Tony Calvin adds a big-priced chance to his ante-post picks at Ascot on Saturday afternoon as well as putting his money on one at Haydock...
"The going stick reading on the hurdles course at Ascot on Friday morning suggested they couldn’t take too much more rain there, and maybe the jockeys will go a sensible pace as a result, which may well help Jolly’s Cracked It see out the trip."
One of the downsides of ante-post tipping is that you tend to become wedded to your early thinking, despite the day-of-race fields often presenting a different picture.
But at least I go into Saturday's racing with a couple of decent positions for once, and I am very happy with the 16/1 secured about Jolly's Cracked It and Allysson Monterg for their respective Ascot challenges.
Certainly, the 16s each way, four places, about the former now looks very peachy with the £50,000 2m3f58yd handicap hurdle at 14:25 cutting up to just eight runners.
Old boy has a fair chance at Ascot
The three major doubts about him still remain - he is the oldest in the field by some four years, he was beaten 20 lengths on his return, and he has his stamina to prove - but the positives outweigh the negatives for me, especially with the Harry Fry stable chugging along very nicely now.
Admittedly, they were more pronounced when the 16s was being offered with four places - he is around half that price now - but the handicapper has given the old boy a fair chance.
He dropped him a punchy 5lb for his return here, and I clearly saw a lot more promise than the assessor did in that run, given the way he travelled into the race on the outside before dropping away tamely in the straight (he was contesting third, going okay, turning in).
I ventured to suggest in Tuesday's column that he may have had a breathing problem that day given the way he emptied - he ran in a first-time tongue-tie there at the age of 10, after all - and I reckon it is a positive that he has indeed had a wind op since.
He is certainly weighted to make them all go, as he is now 3lb lower than when winning here by six lengths just five starts ago, and hopefully this course specialist will last home okay (I think there were valid excuses for his two below-par efforts beyond 2m) on what will be brutally testing ground.
The going stick reading on the hurdles course at Ascot on Friday morning suggested they couldn't take too much more rain there, and maybe the jockeys will go a sensible pace as a result, which may well help Jolly's Cracked It see out the trip.
If you are coming fresh to the party, I'd be lying if I said he remained a bet at the current prices - I think Bold Plan is a massive player at 9/2-ish, even if he was raised 10lb for his impressive Haydock win in November - so I won't be going in again.
Allysson Monterg has a huge run in him
At the risk of prematurely patting myself on the back again - it is no good getting the price if they run badly or don't deliver - then I do really fancy Allysson Monterg in the 2m5f handicap chase at 15:00.
On Friday morning, I thought he remained a bet at 13.012/1 or bigger, but the 12s with the Sportsbook soon disappeared and he was cut across the board into single figures throughout the afternoon.
I am now not pressing up myself at 8/1, so I can hardly put him up here, but the case for him stands, clearly.
This horse is very fragile (he has had tendon problems) and he has now had a breathing operation since we last saw him. But if that has had a positive impact then, as with Jolly's Cracked It, the handicapper has given him a huge chance by letting him run off 138.
He was rated 141 when running the race of his life last time out when fourth against Frodon in the Cotswold Chase, a race in which he travelled powerfully in his first-time cheekpieces (which are retained here) before the much higher-rated horses asserted their superiority late on.
That run entitled him to be raised in the weights if anything, not dropped 3lb, and first time up is often the time to catch horses of his profile.
Indeed, he won after a 456-day lay-off over 2m3f in heavy ground at Exeter in 2018, and I do like the angle of him dropping down in trip after that effort over an extended 3m1f at Cheltenham last time.
He could easily blow out, but I think he has a huge run in him if on song.
Heavy ground won't be a problem for Aintree My Dream
I was going to leave it there but no way was I expecting Aintree My Dream to be a 33s poke, so back him at 34.033/1 or bigger (he is 33/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, too).
