AJ’s to lose?

AJ

Each year since this blog started something would have happened by now to have kick-started the SPOTY debate.

In 2014 Steven Gerrard had slipped up at Anfield causing a mass sale of his SPOTY position. It had dipped to 1.74 when it looked likely he would be captaining Liverpool to the Premier League title.

In 2015 Sir AP McCoy had announced his impending retirement at the end of that season and he was booked on the favourite for the Grand National. He hit a low of 3.5.

In 2016 Leicester City were on their way to the title on the back of Jamie Vardy’s goals – he’d traded at around the 3.0 mark.

This year nothing comparable has happened. The middle distance runner Laura Muir has put in some spectacular indoor track performances and Johanna Konta continues her rapid climb up the tennis rankings, winning the Miami Masters 1000 title. But the very top of the market has been left untouched.

That will change tonight when long-time market leader Anthony Joshua fights Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium. The winner will be the IBF, WBA and IBO heavyweight champion.

AJ is a general 7/4 for SPOTY and 4/9 to beat Klitschko. If he wins it looks like he would go well odds-on for the BBC award (I’d guess even as short as around 1/2 in places). He’s box office and media friendly so it’s easy to see why. But he’s tricky to back at such prices, especially such a long way out from home. There’s the possibility of another fight this year and, with AJ himself talking about this as ‘a stepping stone to greatness’ could it be a case of voters waiting to see how his career goes on from here rather than crowning him SPOTY at the first attempt. Talk (however unlikely it is) of a Tyson Fury fight could also delay people wanting to vote for him – there might be a temptation to want to know who is the best.

That said, a win over Klitch would be a worthy and symbolic achievement. The post-fight media coverage would make AJ mainstream news and his wider popularity could soar. Fury provides a comparison. He caused a sensation when beating WK in November 2015, finishing 4th that year. How much missing out on the podium was down to voters not being too impressed with his achievements in SPOTY terms (and AJ would only be doing what Tyson had already done) or the negativity caused by his controversial image is something to ponder. One thing for sure is that AJ comes across as infinitely more marketable.

Of course all this may count for nothing – he’s got to win the fight which is no certainty as it represents by far the biggest test of his career so far.

Unfortunately there’s not too much at this stage that I can see as value alternatives. The next in the market are Andy Murray (generally priced 8/1), Johanna Konta (8/1), Sir Ben Ainslie (8/1), Laura Muir (14/1), Lewis Hamilton (16/1), Mo Farah (25/1), Rory McIlroy (25/1), Chris Froome (33/1) and Katarina Johnson-Thompson (33/1).

A Wimbledon win for Murray (he’s 9/4 fav) would naturally see him shorten significantly. But it may be (possibly barring getting a first French Open title) that even he’s run out of new things to do to keep the voter sufficiently engaged to push him to a fourth win in five years.

Konta is interesting but again a grand slam would probably be required (and her record at the French Open and Wimbledon so far is poor). She does though have a shot at being world number one late this year while Serena Williams is off the circuit. I wonder who would get most votes if she and Murray each won a grand slam this year. She’s one to keep an eye on but looks short enough currently.

I wouldn’t be confident in Hamilton even if it was a given that he wins the F1 title as his sport appears less popular than ever and in a state of upheaval.

Froome surprisingly didn’t even make the shortlist last year. That should be rectified this time if he won an incredible fourth Tour De France (he’s a best priced 11/10 to do so). He’s one that might be worth trading on Betfair – perhaps by laying for the TdF market if he was to go short and backing to lay in the SPOTY market. To many he continues to be clouded by his association with Team Sky.

McIlroy would need to win at least one major which is far from easy so can be discounted at this stage. Golf remains a sport that struggles on SPOTY night.

I think Ainslie would be a strong podium contender and even in with a chance of the win if his Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team sailed to Britain’s first ever America’s Cup this June. There would be a key novelty factor to that story and Ben has an excellent image. The problem is there’s a strong favourite to overcome in Oracle Team USA who are 4/5 with Sky Bet, BAR are 11/4. More information on this event can be found here.

Of those at the top of the market, this leaves those competing at the World Athletics Championships in August. In recent years this competition has produced podium finishes for Farah (3rd in 2011, also 4th in 2013 and 7th in 2015), and Jessica Ennis-Hill (3rd in 2015). This perhaps doesn’t appear the strongest pedigree (and there remains concern about track and field’s enduring popularity with the public) but at least there is some form to go on and the fact that London is hosting this year could raise the profile of those competing.

Muir has improved significantly over the last year and is going for the 1,500m and 5,000m double. She’s in with a genuine chance of gold in the former (Paddy Power have an early price of 6/4) but still has to beat Faith Kipyegon, the Kenyan Olympic champion from last year, and the Ethiopian world record holder, Genzebe Dibaba. Do that and she could at least make SPOTY top-3 – another medal in the 5,000m would further enhance her credentials.

With Jess now retired and a new coach, Johnson-Thompson will also fancy her chances of gold in the heptathlon. She also has to reverse the form of the Olympic champion from Rio. And it has to be doubtful that she would be as popular as Jess with the voting public.

As ever Mo should stand out beyond them all in terms of medals where he’d likely be priced up as odds on to complete the 10,000m and 5,000m double. He continues to be dogged by allegations against his coach for using banned substances. He himself seems resigned to not being popular with the public in this competition. And it’s become something of a joke amongst SPOTY betters how Mo nearly always falls short.

But if some of those above him in the market fall way, and he gets a bit of a boost from retiring from the track in London with double gold, there is scope to build on last year’s fourth place. I’m amused at myself for putting up Mo again but at the price I think he’s worth a small play at this stage.

Once the market is shaken up after the fight tonight there may be other opportunities which I will update on if they arise.

Enjoy the fight if tuning in. Do you think AJ would be a shoo-in for SPOTY if he wins?  Please feel to comment below with any thoughts.

* 0.5 pts each way Mo Farah 25/1 Paddy Power (1/5 odds first 3) 20/1 Bet 365 (1/4 odds first 3) (33/1 with Boylesports (1/5 odds first 3))

 

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