Saturday, 27 February 2016

Miracle Mile preview

The greatest speed test in Australasian harness racing is the Miracle Mile. Formerly run on the dog track of Harold Park, it has turned a new leaf since it moved to the 1400m track at Menangle. It's a race which has won by many of the southern hemisphere's greatest pacers, but I'll leave the honour roll discussion to today's previewer.

Returning to the blog is harness racing fanatic and racecalling prodigy Luke Humphreys, @WorldRacingLuke.


SEW Eurodrive Miracle Mile
1609m – Mobile
Group One –AUD$750,000
1639 local, 0539 GMT

Formguide, including replay links

The X Factor of the field clearly, and also could be the best horse in the race, clearly, however I say “also” for the moment. She’s had the hype on her since her debut in Australia and her first “wow” performance was her Menangle debut when she stopped the clock in 1:50.7, in a CO-C4!!! The hype was confirmed a couple of runs later when she made all of the running in the G2 Hondo Grattan Stakes going 1:50.7. However last start in the Chariots of Fire was probably the biggest performance in defeat I’ve seen since Smoken Up running second in the 2010 G1 SA Cup. She galloped in the score up, losing 30m, and chased hard and was never on the pegs, and rocketed from last up the straight to get third, beaten only 13.6m by Have Faith In Me in the end. Her sectionals we’re 25.2, 28.3, 28.4 and 25.7 adding up to a 1:47.7 mile. Unbelievable to say the least. Now as long as she scores up in the desired manner, which you’d expect this time, she will lead and that’s confirmed from barrier one, even if she was the outside. However, will she be able to back up that run from two weeks ago? Is she good enough to beat Australasia’s best as a 4YO mare, let alone a 4YO colt or a seasoned mare? It’s a huge ask to say the least, but the way she went last time they will have to break 1:48 to beat her. Plus she will be on the pegs this time so as long as she backs up, who’s to say she can’t go quicker than 1:47.7?? It’s also been a fairly long campaign. I absolutely hate tipping 4YOs in FFA G1s to be honest, but this one is out of the box. If she runs up to her last run, whoever can beat her is a freak in my eyes.

Has been absolutely flying to say the least of late. Had been having absolutely no luck whatsoever until last time in one of the G1 qualifiers, when he was well back and they went crazy up front and he was able to swamp them late to book his position into the field and get a much deserved win, let alone at G1 level. As consistent as he is and as good as he’s been going, I just can’t see him winning this as I don’t think his good enough but could possibly run into a place with a nice peg line run.

3: EASY ON THE EYE (EM 2): Scratched

Winner of this race in 2013 and runner up last season. Loves the track and won his qualifier easy enough last time. If you want be to be honest I think there are actually a few better than him here but his advantage is he has been targeted for one race, the Miracle Mile, this is his absolute grand final. This is his first run against true G1 horses since last year’s G1 Len Smith Mile, where he started long odds-on and had every hope behind Smolda in second. However has won two Inter Dominions at this course and even though the Tassie champ has a great record at the track, I honestly think there are a couple better than him here. Going to be a brave man and say he can’t win.

5: LORD ZIN ZAN (EM 1): Scratched

Australian champion who was a true classic winner of the Inter Dominion series in Perth. Three runs since that series have seen an absolute blinding second to Smolda in the G1 Ballarat Cup, a tough victory in the G1 Victoria Cup, although had nice sectionals, and was clearly and always going to be the best in the G2 Bendigo Cup last time. He has speed, toughness, a great gait, class and ability. Terrific third in last year’s G1 Le Smith Mile too, run of the race, and has won the G1 NSW Derby at this course three years ago. Certainly the forgotten horse in ways and can obviously win.

NZ star 4YO who beat the likes of Hughie Green, Smolda etc in the G1 Auckland Cup in December from the tapes over 3200m, to do what he did there only stars can do. NZ Champion 3YO last year winning both Derby’s in Christchurch and Auckland, over Follow The Stars each time. Three starts for three wins over the C&D with awesome victories in a FFA, 4YO G2 over Cruz Bromac unextended from the breeze, and a simply breathtaking win the in the Chariots last time. The scary thing there is and also to his advantage, he had some gears left, so he can obviously go quicker than 1:48.8. Can he go quicker than Arms Of An Angel, giving her a start this time? If he does, he’s an absolute superstar. Natalie Rasmussen did drive Blacks A Fake, arguably greatest harness horse ever, but this bloke from an ability perspective could be better.

WA star who has won the last two WA Cups in brilliant style. Never got into the G1 Victoria Cup but after a soft peg run in the G1 Hunter Cup he stormed home to chase Smolda and Ohoka Punter. For mine he had every possible in his qualifier and was a bit disappointing on the line for mine, however that was his third run in three weeks in a G1 and had the trip from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney. Two week freshen up would’ve done him good. Place only though for mine.

