Tony Calvin: Sirobbie should give a run for your money at 14/1

The gates at Cheltenham Racecourse
Racing returns to Cheltenham on Friday and Saturday

For Tony Calvin much of this weekend's racing at Cheltenham and Doncaster is a case of wait and see, but our man has found one to back on the antepost at Prestbury Park...

He is a strong stayer at the trip, is ground-versatile and has won on soft, and hopefully the six-year-old can deliver away from Uttoxeter.

Back Sirobbie at 14/1 each way, five places, with the Betfair Sportsbook in 15:15 at Cheltenham on Saturday

"The start of the National Hunt season proper" - a phrase and throwaway line that began to be spun out at the opening Chepstow meeting earlier this month, and will continue to be in use all the way up to the Paddy Power meeting in November - will again be getting plenty of airings by pundits this week as we welcome Cheltenham back to our ITV screens on Friday and Saturday.

As much as it is a luvvy and establishment comment to make - and I wouldn't tend to fit into that profile - there is undeniably something special and unique about the attraction of the course and its surroundings (buy mentions of amphitheatre on ITV this week), and not simply because it made world-wide headlines the last time they raced there on March 13th.

Just seven months ago, but literally a different world away.

Van Gogh may be in the picture at Doncaster

That said, I will start this ante-post piece focusing on Doncaster on Saturday, and the big 2yo race, before I stick on my National Hunt head, Worzel Gummidge-style (the youngsters can look it up), for the winter.

In recent years, the roll call of Group 1 Vertem Futurity winners have been full of subsequent Classic supremos. We have had a Derby winner in Camelot, a St Leger scorer in Kingston Hill, and the last three renewals have provided the 2,000 Guineas victors in Saxon Warrior, Magna Grecia and Kameko.

So the winner of the race this year has plenty to live up to.

Aidan O'Brien has seven of the 18 five-day entries, so that pretty much kills the ante-post betting stone dead for me, as it is clearly up in the air which of the septet will run. And probably will be until around 9:30am on Thursday morning, when he decides which of his merry band will bid to give him a 10th win in the race.

That is not ideal, especially as I think the 7/1 chance Van Gogh could well be the pick of his crop and be the bet here if taking his chance. Although I gather connections are not sure he will stay 1m4f next year - even if his pedigree, by American Pharaoh out of an Oaks winner, suggests he has every chance of doing so - I have had a little (£7.50 each way to be precise) nibble on the horse at 50s and 40s for the Derby.

Dewhurst runner-up Wembley is the form horse in here and maybe O'Brien's most likely runner, but I was very taken by Van Gogh's second to One Ruler in the Autumn Stakes last time and think he is a horse with a lot of improvement in him.

Aidan O'Brien 1280 .jpg

Yes, the winner One Ruler, who is also in here along with unbeaten stablemate La Barrosa, won by a comfortable one-and-three-quarter lengths there and is a Classic prospect in his own right (he was not for catching when he was switched to the favoured stands' rail over 1f out) but Van Gogh could have barely got a worse run through and did remarkably well to finish second.

But the layers have understandably priced up this Group 1 very defensively given the doubts - I wouldn't have had any issues had they declined to go up with a market, given the O'Brien numbers - so it is a race to analyse later in the week once we know the final field.

Anyway, Group 1 Flat chat over - the going at Doncaster is currently good to soft, and the forecast doesn't look too bad as it stands - and I am going to largely focus on a couple of races on Saturday in which there could be a punting angle.

Rain is much needed at Cheltenham

The ground at Cheltenham is currently good and how it rides later on in the week seems dependent on how much rain they get on Wednesday, and that promises to be pretty tasty on the rainfall front, with one site currently saying 18mm.

From jockeys that I have spoken to, that rain is much needed for Cheltenham - it is good to firm at Exeter on Tuesday - and we could have a lot of no-shows if it doesn't arrive, as forecast.

The Betfair Sportsbook has priced up all six ITV races from Cheltenham and Doncaster on Friday, but I found the day hard to attack in a better manner ante-post for a number of reasons, chief among them definite running plans and ground.

I am especially happy to leave Cheltenham alone, but I did think Tranchee was a fair price at 11/2 with the Sportsbook in the 14:40 at Doncaster (though please note he is doubly-entered this week) and I wouldn't be in a mad rush to oppose the 3/1 chance Ocean Wind in the staying handicap at 15:15, even if Trumpet Man is officially 7lb well-in under a 6lb penalty after his Haydock success last week.

That actually could be one warm race with the likes of Opera Gift and last year's winner Caravan Of Hope also among the five-day entries, as well as three other last-time-out scorers.

Nothing at all interested me at the prices on Saturday's races from Doncaster and Newbury - I can see the case for Soldier's Minute in the 5f handicap at 2.20pm at the former, but I was hoping for a lot bigger than his current price - so off I went to Cheltenham, where I focused on the two televised handicaps.

