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The Wager Zone

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Dec 31, 2008

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Mulled Wine and Mince Pies
By Noel Hayes

Race Horses -- Mulled Wine and Mince PiesMulled wine, mince pies, and festive racing. We have it all to look forward to over the Christmas period. Racing fans are strange types, never quite content with the current offering, they always look to the future. I suppose it stems in part from the eternal optimism that seems to be a common trait of racing fans - they choose not to dwell on today but rather look forward to tomorrow.

Consequently, the showpieces at Christmas are viewed with one eye on Cheltenham in March, and this year's Christmas racing schedule will be one of the most exciting for years. The Cheltenham Festival is always the talking point at Christmas, and this year will be no different as major pointers will be available with horses like Denman, Kauto Star, and War of Attrition on show.

Particular focus will be cast upon reigning Gold Cup champion Denman, as his progress since his stunning victory last March has been halted by a preseason health scare in the shape of a heart irregularity. Reports from the Ditchet base of Paul Nicholls suggest that he has since made a full recovery, but the setback has put a stop to the horse making his seasonal debut in the Hennessy at Newbury and has also ruffled his well laid out seasonal route to the Gold Cup.

The 2006 Gold Cup winner War of Attrition was off the track for considerable time before recently returning to action, and he has done so with two smooth victories. He did not face a real test in either, but it remains encouraging that he could withstand two runs in quick succession. If good fortune and good health remain on his side, all roads will be leading to Cheltenham again.

The typical Christmas showpiece is Kempton's King George VI chase, which takes place annually on Dec. 26. The list of previous winners reads like the veritable who's who of three-mile chasers. If you cast your eye back far enough, horses like Mill House, The Dikler, Pendil, and Captain Christy appear on the chalk board. Within this generation, Wayward Lad was a three-time winner, Desert Orchid won four, The Fellow, One Man, See More Business, Kicking King, and most recently Kauto Star rank as dual winners, but when this Christmas rolls around, he will seek to add a third successive victory in the race.

In March, Kauto Star relinquished his title of Gold Cup champion to his younger stablemate, Denman, but many observers were of the opinion that throughout the latter half of the season, Kauto Star was not firing on all cylinders. On his seasonal debut in the JN Wine Chase, the horse jumped and traveled with the ease and fluency that we had become accustomed to in the past. Real challengers to him in this race are thin on the ground, and after last year's stumble, it looks very much like business as usual this time around.

While Kempton is completing its action, another race of considerable interest will unfold on the other side of the Irish Sea as Leopardstown will present the Lexus Chase, where we are likely to see both Denman and War of Attrition pitched against each other for the first time.

This will be a race of considerable interest for many reasons, but for all the interest it will generate, I would guess that form students will be left scratching their heads for a real handle on the worth of the form. War of Attrition has shown us on more than one occasion that he does not produce his best on soft or heavy going, so it is reasonable to expect that he will struggle to notch another victory in this race.

So what happens if Denman is the winner? Will he have struggled to beat a horse we know will flounder on the ground? Whatever the result, we will be seeking further affirmation of both horses' well-being before the big day in March.

Aside from the three-mile chasers, we also hit the two extremes of horse racing over the Christmas period. The two-mile hurdlers strut their stuff in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle, and it should make for some very interesting viewing. Binocular, Osana, Snap Tie, and Katchit all look likely to clash in this event, along with other hopefuls that are likely to be found out of their depth.

Reigning champion hurdler Katchit has had a stuttering start to the season, but that should not discourage anybody, as he has long proven that the undulations of Cheltenham suit him best. Consequently, he is likely to find things happening too fast for him at the speed course that is Kempton.

Binocular is most people's idea of a genuine Champion Hurdle contender, and this race is likely to prove his first real test outside of novice company, so any chinks in his armor will be revealed in this event.

Over at Chepstow, the long-distance chasers are in for a real slog in the Coral Welsh National over the extended trip of three miles, six furlongs. Oscar Park, who was down the field in this season's Royal and Sun Alliance Chase, is an ideal type to relish a slug over this extreme trip in a race where Paul Nicholls and David Pipe are normally mob handed, and last year saddled half the runners in the event.

Back in Leopardstown, the Paddy Power Handicap Chase has a monster prize pool on offer, and race-goers will sift through the card in an effort to spy one that has been prepared specifically with this race in mind. No Full looks to have been campaigned with this race in mind, having been a gallant third in the event last year. He was an encouraging third in a good Navan novice hurdle, and that should have him well primed for this event.

