Sunday, 28 October 2012

NFL Wembley preview

The NFL comes to London as the International Series rolls on at Wembley and of course next year we will have two games on the hallowed turf. Andy Richmond, @bickley14 and one of the brains behind the NFL-Insight website previews the match....

Looking at this game when it first popped onto the schedules you almost thought that this could be a an easy away day for the Patriots but recent event suggest that it could well be a bit closer and how about this fact – 12 of the 14 games that the Patriots and Rams have played this season have been within seven points in the fourth quarter, this Sunday could give the London crowd its best game yet and that’s before we mention the Patriots fourth quarter woes.

There are also some other fascinating aspects of this game you can crib the Patriots offence, they lead the NFL with 436.1 yards and 31 points per game and have racked up 16 consecutive games with 350 yards offensively, but they have struggled against sides with tough defences, like the Jets, Cardinals and Seahawks. The Rams look to be heading in the right direction under the tutelage of Jeff Fisher, and he’s certainly turned them into a feisty bunch, they have already surpassed their win total from last year but they do need to keep pace in the NFC West which has been transformed in recent years from poor to tough as a division.

I’ve written and spoken plenty about the game this week and for me it boils down to these five tactical points which were featured on The Guardian website this week in their sports section. There is plenty about the game on that site including an excellent profile of Brady and Belichick by Sean Ingle which I can thoroughly recommend as background reading.

My article about the tactical battles is below and I’ll leave you with a final thought the game based around the 4th quarter travails of the Patriots that I touched on in my Ten Spot column this week.

5. PATRIOT GAMES – what is about the Patriots, can they not close out a game? Sunday was again another example of this phenomenon, when they let the Jets back in and were forced to comeback, level the game and then win it in OT. Part of the problem is their inability to score points in the 4th quarter, so far this year; they have “lost” the last quarter on four occasions but more worryingly overall they have been outscored 55-61 and 31 of those 55 points came against the Bills (see next point) in their last three games they have been outscored 6-34 in the final quarter.

Anyone for a Rams comeback at Wembley on Sunday and that inability in the 4th quarter should also be a warning to both short-priced in-running backers of the Patriots and those who support them on big handicaps.

St Louis Rams v New England Patriots: five tactical points to look for

NFL expert Andy Richmond of www.nflinsight.com breaks down the key battles in Sunday’s NFL match at Wembley

1) The Rams must establish the running game

With the multi-faceted Patriots offence capable of lighting up the scoreboard quickly, the Rams must control the clock and keep them off the field by establishing their running game. With two very capable backs – Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson, who average 3.8 and 5.1 yards per carry respectively – they have a duo who complement one another and they should be given every opportunity to run the ball. That doesn’t always happen: they ran only 22 times against the Packers last weekend yet averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Establishing the ground game will allow the Rams greater flexibility to attack the Patriots’ porous secondary which has hampered them all year. Although the Patriots have intercepted a league-best five passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield, they’ve also allowed the most completions (18) and conceded five touchdowns off such passes.

2) Brady must be harried

Give the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady time and he will pick you apart. The Patriots have posted at least 350 total net yards in 16 consecutive games, equalling an NFL record, and in the 52-28 demolition of the Bills in week four, Brady threw for 333 yards as the Bills failed to get any pressure on him, only recording one sack. Yet Brady is not as mobile as other elite quarterbacks, so if the Rams defence are aggressive and show some hustle – especially defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who have combined for 11 sacks this year – they could do some damage. It’s noticeable that Brady’s completion rate drops to 45.8% when he’s pressured and his NFL quarterback rating becomes 74.1, a far cry from his overall rating this season of 96.9.

3) The Patriots will target Jenkins

Brady is one of the elite signal-callers in the NFL but his ability to find the right receiver against the wrong coverage is second to none. True, he has a wealth of offensive weapons but the Patriots’ success is founded on him using them effectively and finding defensive weaknesses. And the obvious one to target on Sunday is Rams’ rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has had a rough time versus the Packers and Dolphins recently. In those two games Jenkins was targeted on 19 occasions and the receivers caught the ball on 17 attempts, a conversion rate of 89%. Those sort of numbers will not have gone unnoticed by Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. Watch out for either Brandon Lloyd or Wes Welker lining up against Jenkins to give him a torrid evening.

4) Watch out for Welker

While Welker may have had his problems with the Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, the cause of that frustration stemmed from earlier in the season when the wide receiver appeared to be getting fewer balls thrown his way. Welker had only eight receptions in the first two weeks of the season and in the second of those games he was demoted from the starting line-up but he is still one of the most productive and consistent receivers in the NFL. His qualities include courage, concentration (especially in traffic) and the ability to separate from coverage – he already has 54 catches this year and he is the man Brady looks for in crucial situations, especially on third downs.

5) Don’t stop watching even if the Patriots are dominating going into the fourth

The Patriots have had problems closing out games all season, even when they have been dominating field position, possession and on the scoreboard. Last Sunday they allowed the Jets to rally and needed a comeback to win the game in overtime to move to 4-3. Part of the Patriots’ problem is their inability to score points in the fourth quarter. So far this year they have “lost” the last quarter on four occasions but, more worryingly, they have been outscored 55-61 – and 31 of their 55 points came against the Bills. In their last three games they have been outscored 6-34 in the final quarter. Different theories have been suggested – the Patriots have talked about losing concentration, while their inability to establish the run in the fourth quarter is another issue – but it’s something they clearly need to sort out. The Patriots used to be considered great closers of matches. Not anymore.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Pinnacle - will it survive?

In terms of sportsbooks that bigger or smarter punters love to play at, Pinnacle is right up there - tight margins and willingness to take seriously big bets. None of this sorry sir, your business is not economical for us, you can have no more than £5 on (if you're even that lucky), which annoys with modern-day "bookmaking". Tennis punters in particular are really going to take a hit if the fallout from this weekend's events is serious.

In case you missed it, there was a big roundup of sportsbetting identities in New York this week....



The allegation from the Queens County District Attorney in New York is that the individuals involved were acting as agents for Pinnacle, a firm who had exited the US market back in 2007 after heavy attention from New York police. That they didn't exit the US market quite as completely as they told everyone is likely to have further implications on this case down the track.

Read the press release from the Queens County District Attorney here.

Pinnacle's statement in response was as expected, stating they weren't employees of the firm and thus it does not affect the business at all. Of course they weren't employees, they'd be agents if they were based in another country. But the link to the firm means they will again be under intense heat from various US investigative bureaus, and a big chunk of their US sports turnover will disappear. Pinnacle's business model relies on sharp action (move the prices according to who is betting on what, also known as 'playing heads' in other circles), high volume to match the low margins and the underclass known as arbitrageurs, middlers and scalpers who come in to balance up the book when heavy action on one selection moves the price on the other. Take away any or all of those options and Pinnacle's business model may have to change.

Pinnacle will also have problems with their licence in Alderney. After the Full Tilt Poker debacle, Alderney will need to play ball with the US so that licence is likely to be suspended if not torn up. The value in that licence is the avenue to advertise in the UK (Curacao is not a white-listed jurisdiction, but it's not as if they do much advertising in the UK anyway) and the option to switch operations quickly if they needed to get out of the Caribbean.

I think Pinnacle are too big and too versatile to disappear off the map - but when you are dealing with US authorities, never rule anything out....

Cox Plate speed map

Once again, Racetrack Ralphy has given me permission of Racetrack Ralphy for this big Australian feature race, here are his form comments on the Cox Plate. Ralph Horowitz produces speed maps and form comments for every Melbourne metropolitan meeting via the 'Racetrack Ralphy' app for iPhones. It's even available in the UK iTunes store as well (search for 'Racetrack Ralphy'), so it's great for expats like me on the other side of the world! A bargain at £1.49 or $1.99 per meeting.

Leaders:


Midfield:


Backmarkers:


Cox Plate preview from Racetrack Ralphy

Once again, Racetrack Ralphy has given me permission for this big Australian feature race to use material from his app, here are his form comments on the Cox Plate. Ralph Horowitz produces speed maps and form comments for every Melbourne metropolitan meeting via the 'Racetrack Ralphy' app for iPhones. It's even available in the UK iTunes store as well (search for 'Racetrack Ralphy'), so it's great for expats like me on the other side of the world! A bargain at £1.49 or $1.99 per meeting.

I'll post the speed map shortly. In saddlecloth order:

SHOOT OUT has had 6 tries at this distance range for two 3rds, three 4ths and a 5th. All of those were at Group 1 level and – perhaps significantly – none of those were “Grand Final” races which this clearly is for him. (He’s had a Derby which he won, a Melbourne Cup and a Doncaster as his previous target races so this is a new dynamic.) Jockey Hugh Bowman is an absolute elite level rider and has ridden him in his past 9 starts which have included two Group 1 wins. It adds up to him running very well and probably not winning. A value play for trifecta players.

SINCERO is really hard to assess as; a/ He’s clearly a fresher and stronger horse than he was last year when 9th with lots going wrong in the run. And b/ World Class Group 1 gun Michael Rodd is riding. He was absolutely dynamic when a first up winner of the Memsie, before lacking a turn of foot in the Underwood Stakes 2nd up when a flat 5th. In the Caulfield Stakes he ran the same last 600 as OCEAN PARK in the Caulfield Stakes off a slow tempo indicating he’s ready for a peak run here. The barrier is against and he appears to be a better miler than 2000 type, but he is one of the more talented $31 short you could ever back.

GLASS HARMONIUM should have two prices! One if he jumps and one if he doesn’t! In 2011 his three 2000 Group 1 runs saw a 0.4 3rd in Brisbane – his first Australian prep – a nose 2nd to DECEMBER DRAW in the Turnbull Stakes and a strong winner of the McKinnon Stakes. In last year’s Cox Plate he bombed the start and it was game over, while earlier this year his failure in the Australian Cup preceded a wind operation. He was terrific resuming in the Rupert Clarke before nothing going right from the outside alley in the Toorak last start. He could control this race and there’s a big chance the track will be significantly leader advantaged. At his best he’d be right in this, but is he at his best?

