Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The King will find a way

Right To Dream came second for a a winning Place recommendation. The Brian Meehan colt was always prominent in the running and a Place spot was never really into doubt.

Tipperary sees the return of Zabarajad on Wednesday, 11 days after its disappointing run in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Provided he's recovered from this exertions in the Classic race, he should take all the beating in this drop in class. John Oxx has a great hand in putting his horses in the right races, and I can see his Invincible Spirit horse break his maiden in the 18:30 race. Zabarajad is recommended as a Win.

In tennis, Rafael Nadal locks horns with Soderling for a place in the semi-finals. The clay king has shown erratic form since the start of the tournament and many wouldn't be surprised if the Swede can capitalize on any misfiring from the Spaniard. Still, I think Nadal will find a way to win this match in the end and looks good value at his current odds. I recommend him to beat Soderling.

Win: Zabarajad, Nadal

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tuesday Preview

The crushing way that Barcelona won the Champions League final on Saturday will have sent a shiver down the spines of every coach and football director of all the major clubs in Europe, about the task at hand to try to overhaul the newly-crowned champs next year. Starting with the knocked-out Red Devils, who must still be wondering what hit them at Wembley.

For, it is really a case of having not just been beaten, but badly stream-rolled twice in the space of three years by the Blaugrana; committing the same mistakes twice is a very rare occurrence for Sir Alex and his team. Even if today Evra aired his wishes to meet Barcelona again in next year's final, you do feel that they look to have a huge mental block to overcome against the mighty European champions. But things can easily change in a year's time, who knows?

But the real difference on Saturday was Lionel Messi. He's the one that puts them on a level that no other club can hope reaching. Without him, maybe Man Utd could have played a bit like their usual selves on Saturday. But with him being omni present on the other side, they were running scared every time he touched the ball. The Spaniards could easily have put 5 against a defence touted as the best in Europe. I hope the hunger for more trophies remains for Messi and co because the threads of a Dynasty could be sewn at this moment.

So long football and back to racing where the countdown to the Derby has started. Ballydoyle has announced its jockey assignments and it is interesting to see that Kieren Fallon is riding again for his former employers. He in fact rejected the ride on Native Khan in favour of Recital. I am a little miffed by the jockey arrangements going on at Ballydoyle at the present. Since Johnny Murtagh left the permanent post, there has been a rotation of jockeys on the top horses in the yard, and champion jockey Ryan Moore has played a major role in filling the vacant spot. I'm questioning the rationale in having him riding So You Think, arguably their flag bearer, when he's mainly attached to ride Michael's Stoute premier performers such as Workforce etc. Would he have the luxury to choose if those 2 superstars were to clash? I would have thought that Stoute would have the first call on Moore, but who knows? Obviously, a few years ago, Ballydoyle got Dettori to ride (and win) on Scorpion in the St Leger, and Godolphin was clearly not too pleased. Frankie had to make it clear that it would never happen again! Anyway, I'm still keeping tabs on Pour Moi for the Epsom Classic.

Tomorrow Tuesday, I like Right To Dream in the 16:15 race at Leicester. The Oasis Dream colt stayed on for 3rd on his debut ten days ago at 6 furlongs. That run should have brought him on and I see him being in the first 3. Probably another contender is Universal from Godolphin who was an eye-catching 4th on his debut a fortnight ago. I recommend Right To Dream as a Place, and Universal seems a good value for a Place if at odds-against.

Place: Right To Dream

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Grand Final

Saturday sees Wembley takes centre-stage for the "biggest show on Earth" as football titans Barcelona and Man Utd clash in the Champions League (CL) final. So much has been written on this final, from Barcelona's fantastic football to Man Utd's rigid defence. All angles are being covered in the media with the aim to predict the outcome of the match. Even the Wall Street Journal is having its say on what makes Barca the super team they are.

There won't be a recommendation from me because this game could turn into anything. At current odds, Barcelona is too short. On the other hand, who would be brave enough to say that a Man Utd win is a certainty? However spectacular these 2 teams are, there isn't even a certainty that the football that will be played will be of great quality. A final with such high stakes can transform the greatest offensive team into a defensive giant.

What is certain is that Barcelona is the best team in the world going into this game. They play the best football, they have the best players, and they have someone called Lionel Messi. But in a final played in 90 minutes, extra time and penalities, they are beatable, just like Real Madrid beat them in the Copa del Rey. They are not invincible. 

