Premier League 2019/20: The Season Preview

The time has come. This week Premier League football returns and though it made me utterly miserable for nine of its ten months last season, there remains nothing quite like it to fill the gap. In order from first to dreaded last, I’ll briefly predict and preview every side’s chances for the coming season.

Once again, there should be few surprises up top (indeed, I’ve gone for the same ten teams to be in the top half with a few shifts in order). However, the bottom half looks far tougher with a few of the decade’s recent mainstays potentially growing a little stale and all three of the promoted clubs having built solid foundations to avoid the drop within a year.

First off, here is my predicted Premier League table in full:

1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Tottenham
4. Arsenal
5. Manchester United
6. Chelsea
7. Wolves
8. Leicester
9. Everton
10. West Ham
11. Crystal Palace
12. Southampton
13. Watford
14. Aston Villa
15. Burnley
16. Norwich
17. Bournemouth
18. Newcastle
19. Sheffield United
20. Brighton

And now, here’s my overview of each club’s chances as we enter the first week of the 2019/20 Premier League season:

1. Manchester City (Last season: 1st)

There’s little Pep Guardiola can do to improve and yet so little margin for error either. That Liverpool got within a point and a couple of centimetres of the title last season was a surprise in itself, but there was little fluke about it. City’s side is now ageing and withering slightly, with captain Vincent Kompany semi-retiring to home club Anderlecht and David Silva and Fernandinho well into their thirties.

Guardiola appears to be keeping faith with John Stones as Kompany’s replacement as he hasn’t signed a centre-back this window while David’s namesake Bernardo is simply a livewire version of the Spaniard. Meanwhile, the one significant bit of cash-splashing activity at the Etihad has seen Rodri come in as holding midfield competition for Fernandinho with a full season now likely to stretch the limits of the Brazilian’s fitness.

Incomings, however, were always likely to have less of an impact than a fully fit Kevin De Bruyne. If he can stay away from the physio’s table for long enough, his consistent presence could even push City to newer and increasingly unbelievable heights.

2. Liverpool (Last season: 2nd)

Sunday’s Community Shield, though it was lost on penalties, would have given Reds fans renewed optimism that they can challenge the Sky Blue juggernaut to the very end once again. Without Sadio Mane to complete their famed attacking triumvirate, they more than matched City throughout the 90 minutes and were arguably unlucky not to walk away victorious.

There’s been even less transfer activity on Merseyside than in Manchester this Summer. Save a couple of youthful signings in Sepp Van Den Berg and Harvey Elliott, Liverpool’s roster remains untouched. The returns of both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Adam Lallana to full fitness will provide competition and added depth though there’s still fewer obvious replacements for first-teamers than at City.

It ultimately boils down to whether Jurgen Klopp can keep his squad fit throughout the season again. He performed incomparable heroics on that front last season, but any six-week injury to one of key players Alisson, Van Dijk or Salah could derail them enough for City to pull away once more. Nevertheless, they’re well clear of the rest.

3. Tottenham (Last season: 4th)

The fact that Tottenham were in with a shout of the title for two-thirds of 2018/19 and reached a Champions League final without having signed a single player makes Mauricio Pochettino worthy of a statue. This year is different, with Daniel Levy parting with £62.5 million for Tanguy N’Dombele to join from Lyon.

As it stands, Christian Eriksen stays, having looked likelier to be wearing the white of Real Madrid than Spurs earlier in the summer. However, the biggest problem may not be keeping players at the club, but keeping them fit. Harry Kane’s record when returning from injury has been publicised of late, but he shouldn’t be getting so many knocks to start with while Dele Alli is already said to be missing the start of the season this weekend.

Their new stadium already feels more homely than Wembley and so maintaining a standard starting XI will be the key if they are to have any chance of improving upon the clear third they earned in May. Realistically, the top two continue to look too strong, but the rest of the big six still need to catch up.

4. Arsenal (Last season: 5th)

Now we’re onto the interesting stuff. None of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United are good enough to finish fourth and yet all of them are simultaneously. Last season ended with a sort of Schroedinger’s Football problem in that none of the three were getting results, but all of them continued to battle for positions.

Arsenal might win this rather trivial argument this time around. All of these clubs should be challenging for titles, but none of them are remotely ready yet.

Arsenal’s defence will be shambolic at times when they least require it again this season, despite being solid enough when they’re 3-0 up. The signing of Nicolas Pepe up top will ensure they have a dependably dangerous front three instead of two and Iwobi or Welbeck.

There will be games when Arsenal look as capable as any side and others where you question how they’re not destined for relegation. Remarkably, in spite of that, they’re in a better overall position than Chelsea or United to return to the Champions League.

5. Manchester United (Last season: 6th)

This prediction may look horribly ambitious or pessimistic come the end of the season. For twenty years United were the most reliable club in Europe to compete at the top. Now they’re as two-faced as their owners.

