Friday, June 29, 2012

Another Derby for Camelot

Italy looks poised to win it all after surprising mighty Germany with a disciplined effort and the brilliance of Balotelli. I mentioned that the winner of that semi-final will win the tournament and I still think so. Spain are the best team in Europe but anything can happen in a final. They had difficulty in tying the Italians in the group stages and with the latter going from strength to strength, the Spaniards are bound to suffer even greater resistance. The game could end in another tie, but I see the Italians winning it either in extra time or penalties. Just my opinion.

Saturday sees the running of the Irish Derby where Camelot has scared off the opposition and will take on 6 others. The softish ground is a worry according to his trainer but I think he is blessed with stamina and the ground will be more of a concern to the rest of the field. Speaking of Which, from the Dermot Weld camp looks to be the main danger, but I have slight stamina concerning this son of Invincible Spirit. Camelot should win this before raising question about his possible quest for the Triple Crown. He is recommended as a Win.

Win: Camelot

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ticket to the final

Black Caviar came and won as everyone expected, but whether she really conquered is still up to public debate. The fact that she won in the circumstances that involved the near-catastrophic ride of rider Luke Nolen and her possible in-race injury, is testament to how good she is. I think her record speaks for herself and she is truly one of the greatest sprinters ever.

England lost to Italy on penalties. The shoot-out was yet again detrimental to the Lions. There should be no misery felt there though as the Italians deserved to go through based on the 120 minutes played. I wonder how many more penalty shoot-outs England will lose before winning one again. The bookies should open a market for that one.

Yesterday Spain edged through by beating Portugal after shoot-out as well. Just my opinion, but I think today's winner of Germany or Italy's semi-final will win the tournament. Spain are going through sheer class and luck and it won't be surprising if they stumble at the last hurdle. They can never be written off through.

So, today pits Germany and Italy and the Germans are clear favourites. They have been very impressive, showing versatility in all their games. They have guile, they are efficient, they can slow or raise the tempo of the game, their squad is talented enough that they don't have to rely on the same 11 players (like England). The Italians will have to be at their gritty best and possibly their best chance is to reach for the penalties again. Germany as a draw-no-bet in 90 mins looks the value punt here.

Draw-no-bet: Germany

Friday, June 22, 2012

Caviar on the menu

Opinion Poll was fantastic finishing second again in the Gold Cup. It is up to debate whether he would have won had he not been bumped by stable companion Colour Vision, but he ran the race expected of him. That he was evens for a Place was just too good a deal to bypass.

The Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday is the race everyone, particularly in Australia, is waiting for, as Black Caviar takes on the world. All the bulletins are favourable from the trainer and connections. She will be opposing a modest and clearly inferior bunch of English sprinters. If she doesn't win here, there is every reason to question the hype behind her. But she will win. Soft ground or not. If the likes of Choisir, Takeover Target, Starspangledbanner etc have won here, she should do so too because she's at least 5 lengths better. There are no likes of Silent Witness, Rocket Man, Overdose, Marchand d'Or or JJ The Jet Plane here, who at their best could have given her a race. An easy Win recommendation to lump on.

Win: Black Caviar

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blue threat

So You Think silenced his doubters as he won the Prince of Wales stakes, a race he should have won last year as well. That horse is all class and on his best day can beat anybody between 10 and 12 furlongs. In his post-race comments, it was extraordinary to hear Aidan O'Brien admit his failings in training the horse properly, something I have been screaming on rooftops countless times since last year. The conditioner has blown it big time in getting the best out of the Australasian monster but I found him very classy to step up and apologize. Not many would have done so.

Planteur lost the race before the start as he sweated profusely in the paddock. I think he does not take to Ascot and its crowd, as he also failed to fire last year. He's still a top-class horse and is can compete when he goes back to race in France, though.

