Friday, April 29, 2011

Cup final songs adds to old school atmosphere

Many of the criticisms levelled at the FA Cup in recent years have been the lack of interest and priority given to the competition by the bigger sides.

Given the riches on offer in the Champions League to an extent I can't blame them but it is a shame that such a traditional competition has been put on the back burner. Especially when some clubs saw it as a consolation prize when for they lost the league or in Europe. Those looking to bet FA Cup final money will certainly realise this.

It is refreshing then to see the enthusiasm by Man City and Stoke City fans ahead of their date at Wembley. Roberto Mancini's men, of course, are hunting their first trophy in over 30 years while Stoke will be playing in their first ever FA Cup final.
So, this is a chance for the fans to saviour and for them it isn't just 'another' day out at Wembley it's a game to remember. This is shown by the resurrection of one of the most infamous of FA Cup traditions – the FA Cup final song.

The fashion for making a song died out at the turn of the new century, perhaps because the same teams were always getting there. But both Man City and Stoke are set to record cup final records, with Tom Jones rumoured to be recording a cover of Stoke anthem Delilah and Noel Gallagher set to sing Blue Moon – both songs heard echoing from the stands at Eastlands and the Britannia Stadium. They won't effect the FA Cup betting tips of course, but it will add a bit of fun.

Both songs will perhaps not go down in musical history, but it sums up the excitement between the two sides and hopefully that will transmit to the players on the day and we will see a game that will kick fresh life into this ancient competition.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Etherington set for FA Cup misery

Matthew Etherington has been one of Stoke's star performers this season, and that's saying something because Stoke have been able to rely upon several key players during an FA Cup campaign that has led them to the final in fine style and a Premier League campaign that has seen them haul themselves to safety for yet another season.

However, he could be about to experience the dreaded pain that no player ever wants to feel of FA Cup final heartache, with the midfielder forced off with a hamstring injury last night during the game against Wolves. The injury was inflicted as the player was chasing to win back the ball, which is typical of his style of play, and it now looks as if the 29-year-old winger will be forced to watch on from the sidelines as Stoke battle against Manchester City to lift the famous FA Cup.

The last thing Stoke need as they prepare to take on a squad full of superstars and multi-millionaires is injury problems but sadly, with Etherington and also striker Ricardo Fuller, that's exactly what they've been handed. Fuller picked up an Achilles injury at the weekend during Stoke's league game against Aston Villa and is now thought to be likely to have to sit alongside Etherington on the sidelines.

There is still an argument that Stoke will perform even better in the face of adversity, but make no mistake about it, the FA Cup final (which, by the way, is as good an excuse as any to take advantage of deals on lg televisions or cheap lcd tvs!) will be very, very difficult for the side competing against Roberto Mancini's men.

Soderling confident ahead of summer

Last year Robin Soderling showed he was more than capable of competing with the world's best players, with a second consecutive French Open final and quarter-final finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open. The Swede has carried that momentum into this season and the world number five has enjoyed a stunning start to 2011 with three titles to his name already. The Wimbledon betting indicates he could add a slam to this tally in June.

The 26-year old will make a belated start to his clay-court season this week, when he competes at the Estoril Open in Portugal as the top seeded player. Soderling has been struggling with Achilles tendon and knee problems over recent weeks but appears to be fighting fit again. The battle will now be on Soderling to get back to 100% fitness in time for a busy summer, starting off at the end of May with the French Open before Wimbledon the following month.

Grass has never been a favourite surface for Soderling and that reflected on his record at Wimbledon. Last year's quarter-final was the first time the Swede had gone further than the fourth round in eight appearances at the famous Grand Slam. It was bad luck that the 26-year-old came up against Rafael Nadal in dominant form, despite winning the opening set, Soderling was eventually put to the sword by the tournament's eventual winner in four sets.

Despite the defeat, Soderling was able to take plenty of confidence from his Wimbledon performance, following it up with another quarter-final appearance at Flushing Meadows later in the year. The talented Swede could well be a surprise package this year to maybe go one further and reach the semis.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wiggins relaxed about Tour chances

Britain's Bradley Wiggins feels both himself and Team Sky are in good form with the Tour de France creeping ever closer. Three-time Olympic gold medallist Wiggins has started 2011 in promising form, the highlight coming at last month's Paris-Nice race where the 30-year old finished an impressive eighth place at the eight stage event.

As well as Wiggins' personal form, the rest of Team Sky have been putting in consistently strong performances this season. Geraint Thomas was in scintillating form at the Tour of Flanders earlier this month, only bad luck putting paid to his Paris-Roubaix chances after three falls in just 20km forced an early retirement. Those looking at the Tour de France odds will hope he does better this time.

Wiggins believes Team Sky will continue this year after their experiences from their debut year in 2010. The young team have become a challenging force in only their second year and Wiggins is confident about the future.

"It's our second year and we all know each other now and I think that's come through in the results. Across the board this year, the results have been fantastic and it seems week in, week out someone from Team Sky is doing something somewhere."

Regarding his own chances at this year's Tour de France, Wiggins admitted his preparations weren't the best heading into last year's event where he finished way down in 24th, a year after his stunning 4th place finish, and the Brit feels more relaxed about this time around.

"I certainly feel less pressure this year, for sure, and also the planning has been better. It all came up on us a bit last year."

"I still don't know what I'm capable of in the Tour de France. The aim this year is to find out."

Sneijder to reject United challenge

Manchester United are a team that may still be favourites to win the Premier League this season, despite Chelsea appearing to mount a late surge towards the title out of nowhere, and they may still be in with a great chance of winning the Champions League (although one of Real Madrid and Barcelona will surely have a great deal to say about that), but the club themselves have done anything but look dominant this year.

Several late winning goals and lucky refereeing decisions have culminated to provide United with more than a few points in the league, and anyone who has listened to their games on pure digital radio or has watched the action on LCD TV will know that they have struggled to overcome the challenge posed by the weaker teams in the league. So, it would seem clear that there is a great deal of room for improvement as Sir Alex Ferguson looks ahead to the 2011/2012 season after the close of the current campaign.

With Ferguson likely to believe that one or two reinforcements to the squad are needed in order for the club to move onwards and upwards next season, it has come as something of a blow to the side that one high-profile target, Wesley Sneijder, has revealed he isn't interested in moving to England.

Sneijder insists he is happy playing at Inter Milan and isn't finding himself tempted by a move to the title-chasing Manchester outfit. With Sneijder winning the Champions League last season with Inter under the astute guidance of Jose Mourinho, you could understand if he had started to feel a little differently towards the Italian club following the manager's departure to Real Madrid.

However, his commitment is admirable and should be respected by the United manager, who surely has a longer transfer target list to work through than just the sole name.

Can West Ham upset the odds and stay up?

At the moment, it's fair to say that West Ham need all the help they can get. With the Hammers looking almost like a dead cert to experience relegation this season despite continually putting on performances that seem to suggest they are capable of pulling away from the danger zone, they need each and every individual at the club to pull together and rally from now until the end of the season.

