Robin Goodfellow's racing tips: Best bets for Thursday, June 4

Robin Goodfellow’s racing tips: Best bets for Thursday, June 4

Sportsmail’s racing expert Robin Goodfellow dishes out his tips for Thursday’s meetings at Newcastle and Newmarket.

A magnificent festival of racing begins at Newmarket on Thursday as HQ builds up to a Classic weekend.

However, with six of the 10 races set aside for juveniles, winner finding may not be straight forward.

Sportsmail’s racing expert Robin Goodfellow dishes out his tips for Thursday’s meetings

As informative as those events will no doubt prove, Newcastle could offer more to the punter with the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes a cracking event which may also have a bearing on the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in a fortnight’s time.

Connections of MALOTRU (Newcastle, 3.55) and A’Ali will certainly be hoping that the six-furlong Gosforth Park feature offers a satisfactory stepping stone for the season and preference for the former is marginal with his seven-furlong stamina an added positive given events of the week.

The Tapeta surface at Newcastle has ridden pretty deep all week since the resumption of racing on Monday and the ability to stay beyond six furlongs could prove a deciding factor in this event.

Malotru confirmed six and seven furlongs come alike to him at Lingfield in February when landing the Spring Cup in style and he may have too much power in the last furlong for A’Ali who proved so effective over the minimum trip as a juvenile, winning three times at Group 2 level.

GUIPURE (Newcastle, 1.00) hails from a yard which have hit the ground running since the resumption of racing and the Dutch Art filly could continue that bright start in the opening handicap.

Trainer Karl Burke found the score sheet with an impressive juvenile winner on Tuesday and Guipure could prove the type to thrive as a three-year-old when presented with a stiff test at a mile.

She certainly relished that trip at Pontefract last autumn when powering clear of Magna Moralia and looks fairly treated starting off a mark of 75 this summer. 

ROBIN GOODFELLOW   

1.15 Bungledupinblue 

1.50 Zamaani 

2.25 Existent 

3.00 Dark Lion 

3.35 Sky Angel 

4.10 Sunset Memory 

4.45 Count Otto 

5.20 Ginger Jam 

5.55 Via Serendipity 

6.30 Inclyne 

GIMCRACK  

1.15 Sacred 

1.50 Tactical 

2.25 Existent 

3.00 Creative Force 

3.35 Risk Of Thunder 

4.10 Cirrus 

4.45 Mia Mento (nb) 

5.20 Magic J 

5.55 Cliffs Of Capri 

6.30 Givinitsum 

NEWMARKET – 4.45 Mia Mento (nap); 5.20 Commander Han (nb).

NEWCASTLE

ROBIN GOODFELLOW    

1.00 Guipure (nap) 

1.35 Brunch 

2.10 Al Salt 

2.45 Rich Approach 

3.20 Leoch 

3.55 Malotru 

4.30 Tapeten Toni 

5.05 Barrington 

5.40 Accessor (nb) 

6.15 Mabre 

GIMCRACK    

1.00 Bottom Bay 

1.35 Splinter 

2.10 Al Salt 

2.45 Thaayer 

3.20 Rogue Tide 

3.55 Ventura Rebel (nap) 

4.30 High Peak 

5.05 Buniann 

5.40 Nataleena 

6.15 Brodick 

NORTHERNER – 1.35 Splinter (nap); 5.05 Buniann (nb)

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'He was fantastic!' Nasser Hussain names the most 'underrated' England player

Nasser Hussain has paid tribute to ‘fantastic’ Graham Thorpe, describing the former batsman as England’s most ‘underrated’ player.

Surrey legend Thorpe enjoyed a superb international career, scoring 6,744 runs and 16 centuries in exactly 100 Test matches.

Only 15 players have scored more hundreds for England, with Thorpe’s average of 44.66 superior to the likes of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and David Gower.

Despite his success, Thorpe is often overlooked when it comes to ranking England’s best batters and Hussain said: ‘He is the one that doesn’t get mentioned enough.

‘When people reel off the list of England greats, he seems to slip people’s minds. But he was a man for a crisis, for a battle.

‘He used to get “difficult” runs in a very quiet and unassuming way. He was one of the very best players I played with.

‘That’s what came out of the very first Virtual Test I did with Rob Key; it’s nice to remember these players that we sometimes forget, because “my era”, the 1990s, was pigeonholed as a bad time for English cricket.

