Tony Calvin recommends three bets to add to his ante-post pick on Friday's card at Cheltenham including two in the opening race...
"The first firm up on Wednesday made him a 12/1 chance and I thought that very fair, even in a competitive handicap such as this. Back him at 11.010/1 or bigger on the Exchange, while he is also available at 10/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook. You may want to go down the latter route."
TC on Captain Blackpearl
Just the four-race card for punters at Cheltenham on Friday - we all know Cross Country contests never count for punting purposes, and small-field novices' chases rarely do - so I better take in the entire meeting, and not just the ITV offerings.
To be serious for a moment, I am sure many love the rough and tumble over banks and hedges - and, thinking back, I did actually stick up Vivas at a price at Cheltenham last season - and they can provide a good spectacle for racegoers (especially when they take the wrong course), but you pick your battles when betting and I am happy to hide behind the cheese wedges and say "non" when I get the opportunity to tip on them.
Mind you, the 14:55 is a decent race of its kind, with the Irish providing five of the 13 runners, including this year's Grand National runner-up Balko Des Flos.
If it floats your betting boat, then crack on.
We will deal with the other ITV races first, not least because these are the ones that were priced up nice and early.
Cheltenham ground is unseasonably quick
The 1m7f199yd handicap chase at 13:45 kicks off terrestrial proceedings and it was good to see the numbers reduced from 12 at the entry stage to a reasonably healthy nine at declaration time. I feared a much smaller line-up, so cue two late non-runners now I have said that.
I know the ground is unseasonably quick for this time of the year but Cheltenham have watered to ensure the three-day meetings starts on good to soft, so they can't have done too much more to entice runners.
On a wider point towards the weekend, the current forecast is for very little rain now, so I expect that could affect field sizes if the retiring Simon Claisse doesn't get his watering can out one last time.
Anyway, back to the handicap in question and it is a very tricky one to call - we have the last two winners of this race, Magic Saint and Bun Doran in the line-up - even though we should at least see a truly-run race with forward-goers Editeur Gite and Stolen Silver in the field.
The handicapper has certainly given the 10yo Bun Doran a chance on his return after a wind-op and the other race winner, Magic Saint, has been fairly dealt with too, as he is back on the same mark as when winning this last year, but I couldn't get my head around the race.
Whatever horse I looked at, I could make a case for - especially the bigger-priced ones that you have to make some allowance for - so I cut and run without a bet.
Worth a watch but not a bet
The same is obviously true of the two-runner novices' chase at 14:20 a race which is clearly one for the purists and not the punters given the numbers on show.
As I discussed on Twitter on Wednesday morning, these contests, sponsorship considerations allowing, should be put on the start of the card away from the ITV eyes, and just covered in recording form, with plenty of post-race analysis and interviews from connections thrown in, especially as Ed Chamberlin and co have plenty of time between races here
And that was when there were three in the race!
For what it is worth, it is clearly worth a watch, as we have two, good 'uns going at it here. Hopefully, Gin On Lime catches the ferry, or else My Drogo will be walking over, and the "race" will definitely have to open the meeting.
A seven-runner 2m5f Grade 2 novices' hurdle - and the outsider Kihavah ran at Market Rasen on Thursday, so probably make that six - at 15:30 was never likely to race to the rescue with a punting opportunity, especially after I went through the videos and saw the favourite Gelino Bello win in a good time at Aintree last month.
He momentarily hit a flat spot two out there but the manner in which he picked up thereafter and extended to the line, suggesting this extra 1f on a stiffer track will suit, didn't leave me in a rush to oppose him here.
That said, odds of around 11/8 are no more than his true price here - a bit skinny, in truth - especially as he meets five fellow last-time-out winners here and they all have much to recommend as lightly-raced, talented youngsters.
Captain Blackpearl can thrive under Newland
So it is to the 20-runner handicap hurdles on RTV that bookend the card, starting with the 2m5f conditional jockeys' jobbie at 13:10.
I narrowed this down to Art Approval, Enemenemynemo (I'll be cutting and pasting his name from hereon in now that I have finally spelled it correctly) and Captain Blackpearl, and I am going to put the latter pair up here, win-only, on the Exchange.
