We could see some famous names in action at Sandown on Saturday - although in some cases it's wise to wait and see - but Tony Calvin has found two lesser-known runners to back early...
The two question marks about Clan Des Obeaux – an 8.07/1 chance on the Exchange and 9/2 four places on the Sportsbook – are obviously the 3m5f trip and the ground. Oh, and I suppose he did run a stinker on his only course start back in 2017.
As is usually the case at Sandown on the final day of National Hunt season, a fair smattering of Grade 1 stars are primed to line up on Saturday.
Kempton's Boxing Day hero Frodon is even-money favourite with the Betfair Sportsbook for the seven-strong Grade 2 Oaksey House Chase and Altior bids to win his fourth straight Celebration Chase - though the fixed-odds' compilers only make him their 3/1 third favourite.
But perhaps the ballsiest placement of all is another (dual) King George winner Clan Des Obeaux heading the weights for the bet365 Gold Cup off a mark of 169.
Should conditions allow.
We will start with the latter race as that 3m5f handicap chase will be the biggest betting race of the weekend, even though it has attracted just 20 entries at the five-day stage against a maximum field of 24.
Nicholls undecided on Clan Des Obeaux
I know Sandown have been putting on a lot of water - the BHA site states "the course has been irrigated daily from March 22 onwards and continues on a basis of 10mm circuits" -but the prospect of ground on the quick side could see the race cut up a fair bit further still, even with the thick end of 65k to the winner.
It is a tricky situation for clerk of the course Andrew Cooper, that is for sure, as he will want to give the fast ground horses a decent crack of the whip (it is nearly May, after all) while at the same time being mindful of safety and ensuring decent racing numbers.
A juggling act that no-one would relish. No doubt, he will aim for good, but it could be a touch either way depending on the accuracy of the watering.
Anyway, back to Clan Des Obeaux.
The handicapper believes he may well win as the horse is effectively 3lb well-in here after returning to form with a vengeance when running away with the Betway Bowl in first-time cheek pieces at Aintree.
The manner in which he shot clear when Harry Cobden pushed the button from 2 out was deeply impressive, and that level of form probably wasn't far shy of his Kempton victories.
And if he runs here then all bar six of his rivals will be running from out of the handicap. And crucially his stablemate, and 6/1 chance, Enrilo on 10st will be one of the sextet not affected, and this lightly-raced seven-year-old chaser returned to form at Newbury last time.
The two question marks about Clan Des Obeaux - an 8.07/1 chance on the Exchange and 9/2 four places on the Sportsbook - are obviously the 3m5f trip and the ground. Oh, and I suppose he did run a stinker on his only course start back in 2017.
We simply don't know about his stamina but all of his better efforts have come on good to soft or worse, so that will be weighing on Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls' mind, no doubt.
I spoke to Nicholls on Tuesday morning, and he is still undecided and set to make a decision later in the week.
As mentioned above, connections of all bar six of the opposition will be keenly tracking the decs on Thursday morning. If Clan Des Obeaux does go, those wrong in the weights will include fellow market leaders Kitty's Light and Henry De Bromhead's Plan Of Attack, the sole Irish entry.
Kitty's Light may relish step up
Kitty's Light will be 4lb wrong (Plan Of Attack 5lb) but he will love the ground - I imagine Christian Williams would like no watering at all this week - and the manner in which he got up to win close home over 3m2f at Kelso last time strongly suggests he will relish the step up to 3m5f.
It looks like his season could well have been geared to this very race.
He had a very busy summer and autumn, and he was given a short rest after finishing third in the Badger Beers in November, a race in which he didn't jump well and lost a lot of ground when having to swerve the faller Sizing At Midnight three out, only to rattle home up the straight and be beaten under four lengths by El Presente and Potterman, both of whom are entered here.
His handicap mark was protected in bumpers and a handicap hurdle before that Kelso win last time, so I think there is a lot to come from this 5yo now he steps up to a trip totally in keeping with his run-style,
I am not overly concerned if he does race from out of the handicap but what does concern me a touch over these fences is him getting detached if he hits a few again.
But, all things considered, I think he is a decent price at the current 8.07/1 on the Exchange.
In fact, anything north of 6/1 seems fair win-only - I would go no lower - as is the Sportsbook's 5/1 (the industry-best 11/2 went on Tuesday morning) if you are looking for an each-way play.
He is the bet, and I don't view his tender years as a negative myself.
Oh, and I should add, that he wore a first-time tongue-tie at Kelso - presumably they stay on - and Jack Tudor can easily do 9st 11lb if required, so his 3lb claim (and he is value for it) will reduce the burden further.
Plan Of Attack has to be feared, not least because of the Henry factor. A lot of punters I know are increasingly backing the trainer, and not horse these days, but this eight-year-old has strong form claims, too.
His three previous forays to this country include an Aintree win, a Kim Muir fourth and he was going as well as anything in the front rank when falling three out in the Cheltenham race again last year.
