Friday, March 30, 2012

Dubai World Cup 2012

This week-end is all about the Dubai World Cup meeting. An absolutely sublime race-card where every race looks to be hotly contested. There are definitely no certainties, but here are my thoughts on the races.

Godolphin Mile - Godolphin have a strong hand in this race with African Story, Sandagiyr and Do It All. My preference goes to the first 2 as they have solid form on the Tapeta surface. African Story has been the subject of rave reviews from the team in blue and looks set to go at very short odds. I believe Sandagiyr as a Place looks good value here.

Dubai Gold Cup - This is a truly open race with at least 5 real contenders. Opinion Poll is a genuine performer and will be suited by the distance. Fox Hunt has been impressive and perfect in his 2 outings at Meydan this year. Zanzamar from the de Kock team isn't without a chance as well. The one to lay and who looks to have nothing to do in this race is Grand Vent, who was a well-beaten favourite last time out. Dettori has chosen Opinion Poll with whom he has a superb record, and they look provide the best value as a Place.

UAE Derby - A race with a lot of intrigue with newcomers Wrote and Daddy Long Legs from the Ballydoyle contingent and Helmet from Australia. The latter is a beautiful horse but I have strong reservations he will last the distance. He is a big lay for me and this is how I am going to tackle this race. The winner could come from anywhere really.

Al Quoz Sprint - this race is like the Group 1 sprints in Britain where each takes turn to win. Best to avoid this race completely.

Golden Shaheen - Everyone is hyping Rocket Man but I just don't think he's the same horse as previous years. I really like the horse but I have no reservations saying that he is a lay for me in this contest. The Factor is also overly hyped from the American base and his chances will vanish if he's involved in a speed duel from the start. He's unproven on the Tapeta, no matter how encouraging his works on the surface have been. The horse to beat in this race, in my opinion, is Sepoy, who brings solid form from Down Under. The only issue with him is how well he's adapted to the Tapeta. If he does, he will be at the finish. It might be worth having an each-way punt on Sepoy.

Dubai Duty Free - this is Mike de Kock's best chance for a winner with Musir and Mutahadee. Musir's last race was a disappointment and there is certainly the danger that he's lost form or is no longer the horse he was earlier in the Carnival. If he is on top form, he'll be in the whereabouts. Mutahadee has been one of the surprise packages of the Carnival and looks well-fancied by connections. The main danger for them will come from Ambitious Dragon, the star from Hong Kong. It would not be a surprise if he won this. One that has no chance in my books is Delegator, for which the distance looks to be too long. I have no idea why Godolphin placed him in this race. He is one of the biggest lays of this meeting. If Musir looks good on race day, a Place on him might be rewarding given his odds.

Sheema Classic - I like the Ballydoyle horses here in Treasure Beach and St Nicholas Abbey. The former is a tough horse who always gives the best of himself. He looks like a good Place punt. If St Nicholas Abbey reproduces his form of last year's Breeders Cup, he will be a serious contender. Cirrus des Aigles will also be a major player if he holds his form of last year. He was well beaten on his seasonal appearance on a synthetic surface in France, explaining his switch to this race from the DWC. Songcraft is a honest performer and it would not be surprising if he were to snatch a place at the finish.

Dubai World Cup - this does not seem to be the popular way to go, but I do not give much chance to Royal Delta or Game On Dude. The first one has won on synthetic and from reports, has looked impressive in the morning workouts at Meydan. Those are the only positives I can see. She's been trounced on her seasonal appearance a few weeks back and she looks over-hyped from her Breeders Classic (Ladies version) victory last year. She's a big lay. Game On Dude is unproven on the surface and doesn't look like he will be able to free-wheel in the lead. I see his efforts petering out as they enter the straight. For me, if So You Think is at his best and takes to the surface, he'll be the one to beat. I hope that this year Aidan O'Brien manages him as he deserves. Obviously, any of the Godolphin horses can spring an upset, particularly Monterosso who's bound to improve from his encouraging last outing. Although it is hard to assess their true form, the Japanese also can play a major role and it would not surprise me if they were to celebrate again at the end, just like they did with Victoire Pisa last year. The value for me when I look at the exchanges is Master of Hounds. He is proven on the Tapeta and his No 1 draw might not be as bad as others think as long as he breaks well and keeps up with the pace. I think he's a good but hopeful Place punt.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Montjeu the Majestic Stallion

Barcelona drew with Milan. The no-score match gave the Milanese hope for the return match; if they can achieve another draw other than nil-nil, they will be through. I don't think it will happen. Barcelona are poised to make the difference at home next week.

