Friday, October 26, 2012

Week-end preview

Here's my predictions for this week-end's round of football matches.

Arsenal v/s QPR. The Gunners are on a 2-game slump in which they have failed to score. Van Persie is being sorely missed. Truth is, they are also missing Walcott and Ox-Chamberlain through injury. A third defeat on the trot will really put pressure on Arsene Wenger. QPR managed to gain a point against Everton last week-end and will be keen to build on that positive result to finally land their first win of the season. I doubt it will happen at the Emirates though. Arsenal should get at least a point from this encounter, and it might be worth going with them for the straight win.

Aston Villa v/s Norwich. Two bad teams capable of the best and worst. Can go either way.

Reading v/s Fulham. I like Fulham as a draw-no-bet here. Martin Jol has a fully-fit squad at his disposal and I see Rodallega and Berbatov able to exploit the weaknesses of the leaky Reading defence.

Stoke v/s Sunderland. This looks to be a low-scoring affair. Stoke are very good at home while Sunderland are being a little bit of a disappointment at the moment. I was expecting Martin O'Neil's men to be higher up the table but for some reason, they are really struggling as a unit. They rode their luck to snatch a draw against Newcastle last week-end. It wouldn't surprise me if Sunderland stole the points here but Stoke definitely hold home advantage.

Wigan v/s West Ham. I believe the hosts are one the value draw-no-bets of the week-end. They have been arguably unlucky recently with points lost at Swansea where they had a controversial tying goal disalloweed, and against Everton where they conceded late after leading twice. So they are clearly knocking at the door, and they will be keen to gain full points against a West Ham team that has exposed form on their travels. Wigan as draw-no-bet is the recommendation.

Man City v/s Swansea. For all their European troubles, Man City are a serious team in the EPL and they will be keen to make amends of their mid-week failures by gunning down Swansea. A straight win for the hosts.

Everton v/s Liverpool. I cannot see Liverpool winning this. Sure, they beat Anzhi in mid-week and have kept a clean sheet for the past 3 games. In fact, I think they will be feeling the effects of their mid-week win since Rogers fielded his first-team. Everton are as good a team this year as they've ever been under Moyes. They already beat Man Utd at home and are playing with full confidence at the moment. They could easily win this game and look safe as a draw-no-bet.

Newcastle v/s West Brom. Expect Ba to score here. He's been off the score sheet for the past few games and he will be keen to exploit a West Brom defence that gives away a lot of shots per game. The Magpies played and won in mid-week with their B team, so they should go all guns blazing against the visitors. A home win is the selection.

Southampton v/s Tottenham. This can go either way as both teams have showed no consistent form whatsoever so far, so will abstain from trying to pick the result.

Chelsea v/s Man Utd. The big one. A 6-point decider really. Chelsea have home advantage and will be keen to pick apart the mediocre Utd defence. They leak badly and Hazard and Mata will certainly be relishing the occasion. Tactically, Chelsea have a great coach in Di Matteo, who understands what it takes to get a result.Ask Barcelona. Man Utd will rely on their strong attacking unit to bail them out again. Rooney and Van Persie will also look to exploit holes in the Chelsea defence that will miss John Terry. This game could very well end up in a draw. If a team were to win it, I think it would be Chelsea, but that's far from a certainty, so I'll abstain here too.

In Germany, I see a win for Bayern Munich. In Spain, I think Barcelona will suffer at Rayo but it's impossible to go against the mighty Catalans unless you're a long punter. Real Madrid are facing a mini-injury crisis at the moment but should be deep enough to garner at least a point during their visit to Mallorca.

Win: Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Bayern Munich
Draw-no-bet: Wigan, Everton, Real Madrid

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pantheon of the greats

What a week-end! Every single selection hit, except for hapless Arsenal who managed to go lose at Norwich. Obviously, the main talking point after Saturday was the place of Frankel among the all-time greats. Best horse there has ever been, has been a very popular clamour. There is no right or wrong answer on this one and I stand among those that will fall short of calling him the best ever. He could very well be the best of them all, but it impossible for me to give him that ultimate accolade with absolute confidence or certainty.

Don't get me wrong; Frankel is an unbelievable beast, the likes of which I've never seen before. He's the greatest miler of all time. Better, I consider him the best racehorse to have ever run up to 10 furlongs. If there was any match race from 8 to10 furlongs and I could select any horse, it would be him. He's the most dominant horse that has ever run at those distances. He's proved it by beating champions of the caliber of Canford Cliffs, Excelebration, and Cirrus des Aigles. He put anything that opposed him to submission.

