Mark Ball Cheltenham Round Up Blog uploaded - Premier League Week 8 Darts, Ante-Post Focus & WGC Matchplay Golf uploaded - Alan Potts Blog uploaded - Cheltenham Festival Day 4 uploaded - Cheltenham Festival Day 3 uploaded
Below are a number of examples of horseracing and sport previews that went our way in most-recent date order including Rule The World (Grand National) ante-post at 50/1, Wings Of Eagles (Derby) at 40/1, Jason Dufner (The Memorial) at 66/1, Shikhar Dhawan (Top Runscorer ICC Champions Trophy) at 40/1, Francesco Molinari 'Top European' (Players Championship) at 40/1, Matthew Southgate 'Top English' (The Open) at 45/1 and Henrik Stenson and Jordan Spieth (The Open) at 30/1 and 16/1 respectively to help give you a flavour of what presentation style to expect if becoming a member:
Triumph Hurdle - FARCLAS (WON 20/1)
FARCLAS is also an intended runner for Gordon Elliott in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. According to Elliott, he has “improved an awful lot” for his very promising first run over hurdles and he was only 1¼ lengths behind Espoir D’Allen here last month when doing his best work in the final 75 yards so I think there is every chance of a form reversal even if the winner was value for more than the margin and was giving 3lb. Gigginstown gave Apple’s Jade her Irish debut in the same race at Christmas and she then came on a bundle to almost win the Triumph and the owners like to build up with the best juvenile and their Tiger Roll finished second here before then winning the Triumph. Their Petite Parisienne won the Spring Hurdle two years ago showing much improved form from her first run to her second. My gut is telling that Farclas is much the best juvenile that Gordon Elliott has having described Mitchouka (twice a runner-up to Espoir D’Allen) as not a Grade 1 horse and I think he fancies he might be able to improve beyond Gavin Cromwell’s unbeaten-over-hurdles favourite for the weekend. Five years ago in this service I put up Our Conor at 16/1 for the Triumph the Monday before he won the Spring Hurdle anticipating a big run and I’m going to try and repeat that success with Farclas to each-way stakes who is 20/1 in four places and a more than acceptable 16/1 in others.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle - SUMMERVILLE BOY (WON 16/1)
As I have talked myself into believing that Roger Brookhouse will run Black Op in the Ballymore after he would have won the Classic Novices’ Hurdle over 2m4½f on Trials Day but for a last-flight mistake, I am backing his SUMMERVILLE BOY each-way for the Supreme at 16/1. Does he really want both of them taking on the might of Samcro? I was worried that he could take up his Ballymore engagement but even the owner surely knows it makes sense to split them up and keep them at the trip where they have been performing well. Therefore I am happy to 16/1 in the ‘all-in’ market rather than 12/1 NRNB. Betfair agrees with me as he 160/1 on there for the longer race. There’s a chance Summerville Boy could go Ballymore and Black Op the Albert Bartlett so they will still be apart, but the Supreme-Ballymore option looks a lot more likely. In short, I think he’s the best of the Brits. Summerville Boy just isn’t that fashionable, hence why he is over double the odds of Kalashnikov, because he had beaten in races in the first half of the season. Certainly one of those came in a slowly-run affair that wasn’t run to suit him, but he should enjoy the usual helter skelter pace of a Supreme. I think there’s plenty more to come from him on better ground too.
Paddy Power Handicap Chase - ANIBALE FLY (WON 14/1)
The other horse to catch my imagination is ANIBALE FLY, another J P McManus-owned contender, who was a quality novice on his day last season (second in the Drinmore to Coney Island and also second to Disko at the Punchestown Festival) and he too had a run round in that same 2m chase as Squoateur on his only run this season. He is no stranger to winning big field handicaps having done so over hurdles at the 2016 Punchestown Festival and underfoot conditions are in his favour. In summary, my two against the field are the J P McManus-owned pair of Sqouateur and Anibale Fly.
Lavazza Silver Cup and Long Walk Hurdle Day (Ascot) - GOLD PRESENT (WON 17/2 & SAM SPINNER WON 8/1)
I prefer another form line from that Newbury Meeting, namely the 2m6½f handicap chase won by GOLD PRESENT who got up late to win suggesting that this longer trip, and also now having a run under his belt, can propel him forward by more than the 5lb he was raised for that success. Runner-up to Tully East in the novices’ handicap chase at last season’s festival, he has what it takes for big-field handicaps. In time I think he might be better than a handicapper and there is more to come from him on his first run over 3m with a run now under his belt.
SAM SPINNER is another handicapper that has improved in leaps and bounds and he’s the one I see as more likely to be new kid on the block. Never out of the first two in eight starts, he had the valuable handicap at Haydock sewn up a long way out and wide-margin winners of that race in the past have gone on to be high-class staying hurdlers. In summary, I’d argue the value lies with Sam Spinner at 8/1 as he’s improving mighty fast and, being hard to get a true handle on, it’s very possible he is still under-rated.
John Francome Novices' Chase - ELEGANT ESCAPE (WON 12/1)
Colin Tizzard’s has saddled the last two winners of this race in Native River and Thistlecrack so I’m thinking that he rates ELEGANT ESCAPE in pretty high regard despite being beaten into second on both his chase starts. There was no disgrace in going down to Mia’s Storm who Alan King has already mentioned the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day for and the RSA, and I suspect it was a different Ballyoptic that he couldn’t then lay a glove on at Exeter than the one that Black Corton turned over at Cheltenham. He was also well beaten in the top staying novice hurdles last season but there has to be a reason why Colin Tizzard keeps running him in these good races and quite a few of his best horses were slow burners. In summary, Black Corton sets the standard and deserves clear favouritism but it’s been a busy eight months for him and this is quick enough after his last win so I tried to find one to take him on with. I reckon Elegant Escape is too big at 12/1 and better than we have seen of him so far and he’d be worth an each-way shot at those odds if all five stand their ground.
