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)

The Secret Punter Returns…

After a short break on the punting front, I couldn’t help but be lured back in after reading Steve Palmer’s book, ‘Born To Punt’, brought back to my attention by his recent appearance on Britain at the Bookies.

His diary extract, of which I have been a regular reader (in fact, it’s the main reason I purchase the RP on a Sunday), is filled with the honest highs and lows of a gambler who has to maintain a regular role to fund his passion.

Knowledge, confidence and a drive to succeed is needed to pursue the dream of making it big in any form of life, and it is no different with gambling. After a rather quiet summer, devoid of much quality football, the season is fast approaching so now seems a perfect time to get back on the proverbial horse.

I’ve been in contact with the original runner of this Betting Blog and with his permission I have been given free rein to express my weekly highs-and-lows to his already solid following, so to him I have to thank.

Hopefully you will be join me on what should be a rollercoaster season on the football, with regular trips to my beloved horses, golfing venues and plenty of bookies tied in with managing a regular 9-5. It’s alright this life, isn’t it?

As a treat, I’ve noted down my punting action from Tuesday afternoon onwards to give you a taster of what is set to come. Although be warned, my stakes may not reach the highs of Palmer’s given my financial situation and lack of confidence after a rather sluggish 2015 on the punting front…

Tuesday;

After watching another episode of Britain at the Bookies, it got me thinking – how many different types of punter are there? I could relate to a large amount of those involved in the show, with pretty much all bases covered. I had been reckless, over-confident and pretty much sought after as many thrills as possible in my younger days and my mind back to those dark days with the sad tales on show.

I lacked the clear head needed to gamble coherently, with the chasing stage the worst of all. Fortunately, after forcing a sabbatical on myself a couple of times during rather skint stages of university, I managed to learn a lot. Visits to the bookmakers to just watch the racing, make notes about certain aspects I’d pick up, and try and put those into action without betting a single penny taught me a huge amount of restraint.

Of course there was plenty of urge to punt, and when those I had noted down went on to win, it did hurt, but the pain was invaluable when it comes to developing knowledge of racing without losing a penny. The importance of form, ground, trainers, jockeys, draw and track bias were all jotted down into a book of my own punting pointers and it is something I treasure even to this day.

They are regularly updated with the latest trends and important messages which could help in future ventures, including jockeys worth following. Tom Marquand earned his place in the lost a fair few months ago and he is still worth following even now, with his claim invaluable. He is such good value for the five-pound and it is only a matter of time before he rides it out, with a big future beckoning.

Anyway, after a lengthy break where I was fortunate enough to find full-time work, I have slowly eased myself back into the gambling scene and the new and improved patience appears to be working wonders. Going from somewhere in the range of 10-15 bets a day, to one big bet, or maybe no bets at all has ensured a higher success-rate and no horrible evenings trying to claw back losses at Wolverhampton or Dundalk.

(I’ve had some dark Friday’s there…)

Tuesday was one of those days where I didn’t fancy anything strongly but I still had some money floating in my Betfair account after a successful stab on a Lucky 15 on the previous Saturday (three winners and a place seen a nice three-figure return off a £5 stake), and I decided to begin an ante-post punt that I had been planning for some time.

Darts is a particular punting favourite of mine, with every arrow ensuring adrenaline (both the good and bad kind) is pumping through your veins at a rate of knots. After spending two-years living with a darts fanatic I was subjected to plenty of action and after a while, I began to really enjoy the thrills and spills of the sport, even before the possibility of punting crossed my mind.

Then I came to realise there was so many ways of making money on the darts, with plenty of interesting markets. It is not rare to see odds of 1/20, 1/16 and 1/12 etc in the match market of big tournaments, but the ‘trebles’ section are nearly always odds against. This means a player to hit the most 180’s, the highest checkout and win the match.

Of course, the highest checkout is a tough one to call, as all it means is a 170 from the underdog to completely ruin the bet but you’ll be surprised how often the favourite obliges with all three. Dave Chisnall is a king of delivering the goods, as is Raymond van Barneveld (when he hits a nice streak) but I’ll never forget when I was waiting on Barney for a £16.8k payout off a £6 four-fold during the Premier League, and he hit the most 180’s and won the match, but missed out on the highest checkout.

He had a shot at a 164 and missed by a centimetre. That hurt.

But anyway, I’m getting off topic here, back to the ante-post certainty. Michael van Gerwen to win the 2016 World Championship.

I’ve missed the 9/4, 2/1 and 15/8 and although he is unlikely to shorten too much from his current 7/4, he looks a worthy investment as opposed to frittering away funds. He shortened after his impressive World Matchplay crown and he looks unbeatable on his day.

Gary Anderson has caused him problems with his unique style getting in the head of MvG but he showed he is developing a steely nerve when destroying the Scotsman with a scintillating display at the German Masters.

I’ve had £40 on the Dutchman so far and the dream is to have somewhere in the region of a grand on him by the time December comes, so I can celebrate the start of 2016 with a nice MvG fund.

Wednesday;

Fancied Kachy to confirm his promise at Goodwood but for some reason couldn’t help but be drawn in by a Highland Reel (7/4), Solow (4/6) and King of Rooks (EVS) treble.

That hurt.

It’s always the last one isn’t it? £15 down the drain but I was confident for a return from Galway that evening.

After seeing Alelchi Inois frustratingly finish out of the placing’s following a £20 each-way investment at 11/1, I decided that Marshall Jennings was set to save the day, so I wasn’t too worried.

The colt had solid juvenile form for Richard Hannon and had previously ran an eye-catching race for Jessica Harrington, failing to get a run both times. If he settled nicely early on and was kept prominent I fancied him to run the leaders close, so had £10 each-way at a rather inflated 12/1.

He had to be reshod before the start, then he took a keen hold under Kevin Manning before chasing the leaders. He was hampered (yet again) approaching the final furlong and faded late on. He is likely to be breezed over again next time but I’m adamant he will have his day soon, with a fast run 7f looking perfect after efforts over 10f and a mile previously. He’ll come good at a big price soon.

Thursday;

I was rather surprised to see Trip To Paris fighting for favouritism in the Goodwood Gold Cup and despite having to shoulder a four-pound penalty, he looked the class act in the field who should be out on his own at the top of the market. I opted for a £10 each-way punt at 9/2 as my only bet at Goodwood with my real investment over at Galway in the afternoon.

Diakali would have to be Champion Hurdle standard to shoulder top-weight in the Galway Hurdle and with Quick Jack arriving fit, fresh and in good order, he looked to be the value. He doesn’t know how to run a bad race and after showing he had retained his ability behind the aforementioned Trip To Paris when second in the Chester Cup, he looked too big to resist, especially off an exceedingly generous weight.

Trip to Paris gave me big hope when shooting down the inside rail but that joy was short-lived as Big Orange was as game as a pebble in front and not for passing, with Quest For More even pipping Ed Dunlop’s charge for second. Still, a place wasn’t the worst result, especially with a slight drift to 5/1.

I pressed up on Quick Jack on the Exchange, having £20 on Quick Jack to win at 7.2 (6.2/1) and I was pleased to see the price continue to tumble in the build-up to the off. I bottled it slightly and put a lay order in for £20 at 3.0, cutting my loss should he come there travelling (you’ll see how proficient I am at backing 1.01 losers in time) and as Denis O’Regan got the gelding up the inside two from home, I glanced at the screen to see I had been matched.