He can race off the same mark here (if the weights allow) and must be a big player. I can fully see why he is a 5/1 chance, and a touch bigger in Exchange-land.
I think everyone had Cepage down as a non-stayer over 3m but his last two outings have hinted at otherwise, but the ground is surely not going to play to his strengths, for all he finished second to Frodon in a Caspian Caviar on good.
The 2016 winner The Young Master will have his favoured surface, as will stablemate Doing Fine, but I kept on coming back to Kitty's Light and Plan Of Attack.
If there is to be an upset then Bob Mahler is definitely the one - though Golan Fortune with a more aggressive ride than last time is a possibility - for all he is currently 13lb out of the handicap at the moment. But unfortunately he is also in at Perth on Friday, and I imagine connections may enter him for both races and see what Thursday at 10am brings.
One thing is for certain and that is the Sportsbook are dangling one almighty carrot on him at 66/1.
Even if Clan Des Obeaux is declared, he will still be effectively only 3lb higher than when finishing third in last year's Kim Muir (one place ahead of Plan Of Attack), and a generous man such as myself could make excuses for him this season.
His saddle slipped at both Haydock and Kelso, the conditions were atrocious in the Edinburgh National (a race he won in 2020), he was just getting into it when brought down in the Kim Muir. Daryl Jacob possibly had a case of a premature ejockulation when taking it up very early at Ffos Las last time, though to be fair the horse travelled more sweetly than he has done all season (hit 2.526/4 in running despite being eventually beaten 40-odd lengths) and maybe he had little option.
But, for now, we have to see what happens with that Perth entry with him. Without it I would have stuck him at 66s each way.
It clearly wouldn't be a massive surprise if Frodon was turned over under a 6lb penalty at evens in the Oaksey Chase (14:30), as Mister Fisher is very capable if it clicks for him, though he also has that extra 6lb burden to carry.
Sceau Royal could upset strong rivals
Tiger Roll's entry gives the race an extra bit of oomph but it is hardly a betting contest as it stands. The same is pretty much true of the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at 15:05.
No-one will argue with Put The Kettle On, Nube Negra and Altior (going for a fourth straight win in the race) dominating the betting, but I would be more inclined to back Sceau Royal at 6s and Nuts Well at 14s myself.
Sceau Royal would surely have gone close to winning with a fair wind at Cheltenham, goes well here and has his favoured ground, while the improving Nuts Well didn't look slow when winning over 2m1f at Kelso earlier in the season, for all his recent progress has been over 2m4f.
But, with bookmakers only betting two places - understandably so, I guess, with just nine entries - you'd be pushing a bet at the current odds.
On To Victory is on the right track
The only other race on ITV at Sandown, and therefore priced up, is the opening 18-runner handicap hurdle over 1m7f216yd
And I am putting up On To Victory at 10/1 win-only with the Sportsbook.
The ground is a slight worry for him as all his form over hurdles has been with some dig and his best form on the level came when he won the November handicap on soft.
So I do have a slight concern that he won't run (though Tom Cannon is already jocked up for what it is worth).
But he finished fourth in a Melrose on good ground and had a bit of fast-ground form back in the day and it would be ironic if the ground was too quick for him given the way the Sandown hurdles track has been riding all season.
I know he blew out to a certain extent when I was with him at a big price in the Betfair Hurdle, but I was getting a bit excited there after two out - just before his run immediately flattened out - and I can't believe this horse isn't well handicapped off 127 (2lb lower than at Newbury) and this stiffer Sandown track will suit him over this trip. And perhaps a more forward ride will be employed, too.
He was just touched off here on his only start at the track on the level and he is a strong stayer at up to 1m6f in that sphere, too.
Furthermore, he won in a decent time under a penalty at Warwick last time (though the runner-up didn't advertise the form on his following start) and I thought he absolutely gagged up there.
He will do for me.
There is also an ITV race at Leicester and Haydock on Saturday and, for all the Crafty Cockneys out there, the old Richard III Stakes (14:10) on the former track is nothing of the sort.
With over 21k to the winner, the course would have been hoping for a bigger five-day entry than 11, but it is a very strong turn-out (sorry, I couldn't resist) for a Listed race, with nine of the field rated 102 and above and Pogo heading the ratings on a lofty mark of 112.
Potentially, this is a very deep race for the grade, and hopefully eight or more stands their ground come Thursday.
At the moment, Lord Campari is the surprisingly short 15/8 favourite with the Sportsbook.
The 22-runner 7f Old Boston handicap at 14:50 is also on the box and Dreamloper heads the betting here at 4/1.
The betting for this race is very tight percentage-wise, again perhaps understandably so given running plans are hard to ascertain, but 14/1 poke Another Batt will be on my radar if entered.
He didn't kick on as expected last season but he is only 1lb higher than when winning first time up over 6f on quick ground at Thirsk, and this longer trip holds no fears for him. Actually, with no other entries and already jocked up, the 14/1 is very fair.