Nothing wrong with Imperial Cup favourite
Let's park Cheltenham until next week, shall we, and have a look at Saturday's big betting race, the Imperial Cup at Sandown.
This weekend is the calm before the Festival storm and predictably low-key, but Sandown's valuable 2m handicap hurdle actually features a horse that I thought wouldn't look out of place in the Supreme after a very impressive win at Newbury last time.
The horse in question is the Nicky Henderson-trained Whatswrongwithyou. He doesn't hold an entry in that race next week, but he is in the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe, and it isn't hard to envisage him going to Cheltenham next week under a penalty.
He is 6/1 favourite with the Betfair Sportsbook, and I can't argue at all with that assessment, even if he was 10/1 in places last Friday.
The money for him was predictable on a number of levels, primarily his form claims.
He was beaten a length by a smart horse in Ainchea over course and distance in December - the winner was probably set to beat the smart mare Countister when falling at the last here last time and is now rated 141 - and that run was particularly noteworthy as it came on good ground and connections are adamant that he is better on soft.
That view has certainly been given some credibility by his brace of Newbury wins since.
He beat his stablemate OK Corral (admittedly getting 6lb) on the first occasion - the runner-up is now rated 144 after bolting up at Kempton next time out - and then was mightily impressive when following up under a 6lb penalty last time.
He probably didn't beat a lot that day but the way he quickened away from his field in the closing stages really caught the eye, and he has a very sexy profile.
The weather forecast suggests it should remain testing this weekend, and a mark of 139 could underestimate his ability or, perhaps more accurately, his potential.
He does meet some battle-hardened horses in here and has yet to do it on the clock, but I genuinely don't think he would have been disgraced in a soft-ground Supreme and he is one of those rare beasts. Namely, a favourite that I am loathe to oppose.
Plenty of dangers lurking
I will stop short of tipping and backing him though - at this stage anyway - and you don't have to look too far for dangers. In fact, if he pokes his head out of his stable door now, he could well see the biggest one in the shape of stablemate Call Me Lord.
He was a touch disappointing when upped in class to contest the Kingwell Hurdle last time, but that was a messy race and he was only beaten 4½ lengths by Elgin and Ch'Tibello, so you probably shouldn't beat him up too much for that effort.
And, quite obviously, he has been tremendously impressive on his two visits here. He is 9lb higher than when winning emphatically in January, but he could prove the main danger off a more even pace and more cover than he got at Wincanton.
The strong-travelling Le Patriote finally saw his race out to the full in first-time cheekpieces at Ascot last time, knuckling down well to beat Friday Night Light a length.
However, the handicapper has humped him up a harsh-looking 8lb - even if the third was 6 lengths away - and I wouldn't be sure that he will confirm the form with runner-up (who was surprisingly weak in the market at Ascot) on 3lb worse terms, let alone win this race.
Silver Streak didn't get very far in the Betfair Hurdle last time but his earlier handicap efforts at Chepstow and Ascot, for which he admittedly went up 11lb, make him a contender.
Moore pair worthy of consideration
Fidux is another obvious each-way candidate at a price as all his best efforts have come at this course, and there are plenty of progressive horses in here, but the two that fascinate me most at the bottom of the weights are the Gary Moore duo of Dell Oro and Maquisard.
The latter takes a bit of explaining but regular readers will know that I mentioned him in this ante-post column in the week of the Betfair Hurdle.
He got balloted out there but the fact that the trainer planned to run him after two seemingly dire runs after coming over from France interested me.
The handicapper wasted no time in dropping him 10lb for those runs, but there was a hint of promise in his first start, and clearly he showed a lot more over hurdles in France. He needs a few to come out to get a run.
Dell Oro has a more obvious chance, even if he comes here after getting soundly stuffed last time.
But that was against Graded horses in the Sidney Banks and he was meeting a real soft ground tool, and subsequent Rossington Main winner, First Flow at Newbury the time before.
He has always been well -regarded in his own right at Moore's, though - indeed they threw him in at the deep end in the Grade 1 Punchestown bumper last season - and his Ascot win in November reads pretty well.
I suspect a mark of 129 underestimates him, but there is a nagging doubt that he may want better ground than he is likely to encounter this weekend.
So, at this stage, I very much agree that Whatswrongwithyou is the likeliest winner, and he could well start shorter than the current 6/1 if he lines up on Saturday.
But we could well get a full field of 22, and maybe some enhanced place claims come Friday afternoon, so I am inclined to see what develops later on in the week and bet with safety after the final declarations.