Thursday sees Fame and Glory trying to retain his Gold Cup crown. He probably will, but I think the value in the race is Opinion Poll. This is as honest a horse as there is. He has a fantastic record with Frankie Dettori but he latter has preferred stable mate Colour Vision. Last year, the Italian also preferred Holberg but it was Opinion Poll that was the main threat in finishing second to Fame and Glory. The Halling colt was partnered by Barzalona, again his rider tomorrow, with whom he has 2 second place finishes out of 3 outings. I think he will again be in the whereabouts at the finish and give him a good Place chance.

Place: Opinion Poll

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tide has turned

Sublime Tuesday with all 3 selections winning. Frankel dazzled yet to greater heights and produced the highest ever Timeform rating for a thoroughbred by destroying the Queen Anne field. Excelebration again was confined as runner-up. In football, England secured a quarter-final berth by beating Ukraine. This time, at last, they were on the right end of a controversial decision with a Ukraine goal that was deemed not to have crossed the line. Blame Blatter, blame Platini, and maybe the tide has now turned for this England team, who's riding an unbelievable luck currently.

Wednesday sees the running of the Prince of Wales at Ascot, a race that So You Think should have won last year had his conditioner not under-cooked him for the event. Provided he did not screw up twice, then the Australasian star should take all the beating in this contest. He looked as good as ever a few weeks ago in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and if he's at his best, he should win this. Carlton House is a very good horse, but I fear the bounce factor in him; he could very well under-perform after a winning seasonal appearance following a long layoff. If there is a horse that can challenge So You Think, it will be Planteur. This horse has also been mocked around by his old conditioner, and tested from 8 to 12 furlongs. Tomorrow's 10 furlongs is his best distance and he has shown glimpse of being back to his good old self this year by coming out 3rd in the Dubai World Cup (beating So You Think at the finish), and against 3rd behind Golden Lilac and Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix D'Ispahan. He will relish any softness in the ground.

My selections are Each-way for So You Think and Place for Planteur.

Each-way: So You Think
Place: Planteur

Monday, June 18, 2012

Royally good

England deservedly beat Sweden to put it in a good position to go through the next. How Ibrahimovic and co can complain that the result was unfair is really beyond me. It's true the Lions let in 2 really ugly looking goals to allow Sweden to take the lead. As mentioned before, this England defence is weak and any potent strike force is going to score on it. But the encouraging thing is that they bounced back and found renewed inspiration in attack. Theo Walcott is one of the best wingers in the world on his best day and is one of the only few in the squad that can change a game. So he did.

Besides the Euros, a few events caught the eye this past week-end. The US Open in golf saw the crowning of unfancied Webb Simpson. Tiger prowled for the first 2 days and then his challenge petered out. He's still not there yet. Mc Ilroy didn't even make the cut. Anyone noticed that since he and Carol Wozniak, the ex-tennis No 1, have been dating, their results have gone downhill? The great thing about watching the Open was seeing Ernie Els challenge on the last day. The South African is one of my all-time favourites on tour and is at the dawn of a great career. I don't know if he'll be in a position to challenge at future golf Majors again, but it was great to see him bring back some of his best golf.

In racing, the Prix Diane produced a surprise result as the undefeated favourite Beauty Parlour was overwhelmed in the late stages by the Aga Khan second-string Valyra. These 2 look set to lock horns in the  Prix Vermeilles at 12 furlongs before tackling the Arc. That a filly wins the Arc again a year after Danedream, looks like a live possibility with the likes of Beauty Parlour, Valyra and Golden Lilac.

Royal Ascot starts tomorrow and the first race is no other than the Queen Anne Stakes where Frankel puts his unbeaten record on the line. Suffice to say that besides Excelebration, there does not seem to be a horse in the race that can possibly stop this being another procession for the Galileo colt. This is a race last year that Frankel nearly lost, having been run to the line by Zoffany, but that can safely be attributed to pilot zest more than anything. He was made to strike for home too early last year, and rider Queally will be all too aware not to make the same mistake. Frankel should win and Excelebration will have to contend with another Place spot again. Those are the recommendations.

