Steve McManaman: Why I’m eagerly anticipating a summer of Flat Racing

Royal Ascot begins next month.
Royal Ascot begins next month.

With both the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot Festival taking place next month, Steve McManaman returns with his column to discuss his love of flat racing, why he’s regularly discussing the Royal Meeting with his former teammate Michael Owen and how it’s too early to predict who’s going to succeed at Ascot this year...

One of my earliest involvements in horse racing involved the purchase of ‘Some Horse’.

We bought a flat horse a long time ago when I first started out at Liverpool. There was six or seven of us who went in on the purchase, as you do when you first start getting yourself involved in horse racing, and we had him locally trained by Mick Meagher, the current Racing Manager of Trevor Hemmings, who of course has previously won the Grand National and owned Cloth Cap, the favourite for this year's Grand National. 

Our horse was named Some Horse which rightly or wrongly we all thought would be really funny! He went on to win a couple of times and he won a 33/1 on one occasion, so we were very fortunate with that horse in particular. 

After the successes of Some Horse we then purchased another one named Another Horse, which sadly wasn’t able to replicate the same level of success. Some of the lads from Liverpool weren’t as committed as me and Robbie Fowler, so we both went on to own a couple of other horses, which included another flat horse named Kilimanjaro, but we were actually more focused on jumps racing despite my love of flat racing.

It’s too early to predict who’s going to succeed Royal Ascot this year.

I love the Royal Meeting and you’d love to have a horse that is good enough to attend those meetings, that’s why I’m very jealous of my ex-teammate Michael Owen who’s been there with his top hat and tails and I’ve spoken to him regularly about the meeting. 

As we’re currently awaiting details on who’s going to run and what’s going to happen you cant really start tipping any winners for this year's event, at this stage . When you look at the sprint races currently, there are about 50 runners in, so you have to wait until that list is diluted down before you can start making predictions regarding the outcome. 

It’s slightly easier to tip horses in both the Group One and Group Two races because you have your choice of the quality milers and there are horses that you’ve already witnessed in action during the season. I saw that both Palace Pier and Al Aasy both won at the weekend, so that enables you to begin making informed decisions regarding the outcomes of certain races at Ascot.

Ascot Odds

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Regarding stand-out performers in the flats, it’s very early on in the season to judge isn’t it? 

The Derby trial at Lingfield last week was a decent race, there were also a couple of trials at Chester and a number of good race meetings in the week at York, but the big races we are really looking ahead to include the likes of the prestigious Epsom Derby. 

The favourite for that is Bolshoi Ballet who won over in Ireland last week and performed really well. Aidan O'Brien’s High Definition didn’t run great and O’Brien did state that he needed to blow the cobwebs off a bit and he will gradually improve as time progresses. Another horse that ran well during the week was Hurricane Lane winning the Dante Stakes, surely solidifying his position as one of the favourites in the Derby next month . I also saw that Mother Earth finished second in the French 1000 Guineas whilst St Mark's Basilica was the victor in the French 2000 yesterday and he ran really well, so you’re looking at those types of horses as the stand-out performers. 

Every single year you still have to look at the Ballydoyle and Godolphin colours don’t you? They’ve got such great horses that it’s hard to look past any of them for the big races.

I’ve always been an avid follower of the Epsom Derby.

I remember a lot of Epsom Derbies from years gone by because my father was a huge horse racing fan and my grandfather was a bookie’s runner, so horse racing has been in our family for a long time. 

Every midweek, every Saturday, there would be horse racing on in our house and that continues to this day so I remember almost every Epsom Derby there’s been in my lifetime.

Last year's Derby was a bit different to ones from years gone by because they let Serpentine run off by 20 lengths clear and was unable to be caught. Ballydoyle who won the race last year, usually have five or six different runners in the Derby, so it’s very difficult to determine which is their best horse in terms of the favourite but last year it was a 20/1 shot that won it, so that highlights that they’re all capable of beating each other.

The Derby 2021

Onto football, there have been plenty of rumours regarding Liverpool’s hunt for a new striker, but I don’t necessarily believe that Liverpool need to invest in that area of the team.

Regarding rumours that Liverpool will make a move for club legend Luis Suarez or Leed’s striker Patrick Bamford, I don’t think either will happen. I don’t think they will go for Patrick Bamford and I don’t think Leeds United would be willing to let him go. The speculation regarding Liverpool’s interest in Luis Suarez doesn’t make much sense to me either, despite the year that he’s had at Atletico Madrid where he’s done really well.

Suarez is a great player and he scored a crucial winner against Osasuna at the weekend that will probably guide Atletico Madrid to the La Liga title, but I personally don’t believe that he will want to come back to England at this point in his career. He’s had a number of years at Barcelona before Atletico Madrid, and he’s clearly loving his time in Spain where he’s adored, so I just can’t envision him returning to the Premier League now.

Liverpool have got bigger problems elsewhere in the team and I don’t think the time is right for them to dismantle the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who have been so brilliant for the club over the last three years. Diogo Jota has been firing this year, so I believe having those four players to fill three different positions is great competition for Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp might look to promote a younger player so they have five players for those three positions, so I don’t necessarily feel like Liverpool have to buy another forward. There are other areas of that team that can do with investment and it’s not like those three players are coming to the backend of their career or anything like that, it’s just that Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino haven’t been as prolific in front of goal this season.

