Trainer Mick Smith torn between staying pair in 3200m test


Mick Smith talks with excitement ahead of the opening race at Wagga because it’s over 3200m.

And the Queanbeyan trainer has two chances lining up in the staying event who the punters have been able to separate but he’s struggling to.

Hilltop Hood takes on stablemate Hello China and, while the former is battling it out for favouritism, the latter is at double-figure odds in the small field.

“I think they’re both going to go well,” Smith said. “I don’t want to get into trouble here but on his day Hello China is probably the better of the two horses but Hello China has got a mind of his own.

“If the genuine Hello China turns up, he’s just as likely to win as the other fella. He’s had seven wins and Shaun Guymer has rode him in six of them.”

Hilltop Hood does come into the race with better form behind him and won last start at Wagga in a 2500m race. Uncharacteristically, he led all the way under Nick Heywood which is hard to do in staying races and it will be even harder to repeat it over more ground on Friday.

“I couldn’t look at the turn. He’s never led in his life. One time he got to the lead at Bega then he stopped and waited for the others before charging home again,” Smith said.

“Hilltop Hood is a beautiful horse with big feet and he likes the slow ground and I thought his win the other day was great.

“He was strong through the line and Nick was impressed with him. Straight after the race I asked Nick if he thought he’d be fine to step up to 3200m and he said ‘no worries’.”

Hello China will handle a wet track better than Hilltop Hood however and he’s rock-hard fit and shouldn’t have any excuses.

“We tried to get Hello China ready for the 3800m race at Wagga a few months ago but it ended up being called off so he’s been ready for this distance since August,” Smith said.

“I’ve taken them in the quinella. Obviously the Ciaron Maher horse (Dambulla) is hard to beat. It brings different form lines and I think will be the favourite.”

Smith has never had a runner over 3200m but was appreciative of the club having put the race on. Despite his two horses having had a good grounding for the gruelling test, he’s naturally got a few doubts in his mind.

“The winner the other day at 2500m was the furthest distance I’ve trained a winner at so you don’t know if you’ve done everything perfect for 3200m,” he said. “I think I have but as a country trainer you never know. It’s not like you’ve had the chance to do it 100 times.

“I’ve ran them up interchangeably their whole preps so they’ve had similar campaigns.”

Smith also runs Beauty At Dawn in the fifth race and even though she’s unplaced in four runs and is at long odds, Smith thinks she can run her best race.

“I think she’s going really nicely for me and I’m excited to see how she runs,” he said. “I think she wants further, but I’m hoping she can run in the first three.”

MOREE

ANCHOIS ON THE MONEY

Anchois only has to do one thing at Moree – hold his current form – and he’ll win.

The Choisir six-year-old runs in a Class 3 Handicap (950m) for trainer Aiden St Vincent, who watched on proudly as Anchois ran 1½ lengths fourth behind Never Talk at Newcastle last start. He’s in an easier even race on Friday and has his second start for his new stable.

“I think he’s only got to repeat his run the other day at Newcastle and I can see him winning that race,” St Vincent said. “It was good first-up considering he was off for 12 months.

“He’s taken enough benefit out of it and he’s on the comeback trail from an injury which is why he started off over 900m and this race is now well within his reach.

“He’s definitely got that class factor on his side in a race like that. It’s been a juggling act to get him fit but keep him sound at the same time but we’re heading in the right direction.”

Kingoftheharbour also runs for St Vincent in the first race and he’s looking for his first win at start 13. He’s only had three placings but also drops back in grade off a sixth placing at the provincials last time.

“His run wasn’t too bad at Newcastle,” St Vincent said. “They ran quicker time in his maiden than they did in the benchmark race. They went home in 32 seconds and he got back from a bad gate and couldn’t make up the ground.

“He’s back to handicap conditions in the bush and won’t have to carry 59kg.”

If the five-year-old brings his best he’ll be competitive from a good draw (4) in a big field.

“He’s been a bit of an on and off horse. He’s run nice races and you’d think he would’ve won by now but he can do some things wrong,” St Vincent said. “He’s more suited to this shorter race and now that he’s back in ground he’s a chance.”

Ski Missile is St Vincent’s leading contender in the fourth race as he takes on stablemate Modulo.

“They’re both in their right races. If Ski Missile drew a better barrier I’d be very confident he’d run in the first three,” St Vincent said. “I’ve only had the other horse for a few weeks and he needs to be running over a mile to be competitive.”



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AFL’s unprecedented season has torn up the rulebook. A night grand final is the latest break from tradition


One by one in this most bizarre of AFL seasons, the barriers have come down.

If staging the grand final outside of Melbourne for the first time wasn’t enough of a break from tradition, the AFL doubled down by announcing another first: this year’s decider at the Gabba would be played at night.

