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Trump Still Favourite for GOP Nomination

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally where he was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Credit; Alex Hanson, Flickr
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally where he was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Credit; Alex Hanson, Flickr
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally where he was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Credit; Alex Hanson, Flickr
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally where he was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016.
Credit; Alex Hanson, Flickr

Tuning into US mainstream media in the aftermath of last Tuesdays Iowa caucus you may have thought that GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump was a beaten horse and out of the race completely. But then again if you listened to those same institutions since the billionaire tycoon announced his candidacy bid last June, Trump’s “self-aggrandising publicity stunt” never stood any chance of competing for the White House.

And yet in most polls, the billionaire businessman is miles out in front.

A recently released New Hampshire poll has Trump leading his nearest challenger Marco Rubio by 36% to the Florida state Senators 15%.

Any political analyst worth their salt would have told you that Trump had no chance of winning the Iowa caucus. Not being a politician seriously impedes him in certain areas, on the ground republican activists being one – Something Ted Cruz had been slowly accruing over the last number of years and it certainly bore fruit for him last week. Iowan Republicans are also renowned for towing the party line and Trump, the outsider and anti-establishment candidate, stood little chance in the wake of the well-oiled Cruz apparatus and some discourteous tactics – Cruz voters consciously fabricated the news that Dr Ben Carson had pulled out of the race and thus convinced many of his supporters to rally around and vote for Cruz.

Yet the media try to infer that Trump is on the slide, a deliberate tactic to knock some momentum off the absorbing following he has assimilated. It is also a response to the media war he has waged against them. Trump has exposed them and dealt many blows to their trustworthiness in the eyes of the public and this is subtle retaliation.

But Trump is a media/PR genius, His campaign thus far has been a testament to this. Time and time again he has raised controversial issues and used provocative language. The media go all out to take him down not realising that many Americans agree with him and their frantic knee-jerk misreporting of those statements has only gained Trump more headlines, more media exposure on their own networks – free exposure for trump. In years to come historians and political scientists will look back in awe at the manner at which he has strategized his campaign. It has been truly memorising.

Just like they were wrong in June 2015 when he came down that escalator with wife Melania, they are now consciously (I might add) wrong again.

Their attempts to stop Trump has had the exact opposite effect, by mothballing his media coverage and further raising his profile and by extension his policies.

Declaring him a loser in the GOP nomination race will only have the same effect.

Weekend Racing Preview – Can Activial Land The Big Gamble?

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Can Activial land the big gamble in the Ladbroke Hurdle

Can Activial land the big gamble in the Ladbroke Hurdle

 

Michael Dorgan looks ahead to the weekends racing with the Ladbroke Hurdle and JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot the highlights.

Ladbroke Hurdle

Activial has been all the rage this week ahead of Saturdays Ladbroke Hurdle. A smart juvenile last season, Harry Fry’s four-year-olds price has plunged to as low as 7/2 in some places from a high of 12/1 even though he has not been seen since disappointing at Aintree in April. The Seaborough handler holds the unexposed youngster in high regard and has purposely held Activial back for a major handicap which has led to the major drop in his price.

Young trainer Fry was back in the headlines this week after his stable star and former Champion Hurdle winner Rock on Ruby returned to the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure last Saturday after an impressive win over Volnay de Thaix in the Relkeel Hurdle.

There is a strong Irish contingent making the trip to Ascot and the best chance may lie with the Willie Mullins-trained Clondaw Warrior, who was third in the Greatwood at Cheltenham and gets in at the foot of the weights here.

Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux finished second to him that day and he trumped the form by finishing a creditable second to The New One last Saturday. Bearing in mind it was Clondaw Warrior’s first run over hurdles following a break, he should come on a lot and has a solid each way chance.

Shelford will aim to give champion trainer Paul Nicholls, a second successive win in the race after Willow’s Saviour took the crown last year.

 

JLT Long Walk Hurdle

In the JLT Long Walk Hurdle, The Nick Williams-trained Reve De Sivola will face only four rivals as he bids for a third successive victory in the race. Wayne Hutchinson takes over from the suspended Richard Johnson in the saddle after returning from injury.

Having clinched the Grade One prize for the past two seasons the nine-year-old will have his preferred testing conditions in his favour. However he hasn’t exactly been setting the world alight over the past 12 months and recently finishing down the field at Auteuil at the beginning of November, well behind the reopposing Zarkandar

The Paul Nicholls trained Zarkandar is the short priced favourite to strike at the top level for a fourth time under Sam Twiston-Davies with the trainer combo in great form as of late.