GREEN MOON comes off a last start win the Turnbull Stakes – gawd bless him for App followers – but he was advantaged at the weights and he only beat his $31 stablemate SEVILLE by a neck and the 3rd and 4th horses DECEMBER DRAW and VOILA ICI were dismal in last week’s Caulfield Cup. In addition owner Lloyd Williams would love to win this race, but is obsessed by the Melbourne Cup and there is no way he’d compromise this bloke’s prep for Flemington so will he have the turn of foot? The case for of course is that he’s probably significantly progressed since his win as he was only 3rd up, while Craig Williams is in the zone, and unlike last start where he was “cuddled” a bit in a sprint home, he’ll probably make this more of a staying war to blunt the 3 year olds weight advantage (see speed map). A major winning chance but suspect he is slightly under the odds.

REKINDLED INTEREST is a Group 1 standard talent, but strip back the endless list of excuses and the fact is he has won 2 from his last 18 starts and on 13 of those occasions he was $10 and under in the market. His two wins were at this track and he was – as he often is – unlucky in last year’s Cox Plate when 3rd, but I’m very confident that this is a much stronger edition. One I definitely won’t have in any bets and if he happens to win or run a place I’ll cop it as these type of horses are poor punting plays.

LINTON was OK ridden out the back in the DATO when a first-up 4th behind HAPPY TRAILS, before being terrible when going forward in the Turnbull. That tells you he’s coming into this off a poor run and will be ridden dead cold. After those two fundamentals are included, it isn’t worth digging deeper.

HAPPY TRAILS got the money here – gawd bless him for App followers 2 starts back in the DATO over GREEN MOON – before just whacking away when stepping up to the 2000 in the Turnbull when an honest 2.3 length 5th. It’s hard not to look at his form and think that he has a sprinter-milers turn of foot, but doesn’t have the staying motor to win this.

ETHIOPIA is a seriously raw talent who won the AJC Derby as a 3 start maiden going into that race. The headline at this stage is more impressive than the form as “nothing” has progressed from that race since. This bloke though has progressed to being competitive in both his runs this time in behind HAPPY TRAILS and GREEN MOON. (4.9 lengths 7th off a tough run and a 3.3 length 6th off a slightly interrupted run.) However it’s one thing to be competitive in this grade and another to have the killer punch and while the jockey Rhys McLeod knows him well, he isn’t a Group 1 regular and as a strong rule elite jockeys win elite races.

OCEAN PARK comes into this race off a hatrick of Group 1 wins and is the only one doing so. Why isn’t he favourite? Umm… don’t know! In each of the wins he has shown a serious turn of foot that surely is required to win this. First up in New Zealand he was held up at the top of the straight before gaining a late split to beat their best elite horses – 2nd, 4th and 5th have all since run very well – before dominating at Caulfield in the Underwood when sizzling home in 22.56. I loved his last run when doing just enough to beat ALCOPOP and SINCERO off a slow pace, underlining a/ He’s a winner and b/ He isn’t coming into this race off a gutbuster that many of these are. Glen Boss is in sizzling form – even by his all-time-great standards – and the only slight query I can find is a slightly tricky barrier that elite jockeys overcome on a regular basis.

MORE JOYOUS is an all-time great who simply couldn’t overcome the huge 60kgs impost she was asked to carry in the Toorak on top of the tough run she had in transit. She wasn’t disappointing in her performance, just disappointing to those who stupidly took the stupid price of $2:25 on the day. The facts are she’s got 4 runs into a prep 3 times and on each of those occasions she’s dominantly won at Group 1 level. She’s had 2 tries at 2000 for a dominant win earlier this year over MANIGHAR and was a tiring 5th to world-class superstar SO YOU THINK in 2010 when 5th up and not as strong a mare as she is now. She will be on-pace and a massive chance at very good odds for an out and out champion.

SOUTHERN SPEED comes off the worst run of her career when a terrible 7 length 15th in the Turnbull and Glen Boss couldn’t sack her quick enough as his spring mount. She was then scratched from last week’s Caulfield Cup due to a poor barrier and then draws the 2nd outside alley here. Can her poor run be forgiven? Possibly, as she clearly was in a cantankerous mood on the day and it was so out of character. She was home in the clear best 11.45 when 4th to OCEAN PARK two start back and was beaten an eyelash in the Australian Cup earlier this year over 2000 at WFA. On her best she is in the race but is she at her best?

PIERRO had the toughest possible run in the Caulfield Guineas last start and was still good enough to only get picked off late by ALL TOO HARD. He started $1:22 which when stripped back means he would have won that Caulfield Guineas 8 out 10 times and given the way the race unfolded, I’m comfortable with that assessment. He had won 8 out of 8 prior to that and was building the record of an immortal and a bounce back here would elevate him back to that platform. 7kgs less just HAS to help, but the historical negative that stands out is 3yo’s that fail in this race off gut-busters and the Caulfield Guineas WAS a gut-buster. I’ll risk him slightly for that reason.

ALL TOO HARD not only bounced back to the early boom on him when picking off PIERRO in the Caulfield Guineas, but made it 3 wins from his 3 Melbourne starts. Does that mean he is a “Melbourne” superstar, or did he simply beat inferior ones in his first two starts and then pick off a softened up champ in the Guineas? Time will tell but he has to peak a 2nd time here and that is a historical challenge.

PROISIR got the first “race” of his 4 start career last start and just failed behind potential superstar IT’S A DUNDEEL with a massive 5 lengths back to 3rd horse HONORIUS. (Who ran ok last Saturday at Caulfield.) His previous 3 dominant wins showed his talent, so he is the real “X-factor” here with the different form and the 3yo’s featherweight, and gets a strong Melbourne-based elite rider in Craig Newitt.

SUGGESTED BET: Very keen each way on OCEAN PARK and am amazed at his odds. Will be having a smaller bet on MORE JOYOUS and want to wait to see how the market treats the 3yos.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Champion Stakes preview

The swansong of a champion like Frankel deserves more than a stock-standard preview; it's not just a race, it's witnessing a door close on history. Who better to add colour and life to the story than David Plane, @planey2k.

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Sitting by the radio, watching the rotating spools of a TDK 90 minute cassette as they consigned the gig of my lifetime to a strip of magnetically coated plastic, I made myself a promise: I would never miss out on anything ever again. A difficult pledge to adhere to, but one I strive to uphold.

I have since seen Oasis play at Finsbury Park, The City of Manchester and Wembley Stadia, and had a whale of a time in the process. But that 1996 Knebworth Park performance was the peak of their power and the pinnacle of a Britpop era that punctuated my puberty. Everything after that, being brazenly and brutally honest, was watching the group in decline.

I openly admit that I enjoy the longevity of following horses that jump over fences and hurdles in the National Hunt arena year after year, but sometimes their demise can also be protracted. Whilst the flat may not always lavish upon us the same depth of character that its winter/spring counterpart delivers, it is difficult to argue against the pure, unabated qualities of the Classic generation.

So, not to miss out, I went to Doncaster a few weeks ago hoping to see history being rewritten before my eyes as Camelot seized the triple-crown. I wasn’t convinced though, and layed the Coolmore colt to the tune of about £200 [I’m aware it should probably be spelt “laid” but I prefer my way when it comes to betting]. Yes, I can say “I was there”, but this experience didn’t fill the bon viveur void that I’ve been searching for since 1996.

It mattered not. Seeing Frankel in the flesh at Ascot last year was my Knebworth. Heading back to Berkshire tomorrow to bid him farewell, I have read, listened and watched as journalists, pundits and enthusiasts discuss the issues. The sub-plots are enchanting: Will the ground be a problem for him? Is Cirrus des Aigles the toughest opponent he is yet to encounter? Isn’t it fitting that Nathaniel, whom Frankel met in his first race at Newmarket in 2010, should bookend his old foe’s career at a track where he has had much success himself? What will St Nicholas Abbey be making of it all? Has Excelebration become so accustomed to being whipped by Frankel that, rather than celebrating his Queen Elizabeth II Stakes victory tomorrow, he’ll be found back in his box, miserably leafing through a copy of 50 Shades of Grey to satisfy some kind of equine sadomasochism?

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with most of that already. So, with only four competitors lining up alongside “The Freak”, discounting stable mate and pacemaker Bullet Train, this is how I see the result panning out tomorrow:

Frankel – I can’t bear the thought of him & Queally flopping. He will win.

Nathaniel – I love Buick and have fond memories of his King George win here, after which Gosden’s words to the media in the wake of Rewilding’s death provided a particularly poignant moment. I think Nathaniel can bounce back from enforced absence at Longchamp and overturn the rivalry with Cirrus des Aigles, with whom I expect him to be jousting for the runner-up spot.

Cirrus des Aigles – I was hoping Christophe Soumillon would come over to exorcise his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe demons, but maybe he is still bitter about his huge fine in this race last year... although probably not. Olivier Peslier clearly knows how to guide “Cloud of the Eagles” to victory but I’m sure he will settle for a win on board exciting sprinter Wizz Kid instead.

Pastorius – Tipped up at 10-1 (without Frankel) in theWeekender by Paul Kealy, he’s had three wins and a place in his last four outings back home in Germany. 16 years ago his jockey, Frankie Dettori "did a Hughsie" at Ascot (1996 certainly was an eventful year) and many will rightly see his partnership with this course-specialist rider as a real positive. All my sentiment and emotion has already been used up for this race though, so I’m sticking with the above Trifecta.

Master of Hounds – Figures of 3181 coming into this and only catches the eye as he’s in the hands of Ryan Moore.

Bullet Train – One of the best pacemakers out there, but that’s it for now. Behind every great golfer is a clued-up caddy, and Bullet Train pulls out the correct club for Frankel every time.

