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On target – thumbs up as greats rate A-League an ‘A’

AUSTRALIA’S footballing future depends on the A-League. And, having attracted several high-profile foreign players, as well as luring back some of Australia’s finest – including Jason Culina, John Aloisi and Stan Lazaridis – there’s reason to believe the league is a solid and growing force.Not everyone is convinced. Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek has equated the domestic football centrepiece to little more than a European league training session. Crowds, ratings and playing standards are unpredictable. And the fragility that once plagued the code locally is not yet entirely a relic.So, more than four years since its inaugural season, is the A-League on the right track? Is it strong? Which clubs have got it right? And, perhaps most importantly, is the league going to produce the kind of players needed to keep the Socceroos moving into the realm of world football’s elite?”Absolutely,” former Socceroo Ray Baartz says. ”I wish I had those opportunities when I was young. The full-time professionalism, the grounds, the coaching, the training … I think everything is in the players’ favour now. If they’re good enough and they’re keen enough, the opportunities are unlimited.”However, Baartz, who played at Manchester United as a teenager in the 1960s and later played 48 internationals, fears that despite the new professionalism, some teams are playing too negatively.”That’s my only criticism,” he says. ”The build-ups are too slow, which is resulting in some teams not creating enough opportunities to score, which is what the crowds want. I’d like to see more emphasis on attacking play.”Nevertheless, Baartz believes faith should continue to be placed in locally produced coaches. He also believes the league will increasingly encourage young players to stay in Australia longer.”I think we’ve got coaches here who are capable of getting the players to approach the game in the right way,” he says.”The competition is a high standard and players can now look to establish themselves here and then maybe go overseas. There’s no point going to minor leagues overseas and struggling when there is a good option here now.”Lazaridis, another one-time star Socceroo, believes the world financial crisis – and the resulting comparative conservatism of European clubs – might force players to stay in Australia longer. It could also influence more good foreign players to come because ”it’s a half-decent league and they can earn a half-decent wage here now”.Lazaridis, who returned from England to play briefly with Perth Glory, says the true merit of the A-League will be evident after next year.”After this World Cup you’re going to see players step aside and that’s when we’ll start to find out if the A-League is producing what we need,” he says.Lazaridis believes the clubs on the best path are Melbourne Victory – ”their crowds have been good and they play good football” – and the Central Coast Mariners.”The Mariners continually finish well, their crowds are stable and they’re careful with their money,” he says. ”They haven’t had big-name stars, yet they keep doing well.”But there are problems.”Probably the big concern for me is the financial stability of the clubs,” he says. ”Adelaide is being run by the FFA, Brisbane is in a bit of strife, Perth was struggling. Each club needs to get 10,000 through the door every week.”One way to do that, he believes, is to stop showing live coverage of matches in their home cities.”I think that’s scaring away 1000 people,” he says.”The TV money is very important, but other sports put games on delay in the home city, so football should, too. My friends go to the pub and spend $20 or $30 watching a match instead of going to the game and spending that money.”Some clubs are still struggling, but a third former Socceroo, Jim Fraser, believes it’s natural. ”The league, like any business, suffered from initial problems of hype followed by a downturn,” says Fraser, who coached Sydney FC’s goalkeepers and now works with their youth team.”The same thing happened with the J-League in Japan, which nearly died and then picked up again. Same in the United States.”Fraser, however, believes it’s encouraging to see the way struggling clubs have rebounded.”Most clubs so far have had a bad year. Melbourne were terrible in the second or third year but bounced back. Central Coast, Newcastle … the clubs are all learning lessons.”I think things are improving and the league is now pretty much an even playing field. The salary cap seems to have worked, there’s no real runaway clubs and I think the model is solid. It looks to me like the basis is there for it to become a strong competition. I don’t think it’s in any danger any more of falling over.”A key to the future, Fraser believes, has been the successful introduction of the youth competition.”With that in full swing now, the A-League is going to produce the kinds of players we need to keep improving at international level.”
