Grand National 2018 Selections

First thing I’d do to narrow the field is consider eliminating horses carrying over 11st in the expected conditions. Though classier horses have been more competitive in recent years and we’ve seen some tremendous weight-carrying performances, you only have to look back at the last renewals when the going had heavy in the description.

Red Marauder led home just three other horses, two of which had to be remounted and Papillon, a previous winner walked across the line. Critically, he was the only finisher carrying over 10st11lb.

It wasn’t too different when Earth Summit led home only five other horses.

For most of these animals, this afternoon will represent by far and away their stiffest dates of their racing careers. Expect many tanks to be emptying with a mile to go and hopefully jockeys do the right thing and pull these horses up.

I’d then take out 7yo, 12yo and 13yo horses. The last ten renewals have been won by horses within these parameters. And you probably want some chasing experience – at least half a dozen but ideally over ten races under the belt.

Then if you only factor in horses that have either winning chase form over 3m on soft going, or have at least placed in marathon distances over 3m 5f in similar conditions then the list starts to narrow significantly to this twelve from the original 40.

Tiger Roll, Vieux Lion Rouge, Chase The Spud, The Dutchman, Pleasant Company, Saint Are, I Just Know, Buywise, Houblon Des Obeaux, Milansbar, Final Nudge, Road to Riches.

This certainly isn’t the shortlist of twelve I’d be shaking down given typical Grand National going of Good to Soft or even Good and if it dries up considerably in the next few hours I might be left ruing such ruthless elimination of the horses higher in the weights.

The lack of recent form against the names of Pleasant Company, Saint Are and Road to Riches is a huge worry though I wouldn’t put anyone off backing Saint Are at the odds available (80/1) and with upto 8 places available (50/1) with 188Sport. He’s got as good a chance as any of getting round. Chase The Spud and Buywise don’t appear particularly well handicapped compared to others in the field and The Dutchman’s last run at Haydock is also a concern having been raised 13lb for a previous romp at the same course. And despite meeting the above criteria, I’m not convinced Vieux Lion Rouge will stay any better than the last two renewals – and he’ll need to.

So this is my shortlist of five. Tiger Roll has a master in the saddle in Davey Russell and should go well if he takes to the fences. He has been a bit inconsistent in the past but this horse seems to have a similar profile to last year’s unlucky runner up, Cause of Causes for top trainer Gordon Elliott. I Just Know has been well backed for this race in recent weeks and seems set to run a good race – he’s my one ante-post bet at 66/1. But if you fancy hedging your bets slightly, the three bigger priced selections below will likely stay all day, like the mud and sit conveniently at the bottom end of the handicap. They will probably find one or two too good but should be running on at the end with a clear round.

Winners

Tiger Roll 14/1 (Nap)

I Just Know 18/1 (NB)

Each-way selections

Houblon Des Obeaux 33/1

Milansbar 33/1

Final Nudge 40/1

 

 

 

 

 

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Mengli Khan is top value in the Supreme Novices

Only 48 hours to go and some late thinking around the Supreme Novices.

Getabird racing away from Mengli Khan at Punchestown

 

Supreme Novices

This race usually bears the front load of the bookmakers’ best offers – being the opening race – and layers hoping they’ll suck you in for all four days. It gives punters a chance to ‘insure’ against earlier ante-post bets with some frivolous hedging of bets, safe in the knowledge around money back offers. I’ve backed Getabird downwards from 14/1 – though admittedly the Yankee at that price now only contains Invitation Only at 16/1 (after The Storyteller switched targets and Disko bailed). I’ve a small each-way saver on Slate House at 33/1 who I’ve argued earlier could represent some value against the best of the British form (Summerville Boy, Kalashnikov & co.)

However, my late growing interest in this ultimate test of the season’s champion 2m novice hurdlers is in Mengli Khan. Widely available at 12/1. All the rage earlier in the season when winning the Royal Bond, he later ran out in that dramatic Future Champion’s race at Leopardstown – when Sharjah aside, he was looking all over the winner swinging for home. Then on the last day, he was comfortably beaten by hot favourite Getabird in that most reliable of trials, the Moscow Flyer. He went into that race very evenly matched in the market (a late plunge sent Getabird off Evens against 7/4) despite his Leopardstown debacle and conceding 6lb. After further scrutiny of that race, my conclusion is that Mengli Khan is a very worthy alternative to the hot favourite.

The Gordon Elliott trained horse allowed Getabird a soft start of at least half the winning margin. He then exhausted energy closing down that gap until the turn for home when Getabird, having been allowed a breather himself, kicked away again and showed Davy Russell a clean pair of heels. If you watch Mengli Khan approach the last he appears to be getting a second wind, closing up again but made a slight error and lost momentum that I think caused the winning distance to be slightly flattering. On the face of it, 9L and yes, going away looks a resounding beating but factor in the 6lb, the easy headstart, the last fence error and I think there’s a case to be made for improvement in the Gigginstown horse.

I’d also imagine that connections were just happy to get in a complete round ahead of the Festival and will have more ambition for the horse come the big day on Tuesday.

One last thought. Getabird has yet to race left-handed whereas Mengli Khan has hosed up twice. There’s no reason to think Ricci’s animal won’t be equally effective going the other way but you don’t really need question marks around 11/8 shots.

I’d recommend looking at either Sky (money back special) or Hills offer to double winnings (max £100) in the Supreme combined with a bonus boost. I backed Mengli Khan last night at an equivalent price of 25/1 and wouldn’t think I have much of a better value punt all week long.

Cheltenham Festival Preview

Here we go again…

TUESDAY

SaintCalvados

Supreme Novices. The Cheltenham Roar goes up. And another Willie Mullins-trained, Rich Ricci hotpot primed for victory in the traditional curtain raiser at the Festival. Getabird might well follow in the footsteps of Vautour and Douvan yet hardly represents any kind of value at a best priced 13/8. One for the first day accumulators perhaps. That said, this doesn’t look a particularly strong renewal and the potential field has thinned out considerably, notably the absence of the Harry Fry trained If The Cap Fits. While Kalashnikov and Summerville Boy both have place claims in the interests of pursuing genuine each way value, I want to look at some longer priced alternatives.

Claimantakinforgan has Cheltenham form in the book and every chance of bouncing back from a surprise defeat at Musselburgh. At 16/1 I wouldn’t be deterred, yet by a similar benchmark, Slate House might be worth chancing at 33/1. A winner over course and distance earlier in the season on ground similar to what can be expected a week on Tuesday, he ran poorly in heavy going over further at a time when the Tizzard horses were firing blanks. He’s every chance of bouncing back from that and running into a place.

Recommend: Slate House 1pt EW 33/1

Arkle Chase. A strong renewal and a clear ‘big five’ to assess. In reverse order to the market, Brain Power threatens to continually underachieve over fences though Henderson remains ever optimistic reminding punters recently that his charge was the best of these over hurdles. He’s too unpredictable for me though if there’s 8 runners come the day, I’d suggest double figures would be fair value for an each-way punt. Sceau Royal has put some solid performances in but one senses he’s not really a horse for the Festival and though expected to run his race will find at least one too good. Saint Calvados is the enigma, visually impressive at Warwick and likely the main cause of concern for the Irish duo at the head of the market. I’m keen on this exciting prospect as a solid each-way option at 9/2. Footpad and Petit Mouchoir are clearly closely matched on all known form. The latter slightly the better hurdler has had an interrupted season and the Willie Mullins favourite edges the vote with his greater chasing experience expected to yield a slight advantage when jumping is put under the intense pressure of an Arkle contest. Footpad is a worthy favourite but on the drift as a I write and current advice is to sit tight on that front.

Recommend: Saint Calvados 3pts EW 9/2 (NAP)

Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase. Singlefarmpayment looks solid place material near the head of the market though a type that will always find one too good. In a race that has been won by increasingly classy sorts there’s no harm in looking to the top of the weights. American, if he follows this route, would have every chance on his Cotswold Chase performance but Gold Present looks highly progressive under Nicky Henderson and the likely favourite seems a good thing. Beyond this, Gordon Elliot’s The Storyteller is going to be a threat in whichever race turns up in though that still remains unclear. Nicely handicapped and one suspects has been primed for Festival handicapping duties. At bigger odds, The Young Master has dropped to a dangerous handicap mark but looks more likely to turn up in the Kim Muir.

Recommend: Gold Present 2pts EW 10/1 (NB)

Champion Hurdle. Buveur D’Air hasn’t broken sweat so far this season and looks set to retain his title in a poor 2m championship hurdle race. However, at 4/7 I wouldn’t be rushing to back a horse that hasn’t had to dig deep for a long time. Not when a return to top form from either Faugheen or Yorkhill would equate to some serious resistance. It’s unlikely, granted and Yorkhill has looked a finished horse this season but he’s been pretty imperious at the last two festivals and retains a serious engine. Melon has looked just short of top class, ever since finishing runner up in last year’s Supreme Novices but is probably worth an each-way bet at 16/1. It’s a bigger return than the odds-on available for Buveur D’Air and realistically, in a race that might yet cut up further, decent value if we put a line through his latest run.

Recommend: Melon 1pt EW 16/1

Mares’ Hurdle. Apple’s Jade would have every chance of winning either the Champion Hurdle or Stayer’s Hurdle if she turned up and can preserve her formidable reputation with another win here in the face of some stiff competition from Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci. Vroum Vroum Mag and Let’s Dance are both fine horses in their own right but will come up slightly short. However, the unexposed Benie Des Dieux could yet be anything and is worth putting up as a decent each-way alternative bet.

Recommend: Benie Des Dieux 2pts EW 8/1

National Hunt Chase. It’s still slightly unclear who might turn up in this race but it’s easy to see why Dounikos has been very popular in the market in recent weeks with his staying on fourth position behind Monalee at Leopardstown the best form on offer. We haven’t seen much of Fagan this season but his second place in the Albert Bartlett a couple of years ago validates credentials here and at 16/1 could represent value.

