Wednesday 30 April 2014

Racing Legends - Mick Fitzgerald

Mick Fitzgerald

Since racing his first winner, Lover’s Secret, at Ludlow in December 1988 at the age of 18, Mick Fitzgerald has slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the finest jockeys in National Hunt racing.

Mick Fitzgerald started his racing career on the pony racing circuit in Ireland, graduating to horse racing at the age of 16 when he joined Wexford trainer Richard Lister’s stable. After finishing school Fitzgerald crossed the Irish Sea and worked in the stables of National Hunt trainer Richard Tucker who provided the young jockey with his first winner.

Climbing the peaks of the racing world was a slow process for Mick Fitzgerald, and it was only in the 1991/1992 National Hunt season that he formed the strong partnership with a trainer that is so important for success in horse racing. Fitzgerald paired up with Nick Henderson in 1991, but despite winning numerous wins on the National Hunt racing circuit it would be another five years before he landed his first major title.

In 1996 Mick Fitzgerald, Cheltenham Festival legend, joined forces with trainer Terry Casey and entered the Grand National on race favourite Rough Quest. Rough Quest did his reputation of race favourite proud, winning Mick Fitzgerald one of the most coveted prizes in horse racing.

Once Mick Fitzgerald had a Grand National win under his belt, his career gathered momentum. At the 1999 Cheltenham Festival Fitzgerald picked up four wins, including the ultimate prize – the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

His excellent display of jump riding earned him his first Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey title. Later in the year Mick Fitzgerald won another of the greatest prizes in horse racing, winning the 1999 King George VI Chase on See More Business.

Not content with a single Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey title, Mick Fitzgerald won another four races at the 2000 Cheltenham Festival winning his second consecutive title. Although Fitzgerald did not ride the winner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he did pick up a win in the prestigious Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.

Apart from his steady maturation into one of the most formidable riders in National Hunt racing, Mick Fitzgerald, Cheltenham Festival legend, is also known as one of the personalities of the National Hunt riding circuit and is a regular guest in television studios.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sizing Europe wins Boylsports Chase

Getty Images
Sizing Europe won the Champion Chase for a second time at Punchestown on Tuesday.

The 12-year-old was always travelling well as he repeated his 2012 success, registering an eighth Grade One win for his trainer Henry de Bromhead.

Leading before the second-last fence under Andrew Lynch, Sizing Europe (7-1) went on to deny Ballynagour by five and a half lengths, with Savello third.

Owner Alan Potts said Sizing Europe will now be retired.

There was drama down the back straight where the favourite Hidden Cyclone fell and hampered Module, who was immediately pulled up.

Potts told At The Races: "Fantastic. I could see him winning because there was nothing in that race that had beaten us. Somersby beat us once. We beat him the rest of the times.

"Somersby obviously didn't run the race he could, but Europe was back to his brilliant best."

When asked if Sizing Europe would be retired after what was an emotional triumph, Potts answered: "Yes."

De Bromhead said: "He is just unbelievable, he was running away with Andrew. He was just loving it. I'm speechless."

Sizing Europe was winning for the 21st time from 42 career starts, his first success under Rules coming in a bumper at Naas in 2006.

Also top class over the smaller obstacles, he landed the Irish Champion Hurdle in 2008 by eight lengths from Hardy Eustace.

As a novice chaser Sizing Europe claimed the Arkle at Cheltenham in 2010, beating Somersby, and returned the following year to lift the Queen Mother Champion Chase crown.

Sizing Europe's success was the highlight of the first day of the Irish National Hunt Festival at the County Kildare track.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thorpe Released from Hospital

an Thorpe has been released from hospital after recovering from a shoulder infection. The 31-year-old contracted the problem after surgery earlier this year.

Australian media reported the 31-year-old could lose the use of an arm but that was dismissed at the time by his manager James Erskine.

"It looks as though the infections have cleared up. It can always re-infect as it's done twice before but we are hopeful," said Erskine.

Thorpe, Australia's most decorated swimmer, retired after the Athens Olympics in 2004 before making an unsuccessful comeback bid for London in 2012.

He was admitted to rehab for depression earlier this year after being found in a state of confusion by police near his parents house in Sydney.

He had taken anti-depressants and medication for a shoulder injury - sustained in a fall at home - but was not under the influence of alcohol.

Thorpe made his Olympic Games debut in Sydney in 2000, winning three golds there and another two in Athens, but retired in 2006.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bayern Tactics Were Wrong - Lahm

Getty Images
Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm admitted his side got their tactics horribly wrong in the first half of their Champions League humiliation at home to Real Madrid.

