Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Grand National – Saturday Grade One Trends

There are six Grade One races that take place at the Aintree Grand National Meeting, two on each of the three days. Here we take a look at the dominant trends in those Grade One races on the final day of the meeting, the Saturday, which will prove a real aid to our winner finding. Remember, it's not just about the Grand National betting offers.

The Saturday card provides us with back-to-back Grade One action before the Grand National itself. The John Smith's Maghull Novices' Chase comes first and there are some dominant and strong trends which are prevalent in the majority of the winners.

It pays to concentrate on those which contested the Arkle Trophy, with only one of the last 16 winners not having taken part in that race; with the last 13 winners having been in the first three in the betting the race has proved a favourable one for punters. If you are looking for a trainer to follow in the race then Paul Nicholls is your man, since 1999 he has saddled 5 winners and 5 seconds in the event. One group to avoid though are any Irish contenders they have not been successful in this race for 22 years.

If you want to avoid the Irish challenge in the Maghull Novices' Chase then you don't want to do that in the second Grade One event on the Saturday, the John Smith's Aintree Hurdle. The Irish challenge has been successful in ten of the last 17 renewals of this race, especially with horses that have bypassed Cheltenham and been specifically targeted at this race. Those looking at the Grand National latest odds may want to bear this tip in mind as well.

However, there has been no outright winning favourite since 1999 so that has made life a bit tougher for punters and generally it pays to oppose Nicky Henderson's runners in the race where he is 0/14.

The final point to make about this race is that previous runnings of the race have been a very good guide, and repeat winners are frequent.
The John Smith's Aintree Hurdle is the final Grade One event of the Grand National Meeting at Aintree, but provides a fitting prelude to the Grand National itself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Armenia eye Eurovision glory

Emmy's track 'Boom Boom' has been selected as the Armenian entry for this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Emmy had been chosen earlier as the artist to represent the country at the 2011 competition, meaning that only the song had to be decided. The choice of the upbeat 'Boom Boom' was a huge surprise as many were expecting another track, 'Ayo', to be the chosen one.

Despite this shock, Emmy has admitted she is happy with the selection and will do all she can to secure a strong finish for her country. She had been overlooked in 2007 and 2010 when she finished fourth and second in her national finals to represent the country at Eurovision.

Armenia have only participated at the Eurovision Song Contest on five previous occasions. They have never failed to reach the final and have always finished within the top 10, although their best finish was fourth in 2008 with Sirusho's "Qele, Qele".

Emmy is very well known in Armenia, having released three albums and twenty music videos. She is also a host of many popular television shows and has more than sixty songs to her name. Furthermore, she became famous at a very young age and was an idol for many children in her country. However, those looking for Eurovision betting tips should remember that popularity at home doesn't equate to success.

Still, with publicity and promotion the key to winning the Eurovision Song Contest these days, Armenians will be heartened to discover that Emmy has extensively toured Europe. She has received accolades in Cyprus, Russia, Syria, Germany, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and the Czech Republic for her work which will bode well in the voting part of the competition.

Armenia may have shot themselves in the foot by choosing 'Boom Boom' but Emmy is clearly a popular artist with a wide appeal. Don't bet against her taking Armenia to uncharted Eurovision territory and who knows, perhaps next year's Contest could be taking place in Yerevan.

Poulter not in the mood for pulling out

Ian Poulter will battle through his serious hay-fever and allergy issues to take his place at the Masters in two weeks. The world number 15 has struggled during his time in the States this season with his allergy to pollen really affecting his game and form. The 35-year old has been disappointing in the World Golf Championship tournaments so far in 2011 – with a first round exit at the Match Play and a tie for 45th in the Cadillac Championship – and will be looking to tighten up his game before teeing off at Augusta. Those following the golf betting will be wondering how he'll do.

With Poulter looking towards antihistamines in a bid to cure his allergy problems, the Englishman will be hoping to fresh and firing on all cylinders come two weeks time. Poulter has often hyped himself up as being one of the world's best players, and pressure really is on for the flamboyant 35-year old to start backing up all that talk. A good season this year, would certainly be helped with a strong showing at the opening major of the season as a springboard.

Of all the majors, Poulter will probably see the Masters as his most realistic option. The Englishman's ruthlessness on the greens and skill on the fairways has seen him record top-35 finishes in every one of his six visits to the Masters. Last year's tie for 10th was Poulter's best, but was tinged with disappointment after leading the pack at the half-way stage following back-to-back rounds of 68 in the opening two rounds. The US Masters betting suggests he'll have to dig deep this time around.

Poulter has plenty of respect for the unforgiving Augusta course, but is rightly confident and holds no fear where others certainly will.

"You know, I think I've learnt the golf course over the last six years, and to a degree, where I feel very comfortable out there hitting certain shots; there's a lot of shots that I didn't feel I was very comfortable pulling off six years ago, but certainly I am now," he said.

If Poulter can surprise a few people and finally pick up a maiden major, then everyone would have to sit up and take notice of this colourful character. This year could be his chance to prove there is more to this player than just a dynamite selection of leg-wear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Political voting at Eurovision? It's a myth

The scourge of political voting in the Eurovision Song Contest often generates heated debate, particularly amongst those who feel no-one likes the United Kingdom.

But does political voting exist and, if so, in what form?

The accusation of political voting overlooks two very important factors and anyone looking to bet on Eurovision 2011 should remember this. The first is that countries that are geographically close to each other are likely to share similar cultures and musical tastes. Norway, Sweden and Denmark share a Nordic culture so it is not surprising to discover that they like similar genres of music and that they tend to vote for themselves.

The second is that political changes throughout the ages mean that many sizeable minorities exist in neighbouring European countries. There is a large Hungarian population in south-eastern Slovakia whilst Finland has a sizeable Swedish minority on its western coast. Nationals of one country cannot vote for their own country in their homeland but they can if they are living in another country. These are important factors to bear in mind when looking at the Eurovision odds.

The speaking of similar languages is another important thing to consider, although in recent times the trend has been for most Eurovision entries to be sung in English. Greece and Cyprus frequently share 12 points because of all these reasons – artists which are big in one tend to be big in the other because of the two countries’ similarities.

The other issue is the undue bias of the system. As each country is allocated the same 12 points, smaller countries tend to have greater influence in terms of proportion of the population. This means a song can receive most votes across the entirety of Europe but if these votes are concentrated in a handful of countries, a less popular song could win if it is popular in a greater number of countries.

So political voting is largely a myth and is based on the intrinsic bias of the system. The problem has been alleviated since 100% phone voting was scrapped in favour of a 50/50 system between juries and the public, but it is unlikely to completely silence the doubters.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jockey Bookings provide insight in to leading 2011 Grand National fancies

With the 2011 Grand National less than two weeks away, many of the leading jockeys are being booked to ride in World famous race and as they do, the picture of who are the most fancied horses becomes a little more clear and the mounts of the leading jockeys will always influence where the money goes as it provides a useful indicator on the chances of the various runners.

With the news that jockey Ruby Walsh will partner The Midnight Club for trainer Willie Mullins in the Aintree Grand National, the market once again shortened the price on the horse which is now as short as 8/1 and is the clear favourite. Mullins who still has a good few in the race will not have services of his number two jockey, Paul Townend.

The decision means that Harry Skelton will get the ride on Niche Market for Paul Nicholls thus reuniting with the horse that he steered to success in the Irish Grand National two years ago at Fairyhouse. It is hard to gauge how Nicholls feels about Walsh’s decision, but he remains upbeat about the chances of the horse, confirming that Niche Market was in great shape at home. He has also attracted antepost support and has been backed in to around the 16/1 mark.

Nicholls of course has several entries still left in the race, with his What A Friend, recent fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup attracting the most attention as far as the antepost market for the race is concerned. He will be well in at the weights at Aintree and will Daryl Jacob on board as he did at Cheltenham and is currently around the 10/1 mark to win the race.

Of the remaining Nicholls entries, The Tother One at 33/1 is a solid jumper, but has not shown good enough form to win a race like this. It is highly likely that he will be ridden by amateur, Ryan Mahon, who rode him in the Hennessey Gold Cup last November where he finished in a creditable fourth behind Diamond Harry. A place is a distinct possibility.

Ornais, currently a 100/1 shot to win the race has just had a couple of spins in hunter chases where he ran well both times without winning. Before that he won the Paddy Power Graduation Chase at Cheltenham on soft ground by 8 lengths from the hot odds on favourite, Battlecry and none other than Niche Market. If Mahon does not ride The Tother One then it is likely Nicholls will book him to partner Ornais, a horse he knows very well.

Other known bookings include Sam Waley-Cohen (winning jockey in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup) who will partner his father’s horse, Oscar Time, for trainer Martin Lynch. Oscar Time is not without his supporters either after finishing fifth behind The Midnight Club in last month’s Grade Two, Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. It would be a remarkable feat should Waley-Cohen win this having already claimed the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Long Run.