Really sad news today to hear of the death of Montjeu, one of the world's greatest stallions at the age of 16. A real tragedy for the sport and the breed, as there was no better sire of world-class performers at Classic distances. His stock have dominated the important 12-furlong races of the past years, having provided Derby winners such as Motivator, Authorized and Pour Moi. Names such as Hurricane Run, Scorpion, Fame and Glory, Camelot, St Nicholas Abbey to name a few are testament to his contribution to the breed. His name always stood out for me when analyzing Group middle-distance races. A great loss, not just for Coolmore.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Clash of 2 giants

Nothing to crow about over the week-end results with 6 winners, 2 losers and 1 voided. Swansea and Liverpool proved to be 2 badly-inspired selections.

The highlight of the week-end for me was the Peter Crouch goal against Man City. Clearly my vote of goal of the year and it will be hard to find a better one. There's everything in his goal; control, vision, precision matched with the perfect shot. For someone his stature, that was astonishing. Crouch is a good footballer and not just a header of goals.

The other highlight was Tiger Woods' win after over 2 years of drought. That must have been a monumental hurdle to get that first win after all the scandals, and I believe he's ready to rumble on. However, his odds to win the Masters is currently way too short, as his problem is now to come up to par with the current best golfer of the world, Rory Mc Ilroy (sorry Luke Donald, you're number 1 in the rankings but I would pick Mc Ilroy any day for a major tournament). The duel between Tiger and Rory will be fascinating to watch in a couple weeks' time.

This week starts the countdown to the Dubai World Cup meeting on Saturday; this will no doubt be the strongest meeting ever held in the desert, particularly with the big guns from Ballydoyle marking their presence. De Kock, Godolphin, Ballydoyle and the Asian contingent, that's where the winners look to be coming from when looking at the preliminary entries. I'll get to the meeting in due time.

Champions League football is on offer this week and Barcelona travel to Milan on Wednesday for their first leg quarterfinal match-up. With Real Madrid having a comfortable 6-point cushion in La Liga, Barcelona are definitely eyeing the UCL as their major prize to conquer this year. Milan can handle good teams at home as witnessed by their 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal in the previous round. I certainly think the scoreline was flattering for the hosts as Arsenal did spurn quite a few good chances to score. Barcelona might or will not be so forgiving. These are 2 European giants but with a clear difference in class. I see Barcelona qualifying no problem after 2 legs and I believe they have it in them not to lose at the San Siro; hence they are my selections.

To qualify: Barcelona
Draw-no-bet: Barcelona

Friday, March 23, 2012

Quest for points

Real Madrid drew at Villareal in a game that ended infamously with 2 Madrid players sent off and Mourinho and one of his assistants kicked out from the touch-line. The Real brass is still complaining about the referee-ing this morning, without doubt in an attempt to get favours from the men in black in the remaining encounters.

Let's get at the week-end's La Liga matches right away then. No doubt that the 2 points lost at Villareal (4 points dropped in a space of a few days) by the Los Blancos has opened up the championship a little more. But they still have a 6-point cushion which is by no means a small margin. In other words, Real Madrid is still firmly in the driving seat. The visit of lowly Real Sociedad this week-end gives them a perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and squash any talk of lack of form or confidence. They should win this game and I have little doubt they will. They are an easy recommendation for a win.

The recent stuttering of Mourinho's team can be a blessing for punters since it has brought Barcelona back in the frame to challenge. There was the danger, a few weeks back, that Guardiola would only be fielding his best team for the Champions League given that the La Liga title looked to be a lost cause. Their interest will have been rekindled that the hope that Real might falter in the title run-in. That means that if Barcelona can keep on their current irresistible form, they will be tough to beat on their travel to Mallorca on Saturday. Their defence is cause for concern as they got knocked for three against Granada in mid-week. But they have a player in Messi that is just un-stoppable nowadays. Barcelona should draw or win this game. It is for sure safer to have them as draw-no-bet but I think they will want to win this and I recommend them as an outright win.

In the EPL, Man City face another big hurdle in their quest for the title as they visit Stoke. Tony Pulis' men are always a threat at home to any team. This game can go either way, so I won't venture. Rivals Man Utd host Fulham and the return of Valencia and Young in the last few weeks have made a huge difference to the attacking potential of the team. Man Utd are experienced enough to tackle those games in the title run-in and should overcome Martin Jol's men. They are a Win selection as well.

I see Liverpool, Swansea and Norwich as draw-no-bets. Blackburn looks good value with an Asian Handicap of +1 goal against Bolton.

In Serie A, AC Milan make appeal as it hosts Roma and are recommended as a draw-no-bet.

In Germany, Bayern Munich should beat Hannover in order to cling on to their slim title hopes. They are a straight Win selection.

