It's Cheltenham again, so let's have a crack at the races, including a placepot permutation to kickstart the weekend.
This looks a match between Oscar Whisky and Wonderful Charm. Oscar Whisky was clearly the better hurdler, but he looked less than fluent in a sketchy fencing debut when beaten by the - granted, smart - Taquin De Seuil. Wonderful Charm on the other hand has probably improved for the bigger barriers, and in a race where they will probably finish 1-2 if they stand up, Paul Nicholls' gelding is the placepot pick due to his hitherto more natural aptitude for the task.
Selection: Wonderful Charm
Placepot: A - 2 (Wonderful Charm)
A typically competitive handicap hurdle for the track, and not one about which to get too bullish.
Robin Dickin has enjoyed a degree of success over these plains this season with Thomas Crapper - who runs later this afternoon - and he has a live one at the bottom of the handicap in Entertain Me. This fellow has been placed on all four runs at the 2m5f trip, including when third at the track. That was in a handicap hurdle, and was also three years ago. But he had two years off with an injury, and could well have needed his first run of the season. Fast ground is fine for him, and he could go well at a big price.
At the top of the market, Hit The Headlines has his chance. He looks to have been crying out for a return this sort of trip, having been plying his business at the minimum for his four starts. Again, top of the ground is ideal, and he's a ready placepot A play.
King Massini will have no trouble with the trip and is an improving novice who could be better than today's opposition. It's also possible that he just got a bit outpaced over two and a half miles on Ludlow's pancake piste, and this more testing circuit should bring out his stamina. Another A pick.
At a bigger price, Have You Seen Me has a decent form chance. His price owes a lot to the 'duck egg' last run here at Cheltenham, but he was dropping back half a mile and more on his prior trio of placed efforts, and this step back up in trip will be a game changer for his chance. At 12/1, he looks solid each way on ground and in a grade that fits.
Selection: King Massini
Each way possibles: Have You Seen Me, Entertain Me
Placepot: A - 10 (Hit The Headlines), 15 (King Massini)
B - 3 (Have You Seen Me), 17 (Entertain Me)
A smaller field for this extended two mile handicap hurdle, but the same combination of established form and promising up-and-comers. Representing the former is Canadian Diamond, a good second over course and distance on his penultimate start, and again second last time at Leicester. He was half a length behind the re-opposing Zafranagar there, and has a four pound benefit in the weights since. He should reverse form with James Banks claiming two pounds more than Michael Nolan did last time.
Fourth Estate may also be thereabouts, but he does have to prove that he's as effective on an undulating track and, on his second run after a long break, I'm taking this one on.
Venetia Williams' Uhlan Bute, on the other hand, showed his liking for a stiff finish when just failing to catch Lord Protector at Sandown last Friday. If he's none the worse for his exertions there, he's a very strong chance today.
And The Skyfarmer steps into handicap company for the first time, having won two novice hurdles - both as odds on favourite - by small margins. The manner of those victories has protected his handicap mark, and he is unquestionably capable of better than we've seen thus far. Whether he's able to show it on his first run against seasoned 'cappers is another question, but 6/1 is probably fair enough.
Selection (each way): Candian Diamond
Placepot: A - 3 (Canadian Diamond), 6 (The Skyfarmer), 8 (Uhlan Bute)
The best part of three and a quarter miles is in front of the field for the Majordomo Handicap Chase, a Grade 3. Burton Port has been a shade disappointing on his two runs back from a long absence and, trained by Jonjo O'Neill, it's possible his handicap mark is still being 'worked on'. Nevertheless, he has plenty of ticks in boxes from a profile perspective, and at 22/1 is worth taking a small each way chance with.
However he runs today, keep him in mind, as he's a talented horse (fourth in the 2012 Gold Cup!) and I'm pretty sure there's a race to be won with him this term.
Monbeg Dude steps back in trip having jumped the last in front here last time, over a quarter mile further. He may have been outstayed there, or he may have hit the front too soon. Either way, he'll appreciate the trip and a more patient ride, and should go close.
Pigeon Island is getting a bit long in the tooth now, but he's got stacks of form around here and, with Aimigayle and Knockara Beau likely to make it a good test, he could run on into the frame.
Tentative selection: Monbeg Dude
Each way speculative: Burton Port
Placepot: A - 2 (Knockara Beau), 6 (Monbeg Dude)
B - 1 (Burton Port), 8 (Pigeon Island)
The cross country race, and regular readers will know of my affection for such contests. There are typically few who can win them and, though this year's event is made interesting by the presence of three French raiders (of whose form I know nothing), there is a standout domestic challenger.
Chicago Grey may have been outpaced a tad by Balthazar King the last time he raced over this quirky loop, but he's a prior winner on the course, and ought to go very close this day.
Enda Bolger is always respected in this sphere, and his young'un, Keep On Track, merits consideration on the basis of form as well as connections. Although he slipped up behind stablemate, Love Rory, in the Risk Of Thunder, he was travelling well on the lead there. Stamina is the issue here, as this is nearly four miles, and he's just six years old. I can see him leading for a long time, but perhaps not having the stoutness of Chicago Grey at the death.
Of the Frenchies, Quercy de Manoirs may be the best. He's older at nine - which is better here (seven of the eight winners were eight or older, the other one was seven - and he has bits of form on ground approaching good. If he tracks other, to make sure he goes the right way (!), he could run into the frame.
Any Currency is also respected.
Selection: Chicago Grey
Placepot: A - 1 (Chicago Grey), 5 (Any Currency)
Thomas Crapper steps up in trip and class, but he deserves to. Although he didn't win by far last time, the way he traveled suggested he'll be fine with this trip, and the proximity of the second horse was more due to him idling when hitting the front. He's a horse I like, and I think he'll go very close with bags of pace in the race.
It is a warm contest, though, and a couple at prices also appeal. Destroyer Deployed clunked last time, but his form at Cheltenham includes a second in the Champion Bumper, and placed efforts on his other two track starts as well. The 16/1 at Seanie Mac looks tempting each way.
So Fine - a 20/1 shot - also has placed course and distance form and, if overlooking a poor run at unsuitable Musselburgh last time, he comes into consideration as well. Southfield Theatre has been consistently good, but has chunks of weight as a consequence, and is susceptible to a lightly weighted improver.
Selection: Thomas Crapper
Each way alternatives: Destroyer Deployed, So Fine
Placepot: A - 2 (Southfield Theatre), 3 (Thomas Crapper)
B - 4 (So Fine), 9 (Destroyer Deployed)
The last race is a cracking novice hurdle, and one to watch rather than wager.
A's only - 1 x 2 x 3 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 48 bets
A's and B's - 1 x 4 x 3 x 4 x 2 x 4 = 384 bets
Ticket builder perm: