Tony Calvin looks ahead to Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock and explains why a runner from Paul Nicholls' yard is the one to back on the Sportsbook at this stage...
"The vibes coming out of Ditcheat are very encouraging, and they expect to see a much-improved chaser this season, from reading some of the reports."
We are used to seeing the Betfair Chase taking place on heavy ground but, with the going currently good to soft (good in places) and with a predominantly dry week forecast (a small amount of rain on Tuesday and nowt else thereafter), it could well be a test of speed at Haydock on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls' runner will love forecast conditions
With these conditions in mind, Clan Des Obeaux has to be the bet at 8/1, each way, three places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
Most firms are only offering two places, mindful that the nine-runner race could easily cut up to seven or less, but Betfair are offering the "traditional" terms, so we may as well take advantage of what is probably an act of unnecessary generosity.
Rating the rivals' chances
We will come to the selection's claims in a moment, but let's start with dissecting the chances of his rivals.
The market may disagree, but Native River is the obvious starting point for me, given that he beat Might Bite by 4 ½ lengths in the Gold Cup. He won first-time-out at Newbury last season, his stable is flying and he has 4lb and more in hand of his rivals on official ratings.
Of course, it is the prospect of good ground which has led him to being installed as the second favourite at around the 3/1 mark, as his Cheltenham win, and his Welsh National success, came on soft.
He would undoubtedly prefer it more testing than is likely here, but don't forget that he finished third to Sizing John in a Gold Cup on good ground, and he has plenty of form on good to soft.
So I would take issue with Might Bite being an even-money chance, against his price of 3/1.
Of course, Might Bite will be the better suited by a decent surface and he did brilliantly to bounce back from that attritional Cheltenham second to beat Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux at Aintree.
He won on his reappearance last year too. With the £1m bonus on offer again this year, he almost certainly won't lack for fitness. My only issue with the King George winner, however, is his price and I suppose the Nicky Henderson stable aren't firing on all cylinders at the moment, although you could hardly say they are out of form.
Bristol De Mai is three from three at the track. His 57-length defeat of Cue Card in heavy ground in this race last year - even writing 57 lengths impresses me enormously - had the handicapping boyos scratching their heads in deciding how to rate the performance.
Again, he clearly is a true beast in the slop, everyone knows that, but he does have form on a sounder surface, as the above Aintree run illustrates, along with his JLT second in 2016.
So it may be unwise to dismiss him on ground alone, especially given his track form. But I don't have too many arguments with him being priced up at around 5/1 and 6/1.
Thistlecrack will love the expected good ground for his return from injury - he won a World Hurdle and a King George on it - but they are hardly easing him back gently and he doesn't overly-appeal at around 10s.
Politologue showed guts aplenty in a first-time hood and a tongue-tie when chinning Min at Aintree, but he doesn't immediately strike me as a three-miler and he also has an entry in the Grade 2 chase over 2m5f at Ascot on Saturday.
Shattered Love is also in that Ascot race and Don Poli also has the option of Thurles on Thursday, while the other Gordon Elliott entry, Outlander, was very disappointing in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last time, a race he had won the year before.
Word from Ditcheat is that Clan Des Obeaux is ready to kick on
So I kept on coming back to Clan Des Obeaux at the prices. Yes, I know he is rated only 157, is still unproven over 3m and has a mountain to climb with Might Bite on their Aintree running last season.
But I thought he stuck out the 3m1f trip well enough at Liverpool, even if it wasn't a searching test that day, and hopefully the 6yo can really kick on this season.
He certainly saw out the trip well enough when beating Vintage Clouds over an extended 2m5f here in heavy ground last season, and his Kempton run against Whisper showed he is very capable on good ground and that he can go well when fresh.
The vibes coming out of Ditcheat are very encouraging, and they expect to see a much-improved chaser this season, from reading some of the reports.
Apparently, the stable were never really happy with him after he threw a splint after Christmas - no, I don't have any idea what that means either, but it sounds painful - and he had to miss Cheltenham and had a rushed preparation to get him to that Aintree race.
He has a lot to find with a peak-form Native River and Might Bite, but he looks a definite runner at this stage - albeit he would probably want a bit more rain than is forecast - and the three places of the each-way bet is getting into thief territory.
Hopefully, the horse can do a hit-and-run job on the established stars on Saturday, and the Paul Nicholls yard is certainly in rude health, too.