Friday, September 30, 2011

Rays leave it very late

Whether or not the wild card should be extended, as is reportedly being considered for 2013, there's no doubt that it's here to stay.

And what better proof of the excitement it generates could there be than the Tampa Bay Rays' amazing comeback to seal the Wild Card spot in the American League?

Going into the 162nd and final game of the regular season, the Rays were left hoping that the sad-sack Orioles could pull off an improbable victory over their rivals, the Red Sox.

But when Tampa found themselves seven runs down to the Yankees at Tropicana Field, what was happening elsewhere seemed completely academic. People who bet on baseball would have expected a simple result.

Somehow, though, this team that refuses to accept defeat finally found a way to make it into the playoffs.

The Rays were nine games out as recently as September 4, facing the challenge of being the first team ever to come from so far back in the final month of the regular season.

But having given themselves a chance going into the final game with the Yankees, they were not about to roll over, regardless of the scoreline.

They were 5-0 down after two innings, and went into the eighth trailing by seven runs. Cue the comeback of all comebacks.

Luis Ayala loaded the bases with no outs, then saw Sam Fuld draw a walk to drive home their first run.

Sean Rodriguez got hit by a pitch to score the second, and B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly made it 7-3.

The man of the moment, though, was Evan Longoria, whose 30th home run of the season drove in three runs. Suddenly, there was a chance, and Dan Johnson's solo homer tied the game. Anyone following the baseball betting will have been amazed.

With one out in the 12th, the Tropicana Park scoreboard revealed Baltimore had beaten the Red Sox, meaning if the Rays could score one run they were in the post-season.

Longoria, again, was the key. He laced a 2-2 pitch from Scott Proctor over the short porch in left to give the Rays a walk-off win and a play-off spot. It's hard to imagine anything topping that.

Woods and Haas handed wildcards

The USA's Presidents Cup captain, Fred Couples, has announced his 'captain's picks' for November's showdown against Greg Norman's International side. Couples has confirmed Tiger Woods will be part of the US team for the tournament at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. The former world-number one will be joined in that line-up by everyone's new best friend Bill Haas, who picked up the $11.5million winner's cheque at last week's FedEx Cup. Those following the golf betting will know this.   

The inclusion of Haas is one that is easy to understand, although selecting a Tiger Woods who has dropped to 50th in the world hasn't gone down well in all areas. USPGA champion Keegan Bradley has had a stunning season, picking up two titles as well as his first major. The decision to go with Woods could come back to haunt Couples should Tiger again fail to find his form when he tees off Down Under. People who bet on golf should bear this in mind.

Woods will play his first tournament since the PGA Championship when he competes at the Open in two weeks time, where he will team up with new caddie Joe LaCava for the first time. After that and it'll be off to Sydney, where he will be looking to once again get back on winning ways, at the tournament where Tiger has previously been successful. 

With so many writing Tiger off in the remainder of this season, the American will be determined to find some form with which to take into the Presidents Cup. It won't just be himself he lets down if he fails to perform again, but also Couples – the man who has stuck his neck out for Woods, not the mention the rest of the US team. 

Where the Giants went wrong in 2011

When the San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers to win the World Series in 2010, some people were left unconvinced.

Though they had won it all, the Giants had done so without any of the superstars of the game. They had confounded the experts by even making the playoffs, so to beat the Braves – with a sweep at Turner Field – in the Division Series was unexpected.

Beating the Phillies in the NLCS meant they got the chance for their first championship since 1954, when they were in New York.

And it was some of their largely-unheralded players, like rookie left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner and Freddy Sanchez, who were the heroes as they won the series 4-1. Those following the baseball betting will have been impressed.

But, not least when World Series MVP Edgar Renteria departed in the off-season, there were plenty of pundits who predicted that the Giants would be a one-season wonder.

The argument went that manager Bruce Bochy had put together a team where everything just clicked into place, and their individual talents were simply not up to repeating. People who bet on baseball agreed.

So the fact that the Giants did not make post-season in 2011 was not altogether unexpected.

The reasons for their failure lay with injuries and hitting.

