It's Day 1 of the Grand National Festival on Thursday and Tony Calvin has thoroughly investigated the Aintree card, adding two big each-way shouts to his antepost selections...
"He stuck on remarkably well to beaten only 13 lengths there at odds of 125/1 and that suggested this 2m4f trip is well worth trying."
I had my first good look at Aintree's opening card on Monday in my antepost piece, and thankfully the two horses that I put up were confirmed for their respective races on Tuesday morning.
So we may as well discuss them first.
The chat may be a touch familiar to some - cut and paste, with the odd tweak and update, is a wonderful thing - but the cases need re-stating for those new to the Liverpool party, which hopefully a jubilant Dan Skelton will be hosting this week.
The formbook informs you his John Locke was beaten 21 lengths into fourth behind Tritonic on his hurdling at debut in the Adonis at Kempton, and the betting tells you he has little chance on that run in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at 14:20.
However, the market is coming round to him a touch.
That Kempton assessment doesn't even tell half of the story though as he shaped far, far better than the beaten distance would suggest, travelling powerfully into the race, going every bit as well as the winner turning in (the 11/1 chance hit 2.4 in running) before emptying soon after.
The pre-race betting suggested he would badly need the outing, as he went off a very weak 13.5 at Betfair SP, and the decision to miss Cheltenham means he comes here a fresh horse (if you don't hear or read that phrase 50 times by Saturday evening I will be surprised).
He was a progressive sort on good and quick ground on the Flat (rated 85 after just the five starts), while disappointing on the one occasion he encountered soft, so the ground looks like being perfect for him, despite the watering.
And he charts an identical path to the stable's Bedrock in 2017.
That horse was beaten 23 lengths in the same Kempton race on his debut but came on a ton when a 25/1-length third to Defi Du Seuil in this contest in 2017, and he was rated 144 after hosing up on his next start (and he beat Samcro and Sharjah in a Grade 2 at Down Royal following year).
I thought 33s win-only was very fair on Monday, even though I readily admit nearly two stone worth of improvement is needed against the Triumph Hurdle runner-up Adagio and the impressive Monmiral here.
Mind you, the defection of Tritonic, Houx Gris and Heross Du Seuil from the five-day stage is a bit of a touch for us ante-post backers, and he is a shorter price now as a result (14s with the Sportsbook at the time of publishing, with the early 16s going on Tuesday), so I am happy with the position without recommending a fresh bet.
Stablemate Destrier takes an equal amount of belief in the Red Rum at 16:40, but nothing scares me too much in this 18-runner 2m handicap, aside two or three others (they are Sully D'Oc AA, Moon Over Germany and Brelan D'As, the latter on his first start for the excellent Ben Haslam), and I was happy to take the chance at 8s each way, four places, on Monday.
Destrier hasn't got within 16 ½ lengths of the winner in three starts this season, and was beaten nearly twice by that distance when last of the five finishers at Chepstow last time, so he isn't one for the obvious brigade.
But he hasn't been unduly persevered with on any occasion, on ground which has probably been too testing for him, and I think we will see a far more accomplished display here on this better ground.
I know he finished a three-length third in a soft-ground Haldon Gold Cup in 2019 but he looks a more potent force on a decent surface to me.
And, boy, has the handicapper given him every assistance possible.
A measure of how much slack the assessor has cut him of late is evidenced by the fact he is now 15lb lower than for that Exeter run just six starts ago, having been dropped 10lb for his three outings in 2021.
And go back just one more outing beyond Exeter and you will find he finished a 3-length third in a Grade 1 novices' chase here in April 2019, and a reproduction of that run - and speed figure - would just about see him win this.
Stable tours are often of questionable value but back in November Skelton said "he's had a niggle and won't be out until the new year. He'll definitely win a good race", so hopefully his season and fitness levels have been geared towards this prize.
Oh, and I also expect him to be ridden more prominently here, if not leading as there are several pace angles in this race. He has made all before and was ridden to the fore in the Haldon Gold Cup.
If you haven't played ante-post, he is now 7/1, but with five places, on the Betfair Sportsbook and that still looks the premier punt to me in the race, albeit one where I accept there is blow-out potential.
Sully D'Oc well worth a chance
However, I am going in again with a saver. Which one of the aforementioned three was the issue.