Even on testing, boggy ground coming round Swinley Bottom, I expect Tom Queally to be characteristically calm and composed on the back of Frankel, with whom he has developed a beautifully harmonious rhythm. I’m looking forward to Queally opening up the son of Galileo in front of the packed grandstands and winning by a decent margin. Five lengths or more is trading at 2.62 (about 13/8) on Betfair at the moment and I think that’s a fair price for a 2pt+ stake.

But my main advice for the race, clich├ęd as it may be, is to savour the final outing of a living legend performing at the zenith of his abilities. Sing along when he holds the microphone in your direction, hold your lighters aloft and say “I was there”. And if you were not actually there, don’t fret – my mum told me in 1996 that I’d get another chance... I did, and you will. It might just take a few years, so Roll With It.

QIPCO Fillies and Mares Group II 12f preview

It will be a fantastic day at Ascot.... if it stops raining! Truly hope it doesn't get that wet that it ruins a fantastic day of racing. Stepping up to examine the girls' race is Jon da Silva, @creamontop.

QIPCO Fillies and Mares Group II 12f

Fillies and Mares have been having a rare old time recently from Zenyatta to Solemia. This season fillies and mares coming off thumpings have won Group 1s - Giofra, Danedream, Ridasiyna and Siyouma. Prior defeats have not stopped Solemia and Shareta either.

The Main Runners
+++++++++++++

Great Heavens
Form is hard to argue and her beating of Shimmering Surf gives some line into la Pomme D'Amour's bets effort. Some will argue she could bounce after a hard race yada yada just as her brother Nathaniel bounced off the Eclipse when all but winning the King George no doubt. It's not that horses do bounce but that they do not all bounce or indeed the same horse may not behave the same way in similar circumstances. At 5/2 a worthy favourite but nothing in her form to say the bookies have missed something even if bounce maybe over played.

Sapphire
Her one Group 1 resulted in her one defeat. At 7/2 it seems a ground bet. A reach but not forlorn but I don't like betting horses whose odds seem a reflection of a negative view of others at that sort of price.

La Pomme D'Amour
A French filly coming off a beating well must win? Actually some grounds for thinking that she is unexposed at 12 furlongs. The Vermeille was disappointing but it's not unusual for French horses to be given a break and brought back with the big international races in mind. I also feel the distance and uphill might suit her and there is some evidence ground will not be a problem and not utterly exposed at the distance. Beat Arc winner and Vermeille 2nd 2 runs back albeit on a yardsticking level 3L worse with Shimmering Surf than the favourite. 10/1

Was and Shirocco Star
Appear held on the distance ground by Great Heavens. In addition there appears little reason the bookies would have over priced them. Both have run 6 times this year and plenty at the trip.

Dancing Rain
Has not run this year and won this on very different going. She was 6/1 last year and faces a better field. She has been off since. She would have to be close to her best and I'm prepared to pass over. Also Great Heavens and Testosterone might press her for the pace.

Rest
Not without chances but equally I see nothing that says they are not rags. Testosterone once beat Danedream before that lovely filly rolled off 3 wins inc Arc. Rest I don't think have much chance at their bests even.

My Bets
La Pomme D'Amour Win @ 10/1
Great Heavens/La Pomme d'Amour exacta (maybe reverse)

Friday, 19 October 2012

Spring Carnival Tipping Comp

In return for putting up a bunch of Miller's Guides as prizes for #auspubquiz (hosted by me, every Sunday night Aus time on Twitter), I've granted a rare plug to Betfair Australia. With the serious stuff now underway, why not have a crack at a free tipping competition? You don't even have to be a Betfair customer to enter.

Betfair have a Spring Carnival Tipping Comp worth $20,000 - get involved here - http://springtipping.betfair.com.au/

The Racetrack Ralphy view of the Caulfield Cup

With special permission of Racetrack Ralphy for this big Australian feature race, here's another perspective on the Caulfield Cup. Ralph Horowitz produces speed maps and form comments for every Melbourne metropolitan meeting via the 'Racetrack Ralphy' app for iPhones. It's even available in the UK iTunes store as well, so it's great for expats like me on the other side of the world! A bargain at £1.49 or $1.99 per meeting. No money has changed hands for this plug, but he will owe me a beer or two next time....

Backmarkers

Midfield

Leaders


And the Ralphy form comments and ratings:

Let’s start with an admission that most racing analysts won’t admit to yet should; I’ve unapologetically got not much of an idea about the internationals runners! Why? Because I analyze the data and view every single Victorian race year round. When horses come from interstate to race in Melbourne, there’s enough of a guide through others they’ve raced against, or times that they’ve ran on familiar tracks to line them up with horses that are regularly seen on local Victorian tracks. My rule then is to read from those I trust – EG; RSN’s Shane Anderson is part of an excellent link on the Racing Victoria website featuring replays and form assessments – and then still “market weight” them. (I price them virtually the same as what the market does.) History tells us that acclimatizing is more important than pure talent anyway, where often the “2nd stringer” runs the best race. What I have done though, is watch the tapes for their racing style, which is obviously vital for doing a speed map. HAVING WRITTEN THAT, I AM RISKING DUNADEN FROM THAT WIDE BARRIER.

Anyway here goes!

Those in my priced market order (best chances) are:

$6:50 DECEMBER DRAW is just an out and out “box-ticker” here, and really appeals as an outstanding each way betting opportunity. He broke down in this race last year when favourite coming off three wins in a row including the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes where the 2nd, 3rd and 4th runners all subsequently won Group 1 races that campaign. Of course the great unknown is how he would have gone, but the fact is he went into the race trying to maintain his winning streak. Conversely this year he has clearly improved at each of his three runs, with his last start 1.7 length 3rd in the Turnbull behind GREEN MOON and SEVILLE, probably a better run than last year given he had 3kgs more and he conceded weight to both of those in front of him. He has been specifically set for this race by a proven big race trainer in Mark Kavanagh and is ridden by an absolutely outstanding big race jockey in Michael Rodd, with tactical speed to box seat. I’m confident in saying this: If his trend-line that he’s produced in his 3 runs this spring continues he will win.

$7:00 GLENCADAM GOLD might be a freak. Might… He was such a dominant winner of the Group 1 Metropolitan last start that was not only in very good time, but was also his 4th win in 4 starts for Gai Waterhouse since arriving from the UK. What would be inarguable though is that this is a much harder race and he doesn’t get any weight relief, so can he improve further? He might!

$7:00 LIGHTS OF HEAVEN started her career with a “promise” of being a major Group 1 winner, winning her first 4 starts culminating in a dominant Group 1 South Australian Oaks over ABSOLUTELY – who won the AJC Oaks at her next start – and last year’s Caulfield Cup winner SOUTHERN SPEED – that’s good form! She seemingly wasn’t strong enough to go on with it last spring, but her Brisbane winter was top shelf with a head 2nd at Group 1 and then 2 dominant Group 2 wins, including one over 2400. Drops 4kgs off her 3rd up 3rd in Sydney and appears spot on for this with 53kgs and Moody/Nolen/home track. A big chance!

$8:00 MY QUEST FOR PEACE is a UK stayer that he races on speed and likes firm tracks which is a good start in a Caulfield Cup. He’s had a separate competitive runs against DUNADEN and to a lesser extent RED CADEAUX and coming here off back-to-back Goodwood wins, with a box-seat run, a proven big race jockey in Corey Brown and just 53.5kgs adds up to unsurprisingly being right in the market.

$21:00 DUNADEN has had two Australian starts for a win in the Geelong Cup and obviously last year’s Melbourne Cup. He then absolutely underlined his class at this lesser trip by winning the Group 1 Vase at Hong Kong on their international day in December, while his 2nd at Royal Ascot on “BLACK CAVIAR” day, would have won 98% of big Australian staying races. (That is BTW a stat that could not possibly be proven and is a total guess!) While the wide barrier shouldn’t worry the on-speed horses, this bloke does need to go right back to find cover from his outside alley. Will Williams go for the freak duck and weave ride or play the percentages and sweep down the outside? Either way, it will need to be a remarkable effort to win.

$21:00 VOICA ICI is an ex-Italian galloper who’s had three terrific runs for Victoria’s leading trainer Peter Moody. He hasn’t started in this distance range since 2009, and his on-pace style means he’s going to have to be very strong throughout this race with GLENCADAM GOLD sure to be with him carrying 2kgs less. He also hasn’t got the advantage of weight relief from his 1.8 length 4th in the Turnbull.

$21:00 SECRET ADMIRER has her first career run at 2400, but with 53kgs is in OK for a dual Group 1 winning mare who has spent most of her career at this level. Her only 2 runs past a mile were an unlucky 5th in last year’s Cox Plate and 3rd to MORE JOYOUS earlier this year in the Queen Elizabeth stakes, so both were at Group 1 WFA level. Her whole campaign has solely been aimed at this race which is significant.

$21:00 SNEAK A PEEK has been good in his three starts for Peter Moody since arriving from Italy and gets the magic of Glen Boss with just 53kgs. His last 600 in the Turnbull was in 33.65 with everything suggesting he’ll peak here. Is he good enough?

$26:00 NIWOT is 8 years young but for mine that is an irrelevant stat when a horse is racing well and this bloke is. He was barbequed in this race last year from the wide alley, which was the only poor run in this distance range in his career. He was the first Australian horse home in last year’s Melbourne Cup when 8th after a dominant lead in win. His two Group 1 weight for age 4ths in the Sydney autumn followed by a Sydney Cup win, underlined his staying class in the handicaps and gets in here very well with 53.5kgs coming off a good Turnbull 3.9 length 8th.

$26:00 ALCOPOP should be favourite here if his last start 2nd last Saturday to OCEAN PARK is taken in isolation and maybe it should be! He drops a super significant 6.5kgs from that and his only other dry track 2400 metre run was a 3.3 length win this track and distance in 2009 over subsequent Melbourne Cup winner SHOCKING! His 2010 Caulfield Cup failure can be ignored as it was on a bog heavy track.