I've repeated many times that Man Utd have over-achieved this year, and they will have to over-achieve even more to have a chance to win the final. They have something intangible that Barcelona maybe don't have (or more appropriately, haven't needed to have); a fighting never-say-die spirit, inherited from their manager, that always gives them a chance even when they seem to be after a losing cause. Think the CL 99 League final against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp!

Two years ago, Barca beat Man Utd 2-0 in the final at Rome. Most observers agree that on the match overall, this was the right result. The better part of the observers have also noted that Man Utd dominated the match in the first 10 minutes and had 2 great chances to score, before Samuel Eto'o turned the match on its head with a brilliant goal. I am not saying that Man Utd would have won if they had scored first in the first 10 minutes, but it is certain that the match would have been different than the 1-sided proposition we saw after that first goal.

So can Man Utd do something this time? I believe they can. Historically, their manager Ferguson has relished being the final underdog. His Aberdeen side beat mighty Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners Cup final. His Man Utd team won its first European trophy under his helm by beating heavily-favored Barcelona in the 1991 version. It will be a matter of how he comes up with the tactics again to stifle a potent opponent. Which brings me to a momentous but yet not-too-much-talked point of this final; where is Barcelona's weak point, if there's any? For me it's the central defense, notably the Pique-Puyol axis.

Let there be no misinterpretation, Pique and Puyol form a solid defence, almost but not quite as stingy as the Ferdinand-Vidic pairing. Barca's football means that everything starts from Pique to its ever-mobile midfielders. The classy defender has been likened to Beckenbauer for his very stylish and mobile style. The fact that Barcelona have 70% of ball possession in their matches means that their defence is rarely ever subject to constant testing. Real Madrid has shown in a few of the El Clasico encounters that they can be stretched and exposed and the Ronaldo goal that settled the Copa del Rey was a case where the defenders were all at sea. I believe Alex Ferguson will have witnessed that and this is an area where Chicharito's speed and intelligence can cause serious damage.

In another twist of fate, it was Ferguson who let go of Pique to his native Barcelona because of the surge of Johnny Evans in the reserve ranks. A seemingly innocuous deal that in hindsight, has transformed the Catalans into a powerhouse and changed the football world. On Saturday, the Man Utd coach will be aiming his strikers to do his rare "bad" decision some justice and beat his former pupil.

My hope for this final is that the Pedro's, Busquet's and Alves' keep their playacting on the side so that the referee-ing does not have any impact on the result. I've recommended both teams many times in this CL campaign and they have done all my recommendations justice. I believe this game will be decided out of a brilliant play somewhere. If it's decided on penalties, so be it, that's part of football.

This is a final and I'm going to have a punt regardless of whether it's safe or not. I will go lightweight for Man Utd +0.5 +1.0 on the Asian Handicap. Not a recommendation; just that I think the stars are aligned for them to win it in the end. Van der Sar's last game will have him pumped up. Ji-Sung Park, the da Silvas, Valencia, Chicharito, Berbatov, etc for a first CL medal. I wouldn't mind that outcome. Come on Man Utd!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Build ups for a flourish

The recommended exacta was perfect as Lexington Spirit led home Princess Banu in the first race at Newcastle.

Workforce won on his seasonal debut and the fact that he dismissed Jan Vermeer and Cavalryman by more than 11 lengths indicates that he has lost none of his ability. In fact, he might be even better than last year! The bookies were quick enough to tag him as the new favourite for the King George and Arc. A little too early in my opinion, given that there are others like So You Think, St Nick Abbey, and Pour Moi as potential 12 furlong specialists.

Talking of Pour Moi's trainer Andre Fabre, the Montjeu colt has been tagged as his best ever chance to win the Derby this year. Strong words for a trainer reputed for not talking up the chances of his horses. But I am in total agreement with him. At this point, Pour Moi is my fancy for the Epsom Classic, ahead of Carlton House. We'll see how things develop until then, but I can very well see the French raider finishing in the Top 3 at Epsom.

In football, the countdown to the Champions League final is turning into a journalist's nightmare. Barcelona and Man Utd are spending time praising each other; no finger pointing, no arrogance, no flashy remarks, in contrast to what we've seen with the Real Madrid/Barcelona build-ups. It's clear the teams respect each other, let's hope the game will be in those sporting spirits as well (note to Busquets, Alves, Mascherano, Pedro, Rooney).

