With the Betfair Hurdle set to take centre stage this weekend, Tony Calvin carefully looks through the runners hoping to come away from Newbury victorious, if the meeting stays on...
"I hope the freeze relents and Newbury goes ahead, as we have the prospect of seeing Altior in the two-miler and Champ and Clan Des Obeaux etc. in the Betfair Denman Chase."
Let's be honest, ITV must be a rather big price to be showing racing from both Newbury and Warwick, as planned, on Saturday.
And odds-against about broadcasting one.
I am sure you don't need me to tell you it is a touch chilly at present - pray for us slapheads, as we feel it most - and with overnight temperatures set to hit -4 and lower at both courses during the week, prospects are bleak.
However, let's hope the frost covers do their job and it warms up appreciably on Friday into Saturday, as the Betfair-sponsored card promises be an absolute cracker once again.
Either way, at this stage, we have to proceed on the basis that the cards will beat the freeze - Newbury are hoping for the best, so I will too- and the 26-runner £125,000 Betfair Hurdle gets the betting pride of place.
The Supreme is crying out for some fresh blood to be injected into it - Kalashnikov won this race in 2018 before being beaten only a neck at Cheltenham the following month, 2013 winner My Tent Or Yours similarly finished second, as did 2010 victor Get Me Out Of Here three years earlier - and the likes of Metier, Cadzand and Soaring Glory could yet throw their hat into the Festival ring if winning this impressively.
In fact, Metier already has with his win in the Grade 1 Tolworth and he is the Betfair Sportsbook's 5/1 favourite for this handicap.
It could well be that he still ahead of the assessor off his revised mark of 149 after that Sandown win but that makes him vulnerable I feel, and Harry Fry's horses have hardly been pulling up any trees of late.
Quite the opposite, they have run like they have been planted. He wouldn't be anywhere near the top of my betting pile.
But the 5yo Metier does fit the bill in that you are looking for a young novice as the likely winner of this race, and the aforementioned Cadzand falls into that category, all right.
The Sportsbook dangled a very juicy carrot in chalking up Cadzand at 10/1 - comfortably the biggest price out there and they are offering five places too, for each-way punters - as he looked very impressive in beating the weekend Musselburgh winner Christopher Wood at Kempton last time.
But the 10s unsurprisingly got chomped and he is now 7/1.
He has gone up 9lb but he is a lightly-raced progressive 6yo (just the three hurdle starts) and that Kempton win came in a good time. If he runs and the meeting is on, then we are probably looking at a 6s poke here.
But it is clearly a very deep handicap, and his stablemate Falvoir is actually the pick of the weights as he is 7lb well-in under his penalty after his Grade 2 Rossington Main victory at Haydock last time.
Maybe some would argue with that assessment though, as Sky Pirate is the fascinating one in the race, for all his would be something of a trends-buster being an 8yo with 18 starts under his belt, and coming here after a successful chasing campaign.
No unexposed novice hurdler, he.
He is being talked of as an Arkle contender by some and in fact he is one of six entries for the Betfair Cheltenham Free Pot Builder Chase (aka the old Game Spirit) on the card.
His progress over fences has been marked since he was dropped down to 2m, and Cheltenham and Warwick successes has seen his chase mark rise to 152, while he can race off just 140 over hurdles.
If the meeting gets the green light, connections have a question to answer in do they take on a maximum of five rivals over fences (he is the 14/1 outsider of six) or 23 for a £125k pot, for which he is a 12/1 poke.
Novices Soaring Glory (the price has gone there too with his price shortening from 10/1 into 7s on Tuesday morning) and Shakem Up Harry (12-length runner-up to Metier in the Tolworth) are others to note, but the 20/1 chance Mack The Man catches my eye at a bigger price.
He is officially the worst handicapped horse in the race as he has a 5lb penalty for a Wincanton win last time for which he went up only 2lb. So 3lb badly-in.
But that was probably a necessary stepping stone - at the time he would not have been certain of a place in this line-up at all given the Wincanton win came off a lowly 127 - and one that came after two unsuccessful chase starts.
Despite being badly in, he is only 2lb higher than when a 15/2 chance in this race last season. I must have watched that race about 10 times in the immediate aftermath, but I viewed it again on Monday afternoon just to remind myself that he definitely wasn't out of it when being brought down at the last.
Sure, he was two or three lengths off the leaders but this guy finds (as he showed when beating Protektorat and Song For Someone at Sandown in December 2019, and that form isn't looking too shabby now, is it?) and I can see him coming on a ton for that Wincanton win.
Not that he was a poor win as such - the time was decent - but I am guessing it was a means to an end.
With the Sportsbook top price about so many horses in here, with the extra place, it is easy to fancy loads.
But I have to recommend a watching brief with the meeting in such doubt.
However, like I said, I hope the freeze relents and Newbury goes ahead, as we have the prospect of seeing Altior in the two-miler and Champ and Clan Des Obeaux etc. in the Betfair Denman Chase.
For now though, we shall end this ante-post look there.
I am off to do a Heat Dance.
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