BetVictor Handicap Chase - PERFECT CANDIDATE (WON 12/1)
A smaller field of nine than has been the case of late for the staying handicap chase in which I have done well in down the years and also hasn’t been a bad little pointer for the Grand National as a couple of Aintree winners later in the season have run in this contest in the last decade. I can see PERFECT CANDIDATE going well having blown the cobwebs away at the October Meeting which looked a prep for this race in which he was a close-up fifth two years ago a year after his trainer prepared the 1-2 and he looks the overpriced horse in the race for each-way purposes at 12/1. Fergal O'Brien has fond memories of this race so doubtless this handicap has been his aim since the end of last season.
Old Roan Chase - SMAD PLACE (WON 16/1)
SMAD PLACE was fourth last year beaten 4½l just behind Vibrato Valtat and is now 8lb better off with the 1-2, Third Intention and God’s Own, so he’s a definite player. Alan King’s horses are coming on for their first run but I still think 16/1 is too big about him for the Old Roan Chase.
City Of York Stakes - TALAAYEB (WON 14/1)
Six three-year-olds take on 14 older horses and it had been tough going for the Classic generation winning just once in 11 years until they took the last two renewals. Those last two winners, Fadhayil and Nemoralia, were 3yo fillies dropping in class having contested a Group 1 earlier in the season and the 1000 Guineas third and fourth, Daban and Talaayeb, fit that profile this time. On that Newmarket form when the pair were beaten only by Winter (won x3 Group 1s since) and Rhododendron (clear second to Enable in the Oaks), they have an outstanding chance. After the 1000 Guineas I thought that TALAAYEB was the one to take out of the contest as that was only her second start and she raced on her own for much of the last 2f. Her trainer has already brought back one Guineas-placed horse in the last few days from the wilderness with great success as Massaat won the Hungerford Stakes at the weekend and he has given this daughter of Dansili time to get over what was her ailing her when last seen 71 days ago. Massaat’s win was one of three winners for the stable on Saturday from three runners so the yard are bang in form and judged on her Guineas effort I don’t see dropping back to 7f being a big problem and stall 8 looks nice. This pair look a class above the four 3yo colts. Talaayeb is double Daban’s price at 14/1 so makes each-way appeal.
USPGA Championship - JORDAN SMITH (Top English) (WON 22/1)
Having put JORDAN SMITH up as a European Tour player to follow in my Irish Open preview, hopefully a few readers may have stuck with him for his victory in the European Open. He’s still very much in the formative stages of his career and this may very well be a step too far at this stage, but the 22-1 on offer for Top English looks worth a dabble here. I have Rose, Poulter and Fleetwood down as underpriced and am not too keen on Casey. Jordan averages barely under 300 yards off the tee and won't be as disadvantaged as the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick or Luke Donald. He’s a star in the making and the confidence gained from his debut win on the main tour may see him ruffle a few feathers this week.
Qatar Summer Handicap - SOLDIER IN ACTION (WON 11/1)
Fourteen older handicappers line up for this staying prize over 1m6f which has been won by the top weight on three occasions in the last decade. The Mark Johnston-trained SOLDIER IN ACTION has that honour this year after his win at the Derby Meeting and second off a big weight in the Old Newton Cup to Dylan Mouth. He has since finished third in a conditions race at Musselburgh and has course-winning form so I see another big run. I made reference in my blog on July 9th after the Old Newton Cup was won by the top weight just what a great record highly-weighted horses have had this season in the staying handicaps for older horses so I make no apologies for concentrating on them here. In addition to the 1-2 in the Old Newton Cup being the top weights, Higher Power and Thomas Hobson won the Northumberland Plate and Ascot Stakes respectively off 9st 9lb and 9st 10lb respectively. Other big staying handicaps for older horses such as the Chester Cup and Duke Of Edinburgh were also won by horses towards the upper echelons of the handicap plus the equivalent races at the Guineas, Victoria Cup and Derby meetings. The tough and in-form top weight Soldier In Action also shouldn’t be too far away and makes each-way appeal.
The Open Championship - JORDAN SPIETH (WON 16/1)
At 16-1 I simply cannot leave JORDAN SPIETH out here. He comes here off the back of a highly entertaining and slightly fortuitous win at the Travelers Championship. Out of character for Jordan, he seemed quite nervy over the closing holes, and it was only his incredible will to win, and the knack of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when needed, that got him over the line. What that will have done though, is reinstate the confidence that was slightly missing from his game this season. I had said on more than one occasion before that triumph that he was trending towards a huge week. Even in victory, he probably didn't achieve quite that, but he could be about to unleash ‘vintage Spieth’ here this week. So many Major courses are now brutally long, and can test Jordan’s driving but here we have the perfect set-up for him. He has been much straighter of late anyway, especially when he hasn't felt the need to try and force it out there. With strategy set to be a key component this week, I can’t think of any player who will set out with a more well prepared plan than Team Spieth. His scrambling ability really is a joy to watch, and successfully getting up and down from around 40-50 yards this week will determine whether a player has a chance to win here or not. Not as steeped in Open experience as Scott or Garcia, Spieth is however wise beyond his years and Birkdale as a tough and fair test of golf really does make for the ideal venue for the American. He brings recent winning form to the table and if he does stay straight off the tee, it’s going to take a big performance to beat him.
The Open Championship - MATTHEW SOUTHGATE (Top English) (WON 45/1)
MATT SOUTHGATE is a tremendous exponent of links golf, and displayed that once again in the Irish Open two weeks ago. Only a ridiculously good performance from Jon Rahm bettered him, and having been on him Top 20 in last year’s Open, I am keen to have him on side again. He missed the cut at the Scottish last week, but given his overall links profile and massive price of 45-1 here, that is quite easily forgiven.