$26:00 ZABEELIONAIRE is seemingly in very well with 52kgs for a Group 1 winner – SA Derby – and has been ticking along just fine in his three prep runs in weight-for-age races. Note in the Underwood his last 600 of 34.53 was very good, while last start the gate closed in the straight which cost him a length or two. He’ll flop out and hug the rail home – which is how he won his Derby – and is from a stable which is racking up wins at every level including the Thousand Guineas during the week.

Others:

AMERICAIN was a brilliant winner of the 2010 Melbourne Cup and was a poorly ridden unlucky 4th in that last spring which split Moonee Valley Cup and Sandown Classic wins. His 3 run stint with David Hayes in the autumn featured an extraordinary poor tactical display in the Group 1 BMW at Rosehill when a remarkable 2nd. He’s back with his original French trainer, and seemingly just set for the Melbourne Cup again and is certain to be a long way back before the home turn. He is however an absolute top quality galloper.

JAKKALBERRY has been twice toweled up by DUNADEN (in Hong Kong and Royal Ascot) so from that perspective seems a bit close in the weights to him. He is obviously durable having had more international stops than Getaway’s Catriona Rowntree, but a midfield style with a midfield barrier and a non-local rider on the tricky Caulfield circuit adds up to personally wanting to risk him.

WINCHESTER is a get-back ex-American stayer who has closed very nicely in 2 Australian starts which were both at Group 1 level. In the Underwood Stakes he ran the best last 800, while in the Turnbull he was closing ok when carrying more weight than most. Will no doubt again get back and again close well, but that racing style is best to risk at this track.

SANAGAS has not shown enough in his 3 runs for the great Bart Cummings to include, with his 5kgs less than what he’s been carrying, the only other plus outside of being trained by the great man.

MOUDRE was terrible last start and that’s not of interest.

FOLDING GEAR is a really interesting runner but hard to assess. He hasn’t had the hard racing of most of his rivals, nor any distance experience, but has been twice dynamic in winning here over 2000 this year including last start which qualified him without penalty.

SABRAGE drops 7kgs from last Saturday's Caulfield Stakes behind OCEAN PARK when beaten 5.2 lengths. That race was a dash home more suited to WFA Cox Plate types than handicappers and this bloke's last run at this distance was a good 2nd to ZABEELIONAIRE in the SA Derby. He's entitled to his huge odds, but if everything fell into place for him he actually could place.

(EMERG) GATEWOOD was very unlucky last week, but being unlucky is easier than winning and "the unlucky runner" has made bookies more money at their "next run when a certainty" than any other situation. In addition the quick back up is hardly the European staying way. I'll market weight him but will personally risk him.

SUGGESTED BET: This is obviously a wide open Cup but DECEMBER DRAW looks an outstanding each way play. He interests me the most, but have also backed LIGHTS OF HEAVEN and will be backing veterans NIWOT and ALCOPOP for small outlays. Good luck!

Click to find out more on the Racetrack Ralphy app.

Caulfield Cup preview

The richest 2400m handicap in the world deserves an in-depth look from me, and with massive exotic pools expected, it's not just about the major prize...

AMERICAIN - star galloper who revels in being trained by his French master, not the failed experiment with D.Hayes. Supposedly better suited at Flemington over two miles, ignore him at your peril despite the gate.

DUNADEN - reigning Melb Cup champion who has focused more of WFA 2400m contests this season. If connections thought he had even the slightest chance in the Arc, then he has to be respected here, even from the car park barrier.

JAKKALBERRY - trackwork reports have been glowing, drawn in the middle of the field, looks a great chance. Has been well beaten by Dunaden at WFA but gets some weight relief and better gate. But the jockey concerns me, Caulfield is not a place for a first-time jockey in a high pressure race. Drawn next to December Draw, will he get cover or be stuck at the head of the three-wide line? Can't win if it's the latter.

WINCHESTER - old American stayer drawn out wide with little option other than dropping out, hoping for a cart around the field and a chance to run the leaders down late. Can't see it happening.

DECEMBER DRAW - prohibitive fav for this race last year (weakest renewal in memory) but broke down in running. Up in weight and form not quite as good (perhaps targeted at this race this time) which are blackmarks, but with only a handful of on-pace runners in the field, he might be able to slip in behind and get the box seat.

VOILA ICI - import who loves to lead and should cross easily before being challenged by Glencadam Gold. Some trends geek will probably bring out the pointless stat that grey horses don't win this race very often - hardly a bloody surprise considering how few of them there are in the general horse population! Last two runs have been very strong, and expecting race to suit those up front

SOUTHERN SPEED - scratched

SANAGAS - American import yet to show anything in Aus. Ideal gate but not sure he has the zip to make use of it. Connections would hope he shows something to press on towards Flemington.

GLENCADAM GOLD - has been dominating from the front in NSW in weaker fields, including the Metropolitan last time. This is probably the strongest Caulfield Cup in decades, but there's not much pressure up front - it's quite possible he'll get across easily from gate 21, sit outside Voila Ici and they control the race. If he has enough left in the tank to run 34.7 for the last 600, it will take an exceptional horse to beat him!

(MY) QUEST FOR PEACE - beat Dunaden at Newmarket in May (both first-up) then finished a long, long way behind the same horse at Royal Ascot (WFA) on an apparently unsuitable wet track. Not so keen on his two wins since then at Goodwood - it's a quirky track, small fields and the class was well below these (I don't believe Gatewood handled the track that day as a cross-reference). Should get a cheap run from gate two, but I'll be buggered if I'll ever back Corey Brown again in a big field staying race at Caulfield after last week!

NIWOT - Sydney Cup winner earlier this year, probably the best Australian-bred stayer in the race. Finished 008 his last three runs but returning decent closing sectionals. If he can make use of gate 6 and sit better than midfield, he is a decent roughie in the race.

LIGHTS OF HEAVEN - home track, best trainer/jockey pairing in the land, drawn ideally to sit just behind decent pace, smashed them in the Brisbane Cup (G2, same dist, horrible draw), everything in this campaign has pointed toward this race.

SECRET ADMIRER - fans of this horse will tell you her campaign has been aimed at this race, but she keeps being strong in the market and finishing off nicely without winning. I think she's won something like one from her last 17 starts. Horses like her buy bookies flash cars!

SNEAK A PEEK - another Italian import now in the Moody stable. Last couple of runs have been promising but horses than flash home late are rarely suited in the Caulfield Cup. Ridden by 'Group 1' Glenn Boss but will need an unexpected hot pace up front to be in the finish.

ALCOPOP - 8yo from unfashionable stable who was a huge run last week behind Ocean Park flashing home late off a slow pace. Will need plenty of luck if he's going to leave it late as usual. Good luck to John Kelton and his mates in the syndicate, but I don't see it happening.

MOUDRE - went awful second up after 18 month break, which can happen. Not the formline you want to support stepping up to a Cup.

FOLDING GEAR - the wildcard local with different formlines to the rest. Drawn well, ridden by a very underrated local jockey, outstanding record at Caulfield and should sit just ahead of midfield. Runs decent closing sectionals without a big turn-of-foot, more of a grinder, and that might be what's necessary if he can get clear down the side and put the pressure on. Hasn't run 2400m before but doesn't bother me too much. Easter Cup replay.

ZABEELIONAIRE - SA Derby winner who didn't have much luck last start in the Turnbull Stakes, trainer is flying at the moment, winning the G1 Thousand Guineas during the week. Drawn the inside fence, will need luck to scrape through on the paint but not out of it.

SABRAGE - VRC Derby placegetter last year and has done sweet FA since. I'd be pretty annoyed if I owned one of the horses he kept out of the field.

Verdict
I am heavily biased towards the speed here. Without a great deal of pressure on, I reckon it will be very tough for the backmarkers to get into the race.

Lights Of Heaven
Folding Gear
Glencadam Gold
December Draw

And my trifectas will look something like this:

12,17 x 2,3,5,6,9,10,12,15,17 x 2,3,5,6,9,10,11,12,14,15,17,18

$80 for a 50c unit.

The race will be screened live on ATR at 0605 UK time.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday night NFL action

From my former colleague and gun NFL analyst, Andy Richmond, @bickley14, an in=depth preview of tonight's big TV clash. I've always been a 49ers fan thanks to the international coverage in the 80s in the Montana/Rice era. Trip to Wembley next year to see them again is locked in already. Visit NFL Insight to learn more about live trading on NFL, there aren't many sports better suited to live betting than American football.

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New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers NFL Preview

On this occasion there is not as much on the line as when these two last met – that time a place at the Super Bowl table was on the line and it was the 49ers who made the crucial errors and failed to move the ball as they went down 20-17 in OT, the rest of the Giants season is of course now history.

That New York win was based on a stifling defence which characterised most of their Super Bowl run last season, this season they have been far more profligate and they’ll need to tighten up here against a 49ers side that if anything has improved this season. There is just one blip on in the San Francisco dance card this year a stumbling and two left-footed effort versus Minnesota but my o my how have they bounced back on both sides of the ball, the D conceding just three points in the subsequent two games and even more impressive in their own way have been their offensive endeavours. They put 34 points on the Jets and then dispatched the Bills with amazing ease recording these numbers 45points, 621 total yards and 29 first downs, those 600 plus yards were composed of 310 yards through the air and 311 on the ground – that being the first time that an NFL side has recorded 300 plus yards in each category in the same game.

The Giants haven’t put up anything like those numbers this year but we already know that it’s folly to write them off in any situation and although they have lost their two games against better sides this year (Philadelphia and Dallas) they are still a side that can create problems for any opposition. Kyle Williams certainly knows about all the problems that the Giants can create after he muffed two punt returns in that NFC Championship game one in the fourth quarter leading to a touchdown and another in OT setting up the Giants’ winning field goal.

