Three meetings on ITV Racing on Saturday
A rare jolly among Tony's two bets at Ascot
Skelton has a big chance in Swinton Hurdle at Haydock
A 20/1 each-way tip in Lingfield's opener
William Haggas has had a quiet time of it of late, acknowledging that some of his horses have been under a bit of a cloud, but he was amongst the winners at Chester - two from two going into Friday's racing, in fact - and he has a couple of fair chances in the ITV races at Ascot.
It is soft (heavy in places) there, but it could have been far worse, as they may have been borderline raceable if they had got the torrential rain that was doing the rounds in the south on Wednesday evening.
They missed it all, but copped another 5mm on Thursday.
No headgear means no bet on Nathanael
The ground shouldn't be a problem for Haggas' Nathanael Greene in the 1m4f handicap at 13:30, as he looks well-handicapped on his Haydock defeat of the subsequent St Leger third Giavelletto (running off a mark of just 92 that day) in the soft last July.
Now, he didn't back that up in two subsequent starts (the handicapper declined to drop him even 1lb for those efforts) and he doesn't wear the cheekpieces he sported at Haydock, so that has put me off backing him at his current price of 3/1 with the Sportsbook, but I don't doubt for a minute his current mark of 90 underplays his talent.
Other positives for him are that he won first time out last season and, as there is no guaranteed pace in here, they may decide to go forward with him again. But, with the missing headgear nagging at me and 3s nothing too flash in a decent enough race, I can pass.
Melody can call the tune for favourtie backers
Ascot, 14:05 - Tony's Tip: Timeless Melody @ 4.3100/30+
The fillies 1m handicap at 14:05 is another competitive race but it is very difficult to escape the fact that Haggas' Timeless Melody could have got in very lightly indeed off a mark of just 80.
The horse was tried over 1m3f when trained by Charlie Appleby last season (unsurprisingly as she is by stamina influence Teofilo), so she did very well to win over 7f in extremely testing ground at Leicester last month. She looked to be going nowhere 2f out, but she really found her feet late on to win decisively at the line.
The step up to 1m will definitely suit then and the Leicester win, in a good time, has worked out very well.
The runner-up ran well off a mark of 75 next time (now rated 78) and the third, beaten 13 lengths, won at Doncaster afterwards. And the fourth has obliged twice since in handicap company.
She could take a lot of beating, even allowing that she meets some similarly unexposed types, and I thought the opening 10/3 with the Sportsbook was very fair.
I was about to have a rare dabble at the top end of the market, but then she was cut into 5/2 and I had to pull the Sportsbook bet.
However, she is still 4.3100/30 on the exchange, so I will play there. 3/1+ is fine.
Soft ground not putting me off Perotto
Ascot, 14:40 - Tony's Tip: Perotto @ 15.014/1+
I may be tipping a non-runner in the 7f handicap at 14:40 as all Perotto's best form has undoubtedly come on a sounder surface and there is a little more rain due, but I am content to back him to small stakes at 15.014/1 or bigger.
The Sportsbook, who are paying six places, are also 14/1, so you probably want to back him there. He is a win-only punt for me, though.
The ground is the obvious issue - he'd be nearly favourite on a decent surface - but he ran perfectly well when third in a valuable 27-runner auction race on his only start on soft, (Timeform actually called it heavy) so maybe his new connections shouldn't be scared of the ground and be quick to pigeon-hole him.
In short, there is no evidence to suggest he doesn't go on testing ground.
Roger Varian, who took this handicap in 2019, is arguably the most underperforming trainer around given the calibre of horses he gets, but he has inherited a very well-handicapped inmate off Marcus Tregoning.
Perotto won the Britannia here in 2021 off a mark of 99, and hit a peak rating of 110 afterwards, but he has dropped down to 97 now and I can see 7f in these conditions suiting him.
He was last seen when ninth over a mile in the Balmoral on good to soft ground here off 100 in October, a race in which he looked a possible winner on the far rail 2f out, and if he handles the ground he is a massive player.
Varian's recent form figures going into Friday's racing read 112742201311 and Perotto could be very well drawn to be delivered late in 21 given there is pace in 18, 19 and 23.
They may well pull him out because of the ground - they shouldn't given the above - but I'll take my chances.
It may well dry out from hereon in, anyway, albeit not appreciably.
Sovereign can land us some gold at Haydock
Haydock, 15:15 - Tony's Tip: Lunar Sovereign @ 13.012/1+
Dan Skelton appears to get some decidedly favourable treatment from the assessor on occasions and he is no stranger to exploiting it in the big 2m handicap hurdles - Faivoir being the latest example in the County Hurdle - and he has another well-treated horse on his hands in Haydock's Swinton Hurdle at 15:15 in the shape of Lunar Sovereign.
I am working on the basis of good ground here given the warm forecast, even if they put 4mm of water on largely good to soft on Friday morning.
This horse was rated 132 after finishing third in the 2021 Grade 2 Dovecote Hurdle on good ground when trained by Fergal O'Brien and he shaped rather well, shall we say, on his debut for Skelton when sixth to Takeit Easy at Chepstow last month, his first outing since June 2022.
Lorcan Williams certainly didn't throw the kitchen sink at him there and I bet connections were cock-a-hoop when he got dropped 3lb for it.
It has worked out perfectly as the horse has got in at the bottom of the weights in this maximum field of 17, and Ciaran Gethings could have a winning debut on his first ride for the yard,
Back him at 13.012/1 or bigger, or 12/1 with the Sportsbook, who are paying five places.
You clearly have to massively respect the claims of the 5/1 favourite Brentford Hope.
New trainer Harry Derham seems to have sweetened him up and, given he was once rated 107 on the Flat, a hurdles mark of 123 looks ripe for exploiting. If you wanted a saver on him, I couldn't, and wouldn't, put you off.
I'll be back with an update to this column later once we get the Lingfield runners and prices.
A surprisingly big price about one in Lingfield opener
Lingfield, 13:50 - Tony's Tip: Ajrad e/w, 4 places, @ 20/1
Lingfield has been transferred to the all-weather, so Saturday's Classic trials may be of debatable worth as regards Epsom, but we have some decent fields to go at.
I couldn't see any obvious bets in the trials or the fillies' Group 3 - Circle Of Fire was probably the closest I came to a bet in the colts' race at 7/2, but it is clearly a contest of unknowns to a large degree - but Ajrad was immediately of some interest in the opening 7f handicap at 13:50.
The 5yo shaped well off the back of a four-month break here last time. Drawn one, he was dropped in and never got into the race, but he made good late strides under a quiet ride to be nearest at the line.
His two victories have come second time back after a break, including here off just a 1lb lower mark in November.
However, these type of races are full of hard luck stories around here, especially with hold-up horses like Ajrad, and he has drawn stall one again, which will give Rab Havlin a headache and a half.
If you back him he is a behind-the-sofa watch.
I was going to stick with just my earlier bets but I was very surprised to see the first firm up on Friday make Ajrad a 25/1 chance, so that pricked up my ears, and the next firm up went 20s.
I wasn't expecting those kind of odds, so I have to suggest a small-stakes bet at 20/1 each-way, four places, with the Sportsbook.It's not particularly relevant but his trainer, who wouldn't have the biggest string, has had a couple of recent winners, too,
Racing... Only Bettor. Watch below.