Tony Calvin selects three bets for the meeting at Warwick on Saturday afternoon, as well as one depending on what the ground, and the betting, looks like at Kempton on the day...
"With bets thin on the ground this Saturday, I am happy to go in two-handed in the 15:00 at Warwick, with Crosspark my second play at 17.016/1 or bigger."
There is nothing worse in betting than not getting a run for your money - perhaps forgetting to back a winner, but most people tend to keep schtum about that for fear of the after-time police rocking up and ridiculing - and, somewhat annoyingly, my Lanzarote Hurdle ante-post selection, Colonial Dreams, wasn't confirmed for the race on Thursday morning.
Perhaps all was not well with the horse or connections have decided to wait for better ground - I did raise the latter possibility in the piece on Tuesday, hence a win-only recommendation - but it is very frustrating whatever the reason, as this looks very winnable for a 45k pot, and I'm sure he would have been one of the favourites had the ground been better (uncles and aunts spring to mind, though).
That is especially true with ante-post favourite Pic D'Orhy also not taking his chance, so it is now no surprise to see the lightly-raced Aintree winner Notre Pari, from the in-form stable of Olly Murphy, head the betting at a little over 3/1.
He has an obvious chance in a race which I don't fancy that many.
Tight Call could be a bet tomorrow (depending on the ground)
Northofthewall has a similar profile to the jolly and won well in a good time at Hereford last time, and I can fully see the case for Burrows Edge (who has the look of William Henry, who won this race for the stable in 2017 after an aborted novice chase campaign, and he has good course-and-distance form as well), but the one I very nearly landed on was Tight Call.
I have some concerns about whether he is quite the finished article physically though, and especially the ground, and his shortening price scared me off in the end.
But I could be interested in him tomorrow if he lengthens in the market, and the going doesn't prove to be as bad as I currently fear it will be. He is undoubtedly very interesting in the 2m5f handicap hurdle at 14:40.
He has had a wind op since dropping away tamely on his return when fourth at Market Rasen in October - and he also wears a first-time tongue-tie, too - and hopefully that will enable him to progress now, as he has often looked awkward and a weak finisher (he has beaten three times after trading at evens or less in running) in the past.
However, that reappearance fourth last time was better than it looked at the time with the first two home scoring since, and the third has also run a good race in defeat at Newbury, and the selection is only a 6yo and hopefully he is strengthening up all the time.
And maybe those tame closing efforts were just a by-product of a breathing problem, which may have now been sorted after the op and a near three-month break since Market Rasen. If it has, then the handicapper has given him every chance here, dropping him a generous 3lb for that run.
That is just 2lb higher than when a good second to Tedham at Wincanton this time last year, where subsequent six-length Kempton winner Wicked Willy was two-and-a-half lengths away in third, but perhaps an equally more pertinent line of his form to his winning chance here was his subsequent fall at Ascot on good to soft ground.
That was a very strong Class 2 handicap and he was in the process of running a big race when falling at the last - again, he didn't finish as strongly as looked likely at one stage between the last two - and that came off a 3lb higher mark than this.
The big problem is the ground. The going stick on the hurdles course on Friday morning was 6.0, and that suggests it could ride a lot more testing than the official going of soft (good to soft in places), so it is a reluctant swerve for me.
In fact, I am going to give the whole race a miss, and just moan about my ante-post losses instead.
I seem to recall something about why Altior isn't running in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at 14:05 but I'll be blowed if I can remember why.
Just as well, as the last thing you need from me is a 2,000-word rant in the middle of a tipping piece. But the five-runner race was never going to be much of a betting heat for me, Altior or not, and I can let Top Notch (or indeed any of the other four) win without much interest from this quarter.
I tipped Fingerontheswitch here over Christmas but he was pulled out due to the soft ground. It appears that connections are going to give it a go on a similar surface here, and the going stick does suggest the chase course could ride better than the hurdles'.
I was tempted by him again, as the 7/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook looked fair and obviously his second to Copperhead at Wincanton has been franked since (he is only 1lb higher here), but he is a tricky ride and there is an element of forcing a bet with him in a very tricky race.
Head to the Stars has stamina for slog
Like Tight Call, Head To The Stars can also look disorganised on occasions but I am happy to have a little tickle on him at 19.018/1 or bigger in Warwick's Classic Chase at 15:00.
