Sunday, 8 June 2014

Dauphine 2014

With the Giro D’Italia now over, all thoughts in the world of cycling turn to the Tour De France and this week’s coming Criterium Du Dauphine is the final preparation for many of the race’s top contenders ahead of the grand depart in Yorkshire which is now less than a month away.

And what a preparation it is too, with a relentless succession of climbs to pound away at the legs of hopeful for next months’ big test with no hiding place for any of the hopefuls.

We start today with a short time trial, coming in at just 10.4kms, with a 4th category climb bookended by flat sections at the beginning and the end with 800m that has an average of 5.5 and a max of 10% unlikely to trouble many. The gaps will be small, a deliberate ploy by ASO to keep time gaps small before tomorrow’s opening road stage, where the order of the general classification will be well and truly set.


A 6 climb 156km stage from Tarare to Col Du Beal, starting out in hard fashion with of the two opening climbs of Côte de Saint-Marcel-l'Éclairé (5km at 6.1%) and Côte d'Albigny (2,3km at 5.5%), the mid stage tests of the 2nd category Cote De Bard (6.3km at 5.3%), Homme Mort (5.6km at 5.6%), and the 3rd category Col Des Paradeux (7.3km at 3.6%) before a steep descent and fast run to the final climb, the hors-categorie Cold Du Beal, 13.6km at 6.6%, a test of stamina with a kilometre at 9% midway through. It’s a brutal day so early in the race and likely to se the main favourites come out to play with time bonuses on the line and much up for grabs, and look for the power climbers to come to the fore early and grab yellow.

Stage 3 is the one for the sprinters and punchers, although rolling roads will make it difficult to bring back a break – even if the 2 second category climbs, the Cote De Lavet (8.7km at 4.4%), and Col De La Mure, placed generously for the faster men – there’s just about 30km from the finish after the Col De La Mure and 28 of them are flat.

Stage 4 to gap is innocuous if you just take a look at the profile but a look through recent history books and it is an exact replication of Stage 16 in last year’s Tour De France, where Rui Costa soloed to victory and the main favourites, wanting to take time back on Chris Froome before the Alps, attacked up and down the Col De Manse, when Contador crashed and held up Chris Froome and Richie Porte was forced to pull the two back to the main group on the descent. With the Manse just 12kms from the finish, the attacking platform has great potential for stage and overall contenders alike.

Stage 5 looks to be one for the breakway, as the Manse is the first of 6 climbs, the manse being tackled after 68.5 kms and then the Cote Du Motty, deceptively labelled a third category climb (2.3km at 8.1%), followed by veering roads that drop and climb regardless of whether they’re officially listed as climbs – although the trio of short, extremely sharp climbs (Cote De La Haut, 2.7km at 7.4%, Col de Malissol 2km at 8.8%, and Col de Morte, 3.1km at 8.4%). After a sharp descent, there’s then the Cote De Laffey, 6.3km at 6.2%, a tough effort in stamina after such a day in the mountains, before more rolling roads and a sprint finish.


The faster men get their last chance of the race on Stage 6, a long day with little to fear apart from 3 category 4 climbs. More important is the placement of such climbs – the Cote De Ronzy is 1.7km at 6.3% and tops out with less than 10km to the finish, and in the final slopes – between 2 and 1km’s to go the percentage hits 15% - so look to the punchers again for the stage wins.


Now we have the race’s ending proper. Two days in the high mountain will decide the winner of this year’s race, and the first of them is the hardest stage without a doubt. The Cote Des Gets comes after 22kms and is only an average of 5%, but at 10.3kn a long test this early in the day. Then we have the Corbier, a 7.5km affair at the same percentage where the first selection of the day is a likely matter, even with so long to go. The Pas de Morgin comes after a break of 24kms, before a long steep descent, and then 23kms of flat before the real tests. The Col De La Focla is worthy of ending any stage, but serves only as a prequel towards the finish today. 12.6kms long, the average of 8.2% will eject anyone not on top form and also serve as an attacking platform for those in the mood, while the legs that have already been stretched are going to be on the limit. After a shape descent of 10kms, we then have the Finaut Emosson, a leg breaker that starts out with percentages of 17% and 4 kilometres averaging more than 9% before a finishing kilometre that’s sure to suit the pure climbers more than any of the two other finishes.