If they can produce even 80% of the performance levels they achieved between December and February, United will cruise to the top four and could even finish third. If they begin where they left off at the end of the season, they’ll struggle to finish top half.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are imperative signings to sure up the leakiest defence the Red Devils have ever had in the Premier League era while up front, though only Daniel James has been added to the Carrington collective, promising youngsters like Mason Greenwood and Jesse Lingard could produce as much firepower as any £100 million signing.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a beloved character at Old Trafford, but he can’t rely purely on adoration to get him through the season. He needs results and fifth won’t be enough. Sadly, United’s dressing room isn’t ready to play 38 games to a steady level.

6. Chelsea (Last season: 3rd)

Frank Lampard may be a very talented manager now, let alone in time. His Derby County side were attractive to watch last season and were only two goals from returning to the Premier League for the first time in 11 years. That’s good going for a novice.

Chelsea are, of course, an entirely different prospect and it seems odd that the club would move to hire one of their legendary players in such difficult circumstances.

They’ve only been able to sign Mateo Kovacic this summer, which is hardly a new addition after his loan spell, and Eden Hazard and his atlas bearing shoulders have departed for the Galacticos.

They enter this season without a talismanic character, so perhaps that’s the reason for Lampard’s appointment. Furthermore, their squad, though more balanced all round than the previous two clubs, is the weakest overall, particularly upfront. Olivier Giroud is currently the main striker and he surely won’t score enough on his own.

It is time for youth and in Callum Hudson-Odoi, they have one of the league’s brightest hotshot wingers. He’s unlikely to drive them into the Champions League places, however.

7. Wolves (Last season: 7th)

Second season syndrome has seen many a promotion success story fall by the wayside, but Wolves looked of a different calibre for much of last season.

They achieved seventh with relative ease despite having a better overall record against the top six than the bottom six. Remarkably, they lost both games to Huddersfield. Complacency clearly affects this squad at times, which is why they could tumble down the league this season.

Nuno Espirito Santo is wise enough to know no squad is ever safe from a loss of form and moved quickly to sign former loanees Raul Jimenez, one of a multitude of star turns last season, and Leander Dendoncker. Moreover, Patrick Cutrone, fourth in the Golden Boy award celebrating the best young prospects in Europe, has joined for pennies relative to this transfer window (£16.2 million).

With no significant departures, Wolves look even stronger than last season and the top six would not be a forlorn hope for an immensely talented unit. For a side that has seen such an overhaul within the last two years, they are tight knit and confident in their abilities. Now they just need to beat the sides who get relegated.

8. Leicester (Last season: 9th)

Brendan Rogers’ side are in a transitional state, but sometimes that can be a good thing. Moving on from the drab football under Claude Puel saw some fine performances: drawing at Anfield, dismantling Arsenal etc. They’ve also signed Youri Tielemans which may yet prove a golden decision by the board such is his potential.

Losing Harry Maguire late on in the window has left them precious little time to replace him and their back four would appear the troublesome area. Caglar Soyuncu looks like he’ll be given the majority of the game time alongside Jonny Evans, but aside from them, club captain Wes Morgan is ageing and well below the form from their title winning season. Goals may be shipped too regularly for them to build up results.

Their successes in the past relied upon defensive strengths and counter-attacking blitzes, but their roster from the midfield forwards is too talented. Now, they must rely on having more possession and unpicking the weaker sides.

Ayoze Perez should provide the necessary back up to the evergreen Jamie Vardy. Goals will be scored and attractive ones at that, but they’ll likely be flying in the other end as well.

9. Everton (Last season: 8th)

Two years ago, Everton’s goal was to make the top six a sevenfold for the seasons to come. That didn’t materialise and until the end of last season, where Everton authoritatively beat both Arsenal and Manchester United, it looked like the Toffees were finding reverse gear.

However, Marco Silva has signalled an intent to return the forward momentum with the fascinating signing of Moise Kean from Juventus. At times, he tore up Serie A last season and his best football is yet to be played. He could prove the transfer of the year.

Idrissa Gueye was probably Everton’s best player of the last two years and his absence, after a move to PSG, will be felt. Jean-Phillipe Gbamin has been signed to be a replacement and has shown potential in Germany while Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph may also prove shrewd pieces of business in midfield.

Everton have their moments in most seasons where they look set for a groundbreaking move up the table, but much like those battling for the Champions League, have their toothless moments in spades. With Leicester and Wolves also upwardly mobile, the Europa League places may be the best they can hope for.

10. West Ham (Last season: 10th)

Manuel Pellegrini is finally being recognised in England for what he is: a manager with the correct football philosophies, able to deliver consistently with what is at his disposal. Last season, 10th was acceptable for West Ham. It might not be now.

For one, the talents of Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini will now combine as the latter recovers from injury. Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller add further spice to an extremely promising front-line that no side will enjoy facing.

