Tony Calvin looks ahead to Saturday's Lanzarote Hurdle where he'll be aiming to bag a hat-trick of antepost wins, but not before having his say on the five-day Cheltenham debate...
""He has been dropped 1lb for that Newbury run and it could be significant that he returns to a right-handed track here, as all his best efforts have come this way around."
Horse racing does like generating discussion points for itself - it is a quiet time of year, after all - and some of the coverage around the "plans" for a five-day Cheltenham Festival is a case in point.
It has been frankly ludicrous.
Five-day Cheltenham talk has been embarrassing to read
All the many, many subsequent column inches - and online polls to help fuel the artificial debate, obviously - have stemmed from new Cheltenham chairman Martin St Quinton's interview with Ed Chamberlin on New Year's Day, during which the subject of a five-day Festival was raised, mischievously, planned or otherwise, by the ITV anchor.
Go and take a look at the three-minute interview yourselves online, but basically St Quinton said he was ruling nothing in, and nothing out, at the start of his tenure, which is exactly what any interviewee - in any walk of business - would have said in the same circumstances.
It was Chamberlin who flew the kite of an extra day - like I say, staged or pre-agreed, or just off-the-cuff, take your pick - not the new Cheltenham man.
If St Quinton had uttered a defensive "no comment" to the suggestion, then the subsequent reaction may have been half-justified.
But he didn't. He simply gave a bog-standard answer, albeit accompanied by a cheeky smile.
Now, we could well be on the way to a five-day Festival down the line - and Royal Ascot sets a pretty tempting template in that regard - and I suspect Cheltenham will be racing on a Saturday in March long before an extra day is or isn't drafted in, but let's wait until we hear something more concrete (or the merest hint that five days is even being seriously considered) before getting our knickers in a twist, shall we?
Otherwise, it is just reads like dead, lazy, filling, copy to me. And it has been frankly embarrassing to read.
Protektorat appeal an interesting one
Before I get to the part of my copy you want to read - hopefully, anyway, and it was the weekend's ante-post betting if you have forgotten - a quick word on this week's appeal by connections of Protektorat for his disqualification at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
It seems a lot of people were surprised that the placings were reversed after he beat Imperial Alcazar a head - and I would probably be among them, if truth were told - in the opener, but the stewards enquiry betting suggested it was anything but clear-cut that he would keep the race.
The win market was settled but when a "To Keep The Race?" line was opened up, it was clear there was some doubt in punters' minds, as the last-traded prices before market suspension were 1.330/100 Yes and 3.8514/5 No.
So the decision was not a massive surprise if the betting is any guide.
It will be interesting to see how the appeal goes on Thursday morning, especially as the waters could be muddied - sub-consciously or not, in the eyes of the stewards - by the fact that Harry Skelton got a four-day ban for over-use of the whip (as well as being cautioned for another riding offence) in grimly holding on.
So presumably they won't be using "the runner-up was never going by me on the run-in" argument, as that would open up another rather tricky avenue of debate for them.
It's an interesting one, for sure.
All eyes on Altior return
Anyway, I'll shut up now and get to the bread-and-butter of my day job, and this weekend is dominated, news-wise at least, by Altior's intended run in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.
The six-runner race is clearly not one to get the punting juices of many flowing though, but it would be good to see the reigning Champion Chaser get back on track.
I say get back on track, but it is hardly as if he was that far from his best when second to Cyrname over 2m5f on his return at Ascot, although the likes of Frodon and Top Notch will be no pushovers if they are on their A-game, too, and he did have to miss a Christmas engagement here with an abscess.
But Altior is 2/7 with the Betfair Sportsbook in a race which lacks an each-way shape, so we can safely look elsewhere for an early weekend interest.
Lanzarote the place to go
The seven Saturday ITV races have all been priced up, but nothing stands out for me at Warwick, where Kimberlite Candy and Le Breuil interested me most in the Classic Chase.
I can't see either shortening that much - though the 10s in the marketplace for the latter seems fair - so I am happy to see if they are confirmed later in the week and go from there.
The main betting race of the weekend could well be the Lanzarote Hurdle, and it doesn't look as competitive as it usually does, as there aren't that many obvious improvers in the race.
Notre Pari and Northofthewall are two obvious exceptions among the 25-strong entry, while I would be interested in Ilikedwayurthinkin if Gavin Cromwell brings him over.
He shaped well over 2m last time and the step back up to this trip, over which he won at Galway in July, will obviously suit.
But Cromwell has two in the race, as does the horse's owner JP McManus (who also has the jolly Notre Pari), so I'd be inclined to swerve him at this stage.
Henderson dreaming of another big-race winner
Nicky Henderson has won this race twice in recent years and he is going for it again it seems, as he four entered.
He won this with William Henry two years ago, and that horse was returning to hurdles after an unsuccessful chasing debut, so his Burrows Edge is interesting on that score.
The one that interests me though is Colonial Dreams though, and I suggest a small interest on him at 14/1 win-only with the Betfair Sportsbook.
It was annoying that the 20/1 went early on Tuesday morning, but that was a stand-out price in the marketplace and I was going to suggest backing him at 14/1 or bigger anyway, even if the 20s was still lingering.
I am going win-only because there is a fairly wet forecast on Wednesday and Thursday, and it sounds as if connections thinks he wants a decent surface, so that is a possible concern about his participation (and, of course, we will get five places on the day).
But he has won on soft ground around Ascot, and the ground is currently good to soft at Kempton, so hopefully it won't get too bad (and the forecast isn't horrendous).
And he ran an eye-catchingly good race on soft at Newbury on his return anyway.
He travelled sweetly for a very long way through that race before weakening between the last two, so I thought it was a race full of promise. And he wasn't given a hard time.
And that is especially true given the price he went off for his reappearance effort there. His industry starting price was 18/1 but he went off at 32.49 at Betfair SP, which strongly suggests he was thought to need the run quite badly by someone.
And that could tally with his trainer's comments in a recent stable tour, when he mentioned that the horse had found schooling over fences difficult, so maybe he hadn't had a smooth preparation in the run-up to that return over hurdles after a long break since April.
He has been dropped 1lb for that Newbury run and it could be significant that he returns to a right-handed track here, as all his best efforts have come this way around.
He is 6lb higher than for the best of them, when beating Wait For Me at Sandown in April, but that looks very fair.
The runner-up was very well-backed there in a bid to follow up his win in that race in 2017, and they pulled 8 lengths clear of the third Champagne Court, who in his next three starts has finished second of 16 in Chepstow's Silver Trophy on his return and has won two chases since.
At 14/1, Colonial Dreams will do for me in the Lanzarote. The less rain the better, and I can see him going off at single figures on the day if Kempton avoids the worst of the wet stuff.