Friday 31 December 2021

Saturday 1st January 2022 - Ringing in the New Betting Year

We have a lively start to 2022. Cheltenham stages an important fixture with an eye on the Festival in March, while in very different conditions and some 3,500 miles away Meydan begins the road to Dubai World Cup Day on the Flat.

There is also quality jumps action at Musselburgh, which is where we begin as we turn over a new leaf on our continued betting journey.

1.40 Musselburgh (Handicap Hurdle) – ASHINGTON 

While all eyes will be on top jockey Brian Hughes at Musselburgh, who deservedly gets another day in the spotlight in front of the TV cameras, it’s trainer Brian Ellison who may hold a key hand.

He has two top chances at good odds in my book, beginning with Ashington in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. Strictly speaking he’s a last-time-out winner having taken a good ground race over this trip at Hexham, but that was back in June and he was underwhelming on the Flat last time.

His latest run was simply one to blow away the cobwebs however and when you look at his hurdling profile, stand back and don’t get lost too much in the detail, you see that he’s still an improving horse.

He may well prove to be the best handicapped runner here and is worth chancing at the prices. Geronimo, Hughes’ mount, as well as Strong Glance and Voix Du Reve can all challenge for places.

2.50 Musselburgh (Auld Reekie Handicap Chase) – NIETZSCHE 

The second of Ellison’s big chances at Musselburgh comes soon after his first in the “Auld Reekie” Handicap Chase. This time it’s popular stalwart Nietzsche who I’m hoping can out-philosophise, or at least outrun, his four rivals.

Brian Hughes’ mount Gaelik Coast looks solid in a potentially tight affair, while Gold Des Bois is on a run of second places but is better than that. Amour De Nuit is also not out of this by any means, but Nietzsche is easily the best value.

You could argue he isn’t as good as he was after 58 races under rules, but he is still just an eight-year-old so shouldn’t be finished yet. His fourth place last time doesn’t look spectacular, but it wasn’t a million miles below his best form and he’s been dropped in the handicap again. He might just be very well treated at the weights now.

3.28 Southwell (Handicap) – PROP FORWARD

Over on the all-weather at Southwell we immediately see an uptick in the quality of runners given the switch the track has made to the Tapeta surface.

Plenty of runners in the better races today, including this Class 3 five-furlong sprint, have done their AW running at Newcastle and Wolverhampton and so are used to what they’ll find underfoot.

The new surface may not have fully settled yet, we don’t know, but we know trips can take some getting and so Clive Cox sending Prop Forward over the minimum distance could be a wise move.

He won on the turf at Bath and over six furlongs at Wolverhampton, showing himself in my opinion to be a horse capable of potentially way better than the 87 he is currently rated and he can prove that now. Ooh Is It is the main danger, ahead of Muscika, Rovaniemi and Huraiz.

3.45 Meydan (Al Jaddaf Mile – Conditions Race) – KING OF CONQUEST

We take a slight chance here with the Godolphin runners, who undoubtedly will dominate, in terms of their order of prevalence.

William Buick rides New Kingdom, a winner at Haydock in September, who is set to go off a short-priced favourite. I much prefer the form of stablemate King Of Conquest however who has achieved more so far and looks just as likely to improve.

Richard Mullen takes the ride on him, carrying the first colours too, and the pair should together prove that his very good winning debut in August was no fluke. Nader was the other horse under consideration.

4.00 Southwell (Handicap) – SIR CHAUVELIN 

Whenever we talk about finding a well handicapped horse, it tends more often than not to be a younger type. Most of the older horses going down the weights do so because they’ve lost their ability, but there may be a rare betting opportunity at Southwell to back the now ten-year-old Sir Chauvelin at nice odds.

Having finished stone last in five races in a row, he was shifted down from a mark of 102 last June to just 83 in November.

After winning two races at Newcastle, comfortably I might add, he’s gone to 89 now but a look at his form last winter and again over the last month means he looks capable of running into the mid-90’s, making him well-in here without a doubt.

He’s not among the favourites and so is worth chancing, with King Of The South, Onesmoothoperator, Midnights Legacy and Sky Power all obvious types to challenge for places.

4.20 Meydan (Nad Al Sheba Classic – Conditions Race) – ECHO POINT

They look like going around 5/1 the field for the Nad Al Sheba Classic, but there is a standout runner for me and that is Echo Point of the all-powerful Charlie Appleby yard.

