Saturday, 19 April 2014

Chinese Grand Prix 2014

How do you deal with a problem like Mercedes? The modern F1 era has seen much dominance, and seasoned F1 veterans will remember the likes of Ferrari and even Brawn before Red Bull’s three years at the top but by even those comparisons the early dominance of Mercedes has been startling and on all the current evidence only mechanical failure can prevent the works outfit from taking yet another 1-2 in China this weekend.

From testing their dominance has been pretty much unchallenged, with Malaysia bringing yet another unchallenged win, but it was an exciting sprint finish to Bahrain, a race unlikely to be bettered this season and already being talked about as a classic, that bought home just how far clear they truly were of the field. In the 11 laps from the end of the safety car to the race in Sakhir, they pulled 24 seconds clear of the rest of the field, a rate of 2.2 seconds a lap. The fear of a procession is understandable, but with chief executive director Toto Wolff actively encouraging Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to go toe to toe with eachother we were treated to a sterling duel between the two including some of the closest racing seen for a long time. In a race famous for team mate battles, we had the phenomenon of the Red Bull’s, Force India’s, Williams and Ferrari’s all finished in tandem, with the latter pair drawing clear from the field in just 11 laps after the safety car.

Form can change rapidly from circuit to circuit but China, with it’s long straights and sweeping corner complexes, is very similar to Bahrain and those who prospered last week have an ideal opportunity to do so once again. In the qualifying session the field had to deal with heavy and quite sustained rainfall but that didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes from going nearly a full second quicker of both Red Bull’s (with Riccardo once again out-qualifying Vettel) with Nico Rosberg fourth after overcooking the exit of the back straight.

Rosberg will be frustrated with having only qualified fourth and despite being split by the two Red Bulls, he looks to be Hamilton’s main contender by a considerable distance for the top spot of the podium. Mercedes were 1-2 in Malaysia and Bahrain; at no point ever looking like they were going to be caught, and had Hamilton’s car held up the story would likely have been the same in Melbourne too, making the 11/8 on a dual forecast a very tempting option as the forecast is for a dry race tomorrow.

This is also likely to be of huge benefit to Williams, who qualified superbly in Bahrain, Vateri Bottas coming third behind the Mercedes on the grid and Massa starting in seventh, and they were nip and tuck with the Force India’s and Red Bull’s, set for a podium challenge, before the safety car and a three stop strategy that bought them in just outside of the safety car window. Their positions of  sixth and seventh are excellent starting launchpads for a race around a track that won’t be as hard on their rear tyres, a problem for the Williams which was much better in the wet today then in qualifying sessions in Malaysia and Bahrain. With that behind them both should be aiming for strong showings and either of them is an interesting top 6 competitor – with marginal preference for Massa out of the two, but the better bet might come from the man just behind them.  

Their main rivals, the Force India’s, should be amongst the pack battles once again despite a less than ideal qualifying. They’ve had the better of Williams in the qualifying but both Nico Hulkenberg (left) and Sergio Perez especially struggled with the car balance on Saturday in wet conditions. However a dry race is likely to see them in much better shape and Nico Hulkenberg can take advantage of that to push for a fourth straight top 6 finish on the bounce. He starts in eighth, a fair effort considering that Adrian Sutil failed to make Q3 as well, and with Force India’s car in the dry having handled tyre wear well, and with the car arguably the third fastest around he can have high hopes of improving upon his position. A top 6 finish is 11/8, bigger than any price available pre practice, and interesting, but a far better bet would be the evens on him winning Paddy Power’s Group C. His rivals in this market are the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, and his team mate Adrian Sutil. There’s a gap of 4 places between him and Button with Magnussen and Sutil 7 and 8 places behind, and while the two McLarens were going well when clutch failures took them out of the running in Bahrain, in third practice and qualifying Nico was comfortably the faster out of the quarter and with a head start of four places and above, evens looks very generous.


