The SkyBet Cheltenham Festival 2020 Specials: Rated!

Mornings are getting colder, the better jumps horses are back in training, and the speculation over Cheltenham targets has already begun. So in my view, it’s time to dive headlong into the murky but alluring waters of the SkyBet Cheltenham Festival Specials. Can we dredge up anything worthwhile, or even a price worth taking? Let’s find out:


Willie Mullins to train the winner of the Mares Hurdle & Mares Novice Hurdle 100/30 (was 5/1)

100/30 for one trainer to win two races in March? It seems crazy on the face of it. But actually, it isn’t: you don’t have to wade through the millions of options Mullins has in his armoury, you just have to hope that his chosen ones don’t fall at the final fence. And even when he doesn’t have an obvious superstar, somehow he still always wins these mares races. It still makes enough sense to have a proper think about it. 


Laurina to win any Novice Chase 9/2

So, in summary: we don’t yet know if she can jump a fence, we don’t actually know if she’s any good in open company, Willie Mullins hates racing his mares against the boys over fences, and it looks like a strong year for novice chasing. Other than that, she’s a cracking 9/2 shot.


Glynn to place in any race 5/1

My first reaction to this was to google ‘Glynn’, which informed me that Glynn is a small village in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Once I’d googled ‘Glynn horse’, I found out that Glynn won his only point in tidy fashion before fetching £85k at Goffs Aintree sale in April. So for this price to exist, somebody out there has been told they’ve bought the next Arkle.

The Greater Good to finish in the first 3 of any race 5/1

My favourite part of this price is “the first 3” wording, which immediately makes this wager even worse value than it already looks, which is very bad value indeed. This price seems to have been asked for by Mr Barber, his owner. I think the greater good here would be to keep your money in your pocket.

Wild Max to place in any race 5/1

This horse appears to be German. What in the name of sauerkraut is this all about then? Clearly I’ve missed a big-money purchase somewhere along the line.

Klassical Dream to win any race & Tiger Roll to win the Cross Country 10/1

Klassical Dream may very well win the Champion Hurdle; but surely Tiger Roll isn’t going to do it again, is he? Or is he, as a last hurrah to his adoring public? Maybe he is, in which case this is a financially stupid bet at such short odds, but an emotionally brilliant one. Just imagine having a 10/1 bet rolling onto Tiger Roll! But if you are tempted, the outright double pays more than 11/1, so you’d be losing a point by taking this “special”, because if Klassical Dream doesn’t run in the Champion Hurdle then he’s not worth a bet anyway.

Pentland Hills & Getaway Trump both to place in the top 3 in any race 12/1

I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure out whether this is value or not. They could both be anything and turn up anywhere or nowhere come March.


Paisley Park and Emitom both to place in 2020 Stayers Hurdle 16/1

On the face of it, this is a mental bet: you have to pick two of the top three in the same race…but if you come at it from a purely mathematical point of view, it’s not all that bad…NO. Stop it. This is a mental bet.


Aramon to win the County Hurdle 20/1

Are Sky taking the piss here? And if you’ve put this bet on, should you have the mental capacity to be allowed to handle your own money? IT IS A COMPETITIVE HANDICAP RUN IN MARCH WHICH IS PLOTTED TO DEATH AND YOU ARE GIVING ME 20/1?!

Carefully Selected to win the National Hunt Chase 20/1

Again, this isn’t a “Cheltenham Special”, Sky, it’s just a really bad price on an unpredictable race that’s happening in 7 months.

Malone Road, Andy Dufrense & Envoi Allen all to place in any race 20/1

Let’s play Bumper horse bingo! They’re all good horses, but a treble on them?! Come on, you’re better than that. And bumper horses have a pretty dreadful record at the following year’s festival anyway.

Chacun Pour Soi, Laurina, Klassical Dream & Honeysuckle all to place any race 22/1

A four-timer in September? A FOUR-TIMER IN SEPTEMBER?! Put the booze down.

Champ and Laurina both to win any race 25/1

Who priced this up – the Laurina fan club? I’d rather burn my money…at least it would warm me up and get me loads of hits on the social medias.

South Seas to win the County Hurdle 25/1

Last seen finishing 19th out of 19 in a Doncaster handicap. This makes backing Aramon at 20/1 look like a sound investment. And that’s saying something.

Dolphin Square to win the Fox Hunters Chase 33/1

Why would you name a horse after a block of flats most famous for allegedly hosting a paedophile ring? Are you drawing awareness to it? Or are you just weird? Either way, I can’t cheer on a horse called Dolphin Square, so I’m out.

Klassical Dream & Envoi Allen both to win any race 33/1

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we have something more intriguing: a double of two festival winners can never be dismissed out of hand. It’s of particular interest because as the Bumper winner, Envoi Allen could (if fit, obviously) end up in any of the three novice hurdle races in March at this stage. But I wouldn’t fancy a Bumper winner, with stamina galore, in a Supreme, so there are only two real targets…and an ante-post bet on the Albert Bartlett is a very bad idea. A direct double on the Champion Hurdle and Neptune/Ballymore/whatever is far more appealing, and far more financially rewarding too at almost 50/1.

