Friday, May 31, 2013

C's and T's: Dawn Approach's challenge

New Approach made his mark as a serious Classic sire today after Talent's surprising victory in the Oaks. The question is whether he can make it a bis repetita celebration when his son Dawn Approach guns for Derby victory as a heavy favourite.

It seems to be a unanimous feeling that if Dawn Approach gets the 12-furlong distance, he will win. Based on form, there is not much in the race that comes close to Godolphin's representative. The answer to his stamina concerns lies in a momentous discovery in thoroughbred racing central of which is no other than his trainer Jim Bolger himself. It is his company that made the breakthrough that racehorses can be empirically categorized as pure sprinters, stayers and a mixture of both based on samplings of their DNA. To simplify a long story, if C stands for a sprinter-type and T for a stayer-type, then a CC-horse is bound to be primarily a short-distance specialist having received the C genes from both the dam and sire. On the same note, a TT-type horse will be more apt for stamina-challenging races. CT or TC-type horses can turn out to be in either part of the spectrum; they can become great sprinters, milers or stayers.

If Jim Bolger did not have Dawn Approach in the Derby preliminary entries, it is for the simple reason that he had empirical evidence that the colt is a CC-type horse, i.e, a sprinting type not suited for the Derby distance. The story goes that it is the colt's other owner, Godolphin's Sheikh Mohammed that decided to go for the Classic.

Given the above, it is clear that for Dawn Approach to win the Derby, 2 things must happen. First, he must have the class that will carry him through the distance. He will need to find every bit of it in the last furlong to the post, where many other champions (Dubai Millenium is the prime example) have floundered. The manner of all his wins lead me to think that Dawn Approach has that amount of required class. Second, much depends on the quality of his opponents. From what most of them have shown, their forms are very exposed. Battle of Marengo was workmanlike in the Derrinstown Derby Trial. Although unbeaten in 3 races, Ocovango is no Pour Moi although many pundits try to find similarities. Ocovango looks more like a galloper and lacks the burst of acceleration of the Derby winner. He can be in the thereabouts but at current odds, I think he's a great one to lay. The winner could come out of the rest of the pack with the likes of Mars, Ruler of the World or the unbeaten Chopin, but none of them would be a confident pick. It seems that whichever acts more on the Epsom undulations will have a chance of usurping the favourite.

My confident selection is Dawn Approach to be in the first 3. If he takes to the distance, he could rout this field. If not, there might be a dark horse among the rest waiting to bask in Epsom's glory. I don't think it will be Battle of Marengo or Ocovango, so they would be my lays of the race.

Place: Dawn Approach
Lay: Battle of Marengo, Ocovango

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moth to fly in Oaks

In what seems to be a common pattern in today's racing, Friday's Oaks seems to be a battle between Galileo's fillies; Secret Gesture is the one with the market support after her awesome demonstration in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. Moth is the other serious contender representing the Ballydoyle contingent. Galileo's sons and daughters really look set to rule the Classics to come for the foreseeable future.

It is true that the form of the Oaks Trial can be deemed suspect. The runner-up Miss You Too runs in Friday's Classic as well and is the long-shot of the field at over 100/1. That means to say that there is the real possibility that the visually impressive 10-length demolition of Secret Gesture in that race should be taken at face value and might not be the best form on show for the race. There is no doubt Ralph Beckett's filly is high-class but she will find the Classic race a much more competitive affair.

I really like the way Moth closed up the 1000 Guineas in finishing third. She finished best of the field and there is no doubt that the 12 furlong distance will be right up her alley. Her fans will have been delighted that she's the stable jockey's pick. She must have a big chance particularly if Secret Gesture's Oaks Trial form is exposed on the day.

Of the rest, I think Liber Nauticus will miss some seasoning for the race. She's undefeated in 2 races but I believe the Oaks comes too early for her. She's definitely over-priced in my books.

I can easily see Moth in the first three. She looks a safe and value Place punt at current odds.

