of green and gold morale and aggression. The tour ended in appropriate fashion on Sunday when Jade Dernbach, a player who is unimaginably far from international quality, calamatously ran himself out. One sensed that if the England football team endured a tournament this ghastly, the number of effigies ablaze across the country would probably be visible from space. But fortunately this is cricket, bridges can be rebuilt, lessons learned. Here are our pointers:
1. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Firstly, it is of paramount importance that England don’t overreact. Yes, this was awful. Yes, things need to change. Yes, senior players have retired. But for these reasons, the last thing we should do is rid ourselves of the players who made the team great in the first place. For example, Matt Prior should definitely return to the side for the summer tests, with a long-term plan of phasing in the dynamic Jos Buttler as his replacement. Jonny Bairstow is not, I’m afraid, a good enough batsman for international cricket, nor has he got Prior’s impeccable judgement on DRS decisions. Prior was England’s cricketer of the year 12 months ago and at just 31, discarding him in this way would be lunacy. Form is, one hopes, temporary.
2. Get the right coach
Now, I don’t have the level of knowledge to suggest who that might be, but it is imperative that the ECB find someone to bring the right mentality to the side. One of the more unpleasant aspects of the England team, through the good years, was that you always got the impression that we weren’t very good winners. A nasty seam of arrogance of coarsed through the “lads club” mentality of the bowling attack in particular. As Simon Barnes recently pointed out in another superb Times article, when bullies get bullied, they don’t cope with it well. Regaining some humility, while keeping an element of aggression (not least in our batting mentality), is one of the key jobs for any incoming coach.
3. Big players need to stand up
Messrs Cook, Pietersen, Anderson, Bell, etc. That means you.
4. Balancing the side
A positive in this regard comes in the form of Ben Stokes, who was a rare bright spot in the ocean of negatives (the continued emergence of Stuart Broad probably being the other). While it would be wrong to pile too much pressure on a young man, test quality all-rounders are a rare and valuable asset. Stokes is good enough, in due course, to bat at 6 and provide a 5th bowling option. We would be foolish to lump him with any more responsibility than that currently though. While he took wickets through hard graft down under, he would be insufficient in a 4-man attack. Anderson and Broad should be backed up by two specialist bowlers, of which one would ideally be able to hold a bat at number 9. That way the side would have the balance between runscoring potential and the depth of bowling required to keep fire in the bellies of the quicks (especially important since we no longer have a world-class spin option).
Pick players who are at their peak
The old adage that form is temporary while class is permanent still holds a degree of truth in cricket. However, as England found out with Chris Tremlett, class is not quite as permanent as they would like it to me. While Tremlett and a woefully out-of-sorts Stephen Finn fired pies down the nets in Australia, Graham Onions (who took 70 1st division wickets at an average of 18 last summer) was tucking into some turkey with his family. He might not have the “x-factor” that the taller men possessed at their most fearsome, but unlike them he was actually somewhere in the remote vicinity of his best form. There is an argument to send the likes of Joe Root back to county for a bit, with in-form one day man Eoin Morgan a decent shout to take his place. While Morgan struggled to establish himself in the side a few years ago, he wasn’t a total disaster (as two centuries would attest) and has grown in stature since.
Horses for courses
While this is something that England have got better at since the separation of powers saw Ashley Giles take over one-day duties, there is still a feeling that we send inappropriate players out in some of the shorter forms of the game. Watching Joe Root scratch around for a 21-ball innings of 11 when the required run rate was over 2-a-ball was a case in point. Despite getting pasted in the ODI series, I actually thought we had a decent balance to that side, with Ravi Bopara and Ben Stokes providing a nice combination of aggressive batting and bowling options. Better death bowling and more faith in James Tredwell would have seen a better result in that series. Oh, and never select Jade Dernbach ever again.
Where from here?
All of which begs the question of where we go from here. On 12th June Sri Lanka come to Lord’s in the first test match of the summer. In the absence of any better options, Cook should continue as captain, however he must learn to be more dynamic. From where I’m sitting, there are 7 definite selections in the side: Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Stokes, Prior, Broad and Anderson. In an ideal world, this leaves places in the side for: an opener, a middle-order batsman, a fast bowler and a spinner.