Back to the Euros where England take on Ukraine in their last group match. One co-host Poland has already bitten the dust and failed to qualify and Ukraine looks set for the same exit. I don't see them beating an England welcoming back Rooney, and England look good value as a good draw-no-bet.

Win: Frankel
Place: Excelebration
Draw-no-bet: England

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Even strength

Spain won easily and dumped Ireland, while Italy complicated its path to the next stage by drawing with Croatia. The Cup holders are back to favouritism with the bookies after their thrashing of the Irish. Deserved favourites or not, they are still the most feared team of the tournament.

Tomorrow sees England face nemesis Sweden and, hosts Ukraine locking horns with the French. Looks like 2 matches ripe to end in draws, I think! The Swedes have an amazing record against England in major tournaments in recent times but they are not as good as in previous years. However, the same can be said of England, who have seen better talent than the current squad. I see a draw being a major possibility here and if someone is going to win this, it's going to be the English. So, England as a draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

I believe Ukraine and France look set to draw as well. There is no certainty or safe selection here as the game has an equal chance of swinging either way if there is to be a winner. If these 2 games indeed end in a draw, the last 2 matches could be quite something.

Draw-no-bet: England

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big nations to win

Portugal obliged and won thanks to a late goal by Silvestre Varela. They should have put the game to bed before that when Ronaldo, of all people, missed on a one-on-one with the Danish keeper. Ronaldo's been disappointing so far, contrary to Nani who's the source of danger in the Portuguese attack.

Tomorrow sees Spain clash with Ireland, a game in which the holding champions will be keen to get 3 points. Trappatoni, the Irish manager, is sensing an upset, but I don't think so. Xavi and his teammates will create chances and unless they are on a totally misfiring day, they should have enough to bag the 3 points. I advise them as a Win.

The other game sees Italy against Croatia. I think both have done better than what was expected of them in their first game and it will be a matter of which of the 2 will accompany Spain to the next round. So it is a game both cannot afford to lose. I will give a slight advantage to the Italians here because over the years, they've proved to be mentally stronger than the Croats. They can find a way to win even if the other team is superior. I believe the Italians are value as a draw-no-bet and that is the recommendation.

Win: Spain
Draw-no-bet: Italy

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No missteps allowed

Group of Death Group B resumes on Wednesday with a fantastic clash between arch-rivals Holland and Germany. The Dutch are probably the better skilled team but are handicapped by a lousy defence. Germany are as solid as always, whether there is talent in their squad or not. It's tough to have a selection on that one, it very much will depend on whether the Dutch can convert their chances, something they failed to do against Denmark in the first game. The Germans can certainly allow themselves to sit back and afford a draw as they already have 3 precious points in the bag, while the Dutch cannot afford another loss.

The other game between Portugal and Denmark looks more predictable. The Danes caused some shock in beating Holland by being more realistic in front of goal. They are certain to face another onslaught from the Portuguese who have to win this game to have a realistic chance of going through. Portugal were arguably unlucky against the Germans as they failed to convert the many chances that came their way, and if they can fix their profligacy in front of goal, they should be in a good position to snatch at least a point from this one. A draw-no-bet on Portugal is the selection.

Draw-no-bet: Portugal

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ugly is good

A full week-end it was, one which could have ended up great, had Holland and Ireland not lost. The fact that the Irish folded so tamely against the Croatians was disappointing as I was expecting them to do well during these Championships.

Nadal dominated Djokovic to win his seventh French Open. One thing to bear in mind from now on is that he's less effective in wet conditions where his strokes lose a lot of their spin. He's still the best, but Nole is clearly on the upward curve on the clay surface. We'll see next year if he can bridge the gap with the Spaniard.

Union Rags won the Belmont and with I'll Have Another's premature retirement, is definitely the 3-year old to follow. The Michael Matz horse will surely be playing a leading role in the important mile and a quarter Summer races.