Speaking of Madrid, the internal war between Mourinho and Valdano has turned to the Portuguese favour (no surprise there). Valdano is out and Zidane is in. As in the past, the Special One will do things his way and probably will be successful with Madrid. It's only after he leaves that others will be left to try to pick up what remains. Tough ask for his poor successor.

Finally, I'm watching with interest the hardships of Rafael Nadal at the French open. He's still in contention and I expect him to go to the final, but am not so sure whether he's a certainty for winning his 6th title this year. If he's not at his best and meets the awesome Djokovic, I would be inclined to say that the Serb gets my vote on this one. Let's see if the Spaniard can get his dominating form back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thursday preview

Racing on Thursday sees the return of Workforce, last season's Derby and Arc winner. The Juddmonte star will carry a 7-lb penalty and is set to need the run, according to the connections. The fact that they diverged from last week's Tattersall's Gold Cup means that they wanted to avoid a clash with So You Think on his return. There are a couple of decent sorts in tomorrow's race with the likes of Cavalryman and Jan Vermeer. This race will be more for the knowledge base, and will be a litmus test as to where these horses are fitness-wise and ability-wise.

My views are set on the first race at Newcastle where I predict a finish between Lexington Spirit and Princess Banu. I cannot see Vieira Da Silva or Island Bird playing any kind of major role in this race. So an exacta in any order between the Lexington Spirit and Princess Banu is recommended.

Exacta: Lexington Spirit/Princess Banu

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Equine stars on show

A mixed week-end where the highweight fancy (recommended) on So You Think got me out of the woods. Crystal Gem also placed as advised, but Overdose, Zabarajad and Al Zir all flopped badly.

So You Think, the monster horse... what else more can I say? He's justifying all the confidence in him in spectacular fashion, and I just hope he steers clears of injuries and races to his potential the whole way. This horse is like the visual incarnation of the "Black Stallion" from Walter Farley's novel. At this time, I would be confident in recommending this horse against anything else racing at any distance from ten furlongs to 2 miles in Europe.

Overdose, the flop. The daggers have been out from all quarters on this horse since it was tamed in the Temple Stakes at Haydock. I must admit my confidence in it winning that sprint was misplaced. There are no real excuses to find for his defeat. The jockey can point to his need for cut in the ground, but I don't think it would have won even if it was softer. What I don't agree with however, is for critics to label this horse as having been over-hyped from day one and that he only beat inferior class. To those, I refer to the Prix L'Abbaye of a couple of years back where the "Budapest Bullet" trounced a genuine Group 1 field only to have the race annulled. So to me, he was clearly a real Group 1 performer, but it could very well be that he's no longer the same horse after all the injuries that have afflicted him in the past year, as demonstrated by his disappointing run on Saturday.I would love if he proved me wrong and got back to his best and confound his critics.

Super mare Goldikova made a winning return at a 9 furlong distance that stretched her to her limits. Signs are she has lost none of her racing abilities and I hope she can go to Ascot to take on Canfford Cliffs. If she's on her A game, there's every chance she'll teach the Hannon superstar a lesson, in my opinion.

Roderic O'Connor won the Irish Guineas and Richard Hughes is drawing the criticism for kicking Dubawi Gold home too late. That's one thing that I see Hughes doing all too often; he just seems to be the one getting off the bridle last on a fast finisher because he tries to get the minimum out of the horse to win. Maybe his idea is to preserve some of the horse for his next race. Well, it seems to have cost him big time in the Irish Classic and even his yard was non-so pleased with the ride.

Another non-judicious ride was on show when Animal Kingdom came too late to deny Shackleford in the Preakness at Pimlico. Velasquez had his mount way too far from the pace and thereby lost his chance for the Triple Crown. Regretful indeed.

Finally, in the Premier League, the last day was filled with high drama and emotions, as expected. It went down to the last minute with Birmingham and Blackpool losing the relegation battle in the end, after it looked like they could have a fighting chance to be safe. The only thing left in football right now is the big one at Wembley this Saturday with Man Utd and Barcelona clashing in the European Cup final. It promises to be a dream final between European super weights and I will certainly get to it as it nears.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Week-end Preview

Rather average resultson Thursday where only 2 of the 4 recommendations hit the target. La Estrella and Solar Sky won, but the 2 Godolphin starters flopped badly with Huma Bird and Light Burst unplaced.