Opener: Carberry did alright in Australia, and it would be no surprise if he kept his place, but with an eye on the future, I’d rather that the selectors either persisted with Joe Root there, or maybe took a look at Middlesex’s Sam Robson, a newly patriated Austrialian (albeit with an English mother – but don’t believe that the “plastic Brit” crowd will buy that) who top-scored in last season’s county championship. At just 24, he has the potential to be around for some time.
Middle-order batsman: Assuming the selectors decide to promote or drop Root, neither of which is by any means a certainty, I think a strong case could be made for giving the creative and attacking Eoin Morgan another chance. He has sound technique, handled Mitchell Johnson exceptionally in the ODIs and is one of the best players of spin we have. Gary Ballance is presumably still in the mix, despite a mixed debut.
Paceman: Until Finn rediscovers his mojo, or Bresnan rediscovers his lost yard of pace, I don’t think you can look past Graham Onions.
Spinner: The trickiest of all the dilemmas that the selectors face is unearthing the next great England spinner. Scott Borthwick looked OK in almost laughably difficult circumstances in Sydney and can bat. However his county record implies strongly that he is never going to be a match-winner. Monty Panesar is capable, but has had a difficult few years and is the wrong side of 30 while James Tredwell is an economical one-day man who won’t trouble test batsmen. If England are serious about spin as a weapon rather than an obstacle, then at risk of derision, I would strongly recommend that Simon Kerrigan is given another chance. Kerrigan has been sensational over the last few seasons for a young Lancashire team and, having pulled in innings-figures such as 5/7 and 9/51 over recent years, he is the one English twirler who can actually claim to be a match-winner. He might have got an inexplicable and horrible case of the yips on debut. He might not have the temperament or bottle for test cricket. He certainly has the talent. The only way the selectors will find out is by playing him.
If England go with Bresnan over Onions, I’d like to see Kerrigan play. If they go with the Durham man, then it makes sense for Borthwick to bolster the batting. It will be intriguing to see what path they take and how quickly the team as a whole can rebuild.
By Harry Harland
The human fascination with the non-telephone elements of mobile phones is a bizarre phenomenon.
I recently had an informal brainstorming (or chat down the pub, for a more accurate description) with a friend about ways in which we could get rich quick. The only answer we came across that was in any way legal or moral was to make an App. I mean, every day you open the papers and read that some spotty, computer-literate teenager has just sold a few hours of precious time on his computer (the opportunity cost of which was essentially masturbation) to some multinational firm for £30m. They are insanely lucrative because the consuming public gobble them up like Jenna Jameson in a hot dog factory.
It’s no new thing though, most of you (or ‘men’ in other words) can probably relate to sitting in a ‘quiet place’ and playing Snake on your Nokia 3210 until you got pins and needles in your legs. The seeds of our mobile fascination were sown there. But when did it grow into such a hypnotic business?
I must confess to being no angel myself in this regard. Indeed if technophilia was a crime, I’d be one of those social pariahs being hauled up in front of a court as part of Operation Yewtree (or uTree as Apple would call it) and locked up. My girlfriend has tired of throwing icy glances at me as another passing observation of hers is ignored in favour of reading an email or checking Twitter. I have a more detailed knowledge of what Facebook friends who I haven’t seen for a decade are doing than the schedules of my nearest and dearest. I’m an attention-retarded sponge for inane and useless information.
But I have my limits.
For starters, I will not read my phone while walking down a busy pavement. For the majority of Londoners, this must be up there with their biggest pet hates. Or at least it would be if the majority of Londoners weren’t actually doing the fucking thing in the first place.
It has got to the stage where walking down the street has become some sort of nightmarish Atari game from the 80s, where your only options are to duck and weave beyond the gormless hoards of head-down oncoming traffic. If it were a more modern game, then you’d be able to press button A and smash the bloody thing out of their hands. Or B and trip them over. Or Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (someone, somewhere is sad enough to get this reference)… And knock their lights out. Hadouken indeed.
We’re so obsessed with what’s going on a foot in front of our face that we are totally unaware of what’s actually going on around us. In September, a man jumped onto a packed commuter train in San Francisco brandishing a gun and waved it around the aisle before shooting someone. Police were astonished that, until he actually pulled the trigger on the weapon, not one fellow passenger even noticed anything untoward. They all had their faces in their phones, entranced by pointless information.
