England will still be smarting after last year’s 30-3 drubbing in Cardiff which denied them both the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam.
Stuart Lancaster’s side have the chance for revenge, as victory over Wales on Sunday at Twickenham would make them strong title contenders before they play wooden spoon favourites Italy next Saturday. Surprisingly, England are after just a second tournament win in 11 years.
The Red Rose have built momentum throughout this year’s competition and looked a very solid unit two weeks ago when they triumphed over current table-toppers Ireland 13-10. Having gone down narrowly to France in the opener, England crushed Scotland the following week 20-0.
Warren Gatland’s Wales have been inconsistent in the first three rounds. They scraped past Italy 23-15, were humiliated in Dublin 26-3, but rectified that performance by putting away France 27-6 most recently. And the Welsh boast a solid recent record over their neighbours, winning the last three encounters, and defeat to Ireland was their first away Six Nations reverse since 2011.
On form and with home advantage, Sporting Index’s supremacy quote of 3.5-5.5 in the hosts’ favour looks right on the money. However, I couldn’t recommend a buy at 5.5 considering the way Wales tend to raise their game against arguably their biggest rivals.
So selling England’s supremacy at 3.5 looks the way to go if we believe that Sunday’s showdown is going to be a tight affair. England held on to beat Ireland by just three points last time and I fancy Sunday’s winning margin to be similar.
The total points average in England’s first three games is 31, two less than Wales’. Therefore, selling total points at 36 is also recommended in what promises to be an exciting encounter with so much at stake.
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The manager of Newcastle United headbutted a player on Saturday afternoon. That’s right, Alan Pardew incredibly thought it would be a good idea to lose his temper and give David Meyler an, admittedly tame, Glasgow kiss.
Pardew is well-known for being a prime idiot but that really takes the biscuit. Meyler has benefited from this, though – a few people now know who he is.
That incident took the gloss off a fine 4-1 win for the Magpies over Hull on a weekend of Premier League action in which Arsenal slipped up at Stoke to see Sporting Index traders push their quote on the Championship 60 Index down to 23-26.
Rory McIlroy played a quite sumptuous shot during the final round of the Honda Classic, but grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory, squandering a two-shot lead and losing a four-way play-off to leave many golf punters cursing the baby-faced Northern Irishman.
The last Mole competition asked for total goal minutes for Manchester United’s disastrous outing against Olympiakos which resulted in yet another unwanted record for David Moyes – a first United defeat to a Greek side.
Mr SB was closest to guessing the make-up of 92 and wins a £100 total goals bet. With the Cheltenham Festival just a week away, email firstname.lastname@example.org your prediction for how many favourites (joint-favourites count) will win from the 27 races. And remember to check out Sporting Index’s markets for the best four days of jumps racing in the calendar.
England up against Ireland has been the biggest match of the Six Nations so far and it didn’t disappoint as the Red Rose held on for a thrilling 13-10 victory. Sellers of total points at 39 were celebrating long into the night. Penalty goal minutes always provide exciting entertainment for sports spread bettors. Generally priced up quite low, all you need is a tired tackle towards the end of the game to get the chance to scoop a very decent return. Swansea versus Crystal Palace was petering out with the hosts 1-0 up before Chico Flores was given his marching orders for a foul on Palace substitute Glenn Murray. The forward dusted himself down and sent the Swans keeper the wrong way with the subsequent penalty to salvage a draw for the Eagles and make a hefty profit for those who had bought PGM at 10. The make-up was 82. Ronnie O’Sullivan has been simply superb for the last year but he was up against another form player Ding Junhui in the final of the Welsh Open. O’Sullivan/Ding was trading at 7.5/10.5 and buyers never had a moment’s worry as The Rocket crushed his Chinese rival 9-3. The five-time world champion even treated the crowd to a 147 break to seal victory on his way to making up 28.
Buyers of Manchester United/Olympiakos at 0.4 suffered a horrible time of things with the Greeks easing to a straightforward 2-0 win over the ragged Red Devils. That followed identical reverses for both Manchester City and Arsenal the previous week. There are not many more frustrating sports to play than golf. A whole round can be spoiled by just one wayward shot and Rory McIlroy’s failure to capitalise on a decent advantage during the final round of the Honda Classic last weekend will have given in-play punters nightmares for weeks to come. The Ulsterman traded as high as 38-41 on the live 50-25-10-5 Index, but floundered despite a quite majestic shot on the 18th and lost a four-way play-off. That mean he made up just 13.33 and losses for buyers of nearly 28 times their stake. Aston Villa’s first half against Norwich was quite something on Sunday. Having gone 1-0 down after just three minutes, they fought back to lead 4-1 at the break. How many goals could there be in this one, we all thought. Ten? 12? As it turned out – just the five. So in-play buyers of total goals minutes at half-time (242) endured a miserable second-half. The final make-up was 133 – a painful loss of 109 times stakes!