6 pts Nico Hulkenberg to win Group C (evs Paddy Power)

2 pts Hamilton/Rosberg dual forecast (11/8 Hills)

Premiership - Saturday 19th April 2014

Tim Sherwood’s time at Tottenham will be remembered more for his “unique management style” (my quote, not anyone else’s, although even being more than 200 miles away from White Hart Lane I can confidently guess that his match notes include Heart and character', 'spirit and desire' and 'endeavour and desire') than anything else but his Tottenham side should be able to get a much needed win chalked up on the board with victory over Fulham today.

On face value the gap between the two teams, along with Spurs’ home advantage – and they have come from 2-0 down to beat Southampton along with smashing Sunderland 5-1 in their last two home games – should be enough but nothing about the 1/2 on offer for a home win or any handicaps makes great appeal given Spurs’ horrendous lack of defensive cohesion. In their last eight games Tottenham have conceded 20 goals including 3 in less than half an hour at West Brom last week. They pulled back that deficit for a hard fought draw to show the attacking shape that that has been seen to an extent under Sherwood.

The appointment of Felix Magath seems to have worked for Fulham with their safety now well in their own hands following back to back wins against major rivals Aston Villa and Norwich, and with a trip to Stoke and home games against Crystal Palace and Hull City to come after this they have a fighting chance of staying in the division next year. However they too have their own defensive problems – They have just one clean sheet in 17 games with 40 goals conceded on the road – and Spurs have scored 11 goals in their last 4. Backing them to win with both teams to score may be the best option Danny Rose, Younes Kaboul, Kyle Naughton and Zeki Fryers have not been the most solid combination this season – while 5 of Spurs’ last 6 games have seen four goals or more. A repeat today is 11/8 with Skybet and looks a realistic possibility.

Elsewhere in the relegation battle Aston Villa may be put in more trouble in their relegation battle with Southampton not ideal visitors for a side that has lost their last 4 games on the bounce. The Saints themselves were losers to Cardiff at St Mary’s last week but were far better than a 4-1 scoreline against Manchester City at the Etihad indicated the week before on their last away trip, ran rings around Tottenham before being pulled back late.

Broadly speaking, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have generally held their form extremely well through the season and of their 6 wins, 5 have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. Villa won the reverse fixture but have enjoyed being on the road far more this season with 10 losses at Villa Park and apart from shock wins against Chelsea and Manchester City, defeats against sides from 4th to 12th. Southampton’s finishing let them down last week but they are still playing like a side on the verges of the top 6 and 7/5 on them putting the recent record straight is more than fair.

Swansea have not been as impressive, but there’s still an argument to suggest that they are worth supporting to beat Newcastle, who have won just 3 games this year. Pardrew’s side are a way clear of the trouble at the bottom but have been the worst side in the league on recent performances with lamentable showings for the last 3 weeks. Swansea are even closer to the relegation zone than their hosts but weren’t disgraced in defeat at home to Chelsea last week when an early red card didn’t help their chances but two of their recent away tips have included bold shows against Everton and Arsenal and they were not without promise in defeat at Hull the time before.

In the tightest title race – or at least the tightest title race between more than two clubs - Manchester City’s dropping of points in defeat against Sunderland in midweek has opened the position wonderfully for Chelsea, who can ready themselves for what has the feeling of a winner takes all match against Liverpool at Anfield next week by putting Poyet’s side all but down.

Wednesday’s resistance, having come after the worst possible start when City took an early lead, was a spirited effort that should have ended with their survival hopes being realistically boosted, but 6 points away from safety, their survival hopes will be ended today with Jose Mournihio’s side not likely to suffer from the lapse that City did.

Ahead of a vital 4 weeks – Chelsea venture to Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League semi final before travelling to Anfield – Chelsea come here fresh without a midweek game and they may face a Sunderland reeling from the  physical and mental punishment of their efforts.

Jose’ Mounrihio’s side may not have excited as much as City through the season – they’ve scored 22 less goals than Pellegrini’s men – but they represent a much more daunting defensive prospect with just 24 goals conceded over the season and only 9 of those infront of the own at Stamford Bridge, where they have 8 wins with clean sheets, a stat that becomes more impressive when you have to allow for 2-1 defeats of title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. There is a temptation to back Chelsea to give a goal on the handicap but the prices are a tad short and their defensive unit should feel confident of keeping Sunderland shut-out.