Another astounding insight into our obsession with the allure of the shiny screen comes in the form of a recent statistic in which 19% of people, or roughtly 1 in 5 for the numerically challenged, have dropped their phone down the loo.
1 in 5 people. That’s statistically one of your immediate family or a handful of your team at work. Look at them now. Yeah, I bet you can tell the one who’s done it. They’re probably the one chewing a pen with ink seeping out of their mouth. They used to come home from school, face covered in glitter, and lick windows.
I can understand reading your phone while sat ON the loo. I mean when you’re settled in for the long haul, you positively need a time-waster. I once even perused the back of a shampoo bottle because there was nothing else to read. But that’s just me. And, I suspect, quite a few more people than would care admit it. Maybe.
However, from a sat-down position, it still remains quite a challenge to actually lose your phone in the loo. I mean, aside from resting it on your Johnson, the logistics of its journey to a watery (at best) grave don’t add up. To drop your phone in the loo, you either have to be a bit ‘special’, or you have to read it while standing up and peeing. Neither scenario reflects particularly well on your mental capacity.
The long and short of it though is that, for many people, these phones are a portal to what they perceive to be a more interesting world. A narcissistic paradise where the only self-projection comes in the form of selfies and social media bragging. It seems now that going to see something amazing or experience something unique is merely a conduit to inducing peer-group envy.
Why bother enjoying the moment when you can let all your friends know how much you are enjoying it? Why bother helping avert a disaster when you can video it and get on the news? Why bother watching where you’re walking when you could be reading that oh-so-important email on the way to your office?
Oh yes, that’s why, because it prevents you from being an arsehole.
by Harry Harland
As the old journalistic adage goes: ‘Tis the season to be lazy, fa-la-la-la-laaaa la-la-la-la. And in journalism it doesn’t get much lazier than end-of-year lists… Another year has nearly passed, and while 2013 may not have quite lived up to its predecessor in terms of sheer drama, that’s not to say that it has been without incident.
Sure, there has been nothing quite as mad as the Olympics, but as long as we Brits have something to celebrate that’ll do us just fine. In place of Boris’s barmy carnival, we had the birth of a future king (provided the three generations in the queue before him don’t seriously outstay their welcome), the end of a long wait for a Wimbledon Champion (77 years – in case you have been living in a cave) and… erm… the first papal resignation in 600 years. Yes, it’s been a cracker.
Stupidest Fad of The Year
Scraping the barrel to begin with, and first up is the award for Stupidest Fad of 2013. Yes, a new award which is in no way an attempt to disguise the fact that I haven’t seen any good films at the cinema…
In third place on this pantheon of imbeciles is the craze that started the year as “2013’s Gangnam Style” – The Harlem Shake. I’m really not sure why it started, but over the course of a few weeks in early February, when no-one had anything better to do with their time, it went completely mental. Then, as soon as it started, it just buggered off (see below). An extraordinary phenomenon which will surely go down as a global blip in the history of sanity.
The runner up in this category is Twerking. To our older readers, this is the act of rubbing your arse in the direction/crotch of a gentleman as a form of dance manouvre. The phrase had bizarrely been around for well over a decade before Miley Cyrus decided to culminate one of the most extraordinary performances in history by doing it to Canadian crooner Robin Thicke. The word took off, people went to ridiculous lengths to get it into everyday conversation (think about it, how many times have you said the word twerk this year? And how many times previously had you wished you knew the word for that action?) and a chapter of lunacy was completed when the OED acknowledged its existence in October.
The winner in this category however is another word that not only skulked its way into the language, but actually won the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year… Selfies. The word, according to this graphic charting the rise of the selfie, originated in Australia (surprise, surprise) but has gone bananas in the Instagramy, Twittery narcissism of today’s world.
There is something rather sad about watching a person taking a picture of themselves, something that probably points to a wider philosophical issue as to whether technology is making us all more insular… But why would I possibly want to talk about that when, at Mandela’s memorial service, Barack Obama, David “Dave” Cameron and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (or “an unidentified official” as USA Today brilliantly referred to her – got to love America’s attitude towards global awareness) all got stuck in and embarrassed themselves. Michelle Obama’s face essentially summed up the feelings of the globe… Although the question remains as to when the picture taken is going to be uploaded to Barry’s Twitter account.
