Strong case for Mexico at 33/1
A duo to back in the Betfair Imperial Cup
Heavy ground expected at Sandown
Weather warning ahead of Saturday
Sandown's hurdles track is a law unto itself at the best of times, but it promises to be nigh-on illegal on Saturday after the melting snow, and the rain on Wednesday and Thursday, has turned the ground heavy.
And Esher hurdles' heavy is about as extreme as it gets.
Indeed, the course reportedly was only "borderline raceable in places" on Thursday morning - refreshing honesty there, by the way - so I am going to be treading very carefully on the money front and making no apologies for that low-level punting stance.
There is even more rain forecast throughout Friday, allied to freezing temperatures overnight, and I imagine we could be looking at a Saturday morning inspection.
There simply isn't a track like it for horses stopping to a walk after apparently cantering just seconds beforehand, so that is why one of my three modest (hopefully just in the staking sense) bets on the card is a horse with course and distance form in deep ground.
My Imperial Cup pair worth chancing
Step forward Hardy Du Seuil at 15.014/1 or bigger in the Imperial Cup at 14:25, though he trades at 16.015/1 there as this column goes live.
The case for him is straightforward, and at 12/1+ he rates a bet. He is 12s with the Sportsbook, by the way.
Firstly, and most importantly, I thought the handicapper was very fair in raising him only 4lb for his convincing, well-backed, 3-length victory here last time - from Iceo and Djelo, who both re-oppose - on soft ground.
He has a good record in these types of conditions and stays further then 2m, which is a big plus when it gets this gruelling, and he is still 7lb lower over hurdles than he is over fences.
Look, even he may not handle this ground - it is the kind of going that very few will relish or cope with - but he looks as solid as you will get in here.
Peter Fahey won this race with Suprise Package last season and Zoffany Bay must have excellent claims, too.
The handicapper looked to have given him a big chance going into his Ascot race last time, his first outing since March 2021, as his French form read very well.
However, having originally been put in at single figures, he was a colossal drifter on the day, going off at a Betfair SP of 41.56, so in the circumstances his second to Irish Hill surely has to be massively marked up. It certainly suggested the run was much needed.
I couldn't put you off him at around 8/1 on the exchange, even if he was raised 3lb for that Ascot second, but I am going to play two win-only here on the exchange and the other is Fine Casting.
A Fine grinder
He has been running well on decent ground for the most part of this season, though he was dropped 2lb for a below-par effort last time and his best effort came in a soft-ground romp at Haydock two outings ago.
He is a grinder who stays a lot further than 2m - the Haydock win came over 2m3f and he has form over 2m5f - and he is two from two on heavy ground, so he is worth a small saver at 19.018/1 or bigger.
He opened up at 28/1 in places on Thursday morning but 18/1+ is acceptable, as is the Sportsbook's 16/1 if you wanted to back him each way (they are paying five places).
He probably isn't anywhere near the best handicapped horse in here, but how many will run their race?
I am going to keep this column short and sharp (ish) this week and focus on races that I am having a bet in, and the only other contest I which I am getting involved in at Sandown is the EBF Final at 13:50.
Back Mexico at 33/1 each way, five places, with the Sportsbook. Any 25s+ would be fine, as that 33s is a stand-out price, with 28/1 the next best on offer in the wider marketplace.
He is quite hard to fancy on his last two runs, and he was only dropped 1lb for being beaten 12 lengths over an extended 2m3f on good to soft at Carlisle last time, but he has a hardy and willing attitude and that will count for a lot here.
The latter trait was in evidence again at Carlisle last time as he stuck on doggedly from the rear, and I can see him gritting his teeth more than plenty of these up the straight.
He is also a winner on heavy ground, he is well handicapped on his Warwick second earlier in the season, and he hails from a stable due a change of luck after their last five runners have yielded finishing positions of 23223 (and with horses priced from 4/1 to 18/1 too).
For what it is worth, I liked Mercian Omen at 11/1 most in the bumper at 15:00, and Quel Destin at 10/1+ on the exchange in the 2m4f handicap chase at 15:35.
I am not going to be betting at Wolverhampton, as I wanted a lot more than 7/2 about last year's winner Notre Belle Bete in the Lincoln Trial at 14:05, and I was similarly hoping Dhabab would be a bit bigger than that price with the Sportsbook in the competitive 7f Listed race at 14:40.
However, the talented 2yo Dhabab has to be respected on headgear grounds alone.
He wears a first-time hood here and the Gosdens are mustard with that piece of kit. John and The Real Slim Thady are 8 from 19 with it when it is used initially, and Dad was 24 from 98 with it before he shared the license with his lad.
Impressive stuff from the Gozzas.
Back on Sunday afternoon, or maybe on Monday morning, for Day One of Cheltenham.
Looking for more Saturday racing tips? Then see what Kevin Blake has lined up ahead of the Cheltenham Festival next week.
Racing... Only Bettor. Watch below