Jason Maguire will partner Ballabriggs another big fancy for the race who is trained by Donald McCain, Peter Buchanan will ride Silver By Nature for Lucinda Russell, winner of the recent Grand National Trial at Haydock Park. Timmy Murphy meanwhile is likely to partner 2008 winner Comply Or Die in what will probably be the horse’s last attempt to win the race. Quinz from the Philip Hobbs stable will have his usual jockey, Richard Johnson on board, while it is almost certain that champion jockey, Tony McCoy will once again ride Don’t Push It in a bid to land the Grand National odds for for a second successive year

Despite taking a week off, following a fall last weekend, Barry Geraghty believes he will be fit for the well in time for the race but as yet he has no ride booked. Nicky Henderson does not have an entry which means his star jockey is without a ride.

Are terraces the way forward?

The Premier League has taken a long leap away from fans in recent years as mega money and corporate boxes have taken over from the sort of traditional fan-led arrangements that had previously seen football take a fairly dire turn, driving away from the game children and families in the process.

However, with safety in modern stadiums having since taken priority, and with players, fans, and the Premier League all in agreement that there can never be a repeat of the tragic scenes so often associated with terraces, there are still calls to be heard for terraces to be reinstated in Premier League grounds, where fans already stand for large periods of the game and where this kind of behaviour at the moment leads to families and children forced out of these seating areas despite the fact that they are only "unofficial" standing areas and anyone in the Betfair Loyalty program will have noticed this.

These calls have so far been rejected, but it may soon be the case that the likes of Manchester United feel so distanced from their fans that they are forced to take notice of the German teams that have successfully integrated terraced areas into their new modern stadiums, with no greater levels of danger than those that exist in seating areas. So, it would seem that the Premier League is under a fair deal of pressure to show that they still care about the average fan, who seems to have been forgotten about as the money has rolled in over the past few years, and if you're a Betfair VIP this may be worth keeping an eye on.

That said, with the Premier League already rejecting any talk of terraces, it looks like it will take a real fans movement for clubs to start to accept that a return to terraces is not going to end in disaster and would actually increase attendance and reduce overall costs for fans coming to games each week.

Yankees set final pitching rotation as season is set to begin

For all those March Madness Betting fans of the New York Yankees, you can rest easy, the team has announced their full five-man starting pitching rotation.

With the 2011 MLB season ready to start and March Madness odds becoming more significant, the Yankees put all competition to rest by giving the final two spots to Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia. Both entered camp as favourites to secure the final two spots in the Yankees' rotation and now they are officially the 4th and 5th starters respectively.

Nova earned his spot as he posted a 1.80 ERA in five outings this spring while showing that he can pitch with confidence and improved numbers from last season.

The final spot was up for grabs right until the very end. Bartolo Colon did his best to try and shake things up by putting up a 2.40 ERA to Garcia's 5.93 mark. But in the end it came down to what has each pitcher done most recently in regular season action. The 34-year-old Garcia threw 157 innings and won 12 games for the White Sox last season, which is certainly much better than Colon, who last pitched in July 2009.

Nova and Garcia now complete a five-man rotation that already has CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett.

Now that the pitching is set the team can focus on the season ahead. The Yankees did not have a lot of work to do to prepare as they returned eight of their nine regulars with Russell Martin being the only new face. He will take over behind the plate as Jorge Posada has been moved to designated hitter.

The bullpen is going to be a strong point for the Yankees this season as Rafael Soriano will be added to the late inning mix. He will be inserted as the setup man for closer Mariano Rivera.

Wondering what will happen to Colon after such a strong spring? He will pitch out of the bullpen which will make the pitching staff even deeper and offer more options for Girardi. Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson will provide right-handed depth, while left-handers Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan will do the same on the other side of the mound.

The Yankees had no problem scoring runs last season, leading the Majors in runs scored. Now with their five-man unit set for starting pitching, a deep bullpen and one of the scariest closers in history, the Yankees will be one of the favourites to win it all this season.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coyle looking for taste of the continent

With the season entering its run-in stage, Bolton could well be heading for a European place come the end of the campaign. Owen Coyle is on the cusp of bringing Europa League football to the Reebok Stadium after just over a year at the helm. The Trotters will head to Wembley next month to take on Stoke in their FA Cup semi-final, with the way the league is panning out it would mean the winner of the tie would be rewarded with a Europa League place.

While both sides have an extremely strong case as to why they deserve the spot in Europa next season, Owen Coyle will be confident of handling the battle out on the pitch. Bolton's fortunes have rocketed since Coyle took over from Gary Megson last year, and they are still in with a chance of achieving their target through their league placing and those wondering how to use Betfair will realise this.

The Scottish manager has admitted he has given the prospect of European football a thought, while also making it clear he is keen to test himself on the stage.
"As a manager you want to push yourselves to the maximum and your players to the maximum and try to get that bit better. Something like European football should be cherished," he said.

The battle is on the Bolton manager to keep his squad focused on their remaining league matches while keeping the FA Cup thoughts to one side. With the tight nature of the Premiership this season there are a host of clubs still chasing the top seven places. After such an impressive campaign so far, Coyle won't want to drift away at this stage and anyone after a bit of Betfair help should bear this in mind.

A season in European football would certainly make the club more attractive to potential new signings in the summer, not to mention the players already at the club currently still weighing up their options. There is so much that Bolton can achieve under this exciting young manager and European football would certainly be the next positive step in the journey.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Will the FA be left embarrassed again by Wembley?

The FA have previously found themselves embroiled in situations in which they have been left feeling pretty embarrassed about the state of the Wembley pitch ahead of key FA cup ties. This year, though, the top dogs there may find themselves having to cope with a situation in which they don't feel particularly embarrassed by the pitch but have more than a few anxieties about the fact the TV cameras point directly at the section of the ground containing the corporate seating area. The match might attract a fair few FA Cup bets, but it may not attract the fans.

With the FA previously making the decision to hold the semi-finals at Wembley in order to help finance the stadium and ensure that they can continue to pump money into the sort of grassroots schemes that are aiming to raise the technical ability and overall standards of youngsters throughout England, they have also taken the huge risk of being left with a half empty stadium, with the risk of nobody except a few fans of both sides taking the opportunity to come to the match a real possibility, especially when you take a look at the extortionate amounts the FA charges fans to have the pleasure of sitting in the worst seats at the ground.

If the FA end up having to face the music and deal with fans at home laughing at empty seats and a total lack of corporate interest in the Bolton versus Stoke game, then they may well find themselves forced to rethink continuing the policy of playing all the semi-finals at Wembley, with the option of relocating future games at this stage of the competition surely sensible if the sides involved deem it to be in their fans' best interest.

However, with the FA only after one thing, and that is certainly not fan welfare, the chances of change occurring are slim at best unless the officials receive a whole load of stick for an empty stadium.

Modric the real star of White Hart Lane

Luka Modric may have failed to hit the headlines this season to quite the same extent that his team mates Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart have managed, with the latter duo excelling in the middle of the park for Spurs in both league action and their Champions League campaign, but there's little doubting who the Spurs fans think is one of the brightest stars in European football right now. It would seem that Harry Redknapp agrees with this assessment, with the Spurs boss revealing that there apparently isn't a sum of money in the world that would tempt him into giving away his prize asset.

With Spurs no doubt already placing one eye on their Champions League quarter-final tie against Real Madrid in early April, there is little doubting that they will be looking to their midfield maestro to continue to prove his commitment to the club with a couple of stellar performances. Although many critics and neutral fans have written off Spurs' chances of reaching the semi-final of the Champions League, players like Modric really are capable of providing that little something special that can so often prove to be the difference against some of the top sides in Europe. The Champions League final odds probably won't feature Spurs, but if they do it will be down to Modric.

Teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as a few of the continent's leading names on the football stage, have already revealed their interest in taking the star from the North London club at some point in the future, but with Modric signing an unusually long contract just last summer that will last him six years, it looks likely that it will be the Spurs revolution that Redknapp is so keen to lead which will benefit from his involvement for some time yet to come.

MLB free agents still available as season nears

Are you a Major League Baseball team still looking for one more piece to the puzzle? Got a little spending money? Well you are in luck because there are still plenty of free agents on the market as the season nears. They are there for a reason, usually for salary reasons and age but will any teams take a chance? Baseball betting pundits note how there is certainly some talent sitting on the free agent bench just waiting to get in the game.

Need a pitcher? At the time of this post, MLB Betting experts note how Kevin Millwood is still out there.

Many experts had him listed as the seventh-best pitcher in a thin free-agent class this offseason. Millwood was 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA last season for the Baltimore Orioles but the majority of that poor record was due to 11 starts that he made from late May to early August while he was nursing a sore groin. Then over 10 starts in August and September, Millwood’s ERA went from 8.84 to 3.29.

