Bristol De Mai is a central character at Haydock once again and Arsenal have found their fighting spirit - Ben Coley sets the scene with This Sporting Weekend.
Clan to strike?
If JK Rowling ever decides to send Cormoran Strike north, to Haydock, on the trail of some heiress with a runner in the big race, she will write the day as follows: it will be raining, there will be Doom Bar on tap in the Final Furlong, and a grey - dashing, obvs - will go to post as part of a small field for a bad-ground Betfair Chase.
That dashing grey will of course be based on Bristol De Mai, who goes for a third victory in the race on Saturday, against four rivals, on bad ground. That is to say this is a book we've all read before, and we know basically the direction of travel if not the outcome. Will Bristol De Mai win back the crown taken from him by Lostintranslation last November? Can Clan Des Obeaux topple them both? What will Matthew say when he finds out his (probably ex- by now, I gave up) wife is in Lancashire?
It's a fascinating race and no mistake, made more so by the fact that there must be a chance, however small, that Matt Brocklebank sets a record for the shortest-priced selection in the history of Value Bet*. Whether he does so will be revealed on Friday afternoon, but it would be fair to say the consensus among our racing team is that the King George winner could be the one.
Further south, the Ascot Hurdle has attracted an even smaller field with just three set to line up. They include Laurina, who has had wind surgery and moved from Willie Mullins to Paul Nicholls since last we saw her. She gets almost a stone from Call Me Lord and Song For Someone and, at her best, would surely make that count.
Then there's the four-runner 1965 Chase, in which Nicholls trains half the field but not the likely favourite, Imperial Aura. Nicholls has won this seven times, including twice each with Al Ferof and Master Minded. Perhaps it's a reflection of the fact that Black Corton and Real Steel are not quite of that standard that the champion trainer runs both in another race which is no easier to solve for the fact so few turn up.
Gladly, our team have all declared so there will be Ben Linfoot's pre- and post-race analysis, the aforementioned, historic edition of Value Bet, more Punting Pointers, Simon Holt, Catching Pigeons and more. That's the tipping package, and we also have Willie Mullins' second column plus the thoughts of Daryl Jacob, who rides Bristol in the big one at Haydock.
*previous shortest did not go well
Racing on Sporting Life
- Saturday's big-race previews and analysis
- Ben Linfoot looks ahead to Saturday's action
- More racing previews and tips
Racing on TV
- Haydock - 1210-1535, Racing TV
- Ascot - 1220-1550, Sky Sports Racing
- Huntingdon - 1145-1543, Racing TV
- Lingfield - 1135-1530, Sky Sports Racing
- Wolverhampton - 1630-2030, Sky Sports Racing
- Naas - 1200-1522, Racing TV
Slapstick goings on at Arsenal
Not content with having their noses bloodied by Aston Villa two Sundays ago, Arsenal players appear to have started fighting each other on the training ground this week. According to The Athletic, David Luiz lashed out at Dani Ceballos in an incident which will be filed under 'things you love to see' both by the non-serious folk on twitter, and the please-take-me-seriously pundits on Soccer Saturday.
Surely, one of this weekend's crew will hail this moment as Arsenal's coming of age; evidence that Mikel Arteta has drawn out the fire and fury a decade's worth of humiliation will cultivate. Perhaps, to bring things full circle, that man will be Lee Bowyer, famed for a scrap with Kieron Dyer 15 years ago until reinventing himself as the valium to Roy Keane's waspishness among a growing cohort of players-turned-managers-turned-analysts, as if there aren't thousands of qualified broadcasters knocking around.
Whoever offers the contrarian piffle, remember that Bowyer's moment, if we can call it that, marked the turning point for Newcastle that season: 10th, unbeaten in 12 and with a game in hand going into it, after losing 3-0 (to Aston Villa, as it happens), they won one of their last nine league games. Put another way, things can very much get worse for Arsenal, and next is a fairly daunting trip to Elland Road where Marcelo Bielsa has doubtless at some stage calculated the xG boost of encouraging players to hit each other and determined that... there isn't one.
Of course it's a damning indictment of where Arsenal now are that their trip to Leeds, despite taking the marquee slot from a television perspective, is nowhere near the highlight of the weekend's Premier League return. That comes later, when Liverpool host Leicester, or else it will have come a day before, when Spurs take on Manchester City.
News of Pep Guardiola's contract extension arrives at what many a Premier League manager would call an interesting moment, given that he increasingly looks like he's having a very bad time in the dugout. I'm not suggesting there's a link, some Jedi-Sith balance which binds them together, but Jose Mourinho has been rather chipper of late. It makes you think, and it adds to a feeling - shared by Tom Carnduff - that 3/1 Spurs is on the generous side.
Football on Sporting Life
Football TV guide
Like father, like son?
