'D'Air' vulnerability makes Irving the bet
Nicholls' charge to enter Champion Hurdle picture with victory over fellow hopefuls in Sandown trial
Buveur D'Air became the latest potential winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle midweek when connections decided to abandon his novice chasing aspirations for the time being.
What odds should Faugheen be? Basically, you have to work out a simple double: firstly that he runs and secondly that he wins. He is out to around 7/2 on Betfair now, with Buveur D'Air, remarkably, only 13/2. He has been matched at over 200/1.
On form, JP McManus' charge is a terrible price today in Sandown's Betfred "Follow Us On Twitter" Contenders Hurdle. He reverts from novice chasing, which is not necessarily ideal, and he would be better off with Irving were this a handicap. Irving is a bit risky with his extremely patchy profile - and he fell at Haydock recently - but he has to be the value call at around 7/2 in first-occasion cheekpieces.
The hot favourite seems to be priced on potential, which is fair enough, but steaming in at around 2/5 today makes no sense unless form is as relevant to your punting as prayer is.
Rayvin Black has a bit of a chance on his second to Sceau Royal at Wincanton. His hopes may hinge on getting a soft lead, allied to others not performing.
The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase is a superb feature event. This Grade One has gone to Nicky Henderson three times this decade, with Top Notch a major contender today - even if he is not strictly entitled to beat Clan Des Obeaux at the weights.
Clan Des Obeaux's Cheltenham defeat to Whisper was rather horrible to watch for those who took the short price. Le Prezien, an easy winner over L'Ami Serge at Exeter, might run out of gas at the death of two-and-a-half testing miles here.
The Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle could continue the fine season of Stowaway, sire of Outlander and Behind Time. He was surely not at his best at Newbury and, despite now running off his revised rating, he is open to progress. He has come a long way since a 49-length defeat to Buveur D'Air in 2015.
ITV4 continues to broadcast into the Masters Handicap Chase, which is not a veterans' contest - though it might be mistaken as one.
A tentative each-way selection here is Loose Chips, which gave everything he had in his third-place finish at Sandown last month, and may be able to enjoy an unpestered lead. Antony seems held by the handicapper now and can jump out to his left.
Over at Wetherby, the terrestrial channel broadcasts just one race, the Towton Novices' Chase, a Grade Two contest over three miles. It was in this event last year that Blaklion, which would go on to Cheltenham glory, triumphed.
There might be a little juice in the price of Delusionofgrandeur, despite having to give weight away. Sue Smith's Mahler-bred, which tended to get better over hurdles with racing, bolted up at Catterick in what was his third chase start, an effort that represented strong progress from previous performances chasing.
This was an expensive purchase two years ago and, though the dam won over seven furlongs, Delusionofgrandeur stays well.
Meanwhile, highly regarded juvenile Charli Parcs will miss his Saturday assignment for the second week in a row after he was not declared for Musselburgh's Listed Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial. His stablemate Soldier in Action gets the nod.
The Edinburgh National could go to the Lucinda Russell-trained Itstimeforapint, while the Scottish County Hurdle, which is on ITV4, looks an ideal race for unfortunate Kempton second Drumcliff.
Ryan Moore's victorious return at Lingfield yesterday illustrated that, while all the talk is of Cheltenham right now, the Flat is not far away. Its all-weather course holds two Listed heats today.
The Cleves Stakes over six furlongshas a raging hot favourite in Pretend, which makes plenty of appeal. A really pacy son of the National Stud's Invincible Spirit, his Kempton return could not have gone much better and his draw in one here should work out for William Buick, assuming he does not get locked in a pocket when they start going downhill.
A prolific winner, this track seems to suit perfectly, though he has yet to finish placed on grass.
Eight runners are set to go to post, including the winner of the last two renewals, Rivellino. However, Karl Burke's sprinter looks to have a tough assignment now to complete the hat-trick as the lowest-rated horse in the field.
The Betway Winter Derby Trial Stakes is notable for the return of Grendisar, which is bidding to make it three wins on the bounce in this ten-furlong contest. His odds of 5/1 seem generous, given his reliability at Lingfield and the fact that things went rather against him when behind Battalion, which reopposes, here in mid-December.
Trainer Marco Botti is confident that Adam Kirby's mount, also by Invincible Spirit, remains at the peak of his powers. This is a hot renewal, admittedly: Arab Spring (rated 113) and Decorated Knight (112) are exceptional Turf performers, but this offers a different test.
Watching brief . . .
JP McManus seems to have an especially promising team of younger horses just now.
Notwithstanding the strong fancies he has for Cheltenham, he can look forward to next season chasing with Bon Papa, perhaps Any Second Now and maybe even Sutton Place.
Sutton Place produced a striking performance to score last Saturday on his seasonal reappearance at Naas, even if the shocker that was the run of Ivan Grozny must not be forgotten. Sutton Place barely came off the bridle to score.
He could thus be very well-handicapped if he tackles next Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, though it may be that Movewiththetimes is the main hope in the race of McManus, who has a really strong hand.
It remains to be seen what is declared. Elliott said at Naas there was “no chance he would run at Newbury”. However, he is so well-treated, it must be tempting for connections.
“I’d say he’s a fair one and you’d like the way he has galloped to the line. He has improved a good bit from last year and has gotten stronger,” Elliott said.