Medinas may be the value option here and Alan Kings charge earned his place in the field with an impressive victory over Cole Harden and the previously unbeaten More of That in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

Medinas is joined by stable companion Aubusson, who steps up in class after a lucrative victory under female jockey Lizzie Kelly in last month’s Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock and Kelly will be hoping she can steal a march on her rivals again today. David Pipes former Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell’ Arca, makes up the small field.

 

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on December 20, 2014. To view the original version, click here.

The New One To The Fore – Weekend Racing Preview

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The New One and Sam Twiston-Davies jump a hurdle

 

The New One and Sam Twiston-Davies jump a hurdle

 

Michael Dorgan takes a look ahead to the weekend racing where star hurdlers The New One and Rock On Ruby will be on show at Cheltenham today.

At Cheltenham today, last year’s unlucky Champion Hurdle third THE NEW ONE aims to cement his place at the top of the 2015 Champion Hurdle market where he takes on seven others in StanJames.com International Hurdle. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable star was badly hampered when OUR CONOR took a fatal fall in the race in March and was staying on strikingly up the hill. He readily swept aside the 167-rated ZARKANDAR in this contest 12 months ago and is expected to take this one in his stride on the road back to the festival. His record of 12 wins from 17 starts speaks for itself and he took his reappearance in decisive fashion when winning on ground softer than ideal at Haydock last time.

Nicky Hendersons VANITEUX may give the favourite most to think about. He finished third behind VAUTOUR in last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle and finished runner-up off top-weight, in the Greatwood Hurdle here last month.  That run should bring him on an awful lot and receives a handy 8lb from the favourite, although is still rated 13lbs inferior on official ratings. However the Greatwood was only the fifth start of his career and he is progressive.

Venetia Williams ZAMDY MAN may be next best after running so well behind The New One at Haydock last time, albeit from an enterprising ride

Selection: The New One

Former Champion Hurdle winner ROCK ON RUBY takes on three runners in the Grade 2 Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle. Harry Fry’s nine-year-old reverts back to hurdles this year after an uninspiring stint at chasing last season where he never really recovered from an early mistake in the Arkle. Rock On Ruby beat OVERTURN in the 2012 Champion Hurdle and was denied back-to-back victories 12 months later when he was beaten into second by HURRICANE FLY. After a satisfactory reappearance at Wincanton, he now steps up to two and a half miles although he does have good form over this distance.

However, he is quite vulnerable and is nearly ten years old but no horse over the age of seven has ever won this.

His biggest danger may come from Paul Nicholls who is scintillating form at present having taken the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last weekend with DODGING BULLETS. He saddles LOC FONTANA here. The five-year-old completed a double at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival’s last season and a finished a creditable third behind current Champion hurdle favourite FAUGHEEN at Ascot three weeks ago. He wears first-time cheekpieces today and is 01411 at Cheltenham but has to concede 4lb to his other opponents.

The Nicky Henderson trained VOLNAY DE THAIX created a very favourable impression after he won his reappearance at Huntingdon with any amount in hand in early November. Jockey Barry Geraghty reported that the 5 year old had progressed physically over the summer and was quite bullish about his chances 11 days later prior to the three-mile Fixed Brush Hurdle where he was a beaten favourite under a penalty. However a combination of a an inadequate three miles and very demanding conditions played against him and he can be forgiven for being beaten by about eight lengths. He drops back to two and a half miles today and has reported to have done some good work at home in the meantime. He’s now off 158, which is 9lb higher than his rating at Haydock but is potentially quite progressive and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this clash.

Hughie Morrison’s 140 rated BROTHER BRIAN makes up the field and has a lot to improve to get into contention here.

Selection: Loc Fontana

Twelve go to post in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (December Gold Cup) over 2 miles 5 furlongs and I think the two to focus on here are again with the two top yards. Recent Paddy Power Gold Cup winner CAID DU BERLAIS represents Paul Nichols and ERICHT flies the colours for the Nicky Henderson yard. He pitched on landing two out just behind Caid Du Berlais in that race and with a sounder round of jumping may be the value bet here.

Selection: Ericht each way

For our banker bet well head to the bumper in Tramore where Nina Carberry’s mount Altiepix should take the spoils dropping back into a bumper having finished runner-up over timber at Punchestown last month on his seasonal return

Banker: Altiepix

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on December 13, 2014. To view the original version, click here.

