The National Hunt season really does come to a close at Sandown on Saturday - it has been huffing and puffing since Cheltenham and Aintree - so that is where I am going to focus on for this ante-post column.
To be honest it has been hard to concentrate on racing for the last few days.
I had great news with my latest MRI and CT scans being clear last Thursday, but then my upper front tooth bridge, in advance of an implant being installed in July, fell out on Saturday morning - if you want to know the meaning of middle-class terror, look in the mirror with that bad boy missing - and then I had to hit the sack again after recording Weighed In on Monday morning as I felt like a ton of bricks had landed on my bald pate.
Thankfully, I felt a bit better on Tuesday morning, and was Covid-free, so let's cut to the Esher chase without further ado.
Win My Wings is standout in Williams' trio
They have been slinging the water down at Sandown for a while now, in the aim of producing good ground on Saturday, and I suppose no-one can argue with that.
Fast-ground horses need not apply these days, which is a shame of sorts. I looked up Mr Frisk's Grand National-then Whitbread Gold Cup double in 1990, three weeks separating the brace of successes, and it was firm on both occasions.
The opening 2m novices' handicap hurdle on the card at 13:50 appeared my cup of tea but, having looked at the prices, I reckon most will be trading at similar odds, with an extra place thrown in, at the weekend, so I am going to set my sights solely on the bet365 Gold Cup.
There are 26 runners in the race as it stands, but you just knew that the Christian Williams pair of Win My Wings and Kitty's Light were going to top the betting, while the third string to his bow, Cap Du Nord, is an able deputy, if required.
Williams is currently the sport's poster boy for staying chases after providing the 1-2 in the old Racing Post and the Scottish National - with the above three horses, in fact - and I assume the trio will rock up here again.
If they do, then I would have to side with 5/1 chance Win My Wings of those three.
She is 12lb worse off for the seven lengths she beat her stablemate Kitty's Light at Ayr (and you can factor in Rob James' 7lb claim that day), but you rarely see horses do what she did in those staying handicaps at Newcastle and Ayr.
She had the Scottish National in his pocket at halfway, and you strongly suspect that this is a mare who could hold her own in Graded company over shorter trips, so her revised mark of 154 could still underestimate her talent by some margin.
Of course, Kitty's Light has a right to wrong after being broadsided by Enrilo, who also rocks up here and has strong claims, when coming with a winning run in this race last season - the laws of racing dictated the race was awarded to the runner-up Potterman, and not him - and quite clearly 3m5f on good ground on this stiff track suits his qualities very well.
But he has been installed as the 9/2 favourite with the Sportsbook, and there is surely no juice there.
Last year's 1-2-3-5 (before the stewards had their say, that is) all re-oppose here, and all have their chances, but I couldn't see a bet among them as of now, for all I wouldn't be in a mad rush to lay Win My Wings at 5s (though she is currently a fair bit bigger on exchange, so does she go?).
Now, I thought I had the answer to this race at a massive 40/1, until I did my sweep of double-entered horses . And, damn and blast it, I saw he was also in at Perth on Friday for the 3m6f Highland National.
The horse in question is Achille, and I suppose there is a possibility he could run in neither race given that he has a marked preference for soft ground, and it is likely to be good at both Perth and Sandown.
But, boy, is this horse now one well-handicapped animal.
Tailor-made for Sandown challenge
It could be that he was due to go down after the Midlands National anyway, but if not, I am really struggling to fathom how he can race off a 3lb lower mark than at Uttoxeter last time.
He was going great guns in second there before his rider's stirrups broke, and he was forced to pull up, and this course winner is now 11lb lower than when starting the season and 8lb lower than when half-a-length second to Lord Du Mesnil in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last term.
He also did remarkably well to finish fourth in the Welsh National off a 10lb higher mark in December considering the ground he lost at the start.
I would take a chance on the well-watered ground and run him here, as I think he is tailored-made for the challenge and a huge price, and he has won on good to soft.
However, he has never been raced on good or quicker ground, so I cannot put him up ante-post, especially with that Perth option on Friday.
The best handicapped horse in the race
Musical Slave is another interesting betting proposition at 16/1. He has always threatened to be a lot better than his mark and he may have turned the corner finally after wins here, and at Haydock on Saturday in first-time cheekpieces, on his last two starts.
The issue with him is whether connections will back him up quickly on ground possibly faster than ideal. But he can race off the same mark as when beating Enqarde 6 ½ lengths at Haydock last Saturday (he doesn't carry a penalty here because of the race conditions for this early-closer) and that makes him the best handicapped horse for this prize.
He is unproven over the trip but he certainly hit the line strongly enough over 3m1f 125yd at Haydock.
I am a touch wary of his jumping, and I am half-wondering whether they are eyeing something at Punchestown next week for him (he has won at that meeting, back in 2019), so that is slightly off-putting, from an ante-post perspective.
And he does need five horses to come out to get a run, as he is 25th in the weights and there is a maximum field of just 20. But of course you get your money back if he is entered and gets balloted out.
The 40s Achille will be a distant memory if he is declared on Thursday morning, but that is something I will just have to suck up, and re-assess afterwards, but I was going to take a chance with Musical Slave at 16/1 win only, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
However, rather annoyingly, the 16s became 12s before we went live on Tuesday morning, so I can't tip him now at that level. Mr Price Conscious, again, sorry.
Keep an eye out for his price on the Exchange when that market beefs up, though. Anything around 16/1 or more would be worth a small wager there.
He has course form, he is the best handicapped horse in the field, he shapes as if this trip is worth a try at the very least, the yard is going well enough, and maybe those cheekpieces will be the making of him.
Back on Wednesday afternoon/Thursday morning, with thoughts on the ITV action on Friday from Sandown and Perth.
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