It's going to be extremely testing conditions at both Ascot and Haydock on Saturday, but that hasn't prevented Tony Calvin from putting up a trio of fresh tips to consider...
"He was dropped 2lb for his Aintree return and he is now only the same amount higher than when a neck second over 2m5f in heavy ground here in January, and I think the step down to 2m2f175yd in this ground may be a good move."
The Ascot going stick reading on Friday morning was 4.3, which basically translates as "expect a mud bath on Saturday", especially as the ground will have been churned up by racing the day before and with plenty more rain forecast on Friday onwards.
In one way that is good for punters, as we all know what to expect, but perhaps it is not that straightforward and helpful.
You often hear trainers and jockeys say after some lung-busters in hock-deep ground for their horses that "he goes in heavy, but not in that" (or something along those lines) and I suspect Ascot - and indeed Haydock - could fall into that borderline-unraceable category this weekend.
It may well be stating' the bleedin' obviously but whatever is the least inconvenienced by the conditions wins. Talent could be secondary.
Maybe I am being overly-pessimistic once again - it is a failing I know, but I despair of perma-happy people - and it will be fine and dandy on both tracks, and the fields have certainly held up well at Ascot.
Very happy with ante-post position in Betfair Exchange Trophy
Seventeen confirmed for the Betfair Exchange Trophy at 15:35. While that is great news for the sponsors and day-of-race punters, those of us with ante-post bets will have liked a much smaller field!
Joking aside (well half-joking, anyway), I am very happy with my ante-post positions on both Malaya and Lightly Squeeze.
You can read the case I made for them on Tuesday but I will re-state it for those new to the party, as I think they are still backable even at their reduced prices.
The Betfair Sportsbook are paying six places on their race now, too.
The argument for Malaya is about as convincing as you can make in a handicap hurdle of this hugely competitive nature. Hopefully, anyway.
Admittedly she blew out at this track last year when a 9/1 chance but she went there on the back of an aborted novice chase campaign and it looks like she has been teed up properly this year for this valuable pot.
We know how effective she is in deep ground and at this course (track form figures of 14622), and the most recent second placing came when runner-up to Kid Commando here in October, a race in which Bryony Frost didn't persevere unduly after the last once the winner was on top.
Malaya went up 1lb for that, but that was fair enough given she finished 10 lengths clear of the third, and she is only 3lb higher than when winning the Imperial Cup at Sandown in March 2019, despite making a show-stopper of a mistake at the second-last.
The final piece in the jigsaw could be a first-time tongue-tie - a move sometimes used by trainers when their horses race in extreme ground, even when they don't have wind issues - and she is very fairly priced at 12s or bigger win-only on the exchange.
Backing Lightly Squeeze carries a greater doubt, as he has had a wind-op since his Welsh Champion Hurdle run in October (and he, too, sports an initial tongue-tie here) and you never truly know how that will help and benefit horses until they experience the exertion of racing conditions, especially in this type of ground.
But if it has done the trick then he is a massive player. He won in heavy ground at Wincanton on Boxing Day, and even the bare form of his Welsh Champion Hurdle seventh at Ffos Las last time gives him viable claims, given how well the race has worked out.
He travelled well into the race there before his run petered out very quickly (which prompted the wind op, no doubt) and I hope the handicapper has been premature by dropping him 3lb. Harry Fry has his team in really good order, too.
I am not putting up either horse afresh and nor am I sticking up another bet - Oakley, who I tipped when a no-show for the Greatwood, would be my best of the rest, though beware the Irish raider Belfast Banter - but I am more than happy with my ante-post pair against the field.
They liked to come from off the pace, and I counted at least five possible front-runners in here.
Bennys can be King but Drumcliff a fair alternative
The first of the four Ascot races on ITV4 is the 2m3f handicap chase at 13:50 and the two I liked most at the prices were Bennys King and Drumcliff.
The former is the premier bet at 9.08/1 or bigger.
I was quite surprised that he was so strong in the market on his return at Aintree as Dan Skelton said he would need the run beforehand - the horse went off at 4/1, and was just a touch bigger at 5.49/2 at Betfair SP - and he certainly ran like a rusty horse, as he was never really travelling after halfway.
It was a similar story on his reappearance last season when he was sent off the 3/1 jolly at Stratford, only to finish a well-beaten sixth.
But he came on a ton for that run to win by six lengths at Newbury next time, and hopefully he will repeat the feat here.
He was dropped 2lb for his Aintree return and he is now only the same amount higher than when a neck second over 2m5f in heavy ground here in January, and I think the step down to 2m2f175yd in this ground may be a good move.
