Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

Jockey Paul Townend rides I Am Maximus past the finish line to win the Grand National Steeple Chase on the final day of the Grand National Festival horse race meeting at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, north-west England, on April 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2024

Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

  • The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins
  • Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured

LIVERPOOL, England: I Am Maximus confirmed his status as a favorite by pulling away late to win the Grand National Steeple Chase on Saturday.

About a dozen horses looked to be in contention as they cleared the final hurdle but none could match the finish of I Am Maximus, who had gone out as the joint favorite at 7-1 and pulled well clear on the final section.

The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins.

“At halfway he was a bit careful with his jumping, but we just built his confidence back up again and then going over the last two (fences) I had the four horses in front of me that I wanted in front of me,” Townend said. “I was hoping when I pulled him out that he’d pick up and go and he did. ... The feeling passing the line is up there with the best I’ve had.”

Delta Work was second and Minella Indo third.

Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured.

There was also no repeat of the chaotic scenes from last year, when the race was delayed by nearly 15 minutes and more than 100 people were arrested after animal rights activists scaled fences around the perimeter of Aintree racecourse and got onto the track in an attempt to stop the event.

Organizers made changes this year in order to avoid more protests, slimming down the field from the usual 40 horses to 34 in an attempt to reduce collisions and bunching either side of the fences. In the end, the slimmed-down race featured just 32 runners after Chambard and Run Wild Fred did not start.

Organizers also used foam and rubber toe boards to make the fences softer, and the race was held 75 minutes earlier than usual — at 4 p.m. local time — so the course would stay as soft as possible.

Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies

Updated 15 sec ago

Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies

BERLIN: UEFA will increase security during the rest of Euro 2024 after several pitch invaders attempted to take selfies with Portugal’s star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 39-year-old forward posed for a photo with a young boy during the 3-0 win over Turkiye in Group F on Saturday in Dortmund, but grew exasperated as at least five more fans attempted to do the same.
“Safety and security in the stadium, on the pitch and at team facilities are the ultimate priority for UEFA,” the European football governing body told AFP on Sunday.
“To this end, additional safety measures will be deployed in the stadiums to further meet the requirements of the tournament, and to prevent such incidents.”
One security guard crashed into Paris Saint-Germain striker Goncalo Ramos while trying to stop a pitch invader reaching Ronaldo.
Portugal coach Roberto Martinez said it was lucky that the supporters who ran on to the pitch were only trying to take photographs.
“It is a concern because today we were lucky that the intentions of the fans were good,” said Martinez.
“It is a very difficult moment if those intentions are wrong... probably we should give a message to the fans that it is not the right way.”
UEFA said any spectators entering the field of play will be thrown out of the stadium, be banned for further matches and face “the filing of a formal criminal complaint for trespass.”
Portugal qualified for the last 16 with their comfortable win over Turkiye as Group F winners.

Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead

Updated 23 June 2024

Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead

  • Verstappen started from second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lando Norris
  • Once overtaken, Norris tried to mount a late challenge but Verstappen upped the pace to cross first

MONTMELO, Spain: Max Verstappen steered his Red Bull to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday to increase his lead in the Formula 1 drivers championship.
Verstappen started from second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lando Norris. But the three-time champion whipped past the McLaren driver by the first turn and then overtook George Russell on lap three of 66 and never looked back.
Norris tried to mount a late challenge but Verstappen upped the pace to cross first. Norris was second, followed by Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in third.
Verstappen said that his moves to get past Norris and Russell so early proved crucial so he could build an advantage and keep the hard-charging Norris at bay.
“I think what made the difference in the race was the beginning,” Verstappen said. “I took the lead and had my buffer. After that we had to drive a defensive race.”
Verstappen got his seventh win in 10 races this season and claimed his third straight victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalonia.
Verstappen has 219 points. Norris moved into second place with 150, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who fell into third place with 148 points after finishing fifth.
Norris put the blame on his poor start — when he lost two spots — for having to settle for second. The British driver got his first win at Miami in May and was gunning for a second victory.
“I should have won,” Norris said. “I got a bad straight, it is as simple as that.”
Hamilton’s third place was the first podium of the season for the seven-time world champion, who is in his last season for Mercedes before joining Ferrari next season.
Norris was beaten from the starting line by Verstappen and Russell, who whipped around both rivals from his start from fourth on the grid to take a surprise lead after the nearly 600-meter (yard) run to the first corner.
Verstappen was right behind Russell, however, and within two laps he swerved past him just after his team told him “(this) might be our best opportunity now.”
Once ahead, Verstappen managed his tires on the tough Barcelona track, and his Red Bull team pulled off two clean pit stops to avoid any mistakes.
Norris showed his great form by chasing down both Mercedes after a tire change. He got past Hamilton and then featured in a long duel with Russell midway through the race. Norris swerved past, Russell counterattacked to edge ahead, before Norris finally got in front.
But the jousting also favored Verstappen, who added to his lead.
Norris turned up the speed over the final 10 laps and was closing on the Dutchman, but he ran out of time and track. He crossed two seconds behind Verstappen.
Russell finished fourth, while it was a bad day for Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as neither Ferrari could contend with the front-runners. Sainz, the Spanish fan’s best hope for a win, finished sixth.
Norris’ McLaren partner Oscar Piastri was seventh. Sergio Pérez in the other Red Bull was eighth after his start from 11th place following a third-place grid penalty incurred in last round’s Canadian GP. Alpine pair Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10. Fernando Alonso was 12th in his Aston Martin.

