Monday, January 31, 2011

Henson edges closer to recall

Despite only just returning to professional rugby following nearly two years out of the game, Gavin Henson has trained with the Wales squad ahead of next month's Six Nations. The Saracens' centre made his debut for his new club on Boxing Day, in the win over Wasps before playing nearly an hour last weekend against Sale. Henson was then one of 40 Welsh players put through their paces by national team conditioning and strength coach, Adam Beard.

The former poster boy of Welsh rugby will have to prove to Beard that he can still cut the mustard at the fitness levels required in international rugby. The 28 year old hasn't played for his country since 2009 and will be hoping to continue a run in the Saracens' team before the squads are announced later this month. The Six Nations betting suggests it should be tight championship, and Henson could make the difference.

Henson may have to play out of position if he is going to have any chance of making the squad for the England game in the opening game of the tournament. Jamie Roberts and James Hook are heading the queue for the number 12 jersey and Henson may have to focus on outside centre if he wants a quicker route back in to the team.

If Henson can mount a late charge for Wales' Six Nations squad then it would give the side a boost after what was a disappointing autumn. Most other players wouldn't be anywhere near the national team after behaving how Henson has over the past 18 months or so. The fact that Gavin Henson is close to being recalled says a lot about how highly he is rated by the Welsh management.

Unlucky Fehily could miss rest of the season

Racing's fickle finger of fate has ultimately proved far from kind to popular Irish-born jockey Noel Fehily who has now been told that the injured wrist he sustained in a fall at Newbury in November will not heal in time for the Cheltenham Festival, and indeed may result in him being out for the rest of the season, writes Elliot Slater.

Fehily, stable jockey to Charlie Mann, was the rider that champion trainer Paul Nicholls turned to when his stable jockey Ruby Walsh took a crushing fall and sustained a broken leg at Down Royal at the start of November. Walsh remains on the sidelines, but is expected to return to race riding in mid-February.

Having been offered such a golden opportunity Fehily soon showed that given the right material he is possibly as good a rider as there is anywhere in the British Isles at present. Showing a fine mixture of judgement and strength, he booted home a string of winners for Nicholls, most memorably partnering the rejuvenated Master Minded to an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase. That win came during a brief spell when Fehily returned to ride having suffered damage to his wrist some weeks earlier when falling from Nicholls' Rivaliste at Newbury.

Maybe if he had stayed on the sidelines a little longer and given his wrist more chance to recover, the damage sustained in the Newbury fall would not have been so nad, but in truth, it's impossible to know. What is for sure is that Fehily, (during his all too brief spell as main rider to the Nicholls yard), showed that he has got what it takes to be up there with the cream of the crop. Those who bet on horse racing will be wishing him a speedy recovery.

When he does return to full fitness, it is to be hoped that National Hunt trainers and owners don't forget that here is a man well capable of getting the best out of a horse whether its over hurdles or fences.

Latest transfer news

Press Association Sport is reporting that Birmingham City are close to signing Curtis Davies from Aston Villa.

Sources at St Andrews admit they expect a deal to be completed for the central defender within the next 24 hours.

It is thought that the move will be a straight cash sport deal worth around £3.5million.

However, the two clubs are also discussing a potential swap deal which could see City winger Sebastian Larsson plus £1.5million winging its way to Villa Park.

Meanwhile, Birmingham manager Alex McLeish has also not hidden his desire to sign a striker in the January transfer window.

He failed in landing Robbie Keane and Kenny Miller, and has now turned his sights to former Newcastle forward Obafemi Martins.

Speaking about any potential move, McLeish said: "The board are trying very hard to bring someone in and are working around the clock in terms of negotiating with people.

"After a couple of disappointments, I prefer not to discuss anyone publicly until the i's have been dotted and the t's crossed in any deal."

Boro line up move for United striker

Middlesbrough are considering lining up a loan move for Newcastle United striker Xisco.
The 24-year-old has only scored once for the Magpies in 11 appearances and spent most of the last sport season on loan at Spanish side Racing Santander. There, he scored three goals in 23 games.

The frontman cost Newcastle £5.7million when he signed from Deportivo La Coruna in August 2008 and it is fair to say that he has flattered to deceive on Tyneside. His signing proved to be the final straw for then-manager Kevin Keegan and his fractious relationship with the recruitment arm of the sport club, headed by Dennis Wise.

The move to Boro could hinge on who will pay his wages, with Middlesbrough only willing to cough up a proportion of his reputed £50,000+ a week salary. However, with time running out before the transfer window closes, the Teesside club is hoping their offer will become increasingly attractive.

Boro are also reportedly interested in Hibernian winger Merouane Zemmama as they aim to upset the odds and pull away from the Championship relegation zone.

They are unbeaten in five games under boss Tony Mowbray and face Scunthorpe United and Crystal Palace - two of the league's bottom three - in their next two matches.

How big should your bankroll be?

A common question on poker forums and in poker magazines is from players asking how large their bankroll should be for a specific stake. Like most questions about poker the correct answer is “it depends.” There are so many variables in poker that what is the correct answer for one person could be completely wrong for another, but below are some guidelines for various games and variants.

The most popular form of online poker, whether using the betfair promo or not, is short-handed no limit Hold'em so it only seems fair to start with this discipline first. When I first started playing poker a few years ago there were people who said 20 buying, that is the most you can buy in for which is usually 100 times the big blind, but in today's game you need a little more than that. As the aggression of player and skill levels have increased so has the variance and therefore your bankroll requirements. I would suggest at least 30 buy-ins for short handed games but you could probably get away with 20 at the full ring games.

Those looking ahead to Betfair Poker Live note that another popular form of Hold'em is sit 'n' go tournaments (SNG), another discipline that has become much more difficult to win at due to the increased skill levels of players and the information that is available on how to play them mathematically perfectly. They are still beatable but you should now have around 65 buying, including rake, as a SNG bankroll and even then you should be prepared to move down when the inevitable downswing hits.

Multi-table tournaments carry the highest variance of them all and the days of needing a 100 buyin, including rake, bankroll are long gone. Ideally you should have at least 200 buyins in your MTT bankroll if you want to ride out the extreme swings in results that tournaments produce!

Other factors that should influence your bankroll size include whether or not you can afford to reload should you lose or is this money the last available to play with. Obviously if you cannot afford to reload then you need to be more conservative with your bankroll than someone with an abundance of funds available. Another fact is how you handle the swings mentally. If you tilt easily then keeping a larger roll should help prevent this from happening regularly than a shorter roll would.

Profiling errors

Whenever you sit down at the virtual felt or at the poker table at your local casino you will almost always begin to figure out which players are tight, which of your opponents are loose, who plays aggressively and who is passive. This is called profiling and everyone does it but because each individual is completely different it is quite difficult to profile accurately and mistakes are often made.

Although those using betfair promo note that there are dozens of mistakes you can make whilst profiling an opponent there are three that are the most common. One is the so called primary effect and entails you giving too much weight and significance to the first set of observations you make. For example, you may see a new player at your table playing almost every hand and assume he is loose-aggressive but he may be on a rush of cards or may be creating this image for himself so that he can tighten up and get paid off with his big hands. This is a common problem because a good poker player often changes gears to throw their opponents off the scent.

Those looking ahead to Betfair Poker Live London note that another common mistake is the so-called Halo Effect, though this is more weighted towards profiling players in a live environment. It is human nature to assign positive attributes to people we deem to be good-looking and negative ones to those who are not so fortunate in the beauty department! Do not fall for this, especially in this day and age where many fresh-faced internet poker prodigies may only be 18-years old but are highly aggressive, in the poker sense of the word, and may have played hundreds of thousands of hands so will be quite experienced.

Finally, humans are guilty of stereotyping which does not bode well when trying to profile opponents. Most people would expect the flat-cap wearing 75 year old man to play loose-passive where you would often be correct to assume the young man clad in poker room clothing was a solid player. However, you will often be wrong.

When profiling opponents make sure you do so with a clear head, without the influences of anything else other than what you have seen and allow your profiles to be fluid and change to extra things you observe, rather than being rigid and set in stone.

Tips for the Christie's Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup

The Christie's Foxhunter Chase is one of the oldest races at the Festival. The first running in 1904 was won by the 6/4 favourite Palmy Boy and The Christie's Foxhunter Chase is the only race at The Festival open to trainers who are not full-time professionals or hold a permit to train their family's horses. Run straight after the "main" Gold Cup the amateurs have their own chance to show off their talents in their own Gold Cup. Run over the same 3M 2.5F as the main event this race produces an interesting mixture of horses and trainers. On the equine front we often see a plenty of older experienced chasers who are nearing retirement but are still capable of turning in a good performance taking on the young pretenders who have taken on all-comers in the point to point field and are looking to make the leap to race under rules.

