Clear, concise, comprehensive horseracing analysis and insight from Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, concentrating on jump racing in addition to the best of the Flat and leading Sports events.
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Happy New Year

2/1/23

Happy New Year to you all.

To say that I had a hectic December with my daughter’s wedding, my mother-in-law’s passing, trying to keep on top of the World Cup and a very-rushed Christmas (not aided by my ears yet to still unblock after 17 days as part of this 3 weeks' virus going round so have been unable to engage in any fitness with my balance not being right) would be an understatement so I am looking forward to a more normal January/February and getting back into a weekly, working routine once the funeral has taken place.

I don’t want to blame any of that on what is fair to say wasn’t my best festive period from a results perspective on the racing front where I always felt that I needed a winner just to keep me hanging in there over the first four days and then a disappointing New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Dodgy runs are part and parcel on betting so I’m keeping a positive outlook, so onwards and upwards as we now start the big push towards Cheltenham.

I’ve been quieter than I expected with my ante-post recommendations in the Cheltenham Festival columns prior to 2023, partly because there are so many strong favourites that I am not especially keen to take on so I will more than likely be utilising plenty of Without Favourite markets when they eventually emerge. It’s after the festive period that this weekly column properly kicks in so expect the frequency of recommendations to be more regular starting with next week’s delayed column due to the reasons outlined above.

I usually take a mid-season, three-night European city break to help recharge the batteries in early January but obviously that is not happening this year so it will be an uninterrupted service from next week, though I am tempted to attend the Dublin Racing Festival for the first time so timings may be different that week.

Instead of a break away next week, I will be having a day at the quarter-finals of The Masters from Alexandra Palace which starts on Sunday. There isn’t a better atmosphere in snooker than for this invitational event to the top 16 players in the world and I’ll get to see two matches on the one-table set up.

I haven’t been following the snooker as closely this season but saw that Mark Selby won the latest ranking event when taking the English Open just before Christmas. To say that he has a winners’ mentality when he makes a final is somewhat underplaying that having now won a staggering 17 of the last 19 finals that he has contested and his return to form means the x4 world champion is 8/1 fourth-favourite behind Ronnie O’Sullivan (there is only one event he is working towards this season during Easter), Neil Robertson and Judd Trump who are basically co-favourites at 4/1-9/2.

The player of the season so far with two wins, one runner-up and a semi-finalist in the English Open though is Mark Allen who is my selection at 12/1 and also for followers of Fat Form. John Higgins improved his level for shedding the blubber last season and Allen has done likewise this season for losing close to 5 stones over 4 months. Shaun Murphy has also had improved results this season for his weight loss after a terrible 2021/22 campaign so dismiss Fat Form at your peril!

There is a quick turnaround for Alexandra Palace staff as the World Darts Championship comes to a close tomorrow. Hopefully you have been following my recommendations in the Thought of the Day as my individual-match selections have been going well and Mike Henderson let it be known in a TOTD on the eve of the tournament that he liked Michael Smith for most tournament 180s at 4/1 and a Van Gerwen/Smith final at 14/1 and those two bets are still very much alive heading into tonight’s semi-finals. In the previous blog I highlighted my preference for Smith to win the title at 17/2 so fingers crossed for the next two nights, which if successful, he would complete a hat-trick for us after Price and Wright in 2021 and 2022.

Again, with the wedding and everything else, I’ve not been on top of the NFL this season. That will change once the regular season is over next week as I enjoy watching the Play Offs. I see that Andy Richmond’s pre-season 22/1 pick of the Philadelphia Eagles have been going well, now being 11/2 joint-third favourites alongside the San Francisco 49ers who are also in the NFC. So not far behind the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (7/2 and 4/1) who could easily meet in the AFC championship game for the second year running, so good chances that those who took Andy’s advice could be represented in the Super Bowl with a tasty-priced, ante-post voucher.

I have to say that I enjoyed the World Cup more than I expected and was pleased Argentina beat France in the final on penalties, not only because they were much the better team on the day, but mainly as I had laid out of my pre-tournament position on France once three of their stars were ruled out with injury so that was a relief! Some of the crowd celebrations footage afterwards from Buenos Aries were extraordinary. The French will take some stopping at the Euros which is only 18 months away and not two years as is the norm between these two big international tournaments so they should have pretty much the same squad but with Benzema, Kante and Pogba also available to them. Odds of 11/2 behind the hosts, Germany, looks big to me.

On the domestic front, my pre-season fancies in various Premier League markets (Top 4, Top London Club and Without Man City & Liverpool), Tottenham, have imploded in recent weeks and although we are not quite at half-way, they will do well to finish higher than sixth at this rate. I also don’t expect to be collecting on Nottingham Forest to be Top Promoted Club with Fulham going so well or West Ham without the Big 6 with Newcastle surely having already wrapped that one up. I can only hope that Mo Salah can squeeze into fourth in the Top Goalscorer markets to get most of the place element back from that 9/2 each-way recommendation. We could do with Ivan Toney getting a significant ban for breaking betting regulations to help get away with that but Liverpool do look like they are finally on the march now.  

On a much more positive note, Wolves to be relegated at 5/1 is looking in decent shape at the moment with only Southampton below them but it really is any three from seven with just four points separating the bottom septet. Crystal Palace at 5/2 for a Top 10 is also looking alright being just a point off in eleventh after a slow start as are Leicester at 5/4 to be Top Midlands Club after an even slower start and they have are now within four points of Aston Villa.

Onto the first of the monthly Eurovision Song Contest updates to be held in Liverpool in May and some of the artists are starting to be released but not the songs, which usually start dripping through in February. In fact, Israel were first out of the traps way back in July! I believe that only one song (and artist combined) has been officially announced so far and I can tell you now that the defending champions, Ukraine, clearly have no desire to defend their title this year having heard their offering. Sure still to receive a good public vote, last year's winning song wasn't bad (worthy of finishing just outside the top 5 in a normal year) whereas this year's entry would normally be out with the washing.

There is a change for the semi-finals this year in that it will be public voting only after back-room deals were done by six national juries last year to help get their countries into the grand final. The jury votes were later removed from the final results. Those found guilty of “irregular voting patterns” as the organisers put it were Azerbaijan, Georgia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and San Marino. The final will be a split of public votes and national juries as usual. I’ll put in a request for media accreditation via the preview I write annually for the Sky-backed Attheraces website so, chances I’d say, though I might struggle to get my mate in as my 'official photographer’ using his IPhone camera!

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