Once again William Buick has plumped for a different runner, Desert Peace who has to give away weight, with Richard Mullen relied upon once more to bring home the money.

Echo Point gets 9lbs from Desert Peace, but for me could be a better horse. His winning debut last February was improved upon; first with a decent second at Wolverhampton and then when he chased home the top-class Mohaafeth, losing out by only 1½ lengths.

He’s had time off after being beaten at odds-on last May, but should prove to be a horse capable of reaching three figures and has conditions to suit him. Saeed bin Suroor’s pair Marching Army and Brilliant Light were next on the list.

4.55 Meydan (UAE 1000 Guineas Trial – Conditions Race) – SILK ROMANCE

It’s strange to have to think of these types as three-year-olds already, but we’re looking forward to Dubai World Cup Day and the Classic trials for the 3yo’s which will be upon us before you know it.

We’re on the dirt for the 1000 Guineas Trial, a race in which Shahama may be a heavy favourite after winning in spectacular fashion at this track 23 days ago.

That was an excellent run, but a look at the horses in behind tells you that she didn’t beat much of anything at all and so we shouldn’t get too excited about Fawzi Abdulla Nass’ filly.

Silk Romance, an easy winner at Newmarket in August, has reached a level not too far behind Shahama’s, if behind at all, and given the time that’s gone by since she should be significantly better now. Her pedigree lends confidence as to her dirt racing ability, and she’s around twice the price of her rival.

Thursday 23 December 2021

Sunday 26th December 2021: Gold Cup Winner to Add King George to Impressive CV

It’s that time again! With (most of) the Christmas festivities out of the way, Kempton leads the way in hosting a huge Boxing Day/St Stephen’s Day programme with the King George VI Chase the highlight as always.

There is Grade 1 action over the jumps on both sides of the Irish Sea, while Wolverhampton almost slips under the radar with a quality Flat card on the all-weather.

We have seven quality bets which will hopefully boost those betting banks before Monday’s Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, starting at Kempton Park: 

1.20 Kempton (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase) – DANNY KIRWAN

Nicky Henderson’s Bothwell Bridge is the likely favourite here after winning easily last time at Sandown, however he’s gone up 5lbs since and could be vulnerable to one whose chase debut can be seriously upgraded and who has been well backed this week.

The horse in question is Danny Kirwan of Paul Nicholls’ yard. He didn’t jump the best around Cheltenham last time, often right-handed in fact, and blundered at a crucial time before fighting on for second place.

At 133 he’s well handicapped even on that form, but given that it should have been a whole lot better and he will have improved since, he looks better off at the weights than his main rival. Mister Coffey was also on the shortlist.

2.10 Wetherby (Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – EMPIRE STEEL

Among all the hubbub of two major race days at Kempton, the excellent Rowland Meyrick Chase often goes a little more overlooked than it should.

This year’s three-mile battle looks like a cracker and in Empire Steel we may get some terrific betting value. Trained by the consistently underrated Sandy Thomson in Berwickshire, the seven-year-old had a nice start to the season when second at Haydock recently.

Based on his chase debut win last October, definitely his slamming of Protektorat in February and of course natural progression, he could be a good deal better than his 141 rating and these racing conditions should bring the best out of him.

Silver Hallmark is high on the list too while Windsor Avenue, Good Boy Bobby, Debece and Cloudy Glen all look capable of challenging for places.

2.17 Fontwell (Handicap Hurdle) – ROYAUME UNI

Although the price may now not be the biggest after the race cut up slightly, Royaume Uni looks the best of these and can be backed.

Gary Moore’s four-year-old has generally stayed in good form this calendar year and is reaching a new level now, while the yard certainly knows how to win around here. Smurphy Enki at a potentially big price and the better-fancied Pyramid Place are perhaps best of the rest.

2.30 Kempton (Christmas Hurdle – Grade 1) – NOT SO SLEEPY

There have been shocks and perceived shocks in this event in the past and it could happen again. Epatante, an excellent mare and former Champion Hurdle winner, is set to go off odds-on here but that looks very skinny.

To my mind she performed no better and no worse than expected at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth in which she dead-heated with Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy.

They meet again on the same weight terms and given that Not So Sleepy’s form appears to be still climbing, it seems daft for him to be three or four times the price of Epatante in the market.

As well as winning his share of the Fighting Fifth four weeks ago, he previously skipped away at Ascot to beat Buzz so it’s more than possible that going right-handed, even on a flatter track, could be up his street.

