One down, three to go, dear reader, in the marathon 26 races of Cheltenham's glorious National Hunt Festival.
After today's triumph/break even/disaster* (*delete as applicable), it's back to the grindstone for the second quarter, or Day Two as its somewhat unaffectionately known.
Taking us through to the halfway point are seven races, and my thoughts are below:
National Hunt Chase
Good grief! A novice chase over four miles with amateur pilots: can you think of a less appealing betting proposition?!
Given how competitive this race is, and how much jumping ability a novice requires to negotiate 24 fences and 26 other apprentice nags steered by apprentice 'little people' (actually some of them aren't even that little!), it is a strong testament to Jonjo O'Neill's schooling team that he's won this race an incredible four times in the last decade.
More pertinently from a punting perspective, he's had a 25/1 and a 33/1 winner in that quartet. Last year, his Can't Buy Time was fourth, from just two entries.
This year, he has three entries: Synchronised, Theatrical Moment, and Cruchain. Knowing as we do that he doesn't always bag it with the favoured runner, I've had a closer inspection of Cruchain, currently 40/1 with the bookies and 130-odd on Betfair! Unfortunately, he looks to have it all to do, weakening over shorter trips and not being the most fluid leaper in this field full of 'not fluid leapers'.
Synchronised might do well, but I have a feeling that Theatrical Moment could run a big race and prove the pick of the three.
The Ascot staying race in which he finished fourth behind Any Currency looks to be the best form in this race, and he has clearly improved since - as evidenced by his two facile victories at Leicester.
The trip looks spot on for this multiple bumper winner and, granted normal luck in passage, he ought to be knock-knock-knocking on victory's door.
The aforementioned Any Currency, who ostensibly seems to have regressed since the Ascot win over Theatrical and co, actually has a fine chance. He appears to need a going description containing the word 'good' somewhere in it, and he can be expected to run much better than his last two outings on the sounder surface here.
A really interesting stat if you're looking at a big priced horse is that five winners in recent years had yet to win a chase. Not surprising that horses would improve for the (vast) step up in trip, so it might pay to speculate on a couple of maiden chasers who have suggested they'll do a Forrest Gump (and keep on running), and may be bred for that particular persistence.
Cast Cada looks interesting over this longer trip (as a 3m2f hurdle winner at Southwell), as does Pennek (staying on third in the Pertemps Final last year, and from same stable as 2008 winner, Old Benny).
I have to admit to being surprised to see that 33/1 is available about the last named, and I've helped myself accordingly. He's got loads of very good Cheltenham form and is another who will undoubtedly improve for better ground. Importantly, the jockey has at least won races, and knows how to ride, so this one will make a nice big priced tickle.
Side note: it's a novice chase, so you'll only get paid on the first three on each way bets, unless you find a generous bookie. That said, at least most bookies are paying a quarter the odds as opposed to the traditional fifth the odds in such races for a place.
NIM Novices' Hurdle
A pretty decent Champion Hurdle nursery in recent years, I wonder if anything will advertise its claims for bigger prizes next year, this year (if you see what I mean).
The jolly is Rite Of Passage, who has a stack of top class flat form, both in bumpers and at the Summer game (as an eight length win in the Irish November Handicap from Champion Hurdle aspirant, Donnas Palm, testifies).
His hurdling career has been uninformative to date, with my tongue in cheek report after his last race summing it up. I ran the headline 'Rite Of Passage Still Has Leg In Each Corner', to illustrate the fact that this unquestionably talented horse had proved no more on his last outing than the fact he's still a quadruped.
More importantly, his trainer Dermot Weld was equally stoic about the performance, saying, "He wasnâ€™t spectacular, or overly impressive, but he did it nicely."
But I'm not going to take 7/2 about that one. Weld also said that his horse took time to get used to the undulations. If he takes too long about the Cotswolds ups and downs, they'll have gone without him. The Old Course, where the first two days racing are run, is more of a speed test than the grind of the New Course, where Thursday and Friday's racing take place.
