Tony Calvin says weather warnings make betting in advance at Newbury and Newmarket fraught with danger. But our man still finds four to back on Saturday...
"It was surprising to see Glorious Journey harrying Marie’s Diamond for the lead in the Lennox on his return (though admittedly he was far too keen, and not for the first time), and I think we can safely expect a more patient ride for him at Newbury on Saturday."
Everyone in racing loves to moan about the weather but the thunderstorms that were forecast around the country from Wednesday afternoon onwards really have made it a nightmare for racecourses and punters alike.
There were an enormous 37 non-runners at Salisbury on Thursday when the expected overnight deluge didn't materialize - the track obviously couldn't water on Wednesday - and Newmarket and Newbury, the two courses that host Saturday's ITV fixtures, have basically been in the same boat, too.
It wasn't much of an issue for Newbury as the ground was good to soft there on Thursday morning but is was firm at Newmarket, where they have had 5mm and another 15-20mm is expected at the track in the next 24 hours or so.
That makes life very tricky.
Boss Power is worthy favourite
If more rain does not arrive at Newmarket (and they had 6mm into Friday morning turning it good to firm), then I expect we could get a fair few withdrawals - connections of horses that prefer cut had to declare at 10am on Thursday and take a chance on the ground easing sufficiently - which clearly makes betting before the day itself fraught with danger.
That is doubly true of races where just one non-runner could affect the place terms, so each-way punters will be looking at the eight-strong 1m4f handicap at 14:05 warily.
The field has already cut up massively from an entry of 26 at the five-day stage, and I am working on the basis that we will lose one more whatever way the weather swings.
So if you are going to bet each way then maybe use the Exchange option, as the original place terms stand here with a Rule 4 reduction applied.
Midnight's Gift has been withdrawn because of soft ground before (though she has since recorded a good effort over hurdles on it) and a few of the others want it fast, so it is not hard to envisage at least one defecting.
Boss Power is the obvious favourite after what he did on his handicap debut in a fair time on quick ground at Yarmouth, and a 7lb rise to a mark of 78 may not stop him here.
He is a Frankel half-brother to a couple of smart German Group winners, and cost 375,000gns as a yearling, and the opening 7/2 in a place on Thursday was very fair.
The Yarmouth runner-up was only beaten a neck at Newcastle next time, and the fifth and sixth won next time out too, so he isn't a horse I am inclined to oppose here.
If the ground did turn soft - very unlikely perhaps, but possible - that would be an unknown but Frankel gets more than his share of mudlarks, and his half-brothers won their Group races on good. And the the Sir Michael Stoute stable is absolutely flying at the moment.
I don't like playing at short prices, but I was just about willing to make an exception for him at [4.0] or bigger. My personal cut-off point was 11/4 though, and someone requested £1.000 on the exchange at [3.6] on Friday afternoon, and the price went. He was heading into 9/4 and shorter when i filed.
So no bet.
Several have strong claims in the 14:40
There are four or five potential pace angles in the 7f handicap at 14:40 so that could suit the likes of a closer such as the improving Karibana, who did it good style in a quick time over track and trip last time. A 6lb rise for that win looked okay.
He evidently likes it quick, whereas his main market rival Broughtons Gold wants some cut, so a weather watch is needed there, too.
Embolden has slipped to a very appetizing mark if he can reproduce the form of his heavy-ground fifth in the Horris Hill last season and the outsider of the party, Xcelente - he was 28/1 on Thursday - is also interesting on his first start for Tim Easterby, having joined the stable for 24,000gns last October.
I was kicking myself for missing a big-priced winner in Another Batt on his debut for David Barron last Sunday, and Xcelente has a similar profile.
He is very well handicapped on a mark of 76 on his early-season 2019 form, and Easterby really has been churning out the winners this season, but this horse has looked a weak finisher over 7f to date and they won't be hanging around here on his first start since October.
In truth, it is a race in which you can make a case for plenty, so I will sit this one out.
In fact, the nearest I came to a bet was probably Recall The Show, as the handicapper has left him on the same mark for his reappearance second over 6f on the Rowley course in June, and he is well treated on that evidence.
The winner won next time (bolted up, in fact), as did the third, while the fourth was only beaten a neck. The step back up to 7f will suit but the off-putting thing about him is that he hasn't been seen since and missed an intended engagement at Yarmouth last month.
The obvious conclusion to draw is that he has had a problem, and the stable haven't had a winner since March too, so he is swerved as well.
Take a leap of faith at 15:15
The Grey Horse Handicap at 15:15 does look a betting heat to me though.
The in-form Case Key (winner in 2017 and 2019, with My Style third and Lethal Angel fourth and Buccaneers Vault in fifth last year) will be the predictable (and perhaps correct) starting and end point for many, but Split Down South was made a general 25/1 chance when the betting opened up on Thursday and that looked wrong to me.
Yes, you are taking a big leap of faith backing him on turf (especially if the Newmarket turf turns testing), as all his best form has been on all the weather - in fact, all his form of any note - but the price has suckered me in after he put up a really good effort under regular pilot, 5lb claimer Grace McEntee, at Kempton on Wednesday, his first start since March.
Coming from off the pace proved impossible in that Kempton contest (the first three stayed that way throughout) so his fourth there has to be marked up, especially as he had to be used up early to get a position on the rails from his outside stall.
