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.

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