Friday, 2 April 2021

The Monday National

 What became known as the 'Monday National' was originally scheduled for 4.00pm on Saturday, April 5, 1997 but, following two coded bomb threats from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), received less than a hour before the scheduled 'off' time, was hastily re-arranged for 5.00pm on Monday, April 7.


Interviewed live on BBC Television, Managing Director and Clerk of the Course Charles Bennett announced that racing had been abandoned for the day and instructed everyone to evacuate the racecourse immediately. Amid chaotic scenes, police eventually ushered all 60,000 spectators to safety and, at 4.14pm, discovered two suspect devices, which were detonated by controlled explosion. Nevertheless, approximately 7,000 vehicles were impounded overnight, leaving 20,000 people stranded; the paucity of accommodation in the vicinity left many of them reliant on the hospitality of local residents. Similarly, many of the National runners were stabled at Haydock Park, in nearby Newton-le-Willows, until Monday.


The Monday running of the National went ahead without further incident and was won by Lord Gyllene, trained by Steve Brookshaw and ridden by Toby Dobbin, at 14/1. The 8-year-old was always travelling and jumping well at the head of affairs and, although badly hampered, and nearly carried out, by a a loose horse at the water jump, barely gave his supporters an anxious moment. Indeed, when his nearest pursuer, Suny Bay, blundered badly at the final open ditch, four fences from home, he took the race by the scruff of the neck; in the last half-a-mile or so, galloped further and further clear, leaving Sir Peter O'Sullevan – commentating on his fiftieth, and final, GrandNational – to call him home in splendid isolation. Lord Gyllene eventually won by 25 lengths from Suny Bay, with 100/1 outsider Camelot Knight staying on into third place, a further 2 lengths away.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Kauto Star versus Denman

Sadly, Kauto Star and Denman are no longer with us, having shuffled off their mortal coils in 2015 and 2018, respectively. However, both horses achieved iconic status and their head-to-head rivalry, particularly in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will live long in the memory of National Hunt racing fans. According to Timeform, Kauto Star was rated 8lb superior to Denman, but what might have happened if the latter had remained healthy throughout his career is a matter for conjecture.


Direct contemporaries, born within a month of each other at the turn of the twenty-first century, albeit in France and Ireland, respectively, Kauto Star and Denman became stable companions at Paul Nicholls' Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset. Collectively, they ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup times and against each other on four occasions, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.


In the absence of Denman, who had stormed home to a 10-length victory in the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase 48 hours earlier, Kauto Star ran in, and won, the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the first time in 2007. Sent off favourite, at 5/4, Kauto Star quickened to lead at the second-last fence and stayed on strongly in the closing stages to beat Exotic Dancer by 2½ lengths.


The following year, 2008, both horses arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in peak form. Defending champion Kauto Star was once again sent off favourite, but had no answer to Denman, who went clear approaching the third-last fence and was driven out to win by 7 lengths. Denman subsequently received treatment for an irregular heartbeat, which delayed his return to action until February, 2009, and it would be fair to say that he was never quite the same horse again.


Nevertheless, Kauto Star and Denman reopposed in the 2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Kauto Star running out an impressive 13-length winner and, in so doing, becoming the first horse in history to regain his title. They did so again in 2010, with Kauto Star falling at the fourth-last and Denman finishing a tired, 7-length second to Imperial Commander, and again, as 11-year-olds, in 2011. On the latter occasion, Denman once again fared the better of the pair, but proved no match for the 6-year-old Long Run, who stayed on strongly to win by 7 lengths.




Tuesday, 2 March 2021

ITV Showing Six Live Races Every Day of 2021 Cheltenham Festival

 


More of the Cheltenham Festival than ever before will be broadcast on terrestrial television in the UK this year with ITV Racing showing six out of the seven races per day live as part of their coverage.

Cheltenham is the biggest horse racing meeting over jumps anywhere in the world. The 2021 Festival takes place from Tuesday, 16 March through until Friday, 19 March.

As part of ITV Racing’s broadcast schedule, traditional race times are expected to be brought forward by ten minutes and intervals between them reduced by five. As Cheltenham takes place behind closed doors this year, permission has been granted by those owning media rights to the Festival to show all but one race each day.

This increases the mainstream attention it shall receive. Here’s a brief summary of what you can expect day by day at the Cheltenham Festival.


Champion Hurdle day

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle sees Appreciate It tackle a speedier type in Metier, with Shishkin out to follow-up on previous Festival success in the Arkle for novice chasers. After the first of many wide-open Cheltenham handicaps in the Ultima over fences, the Champion Hurdle takes centre stage.


Goshen is out to make amends for unseating Jamie Moore at the final flight when he was cruising to victory in the Triumph Hurdle last year. However, the youngster faces two mighty mares in the 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante and fellow Festival winner Honeysuckle.

The Mares’ Hurdle will be less competitive as a result, but Concertista and Roksana are former Cheltenham winners taking part. ITV’s last race on Champion Hurdle day will be the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.


Ladies Day

In a cracking Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, three Grade 1 winners are set to do battle in Bob Olinger, Bravemansgame and Gaillard Du Mesnil. The Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, meanwhile, sees Monkfish out to continue his fine form after winning the Albert Bartlett last year and stepping up on that over fences.

Following a typically wide-open Coral Cup is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Ladies Day was all the poorer for Chacun Pour Soi and Festival veteran Altior missing the race 12 months ago. Tiger Roll takes to the Cross Country course for what could be the final time too with the Grand Annual Chase rounding off ITV coverage.


