It's Betfair Fighting Fifth day at Newcastle and Tony Calvin is across the card while he is licking his lips at the prospect of some hugely competitive handicaps at Newbury...
"He looks a very well handicapped horse off 136 on last year’s exploits, and it appears Lavelle believes this horse could prefer this better ground, too (she was worried about the soft ground when he won at Cheltenham as he is a “real easy mover”)."
The temptation is to kick off the Saturday preview with the Ladbrokes Trophy, but regular readers can probably guess what is coming there - or can they? - but I am going to progress in chronological order on ITV's four Newbury races.
It's always a touch cleaner like that I feel, and it is particularly welcome when all of the terrestrial contests are competitive handicaps. In fact, the 16-runner 2m6f handicap chase at 13:15, before ITV come on air, is another cracker, too.
But first up for this column is the 2m4f118yd handicap hurdle at 13:50 in which Hang In There looks decidedly overpriced at 15.014/1 or bigger on the exchange.
Emma Lavelle and 3lb claimer Ben Jones combined for a winner at Taunton on Thursday and I think they have much better chances of another winner here than 16/1+ quotes suggest.
In fact, he is the bet of the day at the price. And he would remain so at 10/1 and upwards, on the exchange and on the Sportsbook (where he is currently a 14/1 poke, and four places are available if you want to side with him each-way).
Hoping for a return to front-running tactics
Okay, Hang In There may have beaten only three of his 13 rivals in his two starts this season, but there was promise in both outings and the handicapper looks to have been overly-generous (hopefully, anyway) in dropping him 5lb.
We could know our fate early here, as I want see the horse revert to the front-running tactics that served him so well last season. I don't think we have seen him at his best by being held up so far this term, and the soft ground he has encountered probably hasn't helped him either.
He was impressive when making all to beat the next-time-out winner and 135-rated Getaway Fred at Exeter last season, and he again led from flag fall to winning post when successful in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham last November.
And, yet again, he was running a very good race (though just headed and beaten at the time) when forcing it and coming down two out in the Sidney Banks won by Shishkin at Huntingdon.
Given the MO of those performances, you have to assume his first two outings this season have been sighters for a prize further down the line.
Hopefully, this one.
He looks a very well handicapped horse off 136 on last year's exploits, and it appears Lavelle believes this horse could prefer this better ground, too (she was worried about the soft ground when he won at Cheltenham as he is a "real easy mover").
As regards the 2m4f trip here, you could argue that may be an issue if this keen sort does go hard up front. But his pedigree strongly hints that 2m4f+ will suit (he is a half-brother to a 3m4f Cork National winner) and indeed he was only just beaten 3/4 -length in a 24-runner maiden hurdle over 2m4f at Fairyhouse when trained in Ireland.
He does have a couple of possible pace rivals to contend with here - On The Wild Side and Howling Milan - and Tea Clipper is a worthy favourite (if getting pretty short now) but I really like the cut of his jib, and will be backing him accordingly.
Marie's not so Rock solid in strong handicap
I don't mind admitting that I let out a fair few expletives upon hearing that Marie's Rock was ruled out of last season's Cheltenham Festival, as I had backed her at 12s, 10s and 8s in the immediate aftermath of her hugely impressive Taunton success last December, and she was set to go off at least half those odds.
Whether she would have won, we will never know - maybe not, given the way Concertista absolutely gagged up - but I reckon she is a fair bit better than her mark of 141, and I am in no mad rush to oppose her in the Gerry Feilden at 14:25.
By the same token, I am certainly not knocking down any doors to back her at around 6/4 either, as I didn't particularly like all I saw in her racecourse gallop at Newbury last week - but maybe we are all best off ignoring those, eh? - and the fact she has also had a wind op since we last saw her hints at an issue in that department as well.
Furthermore, there are plenty in here that you can fancy against her - this is a very strong handicap - and Milkwood has obvious each-way possibilities at 6/1+ given the way the form of his Welsh Champion Hurdle fourth has worked out, left right and centre (the winner, third and fifth won next time, and the runner-up finished second in the Greatwood).
But I will leave the race alone, and come to the big one at 15:00.
Very big run on the cards if everything falls Right
And, yes, my vote in the race does indeed go to Aye Right at 11.010/1 or bigger.
I backed him at 25/1 each-way for this race immediately after his Charlie Hall third to Cyrname and Vinndication, and I see no reason not to put him up here, with 10/1+ a perfectly respectable win-only price. I actually think he has the look of a drifter, so you may get bigger on Saturday.
He obviously has a lot of scope for further progress as a 7yo having had just the five starts over fences, but it could be that a reproduction of that Wetherby third last time against that much higher rated pair will be sufficient to take this prize.