Several teams have been looking at his services, including the New York Yankees. The Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and Orioles also could choose to grab Millwood as opening day looms.

First baseman Troy Glaus looks like he is very close to retirement but he is a power hitter and could land with a team. He had 14 home runs and 58 RBIs for the Atlanta Braves in the first half of 2010, before he was undone by knee and wrist problems, finishing with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs.

There also seems to be a catching shortage throughout the league, at least in terms of a veteran who can manage a pitching staff. Which makes it very strange that Bengie Molina is still a free agent. Although he seems satisfied to sit on the sidelines unless the perfect opportunity comes up. Case in point, the San Diego Padres were looking into Molina and were told he wasn’t interested.

Another pitcher who is still on the free agent list is right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman suggested last summer he might retire which would certainly turn off teams.

Bonderman won 50 games from 2004-07 and, in part because of shoulder issues, 11 since. The offers are not there right now and it looks like he is going to wait on offers instead of heading to the minors.

There is not much left on the free agent list but there are certainly a few players that if used correctly and find the right situation, can still help a team win some games.

A Grand National tip to remember

In February 1981 I was asked to be best man for my greatest friend Steve, a guy I had met at university but who now worked in the mining business in the US. He was marrying Joan, an Arizona girl in Phoenix. I was working as a teacher but was lucky that the wedding fell on half term. It went well and I arrived back at Heathrow in good spirits. Money wasn't flowing in those days and I was returning to the north by coach. This left from London Victoria and I arrived an hour before departure. "Time for some English beer," I thought and found the nearest hostelry. I had a suitcase with me and managed to get my drink to a corner table next to a fellow traveller, as evidenced by his own suitcase.

After a brief chat he asked me to look after his case whilst he made a call using the pub phone (no mobiles in those days!). The concern was not only about theft but IRA bombs as well. After a five minute conversation he returned, sat down and thanked me. He then asked if I was interested in Grand National racing. I was.

Now I never was much interested in tips since as a twenty year old student I hitched to Nottingham races. On the way back I was given a lift by a man in a very expensive car. Telling me to keep it under my hat he told me he was part owner in a horse that was to run, and win the following Saturday. When I got home I eagerly went through my Timeform Black Book – the horse didn't exist!

My new friend in the pub not only tipped me a horse, but told me it would run unsuccessfully in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but then go on to win the National. Well it didn't do the former, winning an Ascot trial race instead. It did win the National, though and went on to be part of a successful film.

Yes, the horse was Aldaniti. Did I clean up? No. It was even before the days of in play betting so I couldn't get on when it looked like the horse was going well.

Who was the man? I don't know; but just on the million to one chance you're reading this - get in touch!

Ferrari can get off to winning start to 2011 F1 Season

The 2011 Forumla 1 season finally gets under way this weekend following the cancellation of Bahrain Grand Prix a couple of weeks back. The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne takes centre stage for the start of the new season and with both the Drivers Championship and Constructors Championship up for grabs, everyone starts with a clean slate and optimism will be high across all teams and drivers but which combination will get off to the best possible start and emerge victorious Down Under?

The obvious candidate of course is the reigning F1 World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, now officially the number one driver for Red Bull, whose cars it would appear are as good as ever, certainly looking the best of all teams in pre-season practices.

Vettel is without doubt full of confidence but Melbourne has not been one of his better circuits having failed to finish in his two races there so far for Red Bull. He qualified in pole position last year, but his race ended on the 25th lap with brakes problems. In 2009 he qualified in third place but had to retire following a collision when in third place on the 56th lap.

Vettel’s team mate at Red Bull Mark Webber will no doubt have the crowd on his side, but whether that will be enough for him to win the race is open doubt as like Vettel, the Melbourne circuit has not been the kindest to him. He was ninth last year after qualifying second and in 2009 he finished twelfth after qualifying in tenth place. In fact Webber’s best finish on home soil was his fifth places he achieved in 2002, when driving for Minardi and in 2005 when he was with Williams.

Of the current crop of drivers, Jenson Button has the best record winning the race for the last two years. Firstly in 2009 when driving for Brawn and then 12 months ago when driving a superb race for his new team of McLaren. It is anticipated that this year that tyres will be a key area and it is well known on the circuit that Button is probably just about the best driver when it comes to opting for tyre changes. Add that to his great ability to preserve tread, he would seem to be in with a big shout to win for a third consecutive time, provided that the McLaren car is up to it.

McLaren in fact have been behind the rest of the leading lights in pre-season and are still tinkering with their exhaust system amongst other things. Lewis Hamilton, team mate of Button and winner of this race in 2009 is however quite bullish about his team’s chances but realises that to win they have it all to do against the Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s. As it stands currently Hamilton can be backed in the Drivers Championship odds at around 10/1 with Button much better value at 16/1, however punters would probably be best advised to leave the McLaren team alone for this opening Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso whose only win in Australia came in 2006 when he drove for Renault is in the antepost market as the 11/4 second favourite. However, now in his second season with Ferrari, the Spaniard and the team can be expected to make significant moves this year in their bid to wrest the title off Red Bull. It is why Alonso would be a good bet to win in Australia this year. He too has had plenty of good pre-season practice sessions and confidence is very high in the team.

The Mercedes team can also be expected to improve on last year and it would surprise no-one to see their two drivers, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to be in amongst the leaders both in qualifying and the race itself. They are both around the same 12/1 price and represent good value to at least make the podium at the end of the race.

Next on the schedule is the Malaysian Grand Prix on April 10th, before the tour heads to China, Turkey and Spain and by the time the Monaco Grand Prix betting comes around on the 29th May, one of the feature races of the season I clearer picture will known of who the best teams are likely to be for the remainder of the campaign.

Melbourne Grand Prix Prediction:

1st F Alonso – Ferrari

2nd S Vettel – Red Bull

3rd N Rosberg - Mercedes

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gitano to leave Botti after World Cup bid

Only days before the world’s richest race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup, Newmarket-based trainer Marco Botti has learned that his stable star Gitano Hernando has been sold by owners Team Valour International & Gary Barker for an estimated $4 million, writes Elliot Slater.
The deal provides that the colt will remain under Botti’s care until immediately after the World Cup race after which he will be transferred to the care of South African handler Herman brown, a trainer who also has a base in Dubai. The new owner of the five-year-old son of Hernando is none other than Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who has long had a passion for racing and has invested significant sums of money in bloodstock in recent years. Always invests in UK and Irish horse racing tips.
Gitano Hernando has been the horse to put Botti’s name in lights flying the flag for the Italian-born handler at major meetings across the globe over the last two seasons. A runner-up in Chester’s Group 3 Dee Stakes in 2009, the chestnut colt then stunned US racegoers when landing the Grade 1 Goodwood stakes at Santa Anita in October of that year beating local favourite Colonel John by a neck in the nine furlong contest.

After winning Lingfield’s Winter Derby Trial in February of last year Gitano Hernando made his first attempt on the Dubai World Cup and was surprisingly sent off favourite after significant market support, running well but eventually finishing a two-length sixth in a tight finish behind French/Brazilian raider Gloria de Campeao as guessed by horse racing tips.

Returning to action after a summer break at Dundalk in Ireland last October, Botti’s charge win the Group 3 Diamond Stakes and his since run three times in Meydan in preparation for this Saturday’s World Cup, most recently finishing a very promising third to Henry Cecil’s twice Over in the Group2 Makhtoum challenge.

Twice Over is currently the 9/4 favourite to land Saturday’s Dubai World Cup, whilst Gitano Hernando is generally available at 12/1.

Grand National Velvet

"National Velvet" was originally a novel by British author and playwright Enid Bagnold (1889-1981), whose great-granddaughter is Samantha Cameron, wife of the UK's current Prime Minister David Cameron.

First published in 1935, National Velvet tells the story of a young girl, Velvet Brown from a small village in Sussex on the south coast of England, who becomes obsessed with winning the Grand National.

But perhaps the film version - created nine years after the novel was published - is what really made the story famous, and is familiar to millions of Grand National horse racing enthusiasts the world over.

The film was instrumental in helping to launch the career of the late Elizabeth Taylor – then just 12 years old – who played the role of Velvet Brown, and a young Angela Lansbury as one of her two older sisters.

In the film version, Velvet (along with Mi Taylor played by Mickey Rooney) sees "The Pie" (in the novel, the horse was a black and white piebald) running loose in a field and jumping a wall equivalent to Becher's Brook – according to Mi, a former jockey.

Velvet wins The Pie in a raffle and she and Mi Taylor train him all through the winter thinking continually about winning the great race – whose entry is paid for by Velvet's Mother's prize money for swimming the English Channel years before when she was trained by Mi's father.