Very consistent type who was fourth in the Inter Dominion 12 months ago and got a peg run to get 2nd to Beautide in his qualifier booking him his placing in the race. Draw hurts however and even though he’s consistent this is tough.

Star type who has produced so many “wow” wins in his career. Brilliant third in the G1 Ballarat Cup and then had to work too hard in the G1 Victoria Cup and was reeled in the last stride by Monifieth last time. Maybe McCarthy gave him too much to do last time? Or maybe he was a bit disappointing. Either way from this draw it’s really tough and maybe he is good enough to win but I just question if he’s up to the absolute top G1 level as good as he is. Will need luck.

To say it’s an intriguing renewal of the Miracle Mile is an understatement because it’s so interesting to say the least. Is it the strongest or most exciting field ever? I thought it was a couple of weeks ago but opinion has changed since then, as with the greatest of respect to horses like MONIFIETH (2) and BLAZIN N CULLEN (9) they probably aren’t good enough with ordinary and probably aren’t true G1 horses, which if it’s going to be the strongest ever, every horse must have a chance and be a true G1 horse. For mine, nothing will ever beat watching Smoken Up and Blacks A Fake going stride for stride the whole way in 2010, and being there trackside only made it more enjoyable. Even Popular Alm and Gammalite in 1983 was special to say the least. And from a depth of field perspective 1991 was amazing strong with Christopher Vance, Westburn Grant, Franco Tiger and Chokin. Even 2013 renewal in November had amazing depth. 2009 was memorable as well. And no one can forget Christian Cullen in 1998. Even 2001 was amazingly strong, Smooth Satin, Courage Under Fire, Shakamaker, Yulestar, Kyms Girl and Holmes D G. And the first 10 years of the race with Robin Dundee, Mount Eden and Halwes was unbelievable, Hondo Grattan and Paleface Adios in the 70’s too! I have forgotten some and could name many more but who will win this year’s race? One certainty is the race certainly has the potential to be very exciting. Have always hated tipping 4YOs in G1 FFAs but I’ve tipped them to go the Quinella here! (1) ARMS OF AN ANGEL is clearly the X Factor and possibly the best horse, (7) HAVE FAITH IN ME has done nothing wrong and is a huge chance and (6) LENNYTHESHARK is clearly the forgotten horse in all of this 4YO/Beautide talk. (2) MONIFIETH isn’t good enough but has been flying and could get a soft peg run from a good draw and can finish close without winning.


Friday, 26 February 2016

Blue Diamond Stakes preview

Perhaps the best day of the Melbourne 'autumn' carnival tomorrow with a day full of black ptype races, including three Group 1s. The richest race of the day is Melbourne's juvenile jewel, the Blue Diamond Stakes for 2yo. There have been some superstars win this over the years, such as Sepoy, Alinghi, Bel Esprit, Redoute's Choice, Lady Jakeo, Zeditave, Bounding Away, Rancher and Manikato.

How does this year's field compare? Let's ask new contributor Bill Janetschek, @billyjtweets. You can read more of his work on his site - Third Dividend.


Ladbrokes Blue Diamond Stakes
Group 1, 2yo, 1200m, $1.5m
Caulfield 1645 local, 0545 GMT

Having a look at the line up, Extreme Choice is one of the three horses that Mick Price has in the race, two of which lead the market, Extreme Choice and Flying Artie. Extreme Choice is drawn out in barrier 12 while Flying Artie jumps from barrier 16. Not surprising here is the fact that both favourites have drifted out with the barriers. When you look at these sort of races, sometimes the over-reaction is that horses in the outside barriers tend to drift, while horses in the inside barriers tend to firm. And that's been the case here because the punters have just shied away a little bit from the Price pair and have wanted to be on Concealer and Samara Dancer since the barrier draw. But the market still has Extreme Choice as the favourite at $2.80 fixed TAB and Flying Artie $5.00 fixed TAB. Concealer and Samara Dancer are both currently $6.50 chances. Then, a decent jump for Star Turn at $11.00 and another good jump to Miss Nymeria at $23.00, then $26.00 for Zamzam and longer the rest.

The quality of this race is outstanding. The times that these horses have been running have been super. The temperature will be around 26c with fine weather leading up the the Blue Diamond. The track should be in perfect order and I think the way the race will be run, it will be tempo-related so I'm not looking for any bias. I think it'll play rather fair and there's certainly a lot of quality.

Looking at the speedmap, I think that Extreme Choice will come across and lead from barrier 12. Hell Of An Effort is another on-pace runner that will be close to the fence along with Star Turn and Areti. Selenia is drawn wide in barrier 17 and should be on-pace, followed by Samara Dancer, Valliano and Highland Beat.

