Last year, Ben Linfoot unearthed a 50/1 shot who went on to place in the Oaks and Tom Carnduff put up the Champions League winners. What do our team have in store for 2021? Find out with our best bets across a variety of sports.
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Aidan O’Brien has won the Derby in six of the last nine years and it’s no surprise to see a handful of his colts dominate the ante-post market ahead of the 2021 renewal.
However, getting on the right O’Brien colt is difficult a day before the race, never mind six months in advance, and I’d rather chance my arm on a British-trained runner.
Only Charlie Appleby and John Gosden have won the Derby for the Brits since Workforce scorched the Epsom turf in record-breaking time for Sir Michael Stoute a decade ago, so a home-trained winner has become a bit of a rare beast, but I have high hopes that Martyn Meade’s LONE EAGLE can develop into a contender for top honours this upcoming Flat season.
A son of Galileo, the most successful sire in the Derby’s 240-year history, this 500,000gns Tattersalls Book One purchase won three of his four starts as a juvenile and improved with each and every run, a sequence that culminated in Group 3 success in the Zetland Stakes.
That race was upgraded from Listed status in 2019 and its recent success stories help explain why.
Wings Of Eagles was fourth in the race in 2016 before winning the following year’s Derby, Kew Gardens won the 2017 renewal with subsequent Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee in second and in 2019 Berkshire Rocco was third in the Zetland just under a year before he was runner-up in the St Leger.
It has become a springboard for an assault on the Classics and Lone Eagle impressed in winning the 2020 race, staying on strongly to deny Recovery Run, a smart colt himself who has never been out of the first two in six starts, the pair seven lengths clear of the rest.
That form looks good and his pedigree points to him being better over a mile and a half at three. We know all about his sire but his dam, Modernstone, was a 1m4f winner as well and she was out of a sister to the Oaks winner Reams Of Verse, so Epsom is very much in his blood.
Connections have already stated the plan is a Derby trial before he hopefully tackles the big one at Epsom and Meade didn’t miss with Advertise in the Commonwealth Cup the last time he had a Group One three-year-old on his hands.
There’s a risk attached here – and a fairly obvious one. Paul Nicholls’ MCFABULOUS stepped up to three miles for the first time in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and having looked all over the winner between the last two flights, didn’t seem to get home.
But that’s too simple a reading of the effort. He went through that contest, against the likes of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park, as the best horse in the race, but was wide and prominent throughout.
As a result he was always over-racing a little. Nicholls hasn’t given up hope and neither should we. Dropped in and ridden with restraint in a bigger field, he appeals as the sort of upwardly mobile hurdler who can quickly get himself back on track.
The trainer knows what it takes to win a Stayers Hurdle and was talking about the March showpiece for this horse in the spring of last year. He’s kept the faith and so should we. He’s 20/1 now and won’t be on the day if his one race between now and then goes according to plan.
LORD DU MESNIL is worth chancing at a big price to win the Randox Health Grand National in April.
This horse's trainer Richard Hobson first mentioned the Grand National for this horse after he’d thrashed Perfect Candidate to complete a hat-trick of handicap chase victories at Haydock in December 2019. His campaign, like the rest of us, came to an abrupt end at the Festival in the spring, via another fantastic effort when second behind Smooth Stepper back at Haydock in the Grand National Trial, and I’d be amazed if the already pencilled-in target for April 2021 wasn’t immediately rubbed out and replaced with something a little more permanent.
If the novice hurdle comeback outing at Kelso wasn’t enough to confirm that impression, the tilt at the Grand Sefton certainly should have been. The way the horse jumped – bar a shuddering mistake two out – left no doubt as to how well he’d taken to the place. It was a superb sighter in the circumstances, over a trip the thick end of two miles short of the long-term target.
They were going too quickly for him from soon after halfway, but he wasn’t all that far behind when hitting the second-last fence quite hard, which eventually saw him trail home ninth rather than finish a bit closer, potentially a whole lot closer given how well we know he stays on soft ground.
The handicapper has offered some slack on the back of that too, easing Lord Du Mesnil a couple of pounds to a mark of 150, so he’d be 2lb better off with Ravenhill as things stand. At the prices, he looks well worth a go and if we get a wet spring, all the better.
We’ve become used to seeing one of the traditional big-six lifting the FA Cup at Wembley, but the last ten seasons have seen some from 'the rest' make it to the national stadium: Watford, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull, Wigan and Stoke have all been in the final. That means there is value in avoiding the short prices on the usual suspects, and Carlo Ancelotti's EVERTON have the potential to go far, making them the standout bet at 22/1.
