It was to a packed house at London's Kensington Forum that a star-studded cast delivered their verdicts on the impending Cheltenham Festival. With no punches pulled, opinions were as strong as they were plentiful. What follows is a summary of the action...
Panel: Lee Mottershead, Racing Post senior correspondent (host); Phil Smith, BHA head of handicapping; Matt Tombs, author Cheltenham Festival Trends guide; Lydia Hislop, freelance writer/broadcaster RUK; and, Luke Tarr, Starsports bookmaker.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
MT: Getabird may drift from his current price. Not worth the price on form. Stablemate Sharjah is worth a look on quicker ground.
LT: Getabird a horrendous price. 16/1 First Flow could be a bit of value.
LH: Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov, is twice the price; and First Flow quite likely to shorten from his current odds.
PS: Kalashnikov top rated currently on 154, Getabird 152
LH: Not touching the race. Footpad a legitimate favourite, but Saint Calvados may be the best bet. (But no bet!)
MT: Petit Mouchoir, just, but reasons for concern, including how warm he gets before some of his races (including at the Festival last year)
LT: No star going in here, hopefully one comes out of it. Big Saint Calvados fan but the price has gone now.
PS: 170, 169, 168 recent Arkle winners' season ending figures. Footpad currently 162, Saint Calvados 160, Petit Mouchoir 157. Which of these can improve to the mid- to high 160's?
PS: Have to be impressed with what Buveur d'Air has done. 169 currently, which is an average Champion Hurdle figure, but he's been coasting around untested, and could get to the mid-170's. Faugheen was 176 a year ago but nothing like that this term. Ran to 167 on first/best run of the season.
MT: Lay Yorkhill for a place. Melon could be the each way play.
LH: Not as good as he was but at the prices Faugheen is one of only two class horses in the race, and he's 6/1.
LT: Buveur d'Air is much the best. Faugheen not an e/w proposition, but win only ("he either wins, or you only do your money once - don't do it twice"). There has been money for Wicklow Brave e/w and without the favourite.
LH: Benie Des Dieux outstandingly the number one Mullins horse in the race.
Best Backed / other thoughts on Tuesday
LT: Coo Star Sivola strong at around 8/1 for the Ultima. Benie Des Dieux in the Mares' Hurdle, and Jury Duty in the National Hunt Chase have also seen support.
MT: Any Second Now in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase is the best handicap bet of the day.
PS: In the handicaps generally, look for horses that have been running over a different trip, perhaps on different ground, and in chases look for those with a higher hurdle rating than their current chase mark.
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
LT: Samcro very short on what he's actually done. Black Op looks a good each way bet.
MT: Speed horses do well in this race. Samcro fits in that context but Black Op is a good option also at a nice price.
PS: Samcro 155 On The Blind Side 153 Black Op 150 Next Destination 150 currently. All four horses are already at the level needed to win an average renewal. Perhaps Black Op is the one at the prices.
LH: On The Blind Side may have worked poorly (if you listen to preview night 'yack'). Duc Des Genievres was closing on Samcro last time and there may not be much between them. Black Op could run well. Vision Des Flos is the horse expected to shorten in the market for this race.
LT: Solid favourite in Presenting Percy
LH: Presenting Percy an unexciting price but a worthy favourite.
MT: Flogas the key trial. Monalee is a good horse but he's been keen in his races. Al Boum Photo will get Ruby Walsh on top in this and looks a knocking each way bet at 10/1.
PS: A decent race this year which will probably take a 160+ performance to win. Presenting Percy currently top on 158, Monalee 155.
PS: Altior 174, Douvan 174, Min 167, Politologue 163, Special Tiara 160. Highly questionable whether Douvan can get close to that mark.
MT: Not worried about the 'bounce' with Altior. He only had a minor wind operation. There are no worries about him and he looks hard to oppose. But the market has this sewn up.
LH: Don't believe Douvan will run. Min a different (better) horse when not leading. Altior did run below his best despite winning in the Arkle last year. Would still back Min at 5/2 (but already backed/advised it at 8/1).