Biggest Let-Down of the Year
Two awards in and already the air of disappointment is creeping in, so we’ll try to harness that feeling with the Let-Down of the Year award.
Of the three contenders, the first to come to mind was Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder’s Superman reboot Man Of Steel. Following a trailer campaign cleverly designed to make it look like the most epic film of all time, and riding the coattails of Nolan’s superb Batman trilogy, this looked like it would be the summer blockbuster to end all blockbusters. Only it wasn’t. The film was essentially a two hour repetitive fight scene interspersed with mind-numbingly poe-faced dialogue. As experiences went, it was like watching two pretentious poseurs with illusions of grandeur playing Mortal Kombat all evening. No thanks.
Also disappointing us to epic proportions was The Ashes part 2: the Colony Strikes Back. Despite the berkish 5-0 predictions of Ian Botham, and an enormously unflattering final scoreline, the Aussies had made a real contest of the summer’s Ashes. The same though cannot be said of the touring England side this winter. At time of writing, Australia have just retained the urn by winning the first three tests so easily that they could have had Blinky Bill opening the batting and still won. There has hardly been a morning so far where England fans back home haven’t woken to abject disappointment. It doesn’t bode well for the final two tests.
The winner, somewhat harshly, in the category of the damp squib is the trial of Oscar Pistorious. In what was probably the most intriguing story of the year, Paralympics/Olympics legend and double amputee Pistorious shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a bathroom door on Valentines Day, thus unleashing an impressive number of totally original “Who hasn’t come home legless on Valentines Day and blown their load in their girlfriend’s face” jokes on Twitter. The press went into meltdown as news graphics were knocked out with such regularity that most people could draw the blueprints to Pistorious’s bedroom and bathroom from memory, right down to the dimensions and position of the bidet. Everyone seemed to have an opinion as to whether it was murder or manslaughter, everyone that was except the judge. Then, after what seemed like an eternity in court, the whole thing was delayed until March 2014. Which, despite probably being in the interests of achieving the correct sentence, seemed like a bit of a cop out.
Sports Personality of the Year
Pressing on though, and the presentation of our next award is the ‘unsung’ Sports Personality of the Year award. As with last year, where the joint winners had 8 legs and were nowhere near the Olympics, this is going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, where the thoroughly deserving Andy Murray would cruise to victory.
The man on the bottom of the podium in our minds is the man who was single handedly responsible in winning the Ashes this summer, Ian Ronald Bell. Belly had previously almost been a figure of fun down under, where his quiet demeanour and likeness to an American Pie figure of fun had seen him derided as The Sherminator. He had also been somewhat of a bunny to the likes of McGrath and Warne, not that there was much shame in that. 3 match-winning centuries later and they were no longer laughing… Until December, but that’s another story.
In second place was Ben Ainslie. We quite wanted to honour Ben last year, after the sheer brilliance of his “You won’t like me when I’m angry” comeback victory, but sadly others impeded his quest for silverware. This year, in an admittedly weaker competition, his time has come. Another year, another comeback, this time masterminding Oracle’s 8 race comeback in the Americas Cup.
However we are a sentimental lot, and as such want to again award top spot to two outgoing legends: Sir Alex Ferguson and Sachin Tendulkar.
In the case of Fergie, he has won the award in spite of the fact that I have, as an Arsenal supporter, utterly despised him for over 20 years. He was manipulative, aggressive and permanently looked on the verge of popping in a shower of burst blood vessels. However he was also a very, very good manager. It almost seemed fitting that, as David Moyes has discovered, he won the league in his last season with a pretty ordinary bunch of players. A final display of his genius. Well done on a fantastic career and please stay in retirement.
The little master, on the other hand, could not be more different. Quiet, calm, and flamboyantly brilliant. 40 years of age and with over 34,000 international runs to his name (by means of comparison, Kevin Pietersen has roughly a third of that figure), his last few century-less years in the test arena might have seemed more like a valedictory tour, but as his final innings of 74 against the Windies proved, he was far from over the hill. I doubt there was a single man, even on the opposition, who could have begrudged him an extra 26 runs that day. It will be some time before the milestones he has set will be passed.
