The Dublin Racing Festival produced some solid Cheltenham Festival clues but our big-price tipster Tony Calvin is still sweet on a horse that perhaps didn't gain many plaudits, while our man also looks ahead to Saturday's Betfair Hurdle...
"I really do think Special Tiara will be hard to kick out the frame again if getting his ground, so I would consider an each-way play on him if I were you."
It is becoming a bit of wiseguy trend to sneer at the trainers who focus on Cheltenham in March, above all else - and frankly it has already become very tedious, especially as they are presumably doing so with the owners' full blessing and direction - but it is possible to take in big races en route while having both eyes firmly on the Festival prize.
And that is exactly what I think connections of Special Tiara were thinking before he ran in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday.
I know he is 11 now and I am sure the stat guys will tell me that is a big no-no, but I think this is a horse who now goes to the Champion Chase on March 14th with outstanding place credentials at the very least.
Lest we forget he finished third in the 2015 and 2016 renewals - beaten just 3 ½ lengths by the mighty Sprinter Sacre two years ago, when he was just a nose behind runner-up Un De Sceaux - before seeing off Fox Norton last year.
Questions remain over star chasers
I don't think anyone would argue that his Champion Chase win last year would be giving a peak-form Altior or Douvan any sleepless nights.
But, for all positive recent bulletins, we don't know for sure what shape the former will return in after his wind op - weren't some trainers telling us only two in ten work not so long ago? - and it sounds like Douvan is getting the kid gloves treatment as he builds toward his racecourse comeback after suffering a stress fracture of the pelvis last March.
Mind you, it sounds like we may see Altior on the Betfair-sponsored card at Newbury on the weekend, so we will know a lot more then.
Little strength in depth as holes easily picked
The Champion Chase really does have very little depth as it stands though, and I am not particularly worried about the Betfair Tingle Creek 1-2 of Politologue and Fox Norton - the former wasn't impressive in the Desert Orchid last time, while Colin Tizzard's chaser never went a yard and was beaten before stamina became an issue in the King George - and it looks like the dangerous improver Waiting Patiently is going for the Ryanair.
Yorkhill, laughably, still ranges from 9/1 to 16/1 after his lamentable display at the weekend, and we haven't seen Great Field (as short as 7/1 and 8/1 in a few places) since Punchestown in April.
The race has a very appetising betting look to it, and even more so if you believe, as I do, that bookmakers have got carried away by making Min a top-priced 3/1 for the race after his 12-length win on Saturday.
It would be churlish to crab the merit of that defeat of Simply Ned, a horse he struggled to beat previously, but I came away from that race with only one horse on my mind. And it wasn't the winner.
Very satisfactory reappearance following Kempton fall
I have been banging on about Special Tiara for a while now, and I wanted to see how he would react to his first ever fall in the Kempton race won by Politologue in December.
And the answer on Saturday was very positive, as he travelled and jumped powerfully at the head of affairs for a long way, on ground too soft for him, before being collared before the last.
In truth, he was probably ridden far too aggressively - though the pre-race 12/1 chance did trade at 7/2 in the run - but I think connections know that and they would have been very pleased by the answer they got after that Kempton fall.
We know he is a spring horse who improves 10lb for better ground and a bit of spring warmth, and there is a reasonable expectation of just that on Cheltenham's fresh ground next month.
I really do think he will be hard to kick out the frame again if getting his ground, so I would consider an each-way play on him if I were you.
Unfortunately, the Betfair Sportsbook cut him to 14s from 16s at 10am this morning, which just deters me from putting him up as a bet, but if you are looking for a punt in the race then I wouldn't look any further than Special Tiara each-way. He is bigger win-only on the exchange at around [20.0] but that is to be expected.
Early thoughts on the Betfair Hurdle
As mentioned earlier, Saturday's card at Newbury promises to be a belter once again, and there is just shy of £90,000 on offer for the winner of the Betfair Hurdle.
Historically, the likes of Nicky Henderson and Gary Moore are trainers to have on your side in this race, and they are well represented in the 27 entries at the five-day stage.
I will cover the race in more detail on Friday but the horse that intrigues me most at the moment is Maquisard.
On the bare form in the two starts that he has shown in England, he has no place in the line--up - and as the bottom weight, 2lb out of the handicap, he may not make the cut on Thursday morning (the maximum is 24) - so it is intriguing that Moore has confirmed him for the race today.
And I can see where he is coming from.
Although he has been beaten 42 and 76 lengths respectively in his two English starts since coming over from France, there was definite promise in his first outing at Kempton over Christmas - the last run was woeful, mind you - and the handicapper has played ball by already dropping him 10lb to a mark of 120.
Now, I have no idea of the strength of his hurdling form in Listed hurdles in France in 2016, but he was a six-time winner over there (including Flat victories) and I just think Moore could be persevering for a reason.
The trainer has won this race three times since 2007, and if Maquisard wins he is likely to go off as big a price as the 2007 winner, 50/1 chance Heathcote. Maquisard is currently trading at [140.0] on the exchange and I will spend the next three days trying to build a proper case for tipping him!
Moore has a more realistic contender in Fontwell winner Knocknanuss but the one that I like more at a similar price of around 14/1 is Verdana Blue, one of five Henderson horses still in the race.
She was not seen to best effect when third in the old Ladbroke last time, as she raced wide all the way, and I think she remains on a very competitive mark despite being raised 1lb for that effort. Her earlier Ascot defeat of Speredek looks pretty decent now, too, for all the runner-up has gone to shine over fences.
I will revisit the race later in the week, but it is worth noting that Betfair Sportsbook are now non-runner no-bet if you are punting now.
Have a good week.