In the Blue Diamond Prelude-Fillies at Caulfield on 13/02/16, Samara Dancer beat Concealer by a length, with Miss Nymeria running third, Selenia fourth. Samara Dancer had a beautiful run in this race. She didn't have to travel too wide and once she got clear in the straight, she really picked up nicely and won fairly well. She will need a little bit of luck here because I think she will be back off the speed and will have to extricate getting into position but you had to like this performance.

I don't think that Concealer will have to get back as far as she did in the Prelude. She did over race a bit when she was in the back of the tail of the field so I think with the genuine tempo this race is going to be run at, I think Concealer with the position that she's drawn, can get into a mid-field spot, and if she does, she can unleash a pretty strong finish, and the 1200m is going to suit her a lot better than what the 1100m did.

Miss Nymeria has been getting back in her races but she has been drawing wide gates. I don't think she'll have the speed from barrier 2 to get herself in a mid-field spot. If she does, it remains to be seen wheter she can finish off well but her two recent runs have been excellent from back in the field to produce some pretty slick times, in regards to the day.

I thought Selenia stuck on really well in the Prelude and showed a lot of speed. If she gets a run, she can go well here and be right up there. The other horse that I liked in that event was Zamzam. She was held up for a short time but I think there will be a lot of improvement with this horse and the 1200m will be much better for her. I think she will run a good race. Something to note, Sweet Sherry didn't have a lot of luck in the Prelude.

Flying Artie overcame quite a few hurdles in the Blue Diamond Prelude-C&G, particularly around the home turn where he got bumped by the runner on his inside on several occasions, but got up and ran down Star Turn. There's no doubt that Flying Artie can be much closer than what he was on this day, he's drawn out rather wide again, and again, he hasn't got the favours with the wide barrier. It was clear that he didn't want to be in the spot that he was on the day but to actually pick up and sprint well from where he was and close off the way he did in this race, I thought it was an excellent performance. As I said, no favours with the barrier on Saturday, which is the big worry. So what does Damien Oliver do? I think if he jumps well (this time), and he gets away, Oliver can have him in the first 6, because he has shown speed. There's no doubt that Flying Artie is a force to be reckoned with in this race.

I think you also have to like Star Turn here because it's one of the horses that can show early speed. It looks like the tempo & speed is going to be out wide so if he can just sit off the tempo and get a drag off the horses in front of him, then I think he could show a pretty good finish because he has a lot of ability. And at the moment, I think that Star Turn represents pretty good odds ($10.00/$3.00 fixed TAB).

China Dream had no luck on speed. Flying Artie got the drag behind China Dream so that run was full of merit. Power Trip also made up some ground and looks overs at $61.00/$14.33 fixed TAB.

Now on to the favourite, Extreme Choice. He really showed his ability in his first go in Sydney with Glyn Schofield onboard. Lots of speed, pulled away and then at Caulfield, he continued to roll forward for Damien Oliver. Granted it was a small field and he really didn't get pressured that much up on the speed and he didn't get away as well as he could have but he picked up well between the 800m-600m and then backed off between the 600m-400m. Keep in mind that the rail was out 9m. The rail on Saturday will be in the True position and as such, I don't think that he will have it as easy as he did last time. My feeling is that Extreme Choice is a false favourite ($2.80/$1.40 fixed TAB) which is too short for mine anyway, I think he is vulnerable.

In conclusion, I think that Concealer and Samara Dancer will be the main two in the Blue Diamond. I really like Concealer ($6.50/$2.22) and think she will be really hard to beat, from Samara Dancer ($6.50/$2.22), Star Turn ($10.00/$3.00), and Flying Artie ($5.50/$2.00), My Long Shot is Areti ($61.00/$14.33).

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Shocking story from the Gold Coast, long known as the scam capital of Australia, where a former senior detective seemingly gave up trying to bust these scammers and got in on it himself!

Ex-cop Mick Featherstone pulled puppet directors’ strings in boiler-room scam, say police

A FORMER high-ranking Gold Coast detective allegedly masterminded a multi-million-dollar boiler-room scam, duping hundreds of people with the help of his wife and son.

Police allege Mick Featherstone and his wife, Zoei Keong, were key players in the scheme which involved manipulating vulnerable people – including a man with a brain injury – to become “puppet directors” of 12 scam companies.

Investors were cold-called and asked to pay between $500 and $1000 for a four-day trial of betting and investment software. After seeing fake profits, they then signed 12-month contracts, police allege.

But the companies linked to the investments would disappear before the year was up, it is alleged, and about 600 people lost a total of between $15 million and $20 million.

Featherstone is a former Surfers Paradise criminal investigation branch boss and fraud squad member who is said to have built connections at the highest levels of the Queensland Police Service.

