Six Nations Week 1 in General Sports uploaded - NFL Championship Weekend uploaded - Saturday Race Previews uploaded - Six Nations Outright in General Sports uploaded - Ante Post Focus uploaded - Cheltenham Festival Week 10 uploaded - Premier League Picks uploaded
Due to a technical problem I have had to load the Eurovision Song Contest in the Blog.
Here we go again but without Portugal who failed to enter for the first time ever having never finished higher than 6th in 60 years and Turkey who declared themselves non runners after originally stating their intention to enter again, so that’s three years on the spin now without them. Also missing are Romania who were chucked out as their host broadcaster failed to pay their fees and not even an even an ex-Westlife star could get a bad Irish entry out of the semi-finals. Not qualifying for the Final is anything but a new experience for Ireland in recent years as they continue to churn out ultra-bland entries but it is for perennial Top 10 finishers, Greece, who failed to qualify for the first time with their folk-rap combo.
Below are my views on all 26 finalists which you might want to read before each acts performs and see how close I am, but if you want to cut to the chase then scroll to the bottom for the final summary with some recommended betting interest.
Belgium (100/1 Best Odds)
The Eurovision bods like to open the show with an upbeat entry to stop viewers switching channels and have done so again. The winner of the Flemish version of The Voice in 2014, Laura may have benefited from the pimp spot of performing last in the second semi-final to gain a berth in Saturday’s Final but opening the Final is a nail in their Top 10 hopes coffin. I like her - she’s got a Lena-type (won for Germany) cute vibe going on with loads of spirit and I can’t recall too many singers/dancers down the years in Eurovision though the song is rather dated with its disco theme and staging and will do well to finish in the top half.
Czech Republic (300/1 Best Odds)
Reaching the Final is the main achievement here for the Czechs as their other five attempts failed to get beyond even the semi-final stage, a disastrous run which saw them not even bother to enter for five years in a row. However, this is as far as it goes as there is absolutely no danger whatsoever that Trap 2 will record its first Eurovision victory at the 61st attempt. It’s pleasant enough and Gabriela sings well and looks great but the track doesn’t really go anywhere, though it’s a little too early in proceedings to take a break to put the kettle on. I am having to remind myself of the song as I write which can’t be a good thing so it has to be strong contender to finish last at around 5/1 when you throw in the draw and their lack of voting allies as demonstrated by their run of non qualifications. I’d have them around 5/2 favourite in that market so it’s bet for me.
The Netherlands (80/1 Best Odds)
Was my each-way dark horse a couple of weeks ago but I can’t deny that I would have preferred a far better draw. As such, a Top 10 interest looks the best way to go now at Evens or better (11/10 tops with Sky Bet) though I remain hopeful that they could sneak a Top 5 (9/2 tops with Boylesports) or better. One of the biggest talking points of this year’s contest is their ten seconds of silence not long after halfway. Don’t worry, he hasn’t forgotten the words, he’s just trying to stand out (or realised they are short of the 3 minutes they are allowed up to) though I have my doubts what the professional jury will make of that. Still, it has given their entry an added focus and any publicity is good publicity and all that. He’s also not uneasy on the eye for the female vote. Easy-listening, acoustic entries have over-performed in recent years which is my main ‘in’ and especially so this year as, after a glut of them stole points off each other last year, this is the only song of its genre this time so can benefit from that. It’s also got a bit of a country feel as did The Netherlands’ second-place finisher two years ago and has arguably the strongest melody of this year’s event. It’s definitely a grower, just a shame about the early draw.
Azerbaijan (300/1 Best Odds)
The Azeri politicians were desperate to win Eurovision when they first entered to help promote their emerging nation and, following a series of high finishes, they got the job done in 2011. Since then, they have not been so bothered. They may also have run out of bung money as there is compelling evidence that dark forces were at work in terms of the 50% jury votes during the year they won. As such, it can be argued that their interest started to drop off two years ago when they finished only 22nd, by far their worst showing and then only 12th last year (never worse than 8th in six other attempts). “It’s going to take a miracle” Samra sings out as part of the chorus and you’re telling me as it’s a bad song with naff dancers. She looks nice in her all-in-one outfit though. Look closely as maybe there’s a bit of a young Nigella Lawson about her?
Hungary (300/1 Best odds)
ideal for people who love a bit of Ben Haenow, whistlers and drummers from Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom. Was depressing on first listen taken from the video but it is better when performed live but by God give the poor man a packet of lockets. Actually, his gravelly voice is the only distinguishing part of the performance so that will be the main talking point and it is those distinctive vocals that makes the best of a fairly average song. With his height, chiselled good looks and half-tucked in shirt, this is more of one for the female vote but it is still hard to see it making the top half from a low draw.