Cheltenham Champion Chase contenders will also be in action over the festive period in Kempton's Desert Orchid Chase. Master Minded is destined for Kempton, and anything other than a breathtaking victory for the highest-rated horse in training will leave many scratching their heads.

The final race of genuine interest this Christmas will be Kempton's Feltham Novice Chase, and I would bet that two genuine stars of the future will clash as Jonjo O'Neill's former Cheltenham Festival winner Wichita Lineman will take on the thus far mightily impressive Paul Nicholls charge, Breedsbreeze. Bookies will likely favor the Nicholls horse in this event, but don't let that stop you from supporting the well-named Wichita Lineman.


Ultimate Fighting Championship 93 - D-Day in Dublin
By Rob Dore


It's back. Now knee deep in the waters of the European market, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Ireland, and with the newly rebuilt and renamed 02 Arena in Dublin the venue, and with all 13,000 odd tickets sold within a matter of weeks of being released, it's clear that the expansion is still going swimmingly. There's no doubt Setanta's decision to buy the television rights for the UFC has helped to expose the sport to a bigger audience than the plucky and occasionally mucky Bravo was ever going to. The speed with which the tickets have been snapped up despite the card, at the time of writing, containing only two fights, is proof of just how hungry we Europeans are to see some of that blood spilt in front of our own eyes.

This will be the organisation's seventh trip across the pond in less than two years, so it's obviously a trip worth making for Dana White and the Fertitta brothers. While this UFC 93 card is likely to contain a lot of names that will be unknown to all but the more serious anorak fans, the two showpiece fights contain some real legends.

Mauricio Rua and Mark Coleman of the UFCRich Franklin takes on the former two-weight Pride champion Dan Henderson, while Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has a rematch with the ageing former UFC tournament winner Mark Coleman. These fights have whetted the appetites enough to shift tickets priced from €50 to €250.

It should be noted that there won't be any titles on the line in Dublin, either, and the card won't have the depth of quality of the recent UFC 91 and UFC 92 cards, something which is forgivable for this first visit to the southern counties, but more will be expected next time round. However, in this sport, a lack of big names is no indicator of the quality of action that those of us who have shelled out to go along for a night of no-holds-barred-ish action can expect to see.

The joyous unpredictability of mixed martial arts has been a drum this lowly scribe has been banging for years, and having wasted early mornings watching pugilism's top man Wladimir Klitschko tamely paw his way to wins over Sultan Ibragimov and Tony Thompson, I've happily shelled out the €175 to spend a night watching some real fighting.

He'll Rua the Day

The main supporting fight sees Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Mark "The Hammer" Coleman face each other for a second time, with Coleman able to boast what should have been a less than satisfying win in Pride 31 back in 1996. It's a rematch that the much younger Rua will be relishing after the unfortunate manner in which he lost, but even more so because of the bad blood caused by Coleman's reaction. Trying to avoid a takedown after just 49 seconds of the first round, Rua's arm got caught under him and dislocated at the elbow. The referee spotted the injury straight away and jumped in between the two to stop the fight, but for some reason Coleman refused to accept the fight was over, swatted the tiny Japanese referee out of the way, and started to trade verbals with Rua. While Rua lay getting treatment, members of both camps tangled and Coleman's cornerman Phil Baroni landed a few shots on Wanderlei Silva before taking him down to the canvas, where Coleman stomped on his neck. When the melee was brought under control, Baroni and Coleman indulged in some muscle flexing to the crowd. Hardly the way to celebrate such a fortunate win, and despite an apology to Rua and his Chute Boxe team, the incident left a bad taste in the Brazilian's mouth and he's been talking of revenge when the two meet in Dublin.

"If I were him, I'd never celebrate a victory like that, but let's see it now."

With the scene set for an explosive contest, there is the danger for the fans that Rua will get his revenge with relative ease. At 26 years of age, he's more than 17 years Coleman's junior and will start as a strong favourite. Famed for his kicking, and particularly his stomping of grounded opponents (a perfectly legal attack), Rua will look to keep the fight standing as much as possible, using his speed and agility to move in and out of range, hoping to either land with one big shot or to wear down the American with an accumulation of strikes. Fitness will be a key factor, because no matter how well Coleman has trained, there's no avoiding the massive age gap, and the longer the fight goes on, the more difficult he'll find it to get close enough to Rua to shoot for the takedowns he needs to execute if he's to have a chance of winning.

