Friday, 30 September 2016

NRL Grand Final preview II

Always handy to have a second opinion when it comes to investing on the highest-profile match of the season. Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82, returns for his annual contribution to the blog, a deeper analysis of the NRL Grand Final.

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NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final
Melbourne v Cronulla
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, October 2, 1915 AEST, 1015 BST


26 regular season rounds dusted. Three finals series weeks in the bin. 80 minutes left to decide the NRL premiership. Whilst Canberra finished the season like a train, we are left with what were the two best teams for the most part of the NRL season. We have the perennially contending, wrestling, salary cap cheating, Mexicans, the Melbourne Storm, up against the butt of the jokes, non-winning, fairy-tale side in the Sharks. Lots of neutrals play a head versus heart battle in who to go for, the Cinderella story in Cronulla, or do you cheer against them so the Harold Holt jokes can live on. And really that’s how most people frame it, you are either cheering for Cronulla or against Cronulla, cos hell, no one really wants to cheer for Melbourne. Unless you’re betting on it of course…

When we start to assess this game we look at some of the rather boring semantics first. It’s scheduled to kick-off at 7.15pm, so we are looking at a complete night game. Sunday does mark the start of daylight savings, but with sunset due to fall around 7pm, this game will be played completely in night time conditions, so we put that in the memory bank, particularly for totals. No rain is forecast, however it is due to be hotter than any day in the recently-completed September, but given this is a night game, the warmth likely won’t be a factor. Although note, with 27 degrees forecast, it may play more of a factor in the two early grand finals if you are betting on those, particularly the totals. Naturally the game is at ANZ Stadium, it might be in Cronulla’s home town, but it’s a virtual neutral game. Team records at the ground I find to be mostly meaningless, so is not something I focus on.

They’ve played twice this year, way back in round 4 when Cronulla won 14-6, in what frankly was a garbage game from both sides, lacking in skill or intensity, although it did turn out to be the start of the Sharks’ long unbeaten run. Cronulla lined up marginal two-point favourites, but one of the key aspects was how much the market loved the unders (and was proven correct) pushing the total from 37.5 all the way down to 34. And of course the better reference guide for this game was the round 26 game, just four weeks ago. It was being played for the minor premiership, hence the effort and desire was there from both sides. Melbourne dominated from the outset, winning 26-6 and my main memory from that game was Melbourne’s line speed in defence. They really amped it up from a normal game, and it worried Cronulla. That in essence is how I mark this game, in that Melbourne has another gear to get to, that Cronulla doesn’t have. Melbourne will bring that line speed and intensity to the Grand Final, and no doubt Cronulla will attempt to match, or best them in that regard too, but I’m less convinced that they can. Melbourne’s peak performances for the year have outstripped Cronulla’s, and have been more recent too, so I find Melbourne’s ceiling to be much higher.

With the unpredictability of Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita, Cronulla has an X-factor that Melbourne probably doesn’t, and their upside for points is likely higher. However, Cronulla likes scoring a lot through their wings of Holmes and Feki, and I think this is a bad matchup from a Cronulla point of view. Melbourne does an excellent job in defence of not biting on decoy runs, sliding out, herding the opposition to the sideline and giving the opposing wingers very little room to move. If Cronulla are to win, I think they need to have a few more players like Luke Lewis and Jack Bird cutting back against the grain to test the inside defenders of the Storm. But bar Lewis and Fifita, Cronulla has very little try scoring through the forwards, so if scoring through the wingers is their main focus, that may prove problematical.

We all know how Melbourne is going to play, they are going to grind it down, superstars Cronk and Smith are going to control the game, and likely field position. And whilst they have the ability to blow any team away, they likely won’t do that, and prefer to win in a low scorer. And for as many benefits as that has for Melbourne, it also means that Cronulla can likely always stay in the game, only 4-6 points behind, absolutely giving themselves a chance to win the game in the last 10 minutes.

A couple of minor points when pricing this market up, with the change in golden point to now 10 minutes extra time during the final series, it has two differences. Field goals in extra time are less likely to win a game than before (see N Qld v Brisbane week two of the finals) so the difference between taking -0.5 to -1.5 lines (or backing a team outright instead of -1.5) is slightly less. Also totals should ever so slightly increase, as now in extra time there is a much better chance of more than one point being scored. These differences are both very small, but just a couple of small nuances to be aware of when betting.

Referees are not a point I talk about often when pricing games up, and something I started largely ignoring when the NRL changed from one referee to two a few years back, as it became more difficult for one referee to stamp his style on a game as much. But Ben Cummins who is officiating the decider (with Matt Cecchin) has a tendency to put away his whistle every now and again in big games, allowing players to hang on in the tackle more and encroach on the 10m. That lends to more of a grinding game (likely to suit Melbourne more) but more so keeps the points total down.

My assessed market for this game to 100% is Melbourne 1.75 Cronulla 2.33. So I’m a Melbourne backer at the 1.85, but it’s not a massive overlay, so I couldn’t recommend a bet at 1.80 and lower.

My total line sits at 35, which currently makes no bet, but if the market went crazy with the unders and pushed it down to 33.5, and it remained dry, I would likely be contrarian in this scenario and take the overs as the number bottomed out.

My advice if you wanted to have an ever popular first try scorer bet is don’t. The corporate bookmakers bet a ridiculous percentage on these markets, really ripping their customers off, your dollars are better spent elsewhere!

Epsom Handicap preview

Grand Final weekend - when we mix and match footy finals with feature racedays. Sydney has the racing Saturday and league final on Sunday, while Melbourne focuses on the MCG today and Flemington tomorrow. The racing focus centres on Randwick and the metric mile for the time-honoured Epsom Handicap. A handy field assembled, not a big one, but a very competitive one with 5/1 the field available if you search hard enough.

Stepping in to the preview this captivating race is Calum Law from the @EIBloodstock team.

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TAB Epsom Handicap
Group 1, AU$1 million
Randwick, 1600m
1600 AEST, 0700 BST


Palentino - Two-time Group One winner in Melbourne over a mile, taking the Australian Guineas in March and comfortably beating stablemate Black Heart Bart in the Makybe Diva last time out at Caulfield. Those performances mark him down as a stallion of the highest order, deserving of top weight in this field. Trained by a master, although not (yet) so much when visiting Sydney, and should be capable of giving a bold sight.

