It's a welcome return for the Grand National on Saturday, and our resident tipster Tony Calvin has two fancies for the race as well as more tips on earlier on the card...
"And he certainly looked like a marathon trip could well be his bag when running away with the Classic Chase over 3m5f at Warwick last season, romping home by 10 lengths after only taking it up going to the last."
The Grand National is unique in many, many ways and, let us be honest, especially so from a tipping point of view.
Every pundit under the sun has an opinion - indeed, probably has to have an opinion - about who they view as the likely winner when, for the other 364 days of the year, a few wouldn't even entertain the prospect of trying to solve a 20-runner handicap chase.
Let alone double that number over a trip that a large percentage of the field haven't even competed at, over fences that actually take some jumping, with a big dollop of fortune thrown in and doubts about how quick the ground will ride (more of that shortly).
What could possibly go wrong?!
But this is the Nash, isn't it, so let's stop this killjoy talk.
I was very content with my ante-post positions a couple of weeks ago, and still am to a large degree, but I must admit that the closer to the race I get, the more very plausible alternatives are coming out of the woodwork.
I backed Cloth Cap at 7/1 each-way immediately after his Kelso win and you don't need me to tell you what an excellent chance he has.
He has 14lb in hand of most of these according to the handicapper, and has looked a different proposition on his last two starts, with cheek pieces applied, allied to forcing tactics on better ground.
Can he do it in a 40-runner field? We shall see.
Jumping prowess makes Kimberlite a solid play
I put up Kimberlite Candy at 20s in these columns when the weights were published, and some doubts are creeping in.
Will it be soft enough for him, despite the watering? Could the stable be in better form? Is he well enough handicapped?
All are valid concerns but I still take a very positive view of his chances, and I genuinely believe he is the one horse I would nominate if asked for the one most likely to finish in the first six home.
And hopefully he has that winning vibe too, so I suggest you back him at 19.018/1 win-only on the exchange. He may continue to drift though, given the above concerns.
And look to get with him in one of the exchange place markets as well; there are so many (four, five, six, seven and 10 lines are on offer) I will let you choose.
The key to this horse's chance is for him to jump as beautifully around these fences as he did when second in the Becher for the last two years.
He was a chasing sight to behold on those occasions, and he clearly needed the run badly on his return (went off at 20/1+ on the exchange, having been single figures in the morning) here in December, travelling powerfully before lack of condition told.
All roads have led to this race since then quite clearly - he has had a few entries, but his trainer, who has had a recent winner for all his yard are not going great guns, has decided to bring him here fresh - and I am just hoping that the combination of his jumping prowess and the step up in trip will see him improve.
And he certainly looked like a marathon trip could well be his bag when running away with the Classic Chase over 3m5f at Warwick last season, romping home by 10 lengths after only taking it up going to the last.
His record does suggest he would like deeper ground, but this is obviously a well-watered surface, so hopefully that won't be an issue. In fact, if they get no more rain through Friday then I reckon they will half-saturate the course in the evening on welfare grounds, and put far more than 3mm on the National course that they did on Thursday night.
He just looks a solid play, with a better win chance than most.
Time could be right for Any Second Now
As I mentioned earlier, dangers have been emerging from all corners in recent weeks, and none more so than Any Second Now, who dotted up by 10 lengths from Castlegrace Paddy over 2m on heavy ground at Navan last month (after the weights were published, obviously).
And that form looks even better given the runner-up would have won a Grade 2 last week but for meeting the last wrong.
We are guessing about his stamina but considering the longest trip he has completed over (he fell when sent off a 10/1 chance for the Irish Grand National in 2019) saw him win the 3m2f Kim Muir, going away, in 2019 then I have him marked as a likely stayer.
And certainly a well-handicapped horse, and one for whom the ground should be grand. It was good to soft when he won at Cheltenham.
So, yes, Any Second Now, from a Grand National-winning stable, is my saver at 15.014/1 or bigger on the exchange.
Good luck with whatever you fancy and back, as I am not going to put anyone off anything. I even half-considered tipping Blaklion at 80/1, six places, at the foot of the weights!
Don't rule out Pipesmoker at a big price
I was very impressed by My Drogo at Kelso last time but I would have less between him and Supreme second Ballyadam in the market for the 2m4f Grade 1 novices' hurdle, so I was drawn to the latter at 11/4+ on the exchange.
Unlike the favourite, he brings Grade 1 form to the table, having finished second at Cheltenham, albeit at a very respectful distance behind Appreciate It - and his earlier second to that rival at Leopardstown probably reads even better - and hopefully this longer trip and more sedate gallop will allow his jumping to improve, as he took the second-last with him in the Supreme.
