Tony Calvin picks out a quartet to follow at Cheltenham on New Year's Day all at his usual big prices...
"Testing ground will be a plus for A Toi Phil, should it ride nearer heavy (I hope not) and the last time he ran at Cheltenham he finished fifth in a Pertemps off a 10lb higher mark than this at the Festival."
There is little more tiresome than hearing about New Year resolutions but, if I have to listen to them, so do you.
Hopefully, I won't be breaking this one after a few days but you will see far fewer short-priced selections from me in 2022.
My idea of short is probably already a damn sight longer than most - for example, I can't readily recall tipping any horses at 2/1 or less in these columns - but Newbury on Wednesday really brought home to me just how tipping and betting towards the top of the market just doesn't suit my punting mindset.
Or my profit and loss figures.
Don't get me wrong, as I obviously backed them myself, but I put up five horses that day and they went off at Betfair SPs ranging from 3.79 to 9.83, and all got stuffed, with the longer-priced horse the sole return as a third-placed 8/1 each-way bet.
And I dreaded every minute of watching those races. Why? Because I disliked my approach beforehand for going with the obvious, and I got my just desserts.
I actually jokingly emailed a friend the day before that my Wednesday selections "had carnage written all over them".
I look at my betting and tipping records and they strongly suggest I am a bad judge at short prices - and, in addition, I also get no satisfaction from tipping near-favourites. even when they win - so there will have to be a very convincing reason from hereon in going down that route, outside of very attractive each-way terms on the Betfair Sportsbook, that is.
And, quite clearly, the value in betting - value is a horribly, outdated, blunt word that probably had its day in Mark Coton's Pricewise era, but you know what I mean - is to be found swimming against the betting tide.
Of course, the small fields that have blighted the 2021-22 National Hunt season doesn't make this approach very easy - and clearly putting up 3-1 chances, say, in sub-eight runner races is going to happen when I genuinely make them a 2s poke - but that's the overall plan.
The Musselburgh field sizes are very disappointing but the Cheltenham numbers have held up pretty well, so let's start there.
Phil can roll back the years
There was no surprise to see L'Homme Presse, Millers Bank and The Glancing Queen (from a stable that won this race in 2021 and 2018) dominate the betting for the 2m4f novices' chase at 13:25, when the first firm went up on Thursday afternoon, and I didn't have a major argument with the first-named being marked up at 7/4 given what he did form-wise and on the clock at Ascot.
But it is one of those contests in which most of the field are relatively unexposed over fences, and big-field handicaps are more my style.
As you would expect, you can give chances to loads of horses in the valuable 2m4f127yd handicap chase at 14:00.
I put up Deyrann de Carjac last time and I thought he ran a tremendous race to finish fifth considering he tried to take two fences home with him - he literally ran straight through one, not even bothering to take off - but you can't expect to make mistakes like that again and win these red-hot handicaps.
The initial 22s, five places, was interesting though, especially as he was dropped 2lb for that run last time, so maybe more about him shortly.
It was glaringly obvious that Kauto Riko should have won at Doncaster last time.
Sure, the horse was not making the jockey's life easy (hence the first-time cheekpieces here, I imagine) but he only straightened him up and got serious when the race was over on the run-in.
He went up 2lb for that ½-length defeat and this is a far deeper and competitive race, but he is still a player, with that headgear move undoubtedly interesting for a horse who was fourth in a Paddy Power here last season off a 2lb higher mark, though his stable is 0 from 9 with the pieces switch in recent years.
I could go on and on about horses with good chances - they pretty much all do, to varying degrees - but I have to take a chance on A Toi Phil now he has finally made it to the track.
I have been waiting for him to run again for a year after he shaped well on his return at Kempton last January, but he has kept on proving a no-show after being entered at the five-day stage.
He clearly has had his issues in recent years and all his best form has come in small fields, but he has dropped to a mark of just 136 now - he was rated 159 at his peak - and I just can't resist a small win-only wager on him at 40.039/1 or bigger.
Of course, there is always the chance that he could be being readied for valuable handicaps like the Skybet Chase and the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton further (and over further, as he stays 3m) down the line, but I doubt they would want to come here half-cocked with a horse with his recent history, and time is not his friend as a 12yo, either.
Testing ground will be a plus, should it ride nearer heavy (I hope not) and the last time he ran at Cheltenham he finished fifth in a Pertemps off a 10lb higher mark than this at the Festival.
Another Kauto win at Cheltenham
I am going to go in two-handed in here though and the question was do I put up 12/1 poke Kauto Riko or Deyrann de Carjac?
Given that the Deyrann de Carjac was nearly twice the price on the fixed-odds front when I first drafted this on Thursday afternoon, I was going to side with him at that 22/1 each way, five places.
Then, the dreaded happened when I was going over the copy again early evening - my column tends to get a few once-overs before I press go - and I saw he had been cut from an industry-best 22s to 14s (at 3.54pm according to Oddschecker) before I even had the chance to proof again, let alone file. In fact, the 20s and 18s in the marketplace went soon after, too.
I had to ditch him there and then, and take was cemented when the course got 4mm on Friday morning and it turned soft all over. There may be some logic in not mentioning prices in copy after all, and just going with what you fancy!