Mixed emotions. I knew I had my stake back and I looked likely to win more money, but I was soon kicking myself. He went on to win a shade cosily in the end and I pocketed a tidy sum, but it could have been more, couldn’t it? Sometimes even when you win, you lose. Strange game.

Friday;

I headed up to Edgbaston to watch the cricket with some old friends whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. I was just happy to be able to see a bit of action after the Aussies looked set to succumb in tame fashion on Thursday afternoon.

Nonetheless we got our money’s worth and after a dig-in effort from the tail, England were set a nice 121 to win. Ian Bell and Joe Root decided to take their time to see out the target, ensuring we forked out more on £4.20 pints whilst succumbing to intense sunburn after foolishly opting against sun tan lotion.

Lovely fellas.

Still… ROOOOOOOOT.

Saturday;

I woke up with the world’s driest mouth and could barely remember my name after an evening consisting of the dogs (first time visit, managed to only lose £20 which isn’t too shoddy in my book), was followed by more pints, whiskey and apple juice, vodka and coke and some kind of watermelon based alcoholic beverage.

I couldn’t force myself to focus long enough to study the form so I just popped in the Hill’s next to New Street Station to unload £40 (all I had left after a rather expensive couple of days) on Legatissimo to gain compensation in the Nassau Stakes.

She had done me for two decent three-figure sums when getting nailed in the Oaks (rather large double with Arod) and in the Irish equivalent (even loftier double with Jack Hobbs), so I had decided to give her one last chance to glue back the heart she had broken.

It appeared I was the only person in the betting shop (and probably the world) who was happy that Wayne Lordan took the ride.

He works closely with David Wachman and is sure to have sat on the filly at home as well as during the early stages of her career. Moore is no doubt a top rider, but he hasn’t seemed to have the best of luck on the filly for one reason or another so the simple tactics Lordan likes to employ just fits.

Seeing him motionless, cruising up next to the leaders on Saturday went some way to curing my hangover and as he pressed the button and Legatissimo shot clear, I let out of a relieved sigh which seemed to relax the pressure on my brain. £120 entered my wallet and I headed back home via a two-hour train filled with excitable hen dos and eager teens excited for their first big-city visit.

It turned out my hangover wasn’t over…

Sunday;

No punting Sunday’s are fun. I woke up, had a dominos, watched a film, had a sleep and then went to play darts for a few hours. Long live no punting Sunday’s.

Ten to Follow: National Hunt Season

 

The National Hunt season is fast approaching (though large parts of Twitter will damn you for admitting this) and this signifies that wonderful window of opportunity where one and all can unleash their ‘horses to follow’ for the year.

As old favourites are returning, exciting hurdlers and chasers are switching hands and those who have looked set to fulfil tremendous promise are set to be given the chance over the coming months.

It is always an exciting time of the season, with so much anticipation and a wonderful feeling that you could be getting some tremendous early value, with long-term projects around Cheltenham and Aintree followed with great scrutiny.

I’ve narrowed the list down to ten to follow this year and to set it apart from the usual group of animals that appear throughout the masses of lists that have been released and are set to be released, I’ve limited my ten to one per trainer.

This means there is more chance of variety and also stops me from naming 10 Willie Mullins machines that will mop up everything. Oh, and I’ve neglected to take the opportunity to mention Aux Ptits Soins and Yorkhill, not because I don’t rate them, but for the likelihood that they will appear in EVERY horses to follow list this year.

Chap (5-y-o gelding – Gabe Mahon)

First up is the exciting Chap, who created quite an impression on those who risked the rain to enjoy a Summer Nights – Sounds of the 80s evening at Aintree in May. Many could be forgiven for heading over to the stage ahead of an ordinary looking bumper to round off a tricky card, but those who stayed were treated to a performance to remember.

Chap was held up towards the rear by the talented Leo Mahon and it looked a reasonable pace by those up ahead, showed by the pair that raced prominently finished a solid third and fourth behind two that crept into the race. Chap was one of those who crept into the race stylishly, yet with twenty-runners there were still plenty in with a chance entering the final two furlongs.

The five-year-old caught the eye still firmly on the bit and he continued to improve to swoop past the field, taking up the running entering the final furlong up the long Aintree straight. He quickly put the race to bed, scooting clear when asked the question and he hit the line hard, suggesting there was still plenty in the tank.

There will be plenty of opportunity to get to the bottom of the gelding this year and he has the scope to improve when he sees a hurdle. He looks to have huge promise and he is one who may sneak under the radar on his first couple of starts.

Anibale Fly (5-y-o gelding – Tony Martin)

After finishing a close second to Jetstream Jack in a bumper that seen the field massively spread out, Anibale Fly was swiftly purchased by JP McManus to run in the famous green and gold silks. As he was sent-off 25/1 on debut it is fair to say the performance may have been somewhat of a surprise, yet he proved it was no fluke by getting off the mark at the second time of asking, comfortably seeing off six rivals.

He stayed on all the way to the line that day and this meant that he was given his chance in a hit-looking bumper at Fairyhouse on his final start of the season, coming up against a number of highly-rated animals including Au Quart De Tour, Space Cadet and Livelaughlove. It was the latter that gave Tony Martin’s charge most to think about but again, we seen the gelding’s fighting spirit as he nettled gamely all the way to the line to pick up the eventual runner-up, fifty yards from the line.

He crossed the line a length-and-a-quarter ahead of Willie Mullins’ charge and with Tony Martin likely to utilise his gameness over the hurdles this season, he could be in for a big year. He is a rangy gelding who looks suited to the obstacles and the strong-travelling battler could enjoy a stellar season for respected connections.

Limini (4-y-o filly – Willie Mullins)

It was hard to narrow down Willie Mullins’ legions of exciting novices’ to just one, yet after plenty of deliberation I’ve decided to let Limini fly the flag for the yard this year. The French import ran two nice races in defeat over 10f at Chantilly and then Longchamp before making the move across to Willie Mullins’ yard, where he created quite the impression on his sole start for the master handler.

Despite enjoying a lengthy break, the filly was sent off a warm favourite for her first start suggesting there may have been a level of confidence exuding from the stable. She tracked the leaders in fourth under Paul Townend before moving into the race in typical Townend fashion, creeping closer rather stylishly.

She made a mistake two out but was allowed time to find her stride again before she moved third entering the straight, edging into second ahead of the last and then finally edging ahead under hands and heels close home. She beat the battle-hardened Sandymount Duke who had race-fitness on his side and this was an effort that screamed promise.

The Rich Ricci-owned filly may not be allowed to go off too overpriced given her connections but she may well prove worth a close eye in the long-term ante-post markets before she makes her belated reappearance. She could well be the next in a long line of high-class hurdlers heralding from the stable.

Twelve Roses (7-y-o gelding – Kim Bailey)

Kim Bailey has assembled an enviable string for this season and it was hard to narrow it down to just one horse to follow for the year. The selected horse is Twelve Roses, who has become somewhat of a forgotten horse after spending over a year off the track.

The now 7-y-o enjoyed a stellar 2013/14, improving on a nice runner-up effort on debut to finish within a length of subsequent World Hurdle winner More Of That at Wetherby. It was a performance that looks even better in retrospect and he wasn’t disgraced when taking his place in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle, a series qualifier, at Newbury, where he finished a nice fourth off a high weight.

