Well it is next month from March 10 but now is the time to lay down our ante-post bets for the singularly most pleasurable four days of national hunt racing in the world. And this year the bookmakers are all trying to take your money ASAP with mouth-watering prices and across most of the championship races, that superb concession NON RUNNER NO BET. And this is three to four weeks earlier for them than in previous years, but across the board there is now NRNB in the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, the Stayers Hurdle, the Ryanair and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. So let’s take advantage in the knowledge that if our selection doesn’t end up at Cheltenham, due to injury or being declared for another race, we are safe in the knowedge that we get our money back.
And so to the Gold Cup which this year has a very open feel about it. Traditionally it is very difficult for second season chasers to hit the heights of the more established stars but in lostintranslation, Colin Tizzard has a superstar on his hands. And Tizzard knows all about training a horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup as it was only two years a go that Native River broke the heart of Might Bite up the Cheltenham hill. And let’s not also forget that Cue Card would have probably won a £1,000,000 bonus for connections when being brought down in the previous year. The profile of LOSTINTRANSLATION is not too disimilar in that he also took the BetFair Chase at Haydock in his stride when dishing out a jumping lesson in the Haydock mud and it was the manner of his dominance that immediately plummeted him to 9/2 favourite for the March Blue Riband. His copybook was blotted when failing to fire in the King George on Boxing Day but tests later established his blood count was all wrong and now off the easy list he is a confident selection for the Gold Cup at a whopping 7/1 (Nevis is bookmaker parlance for 7/1). Sure the opposition will contain the best from Ireland and more pertinently Messrs Mullins and Elliott but with so many questions over the Irish stars this year I have no doubt that Lostintranslation can become the stellar horse for the next few years.
By the by the reference to the Minions and the colours of Tizzard superstar is no accident – the owner’s young son tragically passed and the Minions was his favourite character.
But one swallow doesn’t make a summer, so let us look at the other championship races.
In an open year with so many questions over the likely participants, it is no wonder that bookmakers are tempting us with their prices. Admittedly NRNB means anybody fancying the novices of Envoi Allen or Honeysuckle can back them safely, however I feel they won’t be running and it is just dead money. Nicky Henderson invariably has fancied horses in the Champion Hurdle and he runs the favourite Epatante, current price 11/4. I can see no reason for this price on the back of one piece of form and I would look to SHARJAH to win for the powerful combination of Ricci and Mullins. He is still relatively unexposed around Cheltenham having been brought down in last year’s Champion Hurdle and at 10/1 is fine value.
The premier two-mile chase can also go to the Ricci Mullins combo with CHACUN POUR SOI at odds of 6/1. Until turned over at very prohibitive odds over Christmas, connections were bullish about their new superstar and I can’t help keep thinking back to the exeptionally glowing comments made about this horse by the owner at the Punchestown Festival last May. With doubts over Altior (will he run? Is he still the horse he was?) and in my mind Defi Du Sueil still having an awful lot to prove at grade one level, I think Chacun is the worthy and most likely winner. Get on now!
Paisley Park looks bomb-proof but represents no value at even money. Similarly a lot of the horses at the top of the betting have questions over their participation, ability and quality. But one that has most of the boxes ticked is IF THE CAP FITS at a each-way steal of 7/1.
With so many doubts over which engagement various horses go to, betting in the Ryanair is fraught with danger. But again with NRNB, we can go for a punt. Ideally the 2.5 mile distance is a speciality distance and one which few horses excel at. One I believe can excel if he lines up is LALOR at a whopping 25/1. Definitely worth a nibble.
Away from Cheltenham and away from March let’s look at bets in February.
The Champions League returns with the round of 16 during this month and now it gets down to the nitty gritty. I always like to have an accumulator on the eight ties and my choices to qualify are…
Tottenham Even Money
Bayern Munich 1/4
Manchester City 4/9
A £10 ACCUMULATOR PAYS £139.42 ON BET365,
A SHADE UNDER 13/1.