After a downhill start, we have the Cote De Domancy, an explosive 2.5km lump at 9.2%, we then have the Col Des Sasies, 13.4kms at just 5.2% and a setup for a downhill, flat run to the final two climbs of the week. The Montagny, 8km at 6.5%, is a fair warmups towards the Courchevel Le Praz, a short, sharp speed y climb with the lowest percentage being 6% - one for the power climbers rather than any out and out mountaineers to finish.

The route is likely to see a climber come on top, and three of the elite grand tour specialists – arguably the world’s best – are likely to fight this out between the trio of them.

While last year’s Tour was a wonderful spectacle, the battle for the yellow jersey between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador never truly materlised, this year’s form gives much more encouragement for a close contest between the two with the Spaniard approaching his pre absence best based on his fine stage racing form this season.

Contador is yet to finish outside the top 2 in a stage race this year – in stark comparsion to his lacklustre efforts leading upto, and in this race last year, where he lost all chance of the general classification after haemorrhaging time to Chris Froome in the long time trial here. However this year he has looked far stronger, especially against the clock – albeit on testing time trial courses – and has pulled out some extremely promising performances going uphill as well, chief amongst them being his win over the double digit percentages of the Guardgelee when taking Tirreno Adriatico by 2 minuets from Giro D’Italia winner Nairo Quintana. That form can’t be taken literally given the Colombian’s obvious improvement, but he beat most of the Giro’s top 10 there and when winning Pais Vasco, also had a quality case of climbers, while he managed to come within seven seconds of Tony martin over the final Time Trial in Spain.

Now back to the form which has earned him multiple wins in all three grand tours, it’s going to be fascinating to see how he matched against defending Champion Chris Froome, who has not had the uber smooth run towards the Tour that he enjoyed last year, but showed his class in victory at Romandie after a month off the track on his second start back from injury. Froome was 10 seconds behind Contador when finishing 6th in the Volta Cyclista a Cataluyna, but that effort came after returning from aback injury and judged on his powerful performance in Romandie, where he draw comfortably clear from the Peloton along with Simon Spilak to take a minute on the Peloton and above.

It’s not going to be likely that he’s in the same form that saw him land the Tour in such style, but improvement from Romandie wouldn’t be unlikely and vibes from the Team Sky camp and Froome himself seem to suggest that he’s sharpened up his condition after training and is now much closer to his race weight ahead of this test and while the Spaniard should push him all the way, he hasn’t got much ground to make up based on previous evidence and the Briton may be the stronger of the two now with Contador also anxious to relax any potential expectation with the Vuelta on his radar as well and Froome can reward favourite backers.

While the above two have 9 stage wins between them, in 36 days of racing Vincenzo Nibali is yet to land a stage race but this parcours suits him far more than the limited opportunities available at Romandie and Paris – Nice this year was not raced with the Italian in mind. Taking that into account with the Tour of Oman coming early and nothing has been set up for him, so to see a bolder pre Tour showing ahead of July would be no surprise and he’s too big for an each/way place with the rest of the contenders.

Simon Spilak is at 22’s and has been in fine form over the past two months but summit finishes may suit others more than him this time around – look out for him on the drop down to Manse on Stage 4 although an improved Nibali may have his number.

Tejay Van Garderen is interesting, and can outrun a price of 40’s, while Andrew Talansky seems ever overlooked in the grand scheme of things and the same applies to his current outright price, with two of the three major mountain stages really suiting their racing styles. Richie Porte’s form will be the subject of many curious glances after a troubled season healthwise but he makes no appeal at 28/1.


