Alan Dudman stands in for Tony Calvin for the final time, and looks to a super Saturday of ITV4 racing at Cheltenham and Doncaster, with two bets for the feature in Yorkshire....
"The fact that he travels so well in his races will suit a track like Town Moor, as they get racing quite early. "
13:50 Cheltenham - Bowen to hit the Saturday bullseye again
I am probably not the only one thinking that Coo Star Sivola looks extremely well-treated from his mark of 135. As a lightly-raced Nick Williams' chaser with only three runs over fences, he looks a big player considering he finished fourth in last term's Martin Pipe at the Festival - from a perch of 138. Saturday's rating really does look tempting.
The Martin Pipe can throw up a stayer, and Coo Star Sivola looks as though he is crying out for 3m, so a bigger field over the 2m5f trip might suit. He is a fairly solid jumper and acts around the track, but he's right at the top of the market unfortunately.
It's rematch time however for Ballyhill against Shantou Flyer - and round two awaits, and if we can get "The Flyer" at around 13.012/1, he looks the bet.
The pair finished first and second over course and distance in a similar sort of race on soft ground on New Year's Day, and it was more like it from the selection. He was perked up by the first-time cheekpieces, and stayed on well after he was outpaced. He also made a mistake fairly late there too. It was a real back-to-form run with the front two well clear of the third, and Shantou Flyer was giving away plenty of weight.
I always thought he had a bit of speed for a stayer, but maybe I was wrong as he looks as though he wants a thorough test at this sort of trip these days - especially in soft ground. Conditions should be perfect for him, and it looks as though his new trainer Richard Hobson has got to grips with him, as his first three starts of the campaign were underwhelming to say the least - three for Hobson having left Rebecca Curtis.
His last win came from 149 at the track, and Saturday man of the moment James Bowen with his 3lb takes over.
14:25 Cheltenham - American out to prove himself
The Grade 2 Cotswold Chase provides more questions than answers - with the two highest-rated horses in Bristol De Mai (167) and Tea For Two (164) better at other tracks. It's probably harsh to pin the former with that tag, but if Cheltenham was Haydock in heavy, his 6/4 price on Thursday would be flipped around. Likewise TFT who loves Kempton.
And I won't be tipping up a 6/4 shot as those are not the rules here.
Fragile pair Coneygree and Alpha Des Obeaux were in the entries stages, but neither made it to declaration point. The latter might have been a bet at double-figures.
Another fragile customer is Harry Fry's American, and I am happy to give him another chance to show his true form - especially if Bristol De Mai doesn't perform. His price is reasonable at around 6.05/1. He was sent off as one of the market leaders in the Total Recall win at Newbury - but he never jumped and flopped. He lost a shoe and suffered an overreach, and for his first run of the season we just have to put a line though it.
After all, he was a classy novice who slammed Rock The Kasbah in soft ground by eight lengths last season. I've mentioned the fragility, but the price reflects that. He missed the RSA last term due to ground, and soft conditions plays to his strengths - so we give him another chance to show his true worth.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has two in the race, with the market favouring the imposing Santini here at 2/1 on the Sportsbook. He won at Newbury and loved the soft conditions there, and the horse he slammed (Chef Des Obeaux) subsequently bolted up by 19 lengths at Kempton.
His stablemate Pacific De Baune looked just as good in a seven length victory against a reasonable field at Newbury too, with the third boosting the form by winning at Taunton by a huge margin.
Both are similar types that gallop and enjoy soft ground. We are getting three times the price on Henderson's "second-string" who steps up in trip on Saturday. The 2m5f distance should suit him, and he is worth a small play. I wouldn't be too put off about first or second-strings, as the trainer said recently that he doesn't like running horses against each other, but the options are not there so he has no choice.
Looking at this race earlier this week, the idea of backing Agrapart due to the ground was the one thing on my mind. He must have it soft, and he was on my shortlist for Haydock last weekend - but he turns up here instead. Anything around 7/1 sways me to play.
Nick Williams' runner could well have his beloved soft at Prestbury Park, and he's closely matched with Wholestone and Colin's Sister on Relkeel form over 2m5f. But is there something better here over 3m?
I've got no idea what to expect from Finian's Oscar, who tries this sort of distance for the first time since his Point-To-Point days. He hasn't been the bravest horse over fences, and his novice campaign over the larger ones includes a 2m run. I'll leave him alone.
Then there's Thomas Campbell, who seems to be a bit of character - as his trainer Nicky Henderson described him in the past as a reprobate. He also mentioned if there's any kerfuffle at home, then Thomas Campbell will be in the thick of things. One of the game's great characters was Tidal Bay - and he hacked up in this race by five lengths in 2010. I was there that chilly afternoon, and for whatever reason, I loved watching Tidal, both the bad and the good.