Coral-Eclipse Stakes - ULYSSES (WON 8/1)
It’s probably not going to be the greatest surprise to you given that I retained ULYSSES in my Horses to Follow column from last season that I think he is the pick of the prices at 8/1 for the Coral-Eclipse on Saturday. Despite the Derby form being franked more than once, I’m still not convinced that the 3yo middle-distance colts this season are that special and I generally prefer an older horse in the big 1m2f-1m4f, all-aged races during the summer anyway unless there is an exceptional 3yo in opposition. Ulysses went into my Horses to Follow after he won the Gordon Stakes last season but was then a bit disappointing at Windsor before he was a good fourth given his lack of experience in the BC Turf when Dettori was one of the guilty riders that handed the race on a plate to Highland Reel by allowing him far too rope in the lead. Naturally, I expected the son of Galileo out of the Oaks winner, Light Shift, to improve between three and four being Stoute-trained and that is exactly what has happened as he impressed over the Eclipse C/D in the Gordon Richards when beating Deauville who has since won the Huxley Stakes and placed in the Queen Anne. On his only subsequent start Ulysses then put up a career best when a 1¼l third in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. That run at Royal Ascot behind Highland Reel can be marked up as I felt that Jim Crowley hit the front too soon against a famed battler and that was all the encouragement that the hard-as-nails, globe-trotting, multi-Grade 1 winning 5yo needed to really put his head down and add the POW to his wins in the King George, BC Turf, Coronation Cup, Hong Kong Vase and Secretariat Stakes. I think that it would have been close had he challenged later so I’d expect him to reverse with Decorated Knight who just nabbed Ulysses for second. In summary, Ulysses is still on the upgrade and impressed over C/D in April and I'm hopeful that he can gve Sir Michael Stoute a sixth Eclipse joining Opera House, Ezzoud, Pilsudski, Medicean and Notnowcato.
ICC Champions Trophy Top Runscorer - SHIKHAR DHAWAN (WON 40/1)
SHIKHAR DHAWAN is something of an enigma - few batsmen can make the game look so hard and then so easy in successive innings - but it is hard to argue with his ODI record with an average rising 43 with nine centuries and 17 half centuries from 75 innings. He scored 412 runs in the last World Cup and it’s worth noting that he was the leading scorer in the tournament when India won the Champions Trophy here in 2013. Only David Warner and Gautam Gambhir outscored him in the recent IPL so his current form is no concern and the top price of 40-1 is huge.
The Derby - WINGS OF EAGLES (WON 25/1) SP 40/1
The eyecatcher in the Vase was WINGS OF EAGLES who wouldn’t have been on anyone’s mind for the Derby until he was even declared for that trial judged on his four runs as a two-year-old, though his fourth in the Zetland Stakes behind Coronet is working out well. Many punters won’t like taking a chance on the Ballydoyle horses that Moore discards but, get this, having conducted some research last week I discovered that Aidan O’Brien has won 18 classics in GB and Ireland that weren’t his shortest-priced runner; Rock Of Gibraltar, Winter, Ruler Of The World, High Chaparral, Qualify, Was, Frozen Fire, Soldier Of Fortune, Desert King, Seventh Heaven, Bracelet, Marvellous, Misty For Me, Halfway To Heaven, Imagine, Classic Park, Black Minnaloushe and Saffron Walden. Of those 18, ten were sent off a double-figure prices. Wings Of Eagles is a general 25/1 shot. He was settled out the back at Chester by Seamie Heffernan whereas the winner and third were in the van throughout, and then eased out wide to make his ground around the bend for a full 2f. Despite not appearing to enjoy the course even in the home straight, he finished well in the final furlong and was the horse to take out of the race. I’d be certain that he lost more ground running wide than the margin that he was beaten and he can be expected to improve a bundle for this seasonal return. O’Brien horses can just take off and keep on improving at a rate of knots so I am not that fussed he was no great shakes at two where he showed signs of inexperience when winning his maiden with a high head carriage. I’m very hopeful that the penny is now only just starting to drop with him and that he can make giant strides from Chester to Epsom. In summary, gun to the head and it would be Cliffs Of Moher but the each-way value of the race at the general 25/1 is Wings Of Eagles who shaped like the best horse in the Chester Vase to these eyes and it looks like the penny is only just starting to drop with him.
The Memorial - JASON DUFNER (WON 66/1)
I think that JASON DUFNER is very much worthy of support this week. He was very disappointing carrying my hard earned last week but in truth though, it was only one poor round from the former PGA Championship winner and that was in the worst of the conditions. Two late bogeys on Friday cost him a weekend’s work, and I am inclined to just draw a line under that. There have been plenty of examples in recent times of players disappointing at events they are ‘expected’ at, and then bouncing back with excellent efforts the following week. Less of that expectancy and pressure may just free them up. Dufner had been in superb form and, given that Muirfield is his ideal test on paper, I feel he is far too big here at 66-1.
BMW PGA Championship - ALEX NOREN (WON 20/1)
Talking of players not returning from America for this, one player who will be more than happy to return to European soil, is my idea of the likely winner - ALEX NOREN. Successful on no fewer than four times last season, the big Swede has tried to crack the PGA Tour of late and he certainly hasn't been outclassed. He threatened a breakthrough win on US soil in the Wells Fargo before a disappointingly nervy Sunday scuppered his hopes. He bounced back quickly to once again contend at The Players. He again couldn't get the job done on Sunday but a top 10 in the best field assembled all year will have further boosted his confidence. In interviews during the Wells Fargo he consistently mentioned how ‘difficult’ he was finding it to adapt to the PGA Tour. Difficulty learning new courses, difficulty with new surroundings, difficulty fitting in. It struck of someone not quite confident enough to go and win. This bore out in his play under pressure, but returning this week to what he knows best, he can impose his class on this field and notch his biggest win to date. Sixth here in 2008 and eighth in 2015, either side of the Ernie Els changes, he should be able to cope with however it plays this week. In neither of those years was he anywhere near the player he is now. Given his recent displays in far better fields than this, I think he will go very close here.
1000 Guineas - WINTER (WON 12/1)
I have a sneaky fancy for WINTER. The 16s has dried up from earlier in the week into 12s but the momentum behind her has a similar feel to that before Legatissimo won here two years ago. She was trained by David Wachman and had largely gone under the radar until a week before the race and Winter was also trained by Wachman last season until he packed the game up and she was sent to Aidan O’Brien. Unlike Legatissimo, she was beaten in her trial but as explained earlier that wasn’t unsurprising given his new handler’s modus operandi with 3yo fillies, and it was a really hot running of the Irish 1000 Guineas Trial. Winter needed three runs to get off the mark for Wachman eventually striking at Dundalk over 7f in August from a wide draw and the only other time we saw her she improved plenty to lose out by only a head to Hydrangea in the Irish 1000 Guineas Trial despite running too freely and racing on the outside - the same race in which Virginia Waters and Homecoming Queen contested. Back in third was Rehana who then won the Group 3 Athasi Stakes earlier in the week with Joseph O’Brien’s Moylare winner, Intricately, in fourth. Hydrangea sets a very good form standard herself having twice finished second to Rhododendron including in the Fillies’ Mile and was narrowly beaten into second in the Moyglare but she was well raced at two so is not open to as much improvement as Winter. In a race that thrown up its share of surprise winners, I have chanced Winter at 12/1.