7 pts win Chris Froome (11/10 Coral, Betfair Sportsbook)

1 pt each/way Vincenzo Nibali (10/1 Bet365)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

World Cup Warm Ups - England v Honduras

England are just a week away from their World Cup opener against Italy and they can warm up in fine style with a convincing victory against Honduras, who look set to struggle over the coming month, in America this evening

England were held to a 2-2 draw in midweek by Honduras’s Group E challengers Ecuador with a changed team in differing circumstances but Ecuador finished fourth in the Conemebol qualifying section to compare to Honduras’s struggle through the third and fourth rounds of CONCAF’s qualifying section – for a comparison, 5 FIFA rankings slots separate the two sides.

Roy Hodgson’s men line up in identical fashion to the side that took to the field at Wembley last weekend, which is a vastly different side to the one that ran out and impressed in midweek, playing much better football than the product on offer last Friday. To be held to a 2-2 draw will have frustrated many of the 3 Lions faithful but defensive errors with a makeshift and very much second choice back four contributed greatly towards that – James Milner was playing as a makeshift eight back while Chris Smalling is a level below the first choice centre back pairing – and a lack of attention had a lot to do with their two goals, but the first choice back four of Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, and Baines should prove to be infinitely more solid today.

Danny Wellbeck is yet to win everyone over and so is Wayne Rooney after some below par performances but Daniel Sturridge has had a fine season for Liverpool and scored last Friday, while Adam Lallana provides good intentions and pace out wide.

Regardless of what lineup is put out, England should have enough to beat Honduras and beat them well. Luis Suarez’s side (not the one you’d think) have lost their two warmup games in the states to sides that failed to make Brazil in Turkey and Israel, conceding 6 goals in just those two games where a very shaky defence was exposed on many occasions and England have the tools in all areas to move to comfortable success. Nearly 2-1 is offered for them to win by 2 and the 7/2 offered on a three goal success or greater which is too tempting to pass up against a side that has leaked leaked 16 times in six internationals.


2 pts England -1 (13/10 Paddy Power)

1 pt England -2 (7/2 general)

Belmont Stakes 2014

11.52 Belmont Stakes
Belmont Stakes (Grade 1) (3yo) (Dirt) (3yo)
Winner: £481,928 Runners: 11 Distance: 1m4f Going: Fast  Channel: AR/RU

Advice: 1 pt win, 3 pts place Wicked Strong (7/1 general, evs Betfair), 1 pt win, 1 pt place Commanding Curve (8/1 general, 6/4 Betfair)

Owner detailsMedal Count: as yet to prove that he could go on dirt but should have finished better than eighth in Kentucky Derby with a clear run and plenty of stamina in the pedigree from Dynaformer even if there isn’t so much on the damside; Derby a big personal best by some way as rest of previous form doesn’t match up to that effort, but respected here and interesting outsider.

Owner detailsCalifornia Chrome: All the range heading into the Derby and lived upto expectations, routing his field from perfect spot after a perfect trip; Forced to work harder in the Preakness but can’t fail to be impressed with the way he saw off well beaten third (Social Inclusion) and held Ride On Curlin (reopposing today), having hit the front around the although that even more of a test of speed for him; Big question today is his stamina lasting out over 2 extra furlongs on a surface that lends itself to stayers, over which there may be questions for him and opposable from betting point of view for the first time here.

Owner detailsMatterhorn: Proved hard to get going from behind on the day on sloppy surface when he was fourth in the Peter Pan behind Tonalist and Commisioner, so could be better than that effort suggests, but that form leaves him with a  lot of ground to make up on the main contenders here and would like to see more stamina in the pedigree.

Owner detailsCommanding Curve: Had looked well short of Triple Crown class in the spring but showed potential before the Derby at Fairground when he lost his chance at the start; Found himself well behind the early running pace in the Derby as well before making extremely strong late progress to claim a share of second; That effort impressive enough without fact he was running off slow fractions and while dam’s side of pedigree doesn’t scram Belmont winner, is a son of A.P Indy and looked as if he’d relish every yard of 1m4f on that occasion; Contender here.

