Tony Calvin gives a frank assessment of the card at Haydock before recommending a trio of bets at Ascot on Saturday including two at 13:50...
"I am told he is in great order for this and that hurdles mark of 147 is begging to be exploited."
If there is one thing you can rely on when it comes to Haydock going updates and inspections it is the predictable snotty attitude that accompanies them (not only on Social Media, but from some of the racing media itself), a sneering stance which is normally reserved for the champion trainer. It is a bit tiresome.
Don't get me wrong, like everyone else I was very surprised that the course passed a Thursday morning inspection considering they were waterlogged 24 hours earlier and promptly got another 35mm afterwards. Haydock were too, calling it a "minor miracle."
But they reported they had no standing water on the track when they looked - unlike Wincanton, who raced on Thursday despite being saturated in parts (I must have missed the hilariously cutting comments about that) - so why wouldn't they give it another 48 hours and every chance?
Big, fat no bet
It could well be they call it off on Saturday morning after another shufty - it could be that frost (-2 is forecast overnight) does for them - but for our purposes, here and now, it is going ahead on what will be "Haydock heavy".
Maybe not be quite as deep as Chepstow was earlier in the week (they had a going stick reading of 2.5) but probably testing enough for connections to be worried for the return of Buveur D'Air in the Unibet Hurdle at 15:15.
Ground which promises to be this bad is clearly not ideal for the dual Champion Hurdler, reappearing for the first time since suffering a very nasty hoof injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth, but the fact that he takes on two inferior rivals getting weight would be very much welcomed by owner and trainer.
Look, he should win on these terms, but no-one will be in the least surprised if he is chinned at odds-on on his first start since November 2019, so let's move on.
Actually, Haydock won't take up too much of our time.
I am quite a fan of Llandinabo Lad but I would want more than 15/8 to get with him under a 5lb penalty against four last-time-out winners in the Rossington Main at 13:30 and I spent far too long looking at the Peter Marsh at 14:40 before coming up with a big, fat, no bet.
The problem is that I fully get the case for Royal Pagaille (who will be Gold Cup potential if winning this race off 156) and the fragile but talented mudlark Sam Brown, but they occupy the first two places in the betting at 9/4 and 4/1 respectively and there isn't much wriggle room in their odds. They are just a bit too obvious.
All bar five of these are out of the handicap, so getting a solid alternative was not easy - third-favourite, Thommy Whittle winner, Sam's Adventure is the obvious one on that score - and I would probably put up Crievehill win-only at 16/1+ on the Exchange if my hand was forced.
Given he has pretty much run like a drain in his last two starts, including behind Royal Pagaille at Kempton last time, that probably tells a story, but he is back on the same mark as when winning by 10 lengths over course and distance here in November 2019, so he is handicapped to take a hand at least. And his course form figures read 3221.
But it would be a half-hearted selection if I put him up here - and the early 22s and 20s in the marketplace has gone, too - for all the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard have found a bit of form recently.
I feel like I have already backed a winner in the ITV race at Taunton at 14:10, as I very nearly punted West Approach each way at 10/1 earlier in the week, and he wasn't declared on Thursday.
In his absence, I can ignore a race which has cut up to just the seven runners.
It does look a little like a Yala Enki (beat Rock The Kasbah 5 1/2 lengths in this race last year) v If The Cap Fits match-up, but last year's runner-up is not without a chance and could pester the former on the front end and the handicapper thinks the French recruit Al Roc has a decent enough shout, though he does carry a 4lb penalty.
If you want to back Yala Enki at 10/11, just be advised that he has a far shorter turnaround from the Welsh National than he did last season.
Right, let's get to Ascot and hopefully some bets. I'll take the card in time order.
Back talented pair in Ascot's 13:50
There isn't a tempting wager in the five-runner Grade 2 mares' hurdle at 13:15, though I would prefer Magic Of Light, seeking a hat-trick in the race, at around 11/4 over the slight odds-on jolly Roksana.
But I am going to put up two in the 2m3f58yd handicap hurdle at 13:50, starting with Janika at 7/1 each way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
I mentioned him in my ante-post piece on Tuesday when he was a general 14/1 and 12/1 chance, but I couldn't get involved then as he was also entered in the handicap chase on this card.
I am not surprised he comes here though, as he is 13lb lower over hurdles, and that is not where the positives end.