As to the Champions League itself, as I have said on numerous occasions over the autumn, it really doesn’t get underway until mid-February and looking at the prices prior to the round of 16 I still think that PSG at 7/1 represents value despite their european self-destruct button. Readers should take note of January’s issue with my views on Spurs.
Finally, after the PDC World Darts at the Ally Pally in
Decemer the premier league returns in early February and I think a small interest should be tak-en on the bad man of darts GERWYN PRICE for both regular season winner at 15/2 and GrandFinal winner at 6/1.
The field looks particularly weak this year and I think it’s between Mighty Mike and the Iceman for top honours.
2020 is just around the corner but before that here are your 12 betting days of Christmas in the hope that Santa (in this case read Ladbrokes, Hills etc.) will fill your stockings with more than chocolate money. In last year’s selection box(es) we had four winners and three places (not bad from 12 selections)!
1: MICHAEL VAN GERWEN PDC WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Odds: 5/4 As last year, start off 2020 with a bang with a nice chunky wager on Mighty Mike to retain his world crown. In fact, he is more of a certainty this year than last as some of his fancied opponents are either past their sell buy date or recovering from injury. (General)
2: ELIZABETH WARREN DEMOCRAT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Odds: 2/1 Always assuming Donald Trump has not dug up some skeleton in her past, Elizabeth Warren will get the ticket to challenge the Republicans for the White House later this year. PS She is also a good bet for President at 6/1. (BetFair)
3: IPSWICH EFL DIVISION ONE Odds: 5/2 With ante post favourites Sunderland in limbo and Portsmouth equally in the mire, the division has opened up for last year’s relegated Championship side Ipswich, who will now push on for the title. (Bet 365)
4: NEIL ROBERTSON WORLD SNOOKER Odds: 4/1 – 9/2 The rejuvenated ‘Thunder from Down Under’, Neil Robertson can reclaim the World Championship after a break of seven years. Now firing on all cylinders and a challenge to all. (Coral)
5: CHACUN POUR SOI CHAMPION CHASE Odds: 5/1 This horse could turn out to be Willie Mullins’ 2020 hot-pot after bursting on the scene so spectacularly at the Punchestown Festival last May. Now firmly on target for the two mile championship grade one, he could have the world at his feet. (General)
6: PSG CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Odds: 6/1 Isn’t it about time that the serial chokers but talent-laden French champions take Europe’s premier w title? To my mind they are better ithout Neymar but nevertheless they can finally achieve their owner’s dream of buying the Champions League. (BetVictor)
7: BALTIMORE RAVENS SUPERBOWL Odds: 7/1 Clearly the Patriots are still the team to beat, but they are not the team they were despite their 8-1 record. And who did they lose to? Answer: The Baltimore Ravens who are playing inspired football under their charismatic quarterback. (Ladbrokes).
8: LOSTINTRANSLATION O H dd ELTENHAM GOLD CUP odds: 8/1 d Colin Tizzard could have Native r R ed another Cue Card or second iver in this exciting jumps li season chaser, who next su ke a stag and can be the perstar on the o chasing ladder. Look t ut for future trials in he new year. (Ladbrokes)
9: BROOKS KOEPKA THE MASTERS Odds: 9/1 Brooks Koepka only seems to get motivated in Grand Slams, which is no bad thing if you continually keep him on your side. Any time you see Brooks at these sorts of odds, you just have to take the price as it won’t last long. (General)
10: STEFANOS TSITSIPAS MEN’S AUSTRALIAN OPEN Odds: 10/1 Can any of the young bucks challenge the established order? With the FedExpress showing signs of age, Nadal only a major force on clay, maybe it is time for the next wave of tennis stars to challenge Novak? And at 10/1 Stefanos Tsitsipas poses a serious threat. (Hills)
11: NETHERLANDS EURO 2020 Odds: 11/1 There was a time when Holland and their production line of talent struck fear into the world elite. That time could now be approaching and this is the tournament where they can lay down a marker. (Coral)
12: LEICESTER CITY FA CUP Odds: 16/1 The time is right for the Foxes under Brendan Rodgers as they continue to punch above their weight, or is it that this weight is their level? With the so-called top six’s eyes focusing on other targets, no-one will relish a trip to the King Power and the general 16-1 will certainly give you a run for your money. (General)
REWIND TO JANUARY AND the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium between eventual Superbowl winners the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, and the sense of anti-climax and injustice in Andy Reid’s maverick football team was palpable, with the Patriots going through in overtime without KCC ever getting a chance to equal Tom Brady’s achievements. Hey, but that’s football and that’s the rules. Fast forward to October and the Chief’s are riding high in the AFC West and look a shoe-in for a long run in the play-offs.
