Tony Calvin looks ahead to the weekend racing, with tough conditions expected around the country, as the former Champion Hurdle winner in Buveur D'Air returns to action.
"I was very surprised that the first two firms made Buveur D'Air as short as a 4/7 and 1/2 chance, so good luck if you took those kind of odds about a horse coming back after such a long absence in desperate conditions against two talented, race-fit rivals who have handled bad ground in the past."
I think you would be on a winner if you had a treble on all of ITV Racing's three meetings - Ascot, Haydock and Taunton - taking place on heavy ground this Saturday.
Mind you, it probably wouldn't pay much and you would also want NRNB, too.
Buveur D'Air unappealing despite small field
Given the current state of the going and the horrid forecast nationwide this week, you have to think there is a fair chance (even odds-on) that Haydock could be abandoned given the track is already heavy and set to get up to 90mm of rain before the weekend if some sites are to be believed.
Haydock is one course that never seems to get the rub of the green when it comes to the weather, but hopefully it copes with whatever the sky rains down on it, as some high-class horses are potentially set to line-up.
Top-class in the case of the dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D'Air, not seen out since returning with half a tree lodged in his foot after being chinned at odds of 2/13 in the Fighting Fifth in November 2019.
I am not sure how much we should read into his "unreal" away-day racecourse gallop last week - that was the word used by his trainer Nicky Henderson - but he at least faces only a maximum of four rivals if the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial (15:15pm) goes ahead.
Or indeed if he turns up himself.
That is a pretty pitiful five-day entry clearly, and connections will be hopeful he can make a winning return.
Near-bottomless ground is surely not ideal for his comeback run, for all he won a Champion Hurdle on heavy in 2018, but he gets 6lb from his two form rivals, Song For Someone and Ballyandy, and he clearly has a big chance if most of the fire is still burning.
To that end, some may want to back him 14/1 non-runner, no-bet, for the Champion Hurdle with the Betfair Sportsbook now as he is an obvious, and potentially considerable, shortener if he wins well at the weekend. The 2m hurdling division lacks depth once again this year.
However, I was very surprised that the first two firms to price up the race on Monday afternoon made Buveur D'Air as short as a 4/7 and 1/2 chance, so good luck if you took those kind of odds about a horse coming back after such a long absence in desperate conditions against two talented, race-fit rivals who have handled bad ground in the past.
However, the Betfair Sportsbook injected some betting reality into proceedings by offering him at 5/4 on Monday evening, with Song For Someone the mover into joint favouritism at that price at around 5pm, possibly hinting that connections of the former champ won't risk him in such deep ground. Ballyandy was cut too, unsurprisingly.
It wouldn't have taken much money to change that market, too, given the obvious participation doubts about the Henderson hoss.
Henderson also has his Marsh Chase possible Allart in the opening novices' chase (12.55pm) and Time Flies By in the Rossington Main (13:30), a race that has attracted just seven entries for a Grade 2 pot (albeit one with just over 12k to the winner). Llandinabo Lad has been too well found in the market there at 7/4 by the Betfair Sportsbook, unfortunately.
Strong line up for Peter Marsh chase
The main betting race on the card is the Peter Marsh though, and it was heartening to see a healthier 18 sign up for this 3m1f125yd handicap chase (2.40pm).
The layers initially fought shy of pricing this race up first thing on Monday afternoon (they priced up five other contests quicker) and maybe working out intended running plans had a lot to do with that.
Only six of the 18 - those are Bigirononhiship, Cobolobo, Just Your Type, Potters Legend, Dieu Vivant, and Lamanver Pippin, with Dieu Vivant set to run at Wincanton on Thursday - are doubly-entered this week, but several also have the option of waiting for the Skybet Chase (and presumably better ground) a week on Saturday, including big guns Royal Pagaille and Cap Du Nord, so you can why this was tricky to price.
Indeed, connections of Cap Du Nord are leaning towards Doncaster, and not Haydock this weekend, so don't back him yet.
The first firm dipped their toe in the water at 3pm on Monday and made Royal Pagaille their 4/1 jolly, for what it is worth. That was taken, as was the 7/2.
I thought that was the right call as he was very impressive in beating Cap Du Nord at Kempton last time, though the handicapper pulled his arm back and really let fly by upping him 16lb to a mark of 156.