On offence it looks as though the 49ers have upgraded their personnel and in QB Alex Smith they have the signal-caller with the league’s best passer rating (108.7) – the receiving corps, with a boost from offseason additions Randy Moss and former Giant Mario Manningham, is averaging 11.8 catches.

It was probably the stifling defence that proved to be the key the Giants success last year but it’s their offence this year that has really sparked into life ranking second in both total yards with an average of 429.2 and scoring with 30.4 points per game. They’ve amassed 1,877 yards in the last four weeks – their most over a four-game stretch in franchise history. If there are any problems with the Giants then it’s on the defensive side of the ball last season they did a good job in putting the shackles on some very explosive offences this year they are yielding 22.2 points per game and they are allowing a lot bigger plays with 24 plays of at least 20 yards resulting.

New York’s offence, although firing on all cylinders over the last few weeks, also seems like it will have its hands full against a San Francisco team that is allowing a league-low 13.6 points per game. Eli Manning although ultimately victorious against San Francisco last year was giving a tortuous time last year by the 49ers defence who sacked him on six occasions and hit and hurried him on six other pass attempts. New York have down a much better job of protecting Manning this year, he’s been sacked just 5 times and like all elite QB’s if you give him time he’ll pick apart any defence. Manning is on pace for a very good season he already has 1,579 yards and 10 TD’s and he’ll be hoping that his other go-to receiver Hakeem Nicks is ready to return and play in tandem with Victor Cruz – Hicks has practiced this week on a limited basis but he missed the last three games, there is a chance he could play on Sunday, but Nicks is wary of aggravating the injuries and missing more time. As a group and if they are all healthy the Giants receivers will cause the 49ers secondary problems and if there is any group on the San Francisco team that do have some problems it could well be their secondary – starting cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rodgers have combined to allow 450 yards, while the two starting safeties have been adequate, I do have doubts about Donte Whitner who Manning will look to target he’s missed eight tackles this season and doesn’t look as good as he was last season. A good deal of balance is given to the Giants offence by their ground game which sprang to life last weekend via Ahmad Bradshaw who went for 200 yards last weekend but that was only against Cleveland and he’ll find life much tougher here as San Francisco have only allowed one 100-yard rusher in their last 43 games – Marshawn Lynch of Seattle.

One aspect of the Giants game has been very disappointing this year and that’s their pass rush – it was fierce last season and their sack productivity is way down this year with just eight sacks. The D-line certainly has the potential to be great, they will need to step it up and get to the passer in this contest as Alex Smith will find his receivers if allowed. The Giants have just three sacks when rushing four or fewer defenders this season, with Jason Pierre-Paul accounting for just one of the three. Last season, the Giants recorded the second-most sacks with such pressure (34), with Jason Pierre-Paul picking up 11.5 sacks.

Smith is often thought of more as a “game manager” rather than a QB who will win you the game but he was more punishing against the Bills and his rating of 156.3 speaks for itself, and he’ll be looking for his favourite targets Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Smith is 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) when targeting Vernon Davis more than 10 yards downfield this season. Since the start of the 2011 playoffs, Smith has thrown just as many touchdowns as incompletions (5) when targeting Davis on such throws. Smith went 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) to Davis on throws more than 10 yards downfield last regular season.

Ball security is something that we have focussed upon this year in the majority of games that we have taken a look at and it becomes a more and more important part of the game. Both sides are good at forcing the opposition to turn the ball over and their respective QB’s also have a very good record when it comes to not throwing the ball away to the opposing team. Smith has just one interception this year while Manning has four that higher number is due to his predilection to take more shots downfield and force the ball into tighter windows – that carries risk but also a greater reward ratio. Possessions and field position are going to be huge, and a turnover could provide the difference.

Given the part that special teams played in the last contest between these two teams it would be folly not to expect them to come under some scrutiny again. The 49ers have some real speed on returns via Ted Ginn on punts and Kyle Williams (yes him again) on kickoff returns, while the Giants have excellent coverage teams. Points and field position are likely to be hard fought in this game and any short-field opportunities will have to be taken and capitalised on.

The 49ers probably carry the greater collective threat and can spread the load whereas the Giants will need a big game from Manning and if he can keep this game close into the 4th quarter there are few QB’s in the league who are better at putting the game to bed. Although Manning can drive this team to a win, he also can put the Giants in a hole that can be difficult to escape but he does appear to be feeling pressure much better this year and this year he does seem to be getting the ball out of his hands far quicker and be more willing to throw the ball away and take an incomplete than to hold on to it too long and get sacked. The 49ers were able to sack Eli Manning seven times last season, with six coming on a five-plus man pass rush. However, when Manning wasn’t sacked facing such pressure, he went 16-of-21 passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

The betting on this game suggests that there is plenty between these two teams but is that the case? I certainly don’t think so and while the stock of the 49ers continues to rise has the Giants fallen that much, sure they have to cross the country and play the team that is arguably the best in the NFL but they have more of a chance than the odds suggest and they may well push the 49ers close in a game of thin margins that turnovers, ball security, field position and the sheer will to win will decide and we may well be all back here in January for a post-season contest.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Season Over? Not For Me

It might be getting darker earlier and colder, but there's still plenty of top quality flat racing left in 2012. Jon da Silva aka @creamontop has caught the international racing bug and takes aim at that big event on the other side of the Atlantic - the Breeders Cup.

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For many UK punters the flat season ends about when Frankel narrowly holds off Cirrus by 4 lengths - relatively narrow for him that is. However for a few of us and the rest of the world we've merely had the Hors d'Oeuvres.

Melbourne is building to The Cup probably the only race that has its own public holiday not to mention a slew of Group 1s at the Spring Carnival. Japan its Cup. America its Breeders Cup which surprisingly they refer to as The World Championships. Hong Kong will have its Cup day as well. There are a host of others as well in Singapore and the Canadian International to boot.

The Canadian International will feature Imperial Monarch, under rated previous winner Joshua Tree and Reliable Man all good 2nd tier Group 1 horses. The card also features the Neartic Stakes which Bated Breath was runner up in last year and the E P Taylor for fillies with Sun Chariot winner Siyouma.

These three races themselves are all Win and You're In for the Breeders Cup. Where Europe can normally count on winning 1 but more likely 2 or all 3 turf races for older horses from a Mile upwards. However this year the Euros may face more difficulties than just tracks that don't suit, medication which may benefit but is also a risk being the first time some will have tried it and unfamiliar grass surfaces. They also face a formidable trio compared to the usual crop of Canadians, Bleeder ex-pats from Europe and hacks.

In the Mile Wise Dan the actual best horse not called Cirrus or Frankel or Nelly. The 132 Timeform rated monster hacked up from Cityscape in the Woodbine Mile and took last weekend's Shadwell Mile in a canter. Some suggestion he will struggle to hold his form and always a chance he tries his hand in the Classic on dirt where he is equally as good. Nonetheless if he runs his best only Excelebration will have claims from Europe. BTW If entered Summer Front in the Mile [Turf] would be among my betting interest. This is his trip and 33s and above is Each Way value. Indeed so much of a rag is he he's not even quoted at present.

Weakest of the three but in the weakest race, Filly and Mare Turf, Marketing Mix denied by I'm a Dreamer in the Beverley D largely thanks to a beautifully timed ride by Hayley Turner. She has since trotted in at Santa Anita. The Fugue may be well suited to the sharp track but it's not her home.

Finally in the Turf Point of Entry who may have been moderate crawling over rain softened ground to beat the remains of Treasure Beach the other day but is better judged on his stroll in the Sword Dancer. There he gave the unreliable and ironically named Brilliant Speed a worse beating than he got in the Turf behind St Nicholas Abbey last year.

Sadly you can't just take my word for it as the bookies go 3s, 11/2 and 3s respectively. Two of them favourites the other 2nd favourite. Still I can help with the main going descriptions where firm can mean anything from firm to good. Good which is soft side of good to actual soft and yielding which covers the rest. I dedicate that to Richard Hannon Jnr who said the going is always firm (assuming English firm) when talking of an over watered sand based track last year.

The race of the meeting and maybe the year on paper is the Ladies Classic [Dirt] with Royal Delta the Queen of the Dirt against unbeaten Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia. This would be a race on its own but add in Questing the former Gosden inmate who ran ludicrous fractions early and still finished well in the Alabama putting 9 lengths into easy Spinster winner In Lingerie - Questing gave 7, lost a head to My Miss Aurelia as well. Not to mention Love and Pride who with 10 pounds less beat Royal Delta. Plus several other grade 1 winners like In Lingerie and It's Tricky. Questing is the likely destination for my wagering.

Arguably Ascot is just the beginning of the rest of the year's flat racing.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

more of the Armstrong files

(More links added 12/10 22:30) Back in August I posted a series of links in relation to Lance Armstrong crying 'no more' in the battle against doping allegations. It's time to add a few more:

The evidence - over 1000 pages from the USADA

Might take you a while to get through that!

Witness statement from USADA Chief Science Officer

Explaining a lot of the science in drug tests and how they can only ever be part of an investigation, not the only source of proof.

Michael Ashenden interview - why I believe there is no doubt he took EPO in 1999

The Ashenden one is a fascinating insight into how it could be done. Bring in a new tax ruling and crafty accountants will find a way to exploit it. Introduce a new rule in F1 and the teams will push as close as they possibly can to bend that rule into any old shape until they are told they are breaking it. Why would it be any different with systematic doping of athletes? If the procedures and what they can test for are well documented, then surely the bad guys' next task is finding the weaknesses in those rules and exploiting them? It certainly explains why Armstrong could be tested so many times without a named positive, and why his team's tactics changed once they knew that EPO tests were being introduced. It also explains why all of the BALCO athletes - Marion Jones et al - never failed a test.

AIS professor triggered red alert on Armstrong blood cells

It's not just about detecting the drug, it's also about detecting the side effects.