Owner detailsRide on Curlin: Coming too late in the Arkansas Derby and after nightmare run at Chruchill Downs, in the Preakness when he drew well clear with California Chrome although he never looked like passing him there; May be happier at this trip but that’s no given on any indicator; Still rates a major player.

Owner detailsMatuzak: Shapes as if this trip will be the making of him (sire had runner up in this) and been slowly progressing, but even the best of his form quite a way behind what’s needed here based on Kid Cruz’s Preakness effort and others readily preferred

Owner detailsSamraat: Unbeaten in his first 5 starts but then had no answer to Wicked Strong and looked a non stayer in Kentucky Derby when behind that rival again and this trip not the one for him either it would seem; Hard to fancy.

Owner detailsCommissioner: 4 lengths behind Tonalist in Peter Pan Stakes and that form doesn’t look as if it’s going to be improved upon visually although bred for the job like no other, with his sire and Dam’s sire a winner of this race in the past; Not possible he can make quite a bold bid here.

Owner detailsWicked Strong: Course winner here, to add to the form figures of 2131 that he has in New York and kickback apparently cause of two disappointing runs before Trashing Samraat in the Wood Memorial (Social Inclusion further behind still); Leaden footed in Kentucky Derby, but found himself wide and poorly positioned from widest stall and took fourth with last stride; This trip should be right up his street (pedigree offers hope with Hard Spun’s dam 1m4f graded winner) and better chance of getting a clear position, so high on shortlist.

Owner detailsGeneral A Rod: Could never get into the Derby shakeup but looked as if 1m4f might be his trip when plugging on into fourth in the Preakness latest, where he lost his place on the bend to add to his troubles; By same sire as 2010 winner too, so not hard to build a persuasive case; Only trouble is free racing tendency which hampered him before the Derby.

Owner detailsTonalist: Just the four runs but one of those defeats to Constitution, this year’s Florida Derby winner, and looked a real class act when running out a ready winner of the Peter Pan Stakes over 1m1f here, with Commissioner/Matterhorn behind; Can go very well here.

VERDICT: One of the biggest nights of the year as a great card ends with California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid. While he’s the winner we all want, this trip is a massive unknown for one so speedy and so is this track given how he’s thrived on the lighting fast strips he’s raced on so far. In both Triple Crown legs, he’s gotten the jump on his rivals at the top of the stretch or around the turn, but that will be much harder for him to do today and at 5/4, which a host of rivals who you can make a strong case, for, he has to be taken on. WICKED STRONG was flat footed when things counted in the Derby but had a rougher trip than most and was making late progress to take fourth at the post from Samraat. He’s better than he was able to show there and with only 11 instead of 20 runners, and a better run through, he could relish 1m4f and be there at the end. Derby second COMMANDING CURVE had a clear run down the outside, but impressed with the way he went past much of the field off some desperately slow sectionals by Derby standards and if he holds out over this trip (lot of speed in pedigree) his late kick could prove decisive. Tonalist deserves serious respect, and best of the outsiders may well be General A Rod although Medal Count has gone unnoticed.

Belmont Stakes Supporting Card

The Breeders’ Cup is the best night of racing that America has in the eyes of many but Belmont’s card that supports the final leg of the Triple Crown makes for one of the best cards seen all year. Five other Grade 1’s are being run in New York tonight, starting with the Acorn Stakes where My Miss Sophia is likely to take some stopping following a fine second in the Kentucky Oaks last time. She had previously romped the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct, beating Got Lucky on the Bridle, and should take the beating here with the drop back of a furlong. It’s hard to see her getting beaten, although there is set to be a lot of early competition and a wide gate of eight is not wholly ideal for her to reach the lead or the early pace; She doesn’t have to, but it’s worth having in mind for odds on backers.

The last time Sweet Reason ran over a mile here she was second to Artemis Aregora she blew her chance at the very start before closing late, and while she was well beaten in the Gazelle Stakes behind My Miss Sophia, she’s now 7lbs better off at a trip that may turn out to be a better fir for her. Artemis Aragora is also here but returns to the track for the first time since November and was a disappointment in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies. Also of interest is Unbrieded Forever, who was third and well beaten in the Kentucky Oaks but looked a non-stayer there and the time before in the Fair Ground Oaks. Today’s trip may be a better fit for her too and she deserves a second look.

