Tony's view on Saturday's ITV races
Frero Banbou will be prime for Grand Sefton
Percussion might prove difficult to beat too
Rain and low sun could play havoc
Liverpool locals report that that the rain has been incessant in recent days, and they have been pumping water off a sodden Grand National course since Tuesday. It is no surprise then that the track have called a 9am inspection for Friday to see if the Grand Sefton can go ahead.
Even the BHA state the course could get another 13mm by race-time on Saturday (the going is heavy, soft in places) - though the forecasts vary from site to site, with some suggesting little rain - and it seems a touch of odds-against we will be seeing horses over the National fences this weekend.
Furthermore, forecast bright, blue skies on Saturday raise the distinct possibility of low sun and omitted obstacles too, and little grinds punters' gears more than that scenario. Those who have backed losers in those races, that is.
We may as well start with the Grand Sefton at 14:45, and at least we know they won't switch to the Mildmay course (that's what I have been told anyway) - that really would annoy ante-post punters of horses proven over the National fences - and it will be run in bottomless ground.
We have lost five from the race from Monday, but they don't include the three that interested me most earlier in the week, namely Frero Banbou, Percussion and Yccs Portocervo.
I couldn't tip the first-named as he was 10s with the Sportsbook and 16s elsewhere but, more crucially, he was also entered at Sandown on Sunday (I imagine they will confirm him for that race on Sunday given the inspection). The odds-compilers were also ducking the other pair I was leaning towards, particularly the latter when he was 14s but a general 25s poke elsewhere.
I still quite like all three, but the problem I have is that I do think last year's nose runner-up Gesskille is a very worthy favourite coming off the back of an Auteuil win last time in first-time blinkers and he could be hard to beat.
I also suspect we will get some non-runners, and Rule 4s, if the race goes ahead.
I'd say Fantastic Lady, Minella Trump, Cooper's Cross, Half Shot and maybe even Percussion (his heavy ground win at Fontwell came when he was racing off only 108) would have much preferred a decent surface.
Heavy ground winner Frero Banbou doesn't and the issue with him is that he is now into 10/111.00, so I had a decision to make there.
Usually a two-miler, he had often looked like he was crying out for this kind of trip but, when he got it in the Plate at Cheltenham, he ran dismally.
But he was a colossal late drifter there, going off at a Betfair SP of 22.22 when he was single figures in places in the morning, so I wonder whether all was well with him that day.
He also wouldn't want to start slowly around here, as he occasionally does - this race has a standing start, which could be problematical - and of course he has no experience of these fences.
The positives are that he is on a mark of just 133 with the ground to suit - he was a good second off 142 first time out last season at Ascot - and over a trip I'd be pretty sure he will relish on a going day.
On balance, I am happy to recommend a win-only bet at 10/111.00 on the Betfair Sportsbook or 11.010/1 or bigger on the Exchange.
The fact that the in-form Venetia Williams, with six winners since Halloween, including three on Thursday, namechecked this race in late October is hopefully a sign that he will be suitably primed for this.
I know the race may be abandoned but I have decided to go in two-handed with Percussion win-only, too. He is also 10/111.00 with the Sportsbook, and 11.010/1 or bigger on the Exchange will obviously do as well.
The ground worries me a touch despite the aforementioned win on heavy but he does have a lot going for him, given his third in this race (off a 5lb higher mark this) and the Becher last season. The conditions will at least bring into play his guaranteed stamina over much further.
It was good to see trainer Laura Morgan end a long losing spell with a winner at Musselburgh on Wednesday.
There are only three in the 50k 2m4f hurdle at 15:20 - West Balboa is also entered at Wincanton, but this is her first preference - so we can swiftly move on. Millers Bank is no mug though, and I'd rather back him at 4/15.00 than the other pair, for what it is worth.
In fact, I very nearly stuck him up here on a very quiet day's punting for me at the current prices (which could get eerily silent if the Grand Sefton is off). He is a high class chaser on his day, and he had Grade 1 hurdle form as a novice, too. The 4s is too big.
Over to Wincanton, where ITV are showing five races. The going is currently soft, good to soft in places. There is some rain about on Thursday through to Friday morning (estimates vary), but little for the following two days.
On Tuesday, I wrote that Flagrant Delitiep was overpriced at 12/113.00 with the Sportsbook in the 2m4f conditional jockeys' handicap chase at 13:15, but I couldn't play him ante-post as his stablemate Ede'iffs Elton was also entered and Harry Kimber was jocked up on both.
As it is, both run, and I was going to belatedly stick up Flagrant Delitiep, with Kimber in the saddle.
One nagging doubt is that he normally shows his best after Christmas (though he ran well when second here in November 2020) but the positive is that he ran a lot better than he usually does on his seasonal reappearance at Plumpton last month, beaten under seven lengths, and he got dropped 2lb for it.
His previous first starts of the season were decidedly more underwhelming. He was beaten 49 lengths in 2019, 26 lengths in 2020, 24 lengths in 2021 and he was pulled up last year.
He also has a very good record at this track, with two wins and four seconds from just nine starts, and indeed he was rated 134 after dotting up here on soft ground in March 2022.
He has run poorly since but he is down to a mere 108 now, and he showed more at Plumpton last time.