Above: Ronnie O’Sullivan’s maximum in the Welsh Open.
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Ahead of the greatest show on turf, Sporting Index has put together this handy Cheltenham Festival infographic to help punters get an angle on all the big trends and stats.
The Anglo-Irish rivalry at the Festival has become one of the most competitive in sport. Last year Irish-trained horses won more races than their Great Britain-trained counterparts for the first time and the rivalry will be officially celebrated this year with the creation of the Prestbury Cup.
Sporting Index has taken a look at how the two sides have matched up over the last ten years and has complemented that with a look at how many favourites each team currently has for the 27 races.
Willie Mullins has won the leading trainer award in two of the last three years and his Festival squad is being touted as the strongest ever sent to Prestbury Park. The County Carlow handler has nine of the current favourites or joint-favourites.
There’s also a look at the big four championship races and how the favourites have performed in these over the last ten years. As you can see, the Gold Cup has the best record with six jollies obliging.
Finally, there is some analysis on two of the star names, Hurricane Fly and Big Buck’s, who are looking to defy the trends and make history by landing the Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle respectively.
In day one I’ve gone against most of the market leaders. I was either stupid or brave to take on Quevega by showing allegiance to Cockney Sparrow. And this is another day where I’m finding it hard to commit to the favourites.
Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle
The majority of recent winners over the last 20 years had run at least three times over hurdles and in doing so had claimed either first or second on their most recent start. I know – that doesn’t narrow it down too much!
But how about eight of the last ten winners came from the first four in the betting? But saying that, Royal Boy and Captain Cutter may have their work cut out as only one horse aged older than six has won since 1974.
Willie Mullins’ Faugheen has headed the betting for a long time, but it resonates that he hasn’t jumped well and we’ve yet to see him be tested in a battle. However, if the vibes are right he could be so good he won’t see a rival!
Such is the embarrassment of riches in Mullins’ stable he could also run Sure Reef and my beloved Rathvinden. Sure Reef came from an improbable position to win on his latest run and put Ruby Walsh in the reckoning for the At The Races ride of the month!
Rathvinden has a wealth of talent. He was just getting into contention at Warwick when falling, in the race eventually won by Deputy Dan, and then gave Red Sherlock a mighty scare conceding weight and only going down by two-and-a-quarter lengths with the pair 29 lengths clear of the third. I love this little battler and will be buying him on the race index if he turns up, confident he can at least place.
Oliver Sherwood will be hoping to add to his success in the race with The West Awake in 1987 and Rebel Song in 1988, courtesy of Deputy Dan, but if the ground dries I’d be worried as he’s relished the mud this term.
That’s in complete contrast to what is required for Ballyalton. If you ignore his last run, his price looks totally out of context to his ability. He ran on the ridiculously heavy ground on New Year’s Day and is surely better than 20-1. Another small buy on the race index could be rewarding.
Which leaves Red Sherlock. Because if I fancy Rathvinden, then my biggest danger has to be David Pipe’s runner. He swooped pass Rathvinden at Cheltenham last time and the pair could battle up the Cheltenham hill once more. Probably not another fancied runner to sell on the index as fingers are likely to get burnt!
Balleycasey’s fall while schooling at Leopardstown on Sunday didn’t exactly install confidence and like Champagne Fever he has only had two competitive races over the bigger obstacles.
His latter victory came over Don Cossack with Carlingford Lough falling at the last when appearing to have a winning chance. Mullins has trained three winners and two seconds since 1998, but seven of his 15 runners in the RSA have failed to finish, so I wonder what fate awaits Ballycasey?
Morning Assembly has the thumbs up from many panellists doing the Festival preview circuit including the peerless Tom Segal. Back in April at Punchestown in a Grade 1 Hurdle he had Ballycasey toiling seven lengths behind him in third. He won at the same course over the bigger obstacles in November and was then foiled by Carlingford Lough in late December and hasn’t been seen since.
Utmost respect is given to these shrewdies, but I still am going to look elsewhere.
Hopefully Alan King has racked up at least one victory before Smad Place takes up his place in the RSA. Previously placed in a World Hurdle, this dashing grey shone through the gloom beating Sam Winner at Newbury on Betfair Hurdle day.
Corrin Wood would probably be better in the four-miler which leaves me at this point having allegiance to both Carlingford Lough and O’Faolains Boy. The former will be the mount of AP McCoy, who I’d be interested in as top jockey at the meeting. The credentials needed for a race of this nature is resilience and strength. This will be Carlingford Lough’s 14th race over fences and he’s already claimed a Galway Plate.
As for O’Faolains Boy, he and Many Clouds ran with credit in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot. In the last couple of weeks Rebecca Curtis runners have come to themselves and this fellow can improve again.