 

God’s Own Primed for Tingle Creek Success at Sandown

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The horse Gods Own with joclkey Paddy Brennan jump a fence

The horse Gods Own with joclkey Paddy Brennan jump a fence

 

Michael Dorgan looks ahead to an exciting weekend of racing where the Tingle Creek at Sandown and Punchestown’s John Durkin Memorial Chase take centre stage.

The National Hunt season is well and truly underway and ten horses go to post in Saturday’s 888sport Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown where Alan King’s BALDER SUCCES heads the market for the 2 mile Grade 1 contest.

This race has been taken by the likes of KAUTO STAR, MOSCOW FLYER, MASTER MINDED and SIZING EUROPE over the last number of years and with former winners SPRINTER SACRE and SIRE DE GRUGY both still on the sidelines, the race is an ideal opportunity for a new star to lay down an early marker in the Champion Chase scene.

The in-form Richard Johnson will be taking over the reins on Balder Succes as regular rider Wayne Hutchinson is out injured. The six-year-old struck at Grade One level as a novice at Aintree in April but had to settle for second place to the Tom George-trained Gods Own on his seasonal return. Balder Succes was giving Gods own 7lbs for that 5 length defeat and Johnson will be hoping he can get the better of Paddy Brennan’s mount and go one better this time around as they lock horns at level weights.

Barry Geraghty resumes allegiances with the Nicky Henderson trained OSCAR WHISKY who ran a blinder when beaten by two lengths in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month under top weight.

There has been huge support all week for Harry Fry’s five-year-old VUKOVAR, who has been backed in from 25-1 to as short as 8-1 despite having just one novice chase win to his name in three starts since arriving from France.

Elsewhere Paul Nicholls, who is no stranger to winning this race, saddles DODGING BULLETS and HINTERLAND, who will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily respectively. Fit-again champion jockey Tony McCoy rides the Mick Channon-trained Somersby who disappointed on his seasonal return, but ran a better race when runner-up at Ascot next time out.

Colin Tizzard’s THIRD INTENTION, Venetia Williams’ mare PEPITE ROSE and WILLIAMS WISHES from Evan Williams’ stable complete the field.

Prediction

This years Tingle Creek is a wide-open affair and the stats make interesting reading. 8 out of the 9 last winners have been aged five, six or seven, 9 out of the last 10 had already won a Grade 1 with 7 out of 10 rated in the 167 to 179 bracket. While no chaser in the field ticks all three boxes I’m not convinced Balder Succes can overturn Gods Own, even at level weights.

God’s Own also beat Balder Succes at Punchestown last May and looks like a real improver. A lot of fences come quite rapidly at Sandown and I think this will play into Gods Owns strengths as his jumping was impressive at Exeter while Balder Succes was awkward enough, especially at the last few fences.

While I’m a huge Oscar Whisky fan, the two-mile trip is a huge negative for the nine-year-old as he hasn’t run over this distance since his bumper days and older horses have a poor record in this race. If the ground continues to deteriorate it will play into his hands and the stiff hill to the line will suit Barry Geraghty’s mount who is “very sweet on his chances”.

Selection: Gods Own e/w   

 

In the Irish scene, Sunday sees the return to action of Gold Cup hero LORD WINDEMERE who makes his seasonal reappearance in the Grade One John Durkin Memorial Chase at Punchestown. However, due to the inadequate two and a half mile trip, the Gordon Elliott trained and Down Royal Festival winner DON COSSACK is the short-priced favourite for the race with young Brian O Connell in the saddle due to Bryan Cooper’s suspension.  It will be Cossack’s third outing this season having already beaten LOOSEN MY LOAD in October before claiming a Grade 2 prize at Down Royal last month for Gordon Elliott.

Also in the lineup will be the Willie Mullins trained Punchestown Gold Cup winner BOSTON BOB, who returned to action in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last month where he was a distant third to another Gigginstown Stud representative, ROAD TO RICHES, TEXAS JACK, RATHLIN and BAILEY GREEN make up the remainder.

Selection: Don Cossack

 

In other news, Davy Russell and Phillip Enright were both handed 5-day bans for a rather bizarre incident at Clonmel on Wednesday. The two-time champion jockey was on board the 8/13 favourite LEAVE AT DAWN in the Powerstown Handicap Hurdle but lost his whip early on in the race. As the riders made their first turn for home, Russell discreetly leaned over and took Enright’s whip who was on 33/1 outsider BACKINYOURBOX. Both mounts consequently finished well down the field.