Chacun Pour Soi & Reserve Tank both to win any race 40/1

The former can only have one target, and while he could be a beast, it’s a division potentially stacked with talent next year; the latter looks top drawer for the JLT or RSA, so the ‘any race’ angle adds an interest. But with only two possible targets, putting two doubles on at massively higher odds is more attractive than this, surely?

Envoi Allen and Chacun Pour Soi both to win any race 45/1

Definitely of interest given how good the latter is, but dismissed for the same reasoning as the Klassical Dream double.

Glynn & Chez Hans both to place in any race 55/1

Glynn is as bad a name as it gets for a horse, conjuring up an image of a put-upon but reliable assistant in a boring office job, rather than a wild and exciting stallion. Chez Hans, on the other hand, is an outstanding name for an animal athlete, because it’s clearly short for Chez Super Hans. Peep Show’s Super Hans would not be fretting over the photocopying; Super Hans would be at home, chez Super Hans, if you will, doing exactly what he wants without a care in the world. Now that’s a racehorse I want to bet on.

Malone Road & Envoi Allen both to win any race 66/1

Malone Road looked like a monster last year; Envoi Allen was a warrior. They’re in the same ownership, so if they’re both any good, they could very well be split up. Consider my interest piqued.

Envoi Allen & Samcro both to win any race 75/1

Do you get the feeling that a couple of punters out there really fancy Envoi Allen?

Malone Road, Envoi Allen, Thomas Darby, Delta Work & Commander Of Fleet all to place in any race 80/1

A FIVE-TIMER?! WHO EVEN THINKS THESE THINGS UP? AND WHO THEN THINKS 80/1 IS A GOOD PRICE? When the fun stops, STOP.

Paisley Park, Altior & Defi De Seuil all to win any race 80/1

This fits the golden rule: all three are festival winners, and all three are top-class. But it relies on Altior running in the Champion Chase, having failed to stay in the King George, because he isn’t going to win the Gold Cup. And Defi Du Seuil surely isn’t suited to win any race other than the Ryanair. So why not simply place the treble, which pays 200/1, instead? Because you’re a mug?

Thomas Darby, Emitom, Klassical Dream & Defi Du Seuil all to place any race 80/1

We’ve already talked about four-timers. At the very least have them in a yankee: imagine if two or three of them win…will you be counting your 80/1 bet, or absolutely FUMING that you threw away a massive chunk of cash?

Pentland Hills & Getaway Trump both to win any race 100/1

In the words of ‘Soap’ to ‘Bacon’ in Lock Stock, “it’s 100/1 for a reason”.

Malone Road & Champagne Platinum both to win any race 125/1

He didn’t say “it’s 125/1 for a reason”, but that’s implied.

Paisley Park, Sam Spinner and Emitom all to place in the Stayers Hurdle (3 places) 125/1

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. A TRIFECTA FOR CHELTENHAM IN SEPTEMBER. I HAVE GENUINELY SEEN IT ALL NOW. You’d have more chance of predicting the exact number of grams of coke taken in the Best Mate on Gold Cup day.

Stormy Ireland & Energumene both to win any race 125/1

The latter sounds like an early Pink Floyd experimental album track, and the former is not going to win a race at the Cheltenham Festival. But yeah, top stuff.

Allaho to win the 2020 RSA & 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup 150/1

Now, stay with me here. Interest rates are really low, so you’d have to see this bet as an investment. A high-risk, high-reward investment, sure, but you don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs right? (Actually that bit doesn’t make sense). Anyway, Allaho looks like a lovely staying chaser in the making, so the RSA really isn’t out of the question, and then RSA have a pretty good record in the Gold Cup, so…

…no you’re right, this is completely insane.

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Altior to finish 1st & Tiger Roll to finish 2nd 250/1

If this actually happens, I won’t need a bet on it to feel like I’ve won the lottery. It would be the single greatest thing to ever happen. Ever. Anywhere.

Longhouse Sale, Envoi Allen, Pentland Hills, Bright Forecast & Paisley Park all to place in any race 250/1

Fair play to whichever trader priced this up. How do you even think they did it? Presumably they picked the number that looks like the biggest possible price that could actually give you a winner. “We can’t put 500/1. That would give the game away. But 250/1…well it might make them think it could happen, right?”

City Island & House Island both to win any race 250/1

I’ve got more chance of winning Love Island.

 

That Was Fun, But Is There A Bet Here?

Willie Mullins to train the winner of the Mares Hurdle & Mares Novice Hurdle 100/30?

