When ARC had their Lingfield Millions brainwave, they must have known that it was slight odds-against that the three-day meeting (Flat on Saturday, granted) would even take place if they staged it in January, and no-offers it would be heavy ground.
And, boy, have they got lucky with the weather.
Two weeks ago, apparently the course executive were gearing themselves up for an abandonment given torrential rain had just turned the track untraceable, but the gods have smiled upon them and they have had no appreciable rain since.
It just goes to show how deep the ground must have been a fortnight ago given we are still looking at heavy and a going stick reading of 4.3, but fortune favours the brave and the foolhardy.
Let's hope so anyway, as just as I was about to publish, news came through that there is a 9am inspection on Friday morning as temperatures are set to get down to -4.
They could have been expected to get more runners given the prize money on offer, but then again we have seen time and again this season that cash is no answer when you simply don't have the horses to fill the current race programme in certain areas - please note, racecourse groups. tracks and sponsors - let alone add-ons like this meeting.
Initially, it was a touch bizarre that the most interesting and valuable race, the 100k 2m handicap hurdle at 15:35, wasn't even on ITV, but I see that has been rectified. I was going to take in all races on the card anyway, and, as we also have Market Rasen on the box too, I better get cracking.
Belle was a bet but not at this price
The opening mares' novice hurdle at 12:50 looks far too trappy to me, with little separating four in-form horses on form and another. Mayhem Mya, coming here after sluicing up in a modest event at Chepstow on Monday.
The mares' novice handicap chase at 13:20 is next up and I admit to having a small tickle on Belle de Meneche at 10s on Monday because it was simply the wrong price and was never going to last.
I got that part right as she is now just around 4/1 on the exchange, but I need to start converting a few of these good positions into winning returns after a very quiet last fortnight or so.
My personal situation is of no consideration or help to you (so I will stop that right away before the aftertime police knock on the door), and I have to concede that the price has gone on her, even if her solid claims stand.
I expected her to be ridden more aggressively when stepped down to 2m at Wincanton last time but she never got competitive at any stage, and only appeared in the picture when coming home strongly after the last.
The step back up in trip on ground she handles well is clearly going to suit her, and her current mark still looks favourable to me, but her price has gone, and she does also need to jump better than she did last time in what is a competitive handicap featuring in-form horses.
You can make a cogent case for all eight runners, especially Fontaine Collonges, backed to 6s from 10/1 and you can see why.
Banbou better than he looks but price is wrong
The first firm up on Wednesday morning made Éclair D'Ainay a 6/4 chance for the seven-runner 2m handicap chase at 13:50 and that ridiculously short price was ever going to go one way, for all he was very impressive at Wetherby last time and a 7lb rise will not stop him going close here.
This will take a bit more winning than 6/4 suggests - or indeed 2/1 and bigger, as he now is - as, once again, you can make an argument for all of the field, with the possible exception of outsider Beaufort West.
I have still not given up on Frero Banbou, available at 9/1 on Monday but now around a third of that price (though admittedly the field has cut up appreciably from 13 at the five-day stage, including the withdrawal of the hugely impressive and progressive Brave Seasca).
It is hard to articulate, which is never a good sign when you are trying to make a case for a horse soundly beaten off this kind of mark in three starts this season, but my gut feel he is a much better horse than he has shown so far and 2m on deep ground may just allow him to show it. But I can't honestly say he is an attractive betting proposition at his current, much-reduced odds at around 3s.
If Ben hits 8/1 he is a bet
The five-runner 50k hurdle at 14:25 is a bit of a mess of a race, with the top-rated horse, On The Blind Side, heading the market on the back of a modest run at Ascot and a pulled-up effort at Cheltenham last time.
Incidentally, none of the races on this card have attracted fields anywhere approaching the maximum allowed numbers.
Eighteen could have run in this and that an out-of-form On The Blind Side is favourite tells you everything you need to know about the depth of this valuable contest, with the third and fourth favourites arriving here on the back of a chase campaign (and the second-in was beaten 30 lengths last time).
One of those reverting chasers, Top Ville Ben (one rated a lofty 164), probably interests me most at the price after a decent effort in the Rowland Meyrick last time - he hit evens there before dropping away after the last - and 3m in testing conditions is his bag.
However, the stable is hardly firing (though it has had three horses beaten in photos of late) and he has failed to complete in four of his last five hurdle starts and was tailed off in the other. If he drifts to around 9/1+ on the exchange (he said hopefully) I will play to small stakes, though.
Fantastikas may tempt
The early 5/4 ante-post favourite Threeunderthrufive is a predictable no-show in the 2m7f110yd novices' chase at 15:00 - connections told me so on Monday, and I relayed that information on Weighed In - and that perhaps leaves the door open to Fantastikas or fencing debutante Queenofhearts (though this was plan number two for her, as she wasn't eligible for the mares' handicap earlier on the card) winning this.
The 9s available on Monday about the former is obviously a distant memory, but he would be my idea of the most likely winner in here after a series of good efforts, including a course and distance success and a third in the Dipper last time.
