We're set for a tremendous afternoon at Haydock on Betfair Chase day and Tony Calvin is here to guide you through the action as well as giving his thoughts on the televised Ascot races...
"The assessor has played pretty fair in raising him only 1lb and he will love the expected good to soft ground, and he excelled when second in a big field over 2m4f at Aintree last season."
There is always a risk one will come out on the day once all the connections have walked the course - we are looking at good to soft here, maybe a touch quicker - but how great is it to have a Grade 1 race, the centrepiece of the betting day, paying three places for each-way punters?
Small things matter a lot in this game and having eight runners (out of nine at the five-day stage) standing their ground for Haydock's Betfair Chase makes the race such a more attractive betting proposition.
Of course, many will believe that isn't necessarily so for each-way enthusiasts, as form horses A Plus Tard and Bristol De Mai will prove hard to kick out of the frame. So maybe there is only one place up for grabs, and the remaining six all do have claims of sorts.
But Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard has been beaten at short prices on his last three seasonal reappearances - though you have to think Henry de Bromhead will have him pretty tuned up for this more important prize - and three-time winner Bristol De Mai would clearly prefer softer ground, for all he has won this race on good in the past.
So while you do not need me to tell you that both have the meatiest winning claims - and I wouldn't want to be laying Bristol De Mai at around 4/1 on the exchange - there are options.
I'm staying patient in the Betfair Chase
I nailed my colours to the mast with 8/1 Waiting Patiently each-way, three places, ante-post on Monday and I am happy enough with that position, although I suspect he will drift, maybe even to a double-figure price on the exchange, and I am not inclined to press up here.
The reasons why I sided with him were many, and not least because I think the switch to Christian Williams - and some enjoyable lung-opening trips to the beach - could enliven him and see him return to his best, and hopefully maybe even improve him, though that may be a touch fanciful now he is a 10yo.
The horse has clearly been very hard to train down the years, but that did not stop him winning a Betfair Ascot Chase in 2018, and finishing second to Frodon in the King George on Boxing Day, so he is a proper Grade 1 animal on his day and not far off the principals in his pomp.
And hopefully his finishing effort at Kempton, from miles off the pace, didn't flatter to deceive as regards his potential at this trip.
It was interesting to hear Williams say earlier in the week that there have been no indications that his stamina for 3m+ will be an issue there, especially on decent ground, judging from his work on his stiff gallops.
Throw in the fact that he has beaten Politologue on his only start at this track, and he goes very well when fresh, and I think Waiting Patiently is the likeliest candidate to lower the colours of the top two.
I won't go in again, but I remain hopeful he can at least hit the board.
Itchy can lower Brave man's colours
If you offered me a match bet concerning the likelihood of me growing an afro or having a bet in a four-runner novice/graduation chase in 2021, I would have plumped for the former.
But I would have done my money as I had to act when Itchy Feet was priced up at 9/2 for the 13:50 on Thursday. Only small, mind you, but a bet (£50 if you must know) was duly struck. The question is do I put him up here now the 9/2 has gone?.
I appreciate Ballymore third Bravemansgame looked great, and jumped impeccably, when beating the subsequent, fortunate Charlie Hall winner Fusil Raffles on his chasing debut at Newton Abbot. But he was getting 12lb off the runner-up who was probably being geared to Wetherby and he couldn't have asked for a more hassle-free round.
I am not saying he will not get his own way out in front again here but he gets only 4lb from a Grade 1 winner and the price differential (the Sportsbook made him an 8/15 chance on Thursday) is just plain wrong. And Pay The Piper is no mug, either.
But Itchy Feet, who beat Midnight Shadow in the Scilly Isles last year, comes here on the back of what is arguably a career-best second to Allmankind in the Old Roan last time in first-time cheekpieces - his old foe and last weekend's Paddy Power winner Midnight Shadow was in third - and if he can back that run up then he is going to give the favourite a lot more trouble than the current betting suggests. A lot more.
However, I do readily admit that he makes too many mistakes for his own good and often doesn't travel kindly in his races, which could be a big issue around here if Bravemansgame gets into a rhythm, so I will just stop short of sticking him up. He is surely the best bet in the race at around 4s on the exchange if you want one, though.
Dans still a confident bet in handicap hurdle
I also had to do a double-take when the Betfair Sportsbook made Dans Le Vent a 20/1 chance when they went back up with the Betfair Exchange Stayers Handicap Hurdle market early on Thursday. The cheek, I thought, as I had tipped him up at 14/1 win-only ante-post.
I fully respect Riggs after a tee-up job for this at Aintree on his reappearance, and anything that Emmet Mullins brings over necessitates that Rightplacerightime, who runs in The Shunter's old colours, has to be feared - indeed, it is a hugely competitive race, as you would expect - but I have not gone off Dans Le Vent at all.
The 20s and 18s on Thursday predictably didn't last long but I sat there with my bald head in my hands in the evening as the 16s became 14s then 12s.
As people who know me will be testify, I am incredibly price sensitive when tipping - I half-envy some tipsters who don't mention any odds in their columns and copy - so I thought long and hard about deciding to stick with him at 12s each-way, five places. I wouldn't go any lower though, and I suspect he may drift out again.