But he hasn't run at 12 furlongs, the distance of reference for the best of the best, in my opinion. This is the distance of the Derbies, of the most-prestigious Arc, of the King George. This is the distance that tells the difference in class between the great and the immortal ones. The awesome Dubai Millenium lost his invincibility on his Derby attempt, a lack of stamina that was the cause of his only defeat. This is the distance that some mighty champions of Montjeu toyed with the their challengers. This is the distance that made the legends of Dancing Brave, Ribot, Deep Impact, Zarkava, Sea Bird, Nijinski, to name a few.

Frankel did not attempt that mythical distance, and the travesty of it all, is that he seemed to have the pedigree, being a son of Galileo. Had he won a high-caliber Group 1 at 12 furlongs, he would be my undisputed champion of all time. Would he have flopped like Dubai Millenium? Or would he have been as dominant as he proved at shorter distances? Have would he have reacted on the Longchamp straight with Ribot working on his inside and Deep Impact, Zarkava and Dancing Brave breathing down his neck with their dazzling finish, for the ultimate Arc? Most probably, he would have trounced all of them, but alas, he has no form to prove it. On similar lines, Black Caviar is possibly the greatest sprinter of all time, but she's just that, a sprinter; not the greatest racehorse there has been.

Not many champions end their career undefeated. The mystique behind Frankel is that he can not only boast he never got beaten, but he destroyed almost any horse that crossed his path. Such was his dominance. He's racing's version of Lionel Messi; he won everything there is to win while beating every record, except winning the World Cup. Can he be considered the greatest?

There has never been a certainty like Frankel in race punting, at least not in these times. He will be missed. He's the benchmark against which all future milers and 10-furlong performers will be gauged. I believe he will stay thus for a long long time. Frankel was a destroyer, possibly not the greatest racehorse, but certainly the most dominant thoroughbred there has been.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A last one for Frankel

This week-end is all about Frankel's last race and nothing has changed from my previous assessment that he will end his career in a blaze of glory to which he is so accustomed. Let the ground be worse than very soft, let the greatest foe he will have encountered come from France, let the naysayers mention the unlucky-bound 13th run; I think he will prevail at the end. I might be wrong. American fans know all about Zenyatta and her heart-breaking last race. His odds are short, yet look generous. I don't think he will destroy Cirrus; on good ground, maybe. But on heavy ground, the gap might be well short of the ocean-wide margins he usually leaves in his wake. Frankel to win, Cirrus for the placing; there's no certainty in racing particularly on heavy terrain, but this 1-2 looks to be the play to go for.

League football is back after the usual but not-so-interesting international World Cup qualifiers. There's always the danger that teams don't show up in optimum or true form after such a break because of player fatigue, missed trainings and preparation time etc, so there are always some nuggets that may prop up here and there.

Fulham v/s Villa. This is one of the best shouts of the week-end for a Home win. The Cottagers are very good at home and will have extra ammunition with the return of striker Berbatov from injury.

Liverpool v/s Reading. Liverpool are a better team than what their results suggest. I expect them to come blazing against the sorry visitors. Suarez could have a great scoring game here provided he's well rested from his trip from South America. Straight home win.

Man Utd v/s Stoke. It is no secret that Stoke play for the goalless draw away from home. They might even eke out an odd goal. If an out-of-sorts Man Utd shows up, like the one that got beat by Tottenham a few weeks, then Stoke have a chance for a draw. Orelse it should be another home win. Given that they have lost 2 games already, Sir Alex will be keen to have his team pumped up here for full points, so it might be worth going for the straight home win.

Swansea v/s Wigan. This can go either way. Both teams are two-faced and are capable of the best and worst.

West Brom v/s Man City. If it were not for its current injury woes, I would have given WBA a good chance to snatch a point here. Although they are still a strong team, City seem to have to labor hard to get the 3 points on their travels. They are not yet dominant. It would hardly be any surprise if the Citizens won this late as the hosts will certainly not hand it to them.

West Ham v/s Southampton. Can go either way. If I were to speculate, the hosts as draw-no-bet will be the safest way to go.

Norwich v/s Arsenal. The Gunners look to be a good draw-no-bet proposition here. Norwich has a leaky defence which the visitors will be keen to exploit. Arsenal have their defensive lapses of their own and are not sure to come out of the game with a clean sheat. They should prevail or come up with a draw in the end though.

Sunderland v/s Newcastle. I favour Sunderland slightly for this North East derby, only because of their home advantage. Sunderland looks good value as a draw-no-bet.

