Thursday at the Cheltenham Festival has some big fields and wide open handicaps, a combination that our big-price tipster Tony Calvin revels in. Our man has eight bets for you to consider...
"This is obviously a different test altogether but he is a fair and consistent tool, with a strike-rate of 50% over fences, and he is equally at home on soft ground as well as good."
It's been all one way in the market for Itchy Feet for the Marsh at 13:30 ever since he won the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown last month, and the question punters have to ask themselves now is whether the ship has sailed now he is priced up as the 7/2 favourite (although he is a touch bigger on the exchange).
Although I was very impressed with him last time and he strikes me as the most likely winner, my answer has to be no, for all he also boasts that excellent third in the Supreme in here last year. Festival form and all that.
This is another race that has stood up really well in terms of depth, and Itchy Feet is only the third highest-rated in here behind Faugheen and Samcro, and then you have to factor in other major players like Mister Fisher, and a few other dangerous floaters, three of which are 150 and upwards.
So even getting something placed in this race is no gimme.
The one that fascinates me most is Bapaume.
He was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, fourth in a Stayers' Hurdle last year, and was rated 160 at his peak in that sphere.
He beat a whole host of subsequent winners when obliging over fences over 2m3f at Naas in December, and apparently there may have been excuses for him when he blew out, when a 9/2 chance, behind Notebook over 2m at the Dublin Racing Festival last time.
My natural inclination to shy away from a shortener means I have to pass on the invitation to back Itchy Feet at around 4/1 on the exchange, and the talented Bapaume is also reluctantly swerved after what was a very disappointing display at Leopardstown last time.
Again, we shouldn't force a bet just because it is Cheltenham.
Storyteller has a big chance in Pertemps
The Irish have farmed the Pertemps at 14:10 in recent years and Sire Du Berlais bids to follow up his win in the race last year off just a 3lb higher mark.
He shaped very nicely under less than the maximum drive at Warwick last time and it is interesting that connections try first-time blinkers for him here, given he wore initial cheek pieces when obliging last year.
He has to be a serious player along with his market rival and stablemate The Storyteller, on whom Davy Russell rode a masterclass (depending on your levels of cynicism) when a qualifying sixth at Leopardstown last December.
The UK handicapper has given him an extra 7lb but he is 9lb higher still over fences, and he won the Plate at the Festival on soft ground two years ago.
Simply put, everything points to his winning chance here and I wouldn't be in mad rush to lay him at 6/1 myself.
I was really tempted to put him up, I can tell you. Back him at 5/1 each-way, six places, with the Sportsbook.
And two to back at huge odds
I am never afraid to back three or more in a race though, and I am going to suggest backing another couple at huge prices win-only.
The English handicapper has given Rocket Lad an extra 5lb, even though he has failed to complete and finished a 57-length last of 6 on his last two starts.
But he shaped considerably better than the bare facts would suggest on both occasions - he looked to be cruising turning in at Cheltenham on his penultimate start, but was never asked for an effort thereafter, which was puzzling - and he actually qualified after his Musselburgh run last time.
If he returns to the form of his Gowran Park win in October, a race that worked out very well, then he is handicapped to give a good account and a first-time hood could be ideal for this keen-goer.
He rates a bet at 33/1 each-way, six places.
Dingo Dollar is a also worth an each-way bet at 50/1.
The ground is the obvious concern for him as his best efforts have come on a sound surface but his form figures on soft ground (including points) actually read 113, and that third came in the 2018 Ladbrokes Trophy.
So I am not writing him off on that score, and I thought he shaped very well when third on his reappearance in a 3m handicap hurdle first time up at Newbury.
He has since finished fifth in valuable handicaps off higher marks - the Ladbrokes Trophy again and then the Skybet Chase off 146 - and he can race off 140 here. That is 8lb lower than his peak chase rating, and I can see him outrunning his price from the head of affairs.
Ronald can get the blood pumping in Stayers' Hurdle
The Ryanair Chase at 14:50 has an attractive shape it on first viewing, with the dead-eight.
The problem is that the first two in the market, A Plus Tard and Min, looked booked for two of the places and it is hard to envisage anything else winning, to be perfectly honest.
So while last year's runner-up Aso makes a little bit of appeal at 20/1 each-way in his first-time blinkers, and Riders OfTheStorm has to be a factor if that gruelling Ascot win last time hasn't left its mark, then I have to let this race pass without any of my cash.
I have to be honest, I had never really heard of Ronald Pump before I did an Oddschecker Cheltenham preview with Andy Holding and Neil Channing last Thursday.
Well, that is not strictly true as I recalled him finishing fourth to Carefully Selected over fences last time, but little other than that.
Holding is a real speed figures man and, with the aid of a split-screen comparison that I won't bore you with, he convinced me that Ronald Pump could be the horse to follow Paisley Park home in the Stayers' Hurdle at 15:30.
The favourite looks a good thing and probably a fair price at around 4/6 - though I think I said that about Benie Des Dieux, too - but I would never play at those prices.
The obvious ones against him are all basically full of holes and/or past it as far as I can see - with the exception of Emitom, who I don't rate as a Grade 1 horse - so I am happy to row in with the Midlands Time Bandit, and nick his Ronald Pump chat.
