The one and only Tony Calvin tucks into a big plate of Christmas racing, going through the Kempton card while also enjoying dessert at Wetherby...
"Whisper is progressing, clearly stays very well, is one from one at the track - and that defeat of Clan Des Obeaux over 2m4f here last month wasn't too shoddy - and is ground-versatile, so the weather can do what it wants in the next 48 hours or so as far as he is concerned."
A few days ago the weather forecasters were predicting up to 25mm of rain for Kempton in the lead-up to the start of racing on Boxing Day, but now it appears that we can expect very little, if any.
Henderson's second string the King George bet
It could well change again but at the moment that news will not be music to the ears of Bristol De Mai's connections and backers as gruelling conditions may well have seen him go off favourite in the King George at 15:05 and be very hard to beat.
I suppose the question now is how potent will he be on merely softish ground on a right-handed track, as opposed to the monster that he is going the other way round on heavy.
The honest answer is, I don't know.
Whatever way you cut it, Bristol De Mai was awesome when winning the Betfair Chase in bottomless conditions, and the handicapper rates him 11lb superior to Might Bite on that victory. And he also has a Grade 1 win to his name at Sandown, and a good-ground second in a JLT, so it is maybe unfair to label him as a one-trick mudlark.
However, there has to be a doubt his suitability for this much different test, though to be fair you can pick holes in all his market rivals, too.
Might Bite could well be a sight to behold on good to soft ground around here, but his price of around 13/8 more than factors that in, and I can't have last year's winner Thistlecrack or Fox Norton at their current odds, either.
I have loved Thistlecrack ever since I tipped and backed him at 33/1 to win his Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree - yes, okay, money instigated and cemented the relationship, but don't make me feel cheap - but you had to be underwhelmed by his hurdling comeback at Newbury. It looked more than lack of fitness to me, but if I am wrong, so be it.
Stablemate Fox Norton has more solid claims, but I was a bit disappointed by his finishing effort in the Tingle Creek, and we simply don't know how well he will stay on his first attempt beyond 2m4f.
It takes a massive leap of faith to fancy Double Shuffle, despite his liking for the track, and the visored-first-time Traffic Fluide, so that leaves me with two possible each-way options with Whisper and 25-1 chance Tea For Two.
I was all over the latter win and place in this race last season and I don't think he was seen to best effect when fourth that day, as he was ridden far too prominently and aggressively, and emptied close home.
That was just his first defeat in four starts at this track though, and a more patient ride in a race that is clearly not short on pace could see him sneak into the frame, but I don't think he has the class to win. And Whisper does.
So back Nicky Henderson's "second string" at 8/1 each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook, or at similar win and place prices on the exchange.
The trainer may not be happy that his horse is now on a mark of 169 after his Ladbrokes Trophy second - Grand National thoughts were promptly shelved - but I don't think the handicapper was too far off in his assessment.
He clearly has improved since last season, however you rate the Newbury run, and you have to remember that he was beaten only 2 lengths by Might Bite at Aintree, which is probably more representative than Cheltenham as to how close he was to his stablemate, ability-wise, earlier in the year.
So he is progressing, clearly stays very well, is one from one at the track - and that defeat of Clan Des Obeaux over 2m4f here last month wasn't too shoddy - and is ground-versatile, so the weather can do what it wants in the next 48 hours or so as far as he is concerned.
Two more to back on the Kempton card...
I will take you through the rest of the Kempton card in chronological order, as that is probably easiest.
I don't have a betting opinion at the prices in the 2m novices' hurdle at 12:45 but 9-2 poke Simply The Betts is probably my idea of the winner, if you are interested.
He beat the smart novice hurdler Theclockisticking in his bumper at Market Rasen in September and then shaped with a lot of promise when third at Newbury last time. That form was probably on a par with anything else in this field has achieved, and he gets weight from the winners.
It would not be remotely surprising were Reigning Supreme to dot up on his fencing debut off a mark of in the 13:20 as he has always been viewed as a chaser in waiting and an opening mark of 134 looks very fair on his good hurdles form.
His trainer has won this race four times in the last 10 years too, and I was a touch surprised that he was priced up 5/1 across the board - Betfair Sportsbook originally went 6/1 - when betting opened up on Saturday afternoon.
I was originally going to tip Private Malone at 10/1+ after his good second at Fontwell last time but Reigning Supreme's price has enticed me and he is a small-stakes bet at [6.0] or bigger.
He rounded off last season with his second hurdles win at Newbury, and the runner-up there, Strong Pursuit, won on his chasing debut at that track last month.
Obviously, he has never jumped a fence in public, and I have no idea how he has schooled, but one of Henderson's recent winners of this race, Polyfast, took the prize on his chasing debut and I reckon he will have been primed for this. The stable continue to be in great nick.
I don't have an opinion in a close-knit Kauto Star Novices' Chase at 13:55 and clearly Buveur D'Air will win the Christmas Hurdle on the bridle at odds of around 1/6 (14:30).
Last year's race could be key to finding the winner of the concluding 2m5f handicap hurdle at 15:40 although I hope it isn't Doesyourdogbite recording back-to-back successes.
The horse I like is Rothman, who was seventh last year, beaten just 8 lengths, after turning in an very unhealthy last of the 15 runners into the straight.
He is 4lb lower here despite putting up two good efforts at Plumpton of late, when the key to those improved recent efforts - he was only been beaten a length and a short-head when runner-up in those races - may have been the application of cheekpieces.
He has gone up 4lb for that brace of seconds but he still gets in here off the basement weight of 10 stone, and Bryony Frost (who won't put up overweight) takes off another 5lb.
The horse also ran well here when second to Foxtail Hill over fences at the Lanzarote meeting at the turn of the year, and I think he will run a big race at a price.
Back him at 25/1 each-way, four places at a fifth the odds, with Betfair Sportsbook, or [26.0] or bigger on the exchange.
And a bonus bet for Wetherby
The Rowland Meyrick at 14:10 is also on ITV and I am willing to take another chance on Shantou Flyer at [15.0] or bigger.
He has been up against in his two starts since joining his current trainer from Rebecca Curtis, finishing tailed off in the Charlie Hall here and then pulled up in the Betfair Chase last time.
This is clearly a much more realistic opportunity for him, and the other plus is that the handicapper has generously dropped him 4lb for running in those two races he had little realistic chance of winning.
So he is now only 3lb higher than when beating Village Vic by 3 lengths in a valuable 2m5f Cheltenham handicap on soft ground last season, and I have long thought he has shaped though as though a return to this 3m trip would suit him. We will find out here.
Back Reigning Supreme at [6.0] or bigger in 13:20 at Kempton
Back Shantou Flyer at [15.0] or bigger in 14:10 at Wetherby
Back Whisper at 8/1 each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook (or at similar win and place prices on the exchange) in 15:05 at Kempton
Back Rothman at 25/1 each way, Betfair Sportsbook, or [26.0] or bigger on exchange in 15:40 at Kempton