The three-day Cheltenham Open Meeting kicks off on Friday and our big priced tipster Tony Calvin is back and looking across a packed card of action...
"He didn’t look short of pace when hammering Cocktails At Dawn over 2m3f at Ascot on good ground first time up last November – the winner has clearly improved since but that form reads very well all the same – and of course the yard is in top form. Indeed, all of their 10 winners this season have come in the last 13 days."
There are plenty of respected racing professionals and pundits out there who pay little, or no, attention to stable form and I find this mystifying.
They will argue that a sample of the last fortnight or so is relatively meaningless from a statistical point of view, but there are many potential reasons why punters should set a lot of store by a stable that are firing in the winners, left right and centre.
With Venetia Williams, for example, it could be the ground at this time of year - she does tend to have a lot of mud-lovers - or it could be that trainers have brought their horses on slowly with the big early-season prizes and meetings in mind, and who would be surprised if the Pipe string suddenly grew a leg at the Open meeting?
Or simply it could be that horses have been slow to come to hand.
Maybe they came in from summer grass deliberately late, or were held up by bad ground or problems with the gallops. Or they experienced a bad batch of feed, resulting in ulcers in the yard, or a low-grade virus from one or two inmates has left its mark on a fair few others in the opening months of the campaign.
Anyone with children at school know the latter phenomenon all too well.
So, whatever the reason, we know that yards like Williams, Kim Bailey and Lucinda Russell are absolutely flying at the moment, and I think that you have to take notice.
The trade-off, of course, is that everyone else knows and the market is highly likely to factor that into the price. So you shouldn't jump in regardless of the odds, and the in-form stable factor has to be the final, though not inconsiderable, part of the punting jigsaw. Not the starting point.
The Pipe "about-to-hit-top-gear scenario" - he has been chugging along steadily if unspectacularly on the whole this season, albeit with a very healthy strike rate in chases - is fully mirrored in the price of Le Vaticane in the opener at Cheltenham at 13:05.
She bumped into a very well-handicapped horse on her only start for the yard in a Kempton handicap hurdle back in March and is clearly of great interest on her first attempt over fences for the yard off a mark of 134 - she was two from two over fences in France - but I can't be taking odds of around 7-2 about her here, for all that she is the likeliest winner.
Regular readers will know that I put up The Clock Leary for the Paddy Power Gold Cup in my ante-post column on Tuesday, only for the horse to be balloted out on Thursday morning. You'll get your money back for that remember, so make sure that you do.
For all the stable's well-being and the horse's reappearance win at Ascot last season, I was initially struggling to see him having the pace to win this sub-2m contest. And I strongly suspect that the yard wanted to see him running off bottom weight in Saturday's big one over 2m4f+, even if 3lb from out of the handicap.
However, you then look at the likely pace in this race and see five and more potential front-runners and he could actually get an ideal tow into the contest, with his stamina coming into play late on.
He didn't look short of pace when hammering Cocktails At Dawn over 2m3f at Ascot on good ground first time up last November - the winner has clearly improved since but that form reads very well all the same - and of course the yard is in top form. Indeed, all of their 10 winners this season have come in the last 13 days.
Call me blinkered or stubborn, but I have to give The Clock Leary a chance at 13.012/1 or bigger, with 8-1+ poke Pearls Legend my next best at the price and Lough Kent feared on his return to the minimum trip.
More Of That looked destined for a prolonged spell at the head of the staying hurdle division when beating Annie Power at last year's Festival but he wasn't seen after disappointing at Newbury last November.
He certainly has the raw talent and physique to take high rank over fences, and is reportedly straight enough for his return in the 13:40.
But, as you'd expect at this meeting, this is a hot contest for his return and the likes As De Mee and Dell' Arca already set a fair chasing standard, and Might Bite is well-regarded. It's a watch and learn race.
The same is pretty much true of the four-runner novice hurdle at 14:15, in which a win for any of the quartet wouldn't surprise given their unexposed profiles.
Penglai Pavilion is the one to beat on his impressive course win here last time but his three rivals do have the potential to improve past the 2013 Arc fifth, so no bet for me at the prices. And you have to say that it is a very poor turn-out for a 30k race.
With such attractive punting cards coming up at Cheltenham on Saturday and Sunday, I am in no rush to unload on the Cross Country Chase at 14:50, either, if truth be told.
The likes of Grand National runner-up Saint Are and Champion Court probably make most appeal at around the 10-1 and 16-1 mark respectively, but I don't think that I have ever tipped or had a bet in this type of race. And I am not going to start now with so many punting opportunities to be had in the next 48 hours.
Stay tuned for those.
Back The Clock Leary at 13.012/1 or bigger in the 13:05 at Cheltenham