It's the jumps season finale at Sandown and Tony Calvin has a few value bets from that track as well as one at Haydock making its debut for a new yard...
"Bob Mahler's handicap mark is a gift if he returns to his best - for example, he finished 3¼ lengths in front of the favourite Plan Of Attack in last year's Kim Muir and is now 6lb better off with that rival - and I have to give him one more chance at these odds."
I won't waste too much reprising what I tipped in my ante-post column on Tuesday - you can read it here if you so wish - but suffice to say I am happy enough with the positions on 7/1 Kitty's Light in the big 'un and On To Victory at 10s in the opener.
Actually, I should mention a couple of things.
I feel no need to press up on Kitty's Light, but he is in the weights now, with Clan Des Obeaux going to Ireland next week - in fact, the weights have gone up a massive 19lb after Cepage came out as well - and he must have a big run in him if his jumping stands up to scrutiny around here.
That is the concern, and I imagine that is why his price hasn't really shifted.
Reasons to back Bob (again)
However, the complexion of the race has totally changed from earlier in the week and, after declining the opportunity to back Bob Mahler at 66s on Tuesday - he was 11lb out of the handicap then and also entered for Perth on Friday - I have to accept the second invitation to do so at 25/1 each way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook
This nature of this contest really has been turned on its head by the departures of the two top -weights and, with all due respect to Crosspark (especially as he was only downed by the mighty Singlefarmpayment at Ascot last time), it is not a vintage renewal with that 11yo heading the card off a mark of 150.
Connections of Supreme Escape won't be concerned about the class angle though as their Chepstow winner was 22lb out of the handicap on Monday, but he is now only 3lb wrong, and you can fully see why his odds have tumbled in the last 24 hours as an unexposed 7yo staying chaser coming here on the back of a career-best.
But his price has surely gone now at around 14s on the exchange, and shorter still on the fixed-odds front, so I make no excuses for staying loyal to Bob Mahler.
I have sided with him a couple of times this season, and it is fair to say he has had a season to forget, failing to complete in four of his six starts and not getting within 25 lengths of the winner in the other two.
But the bare facts belie the hidden promise. Well, I hope they do anyway.
He always needs his first run of the season, so we can discount that Cheltenham run in October, his saddle slipped on his next two starts at Haydock and Kelso, and the conditions turned appalling when he was a distant third in the Edinburgh National.
He was just beginning to get into the race from off the pace when brought down in the Kim Muir, and then Daryl Jacob kicked on far too early at Ffos Las last time, trading at a low of 2.526/4 when sauntering into the lead, only to fade away in the straight.
But all of this at least means he has dropped 10lb this season, and what has encouraged me most about his last two runs is how much better he has travelled in his races (he had his ears scrubbed off him from flagfall at Musselburgh).
Stamina is no concern for a horse who won the 2020 version of the 4m1f Edinburgh National, with today's pilot Adrian Heskin and cheek pieces on (they replace blinkers here), and neither is the ground. He relished the decent surface when running away with a Cheltenham handicap in the April of 2019.
His handicap mark is a gift if he returns to his best - for example, he finished 3¼ lengths in front of the favourite Plan Of Attack in last year's Kim Muir and is now 6lb better off with that rival - and I have to give him one more chance at these odds.
And when I pestered trainer Warren Greatrex for an update on the horse on Friday morning, he revealed Bob Mahler sustained a cut at Ffos Las, which he thinks may have hindered him late on. Plus he added that the horse was also backing up just two weeks after the Cheltenham fall in that contest.
I am not averse to backing three or four in a race if the odds justify it, and I was tempted to stick Golan Fortune up, too.
I certainly think we can expect a more aggressive ride than he got in the Midlands National last time and I fully expect Tom Scudamore to jump him out on the front end, back in trip and on this better ground (though I appreciate his record suggests a bit more ease would have been preferable).
His best chasing starts have come when ridden prominently - and I also recognise five of his rivals have gone forward in the recent past too) and a mark of 140 underplays him slightly, too.
I think he is a fair price at 11/1 and bigger on the exchange, but I won't put him up as a third selection here, for all I will probably chuck a few quid at him myself near the off, when we have a better handle on just how quick the ground is.
Victory for Victory in the opener...
I am a touch concerned about it being a touch too lively for On To Victory in the opener at 13:55, as he has been kept, intentionally or not, to good to soft over hurdles and his best efforts on the Flat came with some dig.
But he had some fast ground form on the level, and was a good fourth in a Melrose on good, and Sandown haven't skimped with the watering.