The night before the National, Velvet meets The Pie's intended Russian jockey, "Tasky", immediately senses he doesn't truly believe in The Pie, and dismisses him on the spot.

The next day, posing as Tasky after her hair has been shorn by Mi Taylor, Velvet goes on to win the Grand National against all the odds, but falls off the horse just after the finishing line and is already disqualified before being discovered as an adolescent female and becoming a national heroine. It's a good job they didn't have inplay betting in those days, as fictional punters would have been most annoyed!

A tall tale perhaps, but National Velvet certainly played its part in helping to create the international legend that is The Grand National steeplechase.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Racing At York – John Smith's Meeting

After the Ebor and Dante Meetings the two day John Smith's card is one of the most important in York's season. This year the meeting will be held on Friday July 8th and Saturday July 9th – the first day of the meeting offers a great start to the weekend and the highlight of the day is the Group 3 Summer Stakes for fillies and mares over the straight six furlongs. Last season the race was won in good style by Rose Blossom who was confirming her liking for the course with her second victory there in 2010. Smartly away as usual she made all in very game fashion to reward punters with an 8/1 success, incidentally the same price as she was when she won at the Dante Meeting over the shorter 5F trip.

Unfortunately she couldn't emulate those efforts in better company later in the year finishing a respectable fifth in the Group 1 Nunthorpe at the Ebor Meeting. If she stays in training this year she will be a filly to watch in the lesser Group races on the Knavesmire and those looking at the York races betting should remember this.
The Saturday of the John Smith's meeting is highlighted by the handicap of that name – first run in 1960; this year will see the 52nd running of the race. Over the years the race has produced plenty of decent horses and given rise to those which have gone on to graduate to better company in Group races.

Last year's winner Wigmore Hall is no exception, striking a blow for the three-year-old generation which were very successful in the race around the Millenium. Since then they have made little impact although they can hardly say that they have been well represented with just five runners in the last six years. Wigmore Hall put that right though, he dominated the betting with the year older Imposing, if the latter was slightly stronger in the betting it was Wigmore Hall who was stronger in the race holding off twice his age Kings Gambit by a short-head. Like many winners of this race Wigmore Hall is now plying his trade in Group Company and currently has engagements in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore this year.

The John Smith's Meeting is a mid-Summer highlight at York with two days of top-class racing to enjoy. The support of the Tadcaster brewer makes this the longest running sponsorship on the flat anywhere in the world and the event is one of Yorkshire's finest race days in July.

Masters form guide - Jim Furyk

There are few more distinctive players than Jim Furyk. His looping, chopping swing makes him instantly recognisable to all golf fans and a popular man to follow. Watching a player with a strange action prosper in such a technical sport as golf is fascinating and it facilitates the debate of whether Furyk succeeds because of his swing or in spite of it.

It is hard to suggest that Furyk could have done much better with a textbook swing. Over the past decade he has ranked in the top 10 for more than 350 weeks and has claimed nine top-five finishes in majors to go with his triumph in the 2003 US Open.

Last year Furyk did not claim a top-10 finish in a major for the first time since 2005, but 2010 was still a golden year. He won three tournaments, including the Tour Championship that sealed FedEx Cup glory and was named Tour player of the year.

2011 has been more of a struggle. He has claimed just one top-10 finish in six stroke play events and lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Furyk has slipped to number 12 in the rankings and will be the first to admit that he is something of an outsider for Augusta and the US Masters odds reflect this.

However, the 40-year-old Pennsylvanian knows his way around Augusta as well as anyone. 14 appearances have brought four top-10 finishes, seven in the top 30 and a joint 33rd. He has missed just two cuts.

It will be a shock if Furyk suddenly discovers the form of last year to claim the green jacket, but it would be more of a shock if he was not there or thereabouts in the final round shake-up.

Newcastle starting to look just a little nervous

Following their game against Stoke on Saturday – an encounter which saw the Potters romp home 4-0 winners – Newcastle manager Alan Pardew did his best to put on a brave face. He spoke of not being overly concerned, and stated that it would be the next three games against Wolves, Villa and Blackpool as being the games which will make or break his season – but one couldn't help getting the impression that he was perhaps sheltering his players from the truth. The old adage goes that the league table never lies, and if that is indeed the case then someone had better tell Pardew, because his side have taken just eight points from their last nine Premier League outings – and that's relegation form and anyone betting football money should remember this.

The news that both Leon Best and Steven Ireland were also out on the town the night prior to the game will have shocked many – although they shouldn't panic because the two have denied enjoying any of that delicious alcohol that footballers like so much. Following the calm that was instilled at the club under Chris Hughton's regime, a few tell-tale signs are creeping in that perhaps Newcastle are back up to their old tricks, and anyone who follows the football news will know where that ended last time.

The truth is that Newcastle – despite their plaudits in the first half of the season are not out of the woods yet, and until they get over the magical forty-point mark, they will need to be scrapping and battling just like the sides around them. Two years ago they proved that they weren't too good to go down, and were then arguably equipped with better individual players.

Take for instance Sol Campbell's horribly un-athletic display at centre-half, Newcastle effectively started the game with ten men such was his inability to compete for the ball in the air, and against Stoke you will get beaten unless you match them in this area. Couple a leaky defence with a weakened strike force following Andy Carroll's departure, there is a long way to go yet – but should they still be on 36 points after the Blackpool game, then it's all but guaranteed that they won't still be in mid-table.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

FC Porto Justified Favourites to Win Europa League

With no British interest remaining in the Europa League, question marks perhaps should be raised about the real strength of the Premier league and SPL. This is particularly so when one realises that the last eight in Europe’s secondary football competition comprises three teams from Portugal and two from Holland! Indeed as the quarter final draw has kept the Portuguese teams apart there is a very real possibility of three teams from that country making the semi final.

The favourites to win the competition are FC Porto who were the last team from Portugal to win at European level when they took the Champions League in 2004 under the stewardship of the ‘Special One’ himself, Jose Mourinho and are the 2/1 favourite in the latest Europa League Odds with eight teams remaining. Porto in fact will be returning to Russia to play Spartak Moscow, having just knocking out CSKA Moscow in the last 16 and should certainly make it through to the semi final where they face the possibility of meeting second favourites, Villarreal of Spain or FC Twente of Holland. Meanwhile Benfica will play PSV also of Holland in what will be a repeat of the 1988 European Cup Final. Should they be successful then they face the prospect of meeting fellow countrymen FC Braga, conquerors of Liverpool in the last 16, but they will need to overcome the challenge of a tough looking tie against Dynamo Kiev, who of course put out Manchester City in the last round.

The final of the Europa League will be held at the new 50,000 capacity Aviva Stadium in Dublin, but it is hard to calculate how many fans will actually make the trip to Ireland. Nonetheless, it is a great honour for Ireland who will be hosting their first ever European soccer final.

Porto are certainly justified favourites after defeating CSKA in both legs of their last 16 tie, winning overall by 3 goals to 1. While Villarreal, who certainly know where the goal is hit five in their two legs against Bayer Leverkusen, winning on aggregate 5-3. In strikers Santi Cazoria and Giusseppe Rossi, the Spaniards have the top two goalscorers in the tournament so far, netting eight times each since the competition began for them last September.

Benfica whose pedigree in European competition is well documented, made heavy weather of their last 16 match against PSG, but showed enough doggedness and determination to win through by 3-2 over the two legs. Meanwhile FC Braga surprised everyone by eliminating Liverpool with a 1-0 aggregate win, managing to hold out at Anfield for a 0-0 draw in the second leg. Liverpool were not the only ‘scalps’ taken by Braga who had earlier in the Champions League put out the likes of Celtic and Seville, results which seriously suggest they should be respected at all costs.

FC Twente were also surprise last 16 winners, taking out Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg by a margin of 3-2 over the two legs. FC Twente of course recorded a 3-0 first leg win, which put the Russian team under huge pressure from the start. However, despite the dreadful news that the Zenit goalkeeper’s wife had been killed in a car crash, the Russian team fought manfully to get back into the tie. They did manage to get two of the goals back but it was not enough as the Dutch team held on grimly to survive.

It is a very hard tournament to predict the outcome of but one would be hard pushed to argue that FC Porto, who have the better draw and the more recent European pedigree, with appearances in the later stages of the Champions League, do not have a great chance of justifying the betting and win this competition for the first time since Mourinho guided them to glory in Seville (beating Celtic in the final) in 2003.

Jacob keeps Friend ride in Grand National

Sir Alex Ferguson has always shown a loyalty to his players as manager of Manchester United, and it seems that he operates with the same set of rules as a racehorse owner. Ferguson owns a share in the Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth What A Friend, and with the horse having run a blinder at Cheltenham, his connections have now opted to take their chance in the Grand National 2011.

The surprising factor is though that Daryl Jacob, the jockey who took the ride in the Gold Cup, will keep the ride instead of being replaced by Ruby Walsh.

