The 2020 Cheltenham Festival is finally here, and going through the whole card for Tuesday, including putting up five bets to consider, is our big-price and bang-in-form tipster Tony Calvin...
"If it isn't too testing - and he ran second to Cepage on soft at Kempton in March 2018 in a good time, as well as on that course two starts ago - then he is handicapped to do some damage off this mark, especially with the tongue-tie and cheek pieces re-applied."
Welcome to Cheltenham 2020 one and all. This is the start of a very long week, so buckle up for what is often a very bumpy betting ride.
Especially at the big odds I tend to play at. So if you want favourite chat and short-priced recommendations, look elsewhere.
Donnelly a short price to reign Supreme in curtain raiser
I am going to keep it simple and attack each day in chronological order, and there could have been easier starting points than the 16-runner Supreme Hurdle at 13:30.
The most likely winners unsurprisingly head the market, with the sexy Shishkin and Grade 1 winner Asterion Forlonge - both running in the same colours - vying for favouritism, and it is just a little over even money (on exchange prices) that owner Joe Donnelly receives the winning trophy.
The former has the look of an Altior about him in the manner in finishes off his races to devastating effect, and the latter probably is the form horse after his wide-margin win in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month.
But they don't make too much betting appeal hovering around the 3/1-7/2 mark, and Asterion Forlonge has very little in hand of fellow Grade 1 winners Abacadabras and Fiddlerontheroof going into the race.
The modest recent form of the Gordon Elliot yard would put me off Abacadabras at the prices, but I can fully see the case for Colin Tizzard's Tolworth winner as he looks a proper grinder, and that is the attribute you may need most in this big field.
Two long shots to take on the first-race jollies
Fiddlerontheroof would be the one that floats my boat most at the top of the market and the 7/1+ on the exchange, but I would rather play two at the bigger prices here, and Soviet Pimpernel gets the premier vote at [60.0] or bigger.
The concern with him is that he blew out behind Envoi Allen and Abacadabras on his only venture in the Grade 1 in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December, but forgive him that performance and he is considerably over-priced at 50/1+.
He has course form, having chased home the now 156-rated Quel Destin here in October, and this strong traveller was back on form when a smooth Grade 3 winner at Limerick in late December.
He has been kept fresh since then, and it is interesting that connections have decided to come here instead of going for the County Hurdle off a mark of 142 on Friday.
His time figures at Limerick and Cheltenham also give him decent claims here.
The market is also under-estimating Edwardstone at [26.0] or bigger.
He beat Fiddlerontheroof off levels at Wincanton in November, and then he went to Aintree and gave Harry Senior 6lb and a length beating, and the runner-up has franked the form with two victories since.
He traded at [1.05] in the run when looking set to win at Haydock last time, but he hit the front too soon in a first-time hood there, and got reeled in by Stolen Silver (a horse you could be hearing about in this column later in the week), and the headgear has been discarded here.
Again, on form and time figures, he is no 20/1+ chance, so we have to play.
Storm Olly to hit the Arkle
There is precious little between several in the Arkle at 14:10 and I simply don't have a strong enough opinion to have a bet.
A small jumping error covers the main Irish trio of Notebook, Cash Back and Fakir D'oudairies, while the home team aren't any easier to split.
I can fully see the case for Rouge Vif at 16/1+ after what he did in the Kingmaker, but the one I came closest to siding with was probably Brewin'upastorm at around 13/2 - trained by Betfair Ambassador Olly Murphy - as the likely frenetic pace in here could play to his staying strengths.
He finished fourth in the Ballymore at the Festival last season, and second in the 2m4f Grade 1 at Aintree, and he has looked very good over fences when winning at a lower level at Carlisle and Taunton.
If you want an interest, he is probably your man, but I am not one to force a bet, so I will pass and regroup for the next betting challenge.
Well-handicapped Cobra can snare rivals in Ultima
It appears 40 minutes later in the shape of the Ultima at 14:50, and I am certainly playing here.
Say hello to my old friend, Cobra De Mai, who has to be backed at 16/1 each way, six places, with the Betfair Sportsbook. He is currently [19.5] win-only on the exchange if you want to head there instead.
I know Cheltenham will be awash with long-range handicap plots, but none is more obvious to these cynical eyes than this selection.
I just hope that the ground isn't too testing for him to show his true worth. On that point, it is worth pointing out that Cheltenham looks certain to get rain from Monday evening into Tuesday morning - how much, who knows, but isn't usually weather forecasters, as Sandown found last week - so you'd do well to keep 'em peeled there.
If it isn't too testing - and he ran second to Cepage on soft at Kempton in March 2018 in a good time, as well as on that course two starts ago - then he is handicapped to do some damage off this mark, especially with the tongue-tie and cheek pieces re-applied.
