Cheltenham is just a week away but Saturday's racing is worthy of an antepost preview and Tony Calvin provides just that, focusing on selections at Sandown
"Langer Dan is actually 5lb lower than when sixth, beaten under 5 lengths, in the Boodles at the Festival last season - and runner-up Night Edition did that form no harm when second at Kelso last weekend - and he is clearly one well handicapped horse, and one whose best form has come in the soft (though he has won on good)."
T'was the week before racing's Christmas, when all through the house, no-one was punting too much, not even with their mouse.
I am not sure that works on any level but it is staying in (well, I have filed it anyway), as it illustrates that most eyes are now firmly set on Cheltenham, and that Saturday's racing on ITV wouldn't be the most high-profile.
Sorry to be a snob, but Wolverhampton's three terrestrial races were quickly put on the back-burner for me until Thursday and I am going to focus purely on Sandown in this ante-post piece.
And, to backtrack slightly, three of the four ITV races from Esher are actually right up my strasse - that is to say handicaps, with the other contest being a bumper - so I had a good look at them.
And I found a bet.
After a lot of deliberation, and the odd uttered blasphemy about changing prices, it must be said.
Dan's Dan a worthy bet at the prices
Natural History headed the Betfair Sportsbook's betting for the 21-runner Imperial Cup (2.25pm) at 9/2 when the market went up early on Monday and you can fully see why.
And you can also fully see why the 9/2 lasted little longer than the time it takes a boil an egg, with the 9/2 quickly becoming 7/2 and then 3/1 (and the 5s elsewhere in the marketplace also did a quick disappearing act, too), even if the Monday punters were guessing as to what his revised mark would be at that stage.
I bet those backers were hoping for a little less than a 16lb rise, revealed first thing on Tuesday.
However, he is rated 101 on the Flat and comes here after bolting up by 15 lengths at Plumpton in a decent time last week.
This race was immediately namechecked as the plan for the horse after that stroll and, given his Flat prowess, I doubt that the rise (confirmed on Tuesday morning) will stop him going very close.
The ground is currently good to soft at Sandown but I'd be working on the basis of soft on Saturday judged on the forecast, and that should suit this horse (who has winning form on both good and heavy) just fine.
He has a scary profile for the opposition (and for those looking to oppose him in the betting) but there are a fair few in here that will be fancying their chances, too.
Paul Nicholls has four live contenders. The early betting suggests Rockadenn is the number one after his Taunton win but it is fair to say that Malaya is a lot better than her Ascot run last time and she is now 2lb lower than when winning this race two years ago.
This could have been the long-term plan for her and 16/1 looks a fair price, each-way - especially with the Sportsbook offering five places - but she is just a bit too hit-and-miss for my liking these days.
It is not often you see "eyecatcher" in an in-running comment but, having backed him that day, I can assure you that was fully justified when assessing Langer Dan's run at Market Rasen last time.
I know it is very easy to be lulled and reeled in by a fast-finisher but, having sat so far off the pace in a seven-runner race, no-one was going to miss his closing effort there.
Perhaps he needed the run after a wind op but, either way, the run screamed promise.
Saying that, the Sportsbook did largely miss the glaringly obvious, as they went 14s early doors. And the 12s then became 8s sooner after.
The question I forever ask myself in these situations is whether the current price is worth taking, having missed the fancy odds, and I was torn (I have been using that word a lot recently) here as to whether to still tip him.
Sometimes, you are better off simply ignoring past prices, and concentrating on the here and now.
You have to assume this race has been on Langer Dan's agenda for a while given the Market Rasen run - for which he was actually dropped 1lb, unbelievably - and he is still in the Martin Pipe and Coral Cup next week (for which he probably needs to win here to have a chance of getting in).
He is actually 5lb lower than when sixth, beaten under 5 lengths, in the Boodles at the Festival last season - and runner-up Night Edition did that form no harm when second at Kelso last weekend - and he is clearly one well handicapped horse, and one whose best form has come in the soft (though he has won on good).
So, sh*t or get off the pot, as Line Of Duty fans may ask. If 8s was the first price I saw, would have I sided with him?
The answer was yes, so I am going to recommend an each-way bet at 8/1, five places.
The form of the Dan Skelton yard remains criminally good, too. I assume he is an intended runner but I don't know.
Hang In There is another horse I have previous with and he is very well handicapped off 131 now, but I want to see the pace set-up on Thursday before going near him, even at the current 20/1.
One of the attractive things about the Imperial Cup market is that you would have thought most of the 21 entries would be running (the maximum is 22, so all are assured of a run should they so wish), given the prize money and Cheltenham bonus on offer.
Two other handicaps tough to crack
That is something you cannot say for sure about the other two Sandown handicaps on the ITV card, and I certainly don't have any issue with those at the head of the market for the 2m4f handicap hurdle (1.50pm), in which Betfair Hurdle fourth Annual Invictus, Karl Philippe and Martinhal (who beat Karl Philippe at Exeter in January) all have very strong claims to me.
But, then again, there is impressive depth to the race and I am very much inclined to leave the race alone until Friday.
I can leave any bumper to others (as well as the all-weather action from Wolverhampton). which leaves just the 2m4f handicap chase (3.35pm) for our ante-post purposes.
The five-day entry of 14 runners is a little light for the prize money on offer, even though, once again, we have some seriously in-form horses amongst them.
Belargus interested me most - the first firm up on Monday made him a 12/1 chance, and he is a general 10s poke - as I thought he was very good when winning over sub-2m here in heavy ground recently.
A 9lb rise was predictable enough and I also quite like the angle of him stepping up in trip on the expected better ground, but he is also in at Leicester on Friday, as well as holding two Sandown entries (the other at 4.45pm) on Saturday, so I have to hold fire here, too.
Tony Calvin PROFIT AND LOSS RECORDS
FEB: +17.82; JAN: -0.2; DEC:- -20.8; NOV: +23
2020 FLAT SEASON (June 1-November): +20.8
PREVIOUS P AND L (April 14 2017 to Apr 1 2020): +303.4
NB: All recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP, not at prices available at time of publishing.