Kimmage selecting legal defence backing as ‘energised’ journalist prepares for UCI court action

The Irish anti-doping journalist being sued by the UCI now has an incredibly strong case to support him, and support is flowing in from the public to back him in his legal fight against this corrupt and incompetent sporting body.

And finally, if you are wondering how some of the nutcases in US politics are so popular, try reading some of the comments to this New York Times article about how Armstrong and his team were able to beat the testers so easily...

How Lance Armstrong Beat Cycling's Drug Tests

The life and times of EPO - how it started and why it became so popular.
A Drug to Quicken the Blood

How Armstrong intimidated anyone who might threaten his corrupt rule of the world of cycling:

Simeoni: "Armstrong and past still haunt me"

The story of Scott Mercier - the young rider who walked out on the US Postal team because he wasn't prepared to dope.

Lance Armstrong case creates an unlikely hero

Johan Bruyneel, a man still in denial, gets the flick from the Radio Shack Nissan team when lead rider Fabian Cancellara says he can't ride for someone so crooked.

RadioShack Nissan team confirms Bruyneel’s time as general manager has ended

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Lance Armstrong is sunk

Today marks the day that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) finally sent their evidence to the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Flat Earth believers, sorry Armstrong supporters, were holding onto the conspiracy theory that USADA weren't sharing the 'evidence' for a reason and that Santa Claus does really exist. Well, if this is a set-up, it's better than anything Hollywood can come up with.

Armstrong case: USADA confirms reasoned decision sent to UCI and WADA, over 1000 pages of evidence

Citing ‘overwhelming evidence’ which amounts to over 1000 pages in length, the US Anti-Doping Agency has confirmed that it is today sending its reasoned decision to the UCI and to WADA in relation to the sanctions against Lance Armstrong.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart will later today release a large amount of that evidence, but has given an overview of what those sporting bodies plus the general public can expect. He states that evidence includes sworn testimony from 26 people, of which 15 are riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities.

Eleven of Armstrong’s former team-mates have been named today, with Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leiphimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie all confirmed as having cooperated.

In addition to that, Tygart states that the evidence ‘also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.’ .
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Tygart states that the evidence amassed shows that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ‘ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.’

“The USPS Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices. A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.”

Read more here:

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'Champions of charity' have taken a real blow in recent months with the legacy of two huge names being shredded when the truth about their lives came out. Must make everyone else who isn't using charity work as a means to clear their conscience physically sick...

Monday, 8 October 2012

cricket spot-fixing - are the umpires joining in too?

An Indian cable TV channel has released footage of a sting on a group of Asian cricket umpires, all ICC-accredited, ahead of the T20 World Cup. Are umpires jealous of missing out on all the dodgy dealings under the table or is it a set-up?

Six ICC umpires caught on camera willing to fix matches for money, India TV stings reveal


New Delhi, Oct 8: In a major sting operation carried out in July, August and September ahead of the recently concluded ICC World Cup T20 tournament, India TV undercover reporters exposed six ICC umpires, belonging to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, willing to fix matches for money during T20 matches.

The entire sting operation was telecast on Monday prime time by India TV.

The six umpires who were exposed in the sting named "Operation World Cup" are : Nadeem Ghauri and Anees Siddiqui of Pakistan, Nadir Shah of Bangaldesh, and Gamini Dissanayake, Maurice Winston and Sagara Gallage of Sri Lanka.

The seventh umpire Sharfudoullah Shahid Saikat of Bangladesh refused to give any favour in lieu of money.


Plenty more details on the allegations, plus video footage on that site.

The ICC have been swift in their response, calling on the TV station to share all their information and reinforcing their zero-tolerance policy on all forms of corruption in cricket. They also stated that none of the officials involved had a role in any of the official games in the T20 World Cup (which explains why I hadn't heard of any of them).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

rest of Longchamp card preview

Plenty more action at Longchamp today, here's a look at the rest of the action, courtesy of Edward Hewitt, @luckypunts. 2yo features still to come from another source...

Qatar Grand Handicap de Longchamp

The day’s racing gets underway with the Grand Handicap, a traditionally sticky race that once again looks difficult for punters. In such a contest it would normally be sensible to look for course and distance winners, especially at Longchamp where previous winners perform particularly well, but this race throws up 8 runners with previous course winners, four of whom did so at this distance. Money is likely to come for the experienced Roatan, particularly with the booking of Christophe Lemaire, who looked back to form at his last outing, but slight preference is for AMIRANT who may well be the most progressive of the lot and who has looked equally adept on both good and soft ground. Al Nejma represents an obvious danger after his course win last month, but this could represent a step too far.

Qatar Prix de L’Abbaye de Longchamp

A tricky renewal where the ground may be of significant importance and it looks as though soft conditions may rule several of the main contenders out. Swiss Spirit and Sole Power both look unsuited to conditions and things may have fallen just right for SPIRIT QUARTZ. Short sprints with large fields are never races that I like to get stuck into, but 7/1 is too big of a price for a reliable horse in a race that likes a standout favourite. Mayson deserves favouritism on the back of the July Cup performance, but his best form has been at 6 furlongs and this shorter trip may not suit.

Prix de l’Opera

Galikova is certain to prove popular Freddy Head’s charge has every chance if reproducing her form from 2011, but that is a rather big if. IZZI TOP has form on soft ground and the rain may have come at just the right time. The impressive second at Deauville shows that the disappointment at Goodwood was more of a blip rather than a change in fortunes and another good run can be expected. Giofra finished behind Izzi Top at Deauville and, whilst it is difficult to see how she can reverse that form, her previous course success means that she cannot be completely ruled out if she is anywhere near top form.

Qatar Arabian World Cup Sponsorisee Par Qatar Petroleum

If you can stay away from betting on one race this Sunday, this should be it. There’s very little to guide punters going into this and it is a race where nearly the entire field appears to have a chance. Tabarak is seeking a hat-trick and is currently favourite for the race, but I’m siding with Al MAMUN MONLAU who has placed behind the favourite on his last two outings, notably only by a neck back in June. The ground was softer at that outing and represents a better form guide than the larger margin of victory only a couple of weeks later.

Qatar Prix de la Foret

A race that sees get another run, but it is difficult to see Starspangledbanner reproducing old form and getting a head in front. There is plenty of quality in the race, but the most progressive could well be MASHOORA, who has looked encouraging so far and was unlucky to come up against the likes of Golden Lilac and Elusive Kate last time out. She is in with every chance and her current price (trading at around 6’s) is simply too big. Gordon Lord Byron will be suited by the ground and is in with every chance as does Penitent, but there should be questions as to how the latter will handle the trip.

Qatar Prix du Cadran

A fascinating race where once again the softer ground will prove crucial. Kasbah Bliss was impressive when winning last year, but hasn’t been on top form this season and is unlikely to reproduce on soft ground, but the answer may well be Saddler’s Rock. Once again there are slight ground concerns and his last two outings have been below par, but on his best form his is better than the rest. Colour Vision was extremely disappointing last time out, but it is hard to rule out the Ascot Gold Cup winner. There is, however, one runner perfectly suited by conditions and that is NIKITA DU BERLAIS. Ground and stamina will not be an issue, but making the transition to flat racing against horses of this quality is far from ideal.

And from the Yorkshireman, @jjmsports, here's a quick look at the 2yo races:

The Prix Marcel Boussac is the fillies chance to strut their stuff, and their coats will no doubt be glistening off the crisp turf, hopefully the British invasion of France continues with AGENT ALLISON and PURR ALONG going for us, Purr Along is the obvious stand out with her second behind Certify franked by Godolphin’s star filly winning The Fillies Mile at HQ last week. Agent Allison is another who was second behind a superstar when behind Newfangled at Royal Ascot. By Dutch Art, and out of a Diktat mare, I’m hopefully she will handle the conditions well.

In The Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, I cannot have the Ballydoyle two, even though they have a good record in the race and in particular on Arc Day. George Vancouver and Pedro the Great, are both out of Henrythenavigator won six of his ten starts on turf, but the two runs on soft he faltered, and being American bred, I don’t like his kiddies running on the wet stuff. I don’t like Olympic Glory, and generally avoid the Hannon and Hughes horses. The two I like are WHAT A NAME, who is a group three winner already in France, and Tha’ir for Godolphin. What a Name although a Mr Greeley colt, ran well on his maiden on soft, finishing a good third of nine at Deauville when very soft. THA’IR won at Ascot when the ground had plenty of juice, and he has good form in behind the likes of Toronado, Steeler and Dundonnell.

Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe preview with replay links

This was looking like a fairly straightforward preview until it rained, and rained, and rained in Paris today. So now we have to go even deeper than the bare form and determine which horse has flippers in its hooves! This race baffles me - geldings aren't allowed to run, but several runners which will only cause traffic problems and will be fighting it out for last are welcome to run? What a stupid rule!

Sea Moon (16) - started favourite in the King George and was beaten 2.25L by Danedream into fifth, the first time he'd ever missed a place. Ran 2nd in the Breeders Cup Turf to St Nicholas Abbey last year and won the G2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot (beating five horses aiming at the Melbourne Cup). Can he swim? He has two wins and a second on Good-Soft and his maiden on Heavy from five wet starts. The draw won't help but by the end of the day if the track is wet, I doubt it will be a factor. Into 10/1 fourth favourite now.

St Nicholas Abbey (10) - Ballydoyle's older hope who ran fifth here last year in a very hot field. Consistent this year in high grade, best run was probably his third behind Danedream in the King George at Ascot. Has JP O'Brien aboard which will annoy some punters, is there any reason to believe he will go better than last year? Only win this season has been the weak Coronation Cup, five placings in other races suggests he'll be around the money but probably not for the major prize. In the dry at 12/1, I'd have been having a lot more on for the place than the win, but now it's wet, he's out the gate - hasn't won on a wet track since his 2yo days despite being by Montjeu. Two starts on genuine Soft since then have resulted in defeats at 2/5 and 4/11.

