Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Damp but Profitable afternoon at the races

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Bletchingly Stakes heroine Thiamandi in winners rug

I’m glad I went to the races yesterday. I needed an outing, and the weather wasn’t too bad overall -  slightly chilly, with misty rain every so often – so spending a few hours trackside was pleasant.

Particularly gratifying was coming home with more money than I set out with. Jupiter in Leo brought me luck with three winners in succession.

I arrived at Caulfield about half an hour before Race 3 which was the MyPunter.Com Handicap, a race for three year olds over 2400 metres. After viewing the contenders in the mounting yard I decided to put my money on the second favourite Self Sense. Despite his weight impost of 60kg and wide barrier, he struck me as the likely winner. And win he did, at the last moment, overtaking race leader Pharrell  on the line.

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Race 3 finish – Pharrell leads with Self Sense (lime silks) storming down the outside.

Race 4, the Chris Flavelle Handicap, was one for mares over 1200 metres. Sydney mare Kristy Lee started the favourite. I was tossing up between her and Sino Eagle and settled on the latter. I’m glad I did, as Kristy Lee finished second last and Sino Eagle won easily by 2 lengths from longshot Aces and Angels, with another longshot Forgeress running third.

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Kristy Lee

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Sino Eagle

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Race 4 finish – Sino Eagle is comfortably ahead up the straight.

Feature race, the Bletchingly Stakes was next up and Lord of the Sky was the hot favourite as expected. I managed to get odds of $1.55 on him and placed a small wager each way. Something was nagging me to put money on the sole filly Thiamandi so fortunately I did so at really good odds of $13.00. I had a look at her in the mounting yard and she looked a big strapping girl.

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Thiamandi in the mounting yard

 Lord of the Sky is a handsome young horse, but alas yesterday was not his day. He appeared to overrace and lacked his usual finishing sprint. His connections are scratching their heads as to his defeat.

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Lord of the Sky in the mounting yard

Le Bonsir took the lead shortly after the start and maintained it until the turn into the straight. Lord of the Sky looked like he might challenge, but the filly Thiamandi sprinted past both them and took command of the race. She won by a couple of lengths from Gig, who came from last, with Nearest To Pin running third. Lord of the Sky finished in fourth spot. It was an upset, no doubt about it, so I was pleased I had caved into my hunch and put money on Thiamandi.

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Bletchingly Stakes finish – Thiamandi shows a clean pair of heels to Lord of the Sky and Nearest To Pin  down the straight.

I stayed for the next race, the Champagne Pommery Masters Handicap for three year old fillies over 1200 metres. I had my money on Sydney filly Copper, but she ran out of the places. Long odds Jemerica led from start to finish, winning by 2½ lengths from Paddy’s Gem and Hot Mama.

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Race 6 finish – Jemerica leads

As my luck appeared to have disappeared, I decided to head home while still in front; content and well pleased with my afternoon at the races. Thanks to Thiamandi and the other winners my pockets were full and the old body had got some exercise in the open air.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Intimations of Spring & the State of Cat Politics

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Lord of the Sky – potential star of the turf – photographed in February 2014

This Saturday Caulfield Racecourse hosts the Bletchingly Stakes, a Group 3 sprint over 1200 metres. It is also the last Group race of the racing year, but I always see it as a harbinger of the new Spring racing season.

I miss going to the races, so even though the Bletchingly Stakes meeting is not all that interesting overall, I mean to venture to Caulfield to see young potential star Lord of the Sky race in the feature event. At his last outing he won the Sir John Monash Stakes by 4 lengths from Le Bonsir and Riziz, so he will no doubt start as hot favourite. Le Bonsir is also part of the Bletchingly field and may mount a challenge this time, that is if he can beat Nearest To Pin who narrowly beat him a fortnight ago. Others with a chance are Ready To Rip who won this race in 2012 and in form filly Thiamandi.

The first Group 1 race of the new spring season, the Memsie Stakes, is only a month away, so I don’t really expect any truly interesting competitions before then, though Puissance de Lune, who has been off the scene since suffering an injury in the 2013 Cox Plate, is expected to resume in the P B Lawrence Stakes in mid August. He won the race last year – his only win for the season as it turned out. 

I’m really looking forward to the return of Lankan Rupee, now dubbed the world’s best sprinter. He is to resume in the Group 2 McEwan Stakes in early September at Moonee Valley on Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes day, which I will surely attend as I have done for the past 10 years or so. As Lankan Rupee’s schedule includes two night meetings at Moonee Valley, I’ll miss seeing him run in them as I dislike night racing, but hopefully I’ll catch him in the Patinack Farm Classic on Emirates Stakes Day on the last day of the Flemington racing carnival .