The race also produced the first lady jockey to win a race at the Festival - Caroline Beasley successful on Eliogarty in the 1983 Christie's Foxhunter Chase. Since then the race has been won four times by women - Katie Rimell on Three Counties in 1989, Polly Curling on Fantus in 1995, Fiona Needham in 2002 on Last Option and Rilly Goschen on Earthmover in 2004. Anyone looking for Paul Nicholls horse racing tips may want to look elsewhere, as the trainer has only landed the race once during his career.

There have been several dual winners of the Foxhunters but never a triple one and if there is a race for veterans at the Festival then this is it, as three of the five thirteen year olds to win since WW2 have come in this event.

Last time out saw a quality Foxhunters with 16 of the 24 runners coming into this off the back of a win either under rules or in the pointing field and that contributed to one of the better runnings and winners from the past few years. Having just won the Cheltenham Gold Cup the Twiston-Davies stable delivered another blow here with all the way winner Baby Run who was third the previous year. Under his typically attacking ride he had his rivals stone cold from a fair way out and though he made a mistake at the last his rivals were legless.

Second was Kilty Storm, winner of two points and a decent hunter chase at Leopardstown in his last three starts, he travelled well in a handy position and had every chance, but he could never quite get on terms with the winner as hard as he tried – still a cracking effort. Reach For The Top completed the 1-2-3, successful in a point last time but having his first start under rules in almost three years, had question marks against his stamina but he wasn´t ridden as though thought a doubtful stayer, racing handily and having every chance.

The only other horse to mention is the other joint favourite Roulez Cool who had some very decent form in France but appeared to have run his race when brought down four out with his race run.

From a betting point of view it is definitely the younger horses that you need to concentrate on, as 18 of the last 20 winners have been aged ten or younger. Horses over ten really do have an appalling record in the race considering that in the last 20 runnings of the race they have supplied nearly half of the runners and produced just two winners. One of the tried and trusted patterns in successfully selecting the winner of the Foxhunters used to that you had to look for a runner that had won its last outing – that system took a little knock early from 2000 as four winners came about that had been beaten on their last start. But good news, normal service has been resumed and both Cappa Bleu in 2009 and Baby Run in 2010 were successful before winning this race. Although a lot of people will be looking at the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2011, this race could offer value.

With last year's winner making all it is always interesting to look at how other winners were ridden and six of the last 15 winners have made virtually all the running – so if you find a front runner that is fancied it is worth considering.

Friday, January 28, 2011

France v Italy preview

The Five Nations clash between France and Scotland used to be a 'home banker'. Between 1979 and 1993 the home team won on 15 consecutive occasions, the sort of pattern punters like. In recent years the travel sickness has only affected Scotland.

France have 12 of the last 14 championship matches, although they remain particularly dominant against the Scots on home soil. Since winning in Paris in 1999 Scotland have suffered five straight reverses with a negative points difference of 88. The Six Nations betting doesn't suggest things will get any easier this time around.

In this context a trip to the reigning Grand Slam champions seems like a nightmare start to the forthcoming championship, a view inevitably not shared by Scottish coach Andy Robinson. He sees the new season as a clean slate and vulnerability in France, not infallibility.

Marc Lievremont's men are certainly lower in confidence than they were when they completed the Grand Slam last year, the 59-16 thrashing they suffered against Australia in their last match being the fourth worse French test defeat in history.

There is bound to be vulnerability in what could be a new-look team compared to the one that lifted the trophy last year, with Robinson hoping to capitalise with an emphasis on doing the basics well. His team were undone by stupid errors and naive decision-making last year – consistency is Scotland's holy grail this time around, even if the rugby union betting tips indicate they won't win the tournament.

Scotland also suffered a winter mauling on home soil, 49-3 by New Zealand, but have steadily improved since. Plenty of work needs to be done on the team's creativity – 10 championship tries in three years tells its own story – but a strong defensive display in Paris is the current priority. France can be expected to win this one by 10-15 points.

Cheltenham Festival Race Facts – National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup

The oldest race at the Festival and the race around which the original Festival was built, this year will be the 141st year of the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup. The race had been run at a number of venues until it became a part of the new two-day National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham in 1911. It had also been run at Cheltenham in 1904 and 1905.

One of the strange things about this race is that the longest race in the calendar is restricted to novices, both equine and human. The four-mile National Hunt Chase is the longest race run at The Festival. The race was reduced in distance by a furlong in 2008 and reverted back to the Old Course. The race is usually one of the best supported at The Festival, with very competitive fields each year but there is a safety limit of 20 in place. It's worth bearing in mind that Paul Nicholls has a terrible record in the race, so it may be worth avoiding his runners.

The race has proved a good guide to future success in recent seasons. The 2007 winner Butler's Cabin subsequently won the Irish Grand National, while 2006 victor Hot Weld landed a memorable double in 2007 by collecting the Scottish National and the Sandown Gold Cup in the space of a week.

Last year was notable for the fact that the finish was contested by two of the finest lady jockeys of their generation with Katie Walsh (Poker De Sivola) beating her great rival and friend Nina Carberry (Becauseicouldntsee) in a driving finish. The winner was a major gamble at the Festival previously and he gained compensation here, given a patient ride he stayed on well up the hill to win by 2 ¼ lengths. The runner-up ended up running on just three shoes and could not hold up at the finish – the 4M trip just finding out his stamina. Prudent Honour belying his odds, and his maiden tag over fences stayed on well to claim third to complete the first three.
With only one outright winning favourites since 1992 it was no surprise to see this year's favourite fail to carry the hoodoo - Mobaasher, who has a mind of his own was never really on a going day here but plugged on for a respectable fifth, failing to end the run of beaten favourites.

The favourite has a terrible record in the race, especially if Irish trained. Favourites are regularly sent off far too short and regularly disappoint with just one outright market leader obliging in the last 19 years, of which six failed to complete and four were pulled up.

Five and six-year-olds are always the first runners to be dismissed from consideration in this race – the long trip and nature of the race is just too tough for them. There has only been one winner from that age group since 1989 and that was the 2009 winner Tricky Trickster who took the Grade Two AON Chase at Newbury the following year. Horses that finished unplaced should also be dismissed - 25 of the last 27 winners finished in the first 4 last time out and the last 3 winners finished in the first 2 last time out. Meanwhile, if you do want to back a Paul Nicholls horse, you're probably betting sticking to the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Most of all avoid supporting the favourite, especially short priced ones from Ireland.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sew Eurodrive WA Pacing Cup Consolation, Gloucester Park, Friday

For those who didn’t quite make the cut in the evening feature of the Australian harness racing schedule, the Sew Eurodrive WA Pacing Cup Consolation race provides an opportunity to still bag a handy prize on the night. $25, 000 up for grabs and a competitive field to boot, and there look to be three main protagonists.

Motu Treasure is a well drawn 6yo here and could dominate as there isn’t stacks of great early pace up his inner. He was second here last week to Albert Jaccka, who runs in the big one, and that is good form. There is no reason why he shouldn’t reproduce that effort and is certainly a live wire here.

Jumbo Operator for the R J Huston team, who do really well here at Gloucester Park, is another with strong credentials in the harness racing betting. The 6yo has won 21 of his 29 career starts, showing that he is usually well placed by connections and he is a winner of his last two outings. Either one of those efforts reproduced would make him the one to beat here. In this sort of line-up, he could go off at something like 5/2, which if the case could well be good value.

Ohoka Georgia is the other interesting one. This 7yo won in a good time here last week and although has only won 20 from 90 career starts (still a good strike rate but not as impressive as a few of his rivals), this experienced pacer wouldn’t shock too many if playing a big part here. If doing so, could provide trainer G E Hall snr with a very profitable night.

Jumbo Operator is an admirable performer but we will just oppose him with Motu Treasure, who is fancied to go one better than last week in this similar company. Watch out, however, for the price available on Ohoka Georgia as he is fancied to make the frame.

Sew Eurodrive WA Pacing Cup, Gloucester Park, Friday

It’s a usual high class feast of racing action at Gloucester Park this Friday night, and on this card the $400, 000 Sew Eurodrive WA Pacing Cup is by far in a way the highlight of the harness racing action. Plenty of well-known names and several chances amongst them make this a mouth-watering spectacle.

We’ll start by having a look at the harness racing odds for the first line and turn to R A Olivieri’s Ima Spicey Lombo. The 6yo mare has been holding her form well and has only 15 metres to make up on the likely favourite I’mthemightyquinn from their run here against each other last week in the Fremantle Cup. Ima Spicey Lombo this time has the pick of the draw but will have to be at her very, very best to see a few of these off.

Washakie finished second last week in the same race (13 metres ahead of I’ma Spicey Lombo). John McCarthey’s charge is another who has been a real money spinner of late and rates a danger to all once again.