With a quarter of the regular season gone and a schedule outside their division which has one pulsating home field advantage decider in Foxboro against the Pats, KANSAS CITY are wiser, healthier and a lot more savvy this year and are my number one pick for the Superbowl at a universal 11/2.
With the Chiefs my headline nap for the AFC, what of the NFC This year the AFC looks a lot stronger in that the Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens and even the Houston Texans can be seriously considered for the ultimate prize. But only one team qualifies for the final as the Superbowl is contested between the winners of the AFC and NFC. Up until two weeks ago the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS were my headline pick and their chances still depend on the return to fitness of talismanic quarterback Drew Brees who was injured early on in their showdown at the Rams.
He is forecast to be out until week 8 and given that their schedule is not overly difficult, my belief is if the Saints can stay in contention (maybe 5-3) until early November, their current price of 20/1 cannot be overlooked. Back them now on the expectation of a returning and resurgent Saints.
My last foray is a six timer on the divisional winners. My fancies are:
Baltimore Ravens AFC North 8/11
Houston Texans AFC South Even money
Dallas Cowboys NFC East 4/7
Minnesota Vikings NFC North 23/10
New Orleans Saints NFC South 8/13
LA Rams NFC West 8/15
The sixfold pays a mouthwatering 43/1.
More immediately, the first weekend in October is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Longchamp and Enable is attempting and unprecedented three-peat with victories in 2017 and 2018. Yes she is a superstar, yes she has the advantage of being John Gosden trained and Frankie Dettori ridden and yes she has been undefeated for what seems like all her career and boasts 11 group ones to her name but I think however you analyse her career she is no Treve or Sea Bird or Dahlia. She is odds-on and will likely to be no more than even money on the day and I just feel that her time has come and in a competitive race she will be overturned. But with what?
First port of call would be the Arc Trials, the Niel, the Vermeille and the Foy and undoubtedly the performance of SOTTSASS to my mind was exemplary. Stuck on the rails with nowhere to go, the sudden burst of acceleration put his trial to bed in a matter of strides and I think at 7/1 is undoubtedly an each-way steal and Sottass will bring the Arc back to the French this year.
My one caveat is (at time of writing) the Japanese horse DEIRDRE who was so eye-catching in the Irish Champion Stakes a couple of weekends back. Last seen at Glorious Goodwood Deirdre was an unfancied 20/1 for a group race and turned over both a Gosden hotpot and Aiden O’Brien’s 1,000 Guineas heroine. A note of caution, Deirdre might not run and decisions are being made this week but she is currently a whopping 40/1 for the Arc. You pays your money ante-post, you takes your choice, it’s a risk or reward bet.
Until next time, good punting.
Bernie the Book
In our smörgåsbord Bernie the Book this month I will be previewing a variety of betting opportunities, but firstly I have no hesitation with leading on the forthcoming Rugby Union World Cup, this time being held in Japan from September 20th. This will be the first time the competition has strayed from its traditional northern or southern hemisphere homes and is taking place in East Asia. Japan might have an adverse effect on some of the participants (time zones, altitudes, air quality) and it is to this end that my main bet will be SOUTH AFRICA (the Springboks) at a tasty 5/1.