‘But Graham Thorpe was a fantastic cricketer that would get into most England sides.’

In an interview with Sky Sports, former England captain Hussain also hailed Australia legend Mark Waugh as his most talented team-mate.

Waugh, who played county cricket for Essex, was a mainstay in Australia’s team for a decade and scored more than 16,000 runs and 38 centuries across both formats.

Hussain added: ‘I could pick someone from England but I’d say Mark Waugh – who I played with at Essex – is the most talented I’ve played with, given the ease and grace with which he batted.

‘Plus some of the catches he’d pull off! Sometimes he could make it look so easy – it was almost like he wasn’t trying but he actually put a lot of work in.’

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Five things we learned from racing’s return at Newcastle

It was a day of close calls on and off the track as horse racing became the first major sport to make its coronavirus comeback.

After the 325 meetings fell to the consequences of the outbreak, connections were keen to make up for lost time in Newcastle's ten races.

But amid the strictly run schedule, punts went astray and there were shocks aplenty in a series of tight finishes.

Here's five things we learned from racing's Newcastle return:

1. Not off to a flyer

"The wait is over," declared course commentator Darren Owen as the Welcome Back To British Racing Handicap signalled the sport's return.

Punters were looking for an early profit from the well-supported Stone Mason (15/8f), but he trailed home in sixth as 22/1 shot Zodiakos pipped his better-fancied stablemate.

The next two races had 9/1 and 16/1 winners, the latter contest seeing the withdrawal of Freedom Flyer, the first intended runner for new training partnership Simon and Ed Crisford.

He was one of three on the day to be taken out at the start.

A BHA spokesman said: “In order to safeguard social distancing as much as possible, a maximum of two ‘pushers’ can be deployed for each horse.

“As is always the case, horses who are difficult to load will be given every chance but if a horse cannot be loaded then they will need to be withdrawn.

“The decision to deploy only two pushers is based on medical advice as part of our risk management approach to a safe resumption of racing.”

2. New season, same old

St Leger winner Logician and unbeaten 1,000 Guineas favourite Quadrilateral were a son and daughter to make their mark last term- and the Newcastle opener showcased another promising duo.

Bookmakers gave Frankly Darling a quote of 10/1 for the Investec Oaks after she made light work of the first division of the Betway Maiden.

Later it was the turn of Valyrian Steel to impress, as the €600,000 yearling purchase came from an unpromising position against the nearside rail.

The leaders had a head start on him when they quickened, but he picked them up to score.

3. On a quick learning curve

Staff at the track under starter's orders encountered a hiccup when the check-in system for attendees crashed.

Chief regulatory officer for the British Horseracing Authority, Brant Dunshea, was informed at 6am and IT were on hand to rectify the issue.

But on the whole, nine weeks of hard work were put to good effect and the response from racing professionals was positive.

“In terms of the procedures, it’s a big change for everybody to actually adjust to doing things differently," Dunshea said before the first race.

“People are unsure in terms of where they need to move around the course.

"The racecourse here has got staff that are helping people and guide them around.

“We have got people doing the same and we are just reminding everybody of all the various responsibilities.”

After a pre-race briefing, jockeys came out of the socially distanced weighing room to take similarly spaced positions in the paddock.

With temperatures reaching 20C, racing in a mask proved uncomfortable for some.

Andrea Atzeni, the rider of Betway Casino Handicap winner Oakenshield, said: "It’s not too bad in the mask, but it was my first ride for two months and it’s very warm.

"It’s what we’ve got to do, though, and we’ll get used to it.”

4. Johnston back in good form

Britain's most successful trainer for winners, Mark Johnston, had beaten coronavirus himself during the sport's 76-day absence.

Despite not enjoying any luck on the day, he said he was "absolutely itching" for the season to really get going.

High-profile runners coming up include Communique in the first Group One of the season on Friday, the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup and Frankie Dettori's mount Raffle Prize in the Qipco 1000 Guineas.

"It's all a bit strange, obviously a lot of horses getting balloted out and just the logistics of planning the entries and things has been quite a shock to me," he continued.

"The beginning of last week when I started thinking about it, I never had so many horses ready at one time so it's fantastic to get them out on the track."

5. Art Power for the notebook

Backed as if defeat was out of the question in division two of the Betway Novice Stakes, Art Power duly obliged for Tim Easterby and Silvestre De Sousa.

