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Tony Calvin Antepost Tips: This week’s wild weather will be key to Betfair Ascot Chase

We had 15 entries in the 150k Betfair Ascot Chase prior to Monday’s five-day declarations coming in at midday, and we are now down to eight.

That is pretty standard for Grade 1 races this season, so we probably don’t need to open up the small field debate and National Hunt’s woes yet again, so let’s get straight to business.

It could actually be that all eight stand their ground at 10am on Thursday (none have alternative entries this week) which will be very welcome news for each-way punters.

Calvados the favourite but is he a tasty bet?

Time is of the essence for me today, but I allowed for that and made a good head-start on the race on Sunday when looking at all 15 runners – I knew that a fair amount would be no-shows, but homework is rarely wasted in this sport, as it always comes in handy down the line – so I was really only waiting on the revised betting and any pace angles the final field would throw up. Oh, and the updated ground and weather forecast, too.

We have had an exchange market on the race for a while, as well as a fixed-odds line, and Saint Calvados has been the long-term favourite since that run in the King George on Boxing Day.

Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Age: 9
Weight: 11st 7lbs

And when Paul Nicholls (who, unsurprisingly, took out his Newbury weekend runners Clan Des Obeaux and Hitman out of the race this morning) makes a less-than-complimentary comment about a jockey’s ride on one of his horses then you know it must have been very questionable.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Nicholls said Gavin Sheehan hit the front about “ten minutes too soon” at Kempton and you can see where he was coming from, as taking it up well before the home turn, in a sweeping move on the outside, on a dubious stayer was never going to end well.

And it didn’t.

Not least for Sheehan himself, as he promptly lost the ride on all the horses the Ditcheat man trains for Kate and Andrew Brooks. Harsh but understandable, I guess, especially as he likes to use his own jockeys.

In the circumstances, Saint Calvados clearly ran a hugely encouraging race on his first start for Nicholls there – to be beaten just 12 1/2 lengths was a very commendable effort – and we know this 2m5f trip is far more his bag, too.

He now heads the market at 5/2 with the Betfair Sportsbook, who are offering three places, despite the precarious dead-eight at this stage.

His premier effort to date was his neck, arguably unlucky, second to Min in the 2020 Ryanair, and he is clearly a big player here form-wise, though it has to be said that the jury is still out on the form of the yard, despite two winners on Saturday, and there are a few others in here who can boast a similar level of Grade 1 form.

And if you are being really picky then all his best form has come on left-handed tracks, notwithstanding that those brace of King George efforts (he also didn’t get home in the 2020 renewal) are better than the formbook shows.

We should mention the ground, as all his best form has come on soft (though Nicholls said on Betfair’s “Natter With Nicholls” video piece on Monday morning that he doesn’t want the ground too heavy for the horse.

It was good (good to soft in places)) places at Ascot on Sunday morning, which was changed to good to soft (soft in places) after they got 13mm through the day, and it seems the weather has turned.

It has been ridiculously dry for ages, but it looks set to remain wet for the rest of the week – Tuesday looks pretty filthy – and I am working on the basis of soft at best, and maybe even a touch heavy, come the weekend.

So maybe that should sound a note of caution for Saint Calvados ante-post backers, for all he has won on heavy.

Raider could D’ou it

It is an incredibly tight-knit race on official ratings, and in price terms too, and it sounds as though Fakir D’oudairies is coming over on Saturday if a zoom press call on Monday afternoon is any guide,

Rated 163 in Ireland, he is actually the top dog in here on that basis – only just, mind you, with Saint Calvados and Fanion D’Estruval on 162 – and he will find this easier than when locking horns with Allaho on his last two starts (made a shocking mistake early doors last time).

Trainer: Joseph Patrick O’Brien, Ireland
Age: 7
Weight: 11st 7lbs

Rated 167 after his winning Clonmel return, last year’s wide-margin Melling Chase winner probably is a touch overpriced on the exchange at 6.611/2, for all his yard could be in better nick (again that is probably being overly-picky, too). Well, he was but he is around 9/2 now after a recent move.

The tactics of the race are likely to be last year’s winner Dashel Drasher going off in front, and not being harried for the lead, and we know he loves it here, handles mud and comes here in-form.

That uncontested lead scenario undoubtedly makes him interesting,

But I just wonder how much of a mark that slog at Lingfield may have left on him last month, when he was just chinned a short-head by Two For Gold (re-opposing here), giving him, 6lb, and this is a far deeper renewal that saw him beat Master Tommytucker and Benny’s King last year.

I can see them all sitting off him, with Fanion D’Estruval poised in second, and Venetia Williams’ young improver is currently the way I am leaning as regards the horse I fancy most.

The problem is that inclination is not backed up by an overly-attractive price, as the Betfair odds-compilers fancy him too at 10/3, though you are getting nearly a point bigger, win-only, on the exchange.

He has failed to cut the mustard in Grade 1 company to date but his 1 1/2 length handicap second to Phoenix Way over course and distance last time off a mark of 159, with the third 16 lengths away, is probably on a form par with any of these. And the excellent time backed it up, too.

You could argue that a more patient ride from his 7lb claimer (and I am not knocking her, as I reliably told she is good value for that claim, not that I would know) could have seen him to even better effect there and it could also be a blessing in disguise that he was a late withdrawal from the Lingfield race Two For Gold and Dashel Drasher went toe-to-toe in.

The Williams stable are pushing at the door of the big league this season and this 7yo (the youngest of these alongside the Fakir D’oudairies) could easily successfully step up to this grade here, but I was hoping for a bigger price at this stage and maybe he doesn’t want it too deep, either.

Age is not on the side of the 2018 winner, 11yo Waiting Patiently, and he clearly has a less-than-watertight profile after his disappointing show in the Betfair Chase, and Lostintranlation added to his inconsistent profile in the King George last time.

However, if you are a forgiving type, getting 10/1+ and 16/1+ respectively about them on the exchange, and they do have the back form to be winning this, especially Waiting Patiently, who saw off Cue Card in this four years ago.

Mister Fisher is hardly Mr Reliable either but his Kempton defeat of Eldorado Allen last time received a timely boost at Newbury on Saturday and he is clearly very capable on his day.

I would worry if the ground got too much deeper for him though, for all that some of his best form has come on soft, as connections believe he excels on a decent surface, and his Sandown second to Frodon on good last season does lend some credence to that line of thought.

In short, Fanion D’Estruval could be yet another winner for the Venetia juggernaut, and the exchange price of 5.24/1 is fair, but I don’t think there is much upside to my suggesting a bet there at the moment, and the Sportsbook bods are alive to his chance of 10/3. Fakir D’oudairies is the other one that looks a little overpriced on the exchange, but not as much as he was an hour ago.

I’ll sit tight for now – I want to see how the weather plays out in midweek – but, god willing (if he or she existed, that is), I will be back tomorrow with another ante-post piece on the six other ITV races on Saturday.

And hopefully a bet or two.


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