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Maradona’s profane rant to result in FIFA inquiry

DIEGO MARADONA’S profanity-filled tirade on live television after Argentina qualified for next year’s World Cup will lead FIFA’s disciplinary committee to open a case against the former great.During the press conference after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Uruguay, Maradona, on live television, grabbed his genitals and told reporters to ”keep on sucking”.”The reports we have received so far leave us no other alternative but to ask the disciplinary committee of FIFA to open a case against the coach Diego Armando Maradona,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.”As the president of FIFA it is my duty and my obligation to [refer] it to the disciplinary committee.”Blatter declined to further discuss the matter. ”It is now a matter of the FIFA jurisdiction to go into this,” he said.Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title and the 1990 final, had been under intense pressure during Argentina’s stuttering qualifying campaign, which included a 6-1 loss in Bolivia and a 3-1 loss to Brazil at home.”The qualification of Argentina has been expected everywhere in the world,” Blatter said. ”Argentina is a powerhouse in football and always has been. Therefore, we welcome the team of Argentina.”Although Argentina won their final two qualifying matches, both were scrappy wins with late goals – although a draw against Uruguay would have been enough to claim a spot at next year’s tournament in South Africa as one of the top four South American teams.Before the win over Uruguay, striker Martin Palermo scored three minutes into injury time to give Argentina a 2-1 victory over Peru.Before the wins, polls showed a majority of Argentina’s fans thought Maradona was unfit to coach the national team despite his success as a player.Maradona stood his ground in a radio interview before Blatter made his announcement.”[My comments were] a very big outburst after a week of many criticisms,” Maradona said. ”If someone feels wounded, I’ll apologise if they want. And if not, I’m sorry.”However, later in his interview with Argentina’s Radio Continental, he said: ”I have nothing to apologise for.”He called his media critics ”anti-Argentine”, saying he won’t forgive them for wanting ”Argentina to be left out of the World Cup”.Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona, who appointed Maradona and is Blatter’s No.2 official at FIFA, said that, ”if it were another coach or player, the matter would not have had such importance”.Grondona said: ”Everybody knows he’s a temperamental person and he’s already said he won’t speak like that again.”Grondona said he would discuss the issue with Blatter, but predicted the comments would soon blow over.
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Emerton juggles derby dynamite

HE PLAYED two important games for the Socceroos in the past week but Brett Emerton is braced for 90 minutes of total pressure and scrutiny tomorrow in one of the English Premier League’s great rivalries – the Rovers v the Clarets.Emerton will play for Blackburn Rovers against recently promoted Burnley FC – a team based just 12 kilometres from Ewood Park and one that has a 125-year blood rivalry with the Rovers.Emerton left Melbourne just hours after playing his part in securing a 1-0 Asian Cup win over Oman on Wednesday to prepare for the two teams’ first clash in the top flight in 43 years.The week leading into the derby has been staggering, even for Emerton, who has played in the Dutch league and a World Cup campaign. It has included:❏ A beefed-up police presence to quell possible violence across East Lancashire;❏ Historians dredging up moments of valour on the field between the two clubs – and examples of horror off it;❏ Former Blackburn Rovers captain Tim Sherwood describing the game as his old club’s ”biggest” in ages;❏ An opera singer being dragged into a 30-year debate between the two clubs over ”ownership” of the song Wandering Rover .Despite the obvious emotion, former Rovers great Derek Fazackerley urged his club’s large roster of foreign-born players to appreciate what the match means to their fans.”This game is definitely for the fans,” the veteran of 674 games told The East Lancashire Telegraph . “At the end of the season, even if you have finished below your rivals in the league, at least you can say: ‘We won both derby games’.”This game is still massive for the fans, it really is. Particularly with Burnley coming from the Championship, it is the first opportunity to play Blackburn as a Premier League side. Both sets of fans will want to win for local pride.”It is not quite the same for the players. I suppose Burnley are more of an English side, so their players will have seen this sort of rivalry before and perhaps more than Blackburn’s because they have been an established Premier League side for so long.”Emerton, one of the foreign-born players Fazackerley referred to, fully realises the significance of the clash and conceded the pressure was on him to perform.”It’s a massive game, it’s the local derby and everyone takes an interest in it,” he said. ”This was the first game the people here [Blackburn] looked for when the draw was announced.”I spoke to someone about this game and I think they got it right when he compared the intensity to The Ashes. I thought that was a good comparison because this [fixture] means so much to our supporters and to the people of Blackburn.”While helping Australia nut out a 0-0 draw with the Dutch and a desperate 1-0 victory over Oman was gruelling, Emerton needed little prompting to get his head in the right space for the match that will bring East Lancashire to a standstill at 1pm local time.”You really do try to take it one game at a time because each game does require a different approach,” said Emerton, when asked how he could mentally prepare in time after his action-packed week in Australia.”I thought the most important thing was for me to return to the UK and get on the field in the best possible shape to perform well on Sunday.”I’m in the same position as all my teammates, I have to perform and I have to play well because we really need [competition] points.”Burnley is one of those teams that don’t have a stand-out player but the reason why they are doing so well is simple – they play as a team and for each other. I think of us like that. It’s going to be a great game, a wonderful experience.”Goalkeeper Brian Jensen, who has played a mighty role in Burnley being the only newly promoted team to win their first four Premier League home games, warned the derby was not for the faint-hearted.”It’s hostile. The fans don’t like each other and make it known verbally,” Jensen said. “The atmospheres are good and this will probably be the best so far.”But when it comes down to it, it’s just football and it’s nice to be involved in those games.”Fazackerley was also aware of the potential for violence and said it was his hope “the game is played in the right spirit with no trouble”.The local law enforcement was determined that would be the case, with Lancashire Constabulary Superintendent Chris Bithell vowing troublemakers would be quickly dealt with. “We want this game to be remembered for what happens on the pitch,” he said.