This coming week-end of racing is as exciting as I can ever remember, particularly because of the presence of foreign stars showcasing their talents. Let's start in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock where Overdose finally gets the chance to justify his massive reputation as one of the best sprinters in the world. If he's anywhere near his best, he will win. In my opinion, the only horse that could give him some sort of challenge in this race is Kingsgate Native. Still, I think the Budapest Bullet is one level above and I recommend him to Win.

In the first race at Lingfield, I can see Crystal Gem from the Hannon yard to win or place in the 5-horse field. The yard is in great form and opposition does not look anything special. I recommend the Cadeaux Genereux filly as a Place.

In the 15:20 Listed Festival Stakes at Goodwood, Al Zir makes a lot of appeal. The 10 furlong distance will suit the Godolphin star for his debut, and barring any fitness issues, he should be in the first 3. He is thus recommended as a Place.

The Irish 2000 Guineas will be run on Saturday and this looks to be a very close contest. I like the chances of Zabarajad, who looks to progress from his second place a little more than a fortnight ago. Although there are some big names in the field like Dubawi Gold and Roderic O'Connor, there is nothing in there that screams as a banker. So, I would put a lightweight recommendation on Zabarajad to Place, as long as its Place odds are around or over 2/1.

Still at the Curragh on Sunday, there does not look like anything can stop So You Think in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. He's my punt of the week-end and is a highweight recommendation to Win.

In football, the Premier League will solve the last remaining piece of this year's puzzle, i.e, the relegation battle. There are 2 spots to be filled between most probably 3 teams; Wigan, Birmingham and Blackpool. All of the 3 relegation candidates will be travelling to teams that do not have much to play for as their last match. Wigan go to Stoke, Birmingham to Tottenham and Blackpool to Man Utd. So, much will decide on the hosts' team sheets at kick-off time. I cannot see any of the visitors winning and the most they can hope for is a valuable point, in my opinion. My feeling is that Wigan will lose at Stoke. Same for Blackpool where even a Man Utd B team have enough firepower to beat them. Birmingham might snatch a point that saves them at White Hart Lane, but they won't win there. So, for me, it's Wigan and Blackpool to go down, but it would be speculative to have a recommendation on the unfolding of this battle.

Win: Overdose, So You Think.
Place: Zabarajad, Crystal Gem, Al Zir.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thursday racing

Porto beat Braga 1-0 to win the Europa League for 2 winning recommendations.

The racing season is in full flow at the moment and the race cards are coming thick and fast. At Southwell, La Estrella puts her 8-race unbeaten record at the track in the Claiming race at 15:15. Unless there is a significant reason behind her 51-day absence from the tracks, she should be very hard to beat in this race. I recommend her as a Win.

At Sandown, the first race could see the winning debut of Huma Bird from the Godolphin stable. Besides Nayarra, the rest of the field looks very exposed, so Huma Bird shouldn't have to be exceptional to perform them among this lot. The 5 furlong distance looks adequate for the Invincible Spirit filly and she's recommended as a Place.

In the first race at Salisbury, I like Light Burst, also from the Godolphin contingent. Hard Spun progenies are making their track debut this year and his first turf runner scored last week. I really think Hard Spun has the capacity to be one the last great sons of Danzig on both sides of the Atlantic. He's got the racing form and the pedigree. The opposition for Light Burst will come from Right Result, the Acclamation colt from the Hannon yard. I recommend a 1-2 exacta here with Light Burst/Right Result in any order.

Finally in the 17:05 race at Haydock, Solar Sky from the Henry Cecil yard makes a lot of appeal. This Galileo colt was beaten into second by stablemate World Domination on his debut and will take a lot of beating if he's progressed since then. The form from that race looks rock solid with third-place Reflect winning a few days back. Solar Sky is recommended as a Win.

Win: La Estrella, Solar Sky
Exacta: Light Burst/Right Result
Place: Huma Bird

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Europa final

The Europa final takes place on Wednesday between two Portuguese outfits Porto and Braga. I won't go through many ways to say that I can barely see Braga winning this.