First of all, we have to price up his chances of winning the Mares’ Novice Hurdle, a race in which he is 4/4 so far, and even won with a 50/1 shot this time around. Let’s go Evens to keep things easy. Now, let’s put some proper thought into the more competitive Mares Hurdle, where Benie Des Dieux dominates the market, and rightly so. If she’s fit and she still enjoys the game, she really should win this; but if she doesn’t, Mullins has plenty of other darts to throw at the target. The identifiable threats at this stage are Apple’s Jade – who we all know isn’t at her best in March – and defending champ Roksana, who has a fair chance of following up if Benie doesn’t make it. Other than that, those with proper chances on current evidence are all trained by Mullins too! So 5/1 may have been a half-decent bet, but 100/30 is just too skinny with the season not even up-and-running yet.

Malone Road & Envoi Allen both to win any race 66/1?

Envoi Allen is being priced up throughout at between 6 and 7/1 in the any race market – so Malone Road is rated about a 8/1 or 9/1 shot in any race. Malone Road could of course never be the same horse again after his injury, but go back and watch his bumper win last season, and then tell me you’re not tempted to back him blind. It’s the shared ownership of these two that makes this bet intriguing; either one of the two isn’t as good as we thought, or they’re not going to end up in the same novice hurdle, surely? But they looked like very different horses in their bumper appearances: Malone Road looked rapid and flashy, a Supreme/Ballymore type, whereas Envoi Allen looked solid and stamina-laden, a Ballymore/Albert Bartlett type. Given my basic rule of not backing horses in the potato race ante-post – you’re far better throwing a few darts on the day itself in March, as I’ve found out to my significant cost over the years – a direct double looks a much better value bet.

 

Recommended Bet:

Malone Road (Supreme) & Envoi Allen (Ballymore) – 0.25 pts win double – 186/1 (various)

Ashes 2019: Ante-Post Series Preview

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this Ashes series is going to see ball dominate the bat: both sides’ bowling line-ups are full of talent, while their batting is flimsy at best, and that’s without adding in the Dukes ball and mid-September finish as factors.

England’s top order is a particular concern. Joe Denly and Rory Burns have shown no signs in their county careers – or indeed their international careers so far – of having the class to succeed in an Ashes series, so it’s somewhat of a mystery how they’ve claimed two of the top four slots in the order. And even though Jason Roy is clearly a player of sublime natural talent, his technique against the red ball has always been suspect, so much so that he has tended to bat as low as number six for Surrey. Joe Root’s move to number three is clearly the right move for the side, but he’ll be under immense pressure as captain in a home Ashes series, and is likely to be walking out to bat without having had much time to clear his head and focus on getting runs. He’s clearly England’s trump card, but odds of 2/1 for him to be their top scorer in the series look short in those circumstances.

With Jonny Bairstow currently unable to defend straight balls due to his (understandable) white-ball focus, and Moeen Ali in the sort of form that makes you wonder how he ever scored hundreds in the first place, there may be some value in England’s two big-game star men, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. While neither has a stellar test record, they are exactly the kind of characters who will relish the intensity of an Ashes battle. They won’t be batting against the new Dukes ball – or at least England will hope that’s the case! – and their chances have been underestimated in what might be an unusual Test series.

For Australia, the situation is far clearer. At his best, Steve Smith is a genuine run-machine, and he has consistently raised his game against England in the past. The World Cup should have allowed Smith to find some touch and form in foreign conditions, and without the pressure to score quickly, he can go back to accumulating runs in his irritatingly unorthodox fashion as slowly he pleases. Of course, Smith’s support of his side’s sandpaper antics means he hasn’t played test cricket for some time, but if he really gets going, he has no equals. It’s therefore logical to back him to be top overall scorer, rather than just the top Aussie batsman, as better prices are of course available.

In a similar vein, James Anderson should be backed to be the leading Ashes bowler overall rather than just England’s top man. His record in home tests is stunning, and Australians struggle badly against the moving ball. While it’s true that Anderson’s age means he’s more vulnerable to injury than in previous series, the Lancastrian is a tough customer, and with Joffra Archer waiting in the wings, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad are unlikely to play all five tests. Meanwhile Australia are uncertain about their best fast-bowling line-up even at this late stage, and seem likely to rotate all options other than Pat Cummins, who has a poor career injury record himself. Anderson can take the spoils.

There is one more recommended bet, and that’s the big one: England to win the Ashes. The media’s focus on England’s undoubted batting weaknesses has diverted attention from Australia’s equally suspect top six. David Warner’s red-ball record in England is mediocre, and England’s attack will fear nobody else bar a rejuvenated Steve Smith. Only one of the last nine Ashes series has been won by the away team – with no draws – and that was achieved by England’s truly outstanding 2011 side boasting a top four of Strauss, Cook, Trott and Pietersen. This Australian team have nowhere near that level of mental or technical class, and while England’s 2019 test side is hardly of 2011 vintage, Joe Root’s men can still take advantage of favourable home conditions to take back the urn.

