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Sha Tin preview: Nothing Little about Thunder’s chances in opener

Bundesliga preview: Dortmund and Bayern set for title showdown

PDC Tour play-offs preview: Wright and Anderson set for more progress

Nick Luck blog: River can wind up in front in Shoemaker Mile

It was another fascinating weekend in the Hong Kong jockeys’ title race with bitter rivals Zac Purton and Joao Moreira once again dominating proceedings at Sha Tin with four winners apiece. Both now sit on 123 winners each, although it could all change on Wednesday with Moreira missing the all-weather meeting at Sha Tin due to a riding suspension.

Purton has a full book of nine rides, and he’ll be hoping he can do enough to edge into an outright lead.

Millard’s contender can Thunder home

All nine races on Wednesday’s card at Sha Tin take place on the all-weather and given there is less racing on the dirt surface over the season, there is less form to go by. However, one horse that seems to have thrived on it is LITTLE THUNDER who can go back-to-back in the Shearwater Handicap (11:45am).

Having proved unsuccessful in seven starts on turf, Tony Millard’s representative put in a very respectable effort on his debut on the dirt when fifth over course, and distance at the beginning of April. Drawn widest of all, his jockey Victor Wong was forced to use up plenty of energy to get the four-year-old to the front and he eventually ran out of puff to finish fifth. It was a more than satisfactory dirt debut, though, and he made a mockery on a two-pound lower mark the next time when comfortably scoring earlier this month.

He showed a really nice attitude that day and looks sure to go well again from stall seven. He has been raised six pounds for that win, but is still towards the foot of the weights and he should have plenty more to offer here.

Chau’s claim makes Ka Ying a Legendary bet

It’s never easy to shoulder top weight in these very tricky handicaps, but KA YING LEGEND might just be able to do that in the six-furlong Flamingo Handicap (2:15pm). The five-year-old opened his account in Hong Kong at the 15th attempt of asking two starts ago when bolting up by over three lengths, but wasn’t able to overcome a subsequent 11 pound hike in the weights when finishing midfield last time.

He didn’t have a great journey there and given the form of some of the horses who beat him there he faced a pretty sizeable task giving weight away to the likes of Relentless Me and War Of Courage. The handicapper has left his mark unchanged which perhaps shows it was a better run that it looked and the fact that he’s got HK new boy Jerry Chau in the saddle means he must have a very solid chance here.

Chau’s ten-pound claim is hugely valuable in these highly competitive handicaps and with that it means Ka Ying Legend races off just one pound higher than that emphatic victory two starts back. The switch to dirt is an unknown and you’re taking the fact he takes to the surface on trust, though he didn’t look too unconvinced by it in a recent trial. If he handles it, he must go close.

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The Bundesliga enjoyed another successful weekend following its return and we’ve got yet more action to sink our teeth into with midweek fixtures taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Below we preview the key action, including a top-of-the-table clash between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

Can Dortmund close the gap on Bayern in Der Klassiker?

Bayern travel to the Westfalenstadion on Tuesday evening to face Dortmund in a clash that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the Bundesliga title. With both sides winning their last two games since the Bundesliga resumption, just four points separates league leaders Bayern and second-placed Dortmund. Victory for the reigning champions and a 29th title – their eighth on the bounce – will be well in their sights; three points for Lucien Favre’s side and the title race is well and truly on.

With both clubs winning their last six games, Tuesday’s clash is perfectly set up. It’s Bayern, though, who head into the game as the 10/11 favourites. They were certainly the more impressive of the two sides last time out, running riot against Eintracht Frankfurt in a 5-2 win on Saturday. Hans Flick’s men were relentless in attack, while Robert Lewandowski netted his 27th league goal of the season, making him the joint-top scorer across Europe’s top five leagues with Ciro Immobile.

Dortmund will still be confident of securing a result following Saturday’s 2-0 victory over European hopefuls Wolfsburg, but the reality is they’ll need to up their game against Bayern considerably. While the likes of Achraf Hakimi, Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt all linked up impressively at times, in the second half in particular, Dortmund struggled to impose themselves as much as they would have liked. A team as strong as Bayern would have punished them.

That’s certainly what they did the last time these two met, when Bayern ran out 4-0 winners as Lewandowski netted a brace. Dortmund though, who are 5/2 for the victory here, can take heart from their superior record at home in the Bundesliga against Bayern, winning 16 games to their opponents’ 15. Favre’s side may also be boosted by Mats Hummels and Axel Witsel’s return to fitness, while Jadon Sancho is also pressing for a start.

Dortmund are in for a tough night, but they should have enough about them based on recent weeks to hang on in there. A draw with Both Teams to Score is 10/3, although it won’t be the result Dortmund fans will want.

Havertz to lead Leverkusen to another victory

The Bundesliga’s other standout game this round also takes place on Tuesday as Bayer Leverkusen host Wolfsburg at the BayArena as fourth faces sixth. Don’t let the two places between these sides fool you, however, as Leverkusen boast a 14-point lead over Oliver Glasner’s side.

That gap is reflected in the differing recent form between the two clubs; while Leverkusen have won five out of their last six, leaving them just four points behind second-placed Dortmund, Wolfsburg have picked up just one win from their last four, leaving them in serious danger of missing out on European qualification.

Key for Leverkusen this season, and particularly since the Bundesliga has resumed, has been Kai Havertz. The attacking midfielder, who has been reportedly linked with big-money moves to the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea this summer, has been one of the division’s standout players and has netted braces in Leverkusen’s last two games: a 3-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach and 4-1 win against Werder Bremen.