Unchallenged by rivals including the Listed-placed Magical Journey, the grey suggested he is above average by hitting the line strongly.

Betfair gave him quotes of 25/1 for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Even more impressive than the win itself was the feeling that he is not quite the finished article.

"Mentally he's not there yet, he's still a big baby, going into the gate he didn't know who he was and on pulling up he was waiting for the others," De Sousa said.

"There's a lot of improvement in him."

FULL RESULTS FROM NEWCASTLE

Race one: Betway Welcome Back British Racing Handicap (1.00pm)

1. Zodiakos 22/1

2. Al Ozzdi 4/1

3. The Big House 18/1

Race two: Betway Heed Your Hunch Handicap (1.35pm)

1. Little Jo 9/1

2. Saisons D'Or 33/1

3. Defence Treaty 14/1

Race three: Betway Novice Stakes (Div 1) (2.10pm)

1. Edraak 16/1

2. Blazing Hot 4/1

3. Bond's Boy 3/1

Race four: Betway Novice Stakes (Div 2) (2.45pm)

1. Art Power 5/4f

2. Electric Mistress 11/1

3. Twist Of Hay 33/1

Race five: Heed Your Hunch At Betway Handicap (3.20pm)

1. Brian The Snail 13/2

2. Yousini 13/2

3. Wild Edric 13/2

Race six: Betway Casino Handicap (3.55pm)

1. Oakenshield 11/2

2. Barbarella 33/1

3. Alix James 13/2

Race seven: Betyourway At Betway Handicap (4.30pm)

1. Queen Of Kalahari 10/1

2. Tomshalfbrother 16/1

3. Qanah 33/1

Race eight: Betway Handicap (5.05pm)

1. Alignak 5/2jf

2. Good Tidings 5/2jf

3. Anythingtoday 25/1

Race nine: Betway Maiden Stakes (Div 1) (5.40pm)

1. Frankly Darling 10/11f

2. Thibaan 9/4

3. Rocket Rod 8/1

Race ten: Betway Maiden Stakes (Div 2) (6.15pm)

1. Valyrian Steel 11/4

2. Wise Glory 5/1

3. Byzantine Empire 9/4f

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James Anderson: Coronavirus break may add ‘a year or two’ to career

England fast bowler James Anderson believes the enforced break from cricket due to the coronavirus pandemic could prolong his career.

Anderson, 37, is part of a 55-player group that has been asked to return to training, with the first Test against West Indies set to start on 8 July.

Anderson has regained full fitness after picking up a rib injury on England’s winter tour of South Africa.

“It could just add on a year or two at the end of my career,” said Anderson.

The Lancashire paceman, who is England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Test cricket, has only bowled 74 overs since August after missing large parts of last summer’s Ashes and the winter tours of New Zealand and South Africa through injury.

He has been bowling in the nets at Old Trafford with social distancing measures in place.

Speaking on the latest Tailenders podcast, Anderson said: “I’ve really enjoyed being back and as odd as it is just bowling into a net, with not many people around, it’s still nice to be back and playing cricket.

“I bring all the kit myself – my bands and med balls to warm-up with – and I’ve got my own cricket balls which I don’t normally have.

“I have a quick lap round the outfield and then straight into the nets. I bowl a few overs and then get straight back in the car and go home.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expected to announce a revamped summer schedule this week.

“I got up to speed quite quickly. I’m off my full run up and I feel like I’m ready to play now,” Anderson said. “I need to just calm down a bit.

“As players you are working towards the 8 July date as if it’s going to happen but obviously each stage has to be ticked off by the government, most importantly, and secondly the ECB.”

The series will take place behind closed doors and Anderson, like team-mate Jofra Archer, supports the idea of playing artificial crowd noise at the games.

“I’ve been watching the rugby league in Australia and I actually thought there was a crowd watching because they were playing crowd noise through the speaker in the stadium,” Anderson said.

“I actually thought it worked. It was nice to have that sort of atmosphere even though there was no-one there.”

  • England Tests could include coronavirus replacements
  • West Indies agree tour ‘in principle’
  • Pick your world Test XI: Who makes your team?

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Australian cricketer James Faulkner faces an uncertain future

James Faulkner’s career is in limbo after the Australian cricketer suffered another setback during the week.

The 30-year-old was not offered a new contract by Tasmania for the upcoming season, meaning if he wants to keep pressing his claims for a return to the international arena he needs to hope another state comes calling.