 

Ashes Series Recommended Bets Summary:

To Win Series – England – 3pts at Evens

Top England Batsman – Ben Stokes 0.5pts at 7/1 & Jos Buttler 0.5pts at 10/1

Top Ashes Batsman – Steve Smith – 1pt at 7/2

Top Ashes Bowler – James Anderson – 1pt at 9/2

England v Ireland Test Preview

The first Test Match of the Summer is here, and for World Champions England – their official title now, in the manner of a Lord – it’s time for batsmen to put away the switch hit and for bowlers to re-learn the skill of hitting the top of off stump. This won’t be an easy transition, especially for those who played a large part in the World Cup campaign, not least because whatever the main protagonists say to the media, the rush of four successive knock-out 50-over games in front of baying crowds will make the sedate blazers-and-champagne atmosphere seem rather low-key.

That’s particularly true because this game isn’t really a ‘normal’ test match at all, but a fairly standard County Championship Division One game masquerading as a fully-fledged test. Firstly, it’s against Ireland, whose line-up is made up largely by county stalwarts. Secondly, it’s scheduled over four days, just like county cricket, rather than five. And thirdly, England’s line-up looks far more like a strong county XI than a genuine international side; the strongest county sides of recent times (let’s say Yorkshire or Middlesex in 2015 or 2016) would give them a very good game.

As such, it makes far more sense from a betting perspective to view this as a glorified, televised county match that happens to have international status. That’s no offence to Ireland – it’s more that England’s team (and mental state) for this game is so weak.

In those circumstances, there is clearly one stand-out bet before we even look at the detail: Tim Murtagh to be top Ireland bowler (1st innings) at 100/30. To put it simply, Murtagh is a genius, even in the twilight of his magnificent career. He has the ball on a string, can swing it both ways at will, and has outfoxed the players in this England line-up for years. Just earlier this summer, he was far too good for some of the same players he’ll face today, including Joe Root. On top of that, he’s playing at his home ground, and he will bowl whenever he wants – rather than when the captain wants! – from his favoured Nursery End.

The joker in the pack with this theory is the weather, which is going to be – in the words of Arabella Weir’s Fast Show weathergirl – “scorchio” for the first two days at least. These are not the kind of conditions where Murtagh is seen at his best, but frankly they’re not the kind of conditions where any bowler is seen at their best, and he’s still Ireland’s best bowler available at generous odds.

Yet these hot and sunny conditions mean there could be some value around elsewhere. This is a four-day test due to be played on a slow wicket (as Lord’s is these days) in initially superb batting conditions, with the chance of thunderstorms on days three and four. To my mind, those circumstances scream “draw”, but that outcome is available at 8/1. With England’s attack missing Jimmy Anderson, to my judgment there’s more than a 12.5% chance of this result, and if there is any rain around it could become a good back-to-lay position too. This does mean we are relying on an Ireland batsman to bed in and make a substantial innings – something they have struggled with on the international scene in general – but there are some capable players in their line-up and we’ll take our chances on the draw, to small stakes, with a back-to-lay advised if possible during the game.

Jonny Bairstow was already advised on Twitter as Top England Batsman (1st Innings) at a ludicrous 13/2, but now those prices are gone, there doesn’t look to be much juice in this market. At the top of England’s order, both Roy and Burns have been notoriously slow starters in red-ball cricket, and as such it might be worth a very small and speculative bet on Ireland to have the higher opening partnership.

Already Advised (Twitter):

Jonny Bairstow – Top England Bat (1st Innings) – 1pt at 13/2 (Skybet)
Tim Murtagh – Top Ireland Bowler (1st Innings) – 2pts at 100/30 (Bet365)

Recommended Bets:

Draw – Match Result – 0.5pts at 8/1 (general)
Ireland – Highest Opening Partnership – 0.25pts at 4/1 (Betway & others)

England v Pakistan Betting Preview

England (1/4) will be full of confidence after their opening win over South Africa, which should have removed plenty of pressure off the hosts’ shoulders. Their opponents Pakistan (3/1) will be licking their wounds following their dreadful batting display against West Indies in their first match. Pakistan are routinely, and lazily, referred to as ‘mercurial’; the truth is that this particular Pakistan team just isn’t very good.


Conditions

Trent Bridge has been a happy hunting ground for England since their Eoin Morgan-inspired revolution, and the groundstaff pride themselves on producing high-scoring wickets for both international and domestic cricket. The news that this game will be played on the very pitch that saw England rack up their record score means a run-fest is even more likely.

However, the 10:30am start has to be in the minds of punters. Early wickets have been the norm in the early games so far in the tournament, and if England win the toss, Pakistan’s top order could still be in for a torrid time in the first 15 overs, even on the batting paradise we all expect.


Bowling Bets

Having seen Pakistan’s timid effort against the West Indies’ short-pitched barrage, England may choose to unleash Mark Wood to add extra pace alongside Joffra Archer. Chris Woakes has a good record at Trent Bridge, with six wickets in his last two England games there, so should play. The Top England Bowler market looks a minefield, however, with little way of predicting who will take the wickets in advance on a such a flat track.