Hauraki - Consistent son of Reset for the Godolphin team who has made his reputation mainly by finishing behind the great mare Winx. His run in the Colgate had plenty of merit and despite being flattered by his proximity to the winner, he still spaced the rest of the field on that occasion. Likely to run his usual solid race whilst finding a few too good in his quest for a maiden Group One.

Le Romain - Surprise winner of the Randwick Guineas over this course and distance and has been largely running with credit since for Newcastle trainer Kris Lees. Hard to fully dismiss a horse ridden by Bowman that has finished off the board only once in eleven starts, but he will need to run beyond himself to run into the places here off 55.5kgs.

Happy Clapper - Son of Teofilo who is capable of top class form as was evident in back-to-back placed efforts in the Doncaster and the QE2 a week apart at Randwick in April. This is a prime target third-up and his trainer Pat Webster has been very bullish in the build up to the race. Well drawn and a definite place contender for all he might not be quite good enough to take top spot.

Mighty Lucky - Seven-year-old roughie who appeals as an unlikely hero in this spot. Yet to win above Group Three level and has to leave his previous form a long way behind to take the honours.

Dibayani - Well-travelled son of Shamardal who took on Able Friend and Designs On Rome in his four-year-old campaign in Hong Kong. Should be ready to peak in this spot and although an infrequent winner with a strike rate of 2/23 (last win 1212 days ago) he appeals as being overs in the market under the excellent Damian Lane.

Sons Of John - Had a couple of these behind him when taking a Group Three handicap over 1400 metres last time. That was his first win since his Hawkesbury Cup victory nine races previous and he doesn't appeal as a likely winner in this company.

Mackintosh - Ex-Kiwi galloper who has an impressive strike rate of six wins from nine starts in his fledgling career to date. Was impressive in the Theo Marks a fortnight ago and could easily take a step forward from that display which would put him right in amongst it here. Hard to rule out anything Waller sends for this assignment and he rates as one to include.

McCreery - Ex-Roger Charlton Gelding who sold for the bargain price of £200k at the Tattersalls Horses In Training sale last year. Arrives here bidding for a hat trick having dismissed them last time in the Kingston Town. This has likely been the target since arriving in Australia and his trainer has farmed this contest of late. Gets a cracking racing weight of 51.5kgs and with the services of the excellent Kerrin McEvoy on board this unexposed son of Big Bad Bob ticks plenty of boxes.

Heavens Above - Five-year-old daughter of Street Cry who ran a career-best over this course and distance when finding only Azkadellia too good in the Coolmore Legacy. She has since won over 1200 in the Sheraco but didn't really step forward from that when well fancied in the Golden Pendant last time. Only carries 51kgs but still looks an unlikely winner.

Vanbrugh - Son of Encosta De Lago who took the G1 Spring Champion Stakes here over 2000 metres as a three-year-old. He remains winless since although there was a bit more promise in his run behind Winx in the Colgate last time when giving way by less than five lengths in fourth. However he will still need to step up from that if he is to contend here.

Torgersen - The roughest of Waller's four on paper having never won in stakes company and despite carrying the light weight of 50kgs this son of Pins looks up against it.

Fabrizio - Lightly-raced son of High Chaparral who bids to give Gai Waterhouse a record-breaking eighth Epsom win. Arrives in this spot with plenty of buzz and it is easy to see why, getting in off the minimum with the excellent Johan Victoire in the saddle. The way he dismissed some over-matched rivals a fortnight back over this course and distance was impressive and should tee him up perfectly for a big run here carrying 50kgs. Plenty to like regards his chances and could well be the horse that gives Gai Epsom win number eight.

Verdict - Super renewal of the famous handicap, in which two unexposed lightly-weighted types make the most appeal. Chris Waller has dominated this race of late and his English import McCreery can provide the master trainer with a fourth Epsom on the bounce here. Fabrizio takes a hike up in class but carries plenty of confidence and with only 50kgs on his back he rates as the main danger. Plenty of class in the rest of the field but Dibayani appeals as being under rated by the market and is good enough to run a place if putting his best foot forward

1 McCreery
2 Fabrizio
3 Dibayani

AFL Grand Final preview

Something a little bit special in this year's AFL Grand Final - it's the first appearance in the big she-bang for the Western Bulldogs (nee Footscray) since 1961, and only their third playoff for the flag. Their premiership drought has lasted since 1954 and one would expect 90% of the neutral supporters to have a soft spot for the Bulldogs. The Swans suffered a 72-year dearth of premierships until 2005, but now most clubs are jealous of them - four Grand Finals (two flags) in the past 11 seasons, very difficult to achieve with a rigid salary cap and draft system.

With the honours to preview the Grand Final of the greatest game of all, it's over to the experts at AFLRatings - @aflratings.

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2016 AFL Grand Final Preview
by @aflratings / aflratings.com.au

Sydney v Western Bulldogs
Saturday 1st October, 1430 AEST, 0530 BST
MCG, Melbourne


Sydney have taken the long road to get to the 2016 Grand Final, embarrassed in their first final by GWS, the Swans have bounced back in a big way with an average winning margin of 36.5pts against the Cats & Crows. Sydney have jumped out of the blocks in both of their finals wins kicking seven goals in each first quarter virtually deciding the game in 30 minutes, the Swans are one of the best travelling teams in the AFL and have a host of Premiership and Grand Final experience amongst their playing list with many still suffering the bitter taste of defeat to the Hawks in the 2014 Grand Final decider.

Not since 1961 have the Western Bulldogs played in an AFL Grand Final, in the late 1980s the club nearly merged with Fitzroy and subsequent financial struggles again in the late 90s and 00s have had the club on the brink of extinction. There is no doubt the Bulldogs are the romantic story of 2016 especially if they can win from seventh position on the AFL Ladder, their entry into the Grand Final has not been easy with two wins interstate and a win against Hawthorn two weeks ago at the MCG. The Bulldogs play a contested brand of football that will have them in the game for a sustained period of time, if they do happen to win they will break a 62-year premiership drought.