He hated the ground when floundering as favourite on Boxing Day at Kempton but after being given a break before an engagement at the Cheltenham Festival, he appeared to grow steadily and appreciate the return to a better surface. He was sent off 66/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but he massively outrun his odds, staying on bravely to take a never nearer fifth behind Faugheen.

It looks as though a step up to three miles on good ground could be perfect and although he may well need his first run after such a lengthy break, he is worth keeping onside over the course of the season.

Bailey also has the exciting Charbel who has changed hands for a big fee following two victories and a nice fourth in the Punchestown Champion Bumper. He has a lofty reputation and he has scope to improve over a hurdle, so he could be in for a big year.

Moon Racer (6-y-o gelding – David Pipe)

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices for this year’s ten to follow but Moon Racer was impossible to leave off, having impressed massively over the course of last season. After springing a 50/1 surprise on debut at Fairyhouse, he was switched stables to David Pipe where he delivered a jaw-dropping performance at Cheltenham last October.

He led under Tom Scudamore and he moved nicely through the race before moving clear in the final couple of furlongs, hitting top gear to put real distance between himself the field. It was an impressive time and connections were extremely bullish in the aftermath, with the view of keeping their start at home until the Festival.

The form of that race worked out nicely with the second and third both going on to win impressively and as he arrived for the Cheltenham bumper, it was no surprise to see the money come. He was sent off 9/2 favourite and somewhat rescued punters with a scintillating success, making up plenty of ground to power clear, crossing the line one-and-a-half lengths ahead of Modus.

He has a real gear change and has plenty of speed to go with his reserves of stamina, so he should enjoy a big season in the novice hurdling ranks. He is well-built and should enjoy the challenge of the obstacles, so with his long-term aim undoubtedly the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he could be worth following all the way up the hill in March!

Penglai Pavilion (5-y-o gelding – John Ferguson)

John Ferguson has a plethora of unruly flat talent at his disposal this year with plenty of ex-Godolphin animals making the switch to the National Hunt sphere under his tutelage. There are plenty of eye-catchers in the impressive Bloomfields operation but one who is of real interest is the exciting Penglai Pavilion.

Having been trained by Andre Fabre in France during his early years, the son of Monsun fulfilled lofty potential on the level, taking fifth behind Treve in the 2013 Arc. He ran well out in Dubai before failing to land a blow when transferring to Charlie Appleby, although he was still competing at the highest level in extremely competitive group races.

It is interesting that they kept the faith for so long and didn’t attempt to drop him in grade, so the fact the was sent to John Ferguson must mean they have either lost faith in him, or they think he will better equipped over a longer distance and with a hurdle in front of him. I’m backing it’s the latter.

He scored with consummate ease on debut, making steady headway on the sound surface before pulling clear with plenty in hand. It was a performance to take note of and he was given one more outing before being put away for a break and again, he won with tons in hand, pulling clear from a long way out to score at a canter.

The form of those races leave a lot to be desired but he is yet to be tested and clearly has plenty more in the locker. He has valuable experience and the confidence boost of getting back to winning ways will mean he is ready to come out firing this season. His best flat form came on a softer surface but he has shown he can handle good or better over obstacles, so ground is no issue for him. He should mop up plenty of races and although it looks as though he would love the flat track at Aintree, he may well have enough about him to make his presence felt at Prestbury Park.

Cyrus Darius (6-y-o gelding – Malcolm Jefferson)

After a solid enough start when fourth in a Wetherby bumper on debut it was somewhat of a surprise to see what Cyrus Darius would go on to achieve last season. He switched to Malcolm Jefferson’s yard and after a nice enough third in a bumper last November, he was given a short-break before reappearing to tackle some hurdles.

He caused quite the impression on his hurdling bow, lowering the colours of odds-on favourite Course Dismissed at Newcastle, travelling into the race smoothly before pulling clear on the bit. He was heavily eased down and this ensured he was sent off 2/7 for his next start, where he landed the spoils unextended, with 23l, 28l and 16l separating the first four home.

The form of the races didn’t look anything special but the manner in which he had dismissed the field was eye-catching in itself.  He was sent to Aintree for a grade two Novices’ Hurdle and he wasn’t without support, as he was sent off 8/1 in a competitive looiong field.

Despite a mistake at the first (does have one in him, so hopefully Malcolm has sharpened him up) he travelled into the race in typical smooth fashion. With the leaders getting to work pretty seriously from a long way out, Brian Hughes eased the gelding into the race from three out, taking up second, travelling much the best.

He breezed into the lead approaching the last before being given a kick in the belly, moving clear of the field with plenty in hand. He beat some useful rivals, including Vago Collonges, Qewy and Glingerburn, all of whom are well-regarded and look to be horses who warrant their place in graded races.

The manner in which Cyrus Darius cantered past with ease means he can’t be taken likely and given the size and scope of the horse, it would be no surprise to see him make a real high-class chaser. I believe plans haven’t been confirmed as to whether he stays over hurdles or begins a career over fences, but wherever he heads, he is certainly worth following.

Drumlee Sunset (5-y-o gelding – Phillip Hobbs)

There a number of nice novices in the Phillip Hobbs stable this year and there is one of real interest in Drumlee Sunset. The son of Royal Anthem has only been seen once, when running out a ready winner of a competitive bumper, despite hanging left in the straight.

He wrestles for the lead early on in the contest and picked up it over seven furlongs out, with Richard Johnson allowing the gelding to stride on in front. He hung left when asked to assert but he still managed to stay on strongly, powering clear in the final hundred yards to claim a four-and-a-half length success over previous winner O O Seven.

He looked a strong, rangy gelding who will appreciate the test of a hurdle to keep his mind on the task and after performing credibly in the p2p sphere, he should know his job by the time he jumps a hurdle in public. He showcased plenty of talent when stretching out on debut under rules and after being given a lengthy break by the Hobbs team, he should be fit and raring to go this year.

Inner Drive (7-y-o gelding – Alan King)

Alan King didn’t have the greatest of seasons last year but he has a number of animals to keep him excited as we head into this National Hunt season, including the lightly-raced Inner Drive. After finishing a nice second on debut he moved across to the Alan King yard where he didn’t look completely wound-up on his stable debut, finishing second behind Vodka ‘n Tonic.

He was put away for a lengthy break before being brought back for a maiden hurdle at Huntingdon in March this year. He was well-backed and ended up going off favourite, scoring impressively against a field that ended up spread out by some distance.

He lowered the colours of the consistent Thedrinkymeister in a nice enough looking race before being sent to Newbury for a hot looking Novices’’ Hurdle. He took a keen hold after being help up towards the rear, before he made smooth headway into contention approaching three out.

After being urged to close approaching the last, he moved upsides the leader and began to battle it out up the straight. It was his first real eye-to-eye battle and to be fair to him, he held his own very well, only going down by a nose from the respected Rock The Kasbah.

He should come on massively from that effort and on a softer surface, he should enjoy plenty of success in the mid-range hurdling division.

Legend Lady (4-y-o bay filly – Oliver Sherwood)

The final member of the ten to follow for this year is Legend Lady, who may have slipped under the radar despite to excellent runs at the back end of last season. She was given her debut in a fairly average looking Taunton bumper but she managed to turn the race into a procession, travelling beautifully with a bit of cut underfoot before moving clear with a simple shake of the reins from Leighton Aspell.

She must have done enough to impress connections as her next and final engagement of the season came in the Listed Aintree Bumper which rounds off Grand National day. She was sent off at 40/1 but outran her odds to great effect, travelling nicely towards the rear before making nice headway from two furlongs out to run into sixth of nineteen runners.