Guinness Handicap Chase - SIZING GRANITE (WON 14/1)
Colin Tizzard sends over SIZING GRANITE and Viconte Du Noyer (won over 3m3f at The Open Meeting) and the first named strikes me as the one of the pair likely to be happier over this trip. His run in the Champion Chase was supposed to tee him up for the Melling Chase according to Joe Tizzard beforehand but on his next start he was sent to Taunton instead over hurdles! Mind you, the owner did have Fox Norton for the Melling. That run over hurdles at Taunton smelt as a prep for something and I’d suggest here it is. A Grade 1 winning novice chaser when he beat God’s Own at Aintree, he has the back class to end a superb spring for his owners off a mark of 146. Robbie Power rides him rather than Viconte Du Noyer for his same retainer. In summary, Sizing Granite is well handicapped if the Tizzards have got him back to close to his best and makes each-way appeal at around 14/1.
Punchestown Champion Hurdle - WICKLOW BRAVE (WON 18/1)
Last year’s winner Vroum Vroum Mag (beat Identity Thief into second) and the Irish St Leger winner Wicklow Brave also represent Mullins. VVM is the choice of Walsh, perhaps not unsurprisingly as she is owned by the yard’s principal patron, and travels like 2m should be no bother to her but I think we now know where she stands after splitting Apple’s Jade and Limini at Cheltenham and this is a much better and deeper renewal than the one she won last year. WICKLOW BRAVE interests me more at the prices (18/1 top price) as he ran really well in the Champion Hurdle on his first start over timber for 16 months having blown the start and the effort to get into contention then took its toll and he is now in first-time blinkers. He has each-way claims.
Alder Hey Children's Charity Handicap Hurdle - RATHER BE (WON 14/1)
I had better stay loyal to RATHER BE having backed him in the Martin Pipe only to be brought down at just the second flight in a race where his stablemate, Thomas Campbell (a horse I have trouble trusting), finished fifth and he’s the choice of Nico de Boinville with Jeremiah McGrath on Rather Be. Part of my argument then was that Nicky Henderson gave up a favourite’s chance to win a race he likes in the EBF Final with him to roll the dice in the boys’ race at the Festival and that he was open to improvement moving back up to 2m4f having run a close second over 2m giving an age allowance away to a tough 4yo on his previous start. The only novice to win in the first 14 runnings of this race was Ninepins but since then novices have become an increasing force in this event with a run of eight victories in the 15 runnings from 2002 including a 1-2 in 2015. In summary, tough but I’ll be kicking myself if I let Rather Be go unbacked and he wins in a race where novices and Nicky Henderson have a fine record.
Champion Bumper - FAYONAGH (WON 16/1)
Although not published yet, a little bird tells me that Carter McKay is officially top rated on 130 just ahead of Fayonagh on 129. This is interesting because although bumpers are all about potential it is worth noting that five of the last 14 winners were top rated by BHA, including the last two, and all five won at tidy odds. Official bumper ratings are not usually published but an exception is made for this race as they are used for the elimination process in the event of over 24 overnight declarations for balloting-out purposes. Although the favourite is top rated, when you throw in the 7lb mares’ allowance that FAYONAGH will receive, she then becomes a rather large 6lb clear here. Interestingly, Gordon Elliott didn’t declare her for the Listed Mares’ Bumper at Sandown tomorrow and she’s not a Gigginstown-owned mare so she’ll go where the trainer wants her to. On her only start since moving to Elliott she bolted up by 20l in a Listed Mares’ bumper at Fairyhouse last month. I like how quiet he has been about her on the Festival circuit, even nominating other horses as his fancy for the race. I feel obliged to add Fayonagh as it’s not often we can get 16/1 about a horse 6lb clear at the top of the ratings for a Grade 1 race so I want to take advantage before the price vanishes.
Genesis Open - DUSTIN JOHNSON (WON 9/1)
A player who does look ready to peak here, and certainly knows his way around, is DUSTIN JOHNSON. In recent years he hasn’t really done anything in the ‘downtime’ over the Xmas period and allows himself to play his way into form in the weeks after. A strong-finishing second in Abu Dhabi, followed by a predictable MC at Torrey preceded an excellent effort last week. Never really in the hunt with a winning chance, he barely looked to come out of second gear when ultimately finishing second. He was very positive in his post-round interview, saying he thought he had now found his game. He knows how suited he is to this week's test and will be delighted he comes here at the top of his game. Five top 4’s in his last 7 attempts here shows just that, and though I have said I am still sceptical about his ‘closing out’ ability, I believe he more than likely is better equipped now as a Major Champion than in those years of near misses. I have had a larger bet than normal for a 9-1 shot as he seems highly likely to contend again this week and, if the putter shows slight improvement, he will be very hard to beat.
Phoenix Open - HIDEKI MATSUYAMA (WON 11/1)
Sometimes in gambling you have to accept the blindingly obvious and bet accordingly. Augusta apart, I think this venue is the one most suited to the game of HIDEKI MATSUYAMA. Fourth here in 2014 and runner up in 2015, he continued that progression to oust Rickie Fowler in an enthralling playoff last year. That alone entitles him to considerable respect here but, to put it mildly, Hideki is a completely different animal now. A WGC champion, and now multiple winner, he arrives at the top of his game. A rash of success before Christmas could never be sustained into the New Year but this will be the first event that he will have really targeted since. I imagine he exceeded his expectations last week at Torrey, it's simply not his cup of tea. Poa Annua will never be his favoured putting service and he will be much more at home on Scottsdale's Bermuda grass. The changes made here prior to 2015 make this a real ball-striker's test, and Greens in Regulation will be a massive factor in determining the winner, Matsuyama was first for GIR last year and, considering the level he is currently operating on, it's difficult to see him not reaching similar heights this time around. All in all, I make Matsuyama much the likeliest winner and he should be backed to do so.