This is West Ham, however. They have endured as much off-field criticism as Newcastle in recent seasons despite the football gradually improving year on year. Their fanbase is perennially more demanding and top 8 will be seen as satisfactory rather than successful.

The London Stadium is entering its third season as West Ham’s home so there are no excuses for making it anything other than a fortress. Too often, this won’t be the case and while their squad is as talented as the three above them, they are the most fragile to peaks and troughs.

11. Crystal Palace (Last season: 12th)

For now, Wilfried Zaha stays. There has been no forcing of the issue by the winger desired by so many and the respect he has for the club means he may well remain in South London for the season to come.

If they hold onto the unofficial “best player outside the top six”, Roy Hodgson’s men look best poised to break into the top half. However, there are two results-based areas in which Palace must improve.

Firstly, they need to start in much better form than they have the last two seasons (remember Frank de Boer’s infamous four game spell?) If they do, their occasional spells of Europa League level form will enable them to forget about being surprise relegation candidates. This is a team that thrives upon freedom, both creatively and mentally, and the quicker they banish any needless niggles of demotion, the better placed they’ll be.

Secondly, Palace must win at home. Over the last two seasons, they’ve picked up more points on their travels than at Selhurst Park, a statistic that makes it so much more difficult to improve. Regardless, their squad is full of Premier League level talent and coasting to safety should be straightforward.

12. Southampton (Last season: 16th)

In hindsight, Ralph Hasenhuttl moving to a Southampton side engaged in the deepest crisis since returning to the Premier League was massive for the club and an immaculate decision for the board. All of his work in Germany pointed to a man capable of a sterling job and he duly delivered.

Now, the players at his disposal must step up and display the level of football he expects on a regular basis and challenge for the top half once again.

Transfer dealings have been sparse: Danny Ings’ move from Liverpool has been made permanent, but he didn’t fire on all cylinders last term and a more potent signing may be that of Che Adams, prolific for Birmingham last term.

There’s healthy competition throughout the pitch, most notably in goal, with three Premier League quality keepers as well as multiple full back options. They have work to do to catch up with the Leicesters and West Hams, but the strength in depth, combined with Hasenhuttl’s guile and craft, should ensure that underperforming is a thing of the past.

13. Watford (Last season: 11th)

For the first time since their current top level stint began, Watford have gained stability. Javi Gracia becomes their first manager to begin a season having been there for the entirety of the previous campaign and though they faded late on in the Premier League to finish 11th, their main focus come May was the FA Cup final.

Reaching Wembley was a terrific achievement (we won’t mention the score) and the scattergun approach to signings and loans that never truly gelled has ceased, with only Craig Dawson arriving at Vicarage Road in the off-season.

The champagne names have remained intact. Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu would fit swiftly into a top six starting XI while Abdoulaye Doucoure is as sought after a midfielder as any in the league.

Yet, it feels as if something is missing. Their approach to the transfer market has matured, but one or two bigger names than Dawson would not have gone amiss. Their stuttering finish to last season showed that this side is capable of burnout and though the Europa League will still be the aim, it appears less achievable than a few months ago.

14. Aston Villa (Last season: 5th in the Championship)

It was an exceptional second half of the season that enabled Villa to dream of a Premier League return. Manager Dean Smith often avoided the headlines due to John Terry’s presence on the touchline, but his is the name that deserves all the credit.

Had Fulham not limped tamely to 19th last season, Villa’s transfer dealings would strike the casual observer as ambitious and exciting. Because of Fulham, fears reign that such new names will only cause disruption and turmoil.

Tyrone Mings and Wesley, the Brazilian forward signed from Club Brugge, have both surpassed the £20 million mark, but Villa’s signings look far more monitored than the Cottagers’. Anwar El Ghazi has re-signed permanently having scored in the Playoff final, while securing Tom Heaton’s signature could prove a masterful touch.

There will be disturbance and nervous tremors, but as Mings was with them in the Championship, the spine, including top division talents, John McGinn, Jack Grealish and James Chester, should provide a solid foundation for a true Premier League club to survive. At the very least, they look the most secure of the three teams to have come up.

15. Burnley (Last season: 15th)

So, which Burnley are we going to enjoy this season? The almighty 7th placed finishers of 2018 gave way alarmingly quickly to a side that was in desperate trouble come Christmas.

Sean Dyche’s side had been figured out. Grit, determination and stout defending can only get you so far and they needed a spark. Cue youngster Dwight McNeill’s break out into the side and a more dynamic Burnley emerged.

The confidence began to flow, rubbing off on the defence, who produced their sternest efforts in the second half of the season as Burnley drew away from the drop.

Up front, Ashley Barnes is the most Ashley Barnes player to have ever played the game while Chris Wood and his lumbering, clumsy frame will score goals. They’re to be aided again this season by Jay Rodriguez, returning to the club from West Brom.

