It's the penultimate Saturday before the Festival but there's still plenty of action for Tony Calvin to peruse in his big Saturday tipping column...
"Bennys King looks a pretty solid proposition to me, for all his trainer has described him as a "bit fragile" and he can throw in the odd bad run, as he did at Wetherby on Boxing Day."
Skelton can be King of Newbury
Paul Nicholls has farmed the Greatwood Gold Cup in recent memory and he has three credible contenders once again - he has won the race a remarkable eight times in its last 11 runnings - but I hope it is the master's former apprentice who lands the 2m4f handicap chase at 15:15.
Dan Skelton hasn't been firing in the winners at his usually impressive strike-rate in recent months but the signs are more encouraging of late as Cheltenham looms into view and, going in to Friday's racing, his horses' form figures in the past week read 311FP43215144223.
Granted, we aren't dealing in big fields at this time of the year, but that underlines the general well-being of the yard and I am hoping Bennys King is placed at the very least.
He will need to be on his A+-game as he races off a career-high mark of 149 here having been raised 4lb for his neck second to the hat-trick-completing Domaine De L'Isle (who he locks horns with again here) at Ascot time.
That could be viewed as harsh, given the horses he split that day have both been well-beaten since, but the time was good and I think up you can mark up his performance, too.
He may, remarkably, not have lost any ground when attempting to take a fence with him when bowling along in front at Ascot last time but it must have had an impact of sorts, and he was still there pitching again on the run-in after being headed three fences out.
In fact, he saw off Kayf Adventure after a long tussle with him from three out before being mugged close home by the progressive winner.
So I think the rise could be bridge-able and all of the other boxes are ticked, too.
It promises to be very testing indeed at Newbury if the forecast is correct (the going was changed to soft, heavy in places, before Friday's meeting), but that is no trouble for him after his heavy-ground run at Ascot some six weeks ago (and he has won around Chepstow in that ground, too).
The trip and track are no issues either, as he was very impressive when beating Sametegal over an extended 2m6f here in November.
He likes to race on or near the pace, so Harry Skelton can either force it (which would be ideal as he has won over further, and his trainer was actually talking Welsh National and Ladbrokes Trophy earlier in the season) or take a lead as events unfold, as there are two others in here that have made it in recent starts.
Bennys King looks a pretty solid proposition to me, for all his trainer has described him as a "bit fragile" and he can throw in the odd bad run, as he did at Wetherby on Boxing Day.
The break since Ascot is therefore a plus, as he had a pretty hard race there, and he rates a bet at 7/1 each-way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
If we get any more rain, then it won't enhance the claims of a fair few of these, and the chief dangers could prove to be Nicholls' Mont Des Avaloirs and wide-margin Huntingdon winner Enrichissant, while seasonal debutant Not Another Muddle goes well when fresh.
Check on going before betting the 14:05
I mentioned the form of the Skelton yard above, but it has to be said that Nicholls is absolutely on fire at the moment, with 29 winners already this month (at a strike rate of 31 per cent) going into Friday.
He doesn't have any runners in the only other ITV race of the day at Newbury, the Veterans' Handicap Chase at 14:05 so he is at least giving the others a chance.
It is not hard to see Strong Pursuit getting an easy time of it up front in this 3m2f handicap chase, but I would just question whether he finds this trip beyond him, especially in this ground.
I nearly put up Joe Farrell at 10/1 in the ante-post market but was put off him as his levels of fitness are unknown on his first start since his seventh in the Ladbrokes Trophy in November, and he could well need this with a view to coming back here to the meeting on March 21 (a card on which he has won and finished second at in the last two years).
If he is straight enough, then I think he has an excellent chance, but his price has halved from 10/1 (and I know there have been plenty of non-runners) and I just wonder whether a slog is ideal for him, if the ground turns to heavy after the forecast rain on Friday night into Saturday.
He could well be a horse that I back on Saturday afternoon once I know the exact ground conditions (and maybe get feedback on his fitness) but I will sit tight for the moment.
Get on the winning Trail
Kelso's 2m2f novices' hurdle at 14:45 is also on the box, and there is no shortage of pace in here, despite just the seven runners.
It's a trappy little contest to call, even without factoring in the tactical battle, and I am happy to move on to the four terrestrial races at Doncaster.
I may as well approach them in chronological order, and Nicholls has the favourite in the opener at 13:50, in the shape of Blackjack Kentucky, who could prove to be well treated off a mark of 130.
But I hope my old mucker Paddy Brennan has a good day, starting with Liosduin Bhearna in this 3m handicap hurdle, as he rates a bet at 10/1 each-way, four places, with the Sportsbook.
He has been off the track since taking a tumble in the valuable Haydock handicap in November, as he also received a kick for his troubles there and that put him on the easy list for a while.
If he is none the worse for the experience then he could prove to be a real factor here.
He was a real improver this time last season when winning at Ayr and Chepstow, and this full brother to the smart Scottish National third Cloth Cap promises to be well-suited by this test of stamina in deep ground (it was changed to soft, heavy in places, after the first on Friday), and he has run okay on heavy in the past.
And he posted a decent time when winning that race at Chepstow last March, too.
We know Brennan is on a very well-handicapped horse in Gino Trail in the 2m handicap chase at 14:25 and it is just a matter of whether the 13-year-old still has the legs for the job.
That's an unknown but the switch to Fergal O'Brien since his last run is certainly no negative, given the trainer's impressive record with new recruits to his yard (he has a 25 per cent strike rate with stable-switchers in recent years).
The old boy (horse, not trainer) will absolutely love the testing ground and the handicapper has given him very chance, dropping him 3lb since his last run in October, and his preferred cheek pieces are back on here, too.
A measure of how well treated he is if the old fires are still burning can be gauged from the fact that he has a 17lb pull for the four lengths he was beaten by Dolos on his reappearance at Sandown last season.
He is reported plenty fit enough for his return, and is worth an each-way bet at 12/1 with the Sportsbook.
Captain commands a wager
I don't have a betting opinion in the mares' novice hurdle, so that leaves just the Grimthorpe at 15:35 in which the top two in the weights are likely to head to Kelso instead of running here.
Yalltari and Ascot De Bruyere have gone forward in the past but I expect to see Captain Chaos getting his own way out in front, as he did when second at Warwick last time.
He bumped into a well-handicapped, Grand National-bound winner in Kimberlite Candy in that 3m5f contest, so I think he is still competitively weighted off the same mark here, and the step down in trip is a plus for a horse who revels in soft/heavy conditions.
I think he is worth a small win-only bet at 8.07/1 or bigger, but watch out for Rule 4 deductions if and when the aforementioned top weights are confirmed as non-runners. You may have to take 5/1 once the market has settled down, but that is okay.
PROFIT AND LOSS TOTAL +280.9
April 14 2017 to Feb 28 2020 inclusive (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)
Liosduin Bhearna at 10/1 each way, four places, with Betfair Sportsbook, in 13:50 at Doncaster
Gino Trail at 12/1 each way, three places, with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:25 at Doncaster
Bennys King at 7/1 each way, four places, with Betfair Sportsbook in 15:15 at Newbury
Captain Chaos at 8.07/1 or bigger in 15:35 at Doncaster