Second time lucky for Botti and Grendisar in Winter Derby
Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, once said "The most important thing in the Games is not winning, but taking part".
Interestingly enough, mounted horse races and chariot racing were popular events in the ancient Greek Olympics, although de Coubertin's sentiments on winning could never apply to the modern day Sport of Kings - well certainly not to those of us who bet on it anyway.
Unless you go each-way of course, winning means absolutely everything in this game, and this time last year, I was left pulling my hair out after the Winter Derby at Lingfield when my selection, Grendisar (Marco Botti) was narrowly beaten at 8/1 by Charlie Appleby's Tryster.
From a practical point of view, your horse finishing second is just as good as finishing last - but the great (and dangerous) thing about betting on horses is that you are almost always offered a second chance to recoup your money.
With no sign of Tryster this year, Grendisar has a wonderful opportunity to make amends for his trainer, and my wallet, by winning the 2016 renewal (3.20), priced in the region of 3/1.
This is the first Group race of the calendar year and I always find it a little strange donning a different cap and betting on this contest right in the middle of the jumps season, but in fairness, it has not been a bad one for punters down through the years, with just two winners priced in double figures since the race was upgraded to Group status in 2006.
This year, Appleby's Festive Fare is the bookies' favourite around 9/4 in the early markets but he lost his unbeaten all-weather record when second to the selection in the Winter Derby Trial race earlier on this month.
Despite going off at evens, Festive Fare carried head awkwardly and didn't offer much under pressure so I can't quite get my head around why the market suggests the form will be reversed. Perhaps it's because he's aged just four and is still unexposed, but on what we've seen last time out, his odds are a little skinny.
Grendisar also has an excellent record on the all-weather, particularly Lingfield. Out of nine starts at the course and distance, he has won four and came either second or third in the rest, and Botti has had this race in mind for the six-year-old all along.
Last time out, in the Winter Derby Trial, jockey Adam Kirby kept quite close to the pace so I'd imagine that similar tactics will be employed this afternoon.
Botti has said he's in flying form at home and the trainer can finally land this prize having been left frustrated on more than one occasion. Another plus is that last year's winner Tryster has won three out of four races since, including a Group event at Meydan.
The one I'm most worried about is Andrew Balding's Tullius, the best horse in the race on official ratings. He won a Group Two at York in the summer, although a 5lb penalty for that success may do its job of holding him back.
He's likely to be thereabouts if running anywhere near his best and he goes well after a break - but at eight years of age, his best days are probably in the past.
Getting back to the National Hunt, Alan King's Winter Escape will carry my money around evens in the Grade Two Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at Kempton (3.05).
Although the five-year-old has raced just twice, he won both with plenty in hand and the JP McManus-owned gelding has a good pedigree. A close relation to Black Jack Ketchum and Apache Jack, this is a big step up in class but he's in very good order at home, according to King. While he's inexperienced, his jumping has been excellent bar one small error at the second last in his most recent race.
If he wins this, I'm sure it would be very tempting to go to the Cheltenham Festival (currently 20/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle), although Aintree seems to be the plan and it would probably make sense not to rush him.
Of the rest, Dan Skelton's Welsh Shadow is the most interesting. He flopped in the Tolworth at Sandown last time but had previously shown a bit of promise.
Expected to go off around 8/1, Theatre Guide makes plenty of appeal as an each-way bet in the Grade Three BetBright Chase Handicap at Kempton (3.35) under jockey Paddy Brennan, who won this race in 2010 and 2012.
Running off a mark of 139 for a racing weight of 10st 6lbs, Colin Tizzard's gelding wasn't disgraced when third behind Smad Place and Many Clouds in the Betbright Trial Chase at Cheltenham last time off the same mark.
He had previously finished second to Smad Place off 139 in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury so if you ask me, he's been treated quite fairly by the handicapper. Tizzard's horses have been in good form lately and I'm almost certain that punters will get a good run for their money here.
Likely favourite Champagne West has obvious claims but his jumping can be suspect so yesterday evening's price of 9/2 is a little too short for me.
1.45 Lingfield: Muthmir
2.0 Kempton: Gilbralfaro
2.35 Kempton: The Saint James
3.05 Kempton: Winter Escape
3.35 Kempton: Theatre Guide (e/w)
3.20 Lingfield: Grendisar