However, Tom Heaton, arguably one of the league’s best stoppers, has left for fellow claret-and-blue’s Aston Vila, a painful loss. They will point to earning £8 million for a 33-year-old and replacing him with youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell from Leeds for less as part of a long-term strategy, but short-term the loss of quality could stall them.

16. Norwich (Last season: 1st in the Championship)

Had Norwich not romped to success in the second division last season, this may be seen as a free hit at the Premier League. They weren’t expecting promotion, yet they finished 13 points clear of the playoffs and a steady 5 in front of runners-up Sheffield United.

Naturally, expectations have risen and surviving the Premier League will not simply be the aim, but the minimum requirement. This is in spite of spending little over £1 million to improve the squad, by far the smallest outlay of the 20 clubs.

There may be fears the club as a whole simply wasn’t ready for promotion at this time. There’s no doubt, however, that Daniel Farke, another who came through Borussia Dortmund’s immense coaching system, is prepared and has prepared meticulously.

If he can eke out similar levels of effort from his squad once more then survival is likely. Emi Buendia, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki all produced beyond initial expectations last term. They need only to meet them this time around to satiate the fanbase.

17. Bournemouth (Last season: 14th)

I’m afraid this is the season. This is the season in which Bournemouth are finally involved in the relegation scrap predicted of them since they gained promotion in 2015.

Their incomings are, as ever, based around future gain. Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey have shown potential at Bristol City and Luton respectively while Philip Billing has outgrown Huddersfield.

However, Bournemouth’s transfers in the past have looked to obviously have improved the squad in certain positions. Kelly is the only necessary name on the previous list. Billing and Kelly add depth, and much needed, but improvement? I’m not so sure.

Ryan Fraser and David Brooks had breakout seasons last season and their attacking line-up remains sharp. Eddie Howe, meanwhile, is the longest serving coach in the league and garners the respect of clubs and journalists nationwide for his affluent manner and tactical nous.

This is the strongest the Premier League has been since they emerged as a genuine top-level side, though and there remain serious questions over the defence and in goal. They might be as leaky as ever and it could cost them.

18. Newcastle (Last season: 13th)

Though a club record signing has entered St James’s Park over the last month, transfers of players at Newcastle have paled in comparison to the possibilities of a change of manager and owner.

It is not just the £40 million Joelinton that would otherwise cause rejuvenated excitement, but exciting left-handed players Jetro Willems and Alain Saint-Maximin. However, instead of getting the opportunity to express themselves under Rafa Benitez, it will be Steve Bruce who leads them out on Sunday against Arsenal.

Bruce is less glamorous, decorated and has an awkward habit of being involved in Premier League relegation scraps. Even then, Newcastle fans would be at least cautiously optimistic had Mike Ashley finally relinquished his control of the club. Alas, he has not.

The unrest will only continue while he is in charge and if they get off to a slow start, Bruce and co may succumb to that sinking feeling before the new year. They have enough talent to at least make it a battle, but the club is in turmoil and a third Ashley relegation looks a decent bet at this stage.

19. Sheffield United (Last season: 2nd in the Championship)

It’s been a universal theme in pre-season to predict that Sheffield United will finish in 19th. They’re the most obvious candidates for relegation, having been promoted with a host of excellent Championship players with little Premier League experience and an inexperienced manager, despite the success stories on his CV.

However, they also play such weird and wonderful football and possess the steel fitting of their geographical base that you feel they must at least best one of these 20 teams, some of whom have far greater problems to face up to.

The Blades have taken chances on Swansea’s Oli McBurnie to score their goals after a club record move from the Championship, as well as left-field rogue Ravel Morrison and former youth product Phil Jagielka, now well into the autumn of his career. His presence alongside Chris Wilder could provide the sort of inspiration promoted clubs thrive upon.

At just £58 million, the squad’s transfer value is comfortably the lowest in the league, but Wilder has achieved beyond any Blades fan’s wildest dreams to date, and yet survival would arguably be his greatest achievement so far.

20. Brighton (Last season: 17th)

Football runs its own imperfect universe and Chris Hughton’s sacking appeared exemplary of its unjustified order. Brighton’s hierarchy will argue otherwise having flirted too overtly with relegation in the closing months of the season.

Brighton can only prove their board correct by staying up and doing do in style this time around. Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay have been additions to an ageing and relatively tame roster, fit with a number of underachievers. Realistically, are they enough?

Probably not. And so Brighton’s best hope will be a union between the tough psychology of back-liners Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, linked with a £45 million to Leicester such were his performances last term, and new manager Graham Potter’s motivation and philosophies.

They’ll likely play better football compared to last season and, at last, they shouldn’t have to rely on Glenn Murray. He’ll be a brilliant backup option if necessary, but this is a flimsy squad. A repeat of last season’s travails will end with the inevitable result.

Glorious Goodwood 2019: Final Day

Ryan Moore’s shortcomings of late are becoming as highly publicised as the successes of the likes of Frankie and Oisin at Goodwood this week. I chip in in my utter bewilderment as to how Mirage Dancer lost yesterday although there seemed little fluke about Desert Encounter’s victory.