Punchestown Grand National Trial - BAIE DES ILES (WON 8/1) (Exacta paid £58.80)
Unlike in most recent seasons the Grand National Trial does feature a couple of horses already rated high enough to get a run at Aintree (I’m looking at 145 as the likely cut come April 8th) with Roi Des Francs (154) and My Murphy (147). It tends to be won by a horse on the upgrade with four of the last six winners aged no older than seven. The six-year-old BAIE DES ILES was last seen finishing fifth in the Welsh Grand National. She has had sufficient time to recover from that run in not as testing ground as Chepstow usually throws up. She was also sixth in the Irish Grand National (these are good efforts for a horse aged just five at the time) having previously finished fourth in a Grade 2 to Boston Bob and she also beat Bonny Kate here in a handicap chase 13 months ago giving 3lb and they race off the same terms today. I think that she can be force in the big marathon handicaps over the coming years if she can stay sound. In summary, aged only six, Baie Des Iles has done well so far and the liklihood is that there is more to come. She would be my preference with Sambremont (finished second) as the main danger.
Premier League - HULL to beat Liverpool (WON 13/2)
Liverpool were better when securing a draw at home at Chelsea midweek after going out of two cup competitions in a matter of days which underlines my view over the last few seasons that they raise their game for the better teams and can often look average against clubs they should beat with something to spare. If they can lose at home to Swansea who were bottom of the league at the time after failing to beat another strong relegation candidate in Sunderland, then they are very capable of losing away to the current bottom side, HULL CITY, who therefore look too big at 13/2 to me. The home side will be buoyed by holding Man Utd to a goalless draw at Old Trafford midweek having also beaten the same club a few days earlier in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. They have also picked up 7 points out of 9 in their last three Premier League home matches beating Bournemouth and Swansea and drawing against Everton.
Most Receiving Touchdowns - JORDY NELSON (WON 16/1)
My fancy in the NFC would have to be the Green Bay Packers at around 4/1, who will see the return of WR JORDY NELSON to the fold. QB Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best in the game right now and his rapport with Nelson is incredible; no tandem in the league has a better back shoulder fade. In his last three full seasons with Rodgers, Nelson averaged 1,365 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns a season, with a high of 15 TD grabs in 2011. At 16/1 Nelson appeals.
Hennessy Gold Cup - NATIVE RIVER (WON 16/1)
The horse I like for the Hennessy ante-post is NATIVE RIVER at 16/1. He’s not flashy but that’s what I like about his profile for the race where a combination of youth, staying power, class and jumping prowess are the key ingredients. The winner of three of his seven novice chases last season culminating in a Grade 1 victory in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree where he travelled the sweetest I had seen him all season when donning cheekpieces for the second time (he finished second in the 4m NH Chase the previous time he wore them), he even made the running at Aintree and had two Cheltenham Festival winners in Blaklion and Un Temps Pour Tout back in third fourth. The last nine Hennessy winners had won a pattern race over fences. I’ve always liked that Aintree race as a guide to the Hennessy as it takes place over a longer trip than the RSA and it featured five winners from the late 1980s through to 2001. Many Clouds also contested it three seasons ago before he won the Hennessy the following autumn. Native River’s second in the NH Chase has worked well in one big staying handicap chase already as the fifth, Vicente, then came out and won the Scottish National but it is his staying Grade 2 novice chase victory at last season’s Hennessy Meeting which is the run that I am mainly backing him on having given 7lb and a 3¾l beating to Un Temps Pour Tout. Most of the market principals will be novices from last season and they have provided 11 of the last 17 winners. I also made a mental note of Colin Tizzard’s excellent Hennessy Meeting record last year where he had winners at 8/1 and 7/2 plus the 12/1 runner-up in the Hennessy (who was also third two years earlier at 33/1) and a 10/1 runner-up in a big-field handicap hurdle from his eight runners over the three days. I’d like to see Native River have a prep run as he was given two starts before he won at last season’s Hennessy Meeting, needing the first, though it was a warm novice chase at Chepstow when he finished third (Blalkion was one place behind him), to put him absolutely spot on and it wouldn’t bother me if he has was beaten in his trial. In summary, I feel that Native River has all the tools that you look for in a Hennessy winner and 16/1 makes plenty of appeal.
Sir Peter O'Sullevan Handicap Chase - O'MAONLAI (WON 18/1 into 12/1)
In this race last year I suggested O’MAONLAI each-way and he finished second at 25/1. He returns off a 3lb lower mark and, having also won at Newbury, you would think that Tom George has had this handicap in mind for a while. The problem is that he hasn’t come close to troubling the judge in three subsequent starts so he’ll be a similar price to last year. In summary, hard. Therefore I’d prefer to take a chance on a couple of bigger priced horses if wanting to get involved and I’d nominate Waldorf Salad (non runner) and O’Maonlai who are both 18/1+ and hope the 17 runners doesn’t drop to 15.
Stella Artois 1965 Chase - ROYAL REGATTA (WON 10/1)
I covered this race on Wednesday and suggested ROYAL REGATTA. He could be the one as he was just behind Vibrato Valtat in the Old Roan despite having an awful profile on left-handed tracks beforehand and he was still going alright in front until mistake three out ended his winning chance. Throw in his Ascot profile of only once finishing out of the first three in five chase starts and he looks a solid each-way proposition. A negative is that he won’t have Richard Johnson who is as at Haydock but Tom O’Brien knows him well and was third on him behind Silviniaco Conti in the Grade 1 here in February. He is the lowest-rated horse in the race but Royal Regatta's course profile suggests he can finish in the first three.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - FOUND (WON 11/1)
The Arc trials are now all over and I have backed FOUND at 11/1. That might surprise you given that I have been against her all season but my main reason for my opposition to her in Group 1 races since she won the Breeders' Cup Turf is that I very much formed the opinion very early on was that her season was all being geared around the big autumn prizes. Well, here were are! All her runs this season just struck me as a precursor to her first main target of a stellar running of the Irish Champion Stakes which she almost won finishing second to a horse unlikely to be one of her rivals in the Arc and she she beat the rest readily. Last autumn, Aidan O'Brien's 4yo filly with an iron constitution ran the subsequent Arc winner, Golden Horn, to a length in the Irish Champion Stakes before finishing ninth in the Arc, second in the Champion Stakes and then reversing form with Golden Horn at the Breeders' Cup. I wouldn't be worried about her ninth in last year's Arc as she was drawn out wide which is usually hard to overcome, she was hampered 2f out when making her challenge and was then just looked after under hands and heels. At a double figure price and her consistency, I can't resist an each-way interest. Fillies have won won four of the last five runnings.
