It is a jam-packed Saturday with high-quality racing at Sandown, Musselburgh, Wetherby and Leopardstown, and Tony Calvin brings betting thoughts to all those meetings...
"Talking of stamina, I note A Toi Phil is still in the Grand National and, rated just 138 (he was 159 at his peak in Ireland in 2017) he will need to be winning quickly to be giving himself a chance of getting a spot at Aintree."
Ten races to go at on Saturday - and the same on Sunday - so no flowery intros this week and straight into battle. I just hope that Sandown passes a 3pm inspection on Friday.
It promises to be some weekend in Ireland but we may as well start with Sandown and the good news that A Toi Phil, our 20-1 ante-post, each way, five places, recommendation is one of only eight horses declared for the Masters Handicap Chase at 15:30 so we are clearly set fair there.
In fact, if we don't get a place draw at the very least I really do know my luck - and judgement - is seriously out of the window.
Of course, that is of no use to those new to the party and just because a horse was an attractive ante-post bet doesn't mean he remains a punt in the day-of-race market.
However, in this case, I really do think he remains very fairly priced at around the 8/1 mark on the exchange now that the race has really cut up.
The fact that three of his seven rivals are bang out of form and wear first-time headgear hopefully tells a story of desperation - even if one of that trip is last year's winner Deise Aba - while another, Calipso Collonges, was also pulled up last time, so he hardly comes here in the peak of form, either.
You can have no arguments with the progressive Ask Me Early being favourite (though two of these could take him on for the lead), Coo Star Sivola is very dangerous now off his falling mark and Kiltealy Briggs will love the heavy ground, but I certainly wouldn't be laying off my A Toi Phil bet at around 9s.
In fact, I am pressing up.
One of the concerns I had about him was that most of his best efforts have come in small fields, but that is no longer relevant, and the other worry was his ability to see out 3m in heavy ground around here.
And, boy, will this be heavy, especially with all races taking place on the chase course. What will the ground be like by the 4.05pm?!
I don't live too far from Sandown and you can't even walk on the grass here (though some would say I make a bigger print than a horse), so I am very surprised the chase course was raceable. And that was even before the course got another 12mm on Thursday. Little wonder they called an inspection on Friday morning.
But his form in Ireland tells us A Toi Phil is pretty handy on that front.
As I mentioned in my ante-post piece on Tuesday, I stuck him up at a price at Kempton on his seasonal return last month, and I thought he shaped well considering he found things happening a touch too quickly for him around there over 2m4f trip on good to soft ground.
However, he stayed on well to be never nearer than at the line in finishing a 10 ½ length fourth, suggesting this longer trip and deeper ground could suit him now in his advancing years.
His stamina in this ground is certainly no gimme but he ran well when fifth in a Kerry National over 3m in heavy ground back in 2017, and he did well over an extended 2m7f when fourth at 40/1 on his stable debut in the Betfair Denman Chase this time last year.
And, talking of stamina, I note he is still in the Grand National and, rated just 138 (he was 159 at his peak in Ireland in 2017) he will need to be winning quickly to be giving himself a chance of getting a spot at Aintree.
If you are going to have a bet, then he is he one to be on I feel, and I am going to go in again at 9.08/1 or bigger win-only.
Famous last words and all that, but his normally assured jumping should stand him in really good stead around here.
My other Sandown thoughts...
Given we have so many ITV races to get through, I am only going to give non-betting contests only the briefest of mentions.
None of the first three races on ITV at Sandown have attracted eight runners, but they will have the purists purring, if not each-way punters.
I have no issue with the way the seven-runner 1m7f119yd handicap chase at 13:15 is priced up, so I can let that pass. Four of the seven have gone forward in the recent past, so tactics could have a big say there, too.
Give me five bets in this seven-runner race and I could quite easily miss the winner - the only one I can't see in the number one spot is Up The Straight - so I am not going to waffle on too much.
But it could be that we are all having the "is it fair that mares get the 7lb allowance?" argument once again after this race as Dame De Compagnie really was very taking when putting the 159-rated hurdler Cornerstone Lad in his place in a match at Ayr on her chasing debut.
Mind you, Shan Blue promises to get his own way out in front if seeing off Paint The Dream early doors and you can see him being hard to reel in - and the unpenalised Hitman and impressive Wincanton winner Messire Des Obeaux are clearly major players, too - so it is time to drag out the well-worn racing/betting cliché.
Watch and no bet.
Ditto the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at 14:20. Bristol De Mai, Native River and Yala Enki all like to press forward, so it will be interesting to see how this race plays tactically too. I could write 500 words on this race and come to the same conclusion, and that is another big, fat, no bet.
And will we see Santini? If Nicky Henderson wants to avoid heavy ground for his Gold Cup runner-up, he shouldn't be heading to Esher.
I'll be on Gardefort
Pace could be key yet again in the 2m4f handicap chase at 14:55 as six of the 10 haven't hung around in the recent past.
I can see recent course winner Doitforthevillage going well again but I am tempted to forgive Gardefort a woeful effort at Wincanton last time, where he ran like a drain, even if he is one of the aforementioned potential forward-goers.
Connections were inclined to blame the bounce factor for his run last time, but it was a desperate display whatever the reason.