Am I convinced enough about him to back? Probably not.
One worth a swing for the in-play trade could be Ex Patriot. If Thomas Campbell looks a decent handicapper, well this Irish contender has some fair Graded form in his homeland and yet the Sportsbook were going 33/1 on Friday morning. He isn't a complete no-hoper and holds some fair juvenile form from last term. He even beat Mengli Khan.
He travelled very strongly in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse last season, and landed a nice race in heavy conditions over 2m4f on Boxing Day. The big worry is the trip - and that prevents a bet. But he's better than his price, and he could be a nice trade in-running as he might not get home.
14:05 Doncaster - Bailey has a contender with Station Master
Of all the races, this was the least appealing for striking a bet. Likely favourite Indian Hawk tore apart a field at Ludlow on his debut by eight lengths, and a good performance here will blow away some of the 38.037/1 available in the Albert Bartlett ante-post market.
Callet Mad runs in the same colours of Indian Hawk, and is a first-time wind op horse. I can't trust him on his poor effort at Cheltenham last time, but at least the step back up to Saturday's trip of 3m is a plus.
I like Kim Bailey's Station Master, who is a fine-looking horse with a bit of swagger about him. His wins have been lower profile at Southwell and Warwick, but he won both easily. He is bred to stay very well, but was quick enough to overcome a steady pace to win an Aintree bumper in impressive fashion. His price isn't quite big enough to make the list. Hopefully he will put up a good show, he's a horse with a future.
14:40 Doncaster - Maria's the in-form mare
A likely odds-on favourite and a rag in a small field mares' Grade 2 doesn't make for an easy punt - especially with the market leader Maria's Benefit arriving into this race following a 30 length Listed romp in the mud at Taunton. With such a huge margin of victory; the assessor has raised her to 150. That makes her the best on figures in this, but a complete no bet at around 1.855/6.
I tried to take on Le Bague Au Roi last weekend with Midnight Tune - and got walloped, so I have no plans to do the same. If you fancy taking the short odds on Maria's Benefit then good luck, but I cannot find anything to tackle her with.
15:15 Doncaster - Play two in the feature chase
The feature race of the day over fences in Yorkshire, and all eyes on everyone's favourite in-running horse. Step forward L'Ami Serge from a mark of 152. It adds plenty of intrigue to the race, as does the booking of Davy Russell - but he hasn't exactly been missed in the market. This looks a cracker.
I'd rather have a dart here on a really likeable horse for Paul Nicholls, and that's to play Warriors Tale at a decent price of around 14.013/1.
At nine years of age, he is fairly lightly-raced with just 12 starts in the steeplechasing ranks, and he looks a good jumper despite unseating at Aintree this term. Indeed, he's often been mentioned as a Topham type - so that incident in Liverpool was a slight setback.
However, he was really progressive last term and came to my attention when he landed a decent 0-150 at Newbury from a mark of 137. He travelled really well in that, and whilst we are not quite going down the L'Ami Serge route of travelling, he has gone smoothly in plenty of his races and a big handicap pot like Saturday's could be within in his grasp.
He seems fairly adaptable with trip and ground, and Nicholls might have earmarked Doncaster and this race because they tend to get a better surface during the winter months. The fact that he travels so well in his races will suit a track like Town Moor, as they get racing quite early.
From a mark of 147, he has plenty going for him, and with a nice break of 56 days since a good run at Newbury (a track he goes well at) he can be a player at double-figures.
I also want to keep onside Wakanda at nice price of 9.6017/2.
He's a no-nonsense sort of horse who usually goes with the pace up front, and he would hold a big chance from his third in last term's Grimthorpe Chase at the track over 3m2f. He ran well there from a mark of 150, and he's 5lb lower for Saturday. This weekend's trip over 3m will suit him better than the 3m2f Grimthorpe distance - as he doesn't quite see that out against stronger stayers.
He's in good shape after another second in the Rowland Meyrick last time, and he might represent a nice trade or a dabble in the place market.
Back Shantou Flyer @ 13.012/1 in the 13:50 at Cheltenham
Back American @ 7.06/1 in the 14:25 at Cheltenham
Back Pacific De Baune @ 11/2 Sportsbook price in the 15:00 at Cheltenham
Back Agrapart @ 7/1 Sportsbook price in the 15:35 Cheltenham
Back Warriors Tale @ 14.013/1 and Wakanda @ 9.6017/2 in the 15:15 at Doncaster