Read the remainder of the article here

Sadly, this type of scam has been going on for years. It could be any industry they target, but the betting industry is the one which takes a hit because of pricks like this. Finally it appears that Queensland police are doing something about it as a few recent successes have hit the press after years of silence.

Major scam operation busted as police raid Gold Coast mansion, offices

Boiler room scam victims unlikely to get money back, police warn

'The biggest mistake in my life': how Gold Coast boiler room scams duped investors

Boiler room raids net four Irish Boys 'key operators' on Gold Coast

Gold Coast police raid boiler rooms linked to betting, investment scams

Fraud and cyber crime police target cold-call investment scams on Gold Coast

Friday, 19 February 2016

Ascot Chase preview

Feature National Hunt races start winding down shortly as everyone wants to put their horses on ice for the Festival, but first we have the Ascot Chase, featuring a few fading stars and some others who never quite made the mark. In his own inimitable style, it's Jon da Silva, @creamontop with his analysis of the jumping jewel of the weekend.


Betfair Ascot Chase
Grade 1, £150,000, 2m 5f 8y
1535 GMT (0435 AEDT)

The Grade 1 chasing pattern is pretty spot on. The issue is outside of two- and three-milers, no one cares to win races at 2.5 miles so they are often brutally uncompetitive. Unless they have a horse who has been shown up at two miles and three miles, trainers avoid 'em like the plague. Many presume the likes of Cue Card and Vautour can drop distances like Michael Gove, a Chris 'The Thick of It' Grayling policy. That dropping down in trip is grabbing the 'low hanging fruit'. It's much the same way as the kid tries an over headkick in the jaw droppingly sad 'The Ladbrokes Life' ads and the voiceover says 'Who wants to score a tap in anyway?' It is still not a preferred option. After being splattered by Cue Card and co., Silviniaco Conti the three mile king 2012-15 and Dynaste the third best UK horse at three miles behind Conti and Cue do fancy some easier prey but not because it's there but because of who is not there.

Easy Pickings - best alternate phrase to Low Hanging Fruit apparently

Amore Alato 33s

Not won even a novice chase and beaten 32 lengths by Bristol de Mai last time. This field is old and vulnerable but this is an optimistic entry. A horse this good [OR 139] surely there is a better use than hoping for carnage to get prizemoney. Even the four grand for fifth does not make any sense to a still novice qualified -> even if you want to novice chase next year, mmmh National Hunt Novice Classifications are ridiculous.

Flemenstar 7s

Won a Grade 1 this year when the favourite fell and Simply Ned ground to a halt in bottomless ground. Once promising horse who has had issues. Good to see the old boy back and can make a case at 10s on value grounds and ratings. In his prime this might have been his best trip. I think his Ireland form is more 160 than the 165 that could be needed here. In his youth trained by a funny man he was said not to travel well but that was a time ago and in reality was not fast enough on quick ground for Cue Card and especially Sprinter Sacre when shipped terrifying distances across oceans and mountains to Liverpool.

Royal Regatta 7s

A measure of how far the big two have fallen that much like with Faugheen out of the Champion Hurdle, this races attracts its share of relative no-hopers and trees this 152 exposed chaser beaten over course and distance off 149 last is entered here against one of the greats. It's his favourite course and distance but seems priced based on most others being 'Gone at the Game' rather than 'Last Chance Saloon'.

Savello 20s

In his runs beyond two miles he has been beaten at least 14 lengths four times. Honestly if he were not trained by Dan Skelton I would write something like he has two chances, No and None, or every other horse in the race fails to give its running. If Skelton wins with this, I am buying a statue of him and worshipping it.

Triolo D'Alene 6s

Won the same race as Balder Succes, last year's winner, prior. Has won a Hennessy and being a UK horse was felt to be ground held but may have been more held back by stamina. Thought even allowing Wishful Thinking is an old horse with dickie wind and Ptit Zig is not a champion, he put them away very well last time at Kempton. Will he bounce? Who the fuck is Jeremiah McGrath who rides him? Negatives surprisingly Henderson these days. He has brought some old wrecks back but Sprinter dropped 10+ pounds in performance between starts IMO. Triolo not been off that long and National Entry folly. Visually impressed me last time but not sure I'd hang a bet on that alone. You basically have to conclude he improved from prior to the Hennessy and it was not the extra distance that did it to say he can win here.

Ma Filleule 6s

2nd in this last year and 2nd in the Ryanair at the festival ahead of jumping bus Don Cossack. Beat Emile Grey over 2.5 in a Mares Conditions race last time and that one could not get Mullins Plugger Black Hercules off the bit at Warwick. Last April to give you an idea of difference between 2.5 miling and 3 miling got 33 wickets kicked into at Aintree by Silviniaco Conti.

