Three days of high-class horse racing kicks off at Aintree on Thursday and Tony Calvin is starting off with avoiding Buveur D'Air in the Aintree Hurdle.
"But he is a very hardy soul, as was evidenced by him doing the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown triple-header last season, and following up two runner-up placings with a Grade 1 win on home soil in April."
Take on Buveur D'Air
Everything points to Buveur D'Air in the Aintree Hurdle at 15:25, bar the most important aspect.
I know the dual Champion Hurdler has 8lb and more in hand of this field on official ratings, won this race two seasons ago (as well as the Grade 1 novice here in 2016) and you can argue he comes here fresher than most after his early fall at Cheltenham.
But take a tumble he certainly did - and he also galloped round afterwards, actually finishing in front of now owner-mate Espoir D'Allen at the line, so he did exert himself - and I have not been overly-convinced by him this season.
His defeat of Samcro in the Fighting Fifth was probably not all that it looked at the time, and his subsequent performances at Kempton and Sandown were not those of the top-class hurdler anywhere near his peak.
I think he must be taken on at a shortening [1.88], even given the doubts about all of his rivals, so I am happy to oblige.
Who will strike glory?
The problem is what to take him on with?
Melon also didn't convince me that he was back to his best when going from the front in the Champion Hurdle, though you presume that his stablemate
Faugheen - well, I do anyway - will lead here, dropping down in trip from a gallant, if possibly slightly underwhelming, third in the Stayers' Hurdle. Faugheen and Ruby could well get the run of the race.
The jury is out whether 2m4f will bring out the best in Verdana Blue, especially at this level and with more rain forecast at Aintree on Thursday - the trip is also a total unknown for Champion Hurdle third Silver Streak - while the likes of the impressive County Hurdle winner Ch'tibello and Summerville Boy are hard to enthuse over as regards to having the necessary class and form respectively.
I very nearly stuck up the 33/1 outsider Brain Power each way, even though he ran pretty dismally in the Champion.
But he doesn't appear to like Cheltenham's Old Course, and he certainly has the place claims here if coming back to his cosy defeat of Silver Streak (who was giving him 4lb admittedly) on the New in the International back in December.
He is another whose stamina is unproven at 2m4f but he is certainly bred to be suited by it, and the expected better ground than at Cheltenham last month could suit him.
Supa to become super?
I will probably chuck a few quid his way win and place on the exchange, but all roads surely lead to Supasundae each way at 11/1 here.
Quite why connections didn't run him in the Champion Hurdle once the ground turned soft I will never know, and I bet they felt a bit sheepish given the way the two-miler fell apart - I think he would have finished second if running his race - and the tame manner in which he weakened from the second-last in the Stayers'.
He finished a tired horse in seventh there - though, to his credit, he did stick on up the run-in, having looked set to drop out the back of the TV after the last - and coming here just weeks later is a concern.
But he is a very hardy soul, as was evidenced by him doing the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown triple-header last season, and following up two runner-up placings with a Grade 1 win on home soil in April.
And his second to L'Ami Serge last year was not his only good performance at this meeting, having run Yanworth to a length in the three-miler here on good ground in 2017, and the weather can do what it likes for him, although the forecast rain would probably be a positive.
He has yet to run to his best in four starts this season but hopefully he is no back number just yet as a 9yo, and if he returns to form, over this more suitable trip, then I give him the best shot of lowering the colours of the favourite.
I normally run through the races in chronological order, but I thought I would go with a different style today, and front-load the copy with the tips.
Balko for the Bowl
So next up is Balko Des Flos at [36.0] or bigger in the Bowl at 14:50.
Now, stop laughing at the back and listen, as I do think the outsider of the party is simply too big a price to ignore.
I know he has a lot to prove given that three of his four runs this season wouldn't get him within 20 lengths of this field - the exception being a fair third in the John Durkan in December - and that includes his run in the Ryanair last time. And the vast majority of his better form has come at around 2m4f and 2m5f.
But I went back and had a look at the Ryanair again a couple of times, and I was really struck by the considerate way that the selection was handled by Denis O'Regan there.
If you don't believe me, then have a gander yourself. You will be pretty surprised.
He gave the outside to no-one that day and never once went for his stick, although the horse travelled powerfully throughout.
So he certainly didn't have a hard race there - far from it - and his 1 ¼-length second, at 66/1, to Road To Respect over 3m in the Christmas Chase in December 2017 was evidence that this trip is within his compass.
Furthermore, if he comes back to the form of his uber-impressive Ryanair Chase defeat of Un De Sceaux last year, then he certainly doesn't lack the class to shake up and shock this field. The fact that Rachael Blackmore is back on board is another big plus.
Replace rum with Champagne
I was disappointed and surprised in equal measure not to see Duke Of Navan in the final line-up for the Red Rum at 16:40 .
In his absence, I am going to get back to the bleedin' obvious and tip Eamon An Cnoicat 11/2 each way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook. I do think he is by far the most likely winner.
David Pipe is having a better run of it of late than in previous years, and he has another potential winner on the big stage in the selection following his fourth in what looked a very strong 2m4f handicap at Cheltenham last month.
A 2lb rise is justified given the front four pulled 8 lengths clear of the fifth, and Eamon An Cnoic's earlier defeat of Capeland over 2m at Chepstow - his first start after a wind op - suggests this strong-traveller should be fine stepping back in trip.
I think you have to have him on your side if betting in this race, even though the price is on the lower end of the scale that I like playing at, especially in 18-runner handicaps.
Azzuri has been the buzz horse in recent days and Theinval's record in this race - second in the last two runnings, and also a handicap hurdle winner at this meeting in 2015 and coming here fresh off a falling mark - mean that pair have to be respected.
I am keen to have a second string to my bow, and Champagne At Tara is worth an interest at [25.0] or bigger. Unfortunately, the 33/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook went early on Wednesday afternoon, but 20/1+ still appeals.
He is not the most straightforward and jumped too hesitantly at a few in the Grand Annual last time, which meant he could never get competitive from the rear.
But hugely talented 3lb claimer Jonjo O'Neill Jr will hopefully know him a bit better now, and this horse has been dropped 2lb since Cheltenham, making this course-and-distance winner (he also finished second of 22 in a 2m4f handicap hurdle at this meeting in 2016) now perched on a very competitive mark.
He is probably best served by decent ground, though he has won on heavy - so the forecast rain is probably neither here nor there - and hopefully the likes of Cracking Find and Adrrastos can set the strong pace he likes to aim at. There are others that have been ridden handy in the past, too.
That's the end of the tips, but La Bague Au Roi and Spiritofthegames would be my two against the field in the opener - hopefully, the latter will boost the form of Eamon An Cnoic's Plate fourth - while Pentland Hills would be my token idea of the winner of a very trappy juvenile hurdle, in which the market has it pretty much spot on.
No interest as per usual in the Foxhunters' or the bumper, so I'll love you and leave you and will be back tomorrow.
Good luck on Day One, everyone.