There's a lot of guesswork surrounding the weekend's antepost markets with a lot of horses having multiple entries says Tony Calvin, but that didn't stop our man having a look at some of the big races...
"...he certainly looks well enough handicapped on his length third to Monalee and Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown in February – he traded at 2.02 there, with the likes of Dounikos, Snow Falcon, Tombstone and The Storyteller following him home – and he will surely be a massive shortener if he is confirmed for the race."
Big race has potential to cut up
As it stands, Newbury's card on Friday loses little in comparison to the action at the course 24 hours later, but I'll focus on just the weekend racing here - I'll be back on Thursday afternoon with my take on the high-quality ITV action the following day - and the obvious place to start is the Ladbrokes Trophy.
The most disappointing aspect of the race is that there are only 23 entries at the five-day stage, one below the maximum of 24.
I appreciate the final field regularly attracts 20 or less runners - and Smad Place only beat 14 rivals in his Hennessy - but what struck me was the race really has the potential to cut up, even if the forecast rain during the week, from this afternoon onwards, will come as welcome news to many (though the amount due varies quite a lot depending on what weather site you look at - I'd work on the basis of soft ground, though).
To start with, Willie Mullins has seven entries and who knows how many he will run - probably not even Willie until 9:59am on Thursday morning - and Gordon Elliott, who has Don Poli and Monbeg Notorious in here, left his big guns at home last weekend. The former is apparently an intended runner if it is soft, though.
Furthermore, five of the possible domestic challenge have alternative weekend engagements.
American, Otago Trail, Ms Parfois and Allysson Monterg are also in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on Saturday and West Approach has the option of the 2m6f handicap chase on the Newbury card, and a fair few of these are also in the Becher Chase on December 8.
It clearly wouldn't be the greatest shock to see good-ground performer Go Conquer wait for Aintree, or beyond, if a fair bit of rain does fall before the weekend.
So bear the above in mind if you are playing ante-post. Also factor in, maybe, that I counted that 12 of the 23 like to, or could, race prominently.
I invite you to take a look at one of the Mullins entries
Elegant Escape and Thomas Patrick are two such forward-goers and they head the betting at around the 13/2 mark on the exchange, and that should come as no surprise after they were separated by just ½ length at Sandown on their reappearance.
Both have their positives.
The winner, Elegant Escape, had some very solid novice form against Black Corton last season, including a win on this card from that rival, and he showed a summer wind op had not dimmed his batting qualities when getting up close home on the Esher track.
But he has been handed a 4lb penalty for his win, and the front-running Thomas Patrick is 5lb better off here. He, too, has a course win to his name and he won't mind it if the race cuts up and the rain pours - the less pace-pests, the better - and he jumps superbly.
Kemboy is currently the shortest-priced of the "Mullins Massive" at around 7/1 after his reappearance win at Clonmel from a next-time-out winner in Alpha Des Obeaux - though that race took little winning at the weights - but I am actually most interested in his Invitation Only, the 25/1 outsider of his septet (and a huge 60.059/1 on the exchange at the time of writing).
Obviously, I can't recommend backing him ante-post at this stage - he is in the 2m4f John Durkan at home on December 9 - but it seems to me that a mark of 152 gives him far better claims than those odds suggest, and Mullins reckons he has come back from his summer break "a more mature horse."
Yes, I know, but at least he didn't say bigger and stronger, too.
Invitation Only has not enjoyed the best of fortune over fences, and that is putting it mildly. He has won two of his seven chase starts, but he has been very unlucky on a few occasions in Grade 1 company.
He was still in the frontline and travelling well enough when effectively brought down by Monalee two out on his latest start (traded at 3.9) at Punchestown in April.
That run came over 3m120yd, and that led me to believe this winning pointer could stay this 3m2f trip, even though his best completed form has come over 2m4f/2m5f and Mullins may view him as most effective at those shorter trips.
Prior to that Punchestown run, a mistake 2 out cost him any chance at Fairyhouse (traded at 2.22) and he had yet to be asked for any effort when slipping on landing, and being immediately pulled up, when a 9/2 chance for the JLT.
His jumping is an obvious concern but he certainly looks well enough handicapped on his length third to Monalee and Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown in February - he traded at 2.02 there, with the likes of Dounikos, Snow Falcon, Tombstone and The Storyteller following him home - and he will surely be a massive shortener if he is confirmed for the race.
Sizing Tennessee beat a dual subsequent scorer over 2m5f at Fontwell on his return and he is the other one that interests me at around 33/1 on the exchange as this is more his trip and he is very good when things click for him - and Dingo Dollar was predictably given an easy time of it when shaping very nicely over hurdles on his return here - but I have to advise a watching brief for now.
Fascinating Fighting Fifth in prospect if big guns turn up
Other Saturday entries on the card to catch my eye included Forest Bihan and Doitforthevillage in the 2m handicap chase - the latter was somehow dropped 2lb for his eye-catching reappearance, when a mistake two out instantly ended a very promising run - but we can revisit those on Friday afternoon should they line up.
Finally, at Newbury, if you are betting ante-post on the two Saturday handicap hurdles on ITV (13:50 and 14:25) please be aware that six horses have entries in both races.
With just seven entries and running plans up in the air, Newcastle's Fighting Fifth makes no betting appeal at this stage. And, in truth, it probably won't come Friday afternoon, either.
Of course, any Buveur D'Air v Samcro v Summerville Boy race-off will be fascinating to watch, but there will be plenty of guesswork involved in solving that little puzzle, if it comes to fruition. The recent rain there suggest that it just may well do, as they have had 48mm in the last 10 days, with more to come, it seems.
Bishops could help Lee on the Road to recovery
There is only one horse on my radar for the Rehearsal Chase on the Newcastle card and that is Bishops Road.
Given that Newbury possibles Ms Parfois, American, Allysson Monterg and Otago Trail are all high up in the Newcastle betting, this could cut up a bit, too, though the ante-post fixed-odds over-rounds factor that in.
Kerry Lee hasn't had a winner since April, but her Bishops Road could well have ended that unwanted spell in the doldrums had he not made a mistake and nearly unshipped Richard Johnson at the last at Haydock on Saturday.
In fact, I think Johnson should have been far more positive on the horse all the way up the straight, and there is little doubt in my mind that this horse is a winner in waiting off his mark of 137 (has gone up 2lb from weekend).
It remains to be seen whether he will take his chance after such a quick turnaround - that Haydock race was over an extended 3m4f, too - but, with the ground softening in his favour and the handicap mark so appealing, Lee must be sorely tempted to chance her arm.
The horse traded at 1.43 in running when second in this race off a 7lb higher mark last season - he also finished fourth in a red-hot 2016 renewal off a lofty mark of 154 (Bristol De Mai and Definitly Red were only placed off 154 and 142 respectively there, behind the aforementioned Otago Trail) - and there isn't a better handicapped horse among the 22 entries.
The general 12/1 can just about be resisted at the moment, given that I don't know the running plans. He could be getting the Saturday treatment if he does turn up, though.
So good luck for now, and I'll be back on Thursday afternoon.