Thursday, June 18, 2015

Royal Ascot Day 4 - Moore on Fire

This Ascot renewal has been all about Ryan Moore who's snatched 8 races in the 3-day span and he's far from done yet. The last day sees him with leading chances with the likes of Hootenanny, Found, Aloft and Ol' Man River.

I really like the profile of Ol' Man River in the King Edward VII Stakes. The son of Montjeu has lost his way since the start of the season but the view from connections look rather upbeat. Having won both his juvenile races last year, he was fancied to be one of Ballydoyle's leading hopes in the top Classic middle-distance races this year. He came out last in the 2000 Guineas but not many would have expected fireworks from a son of Montjeu at the mile distance. Only Camelot was good enough to achieve that distinction. It was his disappointing 6th out of 7 contestants in the Dante that was the most perplexing. It is a gamble whether a 36-day rest would have sorted things out with him but trainer O'Brien seems to portray that the colt is back in order. At a mile and a half distance, a top-class son of Montjeu can be lethal and he could be worthy of a shot at current prices against opponents, none of which have won at the distance.

The 6 furlong Commonweath Cup looks the most competitive of the day with the likes of Hootenanny, Limato, Tiggly Wiggly and Anthem Alexander. It might very well be a game of inches here and preference goes to the 2 first mentioned. Wesley Ward always gets his runners primed for Ascot and Hootenanny has a very good chance to add to his impressive win tally.

Found, also ridden by Ryan Moore, looks the classiest filly in the Coronation Stakes. She narrowly missed out in the Irish 1000 Guineas but the form worked out well with winner Pleascach a good second in the Ribblesdale Stakes today. Ervedya from France looks her likeliest danger.

Win: Hootenanny
Place: Ol' Man River, Found, Ervedya

Royal Ascot Day 3 - King of the Juveniles

Arguably if one were looking for a horse having made a distinct impression in the last fortnight, it would have to be Buratino. After having annexed the field in the Listed Woodcote Stakes on Derby day by six lengths, the son of Exceed and Excel turned on the turbo again against solid Group 2 opposition in the  Coventry Stakes at Ascot yesterday, winning 2 clear lengths in the process.

It looks hard to believe but Buratino was himself soundly beaten 2 times by the Hannon pair of King of Rooks and Log Out Island who lock horns in the Norfolk Stakes today. That makes one wonder how good are the those two? King of Rooks has won his two races out of three starts, both in emphatic fashion by 5 and 6 lengths. Log Out Island has won his only career outing to date by an impressive 4.5 lengths and has been snapped up by Godolphin. Both of their pedigrees suggests that 5 furlongs is their optimal distance and the good to firm ground will suit both. King of Rooks has the benefit of the extra experience, which is why he is the preferred selection. The others are racing for the minor placings here.

The Gold Cup lost some of its lustre with the defection of Brown Panther. The unbeaten Forgotten Rules looks set to place a major role here and provided that the ground is not too firm to his liking, he should be at the finish. He is taken to give the Weld/Smullen combination another Ascot win after the winning return of Free Eagle in the Prince of Wales' Stakes yesterday.

Win: King of Rooks, Forgotten Rules.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Royal Ascot Day 2 - Back to Sprint

Ivawood goes back to sprint in the Jersey Stakes after two unsuccessful forays in the English and Irish Guineas at a mile. The son of Zebedee clearly lacks the stamina when competing at the highest level against top milers and seven furlongs seems to be his best distance. The opposition is solid but it's hard to see Ivawood out of the placings here although he will carry a penalty from his juvenile form. He is an each-way selection.

The Prince of Wales' Stakes looks to be a wide-open affair although Free Eagle has the edge in the market. First thing though is that it's regretful that California Chrome will miss the race due to a late injury. It's too bad because I would have laid him all day since I don't think he stood a chance against some quality turf middle-distance European horses on offer. He might be good on dirt although I would question the quality of horses he beat in his Classic season in the US. The thing is he hardly stood a chance running against Group-calibre horses on grass. Free Eagle is definitely top-class but very fragile. He's coming back a big lay-off and I suspect he might be short of fitness and will come on for the run. Same for Ectot who makes his seasonal re-appearance and will also be better suited to a mile and a half distance. I like the looks of The Grey Gatsby and Western Hymn. The former was a disappointing fourth in the Tattersalls Gold Cup 3 weeks ago but he usually alternates the good and the bad races. On his best form, he should play a major role here. Western Hymn is 2 for 2 this year and is on the up. He had to battle to beat Arab Spring in his last race and there is a concern that the 20 day rest might just be on the short side. John Gosden's stable is on a tear and Western Hymn looks to be a good place prospect at current market odds.