Paddy Brennan won't be having a fun time of it in the eating and drinking stakes for the next 24 hours as he has to do 10st here, but this horse could well be worth the abstinence.
The horse hasn't been pulling up too many trees over hurdles of late, but he ran pretty well when third here on his penultimate start and probably found the step back in trip against him at Leicester last time, and heavy ground holds no fears for him.
And the handicapper has relented a fair bit too, as he returns to fences on a mark 6lb lower than when a fair fifth in a Chepstow handicap chase back in October, a performance that can probably be marked up given he was too fresh early doors here (he has since been re-fitted with a hood).
This is a much classier contest than he is used to racing in, but his light weight could prove to be a godsend in this ground, and there is no doubting he is well handicapped on his return to fencing. He is also 5lb lower than when beating two subsequent winners at Stratford last April.
The big one at Ascot is obviously the Grade 1 Clarence House Stakes at 15:35 and I don't think it is that a big price for Un De Sceaux to go off favourite on Saturday afternoon.
Only a neck separated him and Defi Du Seuil in the Tingle Creek, and the mud-loving Irish 12yo is set to get an uncontested lead here, something he didn't encounter at Sandown (the in-running markets do have a big bearing on the pre-race trade).
So if there is a bet in the race it is probably him at 6/4+, although you could argue that Janika is too big at around 12s, but it is not a race that has me reaching to pull the betting trigger.
The six-runner Grade 2 mares' hurdle at 13:50 kicks off ITV proceedings at Ascot and I thought it was perhaps a little more open than the betting suggests.
That said, the one that I was half-interested in, Sensulano, is no real bargain around 4/1 against last year's winner Magic Of Light and Papagana. I can leave this race alone, too.
It seems the better the race, the fewer runners there are these days and two of the ITV races at Haydock have attracted just four runners.
If you forgive his latest run at Musselburgh then Snookered is overpriced at 25/1+ in the Grade 2 Rossington Main at 14:05 but he probably won't be getting an easy lead with Thebannerkingrebel and Stolen Silver in here.
I certainly wouldn't be in a mad rush to back Pentland Hills at around 6/4 in heavy ground in the Champion Hurdle Trial at 15:15 even though he was one of my favourite horses last year (pocket-talking, yes) and shaped well at Cheltenham on his return.
But this strong-traveller is surely not crying out for ground quite this bad and I am quite surprised he is running. I don't think they will be looking to bottom him here, that's for sure.
This test could suit the likes of Christmas Hurdle third Ballyandy far more and 4/1 isn't a bad price about him - he has the best recent form and is the pick of the weights on official figures - but this could be a messy, tactical race and I can pass. Ballyandy would be my recommendation if you want an interest, though.
Definitly Red will be in his element at Haydock
I am not keeping my powder dry in the Peter Marsh at 14:40 though, in which I have no hesitation in making Definitly Red a bet at 7.613/2 or bigger.
He unseated his rider three out when a 5/1 chance in this race three years ago - though he was effectively brought down there as his jockey had to swerve around a fallen horse - and his other two starts at this track have yielded a win and a second.
Couple that with the fact that he is in his element on testing ground and comes here on the back of a highly-satisfactory fourth in the Becher last time, and we have a punt.
This is especially so as he is another of my Saturday fancies who has been cut some slack by the handicapper.
He was rated 167 after winning the Cotswold Chase by eight lengths in heavy ground a couple of years ago but he can race off 156 here after being eased another 1lb for his Aintree run, and he ticks every box for me, as they say.
I'd have him as more of a 4/1 poke myself, possibly even a touch shorter, to outclass this mob.
Definitly Red at 7.613/2 or bigger in 14:40 at Haydock
Aintree My Dream at 34.033/1 or bigger in 15:00 at Ascot
ALREADY RECOMMENDED ANTE-POST
Jolly’s Cracked It at 16s each way, four places, in 14:25
Allysson Monterg at 16s win-only in 15:00