I have not resubscribed to the Moonee Valley season ticket this year, as I found I hardly used it last season, but I have renewed my season ticket for Flemington and look forward to attending the major race days at that hallowed course, perhaps even the Melbourne Cup.

Many of the Group 1 stars of the autumn and last spring will be missing this year – It’s A Dundeel, Fiorente, Shamus Award etc. all being retired to stud – but several other old favourites will be resuming such as Super Cool and Commanding Jewel, along with new favourites like Earthquake, La Armistad, Rubick, May’s Dream to name a few. And who knows what new stars of the turf will emerge over the coming months. That’s the good thing about horse racing, there’s always the chance of something new to capture one’s fancy.

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To finish this entry here are some recent photos of the resident cats.

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Talya – such a pretty girl

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Willy – the handsome one

The cats are not getting on any better than the last time I reported, but at least they don’t fight.  It being winter, they have been spending much more time inside wanting to sit on their human slaves laps.  No sooner do you sit down than a cat is clambering onto your lap or there’s one sitting in front of the computer trying to attract your attention.

Willy is the bane of visitors, hauling his bulk onto their knees. He weighs a good 8kg, so it’s a burden one must bear, and a snappy one at that, as he’s always been a bit of biter -  more a nipper really as he doesn’t bite hard enough to break the skin.

Winter starts to wear on a body at this time of year so I can’t wait for spring and warmer weather to arrive and the resumption of Group 1 racing of course.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jupiter, Winter Chill & Aztecs

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Statue of Aztec God of the dead -  Mictlante

I have noticed that there seems to have been a general malaise on blog posts across the sites I regularly visit, and I have been guilty of the same disinclination to write.

However, yesterday the sun moved into my birth sign Leo to accompany the recently arrived beneficent planet Jupiter, transiting Leo for the first time in twelve years.  Already I feel lighter and more enthusiastic than I have been of late mooching around under the influence of darker Astrological aspects. So welcome Jupiter!

Yesterday was one of the coldest days of the year, so rather than freeze at home, I decided to go to the Aztec Exhibition at Melbourne Museum. It turned out to be an excellent solution to the grim Melbourne day as the exhibition was both thoroughly engrossing and enlightening, and kept me warm for a couple of hours.

I won’t go into any great detail about the exhibition, but it covered the history of the Aztec settlement in Tenochtitl├ín in Mexico from the early 13th Century AD to the overthrow of their Empire by the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th Century. Many aspects of Aztec culture were covered, including their blood thirsty tributes to their gods. But overall the picture emerged of a quite sophisticated well ordered society that was fond of music and dance and revered and honoured animals.

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Dog statue

Fortunately photos were permitted, so I snapped away at objects that took my fancy like this extraordinary Eagle soldier terracotta statue. The Aztec warriors must have been a sight to behold going into battle, all dressed in animal costumes. Apparently they were not really aiming to kill their enemies, but rather disable them and take them prisoner to be used in sacrifice.

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Eagle soldier

The most famous of the gods for Westerners is Quetzalcoatl, the Rainbow Serpent.

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A compact stone representation of Quetzalcoatl

Various goddesses were also represented.

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River goddess, I think, whatever her name is…

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I’ve forgotten (blame old age) what this  macabre figure is supposed to represent.

And finally a mask from an even earlier civilization – Teotihuacan which occupied Mexico 1000 years before the Aztecs

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The exhibition will run to August 10, so if you haven’t yet got around to visiting it, I recommend you do so before it closes. It’s certainly worth the cost of admission and will keep you enthralled over the two hours it takes to see and read everything.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Well, I’ve Played the Game…

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…and now I’ve read the book.

I’ve been awfully remiss in keeping up this blog, feeling uninspired as regards putting words on screen.

However, I thought I’d post about Tex Murphy and The Tesla Effect – a novelisation of the recently released game, written by Aaron Conners.

Even though I had pre-ordered a signed copy of the novel from Aaron Conners website, I couldn’t wait to read it, so downloaded the eBook version for my Kindle as soon as it was available.

I was half way through the novel when my Kindle gave up the ghost - somehow or other the screen broke. Either I sat on it or one of cats walked on it. Anyway it was irreparable, so I ordered a new one, which arrived remarkably fast, but in the meantime I was able to continue reading the book on my iPad, and finished it before the new Paperwhite Kindle arrived.

What’s it like?