I’mthemightyquinn is no doubt the one that they all have to beat though. This horse won in the manner of a top class act last week and G Hall snr’s 7yo is likely to again be popular to oblige. There is always a worry with pacers that if they are running to this level of form week in, week out and enduring tough battles in the process, their good run will end sooner or later. But until we see a sign of that, keep getting those pennies on!

Of the others, it’s the selection’s stable-mate Albert Jaccka who has a small EW chance for those of you who like value. He was a deserved winner of a slightly weaker affair last week following some honest efforts in better company and, even though now he is once again pitched in at the deep end, he shouldn’t be ruled out. He is a very smart horse, although, clearly the stable second-string here.

They should all be chasing the shadow that belongs to I’mthemightyquinn, although saying that it isn’t just a one horse race. Washakie was closing on him here last week and his driver will be well aware of the tactics required to possibly get him that bit closer if not in-front. He rates the main danger.

Apalachi hoping for one more Aintree glory day

He might be getting on a bit these days, but even at 12-years-old Black Apalachi remains a leading contender for the forthcoming John Smith's Grand National at Aintree, a race in which he put up such a tremendous performance last year to be a gallant runner-up to Don't Push It, writes Elliot Slater.

That wasn't the first time the gelded son of Old Vic had run well at the idiosyncratic Liverpool track. Indeed, 12 months earlier Black Apalachi had been clear of the field when coming down at Becher's second time round and many observers felt that had he stood up he may well have gone close to defeating eventual 100/1 winner Mon Mome. In November 2008 Dessie Hughes' grand stayer had put up a performance that had regular Aintree fans drooling, when landing the Totesport Becher Chase by no less than 74-lengths, possibly the widest margin of victory in modern times. That had proven to be a significant improvement on his first encounter with the Aintree fences when Black Apalachi got no further than the second fence in the 2008 Grand National won by Comply Or Die.

Ever since his brave effort in 'the world's greatest steeplechase' in April last year, Dessie Hughes has had a repeat attempt at the forefront of his calculations. Probably taking into account the age of his horse, Hughes has chosen to keep Black Apalachi at home and keep him as fresh as possible for a spring campaign. Doubtless, following the publication of the weights for the race, Hughes will give his contender at least one outing before the big event itself for which he is currently quoted at odds of around 25/1. Anyone with a Grand National free bet to place shouldn't rule him out.

The racing public love Grand National specialists who keep on trying, such as Greasepaint or Suny Bay, and Black Apalachi is sure to have his supporters in April, many of whom will not have forgotten his brave effort last time around.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Whisky festival target yet to be decided

The upwardly mobile Oscar Whisky will have his Cheltenham Festival target decided only after he has contested the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on February 5, writes Elliot Slater.

Trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Dai Walters, (the owner and developer of the Ffos Las circuit), Oscar Whisky placed himself right into the reckoning for consideration for Champion Hurdle honours after impressively beating Any Given Day by seven lengths in the Cheltenham & Three Counties Club Hurdle at Prestbury Park on New Year's Day. Significantly, that win came over two-miles-five furlongs, leaving connections with the dilemma of which trip is actually best for the highly progressive son of Oscar and it's something anyone planning to bet on Cheltenham 2011 should keep an eye on.

Last season the six-year-old won his two bumper starts (both at Newbury), before making a winning hurdles debut again at the Berkshire track. He then landed the odds in heavy ground at Sandown and duly headed to the Cheltenham Festival and a crack at the Grade 1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, where he ran a perfectly creditable race in finishing third to the high-class Menorah, only two lengths behind the third placed horse, Irish star Dunguib.

Quite understandably Dai Walters has always favoured his horse representing him in the Welsh Champion Hurdle – the race will be run for the first time at Ffos Las after being switched from its traditional home at Chepstow - but after that a decision will have to be made as to whether he should stick at the minimum trip and have a crack at the Champion Hurdle, for which he is currently at around 14/1 in the Cheltenham betting offers, or step up to the extended three miles and take on Big Bucks and the rest in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, for which he is also available at around 14/1.

Scalpers set to make a killing as fans flock for greatest show on Earth

Although the Super Bowl is not being staged in a state that has a side competing in the showpiece event, fans of the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers who have failed to get hold of a ticket through official means are likely to be flocking to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in order to soak up the atmosphere in the build-up to the greatest show on Earth.

Add to this equation the fact that the Packers are desperate to pick up their first Super Bowl for far too long, and the fact that the tie is likely to be an engaging and exciting one, and you can see why scalpers are beginning to lick their lips about how much money they can make despite the current difficult economic climate. Anyone looking to bet on Super Bowl action is likely to go out of his way in an attempt to watch the game live, and that means prices can skyrocket.

However, with fans likely to be aware of the risks of buying tickets from a scalper, and the NFL certain to be warning fans of the two teams to only buy tickets through official outlets, the likely effect is that those who are looking to make a profit through buying up as many tickets as they can before then reselling them are likely to remain as unpopular amongst fans as usual. The Super Bowl betting odds indicate it should be an exciting game, but the atmosphere would probably be even better if true fans were able to access the tickets more easily.

Despite this, the allure of a ticket to watch what is commonly viewed as the greatest show on Earth is something that means that those thousands of fans who have been left disappointed that they haven't been able to get tickets through the official routes are likely to be prepared to splash thousands of dollars on tickets that may not even get them entry to the game. For their sake, let's hope the game lives up to expectations.

Punchestowns goes on trial for Cheltenham

Connections of Nicky Henderson's talented performer Punchestowns should have a better idea of which Cheltenham Festival race is most likely to suit their charge after he contests the ultra-competitive Grade 2 Argento Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday afternoon, writes Elliot Slater.

With likely opposition set to include current RSA Chase favourite Time For Rupert, Tidal Bay, an excellent runner-up to Imperial Commander in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last time out, Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Little Josh, and the Paul Nicholls pair of Neptune Collonges and last year's winner of the race Taranis, Punchestowns should be given a seriously good workout, the result of which will determine whether he will go for the Ryanair Chase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or revert back to timber for another crack at Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, in which he was a runner up in 2009. Anyone looking to place Cheltenham 2011 bets should wait and see how he does before committing their money.

Henderson has always had a high regard for the eight-year-old who last season won the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase at Sandown Park before performing slightly below expectations when only fifth to Weapons Amnesty in the RSA Chase. Punchestowns has had just the one outing so far this term when running in a pea souper of a fog at Newbury's late-December fixture, where he appeared from out of the gloom duelling with the talented Pride of Dulcote, before eventually going under by just a head. The Cheltenham 2011 betting predictions suggest he will make an impact, although it remains to see which race that will be in.

It's hard to know if that was a below-par run or not (he was sent off the 4/11 favourite), as the winner is a very capable performer at his best, but Saturday's race should answer most questions in the mind of the gelding's owner and trainer and determine in which race Punchestowns is most likely to compete back at Cheltenham in the middle of March.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fly swats Solwhit in Irish Champion Hurdle

The Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly raced to his fourth straight win over arch-rival Solwhit with a convincing three-and-a-half length success in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday and remains on course for the English equivalent at the Cheltenham Festival on March 15.

The latest instalment of the now rather one-sided head-to-head between the two leading Irish hurdlers went very much to script, with Hurricane Fly quickening away from the second last and soon taking command under Paul Townend to justify the 4/9 odds laid about him. Once again Solwhit failed to find a change of gear and could only keep on at the one pace to be second under Davy Russell.

Solwhit's trainer, Charles Byrnes, all but ruled out bidding for the Champion Hurdle after the fourth straight defeat of his horse by Hurricane Fly, suggesting that it might be prudent to wait until April and tackle the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles, a race the seven-year-old won in 2009.

For his part, Hurricane Fly now has his sights set on the star British trio of defending champion Binocular, the unbeaten Peddlers Cross, and the highly regarded Menorah, in the Champion Hurdle, but it is hard to tell just how good he is having continually raced against (and beaten) the same horse and anyone looking at the Cheltenham 2011 betting predictions must remember this.

Bookmakers appear divided as to the merit of the Irish form with sponsors Stan James amongst those seemingly least impressed in offering 9/2 about the gelded son of Montjeu, which may be attractive to anyone looking to bet on Cheltenham racing.

Others offer as short as 7/2 about the Mullins runner's chance, whilst Boylesports appear to be running scared and have taken the precaution of making Hurricane Fly their 3/1 joint-favourite with Nicky Henderson's back-to-form Binocular.

Wales get back division boost

Wales boss Warren Gatland has been handed a number of boosts in his back division with the return to fitness of a number of players, allowing the coach to include them in his Six Nations squad. Lee Bryne, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny have all returned to action with their club sides and have impressed enough to convince Gatland to take them to next month's tournament, news that should be of interest to anyone looking to place a rugby bet.

