Cheltenham build-up means it's a low-key weekend
With the betting and racing giant that is Cheltenham looming firmly into view, it is hardly surprising to see the weekend fare reducing in quality a touch.
But the Kempton meeting on Saturday has been an important Festival pointer in recent years - and the Kingwell Hurdle, called off at Wincanton on Saturday, has now been added to proceedings, too - and Zarkandar made his hurdling debut in the Adonis on this card in 2011 before going on to take the Triumph 20 days later.
So keep an eye out for some big performances from the juveniles in that race - Paul Nicholls has a well-regarded ex-French sort in Solo, who was meant to run at Wincanton last Saturday, in the race this year - and the novice hurdlers in the Dovecote.
In the past this card was also notable on a couple of other scores too, and a measure of how times have changed in the betting industry is that this Kempton meeting was traditionally the one when non-runner no-bet was introduced by some bookmakers on the Fez.
Nowadays, it is a month or so earlier.
It also used to be a very good work's day-out when the valuable 3m handicap chase was sponsored by the Racing Post, but the race is still worth nearly £57,000 to the winner under its current guise and, supported from 888Sport now, it probably remains the biggest betting race of the weekend, ahead of the Eider Chase at Newcastle.
A couple of Lingfield all-weather races have snuck onto ITV's racing schedule I see, which underlines the low-key nature of the weekend.
I know they are very good Group 3 and Listed contests, but chatting all-weather in late February just doesn't sit right to me.
Come back to me on Good Friday on that front, ta.
Romain won't like the ground
Nicholls won the valuable Kempton handicap chase with Rocky Creek in 2015 and he could hold the key to the race this year with four of the 19 entries, and I was I immediately drawn to hisRomain De Senam at 25/1 or so.
The champion trainer is one impressive operator when it comes to organising a campaign, so it was no surprise to read in a stable tour back in early October, that he name checked this race and the Grand National as the plan for this horse in the spring.
And here he duly is, entered up and having his first start since June.
He has gone well in the fresh in the past too, and finished a good fourth in the race last season, but the problem for him is the ground. It is currently soft at Kempton, with another unsettled week in store, and all this horse's best form is on a decent surface.
So I have to pass on that initial thought.
As the betting suggests, 7/1 chance Adrien Du Pont is Nicholls' number one in the race, even if he could also be more at home on better ground.
The handicapper has dropped him 4lb for two runs this season, and his two runs at Kempton have seen him finish third in this race last season and net a course-and-distance win in December 2018 (off just a 1lb lower mark than this).
But I am worried about his stamina in the ground, so perhaps Nicholls doesn't hold the key after all!
Cobra a column favourite
So I came down on the side of Cobra De Mai yet again at 16/1 each way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
That won't surprise regular readers.
I say yet again because I had a good go on him at Doncaster last time, and I pretty much knew my fate from the start, as he was held up out the back by his 7lb claimer (as he was here the time before when an eye-catching fifth). To be fair, he took a while to warm to his jumping at Donny, but he was never in contention at any stage.
However, he finished off his race well enough in sixth, and the assessor has dropped him a further 2lb, so I think he is outstandingly well handicapped. He is now on the same mark as when bolting up at Cheltenham in April.
And hopefully he will more ridden more aggressively here, as all his best efforts have come when positioned close to the pace.
The ground could be an issue for him too, but he has run well on both starts here, and one of those was a close second to Cepage on soft ground here two years ago.
And he has won on heavy (albeit at odds-on in a five-runner race), and Timeform called the ground soft when he won at Warwick.
No disrespect to his 7lb claimer, but I'd like to see Harry Skelton or Bridget Andrews jocked up at some point to this week, and I'd also like to see him declared in a tongue-tie and cheek pieces, at the overnight stage, too.
They haven't been on for his last two starts, but all his best efforts have come in that headgear combination, so fingers crossed he runs and in those accoutrements (copyright of Nick Luck).
There are negatives, chief among them the soft ground (he could well be kept back for a firmer surface but at least he doesn't hold any other weekend entries), but 16/1 seems a very attractive price all things considered.
He is 19.018/1 win-only on the exchange, but I would rather have the places on my side, too.
We go again.