In search of more big price winnes Tony Calvin believes that a JP McManus runner has a good chance of belying his huge odds in the featured handicap hurdle at Ascot on Saturday afternoon...
"He looks a very well-handicapped horse on his old Irish form and should be in his element in this ever-worsening ground."
15:35 Ascot - Alaivan
Second-guessing the JP McManus operation is not the easiest of tasks, but I have a suspicion that Alaivan could be his Ladbroke plot horse in the 15:35 at Ascot, and not his near market-leader City Slicker, and I recommend backing him at 36.035/1 or better.
When researching this race on Thursday night, I was amazed to see the seven-year-old trading at those odds, because he has a lot going for him here.
Even though he beat only one home and was beaten 16 lengths on his reappearance at Wetherby a fortnight ago, I was very encouraged when reviewing the video of that race. And a 3lb drop in the handicap for it must have been something of an unexpected bonus for connections.
Alaivan never got into the race but he travelled kindly all the way, and was not given at all a hard time, with his rider content to wave the whip between the last two flights rather than connecting.
And that kindness - remember that was his comeback after two and a half years off the track, and his first start for Jonjo and JP - could well be repaid here, because he looks a very well-handicapped horse on his old Irish form and should be in his element in this ever-worsening ground.
Former trainer Edward O'Grady was talking in terms of the Champion Hurdle at one stage two seasons ago - and it was very interesting to see that he actually namechecked this race after winning at Naas in 2010 - but instead went for the County at Cheltenham, where he finished a creditable sixth off 144, beaten only two and a half lengths.
He races off a 10lb lower mark here, and I can see him outrunning his massive odds.
He has clearly had his problems since 2011 and many may think this race is coming too soon after Wetherby. But he didn't have a hard race there - go and take a look for yourself - and I actually take the fact that he is turned out again so quickly as a positive.
I personally will be taking some in-running insurance by putting up a lay at around the even money mark, as he can race freely and find less than expected, even if he has a pretty impressive winning strike rate.
He traded at a low of 1.091/11 when getting beaten on the Flat and he also hit a low of 1.21/5, 2.0421/20 and 2.111/10 when getting chinned over hurdles, the 2.0421/20 being taken in the County. Over to you JP...
It is clearly a very competitive race and I toyed with putting up a second tip - top of that list were Flaxen Flare and Irish Saint - but I am happy to take a flier with just Alaivan.
In fact, Alaivan is my only tip of the day, but I will give thoughts on the other televised races for the punting adrenalin junkies out there.
The Long Walk Hurdle is even more of a no-bet race after Celestial Halo's withdrawal this morning. But no way in the world would I be tempted by odds of around 1-2 (1.538/15 on Betfair) for At Fishers Cross after the way he jumped at Newbury, and if forced to have a bet in the race I would go with Salubrious at double figure odds. He could sit and pounce over this longer trip.
Elsewhere at Ascot, I will be very down-heartened if Elenika finally comes good without my cash, as I backed him at Cheltenham and Newbury.
Down another 2lb in the handicap, I am convinced he has a decent race in him, but I thought he would show a lot more than he did at Newbury last time and better ground would probably suit, too.
I also toyed with siding with Emperor's Choice again in the Tommy Whittle. He was withdrawn when I tipped him at Cheltenham recently on account of the ground not being soft enough, but that shouldn't be an issue at Haydock.
He is handicapped to win races, but there are a few in here that I think have decent chances too, so I will give him a reluctant swerve.