Stan Hey: 6-5 Against

It is around about now, just over two weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, that the punter withdraws into a version of purdah in order to keep his mind clear and his wad intact. There are siren voices – analysts, forums, fellow gamblers – whispering ante-post certainties into the shell-like, and they must be shut out in favour of the monastic study of form.

A few distractions are allowed, such as the Champions League, returning next week, but stakes are kept small. Barcelona remain favourites (3-1 Coral), pursued by Manchester United (11-2 Betfred), Chelsea (8-1 Totesport), Liverpool 12-1 (Bet 365) and Arsenal 16-1 (Ladbrokes).

Uefa’s Michel Platini will be skewering voodoo dolls to prevent another all-English final and this knockout stage could ease his fears. United may be at risk because Jose Mourinho, hired by Inter to win the tournament, will plot fiendishly against them. And Liverpool may struggle to close the deal against a Real Madrid revived by Juande Ramos. Indeed, in-form Real look a fair bet for the tournament, £5 at 16-1 Coral.

Another fiver goes on Aussie Geoff Ogilivy, the 8th seed, in the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship in Arizona, which has been made more meaningful by Tiger Woods’ re-appearance. Finally, a fiver each-way goes on Henry Daly’s Possol, 12-1 Bet 365, in today’s Racing Post Chase at Kempton.

* Ashkazar retrieved losses posting a microscopic profit. And having dissed the Tote Super7 for its perversity, I copped a £217 dividend for five out of seven winners last Friday. But the elusive win pool rolls on, standing at £1.17m before yesterday’s seven races across four meetings. Sadists.

The Premier League has provided five of the last eight Champions League finalists, the best run since 1975-1985, when an English side competed in the final in nine of 11 seasons – including winning it six years in succession between 1977 and 1982.