Sydney will again look to jump out to a fast start against the Bulldogs on Saturday, in their only meeting this year in Round 15 at the SCG the Swans had seven scoring shots finishing with an inaccurate 2.5.17 in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Swans they were unable to put away the Bulldogs and lost a thrilling game on the siren by 4pts, the Swans finished with 24 scoring shots to the Bulldogs 18 in a losing effort.

The Bulldogs have been resilient throughout the year and especially in the Finals overcoming deficits in each game, defensively they have been outstanding conceding an average 73.1pts per game this season. The Swans are the number one defensive team in the AFL conceding just 68.1pts per game, remarkably they have conceded an average of 64.0 Inside 50s in the Finals (H&A Season Ave: 51.2).

The Bulldogs are likely to get a fair amount of Inside 50s but turning those entries in to a winning score won’t be easy against the Swans, the counter attack for Sydney will be interesting and players such as Gary Rohan and Lance Franklin could benefit greatly if the Swans can break the Bulldogs' press around half-back.

Hopefully the last two contests are a precursor for what is to come in the Grand Final, the Bulldogs have won the last two games each by 4pts at the SCG. Expect a brutal contest for the majority of the game, the team that converts their chances up forward early will be in a strong position to win.

Sydney finished on top of the ladder at the end of the H&A Season, so will stick with them narrowly to win the 2016 Premiership especially if Lance Franklin has a big day (Norm Smith Medal tip). If the Bulldogs were to win expect an emotional post-game celebration, they are more than just a chance.

Win: Sydney

Norm Smith Medal: Lance Franklin

DFS Player to watch: Dan Hannebery

Thursday, 29 September 2016

NRL Grand Final Preview

All the huffing and puffing, and crunching and crashing comes down to this - it's the big finale for rugby league south of the equator, the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final. First with his preview is this years's regular finals correspondent, Shaun Beirne, @shaunbeirne.

And as a special bonus, I hope to have another preview focusing on the exotic markets available later in the week.

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NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final Melbourne v Cronulla
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, October 2, 1915 AEST, 1015 BST

Grand Finals since 2000



Points of interest:
• The average margin is 13.75 against a median of 9 so generally they are close matches but once a team gets on a roll they can blow out as the 13+ results at 37.5% show.
• The average total match points are 34.9 against a median of 37 so when matches go low they can go very low with 5 of the last 16 having less than 30 points.

Melbourne will line up with the same 17 that started last week.

Cronulla get a massive in with Sam Tagataese being named in the 17 this week and declaring himself 100% fit. Kurt Capewell looks like being the unlucky player to miss out.

Head to head this season they have met twice with a win each. Cronulla won 14-6 at home in round 4 and of course Melbourne won 26-6 in Round 26 to secure the Minor premiership. That last meeting was much closer than it looked with Cronulla making a higher number and better quality of chances despite losing.

Melbourne have had the benefit of four matches at home and have been perfectly suited by their two finals matches being played in wet conditions. This sets it up perfectly for a couple of arm wrestles which they love. Arguably they were lucky last week with a few key decisions going their way but in reality they were probably always just that little bit strong. They have certainly set their stall out to defend their way to a title having conceded just 2.1 tries per match this season.

As I noted last week their recent losses to Brisbane and Canberra both came on the back of their opposition moving the Storm around and again when Canberra were able to last week they did look under some discomfort only for their scrambling defence to bail them out.

Cronulla, as I expected, were far too good for North Queensland, the late flurry of tries to they conceded (71st, 77th, 79th minutes) made the final score 32-20 but they were never in any sort of doubt.

Melbourne don’t carry the fatigue factor that North Queensland did and so a much tougher game can be expected.

Plenty of people will suggest you have to lose one to win one. I don’t stand by this statement and certainly the Sharks have experience all over the pitch so I have no concerns about the mentality of a team seeking their first-ever premiership.

The weather forecast (20° and 50% humidity) could not be better for an open fast match however there are plenty of niggly players amongst both teams so hopefully the refs can keep control and keep them apart.

Recommended plays:
Leave the Porch light on Harold Holt is coming home!
Not nearly as confident as last week as everything suggests there is not much between these teams however I think Cronulla might just edge the match on the back of their more expansive attacking options. Back Cronulla at around the $2 mark.

The total match points line sits at 34.5 with the under at 1.80 at the TAB, there is some 34 around and you might even see some 33.5 later in the week. The stats are not heavily in my favour but at those marks with the conditions expected to be so good I will have a small play on the over as well.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Prelude Handicap Chase preview

The days are getting shorter, the Flat season is winding down to its championship races - that must mean National Hunt season is almost upon us! There's a tasty card at Market Rasen today serving to whet the appetite for those cold months ahead.

Another debutant on the blog today emanating from the aspiring sports journalism ranks of the north-east, welcome aboard Conor Stroud, @conorstroud95.

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188Bet Prelude Handicap Chase
Listed, Class 1
£50,000
Market Rasen 1510 BST, 0010 AEST


With the Jumps season fast approaching, Market Rasen as always have put on an attractive prize for the Listed Prelude Handicap Chase, with the weather starting to get colder but the National Hunt season starting to heat up again.

One horse who just can’t seem to get his head in front is Presenting Arms, the likely mount of Noel Fehily. Despite going close in his four last attempts (including running out when in contention), he has been unable to quite close a race out, and may again be competing for minor honours.

Another horse likely to be high up in the betting is Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballykan, after winning a handsome prize at Southwell last time out beating the aforementioned Presenting Arms and Wadswick Court, who is also running. Following that one length defeat by Ballykan, the Peter Bowen trained runner went on to win down in grade at Cartmel, but the upgrade to this Listed race is likely to be a step too far.

Consistent performers Princeton Royale and Roman Flight may not be far away, but more appeal on paper, such as Fox Appeal who comes off the back of a good run at Newbury, even if the form hasn’t been franked.

Two horses at the bottom of the weights must also have a chance, in particular Vintage Vinnie, trained by Rebecca Curtis. He won last time out over hurdles, but I am willing to take him on, given he hasn’t won over fences for a year now, and was pulled up on the last two occasions he tried the larger obstacles. Anteros is at the foot of the weights, and while he may be consistent, it’s a marked step up in grade which I think leaves him very vulnerable.

At the other end of the weights is Croco Bay, the ride of champion jockey Richard Johnson. After placing in the Grand Annual in 2015, it was a disappointing season just gone, but did return to form in August with a win at Worcester. However, I think he may be just too high in the weights in this contest against some unexposed horses.