Place: Moth

Friday, May 24, 2013

Choker tag on the line

The UCL final at Wembley is the main event of the week-end, pitting the 2 German teams Bayern Munich and Dortmund. On paper and based on form, Bayern looks difficult to beat and is the overwhelming favourite. But looks are very deceiving. For those that think that the Munich team will win it easily, consider this; Bayern have not beaten Dortmund in a league game for the past couple of years. They have lost more UCL finals than they've won. They lost when to Porto in 1987 when practically no-one thought the Portuguese had the slightest chance. Last year, they lost the final to Chelsea when playing at their vaunted Allianz Arena. They also lost to Man Utd during the Red Devils' Triple Crown coronation in 1999, and again to Mourinho's Inter Milan in the 2010 Final. In comparison, Dortmund's sole UCL final appearance and victory came as a massive under-dog against Juventus in 1997.

So, the word "choker" springs to mind when The Bavarians get to the final. But that's not to say that this year  might not be different; Bayern really look overwhelmingly strong this year. They crushed the Bundesliga early and annihilated Barcelona on their way to Wembley. This is a team that is really on the ascendancy and will be peaking in the coming years, provided upcoming coach Guardiola does not wreck them.

Against them is a strong Dortmund team that has the belief that this Cup is theirs for the taking. They were nearly dead and buried against Malaga, yet conjured up 2 goals in injury-time to make it through. They were not supposed to overcome mighty Real Madrid, yet they outplayed and outscored them. On its best day, this team can beat anyone, even Bayern. They are led by a maestro motivator in manager Klopp. They have world-class players like Lewandowski, Reus and Gotze that can open up any defence. But here's one thing; Gotze will miss the final due to a hamstring injury. That's a massive blow for Dortmund. He's their playmaker and although he's Bayern-bound next year, he would have been a real threat for the men in yellow.

The pressure will definitely be more on Bayern. They have to score first and preferably early to settle their nerves. Their ability to impose their game will be instrumental. They have beaten their opponents in the German Cup this season which will have given them belief that they can win the game in 90 minutes. Dortmund will most probably sit back and rely on their deadly counter-attack. Anything can happen in a final; the team that makes of the most of its chances will win. There's no certainty here; but I think that with some luck, Bayern is ready to dispel the myths and confirm the current thinking that they are indeed the best in Europe. Whether in full or injury-time, or on penalties, my feeling is that the Bavarians will prevail.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Changing Landscape

This end of football season in the European leagues looks set to be the watershed to the impending massive changes to bestow upon them next year. With the great SAF retiring, Man Utd will be under a new manager after 27 years. But the winds of change have affected many other European powerhouses as well; in England, Chelsea looks set for the second coming of Mourinho and Pellegrini has apparently been given the reins at Man City. The best 3 teams in England will be under new leaders. In Italy, Milan is on the verge of getting rid of Allegri after a so-so first season. Inter are on the look-out for a new coach as well. In Spain, the much-maligned Mourinho has finally been booted out of Madrid, to the delight of Spanish fans in general. Malaga will also look for a new manager after the departure of Pellegrini. In Germany, Guardiola is taking over the powerful Bayern Munich. Finally, so far, in France, PSG are looking to replace want-away Ancelotti for whom Real Madrid came calling.

We are talking here of 8 big teams that played in this year's Champions League. This is bound to affect not only their domestic leagues but next year's dynamics in the UCL as well. It is too early to say whether teams like Barcelona will have the advantage of continuity with them. After all, much of it will depend on player personnel as well. Rooney looks to be out of Man Utd, Dortmund will be losing some key players, Real Madrid is already working on their list of surplus to requirements. And probably more importantly, Neymar will make his European debut, quite possibly under a Barcelona shirt.

English football itself is moving into a new era with the retirement of Scholes, Beckham and Owen. While their careers were already on the wane for the past few years, there is no doubt that their names are etched forever in England folklore for their contributions to the game. They were some of the finest to ever don a Lions shirt and have made their indelible mark.