He won over an extended 2m3f in the heavy at Chepstow back in 2018 and he will do for me here.
Drumcliff is a fair alternative at 9/1+ if you want to go in two-handed. He came back to form over 2m5f here last time (when tried in cheek pieces, which are retained here) and, even though raised 1lb, he is still 12lb shy of his peak rating. And the step down 2f in trip looks a positive for him, too.
Whether he wants it quite this deep we shall see (though Timeform called it heavy when he won here in 2018 under today's jockey) but he is at home in soft, he is a course winner, and it is interesting that 5lb claimer is back on board for the first time in yonks. She is two from three on the horse, and the horse fell in the Galway Plate on the other occasion.
I will add him as a saver at 10.09/1 or bigger. There are four in here that like to go on, which should suit my pair.
Two cracking races but I'm happy to leave them alone
The market for a cracking Long Walk at 14:25 is now pretty well established - the ante-post line soon told us that Sire Du Berlais wouldn't be coming over - and I can't see an obvious backing edge.
I may personally try to lay Thyme Hill and Paisley Park combined on the exchange so I have the field running for me at around 11/8 - I can see Main Fact and Roksana winning, and some of the horses priced up at 20/1+ are no mugs - but I have little to add on the race other than that.
The Conditional looks a solid enough favourite in the 3m handicap chase at 15:00 after his reappearance third in the Ladbrokes Trophy. And he won in filthy conditions at Cheltenham last season so he has fair chances of handling the ground.
However, you can quite easily make a case for several of his rivals at twice his price and more - old boy Regal Encore, winner of this race last year and in 2016, is back on his favourite stomping ground, and Ladbrokes Trophy sixth Ardlethen will appreciate the step back to 3m - but it is a race I can leave alone. No point forcing a bet for the sake of an interest.
Don't Pass on McGowans in handicap hurdle at Haydock
We also have two ITV4 races at Haydock - Betfair-sponsored races again, no less - and it promises to be even more testing here than at Ascot.
The track is a magnet for rain - you know what I mean - and I do fear for the meeting if they get as much rain as some sites are forecasting from now on. It has been heavy there since last weekend and it hasn't been a dry week. And it is going to get wetter, by all accounts.
I would tread carefully on the staking front myself - it really can be desperate slow-motion stuff here, as we saw with Perfect Candidate's win here earlier in the season, albeit that was over 3m5f - but Mcgowans Pass will relish the slop and slog in the 2m3f handicap hurdle at 14:05.
The question is will he see out the trip in the ground, and will this forward-goer be too inconvenienced by the possible attention of Chirico Vallis and Electron Bleu on the front end?
The counter-argument is that he doesn't need to lead and he seemed to get home okay when second over 2m5f at Kelso back in January (the winner followed up off a 7lb higher mark two starts later, and a certain Lake View Lad was third in that race, too), so I am going to stick him up at 10.09/1 or bigger.
His record on officially heavy ground is 211534122, and I think a 3lb rise for his short-head second over 2m at Ayr last time is fair.
The winner blew out over 2m3f here next time but he may not have stayed there, and they pulled 22 lengths clear of the third, who ran well in defeat when filling the same placing (this time beaten just 4½ lengths) at Leicester afterwards.
And of course Mcgowan's Pass's second to the then 123-rated Main Fact at Wetherby back in March - again off just a 3lb higher mark than this, with a next-time-out winner in third - was not too shoddy an effort.
Yes, he is a very fair 9s poke, all things considered.
Little to recommend Salty Boy but he could be a tasty bet
The Betfair Tommy Whittle over an extended 3m1f at 14:40 will not be tor the faint-hearted.
I like Sojourn but I just wonder whether this is a race for a lightly-raced horse with so little experience. And, of course, he did go up 11lb for his impressive win last month, is thought to be best when fresh and is a touch on the short side at around 7/2 on the exchange.
I am going to leave this race alone but I have an inkling that Salty Boy could outrun his price at 20/1+.
I never put up a horse that I can't make a convincing case for on paper, and I struggled here.
His stamina is a big doubt, he has no form on ground this heavy and even the first-time cheekpieces are not bet-inducing, stats-wise (the trainer is 1 from 30 with this switch since 2016, though The Conditional did win second time out in them at the Festival).
But I think I saw enough in his two runs this season to suggest he is a well handicapped horse now off 125 (he has been dropped 5lb, which brings him to an 8lb lower mark than his hurdles mark) - he didn't drop away as seemed likely at one stage over 3m at Ascot last time, though he beat only one home - so I literally may chuck a tenner his way. He clearly shaped well over 2m4f at Sandown previously.
However, I can't put him up on such a flimsy case.
Editorial standards and all that.