Group Stage can deliver a knockout blow
With the three ITV4 races at Doncaster attracting disappointing turn-outs - I will touch upon them briefly at the end - I am going to take in all of the Cheltenham card, so I may as well attack it in chronological order, looking to build on a nice winner on Friday.
Which suits me fine as I quite like the claims of Group Stage in the opening juvenile hurdle at 12:10 even though there is little doubt that he has plenty to find here with a few of these.
Langer Dan did it nicely at Wetherby last time but has a 7lb penalty to carry, Botox Has is the form horse on his second here last time (the third Repetitio won the handicap here off 125 on Friday, and is entered, though he presumably won't run again, so watch out for the Rule 4), while Tremwedge did well to finish third to a couple of fair sorts in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse despite making a mess of the last.
And the 91-rated Flat recruit Elysian Flame is said to have pleased connections, too.
Group Stage couldn't hold a candle to Elysian Flame on the level, where he was rated 23lb his inferior, but he was at his best over 1m2f/1m4f with give in the ground and he could well leave that ability a long way behind him on the limited evidence of his Ludlow win on his hurdling debut.
He jumped and travelled really well, and I was taken by the manner in which he swerved a faller in front of him two out there, re-gathered himself quickly and quickly put the race to bed, winning very smoothly.
The bare form is not a patch on that of Botox Has and Tremwedge, but the runner-up came out and finished second (albeit beaten 12 lengths) in a Listed race at Aintree and the third won decisively at Fontwell, while the fourth Say The Word re-opposes here.
Trainer Alan King reports that his horse has "gained plenty of confidence" from that victory, and Thursday's rain will have been important for a horse that got jarred up on firm ground in the summer.
The Betfair Sportsbook were first up with the betting on Friday morning and I was initially a little disappointed to see them make him a 7/1 chance, but the more I thought about it the fairer it looked, so he rates an each-way bet for me.
Eamon could go well but have to pass
Nothing jumps out at me in the seven-runner novices' chase at 12:45 - it rarely does in these types of races - but the 2m handicap chase at 13:20 is far more my cup of tea, even if the spectre of a non-runner in this eight-runner race also looms large for each-way punters.
I am convinced that Eamon An Cnoic has a good handicap in him and perhaps the step back down to 2m in first-time blinkers can see him deliver here on a track where he ran so well at the Festival in March.
But he ran (and jumped) so atrociously at Newbury last time that it is pretty hard to work up too much betting enthusiasm, though he was dropped 3lb for it and he is definitely weighted to win again now. And this looks a winnable handicap.
I did toy with giving him another chance back at Cheltenham, over 2m and with the new headgear, but I decided that my familiarity with him could be clouding my judgement - though a double-figure price does look bloody big! - so I will pass.
Let's see what all the Fuisse is about
The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at 13:55 is the big betting race of the day. I backed Clondaw Castle at 14/1 in midweek but I have gone off him, due to the combination of soft ground and the longer trip, and I am increasingly concerned about the form of the yard, too.
I obviously hope he goes and wins for me, but I wouldn't back him now and the horse I kept on coming back to was Not That Fuisse (pictured, leading) at 7/1, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook (he is a point bigger, win-only, on the exchange if you want to go down that route).
He wasn't given a hard time of it over 2m at Warwick last time but that was his third qualifying chase start for this race, and a mark of 131 gives him every chance here.
Mind you, Harry Skelton is bang on his minimum weight of 10st 2lb, so he won't be eating much for the next 24 hours, I imagine.
I backed this horse when he looked sure to win over hurdles at Kempton off 129 last season - he traded at 1.51/2 in the run - and that shows 131 is very workable, as did his second to Al Dancer over 2m here in October.
He looked more than ready for a step back up in trip there, and this looks a proper, long-term plot. Let's hope it comes off.
Of the others, I can see Benatar in a first-time hood, but I am happy with just the one dart.
The 3m novices' hurdle at 14:30 is a really tricky race at first viewing, and it doesn't get that much clearer the more you delve into it.
Champagne Well may have a 3lb penalty to carry but he just looks very solid and the form of his second to Thyme Hill over 2m5f here last time probably makes him the form choice with the similarly-penalised Valtor.
He hasn't really shone in his two starts over 3m to date but jockey Paddy Brennan is of the opinion that this point winner has been "crying out" for it. If that is the case, then odds of around 4/1 are probably very fair but it looks a touch too tricky for my betting needs.
Call Me Lord the class act but too short
Pentland Hills is forever in my debt after winning the Triumph Hurdle and the form of his Cheltenham and Aintree victories has worked out very well.
If there is a Champion Hurdler in this field it is undoubtedly him, but he is pretty much priced accordingly and his mettle will be tested further by the older brigade here, so I was going back Call Me Lord at 9/2 each way with the Sportsbook in the International at 15:05.
But the 9/2 became 4/1, and then 16/5 on Friday afternoon, so I had to ditch the bet. Here is the case for him, though, in case you're interested...
Connections have kept him away left-handed tracks in this country, but that doesn't concern me (and he won that way round in France, anyway) and the fact of the matter is that he is the highest-rated horse in the field and gets weight from all of his main market rivals as he hasn't won since running away with the 2m5f Select Hurdle at Sandown in April 2018.
This could be a cagey race from a pace perspective but he proved he is fully effective over 2m in deep ground when third off a lofty mark of 160 in the Imperial Cup in March, and there was little wrong with his reappearance second at Ascot.
He has come on appreciably for his first run in the previous two campaigns so, providing this race is run at an even tempo - and I am presuming Gumball will make it and not his ownermate Elixir Du Nutz, not seen since the Tolworth in January - he could and should be very hard to kick out of the frame.
He is the class horse in the field, getting weight, and has had the benefit of a run.
Indefatigable to defy top weight
In the finale, Indefatigable is worth a nibble at 11.010/1 or bigger to defy top weight in the 2m4f mares' handicap hurdle at 15:40.
She is obviously fully effective here, finishing fifth in the mares' novices' hurdle at the Festival and then she went on and smashed up The Cull Bank by 10 lengths over course and distance on good ground in April.
She proved she can do it on softer ground when second to Lady Buttons over 2m at Wetherby last time, and I think a mark of 137 gives her some scope (the latest run was probably a career-best), and the step back up in trip is a positive in my book.
A brief look at Donny
Doncaster and ITV4 will be very disappointed that their three terrestrial races have attracted only 13 runners, and they are of limited betting interest as a result.
To be honest with you, I can't see any angle into any of the contests, though the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle at 14:45 is certainly one to watch.
The interesting one is the ex-French Tombee Du Ciel on her debut for Nicky Henderson, getting 7lb from the boys.
Her form in France would appear to make her the one to beat in here regardless of that weight concession - and the owner-trainer combination won this race in 2014 and 2017 - but the market has not missed her now she has come here instead of Cheltenham, and I can let her pass at odds of around 13/8.
Best of luck.