Cheltenham Festival 2019 is only weeks away and the meeting’s showpiece, the Gold Cup, is shaping up nicely to be the most competitive in years. Last year’s winner Native Winner isn’t the bookies’ favourite to make it back-to-back wins (a feat that last occurred in 2002-4 with Best Mate), with Presenting Percy the leader at this stage. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at this year’s leading contenders for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Presenting Percy – 3/1
The Irish front-runner will be looking to make it a hattrick of wins at Cheltenham Festival, with a first in the Gold Cup the main agenda. However, should Presenting Percy not race at Fairyhouse, he’d become the first horse to ever be successful without turning out for any races this season. Owner Philip Reynolds and trainer Pat Kelly have denied there are any problems:
“Presenting Percy is absolutely fine,” said Reynolds.
Continuing: “I’m not sure how many more opportunities Pat’s going to have to have a horse go to the Gold Cup. I certainly doubt I’m going to have many more. So, we just decided to be ultra, ultra-careful, that’s all. Nothing wrong with the horse.”
Clan des Obeaux – 4/1
Trainer Paul Nicholls will be looking to make it a fifth success in the Gold Cup with this season’s most-improved chaser,Clan des Obeaux. An impressive win in the King George VI Chase at Ascot cemented his claims for a win in next month’s cup.
Native River – 5/1
Who could forget Native River’s win in last year’s Gold Cup? Him and Might Bite were head and shoulders above the rest of the field and made for an epic encounter in the closing minutes. The equine flu outbreak ensured Native River was unable to complete his pre-competition training; however, he didn’t look too bad in the two run-outs at the end of last year.
Kemboy – 9/1
The odds of Kemboycontinue to shorten and expect them to shorten further if Ruby Walsh decides to ride. The winner of his last four chases, Kemboyis in decent form and is one of Ireland’s best offerings (barring the favourite, of course). However, Willie Mullins is looking to break his Cheltenham hoodoo as runner-up on six occasions, and he’s certainly going big this year with no fewer than four horses in the race.
“There’s Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only, Kemboy and Bellshill — and I’ll probably run as many as I can. Those four can run there, anyway,” Mullins said.
‘It would be nice to win the Gold Cup and we have as good a chance this year as any. You can make cases for them all”.
Bellshill – 10/1
Bellshill won the Irish Gold Cup earlier this month, beating favourite Road to Respect and shouldn’t be underestimated. This form has shortened his odds from the 20s and put the horse ahead of his Irish Gold Cup rival, while strengthening Willie Mullins’ strong hand of racers.
Might Bite – 12/1
Last year’s runner-up, Might Bite has looked a shadow of his former self in the two runs this season, hence only featuring sixth with the bookies. Finishing last at the Chase at Haydock, he came up short in the King George VI Chase at Ascot. Trainer Nicky Henderson believes he can make a timely return to form – and maybe even go one better than 12 months ago.
Arsenal’s Saka Excites NFF President
President of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick had nothing but praise for Arsenal wonderkid Bukayo Saka as he spoke about foreign-trained players who can add value to the Nigerian national teams instead of other countries securing their services.
Pinnick has likened the Hale End Academy product to a goldfish with no hiding place, saying that the winger does not need to lobby before he is invited to the Super Eagles.
Since the experienced Delta State administrator became the NFF boss, foreign-trained players such as William Troost-Ekong, Carl Ikeme, Ola Aina, Brian Idowu, Joe Aribo, Maduka Okoye, Tyronne Ebuehi and Josh Maja have chosen to pledge their international futures to Nigeria over their countries of birth.
In an interview with Tidesports source, Pinnick stated : “A lot of people call me, ‘I have a boy that is very good, he’s 21, he’s an exceptional player, he can fit in into any team’.
“The first thing I say to them is that it’s a lie. Once a player is exceptional, it’s like a goldfish that has no hiding place.
“If you see somebody like Bukayo Saka for example, do you need anybody to sell that player? You don’t need anybody.
“There are shortage of good players globally, so once a player is exceptional that player is a goldfish and he’s surrounded by people that have interests immediately.”
The 18-year-old Saka has established himself as a first team regular for Arsenal this season despite the presence of more experienced players, making 29 appearances in all competitions.
Ex-Liverpool Player Wants To Play For Nigeria
Former Liverpool defender Michael Ihiekwe has been named to the League One Team of the Season so far in the 2019-2020 campaign by Whoscored in partnership with Sky Sports.
Ihiekwe has been a key player for high-flying Rotherham United who are bidding to return to the English Championship at the first time of asking.
The Liverpool-born center back has contributed to an impressive 7 goals (4 goals, 3 assists) from 38 games across all competitions and has been yellow carded on four occasions.
Described as a defender with robust physical presence, pacy, dominant in the air and descent on the ball, Ihiekwe has committed his international future to Nigeria over his country of birth.
Explaining the choice of Ihiekwe in the Best XI, Ben McAleer wrote : “Ihiekwe has returned a rating of 7.42 this season, that the second-best in League One.
“Maximising a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘aerial duels’, Ihiekwe is winning more headed battles per game (7.9) than any other League One player this term to help feature in this team.”
Yobe Stars Mgt Slashes Salaries By 75 Percent
The management of Yobe Desert Stars have resolved to cut down the club’s expenses following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rising from a meeting held on Friday, the club said players and technical crew of the main team will be receiving 25% of their monthly allowance while the feeder and Under-15 teams will receive 50% of their allowances.
This was contained in a statement signed by the chairman of the management committee, Hon Goni Bukar Lawan. Yobe Desert Stars is the first Nigerian club side that will be reducing the salaries of its team.
It will be noted that with the suspension of football activities across the globe, clubs in top leagues such as La Liga, Serie A, and English Premier League have begun to cut down the weekly salaries paid to their players.
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