He has worn those for all his best efforts, including when winning off this mark by 13 lengths over 3m2f here last April.
Now, that wasn't a strong race and it came on good ground, but it is some feat by connections to get him into this race off the same mark just seven starts later, especially as his last two outings have been full of blatant promise, shall we say.
He was ridden from off the pace by a 7lb claimer at Kempton and Doncaster on his last two starts, without any of the afore-mentioned headgear, and it is fair to say he caught my eye on both occasions.
And he even bypassed the old £100k Racing Post Chase at Kempton last month to come here.
With Harry Skelton back on board (he has got the best tune out of this horse in the past), along with those accoutrements, expect a more aggressive, prominent ride here, and all his better performances have come when he has been ridden on and near the pace.
Keep an eye on that weather, though. The less rain the better.
Champion Hurdle looks a real head-scratcher
Never believe you have to have a bet in a race just because it is high-profile and the main event of the day, and that is very much true of the Champion Hurdle at 15:30.
To be honest, I have backed six of these win-only on the ante-post exchange market at various stages - and my biggest winners are Silver Streak, Call Me Lord, Sharjah and Not So Sleepy - but I wouldn't be surprised if none of them made the top three, as it is that kind of race.
There are 17 runners in here and it looks a total head-scratcher.
If you wanted my current tip at the prices then they would be Call Me Lord and Silver Streak, but I won't be having any fresh bets - not unless the Betfair Sportsbook offer me six places for each-way bets, anyway... - so I can hardly recommend you get stuck in.
Good luck if you have a firmer opinion to me.
I have one in the Mares' Hurdle at 16:10 but unfortunately Benie Des Dieux is odds-on, so you won't find me charging in on her at around 8/11 on the exchange.
And, while I am sure Roksana and Stormy Ireland will be popular each-way in the without favourite market, it is a race I can give a betting swerve to.
Champagne moment if Court prevails
Give me a big-field handicap to solve every day of the week instead, and the 16:50 fits the bill.
Imperial Aura heads the market after his second to Simply The Betts here last time and you can fully see why, as the third has bolted up since, and a 7lb rise could well turn out to be lenient.
But he has not been missed in the market now at around 11/2, and I really like the look of Champagne Court, who finished fifth to Simply The Betts in that Cheltenham race. Back him at [19.0] or bigger.
You could argue that the handicapper has been a touch miserly for refusing to drop him even 1lb after being beaten 21 lengths there, but they probably saw the promise that I did in that performance.
He was having his first start for over two months there and wasn't given a hard time of it at all there.
Perhaps they left plenty to work on fitness-wise, or gave him an easy race to see if the first-time tongue-tie was of benefit, but he shaped promisingly regardless and I like the fact he jumped well in the main when winning around Sandown earlier in the season, as well as having Cheltenham Festival form courtesy of a fourth in the Martin Pipe here last year.
The stable has been going better than a recent winless run would suggest - they have had a lot of placed horses, and had one beaten a short-head at Exeter last week - and he looks primed to run a big race.
Ocean can make waves at a big price in day one finale
The world and his partner want to take on the favourite Carefully Selected in the National Hunt Chase at 17:30 as his jumping hasn't been overly-convincing to date.
I could actually see him drifting to a price where I could back him - the world and their partner seem to be singing from the same negative hymn sheet - but the current 9/4 on offer is nowhere near the tipping point.
I have backed Forza Milan and Newtide ante-post, to small stakes at bigger prices - the latter literally to just a £40 stake - but I am going to take a wild swing at Ocean Cove, at [46.0] or bigger in the win market, and [7.0] or greater in the four-places line.
In form terms, he has a mountain to climb, as he is rated a mere 135 - some 18lb shy of the top-rated Lord Du Mesnil, who is a fair 7/1 chance - but one thing this horse does is stay, and his first attempt at 3m6f here could see him take a big leap forward.
He was a real grinder over hurdles, winning over 3m2f in the soft at Warwick, and he was staying on over 3m when an admittedly distant second to Springfield Fox at Exeter last time (beaten 17 lengths, but he was giving the progressive winner 8lb).
That was only his second start over fences, but everything about this horse suggests he could well relish a marathon test.
He was in fifth turning in at Exeter, and seemingly going nowhere, but he found his second wind to grab the runner-up spot. You have to expect the extra 6f to suit him here.
At the price, I am more than willing to find out, anyway.
Tony Calvin's PROFIT AND LOSS TOTAL +313.9
April 14 2017 to March 9 inclusive (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)
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Back Soviet Pimpernel at [60.0] or bigger in 13:30
Back Edwardstone at [26.0] or bigger in 13:30
Back Cobra De Mai at 16/1 each way, six places, in 14:50
Back Champagne Court at [19.0] or bigger in 16:50
Back Ocean Cove at [46.0] or bigger in win, and [7.0] or greater, in four places market