It was a nice staying-on effort that suggests she may be more suited to further, with two and a half miles looking ideal for a first port of call this season. She has the opportunity to take in another bumper for a rather patient trainer in Oliver Sherwood but she looks to have the scope to progress over hurdles when given the nod later on in the year.

Sherwood is brilliant at placing his horses and it would be no surprise to see her mop up a couple of prizes before progressing to a decent level. She is an exciting filly who could have a touch of star quality about her.

What to Expect Out of College (American) Football This Year!

It’s nearly the end of summer, which for millions of students across the country means heading back to class. With the arrival of fresh faces comes another chance for NCAA Division 1 colleges and universities to seek out and train some of the top athletes in the world in hopes of winning a national championship. NCAA football teams often show future professional players, and there is a lot of talk about which schools are heading to a Bowl and which ones will be crushed under the pressure. So what are some of the big college football predictions for the 2015 season?

The University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorns are coming off a tough year, but things are looking up. No-nonsense head coach Charlie Strong is hitting his stride, and the team is catching on to his ways. Speaking of new coaches, Bo Pelini at Youngstown State should improve his record after an embarrassing first season. While the Penguins may not go all the way in 2015, they will certainly make moves.

Players Making Moves

In terms of players to watch, there are many NCAA football predictions to pay attention to, especially when it comes to incoming freshman. Tony Brown, rated as the No. 9 player overall, is heading to play cornerback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. His performance alongside safety Landon Collins could make Alabama’s pass defense top notch. Another 5-star defensive back prospect is Jalen Tabor, who decided at the last minute to leave Arizona to play for the Florida Gators. He could easily partner with junior Vernon Hargreaves III to create a solid foundation for the Gators defense.

The end of summer always brings about a ton of college football predictions, and it’s hard to know exactly which will come to fruition. But by the looks of things, it’s going to be another exciting year for NCAA football fans around the country and the world.

Check out TheMachinesPicks.com for more college and sports related prediction for the upcoming football and college season.

 

Golden Horn – A Golden Horse?

As Golden Horse strode majestically down the camber at Epsom, eating up the ground on the classy Jack Hobbs – those who were fortunate to have a space in the packed grandstand knew they were witnessing something special.

Doubts were diminishing, pressure was being eased and a date with destiny (part two) was answered as Frankie Dettori saluted the crowd with Golden Horn lengthening a few lengths clear underneath him.

This was the crowning glory of the animal who had crept under the radar since his sole two-year-old start and with the horse racing fraternity searching for a superstar among the ranks, Golden Horn has done nothing but answer graciously.

His only visit to the track as a two-year-old ensured he created a rather understated impression that looks more and more impressive the more you revisit it. He was slow away, looked set to be outpaced over three-furlongs out before making smooth headway under pressure, to pick it up and gallop relentlessly to the line.

He was always keeping Storm the Stars at bay and eventually crossed the line a head to the good, with seven lengths back to the third. It was the type of performance that brought a ‘wow’ reaction without too much thought being given to the actual strength of the race.

Still, it was enough to ensure he returned to the track as a warm favourite, as he took his place in the Listed Fielden Stakes (9f) at Newmarket. Again, he was held up before making smooth headway through the race under new rider, Frankie Dettori, taking the lead when edging left in the final furlong before going on to a clever length and a half success.

At this stage it was evident a mile may not be sufficient and a step up in trip was likely to bring out even more improvement from the colt.

So, with the long-term plan being the French Derby, he was sent to York to contest the Dante Stakes over 10f. It was a race that many thought would be a mini-Derby, with many of the leading candidates turning up on the Knavesmire.

However with connections feeling Golden Horn was a real 10f horse, there were very few Epsom murmurs, until William Buick manoeuvred the colt out to track the leaders, swooped upside Jack Hobbs and then kicked on to win a shade cosily.

The manner in which he galloped past rivals with a hint of ease suggested he may well get further and the commotion after the event surrounded future decisions. Would Mr Oppenheimer opt to swerve Cahntilly for a crack at the prestigious Epsom Derby?

Trainer John Gosden was certainly vocal with his feelings but he left it completely to the owner and it mustn’t have taken too long for a decision to be made, as he was swiftly chartering a different course, heading straight at Epsom.

The tracing fraternity finally had a horse to latch onto, an improving, unbeaten colt who had done no wrong. Golden Horn.

Another major pull was the renaissance of popular rider Frankie Dettori, as the Italian fought back from the brink of obsuciroty to secure himself the top rides with the in-form John Gosden. With William Buick’s Godolphin links it was highly likely he would be needed elsewhere and in a bizarre twist of fate, the jockey’s switched horses as Godolphin purchased Dante runner-up and Derby second-favourite, Jack Hobbs.

This meant Buick got on-board Jack Hobbs while Dettori gleefully took the reins on Golden Horn as he bid for his second date with destiny up the famous Epsom camber.

He was settled towards the rear as the leaders went hell-for-leather up front and as he swung around Tattenham Corner, Dettori began to ease the colt through the pack, while stablemate Jack Hobbs got first run and took up the running.

He took a few strides to really hit top gear, but Golden Horn was merely teasing backers, and the flat spot was no more as he picked up the bit and galloped after his big, stocky, stablemate. Then came the sense of inevitability.

The nervous expression of backers suddenly changed to confidence, with “Go on Frankie!” bellowed from all parts of the racecourse. The horse at this stage had just loomed upsides and then gone past Jack Hobbs, delivering a crushing blow as he sauntered across his barn buddy before running on strongly up the rail to coast home an impressive winner.

He then reappeared in the Eclipse, bidding to join the greats such as Sea The Stars and Nashwan in the elite group of animals to do the Derby/Eclipse double and it was here he cemented himself as a top-class horse.

After the field understandably cut up with many swerving the chance to face a red hot Derby winner, Golden Horn faced four rivals, including the consistent horse from the Kevin Ryan stable, The Grey Gatsby.

It was a new scenario with a distinct lack of pace likely, so it came as no surprise to see Dettori bounce out and ease his charge to the front, where he could dictate the tempo. He set steady early fractions and wound it up in the straight, but there was a real worry for Golden Horn backers as The Grey Gatbsy loomed up large under a patient Jamie Spencer ride, eye-balling the favourite for good measure.

Dettori was urging the colt for more up the rail and as the grey beast next to him was urged for more, it appeared John Gosden’s colt was in for a battle. However he did what champions do, and dug deep to find reserves many questioned were there as he picked up the tempo to forge on for strong pressure.

The crowd responded with cheers and urgings of their own and as he careered away down the Sandown straight, finding his balance with ease to come home a shade cosily in the end, with some distance back to the third, belief had grown.

Golden Horn could be a member of the elite.

After looking as though the 3yo ranks were set for a disappointing return, it is nice to see we have a number of potential top-class animals to pad out the remainder of the year. Golden Horn looks a genuine good ground horse who wouldn’t want it on the soft side, yet he should have the chance to add to his ever growing reputation over the course of the season.

A trip to the King George for which his owner has plenty of sentimental attachment seemed the likely port of call, before a potential crack at the Juddmonte International at York. However rain-softened ground put paid to the former, so the Irish Champion Stakes, the Arc and potentially even the Breeders Cup are all logical options at present and it will be interesting to see which way the colt goes.

