The main betting race of the weekend and the one that floats my boat for Saturday is at Haydock and the Peter Marsh Chase. With a "5/1 the field" market on the Sportsbook, I am interested in a couple for the big staying event.
I'll briefly insert weather news, as rain is forecast for the week and even a bit of snow with showers on the Friday. Whether that materialises we'll see, but I've become a bit obsessed on "snow watch" lately. I am hoping to park that for a while.
Two that stand out for me are Fine Rightly and Robinsfirth.
I backed Fine Rightly in the race last year and was feeling pretty confident about his chances when he started to pick them off. I watched the race again this week, and it reminded me just how well he was going. He was matched at 2.245/4 in-play from a Betfair SP of 32.50 and he'll offer up a trade too for Saturday if you are getting involved in the Exchange. He did get very tired in the latter stages in the 2018 renewal, but the ground was brutal and a mistake at the last during that long run-in just put paid to his chances.
However, at 14/1 on the Sportsbook, I am looking for him to hit the frame in terms of an each-way bet.
He'll travel well that's for sure, and he had a nice comeback spin for the season last time at Ayr over hurdles (over a trip shorter than Saturday's). I have no doubt about him being well treated from 137 as he was rated in the mid 140s as a fairly classy novice chaser.
The other one to throw into the selection pot is Colin Tizzard's Robinsfirth at 12/1.
His last run was back in December 2017, but we shouldn't have too many fears about the lay-off as this horse has gone well fresh in the past. In fact, he has won after 389 days, and finished second from a mammoth 698-day absence. He ticks a lot of boxes as a horse with untapped potential as a stayer and we are nowhere near getting to the bottom of him with just six races over fences.
Touching on his last appearance, it was a winning one at Cheltenham - and his trainer mentioned afterwards that the Welsh National and the big one at Aintree were to be considered. With that, he should stay alright, but he certainly travels well enough through his races to suggest there is a bit of class there.
Ground doesn't seem to be an issue as he has winning form on good, soft and good to soft.
I was tempted with another bet on Wakanda, but the 14/1 just didn't excite me enough. He looks well handicapped and I always respect a Sue Smith runner in this, but I worry if something with a bit more staying power will be stronger in the finish? He might just be better over a bare 3m.
Sticking with Haydock and the Champion Hurdle Trial, it won't be the same without the four-time winner of the race The New One. As he enjoys his retirement to make way for an up-and-comer, I am not entirely convinced we have a horse to match that.
It could be Brain Power, but I don't want to back him at 9/4 on the Sportsbook. Yes, he was pretty good when winning the Grade 2 International at Cheltenham last time and he absolutely tanked through the race, but Brain Power can do that (or Brian Power as I keep mis-typing). He is a horse who has never been consistent in his career. He can produce moments of brilliance, but he has never been one to rack up a sequence of wins to run to his figure - and I am not sure he is worthy of that lofty rating. And it's probably pocket-talk too following a wager for the Champion Hurdle previously.
Of course he could bolt up, but I gave up on him a while ago. I just don't trust him anymore. And I am usually so loyal.
He beat Silver Streak at Cheltenham and he's a Welsh Champion Hurdle winner, but I would be more inclined to have a look at fellow Evan Williams-trained Clyne - who has form behind The New One in two previous renewals of the race.
This is usually a small field and Clyne has plenty of previous at the track. However, he wants the mud flying and is best in soft and heavy conditions, for that reason it might just be a watching brief at 14/1.
Over at Ascot, just three rivals could face the might of Altior in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, and at odds of 1/4 on the Sportsbook, a rating of 175 and a win record that would challenge the Arsenal Invincibles, you hardly need me to put up a bet. Rain is forecast for Friday - how much, nobody knows. Un De Sceaux will want plenty.
We move on to the rest of the card.
The 14:25 2m4f Handicap Hurdle was won comfortably by Jenkins last term with then "Conditional find of the season" James Bowen. He claimed 5lb in that, and it's always worth looking at those jockeys in the big handicap races for the weight. However, it's of no use for my ante-post musings, as only two riders were booked up at the time of writing, and they weren't conditionals.
One was Brian Hughes, and he's riding 10/1 Sportsbook chance Better Getalong. He's lightly-raced with just six starts over hurdles and had some smart novice form in small fields (mostly in testing conditions).
I am looking forward to seeing how he copes with potentially a much better surface. I was thinking he could drop back in trip following his run last time behind Ballymoy at Haydock, so I am intrigued to see his trainer Nicky Richards persevere with this sort of distance. Rated 135, he could be an improver in a bigger field. The Richards' stable remain in very good form.
There's one complete head-scratcher; and that's the Paul Nicholls-trained Djingle. At 14/1, you would want double on that price following two fairly dismal efforts in the UK since leaving France. However, he did win a race at Listed level around Auteuil very easily, so he clearly has something. At the moment, though, that something is displaying an ability to run far too free and headstrong. His chasing effort last time at Wetherby was a disaster.
Reverting back to hurdles and to run in a handicap for the first time from 143; I have absolutely no idea about the mark. But what is worth flagging up is how Nicholls worked out how to deal with Darling Maltaix - who was another headstrong hurdler. The trainer got him to settle and the tactics paid off superbly to win a race at Ascot just before Christmas, although his mark subsequently flew up. So do check on what the handler has to say about his rating ahead of racing on Saturday.
Finally, it's good to see an old favourite in Man Of Plenty in the betting at 20/1. What an advert he is for his trainer and owners, as he turns up in these big, competitive races week-in, week-out. His price is big considering he bolted up at Sandown two starts back, but he does look too high in the handicap now from 132.
Snap up 12/1 Pictons to continue good form of Venetia
There's one horse I am really looking forward to seeing making a comeback on Saturday, so get ready with Belami Des Pictons at 12/1 on the Sportsbook.
I've always liked this horse and he has a bit of everything. Which is handy for this race as grinders have been successful in recent seasons, but so was Bury Parade - and he was a real smooth traveller.
He looks as though he has got that touch of class needed for these sort of handicaps - his profile tells us so. The lay-off is a big worry, as he hasn't been seen since running against Waiting Patiently in Carlisle's Colin Parker back in November 2017. However, the very fact he ran well against Ruth Jefferson's horse gets me on red alert with his handicap rating of 146. He has been off the track for 440 days, but the price more than compensates.
As an 8yo, he is in the lightly-raced bracket over fences with just five starts, and he has always looked a really good jumper. He was on my radar winning as a novice at Warwick (which can be a tricky jumping test), but he flew around the track no problems. The race he won there was over 3m, and that particular contest has thrown up some very strong stayers in the past.
So he'll have no problems with Ascot's stiff finish.
However, the one thing I was pleased to see was a quote from his trainer. Williams has described him as "very nimble" in the past and that better ground might not be a hindrance, so if the surface stays on the good side of things for Saturday, I am looking forward to seeing how he gets on.
At the time of writing the trainer's strike-rate was 30% (and it could have well increased by Saturday), but this horse has a good technique at his fences, stays and travels. The lay-off is a worry, but he's in top hands and has the look of a Saturday performer.