With the ground at Haydock already heavy (soft in places), and a pretty brutal week in store on the rain front, if you believe the current forecast on one weather website, you have to fear for the meeting taking place.
And, if it does, just how deep and attritional the 3m4f Grand National Trial is going to ride, though plenty of the usual suspects and staying mudlarks are among a healthy-looking 16 entries at this stage.
I am very much inclined to park the two ITV races from the course on the back-burner until Thursday’s overnight declarations – the layers are offering only three places across the board, you will get at least four come the weekend, and none of the win-only prices greatly appeal – but if you are betting now, please be aware of the double-entered horses for those contests listed below.
Steering away from these from an ante-post perspective has to be the percentage call.
And with the Kingwell Hurdle attracting just six entries for a 70k pot – and two of those are reverting from chasing – I am heading back to Ascot in search of a bet. I should add last year’s winner Goshen is the evens favourite for that Wincanton race before I move on.
I covered the 150k Betfair Ascot Chase yesterday and can’t find a betting angle into the Grade 2 eight-runner novices’ chase at 13:50, either.
Mind you, four are double-entered, so that would immediately rule out half of the field from my perspective (see below).
Luckily, we have two meaty handicaps to get stuck into.
Hold That Taught heads shortlist of six
The 16-strong 2m7f180yd handicap chase at 14:25 is very interesting, not least due to the fact that six of the field have other options this week, and a further four could easily wait for valuable early-closers a week on Saturday.
I was quite relieved to see Musical Slave entered at Sandown on Thursday, as I strongly suspect I would have been suckered into tipping him again after a wildly eye-catching third in his return at Exeter.
I thought he should have won easily there, for all he is a tricky old sort to gauge, and the handicapper seems to have agreed, sticking him up 2lb for it.
So, bearing in mind the above entry options, you could come up with a shortlist of six for this race, if you were so inclined, and these are Cobolobo, Hold That Taught, Janika, Powerstown Park, Regal Encore and Truckers Lodge.
I fully appreciate we are discussing a valuable 85k handicap in its own right here, so it really should be on the radar for all 16 runners. But we know that is not always the case.
The one I like most from that short of list of six is Hold That Taught, but unfortunately so did the Betfair odds-compilers, and I can’t put him up at 8/1 (there was 16s and 14s doing the rounds on Tuesday morning).
But here is the case, and you could yet be hearing more about him here later in the week, too.
This horse went off at 17/2 for the Welsh National off a mark of 140 two starts ago. Granted, he ran poorly from 5lb out of the handicap there and he was also beaten a long way when third at Lingfield last time, but he is already back to 132 and he was not given a hard time whatsoever on his most recent start.
He actually shaped pretty well to finish third in that novices’ chase, in which he had a stiff task against the front pair at the weights, for all the race did fall apart late on for those fighting it out for a place.
He finished a fair third over course and distance last season, bustled up Ask Me Early (the 4/1 favourite in here) at Chepstow afterwards, and he is now just 4lb higher than when winning comfortably at Carlisle in October, even if that form hasn’t worked out so well.
He has a lot going for him in all departments, as regards course and stable form, weight, trip and ground, and he has to be high up on your shortlist at the moment.
But I can’t play at 8/1, obviously.
Zacony Rebel is an obvious bet
Eight of the 25 in the 2m3f handicap hurdle at 15:00 are double-entered, so that at least trims it down a touch there.
My Racing Only Bettor podcast colleague, Dan Barber, believes Good Risk At All is one of the best handicapped horses in training, and the betting here seems to agree, as the opening 5/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook (the biggest price he has been in the marketplace) was gobbled up and he is now into 11/4.
A high-class bumper performer, he does look well handicapped on a mark of 127, and the step up in trip should really suit. But his price is short enough now in this ante-post scenario and his hurdling does still leave a lot to be desired, as we saw again when he was just chinned at Warwick after being smashed into 11/8 favoritism. He is 3lb higher here, too.
The weather forecast would worry me if I was thinking about backing the 12/1 chance Flashing Glance ante-post – he has won on soft but all his best form has come on good – and that also applies to 15/2 poke (backed from 10s on Tuesday morning) Herbiers, to a lesser degree. I do like both though, from a form perspective.
I nearly gave up and filed another no-bet ante-post column, but then I saw that the obvious had been staring me in the face all along.
Albeit this is a small-stakes bet, and I stress that. And I would not go any lower than 8/1 tops, for him, if that.
Back Zacony Rebel each way at 10/1, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook. We will get more places on Saturday but maybe not that price.
To start with, I didn’t know how impressive his trainer Toby Lawes’ figures were this season. He is operating at a winning strike rate of 25 per cent with 11 winners, and the same number of his 44 runners have been placed.
And in Zacony Rebel he has a lightly-raced, well handicapped 7yo who has been crying out for a step up from 2m, which he gets here in this 2m3f contest. His pedigree, as well as his run-style, backs that up.
Trainer: Toby Lawes
Weight: 10st 9lbs
He got going all too late when second at Huntingdon in December and I thought the handicapper was very fair in leaving him on the same mark after his 12-length win at Ludlow on the soft last time.
Granted, he won at 1/3 there in that novices’ hurdle, but he did so under a penalty and the second and third improved to be placed in maiden hurdles on their next starts. He has a very likeable profile.
I am not sure if he is an intended runner and deeper ground than Ludlow may be a concern, but this is a 50k pot and 10s is fair win and place.
Good luck. I am off for a lie down.
Doubled-entered horses in Saturday’s ITV races
Ascot 13:50: Corach Rambler, Doyen Breed, Fern Hill, J’AI Froid
Ascot 14:25: Ask Me Early, Corach Rambler, Fortescue. Musical Slave (entered overnight at Sandown on Thursday), Our Power, Sojourn
Also entered in early-closers next week (Feb 26th): Caribean Boy, Fiddlerontheroof, Good Boy Bobby, Larry
Ascot 15:00: Ask the Doc, Cap Du Mathan, Easysland, Elvis Mail. Lossiemouth, Monte Cristo, Solwara One, Up For Parol (entered overnight on Wednesday)
Ascot 15:35 – None
Haydock 14:05: Anythingforlove (entered overnight on Wednesday), Bristol de Mai, Wholestone
Haydock 14:40: Bristol De Mai, Fortescue, Mint Condition
Also entered in early-closers next week (Feb 26th): Lord Du Mesnil, Sam Brown, The Galloping Bear. Achille, Sidi Ismael, Gwencily Berbas
Wincanton 15:20: None
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