St Patrick’s Thursday

Everyone’s idea of a Cheltenham banker, Envoi Allen, kicks things off in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on the penultimate day of Cheltenham. Following the Pertemps Final that brings a series of staying handicap hurdles throughout the British Isles to an end is the Ryanair Chase.



Willie Mullins has a strong hand for this, including Allaho and last year’s winner Min among others. The Stayers’ Hurdle sees Paisley Park looking to cement his comeback after flopping at the Festival 12 months ago.

In the Paddy Power Plate and Dawn Run for mares that are novices over hurdles, there are two open races from a betting perspective that round off St Patrick’s Thursday on ITV.


Gold Cup Day

Finally, Cheltenham Gold Cup day kicks off with the Triumph Hurdle – a division in which Gordon Elliott has a strong string. Many tips for the County Handicap Hurdle include Betfair Hurdle scorer Soaring Glory, although he could run in the Supreme earlier on during the week.

The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is another open contest, with the Gold Cup itself all about Al Boum Photo bidding for his hat-trick. New dangers have emerged, including previous Festival winners A Plus Tard and Champ, plus the rapidly progressing novice Royale Pagaille.

Before ITV Racing brings the curtain down on their Cheltenham coverage, there is the Hunter Chase and the meeting’s newest race. A Mares’ Chase, for which Elimay is favourite, completes what promises to be a fantastic Festival which you can witness live on TV.


Monday, 22 February 2021

Do England Deserve to Be Favourites for the Euros?

 



It is now just over 100 days until the European Championships get underway. UEFA insists on calling it Euro 2020 for sponsorship reasons, so apologies if it gets a little bit confusing. At the time of writing, England are the favourites with almost every major bookmaker. Much of that is likely down to the fact that it is almost a home tournament for England (Group Stage, Semis and Final will be played at Wembley), even though the rest of the competition is spread out over several countries.

But anyone who has seen England play over the last year might raise an eyebrow as to the favourites tag. Gareth Southgate oversaw some limp performances in 2020, particularly in the Nations League double-header against Denmark. Southgate also doesn’t have a settled line-up, although he does have some ‘good problems’ due to competition for places, particularly in attack. But the question begs: Do England deserve to be favourites, ahead of the likes of Belgium and France?

There hasn’t been a huge amount of discussion about England lately, and there is a subdued feeling around Euro 2020. It’s hard to put your finger on it as to why that is the case. Perhaps it is because it is a multi-city event (UEFA has really dropped the ball there), or because of the postponement last summer. After all, it’s been almost 18 months since England qualified – that’s a long build-up. As for the other 23 teams, you can see if you can remember the other qualified Euro 2020 nations in these sports quizzes from MansionBet. Hint: Greece didn’t make it, but their newly-named neighbours did.

Nonetheless, we expect the build-up to begin in earnest when the Premier League and Champions League campaigns are out of the way. England have five games between now and the opener against Croatia on 13th June. That’s three WC Qualifiers in March – San Marino, Albania and Poland – followed by friendlies against Romania and Austria in early June. Five games for Southgate to get England purring, and rediscover some of the form that made them favourites in the first place. While 2020 was a poor year for England, 2019 was excellent. The components are there for Southgate – it’s just about putting them in the right place.

Southgate’s Options

Southgate has several decisions to make, and there isn’t a lot of time left for experimenting. First of all, he needs to decide what to do with Jordan Pickford. The Everton stopper has been a bit better than last season, but he is still being eclipsed by Burnley’s Nick Pope this season. Pope has four caps for England, and four clean sheets – what else can he do?

You would imagine that John Stones and Harry Maguire will be the centre-back pairing, and that seems fairly solid and a much better option than pairing Maguire with Eric Dier. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form for Liverpool has been atrocious, and that might open the door for Kieran Trippier or Kyle Walker at right-back. Luke Shaw has been tremendous this season, and offers competition at left-back for Ben Chilwell. Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice seem obvious options for central midfield.





While Southgate has headaches there, it’s arguably the attack where he has the most room for manoeuvre, and the most pressure to get it right. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden all have claims on a place. Kane is perhaps the only definite starter. If you were going on form, you would have to say Grealish, Foden and Sterling get the nod behind the Tottenham man. But do they offer the right balance?

Belgium Look Like Champions

Belgium have had England’s number more often than not in recent years, and they are placed right behind England in the bookies’ odds (many bookies have them as co-favourites). The Red Devils top the FIFA World Rankings, and with good reason. They golden generation has continued to grow as a team, and, if anything, are better than when finished third at the 2018 World Cup. But things aren’t perfect for Belgium. The form and fitness of Eden Hazard is a big worry. And they are a Romelu Lukaku injury away from disaster up front. For all Belgium’s brilliance, this is still a nation that regularly calls up Crystal Palace flops Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi to the squad.




As for France, the world champions must deal with a very tough group featuring Germany and Portugal. That has fed into France’s odds for the tournament, but you imagine they have the quality to progress. However, a loss to Germany in the opening game in Munich could lead to pressure being put on Didier Deschamps’ men. Germany, who are usually perennial favourites, have had a tough time recently, but you couldn’t rule them out. Spain too will fancy their chances, although the team looks to be in a transition era.

In the end, England’s favourite status seems to come back to the Wembley factor. That, at least in the eyes of bookmakers, is the difference-maker. Having a semi-final and final there puts England in pole position in what seems like a disjointed tournament. But England have to get there first, and that means Southgate must get his sums right in the next 100 days or so. If he does, England might merit that favourites tag.



Friday, 1 January 2021

Classic Tommo Moment

A classic moment captured on film from the one and only Derek Thompson