A possible afternoon clash with the Cox Plate on October 24 — one of the biggest events in Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival — gave the AFL the opportunity to make the move.

“Certainly, I don’t think any earlier than 5:30pm up here [6:30pm in Melbourne] and more likely later in the day,” the AFL’s chief executive Gillon McLachlan said when asked exactly what time it could be staged.

The announcement has been coming for weeks if not months, but even then, the final decision was only made this week.

“We were sort of landing this in the last 24 hours,” McLachlan said.

The timing of the Cox Plate has been a key factor in the move to hold the AFL grand final at night.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

The key word in that last sentence is “broadcasters”.

The NRL, which has always been less slavish to tradition, has staged night grand finals for almost two decades. Yes, it was brought in to appease the broadcasters, but arguably the spectacle is also greater.

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Night-time is prime time and there’s no question the AFL’s broadcast partners have wanted to move the grand final for years.

Seven West’s Managing Director, James Warburton, took a break from bashing Cricket Australia last month to heap praise on the AFL and spruik the possibility of a night grand final, saying it would be ideal from an advertising perspective.

“Obviously, having a crowd would be absolutely fantastic and possibly being a prime-time grand final, if that’s the direction they would go, it would be a fantastic revenue outcome for us as well,” Warburton said.

The possibility has been discussed ad nauseum.

The sticking point has been tradition, but it’s been an odd logic.

The AFL’s marquee timeslot each round (up till this season, at least) has been Friday night.

Six of the AFL’s eight finals last season (excluding the grand final) were played at night — and one of the remaining two was a twilight fixture starting in the late afternoon.

GWS run out onto the MCG for the AFL grand final
Pre COVID-19, tradition had decreed that the AFL’s biggest game of the year was held in mid-afternoon.(ABC News: Chloe Hart)

Yet tradition has dictated the grand final has remained a day game.

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Whether you’re a fan of the afternoon slot or not, the argument in favour of tradition that goes: “that’s how we’ve always done it” is about the weakest available.

Tradition dictates that the umpires bounce the ball at the start of every quarter and after every goal even though they regularly stuff it up and revert to throwing it straight up which works every time.

This year has proven that anything is possible. It turns out you don’t have to have a full fixture scheduled months in advance of the season, you can do it week to week.

If there is a possible fly in the ointment, it’s the possibility that the dewy conditions which can prevail in the humid Brisbane nights could ruin the spectacle of the game, as the ball becomes as slippery as if it were raining.

But Gillon McLachlan was relaxed about the prospect.

“Very confident about the dew and if it is [dewy], then it’ll be a game where it has dew.”

He has a point — Aussie Rules is a sport that has to roll with the conditions. After all, it can rain in Melbourne in late September.

Ground staff bring the covers on at the Gabba as rain falls in a Sheffield Shield match in October.
Followers of Queensland’s Sheffield Shield team know that the Gabba can get pretty damp in October.(AAP: Jono Searle)

The question that will hang around next year, is that now that the mould has been broken, will night grand finals become a regular fixture — even if AFL life returns to some kind of normal?

McLachlan is leaving the possibility open.

“Clearly people will have a look at it, and it won’t be so foreign I’m sure and you’ll debate it on its merits afterwards,” he said.

Asked straight out if this year would be a circuit-breaker to help push through future night grand finals, he said:

“So I think everyone can see what the game looks like at night and with the other stuff wrapped around it, and then you can make a more balanced decision next year.

In a season where everything has gone out the window, tradition has also been given the flick.

A day grand final was sacrosanct until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.



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‘I’m torn’: WI voters waffle on Trump, Biden, as protests endure



De Pere, Wis.

Alexis Arnold says she’s sympathetic toward protesters who have peacefully fought racial injustice this summer. But as some demonstrations spiral into violence, her anxiety is building.

“Why are we so broken right now?” the art gallery owner wondered.

The uncertainty is drawing her to whatever stability President Donald Trump can offer. He has spent weeks pushing questions of safety and security to the forefront of the presidential campaign. And there are signs some Wisconsin voters are listening, after protests have sometimes become violent in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a white police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times, paralyzing him.

“The public just needs something to make them feel comfortable and safe again,” said Ms. Arnold, who is white, and has voted for Democrats in the past and is raising a biracial daughter. “I almost [would] rather see Trump stay and try to resolve it rather than bring somebody in new.”

That sentiment could prove decisive in Wisconsin, a state that put Mr. Trump in the White House in 2016 after he carried it by less than 1 percentage point. The president has already used dark and misleading warnings of destruction in American streets following violence in Portland, Oregon, and is now seizing on unrest in Kenosha, where he’ll travel on Tuesday.

His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has condemned violence and focused more on the victims of police brutality.