I think Kimberlite Candy and Le Breuil are the two to beat - though of course you have to respect the claims of The Conditional, and we also have the last two winners of the race in here in Impulsive Star and Milansbar - but Henry Daly's 9yo tempted me most in at the price, even though he has a couple of falls on his dance card of late.
He bounced back from a first-fence departure at Ludlow to probably post a career-best over fences when second at Bangor last time, and although the form is nothing to write home about - though the 10-length third ran okay next time out - that performance over 3m once again suggested that this test of stamina is very much worth chancing.
He went up 3lb for that Bangor run but he was still rated 8lb higher over fences in the past and his best hurdles performance came off a 3lb higher mark at Haydock in 2018.
But everything about this horse's style of racing hints that a 3m5f slog in testing ground will suit, and perhaps that is not surprising given that he is by Kayf Tara (sire of the likes of Blaklion) out of a good staying mare of the owner and trainer in Sail By The Stars, who was a proper grinder and finished fifth in a Welsh National.
Daly knows the family very well then, and I imagine he could be expecting a bold run from his relatively lightly-raced 9yo, having his 21st start and just his eighth over fences, off his light weight, up in trip. Regular pilot Hugh Nugent takes off 5lb so he is racing off 10 stone here, never a bad thing in these gruellers.
Hopefully, he is up to breaking his chasing cherry in this valuable contest if his jumping holds up.
Crosspark could outrun his odds
With bets thin on the ground this Saturday, I am happy to go in two-handed in this race, with Crosspark the other play at 17.016/1 or bigger.
A pulled-up effort and being beaten 74 lengths and trailing home last at Haydock in his two outings this term can hardly be viewed as glowing endorsements to his claims here, especially as the handicapper has only dropped him a measly 2lb, too.
But he ran a lot better than his beaten distance suggests last time, and maybe it was just tiredness that saw him go out like a light up the straight after being second turning in.
Here is hoping that Caroline Bailey has simply targeted him at this prize again, as he finished (an admittedly distant) fourth in this contest in 2018 and a much healthier 5 1/2 -length third to Impulsive Star last year.
Considering he is only 2lb higher than when subsequently finishing second to the progressive Takingrisks in the Scottish National (he traded at 1.23 in running), this Eider Chase winner could well outrun his odds.
Better ground may have been ideal, but he has won on heavy and there is no more rain forecast.
A good Grade 2 novices' chase at 13:50 kicks off the ITV action at Warwick but it is a seven-runner race with just 3lb splitting five of them on official ratings. So that is hardly Top Of The Pops when it comes to a bet.
There are just six runners in the Grade 2 Novices' Hurdle at 14:25 and that doesn't entice either.
Thankfully, the 3m1f handicap hurdle at 15:35 is more punter-friendly and no shock to see Tedham head the betting after his eye-catching run at Haydock last time.
But his stable are having a very quiet time of it indeed on the winner-front and a first-time tongue-tie is possibly a bit off-putting too, so I am happy to look elsewhere.
Silver Sheen could upset strong favourite
The three Irish runners are all interesting in their own right and the UK handicapper has predictably added on a few pounds to their marks, and a hefty 6lb in the case of the progressive Silver Sheen.
However, I think Silver Sheen could still be very competitive here and I think he is a bet at 12.011/1 or bigger. He was 16/1 each way, four places, with the Sportsbook earlier on Friday afternoon but that was never going to last.
Jessica Harrington's runners are beginning to creep back into form (she was a remarkable 0 from 46 over jumps in Ireland in December) and Silver Sheen was very impressive when winning over 2m7f at Thurles in heavy ground back in November.
And that form got a very timely boost when the 13-length third, Royal Thief, won at Thurles on Friday afternoon on his first start since (the runner-up hasn't been back out yet).
That was his first try at beyond 2m4f over hurdles but it wasn't surprising that he relished the step up in trip there, as he is a winning pointer (form of his win worked out very well) whose pedigree suggests he will be a stayer (his dam, who was pretty decent and Listed-placed) put up one of her better efforts over 3m in the mud at Kempton).
He is clearly unexposed at the trip then, and lightly-raced as a whole, and I was pleasantly surprised by his price, even though the fact that he jumped right when winning at Wexford is a slight worry.
Let's hope the UK handicapper is right.
Head To The Stars at 19.018/1 or bigger in 15:00 at Warwick
Crosspark at 17.016/1 or bigger in 15:00 at Warwick
Silver Sheen at 12.011/1 or bigger in 15:35 at Warwick