Recommend: Dounikos 2pts EW 7/1

Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase

De Plotting Shed is a clear handicap blot but value-wise, that ship has sailed. A now best priced 6/1 in a big handicap field with so many variables involved, doesn’t immediately strike as being of particular value. Any Second Now also appears to have got in light and having ran well behind the likes of Footpad this season, feels much more like it at 14/1 to end the day with a win for the McManus colours.

Recommend: Any Second Now 2pts EW 14/1 (IWAC)

Day One Accumulator: Buveur D’Air & Apple’s Jade 10pts at 2.62

 

WEDNESDAY

Samcro_alt_inset

Ballymore Novices Hurdle

One word. Samcro.

This is the race where it’s time to bet like men. On The Blind Side has done little wrong and also has CD form to his name – and proven on the expected going but Gordon Elliott’s superstar in waiting is impossible to impose. A completed round will surely see him come home in front.

Recommend: Samcro 10pts WIN 4/5 (NAP)

RSA Chase

This could be a difficult day for the bookmakers because Presenting Percy is another favourite I can get on board with here at a better price than might be expected of a horse who went toe to toe with Gold Cup contender, Our Duke, last time out. He could yet go off at less than 2/1 on the day. Monalee is a worthy adversary but at time of writing, could yet be rerouted to the JLT. Out of the other contenders, Al Boum Photo also has a similar question hanging over where he is heading. However, with 10/1 NRNB still available, this might represent a better punting alternative to Monalee who is short enough.

Recommend: Presenting Percy 5pts WIN 11/4 (NB)

Champion Chase

What looked like potentially a damp squib earlier in the season could yet prove to be one of the races of the Festival. Altior’s impressive seasonal reappearance was a huge relief for lovers of the great game. We need the best horses at the Cheltenham Festival and Altior is one of, if not, the best horses in training right now. And a worthy favourite here at a best-priced 8/11.

However, if Douvan can make his long-awaited reappearance we could be in for a classic battle royale up the hill. His performance in last year’s renewal was nowhere near his running and punters shouldn’t forget that Douvan went into that Festival as the hottest horse in training. Make no mistake, a fully wound up Douvan – something we know Willie Mullins is capable of achieving next week – will be serving it up to Altior on the turn for home. However, that remains a significant if and on all known form this season, it’s actually Douvan’s stablemate, Min who represents the biggest challenge to Altior. The rest are racing for minor honours. Politologue has had a fine season but was put firmly in his place the last day. Given the doubts over Douvan even turning up, I prefer the value of backing Min in the without Altior market at 5/4.

Recommend: Min (w/o Altior) 5pts WIN – 5/4

Cross Country Chase

This should turn into a contest between last season’s National Hunt winner Tiger Roll and Festival lover, Cause Of Causes, who won this race last year and then went on to run a fine second in the Grand National. With no form in the book this year – though clearly laid out for this time of year – I’m opting for the former at current prices. With other Cross Country specialists like Josie’s Orders and Cantlow ready to pounce on any errors from the main protagonists, it looks like a small stakes affair.

Recommend: Tiger Roll 2pts EW 6/1 (IWAC)

Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Mitchouka is a strong Irish contender and though likely to carry close to top weight comes to the Festival with more experience than most of his rivals, rarely runs a bad race and seems set to be competitive. Current favourite Act of Valour was a decent performer on the level and ran very well behind We Have A Dream last time out at Musselburgh. The best form on offer and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing this horse. His trainer, Paul Nicholls has a solid recent record in this race but five of the last six winners have been priced at 25/1 or more so that is where we shall go looking for better value. Having trained last year’s winner, Nick Williams has a strong hand again this time round. Esprit De Somoza is close to the head of the market and has every chance but I like the look of Mercenaire who doesn’t have much to find with the favourite on a form line through We Have A Dream. Hold on for five (or even six) places on the day and back this horse at treble the price, in receipt of 1lb.

Recommend: Mercenaire 1pt EW 25/1

Champion Bumper

A typically competitive renewal and Willie Mullins leads the Irish charge with the two at the top of the market. The last three winners have all been 7/1 or less so there’s no reason not to make this a straight choice between Hollowgraphic and Blackbow – the pair extremely difficult to split. Acey Milan has impressed this season and though the 4yo has a weight for age allowance to help matters, his age group have a poor record in this race. Only Cue Card has done so in the last 20 years. Felix Desjy has plenty to find but is unbeaten, represents last year’s winning trainer Gordon Elliott and can outrun his current odds of 20/1.

Recommend: Felix Desjy 1pt EW 20/1

 

THURSDAY

WaitingPatiently

 JLT Novices Chase

A contest that has been blown wide open by absentees, most recently the favourite Willoughby Court. It leaves a relatively weak field, especially if Monalee and Al Boum Photo head for the RSA. Invitation Only heads the market but looks beatable and short enough to not even justify and each way play. Finians Oscar is hugely talented but appears to have been campaigned poorly by the Tizzards and is difficult to back with any confidence after a shocking return to hurdling last time out. One I’ve liked since his British debut is Terrefort who is a decent price at 12/1 for connections who’ve done well in this race in recent years with the likes of Top Notch and Bristol de Mai. The recent snow and predicted rainfall might yet play into his hands. One other horse that catches the eye from a value perspective is Kemboy who ran well at the Festival behind Willoughby Court 12 months ago and should outrun odds of 25/1

Recommend: Kemboy 1pt EW 25/1, Terrefort 2pts EW 12/1

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

A case could be made for many in this wide open contest yet I’m prepared to take the hint that Gigginstown run just one horse, the Gordon Elliott trained, Delta Work. Five year olds have a terrible record in this race often best suited to horses with more experience but Delta Work has been running behind the likes of Samcro and Total Recall with huge credit this season. He won a maiden hurdle in 2017 on good ground by 20 lengths so the ground holds no fears and expect vast improvement come next Thursday.

Recommend: Delta Work 2pts EW 16/1

Ryanair Chase

Sadly, another race that promised so much only a few months ago but poor recent performances from Top Notch and Coney Island as well as Disko and Fox Norton being ruled out of the Festival have left it looking slightly threadbare. That said, there’s still some real quality on show. Un De Sceaux is quite rightly favourite – a couple of impressive performances this season have given no hint that the 10yo is past his peak. However, I’m not convinced that Cheltenham brings out his best and last year’s renewal was definitely sub-standard. It’s most likely he’ll need to do more to fend off the hugely talented Waiting Patiently who has come to prominence in the market after a destructive performance at Ascot where he took a high class field apart. He’s got form on good to soft and is the one to beat. Balko Des Flos can run into the places and betting aside the roof will come off the Guinness Grandstand if Cue Card can dig out one last famous victory.

Recommend: Waiting Patiently 5pts WIN 4/1 (NAP)

Stayers Hurdle

I think this looks a cracker of a race. Lots of different form lines coming together. Horses we haven’t seen for a while, others we’ve seen chasing and some we’ve seen racing over much shorter. A case could be made for any of Supasundae, Yanworth, Sam Spinner, Penhill, The New One, L’Ami Serge, Bacardys, Uknowhatimeanharry, Wholestone and The Worlds End to run into the three places but perhaps it’s the first five named who actually have a chance of winning here.

It would be a result to put smiles on faces if The New One does indeed stay 3m and runs them into the ground from a mile out. He’s always looked a hurdler that has got better the further he travelled and often got done for toe in his Champion Hurdle efforts earlier in his career. His form has been good this season and I’d be surprised if he didn’t offer value at 12/1. Yanworth has a similar profile in terms of his hurdling ability and looked better than ever when stepped upto 3m at Aintree last season where he saw off Supasundae (now favourite for this race). His chasing campaign this season complicates the plot and having never looked like he’s enjoyed jumping a fence, it’s the smart move to divert him here. Penhill is very much the unknown quantity having sprung a surprise 12 months ago in the Albert Bartlett. Not seen since but that course form is clearly a huge plus. Supasundae put Faugheen to the sword over much shorter last time out and is definitely a worthy favourite if he stays 3m at Cheltenham which clearly demands more than Aintree where he was outbattled. The one horse who comes into Cheltenham with less questions over form, recent experience and ability to stay is Sam Spinner. He’s never been out of the first two in his nine career starts and one suspects there is more to come. I think 5/1 is fair and he’s the one I’d pick out.

Recommend: Sam Spinner 3pts EW 5/1  

Brown Advisory Plate

A typically competitive Festival handicap. David Pipe has won this race three times in the last eight years and appears to have another potential winner in the shape of Kings Socks who might have got in lightly here. He’s been well backed. Tully East was a winner at the Festival 12 months ago and will be a different animal on better ground than what he’s shown this season. The Paul Nicholls duo of Bouvreuil and Romain De Senam won’t be far away and represent value at 20/1 and 16/1 respectively. The former has finished 2-2-3 at the last three festivals and is 3lb better off than his run behind Road To Respect last year. That’s good enough for me to justify an each-way punt at such a price. But it’s Romain De Senam who catches the eye and has clearly been laid out for this by a trainer who is likely focussing efforts on the big handicaps given his lack of graded quality. He ran like a progressive horse on good ground in the Autumn but has dropped down the weights since. Expect a big run if the ground dries out. The Storyteller completes the shortlist if he heads here.

Recommend: Bouvreuil 1pts EW 20/1, Romain De Senam 2pts EW 16/1 (IWAC)

Mares’ Novice Hurdle

This race looks straightforward on paper and hot favourite, Laurina looks like she can maintain Willie Mullins dominance of this recent addition to the Festival, following in the footsteps of Limini and Let’s Dance. In terms of opposition, Maria’s Benefit has done little wrong notching up a five win sequence and was super gutsy last time out. The other Mullins mare, Salsaretta hasn’t been seen on these shores and despite some positive vibes can’t really be backed with any confidence. She’s not much value but I’d be backing Laurina with some confidence, perhaps in a multi-day accumulator.