Avram Grant therefore has Danny Gabbidon to thank for issuing a rallying call to the club's players that could yet inspire them to put Saturday's 3-0 crushing at the hands of Chelsea to one side as the club prepare for their remaining fixtures against some tricky opponents in the form of Manchester City, Blackburn, Wigan, and Sunderland.

Gabbidon has revealed his disappointment that the side were made to pay in the cruelest manner possible for missing a couple of golden opportunities to score, with Robbie Keane particularly guilty, tvs and lg home cinema systems everywhere capturing the moment that he sent a shot wide from eight yards out with the goal gaping. The defender revealed that "it seems the same old story" when they fail to "take [their] chances", with a lack of cutting edge in front of goal one of the reasons why West Ham are propping up the rest of the league table despite playing well more often than not in their league fixtures.

With Gabbidon also revealing that defensive weaknesses also seem to be holding the Hammers back from succeeding at the top level of the English game, the problems for Grant to deal with are indeed substantial.

However, with individuals such as Scott Parker willing to do whatever it takes to lead the side away from the relegation zone, and with the fight to stay in the league so, so tight at the moment, West Ham could yet provide their fans with reason to smile this season.

Chelsea boss refuses to give up title dream

It may seem like Manchester United have the Premier League title sewn up, but Carlo Ancelotti still retains a belief that Chelsea can pip them to glory.

United are six points clear with four games to go but face a hectic few weeks in the Champions League and Premier League.

They face two legs against Schalke and also play Arsenal at the Emirates in the space of seven days, before a clash with Premier League title-chasers Chelsea at Old Trafford on May 8th. Anyone looking to bet on Premier League weekend games will know this will be a crucial fixture.

Chelsea need to win all their games to have any chance of lifting the Premier League title, but they do seem to be coming back into form after their high-profile slump which jeopardised their chances of doing anything this season.

Chelsea face Spurs this weekend and a win there, coupled with an Arsenal victory over United, would put them only three points behind going into the crunch meeting between the teams.

Ancelotti claims it "can happen" and is dreaming of results going his side's way so the rivals would be level on points with two games remaining after the Old Trafford clash.

"If we are able to win against Tottenham, I think we can put more pressure on Manchester United in the game against Arsenal," said the Italian.

Fernando Torres scored his first goal for Chelsea at the weekend and if he finds goalscoring form then it could be crucial to any dreams Blues fans have of winning the Premier League title and the football predictions reflect this.

The Spaniard is capable of going on a scoring run despite his recent woes, and he could yet play a huge part in this season's title race.

Els weighing up U-turn

Ernie Els is reportedly weighing up a dramatic switch to the belly putter following his continued struggles on the greens. The three-time major winner will head to South Korea this week to compete at the Ballantine's Championship, still trying to rediscover the putting consistency that has been a major factor behind his 64 Tour wins. The problems with his short game haven't been a recent issue for Els, back in 2009 the South African described how his putting seemed to have gone to pot.

He said: "All of a sudden, it's like, 'Man, what's going on? I'm not making these putts anymore.' Normally when you make a certain putt, from there the momentum comes."

Those comments were made two years ago but things haven't got better for Els, despite brief promising signs last year, with his two PGA Tour wins and South African Open title showing the 'Big Easy' can still challenge the world's best. The decline in his putting is evident when looking at the putting average rankings, in which Els is way down in 159th in the world. That will be why the South African is reportedly willing to go against his principles and try out the controversial belly putter, a club Els has previously called for to be banned. Anyone looking at the open betting should take some time to see just how he gets on with it.

Adam Scott made the switch after his own troubles with his putting and the results were clear as the Australian came within a couple of shots of winning the Masters last month at Augusta. If Ernie wants to keep challenging the increased number of talented youngsters on the circuit, then he may well need to swallow his pride and shake hands with the devil.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Basso focuses on main event

Reigning Tour of Italy champion Ivan Basso had decided to relinquish his title without a defence, deciding to pull out of his home event in favour of focusing on the Tour de France coming later on in the summer. With Basso missing from the line up, it will be Stefano Garzelli of Team Acqua & Sapone who will wear the number one jersey when the event starts from Turin on May 7th.

A recent lack of both fitness and form were behind Basso's decision to pull out of the Giro, although the Italian admitted he would only have been competing to help assist team-mate and compatriot Vincenzo Nibali in his challenge for the title. Basso expressed his disappointment at not being able to compete in the race but admitted his home fans wouldn't have seen him at his best if he were involved. Those looking at the Tour de France betting should remember this.

"It's a great sacrifice for me to pull out of the Giro but unfortunately with the shape I'm in at the moment I wouldn't be able to do it justice."

"At the beginning of the season the idea was to ride the Giro before the Tour de France with the view of helping Vincenzo Nibali in his quest for the pink jersey."
"Right to the last I tried to find the feeling that I could be comfortable and confident, but it hasn't arrived."

The extra time off will need to be used well by the Italian rider who has had a disappointing season so far. It's been over five years since Basso has mounted a genuine Tour challenge, managing only 32nd last year. At 33, time isn't on Basso's side and he'll be desperate to be in good shape by the time the sport's showpiece event starts on July 2nd.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

EPL 2010-11 : Manutd - Everton goals

Manchester United 1-0 Everton

1-0 - Hernandez

First half highlights

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Atkinson handed FA Cup Final

Sir Alex Ferguson's favourite man in black, Martin Atkinson, will be the man in charge of refereeing this year's FA Cup Final between Stoke City and Manchester City. The 40-year old former Wakefield police officer will be assisted at Wembley by his assistants Adam Watts from Worcestershire and Simon Beck of Bedfordshire after the trio were named by the FA as the refereeing team for this year's Wembley showpiece.

Atkinson was the fourth official at the 2009 FA Cup Final and expressed his delight at receiving the responsibility of officiating the match on May 14th. Those planning on placing an FA Cup bet will hope he has a good game.

"It's such a massive game domestically and I'm very proud and honoured to be appointed," he said.

"I started refereeing when I was 15 and never thought back then that I'd be walking out as the FA Cup final referee at Wembley Stadium one day."

Atkinson shouldn't be overly daunted by the task after officiating a number of high-profile matches already in his career, the 2006 Community Shield, the 2009 FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Chelsea, and more recently Schalke's shock Champions League 5-2 hammering of Inter Milan at the San Siro. Those who bet on FA Cup action should remember this.

There has been a fair share of controversy surrounding Atkinson this season following Sir Alex's outburst after Manchester United lost 2-1 to Chelsea, after David Luiz somehow stayed on the pitch and a late penalty was awarded against United. The rant from Fergie resulted in a five-match ban being slapped on the United manager and Atkinson will be hoping he can stay out of the headlines the day after the final.