 

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on December 5, 2014. To view the original version, click here.

 

 

 

Local Based Players Key To Cork City Success

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Cork City FC, John Caulfield's Rebel Army in a team huddle before their League of Ireland game against Bohemians FC at Turners Cross on October 17th 2014

Cork City FC, John Caulfield's Rebel Army in a team huddle before their League of Ireland game against Bohemians FC at Turners Cross on October 17th 2014

 

At his unveiling as Cork City boss last November John Caulfield declared that his new-look team would be made up of locally based players, Michael Dorgan takes a look at the make-up of the Cork City squad

John Caulfield is Cork City through and through. Although born in New York in 1964, the current Cork City manager returned to Ireland in 1968 and grew up in Roscommon. Owing to a new job he moved to Cork in 1985 and it is the Rebel County which has defined John Caulfield.

In 15 seasons with the ‘Rebel Army’, he made a club record number of appearances (455) and is the club’s joint all-time top scorer with 129 goals. After retiring he was quickly snapped up to manage local Munster Senior League outfit Avondale United where he immediately found success, winning two FAI Intermediate Cup and two Munster Senior League Premier Division titles.

He went on to achieve further success with UCC, winning a Collingwood Cup and First Division title before leaving UCC for City.

Local Identity

With this wealth of experience, Caulfield’s knowledge  of Cork football is vast and his faith in the talent from the area was obvious from the get-go when Caulfield declared the foundation of his new look Cork City was to be based from players within the local area and its surroundings.At his unveiling last November:

“I want a base of good, strong local players. We have a very good U19 set-up so we will look to promote players from within, and obviously attract players from the county and the province.”

Caulfield felt that the team had lost a small bit of identity and it is this local identity which has been key to the club’s revival. This philosophy was intertwined with his intent on making Turners Cross a fortress again. Caulfield is smart and wise enough to understand that the more locals playing, the more locals will come out and support, it has a knock-on effect and one which has proven fruitful this year in City’s title bid.

“I want all of the people from West Cork, North Cork, East Cork, all around the county and the city too, to rally around and come back. We want to get back the support we have lost, the people who have stopped coming to games, because we all know that Turner’s Cross, with 3,500 or 4,000 or 5,000 people in it, is a fantastic place to be.”

And so it has proven. 6,219 souls packed into Turners Cross last Friday night for their last home league game of the season, cheering City on to a crucial victory which sent them top of the table heading into the final game of the season.

The Squad

Here’s a look at the current Cork City squad:

Mark McNulty – A Ballincollig native, McNulty has been the regular Number 1 since taking over from Mick Devine in 2010.
‘Nults’ has been at Cork City since 2003 having also played with his local side Ballincollig and Cobh Ramblers. Nulty was between the sticks when City won promotion in 2011.

John Kavanagh – The Cork-born, former Ringmahon Rangers player has made the successful step-up from the under 19 ranks following a successful league and cup wining 2011-12 season.

John Dunleavy – The Donegal native has settled well in Cork since joining City shortly before the 2012/13 season and having an excellent season last year was named by Caulfield as the club captain this season; turning out to be an inspired choice.

Darren Dennehy – Darren, brother of teammate Billy, is from Tralee County Kerry. The 26-year-old central defender is a former Everton youth player and also had spells with English clubs Cardiff City, Hereford United, Gillingham, Barnet before joining City at the beginning of last season.

Gearóid Morrissey – Another Cork man, who played his underage football with Ringmahon Rangers in the southside of the city. He had a spell with Blackburn Rovers’ youth setup but returned home in 2010 to sign for Cork City

Colin Healy – By far the most experienced player in the Cork City squad, the man from Ballincollig has 13 senior Republic of Ireland caps and was the man called up to replace Roy Keane at the 2002 World Cup. The 34-year-old is having his second spell at City after playing with Celtic, Sunderland, Coventry City, Livingston, Barnsley, Bradford, Ipswich and Falkirk.

John O’Flynn – Another experienced player, the Cobh native is having his second spell with City after returning from Exeter City in July. O’Flynn’s previous time at the club was between 2002 and 2008 where he won a Premier Division title in 2005 and the FAI Cup in 2007. He has also played for Peterborough and Barnet.

Cillian Morrison – The Letterkenny striker joined City in July 2014, following a number of years with UCD.

Michael Rafter – Tipperary-born striker Michael signed for City ahead of the 2014 season having previously played for Waterford United, Dundalk and Derry City. He has missed most of the season due to an ankle injury.