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Boss supremely confident on Irish Lights but Ryan backs Melito

THREE-TIME Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Glen Boss won’t hear of gun Victorian filly Irish Lights being beaten in Wednesday’s group 1 Thousand Guineas at Caulfield. But Sydney trainer Gerald Ryan warns not to drop off his star filly, Melito.Irish Lights is set to start a short-priced favourite and Ryan is at a loss to comprehend how Melito, a winner of the Furious Stakes before running second and fourth to More Joyous in the Tea Rose Stakes and Flight Stakes, has eased alarmingly to be at double-figure odds before today’s final field declaration and barrier draw.”I can’t believe we are out to as much as $15,” Ryan said yesterday.”Last month we were favourite for the race. Irish Lights has looked good winning in Melbourne, but Melito certainly hasn’t gone backwards.”She wasn’t suited on the wet track in the Flight Stakes, but she still ran well. The Thousand Guineas is a race we’ve been aiming her at after Sydney and I couldn’t be happier with her. She travelled to Melbourne last Tuesday and has settled in great. Corey Brown will ride her and there’s no reason she can’t win. A decent barrier would be nice though.”Boss has been on the David Hayes-trained Irish Lights in her two runs back from a spell with both resulting in strong-finishing victories. Resuming at Flemington, Irish Lights gunned down speedy filly Avenue, which trainer Peter Moody said was bound for the Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington on Victoria Derby day after blitzing rivals at Caulfield at the weekend.”Irish Lights has always promised to be something special,” Boss said. ”At her first start in a race she ran second to Rostova and that filly was flying at the time. Irish Lights was right up high in the betting to win the Blue Diamond at one point but by the time that race came around she’d had enough, didn’t pull up the best.”Craig Williams had been on Irish Lights in those two runs, but Boss said he kept in contact with Hayes in an attempt to snare the ride. ”She looked the filly to me that was going to make a three-year-old,” he said. ”She’s by Fastnet Rock and I know about him having ridden him. I thought his progeny would make it as three-year-olds and she is going the right way. She is maturing all the time.”Boss said he thought Irish Lights was a deserving favourite in the Thousand Guineas as ”the form around her looks very strong”.”She’s beaten a class filly like Avenue on her merits and beat her easily,” he said. ”And the fillies she competed against in the Thousand Guineas Prelude are pretty much the same ones she’ll be racing against again on Wednesday.”She was dominant in that win and she’s going just as good now as she was then. I think she can win.”Randwick trainer Anthony Cummings will send around Flight Stakes runner-up Sister Madly in the Thousand Guineas with Blake Shinn to ride. ”She blundered on that wet track the other day and it cost her a bit of ground,” Cummings said yesterday. ”A return to a drier surface will suit her and the form around More Joyous looks good.”
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Alcopop the one to add a little fizz to carnival

Alcopop, from Victor Harbour in South Australia, is set to become the Aussie battler, not only against the overseas invaders but also Melbourne Cup giants Bart Cummings, Lloyd Williams and Lee Freedman. Broken in rounding up cattle and used as a polo pony, Alcopop, named in frustration after about 16 earlier submissions were knocked back, the gelding produced dazzling figures to take the Herbert Power Handicap at Caulfield on Saturday. “The last Melbourne Cup winner to come out of the Herbert Power was Rogan Josh, rating 113, but Alcopop produced 115,” reported Gary Crispe, who does the highly regarded Timeform ratings in Australia. His finishing sectionals were brilliant at the end of the 2400 metres, indicating a dash of freak. Breeder, part-owner and trainer Jake Stephens said the five-year-old might not run before the Big One and pointed out he had left improvement in Alcopop. “He has an astronomical power-to-weight ratio and while he is not a heavy horse, he puts in 110 per cent,” Stephens said. While millions are spent trying to find a Melbourne Cup winner, Alcopop is out of Iota Of Luck, a no-account mare, but has a Cup link being by Jeune. Alcopop also won at Morphettville on Melbourne Cup day last year. No doubt big-timers will be trying to jock the Mauritius-born Dom Tourneur off Alcopop. Stephens, though, is adamant Tourneur will retain the ride although the hoop has had more experience at outposts such as Marble Bar and Gascoyne Junction than Flemington. HAPPY VALLEY Perhaps they raced on vastly different tracks but Alcopop in the Herbert Power on good to firm ground was equally as impressive as Speed Gifted’s overwhelming Metropolitan effort in the Randwick slop the previous Saturday. Alcopop had won the JRA Cup at Moonee Valley but Valley form is treated with caution. Still, Avenue’s blitz at Caulfield on Saturday confirmed credentials established previously at the Valley. Incidentally, Lee Freedman, trainer of Speed Gifted, mentioned at Caulfield that his advice from Britain regarding Speed Gifted was that he didn’t handle the wet. PAYNE GAIN The Michelle Payne touch was justifiably acclaimed for her effort on Allez Wonder in the Toorak at Caulfield on