Braga is a good side but its main strength is playing on home ground where it is really formidable. It is very poor on its travels and that does not bode well even when playing on a neutral site. I've selected Braga to good effect on their home matches this year and it's worked well, but I cannot recommend them when they are playing away from home.

Porto, on the other hand, are Portuguese champions this year because they are effective on the road as well. They are certainly a more complete team than Braga. Obviously, this is a final and anything can happen in a final. But for me, Porto is a much better team and looks the likelier to lift the Cup at the end. I recommend them as Cup winners as well as draw-no-bet.

Europa Winner: Porto
Draw-no-bet: Porto

Musings from the week-end

Apologies for the time off updating the blog. It all started with the Blogger web sites problems, which seemed to take forever to be fixed, and which prevented me from giving the week-ends predictions.

Going back to my last predictions last Wednesday, they were all bang on. Noble Graduate and Last Crusade were the exacta I mentioned. Midday won on her return and Lyric Street won his weak race as well. West Ham have been relegated at the week-end and I just couldn`t see it otherwise given their poor away form all season.

Doing some round-up in what I thought were the major headlines this past week-end in the world of sports that I select to follow. Nothing much new to add in football with Man Utd and Barcelona claiming the spoils as expected. Man City won the FA Cup but I join the chorus of disapprovals regarding this game being played on a usual Saturday game day. If the FA Cup has lost its past lustre, it`s not because Man Utd opted out of it one year a decade back to play the World Club Championship in Brazil. It`s not because it was played in Cardiff for a few years while the old Wembley was being restored. It`s because of things like this where the recognition of the Final being traditionally played on the Saturday following the season end, is lost among a day of Saturday fixtures. Typically, the worst nightmare scenario for the FA ominously occured right this year when Man City`s Cup triumph coincided with Man Utd`s clinching of the Premier League title. While the City of Manchester had every reason to be in cheers, two of the biggest headlines in English football had to be shared into one.

The thing with the FA Cup is that its magic transcends British shores. Ask a French football fan about The Cup and he won`t be talking about La Coupe de France. Nor will a Spanish be talking of Copa del Rey. The Cup, as they know it, is the FA Cup. And sadly its significance is being lost by the very people that were tasked to restore it to its previous glory.

I am being amazed by what is unfolding in tennis. If someone had told me at the start of the year that Nadal would be playing some of his best tennis and still lose 4 finals in a row to Djokovic, I would have been laying all day and night. I`m glad for my pocket that I never got that chance. Djokovic has been playing unbelievable tennis for the last while, and nothing from the past could have suggested he would be that dominant against his peers in that way. From a punting point of view, he now seems value every time he meets a Top 5 opponent, since that`s about the only time his odds are not around 1.01, and he seems he`ll still find the way to win. The Serb is the most improved athlete I can think of om years. He was good, but nowhere near that kind of good.

In racing, Canford Cliffs confirmed all the positive vibes surrounding him by dominating the Lockinge. I`m like the rest of racing fans and awaiting a Frankel, Goldikova, Cliffs showdown. I just hope that the mare is still at her best, and if she can put the young male pretenders to their place, then so be it.

Last word in golf where Tiger is making headlines for the wrong reasons by pulling out of the Player`s Championship due to injury. Suddenly, everyone is questioning whether his quest for beating Jack Nicklaus` Major record is still possible. In my opinion, it`s probably too early to have any kind of judgement regarding his abilities or record quest. The gap between him and the rest has certainly narrowed a considerable bit, and the young guns like Mc Ilroy won`t be feeling the inferiority complex that the rest of the field have. It`s game on for Tiger and he needs a big win at a Major this year to get a good part of his aura back. US Open may be? we`ll see.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thursday racing

Esentepe came out a disappointing 3rd, which is out of placings in the 7-horse field. It seems I have started a bad streak in some of the latest recommendations, so probably best to re-assess the ones I'm currently giving as sometimes a bad streak can linger even if the same basic fundamentals that were previously successful are being applied. Anyway, looking at the racing cards on Thursday, I can spot a few interesting plays.

The main card of interest for the racing crowd is at York where Derby hopefuls will be put to the test in the Dante Stakes. I must say this race is too close to call although I do have a slight preference for World Domination. But all the participants could be anything, so I will simply watch the race with interest and hopefully have a good idea of the eventual Derby winner. In the Group 2 Middle Stakes, Midday makes her seasonal return. I cannot show see her being out of placings here, so I recommend her as a Place. She should actually be winning this, there's just a question mark as to her fitness.