That was pretty savage - the runner-up got chinned 6lb, too - but the 22-length third Double Shuffle did win next time I guess (albeit a touch fortunately, perhaps) and I can see why he was put up as 50/1 non-runner no-bet in the Weekender last week.
If he wins this (or the Sky Bet Chase) well off 156, then he is firmly into Gold Cup territory, though this heavy ground-winner has the Festival option of the National Hunt Chase or the three-miler novice should something happened to Monkfish. But 3/1 is just too short for him right now, surely.
Sam Brown won the Grade 2 2m4f novices' chase on heavy ground on this card last year and ran a cracker on his return behind Imperial Aura in the Colin Parker at Carlisle. The 5/1 chance is clearly a confirmed mudlark and on a fair mark on 152, and his stable is in cracking form.
What is slightly off-putting is that we have not seen him since that return on November 1 and he has had his fair share of injury problems in the past, so I am very much inclined to wait until I see him among the final declarations at 10am on Thursday.
In fact, I will park the whole race until then. At least we know how much rain will have fallen by then, what horse goes where, and whether the meeting looks likely to go ahead.
Taunton have got 10 entries for their Portman Cup Chase over 3m4f+ (2.15pm), a race which is on ITV, and it will be a pretty classy renewal if the 161-rated Welsh National third Yala Enki and If The Cap Fits (162 over hurdles) stand their ground.
And hopefully a few of the others do too, of which Al Roc is very interesting on his first start for Dr Richard Newland, having won seven times in France.
Politologue is class act in the Clarence
If Haydock must be considered in some doubt, the forecast for Ascot is much better, and it is all systems go for Politologue, the early 6/5 favourite with the Sportsbook and bigger still on the exchange at 6/4+, to see off market rivals Waiting Patiently (nibbled early in the market into 5/2) and Defi Du Seuil.
I could waffle on about how under-rated Politologue is, and how dangerous opponents the other pair are, but I have no intention of having a bet or putting up a tip at this stage, so the word count is better utilized elsewhere.
That won't be in the six-strong Grade 2 mares' hurdle at 13:15pm - another pitiful entry for a 35k pot, with prize money all the way down to sixth - but luckily we have big fields for the two ITV-aired handicaps on the card.
Patience is key for Benson selection
Benson is the predictable 5/1 favourite with the Sportsbook in the 2m3f+ handicap hurdle (13:50pm), as he missed no-one's beady eyes - I bet those Trackers were going ten to the dozen after that race - with his finishing effort over 1m7f152yd in the ultra-valuable Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle here in December.
He flew home from the second-last to finish a never-nearer fourth and, while it was a touch worrying to see him going poorly and detached until then, he surely looks a guaranteed improver over this extra 3f or so.
He did amazingly well to take fourth late on there, and probably would have won in another furlong so quickly was he powering home. Off the same mark in here, he has to be the rightful favourite, especially as he looked all over a stayer too when previously winning in heavy ground at Sandown.
But, like I said, no-one missed him last time and I'd be inclined to wait until the day-of-race markets if you are going to back him. You may get bigger than 5s and each-way punters will possibly get another place or two, too.
Janika appeals most of those priced up in double figures at 14/1 - the talented chaser is rated 13lb lower over hurdles - but he is only available at those odds ante-post because he is also entered in the handicap chase on the card at 3pm, too. So you can't back him for either now.
None of the three I liked most in that 20-runner handicap chase - Capeland, Good Boy Bobby and Dashel Drasher - are available at bigger than 7s with the Sportsbook, and I am not playing at those odds at this stage, thanks.
Sub Lieutenant was a bigger-priced candidate at 20/1 as he shaped well over 3m here on his new start for connections, having been bought from Gigginstown for £50,000 in September.
To be honest, I have never heard of trainer and owner Georgie Howell before but she has acquired a very well handicapped horse on his best Irish exploits - all his best form was at around this shorter trip, too - and I see Tabitha Worsley is already jocked up.
But the horse is not an obvious shortener (and also has the SkyBet Chase on January 30 as an option, too), and he is another I will have a fresh look at once the final decs are known.
I appreciate people like an ante-post bet, but if I am not backing anything myself I can hardly advise anything here.
Sorry, but no dice at the moment.
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