Wayne Bailey: Red Devil Lads primed to score at Uttoxeter
Drop in weight to help Curtis' charge see out gruelling test
Following an exhilarating week at Cheltenham, we come back down to earth with a bang. A quick scan of the cards, which contains lots of mediocre handicaps, sends the signal that it could be a tricky day for backers.
But, as I often say, money earned at the Festival has the same buying power as money earned at Fontwell or anywhere else - and if a good betting opportunity presents itself, you've got to take it.
That said, it is harder to assess the form in lower-quality races so if you've made a profit over the four days, make sure you bank some of it and don't make the common mistake of giving it back to the bookmakers today.
The Midlands Grand National (4.10 Uttoxeter) is the feature race of the day and I suspect that Red Devil Lads could run a little better than yesterday evening's odds of 28/1 would suggest.
At that price, he can be taken each-way and I reckon that his odds are inflated, mostly based on the fact that he was pulled up in the Grade Three Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick last time, and unseated his rider in the Welsh Grand National previously.
It's a good job I'm a decent Christian as it's a lot to forgive - but the handicapper has given him a break and eased him 3lbs in the ratings to 135 which seems quite reasonable.
The Rebecca Curtis-trained seven-year-old racked up a hat-trick of wins in handicaps last spring and he came back in December with a career-best effort to finish second to David Pipe's Katkeau in a valuable handicap at Ludlow.
As mentioned, his latest two starts were disappointing but he's worth another chance at a big price.
Back home at Gowran Park, the Paul Stafford-trained Dubai Devils has very strong claims in the ML Fennelly & Affidea Maiden Hurdle, although he's priced accordingly at 4/5. A half-brother to Saddlers Encore, the five-year-old warmed up in some point-to-points before making his debut under rules in a Musselburgh bumper in which he raced a little green.
He's now raced twice in maiden hurdles, finishing second in both, but he's definitely improving with every race and it won't be long before he finds himself in the winner's enclosure.
At Newcastle, Notonebuttwo catches the eye around 5/2 in the MTrec Recruitment Handicap Chase (2.50), run over a distance just short of three miles. The nine-year-old has mixed it up over both fences and hurdles but was never great over the smaller obstacles and I reckon connections are better off sticking with chasing.
Last time out, Chris Grant's gelding won a handicap chase off 80 at Sedgefield and a mark of 84 in a six-runner field leaves some room for improvement.
A strong case could be made for at least four horses in the 12-runner Betfred TV Novices' Limited Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter (3.0) but I'm quite warm on Abracadabra Sivola, which is expected to go off around 8/1.
David Pipe's gelding was fairly useful over hurdles and earned his first win over fences when finding plenty to land a novices' chase at Leicester last time.
It was his first race for Pipe having come over from Nick Williams' yard and I'm surprised he's not been given a higher mark than 125.
2.10 Gowran: Dubai Devils
2.50 Newcastle: Notonebuttwo
3.0 Uttoxeter: Abracadabra Sivola (e/w)
3.55 Gowran: Jett
4.10 Uttoxeter: Red Devil Lads (e/w)
Do the double
The Leicester story has been fascinating this term and, as a neutral, I think it's great for football. Now odds-on to win the league, they were available at 1000/1 back in August. With Spurs hot on their heels at 5/2 and Arsenal still in the running at 7/1, we've some very interesting weeks ahead.
Next up for Claudio Ranieri and his Foxes is a trip to Selhurst Park to face a Crystal Palace side which sit 15th on 33 points. Considering Palace haven't won a league match since before Christmas, Leicester look a decent bet at a price of 6/4.
Mark Johnston's Tawakkol hasn't been seen since July which is a slight concern - but the word on the street is that he's perked up at home and is raring to go again. He heads to Wolverhampton for the Median Auction Maiden Stakes (6.15) and should be worth a few euro at 11/8.
As the most experienced horse in the race, I thought he'd be shorter although his backers are probably getting weary as he's been a beaten favourite five times in six starts. He can finally get off the mark today and the step up in trip will give him a lift.