Saturday. While hard-luck stories abounded and a bunched finish made the form suspect, that special gene that makes the Payne family fine horse-people and honed to perfection by their youngest came to the fore. And on Saturday at Rosehill another example of it came to light. God’s Hand, which attacks the winning post like an acrophobic approaches the Gap, was given every chance by Brenton Avdulla but wouldn’t hit the line. The last time God’s Hand scored, his first success for more than a year, was under Michelle Payne in February after which four others have attempted to get the same result without any joy. PROTEST WORRY Victoria has gone soft on the new whip rules but the possibility a protest by rival connections can be upheld is very much alive. Following the edict by Russell Lewis, chairman of the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, that penalties concerning the whip debacle were “manifestly excessive”, the chief steward down south, Terry Bailey, said the national guidelines would be hard to enforce. Little action was seen on the whip front at Caulfield on Saturday but Ray Murrihy, the Racing NSW chief stipe, continued his vigilance at Rosehill. Murrihy doesn’t like the protest rule but is bound to enforce it. But he’s aghast at the Victorian soft-penalty policy, pointing out on the ABC’s News Radio Weekend Half-Time at the Races yesterday, that the only reason the win-at-all-costs attitude has been tempered in the Golden Slipper is because of harsh fines and penalties. HORSE TO FOLLOW Apache Cat showed that the horsepower of his prime hasn’t diminished when runner-up to the record-breaking Lucky Secret in the Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday. Obviously the 1000 metres was too short but looking at him before the race, Apache Cat still had scope for improvement. DISAPPOINTING The highly rated Trusting , lacking anything like his normal finish, failed in Saturday’s Caulfield Guineas. Perhaps he was lame after cooling down but jockey Craig Williams reckoned he couldn’t feel anything amiss when he pulled up after the race. WINNERS & LOSERS ‘I was getting very much to the point that I was going to end up in a hole.’Jockey Dom Tourneur, rider of Alcopop, which triumphed in the Herbert Power at Caulfield on Saturday, recalling when his life ran off the rails.
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Ollie keeps his head at the crucial moment

The serious part of the spring carnival started pretty much as everyone expected. There were some messy scenes in the tunnel that leads from the track to Caulfield’s corporate marquees – known here as The Vomitorium – and Whobegotyou won the Yalumba Stakes.Impressively enough to stamp him a clear-cut Cox Plate favourite? It depended whether you thought Damien Oliver’s brilliant thread-the-needle ride had flattered the four-year-old cult figure or merely enhanced his not quite imposing three-quarters-of-a-length victory.But as the connections of runner-up Heart Of Dreams and third-placed Vision And Power made it known Whobegotyou would be easier to hunt down than he is to pronounce at Moonee Valley, trainer Mark Kavanagh could enjoy the warm glow that comes with having a horse which will have the chance to prove he is either very good or an out-and-out champion.”It’s great to have a headline act,” said Kavanagh, who once seemed likely to be remembered as the trainer who endured that harrowing Caulfield Cup when the bloodied Maldivian returned to the mounting yard after being injured in the barriers. Two years later, with Maldivian to run in this week’s Caulfield Cup before trying for back-to-back Cox Plates against his stablemate, that day seems a distant memory.If Kavanagh and Whobegotyou moved towards the elite, Oliver’s ride would set the trend for a day that would be as much about the riders as the horses. And not, as the confusing pre-spring arguments had suggested, the number of times they flogged a live horse.Oliver’s 2000th victory – his first was on Mr Gudbud at Bunbury in 1988 – was about nerve, not sheer force. ”I took a punt,” he said of his decision to wait for the shaft of light that finally appeared. ”Sometimes you’ve got to put your head on the chopping block and hope the guillotine doesn’t come down.”With his 86th group 1 trophy on the mantlepiece, Oliver knows better than most how to keep his head. Michelle Payne, the youngest of 10 children and the eighth jockey from a legendary Ballarat racing family, has not had many opportunities to show she could avoid the sharpest blade.Her moment of truth would come as Allez Wonder turned for home in the Toorak Handicap with momentum, and the exquisite timing of Bart Cummings, on her side. About 400 metres later, Payne had coasted to her first group 1 victory, enjoyed the prospect of riding a genuine Caulfield Cup contender and would be the subject of the funniest line of the spring so far.”She’s a pretty little thing and she rides all right,” said the 81-year-old Cummings when asked about Payne’s performance.From anyone else’s lips, that might have inspired the feminist version of the blackface skit outrage. But given Cummings trained the winner of the same race in 1966, he enjoys the same leeway with politically incorrect language that senior citizens get with tricky gadgets and highway speed limits.For those who did not see Allez Wonder’s blistering midweek gallop – the type of gallop you hear about only after a $41 shot has won – Cummings’s big