Raise a glass to Double Shuffle in Charlie Hall
While Ireland has only a handful of commercial vineyards due to our climate, this country has a long association with wine which is often overlooked.
Growing up in the working-class estates of Ballybrack in the 1980s, anyone who drank wine was seen as posh, or 'having notions', even though it was probably a bottle of Blue Nun that they had. Unless, of course, it was Buckfast, which somehow had more street credibility.
Buckfast earned a somewhat unfair reputation, associated with anti-social behaviour, especially in Scotland.
Indeed in 2013, the producers of Buckfast actually had to come out and state that it is no more involved in crime than any other type of alcohol. That's some tagline for a drink traditionally produced by monks!
Things have changed, and nearly everyone drinks wine these days but like many, I didn't know when I was growing up that the Celts are believed to have brought wine to Ireland.
And once Christianity came to this country, Ireland imported wine and exported monks, some of whom established very good vineyards across Europe.
With a tradition going back a couple of hundred years before Christ, you could say wine drinking is nearly as Irish as horse racing. And last weekend, I lit the fire for the first time this year, and partook in my usual ritual to welcome the winter by uncorking a nice bottle of robust red, while sitting in front of a blazing log watching the gee gees. You can't beat it.
Alongside lighting the first fire of the season, another clear sign that winter is knocking on the door is the first Grade One of the season.
That's at Down Royal today and we also have the Grade Three Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby (2.40), which is the feature race across the water.
Even though there's a wintry feel about, the ground is actually quite good at Wetherby - meaning Colin Tizzard has decided to swerve the race with Thistlecrack, who would prefer plenty of give. That's also the case with Bristol De Mai, who was scratched from the line-up yesterday.
There's not much rain expected so it's best to stick with one that likes reasonably good ground, and Double Shuffle ticks the right boxes for me, priced around 5/2 in the early markets.
Trained by Tom George, the eight-year-old hasn't won since December 2016 but he did put in a cracking run in the King George at Kempton last season when finishing second to Might Bite, despite going off completely unfancied at 50/1.
Thistlecrack and Bristol De Mai were behind him so it's some pretty good form, although I do concede he was disappointing in his two races since, at Aintree and Sandown in April. Tom George has suggested that the ground may have been a factor on those occasions, but three miles at Wetherby on good ground should suit.
He's reported to be in flying form at home and I reckon he'll see off Paul Nicholls's Black Corton, which is highly respected following a number of Graded wins.
In the following Grade Two Bet365 Hurdle (3.15), Nigel Twiston-Davies' Wholestone gets the nod, somewhere in the region of 6/4. A decent third in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham, he hit even-money in-running when second to Identity Thief in the Aintree Ryanair Stayers' Hurdle.
While he was a little disappointing last time out at Sandown in late April, he was at the end of a long season in which he'd raced eight times, most of which he had at least made the placings.
We've some Listed Flat action from Newmarket too, and I'm quite keen on Gospel, which looks a couple of ticks too high around 15/2 in the British Stallion Studs EBF Montrose Fillies' Stakes (2.35) for Mick Channon. I'm going to overlook her latest race at Newbury where she just never settled.
Do the double
Soccer: One of the more interesting matches this weekend is Arsenal v Liverpool, and with home advantage, the Gunners are my idea of a great-value bet at 11/4. Things are going well under Unai Emery and Arsenal are now unbeaten in 13 games, winning 12. With Liverpool also flying high, it’s not going to be easy but I reckon the markets are getting carried away with the Reds today, and it should be closer than the odds suggest.
Racing: Trainer Harry Dunlop has been a little out of form lately but Robin Of Navan can get help him get back on track this afternoon with a win in the Listed Price Bailey Marshall Stakes at Newmarket (3.45). Second to Golden Legend in the Group Three La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte in September, he was out of his depth in a Group Two at Longchamp last time but this step down in trip should see him in contention. So Beloved looks the main threat to the bet.
2.35 Newmarket: Gospel
2.40 Wetherby: Double Shuffle
3.10 Newmarket: Air Pilot
3.15 Wetherby: Wholestone
3.35 Ascot: Ramses De Teillee (e/w)
3.45 Newmarket: Robin Of Navan
Trained by David Pipe, Ramses De Teillee may not run today if the ground at Ascot is too fast – but if taking his spot, he’s got a great chance of landing at least a place in the Grade Three Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase (3.35) around 16/1.
This is the first time the six-year-old will race since having a wind-op, and the vibes from the yard are quite good.
Rated 141, the gelding seemed unsuited to a shorter trip last time when finishing mid-division in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in April, but he’s improving over the bigger obstacles and I’m looking forward to watching him race this season as he begins to mature a little.