Walsh is the stable jockey of What A Friend's trainer Paul Nicholls, and the brilliant Irishman normally gets first call on all the runners trained at Ditcheat and those looking for Grand National tips may have been a little surprised by the move.

The loyalty shown to Jacob will not lessen the gelding's chances by much if at all though, he is a very talented jockey in his own right and got his name on the scoresheet at the Cheltenham Festival when he rode Zarkandar to victory in the Triumph Hurdle. What A Friend is a talented horse, but he is also very quirky and it was interesting to note that Jacob got a lovely tune out of the eight-year-old at Cheltenham with that in mind it is hardly surprising that the choice has been made to go with the same again.

The unique demands of the Grand National look as though they could be ideal for a quirky campaigner like What A Friend, and if he gets into a nice jumping rhythm early on in the race his class should ensure that he is there to fight out the finish. He will certainly gain a place on the shortlist of many respected judges.

With Daryl Jacob riding What A Friend, it would tend to suggest that Ruby Walsh will be riding for his Irish boss Willie Mullins at Liverpool and at this stage with The Midnight Club looking his most likely mount.

Westwood making all the right noises

Phil Mickelson has gone on the record to state that he sees Lee Westwood as his major rival when he defends his US Masters title at Augusta next month, something the Masters betting reflects. The tournament starts in less than two weeks, and the three-time winner spoke of the British golfer in glowing terms – while still making it clear he fears no one. Westwood, on the other hand – the man who came so close to beating the left-handed American at last year's tournament – is not making any predictions at this stage.

Speaking last month, the Nottinghamshire-based golfer spoke only of wanting to play his best every time he enters a competition, but knows only too well having risen to the rank of world No. 1 (albeit briefly – he only held the title for seventeen weeks) despite never having won a Major, that it's consistency rather than blowing hot and cold which improves your standing in the game in the long term.

"Obviously a goal this year would be to win a major but it's something that you can't control. You go into the week playing really well but, like I proved last year, someone plays that little bit better, pulls off the right shots at the right time, and you don't win. So the intention is just to peak for every time I play," he said.

And Westy – as he's affectionately known on the golfing circuit – is absolutely on the money with that attitude. Obviously he will have been desperately disappointed not to have come away with the green jacket following his heroics last year, but rather than letting his head drop after finishing second despite going into the final day's play with a one-shot lead, he carried on working on his game, and just a few months later officially rose to his No. 1 ranking. Anyone looking to bet on US Masters action will have to bear him in mind.

So what of his chances this year? He has certainly been in good form, and whilst the lack of a victory in a major on his CV will certainly be an irritant, it won't make his doubt his ability. He's good enough to win one, and last year at Augusta he so nearly showed it – this time out could well be his career-defining moment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Murphy pleased with PTC win

Shaun Murphy admitted he felt 'privileged' to win the inaugural Players Tour Championship.

The 28-year-old Englishman beat compatriot Martin Gould in the final in Dublin by four frames to nil. He has netted himself the £60,000 winner's cheque while his beaten opponent had to console himself with £25,000.

Murphy's success is testament to the vision of Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker. Murphy was at the top of the Order of Merit having participated in all 12 of the smaller tournaments which make a player eligible for this one. Others, including Ronnie O'Sullivan, missed out due to not playing in enough of these events and those placing snooker bets would have been disappointed not to see him participating.

Gould had had a good run to the final, beating Jamie Jones, Judd Trump, Michael Holt and Mark Selbyon his way to the showpiece game. However, he could not raise his game any further, allowing Murphy to claim a simple success.

Speaking after his win, Murphy said: "To win any tournament is fantastic and I'm privileged to win the first PTC Grand Finals.

"I've just enjoyed playing as much snooker as we have this season. I said at the start of the PTC series that I thought the standard was going to go through the roof.
"I had a bit of luck along the way this week but with Irish genes I need a little bit of luck."

Meanwhile, Gould accepted he had missed a 'couple of silly balls' and that Shaun was always going to punish him under such circumstances. However, he declared he was happy with his form throughout the week, saying it had been 'a good learning experience'.

Both Gould and Murphy will be participating in the World Championship, which begins at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre on April 16.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Big two head to Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have both confirmed they will take part in the Monte Carlo Masters tournament next month. The tournament is a traditional warm-up event for the French Open which takes place at Roland Garros the following month. The duo will be looking to take a mental advantage in the battle for the second grand slam of the year and a win at this event would be the perfect preparation.

Nadal will once again head to Monte Carlo as the stand-out favourite after dominating the tournament for the past six years, with titles every year. The Spaniard is once again the reigning French Open champion and will be looking to add an astounding fifth title to his collection. While Nadal will come under the usual pressure to perform at his high standard, it's hard to see anybody really challenging arguably the finest ever clay court player for the trophy and the French Open odds reflect this.

Federer will return to Monte Carlo following his absence last year, and will be looking to re-establish himself as the world's best player after a mixed couple of years. After finishing as a beaten finalist three times at Monte Carlo, Federer will be going all out to switch the balance of power.

The Swiss sensation had a strong finish to last year, winning the end of season Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. It has been over a year since Federer reached a grand slam final though and will be looking to end that drought sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Watney victorious in Florida

Nick Watney went one better than his runner up place in 2009, by finishing two shots ahead of the rest of the field this weekend at the WGC Cadillac Championship in Florida. The American saw off the challenge of compatriot Dustin Johnson who had lead overnight, managing to birdie the 18th which saw Watney finish five-under 67 and 16-under for the tournament.

Despite surrendering his lead, Johnson managed to finish second on 14-under, with Anders Hansen and Francesco Molinari closely behind on 13-under. Recent Match-play champion Luke Donald went from tied second down to 11-under after a disappointing par-72 on the final day. Tiger Woods showed glimpses of his best form on the way to his eight-under, finishing a decent 10th.

Johnson had looked on course to lift the trophy after leading for the majority of weekend but the big-hitting American was chased down by Watney after the two went into the final few holes tied for the lead. Johnson's bogey on the 16th was the beginning of the end for him though and Watney made no mistake when handed the advantage. Anyone who had bet on golf would have been impressed by the way he closed it out.

The victory will have got rid of the demons this tournament holds for Watney after his dismal 2009 campaign, where he blew a three-shot lead on the final day, Phil Mickelson resigning the 29-year old to second place. Sacramento born Watney was delighted to taste success at Doral and admitted his relief at winning at the tournament after the pain of 2009.

"I'm not sure about it owing me one, but I felt I had something for this course and I think I settled the score. It worked out great and I couldn't ask for a better ending," he said.

With the Masters less than two weeks away, Watney will take plenty of confidence from his performance here and could be one of the dark horses at Augusta and the Masters betting 2011 reflects this.

Watney has a very decent record at the Masters, three top-20 finishes in his three appearances. The highlight in this tournament for Watney came last year, where a seventh place finish showed the rest of the field that he has the game to succeed on this course.

Scudamore deputises for Costello in Gold Cup

‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’, so the saying goes, and the desperately bad luck that struck jockey Dougie Costello at Stratford on Monday on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival and resulted in him sustaining a double fracture to his leg, has ruled him out of the ride on Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Midnight Chase and presented Tom Scudamore with a high quality spare ride, writes Elliot Slater.

According to racing tips, Costello has built up a great rapport with Neil Muholland’s rapidly improving chaser having won on the Lady Clarke-owned gelding in six of their last seven races together, including the last four in a row, the final three of which were all at Cheltenham. Many people see the son of Midnight Legend as a potential surprise package (especially if the ground was to ease), having gone from strength-to-strength on every start over the last 12 months. Costello has been given a great deal of the credit for the improvement having forged a genuine understanding with the horse, but after learning that he might be out for the rest of the season Mulholland had to move quickly to ensure he would have the most appropriate replacement.

In choosing Tom Scudamore, both Mulholland and Lady Clarke believe that his style will suit their horse, and whilst both would have preferred Costello to be in the plate, in the circumstances they are happy with having secured Scudamore’s services.

In horse racing tips Midnight Chase is currently a rock solid 14/1 shot to spring a surprise on the more established big names in the blue riband event that is the centrepiece of Friday’s card, and indeed of the whole Cheltenham Festival. Last year’s winner Imperial Commander remains a solid 10/3 favourite to retain his title even though he hasn’t been seen in competitive actions since winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.

Gerrard's injury provides an opportunity for Lucas

The news Liverpool fans will have been dreading – that captain and talisman Steven Gerard will be out for around a month following an operation on a troublesome groin injury – has been met with vast disappointment by their fans. Liverpool's supporters have had a mixed season with highs such as last week's 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United being diluted by some poor results such as away defeats at Blackpool and Newcastle – and a contributing factor to this inconsistent showing has been Gerrard's availability for selection.

