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The Weekly Blog

Fake or Fortune

It’s been a big week for images of Christ. First came a series of objections to the most recent advertising campaign for Greggs, which featured a traditional nativity scene in which the infant Jesus was replaced by a sausage roll.

Then came the sale of a painting depicting The Saviour of the World, which had apparently been split in half, eaten by worms and scrubbed with a scouring pad, but which might just have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. In case you haven’t heard, it made the equivalent of £341 million in a New York auction.

But in a world full of fake news, how certain can we be that the da Vinci painting is genuine, that this blog isn’t merely Russian-sponsored-Brexit-inspiring-disinformation, or even whether the sausage roll that I devoured this morning was made of pork?

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The Weekly Blog

News from Paradise

Be honest. On a scale of one-to-ten, how surprised were you when Panorama revealed that Prince Charles, a passionate environmental campaigner, allowed the Duchy of Cornwall to invest in a company called Sustainable Forestry Management Ltd?

Wouldn’t it have made a far more interesting story if the Paradise Papers had revealed that the Duchy was putting its wealth behind fracking and the increased exploitation of fossil fuels? While it might have been wise to declare his interest before dipping his oar into the pool of carbon trading initiatives, I’m struggling to spot any inconsistency in the Prince’s behaviour – he’s running strictly according to form.

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The Weekly Blog

The Malt Whisky of Gambling

I’ve just been down to the bookies in order to play on a FOBT. That’s right, one of the devil’s machines that, according to the popular press, allows punters to lose up to £100 every 20 seconds.

I approached the machine, a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal, with trepidation. After all, they’ve been nicknamed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ on the basis that they’re addictive and it’s possible to lose £1,000 in less than a minute and a half. Only I haven’t got a thousand pounds to lose and it takes me at least two minutes to locate the button which switches off the bright yellow ‘Gamble Aware’ notice.

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The Weekly Blog

The Halloween Race Train

While the clocks won’t change until midnight, there should be plenty of time to get home, after Kelso races, before the Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Special on Saturday night. To get in the mood I googled a few ghostly racing stories and came across these old song lyrics…

With apologies to Chris De Burgh and Spanish Train…

There’s a Scottish train which runs between Edinburgh Waverley and the Borders,
And as race-morning glows, the whistle blows – and the punters know… they’re under orders.
And then they utter to the Lord a prayer,
Read the form and check Betfair.

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The Weekly Blog

Riders on the Storm

As Storm Ophelia drove dark sepia clouds of continental dust across our skies on Monday, news-outlets were keen to remind us that it was thirty years, to the day, that we awoke to the devastation wrought by The Great Storm of 1987.

I love the fact that we’ve started to call it the ‘Great Storm’ – it’s become one of those legendary weather events, like the Summer of ’76, by which we measure increments of age. If you were alive in 1976 (and I never cease to feel disconcerted when I discover that most of my work colleagues were not) then you’ll remember Brian Cant, The Bay City Rollers and Red Rum.

If you remember the Great Storm of 1987, then your frames of reference will probably include Rick Astley, Fatal attraction and Desert Orchid.

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The Weekly Blog

Fish, Frogs and Good Horses

There’s a saying on the West Coast of Scotland, that it only rains twice a year – once in April through to August and again from September until March.

2017 will go down in grounds-men’s history as one of those horrible years when the rain just keeps coming, the abandonment of the three-day Ayr Gold Cup Meeting creating a blank page in the form book for ever more. The fact that Ayr managed to race again this week, on Thursday, is a great achievement – but it will be no consolation to the ground-staff.

At Cartmel this week they misplaced the rain-gauge, lost beneath the flood in the Parade Ring. Fortunately there is also an electronic gauge on the roof of the grandstand, which remains above the waterline – much to the relief of everyone that works in the racecourse office.

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Jumping Like Bunnies

Despite owning a pair of silk pyjamas, I have never allowed anyone to photograph me wearing them – which is probably one of the main differences between Hugh Hefner and me. Hefner, the 91 year old founder of Playboy Magazine, died last week, prompting speculation that he’s unlikely to have found himself in a better place than the one he left behind on earth.

There are plenty of people who believe that Hefner will have been cast directly into the violent winds of the second circle of hell where, according to Dante, the lustful are blown back and forth for eternity – unable to enjoy peace or rest. For company he is likely to find Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, who had better watch out in case they end up wearing a pair of bunny ears and a white fluffy tail.

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The Weekly Blog

Throwing the Rule Book

If your name is Willie Mullins, or you backed On His Own in the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup, I suspect I know how you might respond to the British Horseracing Authority’s recent consultation document.

Having acknowledged that Lord Windermere had unintentionally interfered with On His Own before winning by a short-head, the Cheltenham stewards decided that the result should remain unaltered – prompting Mullins to remark, “I don’t see any need for stewards at this rate of going. There is absolutely no need for them.”

If you’re one of those people that believe that all umpires are unwise, all referees are rubbish and all stewards are sh…ambolic, then now is the time to wreak your revenge. But should you?

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A Royal Parade

Not many people can claim to have ridden one of the Queen’s horses into the Winners Enclosure at Kelso, but I can…

Bred by Her Majesty the Queen with a view to winning the Derby, Special Agent grew far too tall to become an early maturing Classic winner. Instead he enjoyed a career over jumps with Nicky Henderson. If you examine the horse’s form, you won’t actually find my name among those listed as having partnered him in a race, nor will you be able to trace his race record at Kelso – but why ruin a good story by introducing the facts.

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Flocking to the Races

Records tumbled at Kelso Ram Sales last week: the largest number of Toyota Hilux ever collected in one place, the most Ifor Williams trailers, not to mention the biggest variation of Land Rovers. Utility vehicles stretched across the land as far as the eye could see; apparently they sold quite a few sheep too.

Despite the cancellation of a prestigious sheep-racing event this Summer in the town of Moffat, the sport is clearly thriving – with popular venues as far afield as South Yorkshire and Devon (without leaving the first google-search page on the subject) staging regular meetings. Why else would there be so much interest in the sale of 4,500 rams? The sheep carry knitted jockeys in bright colours and are rewarded with a bucket of the finest sheep-nuts at the finish, while punters presumably urge on their selections by yelling something appropriate like ‘chop-chop’.

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