The action only gets better from then on, with the Ogden Phillips Bringing back the three main players from last year’s Breeders’ Cup distaff (arguably the strongest race of the meeting) where Beholder romped Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar was well below form.

It’s understandable that Beholder, having reappeared with an easy win at Santa Anita in the Santa Lucia Stakes, is favourite to repeat the dose again, and she will take some catching, but Close Hatches may be better than that run suggested, and on the track that she seemed to relish when she won the Mother Goose so impressively, it’s not hard to think she has home court advantage today. Princess of Sylmar, a multiple Grade 1 winner, will rate a huge threat in what could be the race of the evening.

The Just a Game Stakes is a well contested renewal, with Discreet Marq hard to knock as favourite although last year’s second Better Lucky was giving 2lbs when just behind her at Holywood in December, and judged on how she clawed up the ground when second on synthetic behind Judy the Beauty (one of the country’s best polytrack horses) trying it for the first time on reappearance, suggests that she’s as good as ever and can make a bold bid to go one better this time. Stephanie’s Kitten, who beat Better Lucky in this last yard, was so abysmal on return it’s hard to trust even the Chad Brown yard to improve her to winning again.

The Just a Game Stakes (9.00) is a well contested renewal, with Discreet Marq hard to knock as favourite although last year’s second Better Lucky was giving 2lbs when just behind her at Holywood in December, and judged on how she clawed up the ground when second on synthetic behind Judy the Beauty (one of the country’s best polytrack horses) trying it for the first time on reappearance, suggests that she’s as good as ever and can make a bold bid to go one better this time. Stephanie’s Kitten, who beat Better Lucky in this last yard, was so abysmal on return it’s hard to trust even the Chad Brown yard to improve her to winning again.

In the Metropolitan Handicap (9.48) it should be hard to get Palace Malice beaten, but carrying his welter burden to victory would be an impressive feat. A price of 9/4 is nothing to get enthused about, and he’s another 2lbs worse off with Normandy invasion for their meeting in the New Orleans handicap, while he’s also down on the rail around this 1 turn mile with 12 other rivals, not entirely ideal. Goldencent’s Breeders Cup Dirt Mile romp is a performance as good as any here and the track is playing for speed but he may overdo it early – as has happened to him on occasions – and he has to prove as good here.

Central Banker’s win in the Churchill Downs Stakes is a key form effort, William Lawrence’s 4 year old having beaten Shakin It Up and Clearly Now in a stretch drive. Shakin It Up was giving 5lbs that day to the pair and is weighted to come out on top of the three today, while Mike Smith may have gone too soon on Derby day, and he is interesting at 9/1.

In the Knob Creek Manhattan Stakes (10.45), Seek Again can continue his rapid profression. A rapidly progressive colt for John Gosden last year, he landed the Holywood Derby on turf on his last start for the yard and was the moved to the William Mott yard, a switch that has not had any sort of adverse effect upon him given how impressive he was in defeat to Wise Dan on his return in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. He may have yet more to give while many of his rivals are more exposed and in any case, his form from Churchill stands him in exceptionally good stead here. Grandeur, running on Lasix for the first time, may be able to reverse form with Imagining (who got a soft lead upfront) and Real Solutions, having been short in the stretch for room when they began to sprint for home, and he gives Jeremy Noseda a live chance here.


1 pt each/way Sweet Reason, Acorn Stakes (7.34 Belmont, 10/1 general)

1 pt win Close Hatches, Ogden Phllips Stakes, (8.14 Belmont, 11/4 Stan James)

1 pt win Better Lucky, Just a Game Stakes, (9.00 Belmont, 4/1 general)

1 pt each/way Shakin It Up, Metropolitan Handicap, (9.48 Belmont, 9/1 general)

1 pt win Seek Again, Manhattan Stakes, (10.45 Belmont, 10/3 Paddy Power)