Tony Calvin is back with five fancies for Saturday's racing at Sandown, Ripon and Haydock...
"I think Paint The Cloud’s trainer Warren Greatrex may have had a winner earlier on the card in the 14:00, though not with our old friend Alzammaar but with his supposed second string Mercoeur. Back him at odds of 11.010/1."
Paul Nicholls can round off a memorable season pretty much as he has approached it week-in, week-out - namely with another big-race Saturday winner courtesy of Just A Par in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown at 15:50.
Big things were expected of this horse after he trounced Third Intention at Newbury last season but, a couple of runs aside, he has been largely disappointing.
But his current handicap mark reflects that and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the champion trainer had targeted this horse at this contest for some time, and certainly the presence of Rocky Creek at the top of the weights helps, in that he can effectively race off the minimum weight here. And no-one needs telling just how valuable Sean Bowen's 3lb claim is.
Just A Par ran his best race this season in first-time blinkers when fourth off this mark at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, and it was a little surprising that they were dispensed with at Chepstow last time.
So, in the circumstances, I think he ran a good trial for this race when third there, especially as a ponderous jump at the first set the tone for a pretty uncooperative display.
The blinkers are back on here, and he shapes as this extreme test of stamina will suit. He strikes me as the pick of Nicholls' quartet and a bet at 18.017/1, though I will be crying like a baby if my Grand National fancy Unioniste wins this.
You can obviously make a case for a lot of these, and I was tempted to put up Paint The Clouds. But two things deterred me. The first is that odds of 10.519/2 are plenty short enough and the other is that Sam Waley-Cohen must be odds-on to put up overweight at 9st 11lb. The last time he did that weight was in December 2012.
I think Paint The Cloud's trainer Warren Greatrex may have had a winner earlier on the card in the 14:00, though not with our old friend Alzammaar but with his supposed second string Mercoeur. Back him at odds of 11.010/1.
He has proved something of a disappointment since coming over from France but there was much more encouragement in his second at Huntingdon earlier this month, his first run after a winter break.
He has gone up 3lb for that, but the race was won in a good time and the front two pulled 17 lengths clear. Sharper for the run, and with first-time blinkers on - he can race a bit lazily - I think we can expect a career-best here.
I was sorely tempted to put up Court Minstrel in the AP McCoy Celebration Chase at 15:15 as I think the race could be set up for this strong-travelling closer. And odds of 22.021/1 were very tempting.
But, even though it was a fair effort on the book, I was disappointed by his fourth at Aintree last time and his two starts at this track have been pretty poor.
So I am giving this race a reluctant swerve, though I think Somersby is the safest conveyance for those wanting an interest at around 7-1. It may seem a stupid thing to say given that he has netted a Victor Chandler and two Grade 2s, but winning isn't his strong suit, however.
I was also going to put Pepite Rose in the 14:35, but had a late change of heart after going back to the race.
She gets plenty of weight from the opposition here, finished second in the Celebration Chase on this card last year, and would have a big shout if coming back to the form of her second to Rebel Rebellion at Newbury - and she didn't run too badly at Cheltenham last week either - but the race just looks a little too trappy.
AP's last ride on Box Office in the 16:25, gives us an extra C4 race to go at. And I very much welcome it as I like the look of Jayo Time at the bottom of the weights at 21.020/1.
He has had a good break since finishing fourth in a handicap over 2m in the soft here, and the handicapper has dropped huim 1lb in the interim.
That could prove generous as the form of that race has worked out well - the winner has won twice since, the runner-up won next time up on the Flat, and the fifth Theinval win at Aintree - and he won first time up over 2m6f on good ground at Wincanton in October.
I rate his chances at the price.
Over at Ripon, I suspect that Chester Cup entry Gabrial's King may go very well in the 13:45, on his first start for Richard Fahey.
He follows the same path as Angel Gabrial did when winning this race last year before going on to finish second in the big one at Chester, and he finished off last season with an improved second at Wolverhampton.
I couldn't put you off him but I am going to take a chance on another Chester Cup entry, Midnight Game.
He comes here after a good effort over hurdles at Ayr last week and returns to the Flat on a decent mark, some 6lb lower than when a fair seventh in the grandly-named Ulster Derby on his last start on the level in 2013.
I think odds of 13.012/1 underestimate his chances, given his current well-being over hurdles.
Haydock is the final destination of C4's triple-header and the old-age question confronts us in the 14:20, namely do we give an in-form, improving all-weather performer the chance to translate that form onto turf?
Answer in the case of Realize at odds of 13.012/1 is yes.
He has improved 17lb on the all-weather since last autumn. But that progress came on all the artificial surfaces, so I think the surface may not have been the trigger as such. It could well be that the tongue-tie that was fitted on his first start back on the all-weather at Wolverhampton in October, and has been kept on since, is the reason.
So, off a 5lb lower mark than on the all-weather, I think Realize is well worth supporting to carry on his winning run on turf.
Back Mercoeur at odds of 11.010/1 in the 14:00 at Sandown
Back Midnight Game at 13.012/1 in the 13:45 at Ripon
Back Realize at 13.012/1 in the 14:20 at Haydock
Back Just A Par at 18.017/1 in the 15:50 at Sandown
Back Jayo Time at 21.020/1 in the 16:25 at Sandown