Chicago Grey and Beshabar to clash again in Scottish National

A total of 47 horses have stood their ground for Saturday’s feature event, the Coral Scottish Grand National, including the first and second home in last month’s National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Chicago Grey and Beshabar both horse racing tips of the day for saturday, writes Elliot Slater.

The four-mile-one-furlong marathon event staged at Ayr racecourse on the west coast of Scotland is always a tough contest and many of the horses who still held entries after running in the Aintree Grand National at the weekend have not gone forward to the final declaration stage. Their collective absence from Saturday’s race means that last year’s winner Merigo (who failed to make the cut for the Aintree feature), will definitely get a run as he stands at number 25 in the list of runners in a race where up to 30 horses could conceivably face the starter in a race that will be watched by the best horse racing Ireland and UK.

Chicago Grey is 5lbs worse off with Beshabar for his four-and-a-half-length victory at Cheltenham and many race fans are looking forward to the re-match between the two talented staying chasers. Trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott, Chicago Grey is currently the 5/1 ante-post favourite, whilst Tim Vaughan’s Beshabar is a best priced 8/1 second favourite.

All the indications are that Ruby Walsh is set to take the ride on Paul Nicholls’ The Minack (9/1), third in a Grade 2 novice chase over three miles at Ascot in February, in a race in which novices traditionally have a good record. Nicholls also seems likely to saddle the top weight Neptune Collonges who will be burdened with a crushing 11st 12lbs, although that weight could be reduced by 5lbs with stable amateur Ryan Mahon likely to be handed the ride.

Northern permit holder John Wade looks set to run the hat-trick seeking Grimthorpe Chase winner Always Right (10/1) in a race where currently just 10 of the 47 entries are set to run off their correct handicap mark.

Monday, April 18, 2011

City shouldn't label themselves champs just yet

Manchester City weren't expected to beat rivals United at the weekend in the first of two dramatic and surprisingly exciting FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley, but pull off a shock win they did, and in some style too (if you discount the particularly unstylish actions of a certain Italian upstart, that is).

However, the manner in which City celebrated at the final whistle shows that the squad possess an element of complacency that could yet prove to be their undoing. Roberto Mancini doesn't often appear to get too carried away by victories, with the Italian manager usually a calm influence on the touchline, but the manner in which the City boss led a raucous on-pitch celebration shows that the City players and coaching staff clearly believe they have one hand firmly on the FA Cup trophy already. Those placing football free bets will be less sure.

If City do take their eye off the ball, so to speak, when they come up against a Stoke side that managed to thrash Owen Coyle's normally resolute defensive unit 5-0 yesterday, then they could well be in for a massive wake-up call, and one that threatens to call into jeopardy City's 35-year wait for a major trophy, with the Sky Blues last winning a trophy back in 1976 when they lifted the League Cup.

With City fans surely well aware that one trophy win could open the floodgates for more over the next few seasons, with the first taste of success always the most difficult to achieve, an FA Cup victory is clearly not important just for the short term glory that it represents.

Should Stoke take advantage of any element of complacency, next season could turn out to be a demoralising one for a City side that will need all the self-belief and confidence it can get if the Champions League campaign they so badly want to be involved in isn't going to end in humiliation.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are we in for genuine excitement at the French Open?

With the world of men and women's tennis in a delicate state of transition at the moment, with the reigns of the leading players in both the men's and women's games coming under severe threat, the question all tennis fans are asking is whether the world of tennis will be able to make the most of this transitional period by moving into a brave new world, or whether, when the dust settles, the old favourites will settle back into their thrones. The most up to date French Open odds suggest things are set to be very interesting indeed.

If, at this year's French Open in the men's or the women's tournaments, we start to see the likes of Andy Murray perform above and beyond expectations, producing a brand new Grand Slam winner in the process, new and ever younger fans might just start to develop a long-lasting love for the sport as tennis seeks to find a way of becoming more competitive than other sports in England such as football, which have for far too long been dominated by the same teams or individuals.

Tennis now has a precious chance to prove that it is unique in the sense that there are many different players who can be successful in Grand Slams and the upcoming French Open might be the start of a run of tournaments that start bringing the crowds back to tennis, in the process increasing the overall profile of a sport that has for too long been dominated by the same characters, some of whom haven't been as inspiring as they perhaps could have been.

With a new, bolder, and more exciting era of tennis hopefully on the horizon after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open and Caroline Wozniacki continued to show that she's capable of evolving the uninspiring and rather brutal women's game of the sort played by the Williams sisters, we could be about to see the beginning of a golden generation in a growing sport.

Balotelli will have to fill Tevez's boots

Manchester City have been dealt a massive blow ahead of their FA Cup semi-final with the news Carlos Tevez will be missing for the Wembley clash.

The Argentine striker has been a key piece of Roberto Mancini's plans for this season as they hunt for glory in the Premier League and cup competitions, but Tevez was hit by a hamstring problem during the defeat at Liverpool last time out. Without their key man, it's hard to say that City look like FA Cup best bets.

Mancini has confirmed the forward will be missing for around a month, ruling him out of the FA Cup semi-final clash with Manchester United as City look to win their first piece of silverware for 35 years. Those looking to bet on FA Cup final action may not even see their name on the slips though.

"Tevez is not available for Saturday," Mancini said.

"I think he will recover in three or four weeks. It is a big problem but we can't take any risks."

Tevez has scored 22 goals in all competitions for City this season, more than double the man who is second in the side's scoring charts, Mario Balotelli.

In the absence of Tevez, the temperamental Italian striker seems set to be given the main striking duties, assisted by Edin Dzeko – who has scored two FA Cup goals since his arrival in January.

Indeed, Mancini has called on Balotelli to fill the void left by Tevez, not only at Wembley but also in the remaining Premier League games as City look to get into the Premier League top four.

The Italian manager claims Balotelli can score "important goals" and "could be the hero" at Wembley if he gets the goals to knock out United and secure City their place in the FA Cup final.

No room for error in Frankel Greenham trial

Henry Cecil’s red-hot Qipco 2000 Guineas favourite Frankel will face a maximum of five rivals on Saturday when he bids to land the Group 3 Greenham Stakes at Newbury on his way to a crack at justifying the immense reputation built up last year when he enjoyed an outstanding juvenile campaign in horse racing Ireland, writes Elliot Slater.

Reports from Warren Place suggest that Frankel has pleased Cecil in his home work and that it will be a major shock if the current 5/6 2000 Guineas favourite is beaten. On paper the biggest danger to Prince Khaled Abdullah’s Galileo colt appears to be Richard Hannon’s Strong Suit, winner of last year’s Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot before failing narrowly to follow up at in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh, when coming home a half-length third in a blanket finish behind horse racing tips Zoffany.

Beaten nine-lengths by the other leading colt of last term Dream Ahead when the pair clashed in Newmarket’s Group Middle Park Stakes last autumn, on a line through his conqueror (who was subsequently well beaten by Frankel in the Dewhurst Stakes), Strong Suit has plenty to find and is officially rated 13lbs inferior to the 2000 Guineas favourite.

