Argentina v Saudi Arabia

Argentina v Saudi Arabia  As a game that immediately screams ‘Lionel Messi for top scorer’, Argentina playing Saudi Arabia on opening match of a FIFA World Cup throws up some great opportunities. This game is going to come with some very intriguing match-ups, but the simple fact is that for all of the results Saudi get in the Asian conference they very rarely bring that with them to the biggest stage.

They have only made the knockouts once, and are typically the lowest ranked team in any of the groups they are drawn in. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is no different and they will do very well to take anything from a group involving Poland and Mexico as well as the pre-tournament favourites.

Who will win this tie?

Argentina, easily. They have a hugely motivated Lionel Messi playing in probably his final FIFA World Cup, as well as a host of players who have bedded into a solid unit. Under Lionel Scaloni they have been solid and consistent, and even won the Copa America – their first trophy since the early 1990s – in Brazil, beating the Selecao in the Final itself.

They come here in hot form, having made a huge impression including a beating of Italy in the ‘Finalissimo’ game that matched them up with the European champions. Argentina are nifty, aggressive, crafty, and technically sound. In short, they bring everything to the table that Saudi usually struggle to deal with.

This should be a healthy opening win for Argentina, setting up a run.

VERDICT: 4-1

Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle

Tolworth Novices' Hurdle  The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle race run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 216 yards at Sandown Park in January. The race is restricted to horses, aged four years and upwards, who start the season without a win over hurdles. The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle takes its name from Tolworth, Kingston upon Thames, which straddles the Kingston bypass, southeast of Surbiton and less than 19 minutes’ drive from Sandown Park.

The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle was established in 1976, but was not promoted to Grade 1 status until 1991. Since then, Nicky Henderson has saddled seven winners – namely New York Rainbow (1992), Minella Class (2011), Captain Conan (2012), Royal Boy (2014), L’Ami Serge (2015) and Constitution Hill (2022) – and is the leading trainer in the history of the race.

The hitherto unbeaten Constitution Hill, who won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival by 22 lengths, smashing the course record despite being eased down, could easily prove the best horse ever to win the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. Prior to 2022, that distinction belonged to Desert Orchid who, as a five-year-old, in 1984, justified by odds-on favouritism with a convincing 8-length from Ihaventalight. ‘Dessie’ was subsequently sent off 7/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle famously won by Dawn Run but, having matched strides with the illustrious racemare for much of the way, started to struggle approaching the third-last flight and faded out of contention.

The 2023 renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, scheduled for Saturday, January 7, is unlikely to feature anything as formidable as Constitution Hill, but the race has proved ‘punter-friendly’ in recent years. Look out for strongly-fancied horses, aged five or six, who have won at least once over hurdles, preferably last time out, and have raced within the last four weeks.

Greville Starkey

Greville Starkey  The late Greville Starkey, who died of cancer, aged 70, on April 14, 2010, rode 1,989 winners, including five British Classic winners, on British soil, in a riding career lasting nearly 35 years. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a working-class family, Starkey became apprenticed to Newmarket trainer Harry Thompson ‘Tom’ Jones straight from school and rode his first winner, Russian Gold, at Pontefract on June 9, 1956. The following season he became champion apprentice with 45 winners.

Starkey won his first British Classic, the Oaks, on Homeward Bound, trained by John Oxley, in 1964 and, in 1978, completed a notable ‘double-double’ by winning the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia, trained by Michael Stoute, and the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights, trained by John Dunlop. He also won the 2,000 Guineas twice, on To-Agori-Mou in 1981 and Dancing Brave in 1986, both trained by Guy Harwood, to whom he had become stable jockey in 1975. Indeed, it was in 1975 that recorded his biggest victory abroad, partnering 119/1 apparent no-hoper Star Appeal to victory over a huge field, which included the likes of Dahlia and Allez France, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

In an era dominated by Lester Piggott, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, Starkey was never champion jockey, although he did ride over a hundred winners in a season four times in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sadly, though, he will always be remembered for the one race he probably should have won, the 1986 Derby, aboard Dancing Brave. In a race run at a muddling pace, Starkey adopted exaggerated waiting tactics and, although Dancing Brave made up ground hand over fist in the final quarter of a mile, the hot favourite failed to overhaul Shahrastani in the closing stages and was beaten half a length. Starkey was pilloried by the press for having ridden an ill-judged race, thereby setting Dancing Brave an impossible task, and the defeat was to haunt him for the rest of his riding career, and beyond.