Walsh ride to tip balance for rugged Inchidaly Rock
Exactly one year ago today, this missive from across the Irish Sea was delivered to you for the first time. If you're still with it, you'll be on the serious side of skint but not, let me assure you, in as dire financial straits as yours truly.
You certainly won't need to be told that the road has been rocky on the tipping front. Yet there's succour to be taken from the sepia-doused memory of a 9/1 winner that headlined the page on this day 12 months ago. Equally strange to relate is that Joe Lively, the beast in question, runs today in the very same race -- provided Cheltenham passes the seemingly mandatory morning inspection.
Don't even ask me to predict whether the fixture will survive. Any optimism from this quarter will provoke the bad-weather gods into action.
But if Cheltenham does go ahead, Joe Lively won't carry my money in the Argento Chase (2.35) this time.
The 11-year-old, best when allowed to dominate on testing ground, will not encounter either scenario today. He will have to contest the early pace with two habitual front-runners in Carruthers and Ollie Magern. Whichever wins that battle is unlikely to win the war.
The eye thus gravitates towards Madison Du Berlais, which shines in small fields. Yet his poor record at Cheltenham, where he is 0-for-6, tilts the balance towards Inchidaly Rock, on which Ruby Walsh will offset an obvious shortage of experience.
Inchidaly Rock shaped like a rugged stayer when accounting for Hey Big Spender over three-and-a-quarter miles at Prestbury Park last month. On official figures, he would not have to improve much to claim the prize, and his cause is abetted by the shape of the race.
Betchworth kid can prolong 'choc' agony
All is well with those who boss the weighing room. Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty are enjoying seasons to remember, Tony McCoy ploughs remorselessly towards another championship, and Paul Carberry is back in the saddle, where he will hopefully stay.
Spare a thought, therefore, for Robert 'Choc' Thornton, who had the world at his feet this time last year. The popular jockey was high on confidence in the build-up to Cheltenham, where Alan King's powerful string entertained sound prospects in several races.
Yet the Festival was a chastening experience, as Thornton drew a blank. Wayne Hutchinson deputised aboard King's only winner, Oh Crick, because Thornton couldn't do the weight.
Worse would follow. With King's stable below par since the season's resumption, Thornton has struggled in tandem.
Yet when King turned the corner -- witness Medermit's defeat of Punjabi last Saturday -- Thornton took a crashing fall three days later.
He was still in hospital when Mille Chief, ridden by Hutchinson, advanced to Triumph Hurdle favouritism at Huntingdon on Wednesday.
While Thornton hopes to return a week today, further suffering is on the cards. He must watch from the sidelines when Hutchinson rides The Betchworth Kid in the Alfred Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.50) at Doncaster today.
Although this has attracted some unexposed youngsters, none can boast the selection's Flat-race form. And while his last-start defeat by Tito Bustillo dilutes confidence, that horse has gone in again.
However, the biggest pointer to The Betchworth Kid's prospects is the test of stamina he confronts today. This three-mile journey should play to his strengths.
Experience favours From dawn to dusk
The feature race at Doncaster sees several progressive types line up for the Sky Bet Handicap Chase (3.25) over three miles. This race is as open as is suggested by a market headed by Seven Is My Number at 7/1.
The untapped potential of this eight-year-old from an in-form stable makes him a worthy favourite, but the race will unfold at a cracking gallop.
Experience will be invaluable in a maximum field of 22, and From Dawn To Dusk, overpriced at 25/1 with Ladbrokes, brings that to the table.
The 11-year-old fared better last time than his finishing position suggests -- he was twice shuffled back through the field in a race that advertised the merits of introducing a congestion charge. He will also appreciate the decent surface at Town Moor.
Also at Doncaster, Nicky Henderson saddles two in the Lightning Novices' Chase (1.45), in which Geraghty prefers Mad Max to You're The Top. Mad Max impressed on his recent chasing debut but persistent wind problems render him a risky proposition at short odds. El Dancer is therefore preferred.
From an in-form stable, the six-year-old achieved a high standard over hurdles and has scope to improve over fences after just two starts. He suffered for the run of the race when runner-up at Kempton and will be sharper for his first-time blinkers.