Faulkner developed into a genuine matchwinner in the coloured clothes for Australia but struggles with injuries and poor form mean his time with the Tigers has come to a sad end.

The snub from his home state, who the all-rounder debuted for as a teenager, reflects a steep fall for someone who was Man of the Match in the World Cup final when Australia won the trophy on home soil in 2015, taking three wickets and stifling New Zealand with his variety of left-arm seamers and cutters.

For a period Faulkner was an automatic selection in the one-day side and became the new “Finisher”. He first played for Australia in February 2013 and announced himself as a serious talent during a series against India later that year.

He belted an unbeaten 64 from 29 balls in Mohali to help the Aussies chase down 304 in the final over and three games later in Bangalore, hit 116 from just 73 balls coming in at No. 7.

One of Faulkner’s most famous knocks came a couple of months later against England at The Gabba when he rescued Australia from near-certain defeat, cracking 69 not out from 47 deliveries for another successful 300-plus run chase in the final over.

After his heroic World Cup masterclass, Faulkner was averaging more than 40 with the bat and 30 with the ball — hugely impressive numbers from an all-rounder in the 50-over format.

But the purple patch didn’t last. Although often coming in down the order when quick runs were needed, Faulkner made it to 20 just three times between the World Cup decider on March 29, 2015 and being cut from Australia’s national contract list in April 2017.

Faulkner hasn’t been able to recreate the form that made him a mainstay in the Australian side.Source:Getty Images

Serious knee troubles hampered his ability to train and Faulkner’s performances suffered. His bowling lacked penetration and he couldn’t find any continuity with the bat.

Faulkner last played an ODI in October 2017 and now his domestic career is in danger of following the same trajectory as his international one.

The paceman hasn’t played a Sheffield Shield game since 2017 as his red-ball work all but disappeared. Last season in the domestic one-day competition, Faulkner averaged 37.85 with the ball and 22.50 with the bat.

The man who won the Ricky Ponting Medal as Tasmania’s best player three seasons in a row is now without a home and may find himself plying his trade in T20 competitions if another state doesn’t offer him a deal.

Last year with the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash, Faulkner scored eight runs in four forgettable innings but managed 10 wickets at an economy rate of 7.67, after being the team’s leading wicket-taker the season prior.

He joined the franchise from the Melbourne Stars ahead of the 2018/19 campaign on a three-year-deal, hoping a move back home would reinvigorate his career but he hasn’t reappeared on the radar of Australian selectors as they favoured all-rounders like Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis.

Faulkner was struck down by a calf tear in January but with one season left on his Hurricanes contract he’ll be hoping to stay injury-free and prove he’s deserving of extending his stint.

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Caulfield barn dominates raceday as Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr march on with winning treble

The Mick Price and Michael Kent Jr stable continued its memorable May when it took training honours at Caulfield with a winning treble on its home track.

At the two previous Saturday meetings at Flemington, the stable had produced winning doubles including Oceanex in The Andrew Ramsden to secure a start in the Melbourne Cup.

Their winners on Saturday were three-year-old gelding Right You Are, sprinter Tavisan and Heptagon, who is trained at their Warrnambool stables.

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They also trained the quinella in the Nick Johnstone Real Estate Handicap (1600m, 3YO) when three-year-old gelding Right You Are defeated filly Librate narrowly.

In terms of the future it was that win Price was but excited about, although he cautioned he’s got a lot to learn.

“He waited for the other horse in the closing stages. I’ll take him through his grades and can teach him as he goes along,” Price said.

Price said Right You Are would have his next start at Flemington on June 20 over 2000m against his own age group.

Jockey Damien Oliver pilots Right You Are to victory.Source:AAP


“After this win his rating will be 72 to 73 so there’s a long way to go before we can start making plans about spring and things like that. He’ll be a four-year-old in the spring so it’s still early days,” he said.

“He had a good gate, nice ride and the best horse won. I think he’s a really interesting horse. He’ll get 2000m, no problem.
“He’s got a good set of lungs and he’s always clean winded in trackwork. He’s a lovely, sound horse. He’s got a bit to learn but I think we’re just taking him through the grades to capitalise on these $100,000 races and make a horse out of him.

Trainer Mick Price picked up a treble on his home turf.Source:AAP

“Not sure what happens given that the spring is back a bit now, whether he’ll be an early four-year-old, but we’re going to play around with him.”