At present he looks to have plenty of talent and a whole host of opportunities ahead of him. Hopefully the ground will come good on the Knavesmire and he can put in a big performance for racing fans to latch onto.

Can Golden Horn prove himself as the Golden horse?

The Return of the Flat – 10 to Follow for 2015

The flat season is fast-approaching, and to celebrate I take a look at ten horses who could provide punters with plenty of success throughout the season.

Aktabantay

3-y-o bay colt

Oasis Dream (UK) – Splashdown (UK) (Falbrav (IRE))

Current Trainer: Hugo Palmer

Current Owner: V Araci

Hugo Palmer looks to have a real classy sort in the shape of Aktabantay, with all six visits to the track showing his tremendous amount of promise. He initially caught the eye on debut, when finishing strongly after dwelling in the rear, eventually going down a short-head to the well-thought-of Elite Gardens.

He was turned over at 1/4 on his next start when looking a tad one paced over six furlongs, but he made simple work of a decent field over the same distance next time out, despite hanging left. He chased the classy Estidhkaar home in the Superlative Stakes before showing a game nature when battling to success in the Solario Stakes, getting up in the final strides under a powerful Ryan Moore ride.

It was then he was sent to Paris, and this is where I realised how good a horse he has the potential to be. He travelled well towards the rear on the inside, but as the field turned for home he found himself behind a wall of horses. He had to come five horses wide, losing plenty of momentum in the process, but he finished extremely well to finish a never-nearer sixth, only a couple of lengths behind the well-backed 2000 Guineas favourite, Gleneagles.

He is sure to have been closer with a smoother run, and the step-up to a mile is seemingly set to bring the best out of the son of Oasis Dream. He has been found out over shorter trips when getting going too late, but he can use his mix of speed and stamina to go close in plenty of big prizes this year.

After picking up an injury when looking to have a real chance at the Breeders’ Cup, he has been nursed back to full health by Palmer, who clearly thinks the world of him. He is worth following at silly prices for the top races, but when he is dropped down to lesser echelons, he is sure to find success in plenty of Pattern races throughout the season.

Agnes Stewart

3-y-o grey filly

Lawman (FR) – Anice Stellato (IRE) (Dalakhani (IRE))

Current Trainer: E Lynam

Current Owner: Clipper Logistics Group Ltd

Another one for the shortlist also came with the help from a little trip across the Irish Sea, with Agnes Stewart looking a filly of the highest calibre. She was sent off fairly unfancied on debut as she strolled to a comfortable success at odds of 22/1, but the manner of the success suggested it was more than a fluke and her form since has proved that.

She stuck on gamely in a Group 2 over 7f at Leopardstown, passing rivals late on to snatch second spot behind the classy Jack Naylor. Then the real test came as she lined-up against top-class fillies in May Hill Stakes, but she passed with flying colours, landing a mini-gamble when coming home a shade cosily by one-and-a-quarter lengths.

She also made the most of another trip across to England, when finishing half-a-length behind the highly-rated Together Forever in the Fillies Mile. She looks open to bags of improvement and it would be no surprise to see her enjoy a big season, starting with a big run in the 1000 Guineas for which she still looks an attractive price.

There is no doubt she will appreciate the step up to 10f in time, but there are still plenty of prizes in her over a mile as she gets her three-year-old campaign underway at Newmarket.

Belle D’or

4-y-o bay filly

Medaglia d’Oro (USA) – Glatisant (UK) (Rainbow Quest (USA))

Current Trainer: J H M Gosden

Current Owner: Mr A E Oppenheimer

John Gosden makes his only appearance on the list with the classy Belle D’or, who looks set to finally fulfil her potential as a four-year-old. She has endured a rather stop-start career thus far, as after having never seen a racecourse as a two-year-old, she has only been sighted four times in her racing career. However there is no doubting the amount of potential she has to be a top-class filly, and all things are pointing to a big year, this year.

She went down by a neck when well-backed on debut before living up to the glowing gallop reports, as she comfortably ran away with a decent looking maiden at Salisbury. Her work at home ensured she was given a crack at a Listed feature, and she showed she had great battling qualities to go with her class, as she ground down Wee Jean to get up by the shortest of margins in the shadow of the post.

Her seasonal finale ensured she warranted a place on the list, as she confirmed promise by running on gamely yet again despite being keen early on, finishing a clear second, closing on the winner all the way to the line. An extended trip make bring out further improvement, but she has the scope to grow and strengthen up which should make her a major player in lower grade Pattern races this year.

Big Orange

4-y-o bay gelding

Duke Of Marmalade (IRE) – Miss Brown To You (IRE) (Fasliyev (USA))

Current Trainer: M L W Bell

Current Owner: W J and T C O Gredley

After a rather underwhelming start to his racing career, Big Orange has improved leaps and bounds, suggesting he could certainly be a horse to follow this season. He finished second behind subsequent St Leger runner-up, Romsdal, in a maiden before going on to land an eye-catching pillar-to-post success at Lingfield.

He was clearly doing something well at home as he was given a difficult assignment in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, where he wasn’t disgraced when finishing a decent fourth. His upward curve continued as he made all in a competitive Listed Handicap at Chester, before running out a game winner in a Listed race at Ascot.

The Qipco Long Distance Cup was his final port of call for the year, and he ran well for a long way, finishing fifth behind the brilliant Forgotten Rules. The Gelding has calmed down a lot, and is less inclined to race keenly which is a real bonus and although he may fall short at the highest level, he should come into his own in staying handicaps and lower-grade Pattern races.

Island Remede

4-y-o bay filly

Medicean (UK) – Island Odyssey (UK) (Dansili (UK))

Current Trainer: E A L Dunlop

Current Owner: Mrs Janice Quy

After being sent off at 66/1, 50/1 and 40/1 on her first three visits to the track, it is safe to say there wasn’t too much market confidence behind Island Remede. Hwever during her fourteen-race career, she has shown enough promise to suggest she may be capable of surprising many and running into money at decent prices as a four-year-old.

She has only one once, but that came in a decent Nursery, where she finished seven-lengths ahead of her nearest pursuer, which happened to be subsequent Triumph Hurdle fourth, Devilment. After rounding off her two-year-old campaign with a decent effort in a Listed race, she was sent-off fairly fancied for the Lingfield Oaks trial, where a poor draw played havoc with her chances.

Following a number of racecourse gallops, she was given her chance in the Oaks, and she wasn’t disgraced but had to settle for eleventh after hanging badly left. A couple of decent efforts in Listed affairs suggested there was still more to come, and this was proven as she chased home the highly-rated Sky Hunter, with third placed Battalion coming out and winning subsequently.

Before signing off for the season, she was given an assignment at Saint-Cloud, where she travelled well for a long way before the heavy ground nullified her finishing kick, ensuring she had to settle for fourth – which was still a fair performance. On soft ground she looks worth following and given there is still room for improvement for Ed Dunlop’s filly, she may be underestimated during the early stages of the season.

Jamaica

3-y-o grey colt

Galileo (IRE) – Dialafara (FR) (Anabaa (USA))

Current Trainer: A P O’Brien

Current Owner: Mrs John Magnier, Mr M Tabor & Mr D Smith

I know Ballydoyle have plenty of firepower and they’re particularly fond of their three-year-olds, but I’ve resisted the opportunity to throw in Gleneages (ship has sailed) and Ol’ Man River (big-priced bagged before debut) and side with the likely improver, Jamaica, who seems to be sailing under many people’s radars.