When catcher Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury on May 25, the Giants’ chances of continuing their 2010 success began to slip away. Losing the reigning NL Rookie of the Year was bad enough, then 16 days later Sanchez hurt his shoulder and was likewise done for the year.

Hitting was a big problem with the Giants all year. Andres Torres’ form dipped, Aubrey Huff stopped hitting home runs and Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were all below the standards they had set the previous year.

Two of the players with hot bats, Carlos Beltran and Pablo Sandoval, missed several weeks through injuries and their absences were felt badly.

There was little wrong with the Giants pitching, but the starters never got anything like enough run support. The team was 55-9 when scoring at least four runs, but with all the injuries they began to fall apart.

The crucial period was a 12-game homestand starting on August 23, nine against losing teams. But the light-hitting continued, with just 30 runs in that period, and they went 5-7 to lose six games in the standings to eventual champions Arizona.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Norman adds Aussies to team

Greg Norman has added Australian duo Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby to his International team for November's Presidents Cup, which will be held at the Royal Melbourne Course. Allenby was instrumental to the Internationals only win in this tournament, coincidentally also held at the Royal Melbourne Course, back in 1998 and Norman will be hoping his Aussie compatriot can repeat that success this time around.

Baddeley's selection was a more closely run thing, with fellow Aussie John Senden also very much in Norman's thinking. In the end and it was Baddeley's impressive performance at last week's FedEx Cup, where the 30-year old finished just one shot behind away from being part of the play-off between Hunter Mahan and eventual winner Bill Haas. Baddeley and Allenby will join fellow Aussies Adam Scott, Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy in Norman's final line-up. People placing golf major bets will be impressed by the line up.

Norman admitted that the fact the tournament will be held Down Under was a major reason for his decision to include such a large Aussie presence in the side. The captain also explained his decision behind opting for Baddeley over Senden. Fans of golf betting should bear this in mind.

"Knowing we were playing in the backyard of Australia I wanted to load up the team with as many Aussies as I possibly could," he said.

"The way Aaron and John Senden performed at the Tour Championship, I put them on notice that whoever played the best would get the final nod and Aaron put on a tremendous performance there."

"The reason I picked Robert is his performances around Royal Melbourne over the years have been extraordinary... he was an automatic pick for me."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Philip Hobbs - a trainer to watch?

Since recording 100 plus winner score in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons the Hobbs yard has failed to top the century mark in the past two seasons, recording an identical number of winners on each occasion – 86. With a 100 plus stable strength this year there is every hope that Hobbs will be able to return to a century of winners again.

Heading a strong team will be Cheltenham and Punchestown Festival winner Captain Chris – he ended last season by taking the Arkle at Cheltenham and then the Ryanair Novice Chase and he's been an admirably consistent horse throughout his career so far, only finishing out of the frame twice in an 11 races. It looks as though he'll start his campaign in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter before stepping up in class and distance for the King George at Kempton. Fans of racing betting will be keeping an eye on him.

The chasing strength at the stable is augmented by Wishfull Thinking who ran well at Cheltenham but found glory in a Grade 2 chase at Aintree before also scoring at Punchestown. He could return to Aintree for his seasonal debut in the Old Roan Chase and he looks a really versatile horse especially in trip for the yard this year.One horse who was hurdling last year but will have his attentions switched to chasing this season is Menorah – he progressed over the smaller obstacles last year but in the end he just had a rear view of Hurricane Fly at both Cheltenham and Punchestown in the big events. He has very much the make and shape of a chaser and the larger obstacles could well be the making of him. Those looking for horse racing betting tips should bear this in mind.

The Hobbs yard has plenty of other chasing talent under its roof in Quinz who won the Racing Post Trophy last season and with Kilcrea Kim who will now go novice chasing. That's not to say that the novice hurdlers will be forgotten and former bumper winners – Fingal Bay, Persian Snow and Kartanian – all have the potential to be very useful over the smaller obstacles.