And backing up quickly has proved no hardship for him in the past, as he won after a similar four-day turnaround at Chelmsford in November, and after an absence of just six days at Southwell earlier this year.
His ability to act on grass is the big issue, especially in softening conditions, but the price more than compensates.
And it is not as if he has even been tried on turf for current connections after coming over from Ireland - he was withdrawn from the Dash at York last month - and he does not have an all-weather pedigree (dam was a 90-rated turf winner).
The stable had its first winner since June at Lingfield on Tuesday, and he rates a bet at [26.0] or bigger. He is also 25/1 on the Sportsbook, who are offering four places, but I will recommend him win-only given his all-weather profile so far.
Have a saver on Easterby's 'big player'
If any rain does really get into the ground then the aforementioned Easterby could have a big player in here with Ugo Gregory.
He shaped as if having a sighter in first-time blinkers at York last time, though to be fair he did meet serious trouble after halfway, and was dropped 2lb for it, which leaves him on the same mark as when winning very snugly at Nottingham last season under Nathan Evans (has been on board for the horse's two victories, and is back on the horse for the first time this year).
All his best form has come with ease in the ground, so he is a definite runner at 10/1+ if the ground turns.
His stable won this race with Medici Time in 2012, and that horse won this race after finishing down the field at York a month earlier. And he got dropped 2lb for it, too.
Let us hope the similarities do not end there.
The obvious move here is to wait and see what the weather is like on Saturday afternoon before backing him (and I would suggest you do, in truth) but I don't have that luxury when writing this tipping column on a Friday.
I'll take a chance and put him up as a bet at [11.0] or bigger now - and hope they pull him out if the ground remains too quick for him, which I suspect it might. He is also 10s with the Sportsbook.
Thoughts on the Newbury card
With four once-raced winners in the line-up, there is too much guesswork for me to handle in the old Washington Singer Stakes at Newbury at 13:50, although I would probably prefer the more exposed duo of William Bligh and Saint Lawrence at the prices.
We can quickly move on, however. Afaak is the right favourite in the 1m handicap at 14:25, and it is simply of matter of whether he is a big enough price at around 9/2 on the exchange to lure me in.
He won a Hunt Cup on soft ground for Jim Crowley and is equally effective on fast, so the weather can do what it likes for him - it is currently good to soft, with more rain due - and he ran a cracker when third to two very well-handicapped horses at Goodwood last time.
Off the same mark here, he could take some stopping, as I am not too bothered by the fact that he has disappointed on his sole course start before.
But some of the opposition do concern me, and not just his owner-mate Jahbath and fellow unexposed sorts like Tempus at the top of the market.
The Betfair Sportsbook went 14-1 King Carney on Thursday and I wouldn't have been laying that price, for all he has blown out in both starts this season.
But they were in the Lingfield Derby Trial and the Hampton Court, he has been gelded since and is well treated on his soft-ground Pontefract Listed win last term. He could be the wild card here. No bet, though.
In the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer at 15:00 Morando was as big as 4/1 on Tuesday but he is half that price now and likely to lessen further the more it rains, and he will be hard to beat if the ground rides very testing.
He is a course winner who only went down by three-quarters-of-a-length length to subsequent Group 1 scorer Technician in this race last year, and he is simply a proven winner in this grade.
He isn't a good thing by any means, and he was below his best in the Hardwicke on his return, and price is not overly-tempting, but his claims are such that he deters me from taking him on, for all Tritonic could be troublesome if staying this longer trip (and he is a Sea The Moon half-brother to a 1m5f winner) and Alignak could love deep ground if his pedigree is anything to go by and he ran really well when just touched off last time.
In fact, the 4-1 about the progressive Alignak looks pretty fair actually, and he would be my bet in the race if you wanted an interest.
Two bets to take on the market leaders at 15:25
The ante-post favourite One Master has not turned up for the Hungerford at 15:35, and the two that interested me in her absence are Glorious Journey and Namos ( Breathtaking Look could be troublesome on the front end in her first-time tongue-tie if she is able to see off fellow pace-setter Lincoln Bright early doors, though she would prefer better ground and her stable is on a poor run).
I am more than happy to take on the market leaders here.
It was surprising to see Glorious Journey harrying Marie's Diamond for the lead in the Lennox on his return (though admittedly he was far too keen, and not for the first time), and I think we can safely expect a more patient ride for him here.
He is a very useful tool when on his game and he landed a big gamble when winning this race in the soft last season, and he can handle whatever the weather throws at him.
His 3lb penalty for a Group 2 Meydan win in January is an obvious negative but he has the class to prevail here, providing he settles better than he did at Goodwood. Back him at [8.6] or bigger.
Namos has won with some cut in Germany and he shaped well enough over 6f in the July Cup last time to suggest his trainer has prospects of another Group race winner at Newbury after his Waldpfad won the Hackwood here last year.
He shaped as if another furlong would suit at Newmarket, and his most recent success came over that trip in his homeland (he also finished a good fifth to Too Darn Hot and Space Blues in the Prix Jean Prat over 7f last season).
Back him at [12.0] or bigger. In fact, I'd probably make him the stronger bet of my pair.
Split Down South at [26.0] or bigger in 15:15 at Newmarket
Ugo Gregory at [11.0] or bigger in 15:15 at Newmarket
Glorious Journey at [8.6] or bigger in 15:35 at Newbury
Namos at [12.0] or bigger in 15:35 at Newbury