Dashel Drasher my 'most confident' bet says Tony Calvin
26.0 shot Hurricane Bay can go well at Doncaster
On a day on which I thought there would be more bets to be had - though being selective and price-conscious is rarely a bad thing - there is little doubt in my mind that Dashel Drasher is the most confident of my three weekend wagers at 4.84/1 or bigger in Cheltenham's Cleeve Hurdle at 15:00.
First things first, let's just hope the meeting is on as there is an inspection planned at midday on Friday.
I chatted to a local on Thursday morning who said it could possibly be in a bit of bother with the frost still in the ground at that point - before that it didn't even occur to me that the meeting was in any danger - but hopefully they can get the frost covers down on Friday and the track doesn't get as low as -2 one site is currently forecasting for early on Saturday morning.
With an early 11:40am start on Saturday, I reckon we could be fidgeting nervously tomorrow morning, too.
Anyway, let's crack on.
Drasher looks a decent bet on the figures
When looking at the Stayers' Hurdle ahead of last Monday's Weighed In podcast - and before Teahupoo's Galmoy win on Thursday, admittedly - I was struck by how that Festival race had the potential to cut up and how under-rated Dashel Drasher's claims were on the exchange and, more importantly from a betting perspective, the non-runner money-back line in the wider marketplace (he was 28/1).
So if I fancy him at a big each-way price for March, then I have to side with him here getting 6lb from Paisley Park.
There are potential negatives about him for Saturday's contest in that he could have plenty of competition for the lead and his suitability for 3m around Cheltenham is not assured, but he doesn't have to go from the front and I believe his stamina won't be an issue.
Hopefully not anyway, as this is a horse who was just touched off by a short-head in the Fleur De Lys over 2m6f in heavy ground last season at Lingfield and who finished second to Noble Yeats in the Many Clouds over 3m1f at Aintree two starts ago.
He followed up the Liverpool run with a fine second to Marie's Rock, now favourite for the mares' hurdle, in the Relkeel over 2m4f here last time, and you can easily argue that he has posted career-bests over hurdles and fences on his last two starts.
Some may suggest that is stretching it, as he is a 10yo after all, but either way he only has 4lb to find with Paisley Park at these weights - if he ran to his 7lb higher chase mark (aunties and uncles and all that, I know) of 158 he would be top-rated - and he is well clear of the rest of these on the official figures, so I am very happy with 7/2+ (he is 7/2 with the Sportsbook). I'd make him more of a 3s poke, maybe even a bit shorter.
I am sure many will look to the trading angle with Paisley Park - i.e. lay him beforehand and back him at bigger odds when he hits his usual flat spot in running - so good luck there if you are one of those punters. Not for me that one, as somewhere down the line that trade will become too well known to be exploited, as it was in the days of Inglis Drever and Big Buck's.
Ante-post play Your Darling still on a winnable mark
No betting opinion in the rescheduled Clarence House at 13:20 - I'd just about side with Edwardstone over Energumene at the prices, and an analysis of any race is worthless without reference to the odds (1.574/7 plays 3.3512/5 at the moment), but there is precious little in it, in truth - and I am happy to stick with my ante-post play of Your Darling at 14/1 win-only, and not press up, in the 2m4f handicap chase at 13:50.
That case that I made for him at 14s on Tuesday stands, but he is now into single figures (just 6/1 on the Sportsbook and 8s on the exchange).
I do like his claims though, for all admittedly he has the profile of a horse who is best caught very fresh.
He clearly didn't stay 3m at Kempton last time (when he hit 1.99 in running) and he obviously impressed when hosing up over 2m5f at Ascot previously. Off a 9lb higher mark, I reckon he remains on a winnable mark, as he could have won by 10 lengths there had he wanted to.
I imagine Ben Pauling will be very keen to get another win into him before a possible shot at the Plate at the Festival (he is owned by Lord Vestey, so they will be doubly keen to go there), and this looks a fair opportunity.
He is currently rated 132, which would have got you into the Plate in the last two years, but not in the previous six - the bottom weight was rated 140 in 2020 - so he will be off for his life here.
He was very heavily backed at Kempton (he opened up at three times his starting price) and any drying of the ground (unlikely, granted) will be in his favour. He ran poorly here last January but that pulled-up effort was clearly not his running.