His jockey Damien Oliver described him as “quirky” and that he did a few little things wrong.

Right You Are ($2.90 fav) defeated Librate by a short head with Translator ($9.50) a length and a quarter away third.

The stable later made it a winning double when Tavisan took out the 1100m sprint.

Price said they would continue to target sprints with Tavisan over winter.

Price said Heptagon, who was ridden by apprentice Lewis German to win the Vale Kevin O’Brien Handicap (1400m), said being prepared at Warrnambool had led to a transformation in his attitude to being “a happy horse”.

He said it was likely Heptagon would run in next Sunday’s Swan Hill Cup.

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Lewis German rides Heptagon to victory to complete the stable treble.Source:AAP

DABERNIG: SIKORSKY HAD NO EXCUSES

Punters were left lamenting after the shortest priced favourite for the day, the $1.85 Sikorsky was beaten in the last stride by $15 chance All Too Huiying in the Benchmark 84 (1600m).

Co-trainer of Sikorsky, Tom Dabernig said Sikorsky had his opportunity to win.

“There’s no excuses. The tempo was against him and we were caught when trying to slot in but had to go outside the leader which left him there as a sitting shot,” Dabernig said.

“It was a good run but we know now that we need a strong tempo and cover.”

Sikorsky’s jockey Damien Oliver was forced to push forward and sit outside the leader in the early part as the horse was over-racing.

Sikorsky still looked likely to win but tired in the closing stages and All Too Huiying’s trainer Phillip Stokes said it was the ride of apprentice Michael Poy which secured them victory.

“He gave him a good ride so that he was strong late,” Stokes said.

Stokes wasn’t surprised by the win because All Too Huiying run well at his previous start when fourth in the Group 3 Lee Stakes at Morphettville. “I think he’s a horse that we’ll step up to 2000m now. He’s found form,” Stokes said.

Poy said he settled him in the run where he was happy.

“He came back in my lap a bit and got on the chewy for a few strides, but when I asked him to let down he went super and straightened. Hopefully he can stay in Melbourne and go on with it,” he said.

TAB BIG BETS

RACE ONE

Valaquenta attracted some nice support throughout the day in the Catanach’s Jewellers Handicap (1100m).

Hovering around the $5.50 mark for most of the day, the Godolphin runner touched $7 briefly late in betting before a late rally saw it start $6.50.

In a driving finish, Brad Rawiller got the best out of the son of Street Boss to nose out Nantucket ($7.50) with the popular Crystal Chief ($5) close up in third.

Easily the most popular runner here was Island Joy ($4.60-$3.90-$4.20) which went around with 39 per cent of the total investment.

BETS: Island Joy $3,000 @ $4.20, $2,000 @ $3.90

BETS: Crystal Chief $1,000 @ $5 TWICE

BETS: Jabali Ridge $1,000 @ $10

BETS: Nantucket $1,000 @ $7.50

RACE TWO

Broadwayandfourth was the second best supported runner in the Super Box Race Day Hamper Handicap (1100m).

After the late scratching of Somals, which had been well tried, it was Pauls regret and Broadwayandfourth which dominated the hold along with Felicia ($6).

Powering home under Ben Melham, the filly was too strong for Absolute Flirt ($6.50) which carried some nice each way investments.

BETS: Broadwayandfourth $1,500 @ $5.50

BETS: Pauls Regret $2,720 @ $5.50, $1,000 @ $5.50

RACE THREE

Ruban Bleu had plenty of admirers in the third event on the card from Caulfield.

The Hayes, Hayes & Dabernig runner was the second most popular runner in terms of money held, with only Leiter ($5-$4.80) holding more.

Lachie King timed his run to perfection as the pair finished best down the outside to hold off the big firmer I’m Telling Ya ($11-$5) which flashed home from last on the turn. Scottish Rogue ($8-$12) filled the minors in front of Leiter.

BETS: Im Telling Ya $4,000 @ $5, $2,000 @ $5

BETS: Leiter $2,000 @ $4.80, $1,600 @ $4.80, $1,000 @ $4.60

RACE FOUR

The ‘good thing’ of the day landed plenty of big bets in the running of the Nick Johnstone Real Estate Handicap (1600m).

The Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr runner went around with a tick over half the total investment and was six times as popular as anything else in the race.

