Tony Calvin makes the case for backing a 10-year-old outsider against Nicky Henderson's favourite at Doncaster and sticks to his guns on his ante-post bet from earlier in the week...
"I think Musical Slave can really stick it up the favourite here as a mark of 137 could seriously underestimate him."
I am already on the back foot going into Saturday's racing after Definity Red's no-show for the Sky Bet Chase - I put him up win-only at 25/1 on Tuesday, along with Musical Slave each way at 10/1 - but unfortunately that is part and parcel of ante-post betting.
It is never nice doing your money in cold blood and without a run, but there is no point moaning about it - though you certainly have to acknowledge it - and I am very happy with my position on Musical Slave.
In fact, I am very surprised that he still trades at around the same win-only price on the Exchange for the 3m handicap chase at 15:15. Well, he was a similar price before a move on Friday afternoon, but he is still backable at 7/1+ there.
However, I am going to take the Doncaster card in chronological order, so back to that race shortly.
Irish Roe could get the better of Floressa
I nearly keeled over when seeing Doncaster described as good to soft (soft in places) on Wednesday - I could have sworn it was heavy when I looked on Monday morning - but they had a fair bit of rain on Thursday (14mm so far, with more showers possibly due through Friday) so I am working on the basis of soft-cum-heavy for the weekend (an assessment backed up by jockeys who rode there on Friday).
And the ground will have been churned up a fair bit as they are also racing on Friday. Mind you, I asked somebody who would know, and he said it won't be too bad as, with so little grass covering on the track, you are basically racing on sand anyway.
Let's just hope it is on.
The live ITV cameras initially weren't going be rolling for Shishkin's expected third novices' chase victory in the second race - presuming he puts in another error-free display, that is - but they are now. However, he is a 2/9 poke and the first proper punting contest on the box is the six-runner Grade 2 mares' hurdle at 14:05.
The betting suggests that Nicky Henderson is odds-on to take the bulk of the prize money home as his Floressa and Marie's Rock hold major claims despite their respective 4lb and 2lb penalties.
Backers of Floressa will be hoping that the ground doesn't ride too bad as her worst run for Henderson came on soft at the Festival, and that would certainly be enough to put me off her at around 2/1. That said, if she sees off the attentions of outsider and pace rival Sopat early doors, she could get a solo on the front end.
Marie's Rock was a horse that broke my heart last season when an injury ruled her out of Cheltenham - I had double-figures about her for the mares' hurdle, not that she would have beaten Concertista - and the jury is out on her after her reappearance run behind Floressa at Newbury.
She was far too keen and ultimately very disappointing, so you are taking a lot on trust about her considering she reappears here after a wind op and with a hood and tongue-tie on for the first time.
You could argue that third-favourite Miranda is the most solid of the first three in the market but, having initially filed this under "likely no bet" before the odds came out late on Thursday morning, I had a change of heart when confronted with double-figure odds about Irish Roe.
Her current hurdles mark of 134 gives her a bit to find here but that rating was due to two poor recent handicap runs, and she showed a lot more than when second in a jumpers' bumper at Newcastle at the start of the month.
I appreciate that is hardly conclusive proof that she is back on song at the age of 10 (she was rated 140 at her peak) but it was a big step in the right direction, and of course most of her best efforts have come at this track in small fields (form figures of 1122322)
Indeed, she was beaten just three-quarters-of-a-length in this race in 2018, and was also placed behind Lady Buttons in it for the past two seasons (though was she subsequently disqualified after last year's second).
This smooth-traveller would probably prefer better ground too, but she has form on soft and, is unpenalised, unlike the market leaders, so quotes of 12/1+ have reeled me in, for all Floressa and Marie's Rock have more upside when it comes to scope for improvement.
Back her at 13.012/1 or bigger to small stakes. Anything upwards of 10/1 is a bet.
The Grade 2 3m novices' hurdle at 14:40 could easily be run as a 0-135 handicap hurdle, and a pretty compact, compressed one at that with 12 of the 13 runners rated between 128 and 135 (poor old Ayr winner and 50/1+ outsider Portstorm is a mere 121).