I am convinced Art Approval has a handicap in him off 120, and he was a fair fourth in a strong handicap here last month. He simply looks a very solid each way proposition, but he was well found, from an opening 10s, in the market on Thursday morning and the other two could prove to be even better handicapped, anyway.
I will start with Captain Blackpearl, as I don't think many would view his switch to Dr Richard Newland from Tom George as a negative.
Granted, this race has its fair share of sexy merchants in the shape of Skatman (his Newton Abbot form has worked out well but his price of around 3s on the exchange is surely laughably short), An Tailliur and Neon Moon - there is no surprise that that trio head the market - but I think Newland has inherited a hurdles winner-in-waiting off a mark of 119 (chase mark 124).
Now, he is only fairly weighted on his exploits over hurdles and is apparently a chaser in appearance, but if Newland can get him back in the same nick as he was in when winning by 13 lengths over fences at Kempton on good ground this time last year - he lost his way afterwards - then he is, and we are, in business.
That run came first time out after a wind op - and his breathing has been tweaked again before this, which I suppose is a worry of sorts - but he is a very lightly-raced 7yo in the hands of a trainer with a good record with recruits from other yards, and he is number one on my team sheet here.
The first firm up on Wednesday made him a 12/1 chance and I thought that very fair, even in a competitive handicap such as this. Back him at 11.010/1 or bigger on the Exchange, while he is also available at 10/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook. You may want to go down the latter route.
More to come from Enemenemynemo
Number two is Enemenemynemo, who was put in 18s early doors, which I also felt was too big.
I know nothing of his 8lb claimer Archie Bellamy other than he has had just the two winners, but jockey bookings tend not to play too big a role in my tipping process and I hope he is sitting on a steering job here, anyway.
Okay, that is tongue in cheek, but this three-time point runner had just the two hurdles starts last season and he could be one well handicapped horse off 120 on the most recent of them, because his three-quarter length second to Jetaway Joey over 2m4f in good ground at Perth in April has worked out very well.
The winner won well at Uttoxeter on his return, the third eased home by six lengths on his only subsequent start, the fourth. Alright Sunshine, scored on the Flat (off 97) afterwards and the fifth hosed up by 16 lengths two outings later.
That all points to this twice-raced hurdler on a fair starting handicap perch at the very least, with the prospect of a lot more to come given that sparse profile. Back him at 17.016/1 or bigger, and he is available at 16/1 with the Sportsbook, too.
Sashenka could land Scudamore another win
Michael Scudamore has banged in a few winners of late and his Sashenka is 4lb well in at the weights, after her narrow second to a horse completing a six-timer at Hereford at the start of the month, in the 2m handicap hurdle at 16:00.
An improved horse on the Flat at the summer too - rated 85, which stacks up very well against the hurdles mark of 116 she can race off here - I was massively inclined to take her on, for all she faces 19 opponents, plenty of whom have a very dangerous profile (this could be a hot handicap, admittedly) so to say I was gobsmacked that the first firm to price up made her a 16s poke was the understatement of the NH season so far.
I thought she would be 8/1 tops, and the favourite.
Well, I was wrong as, while the 16s went, she is a general 14/1 and available at that price, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook, so I have to tip her each way.
As well as the stable form (going into Thursday, three of the last five runners have won) and that Hereford run - that was her first outing since May and the six-and-a-half-length length third ran well in defeat in at Kempton on Monday, beaten just one-and-a-half lengths off the same mark - I think there must be every chance that this stiffer track will suit her too, as that Flat progression came over an extended 2m at York in May.
And this is just her sixth start over hurdles, as well. Some may point to her recent string of seconds but I am not having any motivational problems on her part, especially given what I have seen of this four-time Flat winner at York and Hereford on her last two starts.
Back her at 14/1 each-way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
PROFIT AND LOSS (FROM APRIL 14)
Staked: 161pts Returns: 333.96pts P/L: +172.96
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ANTE-POST BET (from Monday)