Each-way: Ivawood
Place: The Grey Gatsby, Western Hymn

Monday, June 15, 2015

Royal Ascot - Day 1 - Hope of a nation

Royal Ascot is for many the highlight of the Flat season. What is undisputed is the quality of racing on offer at the meeting, particularly when foreign raiders of the highest class come from afar to challenge the superiority of the local or European counterparts. Forget Dubai or the Breeders Cup, this is the place, together with Arc day at Longchamp, where world supremacy forged through a win suffers no question of legitimacy.

And there could not have been a better start to proceedings with the Queen Anne Stakes where world beaters Able Friend and Solow lock horns for the title of best miler in the world. Their form is staggering; They both read 111111 on the race card in their last 6 races. It's Hong Kong against France all over unless Night of Thunder, Britain's top miler, produces an extraordinary effort. Very unprobable. Able Friend carries the hope of a nation, having everything in the Far East. He's nearly invincible at Sha Tin and there are worries that the stiff mile of Ascot will see his stamina out. I think he will be fine, his unbelievable turn of foot should see him through any extended distance to a mile. Solow won the Dubai Duty Free impressively and is in flying form according to trainer Head. The mile is his minimum distance and he is no doubt the best older European horse going to a mile and a quarter. There is nothing else to choose between these two, their class is vastly superior to anything else. It's as close as a match race I can think of and what a duel it should be. I see Able Friend on top at the finish. An Asian miler on top of the world at Ascot, the thoroughbred hierarchy is about to see a revolution of epic proportions!

The St James Palace crowns the best 3 year-old miler and it's hard to see past Gleneagles and Make Believe, the winners of the English and French Guineas respectively. The deserved favourite is Gleneagles, who should be holding an undefeated record were it not for a very controversial disqualification in his last juvenile race last year. The son of Galileo added to his Classic collection after Newmarket by winning the Irish Guineas in impressive fashion. He showed an instant turn of foot in that race coming out of a compromising position towards the finish. Make Believe won the French Guineas impressively and will have the benefit of an extra fortnight of rest than the Ballydoyle champion. That could very play in his favour particularly if the race is run with a lot of pace. I think it will be a close one between the two, with a small preference for Gleneagles.

Win: Able Friend, Gleneagles

Friday, June 12, 2015

Euro 2016 - Wales v/s Belgium - Back to reality

Wales have live hopes of making it to the Euros next year but they encounter their biggest stumbling block today in the form of Belgium. It's true Coleman's men have 2 world-class players in his ranks in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey who can change the course of a game on their own. But that's about as far as it goes against the Red Devils that boast probably the most talented team in Europe. Try to find the likes of Hazard, Fellaini, Chadli, de Bruyne, Courtois, Benteke, to name a few. This is Belgium's golden generation and they are favourites to not only make it to Euro 2016 but also to play a big role there as well. They coasted against France in their last preparatory match and I expect them to deliver deflate Wales' Euro hopes this afternoon. Wales have done well so far but it will back to reality for them as the best they will aim for is 2nd place in their group.

Win: Belgium.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sports Galore - Derbies, UCL and French Open

A supremely jam-packed week-end of sports is on the horizon.

The most captivating one of the action is probably the Belmont Stakes where American Pharaoh will try to enter US racing folklore by winning the Triple Crown. He is clearly the best colt of his generation and I can see only two in the field that could potentially stop his way to racing immortality; Mubtaahij and Frosted. The former is the UAE Derby winner and although he did honorably in the Kentucky Derby by finishing eighth, he looked rather one pace. He will most probably be in a better disposition for Sarurday's Classic as his preparations have gone smoother and he's been in the surroundings for about 3 weeks. If the Pharaoh does not fire, Mubtaahij should be here to pick up the pieces. Frosted, I believe, is the main threat to Baffert's colt. The way he finished at Churchill Downs leads me to believe that the one and a half mile of the Belmont will be to his advantage. The Godophin representative has the advantage of having bypassed the Preakness, thus will be freshened up for the race. Pharaoh should have no problem with the distance. He is the classiest of the bunch. My only issue with him, as with any horse that has gone through the gruelling Triple Crown series, is his freshness. The last furlong or so of the race will be the toughest of his life. That's where his heart and courage will count, but most importantly his chances will heavily depend on how the other contenders are coping with the race and distance. That's where Frosted and Mubtaahij come into play. For selections, I cannot see Pharaoh out of the placings, so he's a banker place punt. I think with some luck, he can win as well. He's by far the likeliest Triple Crown I can think of in a long long time. 