Italy (100/1 Best Odds)
Have recorded ten Top 10s from their last 13 starts but it’s such a shame that they haven’t gone for just Francesca and her piano as seen in one Eurovision event (that would have cleaned up the jury vote) as that leaves this studio version for dead and they have also fared worst of the draw of the six automatic qualifiers. It doesn’t do her any harm she’s bang tidy but a little frustrating for them there is no Portugal this year as they have given Italy most points down the years. Instead that wonderful simplicity (Italy finished second with just a man and his piano a few years ago) has been overlooked for her standing up front like a statue with a drumbeat behind but it’s still a classy song that will score highly with the juries, just not as high as the acoustic version. My feeling is that the verses build up nicely to what appears will be a really strong chorus but the hook then falls a bit flat failing to deliver the heights that it promised. I would all over this for a Top 4 if they went for the piano but instead it now looks like another Top 6-10 finisher for them.
Israel (100/1 Best Odds)
This was originally an entry that I didn’t have a lot of time for but it has been tweaked four times since, is far more effective live than the studio version and will fare well with the professional music juries so my interest has suddenly been perked up. Hovi Star, who is a bit Sam Smith or Antony & The Johnsons (I can’t make my mind up which), can certainly sing and was the artist commissioned to perform the Hebrew versions by Disney for some of their films including Frozen. The fire raining down from the ceiling like at The Olympic Games opening ceremony and Denmark’s winning Eurovision performance three years ago adds eye-catching visuals so it stands out much more than most on the eye. A good overall package that has the potential to outrun its odds.
Bulgaria (125/1 Best Odds)
Only their second performance in the Final at the ninth attempt so Bulgaria clearly struggle for voting allies and do I not like black lipstick. In fact Poli, who failed to get Bulgaria out of the semis in 2011, has opted for a strange look altogether and one thing is certain, she won’t have any problem passing the safety element of her cycling proficiency test. What quite the point of having her dancers join her for just the final ten seconds is a mystery to me – she needs them throughout performing an upbeat number on that big stage so looks a little lost until the end. In a nutshell and all gimmicks aside, it’s just not a very good song. I’m hoping that they will make the market for Serbia in the Top Balkan category.
Sweden (20/1 Best Odds)
The sole Scandinavian entry with Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland all failing to qualify but that quartet are all still allowed to vote so Sweden could benefit from that as they usually pinch points off each other. However, it just strikes me as one of those host entries that says we don’t want to embarrass ourselves but we’d rather not host it again next year thank you very much. It also sounds like Passenger’s Let It Go in places to me and Frans, who has a rather interesting face, also seems quite heavily influenced by Ed Sheeran. It’s pleasant enough, highly likely to be Top 10, but it’s not winning anything.
Germany (500/1 Best Odds)
The rank outsider in a place and this is more about the fantasy-style staging than the song. I can’t help but think that Jamie-Lee has an extensive Lana del Rey collection at home listening to this entry. Germany have tried a few different genres lately from reggae to rap to country to swing and now this haunting-style entry but darker songs have a poor Eurovision record.
France (14/1 Best Odds)
Was the big mover in the market a few weeks ago into as low as 4/1 (even touched 11/4 joint favourite last week after the Russian singer fell in rehearsals) because of the extra focus it is receiving being the first time that France have entered a song performed in English or maybe sympathy from the Paris attacks but it’s always looked too short in the betting to me. Not least as the Big 5 have a terrible record. It can’t be a good thing that they don’t showcase their songs in the semi-finals as they get a pass straight to the Final. Lena won as an automatic qualifier (the only one in the last 20 years) but that was well known beforehand being a Number 1 over much of Europe. As for the entry, I just think it’s an everyday song so it doesn’t stand out on its own accord and Amir lacks stage presence. It’s certainly more of a studio than live song as indicated by their odds going into freefall after punters reacted to Amir’s live rehearsals. France also have a record of underperforming compared to their odds and have a shocking record of late. In fact, they have finished 22nd or worse on seven occasions in the last ten years. Given all that, looking to lay them for a Top 10 or Top 5 given they are outright fourth-favourites may be the way to go.
Poland (200/1 Best Odds)
Time for a stiff drink. There are three terrible elements to this song; the start, the middle and the end. Terrible lyrics and an even worse look unless you are fan of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean so, being a bit of a 1980s power ballad to boot (so of course it has a final key change), it doesn’t have an awful lot going for it. I can’t see many men picking up the phone and saying Poland are the ones for me. Throw in the fact that they have managed just one Top 10 in the last 17 Eurovisions and it’s a bottom four contender. With Poles all over Europe, that is what is putting me off backing them to finish last as they could pick up the odd point here or there and from the Baltic states.