I definitely think a mark of 127 underplays him - he is rated 105 on the Flat - and he was very impressive when winning at Warwick in a good time last month, having shaped better than the beaten result off a 2lb higher mark than this in the Betfair Hurdle.
I see no need to go in again at his current 13/2, but I'd probably just about make him favourite, so that remains a fair price, especially if the ground doesn't prove that rapid.
The four-runner Oaksey Chase at 14:30, looks ripe for an upset with Frodon and Mister Fisher coming here on the back of less-than-ideal preps and carrying 6lb penalties, too.
The problem is they have to seriously underperform for the other pair to get near them, though I have to admit the 8/1+ about Born Survivor, who will love the ground and was an easy winner at Stratford last time, is probably not the worst price you will see this weekend.
It would be a very Dan Skelton-type result, and I suppose his horse was rated as high as 152 in his pomp.
I said on Tuesday that Sceau Royal and Nuts Well, at 6s and 14s, were the most attractive ante-post prices in the Celebration Chase, and the former has halved in price, primarily due to Nube Negra heading to Ireland next week.
Normally, a seven-runner Grade One race with few unknowns, would not interest me in the slightest but I backed Sceau Royal at 7/2 on Friday morning, and I have no hesitation in putting him up here as a bet at 3/1 with the Sportsbook.
And he is 4.03/1 on the exchange if that is a better avenue for you.
The more I looked at the race, the more I came to the conclusion that he should probably be favourite. And that thought rather crept up on me, I have to admit.
Altior clearly has to prove if he can still cut it in this grade now after all his issues and, for all he is five from five here and three from three in this race, does he still have the pace to thrive over a sub-2m with ground this quick? And how he reacts to the first-time cheek pieces in race conditions is an unknown.
We know how good Put The Kettle On is around Cheltenham - indeed, how good she is, full stop - and gets that pesky 7lb sex allowance, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that Sceau Royal would have gone very close to beating her in the Champion Chase but for having his legs taken from under him 3 out that day.
He is not far shy off the highest class when encountering 2m on decent ground and, having won a Henry VIII here and finished second to Altior in this race in 2019, I can see a stalking ride off the pace paying dividends late on. He has a potent turn of foot when on song.
I have a lot of time for Nuts Well and Greaneteen - and the former is definitely potentially saver material at 14/1+ as you can see him coming into it late, too - but it's Sceau Royal for me, all the way.
Small fields away from Sandown
Executives at some courses must be crying this weekend.
The field sizes at Ripon are pitiful - they have two 22k races, which have attracted a mere three runners in each - and the ITV contest at Leicester has seen just five rock up for the £37,750 7f Listed prize at 14:10.
The form and time horse Pogo looks a fair enough price at 5/2 but we are guessing on his fitness (against three of his rivals who have had a run) and someone somewhere obviously thinks a fair bit of Lord Campari, put in as favourite here.
There could be some substance there as he was not even mentioned in a recent Racing Post stable tour (good pointer that) but, to be serious, this race makes no betting appeal.
At least Haydock have got a healthy 13 runners for their televised 7f handicap at 14:50.
It's a tricky old race to work out. Another Batt won first time out last year and 7f on quick ground is fine for him, while course and distance winner Marshal Dan appeals most of those towards the top of the betting after his excellent comeback run.
But the fascinating one in here is Fox Champion, and I am minded to have a small interest on him at 9/1 win-only with the Sportsbook on his first start for Ralph Beckett. Or play him on the exchange at similar prices if you so wish.
If there is a horse to take this handicap by the scruff of the neck, it is him.
This horse was rated as high as 110 in 2019, when his best efforts included a German Guineas win and a third in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, but he totally lost his way for Richard Hannon last term.
But, gelded and sent to Beckett, he can start this campaign off a mark of 95, and it is not hard to envisage Hector Crouch bouncing him out of stall one and attempting to make all. Many of his better efforts have come when forcing the pace.
Crouch gave Beckett's Victory Chime a peach from the front at Epsom earlier in the week, and a forcing ride over 7f on decent ground (all his best form has come on officially good ground, and he is two from three on good to firm) is surely just the ticket.
That said, there are pace rivals in eight (Gobi Sunset) and 12 (Marshal Dan), and maybe Admiralty in nine, so Crouch may have to be content to take a lead if it gets too warm on the front end.
Beckett has his team in rude order (no jokes about them taking after their handler, if you please), so everything seems set fair for a bold show.
P&L 2021 FLAT SEASON (started April 14):