With there being plenty of strength in depth in the yard we expect Philip Hobbs to once again top the 100 winner mark in the 2010-11 National Hunt season.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

England Can End Year On High With T20 Win Over West Indies

England round off what has been a magnificent 2011 with a two match T20 series against the West Indies in which they will be looking to continue the winning ways they have found over the past nine months.

England of course are the world T20 champions having won the tournament for the first time last year when hosted by the West Indies. Indeed, it was the West Indies who inflicted England’s only defeat in that tournament which came in the opening Group stages, but it did not prevent Paul Collingwood’s men go from strength to strength, who beat Sri Lanka and Australia in the semi final and final respectively.

Unfortunately this latest two match series has been hampered from being a top quality event, due the ‘Windies’ having lost many of its first team players to the T20 Champions League which is taking place in India this week. Players out include the big hitting all rounder, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne and Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons. Their absences have meant that the team has arrived with a number of unknown and untried players which should, in theory at least, make the job that much easier for England.

England however are also not at full strength; they have lost new T20 skipper, Stuart Broad through injury, the vice captain, Eoin Morgan is also out injured, while Kevin Pietersen, who won ‘Player of the T20 World Cup’ last year has been given time off. The absences of these influential players is by no means a disadvantage however, as it gives the England management to send in a number exciting prospects into the fray and it also provides an opportunity for highly influential spinner, Graeme Swann to take his first bow as an England captain.

England’s line up will include a very strong bowling attack, with both Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan expected to be selected, along with Samit Patel, Jade Dernbach and of course Swann. Opening alongside wicket keeper Craig Kieswetter, will be his Somerset team mate, Jos Buttler, who ironically is also a wicket keeper/batsman and there should be places for Alex Hales, Johnny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Ravi Bopara, who played so well for England in the ODI series against India this summer.

The first of the two games takes place at the Oval on Friday 23rd September, which is followed by the second, also at the Oval on Sunday.

Comparing the two teams it looks almost certain that England will have too much firepower with both bat and ball than the visitors, which probably will mean that the best bet would be to back England to win 2-0 with odds of 5/6 in the T20 Odds for this two game series. West Indies fans however will not be too discouraged by the betting and there will be many who will take advantage of the 7/1 against them winning the series by the same 2-0 scoreline.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brighton enjoying taste of big time

Just 14 years ago, Brighton went into the final game of the season need a result to stay in the entire football league. For the following two years they were homeless, playing their ‘home’ games 70 miles north at Gillingham.

Even upon a return to their own city they were forced to play at a soulless athletics track, never designed with football in mind. For those who bet on relegation, Albion – a team seemingly going nowhere – were the side to back.

After 13 years at the Withdean Stadium (stadium is a term used loosely) and enduring several planning applications, petitions and miles upon miles of red tape, a new stadium was approved and constructed in time for the 2011/12 season – the AMEX Stadium was born.

That the new home coincided with promotion back to the Championship merely symbolises a club that has finally awoken its heart after appearing to be close to death just a few years ago. The fans have revived it though and a flying start to the season has raised hopes of a dream return to a top flight they haven’t occupied in 28 years. For those who bet on the Championship they are proving a handy outside tip.

The midweek arrival of Liverpool in the Carling Cup is also a sign of their progress. The tie will be a tricky one for the Premier League side to overcome, and the 22,000 sell-out will give the home fans a glimpse of what life could be like should they maintain their spritely early season form.

Premier League side Sunderland have already been dumped out of the competition by Albion, who also sit third in the Championsip.

And while manager Gus Poyet will see the league as his priority, the benefits – both financial and psychological – of springing a surprise against one the of the game's leading lights will ensure his side will give it all on the south coast on Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tributes flood in for much loved 'Ginger' McCain

The racing world is just coming to terms with the sad news that the hugely popular Donald 'Ginger' McCain has passed away after a short illness, just a couple of days short of his 81st birthday, writes Elliot Slater.

The larger than life McCain went from being a second-hand car salesman and taxi driver in his native Southport, to being one of the most recognisable faces in British sport during the 1970s as his mighty horse Red Rum broke record after record in winning the Grand National, the world's greatest steeplechase, three times during the decade as well as finishing second on a further two occasions. As Grand National tips go, he was the best.