Australia (4/1 Best Odds)
The big mover after the semi-finals into clear second-favourite after finishing fifth on debut last year, I’m not a big fan of the song as find it a little obvious and boring but I have to respect the market move as the act that contracts most at this stage usually goes close. It’s much more about the very strong vocals from Korean-born Dami who won the Australian X-Factor and learned English from listening to the Spice Girls, than the quality of song and there is still a big novelty factor about the Aussies in the event we have to factor into the voting. By the way, China and America are covering Eurovision live for the first time this year so you can see which way this is heading a few years down the line. Given that the 1-2-3-4 in the betting have dominated the end result in recent years, I couldn’t put you off the Russia-Australia forecast as I’m not keen on the third and fourth favourites, Ukraine and France.
Cyprus (200/1 Best Odds)
The Cypriot version of Nickelback, they are up against Georgia for the rock vote and likely to come off second best in that particular head-to-head so no interest here. It’s got a hell of a chance if everyone else boycotts it. Next.
Serbia (100/1 Best Odds)
This is slick and Sanja can certainly sing (has a hell of a gob on her) so I can see them doing pretty well with the jury vote. She’s feeling it and has got a bit of attitude and I definitely wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. The Serbs have also gone back to similar staging to when they last won with a huddle of women surrounding the lead vocalist (though wearing all black rather than all white) and have elected to perform in English for the first time so they are making an effort after boycotting the event in 2014 after failing to get out the semis the previous year. It’s all a bit dark for what is supposed to be a love-fest but 4/5 looks a decent bet to beat Bulgaria and Croatia in just a three-horse race for Top Balkan.
Lithuania (200/1 Best Odds)
If you vaguely remember a guy performing blindfolded in 2012 who finished 14th, this’ll be him. Yes, Donny Montell is back for more and this is a marginally better entry. For everyone’s sake let’s hope he pulls the somersault off without mishap. Some excellent eyebrow work this time but other than that, pretty average stuff.
Croatia (300/1 Best Odds)
Now is the time to put the kettle on. Croatia returns after a two-year absence but I find myself more interested in her dress than the song. God knows what is the purpose of the five druids. Won their version of The Voice. Why do people stick metal in their nose? The correct outsider of three in the Top Balkan category.
Russia (8/13 Best Odds)
Hopefully you got 2/1+ when I suggested Russia should be odds-on a fortnight ago in a year where credible opposition is thin on the ground. They even touched 11/4 last week after Sergey fell in rehearsals – you’ll see how that’s possible half-way through the performance but he has nailed it since including in the semi-finals after which they were heavily supported into a now top price 4/6. Scott Mills hit the nail on the head when he said that you can just smell just how badly Russia want it this time after finishing second last year to the point that it smacks of desperation and they have pulled out every stop throwing the kitchen sink at it attempting to record their second win with an accomplished performer who is very famous across all the ex-Russian states and a visually spectacular staging. The staging is my only slight niggle as some could see it as a rip off of last year. Their only victory was eight years ago and in the light of general bad publicity for their country in politics and drugs in sport, the Russian federation have clearly decided it’s time. The hot favourites also couldn’t have hand picked their draw better. It’s not a draw by the way, they only draw for which half they appear in and then the host broadcaster and Eurovision bods decide exactly when they will perform and the latter have a vested interest where it is hosted next year. If you don’t like the 4/6, there’s a potential in-running angle as for the first time the jury votes are announced first and then the televoting so there could be an over-reaction to them not leading at half-way? I’d be surprised if Russia won the jury vote but I’ll even more surprised if they don’t win the televote, and win it well at that.
Spain (200/1 Best Price)
Typically upbeat for Spain but since televoting came they have a terrible Eurovision record with just one top-nine finish in the last 12 years and that will be extended to 13 years after tonight. Automatic qualifiers have a poor record – it can’t help you don’t see them in the semis – and despite a good draw, it will be surprising if they can finish in the top half with this dance track.
Latvia (100/1 Best Price)
The winners in 2002 but they have just one Top 10 finish since 2005 and failed to even make it to the Final for six years on the spin before last year. A love it or hate it song – Brits will hate it and he doesn’t quite pull off the James Dean look. I think he’s on drugs towards the end.