Recommend: Laurina 10pts WIN Evens (NB)

Kim Muir Challenge Cup

Set to be another wide open handicap contest but if you ignore last year’s surprise 40/1 winner, the previous 10 renewals all saw winners priced sub-16/1 so I’ll focus on the head of the market and look at two others at slightly longer odds. Out of the two market principles, I much prefer the chances of Mall Dini who ran well in this race 12 months ago. With that experience under the belt a clear round should ensure he is there at the finish again. 7/1 is pretty miserly though and doesn’t strike me as particularly good value in a slog of a handicap with so many variables.

Sugar Baron for Nicky Henderson is a real stayer and having finished sixth beind Mall Dini in 2017 could find more this time round. At 16/1 he is comparatively good value though a few pounds worse off.

But it’s another Paul Nicholls horse, Braqueur D’Or who I fancy to run a huge race. It’s hard to ignore his Hennessy form, finishing 4th off a 2lb higher mark. He’s been freshened up and is good bet at 25/1

The Young Master has dropped to a dangerous mark of 139. Sixth in the Ultima 12 months ago off 150, he’s run well enough in defeat this season behind the likes of Fountains Windfall and Blaklion to think he has been prepped for this.

Recommend: Braqueur D’Or 1pt EW 25/1, The Young Master 1pt EW 25/1

 

FRIDAY

Triumph Hurdle

Four of the last five winners have been 9/2 or shorter and it’s unlikely we need to look too far beyond those vying for favouritism at the head of the market. Apple’s Shakira is unbeaten, has winning course form and has looked good on and off the bridle, finding plenty last time. She is just about a worthy favourite but hasn’t beaten an awful lot so far and faces a stiff challenge here, especially from Ireland. Willie Mullins sends Mr Adjudicator who brings the leading Irish form to the table and the much vaunted Stormy Ireland, who quite frankly could be anything after a demolition job on her sole racecourse experience. Farclas wasn’t far behind Mr Adjudicator at Leopardstown and could easily reverse that on different going. Alan King’s Redicean has looked very speedy but having run all three races at Kempton, you’d have to hope he’ll adapt to going left handed and handling Cheltenham. He’s short enough – best priced 9/2 – to be worried about that but certainly has every chance. Unbeaten in four races over hurdles this season, We Have A Dream hasn’t been particularly popular in the market and might well be Nicky Henderson’s second best chance of winning here but the 10/1 does appeal as pound for pound the best value of the leading contenders. I’d suggest a small each way play in the opener of the final day. It’s a tough race to call as so many of these are open to considerable progress and have hardly been seen to best effect so far.

Recommend: We Have A Dream 1pt EW 10/1

 

The County Hurdle

An ultra-competitive, high class handicap hurdle, usually involving the best horses that aren’t quite upto Champion Hurdle standard. Last year, the classy Arctic Fire returned from 418 days off the track and stormed home under top weight. It’s unlikely we’ll see one as good this time round but do expect another strong showing from the Irish.

Rich Ricci has been bullish about the chances of favourite, Max Dynamite but 8/1 is short enough for Willie Mullins to follow up last year’s win. Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter in 2017 and has got in here off a nice weight. Recent money has seen him drop to 14/1 which still represents decent value. Divin Bere hasn’t had the best of campaigns but it’s extremely difficult to ignore last Spring’s form given his revised mark of 141. At 33/1, he’s worth giving another chance, especially if that prices holds out on the day of the race and bookies are offering upto 6 places. Good ground essential for the Nicholls runner.

However, one suspects that it could well be the colours of JP McManus coming home in first place here. Charli Parcs has yet to live upto a tall reputation since hosing up on his British debut and though one suspects he has a huge performance in the locker at some point, there’s no form in the book yet to suggest he can get competitive here. Unlike Tigris River and Ivanovich Gorbatov (Triumph Hurdle winner two years ago) who both head to the Festival on the back of a sequence of poor runs but with previous form that would ordinarily have them vying for favouritism. It would be no surprise if both hadn’t been targeted at this race for sometime. I’m advocating a small each way punt on the pair as their merits are hard to ignore, yet difficult to split.

Recommend: Tigris River 1pt EW 25/1 & Ivanovich Gorbatov 1pt EW 20/1

 

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

 This race suffered a blow a couple of days ago when favourite Cracking Smart was ruled out by trainer Gordon Elliott but there’s still a few nice horses expected to turn up and it should be an interesting betting heat. Bear in mind the last four winners have gone off 16/1, 11/1, 14/1 and 33/1. It’s always a tricky contest and can prove a demanding slog for these novice hurdlers. Next Destination is the obvious market leader, representing Willie Mullins, having run well in the Champion Bumper in 2017 and currently unbeaten over hurdles. Nothing unattractive about the 7/1 still available in a place. It’s unclear where his stablemate Duc Des Genievres is heading but at a similar price it looks like there is much more to come over this longer distance. Chriss Dream has been a massive market mover in recent days. Lightly raced but hacked up over 3m the last day by nearly 60 lengths in heavy going. Should stay and should go well. Nicky Henderson also has a strong hand with Santini, who’s looked a real horse so far on a couple of appearances and Chef Des Obeaux who will need to reverse form. The former might yet go off favourite with winning course form in the book and has beaten some useful yardsticks.

The race has further depth and the likes of Black Op, Red River, Poetic Rhythm and Vinndication could all pose a real threat if they run but if choosing one at the prices, we’ll go for the Henry De Bromhead trained Chriss Dream who made a couple of decent enough horses look ordinary at Clonmel.

Recommend: Chriss Dream 2pts EW 12/1

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup

It’s showtime. And what a race in store this year. Despite staying chasers losing some great horses over the past couple of seasons and others being restricted by injuries this is still a fascinating and potentially vintage renewal.

I’ll start with the reigning champ, Sizing John, who looked impregnable prior to his dismal run at Christmas. Put a line through that and he’s surely the one to beat. Proven over course and distance, followed up with two more victories and aside from the last performance, it’s only really trends that counts against him. It’s just very difficult to retain a Cheltenham Gold Cup. Unlike last year, Native River has been campaigned with this race solely in mind. It looked to have worked a treat on his seasonal reappearance when he bolted up. A fresher horse and a huge danger to everyone, especially if it turns into a slog. Our Duke has a similar profile and is all guts and stamina. Again, similar to his stablemate, he had a setback with a woeful seasonal debut but had some minor surgery and has gradually returned to form – beating Presenting Percy the last day and conceding weight. That looks good form and Our Duke looks to be coming good at the right time of year. Killultagh Vic undoubtedly possesses loads of ability but appears quite error-prone and there’ll be no such forgiveness in the quality of this heat. He is a class act though and a clear round will see him not too far away.

Definitely Red is the dark horse of the race having crept into the contenders spotlight courtesy of a fine performance in a muddy Cotswold Chase. Similar here and he’s in with a chance though potentially just lacks that bit of extra class and acceleration.

For all the arguments around the above, I think it’s going to boil down to two horses. One representing Gigginstown who has improved in leaps and bounds since winning the Brown Advisory Plate 12 months ago, when hardly fancied even for that handicap race. Road To Respect has since finished ahead of many of his rivals here, such as Sizing John, Our Duke and Minella Rocco. He seems to be still improving, clearly enjoys Cheltenham and rarely runs a bad race having finished in the first two places in each of his last seven races. He’s been kept fresh for this race since a fine win in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

But it takes a real class horse to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup and though sloggers and stayers like Our Duke and Native River might come into their own if there’s a bit of cut in the ground, Might Bite is the one they all have to fear and the King George winner is quite rightly favourite. He won the RSA 12 months ago so has two excellent trials wins to his name and if he can tame the quirkiness and last the extra 3 furlongs or so of a Gold Cup, his sheer cruising speed will likely have them all at turning for home. If De Boinville holds it together than we could see something really special next Friday.

Recommend: Might Bite 5pts 4/1

 

Foxhunter Chase

 Paul Nicholls had a 1-2 in this race last year with Pacha Du Polder and Wonderful Charm who both reoppose this time round. He rates the latter his best bet of the festival. At 6/1 we can take the hint and bet each way. The favourite, Burning Ambition has been tearing up trees on the Irish PTP circuit but came unstuck against the classy Gilgamboa last time. He won’t face anything as tough here mind. On The Fringe won this race in 2015 and 2016 but dropped to 5th last year and at 13yo is likely on the decline. He shouldn’t be far away and is worth a punt at best-priced 20/1, though you have to go back to 2004 to find a winner at such an age. Foxrock was a classy chaser and on a formline through Gilgamboa is closely matched with the favourite. And good old Felix Yonger, who has won a couple of PTPs in Ireland certainly has the class here to be competitive if he can recapture the kind of form that saw him chase home Simonsig on his inaugural Cheltenham appearance – then go off favourite for the JLT two years later.

Recommend: Wonderful Charm 2pts EW 6/1

 

Grand Annual

The finale of the Cheltenham Festival is always a fantastic race. Like the County earlier in the day, it suits the best 2m chasers not quite upto Champion Chase standard. Step forward this year, Vaniteux and Forest Bihan as two classy horses who both go on the shortlist but might just be anchored by too much weight. I’d expect at least one of them to run into the places. Theinval ran a cracker in this race 12 months and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be far away at the finish. Probably the most solid each way bet on offer at 11/1.

Don’t Touch It was a very good graded performer and makes a lot of appeal in this contest. Most likely laid out for the race all season, he could be another classic McManus plot job and I’d be getting involved at the best price 12/1

At bigger odds, Foxtail Hill appeals. He went off as a 6/1 favourite in the Novices Handicap Chase last year and has since run two really good races at Cheltenham, winning (beating Le Prezien) and finishing runner up on good ground. Some poorer runs since have kept his weight down and price up. Back to his best, he should prove a snip at 25/1 and is worth a small play indeed.