Supernovas [Dying Stars]

Dynaste 4s

In Cue Card and Silviniaco's shadow for much of their reign of terror in UK based Grade 1s at park tracks over three miles. Big Buck's 'Mini Me' prior. Has managed to sneak a Grade 1 Chase by dropping into the Ryanair over this sort of trip. Last time sent back over hurdles was in the Long Walk and predictably tailed off. Started off with a decent second to Cue Card but was dumped even further at Haydock by Cue Card and crucially here Silviniaco Conti. Apparently had a breathing op and gets a tongue tie (has worn before) with blinkers here. Plenty of signs of desperation there. Has cut back before to win a Ryanair and be beaten in one having looked a likely winner.

Silvinaco Conti 3s

Faces only one horse at remotely his best level here and that is Dynaste, a horse he has used as a douche bag several times. From his win at Aintree in the three mile novice Silviniaco won every UK three mile Grade 1 [Ain, Kem, Hay] bar three until Cue Card put him to the sword at Haydock this season; one when he was not even entered as not a Kempton horse according to Nicholls - hahahaha; one when First Lieutenant and Menorah did him in his first Betfair Bowl at Aintree on quick ground; and when Cue and Dynaste left him drooling at Haydock on the outer flat, more galloping course, over a distance that may have been within two furlongs of the advertised distance. Essentially won six Grade 1 races for one defeat on the flat tight tracks only beaten when on a more galloping strip at Haydock. His one visit to Ascot as a chaser he was looking at Alfie Spinner's arse over three miles here with Invictus and Plod's Worth requiring binoculars. He did win at Newbury by seven lengths from The Giant Bolster which either means The Bolster ran his greatest ever race on a flat track or Silvie was below form. He also beat the then 142 rated Wayward Prince at Wetherby but was been handed a duffing there by Menorah and his Cheltenham record includes beaten in what Declan Murphy would call 'The Penalty Kick Gold Cup'. My reading of Conti' is he will find Ascot too galloping, even with its three corners and uphill drag which he may not like either. He is not forlorn but his best form has slipped and if his best form on a galloping track has slipped as much he is very vulnerable here notwithstanding 3s seems large I am keen to take him on.


Royal Regatta and Silvie's price make me want to take them on and that ignoring Black Swans leaves Flemenstar, Henderson's pair and Dynaste and I'll probably play some exotics around them. This may be the last chance saloon for Dynaste but his opening defeat by Cue Card is perfectly acceptable and moves to deal with his breathing, freshness and possibility of better ground counter the doubts of adding Blinkers to the mix. This race seems priced on EW considerations rather than winning chances because it's the dead 8 ante post and backing most shit or bust horse to win makes most sense.

Thus Ockham's Razor fewest assumptions are best Flemenstar has shown the best form this year, is 10s and over what was his best trip. Rain is forecast and whilst not a negative for other big players it should not inconvenience Flemenstar either.

Flemenstar 7/1
R/F with Dynaste

1) Flemenstar 2) Dynaste 3) Triolo 4) Ma Filluele

Friday, 12 February 2016

Warwick feature races preview

Decent National Hunt racing at Warwick tomorrow, but unfortunately, the fields are a bit on the thin side. It's a welcome return to David Massey, @tenembassy


Warwick Preview

I was, of course, hoping to write this preview up for Warwick’s big races this weekend with competitive fields, but sadly both races have rather cut up and we’re left with small fields, again. It’s something that needs addressing and the arguments for possibly scrapping some Grade 2/3 contests in the racing calendar can be debated by people far more handsomer and cleverer than myself – I’m here to try and squeeze what value, if any, there could to be in the Listed Mares contest and the Kingmaker Chase for sportismadeforbetting readers.

2.10 – OLBG Listed Mares Hurdle
OLBG are to be applauded for their sponsorship of a series that plenty wouldn’t go near, and they’ve been rewarded with some decent, competitive events along the way. At first glance, this would appear not to be one that’s going to live too long in the memory, but it’s a race that asks a few questions regardless.

The main one being as to which way Petite Parisienne is heading. Last May, at both Fairyhouse and Punchestown, she looked a mare of some potential, running Bitofapuzzle (who was in tremendous form) to four lengths at then winning the Champion 4-y-o Hurdle with a degree of ease. Sadly, from this point, it all starts to go wrong – an Auteuil flop is easily enough forgiven as she may well have had enough for the season, but her reappearance at Naas in November, when vastly favoured by the weights, takes a little more explaining. And then latterly at Sandown, where after pulling too hard early she was a spent force by two out. Connections go for the hood to try and solve the latter issue, but even if that works, there’s little evidence that 2m5f in heavy going will bring out the best in her. As much as she’s favoured again at the weights, there’s a possibility she’s simply going backwards, and there’s too much to take on trust, even allowing for Willie Mullins’s good record at Warwick.

