Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Cheap Commenting

Paynter did well to win but Gemologist flopped to last. Although he only took part in only one race of the Triple Crown, the Belmont in which he came a close second, Paynter looks set to play a major role in upcoming races for 3-year olds. With the retirement of I'll Have Another and Union Rags, this son of  Awesome Again is clearly the best colt from the classic generation still in training.

The Olympics is in full stride and I must admit that I am keeping a keener interest than I would have hoped for. The China v/s USA quest for the medal haul is turning out to be a great duel. The Chinese are performing with brio in the pool, none better than 16-year old Ye Shiwen, whose astonishing feats have raised a cloud of suspicion among competitors and media. Let me get to the comments of Clare Balding, BBC journalist commonly known in racing circles, and who strongly and openly hinted at foul play following Ye Shiwen's demolition of the field in the 400m medley race. Such comments have caused mixed reaction in the Twitter world with some calling for her sacking.

Yes, it is true that the first reaction that springs to mind after the Chinese bettered her personal best by 5 seconds, is that she's been juiced up. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. Impulsive reaction from the commentator one might say? No, not from a seasoned journalist who should know better on the repercussions of her remarks to a wide audience. Stick to your professional code, report as objectively as possible, air personal opinion without getting into derogatory remarks based on the unfounded. Commenting on live television should not have been a reason for her to let go on these principles.

It would not be surprising if she did it for sensationalism, which many have alluded to in the past in her racing coverage. Jumping on the bandwagon belief that the Chinese athletes must be all juiced up to win so remarkably is an easy, but wrong, step for her to make. I don't follow jump racing, but how does she comment on a winner from the Nicky Henderson yard, who's made headlines for being found out doping his horses, not least the Queen's horses! Does she openly question the credentials of the winner? How would she comment on Big Brown's winning the 2008 Kentucky Derby? The colt was under the care of Rick Dutrow who's always been notoriously known for steroid use on his horses. Would she have mentioned performance enhancing drugs in her post-race commentary? Probably not, because it would not be politically correct in the small racing circles to do so, and certainly not without damaging ramifications. But the Chinese being so "far away", it would certainly not sting her back, or so she thought. Clare Balding, get on with the Olympic spirit, and spare us your superficial commenting.

Back to racing, where Glorious Goodwood has kicked off today. Noble Mission has won quite impressively today, and it will be a shock of major proportions if his brother Frankel did not do the same tomorrow in the Sussex Stakes. For sure, he will win. Farhh from Godolphin, can become a genuine Group 1 horse, but definitely many notches behind Frankel. Frankel will win, Farhh will come second, the other 2 horses in the race are not even worth the mention. So, I would recommend piling on the exotic combos on this one.

Win: Frankel
Place: Farhh
Exacta: Frankel- Farhh

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic moment

Maybe the greatest spectacle on earth, the Summer Olympics get underway in London. To me, only the World Cup of football garners better prestige and attention. As all Olympics, there will be drama, great stories that will unfold, unsung heroes will come to the fore, and inevitably drug-related scandals will surface. In the end, many moments will be there to be remembered for a lifetime.

The Olympics is not the forte of this blog, but there are some screaming certainties over the week-end that cannot be missed. In tennis, the quadruple of Ferrer/Federer/Djokovic/Del Potro should be winning their first matches and will do a good accumulator. In swimming, Lochte and Phelps should do a 1-2, in any order, in the 400m medley. In basketball, the US men's and women's team should make it a double against France and Croatia. In fact, US should go all the way to gold in both events.

The biggest value lay so far is the GB team in soccer. I don't see them winning gold. In fact, they'll be lucky to win a medal. If I am to border on the sarcastic, the only 3 good things in this team is Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs and Ryan Giggs. Okay, I'm sounding overly negative, but with Stuart Pearce at the helm and the horrible show they've portrayed in the last few games, including a drab 1-1 draw against Senegal, how can one not be despondent on their chances? This is not an event where Brits should have their spirits high on.

Besides the Olympics, it's racing in the US that takes the eye on Sunday with the running of the Haskell. It's gathered a small field of 6, but with 3 main pretenders in Paynter, Gemologist and Dullahan. I favour the first 2 here. Although Dullahan was a fast-finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, he is winless on the dirt and it looks that he looks better on synthetics. Gemologist hasn't been seen since his flop in the Derby but connections sound confident that he is back to form. Whenever Todd Pletcher gives an air of confidence, it's generally a positive thing regarding the expectations on the horse. Paynter looks a really good colt from the Baffert stable. He was just touched off by Union Rags in the Belmont Classic and he is the deserving favourite of the race. I see Gemologist and Paynter in the first 2 in any order, so an exacta is my confident punt here.

