Tony Calvin returns with a look ahead to the weekend action and there's one that has caught his eye in what's shaping up to be a stellar renewal of the Charlie Hall Chase...
"But three things interest me about him at the price. He remains open to improvement as a 7yo, I really like the idea of him running over three miles again (he stays well and had shaped as if a return to this trip would suit on a number of occasions) for the first time in about 18 months, and the trainer switch is very interesting."
Tony Calvin on Shantou Flyer
I feel a bit of a fraud writing about the Breeders' Cup these days.
I don't bet seriously on it anymore and certainly wouldn't profess to know about any of the home team in any real depth - dipping in-and-out of their "formbook" once a year is hardly ideal - so you certainly won't find me tipping on it when the Americans dominate numerically in races, most obviously in the dirt, sprint and juvenile contests.
And that is the majority of them! I am having a poor time of tipping recently without going in virtually blind, thanks.
It's okay when the Europeans provide most of the meat on the punting bones, such as in the Mile, Turf and the Filly and Mares, but other than that don't expect too much enlightenment from me regarding the stateside action in the coming days. Apologies.
What I would say is though is that the US, along with other international racing jurisdictions, are light years ahead when it comes to making it easier for punters.
There was a big song and dance made when Cheltenham announced that there would be 48-hour declarations for the first time at next year's Festival, but we will already know the final fields after Monday night's draw, and that is a godsend for bettors and bookmakers alike.
Hobson acquisition may have flown under the radar
Anyway, while it isn't the most high-profile of weekends, domestic jumps comes to the fore with the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, so I will take a look at that one.
You would love to know what will be making an appearance at Wetherby on Saturday in the three mile Grade 2 chase - an obvious thing to say, I know - as it promises to be a cracking betting heat if most of the 13 entries turn up.
But a measure of how hard it is to ascertain running plans is perhaps underlined by the fact that, when the first two bookmakers priced this race up at 3pm on Monday afternoon, one went 11/8 Coneygree and the other went 9/2!
Mind you, even if half the field turned up on Saturday, and Coneygree was one of them, I think it's a fair bet he would be bigger than 11/8, for all that the 2015 Gold Cup winner goes really well when fresh, doesn't carry a penalty and could well get an easy lead (Village Vic is the other pace angle but he is unproven beyond three miles).
That said, the 9/2 didn't last too long either, and was 5/2 half an hour later!
However, this race has a lot of depth to it, at this stage at least.
Cue Card is the obvious one and Coneygree's main market rival. He won this race in 2015, was third under a penalty last year, and he showed he could still cut it at the top level when slamming Coneygree by 15 lengths in the Betfair Chase last year.
It appears both of the big guns are intended runners at this stage on ground that looks like being soft, but what potentially makes this a fascinating race is that there are any number of these could give them a race if fully tuned up.
Bristol De Mai is the most obvious as he can look a proper Grade 1 horse on his day and that was never in more evidence than when he won the Peter Marsh off a mark of 154 at Haydock last season. He was rated 166 afterwards and would be a big player on that form if fit, even if he carries a 6lb penalty for that win.
The 2016 RSA winner Blaklion is a course and distance winner, and the likes of course winner Definitly Red (apparently an intended runner) and Vieux Lion Rouge have brilliant records when fresh.
The fly in the ointment to them all could be the Gold Cup sixth More Of That if it ever clicks for him, but another one who really interests me is Shantou Flyer at 20/1+.
He looked like he was set for a big season when beating a bang in-form Village Vic over 2m5f at Cheltenham on New Year's Day off a mark of 149, though a 15-length second to Cue Card in the Betfair Ascot Chase was the best he could muster afterwards (that may be being harsh) before being pulled up in the Grand National.
But three things interest me about him at the price. He remains open to improvement as a 7yo, I really like the idea of him running over three miles again (he stays well and had shaped as if a return to this trip would suit on a number of occasions) for the first time in about 18 months, and the trainer switch is very interesting.
I can't tell you much about his new handler Richard Hobson but his strike rate for a small stable is very impressive (22 per cent last season, 15 this) and he has done really well for the horse's owner in the last two years.
He clearly knows his stuff, and the horse won that valuable Cheltenham after a five-month break, too, so goes okay when fresh. The downsides are that he carries a 4lb penalty, clearly has a lot to find with a peak-form Cue Card and Coneygree, and I don't even know if he is an intended runner.
So, on balance, I will play a waiting game in what could be a cracking contest.