Tritonic is very interesting having been allowed to turn out quickly after his Grade 3 success last weekend, while Soaring Glory could also be in the mix.

2.40 Limerick (Faugheen Novice Chase – Grade 1) – VANILLIER 

Now that Beacon Edge, Cape Gentleman and Ferny Hollow are out of this race it comes down to Gabynako, Lifetime Ambition and Vaniller most likely in what is an intriguing Grade 1 contest.

To me it’s a little strange that Gabynako is slated to be favourite. It seems that Lifetime Ambition reached a similar level last time from one fewer chase outing, while Vanillier could have even more improvement in him and ultimately gets the nod.

Gavin Cromwell’s grey was impressive last time at Punchestown on just his second chase start, scoring by 26 lengths with any amount in hand. We don’t know his ceiling yet but even natural improvement from that race to this is probably makes him the most likely winner.

3.00 Wolverhampton (Conditions Stakes) – LORD OF THE LODGE

There are some quality performers turning out at Wolverhampton and some represent good betting value too. in this Class 2 six-furlong event, Lord Of The Lodge is the one to be on for Karl Burke.

About to turn five and really reaching his peak, the Dandy Man colt has done his best work over seven furlongs so far but won on the Tapeta at Newcastle last time in the style of a horse who may have appreciated the shorter trip having just held on.

That was on the straight course at Gosforth Park, so flying round the bends here over six could bring out a little more and with that he has an advantage over Ejtilaab, Soldier’s Minute, Exalted Angel and Judicial who were all considered too.

3.05 Kempton (King George VI Chase – Grade 1) – MINELLA INDO

This is the big one. While the King George often gives major clues for the upcoming Gold Cup at Cheltenham, this time it could be the current Gold Cup champ who doubles-up in the shape of Minella Indo.

When assessing quality performers Clan Des Obeaux, Asterion Forlonge, Chantry House and the ever-popular Frodon, it became clear Henry De Bromhead’s star does have his work cut out but it also seems that he could afford to be a few pounds below his Festival best and still win this race.

That may or may not turn out to how he performs, but either way he is right in the front rank of contenders here and yet sits behind Clan Des Obeaux in the early betting markets which makes him pretty good value considering he has achieved more than anything else in the field and may still have better days to come. Rachael Blackmore rides. 

4.10 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – CLAP YOUR HANDS

Another Class 2 race here, one in which the early prices about Clap Your Hands are simply too big. David Simcock’s runner hasn’t been seen on the track for some 18 months but training techniques being such as they are these days, that doesn’t put me off at the odds.

He was still improving when last seen racing regularly, albeit over longer trips than this 1¼ miles, but his best form was at Wolverhampton, he has the speed for this and may be doing his best work late anyway. Power Of States, Dark Pine and Alexander James can all challenge.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Friday 17th & Saturday 18th December 2021: Thyme to Shine in Long Walk Hurdle

There is Grade 1 hurdle and fiercely competitive handicap chase action this week, all ably supported by a Listed race card on the Flat at Lingfield.

Most eyes are on Ascot over the weekend which is where we start on Friday, a couple of young up-and-coming types having taken my eye.

Friday 17th December 2021

1.45 Ascot (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase) - RED ROOKIE

It would be no surprise if, in this two-mile novices’ race, Emma Lavelle’s six-year-old Red Rookie had near halved in price to usurp Brave Seasca as favourite by Saturday afternoon.

The son of Black Sam Bellamy was handed just two bumpers and three hurdle races in his earlier career, winning three times, always running with credit and improving all the while.

On his first chase race he took an even bigger step up the ladder and still has even more to offer yet. Having not jumped the penultimate fence too well at Chepstow he ran on very well and was only just denied, that form looking good in the context of this race.

Brave Seasca and One True King appear to be best of the rest.

3.30 Ascot (Championship National Hunt Flat Race - Listed Race) - HENRI THE SECOND

In the bumper that closes Friday’s card at Ascot, unless there is some very serious improvement from Authorised Speed, we can concentrate on three runners in Henri The Second, Top Dog and Hugos New Horse.

Top Dog has run second on both bumper starts to date and should improve again now. Emma Lavelle’s runner clearly has talent, but has put a lot into those runner-up efforts in big fields meaning it’s very plausible that we know his level.

There is more potential perhaps in Paul Nicholls’ Hugos New Horse. A winner first time up at Worcester, he can perhaps prove to be better then Top Dog now or in time, though may have to give best to his stablemate this time.

