Talking points,

Approaching the sharp end

As another star emerges for Willie Mullins and England collapse in Rajkot, I discuss the biggest talking points in the world of sport. 

1. Supreme Tullyhill in vogue
After winning ‘Doc’s’ bumper, he was always earmarked for success, but after racing too freely on his hurdling debut, he hasn’t quite attracted the same sort of attention as some of the other Closutton heavyweights. Nor has his name been particularly in fashion within the everchanging trends of the Supreme conversation.

Even after a ready seven length maiden success at Naas in January, there was still the suspicion of immaturity. On Sunday that changed. It wasn’t just a dominant front-running success, but the manner in which he jumped, that suggested he’s sharply ascending an upward curve.

Fast through the air and measuring each jump to perfection he won going away and away, never in doubt. He was rightly reeled in from 18/1 to 6/1 for the Supreme (his only Festival entry) and with Ballyburn potentially heading to the Baring Bingham, it would be interesting to see who is considered first string between Tullyhill and Mystical Power.

Tullyhill to win the Supreme @ 6/1

2. Discretion the better part of valour
At stumps on day two bravery was the watchword. Somehow, despite India racking 445 runs, England were in with a chance. Ben Duckett was going well with Pope steady beside him. It was heralded as a start to an innings that epitomised ‘Bazball’, you’re never down, you’re never out, chests puffed — England’s top order went about their business stoically in the Rajkot heat and hopes were raised.

4am alarms sounded across the country as bleary-eyed England fans roused themselves on Saturday morning hoping for a day to remember on a day beginning at 207-2.

It quickly became apparent that there would be no famous innings. Twenty minutes in Joe Root stooped to play a reverse scoop off Jasprit Bumrah and was gone for eighteen.

Bravery rapidly turned to shock and disbelief as things spiralled and the last eight wickets fell for 95 runs. How had this happened? Joe Root has been lavished with praise for his inventive use of a shot which has become a signature, but at risk of sounding like a broken record, why then?

More than poor form, his decision to select that particular stroke came down to the mentality that has been drummed into the England ranks since Brendon McCullum took the reins. The idea that attack is not the best, but the only, form of defence.

It works for some players and looks brilliant — Ben Duckett must be given his dues — but it doesn’t suit England’s best batsman and after more humiliation followed in a dire second innings, bravery can no longer be confused for recklessness.

England to win the Third Test @ 7/4

3. Hitting straps
There is movement now at Prestbury Park as tents are erected, Guinness is stockpiled, and obstacles are raised in preparation for the biggest week in racing.

No better time, then, to find yourself in red-hot form. Ben Pauling is banging in the winners just now with a 32% strike rate proof of a yard in fine fettle. He will be hoping to ride the crest of this wave all the way to Cheltenham and has a good chance of doing so with the quality of his recent winners, rather than the volume, catching the eye

Shakem Up’Arry got the ball rolling on New Year’s day with a gutsy success in the Paddy Power Chase, then it was Diva Luna signalling more big days on the horizon with a Listed bumper win, before the unbeaten Handstands cemented his status as a live Baring Bingham contender when beating a talking horse in Nicky Henderson’s Jango Baie.

On Sunday it was Henry’s Friend who stole the headlines and could now head to the Ultima after capping off a sensational treble for Pauling and Ben Jones.

Pauling heads to the Festival, just a thirteen-mile hop from his Naunton base, with greater strength in depth than ever before and the sense that after two seasons at his state of the art yard, everything is falling into place.

Handstands to win the Baring Bingham @ 16/1

4. Engine trouble
When the full-time whistle blew on Saturday evening Erling Haaland stood stock still in the middle of the pitch staring into the distance. The Sky cameras rotated around him like some sort of futuristic 360-degree 3D photograph until the big Norwegian swung a colossal hand towards the camera, pawing it away.

Drawing at home to Chelsea is not detrimental by any stretch. There are, after all, fourteen games remaining, and City will play both Liverpool and Arsenal before the season is out. But quite apart from Haaland’s personal frustrations — nine shots and 1.71 xG his highest totals without scoring in all competitions — it was the abrupt removal of that aura of invincibility that had begun to coalesce around Pep’s men since their return from the Club World Cup — which would have stung most for those of a sky-blue persuasion.

Eleven consecutive wins in all-comps and the smell of the summit in their nostrils; City the inevitable force, City who would win all their remaining games. But now it’s not quite so simple. Win against Brentford tonight and they go one point behind leaders Liverpool, but crucially, they do not go top.

25 played: 57, 56*, 55 — it’s all the play for.

Man City to win the Premier League @ 10/11

Lola Katz Roberts is a Content Executive at Fitzdares.

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