There is plenty of pace in here, so I hope Kimber sits off it, just rather contesting, and the more rain they get from here on in the better his chance will be.
He opened up at 12/113.00 early on Thursday, and I feared that would not last until this copy went live.
The inevitable bad news arrived at just after 1pm, but I still thought 9/110.00 each-way, four places, was acceptable.
Then the 9s became 6s just after 2pm, so I had no option but to pull the bet. He is much bigger everywhere else, and as big as 10s in some places.
I don't have a betting opinion in the Rising Stars at 13:50.
It's a good race, even though we have lost some notable horses from the five-day stage - Might I, JPR One, and a couple of Paul Nicholls' - and if you pressed me then Captain Conby would be a non-betting nominal pick.
A good handicap hurdler, sixth off 143 in the Coral Cup, he was ridden to get second behind Sharjah at Tipperary last time and he is a fair enough price at the Sportsbook's 4/15.00 without me reaching for the back button.
When I started looking at the Badger Beer (14:45) just after at 4am on Tuesday - I would say I got up especially for the Melbourne Cup but I am normally awake at that time anyway - Threeunderthrufive was 7s in a place but only 11/43.75 with the Sportsbook.
The 7s became 4s that afternoon, so there is no doubt who called that market right. He is now 3s joint-favourite with stablemate Frodon.
He'd be my favourite ahead of last year's winner Frodon as he ran well when fourth in the Scottish National off this mark, he is four from four right-handed, and has been given the Ditcheat summer wind op treatment.
And, lest not forget, he was sent off at 15/28.50 for a warm Brown Advisory after racking up four straight wins beforehand.
However, I can let 3/14.00 chances go untipped in competitive 11-runner handicaps, especially as he wouldn't want too much more rain.
With West Balboa set to run at Aintree - and Sacre Coeur may go to Sandown on Sunday as well, even though there is nearly 4k for finishing fourth - the 15:00 looks a straight fight between Rubaud and Hansard, as the betting suggests.
There is no betting angle into this race but the fact that Greatwood Hurdle entry Hansard would pick up a 5lb penalty for the Cheltenham handicap next weekend should he win this really should not be a factor.
He would pick up over 41k should he win this, and the winner of the always hugely competitive Greatwood only cops 56k.
Win this and then worry about it.
We have the precarious dead-eight in the 2m5f82yd mares' handicap hurdle at 15:32 . Paul Nicholls has the 2/13.00 favourite in here for Highclere in Lime Avenue, and the pair teamed up to win this race in 2018.
She looks short enough to me in a competitive race and the one that appealed most at the prices was 8/19.00 Great Snow, who Lime Avenue beat, admittedly very easily, by five lengths here in February, but is now 4lb worse off.
Great Snow is only 1lb higher than when third to another of the opposition here, Ilovethenightlife, in the mares' EBF Final at Newbury and she changed hands for 100k in May, which saw her move from Neil Mulholland to Harry Fry.
I may back her each way near the off if the price holds and all eight run, but I am not punting her this far out with the prospect of a non-runner and no each way Exchange market at the moment as a safety net.
Over at Newcastle, I put up Furzig ante-post at 25/126.00 each-way, four places, with the Sportsbook on Tuesday and thankfully he was confirmed for the race on Thursday morning.
Little has changed since then (though three horses came out, allowing Onesmoothoperator, Mustazeed and Struth to get a run in the maximum field of 14) and the case for him earlier in the week stands in full.
This Newcastle surface can be an acquired taste so it is a plus that he has won here and, indeed, all of his best efforts have come on all-weather surfaces.
Of course, his all-weather mark of 90, as opposed to his turf level of 78, illustrates that. But he was was rated as high as 104 in 2021 and he has been running well on grass of late.
I am not saying he was unlucky but he had to wait for a run at a crucial stage over an extended 1m2f at York last time and he was never nearer than at the line in fifth.
This longer trip will suit, and his draw in five looks okay, but I am not inclined to press up at his current Sportsbook price of 12/113.00. All of the horses I feared most on Tuesday have all been confirmed for the race.
Looking for a fresh bet, I can fully see why the Sportsbook want to duck Teumessias Fox at 5s.
He is 15/28.50 elsewhere, as he went off 9/25.50 favourite for the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes off a 3lb higher mark than this at the Royal meeting, ran well when we last saw him in August and bolted up on his only start at this track in a novice in March 2022.
He may well be a horse best caught fresh, too. Unfortunately, I can hardly tip him at the current 5/16.00 though, and the Exchange market is still in its formative stages.
I don't have a betting opinion in either of the Listed races at 13:30 and 14:05, so I will park it there.
Just to prove I did look at the contests though, Sound Angela and Rousay at 7/18.00 and 8/19.00 respectively looked okay prices in the 13:30, while the 6f sprint at 14:05 looked an exceptionally nasty race, for all Sophia's Starlight, the likely leader on the rail from trap 11, could give you a good spin from the front at 11/112.00. She could have opposition from three rivals up top, though.
Apologies for going up with this column early (some don't like the fact that I do, but such is life), but I am off for MRI and CT scans on Friday - hopefully my last ones for six months - so I had to clear the work decs/decks today.
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