The Grand National meeting may kick off with a host of short-priced favourites but Tony Calvin has nevertheless managed to chisel out some value from Thursday's card at Aintree...
"Parsnip Pete won this race three years ago under today's jockey Paddy Brennan (on board for all the horse's seven wins) and I think this three-time track and trip winner is fairly weighted and will love the drying ground."
The bookmakers collectedly dodged what would have been a rather piercing bullet when Betfair ambassador Ryan Moore narrowly missed out on an ITV four-timer in the Lincoln on Saturday - Barry Orr, of this parish, estimated it saved the layers £40m - and the shape of Aintree's Thursday's card means it could be déjà vu for the books.
Actually, with short-priced favourites in each of the first four races then it could be more akin to Cheltenham in 2015, when Annie Power's last-flight fall went into punting legend and saved the publicly-quoted firms from issuing profit warnings such was the havoc she would have wreaked if standing up.
I will happily leave that angle to others these days but, for my big-priced tipping MO, the Aintree card didn't immediately scream a hatful of bets to me.
The problem is that the favourites all look pretty solid, starting with Top Notch in the 13:45.
I am in the minority, it seems, in believing that Top Notch may well have beaten Yorkhill in the JLT at Cheltenham last night had he not made a complete horlicks of the second-last.
Okay, I get the idea that Yorkhill was only dossing in front but there can be no doubt that Top Notch lost far more than the length he was beaten there by making that mistake.
He is the clear form choice on that performance and, for all Arkle runner-up Cloudy Dream could be better suited by stepping up in trip and Frodon comes here a fresh horse after bypassing the Festival, I am not in a rush to oppose him at around 5/4.
Defi Du Seuil is around a 1/3 poke in the Grade 1 juvenile at 14:20, and that is predictable enough considering he hasn't come out of second gear in winning all of his six hurdle starts, including when sauntering home by 5 lengths in the Triumph Hurdle last time.
He meets some improvers in here such as the Fred Winter 1-2 Flying Tiger and Divin Bere (the runner-up is weighted to reverse the placings on 5lb better terms for a neck) and the Queen's Musselburgh winner Forth Bridge, but I think the layers could be banging their heads against a brick wall trying to get him beaten.
Their only hope is that the favourite is jaded after a long campaign - he won at FFos Las in October - but it is very hard to see him being beaten. I do think Bedrock could outrun his massive odds, though.
Twiston-Davies Mai have the winner of the Bowl
The Bowl at 14:50, provides a real headache in that Cue Card is a very tempting [2.74] chance in many ways. And very, very easy to resist in others!
The plusses are that he is clearly the best horse in a sub-standard renewal, won the race easily last year after falling at Cheltenham, and seems to thrive in small fields on flat, left-handed tracks like Aintree and Haydock. He could win this on the bridle.
The negatives are that he can be a tricky customer, he clearly wasn't travelling with the zest he was the previous year when coming down three out at the Festival, he is an 11-year-old now and ideally he would want a bit more cut than he is likely to get here. Mind you, Aintree have clearly not lost their watering can in the run-up to this meeting.
The fact that his main rival in the market is a horse who underperformed by some way in the Ryanair last time illustrates why he is a short-priced favourite, but Empire Of Dirt's jockey Bryan Cooper reckons the horse was immediately compromised by a first-fence mistake there and he was crying out for easier ground and a longer trip throughout the race.
If he returns to the form of his previous second to Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup then he has obvious chances, but I thought he ran very flat at Cheltenham.
I love old Smad Place but, like your favourite pair of boxers that are just too wafer-thin on the undercarriage, I have to let him go now - I will be cheering him on the loudest if he is in with a chance after the last though - and I don't think the 2014 and 2015 winner Silviniaco Conti has it in him any more these days either, for all that he ran so well in the King George and comes here fresh.
If Cue Card is to be beaten then perhaps Bristol De Mai is the likeliest candidate and he is a very fair price at around [8.2] - he ran well when seventh in the Gold Cup, in spite of really belting the last, and it was good ground when he finished second in the JLT last year.
I was initially going to pass on this tricky seven-runner Grade 1, especially when the outsiders all have gaping holes in them, too, like the aforementioned underwear.
But the more I look at it, the more I thought Bristol De Mai was overpriced and I wouldn't totally rule out the outsider of the party, Aso, either after an excellent third in the Ryanair.
I think Aso does, or rather will, stay this trip, and I thought he should have been ridden more aggressively in that valuable 3m handicap at Kempton on his previous start, where he battled on well after the last.
In fact, along with Bristol De Mai, Aso is probably the most attractive bet in the race at [23.0] or bigger. We could be in danger of writing off his Ryanair third, when he finished 1½ lengths ahead of Empire Of Dirt, as a fluke, when it is anything but.
For all that they may be outclassed in this grade, - and may want softer ground, ideally (so let's hope they have been very liberal with the watering) back both of them to upset the front two in the market.
Buveur D'Air may not be the rock-solid favourite the odds suggest
Whenever you back heavy odds-on shots you want as few unknowns as possible. Well, none in fact, if you are looking to unload at [1.47] on Buveur D'Air in the Aintree Hurdle at 15:25.
So while Nicky Henderson is adamant that the horse will stay 2m4f - and was tempted to step him up in trip after his Supreme third last season - there has to be a doubt in your mind if you are backing the favourite on his first attempt at this trip.
Staying is relative though and you suspect that Buveur D'Air, winner of a Grade 1 here last season, will outclass this field come what may, though I imagine 2014 winner The New One will try and make life as uncomfortable for him as possible by going off in front, even back up in trip. It's easy to sit back and watch this race, though.
As per usual, I have no betting opinion in the Foxhunters' at 16:05, - On The Fringe is another shortie for the favourite backers to stick in their multiples - and while I can pass on a good word for the 20/1+ Oscar Rose on this better ground in the bumper at 17:15, this looks far too much of a guessing game for me to risk your cash on.
A Double portion of Parsnip for the Red Rum
The sub-2m Red Rum handicap chase at 16:40, is more like it though and I am going to take two against the field, with 14/1 chance Romain De Senam just missing the cut on his return to the minimum trip.
Parsnip Pete is first up at [21.0] and [4.5] or bigger, win and place. He won over course and distance first time up in 2014 but as he has got older he has tended to need his first start after a break.
So his absence since a below-par effort in early December worried me until I found out that he has had a recent racecourse gallop to put him straight.
He won this race three years ago under today's jockey Paddy Brennan (on board for all the horse's seven wins) and I think this three-time track and trip winner is fairly weighted and will love the drying ground.
He can be a weak finisher - prior to his last run at Cheltenham he had traded at odds-on and been beaten in his previous four starts (at [1.8], [1.3], [1.21] and [1.08]) - so you may want to be an in-running lay in.
Double W's is more obvious at [10.0] or bigger as he looked to be crying out for a return to this trip when a non-stayer over 2m4f at Cheltenham last time. Inched down 1lb in the weights, he could be ready to belatedly confirm his abundant early-season promise in these conditions.
Back Bristol De Mai @ [8.2] in the 14:50
Back Aso @ [25.0] or bigger in the 14:50
Back Parsnip Pete @ [21.0] win and [4.5] place in the 16:40
Back Double W's @ [9.2] in the 16:40
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