LT: Douvan has no chance of running at the Festival! Altior is the best horse and think he'll win. Charbel 20/1 e/w NRNB interesting (he may run in the Grand Annual).
Cross Country Chase
MT: Cause Of Causes NAP of the week at 3/1
LH: Tiger Roll much the best backed, 9/1 into 5/1.
PS: The Last Samuri is top rated, but Tiger Roll had a very similar 'never in it' prep this year to Cause Of Cause's last year for the same connections. Look at this race as a decent trial for the Grand National.
Other Wednesday thoughts
LH: Look out for either Malaya or Act Of Valour in the Fred Winter (both Paul Nicholls)
MT: 5/1 Douvan NRNB a great bet. Much shorter if he runs, which he probably won't. Waiting Patiently has a right chance if he shows up.
PS: Waiting Patiently 170, Un De Sceaux 167.
LT: Love this race. Don't think Waiting Patiently, Min or Douvan will run. Balko Des Flos is interesting e/w.
LH: Cue Card is still Grade 1 class. Waiting Patiently might be stretched if soft, Yorkhill would be interesting if showing up here. The race baffles me. Wait for the day of race market.
LH: Yanworth is opposable at the price. Sam Spinner should be favourite over Supersundae, and might get an easy lead. Supersundae stamina an unknown rather than a negative, but he's short enough at the prices. The World's End is too big a price if it's a sound surface.
PS: A terrible renewal. Supersundae 164 Sam Spinner 164 Yanworth 163 Unowhatimeanharry 163 The New One 161 La Bague Au Roi. It normally takes a near 170 performance to win. Unowhatimeanharry has run to 161 and is working really well apparently.
MT: Sam Spinner "much the most likely winner". 9/2 a really good bet.
LT: unowhatimeanharry is the wrong price.
Other Thursday action
PS: Look to the novices in the Brown Advisory Plate.
MT: Monalee may switch to the JLT, which would make 7/2 NRNB a good bet.
LH: Mall Dini in the Kim Muir.
PS: Might Bite 169 but there are lots within three or four pounds of each other. "I think Might Bite is much better than these". Not sure Killultagh Vic would have beaten Edwulf if not falling last time. 8/1 vs 20/1 looks wrong.
MT: Might Bite a great price at 7/2. The value in this race is with the top of the market normally: 15 of the last 17 winners came from the top three in the betting; 16/17 were 8/1 or shorter.
LH: Djakadam is looking to replicate The Fellow's form figures in the race of 2241 and is over-priced (Lydia an infamously big Djakadam fan!). Native River is sold e/w. Not sure Road To Respect will stay and/or like soft ground. Killultagh Vic's jumping is "appalling". Our Duke is the 'now' horse but makes mistakes with his jumping, too.
MT: Most impressed by Redicean, may challenge for favouritism.
LT: No idea. This is an impossible race.
LH: No strong view. Apple's Shakira looks vulnerable but there are lots of alternatives.
PS: Redicean is 149, but Apple's Shakira 153 with the mares' allowance.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
LH: Thanks to Tony Keenan for pointing out that lots of experience in this race is a good thing. Chef Des Obeaux and Poetic Rhythm, and perhaps Callett Mad, are the sort that win.
PS: Santini 150 but lots on similar ratings.
MT: Demand a price in a race that throws up shocks. Callett Mad a player.
Other Friday action
LH: Expect improvement from Diego Du Charmil in the Grand Annual.
MT: Deal d'Estruval for either the County Hurdle or the Martin Pipe NRNB. Dortmund Park in the Martin Pipe if quick ground, on which he should improve.
PS: Burning Ambition is top rated in the Foxhunters'.
LH: Poetic Rhythm (Albert Bartlett) and/or Diego Du Charmil (Grand Annual)
MT: Sam Spinner in the Stayers' Hurdle
PS: An each way double on Definitly Red in the Gold Cup and Definitly Red in the Grand National (*tongue was in cheek a little here, I suspect).