Exacta: Paynter-Gemologist.
Lay: GB soccer team to win gold

Monday, July 23, 2012

A week-end of Champions

As a precursor to the upcoming London Olympic games, England was centre-stage to some fantastic sports headlines over the week-end.

The King George promised a lot and delivered in spectacular fashion as Danedream edged out Nathaniel by a nostril at the end. Both horses come out of this race with highly-enhanced reputations. The German filly has now the Arc and the King George on her resume and must be considered one of the best to come out of German racing. I cannot wait for her to defend her Arc title in October where she might lock horns with a certain Camelot. Very enticing indeed.

I cannot but be impressed with Nathaniel. Considering he won a hard race only a fortnight ago and to come up to that short, he showed he had both talent and a heart. He's a champion and deserves every respect whenever he steps out again. This horse is one of the 3 best middle-distance runners in training today.

Still in racing, Carlton House failed to fire in the Summer Mile. I think the mile is too sharp for the son of Street Cry. Nine or ten furlongs is his distance.

Then, there was the British Open, without doubt the best feel-good news of the week-end and of recent months; Ernie Els win and 4th Major of his career. In a previous post, I mentioned that he did well at Royal Lytham before and was great value to make the cut. He did easily but little did I think that he would win the whole thing. Just like many many others, I am a huge fan for Ernie Els because he's such a class act. He does not need the fist-pump, he's as humble as you can get, and Sunday's win showed the respect for he beholds for this opponents, like unlucky runner-up Adam Scott. Also, like many others, I did not think he would win another Major as I thought his best years were behind him. But it is fantastic that he did, and the better for golf if he wins more. Golf needs such class characters.

Finally, Brad Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France. I hope for the nation that he never gets his name embroiled into a doping scandal. With today's cycling, it's something that one can never ascertain anymore.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ascot Saturday preview

Feels good to know that the 5 players I mentioned to make the cut did actually make it. Lee Westwood just scraped through at +3 (the cut). And Phil Mickelson will not play during the week-end after a horrific +11. As I was saying, the British Open and links golf is just not his thing. Tiger Woods is in great stalking position 4 shots off leader Snedeker. I am keen to see if we'll see the old Tiger of old over the week-end when he was nearly unbeatable when within striking distance.

Saturday is all about racing with the running of the King George and the Summer Mile at Ascot. Even though the distance might be on the sharp side, Carlton House will be very difficult to beat in the mile contest. He's clearly the best horse of the race and there are no world beaters among the rest. Questioning, the colt from the in-form Gosden stable looks to be the main threat. I definitely see Carlton House in the first 3, and unless he encounters traffic problems, he should win this.

The prestigious King George is the main 12-furlong contest of the summer and this year's edition looks terrific with the presence of some of the world's best horses at the distance. It is really an open race where there really isn't a standout leader. Here are my views of the starters.

Brown Panther - a longer distance would have suited better for last year's runner-up of the St Leger. He's a few pounds adrift of some of the other participants and will be lucky to be in the first 4.

Dunaden - also would have preferred a longer distance for this winner of the Melbourne Cup. Can aspire to a Place chance but will need a lot of luck in running to win.

Masked Marvel - winner of the St Leger but looks to be the stable second-string to Nathaniel. Dettori takes the ride but he looks to be more of a Group 2 horse. Still, all Montjeu's are dangerous at 12 furlongs and on a good day, could be among the placings.

Nathaniel - last year's winner and genuine Group 1 performer that was impressive when winning on his seasonal return in the Coral Eclipse a fortnight ago. However, I fear the bounce factor in him after such a short rest. Would have preferred at least one more week to recuperate. He might place but I don't think he'll win. At his current odds, he's a big lay for me, even though he comes from a yard that is banging winners at a tremendous rate.

Reliable Man - leading French raider who has good form across the channel and who came out 4th in the Prince of Wales stakes at Royal Ascot. The soft turf and venue won't be a problem for him but he will need a career best to win. I don't think he will be the one emerging victorious.

Robin Hood - no chance.

Sea Moon - a leading contender from the Sir Michael Stoute stable. Won both his races this year, the last one impressively in the Hardwicke Stakes. Connections don't look too confident but if he's at this best, he should be in the first 3.

St Nicholas Abbey - if he reproduces his form of the Breeders Cup or Coronation Cup, he should be at the finish. He is prone to deliver the odd clanker, which is why I don't have 100% confidence on the form he'll show. He's not to be dismissed at any means and the distance will suit him the best although he will be disadvantaged on a very soft track.

Danedream - the racing world is still waiting what Danedream is all about. She won last year's Arc in record time and looked unbeatable. She has since been beaten twice in 3 races. Who knows, maybe she's an October filly or maybe she's a one-race wonder. At her best, she could win this handily but I think the chances are that she won't reproduce her Arc form.

