Idaho Can Land Epsom Derby Success

Aidan O’Brien is no stranger to saddling well-fancied runners in Classics on both sides of the Irish Sea. So much so, that a lot of his 2-y-o progeny head the markets before even gracing the racecourse, such is their impeccable breeding.

It’s more of the same this year, as although things haven’t exactly gone smoothly during many Classic preparations, the well-regarded US Army Ranger arrives unbeaten and is likely to go off close to favourite along with Dante winner Wings of Desire.

The vibes have been strong about US Army Ranger and he was still rather green when just seeing off a rather carefully-ridden Port Douglas last time out. He is sure to improve for that run but he is short enough given any greenness will be punished on the unique undulations at Epsom.

O’Brien also had the option – well, he still does – of saddling recent French 2000 Guineas winner, The Gurkha. The manner in which he strode away in the French Classic was visually very impressive, yet he looks to be swerving Epsom where he will head to Royal Ascot.

On a side note, The Gurkha v Galileo Gold v Atwaad will be some race in the St James’ Palace.

Back to Epsom and O’Brien’s string. Beacon Rock landed a Group 3 last week but looks set to swerve Epsom (probably as he’s carrying my ante-post money from last year), while the consistent Deauville ran a nice enough race at York to suggest he could mount a challenge.

This in turn means Idaho may go into the race as AOB’s ‘third-string’.

There was plenty of confidence about the colt as he reappeared in the Derrinstown Derby Trial, a race in which AOB has sent out the winner on nine of the last 16 occasions, with subsequent Derby winners Galileo and High Chaparral among those on the illustrious roll of honour.

Ryan Moore didn’t ride the colt at Leopardstown as connections felt Shogun would have had a better chance had the ground remained on the quicker side, yet it may have been a case of given potential Derby rider Seamie Heffernan a chance to get a feel of riding the colt.

He certainly will have learned a lot as he gave the three-year-old too much to do that day, coming round the bend five-wide before staying on eye-catchingly well close home. He finished third behind Moonlight Magic and Shogun, yet if you ran that race again, it would be fair to suggest he would have solid claims of reversing the form with the winner, who had the run of the race.

Moonlight Magic, incidently, has been given very bullish reviews by Jim Bolger at Breakfast With The Stars, saying he wouldn’t swap his Derby charge with anything. A good sign for those perhaps unlucky in behind?

Four different jockeys have ridden Idaho in his four races, so a return to the plate for Heffernan would be a boost to his chances given he knows his style of running.

He is a son of Galileo out of a Danehill mare, so stamina is no issue and he has ran well on ground ranging from good to heavy, so conditions shouldn’t affect his chances too much.

After scoring on debut, which is somewhat of a surprising rarity for many of O’Brien’s major stars, he could only manage fourth on bottomless ground in a Group 1 at Saint-Cloud. He was subsequently put away for a break and made a nice enough reappearance behind the already race-fit Harzard in the Ballysax Stakes.

It was a nice performance given how uneasy he was at the start and after picking up the running a furlong and a half out, he looked set to stay there until the stamina-proven Harzand (who reappears at Epsom but could be more of a St Leger horse) ran him down close home. The pair pulled clear of the field and it suggested Idaho had retained plenty of ability.

He will stay better than most at Epsom and although he can get a little edgy at the start, he showed signs of maturity on his last racecourse visit.

Given his form figures of 1423, he may not strike as a typical O’Brien Derby horse but at a current 28/1, he is a big enough price to appear each-way value.

He should be finishing best of all down the straight and if he finds his rhythm early enough, he may well do more than run into a place.

Top Selection – Epsom Derby:

Idaho @ 28/1 (Betway, 25/1 Various)

 

 

Griez The Mann For Euro Glory

With this summer’s main event in France edging ever nearer, it looks a perfect time to try and snaffle some early (well, kind of early) value ahead of Euro 2016.

The host nation are always a popular port of call for ante-post investments in the Outright Winner market and that certainly looks a sensible ploy ahead of this year’s tournament, given the embarrassment of riches the French side have in every department.

Starting between the posts, where they have Hugo Lloris or, if needed, Benoit Costil and Steve Mandanda, both equally solid back-up options.

Defensively, there is a perfect mix of experience and youth, with stalwarts like Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna joined by the exciting emerging talent, such as Raphael Varane and Lucas Digne (though Digne may find it hard to break past Koscielny/Mathieu this tournament).

Premier League fans will know all about the midfield with Yohan Cabaye, Lassana Diarra, Moussa Sissoko and breakthrough sensation N’Golo Kante and all gaining a spot in the provisional squad. Solid if not spectacular, wouldn’t you say?

