Anticipation is building ahead of the Betfair Chase on Saturday, but there is a decent card for day one of the meeting on Friday and Tony Calvin has found two to back at a big price...
"He traded at a low of 2.1411/10 in running so well was he travelling down the back straight, only to drop away pretty tamely in the straight. However, it could simply be that he needed the run and he could make the necessary progress to take this prize with that run under his belt."
Let's not dwell upon the disappointingly small fields that are the order of the day at Friday's remaining National Hunt meetings - everyone knows the problem - and focus on the quality Haydock action, where the opener at 12:50 offers up the best bet on the card.
Step forward Quel Elite at odds of 20.019/1 or bigger.
First the negatives. He has been called some names in the past and was withdrawn on vet's advice down at the start when a 7/2 chance at Ayr last week - I think he bled - but presumably all is well now and at least the price here compensates for those doubts.
There is also nothing unexposed or sexy about the selection - who at 11-years-old is the oldest in this race by at least four years - but he is sure to be suited by conditions, has a decent record when fresh and is fairly handicapped.
He is only 4lb higher than when beating a subsequent improver in Guiding George over 3m in the soft at Wetherby last December and is on the same mark as when signing off for the summer with a creditable heavy-ground effort in finishing second at Hexham in May.
So we know that he can be competitive off his mark and I can't stress enough how important the proven ability to perform in a mudbath will be at Haydock over the next two days. And he has plenty of heavy-ground form.
And what gives me further confidence that he may be able to see off some younger, and more progressive, rivals is that he invariably goes well off a break, whether he wins or not.
Indeed, even a reproduction of his reappearance second to Top Billing (who was completing his hat-trick and hasn't been seen out since) at Ayr last season on ground less testing than is ideal would see him go close here. His small stable has been going well this season, with six individual winners at a strike rate of 17%.
There are clearly no shortage of dangers in a competitive race- and top of the list are Optimistic Bias, Hidden Justice (well-handicapped on his return to hurdling) and Island Heights - but Quel Elite makes most appeal at the prices.
There is obviously a very disappointing turn-out for the three-runner 2m graduation chase at 13:20 but at least they are all smart horses.
Solar Impulse has reportedly had a breathing operation in the summer and is probably the marginal form pick on some of his early form last season - there is little between his excellent seconds at Newbury, and at Doncaster twice - and he gets 3lb from Kings Lad, who at least does have the benefit of a run. As does Doctor Phoenix, who jumped brilliantly when winning in soft at Lingfield off a mark of 132.
My marginal preference would be for Doctor Phoenix to improve past them in this ground, but it's not the kind of race I bet in. However, odds of around 3.814/5 or bigger would be very fair.
Francis Of Assisi looks very much the one to beat in the Betfair Tap Tap Boom novices' hurdle at 13:55 if you are willing to believe his much improved fourth in the Elite last time.
Some may not, but I would definitely be inclined to take it at face value, as he went into the race as an unexposed, unbeaten hurdler, and one whose Flat form - he was rated 104 on the level - suggested he would improve for the softer ground he encountered at Wincanton. He did, and the time backs it up, too.
The problem is there isn't much juice in his price at around the 11/4 mark and he takes on four last- time-out winners who are similarly open to improvement while the ones who were beaten on their latest starts - Welsh Shadow, second to a good horse at Exeter, and Viens Chercher - certainly can't be ruled out either. In fact, Welsh Shadow could be the one to beat getting weight.
It looks a cracking race, but a non-betting one, as it stands.
The Betfair Home Of Price Rush Novices' Chase at 14:30 is another race to have attracted only three runners. But it is rescued - and then some - by the presence of everyone's horse to follow this season it seems, Minella Rocco, as well as Silsol and Private Malone.
Feel the width, if not the depth.
Silsol sets a pretty high standard after defying market weakness to win on his chasing debut at Carlisle, and don't forget that he was a 158-rated hurdler, the best of this trio in that sphere albeit from far more opportunities, and one for who heavy ground is no concern.
Private Malone made great strides over hurdles last season, although he wasn't quite at the level of winning pointer Minella Rocco, who did everything so easily when winning at Kempton and Newbury and looks, as they say, every inch a chaser.
Again, this is very much a race to watch for the future than to punt on.
However, I imagine there will be glum faces from the Ten To Follow merchants if Minella Rocco, a 260,000gns purchase after winning his sole point, doesn't win this in receipt of 5lb from Silsol, even if that one is a very serious rival with race fitness on his side, though on the flip side he hasn't had much of a break since Carlisle.
The Fixed Brush novice hurdle at 15:05 is a tricky race to call with so many unexposed sorts, although Vintage Clouds and Wade Harper are race-fit and set the standard on form.
But I Just Know could be worth chancing at 10.09/1 or bigger.
Being a winning pointer, he should have no problems over these fixed brush hurdles, and he ran a far more promising race than his finishing position would indicate on his hurdling debut at Wetherby last month when beaten 21 lengths in third (would have been fourth if Red Hanrahan hadn't fallen).
Indeed, he traded at a low of 2.1411/10 in running so well was he travelling down the back straight, only to drop away pretty tamely in the straight. However, it could simply be that he needed the run and he could make the necessary progress to take this prize with that run under his belt.
Bumpers are not my cup of tea and are basically guessing games most of the time, and that is the case with the 15:40 so I am happy to leave well alone.
Back Quel Elite at 20.019/1 or bigger in 12:50 at Haydock
Back I Just Know at 10.09/1 or bigger in 15:05 at Haydock
National Jockey Day returns!
Saturday sees the return of National Jockey Day, where Betfair is aiming to raise up to £50,000 for the Injured Jockeys Fund. Get the full lowdown..