Having been handsomely beat in his previous four runs, it was a shock when Father Edward bolted up at Cartmel last time off a mark of 125. That mark is now upto 141, which I think is enough to say that the handicapper may have him in his grasp on this occasion.

But the one I like most is Tom George-trained Cernunnos, who returns to the venue where he fell in July when in with a chance in the Summer Plate. He then went to Southwell and had every chance before making a mistake at the last, costing him any chance on that day. Now on better terms with Ballykan who won at Southwell, I think with a better round of jumping could take the prize back to Gloucestershire.

1. Cernunnos
2. Ballykan
3. Fox Appeal


Friday, 23 September 2016

Middle Park Stakes preview

The colts get their chance for Group 1 glory on Saturday in the time-honoured Middle Park Stakes. Last year's race resulted in a devastating win for Shalaa, trained by John Gosden. Unfortunately we haven't seen him since but he may resume on British Champions Day at Ascot next week.

Completing his brace of juvenile feature previews is new contributor and aspiring writer Adam Crooks, @acrooks95.

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Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes
Group 1, 2yo colts, 6f
Newmarket, £180,000
Saturday 1530 BST, Sunday 0030 AEST


Ten runners have been declared, and the early favourite is the Godolphin-owned Blue Point. Trained by Charlie Appleby, this exciting son of Shamardal has won three of his four races, including the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes last time out. Sent off at 11/8, he produced a sparkling performance to win eased down by three lengths. Back in second place was the Simon Crisford-trained Mokarris, who lines up once again here. It is hard to envisage Mokarris improving enough to turn the tables, so minor honours look to be his best hope here.

Another horse who finished behind Blue Point in the Gimcrack is The Last Lion. Trained by Mark Johnston, he has had a very busy season already, running nine times, and does not seem to have enough improvement left to mount a challenge.

The master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O'Brien, sends two charges over to try and claim this Group 1 prize. Intelligence Cross is the shorter price of the two, having some solid form this season, easily winning a Group Three last time out. However he was third behind Blue Point and Mehmas at Goodwood the time before, and has to improve a lot to trouble the market leaders here. Many expected Intelligence Cross to be ridden by Ryan Moore, but the declarations were surprising, as Moore has chosen the stablemate, Peace Envoy.

A winner of a Group Three on his penultimate start, he then contested the Group One Prix Morny, finishing a length behind Lady Aurelia in third. Peace Envoy seems to be a horse that is getting better with every run and the fact that Ryan Moore has picked him over Intelligence Cross is significant, all signs point to a big run.

So that just leaves Mehmas to talk about. Trained by Richard Hannon and owned by Al Shaqab, this two-year-old has had a remarkable season thus far, winning four of his seven races and picking up nearly £200,000 in prize money for connections. His debut win over five furlongs at Chester marked him down as a horse to follow, and he followed that up with a victory over six at Newbury. He was stepped back down in trip for his next start, and suffered defeat going down by just over a length in the National Stakes to Global Applause. He was outpaced at a crucial stage that day, and was duly stepped back up in trip on his next outing.

Royal Ascot was the destination of his next trip, contesting the Group 1 Coventry Stakes over six furlongs. He finished a valiant second to Caravaggio, the best two-year-old we've seen this year. Mehmas relished the step back up in trip, and had daylight between himself and the rest of the field. He won a Group 2 at Newmarket next, winning cosily from Intellingence Cross. He would then go on to face Blue Point in his next race, the Group 2 Richmond Stakes. Racing with a three pound penalty, Mehmas drifted in the market prior to the race, but showed a tremendous attitude to prevail by a neck from the Godolphin favourite.

Since that race he was stepped up to seven furlongs at the Curragh, where he was no match for the odds on favourite Churchill. He kept on one paced to finish second, four and a half lengths behind the winner. That step up in trip was an experiment by Richard Hannon to see if the colt would get the extra distance. Personally i feel six furlongs will be his ideal trip, as he has a tremendous turn of foot and a great attitude in his races.

I believe this Group 1 will come down to a battle between Peace Envoy and Mehmas, and I feel that Peace Envoy will just prevail. The main reason is that Mehmas has had a tough season so far and this may be one run too many. Blue Point is a clear danger, but the confidence is clearly high at Ballydoyle with Ryan Moore choosing Peace Envoy, and he is my selction. Available at around 8/1 currently, he is an absolute each way banker in my eyes, and hopefully he can upset the two market leaders.

Cheveley Park Stakes preview

One of the highlights of the Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket is the first 2yo Group 1 race of the season, the Cheveley Park Stakes for fillies. Not sure I'd say it had the greatest honour roll with few of these winners going onto bigger things on the track, but this year the market is headed by two exceptional fillies

It's a warm welcome to aspiring journalist Adam Crooks, @acrooks95, making his first contribution to the blog.

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Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes
Group 1, 2yo fillies, 6f
Newmarket, £180,000
Saturday 1455 BST, 2355 AEST


Early favourite for the race is the Wesley Ward-trained Lady Aurelia, who burst onto the scene at Royal Ascot with a breathtaking seven-length win in the Queen Mary. That performance was over five furlongs, and this race was mentioned straight away as her main target of the season.

Lady Aurelia was next seen on track over in Deauville, stepping up to six furlongs in the Group 1 Prix Morny, facing male opposition for the first time in her career. Sent off the very warm 2/7 favourite, she made all of the running under Frankie Dettori and won the race in workmanlike fashion by three quarters of a length. Not as impressive as her Queen Mary romp, and for this reason I believe her optimum trip will be the minimum five furlongs. In the Queen Mary, Al Johrah was seven lengths behind in second, whereas in the Prix Morny she was only a length behind in fourth. Now it could be that Al Johrah improved with the step up to six furlongs, but I am going with the belief that Lady Aurelia's greatest asset is her speed and that she will be unable to show her best over six furlongs.

So, who could beat the American filly?

Only six runners have been declared for this Group 1, and we can safely discount the three outsiders. Brave Anna, a winner at Royal Ascot but bitterly disappointing since, the inexperienced Holy Cat, and Pellucid are all double-figure prices and will struggle with this step up in class.

That leaves two runners, the Richard Fahey-trained Queen Kindly, and Aidan O'Brien's Roly Poly.