Settling just off the speed, the son of So You Think overpowered his rivals late to beat Librate ($6.50-$8) which didn’t give it away without a fight. Translator ($10) got out late to grab third.

Right You Are opened the day at $2.70 and bottomed out at $2.40 before starting a very popular $2.80 favourite.

BETS: Right You Are $2,500 @ $2.80, $1,600 @ $2.80, $1,500 @ $2.80, $1,000 @ $2.80 MULTIPLE TIMES, $1,500 @ $2.60, $3,000 @ $2.50, $2,000 @ $2.50

RACE FIVE

N/A

RACE SIX

Tavisan led throughout to win the Le Pine Funerals Handicap (1100m).

Giving the Mick price & Michael Kent Jnr stable their second win of the day, Tavisan ($6.50-$8) got the wobbles late in betting as the heavy support came for News Girl ($$3.30-$3.90-$3.50) and Never Again ($13-$6.50), the latter being backed since the morning.

News Girl was nearly three times as popular as anything else in the race.

BETS: Tavisan $1,250 @ $7.50

BETS: Inn Keeper $1,000 @ $9

BETS: News Girl $1,000 @ $3.70 TWICE, $2,700 @ $3.50

BETS: Never Again $1,000 @ $8, $2,000 @ $7, $2,000 @ $6.50

RACE SEVEN

Favourite backers were sent packing after the heavily tried Sikorsky was nailed on the line by All Too Huiying.

Sikorsky ($1.85) went around as one of the most popular runners across the country today, commanding 61 per cent of the money in the seventh event over 1600 metres.

Hitting the front early in the straight, Sikorsky kept fighting but couldn’t hold off All Too Huiying ($9.50-$15) which nailed it on the line.

No Say In It ($9) had some admirers and wound up third in front of Bartholemeu Dias ($8.50) which was also specked.

BETS: Sikorsky $5,000 @ $2, $10,000 @ $1.90, $2,000 @ $1.90, $8,000 @ $1.85, $6,750 @ $1.85, $13,500 @ $1.80

BETS: No Say In It $2,000 @ $9

RACE EIGHT

Heptagon defied a late betting drift to get the cash in the Vale Kevin O’Brien Handicap (1400m).

Yet another winner for the Price & Kent Jnr stable, Heptagon went $7-$9.50 on the day as punters specked a number of runners in one of the most open betting affairs on the day.

Biometric ($13-$7.50) was a notable firmer as was Lim’s Lightning ($17-$9.50) while the favoured runners in the morning all got the wobbles late including Jumbo Ozaki ($3.60-$4.60) and Victoria Star ($5-$7.50).

Kaplumpich ($8.50-$10-$8.50) ran on for second in front of Victoria Star and Jumbo Ozaki.

BETS: Victoria Star $1,000 @ $7

BETS: Jumbo Ozaki $2,000 @ $4.40

BETS: Danon Roman $1,520 @ $18

RACE NINE

One of the more popular runners in the final event was Mahamedeis.

The Nick Ryan runner was the second most popular horse behind Girl Tuesday and was pretty solid at the $5.

Launching late, Mahamedeis held out Pacodali ($13-$8) and Hang Man ($6-$8.50) to land some nice bets.

BETS: Mahamedeis $2,500 @ $5, $1,000 @ $5 TWICE

BETS: Super Titus $5,000 x $2,000 e/w @ $9/$3

BETS: Hang Man $1,500 @ $7

BETS: Girl Tuesday $1,300 @ $7

BETS: Carzoff $1,000 @ $10

BETS: Inverloch $2,500 e/w @ $13/$3.90

Originally published asStable’s incredible May continues with home trifecta

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Mark Wood reveals England want him to be more aggressive

‘I’ll be our smiling assassin!’: Paceman Mark Wood reveals England want him to be more aggressive as the countdown begins to the summer’s first Test against West Indies

  • England fast bowler Wood is ready to play his part in cricket’s ‘project restart’
  • The 30-year-old is one of England’s best bowlers and biggest characters
  • He admits it may take a month or two to get up to speed following the lay-off

He is one of England’s best bowlers and biggest characters and is ready to play his part in cricket’s ‘project restart’.

With the planned Test return against West Indies set for July, Mark Wood, 30, talked to former England captain and Sportsmail columnist Nasser Hussain about the challenges ahead.

Cricket correspondent Paul Newman was taking notes…

England fast bowler Mark Wood is ready to play his part in cricket’s ‘project restart’

Nasser Hussain: First things first, what has lockdown been like for you?