This is not the first spell on the sidelines for the England midfielder this term, and following a groin injury earlier this season as well as suspension following his straight red card in their FA Cup third round tie exit, and in his absence, the Reds tend to look a far less imposing prospect. But one man who tends to sit in Gerrard's shadow is fellow midfielder Lucas, so often restrained to playing in a withdrawn holding midfield role when alongside him despite some promising shows in the past when deployed in a more attacking role.

With the lack of natural width in the Liverpool side at the moment, creativity in midfield is absolutely essential if they want to break sides down, and although Carroll and Suarez are already showing promising signs of being able to keep a defence occupied all on their own, someone is needed to pull the strings behind them and to take advantage of any space created by the movement of the strikers and the Betfair specialists will have realised this.

Lucas has already shown with his thunderbolt strike against Steaua Bucharest that he is capable of filling that role given the chance, and Kenny Dalglish may well be tempted to play him alongside Poulsen with the Dane providing him cover to rampage forward without the fear of what might be happening behind. The UEFA Europa League betting certainly suggests he will need to step up if they are to go all the way.

Whilst Gerrard is nearly impossible to replace, having Lucas just behind him in the pecking order may mean that rather than losing their way for the three Premiership matches the England vice-captain is expected to miss, the Reds can continue their march up the table and keep pressure on the top five sides.

Somersby can outstay the big two to grab glory

The Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2011 features one the strongest line-ups for many years. If you were to list the top five two-mile chasers in training, it is highly unlikely that any horse you listed was not in the field.

The champions of the previous two years Master Minded and Big Zeb are both in the field and unsurprisingly this duo head the market. Master Minded had a rather interrupted campaign last year and he was unable to repeat his brilliant efforts of the previous two seasons. This year though things have clicked right back into place though and he will arrive at the Festival unbeaten.

Big Zeb had some jumping problems in the early part of his career, but he has ironed those out as he has gained experience and his win last year was a really smart effort. He has though shown a tendency to idle when hitting the front this season though and he is becoming a difficult ride. In a race like this though it will not be easy to place him in front at the right time and he could be susceptible to a strong finisher and anyone looking at the Cheltenham betting offers should remember this.

Somersby is the one who rates the value. He has improved throughout the season and ran a career best at Ascot last time, where he ran Master Minded to a short-head. He was flying at the finish that day, and the likely fast gallop and stiffer test of stamina he gets today should be right up his street and those looking to bet on Cheltenham 2011 should bear this in mind.

At the prices on offer there is no doubt that Somersby is the best value on offer here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Willie Mullins festival team

There is no doubt that the largest Festival team from Ireland will be arriving in the shape of the Willie Mullins team, over the past 10 Festivals, Mullins has 12 individual winners from 144 runners, only drawing a blank in 2003 and 2006.

The last three years have seen scores of 2-3-2, and you would expect Mullins to equal or better that score this year especially with the strength of his team and runners in all of the Championship events.

He has chances on all four days of the Festival but here's one for each day that we think will give Mullins a sporting chance of landing a success on each day of the Festival, although horses like Paul Nicholls Big Buck's will provide major obstacles.

One of the best chances that he has all week is with Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle and she will be going for her third win in a row in the race. Best at this time of year, all of her races have been in the spring and she clearly thrives at this time of year. She'll start one of the shortest prices of the week but Quevega gives the Mullins team a solid chance of getting off the mark for the week.

Wednesday won't see him with such a short price runner but in the opening race of the day Some Target will provide an interesting opportunity in the 4M. Some Target stayed 3 1/2M when winning the National Trial at Punchestown at the end of January and the extra half a mile here will see him in even better light. He'll be ridden by the owner's son – Patrick and that will give him every assistance from the saddle.

Moving onto Thursday, the Ryanair looks a Grade 1 lacking in depth this year and that could well offer an opportunity for J'y Vole who finished third in the race last year to gain some compensation for an unlucky run in that race where she ran into trouble in running before finishing strongly up the Cheltenham hill.

The final day of the Festival offers plenty of opportunities for the Mullins yard but in the Gold Cup, Kempes has been the one horse that will have gone under plenty of radars. He won in testing conditions at Leopardstown but has always looked to be a horse suited by better ground and with plenty of doubts about some of the principals the market may well have underestimated his chance and at a double figure price he has the ability to surprise. Paul Nicholls Kauto Star could be the one to beat though.

The Mullins team is a large and strong one for Cheltenham, and one which unlikely to be firing blanks.

Ellison outlines plans for Bothy and Warbler

Like so many other trainers at the moment, Malton handler Brian Ellison is looking to the skies in the hope that rain will arrive to enhance the chances of his two Cheltenham Festival contenders, Marsh Warbler and Bothy – bit it looks like he might be disappointed, writes Elliot Slater.

For those who study form in horse racing Ireland and UK they will know which horses are better suited to the ground. Even though Simon Claisse (Cheltenham’s clerk of the course) has begun watering, the likelihood is that the ground will be no easier than ‘good to soft’ at best and plans for Ellison’s Grade 1 winner Marsh Warbler to run in the JCB Triumph Hurdle next Friday (the final day of the four-day fixture), seem likely to be revised with no rain forecast next week and the going likely to be on the fast side by the end of the meeting.

Racing tips for today currently have a best priced 14/1 chance to win the juvenile hurdling crown, Marsh Warbler could very well be switched to take his chance in the opening day of the fixture on Tuesday, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. There he would be taking on older and more experienced horses but would at least be racing on fresh, watered ground. He can be backed at up to 33/1 for the race in which last year’s brilliant Festival Bumper winner Cue Card is a rock solid 9/4 favourite.

Bothy, a short-head runner up to Recession Proof in last month’s thrilling Totesport Trophy at Newbury, is to forego a run in the County Hurdle and instead will step up in trip to tackle the annual two-mile-five-furlong cavalry charge that is the Coral Cup. Earlier in the season Ellison’s gelding very nearly toppled Menorah in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle and is a best priced 14/1 shot to land the coveted prize, although some firms go as short as 11/1. Willie Mullins’ Punchestown winner Call the Police is the 6/1 market leader.

Bonus hopes high for Alarazi

By winning at Sandown on Saturday Alarazi has insured he will be one of the most eagerly anticipated runners at the Cheltenham Festival, with the horse's connections set to land an extra cash windfall if he can claim victory.

The reason for the increased focus on Lucy Wadham's seven-year-old is that the race he won at Sandown carries an extra £75,000 bonus if he can go on and win any race at the Cheltenham Festival, and judging by the authority with which he won at Sandown, earning that bonus is no forlorn hope, something that is reflected in the Cheltenham betting offers.

The two possible races for Alarazi to run in are the pair of two-mile handicap hurdles that take place during the Festival, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle and the County Hurdle, although a lot will depend on just how fresh the horse is after his exertions at Sandown and anyone looking at the Cheltenham racing betting may want to exercise caution.

As things stand he would not be guaranteed to make the cut in either race, but if he does connections will surely be keen to take their chance and should they do that will definitely be a major player and the prospect of that substantial bonus will no doubt add a little extra spice to proceedings if he is allowed to go in one of the two races.

Colorado Rockies ready to make noise in NL West

Heading into the 2011 MLB season, a lot of the talk amongst MLB Betting pundits is about the Philadelphia Phillies and their stacked starting pitching unit. Everyone is expecting them to run over the rest of the field but what a team looks like on paper is not always what transpires.

Another team that looks ready to make a postseason run in the NL according to Baseball betting is the Colorado Rockies. They have the players, the right manager and their recent history all points in a successful direction for 2011.

The Rockies are not without question marks of course. But their strengths are impressive enough to make them legitimate contenders at the very least.

They have two of the best young players in the game in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Tulowitzki was fifth in the NL balloting for Most Valuable Player in both of the last two seasons, while Gonzalez was third in 2010. Both have won Gold Gloves. Both are young enough that improvement could be easily projected. You can't win without a few stars and Colorado has two of the best players in baseball, who have not even hit their full potential yet.

The Rockies also have solid lineup depth which is improved from recent seasons. One reason for that is the acquisition of the versatile Ty Wigginton. He may be even more valuable than expected given that third baseman Ian Stewart has been out with a knee sprain.
The injury bug was extremely damaging in 2010 for the Rockies and as it is hard to predict how 2011 will be, they should have substantially better results in 2011.

Like most teams it is going to come down to how the pitching staff holds up. At the top of the rotation, Ubaldo Jimenez had a breakthrough season in 2010 and emerged not only as an elite pitcher, but an overpowering, dominant pitcher.

From top to bottom, the Colorado rotation is obviously not the as strong as the Phillies' rotation, but it is well above average. Philly has put together a rotation that is unmatched and should be the reason they win the NL.