Also set to tackle Frankel on Saturday is his stable companion Picture Editor (also owned by Abdullah), Hannon’s 95-rated Vanguard Dream, Barry Hills’ Shropshire (rated 94), and the interesting Marco Botti representative Excelebration, winner of a maiden and conditions event at Newmarket last summer, but not seen since.

Anything less than a very solid victory will surely result in bookmakers scenting the chance of getting Frankel beaten on April 30 on the Rowley Mile, but if he goes and wins as many anticipate, he could strengthen further with many firms reporting massive liabilities on the Cecil colt, and could be sent off as short as 4/7 on the big day itself. It should be remembered however that in last year’s Greenham Stakes the hotpot Canford Cliffs was sensationally beaten by stable companion Dick Turpin before going on to prove himself the outstanding three-year-old colt of 2010.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Should tennis balls be made bigger?

With the build-up to this year's French Open starting to gather momentum, but with some top players still with a lot to prove to critics and fans alike as they seek to stake their claim of being among the favourites for glory, the debate in the sport has turned to a slightly strange issue. That issue surrounds the size of tennis balls, however odd that may sound.

The debate is one that isn't new to the sport but has been reopened this week by comments from Romanian tennis promoter Ion Tiriac, a man who reckons increasing the size of the balls used by both female and male players could make the sport more popular throughout the world, while increasing revenue for broadcasters with massively increased viewing figures. Those looking at the French Open betting may have their doubts about things though.

Tiriac's arguments revolve around the theory that making the regulation tennis ball used in events around 10% larger than it currently is would slow the game down significantly and make it more entertaining for those watching the game.
The idea is one that has attracted criticism from some quarters, with some fans believing the game to be slow enough already, and others believing that raising the height of the net would have the same effect but without entailing quite as much effort.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the theory, it seems likely that those at the top of the sport will be happy with tennis in the men's and the women's games becoming far more competitive than in recent years, with the old domination of Federer and the Williams sisters thankfully coming to an end.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Try telling Birmingham that the Europa League doesn't matter

Although they are not yet a part of it, and could end up being a part of it as a Championship club, the joy that Birmingham fans possess over winning a domestic Cup and in the process earning themselves the chance to compete against some of Europe's best clubs is surely proof enough that the Europa League provides enough happiness and excitement to enough fans to ensure that its future is secure and the chance of respect levels towards the competition in the wider footballing world increasing in time is still there.

With some critics desperate to stick a dagger into the Europa League whenever possible, the competition needs as many clubs as possible to be interested in competing to the best of their ability. However, even though Birmingham may be a decent example of a side appearing to be a bit plucky and really keen to compete in the competition next year, there are still far too many sides that are not bothered enough about the competition to feel it's worthwhile fielding their strongest starting line-ups and the Europa League odds reflect this.

With this scenario likely to leave clubs like Birmingham and their loyal fans feeling short-changed as they look forward to meeting a European giant only to discover that just a few decent first team players have even been picked to compete, it's clear that there are real problems that need to be addressed.

As a result, it seems vital that Uefa start punishing teams that don't take the competition seriously by introducing bans for sides that field weakened starting line-ups, and this applies not just in the Europa League, but also in the Champions League. If UEFA start to do this properly, then it won't just be the likes of Birmingham who are looking forward to the Europa League, but also the whole of Europe.

Godolphin team arrive back in Newmarket

The logistics involved in flying the sizeable Godolphin string out from Dubai back to Newmarket are barely comprehensible, but it is understood that all the horses have arrived safely after a hectic weekend and are now settling in to their summer surroundings, writes Elliot Slater.

Amongst many racing experts the jury is still out as to whether or not spending the winter in Dubai is quite as beneficial as Sheik Mohammed and his team would have us believe, as the acclimatisation from the Middle East to Western Europe takes time, and vice versa. It's also fair to say that Godolphin have reaped a fairly poor crop of results since this shuttling policy was first undertaken and those looking at the Epsom Derby odds should remember this.

Godolphin's two big Epsom Derby hopes were trained in Ireland last year by Mick Halford and Dermot Weld respectively, where both Casamento and Dubai Prince proved themselves to be high-class juveniles. Now in the care of Mahmood al Zarooni (who appears to be favoured more and more in the internal battle of the handlers with long-standing Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor), the pair wintered in the Gulf before arriving back at HQ at the weekend.

Weld sent out Dubai Prince to making a winning debut at Gowran Park in September where he beat the subsequently smart performer Seville by a length. He went on a month later to very impressively land the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown before joining Godolphin with Weld suggesting that the Shamardal colt could be a serious Derby contender. He is currently a best priced 12/1 chance.

Casamento (trained last year by Mick Halford), failed by only a head to beat the high-class Pathfork in the Group 1 Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the Curragh in September, before winning the Group 2 Beresford Stakes over the Curragh mile and then gamely accounted for Seville by three-quarters-of-a-length in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October. He is also quoted at 12/1 to land the Epsom Derby on June 4.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

EPL 2010-11 : Manchester United - Fulham goals

Manchester United 2-0 Fulham

1-0 - Berba

2-0 - Valencia

Can Lewis produce his best to win in Malaysia?

Lewis Hamilton is a driver who does not always appeal to everyone, but he is certainly a skilled driver and one who has shown that he is more than capable of driving fantastically in all conditions, a talent that he will need to make use of in Malaysia, where in recent years Grand Prix events have been dominated by changing weather conditions and drivers and teams being forced to make decisions that can make or break their chance to win the race.

With F1 receiving a fair amount of criticism for being too predictable and not providing enough entertainment, this weekend could provide Hamilton with a perfect opportunity to pick up a victory and F1 with the chance to rebuild this season's reputation before it is tarnished thoroughly with the brush of boredom and predictability.

If Lewis and his team can get his car in order and the strategy correct, then this weekend presents a great opportunity to show the other teams that they are not prepared to sit back and rest on their laurels and are instead desperate to make up for the disappointment of last season and really get themselves together to challenge Red Bull in both the drivers' championship and for the constructors' championship, something the F1 odds 2011 suggest isn't likely to happen right now.

Despite this, fans know that the forecasted dry weather could create a boring and predictable race. Let's just hope that Lewis can go out there and show his best stuff so that maybe we can start to see this year's F1 season truly take off. If F1 can work its way back into the press for the right reasons, and new fans of the sport start getting onboard, then that will only be good news for all involved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nicholls stars on duty at Aintree on Thursday

Denman and Big Buck's, two of the most popular horses in training and both handled by champion trainer Paul Nicholls, will both be in action on Thursday the opening day of the three-day Aintree Festival, writes Elliot Slater.