Mark Wood: Quite good actually. It’s been nice to be in our own bubble where we’ve felt safe. I’ve got a young son who was born in October and it’s been nice to spend quality time with him after two and a half months in South Africa. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been a little more anxious than normal with the way things have been.

I’ve worried about my grandad who has bad asthma, my parents and my family going shopping and things like that. I’m sure everybody has been worried about those things. But I’ve had time to build my fitness up so that if cricket was around the corner it wouldn’t be such a big jump.

Nasser: I’ve seen you changing nappies in cricket clothes on the internet!

Wood: Well, there have been certain challenges from people and that was one of them. Dancing was another. Anything to stop us keep climbing the walls.

Nasser: You’re back in training now. What does that actually mean for you?

Wood: We’ve just started training individually. I’m with Stokesey at Durham but I never actually see him! He’s always been in an hour before me and then I turn up and train after him.

It’s a weird feeling. The physio keeps two metres away but as I might need treatment on my ankle or loosening my side off I wear a mask and my hands are battered from using so much alcohol gel.

It’s strange that you can’t shine the ball. It’s weird how much I’ve wanted to touch my face or wipe sweat on the ball or get some saliva on it. I think you take those things for granted but now it’s trying to work out how to move the ball without doing that.

The 30-year-old paceman is one of England’s best bowlers and biggest characters

I’ve been talking to Neil Killeen at Durham about looking after the ball and if we can keep it super dry maybe we can reverse it.

Motivation-wise it has felt odd with no batsmen but at least we have an end goal in sight now.

Nasser: How has it been for you physically? You’ve had injuries over the years. How long will it take you to get ready for a Test?

Wood: It will take a little time, maybe a month or two. People are different. I know Stuart Broad likes time to ease himself back in whereas Jimmy Anderson seems to have such nice rhythm and flow when he bowls that it seems so repeatable and easy for him to get back in the groove.

Maybe he won’t agree if he reads this! But I watched a video of him the other day and he never misses the top of off-stump. He is just programmed to nail it whereas I have good and bad days trying that.

I don’t mind saying that my ankle does take a bit of time to get used to the workload. I bowled the other day and it was a little bit sore. You have to start off at 50 or 60 per cent and build up. I can’t bowl at 90 miles per hour immediately. It’s like if you go to the gym, you wouldn’t lift 100 kilos straight away.

Nasser: It could be argued that an enforced lay-off is good for bowlers but you’ve missed so much cricket because of your body.

Wood: Yes, over the past year when I’ve played for England I’ve felt in good form and I’ve been in a good place physically. I know I had a side issue in South Africa but I’ve been on top of the problems with my ankle and there’s been a real frustration I haven’t been able to continue that form.

Two or three years ago I would be playing with niggles and my pace would be down and if I’m at 70 or 80 per cent there are 10 bowlers better than me for England. But now my pace has been really good and I didn’t want cricket to stop.

Nasser: The last time I saw you on a cricket field at the Wanderers in January you came running past me at the toss and said, ‘Great, we’re having a bat,’ because you were feeling your side. It was the second of back-to-back Tests. You were in deep conversation with Joe Root before that toss. Was it a difficult call to play?

Wood: I’ve got a lot of trust with Rooty and we’ve got a good relationship. The same with (head coach) Chris Silverwood. He knows from his career what it can be like. I remember a game at Trent Bridge when I really shouldn’t have played because of a bruised heel. There were others I can remember when, because of my own insecurities, I didn’t want people to think I was soft. But now I’m clear in my mind that if I’m not fit I will say so.

That morning in Johannesburg I wasn’t that confident and I was thinking, ‘Can I do this over two innings?’ But when I bowled in the warm-up it was swinging and I was bowling quite sharp.

I told Rooty I could still feel the side but that I could play if he wanted me to. I left it to them and if Jofra Archer had been fine I don’t think I would have played but because he wasn’t great either I played. It was gutsy from them to pick me and now I’m pleased it went that way. (Wood was player of the match with nine wickets).

Wood has a good relationship with England captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood

Nasser: That was the last Test England played. Now, maybe, just maybe, the next will be at the Ageas Bowl on July 8. As opposed to football where some players seem worried about returning, cricketers appear to be as one and want to get on with it. Is that how you see it?