This is not a race for favourites as only 18 of the 69 have won and be mindful eight of the last ten winners were aged 7.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Sire De Grugy has been ubiquitous and who can blame connections giving him a very busy schedule. The frailties of racing, demonstrated by Sprinter Sacre, shows it is best to take every opportunity which arises. That said he is a horse bookmakers are looking to oppose.
His two previous visits to Cheltenham have seen him finish second to Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy, both of whom he could meet. It’s a weak argument to take him on solely because of those defeats as both races were at November Open meeting and he’s since developed into our best two-mile chaser. Nine of the last ten winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase and he was exuberant in victory there.
If you are wishing to take him on, then 20 of the last 26 winners had been placed at worse at previous Festivals and, with that in mind, alternatives I’d be looking at are Kid Cassidy and Baily Green.
Kid Cassidy was brilliantly ridden when claiming Sire De Grugy’s scalp in November but he was in receipt of 10lb and since has run appallingly at Leopardstown. He needs a sound surface and is very inconsistent.
At this point, I acknowledge Sizing Europe, who is having his fourth run in the Champion Chase, a race he won in 2011 and has since finished runner-up in each of the last two years.
However my outside selection, just as it was for last year’s Arkle, is Baily Green. Last seen when eighth in a handicap hurdle, which for such an enormous horse it would not have suited, he could thrive back at two miles over the bigger obstacles and he pushed the classy Simonsig all the way here last season.
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WITH the Cheltenham Festival starting on Tuesday, I’m more excited than Vanessa Feltz in a cake shop. It seems every year the expenses spiral out of control like Alan Pardew on a touchline, so we need to get a few quid on the Dairy Leas from Sporting Index.
The odds compilers languishing in a Kennington dungeon are a crafty and cunning group, and they have priced up the favourites over the four days at 225-240, with 25 points for gold, 10 for silver and 5 for bronze.
There are 27 races run at Prestbury Park, and my first inclination is to sell for small stakes, as the racing is so very competitive at the Gloucestershire jamboree. Jockeys ride out for the minor honours as if their lives depend upon it, which doesn’t happen in every day horse racing. But keep stakes to a minimum.
On Tuesday, my main play of the day comes in the Champion Hurdle run over two miles, as I can’t see My Tent Or Yours finishing out of the first three. Nicky Henderson’s improving beast was second in the Supreme Novice last year, but he has returned a much stronger animal this season.
JP McManus’ horse recorded a very fast time when landing a two-mile Kempton National Hunt bumper in February, and showed plenty of guts to get the better of a great duel with The New One at the same track over Crimbo. My mole in the Weather Centre assures me the sun will shine all week, which will suit AP McCoy’s mount. I will be buying My Tent Or Yours on the 50 Index, and you should follow me in.
On Wednesday, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is run over two miles, and it’s the worst renewal I can remember in many moons. The fact that Willie Mullins trains Arvika Ligeonniere, and Ruby Walsh rides, will ensure that the nine-year-old goes off a shorter price than he is entitled to be on his previous Cheltenham record.
In 2010, the horse was beaten 27 wickets in the Potato Race – aka the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle, before being pulled up in the 2013 Arkle. This nine-year-old is much better racing right-handed, so I will be selling him on the 50 Index, and will take him on in a match bet with the likes of Captain Conan.
My best bet on Thursday comes in the Pertemps Network Handicap Final run over three miles in the shape of If In Doubt, who is owned by JP McManus and trained by Philip Hobbs. This progressive young stayer qualified for this race by finishing second at Exeter last month under Tom O’Brien, and I expect plenty of improvement with Tony McCoy taking over in the plate.
This animal has improved with every run this season, which started with a smooth success at Towcester, so he loves a battle up a stiff hill, which is always a big plus at this track. With only eight runs under his belt, he has scope to get much better, so I’m going to buy him on the 50 Index, and get with him in a match bet with horses like Fingal Bay and Jetson.
The Blue Riband event of the National Hunt season is the Gold Cup run over three and a quarter miles, and you would think that the rags would get outclassed, but the stats tell us a different Jackanory.
Who will ever forget Norton’s Coin obliging in 1990 at 100-1, followed by Cool Ground at 25-1 in’92, Mr Mulligan at 20-1 ’97 and Cool Dawn 25-1 the next year. In this year’s race I’m going to back Rocky Creek and Teaforthree on the 50 Index, as the first-named is the best jumper in the field and as a second season novice has untold scope for improvement. The latter won the four-mile here two years ago, and we can be sure AP McCoy will give him the sort of never-say-day attitude which the champ gave Synchronised when successful in 2012.
I will be penning a piece every day for the greatest show on Turf, and I look forward to seeing some of you at the racecourse.
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