Ukraine (11/1 Best Price)
The big market mover after the rehearsals from 25/1 into 9/2 aided by a spend of £20K on the lighting alone and very beautiful it is too. However, they have been friendless since the semis pushed out to as big as 11/1 despite receiving a good draw. They missed last year due to political unrest so there could be a sympathy vote but I’d say this is just too political an entry to win called 1944 dealing with the deportation of Crimean tatars in the old Soviet Union with opening lyrics translated to: “When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say we’re not guilty.” Hardly a good feel factor for a Eurovision winner! It will do well with juries and eastern televotes but western televotes look set to let it down. It’s a powerful performance about an emotive subject but it’s borderline that it should even have been allowed in given that political songs are supposedly ineligible. I wouldn’t be shocked if it bombed so the third-favourites have Top 5 lay potential.
Malta (50/1 Best Price)
I sometimes have a soft spot for the Maltese entry but not this year as it’s essentially boring. Pregnant Ira delivers a professional performance and she has positive Eurovision experience having finished runner-up in 2002 but it doesn’t do a lot for me. This is also a fairly late changed of song from what Malta had originally entered.
Georgia (300/1 Best Price)
Starts off with The Knack’s My Sharona beat and then gets worse. It’s part rock part electro so as least it’s not bland, in fact in could be argued to be the most contemporary entry but it’s about as un-Eurovision as you can get and we can rewind 30 years for the video effects. Georgia have been never better than ninth in eight attempts though never humiliated on Final night as 9th-15th all six times they have qualified. I see a similar outcome this time.
Austria (100/1 Best Price)
Strange to hear Austria perform in French. After winning in 2014 the finished last with nil points as hosts last year with not the worst song you’ll ever hear so they clearly need something special to get noted. A bearded lady might be a good idea. Their entry this year is so sugary sweet that you might want to vomit but it’s gaining a momentum and it’s a grower so could sneak a Top 10. She does look naughty.
United Kingdom (66/1 Best Price)
Performed by a couple of losers from The Voice, the UK public had the choice of six songs and chose the least worst where they won despite singing as flat as a pancake. A late draw could mean they are spared a bottom four slot, which was my original prediction when I first heard the song, but I still think they will be doing well not to finish in the bottom ten. The UK have managed just one Top 10 in the last 13 years and that was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber who played the piano on stage to ram that point home.
Armenia (33/1 Best Price)
Strobes, flames, it’s all going on here and she’s got one heck of a pair of pins on her (hello to the outfit) so she wins the Top Fox award hands down. A loser in Germany’s version of The Voice four years ago, she can sing though and they have spent some cash on the production. It’s a dramatic conclusion to the 26 songs alright. With seven Top 10s from nine attempts, Armenia are usually of interest in some way or another but they are short enough in that market now and it’s just not quite strong enough for me to get involved with in the Top 5 market.
Having already recommended RUSSIA when they were 2/1+ a fortnight ago arguing that they should be odds-on, I see no reason to get involved in the outright market again as they are now only a top priced 4/6 so we’re in a very strong position as far as the main bet is concerned. With Russia now such a strong favourite, some bookmakers are betting without the favourite for which AUSTRALIA have now usurped Ukraine and, given how accurate the market has been in recent years, the forecast of a Russia-Australia 1-2 of around 2/1 makes appeal, or just back the Aussies without the favourite at around 6/4.
As far as the specials markets are concerned THE NETHERLANDS remain my dark horses at a now top price of 80/1, part reason for that price being a poor draw of Trap 3. There is a chance that they could sneak a Top 5 at 9/2 but I like the 11/10 about a Top 10 position. The real value with the Douwe Bob and his pals though is the best price 12/1 about them to win the Top Western Country category, especially as I generally want to be against France who are odds-on in that market. A shame there is no each-way on that market though. Other ways to be against FRANCE are to lay them for a Top 10 which should be around 100/30 or a Top 5 which appeals more and should be around 11/8. As France are also as short as 3/10 to win the Big 5 Category (UK, Germany, Spain France and Italy), I also like the idea of backing ITALY to win that section at 4/1. I gave Italy a positive mention two weeks ago if they were going with just her and the piano which came across as very classy, but they’ve gone for the standing-up version with drum beats instead to appeal more to the younger audience and they haven’t been handed the best draw either so I’m less keen on them now as an each-way option but still hopeful they can edge France in this category. ISRAEL is another I like for a Top 10 at 9/4 if I am right the juries will take a real shine to it. SERBIA should be a deal shorter than 4/5 to win the Top Balkan category against just two rivals and I also like CZECH REPUBLIC to finish stone last at around 5/1 on Betfair from the coffin box draw of stall 2 having never qualified for the Final before, having no obvious allies and with an instantly forgettable song.