Remarkably good in fact -  a wonderfully written, page turning thriller, with an engrossing story and complex plot. Aaron Conners is underrated as a writer, as you don’t really expect the novelisation of a computer game to be anything special. But Aaron Conners succeeds brilliantly, maintaining the right balance of tension and drama, demonstrating fine storytelling skills worthy of more noted writers.

Think noir detective fiction ala Raymond Chandler, but set in a dystopian future San Francisco rather like the Blade Runner universe.

Tex introduces himself in Aaron Conners first published game novelisation The Pandora Directive.

My name is Tex Murphy and I’m a PI. Somebody, somewhere screwed up and sent me here about a century too late. I should be driving a ‘38 Packard with a running board and whitewalls.  Instead I fly a ’38 Lotus speeder. At least I wear the right uniform – soft felt fedora, silk tie, rumpled overcoat and wing tips.

Tex Murphy in the game is played by Chris Jones and he has made the character his own, so when you read the novels, which are written in the first person, you hear and see Chris Jones in your head. If you haven’t played the games, you’ll get into the character pretty fast and perhaps envisage Chris Jones too –he’s an amalgam of Phillip Marlowe and Rick Deckard and their ilk.

In Tesla Effect, as well as feeling out of his century, after being mugged, Tex regains consciousness with seven years of his recent past wiped from his memory. He thinks it’s 2043 when really it is 2050.

Is it the bump on his head  or the strange injection marks on his arm that has caused his memory loss?

The novel and game both begin with that setting, but from there on they  diverge.

In the game the player as Tex faces many obstacles in his quest to discover what happened to him. He is also desperate to find out the  fate of Chelsee (who was with him at the cliff hanger ending of Tex Murphy Overseer).  And so it is in the book, though how the story unfolds is different to the game and Tex’s new female sidekick and love interest, Taylor, plays a much bigger role in the novel than she does in the game.

In all, the novel is more satisfying than the game, the true canon so to speak in the continuing adventures of Tex Murphy Private Eye. It has a perfect ending that does not match any of the multiple endings of the game.

You don’t have to have played the game to appreciate the novel. It stands on its own merits as an engaging read in the Detective genre. I also recommend the earlier novels Under A Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive which will be reissued by the end the month in both eBook and physical formats.

I think it’s rather sweet that an author would take the trouble to enclose a message like the following in his book…

Yes, the physical novel arrived today.

aaron conners

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hanging out on Chandler Avenue & other (less salubrious) places

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For the past week or so I’ve been playing the new Tex Murphy computer game Tesla Effect – A Tex Murphy Adventure, and have been wholly engaged by the game to the detriment of other interests.

After a sixteen year hiatus it was pleasant to be back on Chandler Avenue and seeing the old Chandler Avenue regulars again, as well as meeting the new residents and shop keepers. In case you’re wondering, Chandler Avenue is Tex Murphy’s home strip, situated in the mutant section of Old San Francisco in the post WW3 world of the game, where Tex resides, and has his office, in the rundown Ritz Hotel.

Set as it is in a post apocalyptic world, the atmosphere is dark and noxious, very film noir, but a wicked dry humour infects even the darkest moments of the game, a humour that Tex Murphy fans have grown to love. The new game delivers that same vibe. Sixteen years may have passed since the cliff-hanger ending of Tex Murphy – Overseer, but playing Tesla Effect instantly bridges the gap of years as if they had never passed.

Tesla Effect opens, after a fantastic cinematic introductory scene, with Tex regaining consciousness on the fire escape outside his office at the Ritz Hotel, with a bump on his head, strange injection marks on his arm and amnesia.  He is unable to remember his past seven years of existence.  The game takes off from there, with Tex endeavouring to recover those lost years and find out what happened to him and his girlfriend Chelsee who was with him at the cliff hanger end of Overseer. This leads him to several other locations, some quite hellish, as the devilishly complex plot unfolds.

The game has three paths, dependent on choices as you progress through the game, and seven different endings, also dependent on your conversation choices. For my first run through the game I opted for the Chelsee path, though next time I will try for the Taylor path as it will open up more locations, not available on the Chelsee path.

Perhaps the most scary of the locations is the Tesla Institute, an abandoned scientific facility, where not too long ago everyone involved in the Tesla Legacy Society had been murdered by cold hearted hit man Big Jim Slade and his cohorts. At the Tesla Institute you have to overcome giant spiders, energy balls, killer bees and bombs of various kinds. It took me days to get through and I almost gave up several times.