Cogry leads potential three against the field

To be honest, this week has an exceptionally trappy look to it from an ante-post betting perspective, and you will be doing well to get a runner to the start in some of the races - the levels of midweek rain are going to be key once again - but at least Cogry looks sure to line-up in the 3m1f handicap chase at 15:50 providing he is sound and well.

The reason is quite simple, and that is he has made his seasonal reappearance in this race for the past four seasons, falling at the first in 2016, winning in 2017, and finishing placed in the last two years.

The issue with backing him now is that he was never going to missed in the market given that profile - the Sportsbook make him 11/2 - and he makes his comeback here at the age of 11 just shy 1lb shy off his career-high mark.

My old mate West Approach is also an obvious candidate, having finished ahead of Cogry when second in this race last year (trading at 1.33 in the process when bumping into subsequent Festival winner The Conditional) but he also an entry at Aintree on Sunday, so you can't back him at the moment.

He would definitely be in my three against the field if rocking up though, with the other pair the aforementioned Cogry and Frodon, though of course the progressive winning machine Manofthemoment is probably a fair favourite at 5/1 and bigger.

Frodon Cheltenham 2019 - 1280.jpg

Fitness could be the issue for Frodon (pictured above), especially over this 3m1f trip first time out, but he has the class to defy a mark of 164 if fully revved up and he won on his reappearance on this weekend in 2018 when taking the Old Roan at Aintree.

But the main problem with the quartet I have mentioned is that they occupy the first four places in the betting, and I can't see them shortening much, if at all.

Copperhead could struggle off raised mark

I hope a lot of the punting early birds on the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at 15:15 didn't get overly-involved on favourite Copperhead thinking he would be running off a mark of just 129 here.

He may have blown out when he was sent off a 6/1 chance for the RSA, being well-beaten when falling at the last, but he had earlier stamped himself a fine staying novice chaser when winning a handicap at Newbury in a quick time and following up in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown at Ascot.

Those successes earned him a chase rating of 153, and he was 24lb lower over hurdles the last time we saw him over the smaller obstacles, on the back of him winning by four lengths at Sandown in February 2019, so he is no one-dimensional chaser.

However, the handicapper can intervene these days when horses revert back in discipline, and he has raised Copperhead's hurdle mark 19lb to 148, so he is not 24lb well-in any longer, just 5lb.

In addition, I have no idea if this is the plan and Colin Tizzard's horses have not really hit the ground running, a couple of recent winners aside.

Tobefair won this race first time up last season and is in his element around here but he is highly vulnerable to the younger and less exposed improvers in here, and there are plenty of them.

The Sportsbook have Fugitives Drift in at 8/1 and clearly rate his chances. So did I, until I saw he is down to run at Hereford on Wednesday, so don't back him just yet!

Like Copperhead, some may have thought Lock's Corner's was set to run off a 16lb lower mark than his chase rating, over which he has racked up a four-timer recently. But the handicapper has raised his hurdles mark to 130, the same as that over fences, so he officially now has nothing in hand if he switches back to hurdles here.

However, this point winner really does promise to be suited by the trip on run-style and, maybe to a lesser extent, on pedigree, too. His sire Gold Well gets plenty of 3m+ performers, including the stable's Grade 1 winner Holywell.

He is fit too, with his latest win coming at Bangor at the end of last month, but this stable is very hard to read and I'd be inclined to wait and back him in the day-of-race market, even if that entails entertaining him at a much shorter price (he is currently an industry-best 12/1 with the Sportsbook, who are offering five places in the race).

Cheltenham the focus for Whittington's strong stayer

It could well be that neither Copperhead or Lock's Corner will now run after the handicapper has stepped in, but you will get a run for your money if you back 14/1 chance Sirobbie, it seems.

His trainer Harry Whittington reports the owner is keen to run him on Saturday, and the horse has no other weekend entries.

You can see why as the horse was pretty impressive when winning at his beloved Uttoxeter last time when switched back to hurdles after not enjoying fences on his previous two starts.

He has been raised 6lb to a career-high mark of 130 but it was justified, as he beat a well-fancied runner-up and the third Yes No Maybe So, who was going for a five-timer, was a further nine lengths away.

Apparently, giving him a lot of daylight on the outside helped him there, so there could be more to come now he is back in the groove over hurdles. Back him at 14/1 each way, five places.

He is a strong stayer at the trip, is ground-versatile and has won on soft, and hopefully the six-year-old can deliver away from Uttoxeter.

The likely change in ground and the lack of concrete running plans - I could not find out if the others I fancied were set to run, and there is nothing worse than doing your money in cold blood - mitigate against me getting involved elsewhere other than Sirobbie, and I can't recommend a slew of bets if I am not having them myself.

Oh, before I leave you, I should also mention the Old Roan at Aintree has also been priced on Sunday (14:00). Itchy Feet is the 4/1 favourite there.

So the Sportsbook has priced up the small matter of 16 ante-post races from Friday to Sunday if you are bolder than me!

Back on Thursday.

P&L

Flat Season P&L: +24.6

(June 1-Oct 20TH 2010 Inclusive)

Previous P&L: +303.4

April 14 2017 to end of racing March 2020 inclusive (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)

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