Win: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man Utd, Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: Liverpool, Swansea, Norwich, AC Milan
Asian Handicap: Bolton +1.0

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Massive test for the Citizens

Barcelona won but were made to work for it. They were always going to score a bunch of goals against Granada but it is alarming for their defence that they conceded three.

The Blaugrana win puts some pressure on Real Madrid to get the 3 points against Villareal in a few hours to restore their lead to 8 points. Will they do it? I think so. Their form is good, the Submarines are toiling and will be under a new coach. While this can sometimes have an immediate whipping effect on the players, it looks too much asking against an opponent like Madrid. Real looks like a very safe draw-no-bet selection. As I was indicating in my previous write-up, their title odds increased after Barcelona's win yesterday,  and I think they are great value.

It's a massive day also in the EPL where all eyes will be at the Etihaad where Man City host Chelsea. The Citizens do not have much margin for dropping points as their neighbours United have usurped them and are currently on a roll. They face a resurgent Chelsea side who will look to continue on their winning ways in a bid to secure a spot Champions League qualification for next year. Any angle you look at it, this game can really go either way and no doubt that Red Devil fans will be rooting for Chelsea for once.

Draw-no-bet: Real Madrid

Monday, March 19, 2012

Win and Lose for Barcelona

Man Utd won, West Brom drew but Fulham got surprisingly thrashed at home to Swansea. I must admit I did not expect Brendan Rodgers' men to be of that kind of threat on the road, and they really mustn't be taken lightly whether at home or away.

It looks that Real Madrid gave a glimmer of hope to Barcelona by suffering a draw at home this week-end. I say this because I see that their odds to win the title have lengthened three-fold on the exchanges after their draw. I believe they are at this rate, of massive value. The Los Blancos are still 8 points clear at the top and I find it impossible for them to be caught. A wise fox like Mourinho won't let that happen. May be if they suffer a points deduction because of some irregularity or a la Glasgow Rangers, that can happen. But what are the chances of that? Real Madrid will win La Liga this year and I cannot see any logic in the layers on the exchanges. They are offering a return much much higher than the current rate of interest and if you're willing in to wait less than a couple of months for a return, there's no better place to go.

Even better, wait for Barcelona's match against Granada on Tuesday, after which Real's odds to win La Liga will have lengthened a little bit more. Guardiola's men are hitting full gear with a Messi in unbelievable form and should easily win this game.

Win: Barcelona

Friday, March 16, 2012

EPL week-end preview

Real Madrid won and qualified as expected; Napoli were eliminated in extra-time and having a 2-goal handicap advantage on them in 90 minutes was just enough for a voided punt. With the quarter-final draws, it looks we could well be on our way for an all-Spanish final with Barcelona and Madrid looking very strong in their quartet group.

Today was the running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and that is about the only time I have a peek at National Hunt code. I cannot but marvel at the ride given to Synchronized, the winner of the race. AP Mc Coy is really a monster rider and deserves all the accolades he gets. He had the horse off the bridle from the start and although he looked beaten soon after the go, he incredibly managed to get the horse to outlast the others. The layers in running must not have given the horse any chance the way it was jumping the fences astray. Magical hands really!

This week-end could see Man Utd extend their lead at the top of the EPL while City play during mid-week. The Red Devils visit Wolves and it should be a straightforward win for Rooney and co. I firmly believe Wolves will drop this year as I thought they did a major mistake in getting rid of McCarthy as manager. If they were supposedly bad under the Irishman, they are worse under new manager Connor. Man Utd is recommended as a Win.

I like Fulham's chances as it hosts Swansea. Fulham is very strong at home and have a new weapon in striker Pogrebnyak.They should be able to edge this encounter or at least fare with a draw. I recommend them as a draw-no-bet.

Another team destined for the drop is Wigan. West Brom pays them a visit and I think there's value going with the Baggies on this one. They are a decent team under Roy Hodgson and will cause problems for the hosts if their dangerous striker Odemwingie recovers for the game. I like their chances as draw-no-bet as well.

Win: Man Utd
Draw-no-bet: Fulham, West Brom

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One more big casualty?

Two Champions League games in a few hours; Real Madrid host CSKA Moscow and Chelsea will try to overcome a 2-goal deficit against Napoli.

Real Madrid will go through, no question. Mourinho has beaten Moscow twice before with Chelsea and Inter, and there is no reason to think he won't do it again this year. I cannot see Moscow winning at the Bernabeu with the current awesome form of the Los Blancos. It's easy to recommend a Madrid Win together with their qualification.