England v Pakistan Test Series - 2-2 (WON 14/1)
The idea of backing a flawed England at 4-11 for the series is wholly unappealing and it has the feel of a topsy-turvy affair ahead. The absence of Jimmy Anderson for the first Test, on a Lord’s wicket that is usually pretty docile at this time of year, will be a fillip for the visitors and they have too much about them to let England roll them over all summer. Neither side comes into the series with a batting line up that inspires maximum faith. England, Bairstow and Hales excepted, did little to enhance their reputations against a very ordinary Sri Lankan bowling attack. And make no mistake, this bowling Pakisatn bowling attack is not an ordinary one. Set to be spear-headed by Mohammed Amir, they can also call upon Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah, and England's batting should get a proper work over. For a correct series score interest, the 14-1 about 2-2 might be the way to play it.
Daily Telegraph Nursery (Glorious Goodwood) - TRIFECTA (WON £53.90 - Tricast £214.92)
Seventeen two-year-olds tackle this handicap over 7f so, once again, the draw is likely to be important. Horses drawn between 1-7 filled the first five places last year and horses drawn 1, 2 and 4 filled the first three places in 2013. In addition, horses drawn 1, 2 and 3 finished in the first five in 2012 and stall 1 won in 2011 so you may want to consider some exactas or trifectas amongst low drawn horses. Of those low-drawn horses, if you put a gun to my head I would nominate Teofonic from stall 4 for the Johnston yard that had the winner in 2014 and runner-up in 2015 who is out again quickly under a 6lb penalty for an easy 3½l win at Catterick eight days ago. Johnston is responsible for the three top weights with Montataire chasing a four-timer (not badly drawn in 8) and Bear Valley (also not badly drawn in 6) who made all to win at Epsom last time. A stable 1-2-3 is not out of the question with all three likely to be ridden prominently throughout. In summary, anything drawn higher than stall 8 is off limits. All three Johnston horses have been lucky in this respect and he could dominate the race. Teofonic would be my preference but I can’t resist perming them (the others being Montataire and Bear Valley) in exactas and a trifecta.
Longines Handicap (Lady Amateur Riders) - HAWKEYETHENOO (WON 12/1)
Not the race it used to be when Maxine Juster used to win it or Lydia Pearce or even Princess Anne since it was shuffled off terrestrial television coverage after De Beers discontinued their sponsorship of the day so, to the best of my knowledge, the winning jockey doesn’t receive a diamond anymore but it is still the most prestigious race of its type ahead of the Queen Mother’s Cup at York. It’s also a bloody nightmare year on year with a big field of exposed handicappers ridden by amateurs galloping down the straight 7f so pace judgement is vital and therefore an experienced lady amateur jockey is important. Carole Bartley seems to have going since I was a boy and she’s had her successes in this race and rides the veteran of the race HAWKEYETHENOO who is now a 10-year-old and finds it hard to win and is now on a losing run of 40. I think he can run well though as some of his best runs have been at Ascot including when he won the Victoria Cup over this trip on good-to-firm ground. He wasn’t disgraced last time out when beaten 3l at Doncaster and has been dropped 3lb for that so is down to a mark of 80, the lowest he has been for six years. In summary, you pays your money and takes your chance in a race like this as a punter and I’d have a little each-way tickle on the old boy and old girl, Hawkeyethenoo and Carole Bartley.
The Open Championship - HENRIK STENSON (WON 30/1) - One of just two pre-tournament outright recommendations
The two stats I like most in addition to the last six Open winners at Troon having won earlier in the year are that 10 of the last 11 winners had previously recorded a Top 6 position in The Open and 7 of the last 10 winners were in the Top 30 in the world rankings. Five of the last six Open winners were putting the final preparations to their game by contesting the Scottish Open the previous week, though only one of those could finish in the Top 10. The Scottish Open has been played on a traditional links since 2011 having previously been held at Loch Lomond so it acts as an ideal practice ground. HENRIK STENSON also finished T-13th (alongside Mickelson) and he has three Top 3s in The Open to his credit but the clock is ticking on the 40-year-old if he is to land that elusive Major championship. That said, age isn’t a barrier to success in The Open with three recent winners in their 40s and Zach Johnson was 39 last year plus 59-year-old Tom Watson also all but won it and a part-timer in Greg Norman was third aged 53 shortly afterwards. The Ice Man from Sweden won the BMW in Germany two starts ago and has certainly got the kahunas for it if he is in contention and it will have been encouraging with regards to Troon for both Mickelson and Stenson to recover from opening round scores of 76 to finish just outside the Top 10. The World Number 6, Stenson, is the man I would take above all others that played the Scottish Open last week.
I like PHIL MICKELSON's (finished clear runner-up to Stenson) chances of playing well this week as the pressure is totally off him unlike when he flopped when fancied for The Masters which he entered in very good form and the pressure he put on himself ahead of the US Open having finished runner-up six times. I also have my doubts about McIlroy who is 11/10 to win the Former Champion market so 11/2 each-way about Mickelson appeals in a field full of has-beens that will do well to make the cut except for Zach Johnson, Oosthuizen, Rory and Phil.