He has the best form and time figures and is proven on the track, and the only thing that stops me from tipping him at 7/2+ is that I am not certain he will relish the combination of the trip in heavy ground and he doesn't have much play with ratings-wise here.
Now, to the bets on the card...
Thibault my first play
You always have to respect anything that Emmet Mullins sends over and Metier also looked very solid at around the 5/1 mark in the 100k handicap at 15:35 - Harry Fry's horse Tolworth Hurdle winner is back on heavy ground off a falling mark - but the two that interested me at bigger prices were Mack The Man and Thibault.
I just wonder whether the lack of a recent run (even for a horse that has gone well when fresh in past) in very bad ground found the former out at Sandown last time as he moved up menacingly on the outside, only for his run to quickly peter out - he traded at 1.558/15 in-running - and he certainly comes bang into the equation here off a 2lb lower mark.
He is a dual heavy ground winner on a good mark, and when I first drafted this on Wednesday afternoon you would have read "back him at 14/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook".
But the 14s became 9s, he is into 13.012/1 on the exchange - he has been cut across the board - so I had to withdraw. I may be too price sensitive, but I'd rather be that and simply file the same copy and tweak
My main fancy in the race was always Thibault though, and he is a bet at 17.016/1 and above, win-only on the exchange.
He is 14/1, four places, with the Sportsbook if you want to play him each-way. And that is a good bet, too. I think he could be the kind of horse ignored in the exchange betting near the off, though, so I'll take my chances on the machine (and I settle all bets at Betfair SP anyway for P&L purposes).
You can totally ignore his last of seven on the Flat at Newcastle last time as he was given no chance when sitting stone last off a funereal pace and this horse had previously put in two very good efforts over hurdles.
He obviously had no chance when a 10-length second to Tommy's Oscar (now rated 18lb higher) at Haydock and then I thought he shaped better than a 13-length third suggests at Sandown, a race in which he didn't find as much as looked likely 2 out once he encountered that brutal hill.
But that form still looks very solid - the runner-up was just worried out of it on his return to that track last time when second in Mick The Man's aforementioned race - and he is now down to a mark of 122, 3lb lower than at Haydock.
An all-weather bumper winner around here, I can see a patient ride in a race where there are several pace angles, suiting him and I am happy enough to see Richard Patrick back in the plate.
He was on board at Haydock and when the horse finished an 80/1 second at Ascot in a valuable 15-runner race on soft ground off a 2lb lower higher mark than this last year. He hit 1.111/9 in-running at Ascot and I reckon this horse needs delivering as late as possible.
The only time the horse has encountered heavy ground he won at Hereford back in December 2020.
Tile Tapper looks interesting off 118 in the 2m4f handicap chase at 16:08 - he was rated as high over 130 over hurdles - as I thought he shaped pretty well on his chasing debut at Exeter. He could be on the betting agenda at any double figures.
However, I will stick to just the two handicap hurdle bets.
Pinch is a play at Market Rasen
Only the first two ITV races at Market Rasen interest me, so I will focus on those.
I have been doing my absolutes on old-timers in handicaps recently but in the final analysis it was only the fact that the 2m7f116yd handicap hurdle at 13:30 is choc full of pace stopped me from siding with 13yo Optimistic Bias at 12/1+ on the exchange.
He doesn't need to lead but it clearly helps (he made all at Uttoxeter in 2020) and first-time blinkers saw him return to form when second to the subsequent winner and Irish plot job Vee Dancer at Catterick last time.
I very nearly pulled the trigger at double figures but there are at least a couple of horses half his age in here with more few miles on the clock and more handicap upside than him, so I will swerve. Course winner Some Detail was also another I looked at a price in here, by the way.
I am not ignoring Feel The Pinch in the 2m handicap hurdle at 14:05 though, and he is an each way at 14/1 with the Sportsbook.
I have followed this horse's two runs closely since he returned from a long absence.
I thought he shaped very well under a quiet ride at Cheltenham in December (when he went off 100/1 on his first start for 652 days) and then quite frankly I didn't know what to make of his run at Wetherby last time, a race in which I thought he was set to go close in for much of the straight, only to miss the last two hurdles and prove virtually unsteerable on the run-in.
And all this was after he had pulled the jockey's arms out early doors, too.
It was a curious run all told, but he was dropped 2lb for it, he lowers in grade to a 0-110, and he does so on better ground (Timeform made it heavy at Wetherby; and his sole win has come on good to soft, the prevailing going here) and in a race where there are four forward-goers to help make him settle better.
He clearly isn't a straightforward conveyance, so I am half surprised he isn't wearing any headgear, but this is a nice televised pot where the trainer has had his most winners (43 at a strike rate of 21 per cent) and hopefully this has been a long-term plan, with Connor Brace now taking over from Max Kendrick.
The early 20/1 in the marketplace was taken, but anything north of 12/1 still appeals, even if he does meet a couple of well-in horses in Angels Landing and Ravenscar here, and Ladykiller screams danger off 109 on his Group-winning Flat form. That is why I want to play each-way, four places.
ANTE-POST SATURDAY BET
N'golo at 33/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook in 1.45pm at Ascot on Saturday