Pakistan will hope that Mohammed Amir backs up his promising and successful spell against the West Indies at the same venue. But HASAN ALI has been by far the most consistent performer for his team prior to the World Cup starting, and one wicketless innings has seen his quality overlooked. He takes 1.67 wickets per innings on average (against World Cup qualified teams), and that’s significantly better than Amir (1.07) and the other Pakistani bowlers. Of course, there’s a risk in delving into this market at all at Trent Bridge, but Ali is good enough value to merit a small interest nonetheless.


Batting Bets

England love batting at Trent Bridge. Strangely, Joe Root has the weakest record there since it became a batting paradise, racking up ‘only’ 39 runs per innings on average, compared to Roy (48), Bairstow (47), Buttler (49) and Morgan (60).

The Three Lions will look to savage the Pakistan bowling, confident in their teammates lower down the order, whether they bat first or second. Pakistan simply don’t have the firepower to compete in a shootout, as the recent ODI series between the two sides showed. There’s little point in guessing which of England’s batsmen will fire the biggest score; instead the value looks to lie in some special bets, below.

Pakistan’s batting is unpredictable, and betting on it has to be avoided after their capitulation at the same venue only days ago.


Special/Other Bets

England have by far the quickest average scoring rate in the first 10 overs, and they don’t slow down after that either. Pakistan, on the other hand, struggle to hit the big shots early on that are necessary in the first powerplay. Whichever way the game goes, including the outcome of the toss, it’s very hard to see England being outscored early on. The odds on the Three Lions scoring more than Pakistan in the first 15 overs are particularly generous, but the chances of England hitting the most 4s and 6s also look to have been underestimated. These are almost dead certs, and the decent odds-on prices available have to be devoured.


Recommended Bet Summary

Hasan Ali – Top Pakistan Bowler – 0.5pts at 7/2 (B365) or 11/4 (generally) 

England – Most Runs First 15 Overs – 3pts at 8/15 (Hills and generally)

England – Most Team 4s – 2pts at 4/6 (Betfair/Paddy Power)

England – Most Team 6s – 2pts at 1/2 (General)

England v South Africa Betting Preview

After the seemingly interminable build-up, it’s a relief that the World Cup is finally due to get underway with the hosts England (1/2) taking on South Africa (7/4). Given England’s win ratio over the last 2-3 years, those odds are about right, so let’s get stuck into some of the more interesting markets available.

Conditions

There’s minimal chance of rain, but it will be overcast. Those conditions may help fast bowlers, especially with a 10:30am start, and with captains wary of that early movement the winner of the toss is likeliest to chase. Indeed, teams fielding first have won six of the last eight completed ODIs at The Oval.

Having said that, the square in Kennington has slowed down over the last few years – gone is the fast bowlers’ paradise of old – and with the ground’s relatively sizeable boundaries, spinners will still play a key role, especially in the second innings.


Bowlers

There isn’t often much movement in the air or off the pitch at The Oval, even with overcast conditions, and “hit the deck” fast bowlers tend to fare best, followed by genuine spinners. Liam Plunkett’s record at the South London ground is outstanding, with ten wickets in his last six matches there at a strike rate of just 29.4, and given Mark Wood’s fitness scare he is likely to play. Odds of 4/1 to be England’s top bowler are fair, but not good enough to rate a recommended bet. If England bowl first, Chris Woakes would fancy his chances of taking early scalps; if England bowl second, Adil Rashid can create havoc on a slowing pitch with South Africa certain to be chasing a hefty total.

With Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir both trading generally at around 11/4, there looks little value in picking the top South African bowler, as those two are consistently the Proteas’ main wicket-takers.

Batsmen

South Africa’s bowling strength is up front, with Rabada and the rapid Lungi Ngidi set to unleash a barrage with the new ball. Neither Jason Roy nor Jonny Bairstow will be shy in taking them on, and there could be fireworks in the first ten overs. If the Proteas’ pacemen are successful, England’s middle order could face a fair number of overs, and that brings skipper EOIN MORGAN and test captain JOE ROOT into considerations for top batsman.

Both Morgan and Root love the Oval, topping England’s averages at the venue. Root has the class to see off the new ball, if indeed he is exposed to it, and quite simply the Yorkshireman is a run-machine. In ODIs in England in the last three years he has made 1,624 runs in 34 innings (47.8 per innings), figures that compare well with openers Bairstow (49.7) and Roy (46.2). Morgan’s runs per innings figure is lower (40.1), but the steely Dubliner will be totally determined to stamp his authority on the tournament, and his average strike rate of 101 compares favourably with the slightly more reserved 93 for Root.

Markets are expecting Roy and Bairstow to dominate, but with Rabada and Ngidi to see off – as well as the chance of having to bat at 10:30am – there is value in backing both England’s numbers three and four, particularly at the best available prices.