Shane Williams return to the Ospreys side following his shoulder injury is perhaps the biggest boost to Wales' chances of challenging for honours next month. The winger suffered his shoulder injury in the autumn loss to South Africa, resulting in surgery and the 75 capped Williams has only just made the squad after an impressive 25 minute appearance coming off the bench for Ospreys at the weekend.

The return on the wing of 51 international try-scoring Williams will be just the news Gatland needed after a difficult few months for the Wales coach. A number of injuries have robbed Gatland of a number of key players and the suspension of Richie Rees only added to the selection difficulties for the head coach.

With his back division looking something like their best again, Gatland has every right to feel confident going in his side's opening match against England at the Millennium Stadium.

He said: "It's a boost to have one or two players back from injury in the back line with Shane Williams and Lee Byrne both doubts at one stage and Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts returning after being unavailable to us in the autumn. There's an exciting look about the back."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheltenham - Queen Mother Champion Chase

One of the true highlights of the week and the pinnacle of the second day of the Festival - the Queen Mother Champion Chase is run over the bare 2M at a fast and furious pace despite usually being one of the smaller fields at the Festival.

This race provides the perfect foil to the stamina sapping RSA Chase which precedes it and the race has produced some memorable races and finishes and horses which will go down amongst the greats at Prestbury Park. The Queen Mother’s name was added to the race title in 1980, the year of her 80th birthday and as a real National Hunt aficionado she would have appreciated winners like Master Minded (2008 and 2009), Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005) and the flying grey One Man (1998).

Not only is the race a great spectacle with pace and jumping at a premium but it has also provided punters with some very solid results with 10 of the last 12 winners starting at no bigger than 5/1, although favourite backers were disappointed last year when Master Minded going for a hat-trick in the race could only finish fourth to Irish challenger Big Zeb who looks set to return in an attempt to follow up this year and he will no doubt attract plenty of Cheltenham 2011 bets.

Although Master Minded suffered that reverse last year his trainer Paul Nicholls still has a terrific record in the race, having saddled four winners of the race and he still holds a particularly strong hand this year with four of the 21 entries – Master Minded, progressive Woolcombe Folly who notched an impressive victory in a Cheltenham handicap chase at The International Meeting, Grade One winner Tataniano and Tchico Polos.

Top class horses run in this race and it takes top class form to win it 8 of the last 9 winners were officially rated 160+ and had won a Grade One race before and people should bear this in mind when looking at the Cheltenham racing betting.
Fast, furious, fantastic and classy sum up the Queen Mother Champion Chase the highlight of Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival 2011.

Australian Open 2011 - men's last eight preview

Six of the top eight seeds have made it through to the men's quarter finals at the Australian Open, but there is only one surprise presence in the last eight. The superb form of 19th seed Stanislas Wawrinka makes his progress expected, but few would have forecast Alexander Dolgopolov performing so deep in the tournament at the expense of fourth seed Robin Soderling.

On paper the draw seems to be progressing to the expected Federer-Nadal final, but there some tough hurdles ahead for both before a repeat of the superb 2009 final is set up. Both favourites face quarter final opponents in perhaps the best form of their careers.

David Ferrer is yet to face a big name but his serene progress to date suggests Nadal will have his biggest test yet against his close friend. He has won 12 of their 15 meetings, including the last eight clashes and his improved display against Marin Cilic, in which he claimed to be back to full fitness, hints at a Nadal victory and the tennis betting reflects this.

Wawrinka will provide Federer with a tougher test in the draw's bottom half clash of good mates. Wawrinka is yet to drop a set, easing past higher seeds Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick in impressive fashion. He reached his first slam quarter final at last year's US Open and is playing well enough for the 1-6 record he has against Federer to be irrelevant.

Federer was given a massive scare by Gilles Simon in a five set epic in round two and is undoubtedly short of the consistency that characterised his best years. However, no one is better than winning slam quarter finals and Federer should edge this one in four sets.

Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic have cruised through the draw with little fanfare and should provide the tightest quarter final match. I fancy a five set encounter, leaving the winner, probably Berdych, vulnerable to Federer in the last four.
Andy Murray has been the most impressive player at the event to date, losing no more than three games in any set. He has not allowed his opponents to find any rhythm and he should see of Dolgopolov in straight sets.

The number five seed will probably have to beat Nadal and Federer in the same tournament to win his first major and he is playing well enough to finally suggest that goal is obtainable.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

EPL 2010-11 : Manutd - Birmingham City goals

Manchester United 5-0 Birmingham City

1-0 - Berbatov

2-0 - Berbatov

3-0 - Giggs
3 – 0

4-0 - Berbatov

5-0 - Nani


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prior “surprised” at World Cup inclusion

England wicket keeper Matt Prior has expressed his shock at being selected for England’s 15 man squad for the World Cup in February.

Prior has been absent from the England one-day side since March 2010 but has been recalled at the expense of Steven Davies. The Surrey wicketkeeper looked likely to retain the gloves for the tournament having been included in the first 11 for the current one-day series against Australia, but the England Selectors opted for the in-form Prior.

Sports betting placed the 28-year-old as an outsider for a place in the squad but he was the surprise inclusion in an otherwise predictable squad.

The Sussex wicketkeeper/batsman admitted he thought a recall was unlikely. He said: “I wasn’t expecting it…I’m absolutely delighted with the selection. It feels like I have come home again.”

The man in possession of the gloves for the test side offered his condolences to Davies and added: “It works that way, its international sport. It's cut-throat at times, but everyone has been through it. I'm just very happy that I've got the nod this time.”

After England’s test win against Australia, Prior had remained in Australia to take part in the domestic Twenty20 series for Victoria Bushrangers but will now join England on the sub-continent for the a warm-up match against Canada before their first game of the tournament against the Netherlands on February 22nd.

Nadal sets up Aussie battle

In his quest to become the first player to hold all four Grand Slams at once since 1969 Rafael Nadal is certainly making light work of things so far.

After leading 6-0 5-0 in his first round encounter against Brazilian Marcos Daniel before his opponent retired, the Spaniard is clearly keen to minimise time spent on court in the early rounds as he set about his task in round two in equally destructive fashion.

Facing American qualifier Ryan Sweeting, Nadal took just 28 minutes to wrap up the first set 6-2 before dropping just one game in the 38-minute 6-1 second set. There was no let up in the third either as another convincing 6-1 win completed the victory in just only one hour and 40 minutes, putting Nadal through and sending out a warning to his rivals. No one would have been surprised as the Goalwire live match score came though.

He should face a greater challenge in the next round though as he will also have to battle a partisan home crowd as Australian teenager Bernard Tomic in round three.
Wildcard entrant Tomic, who is ranked 199 in the world, shocked Spain's 31st seed Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 to the delight of the Melbourne crowd and he will represent the first true obstacle standing in the way of Nadal and a place in the history books. It was a real livescore tennis upset, and fans will be hoping for more of the same.

The 18-year-old, who was born in Germany but moved to Australia as a child, is bidding to become the first Aussie in eight years to beat the world's best male tennis player.

Not since Mark Philippoussis beat Andre Agassi in the fourth round at Wimbledon en route to the 2003 final has an Australian beaten men's world number one.

But despite the pressure that it brings, Tomic's declaration that he has nothing to lose has piled the pressure back onto Nadal who will have to show his true class if he is to extend his stay in the competition.

Denilson hits out but is it frustration at his own performances?

Arsenal as a team have improved beyond the level of expectation widely set for them this season, and many believe that there has not been a better time to be a fan of the Gunners in recent times. That said, there have still been a few questions asked about the relative strength of the Gunners squad, questions that have grown in importance as Arsenal have failed to defeat lower league opposition (as well as Wigan) when they decided to rest several first team stars. The football odds still indicate they are in with a fantastic chance of winning something this season, but there are issues that need to be addressed.

Although several players can be accused of not quite reaching the standards they appear capable of, one of the more noticeable disappointments in recent times has been Denilson, a player who is almost certainly worthy of being regarded as one of the Arsenal players who has taken a significant step backwards in their career since the start of the season and the football predictions suggest he may be moved on if he doesn't improve soon.

However, with Denilson choosing to vent his frustration by attacking Arsenal in the press, he is perhaps one of those players who should take a close look at the likes of Samir Nasri in order to find clues as to how he can regain his starting place that has been usurped by the in-form Jack Wilshere.

If Denilson manages to raise his game and play a part in any success that the Gunners end up enjoying this season, then any incidents which hint that he has shown his youth by throwing his toys out of the pram will quickly be forgotten, but if he continues to perform at his current level, he may find that he is not going to be allowed to wear the red and white of Arsenal for too much longer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two way battle for Mens Austrlain Open Crown

With the first round of the opening tennis Grand Slam of the year already underway at the Australian Open in Melbourne, it is interesting to see that the Bookmakers do not see the mens tournament as anything other than the latest chapter in the Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer ongoing battle for tennis supremacy.

