Autocratic can boost the festival funds
Considering it's held in the middle of the National Hunt season and is the first Group race of the calendar year, you'd imagine the Winter Derby (3.15 Lingfield) might be a good race for the bookmakers. Most serious punters are, after all, putting their effort and study time right now into the big jumps races and upcoming Cheltenham Festival.
But it's actually been quite a good race for backers since its inception in 1998, with just four winners priced in double figures.
There are certain races throughout the year that I keep a decent chunk of money to have a good go at, this being one of them - and, while my selection last year Mutakayyef was a non-runner, I came out on top in 2016 when Grendisar landed the spoils for Marco Botti under jockey Adam Kirby, priced 11/4.
That was a welcome success as the same horse had finished second for me in the 2015 renewal, and I'm hoping I can get a similar injection of cash from Lingfield ahead of the big jumps festivals in March and April by backing Autocratic around 9/2, under Richard Kingscote.
Trained by Michael Stoute, who won this last year with his other runner today Convey, the five-year-old is described as being in "very good shape", although his trainer does concede that the track might not be ideal.
A winner of the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown last May, he looked out of sorts in his last two races in August but the word on the street is that he's primed for this, and it will be interesting to see if market support gets stronger before the off.
It's been years since Aidan O'Brien had an all-weather runner in Britain - 2002 was the last - so there will be plenty of interest in Clear Skies, which may go off as favourite around 3/1.
The five-year-old mare is a regular on the all-weather in Dundalk and the assessor just can't keep up with four handicap wins in five races, mostly under Donnacha O'Brien.
Ryan Moore takes the reins today and, while this is a significant step up in class, her latest win last month suggested she'll improve even more.
About 40 miles away at Kempton, Cyrname is tipped to win the Grade Two Pendil Novices' Chase (1.50), albeit at a restrictive price.
With a total of nine wins in this race since 2006, including last year with Frodon, Cyrname's trainer Paul Nicholls certainly knows the type of up-and-coming sort required to win, and his charge has course form having won the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase in December.
That was over two miles, but the gelding proved he can handle today's two and-a-half mile trip when he was beaten by just a neck last time in the Grade One Scilly Isles Novice Hurdle at Sandown, which was won by Nicky Henderson's Terrefort.
He certainly lost nothing in defeat on that occasion as he was giving weight to the winner, and the fact that he was rallying near the end gives me plenty of hope that he can handle today's conditions.
He's a better chaser than he was a hurdler, and Nicholls said recently that he was a bit of a nightmare to train over the smaller obstacles as he was so keen, but letting him out to lead over fences has paid off and he's improving all the time.
Nicholls, it seems, is going to be patient with this one and may swerve the Cheltenham Festival.
Up north at Newcastle, a chance is taken on West Of The Edge in the Eider Handicap Chase (2.45) which is quite often a hard, old slog in difficult conditions at just over four miles. Only three horses completed in 2011 with the ground extremely heavy, and the race has been abandoned due to the weather no fewer than 20 times since its inception in 1952.
Trained by Richard Newland, who won the Aintree Grand National in 2014 with Pineau de Re, the selection showed what was probably a career-best last time out when second to Emperor's Choice in a handicap chase at Haydock in heavy ground off this rating of 128.
He put in a couple of average efforts previously over hurdles but had won his last chase race, a handicap at Warwick in March, and he looks a proper stayer.
At the time of writing, it's expected to be heavy, so it could be the case once again that the winner is the one that can best see out a war of attrition. Odds of 6/1 seem fair.
This year's Grade Three Betdaq Handicap Chase (3.35 Kempton) looks competitive and a reasonably strong case could be made for at least a third of the field. Master Dee was the first one to catch my eye for Fergal O'Brien under Barry Geraghty, an amazingly consistent horse which has never been out of the first three in 20 races. But odds of 13/2 look a bit short so preference is for Rebecca Curtis' Relentless Dreamer, which was trading at a nice each-way price around 20/1 yesterday evening.
Rated 137, the nine-year-old wasn't disgraced when third in the Edinburgh National Chase last time off 1lb higher, although that four miles at Musselburgh seemed a bit of a stretch.
A handicap chase winner at Ludlow just short of this three-mile distance in December, he acts on various types of ground and jockey James Bowen's 3lb claim should come in useful.
Tintern Theatre is also worth a mention. He won at this course and distance before, although he's failed to complete in three of his last five races.
1.50 Kempton: Cyrname
2.25 Kempton: Redicean
2.45 Newcastle: West Of The Edge
3.0 Kempton: Mont Des Avaloirs
3.15 Lingfield: Autocratic
3.35 Kempton: Relentless Dreamer (e/w)