Tesla’s inventions are indeed part of the plot and Tex must save the world from the mad machinations of The Translator who intends to use a Tesla device to purify the world, which will in fact split the planet in two.

Tesla Effect – A Tex Murphy Adventure has the works in terms of plot motifs – resurrection, mind altering drugs, spirit radios, femme fatales, reincarnation, weird sects and of course Tesla devices.

Having played through the game once, I’m looking forward to playing it again with the advantage of knowing its best and worst scenarios and avoiding the situations where you can get killed.

I’m extremely grateful to Big Finish Games for delivering the game that we long time Tex Murphy fans have hankered for over the years.  Perhaps it is not as good as Pandora Directive, which is pretty near perfect, but it comes a close second.

Tex is back!

If you feel inclined to try the game, it is available for purchase for $19.99US at Gog.com. The download is 15GBs.

Aaron Conners, one of the originators of the series, has written a novel based on the game which you can pre-order on his website. He also wrote novels based on the first two FMV games, Under A Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive, which are ripper reads, and will  be reissued soon.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Miracles and other things

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Miracles of Life  - Flemington 1 March 2014

I’ve been rather slack on the blogging front of late, being disinclined to write anything. The death of my friend Maureen affected me more than I thought it would and has proved distracting, her sudden and shocking demise being foremost in my brain over the last few weeks.

Even so, I have been following the racing as a matter of course, and was delighted to see Miracles of Life, the fairy tale 2013 Blue Diamond Stakes winner, return to form victoriously last Saturday in a Group 2 race at Morphettville. She is scheduled to be sold very soon in a dispersal sale on the part of her owner, so last Saturday’s race could well have been her last.  She is nominated for the Group 1 Goodwood at Morphettville next Saturday and may take her place in the field, pending a decision tomorrow.

We bid farewell to quite a few stars of the turf after the Sydney racing carnival. It’s A Dundeel has been retired, as has Fiorente, Shamus Award, Guelph and Appearance, so they’ll be missed come the Spring.

However, others will no doubt compensate for their absence, Lankan Rupee for one, who being a gelding will be around the scene for some years, and if he stays sound will be the next big thing in sprinting circles and most likely Australian Horse of the Year for the 2013/14 season.

On the cat political front, the two resident cat masters are still not particularly friendly to one another, but they rarely fight. I did catch them both facing off on the roof of the backyard studio a week or so ago, where Willy had Talya cornered, but I managed to defuse the situation so no blood was spilled. As I write they’re both asleep on the bed only yards apart and unconcerned with the proximity.

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Recent photo of Talya curled up on a rug

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Clever Willy sheltering from the rain on the front verandah

As Melbourne has been experiencing an early onset of winter, the cold, wet weather has meant that the cats spend more time inside. By the time winter officially arrives we’ll have grown used to it, but the next stretch of chilly months will seem never ending.

Meantime I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the new Tex Murphy game which is mooted to be available on 7th May. A big download (15GB) will certainly take an age to get onto my computer, but after waiting for 16 years for the game, I’m sure it will be worth it.

At least it will be an amusing way to occupy some my time over the winter months.

I’ve got used to my new computer and I must admit that it is a lot faster and quieter than the old one. My only complaint is that the monitor colours are a bit off; something to do with the graphics card I suspect, which I have yet to configure correctly.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Championships–Easter Saturday Racing

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Silent Achiever – can she make it four Group One wins in a row?

Easter can be boring, in fact I’ve always thought Good Friday has to be the most boring day of the year unless of course if you are religiously inclined.  The only bright note of Good Friday is the consumption of Hot Cross Buns, but these days you seem to be able to get them year round, so they’re not so special anymore.  I make a point of only eating them on Good Friday. As I’m not a chocoholic I don’t care much for Easter Sunday and don’t buy, or even expect to receive, Easter Eggs.

So thank the lord for first class horse racing in an otherwise tedious Easter break.

It’s all happening at Randwick in Sydney, it being the second weekend of  The Championships, a new fangled appellation for the final meetings of the Sydney Autumn Carnival. Four fantastic Group One races are on the program, including the newly richest 2000 metre race in the world, that being the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The first of the Group One races is the Queen of the Turf  Stakes, run over 1600 metres. Can Catkins finally win a well deserved Group One race? If the track is slow, as it is most likely to be, she has a very good chance of doing so. However, she faces a really tough field that includes her very classy stable mate Red Tracer, who though being quite disappointing so far this autumn in harder races, at her best would be winner. Others in contention are Streama, excellent on her day,and  three year old class fillies  Bonaria, Gypsy Diamond  and Solicit, who have a weight advantage.