Jessber’s Dream is one that won’t have any issue with the ground, having already taken a couple of small Novice events at Lingfield and Exeter, and stepped up on those efforts when second to Mullins’s Myska at Taunton. She travelled well throughout that contest, although a tendency to go to her right under pressure in the straight (into the worst of the ground) didn’t help her cause. If she does that at Warwick, she will at least end up on the favoured stands side, and given that this step up in trip looks a positive (is a winning pointer) Noel Fehily may well set out to try and make most of the running here.

Vroum Vroum Mag fans will be looking for a Festival form boost from Jennies Jewel. She’s the one you can almost set your watch by, having had almost 30 goes over hurdles already, and we know exactly what she can do and what she can’t. She’s capable enough at this level and given she generally takes a run or two to get fit, there’s no reason to think she didn’t run right up to her best at Ascot. At the weights she’s a chance, and this slight drop back in trip will help, but her overall win record isn’t great for one of her ability. Jessber’s Dream may well have more to come and could improve past her.

The other three – Flute Bowl, Grape Tree Road and Bobs Lady Tamure – may all struggle outside of handicap company. They will probably be scrapping it out for the diesel money, and of the three, if Flute Bowl puts her best foot forward she’ll probably take the lion’s share of it, but they’ll be looking for the front three to run below their level to get involved for anything bigger.

There’s probably less questions about Jessber’s Dream than Petite Parisienne or Jennies Jewel here, and at anything around the 9-4 mark I’d have a small bet on her.

2.40 Kingmaker Novices Chase (2m)
A real shame to only see the three runners line up for a race that has given us some exciting finishes in recent times – Gauvain bravely battling back to chin Cornas and Free World when this race held at Sandown, and a near-legless Majala scrambling home from His Excellency after being ten lengths clear at the last (which I remember well, as I was on the second) but it looks odds-against that we’re going to get anything that gets the pulse racing like that today.

And we might not learn much more about hot favourite L’Ami Serge than we already do from his short chasing career to date, although it must be said that neither Violet Dancer nor Fox Norton are mugs, and might at least give him something to think about this time. He culminated last season with a hard-gained fourth in the Supreme to Douvan at Cheltenham, a race that saw him off the bridle from an early stage. It may well have been the ground was a little too quick for him at the minimum trip, one that leads me to believe the JLT will ultimately be his target come March if the ground does dry (will it ever dry up, we ask ourselves?) but for the time being he’s had little more than schooling exercises at Plumpton against a handicap-mark-seeking Doctor Harper and the useful Run Ructions Run at Wetherby. He won’t even have to worry about leading these out – Violet Dancer will see to that – and if he’s got claims to one of the chasing crowns come March you’d expect him to win this without too much fuss. If there’s a straw to clutch at, if you’re trying to get him beat, it’s the very patchy form of the Henderson yard (plenty not finishing their races off) but even that looks a pretty thin straw….

Twelve months ago Gary Moore’s Violet Dancer was winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in game, front-running fashion, a style already replicated in his four runs over fences to date, and never more evident that when rallying to worry Stiletto out of it at Newbury on his latest start. Of his four starts, that was probably his least convincing round of jumping to date, and he’ll need to be foot perfect down the back here – the fences come thick and fast. Even if he does wing them, he’ll find L’Ami Serge a rather more difficult opponent to shake off than Stiletto, with all due respect to him. The Grand Annual looks the target for him. Whereas Aintree would look the natural target for Fox Norton. A flat track and better ground suit him best, and he may well find conditions against him here. He’s useful though, and has been far from disgraced in Grade 2 events at Cheltenham and Doncaster. Possibly best in the Spring and one to note come April.

Apollo Stakes preview

The 'autumn' carnival of racing steps into full swing this weekend in Australia with the C.F.Orr Stakes at Caulfield and the Apollo Stakes at Randwick. It's the latter race which has flushed out a new contributor, Paul Nathan, @paulnathan92. Welcome aboard!


Optus Business Apollo Stakes
Group 2, $250,000, 1400m
1625 AEDT, 0525 GMT

1. Who Shot Thebarman.
Classy stayer back from a break. This trip is well short of his optimum. Look for him to be staying on at the end without troubling the eventual placings. He's just here for the run.

2. Magic Hurricane.
British import into his third Aussie prep. Last seen winning the Metropolitan over 2400m. Another who will be looking for further later into his prep however has shown speed since arriving in Australia, winning his debut over course and distance albeit in a weaker race (BM. Goes well on the track form reads 1,4,2,1 look for him to be staying on at the end has a good chance of getting into the placings.