Ross Gaynor – A fullback from Ardee, County Louth, Gaynor had a very successful spell with Sligo Rovers, winning the Premier Division in 2012 and the FAI Cup in 2013 before signing for City in July 2014.

Ian Turner – (on Loan) Another Cork-born player, Turner played with Wilton underage before playing with City’s youths. He was promoted to the senior squad in 2009 where he helped secure the club promotion by winning the First Division title, he is currently on loan at Limerick FC.

Danny Morrissey – The young Midleton man played with his hometown club underage before joining City youths where he had hugely successful time, bagging a League and Cup double with the Under 19′s before earning a call-up to the Ireland Under 19 squad.

Gavin Kavanagh – The Dublin defender was part of the team that earned promotion in 2011. The former Crumlin United defender then spent time with Waterford United, before returning to City in July 2014. He also had a spell at Nottingham Forest.

Dan Murray – A hugely popular defender from Cambridge in England, former Captain Murray’s first stint at the club was from 2002 – 2009 where he led the club to the league title in 2005. He returned to the club in 2012 and his leadership had been influential this season

Michael McSweeney – Cork-born Michael joined City in July having previously played with Mervue United. Michael has played under John Caulfield before, captaining UCC to their Collingwood Cup victory in 2010.

Brian Lenihan – Lenihan’s meteoric rise has seen him recently snapped up by Premier League side Hull City. The former College Corinthians player was another Cork born City player.

Billy Dennehy – Brother of Darren, the Kerry man has had an outstanding season having previously played with Sunderland, Derry City and Shamrock Rovers

David O’Leary – Cork-born O’Leary signed from Limerick FC at the start of the current season having also played underage with College Corinthians.

Neal Horgan – Although born in San Francisco, ‘Hoggy’, is another Cork City legend having been with the club since 1999, bagging a Premier Division medal in 2005 and an FAI Cup winners medal in 2007. Horgan also won a Setanta Cup medal in 2008 and was part of the side that won promotion in 2011.

Mark O’Sullivan – Probably the fairy tale story of the year in that at 31 this is O’Sullivan’s first full season at League of Ireland level. Perhaps one of the best amateur players in the country over the last few years, the Passage striker man played under Caulfield at Avondale and had won four FAI Intermediate Cups before signing at the start of the season.

Rob Lehane – From Douglas, the 20-year-old has bagged some vital goals for City this season. The pacey forward previously played with Douglas Hall and UCC.

Garry Buckley – From the north side of Cork City, the former Leeds AFC midfielder captained City’s double-winning under 19′s team and was quickly promoted to the senior team. Buckley has also been capped at Under 18 level by the Republic of Ireland

Kevin O’Brien – City’s number 2 is another Cork man having played at underage level for Cobh Ramblers. O’Brien had a spell with Nottingham Forest before spending four years in the United States on a soccer scholarship.

Darren A. Murphy – The Cork midfielder is another who came up through the City ranks having played with local side Rockmount before winning three successive Under 19 leagues, captaining the team in the third season. Murphy is also capped with the Republic of Ireland at Under 19 level.

Josh O’Shea – The 22-year-old Aghada man signed for City in the summer after a number of successful years under Caulfield at UCC, the highlight of which was winning the Collingwood Cup in 2010 and being awarded Player of the Tournament. O’Shea has also played with the Irish Universities team.

Liam Kearney – From Conna in North Cork, Kearney is having his third spell with Cork City after previously winning a Premier Division title in 2005, an FAI Cup in 2007 and a Setanta Cup in 2008. Kearney also won a league title with Shelbourne in 2006 and spent a few years in Australia playing for Australian Victorian Premier League side Dandenong Thunder SC

The Set-Up

Caulfield’s backroom staff is also reflective of his team. His assistant John Cotter is a former City player and succeeded Caulfield at Avondale United, leading them to three more intermediate cups and two league titles. Coach Billy Woods had three separate stints with City as a player and was part of the team that last won the Premier League title in 2005.

The Welsh-born, former Cork City goalkeeper Phil ‘Biscuits’ Harrington is the club’s goalkeeping coach and considered a legend amongst the City faithful. Having made his debut on 4 September 1988, ‘Biscuits’ went on to keep 112 clean sheets from 257 appearances in his City career playing alongside Caulfield when City won the league in 1993.

One Last Battle

Cork City go to war for the last time this season on Friday night when they face Dundalk. One last push is needed from Caulfield’s men and the entire Cork population will be behind them.

