What Happens Hext?
Our team discuss the merits of ante-post bets for the Cheltenham Festival and SPOTY and unearth some Premier League value.
Ben Ainslie could lift the America's Cup again in 2017 – this time in a British boat
Sports Personality of the Year 2017
Such was the level of British sporting glory in 2016 that the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year award was expanded to 16.
That won't be the case in 2017 when an underwhelming sporting programme means it is likely to be a case of after the Lord's Mayor's Show.
Anthony Joshua is the early favourite to claim the BBC gong in 12 months' time and a victory over Wladimir Klitschko at the end of April will certainly make him a strong candidate. Yet the likeable boxer is far from nailed on to beat the Ukrainian great (he's around the 1/2 mark) and he looks short enough in the SPOTY market at an early best price of 5/1 (as short as 2s).
Andy Murray (9/2) is also prominent once again but after winning the award in three of the last four years, he may well need to raise the bar higher again to prevail for a fourth time – that would mean two Grand Slams minimum – given the potential for voter fatigue.
Two of the biggest events of the year will be the Lions rugby union tour of New Zealand and the World Athletics Championships in London.
However, the Lions are big outsiders to win Down Under and in any case can you really name now who will be the star of a winning team? They don't even have a captain yet. It could be Dylan Hartley and anyone who likes a real long shot may be interested in Paddy Power's 200/1. Should he lead England to Grand Slam glory and the Lions to victory, he'll certainly be on the shortlist.
As for London 2017, with Jessica Ennis-Hill having retired, Mo Farah will be the poster boy for the host nation but he's someone who has consistently struggled to attract SPOTY votes – 8.7% in claiming third in 2011 his best. He's since achieved the distance 'double-double' four times at global level yet has never managed a return to the top three.
So who does represent value in the market? Before making that decision it is worth noting the profile of winners in such post-Olympic years. They appear to fall into two categories – history makers and long-standing greats.
For history makers think Murray (Wimbledon winner in 2013), Andrew Flintoff (star of England's first Ashes-winning team for almost 20 years in 2005) and Greg Rusedski (Britain's first grand Slam finalist for 20 years in 1997).
Ryan Giggs (2009) and David Beckham (2001) both fall into the second group, winning the award in what were, frankly, pretty weak years.
The 2017 sportsperson who potentially fits into both of these categories is Sir Ben Ainslie.
Already a four-time Olympic gold medallist, the yachtsman will hardly be at the forefront of sports' fans minds right now but there's every chance he will be come June.
In 2017, Ainslie will skipper the British bid to win sailing's greatest prize, the America's Cup, for the very first time, 166 years after it was first contested in the waters off the Isle of Wight.
His team – Land Rover BAR – have already won the pre-qualifying event and will now get a head start in May's qualifying series. Win that and they will challenge the holders Oracle Team USA, who, just to add another dimension to the story arc, Ainslie helped win the trophy in 2013.
From a country whose history has been shaped by its efforts on the waves, Ainslie and his crew will be national news should they become the challengers to Oracle. It's a story with legs but I had hoped for more meat on his price than the top price of 20/1 available with the handful of firms that have priced up.
For those who simply don't think the public will vote for a sailor, I'd point out that in 2013 Ainslie finished fifth, polling 48,140 votes. That year, 57k bagged a place and if a layer takes a chance on Ainslie or he drifts over the next few months, then he's worth getting onside as an each-way bet.
Chelsea continue to lead the way in the Premier League title race and odds after Saturday's 1-0 victory on the road at Crystal Palace but I think I've found some value further down the top-flight markets.
Stoke let a 2-0 lead slip to draw 2-2 at home to 10-man Leicester on Saturday afternoon but I still have to take a bit of the 13/8 available with Sky Bet for the Potters to secure a top-half finish.
The bet365 Stadium club have finished ninth for the last three campaigns in a row and they're getting stronger this term after a very stodgy start.
Stoke have only lost two of their last 12 outings and that's taken them to a place outside the top half only on goals scored behind Bournemouth, who have also acquired 21 points from 17 games.
West Brom and Everton are just two points better off in eigthth and ninth respectively and seventh-placed Southampton are only another point up the ladder.
I reckon Stoke, who have gone on their great run after just one point from their first five games, will finish above West Brom and Bournemouth at least.
There's certainly value to be had in opposing the heavily odds-on Southampton and Everton to end up in the top 10.
Two high-profile JP McManus pre-season purchases dominated the major movers at the weekend. Unowhatimeanharry emerged from the Ascot fog to land the Long Walk Hurdle in style – although Ballyoptic's final flight fall might've helped exaggerate his superiority.
There looked to be no doubt he would've won anyway, though, and quotes of 5/2 for the World Hurdle are perfectly understandable. He is, after all, the best staying hurdler in training this season from what we have seen so far.
McManus' other weekend ante-post mover was Buveur D'Air, who looked good, very good, when dismissing the talented Cloudy Dream on his chasing debut up at Haydock.
Nicky Henderson's horse was getting 8lb from Malcolm Jefferson's more experienced chaser, so we can't go overboard about the performance, but he did it very smoothly and looks like he'll be just as good as he was over hurdles, if not better.
His trainer may want to keep him apart from Altior, but if JP McManus wants him in the Arkle you have to fancy he'd go that route. 12/1 about him for the two-mile novice at the Festival is available, while he's as short as half that price for the half-mile further JLT.
That 12/1. It's tempting. I haven't and I wouldn't recommend just yet. But it's tempting.
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