The Bundesliga champions were blown away before the break as Madrid raced into a 3-0 lead, 4-0 on aggregate, thanks to two Sergio Ramos headers and a Cristiano Ronaldo effort.

It was an astonishingly inept display from a side which had been the dominant force in Europe over the past 18 months.

Ronaldo added his second at the death to book Madrid's place in the final.

"We're very disappointed because we set our sights high, but suddenly we were 2-0 down after 20 minutes from two set-pieces," Lahm said on the Bayern website.

"That really leaves a bitter taste. I don't think we played well tactically in the first half. The game was too open.

"It was the opposite of the first leg when we controlled the play. I know they hit us on the break last week, but (on Tuesday) it was end-to-end stuff in the first half.

"That's fundamentally not the way we play our football, but it's what Real really like. It totally played into their hands."

Arjen Robben said Madrid were the "world's best counter-attacking team", but added: "A 4-0 defeat at home is a choker."

Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted the loss exposed the limitations of the Bundesliga champions. They failed to find the net against Carlo Ancelotti's side in 180 minutes of football.

Rummenigge said: "We didn't have quite enough passion to cause our opponents serious problems.

"We were obviously unlucky to go two goals behind to set-plays. After that it was obvious Real would make the final.

"Real have a magnificent team at the moment and our limitations have been exposed to a certain extent.

"You get games like these, but we need to hold our nerve. We've been a little spoiled because we made the final twice in a row, and three times in the last four years.

"Despite the anger you feel welling up inside, I think on days like these you have to stay calm, go home and try to do things better as of tomorrow.

"We need to lick our wounds quickly, because we want a much better performance on 17 May in the DFB-Pokal final against (Borussia) Dortmund."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday 27 April 2014

Toulon v Munster - Preview

Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson will be fit to captain Toulon in their Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster in Marseille on Sunday.

Wilkinson has recovered from a hamstring problem, while winger Bryan Habana (thigh) is also fit.

Munster, in a record 11th Heineken Cup semi, will be without second-row Donnacha Ryan, who has a foot injury.

Sean Dougall joins CJ Stander and James Coughlan in the back row, while hooker Damien Varley captains the side.

JJ Hanrahan returns from a groin injury to be named amongst the replacements, while Casey Laulala's recovery from a broken hand means that Rob Penney names not only the same front five from the quarter-final win over Toulouse, but also the same backline.

Varley leads the side in the absence of injured skipper Peter O'Mahony, with Ireland captain Paul O'Connell left to concentrate on coping with the defending champions' giant pack, in which ex-All Blacks prop Carl Hayman starts at tight-head with Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni on the bench.

A powerful, all-international backline also includes former Wallabies Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, and France centre Mathieu Bastareaud.

Munster have twice lifted the Heineken Cup and victory in the south of France would put them through to a fifth final in Cardiff on 24 May.

"The tradition and history is there and it's what the club is renowned for," said centre James Downey.

"The players come into the club knowing that and every foreigner that comes over, that's how they know about Munster, from the Heineken Cup."

Toulon lifted the trophy for the first time in Dublin last season and saw off Munster's Irish counterparts Leinster in the quarter-finals but, despite their recent success, coach Bernard Laporte was forced to reiterate his side's commitment to Europe's top club competition.

"Everybody's very serious and very focused," he said. "Every single player wants to play - there are no small injuries anymore. For a coach, it's just happiness. I love it. The guys are so into the game. Before I even speak, they are already listening."

Toulon: 15. Delon Armitage; 14. Drew Mitchell, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Matt Giteau, 11. Bryan Habana; 10. Jonny Wilkinson (c), 9. Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 1. Xavier Chiocci, 2. Craig Burden, 3. Carl Hayman, 4. Danie Rossouw, 5. Jocelino Suta, 6. Juan Smith, 7. Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 8. Steffon Armitage.

Replacements: 16. Jean-Charles Orioli, 17. Alexandre Menini, 18. Martin Castrogiovanni, 19. Virgile Bruni, 20. David Smith, 21. Maxime Mermoz, 22. Michael Claassens, 23. Konstantine Mikautadze.

Munster: 15. Felix Jones; 14. Keith Earls, 13. Casey Laulala, 12. James Downey, 11. Simon Zebo; 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Damien Varley (c), 3. BJ Botha, 4. Dave Foley, 5. Paul O'Connell, 6. CJ Stander, 7. Sean Dougall, 8. James Coughlan.