moment was supposed to have been in the Caulfield Guineas with So You Think, alongside fellow Sydney stars Denman and Manhattan Rain.Instead, as jubilant connections turned the mounting yard into a post-race mosh pit, Starspangledbanner, trained by Cummings’s long-time foreman Leon Corstens, did more than Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize to restore America’s international reputation.Starspangledbanner’s victory was a defining moment for the long-overshadowed Corstens, who backed himself to get a horse that had been misfiring ready to take on the nation’s best three year-olds. It was also a nice earner – from both the $600,000 prizemoney and the now greatly enhanced stud value – for the many, including Makybe Diva’s renowned owner Tony Santic, who own anything from a hoof to a strand of mane.The jockey was again at the centre of the story, although Danny Nikolic, who is re-establishing himself after a stint in Mauritius, was lost in a heaving pile of celebrating owners.Which might have brought an eventful day to a riotous conclusion. But then came a barnstorming run in the Herbert Power Handicap of a Melbourne Cup bolter, Alcopop, which was ridden by a once down-and-out bush jockey with a name (Dom Tourneur) like a more affordable version of the French bubbly and owned and bred and trained by restaurateur Jake Stephens.It shapes as the perfect story for the first Tuesday in November.And, as you made your way back past the Vomitorium, Alcopop might also be the first missed omen of a taxing month.
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Oliver closes in on another cup triumph

HALL of Fame jockey Damien Oliver is warming to his chances of winning a record-equalling fifth Caulfield Cup on Saturday to match the legendary Scobie Breasley.Oliver will ride the Luca Cumani-trained English raider Cima De Triomphe and after partnering the grey in a workout at Sandown last Friday he has no doubts the horse has the talent to give the $2.5 million race a shake. ”He is quite an impressive horse,” he said.Oliver was taken by the win of the Jake Stephens-trained South Australian stayer Alcopop in the Herbert Power Stakes at the weekend and was relieved to hear the horse was not in the Caulfield Cup.”That makes everyone else’s job easier,” he said. ”It is lucky Alcopop is not in the race, he is the horse on the up and he keeps doing everything right.”Oliver has had an association with Cumani over the past two spring carnivals. He rode Purple Moon to a second placing behind Efficient in the 2007 Melbourne Cup for the trainer and then rode Mad Rush for the stable in last year’s Caulfield and Melbourne cups. Cumani also brought over Bauer last year with that horse winning the Geelong Cup before a close second to Viewed in the Melbourne Cup.”Luca is a great trainer and he knows what type of horses to bring over for the cups,” Oliver said.Cima De Triomphe was a winner of the Gerard Stakes at Sandown earlier this year and since then he has finished fourth to the world’s best thoroughbred, Sea The Stars, in the Coral Eclipse before another fourth, in the Arlington Million.Bart Cummings will have two runners in the Caulfield Cup with Toorak Handicap winner Allez Wonder to be joined in the race by Viewed. Michelle Payne, who scored her first group 1 win when partnering Allez Wonder in the Toorak, sticks with the mare while Viewed will be ridden by Brad Rawiller.”She [Payne] said she can make the light weight in the Caulfield Cup so she can have the ride again,” said Cummings, who after the Toorak win said Payne was a ”pretty little thing and she rides very well”.Allez Wonder is striving to be the first horse since Cole Diesel in 1989 to complete the Toorak-Caulfield Cup double.Cummings is favouring missing the Caulfield Cup with his AJC Australian Derby winner Roman Emperor to instead have a crack at the Cox Plate the following weekend. The trainer said he would chase another group 1 at Caulfield on Wednesday when Faint Perfume contested the Thousand Guineas with Michael Rodd in the saddle.Cummings’s son, Anthony, will saddle up Red Lord and Zavite in the Caulfield Cup while Flemington trainer Danny O’Brien will have two starters with 2007 winner Master O’Reilly backing up after a fourth in the Yalumba Stakes at the weekend. Former pre-post favourite Vigor will also run for O’Brien.”He was just not quite quick enough over the 2000 metres on Saturday but he’s starting to look well,” O’Brien said of Master O’Reilly. ”His coat is about to come and he’ll really relish the 2400 metres [of the Caulfield Cup]. Vigor pulled up well from his Turnbull run and with the weight drop [to 51kg] I’d expect him to be right at his top on Saturday.”Craig Williams has been booked to ride Vigor but he must successfully appeal a careless riding suspension in Melbourne this morning to be able to fulfil the engagement. Corey Brown and Glen Boss are in the running to take over should his appeal fail.Meanwhile, trainer Lee Freedman is still yet to decide if he will start favourite and The Metropolitan winner Speed Gifted in the Caulfield Cup or instead wait and try to secure a run in the Cox Plate as he pushes towards the Melbourne Cup.Speed Gifted has won three of his four starts since joining Freedman’s stables from Britain. He was penalised 2kg for the Caulfield and Melbourne cups after his The Metropolitan success and a win in the Caulfield Cup would attract another penalty for the Melbourne Cup.