For South Africa, QUINTON DE KOCK is the 100/30 favourite to be top scorer, but rightly so. The keeper has scored 46.6 runs per innings in the last three years. Skipper Faf Du Plessis can boast 49.45 in comparison, but he has a very mediocre record in England, with just 138 runs scored in four ODI innings plus a string of test failures to his name. Hashim Amla is a true legend of the game, and has to be respected, but his recent form is patchier than his beard, and De Kock’s chances look even better than his odds imply.

Specials

The combination of an early start (after an evening of rain in London) and first-day nerves means there is an element of uncertainty to proceedings that doesn’t help with more exotic bets, or predictions at longer odds. There can be great bets in these markets, but it may be better to keep the powder dry for this game.

 

Recommended Bet Summary

Eoin Morgan – Top England Batsman – 0.5pts (11/2 Skybet, 5/1 General)

Joe Root – Top England Batsman – 0.5pts (7/2 Skybet, 3/1 General)

Quinton De Kock – Top SA Batsman – 1pt (100/30 General)

Cricket World Cup 2019 Betting Preview

The ICC have, as ever, managed to excel themselves in altering the format of the World Cup to make it even longer, even duller, and even more predictable than any previous tournament. All ten teams will play each other before the top four sides in the standings advance to the knockout semi-finals. This means two factors need to be taken into account for betting purposes: firstly, that there are highly likely to be dead-rubber games at the tail end of the round-robin phase for the very best teams; secondly, that even teams which don’t progress will have played nine of the maximum eleven possible matches.

 

The Outright Market

England are rightly strong favourites, a sentence which feels unsettling to type as an Englishman, more used to World Cup diasters than domination. The tournament format means that as short as they are, trading at about 2/1 currently, this still represents a good bet for trading purposes. If you have spare cash in an exchange account, or free bets with a traditional bookie, it’s well worth piling on. England’s batting is by far the best ever seen in limited-overs cricket; indeed it’s so good that they are nigh-on guaranteed to coast through to the semi-finals. By that stage, it’s almost inevitable they’ll be shorter than their current price, so trading out becomes possible. I can’t recommend a hefty wager on an outright tournament win at the prices, because anything can and will happen in the high-pressure environment of a knockout World Cup game, and England’s aggressive approach can very occasionally backfire spectacularly.

There is no point in backing India at 3/1 ante-post. Yes, an England v India final is the likeliest climax to events – and as such there could be some value in their price from a trading perspective, I suppose – but while their progression is very likely, it’s not totally guaranteed. India have historically struggled in England in all formats of the game, and it feels foolish to back them for overall glory before seeing how they handle conditions this time around.

The best bet at this point could be NEW ZEALAND at a tempting 10/1 (and bigger on the exchanges as I type). They’re a perennially underrated one-day team, yet they have a balanced side containing some world-class performers. If Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor both play to their best, and their excellent fast-bowling attack spearheaded by Trent Boult consistently gets early wickets, they have every chance of going far. With the potentially key advantage of playing England (who should already be qualified) last in the round-robin stage, a semi-final place is highly possible, and they are worth a small interest as a result.

Recommended Bet:

New Zealand 0.5 pts e/w (10/1, 2×1/2)

 

Top Batsman

England have revolutionised one-day international batting since the last World Cup in 2015, and given there’s also been a major format change, looking at historical trends won’t be too helpful here. As such, there should be some value around, with bettors simply looking at the “best” players for their wagers, rather than taking these big changes into account. That’s the theory, anyway!

I’m looking for players who bat in the top three, and I’m looking almost exclusively at their average runs per innings (rather than their actual average, which is affected by not outs), although of course a high strike-rate is a bonus. Consistency is also important; this is a nine, ten or eleven match ‘series’, in effect, and a proven history of reliable runs is a major advantage, rather than relying on a hot streak. Finally, it’s not important that they play for one of the favourites; nine versus ten/eleven matches is not all that statistically significant when we are dealing with numbers in the high hundreds.

Clearly Virat Kohli merits his position at the head of the market. His statistics are awesome. In the last two years, he’s scored 3,088 runs in 48 innings at an average of 85.77; for comparison, the biggest run-scorer in England’s much-vaunted line-up is Joe Root with 1,834 runs from 44 innings. The man is a phenomenon, and such is his thirst for the big occasion, that it’s arguable 8/1 isn’t actually bad value. But in a market with so many contenders, a price that skinny just isn’t for me, because it takes away any each-way option.

But happily there are three batsmen who (largely) fit my criteria whose chances look to have been underrated.

South Africa’s QUINTON DE KOCK is the most obvious. He’s a best price of just 20/1 (and 18/1 generally), but this looks like a big price given his record: he averages 49.22 runs per innings in the last two years, and has proven that he can handle English conditions, averaging 41 here in his six matches so far. As he’s the squad’s only wicketkeeper, he’s almost certain to play every one of South Africa’s matches, and as an opener he will get every opportunity to score. As a bonus, De Kock’s terrific IPL form means he should arrive in England in confident mood, and as a result he rates a good bet.

