The jumps season kicks into gear this weekend with top class action at Cheltenham and Newbury, while there is still the small matter of a Group 1 flat race at Doncaster. Tony Calvin is here with a detailed look at the cards and his best bets...
"He ran a great race when trying to give Stadivarius 3lb in the Yorkshire Cup over 1m6f back in May - and he was also a close second to Raheen House over 1m5f in the Bahrain Trophy last season - and the form of his fourth to Young Rascal over 1m3f here last month is very solid form with Group race wins for the third and fifth since."
The remains of the Flat
I must admit to barely having looked at a jumps race since April, so I had to don the National Hunt hat a touch sharpish on Friday morning with Cheltenham back on the box - now, there is a phrase for the oldies - but let's deal with the dying embers of the Flat season first.
It probably won't surprise you that I won't be touching on Winx's run in the Cox Plate on Saturday morning - the talk surrounding her run there against Northern Hemisphere opposition has been a little too staged and desperate, and ego-led, for my simple tastes - so it's off to Donny we go, where the Vertem Futurity at 16:05, takes centre stage.
It is obligatory at this juncture to point out this Group 1 1m prize used to be called the Racing Post Trophy but one thing never changes; Aidan O'Brien targets one of his better juveniles at the race.
This season it is Magna Grecia, who was supplemented on Monday, even though the trainer had an embarrassment of initial entries (numerically anyway).
He clearly has a leading chance after his second to Persian King in a quick time in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket last time, where his stablemates Circus Maximus and Western Australia (who re-oppose here) were well beaten off in third and fourth respectively.
The only problem I have with him is his price, as I can't believe he is around 13/8 chance and shortening, especially compared to the 5/1+ available about Phoenix of Spain.
Now, I am always loathe to get involved in 2yo races, as they are often full of unexposed and promising types with their best days ahead of them, and this race is no different.
But I am sorely tempted to get with Charlie Hills' grey each-way, as I think he probably just about boasts the best form coming into the race, courtesy of his Acomb win and his improved second to Too Darn Hot in the Champagne Stakes over 7f here last time.
And everything about his run-style suggests this step up to a mile will suit.
My only worries are that he hasn't posted a great time figure to date, and whether we are in danger of looking at his recent second here in the context of what the winner did next time out in the Dewhurst, rather than focusing on what the third, Cardini, did when well beaten next time out.
Mind you, the fifth Bye Bye Hong Kong ran a screamer when second in the Tattersalls Stakes, and I will put my mild doubts aside and recommend you backing him win and place at [6.6] and [1.91] respectively, or bigger.
At least two of the opposition will have to improve a good deal if he is to be kicked out of the frame (providing he runs his race, that is).
Lured into the big-field sprints
Nothing stands out at all in the opener at 13:45 and the only other ITV4 race on the Doncaster card is the 5f handicap at 15:25.
The bookies and ITV chappies are clearly in cahoots trying to suck us into a bet on these lottery-style, big-field sprint handicaps, but have they managed to sucker me in again?
I have indeed been lured in, and by no less than Duke Of Firenze, so apologies in advance.
The downsides are that he has run below par on all his five starts at this course, never finishing closer than sixth, and he is a 9yo who hasn't won since May 2017.
But, boy, has the handicapper been giving him a chance.
Okay, he hasn't got his head back in front yet but he has now come down a massive 21lb in the weights this season and he ran his best race in a while when fifth at Catterick last Saturday, effectively off a 1lb higher mark than this (his rider carried overweight there).
He ran really well there considering he was slowly away and was switched to the stands' side from his draw in three, and he was never ideally positioned throughout. But he finished his race off well enough in the centre of the track and wasn't beaten far.
Desert Skyline to be my pick at Newbury
Juvenile races are also to the fore at Newbury where Chairmanoftheboard tries to cement a big home reputation in the old Horris Hill at 14:50.
To be fair, he has already gone a long way to justifying that talk with a wide-margin win in a very quick time on his debut at Goodwood, and little wonder that the 8/1 in a place earlier in the week lasted longer than a chocolate fireguard.
He is now around a quarter of that price, so that horse has bolted somewhat.
He may well bolt up too, but I can't get enthused at his reduced odds, and none of the remainder hold any particular appeal.
I was not overly-enthused by the ride given to Desert Skyline in a slowly-run Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Saturday. For a horse who has won a Doncaster Cup over 2m2f (doesn't carry a penalty for that here), sitting so far off the pace in a race run at a dawdle clearly had its drawbacks.
In the circumstances, he ran a blinder, and the obvious question is whether I give him another chance stepped down to 1m4f, a distance well short of his best, in the 14:20.
He ran a great race when trying to give Stadivarius 3lb in the Yorkshire Cup over 1m6f back in May - and he was also a close second to Raheen House over 1m5f in the Bahrain Trophy last season - and the form of his fourth to Young Rascal over 1m3f here last month is very solid form with Group race wins for the third and fifth since.
Hopefully, he will sit handier here, and Communique should keep them all honest from the front.
I was going to put him up each-way, but I will stick to just the win bet at [15.0] or bigger.
Relentless the way to go
Over to Cheltenham we go, where Relentless Dreamer and For Good Measure are my two against the field in the 3m1f handicap chase at 14:00.
The latter has been well found in the market but Relentless Dreamer appeals a fair bet at [17.0] or bigger.
The handicapper has given him a fair chance here, dropping him 2lb for his fourth in the Bet365 Gold Cup and he ran well when third off this mark at Uttoxeter in July.
We haven't seen him since but he had a similar summer break when winning at Taunton in November two years ago, and his best efforts have come around this trip on good ground.
He also ran well here when seventh in the Close Brothers over 2m4f+ at the Festival last year, and he has more going for him than his price implies.
End on Pertemps
Nothing appeals as a bet in the next two races - Gumball and Foxtail Hill have obvious chances, but are priced accordingly - but I am going to take a swing at the Pertemps qualifier at 15:45.
General Consensus looks on a fair mark on his Warwick win (the placed horses won next time) and I nearly put him up a saver, but my main and only bet in the race is Sykes at [17.0] or bigger.
I'd be lying if I said I knew much about his trainer Nicky Martin, but she has had two winners and a second from her last three runners, which augurs well for Sykes having his first start since April.
The horse tends to go well off a break anyway, and he is back on the same mark as when a good second to an in-form Black Ivory in one of these qualifiers at Warwick back in January.
His best efforts have come on soft ground but he has winning form on good, and he also ran well on the new course here last December. I quite like his profile and, more importantly, the price.
Good luck on a busy day.
Back Relentless Dreamer at [17.0] or bigger in 14:00 Cheltenham
Back Desert Skyline at [15.0] or better in 14:20 Newbury
Back Duke Of Firenze at 20/1 each way, five places, with Betfair Sportsbook at 15:25 Doncaster
Back Sykes at [17.0] or bigger in 15:45 Cheltenham
Back Phoenix Of Spain at [6.6] win and [1.91] place, or bigger, in 16:05 Doncaster