The Toffees finally appear to have the direction that has been absent despite years of significant investment. Buying players for big price tags has demonstrated their ambition to some extent, but they lacked the conductor to their loosely-constructed orchestra. That has changed with Ancelotti's arrival, and despite a recent dip they've impressed in various ways; enough to merit support.
Consistency is an issue but that should come with time. With managerial appointments having such a short shelf life now it's easy to forget that this is Ancelotti's first full season at the club. The half-season allowed him to implement his style while the transfer window offered an opportunity to overhaul the midfield and bring creativity in the form of James Rodriguez.
The concern when it comes to backing clubs like this in the FA Cup is not so much the price but the team selection. You can make a case for a few Premier League teams having the potential for Cup success but the focus for them often remains on the league. Despite Ancelotti's few appearances as Everton boss in knockout football, the XI players involved from the start suggests he wants to win something.
What gives me hope in strong Everton team selection is the side they went for in the Carabao Cup, which at the time of writing, they are still involved in. Against Fleetwood, opposition from Sky Bet League One, Ancelotti had Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison in his starting XI. The next round saw them come up against a fellow Premier League side in West Ham, and with tougher opposition, Ancelotti selected a stronger side. Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison were involved again, alongside Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, Allan, Gylfi Sigurdsson and James.
This Carabao Cup attitude should be reflected in the FA Cup; they could even go stronger considering the status of the two competitions and the preference by many for success in this one. If so, Everton will involve first team players in some capacity regardless of the opponent and potentially go full strength if they come up against a Premier League big hitter. Given their league form and the likelihood they take this serious, they rate the best bet heading into 2021.
Bizarrely, or perhaps not given the regularity for the unusual to be commonplace these days, Euro 2020 will be played in 2021. We don't yet know for sure what form it will take in terms of host cities, but for the moment Wembley is set to be the centrepiece of the tournament as it's slated to stage both the semi-finals and the final itself.
England will also play all three of their group games at the national stadium. Reach the final and they will have played five of their seven matches on home soil; quite the advantage.
Undoubtedly that is a strong factor in the Three Lions being as short as 11/2 to lift the trophy, with some bookies pricing them as joint-favourites alongside the world's number-one ranked side Belgium. We mustn't do Gareth Southgate's team a disservice, they reached the last four of both the 2018 World Cup and inaugural Nations League a year later, and have some fantastic players, but there is no value in backing them.
Take a look at the betting for the Euro 2020 winner and all the usual suspects are towards the top of the list. Before there is a jump to 33/1 shot Croatia you'll find defending champions PORTUGAL at 14/1, a price that shouldn't be sniffed at and can be taken each-way with Betway at 1/2 odds to reach the final.
I must warn you that they are in the 'group of death' alongside France and Germany, which goes a long way to explaining that price. But it's folly to consider the Germans to be anything like as strong as they once were, with their recent record-breaking 6-0 defeat by Spain an indication of just how far Joachim Low's men have fallen. The case for Portugal is a good one; Germany's 8/1 odds don't offer value.
When Fernando Santos' side upset host nation France to win their first major tournament in 2016 it was a shock, a triumph largely built upon the talismanic virtues of Cristiano Ronaldo. They are a much, much better team now.
Their fifth-position in the world rankings, one spot below England, is hugely misleading and almost entirely a consequence of one result. Portugal dominated Uruguay in the last 16 of the World Cup but were defeated thanks to an Edinson Cavani brace - the lack of a major tournament since has meant the rankings are completely outdated.
Portugal won the Nations League in 2019 and although they won't defend their crown at the Finals later this year they still won four and drew one of their six group games, it just so happened that Group C also contained world champions France.
Should you need any more persuasion then I'll run you through some of the key men that will be tasked with defending the trophy for Portugal this summer: Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Diogo Jota, Cristiano Ronaldo. Just shy of £400m of talent, and I've only named five players.
At 14/1, Portugal are the team to get behind in 2021.
I wouldn't say firms are taking a big chance in offering 100/1 about an inconsistent player like DANNY WILLETT, but it won't take much in the way of form to see him go off shorter once we hear more about how he won the English Amateur Championship here at Sandwich once upon a time.
Willett has a strong Open record, too, with top-six finishes in 2015 and 2019, and I was interested to hear Robert Rock talk up how well he's swinging it at the end of 2020 where there were flashes of promise in Dubai.
There's no doubt his volatile form adds risk here but the fact he's hosting the British Masters in May guarantees him media coverage, and I don't think it's going to take much for his odds to tumble much closer to the off.