Roly Poly has had a busy season so far, running six times. She has won half of her races; a maiden, a Group Three and a Group Two. Her last run was a valiant second in the Lowther Stakes at York, beaten three quarters of a length by Queen Kindly. While that was a good run, I feel she is now quite exposed with not a lot of improvement left to come, and minor honours is her best hope.

I am a big fan of Queen Kindly, daughter of the mighty Frankel, and believe she was in command the last day at York and could have won by further. She has plenty of speed and also sees her races out really strongly. Her only defeat thus far has came at Royal Ascot when finishing third behind Brave Anna on her first try at six furlongs. That was only her second career start and her lack of experience cost her that day, although she still ran a mighty race. After Royal Ascot she was stepped down in trip and class, running over five furlongs at Catterick, going off the eye-watering 1/16 favourite, winning easily by three lengths. This was a valuable racecourse outing for the filly, allowing her to gain vital experience. Sent off second favourite at York, she was up against fellow Frankel daughter Fair Eva, who was odds on favourite, and Queen Kindly was really impressive in winning.

Six furlongs seems her ideal trip, and my gut feeling tells me that she will be more effective over the distance than Lady Aurelia. 3/1 looks a nice price for the daughter of Frankel, and hopefully she produces the goods on Saturday.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

AFL Preliminary Finals Preview

It's down to four in the AFL, and we have the tantalising draw of one established finals pair on one side, playing for the right to face the fresh, young franchise or a side devoid of Premiership glory since 1954. Bring it on!

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2016 AFL Preliminary Finals Preview by @aflratings / aflratings.com.au

Geelong v Sydney
Fri 23rd Sep 7:50pm AEST, 1050 BST
Melbourne Cricket Ground

#AFLCatsSwans

Geelong are well rested ahead of Friday’s Preliminary Final at the MCG, after finishing second on the AFL Ladder the Cats were fortunate enough to escape with a win in their first Final against the Hawks. Geelong have scored well this year but a season low 60pts against the Swans in Round 16 in Geelong is some cause for concern, with the additional out of Menzel due to injury the Cats could be left wanting on the scoreboard in what could now be a low-scoring game.

Sydney were at their best last week in the midfield keeping alive their chances of a third Premiership in just over a decade, if the Swans can control the midfield as they did against the Cats in Round 16 then they are a decent chance to advance to the Grand Final. Sydney are one of the best travelling teams in the AFL, Geelong lost their only game at the MCG this year to Collingwood in Round 9 with a -15 Contested Possession Differential.

The player to watch is no doubt Patrick Dangerfield, after 18 disposals in the first quarter the last time these teams met he was shut down with only 16 in the remaining three quarters. Look for Dangerfield to go forward at times, he is third on Geelong’s leading goals this year and with Menzel out he could drift forward more often to provide another avenue towards goal.

This is going to be a brutal contest, if the Cats are off early in this game then the Swans are every chance to cause a mini upset.

DFS Player to watch: Kieren Jack (Syd)

GWS Giants v Western Bulldogs
Sat 24th Sep 5:15pm AEST, 0815 BST
Spotless Stadium, Sydney

#AFLGiantsDogs

The Giants were outstanding in their first final two weeks ago beating the Swans around the ball and on the spread to host this Preliminary Final on Saturday at home, they certainly dispelled any theory of inexperience playing a part in their post-season success. Of the remaining four teams GWS are the highest scoring team with 107.4pts per game, they run into the Bulldogs that have conceded 66.2pts in their last six games. The Giants have been solid at Spotless Stadium in 2016, they easily accounted for the Bulldogs in Round 9 by 25pts and narrowly lost to West Coast in Round 21 by 1pt. Their heaviest defeat at home was against Collingwood by 32pts with a -13 contested possession differential, the Bulldogs are one of the best contested possession teams in the AFL.

The Bulldogs have been brilliant in their opening two finals especially being resilient after trailing early in both games eventually running over the top of both the Eagles & Hawks, scoring has been an issue for the Bulldogs all season averaging 84.4pts in the H&A Season but that has dramatically increased to 103.0pts in two finals. If the Bulldogs are going to challenge the Giants they are going to have to be at their defensive best again, they have conceded just 19.4 scoring shots to opposition teams this year whilst the Giants are one of the best hitting the scoreboard at 28.5 scoring shots per game.

The player to watch is Callan Ward, up against his former team he can be a barometer for the Giants especially with his tackling ability as suggested by his 11 tackles the last time these teams met.

The Bulldogs are primed for this game, with an 11 day break between the end of the H&A Season and consecutive eight-day breaks they will be as fresh as a seventh place team has ever been in a finals series. If the Giants can apply scoreboard pressure for most of the first half then it could be defining in the game result, the one thing that could unravel the Giants season is their over confidence and unnecessary risk taking throughout the game. If the Giants play to their ability as represented in their first final two weeks ago then they will likely advance to the Grand Final.

DFS Player to watch: Stephen Coniglio (GWS)

NRL Preliminary Finals Week 3 Previews

A couple of close calls last week, but no cigar for the debutant NRL analyst Shaun Beirne, @shaunbeirne. How's his luck this week?

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NRL Previews
Preliminary Final (Week 3) History since 2000



Points of interest:
• Home teams win at a rate of 67%
• Higher ranked home teams win at 60%
• Matches at one teams home ground average 42.5 points and 9/15 are over 38.5 total points
• Higher ranked teams on a Neutral ground win at a rate of 82%

With small samples any new result has a higher than ideal influence over the figure, so something that looks like a strong trend can quickly look like a weak trend. That said it is interesting that the higher ranked Neutral team outperforms Higher ranked home teams. Perhaps a negative effect of the home fans expectations.

Cronulla v North Queensland
Friday 1955 AEST, 1055 BST
Allianz Stadium

#NRLSharksCowboys
These two teams met last season at the semi-final (week 2) stage with the Cowboys handing the Sharks a 39-0 hiding.

This season they have each won one of their head to head matches, the Cowboys 20-14 at home in round 1 and the Sharks 13-10 in R14.

Comparing the team’s statistics from last season we see that Cowboys finished third (38 points +133 points differential) last season and fourth (34 points +229) this season. The Sharks finished sixth (34 points -7) in 2015 and third (39 points +176) in 2016.