McCain went on to establish a new racing base at Cholmondely in Cheshire from where his son Donald Jnr. has gone on to prove himself one of the best jumps trainers in the business, but it is for those heady days in the 1970s and his beloved Red Rum that McCain will always be best remembered. Fans of Grand National betting online will never forget them.

Jenny Pitman, the first woman to train a Grand National winner said: "Ginger is just irreplaceable."

Lord Daresbury, the current chairman of Aintree racecourse, a track that was almost singlehandedly saved by the exploits of McCain and Red Rum added: "Ginger was a true National legend."

Sir Peter O'Sullevan, the 'Voice of Racing' whose commentary on Red Rum's third Grand National victory in 1977 is widely regarded as one of the greatest in sports history paid his tribute, saying, "Ginger's handling of Red Rum...was quite brilliant".

It shouldn't be forgotten that McCain won the Grand National for a fourth time as late as 2004 when his Amberleigh House proved (as if proof were needed!), that he was not just a one-horse wonder. He retired from training in 2006, (handing over the reins to his son Donald Jnr.), and remained active in the yard and on the racecourse until just a few weeks before his death.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Marvel delights Gosden in Leger prep gallop

John Gosden knows as well as any trainer in recent years just what it takes to win the Ladbrokes St Leger and the Newmarket handler is beginning to sound ever more confident that Masked Marvel, his main contender for the big race at Doncaster on September, will run a very good race indeed, writes Elliot Slater.

Gosden first landed the final classic of the British flat racing scene as far back as 1996 when his Shantou (in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed) stormed home to a famous success. It wasn’t until 2007 that Gosden struck again in the prestigious one-mile-six-furlong-132-yards contest, this time sending out Locarno to defy the popular opinion of those who bet on racing win in the colours of American owner George Strawbridge.

He didn’t have to wait too long for his third win in the race though as the first-time application of headgear on Arctic Cosmos proved a particularly shrewd move and saw William Buick’s mount score in the colours of Godsend’s wife, Rachel Hood.

Now Masked Marvel is the main hope for his trainer this year having won well at Newmarket ion his most recent outing in July where he proved just too strong for the subsequent Group 3 Geoffrey freer Stakes winner Census in the Group 3 Bahrain trophy over 13 furlongs. Gosden and most racing betting tips have no doubt that the Montjeu colt will stay the extra furlong-and-a-half as the three-year-old’s dam Waldmark stayed well enough to win the German St Leger.

In his most recent piece of work on the Limekilns gallop, Masked Marvel went a mile alongside a useful stable companion and delighted connections with the way he eased away in the closing stages to demonstrate his wellbeing. The Bjorn Nielsen-owned classic contender is still available at odds of 9/1 to give his tremendously popular handler a fourth success in the big race.

Maguire to remain on sidelines until November at the earliest

The fickle nature of the National Hunt racing game can't be better illustrated than the ups-and-downs enjoyed and endured by Jason Maguire, one of the sport's leading jockeys, who won the John Smith's Grand National in April of this year then suffered a serious neck injury as the result of a fall in a minor event at Cartmel on August 28, writes Elliot Slater.

At the time of his injury Irishman Maguire was on the 49-winner mark for the season and in second place in the jump jockeys' championship behind the relentless Tony McCoy, but after it first appeared he had escaped any significant damage it soon transpired that something was amiss and x-rays subsequently revealed a spinal injury in his lower neck. Maguire had been airlifted from the track initially suspected of suffering a broken collarbone, an injury that can heal in as little as four weeks, but in hindsight it appears that Donald McCain's stable jockey was lucky that the damage has not proved irreversible. Those looking at the Grand National betting will be hoping he gets back fit.

Expecting to be on the sidelines until mid-November at the earliest, Maguire explained that he needs to wear a neck brace until mid-October after which he will be issued with a soft brace as the neck begins to regain strength and support his head without complications. At that point regular physio and gym training should ensure that when he does return to the saddle Maguire will be fit and ready to pick up where he left off.  Those following the Grand National free betting should bear this in mind.