Recommend: Don’t Touch It 2pts EW 12/1 & Foxtail Hill 1pt EW 25/1

 

 

 

TwitFaced 2011-2016, with love

I can’t thank you enough for making TwitFaced happen, I knew absolutely nobody when I moved here a couple of years back and thanks to TwitFaced, I’ve made loads of mates so cheers for that, made life here in Manchester great. (TwitFaced attendee, April 2013)

Al

Tonight will see the last ever TwitFaced take place at the brand new Stage and Radio venue in the Northern Quarter, fittingly once the location of Manchester’s first ever nightclub.

We can’t wait for it and plan to go out in typically raucous style. Stage and Radio is going to be packed to the rafters for our 13th event and capacity-abusing ticket sales of 275+ indicate there is plenty of life left in the old dog. But it’s definitely time to call it a day and leave the door slightly ajar for a one-off comeback event sometime in the future.

Both my own and Simon’s personal situations have changed over the past year and though TwitFaced remains a labour of love, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to dedicate the time required.

It’s hard to believe five years has passed since the original idea was hatched. For a few years at least, TwitFaced played an important part in accelerating business and personal connections across this amazing city. Nearly 5000 sign-ups, over 3000 attendees and easily thousands more relationships forged across multiple sectors.

And though TwitFaced still holds a magnetic pull for so many, we have to admit the job is done. That initial purpose – to transpose Twitter conversations to face to face dialogue – has been diluted. If Manchester was disconnected back in the summer of 2011, it’s damn near incestuous now.  That unique proposition and our innovative approach rapidly accelerated TwitFaced to cult-like status and by some distance, the biggest networking event in the city with over 700 people registering for our last free event at Manchester 235 casino, ahead of our decision to charge and expand the entertainment offer.

Leave your card and ego at the door.

CEOs, graduates, entrepreneurs, artists, lawyers, designers, students, managing directors, actors, special forces, pop stars et al. Twitter is a great leveller and TwitFaced adopted the same ethos pulling allsorts together. Where else would you see the Spinningfields Mafia, Manchester Party Crowd and NQ Hipsters in the same room?

I’m not sure Paul Calf, Jimmy Saville, The Wet Bandits and Steve Stifler should ever really figure at a business networking event. But they did.

Innovation such as the various apps we developed to help crowdsource music, introduce new Twitter connections and of course, the popular Wheel of Booze game. It was quite clever stuff for the time and lack of obvious supporting budget.

On the other hand, I appreciate it’s never been everyone’s cup of tea. Our in-your-face approach might be mine and Simon’s take on the Manchester we remember and also happens to be the people we truly are. No shrinking violets. Let’s have a chat. Dance like nobody’s watching. Leave your attitude and business cards at the door. Now neck that. Cheers.

You’re alright you lot.

I want to thank some of the amazing people and companies that have made it oh so enjoyable to deliver an event that has brought so many special people into my world.

Firstly, Simon Calderbank, who has been an extraordinary event host and organiser-in-chief. Our DJs, Mark Hogg and Martin Glynn, as well as Jamie Scahill for earlier contributions. Dave Greaves and Cata Pereda for polishing our rough edges. Al Mackin, Dan Nolan and Christian McGinty for amateur DJ stints in the early events. My ex-Creative Director, Steve Buckley for the name & logo. Gareth Poole for the app. Ian Adams and Ron Gilmour for photography services. Magician, Anthony James and Mr Mentalist, Chris Rawlins. Natasha Turkington for being the first TwitFaced attendee. Bernadette Kelly and Helen Ramsbottom for venue advice. Thom Hetherington, Chris Marsh, Steve Kuncewicz, Laura Thomas, Paul Grimshaw, Simon Bowers and Mike Henderson for consistently being first class flag-wavers. On the night helpers, Aisha Riaz, Samantha Bell, Sian English and Ben Hobson. And last but not least, my Studio North colleagues, Hannah Swarbrick, Shauna Carysforth, Roisin Metherell, Stuart McMullen and Nicola Wyld who devoted hours of personal time to aid and abet the TwitFaced cause.

All of our sponsors but in particular, Manchester Confidential, Melbourne Server Hosting, theEword, Run2 (formerly Upsearch), Riskbox, MRJ Recruitment, Galloways Printers, WeAreDigitl and Fatsoma.

I’m sorry – I know there are so many others deserving of a mention but I’ll make it up to you in person.

But for now, for one last time, let’s rock Stage and Radio later on tonight. Smile at people, chat to strangers, take a chance, be yourself, make someone’s evening, be inspired. Get TwitFaced.

@MichaelDiPaola (Founder) 

Raised on songs and stories

Mum

In memory of our mum, Caitriona Di Paola (nee Kearney)
13 November 1952 – 15 December 2015

Caitriona was one of four children born to her parents Maura (Mary) & Matt Kearney in early 1950s Dublin. It was a happy childhood but sadly, at the age of five, Caitriona lost her little sister Bernadette at just 18 days old.  Two years later, in search of work, the family moved to England in 1960 and this young Irish girl quickly settled into a new life in inner-city Manchester.   

Caitriona’s older brothers, the dearly departed Cyril and John, the eldest, were highly protective over their younger sister, often walking her to school and always looking out for her. Caitriona joked recently that walking her to school was just a surefire way for them to meet girls but she felt safe in their presence.

Communion WithMum

Though the family didn’t have much money, it was a loving, caring and sociable environment – the family would often take in lodgers down on their luck. It was a backdrop that contributed towards Caitriona’s own personal DNA, forging her own set of values: fun, caring, hardworking, resilient and above all, loving.

As a youngster, Caitriona would love her trips to the Irish countryside to see her many cousins and extended Kearney family in County Limerick. Some of her heart never really left Ireland, be it Dublin or the more rural surroundings of Doon and Dark Island.

Throughout her school years, Caitriona worked hard.  She attended Loreto Convent in Dublin, St. Joseph’s RC Primary School and Loreto Grammar in Manchester, making many friends and excelling academically. She successfully passed her O levels in 1968 but by then Caitriona’s independent flame started to burn.

She joined the Young Catholic Students which allowed her to help people in need but also gave her access to, in her own words ‘fun, boys and parties’. This led to conflict with Loreto’s Headmistress, Mother Victorine.  Caitriona explains in her own words;

“My parents were spoken to about my involvement in the YCS, which made me more determined to be president. It came to a head a few weeks before my A Levels when Mother Victorine called me in and offered me a card for an organisation called Contact which looked out for young women who had gone astray! I might have been lively, but I was a good kid. I just grabbed my stuff and walked out of the school gate.”

Singing Accordian

After school, Caitriona worked for five years as a civil servant for the Department of the Environment and then the Manchester Health Authority in Chorlton. In this time she met, fell in love with and eventually, aged 22, married Giovanni in 1975. Exactly nine months to the day later, Caitriona gave birth to her first child, Michael. And three years later, she repeated the feat with a second boy, Anthony as the Di Paola family settled on Peel Hall Rd in Wythenshawe.  Caitriona would devote herself to emotionally nurturing and intellectually stimulating two young boys. Something, many would say, she excelled at.

Motherhood didn’t entirely quell Caitriona’s appetite and love for music and she continued to sing. At bedtime to her sleeping children; at family parties given half a chance and semi-professionally, as part of various groups, in pubs and clubs around South Manchester. Caitriona loved to sing and cherished the power of words and lyrics. A particular party trick being able to sing a song about any topic you could throw at her. The repertoire was endless, as was the enjoyment of those who surrounded the inevitable life and soul of any party.  Her house is filled with song lyrics, musings, limericks and poems – she had a real talent for the written word.

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Aside from music, Caitriona had a wicked and incredibly sharp sense of humour, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of the world – even in her latter years, she was still tuned into modern trends and current affairs. Caitriona even tweeted once or twice.  She could read James Joyce and Dylan Thomas but also enjoyed Terry Wogan, Mills and Boon, CSI Miami, Sudoku challenges and daily crosswords.

As her two boys matured under her guidance, Caitriona revisited her career in 1984, initially working as a technician at St John Plessington High School, St. Pauls RC High School and then Poundswick High School – all in Wythenshawe.  In 1992, at the age of 40, Caitriona’s magnificent mind led her to complete her vocational A-Levels – she gained the BTEC National Certificate in Science with a grade of distinction – one of only a handful of candidates to do so in the North West that year.

The Headteacher of Poundswick saw the potential in Caitriona and asked her to be a classroom support worker assigned full time to a young boy with ADHD.  This led her to gravitate towards a new career in child care and social services.  In 1998 she started work as a residential care worker at Greenbrow and then Beech House Children’s Home in Wythenshawe – places where she again made many friends and earned the respect of colleagues.  In 2005 she gained her NVQ Level 3 in Caring for Children and Young People. This was another proud achievement for Caitriona.

Caitriona’s faith in God never wavered for many years, ensuring the boys attended mass every Sunday and she made trips to Lourdes, the Vatican and took great pleasure in seeing Pope John Paul II at Heaton Park.  But Caitriona struggled with the loss of her parents. She loved her father with all her heart and invested so much energy in caring for her mother in her final years. Both deaths became a huge emotional drain on Caitriona.

Later in life, Caitriona, by now divorced, found companionship with Nigel, continuing to explore her love of music, pubs and meeting new people. She travelled to many places and always spoke fondly of the experiences at this stage of her life.

Daphne Horse John Snowski

She enjoyed wonderful holidays in Canada, spending time with her dear brother John, who himself hasn’t been well in recent years. The photographs of her final trip in 2006 are full of love and happiness and rumours Caitriona spent most of the trip flirting with ski patrol boys are yet to be proven.

She would later become a very proud and loving Nonna as both Michael and Anthony gave her two grandchildren each – Bobby, Joseph, Elin and Annika. The children have been particularly upset these past few weeks and Nonna is remembered with great affection and love by the next generation of family.

After a gradual decline over a couple of years, Caitriona bravely battled serious and painful illness in Autumn 2014, with the doctors at Wythenshawe Hospital astonished how she managed to fight off so many problems. But fight she did and Caitriona was on a positive road to recovery until another emotional battering took its toll. Saying goodbye to her brother, Cyril, at bedside in hospital, last year again hit her hard and visibly drained her.

