Tony Calvin looks ahead to the weekend action where Aidan O'Brien takes aim at further Group One glory in the Racing Post Trophy and the National Hunt season begins in earnest at Cheltenham...
"He won this contest first time out last season, also won on his reappearance in 2015, and he is a horse who clearly goes very well when fresh. If the ground remains good so much the better, but he does handle some cut, and he is a fair price at 12.011/1 on the Exchange."
Tony Calvin on Coologue
O'Brien holds key to Trophy market
For those of a certain vintage, solving the weekly mystery that was 3-2-1 - Google it if you are younger than 45, but trust me it was unfathomable until wily old Ted Rogers revealed the very last clue at the end of his spiel - was easier than trying to work out what Aidan O'Brien will be running in Saturday's Racing Post Trophy, let alone what is going to win the race.
O'Brien is responsible for just the 12 of the 22 five-day entries, and he could go in there mob-handed as he goes headlong in his pursuit of that Group 1 record.
He ran three in this race last year, the same amount in the seven-runner 2015 renewal, two in 2014, three again in 2013 but he flew solo when Kingsbarns won it in 2012 (as did St Nicholas Abbey in 2009) and Camelot was one of a Ballydoyle brace in the five-runner contest in 2011.
That doesn't tell us much but early indications - not that I pay too much notice of them - suggest that both of his current 2018 Derby big guns and Epsom market-leaders, Saxon Warrior and The Pentagon, are in the frame for Doncaster this weekend.
But I can't see him wheeling out both of them, especially as he has horses such as Dewhurst runner-up Mendelssohn, Zetland Stakes winner Kew Gardens and Champagne Stakes course scorer Seahenge in here, too - to name just three other plausible winners for the stable - who can boast a similar level of form.
As you can see, it is a bit of a nightmare punting race as it stands - and an impossible race to price up, for all that some layers have - and if I were a bookmaker I would try to drum up some trade by simply offering a "Yes or No" market on whether O'Brien would win the race (and by the time this appears someone may well have).
Okay, they are still open to O'Brien dominating the market come Saturday afternoon, but a look at the potential opposition suggests this may not be a walkover even if he runs three or four. And, of course, I would imagine a fair few of the Ballydoyle dozen will be re-routed to 7f and 1m2f Group races in France this weekend.
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that O'Brien won't even have the form horse in the race if Verbal Dexterity rocks up, as Jim Bolger's colt sets the clear standard on his Group 1 National Stakes win from Beresford.
He missed the Dewhurst because of a bad scope, so that's a concern, but the step up to a mile shouldn't be a problem and that soft-ground Curragh win is easily the best form on offer going into the race.
And other non-Ballydoyle entries include a Royal Lodge winner in Roaring Lion, a Lagardere third in Masar, a solid Group-race yardstick in Hey Gaman, improvers like impressive Haydock winner Chilean (who is an intended runner) and unexposed types like Loxley, who was the only horse supplemented for this race on Monday following his recent shared win at Goodwood.
I obviously can't put up a bet with running plans up in the air to this degree, but I probably will be looking for the home team to land this prize on Saturday. O'Brien has come up short in the last four years, after all, so he obviously isn't that much cop as a trainer....
Elsewhere, running plans are equally hard to ascertain, too, with the 6f Listed race at Doncaster and Newbury's 7f Horris Hill a case in point.
Five horses hold entries in both races, while others have alternative engagements too, and they include Nebo and Tangled, who head the betting at Doncaster with some bookmakers. You simply can't bet in these circumstances.
Pipe could have a new stable star in Vaniteux
There is some cracking jumps racing at Cheltenham on Friday and Saturday - that will be the second "proper" start of the National Hunt season then - and the one that interests me most at this stage is Coologue in the 3m1f handicap chase on Saturday.
Okay, it is blindingly obvious, but at least we know that the horse is being aimed at the race, as the trainer says so in the Racing Post today. And with good reason, too.
Coologue is back on the same mark as when beating Keltus by a length in this race last season, with the third 10 lengths away.
He lost his way afterwards after taking in the Hennessy but he ran much better than his beaten finishing position would suggest over 3m2f here in April, was dropped 1lb for it, and has presumably been primed for this race once again.
He won this contest first time out last season, also won on his reappearance in 2015, and he is a horse who clearly goes very well when fresh. If the ground remains good so much the better, but he does handle some cut, and he is a fair price at 12.011/1 on the Exchange.
There is a £50k 2m handicap chase on the card, too, and there are plenty of likely lads in here, with Vaniteux catching the eye on his first start for David Pipe after being bought for £125,000 in May out of Nicky Henderson's yard.
Pipe is having a wretched time of late and needs a good horse, and Vaniteux is certainly that, and one who can rate higher than his current mark of 158. He is only 5lb higher than when beating Romain De Senam by 5 lengths in first-time cheekpieces at Ayr in April, and we have seen what the runner-up has done this season.
But he also has an entry in what looks a potentially superb Old Roan at Aintree on Sunday, so let's wait to see where he ends up this weekend, if anywhere.
Sorry, as it stands the best course of action has to be to sit tight and see what the final weekend entries bring us. These days finding a runner is difficult enough, let alone the winner.