He finished a staying-on third (only a nose off second) behind stablemate Gleneagles on debut, before making easy work of a decent field at Galway. He was given the nod to represent his powerful stable in the Acomb Stakes, but he failed to land a major blow after being slow away before using up energy to make up the distance, which meant he was one-paced in the final furlong. A step up in trip is sure to suit and the rangey colt looks an ideal Derby candidate, for which there is still 25/1 around.

It is likely he will be stepped up from the off, but he could still be underestimated if he is to line-up against some of his more fancied stablemates. Jamaica could be worth a follow throughout the early season while there is still plenty of value about him, but it would be no surprise to see him trimmed after his early efforts with value so hard to find among the Balllydoyle stars.

Master Carpenter

4-y-o chestnut colt

Mastercraftsman (IRE) – Fringe (UK) (In The Wings (UK))

Current Trainer: B R Millman

Current Owner: Links Partnership/Cheveley Park Stud

Master Carpenter has had a busy career so far, with fifteen start during his first two years on the track. He has been kept busy by connections, and to good effect with four wins, two seconds and five thirds out of his visits to the track.

He is extremely versatile when it comes to ground conditions and he has ran respectably in plenty of top-class races. He was sent-off well-fancied for the Chesham, where he disappointed slightly, but he showed he wasn’t out of his depth, as he finished a solid third to the imperious Kingman in the Greenham Stakes, before twice ending up in the same position behind the classy Western Hymn.

Following a mini-break from July, he slightly disappointed when finishing last in his final two starts, but he was entitled to it, after a long season of running against top opponents. The last two runs are easy to put a line through but they should ensure he goes off a bigger price than he should for his first few starts this season – and he could easily reward followers with a big year.

Muthmir

5-y-o bay gelding

Invincible Spirit (IRE) – Fairy Of The Night (IRE) (Danehill (USA))

Current Trainer: W J Haggas

Current Owner: Mr Hamdan Al Maktoum

After taking a while to really warm up to the racing game, Muthmir shone in the latter part of the season to suggest he has the makings of a top-class sprinter. He has visited the track eight times, and has been sent off favourite on six of those occasions, and second-favourite in the other true – often being subject to decent gambles.

He only just went down on his seasonal reappearance at Newcastle, which ensured he was well-punted into 4/1 for the Dash up at York, where he was caught short of room at the start before making smooth headway and eventually pulling clear in impressive fashion. He was backed as if defeat was out of the question in the Stewards Cup, but he could only manage fifth after looking set to steal the show when travelling strongly two furlongs out.

He came in for further support as he lined up in the Portland and punters got their money back, as he broke the track record despite stumbling early on. He travelled menacingly before putting the race to bed in fine style as he burst to the front before staying on all the way to the line. He oozed class that day and was even installed as a short-price for the Prix l’Abbaye, before William Haggas decided to put him away for a break instead. He looks set to be a top-class animal and he can announce himself as a big star this season.

Wheat Sheaf

3-y-o bay colt

Iffraaj (UK) – Harvest Queen (IRE) (Spinning World (USA))

Current Trainer: R Charlton

Current Owner: Lady Rothschild

The only maiden in the ten to follow this year, is the exciting Wheat Sheaf, who went extremely close on his only racecourse visit. He was given the nod to start off his career in an above-average maiden at HQ, where he travelled eye-catchingly well under George Baker. He is a lovely looking colt, and he showed he had plenty of ability when moving stylishly into the lead up the stands rail.

He breezed to the front before pulling clear alongside Rare Rhythm, and although he was defeated in a battle, he lost little in defeat. The benefit of race experience clearly aided the classy Godolphin colt, but Wheat Sheaf looks set to improve massively for the run and it would be no surprise to see him aimed at some of the big ten-furlong races this season, with plenty of options lying in store for Roger Charlton’s three-year-old.

He is sure to come out and get some confidence in lesser events, so it could be worth following him on his journey to bigger and better things, keeping an eye on the prices as he progresses.

Words

3-y-o bay filly

Dansili (UK) – Moonstone (UK) (Dalakhani (IRE))

Current Trainer: A P O’Brien

Current Owner: Mr D Smith, Mrs J Magnier, Mr M Tabor

Sometimes actions speak louder than words, but there was a magnificent mixture of both as Words ran out a ready winner on her only start to date at the Curragh last June. Aidan O’Brien sorts often need a run or two to really be seen at their best, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a well-thought-of mare show tremendous promise, after dwelling towards the rear before making swift headway to pull well clear, despite Joseph O’Brien putting up overweight.

She has a really interesting pedigree, and looks set to have plenty of options with speed and stamina aplenty. It would be no surprise to see her turn up in the Classic races open to her, and she is already strongly fancied for the Oaks. She is a likeable type, and the form of her only start has worked out tremendously well, which suggests there may be something special about the Ballydoyle mare. There is plenty of scope about the daughter of Dansili and it would be no surprise to see her make a real name for herself in her three-year-old season.

 

Steven George Gerrard – Liverpool Legend

Steven George Gerrard. The name has become synonymous with Liverpool Football Club and all its success since the late 90’s.

Today, the skipper announced he would be leaving the club that he has shared his entire career with, good times and bad, to depart to sunnier climbs… and who can blame him?

He owes nothing to Liverpool Football Club.

He has stood by them (just about at times) through thick and thin and dug deep to drag his side through games they really shouldn’t have won. He is a freak talent who inspired so many with his raw, dynamic displays from the centre of midfield.

He began his career back in 1998, coming on as a last-minute substitution against Blackburn Rovers. No-one knew just how much influence this short-haired rough-looking youngster would have on the future of the Reds.

He quickly emerged as a versatile performer, slotting in at right-back and right wing-back among his sparse performances in the centre, but when he was given a true chance, he took in typical Gerrard fashion. A mazy run from deep against Sheffield Wednesday seen him drift past Des Walker before slotting home for his first Liverpool goal, one that would be the first of many at his beloved Anfield.

He quickly established himself as a leading talent, putting in hard-hitting performances from the centre of midfield, looking as though he would blossom into a leading midfielder.

I was really getting into football around this time and although I had been to a few games before (hazy memories) the first real game I take crystal clear memories from was the 4-1 victory over Coventry back in 2000.

Steven Gerrard was something else. As a player who was trying to add a physical edge to my game, watching Gerrard would teach more than any coach could. He marauded around the field with such confidence, with big tackles, sharp dashes, magnificent passes and deft finishes. He had it all.

I strolled around the park with my ‘Gerrard 17’ white away shirt, attempting to replicate the maestro. While others were more interested in the Michael Owen and Emile Heskey’s (yes, seriously), I would always be throwing in crunching tackles and turning defence into attack thanks to styling myself (fairly poorly) off Gerrard.

His career took giant strides, as he established himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet for both club and country. In the year of 2001, he won five trophies, scored in the UEFA Cup final and opened his account for the Three Lions with a stunning strike in a 5-1 win over Germany. Not bad, eh?

Then come the captaincy, where he led Liverpool with the armband following Gerard Houllier’s decision that Gerrard was the man to take the Reds forward. He was vocal but didn’t always need to be, as his performances gave his side the added edge to emulate the skipper and up their performance that extra 10%.

He began to turn in world-class performances, week-in, week-out, meaning Liverpool fans became accustomed to match-winning efforts and anything else was considered ‘an off-day’, as his pedestal that fans put him on continued to rise.