The second game is more tricky as Chelsea are in real danger of being booted out of the competition. Napoli are a real tough team to compete against, possibly the 3rd best one still remaining in the competition after Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is difficult to assess the Londoner's current form and ability with all the changes going on at the moment at the Bridge. They are capable of the best and worst. To me, the value lies on the Asian Handicap market. There are value odds for Napoli at +2.0, and I can't see them being sunk more than 2 goals in 90 minutes by the struggling Londoners today. That's the recommendation.

Win: Real Madrid
To qualify: Real Madrid
Asian Handicap: Napoli +2.0

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blue Manchester in trouble

AC Milan, Man Utd, Bayern won and Musir finished in a rather disappointing 3rd place.

The suspected change in leadership in the EPL materialised as the red part of Manchester took the reins away from their blue neighbours. A few months ago, I was writing that this year's La Liga will go to Real Madrid and the EPL will go Man City, with the view that any one of them winning will be rewarding. The first one looks spot on, the second prediction looks fuzzy at the moment. The Citizens still have the advantage of receiving Man Utd at the Etihaad in one of the remaining games, but the momentum has currently turned into Utd's favour. The tide can still swing either way as I expect both to drop surprise points during the remaining fixtures. It will be a tight race but Man Utd are certainly in the driver's seat at the moment and deserving favourites. They are definitely ready for the title run-in while City have a mental hurdle to grasp and overcome, or their title chances could be ruined very rapidly. Exciting duel indeed.

Anyone seen any of the Rooney's penalties lately? It is obvious the guy gives it a good practice as he puts them spot on with no chance for the goalkeeper. Besides one blip when he slipped and missed last year, his penalties have been perfectly dispatched out of the keeper's reach. Contrast him with former team-mate Christiano Ronaldo, who can be as effective, but reacts to the keeper's movements to place his shot, virtually and un-sportingly cutting off his dash in the process. Give me a Rooney penalty to watch anytime.

The Super Saturday Meydan fixture did not go much in the way of the favourites given the ultra-competitive nature of the cards. The results do not give an indication of what the winners could look like on Dubai World Cup day, but they have allowed for certain fancied horses to be removed out of the equation. In this regard, Bold Silvano flopped again and does not look a contender for the DWC, even though connections are pointing out that he had a problem with his tongue over the bit during the race. Same for Gitano Hernando who was expected to find his mile distance too sharp but cannot be expected to improve wonders in 3 weeks time for the big race. The only 2 DWC horses that returned from a positive bulletin were Monterosso, who finished a creditable 4th and will be expected to be better for the run, and Master of Hounds who won on the turf course and might warrant a return to the Tapeta for the DWC.

In golf, Rory Mc Ilroy did not win but came out an eye-catching 3rd in the WGC Championship, one week after winning the Honda Classic. The Irishman certainly has been impressive in racking up quite a few Top 10 finishes and it will be interesting to follow his percentages in that regard. He's certainly getting better and better and warrants more confidence than any other golfer out there, including Tiger Woods.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fully-charged week-end

Milan scraped through Arsenal, who have reasons to be nurturing regrets from the awful first leg drubbing at the San Siro. There are 2 things that transpire from that tie; it was again a Close-But-No-Cigar story for the Gunners, a recurring theme for them for the past 6 trophy-less years or so. Second, Milan is not even close to competing the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid, which leads me to the fact that the winner will be a Spanish team again this year.

Back to league football where there could be a change of leaders in the EPL this week-end. Man Utd host West Brom and they will be keen to get back to their winning ways after last night's defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League. I think they will do so and will bag the 3 points, so a Man Utd win is the selection. Man City also lost in the same competition to Sporting Lisbon and they face another not-so-simple trip to Swansea. The hosts are the surprise package of the season and a tough nut to crack at the Liberty Stadium. This game can go either way and I don't have an overwhelming opinion on its outcome, so I'll stay away from a recommendation.

In Italy, I see leaders Milan winning against Lecce, so they are recommended as a Win.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich is enjoying a poor form at the moment but they will be gunning for 3 important points against Hoffenheim. The Bavarians will be boosted by the return of midfielder Schweinsteiger but face a rejuvenated Hoffenheim team that is unbeaten in 4 starts under new coach Markus Babbel. I expect Bayern to either edge or draw this, so they are recommended as a draw-no-bet, to be safe.

Racing action in Meydan sees an ultra-competitive card called Super Saturday, which looks to be a precursor of things to come on World Cup night in a few weeks time. There is one horse that stand out of the cards and that is Musir, who runs in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar on the Tapeta surface. Synthetic or turf, it does not seem to matter to the Redoute's Choice colt as he's proven to be equally as good on both. He's one of the best milers in the world and he always gives an honest account of himself. Mike de Kock is expecting a big race from him, and no other horse has form that is comparable to his at the mile distance. He is a strong each-way recommendation.

