Saturday sees the traditional curtain raiser to the flat racing season, the Lincoln at Doncaster, with 85 entries still standing as of Monday. In his latest antepost column, Tony Calvin casts his eye over the market leaders...
"Bravo Zolo is actually another horse who has been well-backed in the past week or so and trades at just 15.014/1, but it isn't hard to see why as the form of his Wolverhampton win in February has worked out very well - the second, third and fifth all won next time - and Jeremy Noseda is another superb trainer at laying one out for a valuable pot."
A hefty 85 entries stood their ground for the Lincoln at Doncaster on Monday and they included the two "steamers" in Lord Of The Land and Mitraad. Only a maximum of 22 will run, so there will be plenty of owners and trainers disappointed.
I wouldn't go overboard about these ante-post gambles as everyone knows that it doesn't take a lot of money for bookmakers to slash prices and take evasive action, but there is little doubt that the pair boast very sexy, and alluring, profiles.
Lord Of The Land in particular leaps off the page, having a strikingly similar make-up to that of Mondialiste, who finished second in this race last season off a mark of 105 on his debut for the stable having joined the yard from Freddie Head in France.
Given that Mondialiste subsequently won a Grade 1 and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Mile, his backers could be forgiven for feeling a little hard done-by for bumping into the subsequent Sussex Stakes and QEII third Gabrial.
But it just goes to show you that however well-handicapped you are, there is probably another with even more up its sleeve in this type of race, so that is something to bear in mind if you are tempted by the 8.07/1 about Lord Of The Land.
And it also worth noting that if you fancy the horse it is probably best to wait until Saturday morning now, when competition for the punting pound is at its keenest, and each-way backers will probably get five places, too in what will be a 22-runner handicap.
You can see why he has attracted attention, though. David O'Meara has completed his move to a bigger and better training establishment near York, and his reputation for improving new stable inmates was second-to-none even before that switch.
This horse was progressive, and relatively lightly-raced, when with Andre Fabre and his defeat of subsequent listed race winner Don Bosco on his most recent start marks this 110,000 euros acquisition down as potentially well-treated here.
The other horse to have attracted much of the ante-post pound is Mitraad, with just three runs under his belt. The stable won this race in 2010 with a similarly lightly-raced sort in Penitent and that one went off the 3/1 favourite.
The 5yo Mitraad is apparently a fragile horse who has had a history of problems in his short career, some serious, but the talent and potential was there for all to see in his two starts last season, and apparently a recent racecourse gallop at Chelmsford cemented his place in the line-up.
But, again, the juice has surely been squeezed out of his price in recent days, and he is easy to pass over at around the 10.09/1 mark. And, given his injury problems, he may be one to back non-runner no-bet after the final declarations are made at 10am on Thursday morning.
Ryan Moore is jocked up on two horses at the five-day stage, Bravo Zolo and Azraff, and if the betting is any guide then he is likely to ride the former.
Bravo Zolo is actually another horse who has been well-backed in the past week or so and trades at just 15.014/1, but it isn't hard to see why as the form of his Wolverhampton win in February has worked out very well - the second, third and fifth all won next time - and Jeremy Noseda is another superb trainer at laying one out for a valuable pot. Indeed, he also has the fifth favourite Keystroke in here, too.
Earth Drummer, having his first start for David Loughnane having left O'Meara (in fact Loughnane has moved into the latter's vacated stables), looks a massive price at 50/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, but what puts me off supporting him ante-post is the current soft ground.
There looks to be a mainly dry forecast at Doncaster from Tuesday night onwards but if they do get any more rain then he may be a non-runner, as all his best form has been on better going.
But if he does line up on decent ground then he is a big player off a 1lb lower mark than his eighth in the Cambridgeshire, where he didn't get the run of the race. I have to wait until the final declarations, and ground, are known before backing him, though.
I can also see the case for Mutarakez, in good form at the start of last season and who has been gelded since last being seen underperforming on fast ground in the Britannia, and he is another fair shout at 16.015/1.
Azraff has a good handicap in him off a mark of 96, if only the talent was accompanied by a greater will to win. But a big field on soft ground, buried for a late run, could be just what he wants. And if Moore does choose him over Bravo Zolo then quotes of around 25/1 will disappear in an instant.
He was tempting, especially since he has been gelded since his last run in October, but he needs eight above him in the weights to come out in order to get a run, and that probably won't happen. But if you do back him and he gets balloted out, you obviously get your money back.
I have gone round and round in circles in this race - Express Himself may have gone up 8lb for his Haydock win in October, but that was justified - and have decided to keep my powder dry until the day-of-race market.
I won't be having a bet at this stage, so I can hardly tip anything.
But the 50s with the Betfair Sportsbook about Earth Drummer did also tempt me, especially with his new stable having a winner recently, who was also ex-O'Meara, and going close with the likes of Mont Ras. I'd say he is a likely non-runner if it remains soft, though.
In short, the 27.026/1 about Azraff on the Exchange probably came closest, but no bet for now.