Fresh from 66/1 and 50/1 winning tips on his return last Saturday, Tony Calvin casts his eye over Cheltenham's first meeting of the season on Friday...
"And Captain Morgs' subsequent length second off levels to Ajero at Kempton was hardly a disappointment, as the winner went on to be rated 140 after winning his next two."
Take it as read that there are going to be a lot of small fields again this jumps season; three of the opening four races on Friday's Racing TV card have attracted five runners or less, despite good prize money and some significant recent rain (they had another 7mm on Wednesday night, so I am surprised the official going is not worse than good, good to soft in places).
So let's just save ourselves a lot of unnecessary word-count and angst and accept what we can't change, for the foreseeable at least.
As everyone knows, the fewer the runners, the less betting appeal a race tends to have.
So, while the four-runner novices' hurdle (it was five but the second favourite is out, meaning we now have a hefty odds-on poke in Camprond), novices' chase and the handicap chase are of no interest to me - and the dead-eight novices' hurdle is teetering on the brink for each-way players, outside of the exchange market - the numbers-healthy handicaps most certainly are.
Unfinished business over hurdles for Henderson runner
My eye was immediately drawn to Art Approval in the 2m4f handicap hurdle at 16:15, as he would have gone close to winning a 2m handicap hurdle at this course last season had he jumped with any fluency, he got his act together in the first half of 2021, and he remains on a fair mark.
But it was no real surprise to see him put in as the 5/1 joint-favourite alongside Mullaghmore Wave when the first firm went up just after midday on Wednesday, so I am inclined to look elsewhere.
And Captain Morgs stood out off a mark of just 125.
The jury is still out as regards how forward Nicky Henderson's jumpers are but enough have been running well enough to give us hope - and of course Progressive landed a decent handicap at Chepstow at the start of the month - and hopefully the bon viveurs of The Albatross Club, who own Captain Morgs, have long had a winning day out at Cheltenham planned for their charge.
The wheels rather came off the selection's season after the turn of the year, as he got chinned at odds-on at Fakenham, then got bogged down in the mud when a 12/1 chance for the EBF Final at Sandown and the tale of 2021 woe was completed when he fell in a three-runner race at Kempton.
However, Henderson was reasonably upbeat about his horse in a recent trainer interview - "he could have unfinished business over hurdles" - and a mark of 125 looks pretty damn lenient on his early-season form last term.
His hurdling debut at Ascot last October saw him see off Annual Invictus by ¾ length off levels, with 9 lengths back to Striking A Pose in third, in a good time in soft ground. The runner-up won his next three starts and then finished fourth in the Betfair Hurdle off 135, while the third was rated 130 after winning his following two starts.
And Captain Morgs' subsequent length second off levels to Ajero at Kempton was hardly a disappointment, as the winner went on to be rated 140 after winning his next two.
Everything points to the selection being very attractively weighted off 125 if they have got him fit and firing for this, and I am not worried about the trip for him, even if all his best form has come over 2m to date. His pedigree suggests he should get 2m4f and more standing on his head, and his Fakenham run over that distance wasn't that bad anyway.
Back him at 8.07/1 or bigger. In fact, 6/1 and upwards is probably fair enough, even though the opening 17/2 on Wednesday is long gone.
Carabas has excellent claims for O'Brien
Talking of stand-outs, I imagine Marquis Of Carabas, having his first start for Fergal O'Brien and with Derek O'Connor booked, will be the first port of call for many in the Andy Stewart Memorial Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase - it was great to see his colours net a brace at Worcester on Wednesday - at 16:50.
Certainly, the opening 9s in the marketplace didn't last that long on Wednesday afternoon (went from 9s to 15/2 to 13/2 to 5/1).
Now, you have to put a lot on trust if backing him as he hasn't been seen since May 2019.
But he finished second that day off an 8lb higher mark than this - the handicapper has been very kind to him in his absence - he has joined a yard that excels with recruits from others (as they underlined once again with The Toojumpa being a punted winner on her stable debut at Worcester on Wednesday) and O'Connor, who rode the horse in his pointing days, on board would seem a real signal of intent.
The horse has run okay off higher marks at this course here in the past, his two best performances have come over 3m, and he just looks to have excellent form and time claims if O'Brien has wielded his wand, as he tends to do with this type.
I was tempted to have a small-stakes win-only bet on him, but I came to the conclusion he has now been too well found in the market, especially considering he does face 17 rivals and he could have stamina concerns over the 3m1f 126 yards (126 yards has been added to the race distance) if the ground rides more testing than is currently advertised.
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