Silviniaco Conti holds all the aces to claim Haydock prize
In 1862, German novelist Fritz Reuter published a book named Seed-Time and Harvest in which one of the characters realises he is likely to lose his fortune in a game of poker.
Rather than accepting his fate after the bad hand is dealt, he backs out of the game by explaining to the other players that his feet are cold and he can't concentrate on the cards.
This time last year, I had planned on sticking two ton on Silviniaco Conti to win the Betfair Chase but I chickened out late on and reduced my stakes by half when I saw a load of money arrive for Taquin Du Seuil.
But instead of saving money like the protagonist in Reuter's book, getting cold feet cost me a packet as Silviniaco Conti won well at 100/30 with Taquin Du Seuil pulled up.
Although I made money on the race, it was frustrating all the same, and I've a love-hate relationship with Silviniaco Conti having lost a small fortune on the nine-year-old in the 2015 Gold Cup at Cheltenham, in which he finished seventh at 3/1.
Frustratingly, I didn't back him when he won next time out at Aintree although, lucky enough, I avoided him last time in a handicap hurdle at Kempton earlier this month, which was effectively his warm-up race for today's Betfair Chase (3.0).
This season's five-runner renewal is somewhat disappointing and has attracted one of the smallest fields in the race's decade-long history.
With respect to Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card, there's no real big stars involved with Vautour back in action at Ascot, and Coneygree possibly heading to Newbury next week for the Hennessy.
It's the first leg of the new £1 million (€1.43m) 'Triple Crown' along with the King George and Gold Cup - but it's hard to see any of today's line-up actually emulating Kauto Star and winning all three.
On the upside, that makes today's contest a relatively straight-forward affair and at the risk of sounding totally unimaginative, Silviniaco Conti is tipped to claim this prize for a third time albeit at a restrictive price of 4/5 or thereabouts.
To be honest, the short price doesn't worry me too much as it's not a race for shocks; the only winner priced in double-figures was Snoopy Loopy in 2008.
Haydock is a flat course which suits long-striding, galloping sorts like Silviniaco Conti, and trainer Paul Nicholls said this week that he's improved "enormously" at home since Kempton.
Nicholls certainly knows how to get one ready for this having won it six times with Kauto Star (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011) and Silviniaco Conti (2012, 2014). Cue Card will no doubt make a race of it, and it was nice to see Colin Tizzard's charge win the Charlie Hall last time, even though I'd backed Dynaste.
He clearly has something left to offer although I've seen nothing to suggest Cue Card or Dynaste can reverse last year's form with the favourite.
Dynaste has now gone six races without a win and I wonder if the 2014 Ryanair Chase winner's best days are behind him.
On the all-weather at Lingfield, Special Season has serious claims around 11/4 in the 32Red Conditions Stakes (12.50).
William Haggas' colt got off to the best possible start when winning a maiden at Sandown back in August and the form of that race has worked out reasonably well.
He was subsequently second in a minor event at Newbury but the winner of that race, Stormy Antarctic, later finished a neck runner-up to Johannes Vermeer in a Group One at Saint-Cloud.
Special Season was next seen when fourth in a Group Three at Newmarket in October and his experience should give him an edge over favourite Abe Lincoln.
As mentioned earlier, Vautour makes his reappearance today in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot (2.05). Priced in the region of 4/11 yesterday evening, defeat seems out of the question although stable-mate Faugheen's setback last week proves once again that there are no absolute certainties in this game.
Hugely impressive when winning JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, he's as low as 7/2 for the Gold Cup with at least one bookmaker which seems a bit extreme. Today's race is one best watched without a bet but it's hard to see him getting beaten with Ptit Zig the one most likely to follow Willie Mullins' stable star home.
Racing off what seems a lenient mark of 130, Venetia Williams' Yala Enki jumps off the page in the Betfair Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock (2.25).
A French import, the five-year-old has raced just twice in Britain for Williams and was particularly impressive when digging deep in tough conditions to win a novices' hurdle at Exeter earlier this month. The soft ground today is certainly in his favour.
The gelding has lots of good chase form in France and I'm convinced that the handicapper has a good deal of catching up to do. For a reasonably big-field handicap, his price is not huge at 6/1 or thereabouts but he's obviously plotted up for this and I doubt he'll be out of the placings.
12.50 Lingfield: Special Season
2.25 Haydock: Yala Enki (e/w)
2.35 Lingfield: India's Song
2.40 Ascot: Rock On Ruby
3.0 Haydock: Silviniaco Conti