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Boss supremely confident on Irish Lights but Ryan backs Melito

THREE-TIME Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Glen Boss won’t hear of gun Victorian filly Irish Lights being beaten in Wednesday’s group 1 Thousand Guineas at Caulfield. But Sydney trainer Gerald Ryan warns not to drop off his star filly, Melito.Irish Lights is set to start a short-priced favourite and Ryan is at a loss to comprehend how Melito, a winner of the Furious Stakes before running second and fourth to More Joyous in the Tea Rose Stakes and Flight Stakes, has eased alarmingly to be at double-figure odds before today’s final field declaration and barrier draw.”I can’t believe we are out to as much as $15,” Ryan said yesterday.”Last month we were favourite for the race. Irish Lights has looked good winning in Melbourne, but Melito certainly hasn’t gone backwards.”She wasn’t suited on the wet track in the Flight Stakes, but she still ran well. The Thousand Guineas is a race we’ve been aiming her at after Sydney and I couldn’t be happier with her. She travelled to Melbourne last Tuesday and has settled in great. Corey Brown will ride her and there’s no reason she can’t win. A decent barrier would be nice though.”Boss has been on the David Hayes-trained Irish Lights in her two runs back from a spell with both resulting in strong-finishing victories. Resuming at Flemington, Irish Lights gunned down speedy filly Avenue, which trainer Peter Moody said was bound for the Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington on Victoria Derby day after blitzing rivals at Caulfield at the weekend.”Irish Lights has always promised to be something special,” Boss said. ”At her first start in a race she ran second to Rostova and that filly was flying at the time. Irish Lights was right up high in the betting to win the Blue Diamond at one point but by the time that race came around she’d had enough, didn’t pull up the best.”Craig Williams had been on Irish Lights in those two runs, but Boss said he kept in contact with Hayes in an attempt to snare the ride. ”She looked the filly to me that was going to make a three-year-old,” he said. ”She’s by Fastnet Rock and I know about him having ridden him. I thought his progeny would make it as three-year-olds and she is going the right way. She is maturing all the time.”Boss said he thought Irish Lights was a deserving favourite in the Thousand Guineas as ”the form around her looks very strong”.”She’s beaten a class filly like Avenue on her merits and beat her easily,” he said. ”And the fillies she competed against in the Thousand Guineas Prelude are pretty much the same ones she’ll be racing against again on Wednesday.”She was dominant in that win and she’s going just as good now as she was then. I think she can win.”Randwick trainer Anthony Cummings will send around Flight Stakes runner-up Sister Madly in the Thousand Guineas with Blake Shinn to ride. ”She blundered on that wet track the other day and it cost her a bit of ground,” Cummings said yesterday. ”A return to a drier surface will suit her and the form around More Joyous looks good.”
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Giteau snub has players scratching their heads

SEVERAL players are surprised that Matt Giteau was overlooked as the Wallabies vice-captain and that the five-eighth was not told before Berrick Barnes was named as Rocky Elsom’s deputy last Friday.An insider yesterday told the Herald a number of players believed Giteau deserved to at least be ”sounded out” for a new leadership position before any decision was made by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.Giteau has not enjoyed his best year, but his supporters believe he has done enough in previous seasons to warrant consideration for a higher leadership role.”He didn’t get sounded out. It was a bit of a kick in the face for a bloke who has put in for that jersey for a while,” the insider told the Herald .”They could have at least acknowledged to him that they were going for someone else. If I was Matt Giteau, I would be disappointed.”It doesn’t augur well for your team when the bloke who touches the footy the most is not too happy about what’s going on. I think he has more of an assertive presence on the field than a Berrick Barnes. Ask anyone in the team, that’s what Gits does well. He’s been there and everyone listens.”Giteau has not spoken publicly about missing out on the vice captaincy since it was confirmed last Friday. Nor has he spoken about last Wednesday’s Herald report that Deans may switch him with Barnes from five-eighth to inside-centre. But he is understood to be upset about that and may reconsider his playing future in Australia.While unveiling Elsom as the new Wallabies captain and Barnes as his deputy last Friday, Deans surprised many by revealing that he had not spoken to Giteau about the vice-captaincy.Giteau has long been touted as a future Wallabies leader and many observers believed he was at least in line to become Elsom’s No.2.Asked if Giteau was disappointed to miss out, Deans said: ”I’ve got no idea, I haven’t had that conversation with him yet. I hope not, because it’s about the team and how the team functions and Matt already has a huge leadership role within the team. You can argue that what we ask of him is greater.”A Wallabies spokesman yesterday said it was understood that Deans – as of yesterday afternoon – had still not broached the subject with Giteau.The Wallabies broke from their training camp at Coogee after last Thursday’s intra-squad trial game. Deans was understood to be spending yesterday with his family and was not available to comment.However, the Wallabies will need to iron out any potential kinks in their unity before their seven-week end-of-season tour. They assemble tomorrow in Coogee for another training camp.The Wallabies leave Australia on October 24 to prepare for their clash with the All Blacks in Tokyo on October 31.