1 pt Tottenham to win and both teams to score (15/8 general) 

1 pt Over 3.5 goals (11/8 Skybet, 6/5 general) 

1 pt Southampton (7/5 general)

1 pt Swansea (17/10 general)

2 pts Chelsea to win to nil (21/20 Bet Victor)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Aviva Premiership - Quins v Leicester

We're at the stage of the season that Sir Alex Ferguson christened as "squeaky bum time", and while Richard Cockerill hasn't had such a quote put to him, his Leicester side are once again showing their best coming into the summer. Poor form at the beginning of the season - some of the worst under Cockerill - was caused in no small part by an injury crisis which saw Geoff Parling, and Manu Tuilagi amongst the absentees, but since the turn of the year they have slowly reached the form which saw them take the title in such dominant fashion last year and they come here on a red hot trail of form. March has bought 4 wins out of 5, that defeat coming at what many would call the hardest away trip in Europe, when going down in the Heineken Cup quarter final at Clermont Auvergne in a game that they ended up being unlucky to lose following a 16-0 deficit. They went into that game having scored 108 points in their last three games with thrashings of Newcastle on the road and Exeter infront of the Welford Road faithful before their derby defeat of Northampton to put extra pressure on them for a home semi final, and even in second gear were impressive in dismissing Wasps last weekend. The hosts carry form that is arguably no less impressive, having brushed aside Sale last weekend to follow to a romp over Stade Francais in the Amlin Cup quarters, but Leicester's intensity and form is against the best in Europe and at their current level they may be too much to handle for Quins here. 


4 pts Leciester (10/11 general)


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Today's Racing - 16th April - Cheltenham April Meeting & Nell Gwyn Stakes

The Cheltenham Festival may have passed but it’s April meeting brings a good bridge towards the riches of the Punchestown Festival still to come and Newmarket’s Craven meeting signalling the return of the flat proper as the two seasons combine for fantastic racing.

I’ll start with Cheltenham and the April meeting, which has so often been used to compensate for disappointment in March, and Garde La Victoire (2.05) can follow that route by atoning for a disappointing winter with victory here. Phillip Hobbs’s charge looked to have a major future when trashing Gone Too Far on the second of two early season hurdles starts and even defeat to subsequent Neptune fourth Ballyalton here in a really strong novice at the December meeting did little to dim his appeal, but he was a long beaten fourth in the Tolworth hurdle and then was nowhere when unfancied at the Festival. He wasn’t impressive when stepped upto today’s trip at Taunton although he was hanging left for most of the journey, suggesting that the return to Cheltenham will bring around improvement, and he was carrying a hefty penalty that day too. Receiving 4lbs from My Wigwam Or Yours, for whom everything clicked in style at Newbury when giving this trip and crucially this ground for the first time, and Veux Lion Rouge, who is still unexposed but disappointed upped in class facing a quick surface for the first time at the festival, he can end his season an a high note. In a strong opener, Blue Heron, Lookeslikerainted, and Sergeant Mattie all add depth although the ground is a question mark for two of them and Sergeant Mattie was beaten at the same level last time out.

Thomas Crapper (left) ran a fantastic race at the Festival when second in what looked like a strong renewal of the Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle (3.15) here, when failing only for stamina late on as the extremely promising 3 mile Graded winner Don Poli had too much up the hill, but the form of his effort was underlined by the third, Caid Du Berlais, going very close at Aintree in a similar race next time out, only getting chinned late. All season his form has held up to the highest security and if waited with more today in the Longcroft Building Services Handicap Hurdle (3.15) – he was kicked on very early at the Festival – then compensation could be waiting for him. This is a very well contested race with two horses beginning Sandown’s EBF final form to the table, with Brother Brian attempting to go three better than when a beaten favourite, and Boondooma, who is 6lbs better off with him for a 3 and a half length beating at Sandown despite two wins in small fry contests since. The latter of the two is preferred although Volt Face, a good winner at Newton Abbot upped in trip for the first time, can get involved if handling good ground, and The Romford Pele has had a pretty good chasing season and comes here 2lbs lower in the handicap then when fourth in this last year.