Non-Sports Personality of the Year
I must confess that this year has been a little trickier to judge in terms of people doing memorable things. Well, for the better at least. Several influential characters have shuffled off this mortal coil though, so it seems appropriate to make this a posthumous award this year.
Kicking off what is going to seem like the most eclectic collection of names to be grouped together for a while, is actor James Gandolfini, loved by the cultish fans of The Sopranos but much more than that as superb recent turns in Zero Dark Thirty and In The Loop proved. Elsewhere in the arts, miserable genius Lou Reed also checked out. While the likes of Walk On The Wild Side and Perfect Day are the most universally acclaimed epitaphs to his career, from a personal point of view, I can still today remember the time I first listened to the seedy brilliance of The Velvet Underground and the impression it left on me.
The world of British politics also lost a familiar face in April when Margaret Thatcher passed away. It might be pushing understatement to the extreme to suggest that Maggie was not everyone’s cup of tea, but what is undeniable was that she got shit done and changed the face of UK politics for ever. Furthermore, in the modern age of spin and spineless X-factor politicians, her dedication to sticking to principles and beliefs, irregardless of unpopularity, seem all the more admirable. Politics to her was more than how you performed in that week’s opinion poll. She would have despised the idea of a “WebCameron” or other populist claptrap and was therefore a proper leader.
The winner in this category though has to be Nelson Mandela. Now, it is well beyond me to write a satisfactory eulogy for a man who overcame such hardship and suffering to achieve what he did. The outpouring of condolence at his death should speak volumes as to the global reach and status of the man. Alright, at times it got a bit OTT, as middle-class white people went nuts on Facebook about how “inspired by Madiba” they felt. However underneath the hyperbole, here was a man whose journey and sunny, gentle demeanour had clearly touched the world. A fitting winner of almost any award.
Album of the Year
The award this year was a much closer-run affair than last time around, largely due to the lack of anything truly exceptional being released. Much-hyped and anticipated releases by the likes of Arcade Fire and Daft Punk were good, but not truly great. Smaller bands like Vampire Weekend and Foals also increased their fanbases and burgeoning reputations with decent efforts, while Haim and Willy Moon posted impressive debuts and there was even a surprisingly strong comebacks from Franz Ferdinand (remember them?) and Eminem.
The top three though were all coincidentally by acts for whom this was their fifth studio album. Quite what this says about the merits of sticking around, I’m not sure, but for these three at least, it was more of an affirmation of their quality than a flash-in-the-pan stroke of genius.
In third place is AM by Arctic Monkeys, who are now almost certainly the biggest band in the UK. After headlining Glastonbury and opening the Olympics, it seemed time that Sheffield’s finest really took centre stage and AM seemed to reek of a band realising that this was their time.
In second place was Kanye West’s Yeezus. It is a measure of just how good Kanye is that he manages to rise above the abhorrent absurdity of his own personality. Ignoring the laughable video for Bound 2, this was an album that was coursing with power, energy and fresh ideas. Conveniently released around the same time as Jay-Z’s lacklustre Magna Carta Holy Grail, the comparison between the two only served to highlight just how much more inventive the younger man was.
The winner this year though is Queens Of The Stone Age and their album … Like Clockwork. QOTSA have been floating round the peripheries of the rock scene for what seems like an eternity, every now and then threatening the mainstream with releases like 2002’s (God, I feel old) brilliant Songs For The Deaf. Since then though they have struggled to channel their undoubted talent into a cohesive collection of songs, until now. Like Clockwork was a storming, menacing brute of an album which showed a surprisingly tender side in parts too. Culminating in the power of I Appear Missing (complete with sensational outro), this was the LP the band had been trying to make for over a decade and is a worthy winner of our Album of The Year award.
Single of the Year
In the more disposable world of the single an honourable mention must go to future Chesney Hawkes-esque one-hit wonder John Newman for his song Love Me Again, which ensured that he was involved in most sports montages on the television over the summer. Haim’s insanely catchy Fleetwood Mac impression Falling deserves praise too, as does Rap God by Eminem, not least for containing one of the quickest verses of rapping in history.