Former wrestler Coleman does his best work on the ground, with the UFC Hall of Fame inductee even being credited with inventing the ground and pound technique. That's the equivalent of a boxer being credited with inventing the uppercut. If Coleman does manage to take Rua down, we'll have a very different fight on our hands. Considering Rua struggled with the size of Forest Griffin, he's not going to fancy having a man who is more of a natural heavyweight lying on top of him for any amount of time. In fact, Coleman was scheduled to fight monstrous Brock Lesnar at UFC 87 in August, but had to withdraw with an injury, but recovered to take on the highly rated Fedor Emilianenko in Pride 32, which he lost in the second round. There is, however, the danger that the drop to 205 pounds for this fight could drain the ageing Hammer.

The key to this fight is where it takes place. If Rua can keep it standing, the 2/7 price you can get with some betting firms will actually start to look pretty big, or at least decent value. However, if it does go to the ground, especially in the first round before fatigue sets in, Coleman will fancy his chances of a second upset over the talented Brazilian. If you're thinking of having a bet and you can find a price for it, Rua to win by a stoppage looks the most likely outcome. Former UFC champion Coleman has secured his place in the history of the sport; it's now time for him to step aside for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to stake a place of his own.

The Hender the Road?

Rich FranklinThe only man to hold two Pride titles at different weight classes, Dan Henderson, returned to the UFC after a nine-year absence with a big reputation and plenty of expectations. Despite being a former UFC middleweight champion, Henderson had a tough start to his second spell in the octagon, losing on a decision to Rampage Jackson and then being submitted by the sport's pound-for-pound top fighter Anderson Silva. Both are top-quality opponents, and neither loss was considered a shock, but it wasn't exactly the triumphant return he was hoping for, and Henderson has been forced a few rungs down the UFC ladder. He finally got a win over the little-known Rousimir Palhares, and now faces Rich "Ace" Franklin in what many believe is an eliminator for a shot at the light-heavyweight crown.

Franklin is on something of a comeback trail himself after suffering two devastating losses to Anderson Silva at middleweight. Having satisfied himself that he couldn't beat Silva, Franklin made the decision to move up a division to give himself a chance at another crown. Although with Silva proving he can be just as devastating at light-heavyweight when he put James "The Sandman" Irvine to sleep in 61 seconds, Franklin might have to keep running all the way up to heavyweight.

This is another striker-versus-wrestler bout, but unlike the Coleman-Rua fight, there is little to separate Henderson, the two-time Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling, and the skilled puncher Franklin in the betting. Surprisingly, it's actually Franklin who has the more submission victories on his record with Henderson, which is an indication of how well-rounded the former school teacher's skills are. The differences in style are nowhere near as pronounced in this fight, and though Franklin will have the edge on the feet and Henderson on the ground, neither fighter should be expected to dominate either position. So the bookies have it right, this will be close.

This will be Franklin's second visit to Ireland, and those of us who watched his unexciting points victory over the awkward Yushin Okami in Belfast last year will be hoping for a more exciting and action-packed affair in Dublin in January. It doesn't promise to be an explosive fight, with both men too experienced and too talented to come out swinging for the fences in a fight that is so important to their respective UFC careers. It's not that there'll be no coming back from a loss here, but it'll certainly mean the loser will be back fighting on undercards for a while.

The bookies are predicting this fight is going to be close and is likely to be decided on points. Franklin has the advantage on the feet with his superior boxing skills, though Henderson is no slouch himself and is more than capable of holding his own in a straight boxing match. If things do go to the ground, Henderson should be expected to have an advantage, but Franklin has never been submitted in his mixed martial arts career, and he showed in his win over Travis Lutter, when he escaped from a locked-in armbar, just why he's never been forced to tap out.

In fact, it could be Henderson who feels he is in the greater danger on the ground, and he may decide to keep things standing and hope he can out-strike Franklin, something which only two men have managed in his 28-fight career. Again, if you can find a price, Franklin to win on points is the one I'd be putting my money on. It won't be an easy win, but his better recent record and his greater experience in the octagon makes Franklin the winner for me. Henderson has failed to live up to the hype so far in his second stint in the UFC, and while I see him putting on a good show, he'll fall just short as Franklin takes a step closer to a shot at the light-heavyweight title. Of course, this is mixed martial arts, and it's prudent to remember that things can change in an instant with one wild swing of a fist/elbow/knee/foot. You can call that a gentle warning or you can call it covering my ass, but right or wrong, I'll be there in Dublin watching the most exciting combat sport around.


Antepost
By Roy Brindley


Sports scoreboard -- AntepostThe death of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, better known to most as Sam "Ace" Rothstein, the character played by Robert DeNiro in the Martin Scorsese classic Casino, apparently did not upset too many people.

It's been reported that when contacted by a journalist seeking reactions to the news of the 79-year-old's passing, one former associate of Rosenthal said, "It's been said you should never speak ill of the dead. There are exceptions to the rule. Frank Rosenthal was one of those exceptions. He was an awful human being!"

