With 10 ITV races to choose from Tony Calvin goes north and south in search of winning bets in his Saturday tipping column.
"Ben Haslam has his string in good order on the Flat and Brelan D'As is now on a seriously good mark off 112 if he can re-light some of the fire that saw him rated 144 in his pomp, and start 2021 off on 138 over fences. Some snakes and ladders that."
Ten live ITV contests to explore but I may as well start with the race in which I put two up in my ante-post column on Tuesday, and sorry to report that one of them, Lignou, did not feature among Thursday morning declarations for Wetherby's 2m3f154yd handicap hurdle at 15:40.
Luckily, the 50/1 dart Eviscerating stood his ground and, having seen he has had a wind op since his last run, I am even happier with the position.
In fact, for those not already on I have no hesitation in pressing up my ante-post play. The Betfair Sportsbook's opening 25/1 early on Thursday afternoon after the decs didn't last long, but he remains the premier bet in the race at [17.0} or bigger win-only on the exchange. He has the overall profile of a horse that may drift as race-time approaches, so you may get bigger.
To be honest, I hadn't even considered the breathing operation possibility when I tipped him on Tuesday but, looking back at his races once again, it makes complete sense.
He was a hardy enough sort when trained by Joseph O'Brien, winning a decent 2m handicap in first-time cheekpieces at Naas in February 2019, but he has been cutting out after travelling well on a few occasions for his current handler.
This was in evidence most strikingly when he stopped on the run-in at Hexham two years ago. He went off at a Betfair SP of 124.36 that day but traded at the basement price of 1.011/100 when looking to have the race in the bag after the last, only to falter late doors.
And he has reproduced that strong-travelling, weak-finish scenario a couple of times since, so I really welcomed the wind op news.
That Hexham run came off 127 but he is down to 115 now after being dropped another 4lb for his latest Worcester run - a race in which he shaped far better than his finishing position suggested once again after moving well going into the straight - and he has good course form too, and acts on both good and soft ground, so the weather and watering (the course has been putting on bundles for a week or so) can do what it wants. The track is currently good to soft, but I think it will ride deeper after the watering.
It is obviously a very competitive handicap, and the two that scare me most of the opposition are 16/1 chance Weather Front and 9s poke Haafapiece, but I was going to stick with the sole play in Eviscerating, who will also surely get a good pace to aim at with at least four forward-goers in here.
I thought long and hard but I do want Haafapiece onside here too, so I will back him as a saver at 10.09/1 or bigger.
He is now just 2lb higher than when winning over 2m4f at Fakenham under today's 5lb claimer last year (the only time Jack Andrews has ridden him) and he has run well off higher marks since.
In fact, a lot of his best efforts have come at this very track, and I reckon reproduction of his fourth here over 2m off 130 (he runs off 127 here) last October puts him bang in this picture - and, of course his effort at Cheltenham in December when he fell when leading over the last - even though the recent stable form hasn't been great.
I don't want to lose if he wins, and anything upwards of 8/1 is fine.
Ben's Brelan is a bet
We may as well stick with Wetherby now we have kicked off there, and Tedham is a very fair price at 10/1 in the opener if getting his act together - he is clearly better than a mark of 123 - but it's a fair old "if" with him these days.
I toyed with two rank outsiders here - Palixandre was 40s when the betting opened up, which was never lasting - before siding with Brelan D'As at 20/1 each way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook. It is something of a hit and hope - so I did consider the win-only option - but the price, as ever, compensates. Or else I wouldn't be tipping him.
Ben Haslam has his string in good order on the Flat and Brelan D'As is now on a seriously good mark off 112 if he can re-light some of the fire that saw him rated 144 in his pomp, and start 2021 off on 138 over fences. Some snakes and ladders that.
Third in the 2019 Grand Annual and a narrow runner-up in the betvictor Gold Cup later that year, he at least ran a bit better at Perth last month and I am prepared to give him a chance off a mark in freefall, with Kevin Brogan taking off another 3lb and with trip and ground set to be ideal (if it went soft I'd be happy enough).
I'll get straight to the point and that is I don't have a betting opinion in any of the Listed and Graded races, so I won't be spending much time on those.