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Robinson keen to test himself against best of the north

FOR Wallabies forward Benn Robinson the grand-slam tour represents the hurdle that could lead to him being hailed as the world’s best prop. While his teams have ridden through troughs and peaks, Robinson has been as one of the most consistent performers in Australian rugby.The loosehead specialist was a star in this year’s Super 14 for the Waratahs and for his efforts was judged a clear winner of the Herald Cup, presented to him last Thursday before the Wallabies intra-squad trial match played at St Ignatius College in Riverview.Robinson did not play in the trial due to a groin strain, but his place on the 35-man Wallabies squad for the end-of-season tour was never in question.To understand why, one need only look to his stellar season for the Wallabies, despite Australia’s last place in the Tri Nations. Robinson was a rock for both the Wallabies’ scrum and the entire side. In their stunning victory over the Springboks in Brisbane, Robinson won the man-of-the-match award. And in the last Test loss against the All Blacks in Wellington, he was voted the players’ player.Robinson is also one of the short-listed nominees for the Australian Rugby Union’s John Eales Medal, to be awarded on Thursday week.However, for Robinson the real turning point will come when he packs against the front rows of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland one year on from his first tour to Britain, where he started in three of the five Tests in a Wallabies front row that made huge improvements to their poor reputation.”We can take a lot from the way we have been scrummaging the last couple of years, especially on the tour last year,” Robinson said yesterday. ”We took big steps in the way we scrummaged over there. If we look to this tour and games ahead it will be another big test.”Robinson says what makes the challenge even harder is the strong culture of scrummaging in the northern hemisphere, as well as the unpredictability of opposing forward packs that the Wallabies don’t usually play against during the year – unless they tour Australia before the Test season starts in June.”They are so dominant and powerful as players. If you are off just a little bit they can really hurt you. That means being adaptable,” he said.”You are facing different tightheads and looseheads and they scrummage differently to the way the southern hemisphere scrums pack down. ”Robinson said attacking the opposition scrum effectively was often the key to winning the game.
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Kingi ready to slay giants of game

WALLABIES rookie Richard Kingi is hardly an imposing figure – even among his fellow halfbacks. But thanks to the years of mauling he received playing backyard footy with his elder brothers, he will never shy from taking on ”Jonah Lomu-like people” in a one-on-one tackle.Kingi has courage and strength that belies his 176cm height and 77.5kg weight – in a head-to-head with Lomu at his peak Kingi would give away 20cm and 37.5kg.And as he prepared to join his new Wallabies teammates tomorrow for their final training camp before leaving for their end-of-season tour on October 24, the 20-year-old Queenslander revealed many of his yet-to-be-appreciated traits were picked up during childhood.Kingi, one of seven uncapped players in the 35-man Wallabies squad, recalled with affection how his two elder brothers, Niheta and Heperi, ”used to rough me up” on the ad-hoc playing ground that became the backyard of their home in Te Puke, near Bay of Plenty in New Zealand where he lived.Kingi looks back with fondness on those days where the three boys and younger brother Rauru proudly called themselves ”The Four Kings”.”It’s out on the rugby field that you learn your rugby, but nothing compares to backyard footy with your brothers,” he said. ”That is when you get your older brothers running at you. Tackling them … mate, you’re fearless. When it comes against the Jonah Lomu-like people, it’s easy.”They are brave words for any Wallabies greenhorn, let alone one who will come up against towering forwards during the grand slam leg of the tour that includes Tests against England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – plus two midweek games in which he will likely feature.The first midweek clash is against Gloucester, in between the October 31 Test against the All Blacks in Tokyo and the first against England in London.So, is Kingi apprehensive about playing in the cold and bog of an England paddock? Is he worried about the forwards who will try to face-plant anyone in their way?”No way, you can’t. Not when you are wearing the green and gold jumper,” Kingi said with a smile.Kingi is not one the Gloucester club should underestimate. A former Rotorua Boys High School student, Kingi first played rugby league after moving to Australia and the Gold Coast in Queensland at the age of 15. He soon took up rugby union and made the Queensland under-16s and in time was discovered by Australian Sevens coach Michael O’Connor.And while playing for Australia in this year’s IRB Sevens series, Kingi, who moved to halfback this year after playing at five-eighth and inside-centre, showed that with his strength and guile he also has skills and speed – attributes that helped him become the fourth-highest point scorer of the competition.”Sevens has developed my football more than I could have imagined [with] the vision, the rucks,” Kingi said. ”Normally backs don’t get into rucks, but in Sevens that’s