We’ve been treated to the class acts of the week. Now its time for the big field entertainment, with the Stewards Cup and its reserve on the card. Tips for both big handicaps included among one or two others.

1:50 – TOMMY G

This selection was decided almost by default as I cannot find enough reasons for any of the opposing 23 to stop Tommy G defending his title. He hasn’t been consistent this season, but has shown that at least some ability has been retained since the winter break and, much more obviously, he won this off 3lb higher last year. A few in this field re-oppose from last year, yet off less favourable terms and the step back to six furlongs should benefit Jim Goldie’s six-year-old with the front-running Ballyquin drawn alongside in stall 19 and likely to force a pace.

2:25 – BARTHOLOMEU DIAS

King’s Advice keeps winning and a 7lb penalty may not stop him given how much in hand he had at Newmarket, but the Northumberland Plate form entitles Bartholomeu Dias to a lot of respect. He finished ahead of the aforementioned in that race and is now in receipt of 10lb as opposed to 7lb. Charlie Hills’ charge didn’t see out the two mile trip and so the drop to 1m6f should pose few problems. The worry would be that he hasn’t run on turf since last season, but I would imagine the team must have sound enough reasons for changing back at such a high profile meeting.

3:00 – MANUELA DE VEGA

Enbihaar and Dramatic Queen have traded blows in recent middle distance and staying contests for fillies and mares. Both are respected as they currently own this level, but they must concede a stone to the four three-year-olds. There’s been eyecatching support for South Sea Pearl but Manuela De Vega has been fourth and fifth respectively in the Epsom and Irish Oaks without losing too much credibility. She was a touch disappointing in the latter, but hinted that staying may be her thing in the former and she has enough ability to strongly contend on these terms.

3:40 – ALJADY E/W, KIMIFIVE E/W

Try as I might, I can’t split these two and they both represent value. Khaadem and Cosmic Law will appeal as three-year-olds with their allowance, but Aljady is back over six furlongs having run over seven here earlier in the week. Both his runs at Goodwood to date can potentially be forgiven for being over an inadequate trip and his only turn over six this seasons saw him finish a decent third at York off a 1lb higher mark than today’s. With Thomas Greatrex claiming 5lb, he could prove dangerous towards the foot of the weights. Kimifive meanwhile, is another stepping back from seven furlongs. The reverse of Aljady, that would usually be his optimum journey, but he won over six around this time last year and has form alongside Friday’s winner Beat le Bon, as well as winning his only start at this track this season three months ago. I strongly advise waiting for the result of the first, however, as both have extreme draws (28 & 26 respectively), so if there’s a significant low draw bias, stave off. Anything else, and both of these can trouble the stewards.

5:25 – GIFTS OF GOLD

It would be a big surprise if this didn’t go to the Godolphin gelding. Not only did he cosily win a maiden at the end of June, but his mark is fair and Cieren Fallon takes the mount, which is almost cheating in an apprentice handicap. He would have to have done nothing in between times to get beaten and even then the skill of his jockey could save him.

 

Glorious Goodwod 2019: Day 4

It may not have been the Arc, but Deirdre’s Group One victory in the Nassau Stakes is still a momentous occasion. Too often, top level British races become purely domestic affairs and so we may hope that this triumph leads to far more international competition on our shores.

Friday is the first day without a Group One as punters build towards the carnage that is the Stewards Cup on Saturday. To fill the pockets for that particular heat, here are few selections for tomorrow.

2:25 – BIOMETRIC

He may have been in receipt of 10lb when reeling in Turgenev late on in the Britannia handicap at Royal Ascot, but Biometric only recognised the nature of his task at a very late stage that day. If he shrugs off greenness and continues his progression, he looks in decent shape to add another prize. He has the best form among a number of unexposed types and those with more headline starts, such as Turgenev, Duke Of Hazzard and Momkin, are opposable with less likely to come from them.

3:00 – DARK VISION

There are obvious reasons for backing Mojito, who won so cosily after a lay-off and has only gone up 3lb, but bouncing is always a possibility. Goodwood is very much a course for certain horses. Among those that have thrived in the past are Seniority and Dark Vision, who won a Group Two here as a juvenile 12 months ago. I followed him when he finished an eye-catching fourth on the July course and I’ll continue to do so here. He has not won since, but has put in some admirable performances in defeat recently while drifting gradually down the weights. His 7lb three-year-old allowance is generous for this stage in the season and he’s a built to make a mockery of such generous weight donations at this stage.

3:35 – Obviously Battaash, but he’s an absurd price.

4:40 – MIRAGE DANCER

Having just insulted the price of one odds-on shot, I’ll willingly take the 8/13 on offer for Mirage Dancer. His two main market rivals were easily behind him at Newmarket and he has good course form, including when hacking up in this last year. If he’s anywhere near his best he will win even more comfortably than his odds suggest.