QPR v/s Everton. This could be the springboard for Mark Hughes' men to finally get out of their losing funk. Everton is not to be dismissed lightly and they are capable of giving a game to any team in the league on their best day. Long-shot punters should consider QPR as a serious draw-no-bet selection, but they do not offer enough guarantees for me to consider them a safe punt. Better to avoid this match.

In Spain, I see home wins for Malaga and Real Madrid, while Valencia and Barcelona look solid draw-no-bet selections.

Win: Frankel, Man Utd, Real Madrid, Malaga, Liverpool, Fulham
Place: Cirrus des Aigles
Exacta: Frankel/Cirrus des Aigles
Draw-no-bet: Valencia, Barcelona, Sunderland, Arsenal, West Ham

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pile on Frankel and Cirrus

This week leads up to Saturday's Champions Day racing at Ascot, the one-year-old scheme devised to rival the Breeders Cup in the US. The occasion will be momentous with Frankel set to run his last race in the Qipco Champion Stakes. Just crunching the race at the moment and clearly there are only 3 names to retain from the 8-horse field; the Invincible Frankel himself, the French superstar Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel, one of the best middle-distance horses around and who is the closest to have come to going toe-to-toe with Frankel, on their debut.

I hope there's lots of rain and the ground is sticky muddy on race day. That's the only way to get decent odds on Frankel. Heavy conditions will suit Cirrus to perfection. This will give hope to the French raiding party supporters. It might even give hope to Nathaniel supporters. It will dampen the Frankel camp as he's not proven on too soft ground . But no matter how bottomless the ground, I have hardly any doubt that he will win. He's a stone clear of the others at the weights and I think he is the only one who can beat himself. Cirrus is deservedly the second highest-rated horse in training but he's no Frankel.

I am no fan of the ante-post market, but if they are going to go to post, to me, Frankel is a sure win and Cirrus is a sure Place. Once the markets open, any combo involving these 2, seems to me the way to go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Glorious in defeat

From a punting viewpoint, the Arc delivered aplenty with Orfevre easily hitting the Placings at unbelievably generous odds of 3/1. Obviously, from a sporting position, like many others, I would have loved it if he won it all. The race can be replayed time and again and how he lost the race would still be beyond anyone's comprehension. The start of the last straight was a sight to behold as he effortlessly stormed past some of the best middle-distance horses Europe had on offer. I was thinking of another demolition a la Danedream. Better, I was thinking that Frankel was right to stay home. Almost immediately, it unfolded into a nightmare as he idled and hit the rails as Solemia caught him on. World beater turned unlucky second.

Solemia ran the race of the life and deserves more credit than what she's getting, even though it will always be more the race that Orfevre lost and not the race she won. What he showed was he is a genius, albeit a flawed genius. If I hinted Camelot was, on talent, the best horse going in the race, I was wrong. Orfevre will destroy this field anytime if he finds a way to settle on these quirks. What a run from the impossible post position of 18 on a heavy sticky ground he'd never run before. I cannot see how his rider Soumillon can be faulted. He rode the perfect copybook race; he had the whip in the right hand in the straight. His ride deviated and idled through no fault of his.

Rarely does a horse come out of a lost race with his reputation enhanced. Orfevre is now a name that will warrant attention, not only within the shores of Japan. It looks improbable but Soumillon got tongues wagging when he mentioned an encounter with Frankel on British Champions Day. Frankel, Cirrus des Aigles, Orfevre. That would be something. What was interesting, if not intriguing, is Soumillon's assessment in the aftermath of Sunday's defeat that Orfevre was the best horse he'd ever ridden. Whether said in the heat of the moment or not, but it gives a reference point to Orfevre's exceptional talent; better than Dalakhani, better than Zarkava? On Sunday, we got oh-so-close to the realm of fantasy land.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Camelot, meet Orfevre

My favourite race of the year: the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Longchamp is my idea of the greatest race in the world. The legends of the turf have won it and the best horse almost always wins it.

This year's race has been marred by late defections of some leading fancies; title holder Danedream tragically won't be there through no fault of her own, Nathaniel spiked a fever at an unfortunate time, Snow Fairy is out of the season injured. And the mighty Frankel (or more so his connections) opted not to venture on the stamina-sapping 12 furlongs;

The race will still regroup some high-caliber horses, 4 of which seem clear-cut above the rest; Camelot, Orfevre, Saonois and Shareta. I don't think the winner will be outside this quartet.