Then, in 2005, the performance that ensured he will go down in Liverpool folklore.

At 3-0 down and little hope remaining, Liverpool looked to their skipper (in hope more than expectation) for some inspiration. They soon had it, as he powered in a header, before making gestures to the fans to up the noise and make it a cauldron of red. They hardly had enough time before Vladimir Smicer had scored and Gerrard was brought down after a driving run through the centre. Xabi Alonso converted the penalty at the second time of asking and the rest is history.

Gerrard played almost every position on the park that night, including a match-winning shift at right-back, where he halted the constant attacking threat of the Milan side down the left. He walked off the pitch with all muscles aching, yet still holding belief. Liverpool went on to win on penalties and Gerrard became the first man to lift the trophy Graeme Souness in 1984. And this time… it was for keeps.

The ‘Gerrard Cup Final’ in 2006 was the last time he was really rewarded with the plaudits to match his performance as he led his side to F.A Cup glory. After going 2-0 early on, he responded with a fantastic defensive splitting lofted through ball, which Djibril Cisse converted first time, to get his side back in it. Gerrard then got in on the act himself, rifling home a volley to equalise and give his side momentum for the first time in the game.

It was short-lived however, as Paul Konchesky’s cross found itself lobbing an unsuspecting Pepe Reina and into the back of the net to give West Ham a 3-2 lead, delivering a hammer blow to the Reds’ hopes. As the clock ticked into added time, many had begun to give up, but not Stevie.

As the ball dropped out of the air, with the Cup seemingly heading back to London, Gerrard’s fatigue meant that instead of taking a touch and setting himself up… he simple had to hit it first time. And boy did he hit it.

As the ball nestled past a diving Shaka Hislop, the game was tied and momentum swung back into Liverpool’s favour.

Fitness told at the end of a hard season and the game petered out to a 3-3 draw, with neither side showing too much in extra-time.

Up steps the skipper, to blast in his third goal of the game from the spot and put his side in a commanding position in the shootout. The Reds went on to win thanks to Pepe Reina heroics in the shootout but it will be forever remembered as the ‘Gerrard Final’ as he put in one of the greatest individual performances in recent years. No-one could have won that final for Liverpool apart from Steven Gerrard.

Many thought that would the pinnacle of Steven Gerrard but the skipper continued to prove them wrong. The arrival of Fernando Torres in 2007 seen Gerrard pushed up into a more attacking role behind the Spaniard and the pair struck up a successful partnership for nearly four successful years. Gerrard added a cutting edge to his game with an almost telepathic link-up with Torres, bringing plenty of goals and assists during arguably the peak of both players’ careers.

The 4-0 demolition at Anfield summed the pair up. Frightening. Gerrard led by example, bagging a brace after Torres had opened the scoring and the skipper’s drive and determination seen him swagger around the pitch in complete control, against some superb rivals.

Then came the title challenge of last season. Gerrard was instrumental in getting his side through edgy games, using his experience to retain possession and motivate players who were emotionally and physically drained. He lost his pace over the last few years and although he failed to make driving runs and pitch in with goals from open play, his set-piece finesse won Liverpool plenty of points throughout the run.

Unfortunately Liverpool fell short and his slip which allowed Demba Ba to score and essentially secure three points for Chelsea, which is often revered by fans (most of whom, the result made no difference to, which is baffling) who forget that without the skipper, Liverpool wouldn’t have been in the position to even come close to winning the title. They had massively overachieved.

Over the years Gerrard played a number of roles for the Reds, with his early full-back days behind him, he often slotted in defensive-midfield before making his name as an out-and-out box-to-box midfielder. It was here his true ability was able to shine with his tacking, vision; execution and all-round technical play allowed to take centre-stage. Over the years he changed games with a big tackle, an unbelievable pass or a finish from out of this world.

He dragged Liverpool through games they shouldn’t have won. At times he was surrounded by poor quality players but he made them play above themselves, securing results by taking the game by the scruff of the neck and being relentless with the tempo that he ensured his side played at.

He is without doubt, the greatest midfielder I have had the pleasure of witnessing for Liverpool.

He was fortunate as he had the likes of Didi Hamann, Javier Mascherano, Momo Sissoko and more recently Lucas, to do his ‘dirty work’ in-terms of breaking play up and giving him the confidence to rein with plenty of freedom; however he worked to deserve that. The team realised how much benefit it would be to release the shackles on Gerrard and let him loose on the opposition. He was a freak of a talent.

Now he has made the difficult decision to leave Merseyside and it has been met with a mixture of emotions; sadness, fear, relief and downright angst. He is a hero of the club and one that will be very hard to replace.

However he has made the right decision in leaving Liverpool as it will allow his hero status to live long in the memory and ensures he goes down as a club legend. He is just a local lad with an extremely magnificent talent. Someone who the fans can relate.

In recent weeks and months, Gerrard’s deterioration has become more and more apparent. He is still the greatest passes at the club and his technical ability is second-to-none however his legs have gone.

He hasn’t got the pace to maintain the high-pressing game that Liverpool set-up with under Brendan Rodgers and he was simply a passenger when tried out in the defensive-midfield role. He unbalanced the side and fans and pundits were growing uneasy with Gerrard in the starting eleven, which shouldn’t really have happened given the talent he has.

It would be a sad state of affairs to watch someone who has given so much to the side, rot away his remaining days as a bit-part player, causing more harm than good to the Reds.

So, he has opted to acknowledge he has given Liverpool his best days and as the side looks to move on past the Gerrard era (with much needed help from the board, but that will be for a different post) he has unselfishly decided to step down. He could have easily signed another contract knowing he would be able to collect a nice amount of money to do minimal work but he has opted to shoot off to sunnier climbs and actually make a difference, if expected he is to arrive in the MLS, in a league which lacks the pace and intensity of the Premier League.

He will be in his element, picking up balls and being given time to find his target, something he is still magnificent at. In a game which is less physically taxing over there, he is prolonging his career as he could easily have another three years in the States, cementing himself as a hero over there.

The skipper has led by example for so many years but it is the right time to say goodbye. He has gotten Liverpool Football Club through many dark days and his career is something our generation can look back on with great fondness. I was never fortunate enough to witness Kenny Dalgish playing live for the Reds, but I was told to never expect anyone to get near his achievements or talent in a red shirt. Steven Gerrard did just that.

In a game that is increasingly involved with off-the-field matters, Gerrard delivered on the pitch, making football look so simple. His performances picked Liverpool up from the brink of mid-table mediocrity to push into the top level and challenge for European places, almost singlehandedly at times.

I have no doubt he will warm the Anfield dugout in the future, as a member of backroom staff or maybe even the gaffer. He is one in a million and one that Liverpool were extremely lucky to have.

Steven George Gerrard. Liverpool Legend.

 

Five Horses to Follow – NH Season 14/15

National Hunt – Five to Follow

It’s the time of year when keen racing enthusiasts piece together the selection of horses that are set to carry their money throughout the National Hunt season. After studying the ante-post markets for worthwhile punts, the next logical step seems to be putting an array of the main selections into a list of ‘five-to-follow’. Hopefully the five we will look at here will prove profitable, with the pot of gold arriving in March courtesy of ante-post ventures based around the Cheltenham Festival.