In truth, Rite Of Passage has any amount of scope, and he might very well win in the style of a potential future Champion Hurdle horse. But, as I say, I'll not be wading into 7/2.
Next in is Quel Esprit, another Irishman with sound if not spectacular credentials. Beaten just two lengths by Rite Of Passage (and considerably further by Dunguib) in last year's bumper, QE lost his hurdles invincibility last time against Coole River in what was a shock result.
Sound if not spectacular doesn't get my vote, especially give question marks about the faster ground. That said, his trainer, Willie Mullins, has won the last two renewals, and will be keen on the hat-trick.
The one I like is Reve De Sivola.
Trained by the excellent Nick Williams (winner of over quarter of a million in prize money this season, with just 27 horses, all bar five of which have earned win or place cash), this horse will bid to go one better than stablemate Maljimar's silver medal in the William Hill Trophy last season.
His form is very good, only beaten by Tell Massini (favourite for the Albert Bartlett on Friday). He's a scrapper too, which will come in handy as they turn for home. Whether he's quite classy enough remains to be seen, but he's good value I think at around 12/1.
I previewed the RSA Chase the other day, so I'll not repeat it here. Suffice it to say, I'm looking for a street fighter, and I've gone with a couple of big priced horses in Knockara Beau and Citizen Vic (if he runs).
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The 'Queen Mum' is the two mile chase of the season, and its alumni reads like a proverbial 'who's who' of speed chasing. This is Wednesday's feature race and, for me, the third best race of the meeting (after the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup).
In my preview way back in December, I flagged Forpadydeplasterer as an each way steal. And then he went and got injured. Or did he?! The conspiracy theorists will have had some fun with this 'will he, won't he' horse, as trainer Thomas Cooper announced he would not run due to a foot problem, and then later on decided he probably would run.
By all accounts, he's fine and missed no work. So the place hope is back on!
I also put up Master Minded, then a 7/4 chance, as the most likely winner.
And I rowed in with Petit Robin as each way value at 33/1 (now as short as 14's, but also entered in the Ryanair Chase).
Master Minded looks like banker material as I've mentioned elsewhere and, of the horses I've not mentioned above, Kalahari King was mightily impressive in winning at Donny under a big weight and after a long time off. Whether he can replicate that is a matter of some debate but, if he can, he must be thereabouts.
A madly competitive handicap hurdle over 2m 5f may seem like a strange race in which to have a strong fancy, but both Gavin and I agreed on this one, and I'd had a decent bet at a decent price on one horse in the field.
Unfortunately for me, the trainer had different ideas and is running him in the Pertemps Final instead. The horse? Smoking Aces, and another fat-priced ante-post punt goes west.
So, in his stead, I'm going to side with Philip Hobbs, who has won this race twice and had two more placed in the last decade. He runs Wishfull Thinking here and, whilst this is a sizable step up in class, he's been laughing at the opposition in lower grade races.
Don't expect a horse to emerge from nowhere to win this. All of the last ten winners had won one of their last four races, and six of the last seven actually won last time out. So there might well be a case for not over-complicating things too much!
Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle
After waiting eleven races for a handicap hurdle, we then get two of them, back to back. Following the Coral Cup is the Fred Winter, a new race for those who didn't get in (or want to get in) to the Triumph Hurdle on the Friday.
Five years of info to go on might seem insufficient (and might prove likewise!), but some reasonable trends appear to be emerging.
All five failed to win prior to their third start, and this late development looks significant (as it also protects the handicap mark somewhat).
And they all had their first run during or later than December.
Applying a spot of form (!!) to the above shortlisting strategy brings me to David Pipe's Notus De La Tour. He's got a lot of weight, with 11-09, but it's interesting to note that three of the five winners carried 11-03 or more to victory, so it might pay to look towards the top of the handicap in this particular race.
Fin Vin De Leu and Sanctuaire are respected, but I really like the look of the progressive Pipe horse (stable won this in 2007 with a similar type in Gaspara).
