Betfair Exchange Trophy: Tony Calvin says Malaya fits the bill

Harry Cobden riding Malaya (blue silks)
Malaya (right) gets Tony's vote for the Betfair Exchange Trophy

Tony Calvin makes two ante-post selections for Saturday's Betfair Exchange Trophy that should both be able to cope with the heavy ground at Ascot...

"Malaya fits the bill at 18.017/1 or bigger on the Exchange, or 14/1 each way, five places, with the Sportsbook."

ITV are (hopefully) covering Ascot and Haydock this week - we have Friday terrestrial racing again and four races at the former course are priced up on the Betfair Sportsbook - and the broadcasters are going to sound like Neil from the Young Ones if the weather forecast proves correct. It is going to be "heavy, heavy, heavy" everywhere. Google it if you are too young to remember.

Haydock already has heavy as its going description so, with another wet week in store, there may be no certainty to even race and Ascot clerk of the course Chris Stickels said on Monday that his track, which is currently soft, could get another 30mm (they promptly got 8mm on Monday after he made that estimate).

It may be desperate viewing once again - I know it is safe ground before anyway gets stuck into me, but the fact is bottomless conditions often make for a very uncomfortable watch - but ante-post punters at least know what the going will be and you can study and bet accordingly.

And that is not usually the case, so small mercies and all that.

Malaya can handle deep ground in the Betfair Exchange Trophy

Let's hope for better ante-post luck than we got last week when Romain De Senam was brought down at the fifth at Cheltenham on Saturday - although he would have needed rockets attached fore and aft to have got anywhere near Chatham Street Lad - and I am hoping Malaya can provide it in the Betfair Exchange Trophy handicap hurdle.

I had actually earmarked Hang In There for this race after his run over 2m4f at Newbury last time but he was a surprising no-show at Monday's five-day stage, so at least I came to view the contest afresh, free from any long-term thoughts and biases.

And Malaya fits the bill at 18.017/1 or bigger on the Exchange, or 14/1 each way, five places, with the Sportsbook.

I am going with the latter play, as I gather she definitely runs.

That should not come as such a surprise as she ran in this race last year, though pretty badly it must be said. She never got into the race behind all-the-way winner Not So Sleepy (how do we play him after his antics at Newcastle last time?) and was beaten 25 lengths.

But the early part of last season was pretty much a write-off for her after she had an aborted go at chasing in October, and I am confident we will see a much better effort here.

Take out that disappointing run, and her form figures at Ascot read 1422, and we know she handles very deep ground.

Three of her better efforts have come in the slop and if she can handle Sandown soft, as she did when winning the Imperial Cup off just a 3lb lower mark than this last year, then she will be able to cope with anything that Ascot can throw at her.

She looks to have been targeted at this valuable race once again, and she certainly comes here with a more traditional prep under her belt than last season, when she tuned up via a novices' chase at Market Rasen.

She was clearly a meeting a well very-handicapped horse in Kid Commando here in late October, with the third 10 lengths away, and what was so encouraging about that run was that she wasn't given a hard time at all once the winner was clearly on top. Bryony Frost looked after her late doors, on that what was her seasonal reappearance.

In fact, that run reminded me of her fourth behind Brio Conti here last February before she went on to win at Sandown, a race in which she landed with some ease despite nearly taking the second-last home with her.

I think she has outstanding place credentials, and a better shot at winning than 14/1 quotes suggest. I may also have a win-only nibble on her at 17.016/1 or bigger on the exchange, too.

Worth squeezing in a saver

I can't resist an Exchange win-only saver on Lightly Squeeze at 19.018/1, though. He would remain a bet in this sphere at 14s or bigger.

I know the likes of improvers Buzz and Benson have obvious chances (as would Milkwood on better ground) but I like the angle of Malaya and Lightly Squeeze against the field.

Malaya looks pretty sure to run her race in the conditions, and there could still be a lot of upside in Lightly Squeeze's handicap mark.

He was a fast-progressing sort over hurdles last season, when netting a hat-trick and still in contention when falling at the last run in the Betfair Hurdle, and there could have been an excuse for his comeback run in the Welsh Champion Hurdle.

There doesn't need to be, as we all know just how well that race has worked out (it will be one of the hottest handicaps run in the 20-21 season ) and he ran okay in seventh, but Harry Fry has tweaked his wind since then, which suggests he found an issue afterwards.

In fact, Fry said his "wind was catching him, so he has had his soft palate done" , so hopefully he is all tuned up for this big pot.

Furthermore, the handicapper dropped him 3lb for that Ffos Las run and he is a heavy-ground winner, so a bounce-back could well be on the cards here.

Hold fire on Grade 1 cracker

The class action at Ascot on Saturday is the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, and it promises to be a cracker, with the winners of the 2015 (Thistlecrack), 2018 (Paisley Park) and 2019 (The Worlds End, making his debut for Olly Murphy here) renewals set to lock horns, along with plenty of other big beasts from the staying hurdling ranks.

We don't have a stand-out in the division this year along the lines of a Big Buck's - or indeed the 2015-16 version of Thistlecrack - which is why the Betfair Sportsbook are 5/1 the field for the Stayers' Hurdle, but we do not have any shortage of credible contenders for top dog status.

Paisley Park - 1280.jpg

The Newbury 1-2 of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park predictably dominate the betting for Saturday at 7/4 and 15/8 respectively, but as a layer you would happily accommodate punters at those prices (and a touch bigger) and have the field running for you at around 6/4. It is currently 3.052/1 the pair on the Exchange.

We obviously don't know running plans for the 14-strong field, but there is potentially plenty of depth to the race.

If you knew he was coming over then you would look no further than Sire du Berlais at 7s with the Sportsbook, which is the biggest in the marketplace. He looks more like a 4/1 poke to me, probably shorter, if he runs.

But Gordon Elliott will have home races in mind for him, too - indeed he namechecked a race over Christmas for him at Leopardstown after his comeback win at Navan (The Christmas Hurdle on December 28, in fact) - so I'd be inclined to sit on my hands when it comes to backing him ante-post, as a result.

Maybe he got an entry here to just see what the UK assessor has done with him ratings-wise, though surely he has done with handicaps now, so that is probably nonsense.

Roksana and Main Fact are arguably more likely to run at this stage but, saying that, ante-post punters will do well to remember that Paisley Park was pulled out of this race late on because of heavy ground last year.

A race to revisit on Thursday and beyond, I feel.

There is a good Betfair-sponsored card at Haydock too, but the ground promises to be so testing there that I am going to hold fire and see who decides to brave the conditions.

It could be well be ground for "specialists", as they say.

Good look. Back Thursday.

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