Calgary has everything in his favour
It has been frantic of late. There's barely been time to draw breath, never mind attend to routine chores like getting an overdue haircut. And having passed countless barber shops without giving them a second glance, I don't intend to entertain the favourite for the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase (3.25) at Wetherby today.
Barbers Shop just doesn't cut it. The Queen's chaser has regressed from the horse which gave 3lb to subsequent Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander -- and nearly bettered him -- at Cheltenham two years ago. He was particularly disappointing at Cheltenham back in March, and while the summer break may have freshened him, he has to be opposed here.
The early pace looks sure to be generous, with Nacarat, Knockara Beau, last year's winner Deep Purple, and the sprightly 12-year-old Ollie Magern all keen to press on.
Of this quartet, Deep Purple appeals most but the fact he is lumbered with the maximum penalty makes his task that much harder.
Sound jumping will count for much in what is expected to be a strongly run contest. That may compromise The Tother One, whose technique last season left something to be desired when he was raised in class. The nine-year-old does retain potential, however, and Irish champion jockey Ruby Walsh will do his utmost to extract it.
Even so, I take a chance with Calgary Bay, from the Henrietta Knight stable. He, too, was found wanting when he was tried at Cheltenham and Aintree last season.
Against that, the handsome seven-year-old has time on his side and has the scope to do better.
Barring an overnight deluge, the ground will be to Calgary Bay's liking. The rhythm of the race should also play to his strengths, and it's worth remembering that he romped to victory at Newbury last season after a tame effort on his reappearance.
Calgary Bay has already had his pipe-opener this season. He travelled well for a long way at Cheltenham two weeks ago and wasn't unduly punished when a lack of condition told. Although he has plenty to find on official ratings, he is a fair bet at decent odds.
HUGHES CAN MAKE WAVES WITH TIDAL
The John Smith's Hurdle (2.50) at Wetherby is another race open to several permutations. Like the feature race, it has attracted some habitual front runners. Fair Along, Kayf Aramis and Raslan will ensure there is no loitering from the tapes.
Although Fair Along won this contest 12 months ago, he enjoyed the benefit of a recent run on the Flat. That's not the case this time, and the popular eight-year-old is usually sharper for a recent run.
No such caveat applies to Duc De Regniere, although this talented gelding is almost certainly better at distances short of today's extended three miles.
Conversely, Tidal Bay is a thorough stayer who always runs well after a break. He has made winning seasonal comebacks three times in the last four years, the sole blot coming when he narrowly failed to peg back Aintree specialist Monet's Garden 12 months ago.
Tidal Bay has his own way of going. He cannot be fully trusted, but Brian Hughes got a fine tune from him when the combination clicked at Cheltenham in January. He can make light of an 8lb penalty in a race that will be run to suit him perfectly.
Channel 4's cameras are also broadcasting from Ascot today, where From Dawn To Dusk is worth an interest in the ultra-competitive United House Gold Cup Handicap Chase (3.40).
The 11-year-old has always threatened to win a valuable prize and he showed that three miles was within his compass when winning well over the trip at Aintree in April.
Also at Ascot, You're The Top has strong claims in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase (4.50) over two miles and a furlong.
The progressive Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old, which failed to see out two and a half miles at Cheltenham last time, will be seen to better effect here under AP McCoy.