In news you may not have seen unless you spend a lot of time on Golf Twitter, it emerged on Thursday that Tiger Woods will feature alongside his son, Charlie, in the PNC Challenge, an event for professionals and their sons, even their grandsons, but absolutely not under any circumstances their daughters or granddaughters, which takes place just before Christmas.
Given that glimpses of Charlie have been limited to date, and even involved somebody filming the boy, aged 10, over a fence, this news has obviously sparked debate, no shortage of excitement, and one or two scalding-hot takes. The most common appears to come in the form of a supposition: does this tell us that Tiger, like his own father, wants to put his son under pressure as early as possible?
Now 11, Charlie is by all accounts a very capable junior golfer, with a professional career possible, albeit only slightly less uncertain than it would be for any other child of his age. Is his dad preparing him for the spotlight his genetic ability has him pointed towards?
Perhaps that is exactly what it means, and there will be those who conclude that Tiger has not learned from his father's mistakes, which led to his own, and so on. There's absolutely no doubt that the greatest golfer of his generation has spent some of his adult life lonelier than he might have, although (forgive the salaciousness) that in turn stems from spending it very much not alone and perhaps, on reflection, Earl's mistake was less about preparing his son for the spotlight and more about... well, you know.
One way or another, Tiger is nothing if not capable of learning from mistakes, both of others and his own - something we saw in action on Sunday at Augusta, where he followed a 10 with five birdies in six holes to finish off the tournament. Perhaps this is just a dad who knows his own body will eventually fail him, and can't resist the opportunity to tee it up with his son, in competition, against many of his friends and rivals. Who can blame him for that.
Let's just hope bookmakers resist the temptation to price up an event which features children of various ages, and focus on the week-to-week stuff. Where the PGA Tour is concerned, that means the one-and-a-half events remaining: this week's RSM Classic, where Thursday was encouraging, and the Mayakoba Classic in a fortnight.
It has been an excellent week for followers of Andy Schooler's tennis tips, who've had all kinds of winners throughout the ATP Finals. Hopefully, Novak Djokovic goes on to win the whole thing and make for a profitable end to the season before we reconvene in January for an Australian Open which Alex Zverev says will be a 'coin toss'. I'm not sure how many sides there are to his coin, or is he saying it'll either be Djokovic or Rafa Nadal and the rest of them might as well not bother showing up?
Follow the tennis with us all weekend and prepare too for snooker's UK Championship, which begins on Tuesday for all that its traditional start has always been in the middle of the fortnight, for reasons which aren't especially clear. In it, Ronnie O'Sullivan will bid for a record eighth title and it would be well-timed, with Sports Personality of the Year taking place a week after another trophy is handed out in Milton Keynes.
O'Sullivan is sure to be on the shortlist this year, having won the World Championship in August, and it would be nice were he to find his way onto the podium despite occasionally disgracing himself by being a little bit mean to those who idolise him or unwisely getting in Mark Allen's face. Remember, because language isn't binary, this is not a personality contest and is intended to recognise and reward achievement of some kind.
By rights, O'Sullivan ought to finish second or third, a long way behind the wonderful Marcus Rashford, but we must of course countenance the possibility that the undoubtedly awesome, Monegasque motorist Lewis Hamilton is powered to victory by fans of Clarkson and tan loafers. In fairness, he is a very good driver and his car does go very fast. And look, his tax status is complicated, all right?
More on Sporting Life
- Chris Oliver's latest boxing preview and tips
- UK Championship snooker preview content
- Final-round preview of the Joburg Open (Saturday PM)
- Final-round preview of the RSM Classic (Sunday AM)
- UFC 255: Betting preview and tips
More sport on TV
- Northern Ireland Open - Eurosport, 1245-1630 & 1900-2230
- Joburg Open - Sky Sports Golf, 1000-1430
- RSM Classic - Sky Sports Golf, 1800-2100
- Grand Slam of Darts - Sky Sports Mix, 1900-2300
- ATP Finals - Amazon Prime, 1200 & 1800
- Fight night: Benn v Formella - Sky Sports Boxing, 1900-2300
- Italy v Fiji - Amazon Prime, 1245
- England v Ireland - Channel 4 & Amazon Prime, 1500
- Wales v Georgia - S4C & Amazon Prime, 1715
- UFC 255 - 0100, BT Sport
- Northern Ireland Open - Eurosport, 1300-1630 & 1900-2230
- Joburg Open - Sky Sports Golf, 1000-1430
- RSM Classic - Sky Sports Golf, 1800-2100
- Grand Slam of Darts - Sky Sports Mix, 1300-1700 & 1900-2300
- ATP Finals - BBC Two, 1800-2100
- Titans @ Ravens - Sky Sports NFL, 1700-2115
- Packers @ Colts - Sky Sports NFL - 2115-0030
- Scotland v France - Amazon Prime, 1500