If he does hit double-figures on the exchange at any point pre-race, I couldn't put you off him, and I will also put in a good word for Silver Hallmark and the Irish challenger Now Where Or When as this could prove to be the latter's optimum trip off a workable handicap mark (just 3lb higher than his Irish level). His absence since November is off-putting though.
Bonttay looks a big price to see off the men
I will leave the Cotswold Chase at 14:25 alone too, though I do think the 9/1 about Sounds Russian on the Sportsbook is fair (he actually opened up at 14/1 on Thursday morning) without convincing me to part with my cash.
Protektorat and Noble Yeats set a pretty high bar after all, even with their 6lb penalties, though Sound Russian is in their form ballpark at these weights and comes here off the back of an excellent handicap effort against a big improver in the Rowland Meyrick. The Betfair Chase winner could prove tough to beat but Sounds Russian is a dangerous floater.
Pembroke is the right favourite in the Ballymore Trial at 15:35 at 5/2+ on the exchange, as he was very impressive under a penalty over 2m at Ludlow last time - the further he went, the better he looked there - and this extra 4f could really suit him.
But it will also play to the strengths of Bonttay too, and she is the bet at 21.020/1 on the exchange and/or 20/1 with the Sportsbook.
She has an excellent Cheltenham pedigree with two wins and a second here in her bumper campaign - and that second came against the exciting Queen's Gamble in November, a race in which she came from well off the pace, perhaps too far off it - and she again looked to be crying out for a stamina test when a close second on her hurdling debut over 2m at Lingfield.
That is in keeping with her pedigree, as she is by 2005 Gold Cup (the flat variety) victor Westerner out of a 2m6f winner.
Obviously, the form of her Lingfield second needs massively improving on if she is to win this and this will be the deepest ground she has raced on, but her level of bumper form paints her in a very decent light and her dam won in heavy ground at Sandown of all places.
Getting 7lb and more from this field, the sole lady in the race may be no tramp here.
Ga Law could be a good thing and I've backed him for the Ryanair
Epatante should stroll home and win as far as her jockey likes in the mares' hurdle at Doncaster at 14:05 - 1/3 on the exchange probably underplays her claims - and I was tempted by Cloth Cap off a mark of just 138 (he won the Hennessy by 10 lengths off 136) in the Skybet Chase at 15:15 until I saw there are five other forward-goers in the race.
Furthermore, I would be worried that the ground will ride a lot worse and rougher than the official description of good - I have been caught out expecting decent ground there before - and that the favourite Ga Law may be a good thing off 150, anyway.
Indeed, instead of backing Ga Law for this race at around 3/1 on the exchange - that's a fair price, mind you - I took the decision to have a small tickle on him at 66/1 all-in, and 33s non-runner money back, for the Ryanair on Thursday morning instead.
That Festival race is another contest that could prove to be very winnable if Allaho doesn't get there and Ga Law is a big improver with winning course form over an extended 2m4f in the Paddy Power.
If he wins this well off 150 then he is a plausible contender, as I don't see him going up to the Gold Cup trip, with the 2m5f race a good compromise. Make of that angle what you will.
Hurricane a big price to keep Doncaster rivals at Bay
My sole Doncaster bet is Hurricane Bay at 26.025/1 or bigger in the 14:40. He is also 25/1 with the Sportsbook if you want to back him there. It's a small-stakes play, though.
I respect the claims of guaranteed stayer Grand Soir and Twig - I'd make the former favourite over Stay Away Fay and the latter hails from a stable that have won this race three times in recent years - but Hurricane Bay could just improve past them with this stamina test over 3m.
He was doing all his best work at the finish when winning over 2m5f here in November, beating a wide-margin subsequent winner, and he probably did better than it first appeared when a beaten 2/1 favourite under a penalty at Huntingdon last time.
He was ridden by the brilliantly named, but inexperienced, 10lb claimer Eddie Edge there and the winner himself has come out since and obliged under a penalty, and everything about this horse says grinder to me.
At the price, I'll pay to find out if he can grind quickly enough to take this Grade 2 for a stable in fair enough form.
Fingers crossed that Cheltenham goes ahead on Saturday, as it is a brilliant card, and some of the non-ITV races are crackers, too. If not, we may see the whole card moved to Sunday.