The real Derby takes place at Epsom and I can only see 3 horses playing major roles here; Golden Horn, Jack Hobbs and Hans Holbein. Golden Horn is the unbeaten favourite and he looks the ideal type for the undulations of Epsom. He settles beautifully in his races and the manner he disposed of many of Saturday's rivals in the Dante, makes him hard to oppose. My only possible negative is that his pedigree does not scream stamina, so he might be stretched out in the last furlong. Being by Cape Cross and a mare of Dubai Destination seems to make this high-class colt best suited for races of 10 furlongs. Still, he's the clear deserved favourite. Stablemate Jack Hobbs could be his main danger. The son of Halling lost his invincibility to Golden Horn in the Dante after impressive earlier wins. There should be no stamina problems in his pedigree but the fact that Golden Horn beat him so impressively in their last encounter makes it impossible to look for a reverse in placings unless there has been a spectacular progress in this 3-weeks span on his part. Finally, Hans Holbein is the winner of the Chester Vase and will have no issue with the distance being a son of Montjeu. However, he looks to be Ballydoyle's third string as Ryan Moore and JP O'Brien have selected Giovanni Canaletto and Kilimanjaro respectively. A place punt on Hans Holbein might be more realistic but still profitable. Golden Horn is the pick to win it at the finish.

French Open tennis and I expect Djokovic to first finish up with Murray in their resumed semi-final match. Then, he will probably face his toughest match of the tournament against Wawrinka, but he should have enough in the tank to see it through as well. Nole to be on top of the world on Sunday.

Finally, Champions League football at its nirvana with Barcelona taking on Juventus, the winner seeing the coronation of a perfect season a.k.a the much coveted Treble. It seems mostly everyone is on the Barcelona bandwagon but I don't think it's a done deal by any means. Sure, the Catalans boast the incredible front-line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar that can score at any time. Juventus are not that good at the back and with the last-minute defection of main central defender Chellini, they look sure to be scored against. However, the Italians cannot be dismissed lightly and if the score is still level in the late stages, it won't be surprising if they are the ones making a breakthrough. It might be fool-hardy to go against Barcelona and Messi but their odds are mightily too short against opponents that are by no-means second-string. If a choice is to be made, Barcelona be it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


With Nadal mastered, the next road block to Djokovic is Andy Murray. The Briton has made leaps and bounds on clay this year. Only in the past months, he's won his first clay tournament and more importantly beat Nadal to win a second tournament on the surface. Before his quarter-final match against Ferrer yesterday, he had never beaten the Spaniard on clay; yet he proved too strong in a 3-1 easy drubbing. Murray is coming good, especially mentally on his least-favoured surface.

Is all that good enough to beat Djokovic? No way. Not in a 3-set match against the best player in the world at the moment. A player who's just destroyed Nadal in 3 straight sets and is on the all-conquering path of winning the only tournament missing from his Grand Slam resume. The motivation is there for all to see. It's a now or never chance the Serb will not let pass. Murray will have to bow to his nemesis again.

Win Semi-Final: Djokovic

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

End of Reigns

The news have broken that Blatter is out of FIFA after an overdue 17-year reign. It seems another cycle is about to end in a few hours; Rafa Nadal, the master of Roland Garros is gunning for his 10th crown in 11 years but has the irrepressible Novak Djokovic on his way at the quarter-final stage today.

The stats are amazing. Nadal has only been beaten once in the past 10 years at the French Open. On his best day, no-one can beat him on the surface. The problem this year is that he's not at his peak. He was out of the game for most of last year and rushed his preparations to be ready to defend his French Open crown. While he is getting better with every match, the encounter with Djokovic comes a little too soon for him. The Serb is currently the world's best player. Mentally, he is on another level to anyone. He's beaten Nadal on clay during the preparatory tournaments leading to Roland Garros. He knows what it takes to beat the French master on the surface, now he needs to do it where it counts most. Time plays for him as he's in the best form of his life while Nadal is just getting back his reflexes. It's now or never for the Serb to crack open Nadal's reign and make his way to winning the only Grand Slam tournament missing from his resume.

In a few hours, cometh another end of reign. Djokovic to win the match, and eventually the tournament.

Win against Nadal: Djokovic
Win tournament: Djokovic