This award however was all about collaborations with one man. That man was Pharrell Williams.
The runner up in this award goes to his single with French mystery men Daft Punk, Get Lucky. The song that was literally everywhere for at least three months earlier this year. The song that single handedly relaunched the career of Chic. The song that everyone knows at least one of their friends who ruined it by putting it on repeat for three hours at a house party. Ah well, fuck it, it was pretty decent.
The winner though, on so many levels, is Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Firstly, it was an insanely catchy song. Secondly, it was the catalyst for one of the more laughable moments of the year at the VMA awards (more on that below). Thirdly, it managed to annoy all of the sort of people who are really fun to annoy. You know, the sort of lefty moral-outrage brigade who love nothing more than to jump on a complaint bandwagon. It was subsequently and absurdly banned at about 15 student unions, which served to highlight why only the biggest gimps at university actually went to their student union for a night out… Lastly, its video (not least the unrated version) managed to straddle the fine line between art and soft pornography. No mean feat. Bravo Robin, you doe-eyed Canadian genius.
Dickhead of the Year
The final award of this prestigious ceremony is celebrating the person who, much like Gary Glitter in prison, has had an annus horribilis…
Kim Jong Un has been nothing short of astonishingly impressive in his quest to outdo his ‘dear father’ for total lunacy. It seems like only yesterday that the US were licking their lips at the prospect of this reasonable man with a Western education taking over the murky reigns of North Korea. However, lately the charming and handsome ‘Un’ has been really excelling in the time-honoured North Korean political traditions of being totally batshit crazy. Whether it’s launching nukes into the ocean, executing family members or becoming friends with Denis Rodman, the man they call Outstanding Leader (no, really) has had a busy time of it in 2013. Indeed only yesterday, while touring a fish factory, he compared the piles of produce to “an ammunition factory full of artillery”. Given his fondness for talking up his country’s arsenal, this could just be a red herring, however it’s clear that long team he needs to be put in his plaice…
Another strong candidate for the award is former teen icon and Disney Club star Miley Cyrus. For 6 years or so, Cyrus played teen heroine Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel, rising to international prominence in the process. Then Hannah Montana ended, she entered her twenties and all hell broke loose. A performance at the VMA Awards in August saw her having a mid-life crisis on stage. She entered the stage all innocent, surrounded by dancing teddy bears, and exited 10 minutes later looking like a $10 whore, having stripped down to a few bits of skin-coloured latex and ‘twerked’ Robin Thicke while pulling an expression that resembled a drunk teenager posing for a photo.
Unsatisfied that people were buying into her new ‘adult’ image, she then released Wrecking Ball, a not altogether bad song, but hampered by one of the most laughable and parodied videos of all time. As Miley swung topless on the titular object and licked sledgehammers, you could practically hear father Billy Ray’s Achy Breaky Heart shattering. Rehab beckons for 2014…
The undisputed winner of the 2013 Dickhead of the Year award though is a man who has to struggle valiantly against great musical talent to make himself as unpopular as he does…
For some years now Kanye West has been acting like a prick. There is simply no other way to put it. 2009’s performance at the MTV Music Awards, where he tried to grab the award from Taylor Swift was pathetic. His constant pseudo-political ranting is tedious beyond belief. But it was in 2013 that he really decided to take it up a notch.
Altercations with paparazzi, tick. Hilariously misled delusions of grandeur, tick. Spats with TV hosts, tick. Comparing his career to a war veteran, tick… It spoke volumes that when a hoax interview in which he allegedly said “I am the next Nelson Mandela. I’m only 36 years old, and when I look at everything I’ve accomplished, it’s the only comparison that makes any sense. By the time I’m 95, I’m going to be a bigger hero than he ever was” went viral, everyone just took it as gospel. It was that in character for a man of his self-opinion.
Then, just as the world was waiting to see what his next move was, he released this absurd video with dreadful reality TV star fiancé Kim Kardashian. Thank you Kanye… The circus never stops.
Have a good Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone, and we’ll be back to drag you into the wastelands of 2014… Here are last year’s awards to tide you over in the mean time…
by Harry Harland