Baby can shine under Aspell
Lucy Wadham's classy mare will relish the step up to three miles
Paul Nicholls is seeking to reignite his incredible run of Saturday triumphs by saddling Virak in Haydock's £40,000 handicap chase.
Unbeaten in three chases before the turn of the year, the French-bred six-year-old has posted a couple of moderate efforts in good company this year. He has begun to look exposed, most recently fading into third when odds-on at Ascot, when he didn't fence at all fluently.
For a horse that seems to lack a bit of size, the booking of 5lb claimer Sean Bowen will help under an 11st 12lb burden here, but others have more appeal.
Charlie Longsdon's Grandads Horse has come down in the handicap a few pounds and will be happier over this slightly shorter trip than when tiring in the Kim Muir,.
Venetia Williams' Astigos is also interesting. Without a win in 27 starts since his sole triumph in France three years ago, Aidan Coleman's mount has been placed in his last four starts and in seven of his last 10. He is game enough but lacks a gear, so this step back up to three miles should suit.
Still, he might just be shy of a little quality, and the one that has ticks in the most boxes is Baby Shine. Lucy Wadham's in-form team are one short of matching her career-best total of 18, with the Newmarket handler's regular ally Leighton Aspell also in the midst of a fine campaign. Baby Shine comes here having not won in 10 outings since January 2014, though that is partly due to her consistency.
Because she runs so well so often, the handicapper hasn't given her a break. However, he has finally relented a little, a mark of 131 representing the lowest mark that Baby Shine has run off over fences.
Incidentally, she had the same rating going into her eighth chasing start, in which she fell at the last fence at Limerick when about to win a novices' Grade Two 12 months ago. A point-to-point winner that has scored twice in bumpers, over flights and over fences, Baby Shine has that bit of class, and her latest run at Sandown hinted that she might get her head in front soon.
Over two-and-a-half miles on that occasion last month, the King's Theatre nine-year-old had her run checked slightly approaching the second-last fence. To her credit, though, she kept finding, finishing strongly to grab fourth off 133.
With that in mind, this step up to three miles should bring about further improvement, so she represents excellent value at around 11/1.
Earlier, AP McCoy might enjoy a successful reunion with Ifandbutwhynot.
When the 19-time champion partnered David O'Meara's nine-year-old on its penultimate start, they rallied well to win at Musselburgh. Davy Russell took over at Doncaster next time, when Dresden had their measure.
Dresden was then in the process of running a big race at Cheltenham when he fell four-out, so a big run is expected from Ifandbutwhynot again here.
Willie Mullins' entries have shed a little light on plans for his elite hurdlers.
At Fairyhouse on Monday, he has put Annie Power and Artic Fire in the two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two. If Mullins were to run either as opposed to both, it could represent a confidence-boosting opportunity, with Annie Power falling at Cheltenham and Arctic Fire having run gallantly in good company to be placed six times.
On Thursday, Arctic Fire is joined by Hurricane Fly in the Aintree Hurdle over the same trip. Again, both horses have the form to go close in that Grade One, with Jezki and Zarkandar the pick of the other entries.
A race that Mullins' father Paddy won with Dawn Run and his brother Tom landed with Asian Maze, the Aintree Hurdle is a prize he has yet to claim, so it will be interesting to see what he does. Either way, though, it looks as if Faugheen will lead the charge at Punchestown.
It wouldn't be beyond Gilt Shadow to put up a bold show in the Ryanair Chase tomorrow.
Impressive in a bumper and maiden hurdle at Down Royal, Stuart Crawford's Beneficial gelding had Apache Stronghold in third when second to The Liquidator in a Grade One bumper at Punchestown two years ago.
He was running away on his fencing bow at Navan in January when he crashed at the last fence, but then flopped at Naas next time, when he wilted after a mistake.
If he is ridden to get around and grows in confidence as he goes, he has the capacity to run a big race under Andrew Lynch.
Lay of the day
Jonjo O'Neill's JP McManus-owned Upswing was last night shading market leadership for Haydock's Connollys Red Mills Hurdle final.
That still only makes him a 6/1 or 7/1 shot, though he's as low as 9/2 in a place. Upswing got turned over last time from a commanding position at Carlisle, where he was previously unbeaten in two. He has gone over a year without winning, yet he is up another 2lb in the handicap.
Lay of the day
Special Wells should outrun odds of around 16/1 in the Connolly's Red Mills final at Haydock.
Sue Smith's six-year-old has progressed steadily, scoring narrowly at Wetherby on St Stephen's Day. Since then he has run well in three handicaps, recently getting tapped for toe in a messy race when second to at Carlisle. That proved he can be competitive off this sort of mark so he ought to be thereabouts.