The Aintree crowd are in for a treat as Big Buck's will get proceedings underway when bidding to land the Grade 1 BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle for the third time in as many years, having only three weeks ago completed a hat-trick of Ladbrokes World Hurdles when getting the better of a terrific dual with the up-and-coming Grand Crus. The David Pipe-trained runner will be in opposition once again meaning that Big Buck's faces possibly his sternest task yet to land the prestigious staying contest in which last year he ambled to an easy victory from the outsider Souffleur. Those looking at betting online should remember this.

Ruby Walsh will of course be in the saddle on board the Andy Stewart-owned champion stayer, and will also be aboard the mighty Denman for the first time in a couple of years when the recent Totesport Cheltenham gold Cup runner-up bids to land the Grade 1 Totesport Bowl on what could be a significant day for Nicholls in the race with Nicky Henderson for the jumps trainers' championship.

Denman once again gave it his all in finishing second in the Gold Cup for the third year running, holding every chance at the final fence but just unable to quicken with Henderson's Long Run, the new kid on the block. Long Run will not be at Aintree and Denman will face a maximum of five rivals in the three-mile-one-furlong contest, a race he should win with something to spare if he runs to his best.

Some people question though just how much the tough race at Cheltenham might have affected the Paul Barber-owned 11-year-old, but should he win there is unlikely to be a bigger roar at the whole fixture - even for the winner of Saturday's John Smith's Grand National.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vettel Vulnerable in Malaysian Grand Prix Betting

The F1 circuit reaches Malaysia this weekend with the Red Bull team heavy favourites to repeat their achievement of 12 months ago when their two drivers, world champion, Sebastian Vettel and team mate, Mark Webber came home first and second.

Certainly there are questions that the Red Bull team will have to answer; particularly because the Sepang circuit and its long straights may not suit their aero package and also that the race will probably be run with outside temperatures of around the 40c mark and in intense humidity, which will affect the tyres.

It is almost certain therefore that Christian Horner, the Red Bull team boss, will incorporate the KERS system in both cars to aid the speed on the straight and will pay extra attention to the choice of tyres used, particularly as the extra weight of the KERS will add more pressure on them. That said Vettel in particular looked as if he needed no boost in Australia a fortnight ago, driving the quickest almost throughout the race which of course he went on to win; however he will know that Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren was a shade quicker than Vettel until the first round of pit-stops. McLaren have had a fortnight to improve on that performance which will make practice, that starts on Saturday that much more exciting.

Horner has been quoted that he believes that the McLaren cars will be a lot closer to them than most think, which is certainly the feeling of the McLaren team. Lewis finished second last week and had his team mate, Jenson Button exercised a little more patience and subtlety during his battle with Felipe Massa of Ferrari, he could have easily pulled off a podium finish himself. In the event he earned himself a penalty and finished in only sixth place in a race that he had won in 2009 when driving for Brawn.

The third place in the end went to hugely talented Russian, Vitaly Petrov in his Renault, who looks like he is about to take ‘giant strides’ in the sport now that Robert Kubica is sidelined. No-one really expected to see a Renault making such an early impression, Petrov only qualified in sixth, but he proved that the Renault car has much more about it than the so called experts imagine. It would come as no surprise this week to see him very competitive once again.

The outcome of this race could be decided by so many factors that it makes one conclude that, whilst Vettel and Red Bull justify favouritism in the latest Malaysian Grand Prix odds, the course, the weather, the humidity, and the tyres will all have an effect on the outcome, which makes betting on world champion, Vettel at around 13/10 uncertain. A better bet would be take the favourite on, with either Hamilton at 5/1 or even Button who is as long as 20/1 with some Bookmakers.

It is fair to believe that Vettel should start on pole, for which he is a heavy odds on favourite, but with McLaren expected to improve their speed too, the 9/2 against Hamilton might be worthy of consideration.

The Masters - who will conditions suit?

The checklist for picking a Masters winner is long. A decent Augusta record, good length off the tee, an ability to stop the ball on the fast greens and an unflappable temperament are good things to look out for, but there are so many other factors that can point punters in certain directions, with course conditions top of the list.

Thunderstorms and heavy winds earlier in the week suggested the players could be in for a torrid time, but fair weather is forecast to alleviate the dilemma of club choices in gusty conditions that so often causes problems and those looking to place golf bets should remember this.

The nightmare conditions of 2007, when Zach Johnson won with a score of +1 and the average round was 75.88. Last year, with the weather set fair, Phil Mickelson was victorious on -16, with the average round 73.30.

Unpredictable conditions level the playing field, as it increases the chances of a less-fancied challenger making hay when the sun is out and the favourites being hamstrung by a windy and wet course. The big names should rise to the top after all.

It is well-known that a good putting game is needed at Augusta more than anywhere, but there is some leeway in the first round. Pin positions become tougher as the tournament wears on and the greens invariably speed up, making putting mistakes more expensive.

This makes the first round leader market wide open – Tom Watson and Sandy Lyle shot opening 67 and 69 respectively last year – as inconsistent putters are not punished. Rory McIlroy is one to watch in this market, as his aggressive approach will make plenty of birdie opportunities, if not throughout all four rounds.

National hope Alliance in race to be fit for Saturday

Northern Alliance, the intended mount of Barry Geraghty in Saturday’s feature John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree, is by no means a certain starter having suffered a stone bruise in training earlier this week, writes Elliot Slater.

The Tony Martin-trained ten-year-old is reportedly no better than 50-50 to make the big race as connections wait and see whether or not the bruise will heal in time to allow the Naheez gelding to take his chance and race again with horse racing Ireland betting favourites. Martin has suggested that he might not make a final decision until the day of the race itself giving the gelding every chance to be sound, and confirmed that in terms of fitness there are no worries with the horse spot on having been trained to the minute for the big event.

Northern Alliance is generally a 33/1 shot to land the Aintree marathon (having been 50/1 for a hot betting tip only last week) and represents a trainer who is a master at laying a horse out for big handicap races. Third to In Compliance in the Cashel Chase at Thurles in February, the winner of six of his 32 career starts had previously chased home Dooneys Gate at Clonmel and comes into the Aintree race having generally performed well this term without managing to get his head in front.

Should Martin wait until the day of the race and then withdraw Northern Alliance his late defection would not allow for any of the reserves to get a run, a point that could cause some controversy, but Martin is perfectly within his rights to give his charge every chance of overcoming the minor setback and run in an event his trainer has been eyeing for him for well over a year.

If he decides not to declare Northern Alliance at the final stage then Howard Johnson’s Royal Rosa would most likely be the principal beneficiary in sneaking into the race in 40th position.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Grand National – Handicap Snips

With the handicap for the Grand National being formed and framed in early February there is plenty of time after that date for horses to show "improved" form so it can be well worth looking for those that are therefore "well in" on their old form. Those looking for Grand National betting offers should remember this.

To put it bluntly there are some horses that are artificially handicapped at the time of the weights and would otherwise be far higher in the handicap and in recent years horses with protected handicap marks like Comply or Die, Rough Quest and Lord Gyllene have all won the Grand National.

