Ed Chamberlin blogs on Man City's title chances and a memorable Cheltenham Festival
Ed Chamberlin says Man City are title favourites again and reviews an eventful Cheltenham Festival.
Last Updated: 20/03/14 6:02pm
Manchester City are back in to favouritism with Sky Bet in the Premier League title race, after leaders Chelsea slipped up at Aston Villa on Saturday Night Football.
When City captain Vincent Kompany was sent off early on against Hull it looked like the wheels might come off their season - but beating Steve Bruce's side with ten men could be a defining moment in City's season.
Chelsea opened the door for City and Manuel Pellegrini's men can now afford to lose a game during their run-in.
Liverpool against Man City on Super Sunday on April 13 is shaping up as a key game in a brilliant month of live football on a Sky Sports.
Liverpool were awesome last weekend at Old Trafford and as Jamies Carragher and Redknapp explained so well on the tactics board, they look like the real deal. With their favourable run-in it's no surprise that Sky Bet have shortened Liverpool in to 3/1 to win the title.
It's the make or break weekend for Arsenal's title hopes, though. Win at Chelsea and their odds will be slashed. Lose and we'll effectively be down to a three-horse race. Whatever happens, we are set up for a thrilling end to an enthralling title race.
Typical of the way this season has gone, just as you write off Fulham and think they are doomed they pull a result out of the hat. The battle to avoid relegation remains a compelling minefield.
Four more magical days in the sunshine at the Cheltenham.
It sums up the quality of the meeting that the headline acts didn't come off yet it was still an epic Festival. Quevega and Sire De Grugy were the two stories that did deliver but many others failed to materialise.
I'd been describing the Champion Hurdle as the race of the season for months but was left with an empty feeling afterwards. Our Conor's death marred the contest, while The New One was a desperately unlucky loser. What a machine that horse is round Cheltenham. Sky Bet's 5/1 on The New One winning the 2015 Champion Hurdle is tempting.
Things were made worse by me having fancied Jezki all season in this column and then not backing him! I firmly blame the champion jockey for that, who remains convinced even after the race that he was on the better horse. When My Tent Or Yours learns to settle he is going to be dynamite over fences and would be my long-term fancy for the 2015 Arkle. Mind you, My Tent v Vautour would be some match-up.
The World Hurdle also ended in anti-climax with the clash between Big Bucks and Annie Power failing to materialise. Big Bucks didn't fire and his magnificent career is at an end, while Annie Power, for all that she got buzzed up and didn't settle in the race, was simply beaten by a better horse. More Of That could dominate this division if they stay over hurdles. His trainer Jonjo O'Neill had a brilliant week and is finally getting the credit he deserves for peaking horses for Cheltenham. He is the master.
For someone who works in football, being with the sponsors for the opening race of the meeting - the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle - was a great thrill. Alex Hammond, Rachel Wyse and I were in the paddock where there was an incredible buzz of anticipation ahead of the first race of the meeting and we were charged with choosing the best turned out. We were then in the winner's enclosure when Vautour returned to an ecstatic reception. An unforgettable experience.
Horses to follow
Vautour looked a superstar in the Supreme and every inch a future chaser.
A horse I will be backing next time out is Sraid Padraig. He was a major eye-catcher when finishing eighth in the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival. Sraid Padraig walked through three fences yet was still in the mix turning for home. The fast ground may have been to blame as things might have happened too quickly for him but I also don't think we saw the real Sraid Padraig as I'm sure I saw him take a tumble in the paddock before the race.
Most revealing was after Savello won the Grand Annual on the final day when Tony Martin talked about his runners earlier in the week and said Sraid Padraig had been the one they really fancied. He can make amends granted softer ground at either Aintree or Punchestown. I'd love to see him targeted at the Irish Grand National this season and he could be a Grand National horse of the future.
Suntiep was given a 'curious' ride in the National Hunt Chase and is also one to follow over marathon trips.
Two horses from the Grand Annual need following. Next Sensation went off at a million miles an hour and must be seriously talented to have still been in contention up the hill. I'd backed Claret Cloak, who probably would have won had he not clouted the second last. Claret Cloak is a potent force on quick ground and capable of winning a big race.
Ante-post betting on the Festival is almost redundant. With the multiple options open to trainers these days it's already fraught with danger. I got lucky this year with Vautour and Faugheen but only just beat their SPs, despite backing them weeks in advance. The competition and value for punters on the day is remarkable. For example, Sky Bet were refunding bets on the opening race if the favourite won, offering best odds guaranteed and five places in a number of contests. Next year I'll be keeping my ante-post powder dry and focussing my punting on the day. If you believe that, you'll believe anything...