Plenty of top class action this weekend, dear reader, as we enter the 'final prep zone' for fancied horses tuning up for the big Cheltenham Festival. And where better to tune up than Cheltenham racecourse itself? As well as Cheltenham tomorrow, there's also high class action at Doncaster today and tomorrow, and an informative fixture at Punchestown on Sunday.
Today at Doncaster sees my first - and possibly worst - Cheltenham Festival ante-post wager bid for a win at the fourth time of asking. Step forward, Franklino (3.05 Doncaster), who runs in the same colours as Mille Chief and Walkon, and had hopes that this one would be as good. The 25's each way taken by me back in September, and advised to you as coming straight from the horse's (well, Choc Thornton's) mouth, is looking more like a 100/1 shot currently.
But such is the fickle nature of ante-post markets that one tidy victory today could propel him up the lists. In reality though, I suspect his smart trainer will more likely target the Fred Winter which might be right up his street.
He takes on another well-touted type who was disappointing so far over hurdles in Empire Levant from the Paul Nicholls stable. That Empire is still available at 20/1 tells you about the murky and less than top class Triumph picture, and I suspect we'll know more after the weekend as there's also a tip top juvenile hurdle on the Cheltenham card tomorrow.
The other race of interest to me today is the 1.00 Fontwell, where Definity will be bidding for another short priced notch for the novice chase system I mentioned to you recently. Since I mentioned it, there have been six winners from nine runners (albeit, all at odds on, as that is a rule of the system), for a small profit using Betfair - when we're betting at the margins we need to take the bits and pieces of bonus offered there.
Unusually in such a small sample, two of the three losers to date tipped up. We'd normally expect maybe one in ten to do that.
Onto tomorrow, and all roads lead up Cleeve Hill and to Cheltenham. There will be Festival market movers aplenty, starting in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle trial at 12.55. Here, although the entries are not yet finalised, it looks like Smad Place will take on Grandouet. Given that they are first and second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle itself, expect one of these to contract and the other to skid in the lists.
If you want a bit of value though, the one who beat Empire Levant last time - on hurdling debut - is Colin Tizzars's Third Intention. He's currently 25/1 for the Triumph but that is bound to at least halve if he lifts the spoils here. Given that he probably works with Cue Card at home, he could be pretty useful, and I've had a couple of speculative quid (Â£20 at 25's with totesport) on him for the Triumph.
At 2.30, the Grade 2 Argento Chase will be fascinating, as it pitches top novice Time For Rupert up against Gold Cup dark horse, Punchestowns. Rupert has been exceptional in his two wins to date over fences and a victory here could persuade connections to go for the Gold Cup over the RSA Chase, where he's currently market leader at around 3/1.
Time For Rupert is only a 25/1 shot for the Gold Cup, which says a lot about both him and the relative strength of the Gold Cup field this year, but he's 81 on Betfair for a couple of pounds, if you are feeling bold. (I'm not).
Tidal Bay and Neptune Collonges also line up here, and the former is interesting if inconsistent. He's certainly capable of bagging this on his day, but it's a brave man/woman who tries to second guess his day!
The dark one here is Taranis, who has won the Ryanair over course and distance in the past. In fact, he's won three times from four completed starts here at Cheltenham (two falls and a submission too) and, though he concedes weight all round, the 14's on Betfair is a decent price. He clearly loves it here and the trip and ground should be perfect. He's lugged 11-05+ on all three winning occasions as well.
The staying Neptune Novices' Hurdle (3.05) should throw some luminescence on the Albert Bartlett and Neptune novice events at the Festival, and Backspin is scheduled to take on Rock On Ruby here. Throw into the mix Nicky Henderson's Bobs Worth and Alan King's Habbie Simpson, and you have a real halogen lamp of a race when it comes to the aforementioned shedding of light (if you see what I mean).
Rose Of The Moon also cannot be discounted which means it's not a race to bet in, but rather to take a view on one for the Festival and prey you're right. But even that's too difficult for me.
I'm confident I've picked the winner in the above quintet, but they're probably the first five in Saturday's betting so it's hardly hat-tipping tipping! OK, a selection: Bobs Worth to again outpoint Rose Of The Moon and Habbie Simpson, and move to the top of the Neptune Novices betting.
On Sunday, Punchestown hosts a cracking card, with more Irish Cheltenham Festival clues.
I'm hoping that So Young runs in, and wins, the 1.50 Grade 2 novices hurdle. The one in there that I quite like but can't get a price anywhere for, is Byerley Bear. Henry de Bromhead knows how to train a nice horse, and this one has done his hurdling very nicely so far. He may well be introduced at less than 20/1 for one of the novices - probably the Supreme - with a fluent win here.
Big Zeb, Golden Silver and Sizing Europe are all entered in the Tied Cottage Chase at 2.50, a race I was tempted to sponsor (and now wished I had!). If they all stand their ground, I like Zeb over Sizing with Golden behind, but each is top class. Could be a race to savour, irrespective of Festival plans.
And finally, the PP Hogan Cross Country Chase at 3.50 is THE trial for the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Chase. Enda Bolger will be forty-two handed as ever, and Garde Champetre will be the one to beat.
Whatever you like this weekend, remember that some of the horses will only be at 90% with March in mind, and many formlines here may be overturned come the Festival. There's value to be had this morning, and there will be further value available on Monday morning if you can successfully read between the lines.
Irrespective of all that, it promises to be a cracking weekend of sport. So enjoy!!!