England just drew with France in the Euros. 12-1 were the shots on goal in favour of France, England's only shot leading to a goal. What to make of this performance other than it was an important point gained? Expect a boring, disciplined, robotized England under the Hodgson guidance. At this point, long-suffering England fans will not care if the football spectacle is sacrificed for success. The FA must have known that when they appointed Hodgson, and I concur. England is at a point where it's better to win playing ugly than to play well and get a negative result, as has been many times the case in the past years. Really, outshot 1-12 would have looked like a disaster a few years back, but no longer. Even against a not-that-good French team that is a far-cry from the Zidane years.

These Euros are there for the taking. I believe there are more surprises in the offing during the group phase.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Loaded week-end

Off to a promising start in the Euros with the Greeks and Polish drawing. In tennis, Nadal and Djokovic also won as expected, setting up a final that promises to be a spectacle for the ages.

A fully-loaded week-end it looks to be. Here are my views on the week-end matches.

Netherlands v/s Denmark. It's hard to go against the Dutch here although Denmark will certainly give them all they can handle. But in this Group of Death, Holland need to ensure they get the full 3 points as their remaining games are against Germany and Portugal. A draw-no-bet for the Dutch here looks safe.

Germany v/s Portugal. Portugal's performance in these Euros depend on their main man, Christiano Ronaldo. If he has a good tournament, so will the national team. Germany will be their solid selves and it's hard not to see them go through. I see Germany as a good draw-no-bet as well.

Spain v/s Italy. The Italians are struggling right now and they don't look anywhere as good as their predecessors. That said, they should never be discounted because they almost always rise up on the big occasions. Spain is the best team in the tournament, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be winners at the end. They shouldn't be beaten by this Italian team though, and are taken as a safe draw-no-bet as well.

Ireland v/s Croatia. I think the Irish could be the surprise package of this group and of the Euros in general. I like the work of Trappatoni and he's got the experience in these kinds of tournaments. Croatia are capable of the best and worst, and they now have a really good striker in Everton's Jelavic. I still like Ireland's chances here, and they look to be the best value draw-no-bet of the week-end.

Back to Roland Garros where the best 2 players will square off in Sunday's final. Will it be Djokovic's first or Nadal's seventh? I think the Spaniard looks as good as ever, and will be all too aware that if he can't beat the Serb here, he won't beat him anywhere else. The French Open is his territory and he will be pumped up for it. Djokovic is the best among the rest on the surface and can give the Spaniard a real game, but at the end, it should be business as usual for Nadal. He is recommended to win it all.

Saturday's woman final between little-known Italian Errani and Sharapova. This is a fantastic opportunity for the Russian to win her first French Open and hence complete the career Grand Slam. She should be able to do it and is selected to win as well.

Finally, news just eked out that I'll Have Another will not compete in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, hence killing off any hopes of a Triple Crown winner. That clears the way for either Union Rags or Dullahan to win it. Union Rags as a Place looks safe and is the recommendation. For long punters, Street Life as a Place could also be the way to go because this horse will finish the best of them all.

Win: Nadal, Sharapova
Draw-no-bet: Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Ireland.
Place: Union Rags

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Opening night

The Euro 2012 gets underway on Friday night. Like many, I have a feeling that the games will offer quite a few surprises. Even dominant Spain is not a certainty, in my books, to win or let alone reach the final. This could have been an occasion for England to shine, but they have been so struck by injuries and lack of a manager for long, that they don't inspire any amount of strong confidence.

The opening game sees co-hosts Poland play Greece in Group A. That match looks sets to end in a dour 0-0. There certainly won't be many goals in this. Russia and the Czech Republic square off in the other game, and both look to be the strongest teams in the group. There are a lot of questions on the Russians as they play under a new coach following the departure of Guus Hiddink. The Czech are always present but rarely shine on the big occasions, and their current team is weaker than the previous editions. This game can really go either way.

