Tony Calvin: Rare Nicholls Flat runner looks worth a bet in November Handicap

Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls
Is Paul Nicholls set for a rare big-race winner on the Flat at Doncaster on Saturday
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The November Handicap is the big betting heat at Doncaster on Saturday and our man Tony Calvin has a rare midweek wager lined up...

"Given the handicapper's seeming generosity, this may well have been the plan ever since and, with any rain during the week no hardship at all and with Megan claiming 5lb, he looks a pretty big price to me at 20/1."

It finally looks as if some much-needed rain is going to arrive in advance of the weekend fixtures, but just how much is the question.

Updated forecasts as of Tuesday morning suggest that Doncaster is perhaps not going to get as much precipitation - horrible word, but it was the best alternative to rain that the online thesaurus gave me - as some were predicting on Monday, and the going is currently good (good to firm in places) at the Yorkshire course.

So not ideal for ante-post punters at this stage trying to second guess the ground there. It's probably best to work on the basis of good, with a bit of ease in it.

Wincanton and Aintree, the other meetings that will feature on ITV's Saturday coverage, look like they are set to get more consistent downpours (the best on offer behind precipitation) and that will be music to the ears of their clerks of the courses.h2>

There was some talk last week that Wincanton's meeting could be in danger because of the firm ground, though Aintree is currently good and in better shape, but those rumours have subsided with the wet forecast.

There are no exchange markets currently available for the weekend races, but Betfair Sportsbook punters are well catered for, so let's start by looking at what will be Saturday's big betting race, The November Handicap at Donny.

No Line on whether Royal will actually turn up

There are 40 entries at the five-day stage - there is a maximum field of 23 - and there is certainly no shortage of horses that you can make a case for.

In fact, getting in may be a problem for some of the fancied horses, with only seven of the top 23 not jocked up at the moment.

Getting a handle on who will go off favourite is a very difficult task in itself.

I suppose Royal Line has to be right up there in the betting. He went off 5/1 favourite for this race last season and traded at [1.8] in the run when taking it up with what looked like a winning effort at the furlong marker.

Whether it was inexperience, unwillingness or perhaps something going amiss, he capitulated very quickly there and William Buick let him coast home in the final stages, which saw him relegated to seventh by the line (no doubt much to the annoyance of those who backed him each way, six places).

It could be that he is a very fragile horse as we haven't seen him since him bolting up in the Great Metropolitan at Epsom in April. Boy, did he look good there, though the handicapper agreed and stuck him up 10lb, and it takes a little leap of faith to back him after such a break.

And he isn't jocked up yet, so if you fancy him, it may be best to back him on the day if he rocks up.

Rock looks set to run a solid race

There are plenty in here with a more recent, progressive profile, namely the likes of Buzz, Now Children and Morning Wonder, who are all similarly priced towards the top of the market.

All have plenty of plus points but the pick of that trio could be Now Children, who has always been well-regarded by Clive Cox, and his previous handler Iain Jardine, and who may now just be fulfilling that potential judged on his defeat of Wolf Country in the soft at Goodwood last time.

It can rain as much as it likes for him.

Inscribe and Everything For You are also prominent in the betting, but their stamina is unproven beyond 1m2f and that would be a fair concern to me if backing either of those, and the likes of My Lord and Master and Reshoun would appeal to me more at similar prices.

Ian Williams, trainer of Reshoun, also has fair shots at this prize with Baydar and Restorer, but the two that interest me most at the moment are Eddystone Rock and Birds Of Prey.

I chucked a few quid on Eddystone Rock, an old regular of this column, at [200.0] on Betfair about five minutes before the off in the Naas November Handicap on Sunday - forget his 25/1 starting price, as he went off at 125.0 Betfair SP - and he ran a screamer to finish fifth.

He was given a "bump and grind" ride by his jockey Joey Haynes throughout there, but he responded well after he found himself near-last after a sluggish start - he made good progress on the rail up the straight and finished off his race well when switched late on - and that was a massive improvement on his recent efforts.

I don't know whether the plan is to turn him out again quickly here, but he ran okay when brought out within a week in the Cambridgeshire last season and connections must be sorely tempted.

Haynes was jocked up on Tuesday morning, though, so that seems the plan as it stands, and the horse is 9lb lower than when third in this race last year.

He is 20/1 in places and I wouldn't be laying him at anywhere near that price myself. The stable hasn't had a winner since June, mind you.

Take the Nicholls hint

Birds Of Prey is my number one at the moment at 20/1.

He developed into a fair horse on testing ground for John Oxx last year - he also finished second to a certain Wings Of Eagles at two - and it is interesting that Paul Nicholls has kept him to the Flat so far and not taken him hurdling.

That could be a big hint in itself.

The 4yo has run three good races for his daughter Megan, and none more so than when just touched off on quick ground over 1m4f at Haydock back in August.

The horse travelled really well throughout, and was just denied by a short-head by Mister Belvedere.

Given that the winner finished second in the valuable SkyBet Handicap next time out, and they pulled 9 lengths clear of the third at Haydock, Nicholls must have been delighted with just a 2lb rise.

Given the handicapper's seeming generosity, this may well have been the plan ever since and, with any rain during the week no hardship at all and with Megan claiming 5lb, he looks a pretty big price to me at 20/1.

He is unexposed at this 1m4f trip - Oxx never tried him over more than 1m1f110yd but said 1m2f is the minimum he wants - and I think there could be plenty more to come from him at middle-distances, Haydock being his first attempt at 1m4f. The fact that he has had his palate re-cauterised since Haydock could be a big plus, too.

I haven't put up a midweek ante-post bet in a while but I am recommending him as a bet at 20/1 each way, at this point with the Betfair Sportsbook.

I know you will get more than four places come the weekend, but this is a decent win and place play at the current price.

Elsewhere on the Doncaster card, I really want to see Eirene back over 6f in the Wentworth Stakes, but I can leave her alone for now, and the same applies to the jumps action.

Back on Friday, but punt Birds Of Prey in the meantime.


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