3. Grand Marshall.
Quality stayer back from a break. Needs to go a lot further to get into contention.

4. Dibayani.
X Hong Kong runner resuming after a break ran well on his Aussie debut over 1400m at Caulfield progressed from that running another good race in the Dato' Tan Chin Nam Stakes at the Valley over 1600m he will be looking for further in time but has shown speed in he's first Aussie prep which ended in a run to bad to be true. Awkward Barrier in 11 would expect him to be ridden close to the pace which could see him caught 3 wide. Expect him to run a respectable race and be plugging on right to the line. Decent chance of getting into the placings

5. Hauraki.
Nice horse. Last seen running a respectable eighth in the Caulfield Cup at single-figure odds. Another runner who will be looking for further later into his prep. Does not have much chance here for me, was well beaten first- and second-up last campaign but they were also on wet tracks which aren't his favourite. Will be running on, watch and see how he goes. Small chance, trial runs leading into this weren't too bad.

6. Leebaz.
Once again another stayer resuming here has run respectable races over 1400m in the past trialled VERY well for this race. Expect to lead or be up right on the pace look for him to be right there close to home and a few finishing over him. I rate him to have a good chance of getting into the placings. Decent place chance

7. Centre Pivot.
Resuming after a short break since running third at the Gold Coast in the Magic Millions Stayers Cup over 1800m. Will be fitter than most having run on Jan 9 and having trialled for this race on Jan 29. Outclassed here for me, can't see him being a danger. Little chance.

8. Winx.
This horse needs no introduction she's the best horse in Australia she has speed and stamina to suit as shown in her last prep starting over 1300m where she flew home to win in the Theo Marks Stakes, and ending with an effortless win in the Cox Plate over 2040m. Drawn the inside which could cause some problems if the leaders decide to crawl in front, or the rail is off. But she has the tactical speed to get out of any problems she should win here if comes back as good as she was last year. Wins.

9. Gust Of A Wind.
Stayer resuming after running a cracking sixth in the Melbourne Cup. Unlikely to trouble the field here, look out for her over further.

10. Solicit.
Second run back this prep after running second to the classy Our Boy Malachi was no match that day but was staying on well over 1200m. For me, she is the main danger to Winx. Solicit is one of the few horses in the field who can be called a genuine sprinter/miler. Will be fitter for her first run and will be ready to fire here. Gets a gun barrier in four, will sit right on the pace and kick to try and make Winx catch her. Next best winning chance, shouldn't be out of the top three.

11. Bohemian Lily.
Stayer resuming does not have much hope here for me can see her going forward and coming back to them close to home look out for her over further later into prep.

Top 5 Prediction
1st Winx
2nd Solicit
3rd Magic Hurricane
4th Leebaz
5th Dibayani

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Superbowl 50 preview

Carrying on the successful tradition of the last few years, America's big she-bang is previewed by the guru that is Ian Steven, @deevo82. Want to see some evidence of his talent? Check out his pre-season player prop previews here.


Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos
San Francisco

The unique spectacle that is the Super Bowl is about to descend upon us for the 50th time (or should that be “Lth time”?) as the Carolina Panthers lock horns in a tussle which is part PT Barnum and part Roman Colosseum.

Worried that fans will be overstimulated by the intense battle on the grid iron coupled with the razzamatazz of the peripheral entertainment, the NFL have wisely chosen Coldplay as the half time entertainment to gently soothe spectators into a coma-like status as one of mankind’s most tedious ensembles encourages a 15-minute beer break for viewers at home.

We can forgive Commissioner Roger Goodell for his musical myopia as last year’s curtain ender was an all-time classic with Malcolm Butler picking off Russell Wilson in the end zone to seal the victory for the Patriots. I actually think it was the best Super Bowl of all time, but can we expect more of the same this year around?

The Panthers enter the game as heavy favourites with the best price of 1.50 to win outright after going 14-2 in the regular season. They have a physical quarterback playing lights out in NFL MVP Cam Newton and look set to one stage further than they did in Super Bowl XXXVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Part of the reasoning behind Carolina being such heavy favourites was the way in which Ron Rivera’s men dispatched the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs – two very good teams with tough defences. Carolina jumped out to an early lead in both games and rode the back of their solid defense to close out the match.

In stark contrast in Denver, in week 10 Payton Manning threw four interceptions against the Chiefs and was benched by head coach Gary Kubiak, promptly dismissing the Broncos as contenders in the eye of many experts. Manning enjoyed a mini-renaissance after resting foot and rib injuries that caused his woeful form, using his veteran guile and benefitting from a devastating pass rush to stun the defending champion Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

If you like wagering on winners, then the handicap would probably be the smart choice with the Broncos sitting at +7.5 @ 1.62 with Ladbrokes and Skybet. It might not be as close as last year but it should not turn into the rout that humiliated the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII (this is getting confusing) at the hands of the Seahawks.