He has run over fences on three of his four starts this season - and none too badly either, winning at Fairyhouse and then chasing home Arkle runner-up Fakir D'oudairies on the same course - but if you just concentrate on his hurdles starts, then he is one progressive sort.
His last six starts over hurdles read 114112, and his second off a mark of 145 at Leopardstown (to a horse who won next time and is now rated 19lb higher) was an eye-catching effort, given the way he finished off his race after finding himself with a lot to do.
He is now rated 156 over hurdles and that actually makes him the joint third highest-rated in this race - Apple's Jade and Bacardys are on 157 - and this progressive 7yo could have a huge run in him.
I wouldn't be mad keen on the jockey booking, but hopefully that won't be a factor.
Charmant can run well at a big price
Simply The Betts has an obvious, and considerable, chance in the Plate at 16:10 following Imperial Aura's win here on Tuesday - he beat that rival last time out and the third has bolted in since, too - but he is probably short enough now at around 4/1 (people were scrabbling for the bigger prices as soon as Imperial Aura went past the line), so I have to look elsewhere.
Mind you I can understand if you had a nibble on him so you didn't lose if he won, but no way was I expecting Charmant to be such a big price, so back him at [40.0] or bigger.
The case for him is very simple. He absolutely sluiced up by 23 lengths in a good time at Wetherby - he apparently didn't like it when tried in cheek pieces the time before - and a 7lb rise looks pretty lenient in the circumstances.
This is obviously a different test altogether but he is a fair and consistent tool, with a strike-rate of 50% over fences, and he is equally at home on soft ground as well as good.
Concertista can go one better than 12 months ago
There is a massive field of 22 for the mares' novices hurdle at 16:50 so I am happy to play win-only here.
And the one that stands out for me is Concertista, 15/2 each-way, four places. She was a huge 12/1 on Wednesday morning but that was plain madness.
She went down by only a short-head in this race last season (in a very quick time) and I have seen enough from her this season to suggest she could go one better, for all this is probably a hotter renewal.
She warmed up for this repeat bid with an excellent third in a big-field handicap at Leopardstown last time, and I think she has the best credentials for his challenge, for all it is clearly a very deep race and the likes of Minella Melody have to be respected.
Two each-way shouts in the closing Kim Muir
I am going to take two against the field in the Kim Muir at 17:30.
Bob Mahler did me a big favour when getting up on the line in the Edinburgh National over 4m1f at Musselburgh last time and I am going to stay loyal to him here at [24.0] or bigger.
He raced a bit lazily in parts when winning there last month, so the first-time blinkers (replacing cheek pieces) could be a good angle into him - though Warren Greatrex is only 2 from 28 with this headgear angle in recent years - and his finishing kick will come in very handy if able to lay up here.
His record on soft ground is not too bad, but ideally he would really want it to dry as much as possible, and he remains well-treated after going up 5lb, as he beat a fairly-handicapped horse in Scotland, with the third well beaten off.
He was very impressive when winning over course and distance last spring, when he really took off after the last. If he is on the premises late on, I'll be getting pretty excited, as he is clearly a strong stayer with a closing punch.
Noel McParlan partnered Missed Approach to win this race for the stable in 2018, so hopefully they can repeat the trick here.
Derek O'Connor is not a bad man to have on your side in a race like this either, and Champagne Platinum looks something of a plot and I was originally to going to suggest a small saver on him.
The big unknown is the 3m2f trip in soft ground, as he steps up fully six furlongs after finishing third to Itchy Feet in the Scilly Isles last time, but he definitely hinted at better to come when staying on late there - one of those eye-catchers, no less - and a mark of 138 could seriously underestimate his raw ability.
The lightly-raced 6yo has always been highly regarded and he could well show it here, but his price is a bit on the skinny side considering those stamina doubts.
I'll be annoyed if he wins, but so be it. He went from 8/1 to 5/1 on Wednesday and that is a move I have to swerve.
Kilfilum Cross was another on my short-list at 12/1, but then I saw Militarian was the 66/1 outsider on the Sportsbook - literally the outsider too, as all the rest are priced up at 33/1 or shorter - and that looks plain wrong, even allowing for stamina concerns.
He is just 2lb higher than when winning by 4 lengths over 3m in the soft at Ascot in November, and he ran perfectly well when fourth over an extended 3m2f on this course on New Year's Day.
He has had a wind op since running over 2m4f last time, and he simply looks one of the better handicapped horses in here, albeit one who is more exposed than the likes of a Champagne Platinum. It will be a plus for him if it dries out, too.
Back The Storyteller at 5/1 each-way, six places, in 14:10
Back Dingo Dollar at 50/1 each-way, six places in 14:10
Back Rocket Lad at 33/1 each-way, six places in 14:10
Back Ronald Pump at 10/1 each way, without favourite, in 15:30
Back Charmant at [40.0] or bigger in 16:10
Back Concertista at 15/2 each-way, four places in 16:50
Back Bob Mahler at [24.0] or bigger in 17:30
Back Militarian at 66/1 each way, five places in 17:30