Gold Cup day is upon us and it will be 361 days to the next Cheltenham Festival, but only three weeks to Aintree.
Al Boum Photo is sure to start favourite for the race of the week - the Gold Cup at 15:05, and rightly so. He has won the Gold Cup twice and only lost one race - to his stablemate Kemboy - since 2018. He has had the same preparation as the last two seasons, winning at Tramore on New Year's Day on his only start prior to Cheltenham.
Native River too risky to lay
The next-highest-ranked is Native River, the game winner of the 2018 Gold Cup and fourth to Al Boum Photo in 2019. Placed in 24 of his 28 races, he would be a risky lay. You couldn't readily rule out A Plus Tard or Kemboy either. The pair were first and second in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown after Christmas. They are both officially rated 169, 6lb off Al Boum Photo and 3lb lower than Native River.
You would expect some degree of correlation between odds and ratings but there are three that don't compute - Royal Pagaille, Champ and Minella Indo. They are in the top five in the betting but ranked in the bottom five by the handicapper.
Minella Indo has disappointed in his Grade 1 chases
Minella Indo strikes me as the least likely of that trio to make the first three, despite his good record at the Festival. He won the Albert Bartlett Novices's Hurdle in 2019 and was runner-up to Champ in the RSA Chase last March.
This season hasn't quite gone to plan, though. He has started favourite in all his four races and won the weaker ones at Wexford and Navan. In his Grade 1 chases at Leopardstown he has fallen and beaten only one home in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup won by Kemboy.
Minella Indo's odds are in single figures because of his track record. The only two that have lower ratings are the 66/1 shots Aso and Black Op.
With last year's second and third Santini and Lostintranslation running and Royale Pagaille improving hand over fist, Minella Indo will do well to be placed.
Irish duo preferred to Tritonic in the Triumph
The card kicks off with one of my favourite races of the season, the JCB Triumph Hurdle at 13:20.
Recent winners have been split 50:50 between the English and the Irish - so too are the eight that line-up today.
The Irish quartet looks the stronger, having won eight of their nine races. In contrast, Tritonic is the only one of the home team to have not tasted defeat since going hurdling.
Zanahiyr has won all three of his starts, the most exciting being his 14-length Grade 3 success at Fairyhouse from Saint Sam, runner-up in the juvenile handicap here on Tuesday.
His former stablemate Quilixios has been hurdling for over a year, starting off at Compiegne last March before his three wins for Gordon Elliott, culminating with a five-length win from Saint Sam last month in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown.
Tritonic, then, has plenty on his plate given his two successes from Casa Loupi, at Ascot and Kempton, don't look so hot after that one's defeat at 8/15 at Stratford on Monday. You could also argue that Adagio's Grade 1 success in the Coral Finale Hurdle at Chepstow is stronger form than Tritonic's wins, since he beat Houx Gris 20 lengths, and Nicholls' horse was a good fourth here in a competitive handicap on Tuesday.
All in all, Tritonic rates the lay of the day.
Make some Buck's laying Barbados
Giving the competitive County Hurdle at 13:55 a miss, I'm tempted to lay Barbados Buck's in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at 14:30.
His odds have halved from 12/1 to 11/2 with Betfair but does his CV justify that? His two pre-Christmas wins came at Southwell and at Kempton he beat a motley lot that have performed indifferently at Hereford before and since.
There is no doubt Barbados Buck's is willing but his form doesn't stand up against that of the Irish. Stattler, Fakiera, Torygraph, Threeunderfive, Ngolo and Vanillier all have more depth to their form than Paul Nicholls' hope.
Between them, with a little help from Fergal O'Brien's smart Alaphilippe they should keep Barbados Buck's out of the first three.