The carousel round of managers and players will make for a hectic transfer summer season . A new dawn of football will start in August. The retired ones will be missed but football will hold its intrigue more than ever.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cup consolation for Real

First, a salute to Beckham who's decided his boots at the end of the year. Same year as SAF, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, who have defined Man Utd for the past 20 years. Becks is simply the best crosser of the ball I have ever seen. No-one can bend it like Beckham. Also, Becks is the best free-kick taker in the 25-30 yard range I have ever seen. Zidane could have been the best below 25 yards but Becks had deadly aim at longer ranges. Although he's won in 4 different leagues, I'm pretty sure he would be as equally happy or more so playing all his career at Old Trafford, like Giggs and Scholes. The fact that he's really stayed a humble guys throughout his massive on and off-field successes say a lot about the man. A real rare true icon.

Tonight sees the Copa del Rey final between Real and Atletico Madrid. On one hand, there's a divided Real team whose manager Mourinho has burnt all of his bridges to the club and is on his way out. On the other, Atletico will try to use these apparent conflicts to finally secure a win over their city rivals. This final also pits 2 men who've never lost a final, I believe; Mourinho and Falcao have been in quite a few important ones and always found a way to win. Falcao always seems pumped for these kinds of occasions.

My verdict is that Real Madrid will prevail. The final being at their home Bernabeu gives them a massive advantage. It is a mountain to climb for Atletico. I don't give much credence to the theory that Real will be hampered by the stories of disarray in which the club seems to embroiled; that Mourinho has lost the locker room etc. He may have lost the players' esteem but they are still a strong force that can cause damage when playing in unison. They can still rely on CR7 to put them on the score sheet. Atletico's best chance will be for it to go to the lottery of penalties. I think Real will settle this game sooner than that.

Win Copa: Real Madrid

Friday, May 10, 2013

Celebrations in Manchester

Old Trafford will be the the theatre of a special ending Saturday when SAF manages his last Man Utd home game. It is bound to be emotional. There's every reason to believe the players will show nerves on the occasion. The hosts will have experienced a week out of the ordinary. Their training will have been disrupted. So typically, you'd expect Man Utd to start slowly and possibly struggle. Against them is a Swansea team with nothing to play for except maybe as spoilers, as they did against Wigan last week. Although they won that game, they never showed any glimpse of doing so for most of the match and were lucky to capitalize on 2 Latics errors. That said, I think it is written somewhere that the Red Devils will give SAF the send-off he deserves. It might take time, but I think that once they get on the score sheet, the hosts could spend the evening banging goals to their manager's delight. Once the nerves are settled, the Fergie's players will be giving their all in one of the games of their lives.

I am not sure I am a fan of the FA Cup being played before the season end, but it's hard to visualize anything other than a Man City win. Wigan is involved in a serious relegation fight and they will not be entirely focused on the game. Man City should have too much firepower for the Latics. It might take extra-time or penalites, but in the end, the Citizens should prevail.

Win: Man Utd
Win FA Cup: Man City

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Greatest - Sir Alex Ferguson

I don't think there could be a more massive news than yesterday's in football. Sir Alex Ferguson retirement news is a bombshell in itself and the fact that it was just out of the blue made it all the more sensational. This is about the only manager many Man Utd fans will have known. And the greatest one that ever managed a football team. Like any sort of transitioning in any business, this is bound to hit Man Utd hard. Liverpool have yet to recover from their glory days in the 80's. Although it is hard to fathom that the current Red Devils will suffer that kind of drought, it looks far-fetched to think that without the man, they will be able to sustain the kind of trophy collection that they've been so accustomed to under his guidance. Only Fergie's mastery and vision could have withstood the threat from big spenders like Chelsea and Man City in the past years. Yesterday's news will have given these teams a mighty spring in their step, that this might be finally their time for dominance.