Replacements: 16. Duncan Casey, 17. James Cronin, 18. John Ryan, 19. Donncha O'Callaghan, 20. Tommy O'Donnell, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. JJ Hanrahan, 23. Denis Hurley.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday 26 April 2014

Saracens v Clermont Auvergne - Preview

Getty Images
Saracens have given Kelly Brown the nod over Jackson Wray at blind-side flanker for Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final with Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham.

Mouritz Botha partners Steve Borthwick at lock, with Neil de Kock starting at scrum-half over Richard Wigglesworth.

Clermont include Wales full-back Lee Byrne and ex-All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, who both missed the quarter-final win over Leicester.

With captain Aurelien Rougerie injured, flanker Julien Bonnaire leads the side.

Benson Stanley starts at outside centre alongside France star Wesley Fofana in Rougerie's absence.

Clermont dismissed Leicester in the quarter-finals as part of a home run that has seen them go 76 games unbeaten at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

Lock Nathan Hines, though, expects Sarries to provide a sterner test, and says Clermont will be using the memory of final defeat by Toulon 12 months ago as their motivation.

"Remembering that final motivates you: it was a difficult defeat to get over," said Hines, a Heineken Cup winner with Leicester in 2009.

"We were just disappointed with the way we played, especially in the last 20 minutes. Sometimes we look back and think 'we should have done this' or 'we should have done that'. It's always hard to lose in a final like that, but you've got to worry about what's ahead."

To win a Heineken Cup semi-final at the third attempt, Saracens must become the first English team to win a last-four tie at Twickenham.

Although three of the four finals to be held at England's HQ have been won by English teams (Northampton in 2000 and Wasps in 2004 and 2007), London Irish and Sarries - last year against Toulon - have both been beaten in semi-finals there.

"We know how difficult it is to win things but we've got ourselves into a cracking situation and need to take advantage of it this time around," said director or rugby Mark McCall.

"Just to get through to the semi-finals isn't enough for this group now, we need to kick on and win something. We all want to win trophies and know how difficult it is.

"I think we're as ready as we've ever been to meet a challenge like this. There's a genuine belief that we're in good form. We're a better team than we were 12 months ago and our game has evolved."

Saracens: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Marcelo Bosch, 12. Brad Barritt, 11. David Strettle; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Neil de Kock; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. James Johnston, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. Mouritz Botha, 6. Kelly Brown, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Richard Barrington, 18. Matt Stevens, 19. Alistair Hargreaves, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Tim Streather, 23. Chris Wyles.

Clermont Auvergne: 15. Lee Byrne; 14. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13. Benson Stanley, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Naipolioni Nalaga; 10. Brock James, 9. Morgan Parra; 1. Thomas Domingo, 2. Benjamin Kayser, 3. Davit Zirakashvili, 4. Jamie Cudmore, 5. Nathan Hines, 6. Julien Bonnaire (c), 7. Damien Chouly, 8. Fritz Lee.

Replacements: 16. Ti'i Paulo, 17. Vincent Debaty, 18. Clément Ric, 19. Julien Pierre, 20. Gerhard Vosloo, 21. Thierry Lacrampe, 22. Mike Delany, 23. Noa Nakaitaci.

Enhanced by Zemanta

McCoy Set for Title 19

Getty Images
AP McCoy will become champion jump jockey for the 19th successive year at Sandown on Saturday.

McCoy, who is 40 next month, rode more than 200 winners this season despite missing the start through injury.

The record-breaking Northern Irishman was hurt in a fall at Cheltenham in April 2013 which left him in intensive care.

In November, he passed the mark of 4,000 career wins with victory on Mountain Tunes at Towcester.

His triumphs in the 2013-14 season, which ends at the Surrey track on Saturday, have come at a winning strike rate of 24%.

McCoy finished more than 60 wins ahead of nearest rival Richard Johnson, who has never been champion and is runner-up for the 15th time.

"You start off at the beginning of the season and the goal is to be champion, and I've been lucky enough to achieve it 19 times," McCoy told 5 live. "I'd like to achieve it again next season if possible."

Fellow jockey Sam Twiston-Davies told 5 live: "We all look up to him massively. He's the most amazing man and we're all very lucky to be riding in the same era as him."

Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, said: "What can one say about AP McCoy? He is simply a phenomenon.

"Who would have predicted almost two decades ago when he became champion jump jockey for the first time that he would not relinquish the title for almost 20 years? And he is still going strong in his 40th year and will soon be aiming for title number 20 in 2014/15.

"As well as being the greatest jump jockey in history, he is also a terrific gentleman and a true ambassador for our sport."

Paul Nicholls will be champion trainer for the eighth time, after beating last year's winner Nicky Henderson.

Gavin Sheehan will receive the annual award as champion conditional jockey.

Enhanced by Zemanta