The Rockies still have questions marks like most teams when it comes to pitching. Aaron Cook was out with shoulder inflammation and then broke the tip of his right ring finger. He'll be sidelined for some time. Esmil Rogers appears to be the leading candidate for the fifth starter's spot.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Perfect Gifts

Greetings to all my readers. I can attribute the success of this site only to your support and encouragement that has kept me going. I had been inactive for a while due to some personal works but I’m back with an informative post. Ever since my cousin joined Central Michigan University, I had been very keen on the university and their renowned gears. And since my cousin was there I thought it was a great opportunity to get some CMU gears through him. When I was planning this, the idea of getting some interesting gears and gifting my cousin struck my mind. I knew he was so keen on them and would really enjoy them. I wanted to get authentic and unique Central Michigan University gear and I set out to find the place to buy them from. When I discussed this about my friend he instantly suggested me to check out for getting some of the most unique gears. And when I went there, I was quite surprised at the variety of giftware they had on offer. I’d have to say I was spoilt for choice. I was also happy with the fact that the gifts were moderately priced and that made me buy some more gifts than I had initially planned for. The great thing about was that they were offering much more than giftware. They had so many products such as hats, sweatpants and so on. I left the place buying a few items for myself apart from the giftware for my cousin.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sir Brian heading south to Aintree

Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell is enjoying a fine season with her Silver By Nature looking a serious contender for honours in the forthcoming John Smith’s Grand National on April 9, but the staying chaser will have company in the horsebox south from Kinross following the news that recent impressive Kelso scorer Bold Sir Brian will also be in action at the Aintree Festival, writes Elliot Slater.

A horse who has always been considered an exciting long term prospect, Bold Sir Brian has measured up to expectations rather sooner than connections had anticipated much to the delight of those giving horse racing tips. The winner of a bumper at Ayr on his racecourse bow in December 2009, the Brian Boru gelding ran well to be second under his penalty in a Kelso bumper three months later. After being roughed off for the rest of the season the five-year-old returned to the fray to make his novice hurdles debut at Wetherby in November, running well for a long way and shaping as if the run would do him good in finishing fourth to Palace Jester.

It’s always easy with hindsight, but maybe the hint should have been taken when the always down-to-earth Russell entered Bold Sir Brian in the Grade 2 Totepool Premier Kelso Hurdle last weekend, a huge step up in class for a horse with just one hurdles run to his name. Both UK and Irish horse racing tips didn’t mention the horse, sent off at odds of 20/1 under regular rider Peter Buchanan, the five-year-old made steady ground from the rear of the field and was produced to challenge the useful Desert Cry going to the last, before showing a ready change of gear to come away to score by nearly four-lengths.

There was no fluke at all about his Kelso win and Russell is now prepared to take on the best around and bid for the Grade 2 John Smith’s Mersey Novices Hurdle on Grand National day, the race won last year by star performer Peddlers Cross. It will be a surprise if Bold Sir Brian doesn’t give a very good account of himself.

Jimmy White still believes

Jimmy White believes he can win his first ever World Championship this year.

The Whirlwind has been a six-time finalist at the Crucible but has lost every one. This included five successive finals between 1990 and 1994. However, the 48-year-old is convinced he is playing better than ever and can finally break his duck.

He said: "I still think I can win it.

"You've only got to play well for 10 days and you win it.

"I've been in the final six times and in the semi-finals 10 times, so you've only got to have a good week and you're there."

White last contested the final back in 1994, losing 18-17 to Stephen Hendry, who is now 40/1 to win in Sheffield in Ladbrokes Snooker Betting. The Englishman has not qualified for the World Championship since 2006 and has a tough passage to reach this year's event, starting with a match against Liu Chuang on Tuesday in the qualifying rounds. Those looking to bet on Snooker may doubt his chances.

Despite this, he admits that winning the elusive trophy is still top of his agenda and is bristling with confidence for the trials ahead.
He continued: "That's the one - I'm still chasing it.

"If I finished without winning the World Championship then I would be disappointed."

Beating Steve Davis in the final of the World Seniors Championship in November has significantly boosted White's confidence and although he still needs to qualify for next month's main event, he insists he will be ready for a title tilt.

Despite his confidence, White also knows that there are many top players on the circuit and to win his first world title will be tough. John Higgins is the current 5/1 favourite in Ladbrokes Snooker Betting to win the title, with Ronnie O'Sullivan at 6/1 and Ding Junhui at 7s.

Baird out of World Championship

Sam Baird saw his chance to qualify for next month's World Championship snuffed out by Mike Dunn in Thursday's scintillating action.

Baird had been on a strong run of form going into this qualifying game, having won five of his previous matches but he came unstuck against the Redcar player.

Dunn's success means he will now face Mark King in the final qualifying round of the World Snooker Championship.

Baird ended the first session 5-4 up, with breaks of 77, 125 and 74 contributing to his dominant position. However, Dunn was not to be deterred and won the next three frames to give himself a 7-5 lead.

The match changed direction more often than a pendulum as Baird struck back, overturning Dunn's 8-7 lead by winning the next two frames to give himself a 9-8 advantage.

However, Dunn won the next frame with a score of 87 to take the match into a deciding frame - and this went down to the wire and the snooker betting odds suggested things could have gone either way.

Baird scored 32 but Dunn's following breaks of 27 and 36 appeared to be enough for him to prevail. He was leading by 32 points on the brown but Baird scored snookers on the blue and the pink to give himself a glimmer of hope.

Baird potted the pink but Dunn sunk the black to claim victory by the narrowest of margins.

In Thursday's other games, Michael Holt came back from being 7-3 in arrears to beat James McBain by ten frames to eight whilst Jamie Burnett turned an 8-5 deficit around to beat James Wattana 10-8.

Jimmy White's conqueror Liu Chuang beat Tom Ford 10-8 whilst David Gilbert and Robert Milkins also tasted success.

The 16 qualifiers from this tournament will play in the prestigious World Snooker Championship which is held at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre from April 16 to May 2. John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan are the two favourites to lift the crown.

Cheltenham Festival Day One – Did You Know?

There are seven races on Day One of the Festival, here are some facts on the races that you may not know and are sure to be on interest to anyone placing Cheltenham 2011 bets.

Stan James Supreme Novices Hurdle

The 1993 winner, Montelado, holds a unique position in the history of The Festival at Cheltenham. He is the only horse to have won consecutive Festival races, landing the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 1992, the last race of that year's meeting, and returning to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in 1993, the first race 12 months later. Those planning to bet on Cheltenham racing may want to bear this in mind.

Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase

Arkle never actually ran in the race that was named after him, but it has proved a tremendous pointer to the Champion Chase, which augurs well for the chance of the 2010 winner Sizing Europe in the 2011 version of the Champion Chase.

The Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase

Over the years this race has proved a good trial for the Grand National with five winners going on to do the double.

Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

There have been as many as 13 multiple winners in the history of the race including five horses who have won the race on three occasions.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase

The fences on the Cross Country course are made of “living” materials growing trees, shrubs and bushes, which are regularly trimmed for racing.

David Nicholson Mares Hurdle

This race is named after the legendary Cotswolds trainer who became the first person to train three winners in a day for over 50 years when Putty Road (Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle), Viking Flagship (Queen Mother Champion Chase) and Kadi (Byrne Group Plate) all triumphed on March 15, 1995.

Centenary Novices Handicap Chase

All six winners had won no more than once over fences, suggesting the handicapper had yet to get the bottom of the horse's true ability.

The Grand National – Winner Trends

With the exceptional challenge that the race presents it's no surprise that many punters, regular and once a year alike view the Grand National spectacular as difficult to solve as the lottery but some exceptionally strong trends have developed over the years which can be a useful aid to winner finding.

Indeed, for reasons of weight, age, official rating and previous National experience, well over two-thirds of the field can normally be discounted when searching for the winner. Let's take a look at some of the stronger statistical trends that surround the "Great Race".

The age of a horse is probably one if the easiest facts to look up and those aged seven and under are going to struggle – you have to go back to the 1940 running to find the last successful horse aged seven and a further 28 years beyond that to find the last six-year-old who was victorious in this race. At the other end of the age scale those in their teenage years are always going to struggle – in fact no teenager has won for 89 years and we have not had one of that age in the frame since 1969.

You would think that stamina would be a prime requisite for a Grand National runner but year after year punters get sucked into thinking that horses that have never won over 3 miles are magically going to stay the 4M 4F of the National. Every single winner of the National since Gay Trip in 1970 had previously won over three miles or further over fences, so the claim that two-and-a-half milers make perfect Grand National contenders is misleading.

Those two simple statistics can quite often rule out plenty of the runners in the field – but if you add a few more simple trends then you can quite quickly cut down a complex looking field to a few strong candidates. Other areas that you should consider are ones of experience – all of the last ten winners have had at least a double figure number of starts over fences. The advent of in-play betting has also made the Grand National puzzle easier to solve.