 

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on October 23rd, 2017. To view the original version, click here

Image: Copyright Michael Dorgan 2014, All Rights Reserved

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 4 – Cheltenham Gold Cup

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Michael Dorgan looks ahead to the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The festival comes to its conclusion today and with the bookmakers on top, punters will be out to recoup some hard earned cash today.  The so-called Irish ‘banker’ of the week Briar Hill runs in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (2:40pm) and will go off the short-priced favourite at around the 6/4 mark.

Representing the Willie Mullins/ Ruby Walsh partnership, Briar Hill is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles and was an impressive seven-length winner of last year’s Champion Bumper. However, with his jumping far from convincing and unproven over three miles, Kings Palace seems a far safer betting prospect at 10/3 for the in-form Tom Scudamore and David Pipe yard. Kings Palace won emphatically on his last two starts at Cheltenham over the three-mile mark and on similar ground; he would be a sound each way bet. Others of interest are CaptainCutter and DeputyDan but they may prefer more demanding ground conditions.

Ruby Walsh riding Briar Hill storm up the hill in last year's Cheltenham Bumper

The other horse considered to be ‘banker’ material is defending Gold Cup (3:20pm) Champion Bobs Worth. The Nicky Henderson mount of Barry Geraghty was most impressive when scooting clear to win the Lexus at Leopardstown and will be a tough nut to crack especially being unbeaten in five starts at Cheltenham. Philip Fenton’s Last Instalment has been nursed back to rude health and made his Hennessey Gold Cup win look easy last month but he comes with strings attached as he is injury prone and the ground has probably gone against him at this stage. King George winner Silviniaco Conti is another with a real chance and travelled very well in last year’s race before falling three out; but again has reservations about the ground.

Sixteen go to post for the opening Triumph Hurdle (1:30pm) which was won so impressively last year by the ill-fated Our Conor. It is another open affair where the well regarded Calipto heads the market for Paul Nicholls who’s had a dreadful festival so far. Fancied Irish runner Guitar Pete won the Grade 1 Spring Hurdle in Leopardstown recently which is a significant benchmark as the last three Irish trained winners of the Triumph had also won the Spring Hurdle and he has firm each way prospects. Royal Irish Hussar who beat Guitar Pete here in November is also a major player.

Twenty-eight go to post for the County Hurdle (2:05pm) where the Irish have a very good record in recent years having won the last four runnings, and six of the last seven. Willie Mullins won the race in 2010 and 2011 and is represented by three runners, the pick of which is Ruby Walsh’s mount, Arctic Fire.

In the Foxhunter Chase (4:00pm) it would be terrific if Oscar Delta could make amends for last year’s incredible yet unfortunate incident where the horse was home and hosed but for jinking and unseating Jane Mangan near the ‘tape rail’ halfway up the run-in. Alarmingly Oscar Delta has been beaten at odds against in its last two races but a proper railing has been installed this year.

Racing concludes with two wide-open affairs, the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (4:40pm) and the Grand Annual Handicap Chase (5:15pm).

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on March 14, 2014. To see the original version, click here.

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 3 – World Hurdle

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Annie Power (left) will go head-to-head with Big Bucks in the World Hurdle.
Annie Power (left) will go head-to-head with Big Bucks in the World Hurdle.
Annie Power (left) will go head-to-head with Big Bucks in the World Hurdle.
Annie Power (left) will go head-to-head with Big Bucks in the World Hurdle.

Michael Dorgan looks ahead to the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of which is the World Hurdle.

Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival is all about the World Hurdle (3:20pm) and the clash of former champion versus young pretender, old versus new, male versus female, Big Bucks versus Annie Power. Having won the race on four consecutive occasions, Big Bucks is on the verge of an unprecedented fifth title and in doing so would cement his place as the greatest World Hurdler of all time. However all the rage has been about the unbeaten Willie Mullins trained mare Annie Power who, since being confirmed to run in the race, has been installed as a short-priced favourite.

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 2 – Queen Mother Chase

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Michael Dorgan looks ahead to the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of which is the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

After yesterday’s indifferent opening for punters, many will be hoping to get one over on bookmakers today beginning with the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle (1:30pm) where Faugheen, the well-regarded mount of Ruby Walsh has been well supported. While much of his price may be down to hype, one cannot get away from comments within the Mullin’s camp where Patrick Mullin’s described him as an aeroplane recently and Emmet Mullins declaring him the best horse he had ever sat on. The unbeaten hurdler will put his reputation on the line but faces stiff competition in the form of the David Pipe-trained Red Sherlock who beat Faugheen’s stablemate Rathvinden over C&D in January, albeit conceding 3lbs to that rival.

