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Across the pond there’s the small matter of the Pegasus World Cup and our resident US expert has previewed the best of it for us.
CODE OF HONOR, a horse that can delight and infuriate in equal measure, can enjoy his biggest payday in the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday night (10.44pm) at 4/1. After a 2019 that was threatening to anoint him as a serious horse after wins in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup (awarded), he failed to push on in 2020, looking a bit tripless and slightly sulky in the heat of battle. When a race unravels around him over a reasonable distance, however, he comes into his own, and it was here at Gulfstream two years ago that first he set tongues wagging as a likely Kentucky Derby winner when scything through spent horses in a fast-run Fountain of Youth.
The deserving favourite Knicks Go, so dominant in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, will be a tough nut to crack, but he is pedal-to-the-metal over distances shy of this and will surely be roughed up a bit by last year’s pace pusher Mr Freeze and Tax, who moved up a gear last time around here. The likelihood is that Knicks Go will see off that arguably fraudulent pair, but he might have expended a bit too much energy in the process over this extra distance (and away from his beloved Keeneland), and I can see the sometime rascal Code Of Honor finding himself in front when the music stops.
SAY THE WORD is the suggestion in the Pegasus Turf that precedes the big race (9.59pm). A horse that slides around the barns with the seasons, he has proven himself a tough and versatile performer for a variety of trainers in several jurisdictions. Now with the very capable Phil d’Amato, he stepped it up behind the genuine G1 horse Arklow at Del Mar in late autumn, finishing with his customary flourish. He might want a bit more pace on ideally, but class wise he fits fine here and could even be improving at 17/2.
I’ll have a small bet on STORM THE COURT as well at 20/1: he ran a corker in the Derby last year, and might yet have a future on Turf (he’s by the BC Mile winner Court Vision). A possibility to glide along quite unhurried on the lead, he looks a high cruiser without a devastating turn of foot and the race might set up quite well for him.
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There’s some more top-class action in front of the ITV cameras on Saturday with the Clarence House Chase taking centre stage at Ascot, while there are good cards at Haydock and Taunton too.
Here’s Nick Luck’s preview…
EGLANTINE DU SEUIL is a tentative tip at 7/2 to surprise the market leaders in the Warfield Hurdle (1.15pm) that opens up Ascot’s TV action on Saturday. Ratings give her a little to find with Roksana – and her recent efforts are nowhere near as compelling – but she receives six pounds and looked to be well worth a try at this trip on her last run, when valiantly trying to concede a stone to the useful The White Mouse at Cheltenham.
LIGHTLY SQUEEZE has one of these big handicap hurdles in him and I’m hoping it’s the Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (1.50pm) after an excellent effort behind Not So Sleepy and Buzz here last time. He kept chipping in for a bit more that day, having been front rank throughout and – if more patiently ridden over this longer trip – can build on that performance over a distance which seems certain to suit at 11/2.
DOMAINE DE L’ISLE must surely be worth of each-way interest to repeat last year’s success in the handicap chase (3.00pm). He is six pounds better off with Benny’s King, the 2020 winner, who is favourite and a third his price at 14/1. The selection has been in a series of unsuitable races but is back to his winning mark as a consequence, gets David Bass for the first time since that victory and is equipped with blinkers.
DEFI DU SEUIL simply has to be the bet at the prices in the Clarence House (3.35pm). There is very little between the big three here on pure talent, and Politologue deserves to be favourite, but Defi (9/2) is at least his match when on song and arguably posted his most striking performance in this race last year. He clearly has a few issues, but the vibes are good, he has bounced back from disappointments before, and the yard seems to be hitting a bit of form.
NADA TO PRADA can make the most of the gender allowance she receives from Llandinabo Lad in the Rossington Main (1.30pm). I suspect that she’ll want a fair bit further in due course, but she beat a pretty decent mare in the Festival third Rayna’s World in a Listed race here last time and that doesn’t give her too much to find at 9/2.
CLYNE is kicking on a bit now, but can roll back the years in the staying handicap hurdle (2.05pm). He has run some terrific races around here in the past, including two starts ago when just failing off a similar mark in a hotter race. This has cut up a bit light – with relatively few horses in form – and I am hoping he can erase the memories of that unlucky stumble at Chepstow with a bold effort here at 7/1.
ROYALE PAGAILLE (9/4) is going to start favourite for the Peter Marsh (2.40pm), but he was so impressive at Kempton that he gets my vote again, as I believe he’s full value for his 16-pound hike in the weights. He comfortably turned away another one of the best handicapped horses in training, while a subsequent winner was miles back in third and the seventh placed horse ran a screamer in this week’s Somerset National. In addition, he jumped to his left, which suggests a return to Haydock will be an advantage. At a big 14/1, SMOOTH STEPPER is worth a little each-way investment in case the favourite fluffs his lines.
NAVAJO PASS is genuinely a good bet at 9/1 in the Champion Hurdle Trial (3.15pm), and not just because of some lazy ‘outsider of three’ superstition. For all the good vibes, Buveur d’Air is coming back off a very serious injury and always looked at his most vulnerable in his pomp when faced with a tiny field and a tactical race. In addition, Nicky Henderson is operating a good bit below his usual level of dominance. Ballyandy is one of the most likeable horses in training, but we know exactly where we are with him, while the selection is still open to bundles of improvement and was spoken about in glowing terms by his trainer after winning at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day. I expect him to dictate this from the front and still be in front at the last.
YALA ENKI will take the world of beating in the Portman Cup at Taunton (2.10pm). The winner of this race last year, when he beat Rock The Kasbah quite cosily, he probably has the same rival to beat, as I am not sure If The Cap Fits or The Mighty Don either have their ground or jump slickly enough for this sharp track. Yala Enki comes here again off a superb third under a huge weight in the Welsh National and should freewheel these into submission at 4/5.