I was expecting him to go up in the region of 7lb for that much-improved performance, so being raised 4lb was a real result for connections, and he will have these all in trouble from an early stage if getting on the front end and jumping as well as he did at Wetherby. He was pretty much foot-perfect there, fast and nimble.
This is a horse with plenty of pace (his Kelso second on his return over 2m1f obviously worked out well with the winner taking the Old Roan next time up) and the 3m2f trip is an unknown, but this looks set to be more of a test of speed than stamina this year in the expected drying conditions (i.e. good ground) and his record on that going reads 31624111.
If he can get into a rhythm near the lead - and admittedly there are a few others in here who like to be up there, such as Secret Investor - then I think a very big run is on the cards.
It is the kind of race you are fully justified in putting up, and backing, two or three, but the counter-argument is that there are simply too many alternatives to choose from.
Potterman will love the ground, and maybe the longer trip, and is 5lb well-in on his Wincanton second, while the world and their partner have been waiting to side with Cloth Cap when he gets these conditions again, and the first-time cheek pieces could be the missing piece in his winning jigsaw.
But the list of possibles just goes on and on - Two For Gold would be next up - so I will just park it there, and stick with just the one play in Aye Right.
Falling mark has tempted me back in
I was going to leave it there for Newbury as a whole but I can't resist one last go at Marracudja at 21.020/1 or bigger in the 2m handicap chase at 15:35.
His three runs this season could well signal that he is a 9yo firmly on the downslope now, but the handicapper has dropped him 10lb for those, and they have not all been without a modicum of merit, especially first time up at Chepstow.
This is a horse who was rated 154 after a 7 ½-length third in a Clarence House to Grade 1 horses less than a year ago, and he is already down to a mark of just 139 five starts later.
They decided to ditch the recent hold-up tactics and try to go from the front again at Ascot last time, which was a curious move given the race had stacks of pace in it, and he was quickly on the back-foot.
Quite what the tactics will be here now Bridget Andrews replaces a 7lb claimer, I am not so sure, but I am paying to find out at 20/1+ off this mark.
Weak favourite in the Grade 1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle
Over to Newcastle, and the fact that just seven of the 10 five-day entries have stood their ground obviously takes the each-way shine off the Betfair Fighting Fifth at 14:05.
But the betting feature of this race in the last 24 hours has been the weakness in Epatante, who currently trades at 2.245/4, having been as short as 1/2 and 4/7 earlier in the week, when there were three more horses in the betting.
That suggests someone expects her to need this pretty badly, but markets can and do change very quickly when the liquidity arrives near the off, so I wouldn't set too much store in that drift.
However, she doesn't face an easy task (even if she has 10lb in hand on official figures), as she meets three rivals rated 158 and above, and front-blasters Not So Sleepy and last year's winner Cornerstone Lad could take some of these out of their comfort zone from an early stage.
Not So Sleepy at 50/1+ on the exchange probably makes the most betting appeal now this is effectively a win-only affair - unless, of course you want to lay the favourite at her inflated odds (probably not advisable) - as he ran a great race when fourth in the Cesarewitch last month and looked so good at Ascot last season, but it is another race I can watch, and not bet in.
Not So Sleepy would be my idea of the best bet if you wanted a very small interest, though he clearly has a lot to find and Epatante is well into backable territory now at odds-against.
A lot going for my 10/1 antepost tip
I put up The Butcher Said at 10/1 each-way, four places, for the Betfair Rehearsal Chase at 15:15 in Tuesday's ante-post column, so that position is very healthy given he is now under half the price (he has been matched at 4.67/2 in fact), with only 10 runners having been confirmed.
Basically, what I argued there stands true, but it obviously bears repeating.
He wants decent ground, three miles is his trip and I think he is fairly handicapped on his first three chase starts, which included two 3m good-ground wins and a narrow second over 2m4f at Uttoxeter (the defeat came in a good time, too).
But it could be his worse chase start on paper that points to him being very well treated here.
Of course, his 20-length third to The Big Breakaway at Cheltenham last time is no reflection of what he could have achieved that day, and he fleetingly traded at odds-on (a low of 1.625/8) when coming with a strong run rounding the straight, only to peck badly on landing two out.
I don't think he would have got close to the winner myself, as The Big Breakaway found plenty up the straight, but it must be noted that The Butcher Said was giving him 8lb there.
Off a mark of 139, he has a lot going for him, but I think he has hit his correct price now, and he may even drift out to 6/1+.
I fear the Nicky Henderson pair, both of whom will love the ground, and the progressive Whatmore, so I am not going to recommend a fresh bet, and will rely on the three Newbury punts.
Best of luck.
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