Federer who won the title last year for the fourth time when defeating Britain’s Andy Murray in the final is bidding to win his 17th career Grand Slam, while Nadal is looking for his tenth and his fourth on the trot. Should Nadal win then he will become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

It is clear to see why therefore that Bookmakers are looking at the tournament as a two horse race and why they are not taking any worthwhile money on any other players other than the two principles. It seems to matter not that Murray knocked out Nadal last year and reached the final or that Novak Djokovic won the title here three years ago, after dumping Federer out in the semi finals. The bookmakers fully expect to see a Nadal v Federer final and will hope that it will be played to the same epic standards as it was when the two men played out the 2009 final – a match won in five sets by Nadal.

Both men are odds on to make the final in an individual sense, but there is some value in the Australian Open betting on the two reaching the final which carries best odds of 6/4. A repeat of last year’s final Federer v Murray is next best at 9/2, while Nadal Djokovic is a 5/1 chance. Murray of course cannot meet Nadal in the final as he is in the same side of the draw as the Spaniard and might meet him in the quarter final as he did in 2010.

As far as the Ladies singles is concerned the betting has not been so brisk, largely due to the absence from the tournament of defending champion, Serena Williams who is still out injured. Favouritism has therefore gone to Kim Clijsters who is around the 12/5 mark to win her first Australian Open, while compatriot, Justine Henin, only just back from injury herself is next best in the betting with odds of 11/2. The number one seed and current world number one, Caroline Wozniacki looks a good value bet to win a first Grand Slam with odds of 17/2. Her best performance to date in Melbourne however was reaching the fourth round which she achieved in both 2008 and 2010.

Clijsters in fact has been given a very tough opening round match against former world number one, Dinara Safina whose fall from the top spot in the world 18 months ago to a current ranking of 75 has been nothing short of spectacular. She was a finalist here in Melbourne two years ago as was Clijsters in 2004, but such has been her form that she is not expected to trouble the favourite in this match.

Although Serena will not be playing, big sister, Venus will and she might just represent good value with odds of around 20/1 to win the tournament for the first time. She reached the quarter finals here in 2010 and 2008 and was a finalist in 2003. She loves playing in Australia usually and although she is only just back to playing tennis after an injury, she could be very difficult to beat.

Tigers Deserve Aviva Premiership Lead

Despite losing four times in the Aviva premiership so far this season, it is Leicester Tigers who lead the way in the table having moved to the top after their recent victory over previous incumbents, Northampton Saints!

Careful study of the stats will provide the answers to why Leicester is the top team and why they are almost certain to be the top side at the end of the season. It is simply a matter of tries and bonus points; they have simply scored more than any other team in both. When they lose it has usually been in a close affair and when they win, they do so with devastating effect, scoring tries for fun, thus maximising their points tally.

It could be argued that Northampton have played the most attractive rugby this season, but it is Leicester who have 42 tries in just 13 matches, which is twelve more than London Irish who are next best on 30. If they have a reason to be disappointed it will be in the tries against column, where they have conceded 19, which is the worst of the current top four teams in the league, the best being Northampton with just 15, but they of course have only scored 29.

As it stands currently, the ‘Tigers’ have 44 points, six points clear of both Saracens and Northampton who dispute second place, with Harlequins in fourth on 34 points.

Saracens must have nightmares when they look at the stats and must wonder how they have reached second place after scoring fewer tries than they have conceded. Their tally in fact of just 16 tries is one of the worst in the league, but the fact that they have conceded 18 makes their position quite astonishing. ‘Sarries’ have been helped of course by earning some very good wins, their successive wins back in the autumn over Northampton and Leicester certainly made their presence felt, but an ugly defeat at home to Exeter underlined that they were far from the complete article.

Top try scorer in the Premiership so far this season is Topsy Ojo of London Irish with seven, which includes a hat trick against Newcastle back in September. On six tries apiece comes Scott Hamilton of Leicester and Tom Varndell of Wasps. The top points scorer however is Nick Evans of Harlequins who has amassed 169 points from a club total of 296.

With just one win all season, Leeds Carnegie looked doomed to relegation although Newcastle seem to be doing their best to beat them to it. The Falcons under the guidance of coach, Alan Tait have won just twice all season but they at least managed to draw their latest game against Sale earlier this month which should provide them with some optimism in the coming matches.

Credit must be paid to Exeter, who were everybody’s favourites to be relegated at the first time of asking. However, they have hung in well, winning five and losing seven in their opening twelve matches.

As it stands right now, the top three, Leicester, Saracens and Northampton should all make the play-offs at the end of the season with Leicester the 11/8 favourites in the rugby odds to win the Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday 28th May. Harlequins, who are also in the hunt might have to rely on the boot of Nick Evans for the rest of their season if they are to grab the fourth place. Wasps had been favourites to overhaul them but they like many of the Aviva Premiership sides this season are suffering from inconsistency which they seriously need to address.

Packers looking nailed on for Super Bowl success

Green Bay Packers are looking many people's favourites to win the Super Bowl even before they have played the NFC Championship game.

The Packers only made it into the Super Bowl play-offs on the final day of the regular season but then blew away the Atlanta Falcons with a 48-21 thrashing of the NFC top seed and the Super Bowl 2011 odds indicate they can go all the way.

That win secured a NFC Championship game with Chicago Bears, the team they beat on the final day of the season to make it into the play-offs. That was followed by a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the first play-off game and the Packers are looking in top form going into the championship game.

They are favourites to beat the Bears even though they are on the road against a side who won the NFC North, but the Packers are looking one of the best number six seeds in the history of the NFL and the Super Bowl betting odds 2011 reflect this.
"We are a championship-calibre football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the win in Atlanta.

"We feel good about who we are, how we played, our brand of football, and that is what we are sticking to."

Few fans would argue with McCarthy's comments, but the Packers are likely to run into a strong Pittsburgh Steelers side in the Super Bowl itself.

They face New York Jets in the AFC Championship game and the Steelers are favoured among many despite the fact they lost 22-17 in a game between the two sides in December.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

UK NFL fans set to suffer?

After enjoying a trip to watch the 49ers triumph at Wembley in one of the few games they managed to win this season, I can reliably inform you that the support for the teams was both passionate and loud, with the majority of the 90,000 crowd deciding to back the Niners and leaving their opponents playing football in an atmosphere that most NFL sides can only dream of.

However, instead of deciding to capitalise upon the huge surge in popularity that the NFL has enjoyed after it decided to bring one game a season to the UK, the NFL seems instead to be looking towards dropping the hugely successful International Series due to a lack of support from franchise owners. The current failure to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement also means that the renewal of the International Series seems to have slipped down the NFL agenda and this will no doubt upset the British fans currently poring over the Super Bowl 2011 betting odds.

With the UK probably boasting more than enough of a fanbase to support its own franchise, there had been a slight whiff of a suggestion that, should the NFL decide to increase the number of franchises, London could well end up with its very own team, something that looks highly unlikely at present. It doesn't seem probable that UK fans placing Super Bowl 2011 bets will have their own side to back in a couple of years' time.

Despite this, the fact that nothing is set in stone right now means that the London-based NFL fans can still keep their fingers and toes crossed that the NFL is going to get its act together and sign a collective agreement before kicking some sense into the bigger franchises such as the Patriots, showing them exactly why it's worth giving up a home fixture to play at Wembley.

Comply hints at return to form

The 2008 John Smith's Grand National hero Comply Or Die should definite signs of an imminent return to form when running well for a long way before fading in the closing stages of the gruelling Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday, writes Elliot Slater.

David Pipe's tremendously popular staying chaser was having only his second out of the season having run poorly at Wincanton when finishing well down the field on his first outing of the term at Wincanton in November. Ideally suited by a much better surface, his Warwick run was all the more noteworthy and suggested that the 12-year-old gelding is on very good terms with himself at present.

It had been looking as though Comply Or Die might be feeling his age after a number of below-par efforts last term, although he did run well for a very long way at Aintree in April before fading out of contention from three out in the race famously won by Tony McCoy on Don't Push It.

A real Aintree specialist, owner David Johnson's son of Old Vic also ran a tremendous race in the 2009 renewal when finishing an excellent second to Mon Mome as he bid to become the first horse since Red Rum in the 1970s to win back-to-back renewals of the great race. Bookmakers weren't quick to react to the pipe runner's effort and he still is available at up to 40/1 in the Grand National betting odds to win back the crown, a feat that would be unequalled in the long history of the race.

West End Rocker, trained by Alan King, who won the Warwick event from Minella Boys, seems to have been of more interest to bookies and punters being cut to just 25/1 for Aintree glory after his three-quarters-of-a-length victory.

