Tony Calvin discusses the pick of Tuesday's ITV racing at Leopardstown and Newbury and reveals where his bet of the day is...
"You hear this 'too short, so stick him in your accas instead' nonsense all the time, including from some paid pundits who should know better, and it got trotted out with Epatante last week. This chat needs to be called out. A horse is a bet at the price, or it isn’t."
The Matheson looks tasty
Those ITV Racing folk have kept us all busy and entertained during the Christmas spell, and they broadcast for a fourth consecutive day on Tuesday. And little wonder when Leopardstown are serving up a race as good as the Matheson Hurdle at 14:25.
The door to the Champion Hurdle winning lounge was nudged open with Epatante's defeat at Kempton and a convincing success in this race will see the winner on the betting coat-tails of last year's heroine.
Saint Roi 6.611/2 and Abacadabras 7.613/2 are the current second and third favourites in the Exchange's ante-post market for the Cheltenham Festival race, but I find that hard to reconcile with their performances in an admittedly messy Morgiana Hurdle last time.
Abacadabras edged out a neck win from Saint Roi there, with the then 147-rated Jason The Militant a short-head away in third, and opinions differed as to who was the best horse in the race.
The winner, who runs in a first-time tongue-tie here, may have dossed in front and be value for more than a neck, while plenty gave Mark Walsh a hard time for the ride he gave the runner-up.
For now, I am happy to take the view that both are undeserving of their position in the Cheltenham market - for all their excellent form at that track, and potential - and, by extension, here too.
Sharjah the best in the race but ground a concern
Aspire Tower is surely being a touch underplayed in the betting at around 5/1 given his Down Royal dismissal of Abacadabras and Jason the Militant, but the one that sticks out like a sore thumb is Sharjah at 8/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook and a similar price on the Exchange.
What is that all about? The best horse in the race by 5lb and upwards, who has won this prize for the past seasons, so what is not to love?
Well, you could argue the ground is not perfect. But, then again, the facts of the matter are that it was soft when he ran a career-best second to Epatante back in March.
And you could also rightly point out that he lacks the recent match practice over hurdles he had when winning this race for the last two years, having not raced since Galway on the Flat in July. And his record off a short break would give you some concerns.
But 8/1 is simply the wrong price for a horse with his credentials. I know Willie Mullins has had some horses blow out of late - and he also has Saint Roi and Saldier in here, who may or may not be better fancied - but they are generally in great nick, and you would hope that he would have the hat-trick-seeking Sharjah primed for this.
If he does, then he should be half the price that he is against inferior (as it stands anyway) rivals.
I was all set to pull the trigger at 8s but the more I watched the racing from Leopardstown on Monday afternoon, the more desperate that ground looked. They walked home in the 2m4f handicap hurdle.
And it will get even more churned up and harder work on Tuesday, too. Sharjah doesn't want it that bad. I wouldn't be surprised if he was a non-runner so am going to leave well alone now.
It could be another massive day for Mullins, starting with Concertista in the Grade 3 mares' hurdle at 13:15.
If I had my way then this mare would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle this season, and not kept to her own sex, so I would expect her to take care of the opposition here, for all she carries an 8lb penalty for her Grade 2 win last time. I actually didn't think evens about her was a bad price.
I also would not be in a rush to oppose Monkfish in the Grade 1 novices' chase at 13:50 after what he did on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse last time, but the layers were never likely to bring out the bunting and welcome backers with open arms.
His price of around 4/6 on the Exchange is predictable enough, and not altogether enticing given the opposition is not too shabby. I think he will win, though.
On a related point, I am sure plenty will be happy enough to stick him in multiples instead of having the straight win, but I am going to repeat myself here, and say what is that all about?
If a horse is too short to back as a single, then it is too short to stick in a multiple. End of. You hear this "too short, so stick him in your accas instead" nonsense all the time, including from some paid pundits who should know better, and it got trotted out with Epatante last week.
This chat needs to be called out. A horse is a bet at the price, or it isn't.
Anyway, there is nothing doing on the other televised race on the card, the 2m4f handicap hurdle at 15:00, so off to Newbury we go.
Bet of the day at Newbury
Apparently, there was deep snow in Lambourn on Monday morning, but hopefully all is fine at nearby Newbury as ITV are showing five races from there. The frost covers are down and there is an 8:30am inspection though, so fingers crossed.
We have Grade 1 action in the shape of the Challow Hurdle at 15:15 and what a cracker it is too, in spite of the fact that it has attracted just the six runners.
I am sure it will be billed as Bravemansgame v Star Gate - and the betting would largely agree - but we have three other serious novices in here and the other is a fascinating and curious one, with the ex-French Enfant Roi coming here after being taken out of a handicap chase at Ascot before Christmas.
I would maybe favour Star Gate out of the sextet, but not to a betting degree at around 5/2 given the opposition.
I quite liked Mystic Dreamer and She's A Novelty against the field in the opener but I will stick to my terrestrial brief and resume my analysis with the extended 2m6f handicap chase at 13:30.
Once again, I like two in the race, Demachine and Dickie Diver, but translating that into a betting recommendation at their respective prices was not one I was willing to make.
It is a very competitive race and it wouldn't surprise me if my old mate - a costly one, admittedly - Rockpoint were to shine fresh off a mark of 132.
I nearly bit the bullet and put up Nordic Combined at 14:05 for all that plenty of people label him a hound.
However, I am going to the 3m2f handicap chase at 14:40 for my Newbury bet.
It would maybe have been Champagne Court if this was run over half-a-mile shorter and possibly Get On The Yager had I not looked at his comeback run at Wincanton earlier in the month, as he didn't scream "winner next time" to me there. But the Skeltons can obviously do little wrong at present, and this horse is now on a very tempting mark on 122.
However, I finally landed Coup de Pinceau in a first-time visor at 16/1 each-way (with the Sportsbook paying four places).
Let's get the big negative out of the way first.
The fact that his stable is 0 from 19 this season and hasn't had a winner since June 2018 is hardly the kind of stat you want to be reading when backing a horse, even one priced up as big as he is.
But dig a bit further and there are signs that the yard form is not as bad as it looks.
From 16 runners in November and December, Nick Mitchell has had three seconds and four thirds - Milanford was runner-up in a Grade 2 at Doncaster earlier in the month and Lieutenant Rocco was an excellent second to Fusil Raffles at Cheltenham - so maybe they are due a change of luck.
Those horses traded at evens and at 1.211/5 in-running, by the way.
Anyway, Coup De Pinceau comes here after what I thought was a very promising third at Ludlow on his return, on his first start for the stable since leaving Paul Nicholls. He ran well for a long way and has been dropped 1lb for it.
That leaves him just 3lb higher than when winning at Perth in cheek pieces in September, and I like the angle of him in a first-time visor.
Not only has he won in pieces, he also ran really well when second in first-time blinkers last March, so maybe an occasional change of headgear keeps him fresh and interested.
He didn't have anything on at Ludlow, but the visor is tried here (the stable is one from seven with this option since 2014, Foxes Bridge winning at 33/1 in 2015) and we know he handles soft ground as well as good.
And Tom Scudamore (who rode Lieutenant Rocco) has a pretty good record for Mitchell too, with two winners from 25 rides. The other 23 mounts saw eight seconds, four thirds and two fourth placings.
Yes, Coup De Pinceau will do for me, and he is my idea of the bet of the day, in fact. I am very happy to play him each way, too
King D'argent would be my idea of the most likely winner of the finale, but his price reflects that.