I would love to see Phillipe Coutinho back in Liverpool, even playing for Everton.

You know he’s not playing at the moment for Barcelona, and you’d like him to play because of what we’ve seen before and he’s great to watch. I would be astounded if Everton could do the deal and pay his wages, unless he takes a monumental pay cut and Barcelona might have to take a huge hit on their transfer fee. He’s a fantastic player and he’s not playing enough in Spain, and he didn’t play enough last year when he won the Champions League at Bayern Munich. So it would be nice to see him make a move - he needs to play football and if that’s with Everton, great.

Like James Rodriguez, those are type of players you want to see. A lot of my mates are Evertonians, I’ve got nephews that are Everton season ticket holders, if you’ve got those type of players who can produce that type of magic, I’d love to see him here, back in the city of Liverpool playing for the Blues.

Another of my former clubs Real Madrid are linked with teenage sensation Eduardo Camavinga, but I personally don’t see him moving to the Spanish capital this summer. 

Real Madrid are linked with Eduardo Camavinga all the time because of Zidane and the French connection. Rennes surely would want a lot of money for the teenager and I doubt that Real Madrid would have the finances to bring him in, although they do need a player in that position as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are getting to that stage in their career where they’re becoming less influential. 

Despite their financial troubles, with Florentino Perez being voted in as president once again and all the nonsense that went on with the European Super League, I wouldn’t be surprised if Real Madrid still had ambitions about making a statement signing such as Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland instead of opting for the signing of a young midfielder. 

Real have had to get the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Jovic and James Rodriguez off their wage-bill to keep costs low, so to go and spend around £60 million on an 18 year-old midfielder would surprise me, when you know that Real Madrid crave the signings of ready-made superstars.

Would Real Madrid get rid of Eden Hazard? Probably.

It’s difficult. He’s 30, he’s hardly played. He hasn’t endeared himself to the Real Madrid faithful at all with his performances and with his reaction after losing to Chelsea, which did not go down well in Spain. If he was in a Chelsea shirt and they had lost, you wouldn’t expect him to do that. I think everybody’s in the same boat; if you lose a semi-final of the Champions League, you don’t expect your players to be acting like that after the game, it just doesn’t go down well in front of fans who are absolutely devastated that you’ve been knocked out.

Would Real Madrid get rid of him? Probably. Would somebody pay the amount of money the club would want? I very, very much doubt it. He may be stuck at Real Madrid. He cost Real Madrid €100m. Who’s going to pay any money for him now, looking the way he was the other day and his fitness record over the last couple of years?

Would I like to see him in England? Of course! But is that likely? I very much doubt it.

Epsom Derby Odds

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Now is the perfect time for Raphaël Varane to play in England, whether it be at Manchester United or Chelsea.

I think Rafa’s at the right age to come into the Premier League. He’s got a year left of his contract in Madrid, with Real said to want between €40m and €60m to let him go. If Real Madrid want to sell, there’s probably a deal to be done but he’s at a decent enough age (28 years old) and can still play for a long time. I know he hasn’t played recently and he’s had a few injuries this year, but his form’s been relatively good. 

And he’s won everything: the World Cup, numerous Champions Leagues. Virgil van Dijk was a lot of money. Harry Maguire, who’s done really well for Man Utd, was a lot of money. I don’t know what kind of money you would ask for Raphaël Varane, but because he’s got a year left on his current contract, if you could get him for €40m or €50m in the current market, when you see similar players’ value, his record the way he plays, the teams he’s played for, you’d think he’d be the type of player people would look at.

Manchester City don’t need a Number 9, but Romelu Lukaku would enhance their squad without a shadow of a doubt.

Romelu Lukaku has gone up a few levels during his time in Italy. I think it goes without saying, his scoring record has been phenomenal. I mean his scoring record in England was good, but from Chelsea, to Everton, to Manchester United, to Inter Milan, he looks as if he’s improved all the time. He wasn’t happy at Manchester United, he’s left and gone to Inter, and has been fantastic. 

Would he be a welcome addition to Manchester City? He would enhance their squad without a shadow of a doubt. But whether it’s Lukaku, Harry Kane, Erling Haaland, it’s just whether they would go for that type of player or whether they want to spend that type of money. But you would think that with Sergio Agüero leaving, there’s certainly a spot for someone to take, regardless of whether Manchester City need to play with a Number 9. At this moment in time they don’t necessarily need to play with a superstar number 9, the way they play, but I definitely think they would have a better squad with one.

Chelsea treated Frank Lampard poorly, but it will be tough for him to bounce back at Crystal Palace.

I was very disappointed at how Chelsea got rid of Frank. I thought it was very unjust. To get rid of him after five months of the season was awful, but they did and they’re in the Champions League final, so they may be rewarded.  

It all depends on the finances at Crystal Palace. We know they’ve got an ageing squad, where the average age of the players is a lot older than other teams in the league, and so it depends on how much the owners want to invest. If suddenly the American owners and Steve Parish come in and say ‘Look we’ve got a new manager, we’ve got X amount of money, go and do your magic,’ of course I would love Frank to do well. I would love him to do well wherever he turns up next.

Royal Ascot 2021
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