Samcro is among the hottest of bets at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival but Tony Calvin - who landed two winners on Day 1 - will not be punting Gordon Elliott's well-fancied hurdler. Read who our man is backing in the Ballymore and his tips for three other races on the day two card here...
"Black Op and Next Destination are the next two in the Ballymore betting and obvious candidates but I am intrigued that Willie Mullins has switched Duc Des Genievres from intended target in the Albert Bartlett to lock horns with Samcro once again. It could be simply that they didn't fancy 3m in a bog on Friday, but it's an interesting move all the same."
Duc Des Genievres an appealing EW play in the Ballymore
It makes sense to go through the Cheltenham races each day in chronological order - it makes the intros easier anyway - and there is little doubt that the Ballymore at 13:30 is an absolute cracker to start the Wednesday card.
Many people's day, and indeed meeting, will probably rest and fall on whether Samcro wins and there is little doubt that he set the pulse racing when winning the Deloitte over 2m last time.
It could well be that the Supreme would have been the better option for him in this ground, instead of this longer trip on a cut-up surface, but there is little doubt that he is some tool.
But is he that good that he gets you itching to back him at around 8/11 (indeed he is edging towards 4/5 on the exchange at the time of writing) against a whole host of exciting and largely unexposed hurdlers?
You won't be surprised to hear to my answer is no - plenty of big names have failed in this race in the past - but I think the way to play this race is to back something each-way against him rather than going down the laying route.
Black Op and Next Destination are the next two in the betting and obvious candidates but I am intrigued that Willie Mullins has switched Duc Des Genievres from intended target in the Albert Bartlett to lock horns with the favourite once again. It could be simply that they didn't fancy 3m in a bog on Friday, but it's an interesting move all the same.
Back him at 14/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook, or similarly win and place on the exchange. Presumably Noel Fehily fancies Black Op more - he rides for both owners - but I think he is on the wrong one.
The selection was beaten 4 lengths by Next Destination over 2m4f at Naas (when going off at 25/1) and 5½ lengths by Samcro in the Deloitte, but he shaped far better than the bare result on both occasions.
At Leopardstown last time, he finished to great effect and the step back in trip could really see him take a big stride forward on only his fourth start. Samcro is maybe a bridge too far, but this horse has a lot of untapped potential.
Everything adds up for Dounikos in the RSA
I have backed Dounikos each way at 16/1 and 14/1 ante-post in the RSA at 14:10, and I thought there was still some juice in the 9/1 each-way with the Sportsbook. Unfortunately, they soon cut him into 7/1. Luckily, he is still that 9/1 price on the Exchange, so back him at [10.0] win and [3.0] or bigger there.
You don't need me to tell you that Presenting Percy and Monalee are the two to beat in here but I am not particularly bothered by any of the others. And I think Dounikos has a decent shot of turning the Flogas form around with the latter, at the very least.
The selection finished just under two lengths behind Monalee at Leopardstown but he was short of room after the last and I don't think we saw him at his best there.
We know that he will relish the heavy ground - his two previous chase wins came on that going - and the step up to 3m really should suit him. Remember, he was the ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase before connections decided on this test for him, and I think that is a shrewd move. I'll be a lot poorer if he isn't at least placed.
Handicap drop makes Fixe Le Kap a Coral Cup play...
Fixe Le Kap was a massive eye-catcher when I tipped him at Ascot last time, although I am a still at a loss why! Either way, he rates a bet at [19.0] or bigger in the 14:50.
He was beaten 25 lengths there, his first start after a wind op, but ran a very strange race, as turning into the straight he appeared to come back on the bridle. However, an effort never materialised in the straight and let's just say the run was inconclusive.
I thought the handicapper would ignore that run, but he has dropped him 2lb for it, and he is now only 3lb higher than beaten a length by London Prize (who went on to frank the form time and again) in the Imperial Cup last season.
This will be his first start over this trip but he won well in testing ground over 2m3f in France and I think it will suit. He finished a fair eighth in the Fred Winter a couple of years ago, when he again shaped a more searching test of stamina was needed.
Dusky Legend is worth a bet, too, at [44.0] or bigger, though obviously take advantage of the 50/1 with the Sportsbook if it is still there when you read this
Her novice chase career was shelved after a fall at Newbury in December but she shaped well over hurdles at Doncaster last time, and I think she is fairly weighted on a mark of 139.
Two of her better efforts have come at Cheltenham, notably a third to Let's Dance in the Mares' Novice Hurdle here last season. The going is the obvious negative, as connections think she wants it good, but her promising soft-ground third to Doncaster last time wasn't that shy of her best and she shaped really well there over 2m.
I don't have a betting opinion in the Champion Chase on this ground - my ante-post position on Special Tiara appears to have been right royally shafted by the weather - so I am happy to move swiftly on.
And I will pass on the Cross Country, too. It's a tradition in this column, as is not betting or tipping on bumpers, too.
Nicholls can continue strong Fred Winter record
However, we will be playing in the Fred Winter at 16:50, in the shape of Grand Sancy at [26.0] or bigger.
Paul Nicholls has a great record in this race, with three wins since 2010 and numerous places, and I prefer the selection to his Act Of Valour at the prices.
He ran well when placed in testing ground on his first two hurdle starts, but it was his run behind Redicean at Kempton last time that really caught my eye.
I thought he was going to be placed at the very least at one stage - he was travelling well on the outside coming round the bend - but his run rather petered out in the straight.
However, his jockey was not at all hard on him, and I get the impression that a bigger field and stronger-run race is really going to suit him. A mark of 127 is no gimme but there is a lot more to come from him, I feel.
I know it looked a bit of a mickey-mouse race at Sandown on Saturday, but Eragon De Chanay absolutely bolted up by 11 lengths in a fair time, on bad ground, and he has to go well under a 5lb penalty if that race didn't take too much out of him.
He is a bet at [17.0] or bigger, especially as he also shaped pretty well behind Apple's Shakira in a Triumph Hurdle Trial here in November, and testing ground is clearly right up his strasse.
Back Duc Des Genievres at 14/1 each with Betfair Sportsbook (or similarly in the exchange) in the 13:30
Back Dounikos at 9/1 each way with Betfair Sportsbook (or similarly on the exchange) in 14:10
Back Fixe Le Kap at [19.0] or bigger in the 14:50
Back Dusky Legend at [44.0] or bigger in the 14:50 / 50/1 (Sportsbook)
Back Grand Sancy at [26.0] or bigger in the 16:50
Back Eragon De Chanay at [17.0] or bigger in the 16:50