5:15 – COUNTRY

The mark of William Haggas’ charge can only be lower than John Gosden’s Harrovian because the handicapper is running scared. Country was talented enough to win over a mile at two and won first time out this season when getting every yard of a four-runner race at Ripon. That was a poor contest, but he was a class above them and looks capable of progressing within this sort of company. Fox Vardy is the most appealing of the rest.

Glorious Goodwood 2019: Day 2

I repeat, Pinatubo may prove one of the highest quality juveniles we have ever seen. Hopefully, he proves more of a Frankel than a Xaar, but for now, let’s just enjoy watching replays of his scintillating successes to date.

Jazeel’s place at 10/1 in the opener meant it was an even first day between myself and the bookmakers. Here’s day two’s picks as I look to surge ahead.

2:25 – TRIBAL CRAFT

Its wide open and he’s in the “could be anything” category, but Andrew Balding’s colt has had just three starts and won by 20 lengths on his most recent star. He only faced two rivals, but the margin is still extraordinary and he runs off bottom weight here. He could prove well ahead of his mark of 89, or miles behind it, but the former seems far more likely and he represents the value bet at 11/1.

3:00 – LIBERTY BEACH

I won a fair amount for her 33/1 place at Ascot, but have subsequently grown frustrated that she was drawn on the wrong side that day, as I missed her when she scooted up in Listed company at Sandown. She looked lightning quick that day and can defeat Wes Ward’s first Goodwood runner in Maven in receipt of 6lb, while these two, at present, appear clear of the rest on form.

3:35 – PHOENIX OF SPAIN

Another slightly risky one, but I refuse to believe he even remotely showed his form at Ascot most recently. He may have benefitted from an easy lead in Ireland, but still hosed up against quality opposition and may well have bounced at the Royal meeting. I’m willing to forgive him that, especially given he’s twice the price of Circus Maximus, who may want more rain, and at least thrice that of Too Darn Hot, who is still to convince me he’s a natural miler.

Tough assignments for punters elsewhere. Ultimately, I want Lil Rockerfeller to win the opener too much that it would be sacrilege to oppose him, so he’d make up any four-way accumulator.

Glorious Goodwood 2019: Day 1

Consistent summery weather looks to be arriving at just the right time for Goodwood to be as Glorious as it should be. Seven races per day through until Saturday ensure I’ll be busy. Instead of analysing every race, I’ll be giving tips only where I see fit. Here are day one’s selections.

1:50 – JAZEEL

Setting Sail has looked highly progressive in his last three starts and Beringer consistent at this level, but collateral form should ensure that Jazeel has a fine chance of taking the prize for Jedd O’Keeffe. Jamie Spencer gets the nod with the horse off 3lb lower than his latest start at York having beaten both the previous two named on his two starts prior to that. He is better off with the Godolphin-owned favourite and only 1lb the worse for his encounter with Beringer.

2:25 – PINATUBO

Until he gets beaten, I have to include Pinatubo, who has delivered for me at Epsom and Ascot. He was so impressive in the Chesham, beating the highly touted Lope Y Fernandez, that he remains impossible to oppose regardless of him being a current favourite of mine. Visinari could come very good in time based on various metrics, but his stride and size, which will benefit him as he grows even further, currently make his running a little awkward. Nevertheless, the presence of he, Lope Y Fernandez and recent July Stakes winner Mystery Power may make this a renewal fitting of the race’s title.

3:00 –  SPACE TRAVELLER

Having been victorious in the Jersey Stakes, the three-year-old allowance of 7lb should prove too generous Richard Fahey’s charge. The runner-up that day, Space Blues, subsequently chased home Too Darn Hot in the Group One Prix Jean Prat and Space Traveller was slightly hindered on hi way through to challenge. He was still comfortably on top at the line and though that was a big improvement on previous form, he may only need to replicate it to be in with an excellent shout.

3:35 – Can’t quite bring myself to recommend Stradivarius at those odds even though he’ll almost certainly win. Neither of the next two in the market offer each-way value so, if anything, favour Southern France for a place.

4:45 – LINE OF REASON

I can’t be certain that Line Of Reason will give his best, but he’s beautifully treated if he chooses to race. Even just two starts back, he showed some spark in a big-field handicap and he wasn’t beaten too far off 16lb lower in this two years ago. If he fancies it, 16/1 is a big price given there’s no stand out.

Fingers crossed for the quadruple and good luck.

Is The King George Regaining Its Throne?

As someone new to racing in the last decade, it was interesting reading Tom Segal’s verdict on this weekend’s King George. There has been no flat race in the world that has competed with the annual quality of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in recent years, but Segal claimed that the King George was the original flat calendar showpiece.

Falling in the height of summer within the golden climes of Ascot, it is unusual that the race has lost ground on the French spectacular, whose weather conditions are much more variable falling in mid-Autumn. However, Longchamp has managed to appeal to a global audience and with such little time left in the season once the field crosses the line in the Arc, the winner’s connections can claim almost infallibly that their horse is the champion of the year.

