Our team look ahead to Saturday's sport, which begins with the Rugby World Cup final and ends, we hope, with a winner at the Breeders' Cup.
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Aidan O’Brien knows exactly what’s required to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf – he’s achieved the feat six times in the past – and ANTHONY VAN DYCK has the perfect conditions to add his name to the roll of honour.
He’s tough as nails having got loads of experience as a two-year-old and put it to good use to win the Investec Derby back in June. His three runs since haven’t been perfect but the Irish Champion Stakes was a very encouraging effort.
Magical has won the Champion Stakes since to endorse the strength of the form and while Anthony Van Dyck strictly has something to find with Bricks And Mortar on a line through Leopardstown runner-up Magic Wand, the selection will now be fully cranked up and looks capable of exposing the chinks in the armour of Chad Brown’s 10-furlong specialist.
GUMBALL looks the one to be on in the Sodexo Handicap Hurdle at Ascot (2.45). Rated 149 at the end of his juvenile campaign, he’s rated 10lb lower now and he went into the jumps season on the back of a successful Flat campaign in which he won three times from four runs.
On his hurdling return at Market Rasen at the end of September, on the back of a 134-day break, he raced too fresh and keen up front but plugged on well to be third doing the best of those that helped force the pace. That suggests he’s got a race in him off his current mark and, if he settles better for talented 5lb claimer Ben Jones, it could well be on Saturday in a race trainer Philip Hobbs and owner Terry Warner won three years ago with Sternrubin.
There is some terrific jumping action at Wetherby and Ascot on Saturday and, at the latter venue, DIDTHEYLEAVEUOUTTO is fancied to gain a third course win in the Sodexo Handicap Hurdle.
A really impressive winner of his bumper here back in December 2017, Nick Gifford's gelding returned to beat the now 151-rated Thomas Darby over the course and distance last November and, even taking the third-placed Highest Sun as a guide, looks very reasonably handicapped.
Didtheyleaveuoutto was not so good in his later starts but, considering his relative inexperience, was probably thrown in at the deep end a bit when running in big-field handicaps both here and at Galway.
Handre Pollard will look to get points on the board at any opportunity – and the DROP GOAL could be a good option, dropping deep against the suffocating English defence.
George Ford (who missed a drop goal in the semi-final win over New Zealand) and Owen Farrell will be doing likewise, and Elliott Daly and sub Francois Steyn can bang them over from anywhere, too.
You can easily see England looking to keep the scoreboard ticking over if they do get the Boks on the rack early. Or vice-versa, hopefully.
Furthermore, in the past eight finals, there have been six drop goals (if you include extra-time, admittedly), so it is clear that is a tactic on everyone’s mind when it comes to the crunch.
On that final, drop goal, roll call are Grant Fox (1987), Joel Stransky, with a brace, and Andrew Mehrtens (1995), Jonny Wilkinson (2003) and Dan Carter (2015). The stats are nearly one a game when you look at semi-finals, too.
The Red Devils have won their last four meetings with Bournemouth and they had a scare in this fixture last season after Callum Wilson's early goal, going on to win 2-1 thanks to Marcus Rashford's 90th-minute winner.
Given their recent run of back-to-back clean sheets and the close defeat at Arsenal, the feeling is that the hosts will make it tough while narrowly losing to a United side that is gathering pace and confidence from this mini run.
The scoring markets were tempting, with Callum Wilson a nice 2/1 anytime price, but the preference is on the visitors to secure a narrow victory so it's MAN UTD BY ONE GOAL at around 3/1.
CHELSEA's seven-game winning run ended against Manchester United, but what better way to get back on track than a trip to winless Watford, who are actually unbeaten at home in their last five but have hardly impressed in back-to-back stalemates at Vicarage Road.
In 0-0 draws against both Sheffield United and Bournemouth Watford had just around 40 percent possession, and that just simply won't do against this Chelsea side, who've been excellent on the road this season with six straight wins in all competitions since an opening day defeat at Old Trafford.
All five of Chelsea's away games have been filled with goals, with at least four in every single one of them, and they're the top scorers in the league away from home - when you contrast that with Watford's three meagre goals at home then you realise why the Hornets are in trouble.
True, Chelsea will give you a chance, and Watford's inevitable lack of possession may make it less like an away game and limit the space Frank Lampard's forwards like to run in to - but there's an obvious talent and confidence deficit between these two and that should be reflected in the scoreline, with Chelsea expected to win with at least three goals scored in the match.
Leeds tend to dominate deep-lying opponents and home, and that has led to is a high corner tally for the Whites. Their last home contest against Birmingham saw them take seven more corners than their opponents, while it was five more than Derby.
Nobody has been able to take more corners at Elland Road than Leeds this season, highlighting Bielsa's intent on attack and their reliance on wide play.
CORNER HANDICAPS are varying with the most attractive out there currently -3 which is a price of 6/5. That looks a generous margin given their form in this area, and the opponent, but they would be fancied to cover a -4 spread too.
Pre-tournament, the case for RORY MCILROY winning the WGC-HSBC Champions was clear, and there's an element of regret for those, like me, who begrudgingly left him alone at 6/1.
That doesn't mean we should ignore the opportunity to side with the world number two now and, at 7/4, he appeals as a very decent price to turn second place at halfway into his fourth title of the year.
Slow starts have been a problem for McIlroy lately, enough to stop him winning at least, and he was delighted to close out with a second-round eagle to move within one of Matt Fitzpatrick's lead.
Fitzpatrick is a brilliant player and he's outstanding under pressure, so this is no foregone conclusion, but I'd be surprised were the title to go to anyone else and that makes McIlroy a bet at the price - particularly as he's moved into second without having his best stuff off the tee as yet.
Xander Schauffele is under the weather and it could catch up with him. Adam Scott hasn't won in over three years and his suspect putting will likely be exposed on greens that are getting faster. Sungjae Im, for all his potential, is looking to win a top-grade event for the very first time and to do so he'll have to beat the best.
Given that it's 20/1 bar these five, the doubts concerning players immediately behind McIlroy on the leaderboard make him a bet to reel in the one in front. In all likelihood, that's what he'll do and we should be talking about the third PGA Tour event in succession where the world-class, halfway favourite has taken care of business.
Mercedes, already crowned constructors' champions for the sixth successive season, would like nothing better than to see their number two driver VALTTERI BOTTAS take the win in Austin while their main man Lewis Hamilton clinches the drivers' championship.
Hamilton's sixth title will be formalised with a finish of eighth place or better, and while the Briton will be keen to leave no room for error, his mind will be on the bigger picture this weekend.
Hamilton put the 2017 and 2018 championships beyond doubt with ninth and fourth place finishes respectively, and a similarly safety-first approach could play into Bottas' hands here. A win would cement the Finn's runner-up spot in the drivers' standings and an each-way bet at 8/1 looks good value on that front.
Aaron Rodgers has really found his mojo again, and there are few better than the Packers quarterback when they’re on song – and he heads home to California facing a Chargers team who’ve just not clicked this term.
The Bolts have talent, but they’re 3-5 for a reason and a main one is the fact they average under 20 points a game and that sort of production just won’t cut it against Rodgers.
Even more so with top receiver Davante Adams due to return to action and with a defence that has kept better attacks than this to 24 points and under in their four straight wins.
You can drill down and scour through page after page of facts and stats looking for that one little pointer, but at times it’s OK to say that the Packers are just better than the Chargers – they’re certainly 3.5 points better so take that and run.