Cyrname could romp the Charlie Hall
If a wind op and a break has done the trick then Marie's Rock could take a fair bit of whacking in the mares' hurdle but it is a very competitive little race, while Thomas Darby looks a solid enough proposition at around a similar price of 4/1 on the exchange in the bet365 Hurdle.
The big race of the day, the Charlie Hall, sees the return of Cyrname and he could easily make odds-against quotes seem a gift if a summer off and a wind op sees him return to the form of his win in this race last season, even under his 6lb penalty.
But Shan Blue will be hard-fit against him, and Clondaw Castle is no forlorn hope, so this is another race I can leave alone.
I am a watcher of the five-runner Ladbrokes Champion Chase over at Down Royal too - again, you have to think Gold Cup winner Minella Indo will eat these for a late lunch if pretty straight for his return, but will he be cherry ripe and be fully at home going this way round? - but I am sure Gordon Elliott will have Delta Work revved up, while Galvin is race-fit and is a horse who I think has the profile to establish himself as a proper Grade 1 staying chaser this season.
No, off to Ascot we go for the four televised handicaps there. The going is good to soft, but it could hit soft by race-time.
Two to play at Ascot
There was nothing much doing for me in the seven-runner opener - though I was half-tempted by Whatsupwithyou at double figures - but, having just about resisted him ante-post at 12s, I have to side with Leoncavallo at 11/1 each way, four places, now, in the 1m7f152yd handicap hurdle at 14.10, he has been declared. The 14s disappeared on Thursday but I am happy with 11s.
I fully appreciate he doesn't have the handicapping upside of a Soaring Glory or Boothill (though at around 3s each on the fixed-odds front, that is stating the bleedin' obvious) but what he does possess is a rock-solid profile, and I'll be disappointed if he isn't in the first four at worst.
Expensive, famous last words and all that.
He finished a good fourth on his only previous start at this track and he has a very solid body of work on both the level and jumps of late, finishing a good third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle off this mark last time on his first start since June.
He may just have got a bit tired late on at Ffos Las, but it was a very good return whatever way you cut it, and 3lb claimer Fergus Gillard getting back on board helps lessen the weight burden.
In truth, I do expect him to find or two good here, but I am pretty sure he will run his race, with that run under his belt, and I will be betting accordingly.
If Eamon An Cnoic had been given a sharpener he would have interested me - mind you, he hasn't so I have no idea why I even bothered writing that - but Frero Banbou does for the mighty Venetia in the 14:45.
The trainer won this race first time up in 2015 with Cold March and you have to think there is plenty more to come from her 6yo here.
He sluiced up, admittedly from an 11lb lower mark than this, at Sandown in March - his first start after a wind op - and I think the handicapper has played very fair in dropping him 2lb for his subsequent fourth to Editeur Du Gite in the Red Rum at Aintree, which was a very creditable effort for such a relative youngster.
If we get more rain, then that is probably a positive - not least because I can see him staying a fair bit further down the line - and I will be backing him at 9.08/1 or bigger. Or indeed, 7/1 and upwards; I was amazed to see him available at 11s on Thursday afternoon, and I admit to snaffling a few quid at those odds. Any more rain probably won't harm his cause.
That's about it for me, as I was hoping for a bit bigger price about Johnbb in the 15:20, for all that I think the Aintree second has the ability to rate a lot higher than 140 this season. This is a fairly warm handicap though and, on balance, I can let him go unbacked.
Already recommended ante-post
Eviscerating at 50/1 each way, four places, in 15:40 at Wetherby on Saturday with Betfair Sportsbook
Lignou at 25/1 each way, four places, in 15:40 at Wetherby on Saturday with Betfair Sportsbook.
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2021 FLAT SEASON PROFIT/LOSS (STARTED APRIL 14; ENDS NOVEMBER 6TH)
Back Brelan D'As at 21.020/1 each way, four places, in 13:20 at Wetherby
Back Leoncavallo at 12.011/1 each way, four places, in 14:10 at Ascot
Back Frero Banbou at 9.08/1 or bigger in 14:45 at Ascot
Back Eviscerating at 17.016/1 or bigger in 15:40 at Wetherby
Haafapiece at 10.09/1 or bigger in 15:40 at Wetherby