He is clearly a very talented chaser on his day - he was rated 166 after winning the Haldon Gold Cup under 11st 10lb in November 2019 - and that run confirmed that he is also a horse that goes well when fresh and can carry big weights, despite apparently being on the small side.
The latter is important as he hasn't been out for the thick-end of a year after competing in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase, and he comes here after having had a wind op (he had his soft palate cauterized) in the interim.
He may well have had more troubles than that given the lengthy absence but I am told he is in great order for this, and that hurdles mark of 147 is begging to be exploited.
He was a winner over hurdles in heavy ground when trained in France and his only start in that area for Henderson was in last year's Relkeel, when he finished a fair fourth. He looks fairly handicapped on that run, without even factoring in his chase exploits.
If it wasn't for the trainer comments, and the fact that he was taken out because of it at Haydock in November, I would have said IK Brunel would have been fine on soft ground, with the step down in trip what he has been crying out for.
Well, not exactly crying, but shaping as it will help.
It would be all too easy to pass him over, but I think we set far too much store in trainer comments (for all he may decide to withdraw him here, I guess, if the ground is considered deeper than the official soft), so I am putting him up here at 26.025/1 or bigger on the Exchange.
On the ground front, you can easily argue that IK Brunel's best runs have come on soft (Timeform agreed with those official going descriptions, too) and I reckon the tempo of this race could really suit him. There is loads of pace in here, and a stalking ride in a strongly-run contest could pay dividends.
He travelled well up to the third-last over 3m at Newbury last time, and I think a mark of 136 is very fair judged on his (soft ground) Musselburgh win last February.
Trainer and Betfair Ambassador Olly Murphy is having his best spell since the summer, and he has better chances of notching another winner than his odds suggest. He is also 20/1 with the Sportsbook.
At the top of the market, I think Lightly Squeeze is a very fair 6/1 chance, especially as I think the longer trip will suit, given he had 1m6f form on the Flat. I may have a small interest on him so I don't lose if he wins, but I can't put up three here. Thankfully the 3m handicap chase at 14:25 isn't on ITV or else I would have had to tip Singlefarmpayment again.
Perfect time for Domaine De L'Isle to perk up
I am siding with Domaine De L'Isle in the 2m5f handicap chase at 15.014/1 or bigger - I wouldn't back him at less than 12/1 myself - in the 2m5f handicap chase at 15:00.
The early 20s with the Sportsbook was snaffled on Thursday and I can see why, as he is back on the same mark as when beating Bennys King by a neck in this race on heavy last year (and in a very good time, too). David Bass rode him there and is on board for the first time since here.
He let me down big style when I put him for the Paddy Power in November (albeit he was a 50/1 poke when I did) but a recent spin over hurdles will hopefully have teed him up for this.
Once again, there is plenty of pace in this race and that will suit this hold-up performer, and hopefully the first-time blinkers do the trick in perking him up. They will need to, admittedly.
Sean Curran is having a fair jumps season thanks mainly to Talking About You (and he also had a Flat winner this month) and is interesting that a majority of his winners on the level have come in this headgear.
His Wolverhampton winner this month, Revolutionary Man, wore them, as did Griggy, Word Of Honour and Pink Jazz (won first time in them at 13/2) in 2020.
He has had seven winning horses in 2020 and 2021, and four of them wore blinkers, so he knows what he is doing on that score. The horse could blow out but 16/1 is a fair trade-off.
I fully expect to see Politologue win the Grade 1 Clarence House Stakes at 15:35 and the 11/8+ on the Exchange is not a bad price if you like them short.
Paul Nicholls has really (if belatedly) found the key to the horse in ditching the hood and making the running with the grey, who is also two from three around here.
I suppose those backing him have to be worried by serious form rivals Waiting Patiently and Defi Du Seuil though, and I always find these type of bets easy to resist. If all eight go to post, then maybe Fanion D'Estruval could be the each-way play at 14/1 and bigger.
A confession now.
I was going to stray from my ITV-only brief and tip Singlefarmpayment. In fact, I had the copy written and filed, and then he came through as a non-runner at 9:28am on Friday morning due to an infection.
I have also backed Chef D'Oeuvre at 12/1 each way in the 2.05pm at Haydock away from the ITV cameras, if you would like to know.