My Racing...Only Bettor Podcast colleagues made a fair case for Moon Over Germany in our recent missive, as he is only 12lb higher than when gagging up by 10 lengths in this race two years ago and has the sought-after Jordan Gainford claiming 7lb. He tuned up nicely for this in a Grade 2 last month, his first outing since September.
But my saver is Sully D'Oc AA at 25/1 each way, five places with the Sportsbook in the 16:40 Red Rum Chase.
I was disappointed with his eighth in the Plate at Cheltenham but, upon reviewing the race a couple of times on Tuesday morning, I thought he ran better than I expected.
He travelled well on the inner throughout but his jockey (who may or may not have had trouble with his irons/saddle given the strange mannerisms from the saddle from 2 out) could very little racing room in the straight.
Either way, I am happy to give the horse another betting spin off a 1lb lower mark here, especially as his earlier form this season has worked out so well.
His Ascot defeat of Editeur Du Gite has been franked time and again, and he may well have been beaten subsequent Kempton winner (and Bowl participant) Clondaw Castle had he not made a mistake at Newbury next time.
Given the manner in which he travels when on song, I am not unduly troubled by him stepping back in trip (not least in a race where there is plenty of pace), and the ground should be perfect for him.
To be honest with you, I may back Brelan D'As at 33/1+ and Moon Over Germany win-only on the exchange too and have four running for me, but I can't be tipping that many. Destrier and Sully D'Oc AA for me here then.
I know I am not the biggest fan of fan of small-field Grade 1 novices' chases but it is surely questionable that the Hunters' Chase is preferred for ITV coverage - I know about the spectacle with the amateurs over the National fences and all that - over some higher-class 'osses.
I am not too bothered either way in truth, as I won't be betting or tipping in either race, though I momentarily thought of backing Ucello Conti at 50/1+ on the exchange in the Foxhunters' at 16:05, before I quickly had a word with myself.
The 13yo obviously has a big chance on his form for Gordon Elliott from 2019 and before - and he has had plenty of experience, good and bad around these fences - but he hasn't been seen since a point run in December and this now-rated 125 performer could be beaten after a fence for all I know under a jockey and for a trainer whom I wouldn't even recognise if they came to my front door and said: "Hello, our names are Ben Bromley and Philip Rowley and we chase foxes at weekends."
Mind you, the same applies for most of the rest of the field.
I know all the participants in all of the other races though, with Tiger Roll as close to being a "public horse" as racing gets at the moment.
Not that many of the non-racing public would probably recognise the name at all, but we will let that slide.
I thought he and Clondaw Castle were just about my two against the field at the prices in the Bowl at 14:50, but I acknowledge they will do well to cope with the markets leaders Clan Des Obeaux and Waiting Patiently if they are on song - and Native River too, if further watering ensures there is sufficient ease in the ground for him - so I will pass on by.
Don't miss Not So Sleepy's price
The Aintree Hurdle at 15:25, is a real devil of a race - so many horses are rated in a very narrow band - but price is everything and I thought Not So Sleepy is overpriced.
So did someone else as he was trimmed into 22s by the Sportsbook early on Tuesday afternoon, but I am happy to stick him up win-only on the exchange at 26.025/1 and bigger to a small stake. In fact, 20/1+ would be fine.
I had this horse pegged as one that needed to dominate over 2m to be seen to optimum effect - and his defeat of Buzz at Ascot in December probably underlined that thinking - but his fifth in the Champion Hurdle last time got me wondering.
He stuck on remarkably well to beaten only 13 lengths there at odds of 125/1 and that suggested this 2m4f trip is well worth trying.
And a look at the way in which he stuck on over 2m2f in the Cesarewitch, a race in which he was in the van all the way, pulling hard, suggests it could be a very smart move, let alone worth a shot.
Look, he could run well and finish sixth, such is the tight-knit nature of the contest, but he looks too big a price to me.
I know all his best hurdles form has come on soft ground, but he had plenty of smart Flat form on good and good to soft, so I am not worried there.
The betting makes the concluding mares' bumper at 17:15, a match between Eileendover and Elle Est Belle and it is hard to argue with that take.
However, these races are always full of unexposed types and the manner in which Mind Sunday gagged up last time at Newbury, albeit in a modest heat, suggests you shouldn't be surprised if she, or a few others, bustled up the favourites.
Tony Calvin P/L - Jumps Season 20/21
2020 Flat Season (June 1-November): +20.8
Previous P/L (April 14 2017 to April 1 2020): +303.4
*All recommended Exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP, not at prices available at time of publishin