It looks a nightmare to call as a result, and the betting element ebbed away as soon as I agreed with Flash Collonges (who has just been taken out to due to lameness, in fact), Emir Sacree and Pats Fancy heading the market.
They were the three that most interested me, but their claims did not majorly stand out from the crowd from a form perspective.
One of the Baker's Dozen could well come out and prove themselves a worthy winner in this grade, but as it stands it is simply a hugely competitive race with no stand-out and plenty of unknowns in which literally no result would shock me, Portstorm winning included.
You don't get many double-digit races where all the participants have won at least one race that season but, gun to my head, I would side with Pats Fancy, though you would have to show me the bullets were loaded for me to back him at around 7s.
Sticking to my guns
Let's get back to the Sky Bet Chase then, in which Cap Du Nord rightly heads the market at around 11/4 on the exchange.
He brushed aside Canelo (second favourite here after his subsequent Rowland Meyrick win) at Newbury and then was unfortunate enough to bump into Peter Marsh demolition man Royale Pagaille at Kempton last time.
He has gone up 16lb for those performances (and is set to go up another 3lb in the future after he was re-assessed after last weekend's action), but you suspect that is fully justified, and he could be very hard to beat if the ground doesn't ride anywhere near as testing as I feared (his record on soft or worse is 0 from 10)
However, I am sticking to my guns on Musical Slave, and he remains the best bet in the race at 8.615/2 or bigger for those new to the party. In fact, 6/1 and upwards would be acceptable to me and the Betfair Sportsbook are paying five places at those odds.
Apologies for re-drafting my Tuesday argument for him here, but it bears repeating. In fact, I will pretty much completely lift it.
Basically, I think he ran a huge race on his return at Newbury considering made a complete howler at the first - Richard Johnson did well to stay on - and then he went on to balloon the third, be hesitant at a couple more, as well as making a hash of the last.
A better round of jumping and a more positive ride (more of the former admittedly, though he was kidded around) would surely have seen him go close - in fact, I think he would have won - and the 2m4f on good ground that day were nowhere near his optimum conditions, either.
To be beaten just over three lengths was no mean feat, all things considered.
The deeper ground here will suit as he improved last season when he encountered testing conditions (it was officially soft when he won at Exeter, but Timeform called it heavy) and he proved he stayed this 3m trip when second to Sam's Adventure at Uttoxeter last March.
In fact, I reckon he should have won there too as Barry Geraghty sat too far off in the straight and only got serious after the last, closing to within one-and-a-quarter lengths at the line despite being checked slightly near the finish, too.
The winner went on to win off a 4lb higher mark this season and unseat when an 11/4 chance in the Peter Marsh on Saturday - he is now rated 9lb higher than for the Uttoxeter win - so I think Musical Slave can really stick it up the favourite here as a mark of 137 could seriously underestimate him.
No need for me to stick him up fresh here, but if you haven't played ante-post then I have no hesitation in making him the day-of-race bet at 6/1+. Philip Hobbs won this race with another JP horse in If In Doubt in 2015.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least were he to be gambled on here, and I may play him in the without favorite market on Saturday morning, too. In fact, that could be a decent angle if you can get around 4/1 or 9/2 on that line.
If they take fences out because of low sun at Donny, then so much the better for his chances after what we saw at Newbury.
I majored on Doncaster as I expected Cheltenham to be abandoned when they inspected at 2pm.
In fact, they didn't wait that long and it was called off at just after 11am, so all the Cheltenham copy has bitten the dust.
Following the abandonment of Cheltenham, ITV have stepped up to the plate by drafting in three races from Lingfield into their Saturday coverage but it makes no betting appeal to me unfortunately, especially with none of the contests even hitting a field of eight of bigger.
So nothing doing from Leafy Lingers here, I am afraid.
Best of luck.
Already recommended ante-post
Musical Slave at 10/1 each way, four places, in 15:15 at Doncaster