Amongst the host of high profile horses awaiting the popular jockey's recovery is last season's high-class hurdler Peddlers Cross who has reportedly schooled very well ahead of his eagerly anticipated debut as a novice chaser. Maguire will not be back in time for that scheduled outing in October, but doubtless he will be present to see just how his Cheltenham Festival and Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner goes first-time out over the larger obstacles.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

Alanza oozes class in Sceptre Stakes victory

John Oxx has always been very selective with the few horses he sends over to run in Britain, so it was something of a tip in itself that he chose to run Alanza in the Group 3 Japan Racing Association Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster on Thursday. The filly duly obliged under a fine ride from the irrepressible Johnny Murtagh,

Sent off the 11/4 second-favourite behind the Sir Henry Cecil-trained 5/2f Chachamaidee, Alanza settled well through the first half of the contest before being asked to make her move towards the pace setters two furlongs from home. With Chachamaidee and Dever Dream duelling at the distance, Murtagh asked the Aga Khan's homebred filly to make her effort between horses and the manner of her change of gear left experienced race watchers in little doubt that the daughter of Dubai Destination is more than capable of holding her own at a higher level. Those contemplating the date of the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 should bear this in mind.

The eventual winning margin of a neck over Dever Dream (with a head back to Chachamaidee), barely reflects the amount in hand the winner appeared to have under the former Irish champion jockey. Even though the horse will never be a Grand National winner, even those who follow National Hunt racing will have been impressed by the performance.

Interviewed immediately after his victory, Murtagh was quick to praise Alanza and suggested that she would be even better next year if connections decide to keep her in training. Thursday's victory was Alanza's third from only five starts having won on her only outing at Listowel as a juvenile before filling third place at Leopardstown on her seasonal bow then coming off third best in a bunch finish to a listed contest at Naas in July. Wins at Cork and Tipperary in listed company in recent weeks proved that Oxx's filly was on song, and the sky now looks the limit after she completed the hat-trick in such style.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shumoos gains first pattern race success

Brian Meehan’s talented juvenile filly Shumoos finally gained the pattern race success she has deserved all term when getting the better of a dour struggle with Vocational to land the Group 3 Betfred Bonus King Sirenia Stakes at Kempton park on Saturday and could next take her chance at the highest level in the Group 1 Jaguar Cars Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket on September 24 , writes Elliot Slater.

The daughter of star US racehorse Distorted Humour cost owner Fawzi Abdullah Nass some $375,000 at last autumn’s Keeneland Sales and has at last confirmed the tremendous promise she showed on her first two career outings. Following a four-and-a-half-length drubbing of subsequent Royal ascot winner Frederick Engels on her debut at Haydock in May, Shumoos failed by only a short-head,  justifying 6/5 favoruitism in the Horse racing betting in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, coming off second best in a desperate photo finish with Best Terms.

A decent third to the smart Gamilati in the Group 2 Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, Meehan’s filly then ran well below-par at York last month when beating just one home in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes, pulling uncharacteristically hard in the early stages before dropping right away after being hampered approaching the final furlong. At Kempton Martin Dwyer’s mount settled much better before making her run two furlongs from home, eventually getting the better of the useful Vocational well inside the final furlong before being driven right out to score by a head.

A delighted Meehan now has the option of heading to the Rowley Mile course for the Cheveley Park Stakes over six furlongs and those who bet on racing feel that next term the mile of the 1000 Guineas (for which she is generally on offer at 33/1), will be well within the filly’s compass.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fergie mind games brings Chelsea back into the fold

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is notoriously picky about what he says to the media. He is very rarely guilty of a loose slip of the tongue.

What he does says is usually designed to influence the way his team or opposition sides are portrayed in the media, as well his now infamous mind-games designed to out psyche opponents a la Keegan in 1997.

His latest media stirring concerns Chelsea and their new manager Andre Villas-Boas, unofficially and somewhat reluctantly labelled as the next Mourinho.

“They [Chelsea] have tremendous experience with the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, John Terry – there aren't any young kids in that team.