We know he's good enough to win majors after his heroics at Augusta in 2016, and since then he's saved his best for Rolex Series events in Dubai and England. That big-time ability is worthy of respect and nobody should be surprised if he does add another major championship to what's a classy CV.
If and when it does come my money would be on the Open, and he's worth a speculative bet.
But for O’Sullivan’s incredible late-show last summer, MARK SELBY's Crucible masterplan worked very well once again and whomever he comes up against, he is always such a tough nut to crack in Sheffield's in multi-session matches.
That makes Selby a big player at the World Championship every year but this time around, regardless of how the next few months play out, he will have a couple of titles at least under his belt having won the European Masters and the aforementioned Scottish Open recently. Throw into the mix three more semi-final finishes, and his form could hardly be any better.
The biggest change in Selby’s game over the last few months has been his renewed confidence. Mentally, Selby was always one of the toughest on the tour, but a downturn in results can affect even the very best and his ability to come out of sticky situations was lost for a while.
Not so anymore, and while Robertson has edged him out in a couple of close encounters this term, that was more down to his excellent play than any fault of Selby’s, while the latter has produced brilliant comebacks against the likes of Kyren Wilson and Stuart Bingham in a couple of other big matches.
I see no reason why Selby won’t get better and better from here on in and by the time Sheffield comes around, he might well be right back to his very best. If in anywhere near the form he produced in this event just a few years ago, he will take some stopping.
French star UGO HUMBERT climbed into the top 30 during the disrupted 2020 campaign and could easily have gone higher but for the pandemic.
Humbert started the season well, winning in Auckland, and he added a second ATP title in Antwerp as the year drew to a close.
The left-hander posted no fewer than six top-20 wins across the season to suggest he’s more than capable of continuing his rise in 2021.
In his last match of the year, in Paris, he was just a tie-break away from making that seven – victory that day would have taken him into his first Masters 1000 semi-final – while pre-COVID Humbert did make the last four in Delray Beach.
Essentially, despite the shortened season, he was often giving himself chances of collecting a trophy.
There would surely have been more opportunities had the grasscourt swing not been cancelled.
Humbert plays his best tennis on courts with decent pace – he’s one of few in this day and age happy to come to the net behind what is a more-than-useful serve.
To highlight that point, the 22-year-old reached the last 16 of Wimbledon in 2019 and also made the semis on grass in Newport.
All things considered, I like the 6/4 about him winning a title in the next 12 months, albeit the bet carries the risk of further schedule disruption in these strange times.
The 7/5 about SOUTH AFRICA winning next summer’s Lions series appears to be as good a steal as any that turnover king Jack Willis managed for Wasps last season.
Maybe the odds are stacked against the Springboks because they haven’t played a game since winning the third of their Rugby World Cup titles in November 2019. However, if Argentina can go and beat the All Blacks for the first time ever after over a year out, then the Springboks should have enough about them to get the better of a Lions team assembled from a group of players coming off the back of the longest domestic season in living memory. And remember the tight, eight-week tour schedule means they’ll be up against it from day one.
As things stand, the majority of the Lions starting XV should come from an England side well beaten by the Springboks in 2019's Rugby World Cup final. From a psychological perspective, that 32-12 defeat will be hard for the likes of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell to erase. And it’s not as if head coach Warren Gatland has a quality pool of Celts to call upon, with Ireland, Scotland and Wales failing to impress of late, collectively or individually.
If any international team can cope with such a long period of inactivity, and still do well, it’s the Springboks. Rassie Erasmus, the mastermind behind their Rugby World Cup 2019 trump, may have stepped aside to let a new man take the reins in Jacques Nienaber. But Nienaber is not someone who is going to wipe the slate clean; he was defence coach under Erasmus and the Springboks are unlikely to steer too far away from a tried and tested formula, enabling the well-oiled machine to crank back up again without too many splutters.
For punters looking for a left-field selection as Lions captain, Saracens and England hooker Jamie George is not a bad shout. Being assured of your place in the Test team is a must, and George ticks that box as there’s no better hooker in the British & Irish Isles right now. George has the charisma and respect of more obvious candidates like club team-mates, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, and also gets the vote of two-time South Africa Lions tourist, Simon Shaw.
"He’s understated and I think that would suit the Lions," said Shaw, a tourist in 1997 and 2009. "He reminds me a bit of Rory Best in the fact he’s so level-headed and can live in the moment. He is a good tactician, but is not necessarily an all singing, all dancing player. He’d be a steady option I feel."
That's one to dig around for but by far the standout bet is much more simple. Back South Africa to win the series.
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