This process of protecting handicaps marks is becoming more and more prevalent and there are five horses this year who would if the handicapper could take a look at the weights now be allotted more weight than they have actually got in the race this year and this is important when it comes to considering the Grand National latest odds.

In the order of which they are well in, these are What A Friend, the Gold Cup fourth, who on that race alone would be looking at carrying a massive 15lb more in this race.

Moving on two big handicap winners since the publication of the weights would also be looking at substantial rises – they are Silver By Nature, who won the Haydock Grand National Trial and should by rights be carrying 10lb more and he is closely followed by Quinz who triumphed in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. Quinz would have been saddled with an additional 9lb for the Kempton form.

There are a further two runners that would also be saddled with extra poundage given their form post-publication of the weights and they would be two Irish contenders. In Compliance the Cashel Chase winner at Thurles is the first and In Compliance who was second in the Bobbyjo Chase would also be raised in the handicap. The former would have an extra 7lb to carry and the later 8lb more.

Of course the "system" is not foolproof and you need to consider how well those five meet any other selection criteria that you wish to use but there is no doubt that given his time again the handicapper would be allotting this five more weight that they will carry on Saturday in the John Smith's Grand National.

Bucks and Crus set for Aintree rematch

The Aintree Festival is always one of the big highlights of the National Hunt season and with a fair smattering of Cheltenham Festival winners on show at this year's three-day fixture jumps fans are in for a treat. The second clash within three weeks of the outstanding staying hurdler Big Bucks and his closest foe Grand Crus promises to be a thriller in Thursday's Grade 1 BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle.

Eleven runners have been declared to face the starter for the extended three-mile contest, a race won for the last two years by the imperious Big Buck's who 12 months ago sauntered to a comfortable long odds-on victory over Souffleur. The Paul Nicholls-trained superstar, (unbeaten in his last 11 races over hurdles at the very highest level), went to Cheltenham last month bidding to land a hat-trick of wins in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but punters made David Pipe's up-and-coming Grand Crus a solid second favourite to give the champion a run for his money. The best horse racing odds suggest it should be a very close race.

And that's exactly what Big Buck's got as the pair locked horns going down to the final flight before Big Buck's found that extra gear that sets great horses apart from very good horses, eventually coming home to beat Pipe's gallant grey by a length-and-three-quarters. Battle will be rejoined on Thursday in the opening race of the three-day meeting, Big Buck's likely to be odds-on once again to extend his remarkable winning sequence to 12.

Amongst those set to take their chances against the big two are Coral Cup winner Carlito Brigante, Nigel Twiston-Davies smart two-miler Khyber Kim (who tries three miles for the first time in his career), tough northern raider Knockara Beau, and the capable but enigmatic Karabak, representing Jonjo O'Neill and Tony McCoy.

Four Bites of the Cherry for Nicholls

After the Aintree Grand National five day declaration, trainer Paul Nicholls has four remaining entries in this year's race - two of the favourites Niche Market and What a Friend and relative outsiders The Tother One and Ornais.

Nicholls has had 44 past Grand National runners, and yet has never managed to secure a National win, though he has already had four Cheltenham Gold Cup winners.

With only a few days to go before the big race on Saturday, Niche Market currently stands at 14/1 with a weight of 10st 13lbs. It's his second attempt at the National having been pulled up at the 29th fence in last year's race by Harry Skelton, who will ride him again this year.

What a Friend is part-owned by Man United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Ged Mason. But his jockey, Daryl Jacob, will face a stiff task on the horse with a weight of 11st 6lbs. No horse has carried more than 11.05 to victory in the National since Red Rum in 1974.

The eight-year-old came fourth in this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup and after that performance Handicapper Phil Smith said he'd have given him about 15lb more if the weights could have been reallocated for the National and those looking at the Grand National betting should remember this.

Since his debut two and a half years ago, The Tother One has only had one steeplechase win at Exeter in 2008, but showed promise in the Henessey Gold Cup in November finishing fourth. He also came fourth in the Argento Chase at the Cheltenham Trials this year. He'll carry 11 stones for the National, and seems to have legitimate claims despite his generous odds of around 50/1.

Ornais is a late confirmation as a National entry after the withdrawal of Ballytrim. The nine year old will be ridden by Nick Scholfield, with a weight of 10st 4lbs and a current price of around 100/1; so if Paul Nicholls is to get his first winner in the National this year – it will most probably be one of the other three!

Concorde set for lift off at Aintree on Saturday

Dermot Weld’s talented Majestic Concorde is amongst the last horses to be confirmed a definite runner in Saturday’s eagerly anticipated John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree having delighted his handler with an impressive schooling session under amateur jockey Robbie McNamara, the man who will take the ride in the Liverpool marathon, writes Elliot Slater.

McNamara was in the saddle when Majestic Concorde put up a tremendous weight carrying performance to land the valuable Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in late-December where he ran on bravely after the final fence to hold another Aintree fancy, racing tips favourite Becauseicouldntsee by two-and-a-half-lengths. Weld has taken his time before giving the green light to the Dr Ronan Lambe-owned eight-year-old who had initially been an intended runner in the Thyestes Chase but didn’t recover in sufficient time from his Leopardstown exertions.

Following his latest training session Majestic Concorde looked in great shape and Weld had no hesitation in allowing him to take his chance in ‘the world’s greatest steeplechase’ to show him to horse racing Ireland. The tremendously versatile Definite Article gelding will round off a varied 12 months with his bid for the four-and-a-half-mile contest having last May gone within a length of winning the prestigious Chester Cup on the Flat.

After a two month break the Irish gelding ran another fine race to be a close third to Finger On The Pulse in the Galway Plate at the end of July, and then switched back to the level for his next outing when finishing in midfield in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket. Following the news that he will be allowed to take his chance at Aintree the 40/1 ante-post odds available about Majestic Concorde soon dried up with some firms now going as short as 25/1, whilst others still offer 33/1 in places.

Poulter looks for dramatic improvement in form

At the halfway stage of last year's Masters Ian Poulter was leading the pack and looked a good bet to pick up his first major, only for a disappointing weekend to see the Englishman drop down the field to finish tied for tenth. While it was Poulter's highest finish at Augusta, the 35-year old still walked away with more than a tinge of disappointment from the tournament.

This week Poulter will be desperate turn his consistently decent Masters record into a great one. Top-35 finishes in each of his six appearances at Augusta show that Poulter certainly knows how to play this course, but he will need to handle the mental side of winning the Masters, something the golf betting suggests he will struggle to do.

It is certainly going to need a significant improvement in Poulter's current form if he is going to be in contention come Sunday. His successful 2010 - which saw him taste victory at the Accenture Match-Play and play a key role in Europe's Ryder Cup triumph – has been followed by a disappointing start to this season. Poulter is currently without a top-ten finish in his last six tournaments and that poor run has had seen the Englishman's ranking drop from seventh down to 16th. The US Masters betting indicates he could struggle at the tournament.

