Friday, July 29, 2016

Qatar Nassau Stakes - Minding in a league of her own

Who's the best middle-distance filly in Europe, never mind the age? Minding, it is.
The 3-year old superstar is gunning for yet another Group 1 when she takes on 4 rivals that look overmatched in the Nassau Stakes. Having taken the 1000 Guineas, she was unlucky to get beat by a bob in the Irish equivalent, before easily trouncing the Oaks field at Epsom. She confirmed her superiority by winning the Pretty Polly in another procession. Any reproduction of that kind of form should see her easily land this race.

Maybe the elder filly Beautiful Romance could offer some pretensions should Minding fail to fire. The Godolphin team would love to get one against their Ballydoyle rivals and it would not be the first time that they play spoilers in the legendary skirmishes between the 2 superpowers; think of the battle between Fantastic Light and Galileo, the Ascot duel between Rewilding and So You Think, both occasions where Godolphin came out on top.

Minding is however impossible to oppose. Bar accident, she should win.

Win: Minding

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Qatar Sussex Stakes - The 3 Musketeers at it again

The 3 Guineas winners are at it again in the Sussex Stakes. When they last met, Galileo Gold prevailed but it was The Gurkha that made the strongest impression in defeat when running on late. The way that The Gurkha drove past Awtaad as he went in pursuit of Galileo Gold before the post caught him on, suggested that he had the best engine of the 3.

While Galileo Gold and Awtaad have been rested since that race, The Gurkha made a foray in the Coral-Eclipse, finishing second to Hawkbill, the mile and a quarter race proving a little too much of a stretch for him. The main question for the Sussex is whether the son of Galileo will be at a disadvantage fitness-wise compared to his rested rivals.

Galileo Gold has rarely put a foot wrong and the good to firm ground should be to his liking. Not so much for Awtaad who prefers a certain amount of give underfoot. The only thing with Galileo Gold is that after his first winning outing, he has alternated defeats and wins. So, he might possibly be vulnerable to a newcomer. Might that 4th musketeer be Ribchester, winner of the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot? The Godolphin representative is on an upward curve and is definitely a live chance for at least a finish in the frame here.

I am siding with Galileo Gold because of his consistency but if The Gurkha is at 100% and does not show any ill-effect from his Coral-Eclipse outing, he will be the one to beat.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sky Bet York Stakes (Group 2) - Time Test will be hard to beat

The focus of Saturday's racing is at Ascot with the Group 1 King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. However, the value seems to be at York in the Group 2 York Stakes where Time Test seems to have this race well within his grasp. The son of Dubawi won on his season re-appearance and came out a good 3rd in the Eclipse Stakes a few weeks back on unsuitably-soft ground. Saturday's race will give him the fast under-foot conditions on which he has shown sparkling form before. Jockey Pat Smullen has made the journey across the Irish Sea for this. Among the opponents, Mahsoob from the Gosden yard seems to offer the better form but this Dansili colt is really running for second place here.

Win: Time Test

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Euro 2016 - France hard to beat

I penned down at the start of the tournament that France have an enviable record when hosting a major championship; winners in the 1984 Euros and winners in the 1998 World Cup in Paris. So it very much looks a case of Never 2 without 3 for Les Bleus in this year's Euros. It is not just the historical aspect as much as the relative strength of this French team that makes me tilt the odds seriously in their favor.

They comprehensively beat the Germans in the semi-finals. Granted, German capatin Schweinsteiger changed the match by conceding a rather silly penalty in what seemed a very tight match. But the French looked solid and were playing at equal strength against their mighty opponents. Since the start of the tournament, they have displayed resolute energy, well-organized play and mental strength on their way to the final. With players like Griezmann, Pogba and Payet showing strong form and motivation, the French have an outstanding chance to lift the trophy.

Against them stands Ronaldo and the creative talents of Nani and Quaresma. This is most probably the last chance of these stars to make their mark and win something of significance at the international level. It would also be a first for Portugal, provider of so many great footballers over the years. No doubt that much of their chance will depend on Ronaldo. When he's on top form, he's the most lethal striker in football. I would say right now he's not 100% but is still capable of getting a goal if given the space. Most of the work for the French will be to successfully shut him down,

It seems to me that Les Bleus will be celebrating on Sunday. They are a superior team playing at home. Tactics could get Portugal to a penalty shootout where they would have a live chance but I don't think it will get that far. From what they have shown, France are good enough to make the difference in normal time.

To win Euro 2016: France

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Euro 2016 - German stress test for France

It is no secret that France has a mental issue when it plays Germany in major semi-finals. Think Espana 1982 when they were dumped in controversial circumstances on penalties; a match most remembered by the karate butt-kick of keeper Schumacher on France's Battiston. Ouch! Think Mexico 1986 when again Platini's team suffered at the hands of the Germans in the last four.