Next up is 25-year-old SHAI HOPE, who boasts 1,887 runs in his last 40 innings. Chris Gayle may steal the headlines, but Shai is the West Indies’ best hope of posting big scores: he will be firing on all cylinders in England, having posted scores of 170, 109, 30, 87 and 74 in the warm-up matches versus Bangladesh and Ireland, and a career average of 51.06 proves his class. In fact, having Gayle at the other end could take some of the pressure off his young shoulders. Remarkably, he’s 33/1, a price largely based on the West Indies’ chances rather than Hope’s hopes of scoring the most tournament runs. That’s a crazy price based on all available information, and he must be backed.

Last but not least is the master of the middle overs, ROSS TAYLOR, whose consistent brilliance for New Zealand shows no sign of abating. In just the last two years, he has racked up 12 half-centuries and 3 centuries, averaging 56.39 per each of his 31 innings. Taylor is likely to come in at number four in the Black Caps’ order, but given their struggle to find a top class opening partnership, he should still face a fair number of overs, and his batting position is reflected in his price. Available at 40/1, he’s worth a small wager, just in case the tournament isn’t the orgy of runs from the big names that everyone expects, especially as Taylor should have his eye in from a spell with Middlesex. It would be extraordinary if the super-reliable Taylor failed to deliver for his team, and with New Zealand having a decent chance of progressing, the Black Caps man merits backing.

Recommended Bets:

Quinton De Kock 1pt e/w (18/1, 4×1/4)

Shai Hope 1pt e/w (33/1, 4×1/4)

Ross Taylor 0.5pts e/w (40/1, 4×1/4)

 

Top Bowler

This is all about finding strike-bowlers who are likely to play all (or very nearly all) their team’s matches: either need opening quick bowlers who also bowl at the death, when batsmen have to take the biggest risks; or attacking spinners used by their captains to take wickets in the middle overs via aggressive fields.

There are only sixteen bowlers with 20 plus ODI wickets in the last two years who have a strike rate of a wicket under every 30 balls. Of those sixteen, only a few are likely to start all their team’s games, such is their importance to their side’s way of playing, and these are the candidates for a wager. In particular, two bowler’s odds are mystifyingly long given their very clear claims.

Firstly, India’s main spinner KULDEEP YADAV can be backed at 25/1 despite his incredible record of 87 wickets in his last 42 matches at a strike rate of just 26.4. India have probably the best attack in the tournament, so wickets may well be shared around, but Yadav’s record is there for all to see, and he habitually bowls his full ten overs for Virat Kohli’s men. He should have no problem recovering from taking a bit of a pasting in his last IPL match given his strong character, and 25/1 is simply the wrong price for a player of his proven class.

Secondly, New Zealand’s main seamer TRENT BOULT is begging to be backed at 20/1. He will take the new ball and bowl at the death, and his left-arm action will present a challenge to any lower-order batsman in particular. Boult’s record compares favourably with any other fast bowler in this format: he has 60 wickets in his last 31 games at a strike rate of 28.1, and given New Zealand may need a final game win to go through, he could well play all nine of their qualifying matches. He has a significantly better set of statistics than Jaspit Bumrah, yet the Indian is 14/1, and the New Zealander 20/1. Remember, this is all about wickets, and Boult nearly always takes them.

England may not be good at stopping other sides from scoring, but they are good at taking wickets, partially because any team batting second against the Three Lions will be chasing a formidable total. That brings their two main men into focus. Adil Rashid has revelled in his role as a wicket-taking spinner under Eoin Morgan’s enlightened captaincy: he has taken an impressive 71 wickets in his last 40 innings at a strike rate of 29.9, but he’s as short as 16/1 as a result. A better bet is CHRIS WOAKES, the first fast-bowler on England’s teamsheet because he is both their best opening, and best death, bowler. His recent injury seems to have removed him from considerations, yet his strike rate of 28.3 is terrific in any context, let alone as the main strike bowler for the tournament favourites. Odds of 25/1 are big enough to justify a small bet despite the threat of potential squad rotation by England in the course of the round-robin stage.

Recommended Bets:

Kuldeep Yadav 1.5pts e/w (25/1, 4×1/4)

Trent Boult 1pt e/w (20/1, 4×1/4)

Chris Woakes 0.5pts e/w (25/1, 4×1/4)

Bet365 Gold Cup Preview

The curtain closes on big Saturday handicaps in this UK jumps season with the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park – so let’s see if we can find a winner to round off the year.

While it’s not quite as prestigious as in its former guise as the ‘Whitbread’, this 3m5f test is a terrific race. The winner needs: tactical speed, because Sandown can be tight when there are 20 runners, and it’s generally run on properly good ground; stamina, of course, because any horse that’s not a proper stayer will get found out over this extended trip with a stiff uphill finish; and proven jumping ability, because taking the infamous railway fences in the midst of a helter-skelter handicap isn’t for the faint-hearted.