But the images of unrest in Kenosha – of protesters clashing with police, shattered windows, and a teenager carrying an AR-15 style gun in the streets – are intensifying the partisan divide in Wisconsin. In interviews with dozens of voters in Green Bay and its suburbs, Democrats saw racism and fear-mongering in Mr. Trump’s messages, part of a ploy to change the subject from the pandemic.

Republicans, even those who admittedly cringed at Mr. Trump’s style on other issues, were unwaveringly supportive.

And some of the rare voters unsure of their choice said they felt drawn to Mr. Trump in this moment, a warning sign for Mr. Biden, who has tried to make the election a clear referendum on Mr. Trump, his leadership, and his handling of the coronavirus.

As part of that strategy, Mr. Biden has all but shunned in-person campaigning and generally kept a lower profile. That approach has left some voters who haven’t ruled out Mr. Trump hazy on where Mr. Biden stands on race and criminal justice, a vacuum quickly filled with misinformation.

“It was out there that he would get rid of the police,” said Mike Guerts, referring to an often repeated falsehood about Mr. Biden’s position.

Mr. Guerts, a wavering Trump voter, says a friend has inundated his phone with pro-Trump posts. The mail worker from Madison, who was in town visiting his father, said he knows not everything his friend sends is true but he doesn’t yet know enough to feel comfortable with Mr. Biden.

“I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I’m torn,” he said, noting police brutality is a pressing problem. “But that does not excuse the lawlessness.”

There is far less ambiguity among Trump stalwarts. Many were quick to identify all protesters and Democrats as “socialists.”

Some don’t agree there is systemic racism in the United States and argued that Black Americans often provoke police into using force. Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who is charged with shooting three people, killing two, in Kenosha, was rarely mentioned.

Instead, they saw Democrats and their celebrity allies as stoking the unrest.

“They haven’t done anything to stop it,” said Rick Demro, a retired commander with Green Bay police department. “You don’t see them back up law enforcement. They’re quick to cast judgment before they facts come out. I think all that does is promote the rioting instead of trying to quell it. Part of me says, it’s to help them for the campaign purposes.”

Mr. Demro said he’s particularly angered by professional athletes and organizations speaking out against police brutality – including his beloved Green Bay Packers. He hasn’t missed a home game since the early 1980s, and he waited for 30 years to get his season tickets. But this week, he talked to his wife about giving them up in protest. She refused, he said, because she wants to pass them down to their children.

Mr. Demro was among the Trump supporters who said they did see problem in policing. When he watched the video of a Minneapolis police officer pinning George Floyd to the ground until he stopped moving, the May incident that triggered a new, broadly supported movement for racial justice, he said he knew it was “wrong.”

But there’s evidence to suggest that events in the months since have taken a toll on public support for protesters in the state.

A Marquette University Law School survey found support for the protests had fallen 13 percentage points from June to August and is now even with disapproval. The survey of Wisconsin residents conducted before the shootings in Kenosha found that support fell everywhere except the city of Milwaukee, including the suburbs, exurbs, and large towns, where Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are vying for supporters.

To win Wisconsin, Mr. Trump must run up the score in the conservative-leaning suburbs and exurbs across the state, working-class areas where trade union’s allegiance to Democrats has faded and the pull of cultural issues has grown. While he dominated in Green Bay’s Brown County in 2016 – winning by 11 percentage points – the area supported a Democrat-backed Supreme Court justice this spring, in a surprising surge of Democratic turnout.

They were Democrats like Michelle Yurek, a fourth-grade teacher who was preparing to go back to teach in a classroom last week, as Mr. Trump told the Republican National Convention that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.”

“I don’t think we’re safe in Trump’s America,” Ms. Yurek said, from her home in a neat subdivision on the edge of Green Bay where she lives with her husband and three children. “I think he’s caused a lot of the division.”

Driving his supporters to the polls, while overcoming barriers to voting in the pandemic, is critical for Mr. Biden. That means winning over voters like Brittaney Leake, a support staff worker at a group home and a mom of three, with another on the way.

Ms. Leake says she didn’t vote in 2016 because she’s disillusioned with what she see as politicians’ unfulfilled promises. Mr. Biden hasn’t given her a reason to change course, she said.

“Just because he’s a Democrat doesn’t mean he has my vote,” Ms. Leake said. “If I can’t specifically see what he’s going to do for a change, I’m not going to vote for him. … There has to be action.”

Ms. Arnold, the gallery owner, voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago. But she hasn’t been unhappy with Mr. Trump’s record. She thinks he’s trying to look out for businesses like hers and she’s heard positive things about his criminal justice reform bill.

It seems daunting now to switch leaders at a time when she’s everyone is “stretched so thin.” She’s still mulling over her choice, wishing she could hear more from both candidates for a plan for a reset. “I think we’re all just kind of worn out. And we just want to get back to somewhat of a normal life.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.