Wimbledon Ladies 'Name The Finalists' - SERENA WILLIAMS - ANGELIQUE KERBER (WON 14/1)
Serena Williams will try again to level Steffi Graff's record of 22 Grand Slams. The 6/4 looks short considering that she has flopped at the latter stages of the last three majors, however I do think that she will take all the beating at her favourite Grand Slam. Better value for Serena lies in the 'Name The Finalist' market where, with process of elimination, we can narrow it down to just a couple of challengers to join her in the final. The third quarter looks the strongest of the bottom half for contenders with Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber the two I like to make the final. The fourth quarter has last year’s finalist Garbine Muguruza housed in it and she is favourite to make the final after an emotional victory at the French Open claiming her maiden Grand Slam title but it could all be a bit much for a repeat run less than a month since her stunning triumph at Roland Garros and I favour Kerber or Keys should they meet in a semi-final. I prefer Kerber at the prices each-way at 25/1 and the 14/1 for Serena Williams & Kerber 'Name The Finalists'.
Northumberland Plate - ANTIQUARIUM (WON 16/1)
ANTIQUARIUM was also a beaten favourite last time out but if his fourth of seven at Newmarket on his only run this campaign was needed with a view to putting him spot on for this race then Charlie Appleby’s charge has a good shot at this. You may remember that he was second only to the highly progressive Dartmouth (won three Group races this season) in a valuable handicap at Glorious Goodwood last season and he was then only beaten 1½l by Polarisation in the Melrose at the Ebor Meeting so he knows his way around this big handicaps. The longer trip is a guess but Godolphin are often right in this respect despite him only finishing ninth in the Queen’s Vase last summer. That 2m race comes early for the trip in a 3yo’s career and he has finished second twice since over 1m6f. James McDonald is jocked up so I’d be very hopeful he will run even if the same connections are responsible for Polarisation (James Doyle jocked up). We know he acts on tapeta having won his maiden at Wolverhampton. In summary, lots of respect for Dannyday but at double his price at the general 16/1 I like Antiquarium’s each-way prospects.
Next Conservative Party Leader - THERESA MAY (WON 13/2)
Whatever happens on 23rd/24th June (EU Referendum), the impact for David Cameron looks profound. His party is divided and a loss for Remain would surely spell the end of his leadership and resignation as PM. Cameron is now 6/4 to step down as PM in 2016 with Boris Johnson favourite to take over as Conservative leader at 5/2. The 'Battle of the Bastards' would be dirty and without remorse with both wanting to paint the other as damaged goods post referendum. At which point enter another dark horse who has been uncharacteristically quiet during the referendum campaign - THERESA MAY. The Home Secretary is currently best priced at 13/2. She presents an attractive alternative to Boris (for Cameron loyalists) and Osborne (equally damaged goods if Leave win, as well as being the man who shot IDS). A Cameron to step down in late 2016 and May as next leader scenario is now a realistic outcome for the PM to pursue on the back of a referendum that has damaged his party and the country even if they edge it.
Royal Ascot Ante-Post Group 1 Sprints - TWILIGHT SON (WON 8/1) & PROFITABLE (WON 8/1)
I wouldn’t be surprised if TWILIGHT SON reversed with Magical Memory (in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes) as he was giving away 5lb and giving up race fitness and raced away from the action at York on the slowest part of the track and could never get in it having been held up in rear. In fact, I expect him to so he rates as a bet at 8/1. We know that he is a genuine Group 1 horse having won the Haydock Sprint where he had Magical Memory back in third and I’d say his 2l second to the brilliant Muhaarar at Ascot on his next run is the best piece of form in the Diamond Jubilee. If that York run has put him spot on (his trainer said he needed it) then I make him the one to beat for a handler who has few peers when it comes to training sprinters. With only seven career starts behind him, there is also reason to believe that Twilight Son has stopped improving yet. The niggle is that he wouldn’t want it any faster than officially good ground but I think that at 8/1 that’s a risk worth taking. He is twice a winner on good-to-firm.
PROFITABLE interests me even more (for the King's Stand Stakes) now that (a) the forecast for the next week is for nothing but sunshine which means Mecca’s Angel has to be considered a likely NR (or not run to her best if they decide to take a punt and run) and nothing really coming out of yesterday’s Prix du Gros-Chene, the last main ‘trial’ which has been a fair guide down the years featuring five of the last 20 winners. That Group 2 at Chantilly went to Son Cesio who is not in the King’s Stand and who beat Catcall who was finishing runner-up in that contest for the fourth year running. As such, Profitable rates as a bet at top price 8/1 with Betbright or 7/1 general. I see him going off around 9/2 jolly on the day. He’s got the best from this season and is still improving and the international challenge looks relatively weak.
The Players Championship Golf - FRANCESCO MOLINARI (TOP EUROPEAN) (WON 40/1)
Sticking with straight hitters on this tight course and FRANCESCO MOLINARI is another player I want to be with this week having posted two Top 10s in five visits. He is not the fastest starter to the season but he usually comes good around this time (he often goes well in the PGA at Wentworth this month) and 9th and 17th place finishes on his last two starts is promising. I am not sure he has big enough balls to win an event as important as this as his putting can be flaky under pressure but I like the look of 40/1 each-way for Top European.
Surrey Stakes - SMUGGLER'S MOON (WON 16/1)
The interesting one, especially if the dead eight stand their ground for each-way purposes, is SMUGGLER'S MOON's who left his only run as a two-year-old miles behind after being gelded when beating 14 rivals in a Newbury maiden in April. The front two finished clear of the remainder and the runner-up then made all to win gamely at Salisbury next time. The way he picked up and stayed on strongly caught the eye and Brian Meehan was talking in terms of the Jersey Stakes afterwards which is a significantly stronger race than this so I am surprised to see him at as big as 16/1, especially given his scope for improvement on just his third start. In summary, all eight standing their ground would be nice for each-way purposes as Smuggler's Moon looks overpriced at 16/1.
French Open Ladies' Tennis - GARBINE MUGURUZA (WON 16/1)
The Spanish 22-year-old enjoyed a great season in 2015 and now looks like being the ready-made replacement to be World Number 1 when Serena Williams decides to ease back on her schedule. She has five career doubles titles to her name also. Such is her versatily, she possesses and all-round, solid, powerful game from the baseline and great touch at the net. She is currently sixth-favourite to win the French Open at 16/1 (general) where I would place her in the top three so she would appear to be cracking each-way value at half the odds to make another Grand Slam final or better. GARBINE MUGURUZA has reached the quarter finals in the last two yaers at the French Open so, with improvement shown during the second half of 2015 and her now-increased self belief, she looks a big price which is worth taking.
