Captain Guinness the one to take on Jonbon
Will it be Constitution Hill v Shishkin on Saturday?
Sandown's Betfair-sponsored, two-day meeting, starting on Friday, is set to be run on soft ground at a minimum, with even the BHA site saying a further 25mm of rain this week is possible.
That appears on the punchy side though, looking at the overview of a few weather sites.
The course got 11mm through Sunday night, with a bit more due today and Tuesday, with the wet spell (I am such a wordsmith) reappearing on Thursday.
The current going description is soft, heavy in places, on the hurdles track and soft, good to soft in places, for the chasers.
We will come on to the re-scheduled Fighting Fifth in a moment, but let's start with the Betfair Tingle Creek at 15:00.
Jonbon was installed as the 1/41.25 favourite by the Betfair Sportsbook for this Grade 1 after his comeback win at Cheltenham, though the Betfair Exchange gave his potential rivals a touch more hope, as he has been trading around the 2s-on mark there.
There were 10 in the race before Monday's confirmation stage at midday and we have lost Editeur Du Gite, Elixir De Nutz, Funambule Sivola and L'Homme Presse to take us to just six entries.
Unfortunately, that is just the way of the world these days with Grade 1 races in the UK and Ireland, not that it also didn't happen in the good ole' days.
Two from two at the track, including the novices' chase at this meeting last year, Jonbon's only defeats in 13 starts have been at the hands of Constitution Hill and El Fabiolo. He may well have stepped up on those efforts with a 9 ½-length defeat of Edwardstone in the Shloer on his return, with Nube Negra a further seven lengths away in third.
If you wanted to be Mr or Mrs Harsh and crab the form, it is possible to do so, as clearly none of his three rivals ran to their best that day and the time wasn't spell-binding, but he could do no more than dismiss them as he did.
I couldn't argue too much with his Sportsbook price of 1/31.33 - though, obviously, 100pc would I rather be a layer than a backer - and certainly not his current Exchange odds of 1.51/2.
Captain Guinness was available at 5s each-way, three places, immediately after his impressive comeback win on soft/heavy ground at Navan, though those attractive each-way terms were quickly trimmed into the first two soon afterwards.
Understandably so, mind you.
He is now 4/15.00 with the Sportsbook and, if a prime-time (and improved) Jonbon turns up, it is admittedly difficult to see him winning, as Nicky Henderson's horse beat him fair and square (by 3 ¾ lengths) in the Celebration Chase here in April. Captain Guinness was a little underwhelming when third to Greaneteen and Hitman in this race in 2021.
However, I was very taken by the manner of his seven-length win at Navan, as he travelled and jumped beautifully, and it is not out of the realms of possibility that was a career-best.
I have half a feeling he could stick it up to Jonbon here, and his current Exchange price of 6.25/1 looks too big. It's a lightly-traded market at the moment so I can't tip him here, though.
Edwardstone, a 15/28.50 fixed-odds chance here but 9s and bigger on the Exchange, danced home by nine lengths in this race last season. He was beaten only a head by Editeur Du Gite at Cheltenham in January, but he blew out either side of that second, running mystifying badly in the Champion Chase when sent off a 15/82.88 poke.
I think he was given a pretty kind re-introduction behind Jonbon and it is worth remembering he was rated 170 after winning this race last year. Jonbon is now rated 170, too.
He handles soft ground perfectly well but perhaps a decent surface suits him better.
Editeur Du Gite is a no-show on the expected testing ground, but his stablemate Haddex Des Obeaux will take his chance. However, he is rated a mere 150 and it takes a leap of faith to back him here at 16/117.00.
He also comes here on the back of a fall, though he will certainly be in his element if it turns heavy and that could count for a lot. Someone thinks so as he has already been cut from 20s to the current 16s already today with the Sportsbook.
He is the most likely pace-setter in the race, though Jonbon and Nube Negra have gone from the front before.
JP McManus is set to be two-handed with Boothill, as Harry Fry is keen to step his horse up in grade after winning at his beloved Ascot off a mark of 155 last time, and the owner will let him, it seems.
I couldn't have him in this class though, and he makes very little appeal at the Sportsbook's 16/117.00. I know that factors in the each-way 1,2 element in a small field, but his win-only Exchange price of 32.031/1 is a far better illustration of his chance.
Nube Negra, an unlucky runner-up in the 2021 Champion Chase, is not up to this grade these days and he probably wants better ground, too.
He is the outsider of the party at the Sportsbook's 25/126.00, but is 80.079/1 on the Exchange. However, there is £4,690 available for fifth and £2,345 for sixth and that is free money for the outsider if they start and stand up.
Sandown Saturday 13:15 - No bet
The re-scheduled Fighting Fifth at 13:15 throws up the possibility of the two best horses in Nicky Henderson's yard (including Jonbon) locking horns, with Constitution Hill a possible to take on Shishkin, who hasn't been seen over hurdles since winning the Supreme in 2020.
I didn't expect any bookmaker to price it up with Constitution Hill's participation firmly up in the air - if the layers get any whiff of any other horses being backed, then they will pull the market anyway, I imagine - and they haven't.
Aside from Shishkin, the other two horses added to what would have been a five-runner race at Newcastle last Saturday are Irish Point and Goshen.
I will come back to the other ITV Sandown races once they have been priced up, obviously.
They are the seven-strong Grade 1 Betfair Henry VIII Novices' Chase at 13:50, the 2m Best Odds On The Exchange Handicap Hurdle at 14:25 and the 3m4f146yd Betfair Exchange London National at 15:35.
There were 32 in the Becher ahead of Monday's confirmation stage and we are down to just 17 now in the 3m2f handicap chase over the National fences at 14:05.
They could have taken a maximum field of 30 there.
The ground is currently good to soft, soft in places, on all three Aintree tracks as per the BHA update at 8.02am on Monday morning, but it is has been raining since then.
The forecast for the rest of the week isn't too pretty either, with one site predicting plenty more on Tuesday and another 17mm on Thursday alone.
We could easily be looking at soft-cum-heavy on Saturday.
The ante-post market was pretty static on this race, with Percussion and Ashtown Lad the 7s joint-favourites in a very tight betting market, paying four places.
The bad news for the 13 that were out of the handicap before Monday's confirmation stage, which included Percussion off 9st 10lb, which made him 6lb wrong, is that top weight Coko Beach has stayed in the race.
Ashtown Lad now heads the Sportsbook's betting at 5/16.00.
I will come back to this race, and the other Sandown contests, in a second ante-post piece later today, or probably tomorrow morning, once all the prices have filtered through.
Watch Tony on this week's Weighed-In
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