To keep up, the King George has to engage with the same global audience as well as providing a stellar field from which you could reasonably claim the winning horse is the best on the planet. The 2019 renewal has both and looks set to be the pinnacle of the season.

While a fair few of these will likely contest the Arc too, and a couple of sleepers may also lie in wait for Longchamp, the principles at Ascot would make up the head of the market in almost any middle-distance, all-age race.

Obviously, Enable is the headline actress and so she should be. An exceptional winning machine, she has previous in both of these Group Ones, but it was in the King George that she first underlined her superstar credentials. Powering away by four lengths in the rain from an above average field as she did was an eye-opener to her true talent. She is one of few horses who have brought Ascot and Longchamp together recently: the first since Danedream to win both and the first to capture both in the same season since Dylan Thomas ten years before her.

Of course, both Workforce and Found were defeated in the King George before winning the French showpiece later in the year, but whether either were primed for the former as they were for the latter is debatable. Simply, the Arc meant more to their CV’s in their respective seasons. There is none of that this year.

Enable must preserve her unbelievable unbeaten run to remain in the Frankel/Sea The Stars tier of legends. Ridiculous as it is, to challenge among the upper echelons, she must keep winning, undisputed champion though she is.

It is likely that she will, but aside from last year’s Arc, when she was probably only 80% fit, and her foray to America, this is easily her sternest test to date.

Unlike at Kempton last September, she meets a fully fit Crystal Ocean, whose camp will be buoyed by their charge finally claiming his first Group One when he took the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. That victory over Magical, subsequently beaten by Enable in the Eclipse, ensured Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old is now the highest rated horse in the world. His consistency at the top level will mean he will test the other principles, but though Poet’s Word broke somewhat of a duck last year, five-year-olds have a poor record in this, something he and Enable must overcome.

Along with Taghrooda, Enable followed up an Oaks triumph by winning the King George, but Derby winners not only haven’t won this in the same season since Galileo, but haven’t run full stop since Workforce. As such, the presence of Epsom hero Anthony van Dyck adds extra seasoning to the already tasty dish.

His spark was dampened with a humbling defeat in the Irish Derby, but that race will remain a mystery for some years to come. Given conditions, he potentially performed perfectly admirably, but he has the Classic generation’s hopes resting on his shoulders. If he finishes down the field, his reputation will be in tatters given his receipt of 11lb and more from the principles.

Both Waldgeist and Cheval Grand have the dreams of their respective nations to burden, though are both are more than capable at the highest level, while Defoe’s recent victory in the Coronation Cup earned him an invitation to the Group One winners party. To maintain his new, uppish standing, he will have to continue to perform with credit and this is far tougher than his Epsom triumph.

Each of Salouen and Morando have won comfortably in Group company this season while Aidan O’Brien’s ability to find improvement out of nowhere has seen both two horses with Sovereign in the title earn healthy prizes for their connections. All of Magic Wand, Hunting Horn and Norway have furlongs to find, but there are few Group Ones run without multiple O’Brien inmates these days.

I recommend not having a bet. This is a race regaining its former stature and any money placed will detract from the splendour of likely battle. Sit back and enjoy a proper Group One in all its glory and embrace the winner knowing you haven’t lost a penny. For that winner, Arc or no Arc, will likely be the season’s ultimate champion.

Royal Ascot Day 5: Shining in the City Lights

There was no greater advertisement for the unpredictability of racing than Watch Me’s success in the feature Coronation Stakes on the penultimate day at Royal Ascot. This meeting has certainly proved to me how foolish it can be to call winners across the board, but there’s only one day left, so I’ll chance my arm once more. Every race on the final day is previewed below.

Chesham:

Immaculately bred and, having fetched a King’s ransom at the sales, Lope Y Fernandez could not have made a better start to his career than when hacking up by three lengths on debut. Few of his charges win on debut and confidence is high in this son of Lope De Vega, but he may just meet a juvenile beast in PINATUBO. The Godolphin runner is monstrous for a two-year-old and the way he fought back to win the Woodcote at Epsom from well off the pace, on a course that evidently did not suit, suggested big things await and this seven furlong trip should bring out even more from him. Heaven Forfend is another who owes a lot to his heritage, but his maiden conqueror was down the field in the Coventry with Year Of The Tiger boasting a similar profile over from Ireland. Rose Of Kildare has already raced five times so is probably too exposed while there must be a lot of stable confidence about Montanari to run him here on his debut and the market may end up reflecting that. Highland Chief showed more speed than would be expected of one of his size and that might hint that he has a fair bit of ability as well.

