The Scottish National is the last of National roadshow, dear reader, and with winners at 33/1 and 66/1 in the last four years, it's proven a thorny challenge for punters. Or has it?
As with many of the extreme distance races, there are some key trends to support our search for the winner in Saturday's big race.
First of all, scratch any horse running here having taken in last weekendâ€™s Aintree Grand National. Even if youâ€™re on a horse that fell early on at Liverpool, history says that expecting a bolder show at Ayr is unwise.
Ignore any Irish-trained runners, as they have an atrocious record in the race.
From an age perspective, Willsford was the only twelve year old-plus winner since the race has been run at Ayr from 1966, and Earth Summit was the only six year old winner back in 1994. Eight to ten year olds have the best record in recent seasons, with eleven of the last thirteen winners being from that age group.
A recent good run is material here, as seven of the last ten winners had finished in the first three last time out (including 66/1 chance, Iris De Balme), and all ten completed last time and finished in the first six.
Itâ€™s best, as always, to focus on well-handicapped horses, and here that typically means those rated between 125 and 145, a band which incorporated eight of the last ten winners.
And, again in common with other â€˜Nationalâ€™ races, jumping ability is a prerequisite. Only one of the last ten winners of this race had parted company with its jockey more than once previously (either fell or unseated rider), so we must side with proven fencers.
It ought also to go without saying that we are looking for a horse with demonstrable stamina for a race that covers fully four miles. Nine of the last ten winners had won over at least three miles, and the exception â€“ Joes Edge â€“ had finished second over 3m1f. Discount doubtful stayers.
That leaves a shortlist of just three, who are last yearâ€™s fast-finishing runner up, Gone To Lunch; Auroras Encore; and, Merigo.
Gone To Lunch (12/1 general) obviously proved he has all the components required to win this race, when just failing to collar Hello Bud in a pulsating finish last year.
Auroras Encore (33/1 general) also showed a liking for the track and ground, when winning at the meeting over 3m1f last year, and is clearly a Spring horse.
Merigo (25/1 general) has stamina in abundance and, strangely enough, also won at the meeting in 2008.
That has to be more than merely coincidence, and Iâ€™m siding confidently with this trio against the field.
On a completely separate note, I've had quite a few people asking me whether Bet Catalyst's excellent 27.77777777777% discount offer is actually for a year's subscription as I stated.
Now I know it's commonplace in this world we live in for skulduggery to be afoot, but of course I wouldn't pull such a fast one! And nor would Richard, who runs the Bet Catalyst service.
So yes, the PayPal button says to end 2010, and yes that is an error. I can categorically assure you that the deal is for a year's subscription, i.e. up to mid-April 2011.
If you were unsure about that, sorry for the confusion (my fault, actually).
The link to grab this offer is here:
The flat season starts in earnest today, with the Craven meeting from Newmarket. There's also an intriguing card from Cheltenham and I'll be keeping an eye on draw biases at Beverley this afternoon.
John Gosden and David Elsworth are always trainers to note at HQ, and I'll be keeping on the right side of their runners today.
Fair Trade in the opener should go very close if fit first time up (a comment that is universally applicable at this time of year!); and High Twelve looks good in the valuable Timeform race (though don't discount stablemate Kona Coast, who can be forgiven two duck eggs on the sand which he palpably hated).
And one of my jockeys to look out for in 2010 could start with a winner today. Ahmed Ajtebi, the former camel rider, is a very good judge of pace, and looks primed to win some decent pots this year. He's riding for - I think - Godolphin's second trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni, this afternoon, and both of those will be names to look out for as the season progresses.
If the rumours from last year (that Michael Dickinson had been called in to train Saeed bin Suroor's Godolphin runners) are true, then Al Zarooni could be getting some decent ammo to fire this summer.
You heard it here first!
Over at Cheltenham, it might be a day for old favourites and old monkeys. Boychuk loves it there, and could roll back the years in the 2.45, though he's far from an 'all in' proposition...
And later on, in the 3.55, Voy Por Ustedes takes a marked drop in class. Whether he still retains the spirit for a scrap remains to be seen, but he's a better class than most of his fellow combatants in this affair, and is another who could revert to former glories at a track he loves.
Beverley used to be a place of rich sprint pickings, but last year was a dog's breakfast for the previously so reliable high draw bias. So it's a watching brief for now, though Master Macho has both a potentially good draw and the benefit of experience (so important in early season 2yo races) in the 2.35.
If high do appear favoured in the early races, then Fol Hollow (3.10) might reward each way support.
But pennies in pocket is really the sensible play at Bev today.
And finally, as Trevor McDoughnut used to say, that Cheltenham Bumper banged in another winner yesterday, as Dunraven Storm (14th in the big race) landed the odds (of evens, perversely) without too much of a 'to do'.
Keep looking out for those Cheltenham Bumper runners, as they keep on obliging!