Josses Hill – 6-y-o – Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson’s 6-y-o has run with great credit on every trip to the racecourse, and looks a real contender for next year’s Arkle. Josses Hill oozes class consistently, having finished in the first two in all six of his runs. He only found Willie Mullins’ machine, Vautour, too good in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, before going on to continue his upward curve with a stunning success at Aintree. He landed a Grade Two convincingly, even after Barry Geraghty said he had fail to travel and show his usual sparkle, which arguably pointed to the horse being the main ‘one to follow’ to take away from the meeting.

The (usually) strong travelling gelding looks an ideal candidate to take to the bigger obstacles, and his cruising speed should make him a real player in all the big 2m chasing events this season. The 10/1 for the Arkle may well disappear after his first reappearance over the sticks, and he is definitely one to keep onside as he embarks on what could be a scintillating chasing campaign.

 

Tell Us More – 5-y-o – Willie Mullins

The star of the Cheltenham Sales back in December last year, Willie Mullins’ five-year-old was bought for £290,000 and now runs in the colours of Gigginstown Stud. He has been seen once on the racecourse when bolting up at Gowran Park by 12 lengths, having been extremely well-backed, going off the 8/11 favourite.

He had previously won three p2p’s, including one effort over 3m, so in-terms of trip he is extremely versatile. His debut run was on soft ground, but his action suggested better ground would be within his realms and he looks set for a big novice hurdling campaign, in which the Supreme and the Neptune are viable options at the Festival.

The son of Scorpion is towards to fore of the ante-post markets, a best-priced 16/1 for each of his suspected engagements, which could be a wise punt should he turn up unscathed in March. A big season beckons for Mullins’ charge and he is one to follow on his way through his first spell over hurdles.

 

Taquin Du Sueil – 7-y-o – Jonjo O’Neill

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Jonjo O’Neill’s charge progressed rapidly throughout last season, stepping up from a comfortable debut over fences at Ffos Las to end the season by winning the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. There were question marks over the better ground that day, as it had been suggested he would need a much softer surface, but the manner of his victory was impressive and he looks set for bigger things over the obstacles this year.

A step up to three miles looks ideal for the gelding, with his first port of call likely to be the Betfair Chase at Haydock for which he is a massive 16/1 with the sponsors. A solid run in that would see the 25/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he could develop into a lively contender for, disappear.

He is held in extremely high regard at home, and the fact his trainer decided to bypass Sandown and Punchestown last season suggests he will come on a lot for a summer break. A horse firmly on the upgrade and he should prove profitable to follow this season.

 

Beat That – 6-y-o – Nicky Henderson

Beat That gave his trainer success at both Aintree and Punchestown Festivals, showing two sides to his talents. A smooth success in a Grade One at Aintree was followed by a brave battling effort against a high-class horse, Don Poli, at Punchestown, with Barry Geraghty grinding out the victory with the six-year-old.

A break will help him recover from the tough race, but the qualities he shown at Punchestown suggests he will be one to keep onside of this season. He has the option to go over fences, but it would be no surprise to see his trainer opt to keep him over hurdles, given the success he shown over the obstacles towards the spring time.

He took a while to get used to the game but now it has finally clicked, he looks as though he could go on to bigger and better things whatever his trainer decides to do.

 

Ma du Fou – 4-y-o – Warren Greatex

Warren Greatex’s four-year-old has only had one start in England, when he ran away with a thirteen-runner bumper at Wetherby, having been sent off the warm odds-on favourite.

He acted as though he will come on a lot for the run, even though he breezed aside a fairly competitive field. He is likely to be given a chance over hurdles this coming season, and he has the potential to sweep up plenty of novice hurdling prizes in the build-up to something bigger as the season progresses.

Not the class of others in the list, but likely to be as profitable if you follow him during the early part of the career as he looks set to progress into something potentially high-class. As he is likely to slip under the radar following only one start, he will return at some decent prices over the coming months and will hopefully get the ‘five-to-follow’ off to a great start.

 

 

 

 

York Ebor Meeting – Day One Preview

York’s Ebor meeting tops the flat racing calendar for many, with fantastic racing often accompanied by glorious sunshine on the Knavesmire.

It has been my personal favourite UK flat meeting ever since I was fortunate enough to witness incredible Epsom Derby winner, Authorized, taking on future Arc winner, Dylan Thomas, back in 2007. That day changed my views on racing forever, and since then I have been very fortunate with my luck at the Yorkshire track.

This year looks set to be no different and the opening day provides the opportunity to see some fantastic horses, with Derby winner Australia rightfully taking centre stage. He is the best horse in the race, but with Joseph O’Brien pushing himself to unnatural limits to make the 8st 12 to ride him, there would have to be question marks about his physical fitness in a finish, should the horse need to pull out something extra. He should get the better of the field comfortably if carrying on his progression, but there has to be doubts about taking long-odds on.

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The day starts with the Symphony Group Handicap, a typically tough race that will set you up for the day/meeting if you can find the winner. There is plenty of each-way value, and the selection lies with See the Sun. He landed a valuable prize at York back in June and travelled like the winner last time out, when controlling the race from the front before fading late on behind the talented Muthmir. A shorter trip is set to suit Tim Easterby’s charge, and stall 20 is a plum box to get out and dictate. The three-year-old is nicely weighted and on an upward curve, so the current 11/1 represents clear value and he can hopefully kick-start the meeting in the best possible way.

Next up is the Acomb Stakes, which looks a fantastic opportunity to highlight Jamaica’s potential Classic claims for next year. He is currently second-favourite for the Group Three Acomb, behind the highly rated Basateen, but the manner of Jamaica’s victory as-well as the sheer market support that came for him at Galway, suggest he has the potential to be a special animal. He is going to want further rather soon, as his staying-on display last time out suggested, but he still possesses enough speed at the moment to get the better of the field tomorrow. The 3/1 is more than fair, and this looks like has to potential to be a real starting point for a big career should the vibes from Coolmore be anything to go by.

Kingston Hill is expected to take all the beating back in his optimum conditions in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, yet he will face stiff competition from a tough field. Sir Michael Stoute’s, Snow Sky, looked the least likely winner heading down to post at Glorious Goodwood, dripping with sweat and acting up in the preliminaries. This, combined with the three-year-old failing to settle during the early exchanges, meant that many thought he had already put paid to his chances. However thanks to a masterful James Doyle ride, he managed to prevail by a head, and continue his upward curve. He possesses plenty of ability, and 1m4f looks to be his optimum trip, with the ground posing no issues. If he behaves before the race, and settles earlier he will pose a massive threat to the favourite and at 8/1, he looks a fair bet. He is a risky proposition, but his talent is worth taking a punt on, and if the favourite does fail to act, Snow Sky looks the likeliest to benefit.

Eagle Rock is an interesting contender in the penultimate race of the day, with the Tom Tate trained six-year-old currently a fantastic each-way proposition at 20/1. He saves his best runs for the Knavesmire, running consistently in big handicaps, including a course and distance success. It is a very open race as the prices suggest, but he is one of very few that absolutely love big fields and the course, and one of only two in the race who have course-distance success (Itlaaq the other), which swings things in his massively favour at a surprising price. J P Sullivan has never finished out of the first three when on-board the horse and with him in the saddle tomorrow, hopefully he can piece together another solid run and return each-way money at the very least.

 

Selections:

1:55, York: See the Sun @ 11/1

2:30, York: Jamaica @ 3/1

3:05, York: Snow Sky @ 8/1

4:20, York: Eagle Rock @ 20/1