The Grand National is now a far classier race than it was and it should also pay to examine your selections ability to be operate in this class - of the last ten winners all had demonstrated their class to win this race by previously landing a Listed or Graded (Class A or 1) race.

There are more detailed and complex statistics surrounding the National but just applying those above should give you more chance of finding the winner.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Furyk looks to roll back the years

Jim Furyk has been one of golf's most consistent performers since turning pro in 1992, still challenging the game's elite has he enters his forties. His stunning record in the majors hasn't brought the success it has perhaps deserved, his only major title coming at the 2003 US Open.

Last year was a decidedly mixed year for the 40-year old, with three tour wins glossing over relatively disappointing performances in the four majors. Furyk missed the cut at the Masters and the Open and finished outside the top 10 at the US Open and PGA Championships. His disappointing Masters campaign last year was only the second missed cut at Augusta in his 14 appearances at a tournament where Furyk has racked up numerous top-20 finishes and two fourth place finishes. The Masters Golf betting odds suggest he will struggle to make an impact on the tournament this year, and he could really struggle.

So far in 2011, Furyk has failed to carry his momentum from the end of last year. The 40-year old was well below his best in the recent WGC-Accenture Match Play, his second round exit coming at the hands of Ryan Palmer. Furyk played well in places during the Match Play tournament but failed to see the job through with late bogeys bringing about his downfall.

While Furyk won't go into the Masters as one of the favourites, it would be a brave man who fully writes off the Pennsylvanian's chances of mounting a serious challenge in the year's first major. If Furyk can reproduce the kind of form he showed at the end of last year then the 40-year old could roll back the years at Augusta.

Planet struggling to make the Gold Cup line-up

Planet of Sound who put himself in the picture as a possible Cheltenham Gold Cup contender when he won the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown last April, looks set to miss the race.

Philip Hobbs who's trains Planet Of Sound, has announced that the horse, who finished fifth in the King George at Kempton on his most recent start, has an infection in a hind leg and will not run in the blue riband event unless he is 100% sound by Saturday.

Sadly for his supporters, the trainer seems very pessimistic about this and it seems likely that anyone who has planning to back the horse will have to look elsewhere and if they decide to do this they will have plenty of choice in the Cheltenham betting offers.

Not seen as being in with an excellent chance of winning the Gold Cup, it seems unlikely the trainer will want to take any risks with a useful looking horse who should be capable of winning other high profile races in the future. Those looking to bet on Cheltenham 2011 won't be seeing her next week though.

Although he isn't among the market leaders for the Festival feature, he is a runner who would interest the each way players, as he can be given place claims on his best form. So it will be interesting to see if Hobbs declares him fit enough to go into battle on Friday.

Salley misses Cheltenham after scoping badly

The Prunella Dobbs yard's hopes of a Cheltenham Festival 2011 success for their in-form mare Our Girl Salley have been dashed following the news that the six-year-old has scoped badly and will not be right in time to take her chance against Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle on Tuesday, writes Elliot Slater.

Our Girl Salley has been a revelation this season and was one of the few potentially serious rivals to Quevega, Willie Mullins' red-hot favourite for the 'David Nicholson', a race she will attempt to win for the third successive year. An 8/1 chance with some firms and expected by connections to run a big race next week, there was no hiding the disappointing that Dobbs felt on realising that her stable star would miss her chance to shine on the biggest stage of all. Punters who had planned on backing the horse may want to look at the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead.

A winner of three bumpers last season before taking her chance over timber, Our Girl Salley has proved a very adept hurdler, winning in style on her debut at Navan in November, beating Sugar Bullet by 10-lengths. Stepping up to Listed company at Leopardstown's prestigious Christmas fixture in late-December, Dobbs' mare showed she has what it takes to go a long way in the hurdles sphere in easily disposing of some good opponents to land the ITBA Mares Hurdle.

At Fairyhouse a couple of weeks later she batted on bravely to land another Listed event under regular jockey Barry Geraghty and has since been given a break to freshen up and ready herself for taking on Quevega at Cheltenham. Sadly, that won't be happening now, but Dobbs has settled for looking to take on some of the big guns at Punchestown and Fairyhouse this spring and hopefully get a chance next year to show what Our Girl Salley can do at Cheltenham.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Honda Classic gives Masters clues

Time is running out for players to get into decent form ahead of the Masters. With just over a month to go before the first tee-off at Augusta, many leading players are leaving it late to find the necessary rhythm required for a serious title challenge at the season's first major.

Only five of the world's top 10 chose to enter the Honda Classic and of these only Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar left Florida with any real satisfaction. Lee Westwood missed the chance to regain the top ranking, a third round 75 contributing to a +4 finish in joint 29th.

Rory McIlroy fared even worse, nightmare respective third and fourth round scores of 77 and 75 leaving him 25 shots adrift of winner Rory Sabbatini. Horror form like this - only four players who made the cut carded higher scores - would dent confidence of anyone and the young Ulsterman must be frustrated at his inconsistent form so far this season. The golf odds suggest he's in with a chance at the Masters, but not if he plays like that.

McDowell's final round 64 meant he finished three shots behind the winner, whilst Donald also finished strongly with a 66. Kuchar was steadier throughout, carding between 69 and 72 on each round.

Apart from these two Brits, YE Yang was the only other top-50 player to finish under par at Palm Beach Gardens, the world 29 finishing a stroke behind Sabbatini after making up four strokes on the final round.

The South Korean's performance was held together by some fine putting – of the top 13 finishers only Ricky Barnes had a worse driving accuracy than Yang – and form on the greens is crucial at Augusta, where Yang performed well last year, finishing joint 8th. He will of course need to hit more fairways than he did last week.
Sabbatini has also flourished at the Masters, recording his best ever major finish of joint second in 2007. The South African averaged two putts per green in regulation at Palm Beach, a figure he will need to reduce to feature amongst the leaders in the Masters.

Poet's now a possible World Cup contender

Following a tremendous seasonal reappearance when only just denied by Wigmore Hall in the Group 2 Jebel Hatta at Meydan on March 3, Godolphin's high-class Poet's Voice is now under consideration for a crack at the Dubai World Cup back at the state-of-the-art racetrack on March 26, writes Elliot Slater.

The 122-rated four-year-old colt had not been seen in competitive action since finishing down the field when almost certainly 'over the top' in October's Group 1 Emirates Airlines Champion Stakes at Newmarket, a race won by Henry Cecil's Twice Over, now 7/2 ante-post favourite for the World Cup following a fine victory on the same Meydan card last week. Prior to his Newmarket flop the son of Dubawi had got the better of a sensational dual with Aidan O'Brien's Rip Van Winkle in the Group 1 QEII Stakes at Ascot in September, a race that confirmed him as one of the best milers in the business and anyone looking to bet on horse racing should take note.

In a blanket finish to the Meydan contest Saeed bin Suroor's charge came with what appeared to be a perfectly timed run under Frankie Dettori, challenging down the centre of the track and taking up the running 100 yards out, only to be nabbed by Michael Bell's Wigmore Hall in the shadow of the post, going under by a neck, with a nose back to the third-placed favourite Presvis, trained by Luca Cumani.

With plenty of improvement to come, bin Suroor has now opened up the option of running in the World Cup having initially been targeting the Dubai Duty Free. Poet's Voice has never run on the artificial Tapeta surface but his performance in the desert night suggested he would see out the extra furlong of the $10 million contest under the new underfoot conditions.

Bookmakers have introduced the Godolphin horse at around 10/1 in the ante-post market for the world's richest race.

Newbury gallops highlight some major Festival contenders

Newbury's meeting on Saturday March 5th may not have highlighted too many Cheltenham Festival clues in the races that were staged, mainly due to its close proximity to the start of the Cotswold extravaganza. However a series of gallops that took place on the racecourse on Sunday morning may well seen a few potential Festival winners on show and those looking at the Cheltenham racing betting should bear this in mind.

One such horse was the Warren Greatrex trained Knight Pass. The five-year-old is currently one at the top of most ante-post lists for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, and he certainly looked a worthy favourite as he put in a very impressive gallop under his big-race pilot Wayne Hutchinson.

Greatrex's stable star is unbeaten in two bumper starts, he won impressively at Sandown on his first start when he could count subsequent Grade 2 winning hurdler Sire De Grugy amongst his victims. He then followed up with a very cosy win on the turf at Southwell in early January, where he toyed with his opponents before running out a four-length winner. Anyone looking to bet on Cheltenham 2011 should take note of what was an impressive performance.

Since then his trainer has kept him ticking over at home in preparation for the Champion Bumper, and judged on his Newbury spin he has done a great job as he looks spot on and ready to run a very big race. Knight Pass runs in the colours of Malcolm Denmark who also owned the brilliant, but injury plagued, Monsignor who won the Festival Champion Bumper in 1999.