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NFL Conference Championship Sunday is upon us and we’ve got arguably the four most consistent, high-quality teams left in the playoffs. Three of the four have MVP winners at quarterback, while Josh Allen’s had an MVP worthy year for Buffalo.
We preview the Conference Championship games below.
Tom Brady is 43 years old; Aaron Rodgers is 37, and neither show any signs of slowing down. Rodgers looks set to win the MVP while Brady is at the helm of an impressive Tampa Bay offense that brought the curtain down on Drew Brees’ sterling career last weekend.
Green Bay at Lambeau are comfortable favourites at 5/9, while the visiting Bucs are 8/5. Granted Rodgers looked so impressive against the Titans, but Tom Brady is a wily competitor who will expect better after getting a helping hand from his defense last time out. Everyone knows how dangerous Davante Adams is on the perimeter for the Green Bay passing attack, and he’s just 4/7 to score anytime.
Big players live for big moments, and there’s not many players bigger than Rob Gronkowski. The stellar tight end came out of retirement to play with Brady this year, and their partnership is already record-setting. Could the dynamic duo pull through again in their new colours? Gronkowski is 16/1 to score the last touchdown and giving his history and innate knowledge of Brady’s game, he could come up big should the Bucs need him in the clutch.
While the NFC Championship may feature two future Hall of Famers at the end of their careers, the AFC Championship has the future of the league at the helm of either team. Patrick Mahomes should pass concussion protocols after being taken out of the game against the Browns, while Josh Allen has the Bills offense purring.
Both QB’s possess the ability to create a play out of thin air while hungry defenses will keep pressure in the pocket and force offensive co-ordinators to dive deep into their bag of tricks. It should an exhilarating game, with the Chiefs, hosting their third AFC Championship game in a row, 10/17 and the visiting Bills 6/4.
This game could be decided early however, with leading from the front a priority, allowing offensive rhythms to be established without chasing the game. Double results of Kansas/Kansas at 23/20 and Buffalo/Buffalo at 21/10 could offer more value than an outright win.
With offensive talent abound, over 54 points at 10/11 looks reachable in what could be a Sunday night shootout with a Super Bowl spot at stake.
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The jam-packed January schedule shows no signs of letting down just yet with the next round of FA Cup fixtures starting on Friday.
We’ve taken a look at the standout fixtures from the fourth round…
Chorley were the talk of the town in round three as they stunned Derby and their reward for that 2-0 win is a home tie against four-time FA Cup winners Wolves.
Wanderers who have struggled since losing talismanic striker Raúl Jiménez to injury but did enough to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the third round.
National League North side Chorley, the last non-league club left standing, are five divisions below Wolves in the football pyramid and, not surprisingly, are 16/1 to win.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have slipped down the Premier League table, losing four of their last six league games, and need a good cup run to keep their season alive. And this is also a perfect opportunity to banish the nightmarish memory of the darkest day in the club’s history. That came at Victory Park in 1986 when Chorley thrashed a penniless fourth division Wolves 3-0 in an FA Cup first round tie.
Wanderers are very short 3/20 to put that right, and you’d imagine they will.
Southampton were the last team to book their place in the fourth round thanks to their third round win over Shrewsbury on Tuesday night.
That was a relatively straightforward affair for Ralph Hassenhutl’s much-changed team with players rested ahead of this one against the 14-time FA Cup winning Gunners.
This is the first of a double-header between the two teams as they also meet in the league next Tuesday and, for both clubs, this competition is the only chance of silverware this season although a tricky trip to Wolves awaits in the next round.
Surprisingly Southampton and Arsenal have only been drawn against each other four times in the FA Cup – and the Gunners have won all four, including 5-0 win at St Mary’s in a fourth round tie in 2017. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see a repeat of that scoreline on Saturday lunchtime but Mikel Arteta’s team are favoured at 13/10 to come through.
That might surprise a few given Saints are higher in the league and have been decent at home so far this term. The hosts are 2/1 for victory with the draw priced at 12/5.
It’s the battle of the Seasiders at the Amex as the League One Blackpool take on Premier League Brighton.
And given the host’s dreadful record at home in the last year – just two Premier League wins – the Pool will be confident of pulling off a cup scalp.
Neil Critchley’s side play some nice stuff and are ticking along in mid table in the league but Brighton boss Graham Potter has the deepest and most talented squad in the club’s history. They fielded a strong team but still needed penalties to get past Newport, but you felt that might have galvanised the Seagulls, who have been excellent in their last two games at Manchester City and Leeds.
They are 4/9 to win, with Blackpool 6/1 to pull off a shock.
It’s round two of Manchester United v Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday and given there was little between the teams in the Premier League at Anfield last time, you can expect another close encounter here. You would usually expect several changes for an FA Cup tie but neither manager will want to take a backward step, especially against the arch rivals.
Jurgen Klopp picked plenty of his stars against the Aston Villa kids’ side in the last round so expect to see the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane take the field.
It’s a similar story for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the Norwegian needs to keep United’s unbeaten run going. Defeat against their arch rivals — even in the Cup — could derail their Premier League title charge.
The Red Devils have beaten Liverpool just once in their past 11 meetings in all competitions and would love to improve that poor record.
There has to be a winner on the day this time with penalties if needed. To get the win in 90 minutes, United are slight favourites at 6/4, with Liverpool 17/10 and the draw 5/2.
That shows just how tight this will be, and we could easily see penalties here. It’s 11/1 for either team to progress via that method.
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