Camelot failed to win the Triple Crown although he did finish a honourable second in the St Leger. Whether he is the super horse billed by his connections, remains to be seen. His defeat somewhat lowered his colors and reputation that was made of him. He's still a high-class horse that has won the Epsom and Irish Derbies, not forgetting the 2000 Guineas. He is the best 3-year old of the race. There are a lot of positives going for him. He will be ridden by Dettori, he will have a weight allowance against the older generation, and he's by super 12-furlong-sire Montjeu. The only issue I see is how well he's recuperated from his St Leger exertions. It is commonly acknowledged that the great Nijinski got beaten in the Arc because he was still feeling the ill-effects of the Doncaster Classic. There are only 3 weeks separating the 2 races and there is no doubt that the small recuperation time can be taxing, particularly when facing a strong Arc contingent. This is the question mark regarding Camelot; how fit and rested will he be for the race? If he is 100%, he will win orelse he'll be in the placings.

Orfevre, Japanese superstar, maybe not on the same level as Deep Impact, but the best to grace Longchamp since the Sunday Silence wonder horse. He won this trial when not fully wound up a few weeks ago and indications are that he's improved a bunch and will be in top form. He's clearly class, he will be ridden by Soumillon and distance will suit. He looks prime to run a huge race. He should be in the first 3, like Camelot.

Saonois is the best French 3-year old and winner of the French Derby. He was impressive in winning the Prix Niel, considered the main trial for the Arc. He produced an instant acceleration in the last metres of the race after having been held boxed in the straight. Not many other horses would have been able to do that. Saonois must be respected as many French 3-year old colts have shown their mettle in the race over the years.

Shareta is the best remaining filly in the race after the defections of Snow Fairy and Danedream. She was a surprise second last year and she seems even better this year. She won the Prix Vermeille in good style and any reproduction of that form should see her play a major role. She has got a great cruising speed and her ability to stay close to the pace could put her in clear daylight in the straight and not be reached . If she's on song, she could strike strike big for the Aga Khan.

I think Camelot and Orfevre have to be in any trifecta. This could be the day that Japan finally lands the race that it wants most to win. It won the Dubai World Cup, it won the Melbourne Cup, but this is the trophy that it really wants; for prestige, for the record books and posterity. I don't know if it will happen, but I sure will be rooting for Orfevre to achieve what no other Japanese horse has done in the history of the race. May the Sun rise on Arc Day!

Place: Camelot, Orfevre

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Clutch and Choke

A week-end with some freakish results with Arsenal, Man Utd and QPR all gunned down at home. Sunderland, Real and Stoke won as expected and Fulham's +1 handicap was good for void in their brave 2-1 defeat against Man City.

The headlines of the week-end were without doubt the Miracle at Medinah Chicago where the European Ryder Cup team produced the greatest come-back ever on Sunday in defeating the US team and thereby retaining the Cup. What sweet revenge it was for Europe, especially team captain Olazabal, as it washed away the tears of Brookline 1999 when the US produced a come-back of their own amidst displays of unsportsmanlike conduct to win the Cup. What an amazing clutch player Europe has found in Ian Poulter who won all his 4 matches and started the inspiration for his teammates late Saturday when he birdied the last 5 holes of his foursome match to give an almost-out Europe some glimmer of hope. The US choked on the final day but it is really a case of the Europeans being the best whenever they are playing their best. I was saying in my previous blog that this European team had nothing to envy from their US counterparts; namely because on an individual basis, they are really better, more talented and more driven.

The countdown to this week is all about the Arc on Sunday and the organizers must be going nuts at the moment. Nathaniel has fallen sick and won't be going. Danedream as well will miss defending her title as she's suddenly stuck in quarantine following a disease outbreak at her stay in Cologne. Talk about freakish timing. Add to this the absence of Snow Fairy, Valyra, Frankel and others and you think that this year's race will be devoid of many of the world's best middle-distance runners. But it becomes great from a punting point of view, I think. At this point, my sight is set on the Japanese superstar Orfevre, the impressive Vermeille winner Shareta, and should he start, Camelot. It could be that other connections decide to supplement their horses in light of so many high-profile defects, we'll see.

Tonight's games in the Champions League look tight. I think Man Utd are in for a rude travel to Cluj. They might still win it because of their potent offense but they are very liable to concede goals with their porous defence. Anytime Johnny Evans is starting with Rio Ferdinand, you can expect some torrid moments in the Utd penalty area, as Tottenham showed over the week-end.

Chelsea should win at Nordsjaellan in Denmark, they are a confident Win selection. Galatasaray will also look to bag all 3 points at home to Poruguese Braga. The hosts should win this. I also like Valencia's chances against France's Lille. It looks worth to go for a straight Valencia win as well here.

Win: Chelsea, Valencia, Galatasaray