There is not a lot of guaranteed pace in here - Martinhal, Winningsverything and maybe the Mullins beast, who does scare me after a switch of tactics saw him make all over fences at Fairyhouse at the start of the month - so I really hope Isobel Williams doesn't drop out Dans Le Vent too far out of the back.
I like dubious stayers (and I have to accept he does have a slight doubt there) to be ridden more prominently than to be anchored towards the rear, especially as the pace can hold up around this hurdles track at Haydock with the ground riding quicker than is usually the case.
I'll get to the stamina issue in a moment but what is inarguable is that he comes here on the back of what his trainer believes was a career-best run at Ffos Las on his return, a race in which he travelled well throughout and finished off strongly. Despite being clearly given a mountain to climb, albeit over an inadequate 2m.
That race was run in a very good time and, while the form has not worked out spectacularly, the winner ran well enough when sixth in the Greatwood Hurdle and the third, Leoncavallo, did run a stormer when second in a hot handicap at Ascot afterwards.
The assessor has played pretty fair in raising him only 1lb and he will love the expected good to soft ground, and he excelled when second in a big field over 2m4f at Aintree last season.
And, back to that nagging doubt, the trip.
Having reviewed that second at Aintree, and his staying-on from the rear eighth in the 2m5f Coral Cup, I actually think he wants 3m now.
And, although he was 0 from 5 over the trip in 2018 and 2019, there was nothing at all wrong with his second at Doncaster over an extended 3m, a race in which he incidentally made the running.
If regular 5lb claimer Williams has him on the premises two out, I will be getting very excited.
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Handicapper has given Ramses a big chance
It was as surprising as it was disappointing to see the 3m1f handicap chase at 15:35 cut up from 21 at the five-day stage to just seven runners.
Strictlyadancer obviously deserves to be favourite after his brace of Cheltenham victories but he has gone up 12lb for those, so I would want a lot bigger than 7/4 myself (he looks a drifter to me), and I was seriously toying with taking him on with the next in the betting, Ramses De Teillee.
He often leaves his first run of the season well behind him next time out, as he did when winning in 2018 and 2020 - he won on his 2019 campaign debut - so that poor run at Newton Abbot over hurdles on his reappearance didn't bother me in the slightest.
He has form figures of 214 around here and the handicapper has given him some chance, dropping him 5lb over fences since his last run over them in the Midlands National in March, and that generosity allows him to scrape into this 0-145 off a ceiling mark of 147.
So, all things considered, I am not toying, I am backing him, at 5.04/1 or bigger.
Benny strongly fancied to be King second time out
I better deal with the Ascot races a bit more succinctly, as I have probably hit the optimum word count already, so the small ITV fields there at least help in that regard.
I was obviously delighted to see the 2m5f Grade 2 chase at 14:05 cut up to just six runners, as I made the case for Bennys King at 12/1 each-way, three places, in my Tuesday ante-post column.
That's obviously a great bet now he is 8/1, with only two places on offer, so need to press up, but I will re-state the argument for him from earlier this week.
He may not have the necessary class to win - he has around 7lb to find if the form horses run up to their marks, which is far from a given for varying reasons - and his record suggests that softer ground would be preferable, but he has won on the likely going and what he will have are his ideal trip and track conditions.
He clearly doesn't stay 3m, so his reappearance run over that trip here last month was very likely a set-up job for this, and his record second time out is phenomenal.
He has won on his second start of the season in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020, so his recent pulled-up effort over 3m does not concern me at all.
Guard can give Buzz something to think about
Buzz may have a touch harder task on his hooves than his odds of around evens suggest in the Coral Hurdle at 14:40 - the Betfair Sportsbook initially put Guard Your Dreams up as the 10/1 outsider, which rightly tempted plenty in given the manner in which he won a strong 2m4f Cheltenham handicap last time, and he was quickly cut to 7s - but I suspect he will just about win this and shorten further for the Stayers' Hurdle, which appears the long-term plan for the Cesarewitch winner.
For openness, I admit to backing the 5yo Guard Your Dreams at 9/2 without Buzz in the wider marketplace on Thursday afternoon, as that Cheltenham win came in a good time and the form is working out already.
Runner-up Coole Cody was in the process of running a screamer when coming down two out in the Paddy Power, and the fourth home, Art Approval, gagged up next time (the third, Captain Morgs, runs at Ascot on Friday afternoon). I think Guard Your Dreams could give Buzz a race.
I thought the seven-runner 2m handicap chase at 15:15 was a nasty little race, to be honest.
In short, I could make a case for them all at their respective chances, so nothing doing here.
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PROFIT AND LOSS (FROM APRIL 14)
Waiting Patiently at 8/1 each-way, three places, with Betfair Sportsbook in the Betfair Chase at 15:00 at Haydock on Saturday.
Dans Le Vent at 14/1 win-only in Betfair Exchange Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at 2.25pm at Haydock on Saturday
Bennys King at 12/1 each-way, three places, in 2.05pm at Ascot on Saturday