Faugheen: landed the Liberty Insurance Novice Hurdle at Limerick's Christmas Festival in 2013
Faugheen: landed the Liberty Insurance Novice Hurdle at Limerick’s Christmas Festival in 2013

The RSA Chase (14:05) looks like a wide-open affair where the Mullins/Walsh partnership again head up the market. Ballycasey, who has already beaten the more experienced pair of Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough in the Dr. PJ Moriarty has doubts surrounding him after his schooling mishap last week in front of the cameras at Leopardstown.

The Coral Cup (2:40pm) is another wide-open affair and best of luck to those trying to pick a winner in this 28 runner affair!

The main event of the day is the Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:20pm) and unfortunately, last year’s champion Sprinter Sacre misses this year’s event due to his well-publicised heart scare which leaves the race more open. Sire De Grugy justifiably heads the market and is 8-11 in chases but critically two of those defeats have come at Cheltenham where he was beaten by Captain Conan and Kid Cassidy in November. A chance is taken on Barry Geraghty’s mount Captain Conan and for those looking for a bit of value, Henry De Bromhead’s Special Tiara may be worth an each way squeak at 16/1 with the ground turning in his favour.

Sprinter Sacre
2013 Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre misses this year’s event due to a heart scare

The Cross Country Race (4:00pm) is always an interesting spectacle and Big Schu returns to defend his crown, albeit carrying a much heavier weight. Bottom weight Star Neuville has a great chance at the weights and at 15/2 Enda Bolger’s horse is definitely worth an each way punt.

Dawalan heads the market for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle (4:40pm) and Geraghty/Henderson combination should again go close. The other powerhouse stables of Mullins and Nicholls are also represented by Ivan Grozny and Katgary respectively.

The Champion Bumper (5:15pm) concludes the day’s proceedings and as always punters will look to the Mullins stable for answers as he has won the contest no fewer than eight times. Black Hercules and Killultagh Vic have already impressed but critically Ruby Walsh has opted for Shaneshill, who may be more suited to today’s ground. Other Irish challengers include the Dermot Weld flat bred pair of Vigil and Silver Concorde.

 

Recommended Bets:

Captain Conan each way & Special Tiara each way – Queen Mother Champion Chase @ 3:20pm

Star Neuville each way – Cross Country Race @ 4:00pm

 

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on March 13, 2014. To see the original version, click here.

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 1 – Champion Hurdle

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Michael Dorgan looks ahead to today’s opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of which is the Champion Hurdle.

After a terrible few months of dreadful weather, the grey clouds are abating and the sun is breaking out in glorious sunshine to signal the beginning of spring. A sense of optimism has filled the air and finally, the wait is over; the Cheltenham festival begins today!

And what better way to begin than with Champion Hurdle Day? It’s a truly fascinating card with many considering the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle (3:20 pm) itself the race of the entire meeting where Hurricane Fly bids to defend his crown and capture a hat-trick of victories. With only nine runners going to post, it appears nearly all have solid chances and views are diverse about the outcome. For all that Hurricane Fly has achieved (he is attempting a 20th Grade 1 victory today), many continue to put down his chances which have only made jockey Ruby Walsh more determined to ride him to victory and the roof will be blown off Prestbury Park should he succeed.

Hurricane Fly, with Ruby Walsh up, jumps the last flight on his way to victory in the Champion Hurdle ( PA )
Hurricane Fly, with Ruby Walsh up, jumps the last flight on his way to victory in the Champion Hurdle

There is a strong contingent that believe Our Conor, an emphatic winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year and whom the ‘Fly’ has beaten twice this season, will reverse form with the reigning champion. Jezki, who was unlucky not to get closer to Hurricane Fly in December’s Ryanair Hurdle may also be capable of going one better should more prominent tactics be executed by todays jockey Barry Geraghty, who interestingly has never lost a race the horse. The English believe they have the answer in the form of My Tent Or Yours and The New One with the former attempting to emulate the great Istabraq and Hardy Eustace by winning the Neptune Novice Hurdle and winning the Champion Hurdle the following season; he may well have held off My Tent Or Yours at Kempton but for a last-flight blunder.