Rosenthal claimed the fame associated with introducing sportsbooks into casinos back in the early '70s. It was revolutionary at the time, but they have not changed one iota in three subsequent decades. Booths, screens, betting into tote pools, and the infamous line and handicap betting is the daily bread and butter of these places.

The one thing I learned about the Americans during my time living there in the mid-'90s is that these people do not like change. And why should this country change things when it believes it is the greatest nation on earth? God bless America!

Personally, I prefer that oft-made statement that the UK is the gambling capital of the world - 6,000-plus betting shops and the choice associated with scores of major bookmakers: fixed odds, tote pools, betting exchanges, and spread betting firms.

Oh, the thought of placing a super-yankee - with selections from three separate horse race meetings, a dog race, and a tennis match - anywhere in America gives me a warm feeling around my ankles, the same feeling associated with someone wetting themselves from laughter!

I tried and tried to explain betting percentages to hardened punters at dog tracks right across the States, but there was no interest. Amazingly, anyone making any kind of attempt to make the game pay seemed interested only in their so-called "exotic bets," such as superfectas and pick 6's.

There was no consideration of the implications involved with paying extra tax when slapped with a yellow IRS form for successfully finding the answer to a bet that paid out an extreme dividend, meaning, in effect, they had paid two chunks of commission.

For Vegas punters away from the race-side action, line betting seems to be the order of the day; I do sometimes question for what sums, as on the few occasions I have attempted to place a bet above $500, a manager has been called for and I get strange looks from the pensionable staff that man the place.

It struck me that the concept of spread betting should appeal to stateside gamblers, and I tried my utmost to sell it to track operators and sportsbook owners years back, but to no avail.

In hindsight, I honestly think spread betting was considered too volatile - not for the punters but for the house, which, as we know, does not like to lose. Just check out something like the make-up on a Nascar event, where they bet to 300 percent. It's 3/1 the favourite followed by 4/1, 4/1, 5/1, 5/1, 5/1, 6/1, 6/1, 8/1, 8/1, 8/1, 8/1, 8/1, 8/1, 10/1 about a dozen times, and 16/1 bar.

With spread betting, you can indeed lose a fortune - or win one - and that's what I like about it.

Sadly, I'd require half the pages of this publication to offer a partially informative thesis on the art form that is spread betting. I doubt that will be forthcoming this side of the next millennium.

I will, however, point out that the most successful punters I know have all had spread-betting accounts closed down, such is their success with the betting medium.

The reasoning? When I asked one such renowned punter, he replied, "When you bet on a football match or horse race, the price of your selection is determined by a market, the opinion of thousands of punters and a host of odds compilers, meaning the price on offer rarely differs a whole lot from the true probability of the outcome.

"Conversely, when you spread bet, you are betting against just one of a few companies that have just one individual setting the mark, or odds. The likelihood of that individual making an error of judgement as opposed to a host of punters is very strong, and therein, mistakes are often made, and these are the things you need to jump on."

Makes sense, doesn't it?


Best Bets From Blue Square
The Christmas period is one of the busiest on the racing calendar, and National Hunt fans may as well add jumps action to the list of things they'll be overindulging in at the end of December.

The two-day Kempton festival is the highlight in the UK, and all eyes will be on Kauto Star, who bids to become only the third horse in history to win the King George VI Chase three times. Paul Nicholls' gelding is currently a 4/5 shot with Blue Square to achieve this.

His main challenge is likely to come from Voy Por Ustedes, a former Arkle and Champion Chase winner who will be stepping up in trip to three miles for the first time at Kempton over Christmas. He showed that two and a half miles was no problem last time out when finishing fourth in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, and at 7/2, he could be the one to capitalise should anything happen to the favourite.

The Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in Ireland takes place a couple of days after the King George, and with conditions at Kempton never usually on the testing side, the real mudlarks will be fighting it out in Ireland for the Grade 1 prize.

The Listener won this race two years ago for Robert Alner and will no doubt be back again to try and regain his crown that Denman wrestled from him last year. Paul Nicholls' Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is unlikely to be back to try and retain his title, but his trainer may well have an able substitute in the shape of Neptune Collonges, who finished third in the Gold Cup but subsequently won the Punchestown Gold Cup in April and should not be underestimated.

Ireland's challenge is likely to come from War of Attrition, and Mouse Morris has already done wonders in getting the former Gold Cup winner back to the track, let alone getting him back into the winner's enclosure again. He has already won at Punchestown and Thurles earlier on this season and, if back to his very best, would have a big shout in this contest.