In the 19:25 Maiden race at Newmarket, I like Lyric Street, a Hurricane Run colt who came out 3rd of  11 in his only outing last year. The 10 furlong race looks a good distance for his return to the tracks, and I believe he should be in the first 3. So a Place is recommended on the Luca Cumani colt.

Finally, at Gowran Park, the first race should go between Last Crusade and Notable Graduate. This duo looks good for an exacta in this 3-horse race.

Exacta: Notable Graduate/Last Crusade.
Place: Midday, Lyric Street

Monday, May 9, 2011

The race is over

A rather disappointing week-end of predictions as only 3 out of 6 came out correct. Man Utd, Rangers and Valencia won well, while Tottenham, Fulham and Bolton all failed to win. I can't recall as bad a strike rate as this.

Obviously, the news of the week-end was Man Utd's win against Chelsea that all but handles them the title. Deservedly so. I believe this defeat will have game-changing repercussions for the Londoners. While the press is speculating vividly about the future of manager Ancelotti, a drastic change in player personnel seems to be the logical follow-up for a team that can be considered "old" and on the decline for the past few years. An overhaul  will have to occur if Ambramovich is to realize his dream of landing his holy grail, the European Cup. Drogba, Anelka, Terry, and Lampard look past their primes while Alex, Boswinga, Ferreira and Zhirkov have failed to convince. On the other hand, Man Utd are a blend of youth and experience that will get better with time.

While the top of the table is settled, things at the bottom are very much open and in flux to say the least. I see West Ham going down. They seriously damaged their survival hopes by drawing at home to fellow strugglers Blackburn over the week-end. They will now have to win their remaining 2 games (away at home to Wigan and at home to Sunderland) while hoping to for favourable results elsewhere, to have a chance. Not impossible but too many ifs, and given their poor recent form with the absence of Scott Parker, things don't look bright for them. I recommend West Ham to be relegated.

Two other results of note in the world of sports. In tennis, Djokovic did the near-impossible by defeating Nadal on clay in Madrid. The Serb is still amazingly undefeated in 2011. There are now 2 dominant forces in tennis to be followed in all the big tournaments; Djokovic and Nadal. Exit Roger Federer.

In racing, Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby followed by Nehro, on which I opined in the last blog. The fact that Animal Kingdom has a turf pedigree and has never raced on dirt before, is very eye-catching. His maternal grand-sire is Acatenango, and he's therefore blessed with stamina. Definitely chances of the Triple Crown are very much alive here for this colt.

Still in racing, at Warwick on Tuesday, Esentepe from the Hannon yard runs in the 6-furlong Fillies' Maiden race at 14:40. The 2-year old Oratorio filly did her best work late on her debut at 5 furlongs at Salisbury 9 days ago. Unless any or some of the newcomers are special, she should be among the first 2 and is recommended as a Place.

Relegation: West Ham
Place: Esentepe

Friday, May 6, 2011

Title Showdown

 Today Friday, got 2 good racing recommendations out of 3; Elnawin won its race at Ascot at 13/2 for an excellent return while Royal Liaison came out Placed 3rd at Hamilton. Fine Style, on the other hand, could only come out 3rd while I expected it to win.

Here we go for the week-end's predictions; Sunday sees the deciding game in the Premier League where the winner takes all at Old Trafford. Man Utd host Chelsea and on paper, are favourites to beat their rivals and all but secure the title.

Alex Ferguson came up with a masterstroke this week by fielding a weakened Utd side to beat Schalke and qualify for the Champions League final. This allowed most of his first team to rest for the showdown with Chelsea. A bold decision that would have been classified suicidal if Schalke had caused an upset; but upset there was none. So will a rested Utd full team be able to overcome a Chelsea team that will be not only apt to defend its title but also look for revenge after its ouster at the hands of the Red Devils in the Champions League? I think so. Utd are excellent at home and are in good form. Their confidence will be boosted by their recent qualification to the European final. Even Chelsea fans will recognize that their team has been on the lucky end of the referees' decisions in their past games and should actually be more than 3 points adrift. Drogba and co won't go without a fight but it will be a daunting task of them to go win at Old Trafford. They did it last year, but the circumstances were different. Unless they get the rub of the referee-ing again, which is not impossible, Chelsea will not win on Sunday, in my opinion. I recommend a draw-no-bet on Man Utd.