But at least the price factors in that run and I think 2m4f in heavy ground will suit him better than good to soft over a sub-2m at Wincanton did, and this is one well handicapped horse if Venetia Williams has got him back on song after a month's break.
He is thrown in off 124 on his 2017/18 form and that is the mark he ran off when second to Benny's King on his return off a long absence on heavy ground at Ascot in December.
He was beaten 6 lengths there but the winner went close off a 7lb higher mark in a better race next time, and the third won at Kempton on his following start. They pulled nearly 10 lengths clear of the fourth.
If Gardefort reproduces that run, he could well win this, and he clearly loves deep ground as a three-time heavy ground winner. Back him at 13.012/1 or bigger.
With the chases on the card already canned after a Friday morning inspection, I will be pleasantly surprised if Wetherby beats the rain on Saturday - the horses and jockeys may not be, and they are having another look at 8am on Saturday - so I am happy to ignore the racing there for the purposes of this column, so over to Musselburgh we go. It will be a minimum of soft here.
I put up Bob Mahler at 16/1 each-way, four places, ante-post for the Edinburgh National at 15:45 on Tuesday but I readily accept it was a speculative play.
The reason for forgiving him three pulled-up efforts this season is that he had his wind done after the first disappointment, and trainer Warren Greatrex told me on Tuesday that his saddle slipped once again (it did at Haydock previously, too) at Kelso last time, where I simply thought he ran a no-excuses Barry Crocker.
I won't go in again but he is now just 2lb higher than when winning this race last season and he went on to finish third in the soft in the Kim Muir after going up 5lb.
He wore first-time blinkers in that Cheltenham race, and they are back on the first time since here. I am hopeful if not confident, he can bounce back to form off a falling handicap mark - there is a lot of pace in here, which will suit him - but I won't put him up afresh, given the obvious doubts and the lesser price.
As the betting suggests, doughty stayer Le Breuil has an obvious chance yet again and Billy Bronco looks dangerous from the bottom of the weights at 10-1.
Colin Tizzard had his first winner for yonks at Wincanton on Thursday, and I think I still had hair the last time Harry Whittington got one on the board (well, it was 85 days ago to be precise).
However, his Torigni was of some interest at around 7/1 in the 14:05 as he shaped really well behind Cadzand and Christopher Wood (re-opposes here) at Kempton last time and is a very lightly-raced performer proven in testing conditions.
But the stable form going into Friday was still a big concern - I want to see some evidence of a half-decent run from one of the yard first, and they even had a fancied horse plant itself at the start in the bumper at Wincanton on Thursday - and this is a competitive race, as the lofty title of the Scottish County Hurdle suggests it should be.
Outsider could win his 'Cheltenham'
Over to Leopardstown then.
Sorry to hark on about my ante-post recommendations again, but on Wednesday afternoon I put up Petit Mouchoir at 20/1 in the Irish Champion Hurdle at 15:15 and he remains the bet in the race at a similar price with all six standing their ground.
I know he is the outsider of the party with a bit to find with Honeysuckle and Sharjah, and heavy ground may not be ideal for him (though the forecast is improving and it may not be that bad now), but I would not ignore him for the following reasons...
Firstly, you suspect that this race is his Cheltenham, which perhaps isn't the case for the other five in the contest.
And you have to factor in the Gordon Elliott and the tactics angle too, I feel. And of course his record in this race.
Former handlers Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins wouldn't be the easiest acts to follow, and they had steered the horse to some big Grade 1 days, but Elliott, who actually had the horse when he won his bumper, is a master, too.
The horse's high-level successes for De Bromhead came in the 2016 Ryanair Hurdle by 7 lengths in 2016 and this very race a month later, while other notable performances at the top table included a third in a Champion Hurdle and a length third to Honeysuckle here last season.
The 2m hurdling pedigree is there then and he certainly suggested plenty of the fire is still burning when a 5-length third to Sharjah on his stable debut for Elliott here last month.
He wasn't drilled there by any means on his first start since Galway in late July, coming back strongly at the line after losing his place rounding the final bend, and this looks an ideal opportunity - given the run-style of the opposition - for them to resume front-running tactics with the horse.
A solo awaits.
All his best career performances have come from the front, including when winning this in 2017, and I just think he could get these at if he goes hard and early.
Chacun Pour Soi will no doubt be the middle leg of my Betfair Podcast colleague Hugh Cahill's Leopardstown weekend Union Jack multiple in the Dublin Chase at 13:35 at around 1/2, but I will not be following in the odds-on hound (Cahill, not the horse) myself.
Good luck on a packed punting Saturday, but picking your battles and selectivity is key for me, especially in the prevailing conditions.
And it is more of the same on Sunday, so I will be seeing you tomorrow, you lucky devils.
Gardefort at 13.012/1 or bigger in 14:55 at Sandown
A Toi Phil at 9.08/1 or bigger in 15:30 at Sandown
A Toi Phil at 20/1 each way, five places, in Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown (3:30pm) with Betfair Sportsbook
Bob Mahler in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh (2.05pm) at 16/1 each way, four places with Betfair Sportsbook
Petit Mouchoir at 20/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook and/or exchange in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday (3.15pm).