It's Grand National day but the betting opportunities don't end with the big race, as Tony Calvin shows by backing six horses, as well as his antepost bet, across the Saturday card at Aintree...
"The one I will be backing afresh is Raz De Maree, carrying just 10st 9lb and with Robbie Power on board. The case for him really is very simple. He has loads of good staying handicap form - he has been placed in a Midlands National over 4m1f+ as well as wins over 3m4f - and he finished an excellent second to Native River in the Welsh National last year."
Raz can make Maree in the National
I have had the idea for my third bet in the Grand National in my head ever since the final runners were known on Thursday morning - more about the two I have already backed shortly - and further rain overnight, and on Friday morning, sealed the deal.
It is now heavy on the National course, so step forward Raz De Maree at [32.0] or bigger.
Unfortunately, a few other people have had the same idea in the last 24 hours, as he was trading at [44.0] when I went to bed on Thursday night, but odds of around 33/1+ are still very fair about a horse with his credentials in the prevailing conditions.
I nailed my colours to the Seeyouatmidnight mast at [50.0], when the betting first opened, but I have rather gone off him of late.
One, because he now trades at around [18.0], and secondly because I wasn't as positive about his comeback over 2m4f at Newbury as many were, even allowing for the fact that I imagine would have needed the run a fair bit, over a trip well short of his best, considering of the stop-start nature of his return.
But, of course, he can go well. He won't mind the ground, has a very classy background for a horse running off a mark 149 and he has finished third in a Scottish National, so stamina won't be an issue. It's just that I think all the juice has been squeezed out of his price now, though the Scottish punters may think different.
That is probably also true of Baie Des Iles now at his current price of around 19/1, who I have been lucky enough to latch onto at bigger prices (cue the sad after-time merchants, but I am used to the abuse).
Gamble of the Week
She has been the gamble of the week - she was [46.0] on Monday morning and still 40/1 with some fixed-odds firms that evening - even though she will be defying all the stats if she wins, in that she is a 7yo grey mare ridden by a woman.
A woman, I have you! Katie Walsh is clearly no negative in the saddle but the money for her mount has been purely down to the horse's form credentials.
She has finished in the first six in an Irish and a Welsh National, will love the ground, and warmed up for this race with an excellent third to Folsom Blue and Isleofhopendreams in the Punchestown Grand National Trial over an extended 3m4f in February.
The gamble on her at 66/1 and 50/1 started immediately after the Irish National as which the first two home from Punchestown ran so well there - Folsom Blue was an unlucky loser in fourth, and Isleofhopendreams was second - and it has carried on this week.
She must have strong claims, but I think she is now close to her true price, so I will look elsewhere for tipping purposes.
It would be easy to side with the likes of Gold Cup third Anibale Fly (9lb well-in and probably my idea of the most likely winner ) and Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall here as they are two of the class horses of the party, but they have a lot of weight to carry in this ground.
The one I will be backing afresh is Raz De Maree, carrying just 10st 9lb and with Robbie Power on board.
The case for him really is very simple. He has loads of good staying handicap form - he has been placed in a Midlands National over 4m1f+ as well as wins over 3m4f - and he finished an excellent second to Native River in the Welsh National last year.
And the handicapper has been pretty generous in raising him just 5lb for going one better at Chepstow last time by six lengths. His completion record is a concern but the price compensates. Anyway, good luck with whatever you fancy.
Lady Buttons' fighting chance
At the time of writing, I don't know if Thursday's 2m4f Aintree Hurdle winner L'Ami Serge is going to make a quick turnaround in the Liverpool Hurdle at 16:20. But, regardless, I do think Sam Spinner is a favourite who will be hard to beat.
He may have gone off a crazily-short price of 9/4 for the Stayers' Hurdle but he clearly wasn't seen to best effect there, with his jockey setting too slow a pace on a horse that thrives upon aggressive front-running tactics over this trip.
I think he is a fair price at around 7/4 - especially as the promising The Worlds End hasn't got his ground again - but that is not what this column is all about. Let's move on.
In the 2m4f Grade 1 Novice hurdle at 14:25, the big two in the betting are Ballymore runner-up Black Op and On The Blind Side, who missed the Festival because he was off-colour in the run-up to Cheltenham.
The form of the Tom George yard continues to trouble me with the way his horses ran on Thursday, and I think On The Blind Side is plenty short enough, even allowing for the fact that this course winner was very impressive when we last saw him at Sandown.
I was toying with taking that pair on with the horses that finished sixth and seventh in the Supreme, as Western Ryder and Lostintranslation both shaped as though this step up to 2m4f would suit, but I decided to sit the race out in the end. That pair definitely do make some each-way appeal though, if you fancy a bet yourself.
I suspect Petit Mouchoir will win the 2m Grade 1 novice chase at 15:00, if he is ridden a bit more sensibly than he was in the Arkle, but his price reflects and I give the mare Lady Buttons a fighting chance of beating him at odds of [7.0] or bigger.
She is two from two over fences, and the manner in which jumped and travelled en route to beating two fair horses at Newcastle indicated that she was ready for a step up in class.
She showed at Bangor earlier in the season that she can find off the bridle and, getting the 7lb se allowance from the favourite, she is primed to give him a race.
Taking a risk in the opener
Everyone saw the "eye-catching" run of Dream Berry and he will be surely be all the rage in the opener at 13:45. And maybe rightly so.
He shaped with abundant promise from off the pace when seventh over an extended 2m4f in the Martin Pipe and his pedigree gives you hope that this loner trip will suit. And he finished an excellent second in the 2m4f handicap hurdle last season.
But I am going to risk Debece first time up at [12.0] or bigger.
We haven't seen him since he finished a close third in the Grade 1 novice here April, so his fitness and well-being is a slight concern, but he has a great record fresh and I think he fairly handicapped off a mark of 141.
The softer ground here is not expected to be an issue - he is two from two on soft, and has quite a high knee action - and he is worth chancing.
Bells of Ailsworth to cause an upset?
Thomas Patrick looks the most likely winner of the 3m1f handicap chase at 15:40, as he won well in a really good time at Newbury and hails from the red-hot yard of Tom Lacey.
But I am going to tip a Tim Vaughan double, as I hope Debece's in the opener is followed by Bells Of Ailsworth here at [15.0] or bigger.
Granted, the stable isn't in the best of form, but Bells Of Ailsworth comes here in decent nick after a third over 3m4f in heavy ground in a fair time at Taunton last time, his first run since December, and the step back down in trip should suit here.
He has quite a progressive profile (when completing), too, and the stable won this race with Saint Are in 2012.
Two bets for the closing race
In the closing handicap hurdle at 18:20, two interested me, but Chesterfield is now a non-runner, so I rely on Maquisard at [13.0] or bigger.
Maquisard did me a big favour when winning at 33/1 at Huntingdon last time, and he is worth following off a 5lb higher mark here.
He is actually 5lb lower than when coming here from France (he was dropped 10lb for his two Kempton efforts) and hopefully this deeper ground won't be an issue. He won on heavy in France, and apparently comes here in real good order with Harry Teal taking off 7lb.
Betfair Ambassadors, Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliott, joined Barry Orr and Gary O'Brien to preview the Grand National.
Debece at [12.0] or bigger in the 13:45
Lady Buttons at [7.0] or bigger in the 15:00
Bells Of Ailsworth at [15.0] or bigger in the 15:40
Raz De Maree at [32.0] or bigger in the Grand National at 17:15
Maquisard at [13.0] or bigger in the 18:20
Seeyouatmidnight at [50.0] in Grand National ante-post market