the inside BACK

TAKE FIVE FOR CHELTENHAM…

With the greatest national hunt festival in the world about to get under way today (Tuesday) it’s fairly safe to assume that anything less than last year’s incredible haul of eight winners for Willie Mullins will be a little disappointing.
The Closutton Maestro has such a strong team assembled at Prestbury Park that if everything goes according to plan he should at least match last year’s success and could possibly hit double figures.
I will definitely back many of Mullin’s hotpots but my five top bets does feature horses that aren’t trained in County Carlow including World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, Thistlecrack may not be the most original pick of the week but he certainly looks bombproof.
Since finishing second to Killultagh Vic at the Punchestown Festival last year Thistlecrack has been in fine form with three wins to his credit including victory last time out at Cheltenham.
If the horse was trained by Willie Mullins he would most definitely be trading at a much shorter price than the 6/5 currently favourite. However despite the skinny price Thistlecrack is my top bet for the week.
While I’m not really keen on backing favourites I can’t see past More Of That in the RSA Chase tomorrow.
Trained by Jonjo O’Neill and owned by JP McManus More Of That boasts a healthy winning record at Cheltenham with four wins from four visits including victory over Annie Power in the World Hurdle two years ago. The race certainly looks like a straightforward battle between More Of That and No More Heroes but It will be O’Neill’s charge for me.

Henry De Bromhead runs Smashing in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, a number of chances the Waterford trainer has at this week’s Cheltenham Festival

Henry De Bromhead runs Smashing in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, a number of chances the Waterford trainer has at this week’s Cheltenham Festival

Even though Annie Power, supplemented last week at a cost of £20,000 is the favourite for the Champion Hurdle and Un De Sceaux is universally thought to be unbeatable in the Champion Chase I have decide to row in with two other Mullins’ hotpots.
Min at 7/4 is hardly the best value of the week but having won her two starts since joining the Mullins yard by a combined 30 lengths I fully expect the 5-y-o to live up to the name of his sire ‘Walk in The Park’ by getting the Festival off to a winning start later today.
While doubts remain over Vautour’s ability to get the Gold Cup trip he is still joint second favourite (with stablemate Djakadam) and will have the assistance of Ruby Walsh on his back.
If Walsh has enjoyed a good week, and there’s no reason to expect that he won’t then Willie Mullins could have his first Gold Cup winner in the shape of last year’s most impressive JLT chase winner.
The heart might be ruling the head but my final selection is trained here in Waterford by Henry De Bromhead and runs in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.
Smashing disappointed connections somewhat at last year’s festival but has won his last three starts and is a general 8/1 chance to give the Waterford trainer another Grade 1 Cheltenham victory. Road To Riches will probably start a worthy favourite but Smashing gets my vote.
For the record the accumulated odds on my five timer comes in at 980/1 and my €1 bet has been placed.

SHARAPOVA, MELDONIUM & BULLSH*T

Exposed: Expect more dominos to tumble in tennis in the wake of the Maria Sharapova controversy.

Exposed: Expect more dominos to tumble in tennis in the wake of the Maria Sharapova controversy.

Tennis looks like the next sporting domino that’s set to tumble in the wake of Maria Sharapova’s expertly stage managed admission following her failed drug test at the Australian Open.
Is anyone too surprised that a top level tennis player has, finally, been caught out? Does anyone seriously believe that systematic cheating in top level sport are the exclusive preserves of cycling and track and field? No, me neither.
Listening to Paul Kimmage on ‘Off The Ball’ on Tuesday last, the Sunday Independent writer didn’t spare the rod in the wake of the Russian-American’s mea culpa press conference in Los Angeles.
This year alone, 55 athletes, including Sharapova, have tested positive for meldonium use. The Latvian company which produces the drug, according to the London Independent, confirmed that “a normal course of treatment lasts from four to six weeks”. Sharapova has been taking meldonium (legal up to January 1st 2016) for a decade. Something doesn’t add up.
Kimmage noted the physical excesses of life on the ATP tour: week after week of travelling, matches that can run for several hours, day in, day out.
And then the show moves onto the next tournament, regularly on another continent. The wheel keeps turning and the body has to keep on delivering, just like the jaded cyclist who faces another six intense hours on the saddle.
“Why would the cyclist need to go out and look for this (performance enhancement) and the tennis player wouldn’t?” he logically queried. “What is the difference?”
Sport, Kimmage added, “is in complete tatters” at the moment, and he feels that professional soccer is another grenade from which the pin has yet to be removed.
As for what Sharapova said last Monday? “Absolute bullsh*t,” he added. The lid has just become dislodged on another Pandora’s Box, and I don’t suspect it’ll be locked again any time soon.

NO PAYCHEQUE IS WORTH DYING FOR

The blood spattered across the Octagon canvas of the MGM Grand after Nate Diaz got the better of Conor McGregor at UFC 196 was an unsettling sight.
Of course, a broken nose can catalyse a gush of claret in other sports and walks of life: but blood disperses onto grass – it’s not as shockingly evident as it is when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts.
Boxing, imperfect and all as it remains, no longer regularly features top level bouts, as once it did, where the protagonists wear near disfigured visages after 12 bruising rounds.

UFC is brilliantly marketed, but the extent to which its appeal will further expand remains open to question.

UFC is brilliantly marketed, but the extent to which its appeal will further expand remains open to question.

For the casual UFC observer, the notion that a fighter might be willing to slip into unconsciousness as opposed to tapping out and conceding defeat, is a concept many of us will never reconcile with.
It was a point excellently articulated by Sonia O’Sullivan in her Irish Times column on Thursday last, when she admitted to squirming “when the blood (started) splashing around the ring: what about the blood rule we see in most other sport? In UFC, they simply play on – and it’s probably not a good idea to be sitting in the front rows”.
Witnessing the choke-hold that ended McGregor’s bout, along with Holly Holm being sent into unconsciousness earlier in the card, O’Sullivan added: “is this just one step away from death?
“Sport is a game, something that we do for health, fitness or else watch for entertainment. I don’t think anyone would feel comfortable watching a sports event if one of the athletes is left dead…What example is this for young children to aspire to? It is not something that you would like to see emulated in the playground.”
As someone who played rugby for several years, I can continue to profess my love for a physically aggressive sport while pointing out its demerits without running the risk of an online sledging. That middle ground doesn’t seem to exist when it comes to querying the demerits of the UFC phenomenon.
No sport and no paycheque is worth dying for, so rather than get defensive and start trash talking, perhaps UFC President Dana White ought to address the hardly illegitimate concerns of the legitimately curious?

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