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Updated 23 June 2024

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

  • Daku joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia
  • 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo

TIRANA: The Albanian soccer federation said UEFA banned its player Mirlind Daku on Sunday for two games after leading fans in nationalist chants at the European Championship.
Daku took a megaphone after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia on Wednesday in Hamburg and joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia.
The Albanian federation also said UEFA imposed fines totaling 47,250 euros ($50,500) for incidents at the game, where its fans joined Croatian fans and chanted an anti-Serb slogan.
The Serbian soccer federation said it would leave the tournament if UEFA did not punish the incidents.
Albania play a decisive group-stage game on Monday against Spain. If Albania advance, Daku also would sit out the round of 16 game.
Daku later apologized for his actions in a social media posting, as UEFA appointed an in-house investigator to study his “alleged inappropriate behavior.”
The 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian former province of Serbia that declared independence 16 years ago.
UEFA also announced charges against its Albanian and Croatian member federations for “potential racist and/or discriminatory conduct” by fans on Wednesday, who were reportedly chanting “Kill the Serbs” in Serbian.
The Albanian soccer Federation, or FSHF, called on the fans to be “accountable and avoid incidents and riots.”
“The FSHF invites fans and football lovers to support to the end the Albanian national team in this magical and historic path in Euro 2024 by showing citizenry and accountability through correct behavior and by respecting the rules and the opponents,” said a statement.
Albania have impressed at Euro 2024 in an opening 2-1 loss against Italy and then the 2-2 draw with Croatia. The team likely need to beat Spain to advance.

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

Updated 23 June 2024

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

  • Despite the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s of the 2024 T20 World Cup, there could be reasons to be optimistic

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the Pakistan men’s cricket team’s performances over the years?

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

The two men need to settle the players in their minds through a combination of hand holding and tough love. Hopefully, a period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.

Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery

Updated 23 June 2024

Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery

LONDON: Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has been ruled out of this year’s tournament after undergoing back surgery, the ATP Tour confirmed on Sunday.
“After an operation on a spinal cyst, Andy Murray is sadly out of Wimbledon. Rest up and recover Andy, we’ll miss seeing you there,” the ATP said on X, formerly Twitter.
The Scot had been aiming to make a farewell appearance at the grass court Grand Slam, which he won in 2013 and 2016.
However, the 37-year-old will need an expected six weeks to recover from surgery with Wimbledon starting on July 1.
He now also faces a race against time to be fit for next month’s Paris Olympics, with Murray twice a gold medallist in the singles.
Murray managed just five games before a back injury forced him to withdraw from his second-round match against Australia’s Jordan Thompson at the Queen’s warm-up event in London on Wednesday.
The former world number one, who plays with a metal hip, struggled from the start of his match against Thompson and said afterwards he had a feeling of weakness in his right leg and had lost coordination.
“I never had that loss of coordination, control and strength in my leg before,” Murray said shortly after retiring from his match with Thompson.
“I’ve been struggling with my back for a while — I had lost the power in my right leg so lost all motor control, I had no coordination and couldn’t really move.”
Asked then about his prospects of playing at Wimbledon, he added: “Like all tennis players, we have degenerative joints and stuff in the back, but it’s all predominantly been left-sided for me my whole career.
“I have never had too many issues with the right side. So maybe there is something that can be done between now and then to help the right side.”
Murray underwent minor back surgery in 2013 and following a first-round loss at the recent French Open he said he would need treatment to address soreness.
The three-time Grand Slam champion only returned to competitive action in May after nearly two months out with an ankle injury.
He had been due to play singles and doubles with his brother Jamie at Wimbledon before potentially ending his career at the Olympics in Paris.