Cyril

Finally, after further hospital admissions, Caitriona was ready to be reunited with her mum, dad, brother and little sister. She passed away peacefully at 9am on Tuesday 15 December with both sons at her side.

Caitriona Di Paola was only aged 63 but she lived a full life and imparted at least a hundred years worth of love, wisdom and fun to those around her.

Trophy

She will be sorely missed and the best way one can describe the loss of Caitriona is to use the very words she wrote herself back in 1989 when her own beloved daddy passed away:

My Dad (Matthew Kearney)

16 July 1906 – 7 January 1989

I knew that you were leaving
My heart was sad and sore
I had time to say ‘I love you’
So I said it o’er and o’er.

It didn’t make it easy
It didn’t make it right
You broke the heart that loved you
When you left me that sad night.

You told me that you had to go
But you were scared to try
The place that God had found for you
And how it felt to die.

So I held you tightly in my arms
As you looked towards the light
God opened wide the golden gate
And took you home that night.

A Family Tribute: Always There

Words are sometimes too limited to truly capture the essence of a living being. They lack the emotional stimulation of a smile or a tear. They fail to capture the sensory stimulation of a scent of perfume or piece of music.

But words, when written down, solid as oak, are always there. Unlike a fleeting interaction they endure beyond the expanse of any memory or lifetime. So we wanted to share some feelings about what our mum meant to us both, inspired by this very notion.

Three weeks after we sadly and painfully said goodbye to mum, we strongly believe our mum’s spirit is still very much alive.

In our own words, Always There…

Mum, we never suffered from pain.
Because you were always there,
soothing and healing.

Mum, we never stopped learning.
Because you were always there,
sharing experience and wisdom.

Mum, we never needed pushing.
Because you were always there,
gently nudging us to better ourselves.

Mum, we never needed punishing.
Because you were always there,
teaching us right from wrong.

Mum, we never missed a meal.
Because you were always there
to feed and nourish us.

Mum, we never wanted for anything.
Because you were always there;
time and patience was your currency.

Mum, we never slept on a worry at night.
Because you were always there,
with a song to fix it.

Mum, we never lacked encouragement.
Because you were always there,
bursting with pride at the slightest achievement.

Mum, we never felt alone.
Because you were always there,
even if just a text or call as we grew up.

Mum, we’ll never forget you.
Because your spirit will always be there,
looking over all of us.

Thank you for everything,

Michael & Anthony.

Deva-station, the Return of Betworking

It couldn’t have been a year already, could it?

The inaugural Chester Races event didn’t seem that long ago, as just after noon on Friday, the 2015 vintage of ‘Betworkers’ were rapidly gathering en-masse at Dukes ’92 ahead of another day of food and drink, making new contacts and a decent splash of merriment.

A similar plan, except we’d booked the Mockingbird Taproom for mid-afternoon grub, a stone’s throw from Chester Races and intended to hit the road much earlier than last year’s group.

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The weather had looked like it might be a mixed bag all week but thankfully the day’s rain was done and dusted before lunch and the skies westbound hinted promise. As per usual, we had an interesting bunch with us.

Usual suspects like Pete Bridge-Collyns (Managing Director, Cleaning Ventures), Carlos Oliveira (CEO, Shaping Cloud), Richard Venables (Managing Director, RV Group) and Kristian Burrill (Managing Director, Gekko).

But we also welcomed some new faces like Nick Black and Howard Simms (co-founders of Apadmi), Stewart Quayle (Managing Director, AVI Fund Solutions) and Brian Painter (Managing Director, Discreet Help).

And no day at the races would be complete without Manchester’s answer to Miami Vice, Jim ‘Raino’ Rainford (Director, AON) and Kleon ‘Westy’ West (Business Development Director, theEword).

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Representing the ladies were the likes of Sophie Southworth (Business Development Director, Journey 9), Jess Wilkinson (Founder, Petal & Co.) and Becky Fryer (Business Development Manager, Glued Films). As the day would eventually prove, more a case of quality over quantity where the girls were concerned.

After a few drinks at Dukes to get the day off to a good start, twenty five of us boarded our transport for the day. Like last year, Anthony’s Travel of Runcorn sent another luxurious 32-seater Club Class coach. “Spoilt rotten” was overheard from one direction. As the betworkers got comfortable, Georgina Donnelly and myself played bartenders, pouring out the copious supplies of Prosecco and beer. Unsurprisingly, Gary Chaplin (Executive Headhunter) produced iced gin & tonic miracles yet again. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail would appear to be the Yorkshireman’s preferred approach to juniper-flavoured spirits.

The journey seemed to pass in no time with conversation and drinks flowing freely and we arrived in Chester right on schedule just before 3pm where we met up with the rest of the gang inside the Mockingbird Taproom.

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The food aspect was a major improvement on last year. My own choices of Shrimp Cocktail, Surf and Turf Gumbo and the Pudding Parade were an absolute delight. And that’s without whipping away half of Chris Longbottom’s (Shoosmiths) Nachez Nachos. They were literally to die for. (Drools to self.)

There were some magnificently-portioned dishes flying out to tables and evidently, everyone filled themselves up quite nicely. With a great choice of beers and a buzzing pre-races atmosphere, we couldn’t have chosen a better base and settling in for the evening did cross my mind. However, we were in Chester on some serious racing business and I had a reputation to live upto, after last year’s success, as the gambling loomed large.

We rounded up the troops and made our way to the same spot we occupied last year in the Finishing Post. Reserved seating, table service and a glorious sunny evening just about more than worth the lack of racing view offered in this part of the course. I shouted up “tenners in for the syndicate” and rustled up £150 to go and start punting with. Here’s what happened…

Results.

6.30 – Molly Dolly 7/2 Winner (£50 win at 4/1) +£200
7.05 – Aneesah 10/11 Winner (£100 win at 5/4) + £125
7.35 – Serene Beauty 6/5 Winner (£100 win at 13/8) + £162.50
8.05 – No Bet
8.35 – Subversive 5/2 4th place (£100 lost) – £100
9.10 – Mythical City 7/4 Winner (£100 win at 15/8) + £187.50
9.10 – Felix De Vega 5/1 3rd place (£50 each/way) – £100

Initial Stake Money – £150
Final Pot – £625

Same result as last year. 6 bets. 4 winners! And a better return on investment from an admittedly much smaller pot. Best still, a decent drinks fund for back in town. Should have gone all in on the last mind. Next year, definitely.

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The group headed back to the coach, a few heads light in more ways than one and the party really started to fly. The journey back to Manchester starts to get a bit hazy now but I know we made it to Artisan in Spinningfields where, well, what happens at Betworking, stays at Betworking, I guess. Some of the hardcore battled on to Neighbourhood and the Suburbia launch but some of us (with kids) bailed out.

A great day out, hope you can make the next one.

It’s a Kinder Magic

There’s quite simply no better way to end a week than hitting the great outdoors on a Friday morning and it felt like this fourth Freshwalks event was long overdue after an immense turnout at the end of February.

Effectively a sequel to the Netwalking trilogy that had gone before, the new Freshwalks name was devised to avoid confusion with other similar events and to better reflect the purpose of the day.

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I hadn’t been quite this nervous since our inaugural walk back in August but there were a couple of obvious worries the night before. It was our first trek without usual navigator and local Glossop lad, Thom Hetherington, a problem compounded by one or two other familiar and reliable faces on the unfortunate absentees list. Secondly, our regular pub haunt, The Wheatsheaf in Old Glossop, had changed management after Bob and Irene Skupham had moved on. We’d been looked after so well by the Skuphams and had developed absolute trust in their hospitality standards.

Ah well, que sera sera. I’d studied the maps well enough and Diane, the new landlady sounded keen to help on the phone. “Nothing has changed” she assured me. We’d only given 2-3 weeks notice of this fourth event and were relatively surprised to get as many as 26 people signed up. A smaller crowd would be the best way to test the new management first time out I had supposed.

As is now tradition, the early morning Manchester contingent gathered upstairs inside Piccadilly train station at the reliable Carluccio’s where eggs, pancetta & coffee appeared to be the order of the morning. First to join me were the Inleaf team of Daniel and Charlotte Atherton on their first walk with us.

Fifteen people and three dogs (Jess, Sid and Vito) left Manchester on the 8.45am train, excited about the exertions ahead and breezily optimistic about the weather forecast in front of us. The temperate gods would appear to favour your average Freshwalker. We joined the Glossop crew, including another first time walker and ex-pro rugby player, Jonnie Whittle, Managing Director of Lasenby Knox, at the train station café, before a party of 21 walkers set off a shade after 9.30am with undoubtedly a long hard day ahead.

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Jamie Helmer and Pete Bridge-Collyns, Managing Directors of ITA Accountants and Cleaning Ventures, respectively, emerged as two natural leaders of the pack as we snaked our way out of the town centre to steeper and more rural settings.

Between the three of us we just about had enough navigational nous to steer us competently throughout the day. And the earlier worries dissipated as soon as we hit the first recognisable trails.

Heading south-east out of Glossop, our initial slog up Worm Stones took us towards the first trig point at Harry Hut. It was a tough baptism of fire for some of the novice walkers as the group opened up a smidge. We briefly paused once or twice on this ascent and there were a good few huffing and puffing faces less than an hour into the day. I shared some little white lies of encouragement as to the task ahead. Positive spirits get legs moving and lungs opening no end.

We shifted eastwards to pick up the Pennine Way at Mill Hill, passing a now expected plane wreckage on our left hand side. This steady climbing was gradually breaking the resistance of a few and providing at least a stern test for the rest. Halfway through the ascent, halfway through the pain was my shared mantra.

After the brief respite of a slight downhill ramble, the killer section of the day was upon his. An extremely steep, borderline scramble to the top of the Kinder Plateau. “Don’t come near me, I’ll swing for you” was Charlotte Chadwick’s (Atlantis Digital) affectionate greeting to yours truly as we stopped for a breather close to the top. Fairly sure she was joking but I didn’t chance it.