Well the added flair of Blaise Matuidi and the world class Paul Pogba adds the much needed star quality and the latter could be just what France have lacked in recent years. Since Zinedine Zidane bid Les Blues farewell, they have failed to have the star name to carry them in major tournaments.

Pogba was on the peripherals of stardom in Brazil but since then, his game has improved and he has matured into a real talent. He will help provide service to the much maligned French attack and this brings me nicely on to the main source of betting value in the tournament. Antoine Griezmann.

The absence of Karim Benzema looked a real blow to the hosts’ chances but it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, with the tremendous talent Didier Deschamps men have to fill in.

Of course the Real Madrid man was a guaranteed source of goals but with young hungry talent hoping to prove a point on a big stage, it would be no surprise to see a number of stars step seamlessly into the void left by Benzema.

Kingsley Coman – Social Media’s favourite ‘look at what he’s won at 19, I couldn’t even turn the washing machine on at 19’ star – may have a plethora of big trophies in his cabinet, but this may be one tournament for him to get his chance.

Anthony Martial’s Manchester United performances could see him get a shot in the forward line, alongside the often hit-and-miss Olivier Giroud, while West Ham’s Dimitri Payet has played well enough this season to give Deschamps a real selection headache. Oh, and Andre-Pierre Gignac also makes the provisional squad. Not a bad choice, eh?

Well, one man who is guaranteed to start, fitness permitting, is Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid man was waiting in the wings to step in for the injured Franck Ribery in the World Cup and this would have been good major tournament experience and he has since put that to good use on the club stage, shining in this year’s Champions League in particular.

He’s scored seven goals in the competition thus far, including both goals when his side knocked Barcelona out in Madrid, as well as the vital away goal against Bayern Munich.

This came a season after he had netted a total of 22 goals in La Liga season, overtaking Karim Benzema for the highest number of goals scored by a French player in a single Spanish top-division campaign.

Quite simply, Griezmann is consistent and he is a big game player. So will he get the chance to start down the middle for Les Blues? He may be forced to play wide but the chance of him being utilised as the main man has increased in the absence of Benzema.

He is quick, strong, direct and has a real sense for goal. The way his season has gone, he will be relishing the chance to maintain momentum in the aftermath of this Saturday’s Champions League final and he has to be respected in all of the main betting markets.

Right, betting, because that’s why we’re here isn’t it?

It’s a bit of a pain, as the main selection I was basing this entire piece around was a standout 33/1 with William Hill for some time but as I’ve sat down to put pen to paper (or, fingers to keys) the best price is now 22/1. Still, a solid enough price and enough to be considered slight value but it is frustrating.

That bet, is Antoine Griezmann to be top goalscorer and France to win Euro 2016.

Yes, yes, I know. How are you backing someone who has scored just seven times for his country and all of those were in friendlies?

Well, he’s grown massively in terms of talent since the last time he was given a chance to shine in competitive international football and with France set for a deep run, he looks a sensible choice.

There are plenty of creative talents surrounding Griezmann, such as Pogba, Payet and Matuidi, which should lead to sublime service to the forward. If he starts as a ‘9’ he will be tasked with finishing the moves and even if he plays wide as part of a front three, the fluidity of the play will see him have a whole host of opportunities to find the back of the net.

France have a rather favourable task in their group and they will be expected to win every game against Romania, Albania and Switzerland. Games against Romania and Albania in particular offer a real chance to pick up goals and this could ensure Griezmann has a nice head start when entering the knockout phases.

Playing in front of a home crowd can have adverse effects on players at times, yet this doesn’t seem to fit with the French way of football. Les Blues have won the Euros in 1984 and the World Cup in 1998, both of which were held in France. So, can history repeat itself?

Deschamps said they were beginning build-up to the Euros during the last World Cup and with this in mind, the recent maturity of the side must come as no surprise.

Players such as Pogba and Griezmann have gained huge reputations around the world while players like Kante and Payet are playing the best football of their careers.

There is a real depth to the French side and a real buoyant mood surrounding their chances. The 7/2 for the hosts to win the tournament is a fair price and it may be worth investing before the tournament gets under way.

So, plain sailing for the hosts and a star performance from Griezmann? Writing this has convinced myself, so I’m off to top up the blue on Les Blues and reinvest on Griez being the mann (apologies), so best of luck with whatever you decide to back this summer!

(P.s, this was written before Atletico v Real, so if Griezmann gets injured in the final, you may not be hearing from me for a while over the sound of my sobbing.)

Top Selections:

2 points – France to win Euro 2016 @ 7/2 (Paddy Power/Betfair)

1 point – Griezmann top scorer @ 10/1 (Various)

0.5 point – Griezmann/France (Top Scorer/Win) @ 22/1 (Paddy Power)

0.5 point – Griezmann player of the tournament @ 16/1 (Bet365)