While admitting his game is way off where it needs to be, Poulter has still made confident noises about his chances when speaking in the run-up to the season's opening major.

"It's very frustrating and driving me mad. I need to push on. When I perform well I think I can play with the best players in the world for sure," he said.
If Poulter is going to start fulfilling some of his self-made prophesies then he is going to need to start challenging at the big tournaments. And they don't come much bigger than the Masters at Augusta.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Can Westwood's chances be written off after plane incident?

Lee Westwood always seems to enjoy playing golf, with the Englishman's game possessing an element of genuine joy that Tiger Woods would do well to take notice of if he wishes to bring his game back up to the highest level. However, after an in-flight incident left Westwood shaken up and forced to spend his first press conference prior to the US Masters focusing on everything except the golf, could it be that his chances of winning the imminent event are all but over?

With Westwood already forced to deal with the fact that his short game has been nothing short of a mess in recent weeks and with the player last year managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, his mood coming into the US Masters probably wasn't the best to begin with, but his mood and his confidence now must surely be almost spent. The US Masters betting certainly suggests he could struggle.

Despite this, Westwood attempted to spend his first press conference talking about golf rather than talking about the fact that he could well have not even have had the chance to be playing in the US Masters, meaning that either he is stronger mentally than many professional sports stars or he is desperately trying to hide the fact that he is extremely shaken up and has lost his focus.

If Westwood does emerge and appears in the slightest bit distracted during the first day or two of the Masters at Augusta, then he may just find himself embroiled in a situation in which he is in real danger of not only missing out on a great opportunity to win his first major, but also of missing out on the cut and finding himself left regretting a massive lost opportunity to grab hold of victory if things had gone his way.

The Grand National – Silver By Nature

1961 saw the last winning grey in the National (Nicolaus Silver) and it has been 32 years since the race trophy travelled over the border and into Scotland via the victory or Rubstic. Well that could all change this year on both counts as Silver By Nature, a grey is trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell and figures among the more likely contenders in the Grand National racing betting.

The Russell yard is one of the in-form yards in the country at the moment, the past few weeks have seen plenty of winners emanating from the Russell yard which is situated amongst the rolling Fife hills in what must be one of the most picturesque training locations in the country.

Although the owners or rather one half of the husband and wife partnership who own him are not keen on their boy taking his chance his success in staying handicaps have sent him in the inevitable direction of the 2011 Grand National. With Silver By Nature dominating the Haydock Grand National Trial over the last couple of runnings, winning both versions by 15 lengths each time it became despite his owners (Geoff and Joyce Brown) the obvious place to go with him and he became Aintree bound. The latest win in that race came under the burden of 11st 12lb – a full stone more than he will carry on Saturday, and although he may not get his favoured soft or heavy ground, a faster surface does not rule out a very decent showing from Silver By Nature and anyone looking to bet on Grand National 2011 should remember this.

His jockey – Peter Buchanan – who was successful over the National fences in the 2004 Grand Sefton Chase on Forest Gunner actually thinks he will improve on the surface and that his concentration is much better now, that will prove a valuable commodity in the Grand National.

Despite the owners reservations there is no doubt that this is the right race for Silver By Nature especially for a yard which has already registered 40 winners this campaign despite the weather blighting much of the Northern racing programme throughout the winter. Silver By Nature travels south this week with the yard in-form and looking to break two notably long losing streaks for Scotland and greys – the way events have been playing out for the Russell yard this year it would take a brave man to rule both streaks being broken.

Ogilvy eyes surprise challenge

The popular Australian has been a contender for quite some time now, and the general opinion amongst the golfing world is that he could well be pulling on the coveted green jacket at Augusta on Sunday – making history as the first golfer from Down Under to win the prestigious US Masters. This season he has already shown terrific form, and as a consequence is being hotly tipped by fellow professionals to make a real impression when the tournament tees off on Thursday and the golf betting reflects this.

His greatest strength is undoubtedly his short game – so important on Augusta's challenging greens and aprons – and his part time career as a golf course designer has certainly in no small part contributed to this. He has an eye for detail, a point highlighted by his strong showing at the event back in 2007 when he set the competition's record that year for number of birdies.

His ability to handle pressure putts is arguably second to no one on the tour – a factor he puts down to the amount of golf he played on undulating greens not dissimilar to those of Augusta growing up, complete with big, sweeping putts on bent-grass.

Speaking out in support of the Australian's chances this year was compatriot Robert Allenby.

"Tiger is always going to be a favourite to win the Masters, but I would put Geoff Ogilvy in front of him. If Geoff controls his nerves and his feelings at that tournament, there's no reason why he shouldn't win," he said.

He has experience of winning a major already of course – a factor which can be so important come the final day's play when the eyes of the world are upon you – having won the US Open in 2006, although he has stated this week that he sees himself as only having "some sort of chance on Sunday." Those looking at the US Masters betting should bear this in mind.

Perhaps he is being modest, but the bookies' odds of around 50-1 would suggest that they might just agree, but they might simply be reflecting on last year's Augusta outing: a dreadful day's golf in which the Aussie only broke par once in the whole tournament, marking rounds of 75, 71, 76 and 74 and publicly described the course as "too hard".

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mickelson Clear Favourite in US Masters Betting after Houston Open Win

Defending US Masters champion, Phil Mickelson, played four superb rounds of golf last week to take the Shell Houston Open, winning by three strokes from ‘rookie’ Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank. It was the left hander’s first win since taking the Masters last year and pushed him up the world rankings to number three and for the first time in his career, he sits above his long time nemesis, Tiger Woods. He has now been installed as the 6/1 favourite in the 2011 US Masters betting which starts in Augusta on Thursday.

It is fair to say that Mickelson struggled for the most last year after taking his third Masters, but his second place earlier this season in the Farmers Insurance Open and his top ten finish in the AT&T at Pebble Beach suggested that he was beginning to find his way back to top form. This latest win, his 36th of his illustrious career would appear to have confirmed that and has put him in great shape ahead of Augusta. However there are many pundits asking if the ‘leftie’ has peaked too early, as he has yet to win back to back tournaments since turning professional.

There is no doubt that if he continues in the same vein as he played in Houston he will be the man to beat, but inconsistency has become very much the Mickelson trend these last couple of years and it may be wise to think about one or two other contenders who are showing signs of good form.

One of those would be Padraig Harrington from Ireland who has already won three ‘Majors’ and finished in a tie for 8th place in Houston last week. Although he missed the cut last year, the Irishman has had three top ten finishes at Augusta in the recent past and could be a very serious threat this week. He is certainly a better chance than the Bookmakers are suggesting who have him around the 33/1 mark to win his first ‘Green Jacket’.

World number one Martin Kaymer will be another player who will have chances this week. The German, who won the PGA Championship in 2010 and is the current world number one, has already shown winning form this year, taking the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, he was also second in the WGC World Match-play and who has not missed the cut in any tournament since the Scottish Open last June. He is available for a best price of 20/1 in the betting.