Henderson pair state strong Cheltenham cases

On a quite extraordinary day for trainer Nicky Henderson his two stable stars, Binocular and Long Run, advertised their Cheltenham Festival credentials in the best possible fashion with tremendous victories in the Christmas hurdle and King George VI Chase respectively, writes Elliot Slater.

Reigning champion hurdler Binocular's smooth as silk success in the Grade 1 hurdle on a track that most pundits (and his trainer) felt might see him caught out for pace, sent out a serious warning shots to those who fancy their chances of taking his crown away that they are going have to fight very hard to do so. Confidently ridden by Tony McCoy, Binocular was always travelling well in the slipstream of the gallant Overturn, and once taking it up before two out he was never going to be caught, even though the runner-up kept on gamely to the line.

Binocular's odds for back-to-back Champion Hurdle victories have been slashed and he appears the one they all have to beat and the Cheltenham betting offers reflect this.
Long Run has always been held in the highest regard by the Henderson team but plenty of pundits doubted his jumping would be good enough for a championship grade three-mile contest. They couldn't have been more wrong as the Sam Waley-Cohen-ridden six-year-old put in an exhibition round and was always going too strongly for the great Kauto Star, who was under pressure a long way from home and despite battling bravely could only finish third behind the new champion.

Long Run is now a clear second-favourite for the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18 behind reigning champion Imperial Commander and will no doubt attract plenty of Cheltenham 2011 bets. With both horse and jockey having silenced their critics in no uncertain fashion there will be plenty of confidence in Long Run improving on his third place in last year's RSA Chase and the similar position he filled behind Little Josh in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Prestbury Park in November.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Joncol targeting Hennessy Gold Cup

Paul Nolan's Joncol, as short as 16/1 with some firms for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival in mid-March, has his sights set on a more immediate target after connections confirmed that he is an intended runner in the valuable Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 6, a race he won in great style in 2010, writes Elliot Slater.

Reported to have been in need of the outing when only third behind the rejuvenated Pandorama in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period, the eight-year-old is expected to give the winner much more of a race now that he is approaching peak condition. The severe wintry weather affected Nolan's training grounds very badly and meant that he was forced to run the Bob's Return gelding last time out even though he knew he was still a gallop or two short of his best and anyone looking for Cheltenham 2011 tips should remember this.

The dual Grade 1 winner is currently rated 160, leaving him some way short of the marks set by Kauto Star and Denman, but not so far behind other high-class chasers. Although he has never left the shores of his native Ireland, it is quite possible that Joncol could take his chance in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham if all goes well in the 'Hennessy', while he is 33/1 in the Gold Cup betting.

Doubtless no firm plan will be decided until after Leopardstown, but it is clear that on his day Joncol is a classy performer who wouldn't be out of place in either of his Cheltenham options. The ground may well provide the key to the Nolan-trained star's participation, as on all known form he has to have plenty of give in the ground and would be considered a doubtful runner if, as often happens at Prestbury Park, the Festival going is 'good'.

Wilko boots out Munster

A Heineken Cup quarter-final line-up without Munster will certainly look strange - it is the first time in 13 years they have failed to make that stage of the competition - but they can have no complaints after being well beaten by Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon.

The French side battled their way to a convincing 32-16 victory and while many will focus on the kicking of Wilkinson, Toulon’s victory was based on much more than Wilko's left boot.

Pierre Mignoni was outstanding at scrum half, using excellent vision and equally effective execution to cleverly chip the ball over the Munster back line for Tongan-born Japanese international Christian Loamanu to go over.

He then went on a magnificent cross field run that created a huge overlap on the right hand side for England's Paul Sackey to score. His influence on the match shouldn't be understated.

Wilkinson, as ever was the reliable kicker, hitting 22 precious points that rewarded Mignoni's good work.

The result was a scoreline that shocked the whole competition and anyone following the Livescore Goalwire would have been surprised by it. Munster's record run in the Heineken Cup stretched back to 1998/99 and while many in the media were tipping this result as an end of an era, many inside the club will resist panicking or ringing any reactionary changes in the wake of this game.

After all they remain in the hunt for the Magners League once more and although this result is undoubtedly a setback, it presents an ideal opportunity for the coaching staff to take stock and assess what went wrong. That said, the latest rugby scores reflect the balance of European rugby may be shifting elsewhere.

For Toulon the run will continue as are guaranteed to finish top of Pool Three and await the quarter-final full of confidence.

Can Wales defy the odds?

The WRU website lists Wales's recent form as LLLDL. The draw was against Fiji. If Wales are to have any hope of winning the Six Nations, they must surely beat England first up, in one of only two home fixtures.

If they lose, it could on the face of things be a painful season. The good news, however, is that it wouldn't be the end of the world. There are already several reasons for Welsh fans to be cautiously optimistic about events in New Zealand.

Wales have discovered George North, winner of the SportingWales Rising Star award. George North may not be quite as good as he first appeared, but two tries against the world champions on your debut aged 18 isn't a bad start.

Wales came very close to beating those same world champions in November, and it just so happens they'll be meeting them again in Pool D. They face Fiji in a potential elimination match at the end of the group stage, but have had enough warnings to take nothing for granted. As quarter-final underdogs they ran England close in 2003; maybe this is the year they go one better, although the rugby betting indicates they face a tough task to do so.

So one or two defeats for Wales would not spell doom and gloom. If they can build throughout the championship, they have the perfect finale: Saturday night in Paris in the last game of the Six Nations. Win there and everything that goes before will suddenly seem far less important. After all, the Six Nations betting suggests the tournament will be really tight, so there is no reason why Wales can't win it.

Wales have previous here. In their final Six Nations game of 2007, the last World Cup year, Wales welcomed an England side still with a mathematical chance of winning the championship. The hosts had lost all four of their matches so far. And what happened? Wales started with a flourish and never looked back.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Brady and the Patriots need to put on a show vs the Jets

The New England Patriots and Tom Brady continue to deny that they have any animosity towards the New York Jets, but there can be little doubt that they would love to destroy the Jets in the same manner that they did in the regular season on December 6th, when they won 45-3.

Although the defeat resulted in many ramifications, one of the biggest has been the discussion as to whether Tom Brady was guilty of overly taunting the Jets' Cromartie. However, with trash talking a common part of the NFL, this won't be the first time that Brady has been involved with a bit of banter. It may, though, be the first time that he has been left wanting subsequently to go out and show that, if he was pointing at Cromartie, then he was right to do so and that Cromartie’s response is just that of a man who wishes he was a better player.

However, with the Jets sure to be looking to make a point in order to prove that they are better than their regular season record would lead fans of the NFL to suggest, you can see how it's a heated scenario. Despite this, the Jets know that they will need to find a way to unsettle Tom Brady if they are to stand any chance whatsoever of beating a side that is still at the top of their game despite having had to rebuild in recent years. The American football betting shows just how hard this will be.

Despite being overly reliant upon Brady, the top team of the AFC regular still boasts a decent defence, with the Jets only managing to score a field goal against them in their last match-up. Should the Jets want to get to the AFC Championship game, then they will need to show that they have answers to the questions that the Patriots posed them in their last match-up, even if that means examining why exactly fingers were pointed.

West Ham need to show Olympic Stadium is essential

The owners of West Ham United have clearly got the club's long-term interests at heart as they look at moving the club away from Upton Park and into what would be a 60,000 all-seater stadium, but they should perhaps have spent more time looking into how they can strengthen their squad so that it is strong enough to stay in the Premier League, something the football betting tips suggest could be problematic.

Spurs are a side looking to take their income up to the next level in order to compete for the Premier League title and they could fill a 60,000 seater stadium, but West Ham seem to be looking to move in the vague hope that they one day are able to fill the stadium.

Despite the fact that they may be playing Championship football next season, the club’s owners still seem far more interested in stadium plans rather than looking at the significant problems of the here and now that the team and manager Avram Grant currently face. The football predictions suggest they are in real trouble.

The Hammers know that the effect of being relegated is primarily financial, but they will also surely realise that another effect would be far lower crowd levels, an occurrence that would be embarrassing as well as expensive if they were playing at a near empty stadium. Should they be relegated because they spent more time wondering about future troubles, then the fans that are currently disgruntled with the club may start venting their anger at the direction the club is going in, in a far more forcible way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mancini running out of excuses

Roberto Mancini this week showed off his new prize asset to the waiting press, but in signing Edin Dzeko he has made something of a rod for his own back. What excuse can he possibly have now for not winning the league within the next eighteen months?
Dzeko was right up there on the Christmas wish list of just about every top-flight manager in Europe, but it was Man City's riches which have lured him, and as a result he joins the list of strikers on the books at Eastlands, and of course he is already in good company. Already queuing up for a game are Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Jo, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli - not to mention Craig Bellamy who has had to move down a league to get a game.