Meandre (13) - sixth in this race last year. Has he improved since then, or is this year's edition that much weaker? Has won twice in small fields in 2012, the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in June over Shareta, Galikova and last year's winner Danedream, who later reported to be off-colour, then won the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) at Hoppegarten. Form is solid out of those races, but was beaten by Orfevre in the Prix Foy three weeks ago and we know he was underdone. Genuine pace here, something rarely seen in those small fields he has been contesting. Ridden by Guyon, trained by Fabre, he looked a decent chance at 20/1 on the dry, but his wet track record is rubbish - four starts on soft or worse, and have only heard of the winner of one of those races.

Mikhail Glinka (9) - former handy Ballydoyle colt now owned by Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Most recently won the Group 3 Preis der Sparkassen at Baden Baden at his last start, before that won a G2 2400m race in Dubai against stayers, not this class. 100/1 for a reason, likely to beat the pacemakers and maybe a couple more.

Robin Hood (12) - Ballydoyle pacemaker who has been beaten a total of 189 lengths in his last four starts. SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO TAKE HIS PLACE IN THIS CALIBRE OF RACE, will just cause traffic problems in the straight. 500/1 is unders.

Orfevre (18) - the Japanese superstar who won the 3yo Triple Crown last year, but showed some quirks in his first two runs for 2012. Then he came out and brained them in the Takarazuka Kinen, and did enough to show he had settled in and there was more to come in the Prix Foy three weeks ago. I have no doubt he is the best horse in the field, but can he handle the wet and what happens from barrier 18? Wet tracks are rare in Japan but he did win the Japanese Derby last year on a Soft track and the Prix Foy was run on Good-Soft. From the outside gate, he will need to do some work but has shown tactical speed and the ability to make long sustained runs in his best wins. Soumillon takes the ride and there's no better jockey at Longchamp.

Aventino (8) - pacemaker for Orfevre. Not sure if his record is quite as bad as the Racing Post says (i.e. have they got all his data?) - if so, then see comment for Robin Hood.

Shareta (11) - star filly who ran second to Danedream last year at 66/1, but has shown that was no fluke, winning the Yorkshire Oaks and the Prix Vermeille at her last two starts. Drawn midfield which should be fine, but the rain? Three runs on VerySoft or Heavy for three placings, no wins. Lemaire rides, big chance.

Haya Landa (1) - started 16/1 in a Group 3 race at Kempton last month and finished way back, even behind Mijhaar the money-muncher, so no idea why she is here. Ran fourth in the Prix Diane (French Oaks) earlier in the year, but rest of her form is ordinary. Just one win from 14, Drawn the inside rail, hopefully drops out the back and stays out of the way.

Solemia (6) - local filly without much experience at the top level. Beaten into third behind Shareta in the Prix Vermeille, but beat the same horse before that in the Prix Corrida in May. Good but not outstanding form in the wet, and drawn well. Peslier is a very good jockey, you could do worse than back her at 50s.

Bayrir (14) - a late entry supplemented during the week by the super-rich Aga Khan. By Medicean which usually means any significant rain is a negative on his chances. Won the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington two starts back, ran second to Saonois in the Prix Niel recently. Wide draw, Mosse takes over from Lemaire, his first ride on the horse.

Kesampour (15) - won his first four starts, then beaten by Saonois in his past two (Prix Du Jockey Club and Prix Niel, where he led - not his usual pattern). Two starts on wet tracks (Heavy and Very Soft) for two wins, one of them over Saonois, means he will have support tomorrow, even at 40s, especially with pacemakers letting him settle back. Benoist to ride, has won on him twice.

Camelot (5) - the star Irish 3yo in what is commonly believed to be a poor crop. Won the 2000 Guineas, the English and Irish Derby, and then could only run second in the St Leger as he went for the rarely-achieved English Triple Crown. A poor ride, victim of circumstances or not good enough? Speak to three different punters and you are likely to get three different answers. He might be a Montjeu but I didn't think he enjoyed the wet at The Curragh. It has been a long season for him, he's had one ordinary run where he looked a bit flat - I cannot have him as favourite despite the prime draw.

Masterstroke (17) - talented colt with four wins and two seconds from six starts. Beat Gatewood in the Prix de Deauville recently, really knuckled down close to the line. The runner-up is a good horse, but he's not a WFA star. Not raced on a surface worse than soft, but is by Monsun. 12.5 on Betfair seems pretty short to me.

Ernest Hemingway (4) - looked like a potential superstar when winning his debut at Dundalk by a minute but then something went wrong in the Dante when favourite. I hope he's not being sacrificed as a pacemaker for the rest of his career - he could have turned out to be a very, very good horse. Hasn't seen a wet track, but by Galileo, expected to handle it.

Saonois (2) - French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club at 33/1) and Prix Niel winner who has been supplemented this week at a cost of €100k. Burst through tight gaps to win the Derby (very rough race) and in the Niel - he's battle-hardened, drawn well and don't be afraid of his relatively inexperienced jockey, he has a great relationship with this horse.

Yellow And Green (3) - one win from five starts, beaten by Shareta last start in the Vermeille, previous form weaker than it needs to be - she has been avoiding the big 3yo races, so running here has to be regarded as ambitious.

Great Heavens (7) - supplemented this week by the not-struggling-for-a-penny Lady Rothschild, in response to her brother Nathaniel being withdrawn, and the steady rain. Three runs on soft to heavy tracks for three easy wins. In fact all her wins (four from five starts) have been easy. But the Irish Oaks and Lancashire Oaks are a long way from the Arc - she hasn't run against the boys before, and this is a stiff class rise. Now trading at 8.2 on Betfair..... really? William Buick to ride, to say he has been flying this season in big races is a huge understatement.

VERDICT

So who do I like? I don't actually know. Let's see how this ground turns out. I've been on Orfevre since January (at 10s) and I'm not dropping off now, but the combination of the gate and the rain means I will be looking to back at least one rival - maybe Saonois and Kesampour, but let's see what happens in the early races and how it is affecting the pattern.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Superleague Grand Final preview

After last week's great tipping performance in the NRL, James Jack, @materialista27, returns with his assessment of the northern hemisphere's biggest club match in rugby league.

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Later today, in a repeat of this season's Challenge Cup final, Warrington and Leeds meet in the Super League grand final. Both sides came through brutal semi finals to book their Old Trafford spot - Warrington avenged their play-off week one loss to St Helens, whilst Leeds went forward passed defeated the table topping Wigan Warriors.

The cup holders, Warrington have been marked as the bookies favourites, but the Rhinos can't be underestimated especially with their wealth of Grand Final experience. They will be lining up for their seventh Grand Final in nine years, whilst for Warrington, it's a totally new experience. With this in mind, many could question why the Wolves are favourites, they finished 9 points in front of the Rhinos in the table, but they proved at Wembley that they can topple the Rhinos, and will be motivated in their quest to do the double.

Experience
No team has won more Grand Finals than the current Heinz Big Soup World Club Champions, Leeds Rhinos. Experience can count for everything in a game like this and Leeds have already proved that they can dominate a final, even as underdogs. Last year, the Rhinos came from 5th to beat the Saints comfortably 32-16 in the final. To win it this year, they will once again have to come from 5th, having beaten Wakefield, Catalans and Wigan en route. Kevin Sinfield’s astute kicking game in last week’s win at the DW Stadium was proof that experience can win you games in knock-out rugby, whilst selflessly killing the spectacle, a skill which Leeds excel at.

Warrington, on the other hand, have all the knowledge of knock-out stages too. As I mentioned before they have featured in three of the last four Wembley finals. Old Trafford is a whole new proposition, but they at least have one man who knows how to win there. Their power-house prop, Adrian Morley, won a Grand Final ring in 2005 whilst on loan at the Bradford Bulls from Sydney City Roosters. He may not have appeared in as many Grand Finals as the majority of the Leeds team, but he certainly oozes experience. Morley is in his 6th season with the Wolves, having previously played 149 games for Leeds from 1994 – 2000.

Nobody has more Grand Final experience than Leeds forward Jamie Peacock. The England and Rhinos prop will be playing in his 10th Grand Final on Saturday night having previously won seven. Peacock led Bradford to three titles before making the switch to arch-rivals Leeds in 2006. If the Rhinos win, look forward to his interview post-match, it’ll be a treat for you if you enjoy incomprehensible mumblings. Great player, horrible speaker. Allegedly Peacock answers his phone, “Jamie Peacock, Great Britain and England Captain” despite the Lions being disbanded after their 2008 tour.

Where the game will be won
Cup Finals can be decided by the tiniest of margins. Whether it is a drop goal from Kevin Sinfield or even a 40/20 from the boot of Lee Briers, one moment can turn the game on its head.

Saturday will see two teams going into the game off the back of great semi-final performances.

Leeds edged out Wigan 13-12, even though they were outscored by two tries to one and largely outplayed. One lucky intercept try and the boot of Kevin Sinfield proved the difference between the two sides and the way he directed his troops around the field instilled great confidence in his side going into the final.

Warrington were 36-18 victors over St. Helens, who had beaten them in the first week of the playoffs; however their flare and finishing prowess proved the difference in the end. The Wolves will be calling on all their creative men at Old Trafford to hurt Leeds early on. Leeds have scored first on 17 occasions this season so Warrington will be looking to get out of the blocks early to counteract that.

If the game is played down the middle, then Warrington have muscle to compete and overwhelm any team they face. Gareth Carvell, Man of Steel nominee Ben Westwood and Ben Harrison are three men who fit that bill. However should the game suddenly descend into a test of skill, Wire have Briers, Myler, Hodgson and a dog’s best friend Joel Monaghan.

Leeds may look to spread the ball early. The likes of Kallum Watkins, Ben Jones Bishop and Zak Hardaker have pace to burn and getting it out to them may catch the Wolves on the back foot. That will be a relief for Rhinos fans are these three are dire in defence, schoolboy stuff.