The Cowboys excelled away from home last season winning 9/12 (regular season only) scoring an average of 24.6 points to 18.7. However, this season they were 3/10 (neutral matches excluded) scoring 17.3 points to 19.4.

The commentary around this match has centred on whether the Cowboys can back up after that incredible match against the Broncos last week. I’m on the side of it is going to be extremely difficult but not impossible. I think one need only consider the fact that Jonathan Thurston elected to take a penalty goal after 34 minutes when down 8-4 as an indicator of just how fast the game was.

If you can see where I’m leaning with the recommended play I will leave you with the Sharks having two big inclusions from their last start win over Canberra Paul Gallen and Sam Tagatese.

Recommended plays:
As confident as one can be when betting against a team with arguably the greatest ever player who just seems to step up every time, I have to bet up on Cronulla at the head to head and 13+ for some cream.

Melbourne v Canberra
Saturday 1940 AEST, 1040 BST
AAMI Park

#NRLStormRaiders

Melbourne lost at home to the Cowboys at the corresponding stage last season taking their record in sudden death matches at AAMI Park to one win and three losses since 2011. Incredible given they have lost just 16 of 69 regular season matches in the corresponding period.

Melbourne earned the week off by strangling the Cowboys (16-10) in wet conditions a couple of weeks ago. Canberra bounced back from their loss to Cronulla to beat Penrith (22-12) a match they led 18-0 and should have been more comfortable than it turned out to be. Certainly it was concerning to see them so inept at shutting the game down late on.

Canberra welcomed back Hodgson and Austin last week and both turned in solid performances suggesting they will be better again for the run.

Minor Premiers Melbourne lost 5 matches this season, one was without their Origin stars. Of the other four losses, two came late in the season at home to Brisbane 16-26 and away to Canberra 8-22. Both these matches were significant in that their opponents played an expansive game moving the Storm defence around and exposing plenty of holes (something Cronulla did again in Rd 26 albeit in a 26-6 loss).

One final historical statistic of some note is that in the eight seasons from 2008-2015 only nine teams that had the week off have won their preliminary final.

Recommended Plays
I’m not terribly confident but happy to have a small play (about 33% of my stake on the 1st preliminary final) on Canberra at the head to head and +6.5.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

NRL Finals Week 2 preview

It's the business end of the season in the NRL as well with two cracking matches scheduled this weekend.

Making his debut on the blog is seasoned wagering veteran Shaun Beirne, @shaunbeirne.

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NRL Previews Semi Final (Week 2) History since 2000



Of significant interest to me here is that results of matches played at the designated home ground of one of the teams has resulted in a win rate of 75%. Off an admittedly small sample when the highest ranked team plays at home they have won 87.5% of matches. The margins have a history of blowing out. The average of the total match points is high and the count of the over at the current Tab lines (NQ v Bris 36.5 and Raiders v Penrith 38.5) suggests the propensity of the games to blow out.

North Queensland v Brisbane
Friday night
Last year’s Grand Finalists meet earlier in the semi-final series this time around and we can only hope for a repeat of that match, or indeed either of their matches this season which have all been decided by 1 point.

In team news the Cowboys will be missing Kane Linnett and Ethan Lowe is also in doubt. The Broncos have lost James Roberts to suspension and whilst his centre partner Tom Opacic has been named he is still in doubt. So interestingly we could start the match without three of the expected four centres, the impact of this may see points harder to come by, however it is equally likely to result in a disjointed defence which can offset that.

At home this season the Cowboys have won 11 of 12 and their only loss was to Melbourne without Jonathan Thurston. The Broncos have won five of 11 away matches. Brisbane overran the Titans to win their sixth match on the trot last week but they had every decision and bounce of the ball go their way and still struggled to put them away. Conceding 28 points is also a major concern heading into this match.

The Cowboys hung tough against the Storm but were too timid in attack seemingly more obsessed with repeat sets than moving the ball when close to the line. That however was possibly more due to the slippery conditions rather than a specific game plan and barring similar conditions I expect them to be more expansive on their home track.

Recommended plays:
Back the Cowboys -6.5 and 13+ and back the over 36.5.

Canberra v Penrith
Saturday night
Two teams who could hardly have been expected to be in this position pre-season have done a remarkable job just to be here but yet neither team will be wanting the season to come to an end just yet. Canberra have been extremely strong at home this season winning 10 of 12 including their last eight. A feature of their matches has been the high total match scores, an average of 47.9 with 10 of 12 over 38.5. Penrith have won six of 11 on the road and managed just two wins from five at Top 8 teams.

Team news is perhaps the key factor coming into this match. Penrith are unchanged from their thumping win over the Bulldogs. Canberra have named Blake Austin and Josh Hodgson but must be hugely doubtful.

The Raiders attack went missing last week and unless both Austin and Hodgson play they are going to once again struggle for points, not something you want to be doing against the free-scoring Panthers.

Recommended Plays
The stats point to a Raiders victory but even if Austin and Hodgson play, which I don’t think they will I just can’t be confident enough in them to play. Instead the play is to back the over 38.5

Friday, 9 September 2016

AFL Finals Week 1 preview

There were four matches in this preview originally, however someone thought the AFL might stick to traditional matchdays in September. But nope, for some reason they have to play on Thursdays as well, so I missed it...

AFL Finals Week 1 preview from @aflratings

Geelong v Hawthorn
Friday 7:50pm AEST
MCG, Melbourne

2016 Win/Loss Record
GEE 17-5
HAW 17-5

2016 Win/Loss Record vs Top 8 Teams
GEE 8-2
HAW 6-4

From a neutral point of view this game is very mouth-watering indeed, off-season list changes at the Cats no more so than the insertion of Patrick Dangerfield has turned Geelong in to an instant Premiership contender. The Cats have struggled for consistency at times this year but enter the 2016 Finals series with the best record of any team against other finalists; they have cruised home in their final 7 H&A games only really being tested by Richmond in Round 21 after storming home in the last Qtr to win by 4pts.

The Hawks have clearly been the heart attack kids in season 2016, they won 6 games by under 10pts and survived a poor percentage to slot in to 3rd position on the AFL ladder. There are so many negatives surrounding Hawthorn this year, the absence of Roughead is huge whilst getting smacked in contested possession most weeks is now considered normal for them but interestingly their lack of scoring has been quite noticeable compared to their 3 previous Premiership years.

