We have some high class racing at Ascot and Haydock on Saturday, and as ever, our in-form tipster Tony Calvin is here to take an early look...
"His last success came by 6 lengths off a mark of 138 here in November 2018, and the handicapper has given a real chance for dropping him 5lb in one fell swoop after his reappearance here in early November."
Everyone loves to see top-class horses going at it in the big races, but the problem we are increasingly witnessing is that the pool of premier performers is so small.
So - and let's be honest here, instead of trotting out the quality over quantity line time and again - we regularly get pretty pitiful fields racing for a lot of money, and that is usually a turn-off for punters (though, granted, Frodon was one of the best backed horses of last weekend when winning the five-runner Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton).
The situation is not helped by the English and Irish horses tending to stay on their own patch until the major Festivals - incidentally, the Betfair Sportsbook have priced up five races at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on February 1 and 2, a meeting I shall be attending on my first foray racing in the Emerald Isle for many a year - though thankfully Un De Sceaux is a standing dish in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, last year aside.
Just as well as his presence has stopped Defi Du Seuil being priced up as a 4s-on poke at the five-day stage for the £150,000 Grade 1 prize.
Veteran showing no signs of slowing yet
Willie Mullins' 12yo won this three times in successive years from 2016 to 2018, and age is not dimming his fire on the evidence of his last two performances.
He went down by only a neck to Defi Du Seuil in the Tingle Creek and he looks set to get a solo out in front here, something he didn't have the luxury of at Sandown when Ornua set the pace.
I would probably side with him at the prices, but if backing a horse at 13-8 in a five-runner race in a weekend ante-post race is the best we can do then we should perhaps give up this punting lark.
The wet forecast certainly suggests the old mudlark will be in his element - though the amount of expected rainfall in the next couple of days seems to have lessened somewhat - and you have to work on the basis of soft ground at a minimum (and probably heavy) for Ascot on Saturday.
That, of course, makes running plans hard to predict - and the prospect of backing no-shows obviously increases - but we soldier on regardless.
Jolly fancied to get the better of the jollies
I did my money in cold blood when putting up and backing Colonial Dreams for the Lanzarote last week and he must be considered an unlikely runner, once again, for the 2m3f58yd handicap hurdle (2.25pm) if Ascot gets the rain.
The 4/1 Lanzarote ante-post favourite Pic D'Orhy was another surprise absentee at Kempton - I didn't see anyone ask why - but he just about heads the betting here at 5/1, though the last-flight casualty in that race (when 3 lengths or so clear), Debestyman, is arguably the more interesting if turning out again, alongside impressive Haydock winner Bold Plan.
They have not been missed in the Betfair market though, and the one that I think is overpriced is the far more exposed, old-stager Jolly's Cracked It, and he is worth an each-way bet at 16/1, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
At 11yo, he is the senior man of this particular party, and the other possible negative is the 2m3f+ trip given that his two starts beyond 2m have both ended badly, though to be fair one of those came at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015 and the other was over fences over 2m4f in the Uttoxeter heavy-ground gluepot back in March.
So I am prepared to forgive him those performances, especially off a mark of just 135 on his favourite track. And Sean Bowen is already jocked up.
It could be that he needs more of a trip at his age, too.
His last success came by 6 lengths off a mark of 138 here in November 2018, and the handicapper has given a real chance for dropping him 5lb in one fell swoop after his reappearance here in early November.
He didn't shape without promise there in a first-time, tongue-tie (maybe he has had his wind tweaked since?) and the excellent recent form of the Harry Fry yard has to give you further hope.
He is worth chancing at 16s, despite the doubts expressed above.
The handicapper has also given Allysson Monterg a fair old chance off 138 in the 2m5f handicap chase on the Ascot card (3pm), and I am going to suggest backing him, win-only, at 16/1, too.
I may have a decent crack at him, too, at the price.
Now, this lightly-raced 10yo is clearly as fragile as you get (he has tendon problems) but at least you know he will be 100% straight if getting to the track, which hopefully he will here (which is obviously no given, looking at his profile), and it sounds as if his trainer Richard Hobson has never doubted his raw ability.
He landed a bit of a punt (14/1 to 3/1) when winning first-time-up over 2m3f in heavy ground at Exeter in February 2018, and this trip in deep ground could be ideal for him, even though he has won over further and was tried in the Ladbrokes Trophy on his reappearance last season.
He is well-handicapped on his Perth win in 2018 but he is even more so if you take his most recent start, a fourth to Frodon in the Cotswold Chase a year ago, at face value.
And go and take a look at that race, in which he had a decent pop at the front-running Frodon for a fair while.
He went off 40/1 there - unsurprisingly given he was rated just 141 up against horses well over a stone better than him - but he travelled powerfully for a long way, in first-time cheek pieces, before weakening over the extended 3m1f (he traded at 6.8 in running) and he really could prove to be very hard to beat if he is in the same form.
He is 16s across the board and I am rather surprised all of the odds-compilers came to the same assessment about the horse.
Red can Definitly win the Peter Marsh
It will definitely be heavy, and then some, at Haydock, so it will be interesting to see who rocks up in the Supreme Trial and the Unibet Hurdle, as I doubt trainers will want to bottom their Festival hopefuls in bad ground, even if it is only January 18 on Saturday.
As such, it is probably giving both of the races a swerve, but I imagine a fair percentage will stand their ground in the Peter Marsh Chase (2.40pm).
I will stop short of putting him up as a bet at this stage, but the one that stands out for me is Definitly Red, who is available at 7/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook. Henry Brooke is already jocked up.
Lumbering 11st 10lb around 3m1f+ at Haydock in heavy ground will not be for the faint-hearted but this class act is at least well handicapped off a mark of 156 (he went off 8/1 for the 2018 Gold Cup after winning the Cotswold Chase by 8 lengths)and he comes here after a good fourth in the Becher.
And he is used to carrying 11st+ against quality performers in testing ground, so I don't think the weight will stop this five-times Grade 2 winner.
He has form figures of 12U around here - that unseat came 3 out when he was a 5/1 chance in this race in 2017 - and was rated 167 at his peak, so a mark of 156 is no barrier to success.
Haydock is his only weekend entry, but I am inclined to wait until the final decs before playing myself. The current 7s and 8s in the marketplace is very fair if you want to pounce now, though.