The swerve could be a crying shame as if it all comes together on the jumping front, he is in business, and he is the best handicapped horse in here on his 2019/20 novice form, which included a 2-length third to Midnight Shadow in the Dipper here on this day on soft ground two years ago.
His record tells you he would like better ground though, and I wouldn't be massively surprised if Alan King pulled him out if they get a lot more rain.
I will now go with Kauto Riko win-only on the exchange at 16.015/1 or bigger. He may well drift to 20/1+ but 16s is the guide price.
I basically made the case for this heavy ground winner above. Given the way he shaped over 3m at Doncaster and when a 5 ½-length fourth to Coole Coody in the Paddy Power last season - he stormed home there and is 12lb better off with the winner here - those cheekpieces could really help him travel more sweetly early doors. Sapping conditions will hopefully bring the main players back to him late on.
Alnadam is the obvious one at the top of the market, having shaped much better than the beaten distance suggests when a non-staying seventh in the Ultima over 3m1f off a 2lb higher mark than this - and he would have loved this rain - but he is skinny enough at around 11/2.
A Smart bet at a massive price
The Mighty Don will probably somersault on the way to the start with unabandoned glee when realizing he doesn't have to jump fences on Saturday afternoon and I feel he is worth a small bet at 25/1 each way, four places, in the 14:35.
As you would expect, there are a few negatives that can be aimed at him, not least the fact that the Nick Gifford yard has not had a winner since June and the trainer went into Friday's racing on a losing run of 45, and chasing may have completely soured him.
But this is a horse who has been crying out for a return to hurdles after some very indifferent jumping over fences. Mind you, he still very nearly beat Yala Enki off a 1lb higher mark than this here in November despite making one colossal error and plenty more minor ones, too.
He gave up the ghost at Sandown last time, so this move to hurdles is belated, though a mark of 136 (he was rated 150 after a Long Walk fourth on soft ground in 2018) makes him very interesting on a track where he has produced many of his better efforts, including among them a course and distance Pertemps Hurdle qualifier success.
There are a few in here coming back from fences that must be of interest and Whatsupwithouyou, fourth in the Martin Pipe here in March and from the in-form Ben Pauling yard, is one, although I am far from sold he wants 3m on soft ground.
I am going to have a win and place saver on Cracking Smart at 50/1. So I am effectively taking the two outsiders against the field here, for which I make no apologies.
When I went back and had a look at this horse's two recent runs in France I didn't see a visor (they don't have to declare certain types of headgear there) , so I am assuming he is indeed wearing that for the first time here.
So, given his small stable is a decent two from 13 with this visor option since 2009, I rate that as significant, especially since his seemingly lazy style of running of late may need addressing.
Granted, that Cagnes run last month, where he stuck on again late after his rider looked to have given up entering the straight, did come over an inadequate 2m, so you can forgive him there. All his best form has come over 2m4f+, including a 3m Listed win in the soft and a 4-length defeat of Penhill in heavy over 2m5f in February 2020.
Of course, he may have gone at the game after leaving Gigginstown for just £10,000 in September but that run last time wasn't bereft of promise and the Leech operation does great business with these cheap cast-offs in France.
You don't have to go back too far to find this horse finishing fourth in a Coral Cup here in 2020 off an 8lb higher mark than this, and a 5lb claimer reduces the burden, too.
Be warned, he is easily the kind of horse who could go off at 200.00199/1 win-only on the exchange, so I will pass on the 50s each way fixed-odds, and look to back him at 60.059/1 and bigger in the win, and 9.08/1 and bigger in the four places market.
I suspect you will get a lot more bang for your buck than those guide prices, too. But if you want to take 50/1 each way, then crack on.
Nearly had a nibble on Bunina
I know we have another Grade 2 hurdle at Cheltenham and Al Boum Photo's return at Tramore also on ITV, as well as three from Musselburgh, but the only race that tempted me from a betting point of view is the seven-runner 1m7f124yd handicap hurdle at 14:10.
I am at dire risk of falling at the first hurdle in my New Year's resolution, as Anna Bunina is priced at around 4/1 on the exchange, and that is at least a point bigger than I was expecting. From a form perspective, allied to proven track form, I thought she would chalked up as the 3/1 favourite, in this small field.
But I can't get involved at this stage. I want everything in my favour if I am going to play at these prices going forward and, while some will take her absence since April and her stable form as negatives, I am more worried about the ground.
All her best form has been on decent going, such as her second in the Scottish Champion Hurdle on good on her final start last season - a race in which Tommys Oscar, ½ length behind her, is now 10lb worse off - and the forecast on Friday and Saturday is very wet, with the ground already good to soft (soft in places) after another 3mm overnight on Thursday.
The forecast has just improved though, as the site that was forecasting 15mm on Friday is now only predicting 5mm.
With that in mind, I will have to pass for now, but I will update on Twitter once I know more about the ground come Saturday morning.
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PROFIT AND LOSS (FROM APRIL 14)
Staked: 238pts Returns: 459.66pts P/L: +221.66
Back A Toi Phil at 40.039/1 or bigger 14:00 at Cheltenham
Back Kauto Riko at 16.015/1 or bigger in 14:00 at Cheltenham
Back The Mighty Don at 26.025/1 each way, four places, in 14:35 at Cheltenham
Back Cracking Smart at 60.059/1 to win the 14:35 at Cheltenham
Back Cracking Smart at 9.08/1 to place in 14:35 at Cheltenham