Geelong are the only team to be ranked in the top 3 for Points FOR & AGA in 2016, the Cats averaged 101.6pts FOR & 70.6pts AGA during the H&A Season. Hawthorn averaged under 100pts per game for the first time since 2010 this year, the Hawks scored 100pts or more in just 8 games all season.

Most form guides can be thrown out the window when Geelong & Hawthorn play each other especially in finals, forecast wet conditions will favour Geelong with their ability to obtain the contested ball but that may actually fall in to the hands of the Hawks as their game style will thrive on any opponent turnover. Expect a close contest with scoring opportunities more reliant on small to medium forwards, players such as Rioli & Motlop have increased value in Most Goal markets.

Again the week off could be a leveller in this contest, the Cats were disappointing losing to Sydney in Geelong coming off their Round 15 Bye whilst the Hawks were dominant off their Bye with a win in Adelaide against the Power. Not willing to concede on the Hawks chances to win the Premiership this year as they have been outstanding winning it all over the last 3 years, until they are completely out of the Premiership race anytime they start as underdogs the Hawks are appealing even as a small investment.

Sydney v GWS Giants
Saturday 3:20pm AEST
ANZ Stadium, Sydney


2016 Win/Loss Record
SYD 17-5
GWS 16-6

2016 Win/Loss Record vs Top 8 Teams
SYD 6-4
GWS 5-4

Sydney have been outstanding regenerating their playing list whilst remaining in contention to win the Flag in 2016, a necessary influx of youth in to the Swans team has been pivotal resulting in 1st place at the end of the H&A season. Of the 5 losses Sydney encountered 4 of them were by 10pts or less with the only other defeat coming at the hands of the Giants by 42pts at Spotless Stadium in Round 12 this year, if not for a total of 1 less minute in 3 games (Losses to Hawthorn, Richmond & Western Bulldogs) Sydney could have possibly finished the H&A season with a 20-2 record and the entire conversation would have likely been different entering Saturday at ANZ Stadium.

The GWS list build has been first class and as a result they are in contention to contend for their first ever Premiership, devoid of finals experience the Giants playing group will be heavily reliant on experienced stars such as Mumford, Shaw & Johnson to guide them through the intense finals pressure.

Sydney were ranked No.1 conceding just 66.8pts per game in the 2016 H&A season, equally as impressive is the 74.9 points conceded against Final 8 teams also ranked No.1. The Giants challenged for the No.1 ranking for scoring but had to settle for No.2 with 108.2pts per game, however they are ranked No.1 scoring 98.6pts per game against Final 8 Teams.

The venue at ANZ Stadium is intriguing, at the smaller confines of the SCG the Swans would likely be heavier favourites but at the Olympic venue the Giants are much more suited due to their speed and outside running game. Experience should win out in this game with the Swans midfield winning the contested ball and thus giving enough supply to their forward line, if they are vulnerable it could be in defence despite their league best ranking.

Adelaide v Nth Melbourne
Saturday 7:10pm AEST
Adelaide Oval, Adelaide

2016 Win/Loss Record ADE 16-6
NM 12-10

2016 Win/Loss Record vs Top 8 Teams
ADE 4-6
NM 2-9

2016 Home Record
ADE 10-2
2016 Travel Record
NM 4-4

Adelaide would be stunned losing a Top 4 position in the final H&A game at the Adelaide Oval against West Coast, they were completely shut down by the Eagles scoring just 71pts. The Crows have been quite solid all year blowing out inferior opposition with their scoring capabilities, but their 3 worst defeats of the season came when they averaged just 66.0pts per game. Nth Melbourne had a tremendous start to the year winning their first 9 games via a relatively soft schedule, unfortunately injuries hit the Kangaroos at the wrong time of the year limping to a 3-10 record from their final 13 games to make the Final 8 on percentage.

Adelaide scored 100pts or more in 16 games during the H&A Season, that was 5 times more than any other team in the AFL. In their final 11 games Nth Melbourne scored 100pts just once averaging 75.1pts per game, the Kangaroos also conceded 100pts in 5 of their last 11 games at an average of 90.5pts per game.

All the money will be on the Crows this Saturday Night at the Adelaide Oval and quite rightly so, the Kangaroos will almost be friendless in Head to Head Betting. If Adelaide can apply scoreboard pressure early then this could get ugly, the Kangaroos need this game to be in full lock down mode which they are capable of doing.

The Under 176.5 Total Game Points looks quite appealing especially as night conditions could result in a slippery Adelaide Oval and play in to the hands of the contested game style of Nth Melbourne, the last time these 2 teams met was at the Adelaide Oval this year in Round 14 resulting in a total of 167pts (Adelaide did finish with 46 scoring shots). Adelaide should be able to advance with a win, but don’t count out Nth Melbourne for being in this game for an extended period of time.

Friday, 2 September 2016

32Red Sprint Cup

Top class sprinting action from Haydock tomorrow with the running of the Sprint Cup. It's a deep field with the latest sprinting sensations up against some multiple Group 1 winners in the twilight of their career.

Picking up the reins is prolific writer Dave Stephens, @davestevos.

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32Red Group 1 Sprint Cup Stakes
16.30 Haydock
Group 1, £286,000, 6f.


Prices as at time of writing, Thursday 9pm. This weekend the big race of the day on Saturday is the Group 1 32Red Sprint Cup Stakes at Haydock. All the action will be broadcast live on Channel 4 at 16.30, and this is a race you won’t want to miss. Some of the fastest sprinters in the business will be doing battle over 6f, and Limato is a warm order to give Henry Candy a second successive victory in this race, and his third win since 2010.

However, with rain seemingly on the way the 2/1 about him looks rather skinny, and Candy is unlikely to run him if there is soft in the description. One horse that won’t mind a drop of rain is Karl Burke’s flying 3yo filly Quiet Reflection, and she looks to have an outstanding chance for the Ontoawinner Syndicate. No favourite has won since Dream Ahead back in 2011, and with 17 runners due to go to post this year’s renewal looks as competitive as ever.