Deep Brillante - the Japanese Derby winner and dark horse of the race. I hugely respect her sire Deep Impact but I think she looks to be several pounds inferior to many of the contenders. Japanese do not have a great record  in their European raids over the past years and I cannot see Deep Brillante bucking the trend.

The soft conditions are sure to be a deciding factor but it might be worth to chance on a Place with Sea Moon at current odds. Not a certainty though.

Win: Carlton House
Place: Sea Moon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

British Open 2012

As expected, David Haye was too strong for Chisora. I hope there is a second Battle of Britain between those two (as there usually is), because I think Haye would win again.

Surprise, surprise, yesterday's headline news saw one of Tour de France's favourites, Frank Schleck, leave the race because of a failed drug test. How credible is that tour, or any other tour for that matter? Cycling definitely will fit well at the Olympics, siege of rampant drug use. No Olympics is complete without a sensational drug scandal.

Tomorrow, the British Open takes centre of attention, and many pundits are talking about an ominous starting point for Tiger Woods to resume his Major quest after 4 barren years.  It's amazing to think that it has been that long. Today's Tiger is not the same as the old dominating one, he's become unpredictable to say the least. But like most others, I'm sure there are more Majors in him, I just don't know if it will start at Royal Lytham this week-end.

This major is probably the most open there is, no pun intended. The weather and design of the link course play a crucial role. It will not be surprising that the big guns fail and that it goes to a novice Major winner. The last time in 2001, it gave David Duval his first and only Major.

So I believe the safest way to start the punting is to find a group of players that will make the cut on Saturday. If we can call that process relatively safe, I suppose. Unless they are bestowed with unbelievable foul weather or do not have their A game for the first 2 days, I believe the following are good value to make the cut (at least in first 70 of 156) at their current odds;

Tiger Woods - evidently.
Lee Westwood - he should make the cut, but I don't think he'll win it.
Ernie Els - will have gotten confidence from his US Open showing. Great links player. 3rd in 2001.
Jimenez - almost always in the thick of things. 5th in 2001. A little risk but with great reward.
Padraig Harrington - getting back to form after 4th at the US Open this year. Big-game player.

I would caution against the following ones that are prominent names in the market.

Rory McIlroy - his mind is probably more focused on the coming Olympics cheering Caroline Wozniak.
Mickelson - probably will make the cut, but the British Open has never been his thing.
Luke Donald - poor record in recent Majors. No 1 means nothing in these tournaments.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bad Blood

It's been a quiet week and I anticipate it to be as such until some event like the Olympics get started. Of course there is horse racing but with the wet weather that is plaguing the area, race cards are either being cancelled or proving hard to follow because it is impossible to gauge the form with the soft/heavy conditions. Also there is the Tour de France, but we all know it is a competition for a bunch of doped cyclists trying to prove a futile point. But the aerial shots of the French scenery are spectacular to watch as usual.

Keeping abreast of football activities during the off-season, there are some exciting reinforcements for the Premier League. Japanese Kagawa is the one that catches the eye for the moment after this transfer to Man Utd. I think he is looking like another great addition to the Red Devils. He played a key role in the three-pronged attack at Borussia Dortmund and has scored some beauties last year. He is quick and two-footed. It will be interesting to see Fergie opt for a Rooney-Kagawa-Chicharito strike force, and possibly do away with his preferred 4-4-2. Things look exciting at Old Trafford even though on paper, they still have room for improvement to match neighbours City.

The highlight of the week-end, in England at least, looks to be the boxing match between 2 prima donna's David Haye and Chisora. Much has been said about their off-ring antics, particularly Chisora who's as unstable an athlete I can think of. Slap to Klitschko during weigh-in, brawl with Haye during post-match...nothing honourable for him to cheer about (but then, boxing was never about gallantry). Fact is, Chisora speaks a lot but does not have the talent of David Haye. The latter is coming out of retirement, and if he's not too ring-rusty, he will prove too strong for his opponent. The bad blood that exists between the 2 should provide for an exciting bout. In the end, the more professional Haye should prevail, and that's the recommendation.

Win: David Haye

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

So You Think - The beast

Farrh and Ebony Flyer placed second, but Jackson was the big disappointment and only beat 3 home. At this point, I haven't read anything that went amiss with the Durban July favourite and connections are still scratching their heads on his poor showing. It certainly wasn't the ride because he was ideally placed throughout. Anyway, racing throws a few nuggets here and there at times.

Nathaniel won the Coral Eclipse and I must say that he surprised me with his fitness coming from a long layoff. It remains to be seen if the race has taken a lot from him but if he reproduces that kind of form, he will surely be a leading contender in the top middle-distance races to come.