The other reason for stopping was that poor Rachel Bell of theEword had gone over on her ankle and was now reduced to mere hobbling pace. Gutsy as anything “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine” she confidently declared. Sid the dog was doing a fine job helping to pull her along.

It wasn’t long past noon yet we were now within striking distance of our glorious destination at Kinder Downfall. The last time we visited, the waterfall was doing that remarkable thing of being blown upwards, such was the ferocity of the wind. This was a much gentler and warmer day however.

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Kinder Downfall is the sort of place where you could stop all day and peruse the surroundings when the weather is kind. Simply stunning views and the gentle background noise of trickling water is a trusted way to iron out any corporate mental strains.

After a spot of lunch and a generous wedge of scenic admiration, we tactically split the group in two to allow Rachel a small escort back the way we had come. Special mentions for Jim Clarke (The Apprentice Academy) and Dave Greaves (Make Happen) for being such stalwart rear troopers.

My forward party took a longer route, leaving the obvious paths to yomp due north across what looked like unpredictable moorland terrain. It was loads of fun, with deep troughs that needed leaping or climbing into and within about 20 minutes we’d reached a perpendicular path running the edge of the opposite side of the Kinder plateau. The panoramic views across Black Ashop Moor were stunning and the rock formations afforded some spectacular photo opportunities well worth the detour before heading back west to meet the others at our agreed rendezvous point.

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It was now just a simple case of the entire group plodding back to Glossop as we virtually retraced steps, all be it with the positive spin of an entirely fresh perspective. Every steep descent provided as much of a muscular examination as the earlier lung-testing respective climb. Weary limbs and tired minds now demanded refreshment as the town of Glossop appeared closer in our sights. Ex-pro footballer, Andy Holt of Digital Next appeared thirstier than most as The Wheatsheaf happily loomed large. I’d promised him 45 minutes max.

Not much later than 4pm, we were met with a warm welcome from Diane, the new landlady who herself was pulling pints of the local Howard Town Brewery ale behind the bar. And once a bag of frozen peas had been sourced for our plucky, injured comrade, conversations started to gather pace. Happy faces greeted plates of home-cooked food leaving the kitchen as energy levels were rapidly replenished. This particular group of walkers had a hungrier than usual look about them and when word got round that home-made cheesecakes (Malteser & Malibu/Bounty) were on the specials board a frenzied cheesecake fever gripped the dining room.

Most of the Manchester contingent headed back on trains throughout the evening but not before a good few rounds of sambucas and many more ales relaxed the vibe and increased the laughter levels.

Another hugely successful day and a route so pretty, yet so demanding it would be sacrilege to not repeat this dose to an expected bigger crowd on Friday 19 June (TBC).

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Finally…

In a modern commercial world where technology gradually reduces our ability to switch off, it’s important you take time to look after your most important client project. That’s YOU. Demanding work and family lives put a strain on most of us and in particular the downwards-facing hierarchal pressure of running a business can be a lonely place. Mental health is an important business issue and our natural resilience can delay obvious reactions to any given situation. Like a time-bomb waiting to go off, stress and anxiety can creep into lives many months later.

Fresh air, fresh perspectives and fresh connections can align at Freshwalks to help alleviate the above pains.

If you are interested in joining a Freshwalks event, please email Michael Di Paola on Michael@studionorth.co.uk to be added to the database.

Back To Bleaklow: Snowballs, Sushi & Sunshine

It doesn’t really matter how many events I organise, the night before will always major on excitement and minor on sleep. So I was a touch blurry-eyed, being the first to tuck into a tasty breakfast at Carluccio’s, Manchester Piccadilly, ahead of the third instalment of Netwalking on Friday morning.

I was really looking forward to this one.

Probably because I needed the walk myself. More likely because I now find it very easy to gauge how any particular group will work when put together and this attendee list simply oozed potential. Not many other occasions could bring together people from so many different facets of Mancunian business life. Who’d have thought Franco Sotgiu, owner of Solita Restaurants and at least a gazillion other ventures would make a ‘networking’ event?

Impressively, over half the original bunch were in the mix, there to guide and prompt nervous first-timers who themselves had generated enough excitement in the days prior. At the front of this mob, Glossop’s very own Man of the Year, and our tour guide, Thom Hetherington (Northern Restaurant & Bar / Buy Art Fair). Originally, it had been Thom who cajoled us towards the Dark Peak with the promise of an accessible base, stunning scenery and great pubs.

There were also dogs. Lots of dogs. And sorry, I should really know all their names by now. But a huge bow-wow to Dandy, Claude and of course, Jess.

Around half the overall group eventually boarded the 9:46am leaving Manchester Piccadilly. The abiding memory of this train journey out to Glossop is a combination of school-trip style giddiness and dog aggro. A quick spot of segregation ended the bone wars and peace was restored.

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We arrived in Glossop on time to meet up with the rest of the gang who’d driven up or lived locally. After enjoying a quick brew in the train station café and a Danny Franks (SBS Networks) organised team photograph, we were off. More or less on schedule.

To look organised, I counted heads as the troops filed through the back streets of Old Glossop in the direction of more rural surroundings. I was pleasantly surprised with the low absenteeism rate as 45 of us started the trek. And even more surprised that the weather had come good. Chilly yes, but dry and with a hint of sunshine peeking through the clouds.

The planned route bore more than a passing resemblance to the inaugural Netwalking day back in August. A subtle tweak being to adopt a route north out of Glossop, heading past Glossop Low to give spectacular views down to the Longdendale chain of reservoirs.

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Given the numbers and diversity of walking speed, it was no surprise how much the group stretched out across the initial steep ascents of the day as we snaked our way towards our primary target of Bleaklow Head. Thankfully, patience at the front meant it would come back together every half an hour or so.

A mile or so shy of the peak, we found a decent spot for lunch and being Netwalkers, this wasn’t simply a case of some egg butties as Holly Moore (Make Events) reached for the sushi, stopping just short of popping open the champagne.

At 633m, Bleaklow Head is officially a mountain and stands the second highest point in the Peak District. The snow still resting in places, despite the sunshine, was proof enough of the air temperature and the temptation to throw snowballs proved too much for some.

For the majority of our netwalkers, reaching the summit was a significant physical effort and something to celebrate as a group.

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An appropriate moment now to highlight a key takeout from the day. The hills are a great people leveller. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, business cards and job titles couldn’t be more irrelevant. Despite the impressive seniority of the group with over 30 of the 45 at CEO, Managing Director or business owner level, no such divisions mattered here. Sure, some sage advice was being passed from senior bods to more precociously titled attendees. But energy, potential and hunger was being absorbed in reverse. Everyone contributed.

From Bleaklow, we picked up the same route as the first Netwalking event, cutting off the Pennine Way to experience the stunning Higher Shelf Stones and the crash site of the US Air Force B29 Superfortress ‘Overexposed’ where 13 people lost their lives in 1948. In this most surreal location, you really need to take a moment to appreciate the sense of loss.

The route back into Old Glossop thereafter is quite straightforward, following the ancient Roman road, Doctor’s Gate along a magnificent valley. There’s a few hairy moments on the descent but everyone made it across the trickiest section in one piece, despite some vertigo sufferers and frisky pooches.

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As always, as Glossop loomed large around 16:30, the usual suspects were to be found cracking open handy little tins of Gin & Tonic. Who’d argue with that? Thoroughly deserved. Though I kept my own hipflask intact, depriving myself until the ultimate reward of that first pint. Oh yeah.

And finally, we landed back at the welcome warmth of The Wheatsheaf where Bob & Irene Skupham and team were ready to feed and look after us. This cosy traditional village pub quickly filled up with our thirsty crew. I sat outside with my feet in a bucket of hot water, to the amusement of others, after an argument with a deep bog. But what a way to enjoy your first pint. Thanks for that go to Mick Howard (Urban Bubble).

With more punters wanting grub than dining spaces on tap, it was going to be a task and a half to organise the food pouring out of the kitchen. So step forward Jess Wilkinson (Weber Shandwick) who ably assisted and co-ordinated various plates of delicious home-cooked food to their rightful devourers.

Before the serious drinking session started, beautifully chaired as always by Steve Bottomley (Sagacity), I thought it best to do something useful with the amazing range of outdoor clothing, kindly donated by the fantastic team (thank you, Thomas Coxon) at Sprayway UK, only based up the road in Hyde.

I laid the gear out and requested a nominal donation of £10 per item to Glossop Mountain Rescue in return for a pick of the products on a first come, first served basis. Jim Clark (Apprentice Academy) deployed every last drop of his market trader skills to shift all the clobber and raise £120. Del Boy would have been proud.

The night went on and on. Aside from those already mentioned, special mentions go to Richard Gahagan (We Are Adam), Matt Smith (BDB Marketing), Will Jarvis (MRJ) and Jen Smith (JMW Solicitors) for keeping the Netwalking spirit going through to more or less last orders.

Also a huge thank you to Julie Wilson (Rule 5) who works actual magic with filters and Danny Franks whose excellent photography I’ve used within this blog.

But in truth, a huge heartfelt thank you to ALL attendees. Every single one of you made a stunning contribution once again to a fabulous day.

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Why go Netwalking?

The exercise, scenery, fresh air and lack of distraction allow the brain to function at much higher levels than a normal working day. Furthermore, the tangible solitude of the Peaks facilitates a much deeper level of intimacy with fellow attendees than a city-centre hotel or bar can afford.

Running a business can be a lonely place. Stress can creep up on anyone and we all owe it to ourselves to have a release. Netwalking creates this escape from the rat-race allowing proper time to consider personal and business direction. It’s a chance to make game-changing strategic decisions and have the opportunity to bounce them off others. It works.

If you are interested in attending future events, please contact Michael Di Paola at Studio North on Michael@studionorth.co.uk and I will add you to the database.