Wood: Yes and no. Football is different. We’re not in a contact sport. I really trust the team doctor. It’s like when we went to Bangladesh and all the talk was security issues. We trusted our security guy who we knew really well and this time we trust the doctor (Nick Peirce).

No stone has been left unturned and there are constant updates from him and Ashley Giles. The lads have asked hard questions about time away, coming in and out of the ‘bubble’ and getting physio treatment, the standard of play and the lack of crowds. It’s not like we’ve just accepted it, but the general feeling has been positive.

It is divided because it’s such a sensitive issue but the lads are keen to get back out there. The training so far has been good and as long as we keep on that trend it should be all right.

Nasser: Are the team across all the bio-secure arrangements? Do they know exactly what they are signing up for?

Wood: Yes and you have to opt into that. Legally you have to say so. The lads who are training at the moment have all opted in, as have the physios and coaches. From my point of view going into an environment that will be clean, where everyone is tested, will be like going into a family where everyone is locked down.

It will be like being on tour in a place where it’s hard to go out. There will be challenges around that but as long as we can keep the atmosphere we had before and make it as normal as possible it will make a big difference.

Nasser: How important will your character be? You enjoy your cricket and play with a smile on your face.

Wood was player of the match with nine wickets in the fourth Test against South Africa

Wood: I do enjoy it but at the moment Chris Silverwood has pushed me down the firm route. He wants me to be, as he says, the smiling assassin. It’s not in my nature to shout and scream at people but if I can be an aggressive smiling bowler that’s great.

Someone like Chris Woakes is very important in this because he really looks after people. He can make light of a bad situation and help people along. Mark Saxby (massage therapist with responsibility for pastoral care) will have an important role. David Young (sports psychologist) gets on really well with everyone. If specialists can help with things away from cricket that will make the cricket better for everyone.

Nasser: Last week was mental health awareness week. I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up but I know you’ve struggled at times with your mental health. Have there been some really dark days for you Woody?

Wood: Yes. There have been times when I didn’t believe I was good enough to play for England any more and the frustration was that I cared too much about it and my own performance. I didn’t think I was living up to my potential. And I struggled a lot with the injury side of things. Real dark days.

Once I thought, ‘Should I just retire and give this up?’ It was after my third ankle op and I thought, ‘Do I want to go back to all that rehab?’ I spoke to the psychologist about anxiety because I was really struggling.You will always have up and down days as a cricketer but the good ones make up for the bad and I’m glad I stuck with it now.

My wife has been brilliant and my dad is someone I talk a lot to about cricket. I’ve got a good group of friends who are not necessarily close to the game which helps. I can be myself. They bring you down if you get too high. Having something away from cricket has been really important to me.

Nasser: Have you spoken to county pros who are worried about their futures, ones who are maybe coming to the end of their contract? There might not be as much money in the game after this.

Wood: Yes, I think a lot are concerned about their futures. I won’t give you a media-trained answer. They are worried.

There are young lads who might not get any cricket to prove they deserve a new deal. Everyone’s in different circumstances.

International cricket will have a big role to play here. If we can get it up and running it will help the counties. Durham is isolated. We’re not like Surrey or Middlesex who sell out T20 every week so whatever money we can bring in will be vital. I hope with the production line Durham has had we can keep the young players coming through because it’s great for the area and for England.

Wood admits it may take a month or two to get up to speed following the enforced lay-off

Nasser: You might need a media-trained answer for this one. Eoin Morgan this week said Alex Hales has a lot to do to get his England place back. Chris Woakes has said he’d have him back. Would you be happy to have him back in the dressing room with you?

Wood: Yes and no! Halesey is a fantastic player and I think the lads would accept him coming back but there seems a way for him to go yet. If he does come back what would that say to someone who has worked hard and done the right things to earn a place in the team? Would it be harsh to leave someone out for him?

I felt sorry for David Willey missing out on the World Cup. He lost his place just before the tournament and I don’t know what someone like Dave would think about Alex getting another chance before him. But if the barriers come down I’m sure the lads would accept him, yes.

Nasser: Australia have announced a lot of matches they hope to stage in their summer. What are the chances of cricket being played in England? Are you optimistic?

Wood: Yes I think we’ve got a really good chance. There’s a lot of trust in the medical staff and management. As long as it’s safe — and I don’t mean just players, I mean management, cameramen, caterers and everyone at the ground — then I think there’s a great chance of cricket being back on.




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