TC's guide to betting and going for Saturday's ITV races
Nicholls horse can challenge fav in Betfair Ascot Chase
9/110.00 tip for Grand National trial at Haydock
Another big Saturday, another major Betfair horse racing sponsorship, and this week it is the turn of the 175k Grade 1 2m5f Betfair Ascot Chase at 15:35 to headline on ITV Racing, with the channel set to show eight live races from three tracks on the day, weather-permitting.
I was surprised to see the big Ascot race wasn't an early closer, but that hasn't really helped the numbers, as only five were entered on Monday.
Looking at the BHA site, there seems to be a supplementary entry stage until Wednesday, if anyone wants to belatedly join the party.
That's clearly a good move if you are trying to bolster numbers - I have never seen it before, but it is good to innovate - though not ideal for ante-post betting.
I suspect none will be added, but you never know.
I would have liked to have said we are in for a dry week, but there are spits and spots around, with 5mm combined on Tuesday and Wednesday, with currently a more substantial dollop of 8mm due on Thursday.
The ground at Ascot is good to soft, soft in places. So it shouldn't be too bad at all there.
The five currently in the big race are, in alphabetical order: Ahoy Senor, Fakir D'oudairies, L'Homme Presse, Pic D'Orhy and Sail Away.
The 25s poke Sail Away looks to have a mountain to climb (he was actually in Saturday's Haydock Grand National Trial over 3m4f+ before being taken out on Monday, but he is in at Kelso on Friday).
The other four all have a winning shot, so I was surprised L'Homme Presse opened up at as short as 4/71.57 with the Sportsbook, for all he is the class act on official ratings (there is an Exchange market on the race too, and he is 1.715/7 there).
More of him in a moment.
I am of the opinion that Betfair ambassador Paul Nicholls' Pic D'Orhy, the 5/23.50 second favourite, should head to Cheltenham for the Ryanair after this, but let's deal with his chances here first.
He was readily brushed aside by Shishkin in this race last season but that was clearly no disgrace and this dual course winner comes here on the back of a career-best when a 1 ¾ length second to Banbridge at Kempton last time.
The winner is the favourite for the aforementioned Ryanair and, not only was Pic D'Orhy giving him 3lb there, he also could have bustled him up (if not beaten him) had he met the last a lot better.
I would have him a lot closer in the betting to the jolly, and the 5/23.50 looks big enough.
Admittedly, L'Homme Presse is the clear form horse on a mark of 170 and he has won his only start at the course, too.
He would have finished second in the 2022 King George but for his final-fence unseat, so he clearly made an excellent comeback, on his first since Kempton, when beating Protektorat at Lingfield last month.
However, you can pick holes in that form - he was getting 4lb and only won by 2 ¼ lengths, for starters - and I'd personally want to see him back that up before unloading any cash on him.
Especially when he is chalked up at just 4/71.57.
Now, I don't know any running plans but I was rather surprised to see one firm open up with 8s about Ahoy Senor, and I agree with the Sportsbook being a lot more cautious at 9/25.50.
He clearly is not a reliable proposition these days but I thought he was running a hell of a race in the Cotswold Chase before his rider's stirrup leather broke last time and sending him right-handed again may be no bad thing.
He is 10.09/1 on the Exchange, a price I wouldn't go close to matching as a layer.
Fakir D'oudairies won this in 2022 before blowing out last year, and it will be slightly surprising if he turns out so quickly after his down-the-field run in handicap company at the Dublin Racing Festival just eight days ago. The Exchange market agrees and he is currently 17.016/1 there.
Then again, it's a 175k huge pot (with £9,372.50 for fourth and £4,690 for fifth), so maybe he will rock up and collect the easy cash, as may Sail Away.
And possibly we will see a supplementary entry by Wednesday which will shake the market up.
The Sportsbook have also priced up the Grade 2 2m7f180yd novices' chase at 13:50 - more races from Ascot will follow - and Apple Away is their evens favourite, with Brave Kingdom at 2s, and 4s and bigger the rest.
The Ben Pauling pair of Henry's Friend and Bowtogreatness are also in the 3m handicap on the Ascot card, as is Kilbeg King, and this Grade 2 only has seven entries as it is.
There is a bit of rain due on every day at Haydock this week and that is very bad news as the ground is already heavy. In fact, there is 48mm from Tuesday to Friday forecast on the main weather site I use.
That could make things very tricky if at all lands.
Unlike the big one at Ascot, the 3m4f+ Grand National Trial at 15:15 is an early-closer and it had 27 entries on Sunday, with Sam Brown originally topping the weights at 12st. At that stage Iron Bridge was the Sportsbook's 5/16.00 favourite ahead of five others priced at 8s or less.
We are now down to just 13 though and the weights have gone up 3lb after Sam Brown's predictable no-show after running at Newbury on Saturday, bringing Snipe into the handicap.
There was the possibility of a maximum field of 20 for the 100k race but obviously that isn't happening now.
The Aintree Grand National weights are released on February 20, so those higher-rated horses with a Liverpool entry maybe treading carefully. The bottom weight last year was rated 143, and 142 in 2022, so connections have to be mindful of that.
Those entered at Aintree are as follows: Chambard, Highland Hunter, Iron Bridge, Famous Bridge, Full Back and Where It All Began (also currently in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown on Sunday, an early closer for which they which will confirm on Tuesday).
Another consideration when betting ante-post this weekend is that a few of these could wait for the Eider Chase, on better ground, at Newcastle on February 24. They are: Highland Hunter, Iron Bridge, Guetapan Collonges, Credo and My Silver Lining.
Furthermore, Iron Bridge, the Sportsbook's 7/24.50 favourite, is also in the 3m handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday.
A messy race then, though Snipe at 9s with the Sportsbook (and a whopping 13.012/1 on the Exchange) appeals most, as a light weight could be a massive plus in the conditions.
He is unproven over the trip but he is a 7yo on the up, and Timeform called it heavy when he won over 3m1f at Aintree on Boxing Day (after which Dan Skelton said he "could be one for marathon distances in the spring").
In fact, he finished off very strongly that day, and he again looked all ends up a grinder when staying on far too late over 3m on good ground to take second at Doncaster last time.
The more I looked, the more I warmed to his chance. So, while taking any double-figures on the Exchange is an obvious (if fleeting) route, the Sportsbook's 9/110.00 win-only is the fair, and only, tipping way to go. He also doesn't have any other options in the coming fortnight.
The Sportsbook have also priced up the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle on the card at 14:10 and make Salver their 4/71.57 favourite.
We also have Wincanton on the box, with the 1m7f+ Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle taking centre stage.
You always fear for these types of races, given the complete absence of top class 2m hurdlers in the UK outside of Constitution Hill, and we seven entries.
A sign of the times perhaps but I reckon they would have been happy enough with that figure, even if none of the septet are rated higher than 149.
The ground at Wincanton is currently heavy, and there was still some areas of standing water on Monday morning. There is 30mm due from Tuesday into Friday, so that could make life challenging for the clerk of the course.
No odds for that race at the moment though, so I may be back tomorrow once fresh weekend races have been priced up.
Fingers crossed the weather plays ball this weekend.
Watch this week's Weighed-In