Typically, the 4 teams above clearly form the weakest group of the Euros. None of them inspire confidence and I'll take a pass for this opening night. Poland v/s Greece to end in a draw looks enticing for long punters.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Outside reasons

Nadal is looking good and after overcoming Alamagro, will face another Spaniard in Ferrer in the semi-final. He should win that one too and reach the final. The other semi-final will see another duel between Federer and Djokovic. Both needed 5 sets in the previous round and the Serb had to save 4 match points to stave off elimination from local Tsonga. That Nole has an amazing fighting spirit, he's never out.

Nadal to beat Ferrer is a certainty. Nole should logically beat the aging Federer; it's not as certain as with Nadal, but it will bring better returns with some amount of risk.

Interesting developments in football around the non-selection of Rio Ferdinand after the defection of Gary Cahill due to injury. Hodgson was right to dismiss Rio from the original selection since the fresher legs of Terry, Lescott and Cahill give better cover. I have no problem with that. However, after the no-go of Cahill, there is no way that Tottenham's Kelly is a better defender than Rio. So, for pure footballing reasons, Hodgson has no real excuse for not selecting the Man Utd defender. The problem is that the manager shot himself in the foot in the first place by saying that he did not select Rio in the first place for footballing reasons, unaware he might eventually run short of defenders.

The reason he's right to omit Rio is because he and Terry can no longer play together on the same team after the racism scandal involving Anton, Rio's brother. The world knows that and if Hodgson were forthright and simply admit that, then he wouldn't be facing this debate. Being England manager makes him in need of being politically correct, not blunt honest, and this has played against him; if he's to be accused of a wrongdoing, it's of being dishonest in that instance. At this point, having Terry is more important than Rio, and there is no way he's going to include Rio at the risk of causing friction in the squad. Good decision, but poor execution and result. Let's hope England's Euro experience goes the other way round.

Win: Nadal

Monday, June 4, 2012

In the zone

Frankel beware, Camelot could give you a race if you decide to step up to 10 furlongs! As expected. the son of Montjeu provided his sire with his fourth Derby when easily winning the Epsom showpiece on Saturday.

There are evidently now talks of the Triple Crown and let's hope for racing that Camelot takes his chance at the St Leger. Studs have for the past years evaded the last leg of the British Triple Crown as the perception is that it goes against the requirements for speed that is so often sought in today's stallions. It would not be surprising if Coolmore put its commercial interests at the forefront, bypassed the Doncaster Classic and focused on the big 10 to 12 furlong races this year. But as long as they haven't mentioned the contrary, there is hope.

The Prix du Jockey Club, the French equivalent of the Derby but at a reduced distance of 11 furlongs, saw one of the the lesser-fancied colts, Saonois, prevailing in a tight finish. By Chichicastenango, he could be the second coming of Vision D'Etat, who put his sire on the map by winning the French Derby a few years back, and went on to score in big Group 1 races in England and Hong Kong.

This week looks promising with the final run-in to the French Open at Roland Garros, the start of Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland, and the lead-up to the Belmont Stakes in the US. Nadal is looking strong and should be present in the final again. That is the most confident selection of the tournament so far.

To reach final: Nadal

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coronation for Camelot

Was was mentioned here to be one to watch for, but still produced a shocker to win the Oaks. She was ideally placed in a stalking position and took full benefit in the straight, as some of those at the end of the pack found themselves shuffled back with too much ground to make. It will be interesting to see if the form of this race holds up as the slow pace had a great incidence on the running of the race.

Earlier, Worthadd found the extended mile one hundred yards too far and came out fourth. He was travelling beautifully and looked a winner until he floundered in the late stages. Maybe a strict mile at the top level is the max he can handle.

The Derby will numerically the smallest in years. It's hard to go against Camelot here. He ticks the boxes everywhere; unbeaten and by Montjeu, he is clearly the pick on form and pedigree. Only a no-show from him on the day will beat him. He's possibly the surest thing for a Classic in years. Clearly, a very confident Win selection here.

Win: Camelot