In the other EPL games, I see the Tottenham v/s Blackpool game being high-scoring, and the hosts should prevail. I recommend them as an outright win. I like Bolton's chances against Sunderland as the Black Cats are having a lot of injury problems at the meantime. Bolton is a recommended draw-no-bet. Fulham hosts Liverpool and to me, the Cottagers are the big value bet of the week-end. They are difficult to deal with on home soil, and Liverpool do have trouble on the road. So I see Fulham as a draw-no-bet is an excellent-return value punt.

In Spain, Barcelona play after Madrid's visit to Sevilla, so it's useless to speculate on the outcome at the Nou Camp as much of it will depend on how things turn out at the Sanchez Pizjuan. I like Valencia's chances at home to Real Sociedad. The latter beat Barcelona in fortuitous circumstances last week, and will welcome any precious points on the road until the end of the season. Valencia are on see-saw form of late but should have too much firepower for the visitors. I recommend the hosts as draw-no-bet.

In Scotland, the tables have been turned upside down with the defeat of Celtic at the hands of Inverness in mid-week. The advantage is in the Rangers camp, who host Hearts at Ibrox. The visitors are a decent team by Scottish league standards and did beat Rangers earlier this year. However with the momentum on their side, I cannot see Walter Smith's side losing this encounter at home. I recommend them as draw-no-bet.

Finally two things of note in racing. First, St Nicholas Abbey returned to winning ways today by trouncing a second-grade field at Chester. If this run confirms his return to this old self, then we're in for a treat as far as the rest of the campaign at Classic distances go. An Arc or King George with Workforce, So You Think, St Nick Abbey, Planteur could be very interesting...

Second and last, the Kentucky Derby will be run on Saturday. This year's edition looks like a competitive affair with no colt really standing out. Most of the field goes there with good form behind them and it seems that tactics and the weather could play a big part in the outcome. Without going through any recommendation, I think this race might benefit a closer and Nehro seems to be a very good one. I will also take a particular look at Master of the Hounds, the European representative from the Ballydoyle operation. The odds are stacked against it as it's never run on dirt before. However, who knows, anything seems possible in this year's race.

Win: Tottenham
Draw-no-bet: Man Utd, Bolton, Fulham, Valencia, Rangers.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday Racing Preview.

A Man Utd "B" team crushed Schalke yesterday for a winning recommendation. What a mouth-watering Wembley final that looks like it will be. A few months ago, I was saying that there wouldn't be any English team in the Champions League final as the leading teams seemed to be on a re-building process. How wrong was I! I still think they are a notch down from their dominating selves a few years back, but Man Utd has proved good enough to reach the final. They have over-achieved, they have displayed impressive cohesion as a unit, and by no means do they go beaten in advance against Barcelona. I will get to the final when the time comes, but it promises to be a genuine attacking display, contrary to the Clasico encounters.

On Thursday, I see a few value bets in racing. At Ascot, I like Elnawin in the last race. He will relish the distance and fast conditions, and the opposition seems average. So he's a Place recommendation.

At Hamilton, I like two of Michael Bell's horses running. In the 19:05 Handicap, Fine Style who won 11 days ago, seems ahead of the handicapper. He's got a great chance for a repeat win among this exposed lot, and should be in the first 3. I recommend him as a Win. In the 20:15 Maiden Stakes, Royal Liaison takes a lot of appeal among an average bunch. She would prefer some rain, so she's recommended as a Place. Go Mick Fenton and Michael Bell!

Win: Fine Style.
Place: Elnawin, Royal Liaison.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Final bound

Barcelona are through to the Wembley final after dispatching Real on aggregate. No real news there. I believe Man Utd will follow them tonight as they try to finish off Schalke at Old Trafford. Ferguson has admitted to having an eye on the crucial Chelsea game over the week-end, so with the 2-0 advantage secured in Germany, he's bound not to play his best team. So Rooney looks to be rested. Even so, I cannot see Man Utd lose that game. For sure they'll qualify and a draw-no-bet on the Red Devils looks safe too.