That horse is Henri The Second, another first time out winner for Nicholls. In this case, he won at Chepstow not only by over eight lengths but also very comfortably. He looks the best of this bunch and is worth a bet.

Saturday 18th December 2021

1.25 Lingfield (Handicap) - MOHAREB

Disappointingly, only four runners have been declared for this Class 2, six-furlong handicap but that doesn’t stop us finding a handy bet.

Assuming that these sprinters all want to go a decent pace and ensure the event isn’t overly tactical, then there’s plenty of value in Mick Appleby’s Mohareb.

Looking out of form lately at a glance, Mohareb’s handicap mark is back to a very usable one. A closer look however reveals that the surface matters so much to him.

His last four runs on Tapeta have seen him run 6679, though at Lingfield he has won and finished second during the same period. He can prove to have too much at these weights for Fizzy Feet and Soldier’s Minute for a crack all-weather team.

2.00 Lingfield (Quebec Stakes - Listed Race) - GARDEN PARADISE

Felix ran very well just in behind Pyledriver and Harrovian in a course and distance event at this level recently, and so deserves his place as favourite. He was rather dragged along by two quality runners though and won’t necessarily improve from it.

Sir Michael Stoute’s old favourite Regal Reality still has some ability and could roll back the years with a big performance, while United Front is another with talent and rates as a big danger. The one I like however is Garden Paradise.

On a hat-trick now for the James Tate team, the four-year-old daughter of Night Of Thunder is improving in absolute lumps now and it’s interesting that she has scored over 1m6f and 1m4f reverently. Now going over 1m2f, she can use her speed even more and can win once again under Luke Morris. 

2.25 Ascot (Long Walk Hurdle - Grade 1) - THYME HILL

The Long Walk should go a long way to deciding the staying hurdle pecking order for this season, and it could go to a horse which has always looked capable of reaching the very top.

Once described as the best novice around and then later winning the Liverpool Hurdle, Thyme Hill is a Grade 1 scorer and a quality animal and should be better than this bunch.

Buzz is the likely favourite for Nicky Henderson, but he along with Champ and Thomas Darby should really be left fighting for places behind Philip Hobbs’ star.

Paisley Park was a great champion but doesn’t look up to it anymore, while Ronald Pump also needs to jump up a level.

2.35 Lingfield (Handicap) - DEAL A DOLLAR

Another Class 2 race at Lingfield, one in which Pivoine, Protected Guest and Midnights Legacy are all very close on the books and can run well. The standout however is Deal A Dollar and he gets the vote.

David Simcock’s runner has been off since last summer but if he’s ready to go then he can prove to be well handicapped. The trip and the Lingfield surface should suit him and it may just be that he proves to be good value on his comeback appearance.

3.00 Ascot (Silver Cup Handicap Chase - Listed Race) - GRAND SANCY 

One noticeable thing about this excellent three-mile handicap chase is that many of the runners have already shown us their best form.

With that in mind, it could prove profitable to seek out that one younger runner with potential and the standout in that category is Grand Sancy.

Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old already has the form in the book to put it up to the likes of Belami Des Pictons, Cloth Cap, Jerrysback and Regal Encore at the weights, meaning the likelihood of more progress makes him a cracking bet.

Saturday 11 December 2021

Saturday 11th & Sunday 12th December 2021 - Take the Easy Way to Betting Glory

It’s a huge weekend for jumping action as Cheltenham hosts the Racing Post Gold Cup on day two of the International meeting. But the better bets may come elsewhere as we head off to Doncaster, Newcastle and even Hong Kong in search of profit.

Saturday 11th December 2021 

11.50 Doncaster (Novices’ Hurdle) – TOP OF THE BILL

We have an early start on Saturday morning as Doncaster’s opener provides our first betting opportunity of the weekend in the 2m3½f Novices’ Hurdle.

After winning under champion-elect Brian Hughes last time out, Gredin will be well fancied again for the same rider although his penalty makes him vulnerable.

Nicky Henderson’s Westwood Ryder is bound to be backed too, but the solid one in the line-up is Top Of The Bill for the Nigel Twiston-Davies camp and he gets our vote.

He made a solid enough start to hurdling at Lingfield when fourth of six in November and he’s better than that. He could prove to be good value, with Ask The Doc also considered.

2.05 Doncaster (Handicap Hurdle) – TAKE IT EASY

Staying at sunny Donny for the extended two-mile handicap hurdle, I very much like the look of Pam Sly’s runner Take It Easy.