But they don't have 36- or 37-year-olds like Ryan Giggs. Lampard and Drogba are 33, Anelka is 32 – not dissimilar to [Michael] Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, and we wouldn't be saying they are dead and buried, would we? So why should they be? They'll still be a big threat and we expect them to challenge.

Villas-Boas is a young man and it's a big step coming into the Premier League from the Portuguese championship, but given time and support anything is possible."

At a stroke Ferguson has swing the attention away from his young players – so impressive in the opening live football of the season – while also putting the pressure and microscope on the ages of both Villas-Boas and his senior players.

I could be accused of over-analysing what the Scot says but the 67-year-old knows how the media works, how it takes his quotes and what they will pick out when he speaks at a press conference.

He wants as much space for his young charges to flourish in as possible; he also wants to put pressure on his rivals in the Premier League betting. By not talking about city – who are desperate for attention after years in the wilderness – he is also winding them up.

Talking can only do so much though and when the action returns after the international break we will see whether the actions of his opponents can speak louder than Fergie’s words.

Wolves off to a flyer

Following Wolves’ great escape from relegation back into the Championship last season, Mick McCarthy would have been desperate not to find himself in a similar position this year. As a football club, they are really beginning to take shape this year – Molineux was expanded over the summer and the playing squad are now looking as though they believe in their own ability at this level, dispelling the fears shown by current trends in the relegation betting stakes. As a result, perhaps their promising start to the season shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Following wins over Blackburn and Fulham as well as a comfortable 4-0 League Cup victory over Northampton in mid-week, McCarthy’s side made the perfect start to the season, and going into their Midlands derby with Aston Villa on Saturday, they found themselves third in the table behind just the two Manchester powerhouses – and by the end of it they were top, albeit briefly, following a gutsy 0-0 draw.

One man who claimed not to be surprised by their start to the season was their defender Richard Stearman, who not only claims that three wins out of three at the start of their campaign was no more than his team deserved:

“It couldn't have gone any better for us and we're all delighted but it's nothing that we didn't expect. I think it took us a couple of months to hit six points last year so to get it in the first couple of games is massive for us.”

Obviously Mick McCarthy’s first objective will still be to get to forty points as soon as possible, and the signings that he has made over the summer will certainly help him on that quest. Already they look more solid at the back following the addition of Roger Johnson – a player that Arsene Wenger could have done worse than to have a long look at following Birmingham’s relegation – and the permanent signing of Jamie O’Hara from Spurs has added some bite to their midfield.  Wolves fans who watch live football online are quietly excited about what their team can achieve this season.

Much hinges on Wolves’ ability to keep hold of star striker Kevin Doyle following reputed interest from Liverpool, but with Steven Fletcher on such a hot run of form, McCarthy will enjoy watching the August transfer window slam shut so he can get them both playing together as much as possible.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ryan Moore

Ryan Moore has targeted the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on October 2 as his return to racing after being sidelined since July 30 following the injury in which he broke his right arm.
Moore had to undergo two operations after the three-horse pile up that has put him out of action since then.

The former champion jockey, if fit, will team up with last year’s winner Workforce for Sir Michael Stoute. Moore has already ridden the four-year to victory in Paris as well as scoring in the Derby last June and will be one of the most popular horse racing tips.

The 27-year old was boosted on Tuesday by the Doctors who confirmed that he is making progress. X-rays have been positive and the movement is slowly coming back into his right arm. He will see a specialist in a further two weeks and should get a likely date to when he can return to the saddle.

If he cannot make the Arc in time, Moore will have an eye on the Breeders Cup meeting in November. Those who bet on racing will know he already has two winners in the prestigious meeting from the States, both coming in the Breeders Turf in 2008 and 2009. He can expect to have plenty of top rides from British and Irish hopefuls.

Moore has been unable to repeat the remarkable season he had last year winning the Oaks and the Derby for the first time, as well a host of other major wins around the world.

He did ride So You Think to the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland earlier this year and there will still be the opportunity to repeat his Arc success from 12 months ago if he can prove hit fitness before then.