Scottish Grand National - VICENTE (WON 16/1):
Long-time subscribers will know that I like novices in the Coral Scottish Grand National and those that ran in the National Hunt Chase in particular. The 2013 winner, Godsmejudge, (who also finished second in 2014), had previously been placed in the NH Chase over 4m at the Cheltenham Festival as had the 2011 winner, Beshabar. The ‘Four Miler’ looks likely to be represented this year with Measureofmydreams (3rd) and Vicente (5th) amongst the leading fancies. Measureofmydreams may well start favourite being Mullins-trained for Gigginstown after his 7l third under Katie Walsh at the Festival. Not only does his NH Chase form look strong with the second, Native River, then going on to win the Grade 1 at Aintree last week, but his previous run when he would have finished second to Black Hercules but for the leader falling at the final fence, was franked when BH then won the JLT. Not hard to see why he is currently 8/1 favourite. I ike VICENTE's chances just as much though and he is twice the price at 16/1 so he rates as fair each-way value. Paul Nicholls’ novice, who gave 8lb and a beating to the subsequent Festival winner Un Temps Pour Tout back in October, was only 8l adrift of Measureofmydreams in the NH Chase and was not helped when hampered three out. Of the pair, he is the fresher having not previously run since mid December. I also like the trainer’s profile in the Scottish National as Nicholls has gone agonisingly close twice with Cornish Rebel and Ladalko (both beaten a short-head) and has also won the prize with Belmont King. He is a certain runner all being well according to Nicholls unlike his other three entries.
Grand National - RULE THE WORLD (WON 50/1)
I will tell you now which 50/1 shot I like for the race and many of you will think I have lost it. It’s the maiden over fences, RULE THE WORLD. Told you! Now the explanation. As you know he was my NH Chase horse as I felt that what he was crying out for was a marathon trip on spring ground. Unless we get a downpour then that’s what he will have more or less (they will water if necessary for safety). He didn’t make it to Cheltenham after a disappointing run nine days before the NH Chase on testing ground but the very fact that they ran in him that contest suggests that they had decided not to run at the Festival anyway. And why would that be? Being saved for the Grand National I would suggest having finished second in the Irish National (was considered the best guide up until a few years ago) on spring ground last season by Mouse Morris for Gigginstown. He could have run in the Irish National on Easter Monday, in fact you might have expected it having finished second last year, which leads me to believe that they have had Aintree in mind for a while and the same owner and trainer won that Irish National and also supplied the fourth so Mouse Morris’ team are in great nick and underlines what a good target trainer he is. No novice has won since 1958 but, more pertinently, he is a second-season chaser who is likely to have conditions to suit and many a Grand National winner ran well below their best in its previous race.
T20 Cricket World Cup - WEST INDIES (WON 12/1)
I can’t resist a saver on the WEST INDIES at 12/1. There’s always a chance that they could blow out completely but this is a squad full of T20 specialists and if they can negotiate the group stage then they have the ability to trouble anyone in the knockout phase. Forget their dismal Test outfit and moderate 50 Over unit – this is a format in which they are still more than competitive. The winners in 2012, they boast a squad full of T20 specialists, most of whom have stacks of IPL experience under their belt. Having resolved yet another contract issue which threatened to decimate the squad, this group of talented mercenaries can make a big splash. They have power at the top of the order and a varied bowling attack. Chris Gayle and Lendl Simmons are prolific in this format and Samuel Badree’s leg-spin, innocuous as it looks from the sofa, continues to prove invaluable. Brawn, rather than brain, will be their asset.
Ryanair Chase - TRIFECTA (WON £56.78)
In summary, I think Vautour will win comfortably with Road To Riches holding off Valseur Lido for second so the Irish can put their Ryanair hooddo to bed in style. There may be 15 runners but I couldn't put you off perming the three class Irish horses in combination trifectas. As far as I am concerned they have a class advantage over the remainder. I suggested doing that last year for the JLT and it came up trumps so maybe lighnting can strike twice. That's what I have done.
Superbowl Most Valuable Player - VON MILLER (WON 22/1)
On the defensive side of the ball, I think that VON MILLER is primed to have a big game. Miller is one of the league’s best defensive players and is due to negotiate a new contract this off-season. It’s widely rumoured he’ll become the league’s highest paid defensive player, so he will want to cement that pay day with a standout performance this Sunday. In the regular season, Miller tied Oakland’s Khalil Mack with 82 total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), but led the league in pressures from the left side, with 70 (46 hurries, 18 hits, six sacks), where he blitzed for 73% of snaps. This is important because Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers ranked 60th against his peers for pass protection and is the obvious weak spot on the Panthers’ offensive line against the pass rush. Miller is also a stud against the run, ranking as a top-10 run defender for all edge defenders, so I’m interested in all Miller prop bets relating to his tackle and sack totals. Betfair are offering 5/2 Von Miller records the first Broncos sack, and even money on over 3.5 tackles. A more ambitious bet is Von Miller to be the SuperBowl MVP at 22/1. Adding in to my reasons for nominating Von Miller as MVP is an impression that the Panthers are being somewhat over-hyped, and that Wade Phillip’s aggressive Denver defense will be able to restrict and stifle Carolina, in a similar fashion as to two weeks ago against New England.
Paddy Power Gold Cup - ANNACOTTY (WON 16/1)
The horse I like to run well is ANNACOTTY who is 16/1 in a place but generally a 14s shot. I imagine his price has been cut a little following positive comments from Alan King in his Weekender column, and the switch from Keighley to King is one of the reasons I like his chance. His previous trainer won a Grade 1 novice chase with him eight starts back but his owner felt that Annacotty needed a change of scenery and he has been trained for the race since in the knowledge that he runs the track well having finished second and first in handicap chases on Festival Trials Day here for the last two seasons. Back in January he won over 2m5f here on soft ground so won’t mind any more rain and he is only 3lb higher here so, if the switch in stables can eke out just a little more improvement, then he is bang in this. He is another that likes to go forward but doesn’t have to lead – he tracked the leaders for his course win last season. Ian Popham keeps the ride as knows him so well.