This week, in addition to the four crucial Champions League second leg ties being played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, there is also the small matter of the Cheltenham Festival getting underway. With over £350m expected to be bet on the 28 races across the four days, this is one of the biggest and cheeriest sporting events of the year in the UK.
So this week, we are going to preview both of these huge sporting events, beginning with the action at Cheltenham which gets underway on Tuesday 13th March. That makes claiming a sizable Coral new player bonus this week all the more sensible, with so many great betting opportunities to enjoy.
Cheltenham Festival Preview and Tips
Last year at the festival, Irish stables enjoyed unprecedented success by claiming winners in 19 of the 28 races held across the four days. That was a new record for Irish-trained horses and the good news for fans in the Emerald Isle is that many experts are predicting that they could well set a new record for winners in 2018 too.
The going however could be something to consider, as after the Beast from the East dumped several hundred tonnes of snow on the course, which has since been cleared away and melted, plus rainy weather in the days preceding the festival, that has meant that going is likely to be very soft, or even heavy and that could be the heaviest the ground has been at Cheltenham for a quarter of a century.
Unfortunately, this year there are going to be some notable absences with Gold Cup hopefuls Sizing John and Thistlecrack missing through injury, while other horses that were previously contenders in other races are also absent, most notably Sceau Royal, Willoughby Court and Waiting Patiently.
Even so, the field in many events is extremely deep and there are some outstanding horses set to run in many of the Group One races that take place throughout the festival. Outlined below are our tips for each of the four big races at Cheltenham, one race from each day.
Tuesday 13th March – Champion Day
3.20pm Stan James Champion Hurdle – My Tip – Buveaur D’Air (8/15 with Coral)
Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air is likely to be one of the shortest priced favourites at this year’s festival and it is easy to see why. The Barry Geraghty mount has been unsurpassable this season, winning all three of his races in stunning fashion and with worrying ease for his main rivals.
His strongest competition will likely be Faugheen (6/1) but in truth his better days are behind him, while Yorkhill (12/1), Wicklow Brave (14/1) and Melon (16/1) are all likely better backed each way.
Wednesday 14th March – Ladies Day
3.20pm Queen Mother Champion Chase – My Tip – Altior (Evens with Coral)
Ladies Day at Cheltenham is always a glamorous event and so is the big race of the day the Queen Mother Champion Chase. While there are a few that champion the chances of Politologue for me this is a race between three horses and I think of the three, the hugely impressive Altior is the stronger choice of the three.
At his best Douvan (11/4) would give Altior a real fright but the horse has struggled a little for fitness and form this season and while he could hit his very best at Cheltenham, I can’t see that happening here. Min too is a decent option at 3/1 with Coral, but again, I just don’t think he has the beating of the favourite here.
Thursday 15th March – St Patrick’s Day
3.20pm Ladbrokes World Hurdle – My Tip – L’Ami Serge (10/1 with Coral)
Thursday is St Patrick’s Day and one of the biggest celebratory days in all of horse racing. The big race today is the World Hurdle and this is an open race. Sam Spinner is the 4/1 favourite with many bookmakers with some just favouring Supasundae (5/1) too. Others feel that Yanworth (5/1) is the favourite, which indicates that this could well be one of the most open races of the entire festival.
My selection here though is L’Ami Serge, a Cheltenham veteran that has run superbly well on his past three runs here, improving all the time and he has since improved still further this season. At 10/1 with Coral, he is a great value option in what is a very open race.
Friday 16th March – Gold Cup Day
3.20pm Cheltenham Gold Cup – My Tip – Might Bite (3/1 with Coral)
With antepost favourite Sizing John ruled out of the race through injury and another potential runner in Thistlecrack also ruled out, the betting in the Gold Cup this year has opened up slightly. Native River trained by Colin Tizzard has been backed right in to 4/1, chiefly due to the deteriorating ground, while Our Duke is a 13/2 chance with Coral.
One to watch is Road to Respect which is now an 8/1 shot with Coral and shortening all the time but I think Might Bite (3/1 favourite) is the class of the field and provided that the ground isn’t too heavy all around the course, I think he has the class to win this one.
Champions League Preview and Tips
As you will have been following over the past few weeks, there’s also the crucial Champions League Round of 16 second legs to be played this week for eight teams seeking to join Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Juventus in the quarter finals of the competition.
Outlined below are our tips for each of the four matches and how they would go together in a Coral 4+ Acca Boost accumulator.
Tuesday 13th March (7.45pm kick off unless stated)
Manchester United (0) v (0) Sevilla
After a somewhat drab 0-0 draw in the opener, thanks largely to a fine save from David De Gea, Manchester United head into this second leg on the back of a superb win over Liverpool at the weekend. Whether Paul Pogba is fit to return after a mysterious injury on the eve of the Liverpool game is open to question.
Sevilla will know that missed chances in the first leg will likely cost them and their away record in the Champions League isn’t great with just two draws on the road and a 5-1 thumping to Spartak Moscow. Man Utd are miles better than that Spartak side and although Sevilla are not a poor team, I think this is a game that United will win comfortably to go through into the next round.
Our Tip – Home Win
AS Roma (1) v (2) Shakhtar Donetsk
This is a delicately poised tie between arguably the two sides most of the quarterfinal teams would like to draw in the next round if they could. Roma are sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful in the Champions League this season but that away goal could well prove to be crucial here against a Shakhtar Donetsk side that don’t travel so well.
However, Donetsk have the lead and they are more than capable of grabbing a goal in Rome that would really give this game an edge. I think this one could well be forced into extra time, which means that I am backing Roma to win inside 90 minutes, but it is anyone’s guess who will eventually go through. I think the Italian’s will just about do enough.
Our Tip – Home Win
Wednesday 14th March (7.45pm kick off unless stated)
Besiktas (0) v (5) Bayern Munich (5pm)
Bayern romped to an easy win in the Allianz Arena to make this second leg in Istanbul something of a formality with Besiktas having little more to play for than pride. However, last week we saw FC Porto and FC Basel both claim decent results after being thumped in the home leg, but something tells me Bayern are not a team to let that happen.
At this stage of the competition last year, Bayern won the first leg against Arsenal 5-1 and then repeated the feat at the Emirates. I can see something similar here happening as the Germans pick off the Turkish side on the counter attack to claim a comfortable win on the night and easy progress into the quarterfinals.
Our Tip – Away Win
Barcelona (1) v (1) Chelsea
Perhaps the biggest game of this round is poised perfectly with a goal apiece heading into the game in Barcelona. Chelsea know they need a goal to stand any chance of progressing but Barcelona have been very strong at home this season. However, Willian showed that they do give teams chances at times and if they are to do well here, Chelsea will have to take every one they create.
For me though, with Suarez and Messi (now a dad for the third time) bang in form, even the absence of Coutinho through being cup tied should not hinder Barcelona too drastically here. Chelsea’s form and confidence isn’t great and they have won in Spain already in this tournament this season (away to Atletico Madrid), but I cannot see them repeating that here. Barcelona to win this in a close one.
Our Tip – Home Win