MAIN CONTENDERS

LIMATO
Trainer: Henry Candy
Jockey: Harry Bentley
Age: 4yo
Odds: 2/1 Bet365


Limato confirmed himself as one of the quickest horses around with a superb win in the Darley Cup. He was 2L ahead of Suedois and Quiet Reflection in that Group 1 sprint at Newmarket (6f gd/fm), but he is no banker to confirm the form if the ground eases. He has never raced on anything worse than good, and if there has been soft in the description he has usually skipped his engagements.

If the weather gods rule in Limato’s favour and it stays dry, then his chance increases exponentially. He followed that Darley Cup win with a fine effort behind Mecca’s Angel at York in the Nunthorpe (5f good), so he comes into this race in fine fettle. However, the rain forecast for both tomorrow and Saturday has to be a massive concern, and it would be advisable to see what the weather does before lumping on Limato at 2/1 with Bet365 this Saturday.

QUIET REFLECTION
Trainer: Karl Burke
Jockey: Dougie Costello
Age: 3yo
Odds: 11/2 Coral


This 3yo daughter of Showcasing has taken her owners on a journey they could scarcely have imagined possible. She has won five of her last six, including races at Listed, Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1 level. She was spectacular when landing the Group 2 Sandy Lane over course and distance, and she followed that up with a superb win in the Commonwealth at Royal Ascot. She came unstuck in third behind Limato and Suedois last time, but underfoot conditions will be much more to her liking on Saturday, once the forecast rain arrives.

With 17 runners in the field they are almost certain to go lickety split early doors, and that will suit Quiet Reflection down to the ground. Dougie Costello knows her inside out, and he knows he has to sit tight and wait for the gaps to arrive. This is racing, so those gaps aren’t certain to come and she will need a bit of luck in running. However, there will be few travelling better a furlong out and, if she gets the breaks and shows the same turn of foot that she did on her last visit to Haydock, she could be hard to beat. If the rain comes, the 11/2 on offer from Coral won’t last long, and she has an outstanding chance of gaining her second Group 1 win on Saturday.

THE TIN MAN
Trainer: James Fanshawe
Jockey: Tom Queally
Age: 4yo
Odds: 15/2 Paddy Power

For a horse that started off in handicaps off a mark of just 79 after his 3yo maiden win, this 4yo son of Equiano has come an awfully long way in a short period of time. After a handicap win off 91 last October at Ascot (6f good) he was pitched into Group 1 company over the same course and distance. This time the ground was good to soft, and he ran a huge race to be third behind Muharrar and the winner of this race last year, Twilight Son.

He returned to action with a stylish Listed win at Windsor back in May (6f gd) but he followed that up with a poor effort in the Diamond Jubilee. He was dropped back down to Group 3 company at Newbury last time out, and he scrambled home by a head from Divine. There is no way a repeat of that form will suffice here, and he needs a few of these to have an off day. He doesn’t appeal at odds of 15/2 with Paddy Power, and he is probably best watched on this occasion.

DANCING STAR
Trainer: Andrew Balding
Jockey: Franny Norton
Age: 3yo
Odds: 9/1 Betway


This 3yo daughter of Aqlaam has been a revelation, and she has gone from strength to strength in the last few months. She has progressed at a rate of knots since her handicap win on her return to action in May off a mark of just 75. She only had a nose to spare on that occasion so more improvement looked unlikely, but she has shown that she deserves a crack at this level. She won three of her next four handicaps since that win in May, and she scaled new heights when taking the 27 runner Stewards Cup last time off a mark of 102 from Orions Bow (Goodwood 6f gd/fm).

Franny Norton takes the ride for the first time, and he doesn’t get too many chances at Group 1 level these days. He will be eager to grasp the opportunity with both hands, and he is on an in form filly. A repeat of her run at Goodwood would see her make the frame, but whether she is good enough to beat the best of these is another matter. The only worry would be genuine soft ground, as she has been more impressive on a quicker surface. She has each way claims at best at odds of 9/1 with Betway.

MAGICAL MEMORY
Trainer: Charles Hills
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Age: 4yo
Odds: 9/1 BetVictor


This 4yo son of Zebedee has won six of his seventeen starts, including races at Group 3 and Group 2 level. Those wins came at Newmarket (6f gd/sft) and York (6f gd) respectively earlier this season, and he had Suedois behind in second on the latter occasion. He has produced a couple of cracking efforts in Group 1s, none more so than when running a stormer in this last year. That was his first run at this level, and he was less than a length behind the winner Twilight Son in third place.

He seemed to relish the bit of juice in the ground that day, and his best form has come with a slight ease. He was again a close fourth behind Twilight Son in the Diamond Jubilee on his penultimate start, before disappointing slightly last time out behind Limato, Suedois and Quiet Reflection in the Darley Cup. He won’t mind any of the forecast rain, and if it comes up good to soft he is capable of producing a big run at odds of 9/1 with BetVictor.

BEST OF THE REST

Suedois has form that ties in with the majority of the market leaders, and he undoubtedly has the raw ability to go close. He will appreciate any moisture in the ground, but as his record of 6/23 shows he is quite hard to win with. He is currently a 14/1 shot with Boylesports, and he has a realistic place chance.

Old timer Gordon Lord Byron is another that could sneak into the frame. The evergreen 8yo won this race three years ago, and he is still a more than useful performer on his day. He will be staying on late in the day when others have cried enough, and if enough rain falls he is capable of outrunning his odds of 28/1 with Coral.

CONCLUSION

This has the potential to be a cracking contest, but the deciding factor could be the underfoot conditions. Limato would be impossible to oppose on good to firm, but he is more than beatable if there is any juice in the ground. Dancing Star is another whose speed could be blunted by easy ground, and for that reason she is best watched on her first crack at Pattern level.

The ones to be interested in if the ground eases are Suedois, Magical Memory and Quiet Reflection. The Burke filly is the current 11/2 second favourite with Coral, and that price will disappear if the ground eases significantly. She has a spectacular turn of foot on her day, and with the race likely to be run to suit she is a confident selection to add a second Group 1 to her trophy cabinet. For those looking for an each way alternative at a big price, Gordon Lord Byron could sneak into a place if underfoot conditions deteriorate enough.

STEVOS’ SELECTIONS:
QUIET REFLECTION WIN @ 11/2 CORAL
GORDON LORD BYRON E/W @ 28/1 CORAL