Racing begins with the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle (1:30 pm) where Paul Nicholls’ unbeaten Irving has been a fancied favourite for some time now. However, history is against favourites in the race, the last winner being Brave Inca in 2004. Ruby Walsh has spoken positively about his chances on the unbeaten Vautour and Willie Mullins’ second string Wicklow Brave is also well fancied in some quarters. For punters of this race I have to suggest Paddy Powers incredible offer in the race; they are refunding all losing bets on horses that finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

The Arkle Chase (2:05 pm) is another mouth-watering contest where Mullins’ Champagne Fever heads the market. Champagne Fever has run twice before at the festival, winning both the Champion Bumper and a very strong Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He will be taken on by the 2012 Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby who was second in the same race last year but has only raced twice since December against a total of three opponents. The biggest danger may be the Charles Byrnes trained Trifolium, although the drying ground may be a concern.

It’s all about Willie Mullins’ 10-year-old ‘super mare’ Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle (4 pm) who will be tough to beat in her quest for a record-breaking sixth festival success, one more than Golden Miller managed in his consecutive Gold Cups victories between 1932 and 1936.

Other races include the Festival Handicap Chase (2:40 pm), the 4-mile National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase (4:40 pm) and racing concludes with the Novices’ Handicap Chase (5:15 pm)

Everything is in place for a fascinating few days action and the bookies will be eager that today doesn’t turn out to be a ‘Ruby Tuesday’, unlike the rest of us!

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on March 11, 2014. To see the original version, click here.

The John Caulfield Era – What We Learned From Friday Night

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Cork City FC Manager John Caulfield at a press conference
Cork City FC Manager John Caulfield

 

Friday Night’s 1-1 draw at home to reigning League of Ireland Champions St. Patrick’s Athletic was John Caulfield’s first league game in charge of Cork City; Michael Dorgan takes a look at what we learned about Caulfield’s new look Cork City.

Crowds

‘Build it and they will come!” – The county has been buzzing with excitement since Caulfield was announced as Cork City manager back in November and that was reflected in the huge turnout at Turners Cross last Friday night. In fact, crowd congestion was so great that kick-off had to be delayed by ten minutes with a whopping 5,322 supporters packing into the Cross to create an electric atmosphere. It was a shrewd move by the City hierarchy to erect billboards to promote the game in the preceding weeks and it certainly added to the hype as well as the numbers, nevertheless the challenge now is to maintain the high attendances especially with the GAA season also commencing.

4-5-1

City played 4-5-1 with Anthony Elding filling the lone striker role and in fairness to Elding he worked his socks off all night before being replaced by Mark O’Sullivan on the 65 minute mark. The plan was to soak up the Pats pressure and catch them on the counter and it worked effectively against the reigning champions.  While Caulfield isn’t a defensive minded manager it was important City got a result against Pats but we are unlikely to see City using this formation week in week out for the remainder of the season, especially with Michael Rafter and Danny Morrissey still to return to the team.

Hard Work Ethic

Caulfield has stated over and over again that one of the main features of his team will be a hard work ethic and to be passionate about the club; Friday night’s performance epitomised this. When City were reduced to ten men the high work rate and desire continued as the Rebel Army were determined to come away with at least a point.

Bottle

With the massive build-up, huge turnout and the champions coming to town for the season’s opener, City looked evidently nervous in the opening twenty minutes but soon settled and clinched the opener just before half time. After conceding the equaliser and then being reduced to ten men for the remaining twenty-five minutes, the team never dropped their heads or let the occasion get to them and ground out a well-earned draw.

Perfect Mix of Youth & Experience

Caulfield’s new team seems to have the right balance of youth and experience. Dan Murray and Darren Dennehy were solid at centre half,  Murray in particular who mopped up every high ball. Liam Kearney looks to be back to his brilliant best; Colin Healy was dictating play in the middle of the park and was excellently complimented by the younger pairing of Gearoid Morrissey and Gary Buckley; with Buckley grabbing the opening goal. 19 year old Brian Lenihan was outstanding at right back and deservedly claimed the man of the match award. Young skipper Johnny Dunleavy also put in a big shift but will be disappointed about getting his second yellow card. He will no doubt learn from the experience and City have quality cover for the away trip to Derry next weekend in the form of the ‘Cockney Rebel’, Danny Murphy.

So a great start for Cork City but a long way to go. Next week’s trip to the Brandywell will be another tough assignment but judging on Friday nights performance, the foundations of John Caulfield’s new look Cork City seem rock solid.

This article first appeared in Pundit Arena on March 10th 2014. To view the original version, click here.