In the feature Silver Trophy (3.50), Buywise and Persian Snow are of obvious interest, both having run creditably at the Festival, Buywise’s bad mistake costing him any chance in the Novices’ handicap, and Persian Snow’s hampering possibly costing him any chance of getting involved. However there is value past the two of them and Real Milan, who should have won in the first time blinkers at Haydock but for lacking focus latest, and Carrickboy, who is just 4lbs higher than when winning at last year’s Festival. Overall nothing has an edge for me though.

In the Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (4.25), take a chance on Paul Nicholls’ Pay The King showing his early season form. He was unable to make much headway in a valuable Pertemps qualifier at Musselbrugh when last seen but the time before he was a promising fifth in one of the stronger handicaps run all season when held up behind and infront of him that day was Western Warhorse, Sausalito Sunrise, and Liuetant Miller. If able to repeat that effort today – it looks as if he should stay – then he holds a fine chance.

Over at Newmarket, in the Horsesource Seabuckthorn Conditions Stakes (2.20) it’s a shock to no-one that Richard Hannon is likely to have yet another favourite in a juvenile race, but Harry Hurricane could have gotten closer to his Flyball if he’d had the benefit of a previous start at Leicester. George Baker’s charge was slow to get out of the stalls and found the early pace a tad too hot, but the way he was closing at the end of the race leaves the impression that he could get much closer the next time the two met and a 3lbs pull in his favour today makes him the choice of the two. Abscent Friends will find this tougher than his Southwell win but was likeable in victory there and can ensure a decent test for the newcomers Portamento, a half brother to Belmont Stakes fourth Incognito, and Qatar Racing’s Mind of Madness.

The same outfit might also have claims in the Nell Gwyn (4.05) with Queen Catrine (centre left) who ended a solid and consistent juvenile year with a third in the Marcel Boussac. That day, upped to a mile for the first time and tackling soft ground for the first time as well, being held up off a strong gallop helped but she had plenty of useful sprinting form, enough to make one think that the switch back to 7 furlongs on faster ground shouldn’t be an issue. Paddy Power are paying an extra place and go 7/1, which is a nice surprise for the market. Sandiva was a disappointing seventh that day but back on faster ground going 6 furlongs, is a worthy favourite, while the trip should also suit Dorothy B, second to Joyeuse last season behind being unsuited by the sprint that the Cheveley Park became. Both are worth consideration while the impressive Folk Melody is well worth a place here following a deeply impressive maiden win last year when well supported and along with the unbeaten Euro Charline, can make her presence felt.

Later on in the Fielden Stakes (4.40), Mark Johnston’s Somewhat can make up for a poor effort in the Racing Post Trophy when it’s eminently possible that soft ground didn’t suit with a win upped in trip. His thrashing of Be Ready at Newbury, a close second to Berkshire over the Rowley Mile here back in September, and a close second in the Superlative Stakes, are all efforts that are entitled to make him favourite today and while there is a considerable amount of unexposed talent, those efforts give him a strong chance today and it’s possible he may improve more for today’s new trip, and he has shown enough to defy a 3lbs penalty.


1 pt win Garde La Victoire, 2.05 Cheltenham (5/2 general)

1 pt win Thomas Crapper, 3.15 Cheltenham (9/2 general)

1 pt each/way Volt Face, 4.25 Cheltenham (10/1 general)

1 pt each/way Pay The King, 4.25 Cheltenham (8/1 general)

1 pt win Harry Hurricane, 2.20 Newmarket

1 pt each/way Queen Catrine, 4.05 Newmarket (7/1 Paddy Power)

1 pt win Somewhat, 4.40 Newmarket, (4/1 general)