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    The Champions League is Back, but Who’s Going to Win It?

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    We’ve seen the first round of Group matches this week in the 2018/19 Champions League, and already the holders Real Madrid have laid down a marker with an impressive 3-0 victory at the Bernabeu against last season’s beaten semi-finalists Roma.

    The 8-1 about them winning the trophy for the fourth year in succession- even without Ronaldo on the pitch and Zidane in the dug-out, looks a bit big judged on that, but if Real don’t retain it, who will be celebrating next May? Manchester City are the bookies favourites, but they’ve never played in a Champions League final before  and the last team to achieve the ’first final and we win it’ feat was Dortmund back in 1997. So according to recent trends, City probably need to be beaten finalists before they prevail- which happened to Marseille (beaten in 1991, winners in 1993), and Chelsea (beaten in 2008, winners in 2012).

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    Spanish teams have won the tournament in seven of the last ten years and for each of the past five years, with only two teams from outside La Liga reaching the final in that period (Juventus in 2015 and 2017 and Liverpool in 2018). So if we follow the trends, if Real don’t win it again in May, then their great rivals, Barcelona at 6-1, are the likeliest alternative. At 12-1, Atletico, beaten finalists in 2014 and 2016, and Europa League winners last year, make some each-way appeal as their squad has strengthened. Liverpool too have to be on the short-list, but after their thrilling 3-2 victory over PSG, Jurgen Klopp’s men were cut from 12-1 to 8-1 and although you’ve still got to fancy them going deep in the competition, the value from a betting point of view may have gone.

    Poetry in Motion: Gordon Lord Byron and top jockeys from all over the world meet in Prague

    Sixteen top jockeys from fifteen different countries- plus a hugely popular veteran Irish sprinter who has even had a film made about him, are the star attractions at the fourth running of the  4th European Jockeys' Cup to be held at Velke Chuchle, in Prague in the Czech Republic on Saturday.  In the event, which is expected to draw in a bumper crowd, Russia is represented by Vladimir Panov, the UK by Brett Doyle, and there’s  also riders taking part from countries as diverse as Panama, Qatar and Kazakhstan.

    The most famous equine celebrity on show will be the remarkable Gordon Lord Bryon, who has won over £1.8m in prize money in a  glittering career dating all the way back to 2010. He will be partnered by Tadgh O' Shea in the 1400m(7f) EJC Leram Million race worth over 100,000 Euros,  due off at 16.30 local time (15.30 BST). The Irish raider, who in 2016 was the subject of an award winning documentary film, which recounted his remarkable rags to riches story, has a wide draw to overcome on the right-handed track,  but connections are confident he’ll run well. 'He's in good form and he's run quite well in his recent races. We're drawn 15 of 16 and we've got the German horse, Julio on the outside of us'  trainer Tom Hogan told me over the telephone. 'The going is forecast to be good to good-to-firm which will be perfect as is the 7f trip which is his best. His co-owner Dr Cyrus Poonawalla has business interests in the Czech Republic and he was anxious to run him there. It'll be the eighth different country he's run in after Ireland, England, France, Dubai, Qatar, Hong Kong and Australia, which is quite an achievement. Tadgh has ridden him once before in Meydan so he knows the horse’.

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    The Million is the highlight of a eight race card, sponsored by companies Lokotrans and Leram, which will be the richest day's racing in the history of the Czech Republic. Explaining how the competition works, retired British jockey Gary Hind, who is now based in central Europe, told me: 'Each jockey will have a minimum of four and a maximum of five rides, with the top four finishes counting in the competition. Although it's called the European Jockeys' Cup, it's a truly international occasion. The organisers, Marketa Hind (my wife), Milan Baranik and Tomas Machovsky, have put a lot into it, and the event gets bigger and better every year. It should be a great day and I know everyone is so happy to have a horse with as high a profile as Gordon Lord Byron coming over'.

    If you’re in Prague, or indeed anywhere near the Czech Republic this weekend, do try and make it. Meanwhile, if you’re in southern or central England on Saturday, do try to get to Newbury racecourse in Berkshire, where another very popular veteran, the eleven-year-old Take Cover, bids to win the Group 3 Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes race for the second year running- at exactly the same time as fellow golden-oldie Gordon Lord Byron will be running in Prague. It is likely to be the sprinter’s final start before a well-deserved retirement, so let’s hope he bows out in a blaze of glory. 

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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