Belfast Telegraph

Our golf, racing and rugby stars on brink of glory

By Maureen Coleman

It's fingers crossed as Northern Ireland prepares to get behind its sporting stars for a major weekend of sport.

With Rory McIlroy tearing up the fairway at The Masters, Tony McCoy hoping to win a second Grand National and the Ulster rugby team scrumming down in the European Cup quarter final, the province is gearing up for two days in front of the television or down the pub to cheer on our boys.

Golfing whiz McIlroy is the bookies favourite to win the US Masters after a sizzling opening to the tournament.

Moneyglass jockey McCoy will today attempt to become the first in 37 years to win a Grand National back-to-back since Brian Fletcher won on Red Rum in the 1970s.

Ulster’s rugby squad will go up against Northampton Saints tomorrow, having reached the knockout stages of the competition for the first time since their Heineken Cup triumph 12 years ago.

But with three players ruled out due to injury — Declan Fitzpatrick, Darren Cave and Stephen Ferris will all be resigned to the benches — the odds are against the Ulster boys, despite having won their last six Magners League games.

McCoy will again race Don’t Push It, the horse which gave him his first win at Aintree last year. Thousands of local fans are expected to back McCoy’s bid for a double victory, while bookmakers throughout the UK are quaking in their boots fearing a repeat of last year when they had to pay out on the 12-1 favourite.

Punters are expected to fork out tens of millions of pounds on bets for the 11-year-old race-horse, trained by Jonjo O’Neill. But it has left bookies fearing a “nightmare scenario” if he wins.

A spokeswoman for Boylesports said they were taking more bets on Don't Push It than any other horse, and that one punter had placed a bet of £10,000.

“If Don't Push It triumphs, it will be our biggest loss, the worst result possible for us. We're talking six figures here,” she said. “One punter bet £10,000 each way for Don't Push It to win and so far, it's the horse proving most popular with punters. We've had to slash the odds from 16-1 to 10-1.”

David Williams of Ladbrokes agreed. He said: “Tony McCoy's profile is bigger than it has ever been and punters up and down the land will be siding with the champion jockey.

“Don't Push It was one of the worst results in Grand National history for the finance teams at the big bookies, but it could be even worse this time around.”

Paddy Power also reported a massive surge of support for McCoy.

Odds on McCoy winning were 9-1 last night, and he had emerged as the clear favourite, despite experts having tipped Ruby Walsh on The Midnight Club to win.

And after Co Down’s McIlroy displayed a second day of golfing prowess on the green he became favourite to win the US Masters, with Paddy Power putting his odds at 7-1.

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