Ashforth’s Angles: the spirit of Christmas

Lucy Alexander returns to the saddle at Ayr

PICTURE: John Grossick ( Ashforth's Angles: the spirit of Christmas By David Ashforth 5:50PM 18 DEC 2016

THE days running up to Christmas are the most difficult of the year for the avid racefan and/or punter. Frightening demands are made on his/her time, demands which often involve the terrifying activity known as "going shopping." It's like being sentenced to death but without actually being shot.

There's something about shops, especially department stores, that makes me feel tired as soon as I'm in one. There's no escape from the inevitable music and, as seats are rarely provided (apart from in shoe shops, where customers will buy something while sitting down), the only hope of salvation is if a cafe's included where you can take refuge with the Racing Post. All those people wanting things. I've never understood it.

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Jockeys are at their worst before Christmas, and after Christmas. This week they'll be breaking the whip rules in the hope of getting a few days holiday. Next week they'll be enormously fat and need help to get on but not to fall off.

While I'm complaining (it's supposed to be one of the elderly's few pleasures), I'd like to complain about Joe Fanning. If he hadn't tried so hard on Custard The Dragon at Southwell on Tuesday, Unnoticed wouldn't have been beaten a nose. Life's full of disappointments and a lot of them are at Southwell. Custard The Dragon! Bah!

If the spirit of Christmas means something, surely Welsh Designe (12.35 Hereford) will give dairy farmer and Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer Sirrell Griffiths his first winner since 2012. On the plus side, Welsh Designe has the good conditional jockey Stan Sheppard on board; on the minus side, Welsh Designe is not reminiscent of Norton's Coin.

Meanwhile, at Ayr, there's the welcome return of Lucy Alexander, who has been plagued by injuries. If the spirit of Christmas means anything (see above), then Another Mattie (2.30) and Little Glenshee (3.00) will do the decent thing and, if not win, at least run with credit. Good luck.

Dr Richard Newland doesn't need good luck because when it comes to buying horses, improving them and placing them effectively, he's a bit of a wizard. In Another Mattie's race, Newland runs West Of The Edge. Bought for £14,000 this year, the eight-year-old has won both his subsequent races, chases off marks of 101 and 113. Now West Of The Edge is being switched back to hurdles, off a mark of 107.

Earlier, in the opening maiden hurdle (12.50), Newland introduces Capitoul, a recent €22,000 purchase who has repeatedly been placed at French racecourses I've never heard of. Where are Saint-Jean-De Montes, La Roche-Sur-Yon and Les Sables-D'Olonne? Whereever they are, that's where Capitoul has been running. Who knows what the four-year-old will make of Scotland? We're about to find out. I don't suppose he'll understand the language. If Daryl Jacob wants to offer Capitoul verbal encouragement, it's probably best to do it in French. Allez!

My advice is to get the shopping over by midday or leave it until after racing, if you've got any money left by then.

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