The half time/full time market also holds some intrigue as the Panthers have shot out the gates early in the playoffs to hold commanding leads only to waiver in the second half and allow opponents to come back into the game. You can get 11.00 from Ladbrokes in a Panthers/Broncos split which whilst not only boosting your bank balance, it would also ensure we had a cracking sporting spectacle to watch.

We have already touched on the quarterbacks and they are both rightly at the head of the queue to be named Super Bowl MVP in Santa Clara. 64% of all MVPs have been quarterbacks. There is a huge margin between the two of them however as Newton has the best price of 1.73 but for Manning you can get a whopping 5.00 from a number of different bookies. Peyton isn’t an average quarterback riding the back of a strong defense like Trent Dilfer with the Ravens and Brad Johnson with the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl ring. We are talking a first ballot Hall of Famer, he leads the NFL all-time with most yards and touchdowns in a career with a 96.5 QB rating. That is a huge price when you consider he has players like Brandon Marshall and Emmanuelle Sanders to throw to in order to inflate his numbers.

Other interesting players in the MVP conversation are Luke Keuchly at 26.00 with the linebacker possibly getting into double figures in tackles, Aqib Talib at 150.00 who has the talent to make a couple of interceptions if Cam feels pressure and an outside bet in Thomas Davis at 150.00 who will play the game with a broken arm and will form part of the narrative during the evening.

It will be interesting to see what Denver does to limit the effectiveness of the Carolina passing game as defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips produced a blinder against the Patriots in the Championship game, bamboozling Tom Brady with his coverages. There has been speculation that Aqib Talib could match up on tight end Greg Olsen in a big to thwart their biggest weapon and Newton’s favourite target but that could leave the Broncos susceptible to the running game. Ron Rivera has no qualms whatsoever handing the rock toe Jonathan Stewart to pound it down the throats of their opponents – especially if they take a linebacker out of their run defense to allow Talib to match up on Olsen. You can get 2.25 from Paddy Power on Stewart gaining the most running yards and those are pretty tasty odds for a team who need to keep Denver honest and not allow their pass rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to pin their ears back.

Speaking of pass rushers, both sides are loaded with Derek Wolfe adding to Miller and Ware whilst the Panthers have Charles Johnson and Jared Allen (who is playing with a broken foot.) For the Panthers to pressure Manning successfully however, they need Kawann Short to push the pocket from defensive tackle to allow Manning no room to step into his throws. Both offensive lines have played well this season as units but neither can boast blue chip talent and are facing some seriously skilled defenders. You can get 2.2 on the over/under at 5.5 sacks which is definitely something to take on board.

We have already spoken about Thomas Davis and his inclusion to play at linebacker with a broken arm. The man has already come back from three ACL tears in his career so it seems wild horses could not keep him away from playing. As courageous as has intentions are, Gary Kubiak has basically had two weeks to work out how to exploit a player who can only utilise one arm to tackle. The logical approach would be to run right at Davis, forcing him to shed off a block before trying to make a tackle but the risk is that you still allow Kuechly to roam side line to side line unimpeded from the weakside of the play and nothing gets by him. What is more likely to happen is that the Broncos will try to identify man coverage (remember Peyton is the best in the business at reading defences) before using motion to get Davis isolated on either one of the tight ends or a running back. The linebacker should be able to shadow his opponent but he will struggle to wrap up in the tackle. You can get an over/under of 13.5 receiving yards @ 1.85 with Ladbrokes on CJ Anderson which seems to be quite a low target that has been set.

Finally, clock management is an important part of any NFL game and this is an area the Broncos definitely have an edge. Gary Kubiak is an ex-quarterback whilst Manning may be the best of all time at the position. They have collectively seen most things a defense can throw at them. Manning also is adept at running a no-huddle offense and can move players all over the line of scrimmage like chess pieces. Can Newton on the other hand is on a tighter leash in Mike Shula’s offense. He has simpler reads to make than Manning and if there is something he does not like, he is coached to call a timeout rather than risk a turnover and there is tremendous value in this. Both teams are 1.91 with Coral and Ladbrokes to call the first timeout when in reality the Panthers are 50% more likely to use the first timeout of the game.

Who do I think will win? The Panthers offensive line will be key in my opinion. If they can create some holes for Jonathan Stewart and protect Newton, then they can win the game. But there is so much experience on the Broncos side line with Kubiak and Wade Phillips that makes me edge towards the Broncos, especially with the handicap in their favour.

Bets -
links are to Oddschecker market comparisons

3 points on Carolina to call the first timeout @ 1.91 with Ladbrokes and William Hill.

2 points on Jonathan Stewart gaining the most rushing yards @2.25 with Paddy Power.

1 point on CJ Anderson to get over 13.5 receiving yards @ 1.85 with Ladbrokes

0.5 points on Peyton Manning being named MVP @ 5.00 with various.