Without Fergie, there is no doubt that Man Utd will go to battle without their soul. They will fight as they always do, but there will be that invisible all-important ingredient missing. The rampant feeling is that David Moyes will be the anointed replacement. There's no doubt that he's an excellent coach who's been doing wonders at Everton for the past years. The major downside is that he's never won a trophy and does not have Champions League experience. He might still be the best one for the job, particularly for the long term. But for the short term, things don't look rosy for the champions. Changes will be inevitable and some will be destabilizing. The news that Rooney is again asking for departure; his request might have been prior to the Ferguson news but it still is one of the many challenges facing the club in this new dawn.

The chance to work with Ferguson was an appeal for foreign stars to join the club. It's hard to think that the attraction will be the same under a new coach. Man Utd is bound to find it harder in the transfer market. With Fergie, a game was never lost until the final whistle. Man Utd fans have abundant memories of matches being won in injury time. With their never-say-die attitude, Fergie's teams made 0 point into 1, 1 point into 3, and jaws of defeat into glorious wins; ask Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup, arguably Fergie's finest hour.

Although it is too early to make predictions, there is every reason to believe that Man Utd will fall short of making the same kind of points haul in the EPL next year. This does not mean that the Red Devils cannot win the league again or be a major force in football. It's just that their dominance and awe, as we know it today, is over. The change of the guard will impact, it always does. If there is no shift of power, there is a bound to be a major re-balancing of it. This is a new dawn for Man Utd and English football. The top end of the EPL will certainly be looking different than the ones in the last decades.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Toronado to be followed by Dawn Approach

This week-end is all about Flat racing with the first Classics in Britain being held at Newmarket and the Kentucky Derby looking a wide-open affair at Churchill Downs.

There are only 2 names to remember for the 2000 Guineas; Toronado and Dawn Approach. The winner will come out of the two, and the loser will very possibly make the first 3. Not so long ago, Richard Hughes was claiming that Canford Cliffs was the best he'd ridden. He now thinks that Toronado is on par or potentially  better than CC. That's a big statement. The unbeaten son of High Chaparral won the Craven impressively. He's got the cobwebs out of that run. His connections think he's in the form of his life. The same connections won the 2000 Guineas 4 times and recently placed with CC, Dick Turpin and Dubawi Gold. So, they know how to prepare the horse for the race. Distance will not be a problem. Bar an accident, I cannot see Toronado out of the first 2. In fact, I think he will win.

Dawn Approach is the unbeaten son of New Approach. He's won all his 5 races like his sire, as a juvenile. New Approach was heavy favourite for the Guineas but found Henrythenavigator a head too good in the 2009 Classic. It could be a bis repetita scenario for his son as well. Trainer Jim Bolger has never won the Guineas, but that doesn't mean that he cannot prepare them right for the occasion. He's placed recently with New Approach, as well as Gan Amhras. He couldn't have better words for NA leading to the race; his preparation has been ideal with no hiccups and he has gotten the expected improvement from the horse to be a leading player this year. Very encouraging words which make me think that NA towers over the rest of the field, bar Toronado.

From the rest, Aidan's O'Brien's horses always run well in the Classic, even without a prep run. He won it with Camelot last year and he definitely knows how to get them a winning chance in the race. Whichever of George Vancouver, Mars or Christoforo Colombo should be the best of the rest.

I have hardly any doubt it will be between Toronado and Dawn Approach. Where Toronado edges it for me is his advantage of having had a prep run. Also, there looks to be pace in the race which will better suit the Hannon colt. Dawn Approach should follow him home.

The 1000 Guineas looks a wide open affair but I feel French raider What a Name could spoil the local party. She's definitely a very talented daughter of Mr Greeley and the mile will be right up her alley. The vibes are very positive from her yard after her convincing seasonal re-appearance win in the Prix Imprudence. She is a Place selection.

In the US, the Run for the Roses looks a very competitive one. Much of it will depend on the conditions of the race and any hard-luck for the horses to weave their way through a 20-horse field. Orb is the slight favourite and if he does not suffer from a horror trip, he should be a leading player. I'll stand on the sidelines on this one but any exotic punt needs to have Orb in there.

Win: Toronado
Place: Dawn Approach, What a Name