The main news on Tuesday was the withdrawal of Frankel from Derby considerations; Henry Cecil, his trainer, having serious doubts whether this super horse with such stunning speed and acceleration could endure the stamina-laden challenges of classic distances. Obviously, fans, pundits and even pedigree analysts have diverging opinions on that one, and the question can only be answered if he is tried at those distances. Until then, any guess is speculative at best. Here's my take looking at it pedigree-wise.

There is no lack on stamina on the sire side since he's from the proven stayer and sire of stayers Galileo. It's mainly on the dam side that there are question marks. He's by the Danehill mare Kind, who only ran at sprint distances. Before we can conclude that there is a lack of staying power on this half of the pedigree, it is to be noted that Kind is out of a Rainbow Quest mare, is a half-sister to high-class stayer Powerscourt, and has produced a horse of middle-distance caliber in Bullet Train. So, stamina is clearly not lacking. Also, the fact that Kind always ran below 7 furlongs in Group races does not mean that she could not have run further and win.

So, it seems to me that Frankel could see out the Derby distance and would have had a great chance in the June Classic race given that there is nothing in the 3-year old division that is hinting as superstar status at staying distances. Except may be stablemate World Domination. In fact, this could very well be the answer to all the debate. Maybe the plans from the Cecil yard is to have Frankel plunder all the prizes at shorter and mile distances while World Domination will do the  same at 10 furlongs and further; two Juddmonte-owned stars kept apart and ran at their best-suited distances to beat anything in their class. We'll just have to see how it pans out, and if World Domination really proves to be that good, then so much the better for everyone!

Draw-no-bet: Man Utd

Monday, May 2, 2011

Frankel is the real deal

10 good recommendations out of 13 was the result that came out of this week-end. Frankel, Lille, PSG, Borussia, Milan, Napoli, Bayern, Man City, Twente, PSV all won while all 3 that bombed were teams that are still active in the Champions League (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Man Utd). Coincidence or not, it looks as if Champions League involvement does have an impact on the next league match.

Case in point: Man Utd were absolutely dominating against Schalke in mid-week, yet against the Gunners, the Red Devils were uninspiring and devoid of the creativity and flair that made football fans in awe just a few days ago. Hard to think that it was nearly the same starting eleven. As for the Spanish giants, it always looked as if their minds were on the return leg on Tuesday than anything else. A Madrid win earlier during the day would, in my opinion, forced Barcelona to play for the win, but the Madrid loss clearly allowed the Catalans to go easy on the gas pedal and this played in favor of Real Sociedad. So clearly disappointing cases of Champions League impacts but lessons learned.

As for the EPL itself, which seems to be blown wide open, I think Man Utd are still in command. In fact, with their odds creeping higher because of the week-end's turn of events, I think it value to still lump on them. The fact is Chelsea will have to keep having good fortune on their side to go beat the Red Devils at Old Trafford. I'll get to that when I preview next week-end's matches.

The story of the week-end for me was Frankel's stunning display in the 2000 Guineas. Not that he was not expected to win (recommended to win here), but the manner of his win was impressive, at least visually. Not many champions of the past would have been able to display that kind of 'catch me if you can' attitude. Frankel has proven he's versatile enough to either follow the pace, or set it himself, which is a very rare trait even for a champion. I think, horse racing folks, that the Flat season this year could be very special. Imagining a clash among Frankel, Ballydoyle's So You Think (who won today), and last year's champion Workforce, is just mouth-watering at this point.

Finally, as mentioned above, tomorrow is the last of the El Clasico's between Barcelona and Madrid. Hard to think that I'm saying this, but I've gotten enough of these, and I can't wait for the match to be over regardless of who goes through. After the first one that led to a Barcelona 5-0 rout, the promise was there for the remaining 3 to be matches of a lifetime. It turns out that Mourihno's negative tactics, and both team's theatrics and  lack of sportsmanship have made these Clasico matches a bore, a shame. I've seen enough of Marcelo, Alves, Pedro and Sergio's play-acting (yes the same Sergio that got Motta wrongfully dismissed against Inter last year). It's more than annoying to see that every time the referee makes a call, he's senselessly being mobbed. Mourinho plays not to lose and is scared to play Barcelona even with the world-class players in his possession. Barcelona will qualify because they've already struck the decisive blow at the Bernabeu. No need for a recommendation, and no need to watch (at least for me) either.