The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase - formerly the Hennessy Gold Cup - takes centre stage at Newbury on Saturday but before that we have an excellent Friday card, with a number of big names in action. Tony Calvin talks us through the card and picks out three to back at big prices...
"His record suggests he certainly doesn’t take a lot of getting ready. He won on his racecourse debut in a bumper, on his hurdling bow the following season, and he won by 10 lengths at Cheltenham first time out last year. He also has his conditions as regards trip and ground, and this is just his sixth start over fences, so hopefully there is improvement to come."
A watching brief for the big name races
The big match-ups at Newbury on Friday don't readily lend themselves to betting mediums but we will touch upon them before we get down to the punting nitty-gritty.
First up is the clash between Yanworth and Willoughby Court, with Alan King not happy with the comments the former received after falling at Exeter last time.
I am not sure exactly what he was expecting after his charge's demise at 2/9 there but, of course, every novice is allowed the odd lapse and there is little doubt that he has the raw ability - he was rated a lofty 163 over hurdles - to make his mark in this sphere.
The same comment applies to Neptune winner Willoughby Court, though he will have to jump straighter and truer than he did when winning on his chasing debut at Huntingdon. The return to a left-handed track should help him here and the actual form of his win there has worked out remarkably well.
It could well be that a few punters will want to take a chance about getting both beat in the novice chase at 13:50 - Adrien Du Pont and Western Miller are no mugs - but it doesn't really appeal to me.
The Long Distance Hurdle at 15:00 is a belter as the returning King George winner Thistlecrack (pictured above) takes on Unowhatimeanharry. The pair won this race in 2015 and last year respectively.
Thistlecrack would pick up his main rival and carry him in receipt of 6lb if at his brilliant hurdling best of 2016 and the vibes from the Colin Tizzard camp are positive.
But do you really want to back him at around evens returning from injury against such a consistent, high-class and race-fit horse as Uknowhatimeanharry, without even factoring in the improving pair of Colin's Sister and Wholestone, and a Coral Cup runner-up in Taquin Du Seuil?
It's not my way of punting, but good luck if it is yours.
A licence to win
I will take the rest of the card in chronological order and I am looking forward to seeing Black Op on his hurdling debut in the opener, as he looked a very exciting prospect when winning a decidedly warm Doncaster bumper before disappointing slightly at Aintree, where it was thought the track didn't suit him.
But it is a not a betting contest for me, nor are the two following races on RUK, so on to the 2m4f handicap chase at 14:25 we go.
I am going to take a chance on top weight O O Seven being straight and classy enough on his return, at [8.0] or more, to deal with some race-fit and in-form rivals.
His record suggests he certainly doesn't take a lot of getting ready. He won on his racecourse debut in a bumper, on his hurdling bow the following season, and he won by 10 lengths at Cheltenham first time out last year.
He also has his conditions as regards trip and ground, and this is just his sixth start over fences, so hopefully there is improvement to come. There probably needs to be, mind you, off a mark of 152.
An arresting case to be made in the handicap hurdle
The interesting horse in the 3m handicap hurdle at 15:35 is undoubtedly I Shot The Sheriff.
Fergal O'Brien, still banging in the winners at an impressive 23% strike-rate this season, got a few horses from owner Malcolm Denmark in the summer and Mercy Mercy Me obliged for the combination in a Sandown bumper in November.
And he looks to have inherited a very interesting handicapper in the shape of I Shot The Sheriff, who was rated 146 in Ireland after easily winning a decent, big field, handicap over 2m6f in the soft at Fairyhouse in April 2015.
He has obviously had plenty of problems since then, racing only three times and being pulled up in the Martin Pipe in March, but he does have a good record of going well when fresh and at least he has been dropped to a mark of 137. That makes him interesting, as does the fact that the stable report that he has done well since joining them.
He isn't one to go overboard about - he was 20/1 on Wednesday evening - but he is a worth a small interest at [11.0] or bigger.
Have a saver on Oscarteaa
It does look a pretty winnable race for a near-£22k first prize, though there are some solid rivals pitted against him.
Top of that list is Whataknight and the progressive Boyhood (his stamina is unproven but his pedigree suggests it should suit), but the two that worry me most of the opposition are Alan King's Beneagles and Peter Bowen's Oscarteea.
Beneagles has been admirably consistent so far and he rates a big danger on his course-and-distance third to Dell' Arca on his reappearance alone, but the application of a first-time visor is particularly noteworthy given the yard applying it, a comment that also applies to Oscarteea.
In the last 10 years, King is 10 from 47, and Bowen 11 from 54, when initially putting that headgear on, and those stats are well above the average strike rate.
Beneagles is a fair price at around the 5/1 mark but Oscarteea looks the most overpriced of the pair at [26.0] or bigger.
He hasn't shone in two efforts over fences of late, but in between he finished a good second to No Hassle Hoff over hurdles, in these conditions, at Uttoxeter in October, for which the handicapper raised him 4lb.
That hike was fair enough - the winner finished fourth in the old Fixed Brush at Haydock on Saturday and the selection pulled eight lengths clear of the third at Uttoxeter - and I like the angle of him returning to hurdles with the visor replacing blinkers (which he has won in). The booking of 5lb claimer James Bowen is another obvious plus, too.
Back O O Seven at [8.0] or bigger in the 14:25 at Newbury
Back I Shot The Sheriff at [11.0] or bigger and Oscarteea at [26.0] or bigger in the 15:35 at Newbury