Win: Man Utd, Milan
Draw-no-bet: Bayern Munich
Each-way: Musir

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No chance for the Gunners

I am surprised there are still odds on offer for Milan to qualify against Arsenal in tonight's Champions League qualifier. Take them because Arsenal have no chance of qualifying after their 0-4 defeat at the San Siro. Absolutely no chance. They are not sure even to win this game, let alone win by more than 4 goals. This is not the Milan that let a 3-goal slip to Liverpool in the UCL final a few years back. The Italians would have learned their lesson.

Despite its last 2 wins in the EPL, the Gunners are still a thoroughly exposed team with a leaky defence; they were certainly lucky to get the win at Anfield last week-end. Their only positive note for them is Van Persie but Milan will be all too aware to muzzle him. If the visitors score 1, Arsenal will need 6 goals to qualify on the away goals rule. It's mission impossible for Wenger and his team. I am not even bothering reading his comments on his players having the belief to qualify. That's the only thing he can say and every one knows it won't happen. Even if Arsenal were to score the first goal in the first minute, there would be no need be shaking; they will not qualify today and gone will be their last Cup hope again. However small the odds for Milan to qualify, they are a bargain.

To qualify: Milan

Monday, March 5, 2012

On the wane and on the rise

Rocket Man, Man City and Fulham all won easily; the only blot to the selections was Ultimate Eagle who got caught up in a speed duel in the early part of the race and ran out of gas to finish unplaced. His jockey Martin Pedroza complained about losing all chance in the suicidal early pace he was forced into with another runner; what gets to me is when jockeys complain about being caught in a speed frenzy, when the wisest thing to do as a rider is to relax the horse to let him run at its pace.

The EPL just got a tad more interesting with both Manchester teams winning, but more particularly with Man Utd getting 3 massive points at White Hart Lane. Whether their victory against Tottenham was deserved or not is a futile subject matter; the Red Devils have every reason to be growing in confidence. Their title chances are real.

What is also real is the sacking of Villa-Boas at Chelsea. To be fair to him, he inherited a team of aging stars in full decline. As mentioned many times, the team needs to be overhauled to compete with the likes of the Manchester teams again. Drogba, Terry, Lampard and co are on their last legs and it is amazing that the club top brass hasn't done much to look into reinforcing these backbone areas despite sitting on billions. Or so they thought 50million on Torres would do the trick?

A highlight of the week-end was Rory Mc Ilroy's win in the Honda Classic that elevated him as World No 1 Golfer for the first time. The fact that he beat Tiger Woods into second place could be a sign of things to come. It would not be surprising at all if these 2 were to duke it out in the Major tournaments this year. Game on, start of a true rivalry perhaps!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lots on the line

Opinion Poll was among the placings, as expected, but Viscount Nelson was a no-show. The latter summed up a disappointing  meeting for the de Kock stable, in contrast to the Godolphin team which are pouring in the entries and getting the results, i.e. wins.

With their huge stable, it is no surprise that today the Dubai stable announced the recruitment of a 3rd jockey in their ranks, notably Barzalona, to help the causes of Dettori and the newly-recruited de Sousa. They were always going to attract the best jockeys to replace Dettori and the 2 new recruits are among the best in the business. Godolphin look to have renewed spring in their steps this year, and should be followed closely.

Racing Stateside, this week-end sees the running of the Santa Anita Handicap. Ultimate Eagle is the one to follow here; the son of Mizzen Mast looks to play a leading role among the older division this year after a demolition of the field on his first start on dirt. He should be in the first 3 and is recommended as a Place.

Moving East-wide, more particularly in Singapore, where the country's flag-ship horse Rocket Man makes his preparation for the Golden Shaheen in a few weeks time by running in a 6-furlong race in Kranji. He should win this, even though I don't think he's still as good as before (in other words, I don't think he will be a threat to Black Caviar if they were to meet). He's recommended as a Win.

In football, this looks like a week-end where Man City could distance themselves from Man Utd as the latter face a tough trip to Tottenham while City host Bolton. The Citizens should win their match against the Trotters and are recommended as a straight Win. If Utd can win at White Hart Lane, it would be massive for them and send shudders to their neighbours. A huge game it will be on Sunday and it could go either way.

Fulham host Wolves and I believe Martin Jol's men will pile misery on the visitors, who look primed for the drop, I believe. Fulham is a draw-no-bet selection.

Win: Rocket Man, Man City
Place: Ultimate Eagle
Draw-no-bet: Fulham