I know it often means little but he won his sole point over 3m, so it's reasonable to assume the step up to 2m4f will be a plus.
He did have a hard race at Cheltenham though, and I eventually plumped for a small each-way bet on Pipesmoker at 16/1. 14s will be fine, and probably 12s, too.
This horse has next to no chance with the big two on the bare form of his reappearance third at Sandown, but he made a terrible mistake at the last that day when challenging, and you just can't do that on heavy ground on that track.
If you do, you just stop. And he did.
The other negative is that he is apparently a very hard horse to keep sound, so hopefully he will be fine here, and I do like the angle of him encountering better ground once again.
He locked horns with some Grade 1/2 horses last season, finishing second to Sporting John over 2m3f in soft ground at Ascot, but his best run was probably his close third to Chantry House on good to soft at Cheltenham, a race in which he was a massive eye-catcher and may have won on another day.
If it all clicks for him here, he is a big price with winning potential.
Change of luck and no reason why Oscar can't star in Liverpool Hurdle
Shishkin will probably have a nice stroll for £42,000 in the 15:00 - I was very surprised to see him as big as 1.21/5 on the exchange, if truth be told - but we don't need to concern ourselves with that race.
I couldn't see much guaranteed pace in the Liverpool Hurdle at 15:35 so I am going on a retrieval mission with Lisnagar Oscar in the hope that Rachael Blackmore sends him to the front.
Back him at 12.011/1 or bigger on the exchange. Ideally, I would have tipped him each-way, four places, but I wanted bigger than the Sportsbook's 8/1.
This is a very close-knit race on official ratings, but he is the third-best in here on his Stayers' Hurdle win last season and he is due a change of luck.
He made a satisfactory return under a 6lb penalty at Wetherby, then struck into himself and made a noise at Newbury (had a wind op after), and he obviously fell at the seventh at Cheltenham last month when it was far too early to tell how he would have fared.
But in between, he ran a blinder when a ¾-length second to Third Wind, giving the winner 6lb, at Haydock after a three-month break (in a good time) and if he can run to that level here - or, even better, the form of his Cheltenham Festival success - then I think he has a better chance than double-figure odds suggest.
He has bounced back well from a fall in the past, and will hopefully do so again here.
Hoping for a spirited run from my final tip
I have no argument with Happygolucky heading the market at around 7/2 on the exchange in the 16:15, and he is a very fair price, given his lightly-raced and progressive profile.
In fact, I was going to surprise regular readers here and recommend you punt him at 4.57/2 or bigger, but then I went back and had another look at the Cheltenham race and backed out at the last minute.
I thought he was winning for all bar the final 10% of the race at Cheltenham last time - so did the market as he traded at heavy odds-on - so it was disappointing that he couldn't get the job done after the last, albeit against a rejuvenated Vintage Clouds in first-time cheekpieces.
I was looking for an each-way bet against him then, and the three that I focused on were Spiritofthegames, Lalor and Fagan.
I tossed up between the first two - and decided to go with the former.
Spiritofthegames has gone a long way to easing my fears that he struggles to say this trip in his last two starts. I thought he ran perfectly well when eighth over hurdles in the Pertemps last time, having failed by only length to win over an extended 2m7f in the soft at Chepstow previously.
He didn't wear headgear in those races but the cheekpieces are on now, and he has run several of his best races in those, including when second in the 16-runner Paddy Power at Cheltenham in November off a 4lb higher mark than this.
I may regret not throwing a few quid on Lalor, but his unproven stamina put me off when push came to shove.
Furthermore, he must have had problems as we haven't seen him since he finished a ¾ length third to Cepage and Spiritofthegames in January 2020 but there are upsides; the handicapper has dropped him 2lb for his absence, he has gone well on three occasions off a break and of course he won the 2m Grade 1 novices' hurdle here in April 2018.
But the ability to last home was a big doubt for me.
Tony Calvin P/L - Jumps Season 20/21
20/21 JUMPS SEASON TO DATE: +13.62 (not including Friday's results)
2020 FLAT SEASON (June 1-November): +20.8
PREVIOUS P AND L (April 14 2017 to Apr 1 2020): +303.4
*All recommended Exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP, not at prices available at time of publishing.
Get all the latest Exchange racing odds here
Back Kimberlite Candy in 17:15 at Aintree at 19.018/1
Back Any Second Now in 17:15 at Aintree at 15.014/1
Back Pipesmoker in 14:25 at Aintree at 16/1 each-way at 17.016/1
Back Lisnagar Oscar in 15:35 at Aintree at 12.011/1
Back Spiritofthegames in 16:15 at Aintree at 10/1 each-way, four places, at 11.010/1