This new France generation may not carry as much inferiority complex but if they are to banish the old demons, they will have to overcome a German team touted as the best in the world. Not just because they are current holders of the World Cup but because they are solid from back to front and can adapt to any type of tempo in a game. Let's face it, there are no real superstar outfield player in there; maybe keeper Neuer is the best in the world, but while Ozil, Kroos, Muller can be very good, they are not among the creme de la creme by any means. But the Germans play on song as a unit and are very difficult to break down particularly with Neuer in nets.  They can break any defence; just ask Italy. They have been the most consistent and impressive team in the tournament and deserve to go into the match as favourites.

Compared to the after-Zidane years, the French are a very strong team, no doubt. They are no longer just big names on the team sheet, they play well as a unit. The big thing about them is that they have a few match winners that can turn a match on its head. Payet, Griezmann, Pogba and Martial can come up with something brilliant at the most crucial moment. Even much-maligned Giroud can find the net if given the space and some luck. The back four is their Achilles tendon but keeper Lloris is usually there as a reliable last resort.

This is going to be a tight chess match and the winner is probably going to edge this one by the odd goal if it does not go to penalties. France has the benefit of the home crowd but the Germans thrive in such inauspicious environments. It's a toss of a coin but I think Germany will make their way to the final.

To qualify: Germany

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Euro 2016 - The superstar showdown: Bale v/s Ronaldo

Wales v/s Portugal, it's Bale v/s Ronaldo. The two best European players; Two superstars, two teammates, two frenemies. It is quite an unlikely scenario that pits these 2 teams in the semi-final. Many were expecting Belgium or England in that last quartet and instead it's the valiant Dragons and the yet-to-win-a-match Portuguese that will fight for the honors.

Whatever the outcome, I really believe the overall winner will come from the other semi-final between Germany and France. For, none of Wales or Portugal have impressed to the extent that they should be fancied should they reach the final. Wales have truly over-achieved and have not only played the Bale factor to perfection but they have been pragmatic when needed. They were almost played out of the pitch in their encounter with Belgium in the opening stages but after conceding the first goal, they showed tremendous resolve to outplay their more-talented rivals. This is a unit that can soak much pressure yet confident enough to score with fast counter-attacks aimed Bale and Robson-Kanu. For sure, they will be missing their creative lynch-pin in midfield in Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal star suspended after 2 bookings. But with Bale in such form, they have an outstanding chance.

In their way stands Ronaldo backed by his dangerous acolytes like Sanchez, Quaresma and Nani. Portugal have yet to win a match in 90 minutes, it is unfathomable that they could win the tournament without doing so. They've ridden their luck at times but have always shown an ability to score at any point. Ronaldo is clearly struggling and not 100% fit. Had it been otherwise, the chances of this Portugal team going all the way would have been much enhanced. Instead, it seems sometimes the team is overly relying on him to score or make the decisive play. However, Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he cannot be counted out and can make the breakthrough at any moment.

I give a slight edge to Wales here, even without Ramsey. Portugal will make the run of play but are not as steady at the back and this could play to Bale's advantage. The Dragons' fairy tale is set to continue.

To qualify: Wales

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Euro 2016 - Can Iceland freeze out France?

Giant-killers Iceland face their toughest match yet against hosts France. How the Icelanders have made it this far is just mind-blogging but they fully deserve to be there. They have been brilliant in all their matches so far, more so in their last match against England which they outplayed and outgunned. Arguably, this was the poorest display of the English national team in years, but credit the Icelanders for suffocating the minds and legs out of the Lions.

That Iceland team can boast players in their 40's, yet their running rate is impressive; they are very fit and are willing to make the running on each blade of grass out there. France have all the pressure on them as unimaginable will be the reaction should they fall at home at this stage to the minnows. They escaped the trap set by the Irish and showed much courage to come back a goal down at half-time. They will definitely have to show up at a higher physical and mental level to overcome these resilient opponents. The pace of Martial and Griezman on the flanks and up front could be put to good effect here as the Icelanders are always very compact in the middle.

This is bound to be another tough match and neutral minds would want Iceland's fairy tale to continue their run. Realistically, the French have enough talent in them to make the breakthrough. But with the way the results have been going from the start of the tournament, no one could take the hosts as a sure-fire banker to go through.

To qualify: France

Friday, July 1, 2016

Euro 2016 - Defensive challenge for Germany

Germany against Italy, 2 powerhouses with constrasting styles vying for a semi-final spot. Germany will start with the honors of favouritism but the Italians have been most impressive in these Euros and can easily take this match. It's a case of German's power offence against the might of the classic Italian defence. There is a saying that defence usually rules in such cases and the Italians have a strong case here; if the Germans fail to score, then Conte's men confidence will grow and they have enough in them to get the killer goal that propels them through.

This is going to be a tactical match with the Azzuri relying on their rapid counter-attacks as they come out of their defensive shell in spurts. Strong offences like Belgium and Spain have borne the brunt of these Italian tactics and Germany could very well be next. There's never great confidence going against the Germans but I do see the Italians going through.

To qualify: Italy