What the winner doesn’t need is out-and-out class: since the mighty Desert Orchid won in 1988, 25 of the 30 winners have carried less than 11 stone. Looking at the last five years in more detail, in case the nature of the race has changed recently (like the Grand National), the picture is very similar. It’s easier to use horses’ official ratings rather than their weights to do this, and the picture is clear: horses rated 145 and under outperform the rest.

Weights

That means that the top five in the weights of Beware The Bear, Rock The Kasbah and Present Man can be overlooked for betting purposes. Of those, Rock The Kasbah & Present Man are hardest to ignore given they were second and third respectively in this race last year and both get to race off only three pounds higher this time around, but there should be more likely winners lurking lower in the weights.

In many of these big-money handicap chases, it’s a distinct advantage for trainers to have targeted the race, but perhaps not here. This is probably because the race is the final winning chance of the season; if you’re wrong as a trainer, or if your horse is unlucky in running, there’s no opportunity to put things right for six months. It’s clear from the statistics that it’s a positive to be match-fit, but not overcooked.

Season Runs

Having said that, all this year’s entries have had between three and seven runs this season, although with both West Approach and Flying Angel having already run seven times this term, they might not be at their absolute peak, and should be approached with caution. The latter is tricky to pass over given that he seems fairly well in at his peak, but we can’t have a bet on every horse in the race!

What about the career profile of horses who run well here? Last year’s winner Step Back was very much an outlier, being a novice with only three runs to his name. In fact, only 2 of the last 20 horses in total have had fewer than seven chase starts, meaning that novices and inexperienced chasers would need to be long prices in the betting to be worth following.

Chase Career Runs

Therefore while Talkischeap, Give Me A Copper and Just A Sting all have obvious claims, their short prices mean they don’t represent value in the market. Prime Venture is also probably too inexperienced – and won’t handle the quick ground.

That leaves a shortlist of Joe Farrell, Step Back, Rolling Dylan, Vyta Du Roc, The Young Master and Le Reve to look at in more detail in order to choose our selection(s). Rathlin Rose just shouldn’t be good enough to be getting involved here, even though Sandown is his favourite track.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 09.51.43

The final four columns of the summary above show: horses’ peak career chase RPR and the difference between that and their current OR; and horses’ peak chase RPR this season, and the difference between that and their current OR.

The latter is used to identify horses hopelessly out of form, and Vyta Du Roc certainly fits that description, with his three runs this season PU, PU, 7th. It would be a surprise if he ran well. Step Back is a much more complex case. The defending champion has been average at best this season, running below par in handicaps at Chepstow and Warwick, but he has consistently struggled in his career with going left-handed, and so perhaps those runs can be overlooked. Of more concern is whether he has recovered sufficiently from a bold front-running show in the Grand National, where he was only pulled up after the Canal Turn on the second circuit. He jumped wildly right round Aintree, and Sara Bradstock suspected he had a foot issue, something he has suffered before. If he were at long odds, he would certainly be worth a bet, because he was so magnificent last year, but there are too many negatives to take a short enough price.

Another who may have gone too far in the Grand National to have recovered for another marathon test is Joe Farrell, who was only pulled up two fences from home.

Given the non-runners, that leaves us with just three:

THE YOUNG MASTER – 25 career chase runs (and 46 runs in rules races!) would suggest that this 10-year-old is gone at the game. He started the season rated just 130, and presumably a couple of poor races away from retirement, but he won back-to-back handicaps at Chepstow and Cheltenham, and then ran a terrific race to be third in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. He won this race in 2016 off a mark of 148, meaning that if he is anywhere close to his best, a mark of 142 is workable.

ROLLING DYLAN – As a progressive second season chaser, he has a lovely profile for this, and he’s been on my radar for a race of this type ever since an impressive staying-on third in a big Cheltenham handicap in December. His last run over 3m4f at Taunton was excellent off top weight, proving he’s in good nick. The ground should be fine, but the only concern is no proven Sandown form in the book, although he goes right-handed no problem.

LE REVE – You’d have got long odds on this 11-year-old being on the shortlist after an uninspiring 8th place in the Veterans’ Final in January off a mark of 135, but since then Lucy Wadham has managed to reignite the spark in this gutsy horse. He’s won twice since then, at Lingfield and Sandown, and with Maxime Tissier taking off five pounds, it doesn’t matter that he’s slightly out of the main handicap. If he arrives on a going day, he should have a decent chance, given he was 3rd in this race in 2015 off a lofty mark of 147.

 

Recommended Bets:

Rolling Dylan – 1pt e/w 20/1 (5 places)

Le Reve – 0.5pts e/w 20/1 (5 places)

The Young Master – 1pt win 9/1 BOG