Since March his form figures have been 311212 and it seems we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He was a little disappointing when a beaten favourite last time out at Huntingdon, but before that at Wetherby he was impressive in beating Tommy’s Oscar and natural improvement from that race to now would see him comfortably ahead of his handicap mark.

Tommy’s Oscar challenges once again and is next best on my list, while Sonigino is fancied for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost who looks close on the numbers with Lucky One and Geromino in what is a competitive enough heat.

2.20 Newcastle (Conditions Stakes) – COLTRANE 

Newcastle’s all-weather card is largely unremarkable but for a couple of events that need to be watched.

Some good novices line up over a mile with one or two possessing the potential for decent things next year, while this two-mile conditions race is worth £10,000 to the winner and is a qualifier for the £1 million All-Weather Championships Finals day at Easter back at Gosforth Park.

Rainbow Dreamer has the form in the bag to land this race and we’d never doubt Alan King, but the horse isn’t really getting any better and could be vulnerable to an improver.

The one I like best of all at the odds is Andrew Balding’s Coltrane. Having won the Melrose last year, it was always obvious he had talent and despite some problems he is bang in form now after a staying-on second at Kempton last month.

He’ll have kicked on from that and will appreciate the more demanding nature of this track, making him on balance the most likely winner. Island Brave and Northumberland Plate hero Nicholas T are also obvious candidates.

2.40 Doncaster (Summit Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – MAGISTRATO 

While the Triumph Hurdle trial over at Cheltenham is just a Class 2 affair this weekend, the Summit featuring similar types is a quality Grade 2 race and it may be one for the Nicholls/Frost team.

Their Magistrato ran to a good level in France behind Porticello and won nicely on his British debut at Chepstow in October. He wasn’t at his best last time out at Cheltenham, but that has only served to make him a backable price in this contest and we should look to take advantage.

Given that he’s getting weight from the talented Too Friendly and from Knight Salute too, he looks a solid bet in this one at what will hopefully be 3/1 and over.

3.42 Deauville (Prix Luthier – Listed Race) – INTUITIVE 

Unfortunately, there are no prices listed at all at the time of writing for this Listed race in France, but Intuitive is stuck up on the proviso that he is handed reasonable odds when the market eventually opens up.

There are two Godolphin runners in the eleven-strong field and British representation coming from not just our horse, but also David O’Meara’s Azano.

It’s competitive and the selection, trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, is drawn a little wider than ideal but he is the best horse in this race, loves the surface, is fit and in form and should be good enough to take them all down.

Sunday 12th December 2021

6.00 Sha Tin (Hong Kong Vase – Group 1) – PYLEDRIVER

There are four Group 1 races on Sha Tin’s massive card early on Sunday morning UK time, with the mile-and-a-half Hong Kong Vase being our first port of call.

Japanese trained runner Glory Vase may well be a strong favourite and there’s little doubt that the six-year-old has some top-class form.

Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul is also in the line-up, but really at this precise moment in their careers they may just not be up to the level of Coronation Cup winner Pyledriver who should be backed to score for William Muir and Chris Grassick.

A Great Voltigeur winner as well as a Coronation Cup scorer, Pyledriver is top level and was given a lovely pipe-opener when he landed a Listed race at Lingfield four weeks away giving away 7lbs to some nice types.

He’ll be in tip-top conditions for this event, will love the conditions and in fact this very race has been his long-term target for some time.

8.30 Sha Tin (Hong Kong Cup – Group 1) – DUBAI HONOUR

William Haggas is a simply brilliant trainer, so when he takes an improving type all the way to Asia for a race, even one worth £1.6 million to the winner, we have to sit up and take notice.

His Dubai Honour has had a wonderful 2021. Fourth in the Britannia before winning a valuable handicap at Newmarket, he reached new heights when being thrown straight into and landing a Group 2 at Deauville while he finished the domestic season with an impressive second in the Champion Stakes.

This mile-and-a-quarter is perfect for him and the feeling is that he’s been running well despite soft ground rather than because of it. If that’s the case, he can reach a new level here.

Loves Only You, Lei Papale and familiar faces Mac Swiney and Bolshoi Ballet are his main rivals.

Friday 3 December 2021

Saturday 4th December 2021: Nube Negra to Pour it On

It’s a big Grade 1 weekend over the jumps in both England and Ireland. The latter hosts the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown on Sunday, while Sandown stages both the Henry VIII Novices’ and the much-anticipated Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday afternoon.