A dozen races down, and the bakers' dozen and half way point is reached with the only flat race at the Festival, the Champion Bumper. This has been an Irish benefit since its inception in 1992. Indeed, since then, just three of the seventeen runnings have gone to Brit-trained horses.
Bizarre then, that in that context, I should nail my colours to the mast of one of the home team? Maybe, but scratch the surface and you'll note that Al Ferof had the first two of his three races under rules in Ireland. You'll also note that he won a very competitive bumper at Newbury last time, in a most taking fashion.
He's a scrapper rather than a bridle horse, and I'd imagine he might get tapped for toe turning in. But it's a very long way home from there, and he'll not be stopping any time before the jamstick.
The Irish are predictably mob-handed, and triple Naas winner, Drumbaloo, and Eddie O'Grady's Shot From The Hip lead the market. Further down the betting lists we see the first of the Mullins multiple entry (he's won this race SIX times!), Bishopsfurze.
Once raced and impressive in that triumph, Bishopsfurze is expected to be much better on the faster ground at Cheltenham, and has been awarded the Timform 'large P' (rarely awarded, and implying much more improvement to come).
He'll be my each way play.
And that concludes the merriment for the first part of the week. Thirteen races done, another thirteen to go. At this point, if you're up, allow yourself to buy a round but don't be celebrating prematurely; if you're down, know that there's plenty of time to recover the situation; and if - like the Grand Old Duke of York - you're neither up nor down, consider yourself pretty lucky to have got that far without digging a hole!
p.s. Ross' latest article, which I should have published on Monday, is particularly pertinent given what happened in the Champion Hurdle... Conspiracy theorist? Young Ross?!
We all know JP McManus loves a bet at Cheltenham during the third week of March. His rivalry with the late bookie Freddie â€˜Fearlessâ€™ Williams has gone down in Festival folk law and Barry Dennis recently recalled how he was facing an Â£800,000 paid out to the Irishman had Barracuda got past Inglis Drever up the Prestbury Park hill in the 2005 Stayersâ€™ Hurdle.
Last year, we saw a heavily gambled on Wichita Lineman scrape home in front in McManusâ€™ green and gold silks to land the William Hill Trophy and some hefty bets to boot.
Most of the Irishmanâ€™s festival punts are a strongly held secret - only a few insiders know when the moneyâ€™s down. Even his trainer, Jonjo Oâ€™Neill, isnâ€™t really sure himself when JPâ€™s â€˜having it bigâ€™.
But could this yearâ€™s gamble have been his most exposed one yet? Is the news that this horse is going to be carrying more than his jockey right under our nose?
Iâ€™m talking about Binocular.
So marginally denied in last yearâ€™s Champion Hurdle, it was made no secret that Nicky Hendersonâ€™s steed would be a stronger, much tougher animal in 12 months time.
Since then, we have seen quite the opposite: comfortably beaten twice by Go Native before landing the odds in a poor three-runner affair at Sandown, the progress we were promised from Binocular has failed to materialise.
Despite these disappointments, dreams of going two places better in the Champion Hurdle were kept alive and the son of Enrique was available at odds of 6-1 for the championship event.
Now, this is where my thinking kicks in. Was JP McManus sitting in his mansion back in Ireland thinking: â€˜Sixes! Thatâ€™s far too short for a good olâ€™ gamble!â€™?
So what does he do?
BINOCULAR OUT OF CHAMPION WITH MUSCULAR PROBLEM read the next dayâ€™s headlines.
Boom. Thereâ€™s no better way to get larger odds on a horse than to put their participation in doubt. Some bookies even took him out of their markets.
His chances had been written off.
A â€˜muscular problemâ€™ is a very good excuse. Unlike, say, a bone fracture or tendon injury, the period of recuperation varies upon the extent. With this, they can keep the horse out of the Champion Hurdle picture for as long or as little as they want.
So, surprise, surprise, last week we hear that Binocular is back on track for Cheltenham and he is immediately re-instigated in the betting markets. At 8-1.
Now, McManus takes a sip of his 25-year old malt, reclines in his armchair and thinks: â€˜Eights! Pile in lads!â€™.