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‘Sheep without a shepherd’: Hong Kong churches torn by politics



Ricky Wong Wai-hung, 54, Pastor-in-charge of Trinity Theological Baptist Church, poses after an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

August 6, 2020

By Yanni Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – When Hong Kong’s largely peaceful pro-democracy protests turned violent last summer, it drove a wedge through every section of society, dividing friends, families and also worshippers at its more than 1,500 churches.

The majority of people in Hong Kong follow some form of Buddhist, Taoist or other traditional Chinese religion, but the former British colony has about 900,000 practicing Christians, about 12% of the population according to government figures, split almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. There is no consensus among them about the protests or China’s tightening grip on the city.

Canaan Wong, Blesson Chan and Kristy Chan, all in their mid-20s, are part of a group of about 40 people who in late June quit their positions as mentors and teachers at the evangelical Tung Fook Church, because they said they felt pressure from senior church leaders to keep quiet about political matters.

They said several pastors were told by church leaders to remove their names from public statements opposing a bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, the issue which sparked the protests. The bill was eventually withdrawn. The three said they did not know which church leaders, or how many, were telling pastors to remove their names.

“It sends chills down our spine with such self-censoring,” said Wong. “This shows that in this church, politics clearly overrides religion and truth.”

The group wants the church to speak up on political issues, such as the new national security law enacted by China on June 30, which makes anything that Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by life in prison.

“We are not asking for a yellow church,” said Blesson Chan, using the local shorthand for pro-democracy. “We just feel that church is a part of the society and should not be hiding up in an ivory tower.”

The group is set to have talks with leaders of the church, which is located next to the headquarters of China’s new national security agency in Hong Kong, about how to resolve their issues. A representative for Tung Fook church said it wanted to “enhance communication and eliminate misunderstanding” with the group.

If the church does not take a stand, the three said they feared it will end up resembling the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Protestant organization in mainland China that is closely controlled by the state and whose leaders staunchly support the Chinese Communist Party.

The National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China declined to comment.

Although China is an officially atheist state, it does allow certain state-supervised religious organizations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to operate. However, Beijing has closed down many so-called underground or house churches outside the state-controlled system and has imprisoned worshippers on the grounds that they are more loyal to their religion than to the Chinese state.

Chinese authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

‘TEAM JESUS’

On the other side of the divide is a 49-year-old police officer, who said he left the Christian and Missionary Alliance Tak Tsuen Church after 14 years last June, when he was abused by fellow worshippers who told him the police deserved to be attacked by protesters.

“As Christians, seeing the police bleed and wounded, how can you think it’s good and we deserve it?” said Sing, who asked to be identified by only one name. The church did not reply to a request for comment.

Shortly after, the policeman joined Trinity Theology Baptist Church, set up by former police officer Ricky Wong, 54, as a refuge for police who felt unwelcome elsewhere.

“I want to minimize my brothers’ and sisters’ hatred towards the yellow camp,” Wong told Reuters, referring to the general opposition among police officers to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” said Wong, quoting a passage from the Bible. “These people are also lambs.”

Wong said the 120 or so members of his church, which include many members of the uniformed services plus some doctors and teachers, pray at secret locations for fear of being targeted by pro-democracy activists.

Despite his concern about the yellow camp, Wong said he did not identify as blue, or pro-Beijing. Instead, he described his congregation as “Team Jesus.”

ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

When China took back control of Hong Kong in 1997, it adopted the principle of “one country, two systems” and agreed to uphold the territory’s Basic Law, its de facto constitution, which includes the freedom of speech and religion.

That principle is now seen to be under threat after China imposed the new national security law, which supporters say will bring stability to the financial hub, but critics say will crush all forms of freedom.

Hong Kong’s government did not reply to a request for comment. It has said previously the new security law preserves “the basic rights and freedom lawfully enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.” The law makes no mention of religious groups.

Nevertheless, church leaders are treading cautiously.

A day before the law was imposed, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, the umbrella group for the city’s 164 Baptist congregations, posted a message critical of the law on the convention’s website, but took it down a day later.

“We expect the government to enact just laws to make society harmonious and stable,” said Lo in the withdrawn post, arguing that the new security law could not achieve long-term stability and that only a truly democratic system would lead to prosperity. 

Lo, 68, told Reuters he was unnerved by an anonymous caller who accused him of encouraging violence.

Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by the Chinese state, singled out Lo for what it called “hijacking the churches.” The newspaper did not reply to a request for comment.

“In churches now, different people, different political stances are constantly fighting,” said Wong. “Right now, I don’t think the rift in our society can be mended.”

(Reporting By Yanni Chow in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Bill Rigby)





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