A full field of 24 for the Betfair Hurdle at 15:35 at Newbury on Saturday and all of a sudden the valuable handicap looks a lot, lot harder to solve than it did when I wrote my ante-post column on Tuesday!
Mack The Man is still the one to beat
I put up Mack The Man each way at 7s with the Betfair Sportsbook then, and Flegmatik at a much bigger price win-only on the Exchange, and quite clearly little has changed since then to change my mind that both have strong claims at their respective prices.
Indeed, nothing has a better chance at the weights than Mack The Man, whose recent successes have been royally franked in the interim.
So off just an 8lb higher mark than when very snugly beating Protektorat and Song For Someone at Sandown last time - he travelled supremely throughout there and the two beaten horses are now rated 16lb and 7lb higher respectively - he is definitely the one to beat in here.
Connections seem to be worried about the drying ground - and it remains to be seen how much rain they get on Friday night into Saturday - but given the way he travels I don't have any issues on that score.
The market does, though, as he is very weak in the betting, but it was officially good to soft when he summarily got rid of Lightly Squeeze, who has gone up a massive 27lb for winning his last three and re-opposes here, easily enough at Warwick.
At the very least, I think you have to ensure you don't lose on the race if Mack The Man wins, so he is worth a saver.
I won't put him up again here, though, as hopefully you will have taken the hint earlier in the week, though he is a similar price now (bigger on the Exchange in fact at around 8/1), and the Sportsbook is now offering six places.
Fiercely competitive Betfair Hurdle
It's a fiercely-competitive race and some progressive horses in here are trading at massive prices, and I certainly won't be too downbeat if Not So Sleepy blitzes these from the front, as I had a few quid on him at 40/1 each way, and bigger win-only on the Exchange, for the Champion Hurdle after his runaway Ascot win.
Given his Flat form and unexposed nature over hurdles, I suspect he is still on an attractive mark despite going up 17lb for that victory, but the problem is that he will find dominating in this big field more difficult - Thebannerkingrebel, Highly Prized, Neff and Gumball are four potential rivals for the lead - as could be giving a stone away to some lightly-raced improvers.
Mack The Man is one of those to whom he has to concede 14lb, as is my other ante-post tip/fancy Flegmatik, who shaped really well at Wetherby in November and looks precisely the type of (dark) horse who promises to be suited by a strongly-run race.
Again, I couldn't put you off him at 40/1+ on the exchange if you haven't played. There are some brave layers out there.
There has been a bit of money around for Ciel De Neige since the start of the week, and it is very easy to see why.
I haven't seen many Irish horses come over and be left alone by the UK handicapper, and be able to race off their home rating, let alone a Willie Mullins-trained (pictured above), JP McManus-owned 5yo for such a big pot.
He was bought by McManus after finishing third in the Fred Winter (he is just 3lb higher here) and it is interesting that he is taking his chance here instead of his stable/owner-mate Janidil, who was an ante-post fancy for many but who didn't appear at the five-day stage.
Ciel De Neige shaped very well when a strong-finishing fourth behind that horse at Fairyhouse on his return (returned at an industry 6/1, but went off at 12.37 at Betfair SP) and I wouldn't be too concerned by his narrow defeat at heavy odds-on in a modest race last time as he should have won easily there.
He is yet another for any short-list and, in fact he is getting a small bit of my cash at 12.011/1 or bigger, despite his price ebbing away from an available 14/1 on Thursday afternoon and this looking likely to be the quickest ground he has raced on (unless rain arrives in some volume in the next 24 hours). The current 11/1 with the Sportsbook, with six places on offer, is obviously well worth considering, too.
Anytime Will Do is a decent each-way chance
The presence of Altior and Native River in the Grade 2 chases on the card will hopefully put bums on seats at Newbury (or legs in the stands, or more money behind the bars, whatever way you want to play it), but it is doubtful the races will generate much in the way of betting interest, as both are heavy odds-on, and both contests have fallen short of eight runners for each-way betting, too.
The 3m handicap hurdle at 13:50 has attracted nine runners and I was torn between putting up either Anytime Will Do and Vive Le Roi each way.
Vive Le Roi finished three lengths in front of Anytime Will Do here in November (Dolphin Square split the pair in fourth, with One For The Team in second) and could get his own way out in front here - he didn't that day as Champers On Ice made all - but Dan Skelton's horse rather threw his place chance away there by hanging badly left in the closing stages, and did okay in the circumstances to be beaten four lengths into fifth.
More than okay.
Anytime Will Do shaped very promisingly in the main there (he travelled really well on the inner before fluffing the last, which ended his winning chance) and he probably found the soft ground against him when occupying the same position in a Pertemps qualifier at Huntingdon last time.
He was dropped 1lb to a mark of 132 after that and that means he will have to win , or go very close in defeat, to get into the Pertemps at the Festival - the bottom weight was on 134 last year, and it has been higher in previous seasons - and this seems to represent a very good opportunity to get back up the handicap ladder.
The expected good ground will be a big plus to his chances given his three wins in 2018 all came on that surface, and this is a horse who they thought a fair bit of last season.
He was forced to miss Cheltenham after a "bit of a niggle" (he had earlier made a horrendous blunder at the last when going to finish second at worst at Huntingdon in February, so ignore that run), and he could prove to be very well treated here.
Back him at 6/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook, and hopefully he stays on the straight and narrow here after the last.
A Royal bet at Warwick
I tipped up Bigmartre at 20/1 each way ante-post on Wednesday for the 2m4f handicap chase at Warwick at 15:15 but I suspected my fate just a few hours later when I was told he wasn't going to run, despite still being jocked up (on the Racing Post site at least) until declaration time on Friday morning.
I don't know what happened there but these things happen in ante-post tipping, so we grin and bear it and, in his absence, Belami Des Pictons looks a fair favourite. However, he is wearing first-time cheek-pieces and his trainer is 0 from 11 with option since 2017, so that isn't a positive.
I like another headgear-switcher in the shape of King Of Realms at 11/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook. Unfortunately, the 14/1 went around 2pm on Friday afternoon, but the 11s is still very fair.
He stays a lot further than this and actually made all to win over 3m here last March in a first-time visor. But he has winning form at shorter and hopefully he will take equally well to his initial try with blinkers here (Ian Williams is 6 from 60 in recent years with this angle), and I like the idea of him trying to force it over this shorter trip, even if there are two or three in here that have also gone forward of late.
He can take a lead if necessary though, and the important thing for him is a strongly-run race over the 2m4f trip, which he looks set to get one way or the other.
He is only 1lb higher when winning here last season, and the good to soft ground is ideal for him.
I don't have any issue with the prices in the other two ITV4 races on Warwick's card - though Cap Soleil looks a fair price at around 8/1 in the mares' hurdle - so I will leave it there.