Little interest in Loch Ness
Friday's four ITV4 races wouldn't be my ideal punting quartet, but Loch Ness Monster is worth an interest at 21.020/1 or bigger in the Esher Cup at 13:50.
And that is in spite of 3yo handicaps at this time of year not normally being my cup of tea.
It will be interesting to see if there is any late money for the horse as he is owned by the legendary punting machine (in northern racing circles at least) who goes by the name of Matthew Taylor, but I imagine the ardent Widnes fan was quite taken by what he saw from his horse at Newcastle earlier in the month.
Loch Ness Monster ran the smart Blown By Wind to ¾ length on his debut at Pontefract last year, and went on to score over 6f at Nottingham in a fair time before being stepped up in grade.
He didn't cut the mustard on his final two starts of the campaign, failing to beat one of his 15 opponents home, but he was gelded in the close season and there was considerably more promise when stepped up to a mile at Newcastle on his return.
Seemingly an unfancied 28/1 chance on his first start since October, he shaped very well under a considerate enough ride in third there, beaten two necks, and the handicapper has played fair by leaving him on the same mark.
The first two home ran well when placed in the same Ripon handicap next time, and the fourth was sent off a 4-9 chance for that Newcastle handicap on the back of a Chelmsford win. So it was fairly strong handicap form.
The stiffer mile, and an outside draw in 10, are questions to answer for the selection but hopefully the 6f scorer has the tactical speed to get a good early position and he is a half-brother to a brace of 1m2f winners.
Trainer Mick Appleby may not have the flashier strike-rates of some, but he is a highly-capable trainer and he consistently hits the mark in decent handicaps, as Saaheq (co-owned by the aforementioned Taylor) underlined by doing the business for him in the Scottish Sprint Cup on Saturday.
I would not go overboard on the staking front, as these 3yo handicaps are notoriously tricky to call, and you have respect Reggae Runner above all.
He was just touched off by a neck on his return at Musselburgh on Saturday and is 3lb well-in here, and he should go close if those exertions haven't taken their toll.
In fact, I am reasonably surprised that he isn't favourite - his market rivals include Fox Leicester (the 4/1 favourite), Masaru and House Of Kings - so Betfair Sportsbook's opening, stand-out 8/1 on Wednesday afternoon was very tempting indeed.
He did seem to have a pretty hard race last weekend though, for all these Mark Johnston horses are all portrayed as tough guys, which is the obvious concern. But if that 8/1 is still there when you read this, I'd consider a saver on him (update: he is now 9/2, so that ship has predictably sailed!).
Clear as Crystal
I was also a little bit taken aback that Crystal Ocean was as big as 4/5 in places for the Gordon Richards Stakes at 14:25, given that he has a clear class edge on his field, having at least 9lb in hand of his rivals at the weights.
He will win this comfortably if rocking up in the same form of his King George second to Poet's Word, and I suppose the layers are hoping that connections have left a lot to work on with a full Group 1 campaign ahead. That's possible, and you wouldn't have thought he would be given a hard time of it, either.
But he won this race first-time-out last season, albeit narrowly from Fabricate and he meets a better class of opponent here, and the form book says he wins.
Two too tight to call
The other two races on ITV4 are far less straightforward to call, albeit the prices are more rewarding if you call them right.
The Classic Trial at 15:00 looks a fair old jigsaw to piece together, though I don't suppose too many will have any beef with Bangkok heading the betting.
He was another King Power horse in unstoppable form on his comeback, beating a next-time-out, 9-length winner at Doncaster, and he could easily improve past some rivals who have already cut their teeth in this grade.
He is also confronted by horses of a similar profile to him and, as he is priced up at around 2/1 on the exchange, you ain't getting any significant bargain, in my book at least, if you back him. And only seven runners mean no each-way play against him.
We have got the dead eight in the 15:35 - will they all stand their ground, he wonders... - but it doesn't even come close to drawing me in.
It's a really tight-knit affair between rivals that fall between the Group 1 and 2 bracket, in-form horses such as Oh This Is Us and Sharja Bridge, and probable improvers like Regal Reality.
I thought it was very difficult, and the top six in the betting scrunched up between 3/1 and 10/1 - with little between the first three in the market, though Sharja Bridge is currently winning that battle and pretty easily, too - tells the story.
No, it just Loch Ness Monster for me at 16/1+. Good luck.