There's potentially more Cheltenham Festival clues to come this weekend thanks to a good-looking card at Kempton, while the Eider Chase takes centre stage at Newcastle. Tony Calvin gives his early thoughts...
"Okay, that handicap may have lacked the depth of this contest, but he could do no more than run out a wide-margin winner and his earlier second to Glen Forsa over an extended 2m4f was obviously a great effort in hindsight."
Kempton's card holds clues
Kempton's end-of-February card is traditionally good for a late Cheltenham clue or two - not least from the juvenile and novice hurdles - but I have long associated the meeting with the valuable 3m handicap chase over the years.
In days gone by, it was the old Racing Post - who could forget Bonanza Boy's incredible win in 1989 - but it has changed sponsors a few times since then. It remains a 100k race though, so it is disappointing to see that there are only 16 entries at the five-day stage.
Hopefully, most will stand their ground and, to be fair, it has attracted a decent field in terms of quality and interest.
Glen Rocco all the rage
The predictable favourite is Glen Rocco, who could still be well-treated here despite going up 13lb for his course-and-distance success last time.
Okay, that handicap may have lacked the depth of this contest, but he could do no more than run out a wide-margin winner and his earlier second to Glen Forsa over an extended 2m4f was obviously a great effort in hindsight.
The winner is now in single figures for the Arkle, and the three horses who immediately followed a staying-on Glen Rocco home have all won since.
So Glen Rocco is a fast-improving handicapper who fully deserves to head the betting, even though he may be a little bit short at around the 7/2 mark.
Expect to hear a lot about him in the build-up to the race on Saturday as one of his part-owners is a certain Jeremy Kyle. It does strike me that racing comes across as a bit desperate and insecure in their bid to focus on "celebrities" attracted to the sport, but there you go.
There are some considerable dangers ranged against Glen Rocco, and the early betting suggests Janika and Adrien Du Pont are chief amongst them.
Janika bypassed the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday to come here, and just as well given what Cyrname did to the opposition, and the owner and trainer responsible for that hugely impressive weekend winner (now officially the highest-rated horse in training, and rightly so) have course-and-distance winner Adrien Du Pont in here.
It looks a pretty deep race, if not in terms of numbers, and Calipto has to be a serious player under a 5lb penalty after proving his 3m stamina at Ascot on Saturday.
Venetia Williams also has Didero Vallis in the race - one of two horses, along with Ange Des Malbereaux (who is also in the Eider Chase at Newcastle), coming into the race on a hat-trick - and it remains to be seen whether Rather Be's supporters will be looking to get their money after leaving it behind on both starts this season.
The handicapper has given Flying Angel a chance, dropping him to the same mark as his second over 2m5f at Ascot in November, and the more I look, the more I am inclined to wait for the final field at the weekend. It's very competitive.
I will say that it is pleasing to see Betfair, and other firms, offering four places on their each-way terms. Anything that can be done to encourage ante-post betting must be a good thing.
We are clearly big odds-on to lose at least one runner at the overnight stage but, against that, we all know that most firms will be offering four and five places come Friday night.
Good to go
Elsewhere on the Kempton card, all eyes will be on Angels Breath in the Dovecote if he gets the go-ahead - he has three entries on Thursday and Friday, though - while the biggest certainty of the week obliged when the Grade 2 Pendil Novices' Chase was re-opened on Monday (as was the same class of race on the Newcastle card).
Where are all the novice chasers?
Mind you, the Pendil attracted 10 entries on Tuesday morning, including three from Paul Nicholls (who never seems to miss a trick for his owners in these situations) and the Newcastle race got a respectable nine.
One last point to note about Kempton, it is currently good (good to soft), with a dry forecast so the course is putting 10mm of water on the good parts of the track on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Strange days indeed.
It's a Mysteree
The aforementioned Eider Chase is obviously the big race on the Newcastle card - the course says they have not ruled out watering and will re-assess on Wednesday morning - and the handicapper has certainly given Mysteree every chance of enhancing his excellent course form.
He won this race in 2017, after having finished fourth the previous year, and he also obliged on his only other start here.
Okay, his ninth in the Welsh National last time was none too flash, but he has been dropped 6lb for it, and he is now on the same mark as when winning this race by 4 lengths in 2017.
He could have been worth chancing at a big price, especially with his stable among the winners, but the ground is not ideal, unless Newcastle get very busy with the watering.
The Irish challengers Folsom Blue and Raz De Maree would also like it a lot softer than it looks like being, but the latter is interesting at 20/1+ all the same.
A winner and a runner-up in Welsh Nationals, he was fifth in this season's renewal in December and he has won a Cork National on good ground, but the problem is that the UK handicapper has stuck his oar in again and he is a proper old-stager at 14yo now.
He is rated 135 in Ireland, but has to race off 140 here, though that is the mark off which he won last year's Welsh National by 6 lengths and Gavin Cromwell is among the winners at home.
He could still be interesting if some rain/heavy watering does materialise, but we can revisit that later in the week.
As with the big handicap at Kempton, I have no problem whatsoever with Sharp Response heading the betting at 6/1, and bigger in places.
He looked very good when winning over 3m6f on good ground at Catterick last time, relishing the step up in trip, and a 6lb rise promises to see this dour stayer go close once again.
Vicente will probably have his ground, and apparently his trainer has his horses in fair nick, as well. The 14/1 in the marketplace about him disappeared on Monday afternoon, though.
Back on Friday; until then, good luck.