Final thank yous & highlights:

Amy Shapiro for saying I looked so outdoorsy. Blush.
Jen Smith & Sarah Wilde for complimenting my calf muscles. Double blush.
Most Beautiful Hands: Dave Hardy
Gutsiest Move: Lisa Ashurst for defying vertigo fear
All The Gear: Gary Chaplin
No Idea: Will Jarvis & his Mountain Rescue Bell. LOL.

 

Cheltenham Festival 2015 Preview

Cheltenham Festival – Day One

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The opening day of the Festival might well be christened Willie Mullins Day such is the likelihood of sheer dominance by the Irish trainer. Any semblance of value disappeared over the horizon a couple of months back but it really is hard to see past a Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen & Annie Power four-timer. There’ll be plenty still loading up at current odds of close to 20/1. Every chance one will flop so a safer recommendation is to cover trebles & upwards and still make profit if one lets the stable down.

Supreme Novices

Douvan looks another superb novice prospect and is taken to follow stablemate Vautour’s success 12 months ago. We’ve not seen the full range of gears yet and the impression is that we might not have to, even in this ultimate test of novice hurdling. L’Ami Serge looks a rock solid each way bet to nothing at 9/2 and will be included in my each way festival multiple. Mightily impressive last two runs and has the master craftsman, Geraghty in the saddle. However, my value pick is Identity Thief, Gigginstown’s likely leading contender. Currently widely available at 33/1 ahead of this weekend’s outing in the Deloitte Novice at Leopardstown.

Recommend: Douvan in multiple win bet & L’Ami Serge in multiple place bet & Identity Thief 1pt E/W at 33/1

Arkle

Surely this is the magnificent Un De Sceaux versus the fences. Despite no experience up the Cheltenham hill there appears to be little hope for his rivals save for a repeat of his fall at Thurles. His last six completed races in Ireland have seen winning margins of 15L, 12L, 16L, 53L, 29L and 13L. Sprinter Sacre’s heir apparent in waiting.

With Vautour likely to head for the JLT and Josses Hill not really convincing so far this season, Vibrato Valtat appears the outstanding each way value bet of the race. He’s proved a tough nut to crack this season and I’d expect a solid run from the Nicholls horse. Widely available at 14/1, he should have enough to make the place money.

Recommend: Un De Sceaux in multiple win bet & Vibrato Valtat 1pt E/W at 14/1

Champion Hurdle

What looked like it would be a vintage year for champion hurdlers at the end of last season has been reduced to a handful of serious contenders.

The top two in the market look solid. The New One, arguably could have won this race 12 months ago, save for being hampered by the tragic demise of Our Conor. He finished like a winner and despite the fact he sometimes takes a furlong or two to go through the gears, it’s difficult to see The New One finish out of the top two in strongly run race. But Faugheen looks the real deal. Impressive over further, winning the Neptune last season, Faugheen still has the acceleration to win a race of this nature. His lack of action against the top contenders might be a concern for those backing at odds around evens but as long as the jumping holds up under the pressure of a serious championship race then I’d take Faugheen to win this by at least a couple of lengths under Ruby Walsh.

There’ll be plenty of racing fans who’d love to see Hurricane Fly maintain outstanding seasonal form and recapture his old crown but Cheltenham doesn’t play to his strengths and I suspect the legendary champion will do well to make the place money. Jezki has been in the Fly’s pocket all season but last March is still fresh in the memory and there’s every reason to believe we’ll see the best of him on the day. Barry Geraghy is 5 wins from 5 races on the reigning champ and if he takes the mount I’d expect Jezki to be a value each way call at 6/1.

But an even better value bet might be Arctic Fire at 16/1 who hasn’t been running too far behind Hurricane Fly in Ireland this season and eventually finished in front of Jezki last time after a poor jump at the last by his rival. He ran a great race in the County Hurdle last year, finishing second and has age in hand on his rivals which might mean there is still more to come.

Recommend: Faugheen in multiple win bet & Jezki in multiple place bet & Arctic Fire 1pt E/W at 16/1

Mares Hurdle

This time last year, Annie Power was the princess of National Hunt racing. Unbeaten and cited as a Cheltenham sure thing wherever she was destined to race. In the end, Mullins sent the mare for the World Hurdle and despite looking all over a winner, she didn’t quite stay the 3m. Back down to 2m4f it’s hard to see a chink in the armour. I’d be concerned about her not being seen on course since last May if it wasn’t for the record of ex-stablemate and champion mare, Quevega.

Unless the market vibes are poor, Annie Power is a Festival banker in the absence of a challenge from any other truly top class mares. The suspicion remains that she could hold her own in either the Champion Hurdle or the World Hurdle. That’s easily good enough to win the Mares with possibly as much as a stone in hand.

Recommend: Annie Power in multiple win bet

Cheltenham Festival – Day Two

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Champion Chase

I have to take on the top two in the market, both proven champion chasers. But both have had recent times seriously disrupted by problems, especially the mighty Sprinter Sacre who did as well as could reasonably be expected on his long-awaited comeback. But Cheltenham will be more demanding yet and while it’s too soon to write off the best 2m chaser of his generation, he looks a risky proposition. At 11/4 I’m still tempted but I think it might be a case of extreme outcomes. Either a gutsy, return in a blaze of glory, victory or Barry Geraghty will take it easy and pull him up if the race goes against him.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Sire De Grugy. His imminent comeback run will tell us more but again the absence is worrying and he’s not quite the force Sprinter Sacre was in his pomp. Dodging Bullets has really been the most consistent two miler in the UK on this season’s evidence and looks a solid EW proposition at 9/2. But better value lies with Champagne Fever who always seems to come good at the Festival and if indeed he heads for the Champion then both the 8/1 or 7/1 NRNB seem decent bets.

Further out in the betting, Uxizandre still catches my eye at 16/1 (14/1 NRNB). He comfortably took care of Dodging Bullets earlier in the season and despite flopping in Ireland can bounce back and repeat his fine run of twelve months ago.

Recommend: Dodging Bullets in multiple place bet & Champagne Fever 3pt E/W at 8/1 & Uxizandre 1pt E/W at 16/1

Royal & Sun Alliance Chase

Unlike the Champion Chase, only the top two in the market interest me. Don Poli will be shorter on the day for whichever race he starts of the 4m race on Tuesday or the RSA. It’s hard to call which race he’ll go for so is best avoided for now and picked up at the likely shorter price once intentions are confirmed. He’s a serious player and will be difficult to beat. Kings Palace was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 Festival in the Albert Bartlett but is expected to leave that form well behind after some outstanding novice chasing form this season. A course winner, sensibly priced and is a decent EW punt. I’d cover him now at this price and then back Don Poli to win, if he turns up.

Recommend: Kings Palace 3pts E/W at 11/2

Cheltenham Festival – Day Three

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 JLT Novices

I didn’t really expect Vautour to be lining up in this race earlier in the season when hacking up on his chasing debut. I think Vautour, outstanding in last season’s Supreme, is the ‘value banker’ of the Festival at 3/1. For some reason, Un De Sceaux’s fall has been wiped from the memory bank yet observers are scrutinising Vautour’s error that led to him finishing behind Clarcam on his penultimate race.

He has a fine rival in Ptit Zig who has been in brilliant form but it’s difficult to see the Irish raider being beaten if the jumping holds up. Willie Mullins described him as being on a different level to Faugheen when hacking up last March. Same again will be enough. I can’t ignore Ptit Zig either at odds of 4/1 and I’d also be interested in some each-way multiple action. Or dutch the pair in win combinations that will pay odds against.

Recommend: Vautour in multiple win bet / Ptit Zig in multiple each-way / Dutch bet 10pts split between the two.

Pertemps Final

I also like the look of Edeymi in the Pertemps Final who looks to have been placed shrewdly this season after a long lay-off with a view to racing off the same weight as when runner up at the Festival in 2012.

Recommend: Edeymi 1pt E/W at 14/1 with Bet 365

Ryanair Chase

This looks one of the most open championship races despite last year’s winner, Dynaste missing out due to injury.

The favourite is solid enough. Don Cossack has come on massively this season and has looked progressive all along. After falling in the RSA last Festival, I’d only be concerned about the hustle, bustle and intensity of a championship race keeping him out of the places. Other than the favourite, Cue Card has every chance of returning to the sort of form that saw him win this race comfortably two seasons ago. His Cheltenham record is outstanding, the Festival in particular, and he warrants attention at 7/1 in the betting.

Taquin Du Seuil was touted as a Gold Cup hopeful earlier in the season and off the back of a poor run and some problems has been largely forgotten about. Ahead of a return at Newbury this weekend, there might still be value about him to run a repeat of last season’s JLT victory. He won’t be 16/1 if he wins the Denman.

Recommend: Don Cossack 3pts E/W at 4/1 & Taquin Du Seuil 1pt E/W at 16/1

World Hurdle

Looks a competitive renewal with question marks hanging over some of the main protagonists. The favourite and last year’s impressive winner, More Of That has only raced once this season and did so badly. At the moment, he is best avoided. Rock On Ruby’s stamina is unproven, though a gutsy battler and likely to give it a best shot. It’s difficult to see what Zarkandar can do any different to last season. Saphir Du Rheu seems the most solid option of the leading contenders in the market at 7/1 after outbattling Reve De Sivola in receipt of weight last time out. With that his first run over 3m and the prospect of better ground come March, it’s likely there is more scope and he seems a solid each way proposition.

However, David Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout ran a fine comeback race only a couple of lengths back in the same race (all be it with a slight weight advantage) having been well backed beforehand. I fancy major improvement and sense exceptional race value at 16/1. He’ll come on fitness wise and with only seven races on the clock has bags of progression in hand.

Beat That flopped on his seasonal appearance over an inadequate distance but if race-fit could prove equal value to the Pipe runner. The Henderson charge looked a champion at Punchestown and Aintree last and may just be an viable alternative.