We begin there before moving on to Aintree where the Grand National fences are given an airing and there could be some Gold Cup clues to found too in the Many Clouds Chase.

1.50 Sandown (Henry VIII Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – MINELLA DRAMA

A fascinating renewal, one in which speed may well play a big part over two miles if the weather and the decent ground both hold up.

The short-priced favourite is Dan Skelton’s Third Time Lucki who is now a perfect two from two over fences following a simple win in the Grade 2 during the November meeting at Cheltenham.

On that form alone he is the rightful favourite and he could prove tough to beat. Before that he made a successful chasing debut when impressive back at Cheltenham in October, but Sandown presents a slightly different challenge for him.

Dan Skelton often has his horses ready to go and so while there should be some natural improvement to come, he may not take the giant leap forward many expect which just may leave the door open.

Sneaking through it could be Donald McCain’s Minella Drama. The excellent Brian Hughes has come south for a good book of rides but is of course primarily at Sandown to ride this one.

After finishing his hurdle career with a second to My Drogo, he took to chasing in brilliant style when winning easily at Uttoxeter at the end of October. I reckon his second run, when a close runner-up to the reopposing War Lord at Carlisle, just came a bit quick for him and he is much better than that.

His overall ability doesn’t look to be too far behind Third Time Lucki, if at all, and he may just have the speed to serve it up to the favourite and put him under pressure. He’s certainly very good value at 6/1 and bigger at the time of writing. Edwardstone has some good form and is also in the reckoning.

2.25 Sandown (Tingle Creek Chase – Grade 1) – NUBE NEGRA

This time the big dog in the market is Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi who could yet go off at odds-on in this belting two-mile contest.

The winner of this will be a strong fancy for March’s Champion Chase and it was in that race this year that Chacun Pour Soi was beaten at odds-on by Put The Kettle On and Nube Negra, with the last named perhaps well placed to beat him again.

Dan Skelton’s runner is absolutely top class and crucially there is little doubt that he has more improvement to come yet.

After beating Altior in the Desert Orchid last Christmas he was left off the track in preparation for the Champion Chase, the sort of routine now all too familiar with British jumps trainers. It may be then that he was a little undercooked for the big one at Cheltenham where he was only beaten a half-length, with his better form coming more recently.

On his seasonal return at the November Meeting, he beat Politologue and Put The Kettle On very easily and with three weeks between the races he should be 100% now.

He has the class and the speed for this race and can now put in a career best, one that should be good enough to see off his high-profile main rival.

Paul Nicholls runs two of his own here with Greaneteen probably the best of them, Bryony Frosts’s mount being the one we fancy to nick third.

2.05 Aintree (Many Clouds Chase – Grade 2) – IMPERIAL AURA

Most of the talk this week has been about Nicky Henderson electing yet again not to run his stars, in this case Champ while Shishkin was also ruled out of the Tingle Creek. We’ll choose to say nothing more about that.

Champ’s omission is a disappointment, but there is a good value bet to be had here anyway in the shape of Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura. Many will worry seeing form figures of UP-F, but that doesn’t tell the full story.

He was going OK when falling behind A Plus Tard at Haydock with the race still a good pipe-opener for him, while he bled from the nose when pulling up at Cheltenham.

Before all that he was the epitome of improvement. Second to Pym and then to Simply The Betts in a race that produced two subsequent Festival handicap winners, him included, he went on to win a Listed race and a Grade 2 in good style this time last year and can reach the very top.

Protektorat is favourite for Dan Skelton, but he’s far from infallible and worth taking on at the odds. The aforementioned Simply The Betts is next on the list, it will be fascinating to see how Tiger Roll gets on while Native River is still class but doesn’t have time on his side.

2.40 Aintree (Becher Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – SNOW LEOPARDESS

We’re going over the Grand National fences for the Becher Chase and the event has attracted a competitive field of 22 runners.

There may be some scrimmaging for position early on in that case and in a race of this nature you’re always taking a chance, but even as one of the market leaders there is some value at 5/1 and over about the grey mare Snow Leopardess.

Charlie Longsdon’s runner was a close second in the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day last year before finishing fourth to Galvin at the Festival.

She began this season by taking care of Windsor Avenue in fine style at Bangor, jumping very well all the way which is an important factor here and winning in the style of a horse that shouldn’t be bothered by a 5lb increase in the weights.

Mac Tottie is another who could prove to be well handicapped, while track favourite and two-time Becher runner-up Kimberlite Candy was also considered.