Wayne Bailey: Count on Conti to deliver prize for Nicholls
With a strike-rate of 32pc in Ireland compared to 23pc in the UK, Paul Nicholls-trained horses should always be right up there on the shortlist when they race in this country, and they actually show a slight profit if blindly backed in Ireland since 2008.
That's especially true in the JNWine.com Champion Chase (2.35 Down Royal) for which Nicholls is the race's most successful trainer with four wins - Taranis, Kauto Star (twice) and Kauto Stone.
Those stats are partly the reason Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti is trading as the 9/4 favourite at the time of writing for the Down Royal showpiece, and it's my view that the 2016 Ascot Chase winner deserves his place at the top of the market.
While he was pulled up in the King George, his Ascot Chase victory proved he still had it in him at the age of ten to win some big prizes, and it's worth noting that a quarter of all winners of the JNWine Champion Chase have been aged ten since the race was established in 1999.
On the downside, it's hard to know what to make of Silviniaco Conti's Grand National attempt for which he was also pulled up. He was certainly well handicapped on that occasion, although his stamina was never assured and a bad mistake at the 11th put paid to any real hope of making an impact.
I'm willing to forgive that race and after a recent racecourse gallop at Chepstow, Nicholls said he was close to being back to his best fitness-wise. Generally speaking, the market is a good guide here and the only big surprises to date were More Than A Stroll at 20/1 in 2002, and Roi Du Mee at 12/1 in 2013.
Don Poli looks the biggest threat to the selection. Now trained by Gordon Elliot following Gigginstown's dispute with Willie Mullins over training fees, the seven-year-old was third in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham although his similar placing in the Punchestown version was somewhat disappointing.
Another ex-Mullins horse, Valseur Lido, also deserves a mention for Henry de Bromhead under Ruby Walsh. Second in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, his jumping was a little untidy last time in the Oaksey Chase when second at 4/5 to Menorah.
If Nicholls' record in the JNWine Champion Chase is described as great, his record in Grade Two Titanic Belfast Chase (3.05) is fantastic with seven wins in the last eight years. They were mostly at decent prices too, with just Ptit Zig odds-on last year at 4/5.
As such, Le Mercurey deserves to be considered but I'm going to go against the trend and back Sub Lieutenant, now trained by De Bromhead. Most of these haven't raced in quite a while but Sub Lieutenant has shaken off the cobwebs and was an emphatic winner of a chase at Limerick last month, albeit a weak enough contest.
A Grade Three winner at Naas back in March, the early odds of 11/2 look a little generous.
A little earlier on the same card, Draycott Place catches the eye around 7/1 in the Grade C Billecart-Salmon Handicap Hurdle (2.0). Based on his chase form, he could be well handicapped, having won a Grade B handicap chase at Cork off a mark of 132 recently.
He was last seen over timber when second to Crosshue Boy in a handicap at Kilbeggan in September and is rated 123 today for a racing weight of 11st.
Elliott has a good record here so Ainslie is respected while Joseph O'Brien's All The Answers will probably go off as favourite around 4/1, now up 8lb for winning a handicap at Galway earlier this month.
Across the water at Wincanton, Rayvin Black looks overpriced around 10/1 in the seven-runner Grade Two Stan James Elite Hurdle Handicap (2.10).
Oliver Sherwood's dual purpose gelding appeared in need of the run when fourth of five runners in a Listed hurdle at Kempton recently but the handicapper has eased his mark 3lb to 144, which puts him in with every chance.
Back in February, he beat another one of today's rivals Melodic Rendezvous in the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, and Thomas Garner's 3lb claim should come in useful.
Sceau Roya is the form pick for the Alan King yard. He makes his handicap debut here on a rating of 149 and got back on track after a rocky patch with a win in a minor event at Cheltenham last time out. However, at 11/8, bookmakers are not taking any chances.
The Betfred November Handicap (3.35 Doncaster) brings the curtain down on the Flat season and Erik The Red has a good chance of sending trainer Kevin Ryan home with a smile on his face, priced in the region of 12/1.
The four-year-old hasn't won in over a year but he came very close in a reasonably good handicap off today's mark of 95 at Ayr back in May, having traded as low as 1/2 in-running on Betfair.
Seventh in the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last time off 1lb higher, he's been running reasonably well since and he looks capable of running a big one off this rating.
John Gosden's Cape Cova should also be thereabouts too although a price of 7/1 is a little short for my liking. The son of Cape Cross came from last to first to win a handicap here a couple of weeks ago although the assessor may have his measure and has put him up 15lb since July for winning three out of four races.
l Last week's each-way selection, Greenside, won at 6/1.
1.35 Wincanton: Virgilio
2.0 Down Royal: Draycott Place
2.10 Wincanton: Rayvin Black
2.35 Down Royal: Silviniaco Conti
3.05 Down Royal: Sub Lieutenant
3.35 Doncaster: Erik The Red (e/w)
Do The Double
Manchester United were beaten by Fenerbahce in the Europa League on Thursday and their chances of winning the Premier League look remote, with bookmakers offering odds of 28/1. But they can at least get back to winning ways at 8/11 tomorrow afternoon against Bob Bradley’s Swansea, who are 6/4 for relegation.
Trained by Dan Skelton, Virgilio is tipped around 3/1 in the four-runner Grade Two Wincanton Rising Stars Novices’ Chase (1.35). A smart hurdler, the seven-year-old got off to the best possible start over fences when winning a novice chase at Warwick, and followed up with a striking win in a small field chase at Newton Abbot last month – although he was getting weight that day. He looks quite special.