Improving Top Notch to show he's first-class
A good chunk of my form study relies on statistics, and it's always somewhat comforting when the bet you are about to place fits in with the profitable stats and trends.
But it's important not to get too bogged down, or rely too heavily on the numbers, and we should always remember that they are living, breathing, four-legged animals we are betting on.
As much as I love crunching the figures, the really important one is the price, and at times you have to go against the grain and hope for the best when you see a horse whose odds are higher than you think they should be.
I suppose that's my definition of a value bet, a horse which I feel has a greater chance than the market suggests.
That may be the case today in the Listed 32Red Casino Chase at Kempton (2.05), in which I'm opposing the favourite Charbel which trades around 6/5 at the time of writing, in favour of Top Notch, which has been chalked up at 13/8 early-doors.
The reason I mentioned statistics is because Listed non-handicap chases are races in which it usually pays to follow the market - so I'm hoping my selection, if he doesn't end up as favourite, bucks the trends today.
Since 2008, there have been 107 non-handicap Listed chases in Britain and Ireland, and the clear favourite has a very good record overall, winning 52 (49pc).
While the data sample is somewhat small, had you stuck a tenner on each you'd be €44 better off today.
It's not a fortune, but it proves you need a good reason to oppose the jolly in these races. Of course, the market may have changed by the time you read this and there was some money arriving for Top Notch yesterday evening which might push him into favouritism.
But, by way of comparison, second favourites have a win-rate of 21pc and show a big loss of €180 to a €10 stake.
As I say, it's worth being aware of these statistics to see what you are up against, but I'm not a slave to them and if I can get on Top Notch at 13/8 or higher today, I'll be quite happy.
It was disappointing to see last year's winner Waiting Patiently scratched from the entries due to the ground, but we still have an intriguing race in store with both Charbel and Top Notch rated 162, 5lbs ahead of Hammersly Lake.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, Top Notch signed off last season with a Grade Two Oaksey Chase win at Sandown having missed out on the Cheltenham Festival due to a couple of setbacks, and it's worth remembering he's a Grade One winner over fences as a novice in 2017.
Henderson gave him a spin over hurdles in December where he was a decent third in the Long Walk at Ascot, so he should be well-tuned for today's assignment.
Charbel has beaten Top Notch in the past, although that was in 2016 in a beginners' chase, so not really relevant to today's race - but he's highly respected and comes here following an eight-length win in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
Kim Bailey's eight-year-old can be frustrating to follow but his jumping seems to be improving as he matures, and he's definitely a big threat to the bet.
Paul Nicholls' Black Corton may give both something to worry about, but I suspect this will be a match between the top two in the market and out of those, I reckon Top Notch has the most room for improvement.
In the Grade Two Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle (2.25 Warwick), I'm going to side with the favourite Tidal Flow, with early market leader Birchdale scratched from the line-up yesterday. Philip Hobbs' gelding showed some promise in bumpers last term, and got his career over timber off to the best possible start by beating Henderson's Before Midnight in a novice hurdle at Kempton in November.
He followed up with another novice win under a penalty at Newbury, beating the odds-on favourite Downtown Getaway, and today's odds of 11/10 look about right.
The Unibet Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle (2.40 Kempton) is quite a puzzle, but I've settled on the jolly for this one too with Kloud Gate expected to go off around 7/2.
Gary Moore's gelding was a useful sort on the Flat in France and he finally got off the mark in a handicap at Leicester in December when rated 108, priced 4/6.
He went on to win again a short time later off that mark under a penalty priced 1/2, and while he's now up to 127, I reckon he's still got more to come and he could be ahead of the handicapper here.
Lord Napier is the one I'm most worried about. Peter Bowen's charge raced well off his 130 rating twice in December, but he can improve on those mid-division placings now back up in trip.