  1. Pinatubo
  2. Lope Y Fernandez
  3. Highland Chief

 

Jersey:

Here’s hoping Godolphin get off to a flyer as SPACE BLUES looks the most solid in this three-year-old contest. He took a while to improve into his reputation, but his Listed win at Epsom over Urban Icon gives him stronger claims than most here as his best is likely to come. Urban Icon only has a neck to make up from Epsom, but he’d have to show something new, as would So Perfect under a 3lb penalty for her latest triumph. Happy Power beat older horses last weekend and is preferred to the same connections’ Bye Bye Hong Kong who needs to get out the stalls quicker than he did at Epsom as a front-runner. Momkin ran a solid enough race in the Guineas and should improve back to seven furlongs having been second in the Craven while Duke Of Hazzard boasts an outside chance if he can recapture the form that saw him finish fifth in the French Guineas.

  1. Space Blues
  2. Happy Power
  3. Momkin

 

Hardwicke:

 

The question will be asked until the off as to whether last year’s Derby winner Masar is fit enough to win a competitive race after 385 days on the sidelines. The suspicion is that, though he won the Craven very easily to begin last season, that this will prove slightly beyond him as many runners will thrive upon a stern test of stamina which Ascot’s stiff 1m4f track will deliver. Defoe finally got the job done in the Coronation Cup, but that seemed to be a bolt from the blue and Lah Ti Dar was soundly beaten that day. She had SOUTHERN FRANCE behind in third in the St Leger, but he went down by under a length to the sensational Stradivarius last time. His re-appearance and non-staying effort in the Cesarewitch can be discounted and this would be within his reach if coping with dropping back in trip: he has shown enough ability to suggest that may well be the case. Mirage Dancer is a big danger as Sir Michael Stoute’s record in this race is outstanding though his horse usually falls short up to this level. Salouen is the only other with a realistic chance if getting his own way up front.

  1. Southern France
  2. Mirage Dancer
  3. Defoe

 

Diamond Jubliee:

Blue Point’s appearance in the final Group One of the meeting is of enormous interest. He has already taken the King’s Stand this week and is a Group One winner in Dubai over this extended six furlongs. However, his form at this trip in the UK would leave him vulnerable given his exertions and, particularly at the prices, he’s worth opposing. Invincible Army has looked just that in two starts this season, but the race definitely fell his way at York most recently and that brings Yafta into equations at a working man’s price as his two starts this term have seen everything go against him. The Tin Man won this two years back, but suspicions creep in that his best days have been and gone while Bound For Nowhere is now one of Wes Ward’s last hopes of recording a victory at this year’s meeting. Le Brivido is another who runs for the second time this week, but it is last year’s second CITY LIGHT (nap) who appeals as the likely hero. He missed the break last year and still went down by the narrowest of margins and he warmed up with a highly encouraging second to the top-class Inns Of Court in his native France. If he reproduces last year’s effort, he’ll almost certainly be right in the equation. Of the rest, the in form Dream Of Dreams, Kachy and Keystroke are other runners who could make this a fine contest.

  1. City Light
  2. Invincible Army
  3. Yafta

 

Wokingham:

One of the best handicaps of the season. Bacchus managed to win this on his re-appearance last season, so that cannot be considered a negative for chances again in 2019 off just 3lb higher. Cape Byron won here over seven furlongs in May and could be suited by a strongly run six, while Spring Loaded and Foxtrot Lady have big-field form in the locker that could serve them well from extreme draws. Soldier’s Minute ran right away with a handicap at York in the Spring, but that was not reflective of his previous efforts. Perfection is a Listed winner over the trip while it would now take a leap of faith to support Gifted Master after he disappointed last time, though he is now on a very appealing mark. For his first big handicap, however, it appears that HEY JONESY should be well treated to go close. He was only two lengths behind Eqtidaar in last year’s Group One Commonwealth Cup here and is admirably consistent at a strong level. Watchable has bounced right back to form recently and if the nine-year-old continues to retain some of his old verve, then he will be positioned to challenge while Fighting Irish was also close up in the aforementioned Commonwealth Cup, but has lost his way since.

  1. Hey Jonesy
  2. Watchable
  3. Bacchus

 

Queen Alexandra:

The longest race in the flat calendar, so it is no surprise to see the likes of Max Dynamite, Younevercall and Black Corton running in this code. The first named has actually raced most recently on the flat and is the highest rated of these having been second in the Doncaster Cup last year, though the latter two have only ever run in the National Hunt sphere, so it is very tough to gauge if they’ll enjoy this. Cleonte should shoe up better than when only sixth in the Chester Cup as he’d previously been third in the Cesarewitch. Corelli is well worth a step up in trip for Gosden and Dettori, but last year’s winner PALLASATOR may be slightly overlooked. His last two runs have seen him well beaten, but over nearly a mile shorter and he’d need at least this trip to be seen at his best on the level. He is now ten, but enjoys his trips here and Oisin Murphy gets the leg up for Gordon Elliott. The rest look up against it.

  1. Pallasator
  2. Corelli
  3. Cleonte