what you have got to be able to do. You’ve got to do everything. You’ve got to be able to run, you’ve got to be able to pass from the ground, you’ve got to be able to clean out. It’s awesome.”Kingi’s pride for the jersey he wears – whether it be with the Queensland Reds with whom he has an academy contract, or Australia – is matched only by his pride for who he represents. And that is his family, says Kingi, who is the cousin of New Zealand Maori captain and Chiefs openside flanker Tanerau Latimer.While only 20, Kingi and his partner, Sharna, already have three children – son Destyn, 3, and daughters Jyahti, who is 21 months, and Kudan, who is 10 months. Kingi has not forgotten the advice of his Australian under-20s coach, Brian Melrose, who reminded him of the importance of that pride.”He said you play for who you are. He asked me: ‘Who do you play for?’ I play for my family. That’s the biggest advice anyone has given me.”
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McKinna left to rue what could have been

WITH his team urgently needing points to stay in touch with the top sides, Central Coast Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna was left fuming after watching his team blow an early lead against the competition’s bottom side yesterday.The Mariners caught North Queensland Fury on the hop with Matt Simon’s first-minute goal but then failed to add to the scoresheet, leaving them with a tally of one goal from their last three games. After missing the chance to take top spot last week, the Mariners now sit fifth, just a point clear of seventh-placed Adelaide and six points behind competition leaders Sydney FC.McKinna’s side held on until well into the second half before a header from Daniel McBreen snatched a point for the visitors.”They didn’t really threaten us that much but the goal was from slow organisation by us at the corner,” McKinna said. ”It was a great delivery and a good header. You can’t argue with that, but we should have been organised quicker.”Despite their early advantage, McKinna was less than convinced by his side’s performance, saying they failed to apply themselves when they ”should have gone on to win the game two- or three-nil”.”I didn’t think we deserved to win that,” he said. ”In the second half we knew they would play the long ball and put some pressure on, but our intensity dropped off. The first 20 minutes was good and then we just slowly backed off. We didn’t pick up many second balls and went flat.”You could see it happening, but we didn’t change things.”By contrast, Fury coach Ian Ferguson paid tribute to his side’s character in digging out a point.”Credit to these boys, they’re absolutely fantastic to work with and they give us their all, every game,” Ferguson said. ”We’re getting a reputation for being competitive, workmanlike but they can play as well, as you could see in the second half.”Fury captain Robbie Fowler shared the sentiment, saying it was evidence of strong team spirit.”It shows we’re fighting for each other,” he said. ”We’re not kidding ourselves – we’d like to turn these draws into wins but if you can’t get that, draws are the next best thing.”
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They think he can: Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

YES, surprisingly, he could. Barack Obama, is the shock choice for the Nobel Peace Prize, less than a year after his election as US President.The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision, announced last night, praised Mr Obama for his ”extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.——————————————————————-World leaders hail Obama’s surprise PrizeTaliban condemns Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize——————————————————————-Mr Obama is only the fourth US president to receive the prize, after Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter. The decision is expected to stir controversy in the US where the President is battling Congress over changes to the nation’s health-care system and its response to climate change.”Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the Nobel communique said.”His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”The committee made special mention of ”his vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons,” and said his work had encouraged global efforts towards disarmament.”Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the US is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting,” it said. ”Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”Mr Obama’s foreign policy has been characterised by efforts to renew relations with some Middle Eastern nations. In January, he became the first president to grant an interview to an Arabic television network, Al-Arabiya. In March he sent a video message of greeting to Iran, saying he was willing to ”extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”, a reference to Iran’s nuclear program.Speeches directed towards the Arab world in April and June were generally well received by leaders of Arabic nations. Mr Obama has also pledged to end combat operations in Iraq by August, more than seven years after the US led an invasion of that country to depose its leader, Saddam Hussein.Mr Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother, was inaugurated on January 20.The former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari won the award last year. In 2007 the former US vice-president Al Gore shared the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
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