Fillies come to the fore in the second of the Group One races, the Australian Oaks, run over 2400 metres. Top pick is Lucia Valentina who took out the Group One Vinery Stud Stakes at her last start.  Others with a chance are Rising Romance, Miss Mossman, Zanbagh and Forever Loved, who all ran in the Vinery and could turn the tables on the winner in this race, being as it is 400 metres longer.

The Sydney Cup is one of the few 3200 metre races on the Australian racing calendar. It’s not as big an event as the hallowed Melbourne Cup, but it does give tried and true stayers a chance to show off their stamina. It has drawn a a field of 17 acceptances, with several likely chances, chief of which is the Auckland Cup winner Who Shot TheBarman, Irish bred  The Offer who won lead up races, the Manion Stakes and the Chairman’s Handicap. I rather fancy Irish mare Voleuse de Coeurs, who has twice won over 3200 metres and hasn’t been too far away in her last two runs in Australia. Others with a look in are Opinion, Hippopus and Tremec who all ran places in their lead up races.

Now the richest middle distance race in the world, the Group One Queen Elizabeth Stakes rewards the winner with a cool $2,400,000. An exceptional field has been assembled to contend for these riches, and include Ranvet Stakes/ BMW winner Silent Achiever, It’s A Dundeel, Carlton House aiming to win his owner the race named in her honour, the Doncaster winner and runner up Sacred Falls, and Royal Descent, Epsom/ Emirates winner Boban, and 2012 Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon. Alas Fiorente is not part of the field, as he sustained a tendon injury in the BMW and has been retired to stud. 

So who will win?

Surely It’s A Dundeel is due for a win! He has not been beaten by all that much in his three runs this autumn, and he is a class act, so with luck on his side he could show the brilliance that won him the 2013 ATC Derby. Silent Achiever is his greatest threat. She is absolutely flying this autumn and is currently, with four wins under her belt, on a winning streak, and aiming for a fifth.  Carlton House would have won the Ranvet Stakes had he not been pipped at the post by Silent Achiever. He certainly set the pace in that race and will take running down in the QE Stakes should the same tactics be employed.  And how can you ignore Boban? He’s too good to leave out, though he hasn’t won over 2000 metres, the mile (1600 metres) being his pet distance. Perhaps Chris Waller will win the trifecta again as he did last week in the Doncaster with almost half the field being from his stable, including Sacred Falls, Royal Descent and Hawkspur who all have a chance, especially on a heavy track.

The support card is excellent with two Group Two and one Group Three races being run as well, but I’m not going to preview them in this post.

Anyway, hopefully the track will not be as heavy as the last two meetings have been. The weather in Sydney has improved over the last few days, so the track may get a chance to dry out and even be rated as dead by the mid afternoon on Saturday. 

Whatever, I’ll be watching with keen interest. There’s bugger all else to do on Easter Saturday.

Update Saturday Night

It’s A Dundeel finally!

It’s A Dundeel won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes this afternoon, overtaking Carlton House in the straight ,who had led the race from the start at a good fast rate. Dundeel raced in third spot and was in a prime position to take command when they turned into the straight, and take command he did, very quickly overtaking the Queen’s horse, then holding off a late charge by Sacred Falls to win by almost a length.  Carlton House hung on for third, with the brave Silent Achiever running a close fourth.

There was scare earlier in the afternoon, when it was reported that It’s A Dundeel slipped in his stall and had fallen. After a veterinary check  he was passed fit to race. He only nicked his hindquarters in the incident reportedly, and he certainly put pay to any injury queries with his win in the QE Stakes.

The other Group One races results:

Queen of the Turf StakesDiamond Drille with Gypsy Diamond running second and Red Tracer running third. Catkins didn’t fire today, and finished a disappointing sixth.

Australian Oaks – New Zealand filly Rising Romance won from Zanbagh with hot favourite Lucia Valentina, storming home from the back of the field to finish in third spot.

Sydney CupThe Offer won Gai Waterhouse her second Group One race of the afternoon (the other was Diamond Drille) and the Chris Waller trained Opinion ran second. Sertorius was third.

Young jockeys Tommy Berry and James McDonald shared the Group One spoils each riding two of the four winners.

All up it was a great day of racing, and the track which was classified as Slow 7, in the early afternoon, ended up Dead 5 in the end.

Having followed It’s A Dundeel for a couple of years now, I’m really pleased that he has restored his reputation and shown his undoubted brilliance once more.