It was sad to see So You Think retired after his injury that led to his defection from the Eclipse. I've always thought this horse to be a wonder horse and it is a tragedy that Aidan O'Brien took so long to get to the bottom of him. The horse looks like and is a freak. Not wanting to rollback to last year where he lost some of his lustre in some high-profile defeats, but there was an excuse for each and everyone of them.

Prince of Wales's Stakes 2011. Narrowly beaten by Rewilding because was under-done by O'Brien. Self-confessed trainer error.

Arc 2011. 4th to Danedream. Probably wouldn't have won because Danedream was un-catchable that day but was left too much to do at the back by Heffernan. He should have come out second. Pilot error.

Qipco Champions Stakes 2011. Narrow second to Cirrus des Aigles. The race came after only 13 days rest since his Arc outing, so he was tremendous into coming out second. Would have won if the races were further apart.

Breeders Cup Classic 2011. Beaten 3.5 lengths into 6th. He ran honourably considering dirt is not his surface and it was his 3rd Group 1 race in 5 weeks. He would have fared better if he had skipped the Qipco Champion Stakes above.

Finally, Dubai World Cup 2012. Honourable 4th on a synthetic surface that was not to his liking. However, this time, connections should be applauded for taking aim at racing's richest race.

Between all these heart-breaking defeats, So You Think still won 5 Group 1's on European soil. The horse's a legend. Without getting into the British-Aussie squabble as to how good he was, there is no doubt that if one had to select any horse from any era to run a 10-12 furlong race, So You Think would be at the forefront of many minds. Just like the Sea The Stars, Deep Impact, Dancing Brave, Nijinski, Ribot and Sea Bird. To me, he was that good.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Big chance

Ouch, Roger Federer rolled back the years and stunned Djokovic to reach the Wimbledon final. My bad on this one; Djokovic will beat Federer on most days but today the Fed just did not want to give up the fight on his preferred surface. He will meet Andy Murray in an intriguing final. The London public will want Murray to get his first Major but I'm sure the crowd will not mind Federer winning it, in what very well could be his last Major. The pressure is definitely on the Scot, it's a now-or-never time to win a coveted big one.

Saturday is all about racing, particularly in England and South Africa. The Durban July, SA's most prestigious race runs at Greyville with the fantastic Jackson, sure to play a leading role in the proceedings. He is the best horse by far in the race and it seems only his outside 16th draw can beat him. His main opponent looks to be Ilha Bella from the mighty De Kock stable. However she is drawn even worse in 19th, so he looks favourably drawn in that respect. Jackson looks a safe each-way punt, and should figure at the finish.

On the same card, the Garden Province Stakes pits 2 of the country's best fillies in Ebony Flyer and Princess Victoria.  The mile distance will suit Ebony Flyer perfectly and the only question mark regarding her is her adaptability to the Greyville undulating track, on which she has never run before. The winner should come out of those two and my preference goes to a Place on Ebony Flyer.

The Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown looks a wide open affair with the defection of So You Think. Farrh caught the eye when third to the son of High Chaparral in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot. He missed the break and finished best of all to capture third place. Connections are praying for a lot of rain and if the ground is really softish, this son of Pivotal will go in with a big chance. Whatever the ground conditions, Farrh looks set to play a major role and he looks a value Place.

Each-way: Jackson
Place: Ebony Flyer, Farrh

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

No contest

Although he clearly hated the heavy ground, Camelot was too classy for his over-matched rivals and won the Irish Derby by a rather cozy 2 lengths. Next stop for the son of Montjeu hopefully will be the St Leger where he should take all the beating again. The English Triple Crown looks to be a real possibility this year. Hats of to Ballydoyle and Coolmore if Camelot attempts it because achieving it is not the best path to commercial success in the bloodstock world.

Spain thrashed Italy in the Euros to enhance their legacy among the world's greatest ever sides. Are they the best of all time? They certainly have the results to prove it as World Cup champions and double European Cup winners. I cannot recall in my time any other side that has achieved such kind of feat. What amazes me with the Spain squad is their midfield. I mean, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Mata, Silva are some of the best midfielders in the world and yet will never all fit in the starting eleven. My only regret during those Euros is that they did not get to meet Germany in the final. That would have been something as disregarding the blip against Italy, the ever-improving Germans look the stronger of the rest in Europe. I hope this Spanish squad meets Brazil, Argentina or Germany at some point in the next World Cup because a win against those will really cement their greatness.

The battle to get in the final at Wimbledon pits Novak Djokovic against Roger Federer in one semi-final. At current odds, the Serb looks great value to reach the final here. I've said it many times before, Nole has gotten the number of the aging Swiss. Federer might have looked impressive in the quarter-finals against Youzhny but he will not have it as easy against the Serb, who's been having the mental edge in their recent encounters. With Nadal out, this year's Wimbledon looks destined to go to Djokovic and he will certainly find the will and means to overcome Federer and retain his title.

Win: Djokovic