The question remains, just how many strikers does Mancini need on his books before he finds the right attacking options to overthrow an inconsistent Arsenal, a Chelsea side which looks short on confidence, ideas and spirit, and a Manchester United side which despite having been there, done it and acquired a cabinet full of Premier League trophies, are still only playing in third gear. The football betting tips suggest the title is United's for the taking, but City must surely challenge strongly given the amount they've spent.

Mancini's argument has always been that a great team isn't created overnight and that his squad needs time to gel if we are to see the best from them, but Mourinho did just that when he arrived at big-spending Chelsea in 2004. He too walked into a squad which was mostly built by his predecessor, but rather than making excuses and buying time, he got on with the job of turning star individuals into a dream team. The football odds indicate City should be winning trophies, but they haven't yet.

If Mancini fails to deliver a Premier League title by the end of next season, then the club's owners will be forced to make a decision - can they stick with a manager who has a track record for expensive tastes but without the ability to get the best form his players? The bottom line is that, if a club has both Dzeko and Tevez at their disposal and still can't win the league, then a change of management is probably needed far more than a change of playing personnel. Mancini, you have been warned.

Chief to miss Totesport Trophy Hurdle

Potential Champion Hurdle contender Mille Chief will miss his next intended outing in the Totesport Trophy at Newbury next month following the news that the handicapper has raised the five-year-old a massive 13lbs for his win at Sandown on January 8th.

Alan King's French bred gelding put up a fine performance to win the 32Red Handicap Hurdle at the Esher circuit under the crushing burden of 11st 12lbs, ploughing through desperate ground to dish out a beating to his rivals and remind the racing public that he is still a horse of considerable ability. His trainer's immediate reaction was to nominate the Totesport Trophy as the next stop, but after learning on Tuesday that the BHA handicapper has raised his horse very nearly a stone to a mark of 158, King will now run his back-to-form star in one of the key Champion Hurdle trials ahead of Cheltenham 2011.

The three options open to Mille Chief are the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on February 5, the Contenders Hurdle back at Sandown on the same date, or the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton a fortnight later. This time last year the Ski Chief gelding was ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, but recurring bouts of lameness scuppered his chance of Cheltenham Festival glory and he was given an easy time for the rest of term. A lot of punters will have their eyes on the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting, but Mile Chief in the Champion Hurdle could be one to watch.

An eye-catching run at Ascot in November when attempting to give lumps of weight to handicap 'good thing' Aegean Dawn suggested that Mille Chief was on the way back, and following his six-length romp against Sophies Trophy he has re-emerged as a contender for the Champion Hurdle itself. As low as 20/1 with some firms, Mille Chief's odds would take another tumble if he does emerge victorious from his chosen prep race.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grin wiped from Welsh smilesWales have had a very mixed few weeks with injuries but things looked to have finally turned a corner, with the news of a

Wales have had a very mixed few weeks with injuries but things looked to have finally turned a corner, with the news of a number of key players returning to action in time for next month’s Six Nations. After George North was ruled out for a lengthy spell with a shoulder injury, Shane William's and Leigh Halfpenny both handed Wales boosts, with the news they are both making great progress in their return from lay-offs and should get some game time before January ends.

Another returning star has also made a recovery from injury, Gavin Henson, has made his intentions clear about returning to the national side after nearly two years out of the game with a number of injury and ego issues and he feels Wales can upset the Six Nations odds and achieve a Grand Slam.

The latest news from Warren Gatland's squad is that experienced prop Gethin Jenkins, has been ruled out of the tournament after deciding to have surgery on his long-standing toe injury. The Cardiff forward has had struggled with knee and calf injuries over the past few seasons and Jenkins had missed his country's autumn internationals.

The toe injury had been bothering the Welsh prop for a while but he had been hoping to avoid surgery. That hasn't been the case though and Jenkins will be out of action for two months, missing the whole of the competition.

That may hand a chance to Ospreys prop Paul James, who is winning the race to start as Wales' loose-head against England on February 4th, in the tournament's opening game. James is a decent replacement for Wales but their chances will have taken a dent with the vastly experienced Jenkins missing out.

Dunlop still undecided over Fairy Dubai bid

Ed Dunlop and the owners of the superb Snow Fairy have yet to make a decision as to whether or not the globetrotting filly will be prepared for a crack at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March, or any other race at the prestigious World Cup fixture, writes Elliot Slater.

Following an outstanding three-year-old campaign that saw the daughter of Intikaab win four Group 1 races, (the Epsom and Irish Oaks, and major races in Japan and Hong Kong), the bargain basement 1800 euro buy returned to Dunlop’s Newmarket stables only a few weeks ago and has reportedly settled back in well; so well in fact, that she has already put on 25kgs in a short space of time.

Horse racing Ireland entries will be made for Snow Fairy in the Dubai World Cup (10 furlongs), the Dubai Sheema Classic (12 furlongs) and the Dubai Duty Free (9 furlongs), but the filly’s participation will very much depend on whether or not she shows Dunlop that she has fully recovered from her gruelling 2010 campaign in time to stand the journey to the Middle East and perform to the best of her abilities.

After such a strenuous three-year-old campaign many people have suggested that a longer break might pay richer dividends overall, with all the major summer and autumn middle distances races being potential targets both at home and abroad. Snow Fairy will start cantering again next week and her trainer believes that he will know pretty quickly if she is ready to go back into full training, or hints that she needs more time on the easy list.

Those looking at racing tips note that Dunlop has more definite plans for Fareer and Dubawi Phantom, both of whom will travel to Dubai to compete in the winter carnival over the next few months.

Chief's campaign in handicapper's hands

Alan King's talented young hurdler Mille Chief returned to prominence in the mind of the racing public with a tremendous effort in winning a tough handicap hurdle off top weight at Sandown on Saturday, but where he goes next appears to be very much down to how the handicapper reacts to that performance, writes Elliot Slater.

The five-year-old carried a massive 11-12 in bottomless ground against decent opposition in the 32Red Handicap Hurdle, but coasted to an impressive win that suggested he is back to the kind of form that prompted bookmakers to make him ante-post favourite for last season's Triumph Hurdle, before a bout of lameness ruled him out of action for the rest of term.

Something of a forgotten horse, Mille Chief on Saturday reminded us all that he has considerable talent and King was understandably delighted with the performance, stating in a post-race interview that he would next go for the Totesport Gold Trophy at Newbury and also receive an entry into the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March. Having watched the race a time or two since, King now feels that the handicapper might react by raising Mille Chief to a mark that would make it very tough for him at Newbury, so plans are also afoot for an alternative bid for the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February, a race seen as a key trial for the blue riband event a month later. Anyone with Cheltenham free bets to place may want to keep an eye on his performance to see if he is likely to cut the mustard.

Bookmaker reaction to the win of Mille Chief at Sandown was mixed, with 32Red (possibly looking to beef up the reputation of the race they sponsored), slashing his odds to win the Champion Hurdle to just 14/1, whilst Coral, William Hill and 888Sport still offer 33/1. Those odds could well be revised when the assessment of the official handicapper is published and gives a new perspective on the ability of King's rising star.

2011 WTA World Tour season predictions

It suddenly seems that the Serena Williams era might be at an end. It is too early to write off one of the greatest of all time, but the foot injury that forced the 13-time Slam winner out of action last year is serious enough to suggest that a player who will be 30 at the season's end is a diminishing force. This year's slams are wide open and anyone looking to place a tennis bet should remember that.

Australian Open - Sam Stosur

Serena has won five of the last eight Australian Opens, so her absence will peak the interest of her rivals. Justine Henin and Venus Williams are unlikely to be at their best after their own injury problems, whilst Kim Clijsters could take a while to get going after the end of year break.

This leaves the path open for someone to claim a maiden major title and home favourite Sam Stosur can go all the way after making massive strides in 2010.

French Open – Justine Henin

If Henin can prove her fitness after undergoing elbow surgery last year, she should be the player to beat in Paris. The Belgian is a four-time winner at Roland Garros and her skill on subtlety on clay will neutralise the power of the younger guard who will have more of a say at the other slams.

Wimbledon – Kim Clijsters

If Serena wins anywhere on her comeback, it will be at Wimbledon. She has a great track record of progressing at tournaments with poor preparation, but I expect someone to her catch her cold in the early stages at SW19. Kim Clijsters will be desperate to prove she can away from Flushing Meadows and should be in peak form by the summer.

US Open – Caroline Wozniacki

The world number one is already under pressure to justify her top ranking with a major title and expectations will increase the longer her trophy cabinet remains bereft of a major title. She was imperious form at Flushing Meadows last year and can go all the way if she keeps things together mentally.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Giants fume as Seattle reach the playoffs

As the dust settles on Seattle's shock wildcard playoff win at the weekend, the argument as to the fairness of their inclusion rumbles on. The NFL certainly can't afford to start kicking teams out of the playoffs just because they are not going to win their conference and stroll to the Super Bowl, but there is some strength in the argument that teams with a losing record have no right to be in the playoffs at all.

