Sugar Baron looking sweet each-way value
I mentioned my poor betting record in Grand Nationals in last week's column, but my 2017 Fairyhouse selection Bless The Wings fared a lot better than my Aintree pick Vicente, which fell at the first fence.
While Bless The Wings never traded below 5/1 in-running, I was happy enough with the each-way return for his second place at 12/1. Yet it must have been frustrating for Gordon Elliott to see him finish runner-up in the Irish National for the second year straight.
Congratulations to anyone who backed Our Duke; I thought he was a little short for a horse lacking in experience, but the market was spot on and he was a deserving winner at 9/2.
We go back to the National well today, this time for the Scottish version at Ayr (3.55) and I was initially tempted to back the aforementioned Vicente, considering he didn't get much of a race at Aintree.
He's back off the mark on which he won this race last year but perhaps that's a sign that he's not going in the right direction, and his form in the run-up to this year's renewal is not quite as good as 12 months ago, with jumping issues popping up more than once this season.
Having backed him at Aintree, I'll be kicking myself if Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old does the business today, but I'm not keen on taking a single-figure price, so he's overlooked this afternoon.
At the time of writing, Nicky Henderson's Premier Bond heads the betting, which is not too surprising following a good third in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase at Cheltenham last time.
I reckon there's more to come from this seven-year-old, which is rated 139, although once again his price is a little short and I'm going to take a chance on stablemate Sugar Baron each-way, which is expected to go off in the region of 16/1.
Rated 134 for a racing weight of 10st 12lbs, the seven-year-old was three places behind Premier Bond in that Cheltenham race but he was still full of running and he looked like he'd prefer a longer trip. He has the shape of a stayer and I'm confident he'll relish today's test on good-to-soft ground.
On the flat at Newbury, Midterm should prove popular in the betting for the opening Group Three Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes (1.55) but the one-time Derby favourite never really lived up to his promise and preference is for Dal Harraild, priced at 4/1 or thereabouts in the early markets.
William Haggas' gelding was last seen when winning a Listed race at Newmarket in September, beating the useful Barsanto. That race suggests he can take the step up in class, and it's interesting to note that he's entered in some Group Two and One races later on this season.
A little later on the same card, Zainhom is tipped around 7/2 in the Group Three JLT Greenham Stakes (3.05). A son of Street Cry, Michael Stoute's colt is related to some decent sorts and won a maiden at York in September, beating a couple of subsequent winners.
He hit 1/3 in-running when second in a Newmarket Group Three in October, although he didn't find himself in a great position. He was a little green at times last term but looks the type to progress and might be one to keep on side for now.
Aidan O'Brien saddles War Secretary, which is probably the biggest threat to the selection. He won a Listed race at Dundalk last time and also has big-race entries.
Back home, the Punchestown Festival begins on Tuesday, and one of the things I like about the last big National Hunt meeting of the season is that all the form is now well exposed, which is not always the case at Cheltenham or Aintree, where horses may have been campaigned lightly in the run-up to the big races.
Of course, how well or otherwise the horse performed at Cheltenham, Aintree or throughout the season will be factored into its Punchestown price, but it's less of a guessing game and if you keep it simple, you can make it pay.
Take the non-handicap favourite as an example: since 2007, such horses have shown a strike rate of 31pc at Aintree and 37pc at Cheltenham.
But at Punchestown, the strike rate is significantly higher at 42pc.
Blindly backing them has shown heavy losses of around 34 points at Aintree, but both Cheltenham and Punchestown produced a small profit of roughly nine points during the period, which is quite interesting.
While it's rarely a good idea to back any horses blindly, the non-handicap favourites are a good starting point for those that don't mind betting at the top end of the market, and last year's Punchestown selections produced 12 winners from 24 bets.
Although five of those winners were odds-on, the list also includes Cilaos Emery (100/30), Bellshill (2/1), Shin A Vee (2/1) and Stretchingthetruth (13/8).
Rod Millman has been in good form lately with a number of wins and places this month and I'd be more than happy to back Sir Roderic if going off anywhere near his forecast price of 25/1 in the Be Wiser Insurance Spring Cup Handicap at Newbury this afternoon (3.40).
Rated 97 last season, he's down a couple of pounds to 95 for today and wasn't disgraced when finishing mid-division in the Doncaster Spring Mile last time after seven months off. On that occasion, he ended up in a bad position and was never going to win, but he's worth another chance at these weights.
Of the rest, Chelsea Lad is worth a mention under Ryan Moore. While he has only raced three times, he's won twice and improved each time, although we have to take it on trust that he's over an injury which has kept him away from the racecourse since May last year.
1.55 Newbury: Dal Harraild
2.10 Ayr: Flying Angel
2.30 Newbury: Queen Kindly
2.45 Ayr: Bertimont (e/w)
3.05 Newbury: Zainhom
3.40 Newbury: Sir Roderic (e/w)
3.55 Ayr: Sugar Baron (e/w)
Do the double
SOCCER: While a top-four finish now seems highly unlikely and is priced as high as 250/1, Ronald Koeman must be very pleased with Everton’s run of form lately: they’ve only lost twice in the league in 2017. The Toffees head to West Ham this afternoon (3.0) and the 5/4 about an away win looks generous considering the Hammers have lost five of their last seven matches.
RACING: Having won three out of four races, including a Group Two, Richard Fahey must have been disappointed to see Queen Kindly finish tamely in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket last time. But all horses can have an off day now and then and she can get her career back on track by dropping down in class for the Fillies’ Group Three Dubai Duty Free Stakes (2.30 Newbury), priced around 11/4. John Gosden’s Dabyah looks the danger horse under Frankie Dettori.