Leverkusen to win by three or more goals is one to watch out for at the enhanced odds of 11/2, while Havertz to score first at the enhanced odds of 5/1 having netted four times in two games.

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After 32 nights of thrilling first round action, the PDC Tour has reached the play-off stage.

Getting started on Tuesday night, we’re all set for eight consecutive nights of darting action, with 32 players split among eight groups and the winners of each group then advancing to the semi-finals.

Below we preview the first four play-offs groups, in action from Tuesday to Friday night.

Group One: Tournament favourite Wright to march on

Group One is headlined by reigning world champion Peter Wright, who is perhaps unsurprisingly the favourite to win the whole competition. The last man to book his place in the play-offs, Wright is also the odds-on favourite to top the group here.

It will be no easy task for ‘Snakebite’, however, as standing in his way on Tuesday night will be former Lakeside winner Jelle Klaasen, Cristo Reyes and Ryan Murray. Given Wright stuttered on his initial appearance in the tournament, failing to advance from his group on the opening night and thus needing a second chance last time out, the trio of Klaasen, Reyes and Murray will be quietly confident of springing a surprise from the oche.

Klaasen is the man who will most likely challenge and looks the value alternative, but Wright, whose 2020 has seen him win the PDC World Darts Championship and Masters as well as producing some decent performances elsewhere, should have enough to progress here.

Group Two: Durrant to reign supreme on Wednesday

Wednesday night’s action pits together a pair of world champions in Glen Durrant and Stephen Bunting, who are both former BDO World Darts Championship winners, with Alan Tabern and Mike De Decker rounding off the group. It’s Durrant, though, who is the man to beat here.

The 49-year-old made light work of Justin Pipe, Maik Kuivenhoven and Vincent van der Meer in the first round of the competition to continue his impressive form in 2020 that also sees him sit top of the Premier League table, having racked up four wins from six in that event.

It’s no surprise then to see three-time Lakeside champion as odds-on favourite to top this group, while he is also the fourth favourite to go all the way. Bunting is perhaps best equipped to challenge of the other three competitors, but again it may be a wasted bet backing anyone else other than Durrant here.

Group Three: Anderson looking for more of the same

On Thursday night it’s the turn of Gary Anderson. The two-time PDC world champion headlines Group Three, which also includes Luke Humphries, Jamie Lewis and Nick Kenny.

Anderson, who was initially forced to withdraw from the competition early on before returning to compete towards the end of the first round, looked very comfortable when he did take to the oche, despatching each of Kim Huybrechts, Dimitri Van den Bergh and Dirk van Duijvenbode.

Anderson is another favourite to progress, and as the third favourite to win the competition outright, it’s his group to lose. Humphries may well be his toughest competitor, but the 25-year-old did need two bites of the cherry to advance to this stage, so one suspects Anderson will more than fancy his chances of advancing.

Group Four: Heta to challenge Chisnall in tight affair

Friday night’s Group Four looks set to be the tightest of the first four groups in the play-offs, with Dave Chisnall, Darren Webster, Geert Nentjes and Damon Heta all taking each other on. Chisnall will be disappointed if he doesn’t make it through here and is quite rightly the favourite to finish top of the pile. But if there’s one group worth going against the favourite for some value from those discussed, it’s this one.

Heta is looking like a strong contender. A solid if unspectacular player, the Australian has shown some form in this competition, finishing ahead of John Henderson in his group in the first round. With 75 places in the PDC world rankings separating Henderson (31st) and Heta (106th), Heta will head into Friday off the back of that triumphant feeling he can pull off another shock. It could be his night.

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The latest edition to the William Hill stable, Nick Luck, previews the best of the action from Monday’s card at Santa Anita, including the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile.

Boyne can take strong Shoemaker renewal

Named for an all-time great, the Shoemaker Mile (12:30am) has drawn a fitting field as it headlines Santa Anita’s Memorial Day card.

With due respect to the last two winners of the race, Bolo and Hunt, they would likely struggle to land a blow against this group, whose celebrity line-up includes last year’s Royal Ascot hero Without Parole and Preakness winner War of Will.

I am hoping, however, that the fashionable names hoover up a good chunk of the market so as to make RIVER BOYNE a play. This reliable customer has found significant improvement of late, notably when beating Got Stormy in a Grade 1 here in March.

Most significantly, he can sit close to the pace that is very likely to be carved out by Neptune’s Storm in the next gate and likely steal a march on the closers. Without Parole’s stablemate Raging Bull could be finishing off best of all and will be very dangerous if the pace is hotter than expected. He is the one for the exacta.

Ex-French runner the play in Gamely Stakes

Later, the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes (1:30am) can go to Turf nonpareil Chad Brown. Against a likeable group of consistent and closely matched locals, Brown ships in the quiet improver Beautiful Lover and the ex-French Etoile.

I am taking a chance that ETOILE is ready on her US debut to score at this level, judged on some sound workouts at Payson Park, not to mention Brown’s positive notices on a recent edition of our Breeders’ Cup Thursday night show, Cocktails and Conversation. The admirable Lady Prancealot should run her race again and can fight out the minor placings with Mucho Unusual.

Mandella’s Olimpica hard to beat in Monrovia

Finally, I’ll be disappointed if JOLIE OLIMPICA cannot resume winning ways in the Grade 2 Monrovia Stakes (10:30pm), the big sprint race on the card. Much of trainer Richard Mandella’s career was built on the success of South American imports and this filly broke the track record here on her US debut. I think she slightly surprised connections with her effectiveness at the distance, and I am pleased to see her back sprinting.

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