Tony Calvin discusses the complex issue of race sponsorship and makes strong arguments for backing three runners at Ascot on Saturday afternoon...
"He is a near top-class hurdler on his day as he showed when beating Thousand Stars by ten lengths in the French Champion Hurdle last year, and the decision of David Pipe to ditch the blinkers from Newbury on his return to hurdles is an interesting angle."
Bookmaker sponsorship has been in the news for a while now - don't worry, I'll spare you the politics - and it comes into sharp focus once again with the running of the Wessex Youth Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.
Many people will still call it the Ladbroke, even though the previous backer has done a runner, but therein lies the problem with racecourses attracting new sponsors.
It is no coincidence that the sponsorships that work best are those that give the media no alternative but to give the race-supporters a deserved name-check for putting the money in. The most obvious contest would be the Betfair Chase.
But that was a new contest, first run in 2005, and the problem with new sponsors coming in for established races is getting bang for their buck.
There is a fair section of the press, and indeed "horsemen", that don't mention sponsors names and indeed still like to refer to races by their historical race titles, even if only in jest - and only this week did I learn that it is one national newspaper's policy not to name check any race sponsors at all in print - and that is a very big problem for the sport in this media-monitoring and trackable age.
In the past, this tracking didn't happen because the technology wasn't there to note any mention (or non-mention), but it certainly does now. And it will be a significant barrier to attracting sponsors inside and out of the bookmaking sphere, believe me.
If the media are simply calling it the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, then new sponsors Timico will soon know about the fact that their name is being omitted from coverage.
I do hear the argument that sponsors need to somehow earn their stripes by signing minimum three-year deals - and I do buy into the traditional element of historic race titles being kept to a large degree, as well - but in the current climate it is surely not too big a hardship to call the Long Walk Hurdle, the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at 14:25.
It wouldn't be a bad idea were bookmakers to take the lead by fully naming their rivals' race titles in full on their websites, but that may be pushing it.
Anyway, over to the Long Walk, and what a joy to be confronted with an 11-runner Grade 1 headed by a horse like Unowhatimeanharry going for seven in a row.
He was actually dropped 3lb by the handicapper after winning the Albert Bartlett last season but it was all change on the ratings front once again after his six-length defeat of Ballyoptic at Newbury last time, this time going up 16lb to 165.
That performance, and his upward curve of progression, clearly marks him out as the one to beat here - indeed, he is joint-favourite with Faugheen for the Ryanair World Hurdle in some lists - but I can't get excited by quotes around the 2.56/4 mark and lower in the deepest race he has contested.
He does have at least 5lb in hand of his rivals though and the most unexposed and sexy profile, though I was surprised to see the tough-as-teak Lil Rockerfeller was still a 5yo and I suppose we are all guessing to an extent about how good a tool this French challenger Alex De Larredya is.
On a line through Ptit Zig, very good, and it isn't a great surprise to see him second favourite.
But, then again, Ballyoptic appeals as better than he showed at Newbury and is an each-way angle; Reve De Sivola would have been going a fifth successive win in this race were it not for meeting a certain Thistlecrack here last year; and everyone knows how much I rate the novice West Approach, still travelling ominously well when smashing into the second-last at Cheltenham last week.
But I think Un Temps Pour Tout has been overlooked in the market at 17.016/1.
I hope Reve de Sivola, who would want softer ground, takes a lead as he has done on his last two starts as that will leave the selection alone to dominate from the front, where he is so effective.
He made all when winning at Aintree over hurdles on his reappearance, after which he went for the Hennessy, where he didn't jump or travel well to give himself a chance in this ultra-competitive handicap.
He is a near top-class hurdler on his day as he showed when beating Thousand Stars by ten lengths in the French Champion Hurdle last year, and the decision of David Pipe to ditch the blinkers from Newbury on his return to hurdles is an interesting angle.
He didn't wear them at Aintree, and I can see this course winner proving far more competitive than his odds suggest if getting on the lead early.
The 19-runner handicap hurdle at 15:35 is 7/1 the field and as difficult as the betting implies.
There is a hatful of horses that you can make a case for here, as you'd expect.
Last year's dead-heaters Jolly's Cracked It and Sternrubin lock horns again; the Tony Martin trio are all likely sorts; Dan Skelton knows the time of day in these 2m handicap hurdles and his Willow's Saviour won this in 2013; and the recent Sandown 1-2 of Brain Power and Consul De Thaix deserve plenty of respect.
But I make no apologies for returning to a horse that did this column a couple of favours at double-figure odds last season, namely Wolf Of Windlesham.
I deserted "Wolfie" first time up in the Greatwood this season and was beginning to regret it when he came to the second-last full of running, only for him to come to grief at that flight.
He has been given a nice confidence-booster on the Flat at Kempton since, where he actually ran a screamer to finished second to another horse better known as a hurdler, Beltor, and one who was smashed off the boards, too.
He looks to be on a very attractive mark, the same as when winning at Sandown in April, and I think the handicapper has given him an excellent chance in this wide-open race.
Back him at odds of 18.017/1 or better on the exchange, and/or 18/1 each way ¼ 1,2,3,4 with the Betfair Sportsbook.
All Together also looks well worth a bet at 21.020/1 or bigger in the 13:50.
His is a straightforward story. He finished second to Hollywoodien in the novice handicap chase at this two-day meeting last season - off just a 1lb higher mark than this - and the handicapper has done him a big favour by dropping him 2lb for his fifth over 2m1f here last time.
That form has worked out very well. The winner Quite By Chance has run two blinders in defeat since, and the third and fourth both won on their next outing, and the eighth has also dotted up by 15 lengths, too.
He should strip fitter for that reappearance run - he won second time up last season, as well - and he is handicapped to win.
Go Conquer is the deserved favourite in the 15:00 and Fourth Act looks a player here too, but I have to take a chance with The Druids Nephew at 15.014/1 or bigger.
I imagine he is that price because the layers may be assuming that connections have their eyes on one prize and one prize only this season, namely the Grand National again.
But the handicapper has dropped him a very tasty 5lb for his fifth in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last time, and he won first time up in October 2014, and I personally wouldn't offer him at bigger than 10/1 were I a bookmaker.
There are two C4 races at Haydock, too, but I don't have a betting opinion in either.
My token selections if you are interested would be As De Fer in the 14:40 and Le Rocher in the 15:15, but I can tell you now I won't be backing either.
Back All Together at 21.020/1 in the 13:50 at Ascot
Back Un Temps Pour Tout at 17.016/1 or bigger in the 14:25 at Ascot
Back The Druids Nephew at 15.014/1 or bigger in the 15:00 at Ascot
Back Wolf Of Windlesham odds of 18.017/1 or better on the exchange, and 18/1 each way ¼ 1,2,3,4 with the Betfair Sportsbook in the 15:35 at Ascot