Cheltenham stages its traditional new year's day fixture with the Channel 4 cameras in attendance and Tony Calvin is on hand with a bumper crop of big priced selections for a big day of racing
"A lack of pace in a small-ish field did for Bothy over 2m1f here last time but he stuck to his guns after being outpaced and stayed on to finish a respectable sixth. The handicapper has dropped him 5lb for that, and he is now a winner waiting to happen off a mark of 120."
Too many hospital visits, illnesses and problems this Christmas to make it a merry one. But we soldier on and, like the rest of the punting year, it remains a season to oppose the jolly and I think Hunt Ball can finally deliver in the 13:55 at Cheltenham.
Back him at 13.012/1 or better.
The Hunt Ball story is certainly an interesting one. From a mark of 69 to 157 in the 2011/12 season, which included a Cheltenham Festival success, you can also add in an aborted spell in the States for new connections as well as his former owner Anthony Knott recently falling foul of the BHA.
But better news could be in store for the horse now he has been dropped to a mark of 152 and back over a course and distance for which he has reserved some of his best efforts, including a fourth in the Ryanair here last March.
He is the clear pick of the weights on that effort, ran well enough at Aintree last time, and it wouldn't surprise me if Nicky Henderson had targeted him at this race for a while.
I can't get excited by the seven-runner races at 13:20 or 15:05, but am giving Bothy another chance on his first attempt over 3m in the 14:30.
A lack of pace in a small-ish field did for him over 2m1f here last time but he stuck to his guns after being outpaced and stayed on to finish a respectable sixth.
The handicapper has dropped him 5lb for that, and he is now a winner waiting to happen off a mark of 120.
It could well be that will come over 2m/2m4f in a bigger field handicap but I am banking on Jamie Moore - a good man to have on your side in these situations - going into fitness overdrive from 2 out to get him home.
The trip is the unknown but his best hurdling form to date came over 2m5f in the Coral Cup. At odds of around 17.016/1, I'll take a shot with him.
And I am going to take a chance with Why But Why over 2m4f in the 13:35 at Musselburgh.
Now, at first viewing this horse barely seems to stay 2m, let alone 2m4f, but I think there are a couple of reasons to think that he could be worth a small interest.
He looked best suited to the minimum trip when trained by Jessica Harrington in Ireland, and again hardly looked to last home on his second start for his new stable over 2m here last time.
But on his only attempt over 2m4f in Ireland he finished a good fifth to Tofino Bay, and I think a mark of 115 is generous on the pick of his form in that country.
His 7lb claimer will surely look to play his hand as late as possible. And what gives me hope that the horse can bide its time and see out the trip is that there looks to be a fair bit of pace on here, which will hopefully set it up for a closer.
He is worth a speculative punt at 13.012/1 or bigger.
Strongpoint is another who could be worth a small-stakes interest at around 15.014/1 in the 14:10.
He dotted up in this race last season and, although he is 10lb higher and wouldn't necessarily be the best handicapped horse in the race, he clearly goes well here and there was more encouragement in his fourth at Leopardstown last time.
The hood that he wore for the first time when winning this last season is back on, and he is worth anibble.
Back Hunt Ball at 13.012/1 in the 13:55 at Cheltenham
Back Bothy at 17.016/1 in the 14:30 at Cheltenham
Back Why But Why at 13.012/1 in the 13:35 at Musselburgh
Back Strongpoint at 15.014/1 in the 14:10 at Musselburgh