Either way, this game is likely to be the contest we all expect, or certainly wish it to be. Leeds have been there and done it and Warrington are the current cup kings.

If Warrington are to win then Lee Briers will need to be in fine form; the 34 year-old is considered the most likely to lift the Harry Sunderland Trophy, but that is something he will want to put to the back of his mind. However, Leeds have a team to be proud of also, and will be skippered by Kevin Sinfield who will lead out his team for the seventh time. Personally I hope they both lose, but that can’t happen. Just whatever you do watch it on mute.
Sky Sports 1 – 1730, kick off 1800

Warrington: Ryan Atkins, Lee Briers, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper, Simon Grix, Ben Harrison, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Brett Hodgson, Tyrone McCarthy, Joel Monaghan, Michael Monaghan, Adrian Morley, Richie Myler, Stefan Ratchford, Chris Riley, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Paul Wood.

Leeds: Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Kevin Sinfield, Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Chris Clarkson, Darrell Griffin, Richard Moore, Stevie Ward, Shaun Lunt.

Referee: Richard Silverwood
Video-Referee: Phil Bentham

ADVICE
4pts drop goal in the match : 7/4 generally (Briers and Sinfield will take any opportunity to kick one, even if their team is 20 points in front)

2pts Ryan Atkins first try : 12/1 Sportingbet (Leeds right side defence is amateur)

1pt EW Jamie Peacock first try : 66/1 William Hill (scored tries in a few big games, against Australia in Sydney in 2006, his 5m barge-over effort will typify this game)

2pts Richie Myler man of the match : 14/1 generally (while most of Leeds’ attention will be on Briers, Myler will be free to control this game from halfback, as have the last two Harry Sunderland medal winners)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Turnbull Stakes meeting preview

It's October, the footy seasons are over and spring racing really gets serious now in Australia. After a stunning debut last week on the AFL Grand Final, Michael Courts, @mtcourts, displays the breadth of his expertise with a look at some of the main races on the card tomorrow at Flemington.

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Turnbull Stakes Preview

With last weekend marking the end of the season of Australia’s oval ball codes, it is finally time for Melbourne’s spring racing carnival to take centre stage in Australia’s packed sporting landscape. Officially known as Melbourne Cup Carnival Preview Day, Turnbull Stakes Day features three Group 2 races and five listed races as support to the day’s eponymous feature, widely regarded as a key lead-up for the spring’s three main features – the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups and the Cox Plate.

Those who followed last week’s tip on Ryan O’Keefe for the Norm Smith Medal in the Grand Final at $15 should now have a nice bank for the entire carnival, not just this week. With our betting accounts flushed with funds, let’s see if we can find a few winners at Flemington on Saturday.

Race 5 – Group 2 Blazer Stakes (1400m)
One of my key rules for the punt is to not back out of form mares. With that said, rules are made to be broken and I’m jumping on the superstar mare MOSHEEN (#1) to get her spring campaign back on track with a return to the winner’s stall. The four time Group 1 winner’s preparation has suffered a few setbacks with a throat operation delaying her seasonal reappearance, while regular rider Danny Nikolic has sat out the entire spring so far having been stood down (now banned for two years) for threatening a steward. However, under Nick Hall at Caulfield last time out, Mosheen hit the line hard for fifth, crucially goes back to Flemington where she is a dual G1 winner, and is out to a more suitable distance (1400m): and so looks a nice bet at $5 against a fairly even bunch of mares. Current race favourite Soft Sand ($3.50) appears under the odds for a horse that often finds trouble (and will need luck from barrier 1 if she goes back), is yet to win beyond 1200m, yet to perform outside 3y/o fillies grade or at Flemington. I’m willing to risk her here.

Race 7 – Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m)
The feature of the day looms as a wide betting race, with the Lloyd Williams-owned Green Moon currently holding early favouritism at $5. While it looms as nearly a field leg if you’re inclined to take a quaddie, I’m going with last year’s winner DECEMBER DRAW (#3) to repeat the dose. The Mark Kavanagh-trained galloper has a sensational record on his home track, winning four of five with the only defeat a respectable eighth here last month when first up after nearly a year out injured. His last run was an excellent third in the Underwood Stakes to Ocean Park when he looked beaten early in the straight but fought on and managed to hit the line hard. His record beyond 2000m in Australia is imposing – with only last year’s Caulfield Cup failure when injured badly in the run his only defeat – while in-form jockey (and Kavanagh’s stable rider) Michael Rodd should give him a great ride from barrier 3. At $5.50 he is a much more attractive price than the odds-on offered when he went around in this race last year.

Race 8 – Group 2 Gilgai Stakes (1200m)
The day’s major sprint, and a key lead-in for many of the short-course spring features, has a relatively short priced favourite in BEL SPRINTER (#4). With Australia’s two best sprinters in Black Caviar and Hay List missing the spring, the pickings are finally rich for the likes of Bel Sprinter to step out of the superstars’ shadow and claim some Group 1 sprinting glory. He looks to have returned in fine fettle judging by last month’s win at Moonee Valley, and is still at reasonable odds at $2.60 to atone for his interrupted autumn preparation that promised so much yet delivered so little. If you’re keen on a roughie here, Mark Kavanagh’s LIVEANDLETDIE (#5) has performed down the straight first-up before, and ran a bottling seventh in this year’s Newmarket Handicap – Australia’s best sprint handicap – in his last preparation.

Race 9 – Listed Headquarters Tavern Stakes (1400m)
To close out the day we have another open race but I will try and tip you all into one at a bit of odds. SHADOWFAX (#7) was too keen first-up over a slightly unsuitable distance at Moonee Valley but after being flushed out wide on the turn (having also drawn wide), he fought on well in the straight against a fitter bunch of sprinters. Second-up he draws a gate for Michael Rodd here and at $13 he looms as an excellent each-way chance in an open field. He’s performed second-up before at 1400m (three wins, a second and a good fourth) and if the rain comes as it is suggested, it will be to his advantage. At the very least, include in your multiples.

There you have it folks. Good punting to you all!

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And if you're into racing and fantasy sports, then you should play StarStable and join my mini-league (code - 782704). It closes Saturday morning at 10am.

industry update

Long overdue this one, so let's see how much I can come up with....

Sportingbet have rejected the takeover bid from William Hill and GVC, suggesting the bid undervalued the company. Doesn't seem like a big surprise given Sportingbet are currently trading around the offer level of 52.5p, having been as low as 26p back in May. This appears to be an action to encourage them to come back with a better offer rather than flat rejection. Meanwhile, the acquisition target's annual figures reported a net loss based on costs acquiring Centrebet and shedding regions of questionable legality such as Turkey, but once again, Australian results were very strong.

The punter who cried wolf when Bet365 Australia wouldn't pay him his 'winnings' of $70k may have bitten off more than he can chew - stewards are now looking into the circumstances of the race where the two dogs who didn't run in the placings for the First 4 bet, including the favourite, had allegedly recently been stabled at the brother of the punter concerned. The guy then spent almost $5000 with Bet365 taking all sorts of combinations on this bet, and it is believed invested some money in the TAB pool as well to inflate the dividend further. Nobody invests that much on an obscure race without something very fishy going on. At the same time, Bet365 Aus were very lax in not preparing their rules to handle such events - they are not new in Australia, and they spent over a year being 'very close' to launching. Perhaps if they hadn't hired the biggest problem gambler within the betting industry to a key post, whose irresponsibility led to major staff turnover before they had even taken a bet, they might have had the time and resources to make their rules watertight....

Italian authorities are again handing out pathetically light penalties for football match-fixing. A 22 month suspended sentence for admitting to accepting $230,000 and scoring an own goal so the other team won? Have they even seized or demanded he pays back the money? Not much of a deterrent is it?

Dodgy footballers are in the news in Britain again, but not for throwing football games. Instead they are being investigated for paying a jockey to pull up horses so they could lay them on Betfair. The biggest name on the list, Michael Chopra, has confessed to a gambling addiction which has cost him in the vicinity of £2m over his career.

UK bookies claim that Tiger Woods' concession on the final hole of the Ryder Cup to give Europe a 14.5-13.5 victory may have cost them as much as £10m. Considering how much bookies have made on Woods since he last won a major, try not to shed too many tears for them.....

Conmen stealing money from people to fund their own lavish lifestyle and betting habits are never far away. Interesting comments in the article about the GRASP group, supposedly a gambling addiction support group.

Some criminals don't just steal money to go gambling, this bloke stole millions from pension funds in order to buy an online bookmaker!

The 'Mecca' of online gambling (sic), Alderney, is introducing requirements for locally-licensed operators to segregate client and operating funds with a monthly reporting system. Sounds great in theory, but if it's anything like Malta, then don't be getting too excited about it...

Bookie-in-a-box solutions are never going to work for companies with no understanding of the industry, it's not a licence to print money and it just gives the industry a bad name when new firms go bust/screw customers. Should firms like Odds Matrix who create such a product be forced to apply much stricter criteria on their licensees?

The wash-up from the SportsAlive debacle has been documented in the Supreme Court, and it's as bad as we feared.... The ACT Dept of Gaming and Racing should never be allowed to grant wagering licences again.

The race-fixing allegations in Victoria have been displaced from the headlines by the two year disqualification of controversial jockey Danny Nikolic over threats made to the Victorian chief steward.

The influence of international bookmakers arriving in Australia is rumoured to be getting rather draconian - at least one leading bookmaker reportedly has all their trading decisions now decided by the beancounters, not the traders and risk managers. Consequently, said book has problems holding onto staff as they get pissed off with the policy of the firm who spend millions on advertising and marketing, boasting about how big and great they are as bookmakers....

And the investigation into the betting affairs of the "Tasmanian punters club" continues to unravel. Once upon a time, and I think the first time I heard of them as an organised group, they were referred to as the Tasmanian Baseball Syndicate, making a mess of some of the Caribbean bookies.