World number two, Lee Westwood who finished runner up in 2010 showed some good form last week in Houston, but a slackish third round ruled out the chance of a top ten finish. He certainly is driving the ball well, he is in a confident frame of mind and it is difficult not to believe that a win is ‘just around the corner’.

It is impossible to rule out Tiger Woods of course, but he continues to show his vulnerability and would need to improve greatly from his performance in the Arnold Palmer invitational a fortnight ago where he finished in a tie for 24th place. No-one plays Augusta better than Woods but he is without a tournament win since the 2009 Australian Masters which does inspire too much belief in that he will turn things around this week. That said the 14 time ‘Major’ winner has not finished outside of the top six at Augusta for the last six years and has won the tournament four times in the past. He is the second favourite in the market with odds of around the 10/1 mark.

Other players who could surprise the golfing world this week, would be Steve Stricker, who played very well for a long time last week in Houston, Open Champion, Louis Oosthuizen, who also looked in good form in Houston, Matt Kuchar, who has had six top ten finishes from eight tournaments played this year and Hunter Mahan who has also shown consistently good form this year and who achieved top ten finishes in each of the last two Masters.

Aintree turn the taps on

With most forecasters suggesting no more than an occasional shower for the Merseyside area in the week leading up to the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree on April 9, clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch has instructed ground staff to begin watering to maintain 'good' ground for the big race, writes Elliot Slater.

Tulloch has asked his team to water the entire Grand National track, but at present there are no plans to also try and maintain the ground on the Mildmay course for both hurdles and chase. The decision to water will be met with mixed reactions by trainers whose horses need one type of ground or another. Those whose horses need to get their toe in and can only produce their best form on a soft surface will be pleased that some action is being take to take the sting out of the ground, whilst on the other side of the coin those whose horses have been waiting all winter for decent ground will be disappointed that the clerk of the course is meddling with natural conditions. As the Grand National 2011 start time approaches, one or two horses may drop out because of this.

This is always the dilemma for anyone in charge of a racecourse and responsible for producing a racing surface that gives a fair chance to as many runners as possible in the race. If the forecasters have got it wrong (not unheard of!) and the heavens open, Tulloch will come in for a great deal of stick. On balance, (and in view of the fact that injuries are far more likely on a faster surface and animal rights groups would be the first to protest at the race even being run), the decision seems sensible, at this stage in proceedings.

If the going is genuinely 'good' and there will of course be a lush covering of grass, there should be few complaints from most trainers, owners, or jockeys.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Albertas set to defend Melling title

Jonjo O’Neill’s dual Ryanair Chase winner Albertas Run is set to take his chance at Aintree on Friday in the Grade 1 John Smith’s Melling Chase, a race he won 12 months ago when completing a big festival double following his win at Cheltenham three weeks earlier representing the best of Irish racing, writes Elliot Slater.

The Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding is famous for blossoming in the spring sunshine, but having had a fairly torrid time of things during the winter (including when taking a terrible fall at Ascot in November in the Amlin1965 Chase), he went to Cheltenham last month appearing to have it all to do to even to be competitive in the Ryanair Chase, a race he had won in brilliant fashion 12 months earlier when beating Poquelin by four-and-a-half-lengths.

Prior to the off there was a flood of money for Albertas Run forcing his odds down to just 6/1 making him a top racing tip, the signs surely having been there that he had scented spring in the air and he duly stormed up the Cheltenham hill to beat Kalahari King by a length. Aintree also seems to bring out the best in the Accordion gelding and O’Neill reports his stable favourite to have come out of his Cheltenham race very well and is hoping he will give a very good account of himself on Friday as he bids to repeat his three-length win in the race last year when beating Forpadydeplaster.

Old adversaries Kalahari King and Poquelin are amongst the 15 runners declared at the five-day stage for the Melling Chase, other notable entries including dual champion chaser Master Minded, Henrietta Knight’s up-and-coming Somersby, the smart Tranquil Sea who missed Cheltenham but is reportedly fit and raring to go once again, Tom George’s useful Nacarat, and the grand old timer Voy Por Ustedes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gold Cup winner Long Run an Aintree possible

Nicky Henderson has suggested that if the ground is decent at Aintree his tremendously impressive Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run could take his chance and be in the top betting tips at Aintree next week in the feature Grade 1 Totesport Bowl Chase, writes Elliot Slater.

Long Run put up one of the best performances of recent seasons when outpointing former champions Denman and Kauto Star under a great ride from his amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, and connections have been weighing up the options ever since and considering whether or not to ask the talented six-year-old to run again this term.

Henderson and the gelding’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen have already ruled out a trip to France for Long Run, but Henderson has suggested that as long as the ground isn’t quick at Aintree on the Mildmay course his Gold Cup winner could well make the starting line-up and may face Denman and Imperial Commander (unplaced at Cheltenham last time out), once again.

Following the best horse racing tips, if the ground is too quick for Long Run at the Merseyside track he will be roughed off for the rest of the season having not only won the Gold Cup this term but also romped away with the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton at the beginning of the year. The flat, galloping track at Aintree should play to the strengths of Long Run who last season showed how quick he is in winning a high-level novice chase over the minimum trip of two miles.

Henderson has indicated he will continue to train the French-bred star with the intention of him running next week and the horse will undergo a school session with jumping maestro Yogi Breisner just as he did in the build-up to his stunning effort in the Gold Cup.

Scudamore optimistic about Or Noir's Aintree chance

One of the most fascinating contenders for the forthcoming John Smith's Grand National, the race that will have the British public and 600 million television viewers around the globe glued to their seats on April 9, is the ex-French chaser Or Noir De Somoza, now in the care of David Pipe, writes Elliot Slater.

Pipe knows a thing or two about winning 'the world's greatest steeplechase' having achieved the feat in 2008 with Comply Or Die, the horse who then went on to finish runner-up a year later and who will bid once again to gallop to glory at the Merseyside track, even at the advanced age of 12. Those with a Grand National free bet to place may think he's past it though.

Or Noir De Somoza is on his second stint under the care of the Pond House trainer having been sent to Pipe by his French owners a couple of seasons ago. He only had the one outing before returning to France, and that was when racing over a clearly inadequate two miles in the Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January 2009 where he finished fourth to the top class Master Minded, not surprisingly being outpaced from the second last.

A winner of 16 of his 32 starts in France, (three at Grade 1 level), the nine-year-old is an Auteuil specialist who appears on the balance of form to be ideally suited by soft ground. Such underfoot conditions are unlikely at Aintree with a mainly dry forecast expected to produce good ground, but big race jockey Scudamore is confident that his charge will run a very good race.

Currently on offer at odds of 50/1 to win Britain's most famous race for the French, Scudamore reports his mount to be in tremendous shape and believes him to have plenty of class and the right attitude to be in the thick of the action.