In the previous eight World Cups only four teams have managed to win, not surprisingly headed by the New Zealand All Blacks with three wins. In fact the only northern hemisphere side to win the competition was England in 2003. This year despite Wales being the number one ranked team in the world and both England and Ireland in the top five, the cup will go to the Springboks. Why?
The reason is twofold: firstly great squads, and great teams, can only be at the top for a number of years and especially in rugby union, it is largely cyclicle. New Zealand is the rightful favourite at around 11/8, but I feel the team is on the wane, whilst South Africa is improving at just the right time. The second reason is that South Africa is paired in the same pool as New Zealand along with Italy, Namibia and Canada and it is far better to play the tournament favourites in the group stage where the top two teams qualify for the knockouts, than in the knockout rounds. I fully expect the final to be contested between South Africa and New Zealand as they can’t meet again until the final.
The group winner has a slightly easier passage probably playing Scotland or Japan in the quarters and England in the semis, but in any event the runner-up in this group will still be favourites to beat Ireland in the quarters and probably Australia or Wales in the semi. In addition you probably need history on your side which strongly favours the southern hemisphere.
But enough of rugby, but not enough of Japan because my antepost fancy for the Arc is Japan for Aiden O’Brien. As the master of Ballydoyle will not declare his hand until much nearer the time I would advise holding your bets until you see non runner no bet from a bookmaker. He is currently around 5/1. I would advise an interest now as should he partake and win the Leger, he might well prove to be the main danger to Enable. In any event it might be politic to back BROOME for the St Leger in September. He is currently around the 10/1 mark.
Our smörgåsbord is completed with my initial tips for the forthcoming European football season.
In Europe’s premier trophy, the Champions League, my main punt, as last year, is JUVENTUS at a mouthwatering 12/1. My viewpoint hasn’t changed, any team with Ronaldo is always going to be at the business end of the tournament but now with the addition of the Dutch wonderkid Matthijs de Ligt and to a lesser extent, Aaron Ramsey, I think they will have plenty of ammunition and knowhow. Obviously the chances of MANCHESTER CITY at 9/2 can’t be overlooked but 9/2 is a very short price for anyone hoping to win Europe’s premier competition for the first time.
Finally, PADDY POWER has come up with a very interesting market, and a very interesting price that has me all abuzz. As you will know, the third placed teams in the eight Champions League groups go into the Europa Cup at the last 32 stage and Paddy Power is offering a mouthwatering 7/2 that one of those eight teams wins the competition. So that’s 7/2 about any one of eight teams, who by definition might be better than some of the leading teams that didn’t qualify for the Champions League out of 32. Plus any one of those eight teams can’t meet each other until the last 16. I will have a bit of the action at this early stage purely on the basis of value.
And in the inaugural Bernie the Book Pick 5 Competition we have had a tremendous entry of 139 runners and riders all bidding to win our first prize of £500. Entries have now closed. The season-long competition which will be won by the entrant with the most football knowledge will be updated on our website every month. Just click on the table update to see your position.
But remember, as it is a handicap, the embryonic table at present looks lopsided as it includes all the points additions for the year. Regular updates will also appear in this column.
When compiling the initial table it struck me that most people either chose Rangers or Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership, getting a handicap start from Celtic and the most popular teams across the entries were Manchester United, Derby County, Portsmouth, Plymouth but strangely enough there was a disproportionate number of people who tipped Oldham Athletic. Were they from the north west or do they know something that the rest of us don’t!
Until next month with selections for the Arc de Triomphe and the National Hunt season.
Think you know which teams will perform well this season?
Now here’s your chance to put your knowledge to the test and it’s totally free to enter.
Simply pick one team from each division and their total end of season points added to the allocation given by myself alongside, will give your total.
Highest points wins! Simples!