With the New York Giants not enjoying their best season, they still managed to only have a slightly worse record than the regular season NFC conference champions, something that cannot be said of the abysmal (though apparently not as abysmal as the rest of the NFC West) Seattle Seahawks.

Despite the fact that Seattle is a fantastically supported team who certainly bring a bit of spice and interest to the NFL, as we saw at the weekend, the fact is that their current team does not deserve to be in the playoffs after the way the team performed this season. Although their record was not the worst losing record you will see in the NFL, the fact remains that it was still a losing season which would mean, in any other sport, that a team would be finishing mid-table or worse.

However, the NFL seems to be saying something along the lines of "we reward awful teams" by continuing to support a system that sees division winners qualify automatically for the playoffs, something that can only be seen as weakening the quality of the whole competition and the NFL odds reflect this.

American Football is certainly one of the better run sports in the world, but the fact remains that it can also be one of the more predictable when it comes to judging who is going to advance to the Super Bowl, something that has only been added to by this year's disgrace that is the Seattle Seahawks qualifying for the playoffs ahead of teams such as the New York Giants.

Super Bowl weekend not just about the football

The Super Bowl is one of the most famous sporting events around the world and, at the moment, franchises up and down the country are preparing for the play-offs in their bid to make it all the way to the big day and the promise of being beamed from TV screens globally. However, as is so often the case, much of the build-up to the Super Bowl, and much of the fun on the day itself, has nothing to do with the action during the game. Even as far ahead of the Super Bowl as we are now, the event is making headlines across the world, but not necessarily for the football action on offer as there is plenty more on offer other than just the Super Bowl betting odds.

One of the big pulls this year in terms of TV audience is sure to be the Super Bowl interview, which will see Bill O'Reilly of Fox News talk to President Barack Obama ahead of the game. The interview itself is a long-standing tradition and Fox will be hoping to raise the tempo before the game, which will be broadcast by Fox Sports this year. This of course won't be the first time the President has faced O'Reilly, who interviewed him when he was a senator and the presidential nominee for the Democrats. The interview this time around is likely to have a slightly different tone to say the least but will nevertheless be one to watch, although it remains to be seen if Obama will be offering Super Bowl betting tips!

In other news, events are being organised to raise awareness of the massive problem of sex trafficking over the Super Bowl weekend, with the weekend of February 6th in Arlington targeted as a time during which fans need to be aware of the dangers of the more seedy side of major footballing events. Traffick911, a local Christian group, has started a campaign to raise awareness, while law enforcement experts have confirmed that they'll be doing all they can to curb the problems that arise from major sporting events attracting men willing to pay for sex.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Who'll win the 2011 Snooker Masters

The ever popular World Masters Snooker tournament gets underway at Wembley Arena on January 9th boasting, as it usually does a hugely competitive field, with the best 16 players in the world all going for the top prize. The tournament is played on a knock out basis with all rounds up until the final played over a maximum of eleven frames; the final is the best of nineteen frames.
The ‘Masters’ in terms of prestige is the second biggest tournament in the world, only bettered by the World Championship itself, however it is not a ranking event and is still competed by All the greats of the game have won it, but it is Stephen Hendry who holds the record amount of wins with six, the last of those wins coming way back in 1993, but he has still not missed a tournament since first winning it in 1989. Hendry has also finished runner up three times, the last time being in 2003 when he was beaten by Mark Williams.

The favourite to win in 2011 according to the bookmakers snooker betting is of course Ronnie O’Sullivan, himself a four time winner of the tournament and who has appeared in six of the last seven finals. The last two of those finals he met Mark Selby, losing 9-10 last year after losing a big lead. He had beaten Selby by 10-8 in 2009 and had also beaten Ding Junhui in 2007 (10-3), John Higgins in 2005 (10-3) and Higgins again back in 1995 (9-3). O’Sullivan however is completely ‘out of sorts’ this season and is set to plummet in the rankings. He is having one of those periods in his life when he is out of sorts with his game as well as snooker generally and does not look a player likely to land the odds this time around!
Defending champion Selby has become a major tour de force at the ‘Masters’ reaching the last three finals, winning it twice and has been in good form recently to suggest that another final is well within his grasp.
The opening round of matches has produced some excellent looking encounters, the pick of them probably being the O’Sullivan v Mark Allen, Higgins v Graeme Dott and Williams v Junhui matches. After the first round the Masters will become ‘white hot’ with anticipation with so many top matches likely, the quarter final draw in fact should look something like this:
Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy
Mark Williams v John Higgins
Ali Carter v Stephen Maguire
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson

World champion, Neil Robertson will be hoping for a much stronger performance this year, the Australian has only ever won one match at the Masters in the past, which came in 2007. He has suffered the ignominy of being dumped in the first round on each of his last three appearances, most notably by Hendry in 2009 who he faces once again in his opener this year!
With the possible exceptions of Hendry, Mark King, Peter Ebdon and Jamie Cope, this is a tournament that could see any one of the players take the top prize. Everything depends on the form of the player on the day and that player’s ability to remain consistent. Until the final each match is the best of 11 frames which means that those who get off to quick starts will have a
decided advantage. It is interesting to note that of the fourteen matches played over 11 frames last year, only two went all the way, underlining the point that a good start usually carries its rewards.
John Higgins of course comes into the tournament in good form, having won the UK Championship following an epic final against Mark Williams. To win however, Higgins will have to overcome compatriot, Graeme Dott in the opening round before possibly facing Williams in the next round, which by any standards that is a tough opening two matches. However, the player still standing after the two opening rounds from those three will have a great chance, but whoever it is will likely have to face Selby in the Semi Final.

Who'll win the 2011 Snooker Masters

The ever popular World Masters Snooker tournament gets underway at Wembley Arena on January 9th boasting, as it usually does a hugely competitive field, with the best 16 players in the world all going for the top prize. The tournament is played on a knock out basis with all rounds up until the final played over a maximum of eleven frames; the final is the best of nineteen frames.

The ‘Masters’ in terms of prestige is the second biggest tournament in the world, only bettered by the World Championship itself, however it is not a ranking event and is still competed by All the greats of the game have won it, but it is Stephen Hendry who holds the record amount of wins with six, the last of those wins coming way back in 1993, but he has still not missed a tournament since first winning it in 1989. Hendry has also finished runner up three times, the last time being in 2003 when he was beaten by Mark Williams.

The favourite to win in 2011 according to the bookmakers snooker betting is of course Ronnie O’Sullivan, himself a four time winner of the tournament and who has appeared in six of the last seven finals. The last two of those finals he met Mark Selby, losing 9-10 last year after losing a big lead. He had beaten Selby by 10-8 in 2009 and had also beaten Ding Junhui in 2007 (10-3), John Higgins in 2005 (10-3) and Higgins again back in 1995 (9-3). O’Sullivan however is completely ‘out of sorts’ this season and is set to plummet in the rankings. He is having one of those periods in his life when he is out of sorts with his game as well as snooker generally and does not look a player likely to land the odds this time around!

Defending champion Selby has become a major tour de force at the ‘Masters’ reaching the last three finals, winning it twice and has been in good form recently to suggest that another final is well within his grasp.

The opening round of matches has produced some excellent looking encounters, the pick of them probably being the O’Sullivan v Mark Allen, Higgins v Graeme Dott and Williams v Junhui matches. After the first round the Masters will become ‘white hot’ with anticipation with so many top matches likely, the quarter final draw in fact should look something like this:

Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy

Mark Williams v John Higgins

Ali Carter v Stephen Maguire

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson

World champion, Neil Robertson will be hoping for a much stronger performance this year, the Australian has only ever won one match at the Masters in the past, which came in 2007. He has suffered the ignominy of being dumped in the first round on each of his last three appearances, most notably by Hendry in 2009 who he faces once again in his opener this year!

With the possible exceptions of Hendry, Mark King, Peter Ebdon and Jamie Cope, this is a tournament that could see any one of the players take the top prize. Everything depends on the form of the player on the day and that player’s ability to remain consistent. Until the final each match is the best of 11 frames which means that those who get off to quick starts will have a

decided advantage. It is interesting to note that of the fourteen matches played over 11 frames last year, only two went all the way, underlining the point that a good start usually carries its rewards.

John Higgins of course comes into the tournament in good form, having won the UK Championship following an epic final against Mark Williams. To win however, Higgins will have to overcome compatriot, Graeme Dott in the opening round before possibly facing Williams in the next round, which by any standards that is a tough opening two matches. However, the player still standing after the two opening rounds from those three will have a great chance, but whoever it is will likely have to face Selby in the Semi Final.