Recommend: Saphir Du Rheu in each way multiple & Un Temps Pour Tout 2pts E/W at 16/1 & Beat That 1pt E/W at 16/1

Cheltenham Festival – Day Four

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Triumph Hurdle

Nicky Henderson dominates the market with clear favourite, Peace and Co, Hargam and Top Notch all impressing this season. The first named is quite rightly the favourite and has been scintillating to date but is too short for a race of this nature. Irish firm, Paddy Power are best priced 2/1.

Backing Willie Mullins second string has been a profitable strategy this season and though Kalkir seems like he’ll be the ride of Ruby Walsh, I’m going to select Dicosimo who is best priced 25/1 and comfortably beat some good yardsticks at Gowran Park under a Walsh ride. With expected improvement he could get very competitive and challenge the Henderson dominance.

Recommend: Dicosimo 1pt E/W at 25/1

The Gold Cup

The favourite, Silviniaco Conti sets the standard. Though there’s about half a dozen others who could win the Festival showpiece, one suspects any horse that finishes ahead of this season’s best chaser will prevail. Conti looks rock solid in a place accumulator and will surely be there at the finish. Road To Riches and Many Clouds are progressive types who could yet go onto greater things but I’m not sure the March ground will suit the latter and the Irish runner is unproven over further than 3m and Cheltenham.

It’s hard to think that the last two Gold Cup winners, Lord Windermere and Bob’s Worth, finished in the last two places in the Lexus. And that the latter went off 5/2 favourite that day yet is now 16/1 to repeat his thrilling 2013 success. He loves Cheltenham more than any other horse in training and wasn’t exactly disgraced last year when only 4L off the pace. For this reason, I’d overlook the poor Lexus run and cite the Henderson warrior as decent each way value.

For Lord Windermere’s part, he might have finished in a poor position, but he ran 11 lengths off the winner in the Lexus, exactly the same as the previous year behind Bob’s Worth. I wouldn’t be discounting.

But searching for value digs out two other contenders who I propel to the top of my shortlist. It might be at least a year too soon for Djakadam but his progressive profile means he can’t be ruled out from thinking at 16/1.

However, I have a nagging feeling that Holywell has been laid out for the Gold Cup and am happy to back each way at 14/1. He has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and was simply stunning at Aintree last Spring, when he seems to come into his own.

Recommend: Silviniaco Conti in place accumulators & Holywell 2pts E/W at 14/1 & Djakadam 1pt E/W at 16/1

GOOD LUCK!

Netwalking to Bleaklow

The day had arrived. I attend and organise plenty of events but I’d really been looking forward to this one. Netwalking or Soxy Netwalking (the Business Club with Altitude) as Michael Taylor had originally christened it, was finally upon us.

Here we were, ready to cajole many a soft urban backside up the unforgiving slopes of the Dark Peak, from Glossop to the harsh moorlands of Bleaklow. Would we all survive?

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Days like this are often shaped by the people involved and I was quite excited by the group we’d put together. A healthy cocktail of sectors, seniorities and personalities with a few unknown ingredients within. Brilliant. I could see so many obvious and mutually beneficial potential relationships yet wanted to let these unfurl organically throughout the day, rather than force anything.

Like others, I’d spent a few days pondering various weather scenarios and clothing choices but now, we were simply ready to ramble. Hail, rain or shine. The last being highly unlikely.

Breakfast at Carluccio’s

The first official designated meeting point for half the inaugural Manchester Netwalking crew was Carluccio’s at Piccadilly. The rest would head straight to Glossop and meet us off the train.

It was a cracking start to the day as coffee flowed freely and shiny new boots with labels still attached were compared. Gary Chaplin was always going to win any competition involving coffee and labels mind. Stomachs were then grease-lined with various breakfast combinations of eggs, pancetta and mushroom, before we all made our way over to Platform 2.

Everyone who should’ve been on the 9:46am out of Piccadilly made it in time, including Jim Clarke’s (Apprentice Academy) dog, Jess who would later prove to be one of the stars of the day.

The odd hangover aside, spirits were as high as I’d hoped. With the likes of Sam Jones (Tunafish Media) and Gary chirping away, it was unlikely to be a dull journey and so it proved. The highlight being Sam’s physical interpretation of ‘LOL’ – he has many apparently but demonstrated his favourite three to the group, mostly involving L shaped hand motions.

Meeting the Glossop Crew

As we disembarked at Glossop train station, the entire group was finally together (and that’s how it would stay). The Glossop meet-up crew were all present, ready… and seemingly dressed much warmer than the Manchester crowd.

What did they know, we didn’t?

You could now sense the shared common purpose amongst this cheery, optimistic group of twenty-six. The excitement levels cranked up a notch and after a few last chance saloon toilet visits, a quick clap of the hands from yours truly and bang, we were off.

The ‘netwalkers’ were supremely led from the front by Glossop’s finest, Thom Hetherington (Holden Media), who’d originally championed the very idea of us trekking out from this part of the world. Now, this was hardly an Olympic bid process but Thom pitched Glossop perfectly. There was plenty to live up to.

Bleaklow, here we come.

Once out of Old Glossop, the first section of the day up the grassy, then heather, slopes of Lightside gave a few of us an initial baptism of fire. It was steep, it was lung-bursting. It was saying “Michael, you really should have stayed in last night, you idiot.”

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As chests beat harder and legs moved into gears, intentionally reserved for later on, I’m sure at least a couple in the group were thinking how on earth they’d sustain a predicted six hours of this level of intensity.

Layers were being removed and added all along the nearly single file gang as we tried to adjust to the evolving body temperatures. Sweat on, sweat off tactics, I described it.

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The next section was unquestionably the first but certainly not last ‘exhilarating’ experience of the day. As we navigated a route that took us very close to a sheer drop on the right hand side, the dangers were partly negated by the fiercest of winds blowing us in the direction of safety. Concentration required for sure but the entire group navigated safely.

Best of all, the few of us (who’d partied the night before) quite literally had our hangovers and tiredness blown away by the ferocity of the wind. Once we entered less-exposed territory and could sense-check our feelings, the additional blast of oxygen had worked it’s magic. All of a sudden, I felt on top of the world, as we continued our ascent.

It wasn’t much further until the most perfect of lunch-stop locations. ‘School-tripesque’, as wonderfully described by Julie Wilson of Rule 5 (who is responsible for most of the photos used here). We were only ninety minutes in but it made complete sense to take advantage of this sheltered, rounded semi-amphitheatre of carb-loading and conversation. And we wouldn’t be Soxy Netwalkers if there weren’t some PR and legal types gorging on sushi instead of egg butties.

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With the harsh realities of the moors only just ahead of us, all of a sudden, the stark contrast between the togetherness of the group and the solitude of the landscape began to really strike me.

Hitting the Peak

Refuelled, we continued our mission towards Bleaklow, the second highest point in the Peak District, We were lucky. The rain kept it’s distance long enough for us to trudge through the peat bogs, without too much fuss, to the flat summit. Visibility never became an issue and we had the added motivation of being able to see our target rocks the whole time.

The summit was a genuine moment to cherish. Admittedly, Bleaklow is no Snowdon, let alone an Everest but it didn’t matter to this group. On this day, it was OUR Everest.
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After some reflection time, we then intentionally headed for the quite remarkable sight of the locked in time, plane wreckage of a B-52 Superfortress that crashed there in 1948. I could only imagine this place on a misty day, but it was still a haunting vision of a past tragedy.

The day was now poised to go rapidly downhill (if only in altitude) but a quick peak over Higher Shelf Stones was one final lofty necessity. More wind. More awe-inspiring views. And chiselled names in the rocks dating back hundreds of years, another impressive feature. We should’ve stayed a bit longer but in truth we were now racing against the bad weather moving in.

The descent back into Glossop was a glorious trek along an old Roman route, called Doctor’s Gate. Stunning valley views, the background sound of trickling streams and none of the earlier navigational worries.

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After the ‘tricky to talk’ initial gasp-inducing and windy sections, it was becoming increasingly easier to move up and down this human snake of walkers and chat freely. The group would oscillate back and forth like a coiled spring, with serial pacemakers forging clear, but always then happy to drop the pace and regress back into the group. It was an impressive feature of the day that all twenty six knitted together so closely.

As we approached the outskirts of Glossop, the lovely Yorkshire gals, Jessica Wilkinson (Weber Shandwick) and Kirsten Duffill (DAC Beachcroft) truly stepped up to the plate with their pre-meditated gin and tonic planning. Oh, they knew.

Close by, as though trained to be in these situations, myself and Gary Chaplin lapped up the spare can like it was our first taste of liquid in months. A can of gin and tonic never tasted so good.

Destination Pub

Within minutes, we were back in Old Glossop, a quick kiss of the pub doormat later and the troops had arrived at their destination. An hour ahead of schedule quickly translated to an extra hour of supping. And what supping it proved to be. The Wheatsheaf in Glossop is a fine pub with a fantastic landlord. Some cracking pints of ale and as it transpired a little over an hour later, food to match. Many of the group opted for Steak & Ale pies, others the award winning Sausage & Mash. All hearty fare and there were a good few sticky toffee puddings flying about the place too.

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The magic moment the heavens opened not long after we’d found the warmth of the pub will remain with me for a long time. Many of the group stayed for hours, embracing the local hospitality, digging even deeper with each other and further prolonging this fantastic day.

A huge thank you to Michael Taylor for planting the seed of an idea and Thom Hetherington for his all-round outstanding ‘Glossopness’ and leadership skills in the hills.

Other special mentions go to Chris Marsh (UKFast) for capturing the day so well on his camera and for being a true gent alongside Nigel Sarbutts (Local Brand Partners) as rear group marshalls.

But equally, a huge thank you to ALL the netwalkers. You all contributed energy, optimism, humour and warmth. I’m truly privileged to have spent the day with you all. Till next time, comrades.

Cheers MDP

PS. We’re already planning the next day out, potentially October. Probably Glossop to Kinder this time. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll add you to the email list.

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