'Second' looks poised to finish first for Haggas
During the first half of March, everything we do in racing and betting somehow seems to relate to Cheltenham and in that context, I was glad to see last Saturday's main bet Headway claim the Spring Cup Stakes on the all-weather at Lingfield.
It was hardly the tip of the century at a price of 11/10 but as mentioned last week, I had a decent-sized bet on William Haggas' colt - and alongside one or two other winners, it served its purpose of boosting the war chest as we prepare to go to battle with the bookmakers on Tuesday.
All-weather racing is a far cry from the magic that will unfold at the Cotswolds next week but once again I'm turning to the artificial surface in a final attempt to top up the coffers.
Like last week's bet, the price will be short and Second Thought currently trades around 11/10 for the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton (3.15). But value can be found at both ends of the market and having priced up the race myself before I saw the forecast odds, I had him chalked in at 8/11 or thereabouts.
Trained by the aforementioned William Haggas, he hasn't been seen since bringing his unbeaten all-weather run to five in a similar race to this at Kempton in November, and that came on the back of a reasonably good string of races on the turf.
Back in May, he found only subsequent Group One winner Harrys Angel too good in a Group Two at Haydock, but it's his performances on the artificial surfaces that really make him stand out here, and he should have no problem overcoming a 3lb penalty this afternoon.
The only concern is that most of these have raced more recently, but I gather that Haggas has had this contest in mind for some time, so I doubt fitness will be an issue.
If any horse puts a spanner in the works, it's likely to be Salateen, which won this last year at 25/1. Priced around 5/1 to repeat that feat today, he's gone 10 races since without success so it's fair to say he's got a bit to prove - but he's smart on his day, and David O'Meara's six-year-old wasn't disgraced when second in a Group Two in August.
Mark Johnston's Marsham Star is another one to watch on the all-weather, considering he put a long losing spell to an end in a Chelmsford handicap in what was one of his best races to date back in December.
Over hurdles, the Imperial Cup Handicap (2.25 Sandown) has an odd place in the calendar just days ahead of Cheltenham, although in fairness to sponsors Matchbook, they last year reinstated the bonus on offer if the winner goes on to win any race at the Festival.
In fact, the fund has been increased to £100,000 (€113,000) for 2018 and that has attracted some interesting entries which attempt to follow David Pipe's mare Gaspara, the last horse to land the bonus following success in the Fred Winter in 2007.
It's hard to know what the market will do here but there's a good chance that Nicky Henderson's Whatswrongwithyou, which has two Cheltenham entries for Friday, will go off as favourite with Nico de Boinville on board.
It's been a good race for novices lately and the seven-year-old looks promising having won two novice hurdles this year, both at Newbury.
He should be thereabouts but at odds around 12/1, I'm quite keen on Master Of Irony for trainer John Quinn under jockey Richard Johnston, which also has a couple of Festival entries for Friday.
While he's more exposed than Whatswrongwithyou, I still think he's got more improving to do off his current mark of 133.
Admittedly, his fourth place of seven in a Listed Handicap at Newbury in December doesn't look great on paper but he finished very strongly having been left behind when the pace picked up.
A dual-purpose runner, he was supposed to race here in Ireland, but Quinn said he didn't travel too well so the entry was scratched, and he also had an entry at Newcastle a couple of weeks ago which wasn't fulfilled. But his trainer has confirmed that the six-year-old is very well right now, and he races off the same rating as his last outing at Newbury.
The Sunbets.co.uk Lincoln Trial Handicap (2.05 Wolverhampton) has attracted a decent field, and if the early markets are anything to go by, punters are very keen on the William Haggas-trained Original Choice, which was trading at 2/1 yesterday evening.
Those odds are a little short for me in a competitive handicap but it must be noted that he's almost always thereabouts, and he traded near 1/10 in-running when second by a short head to Century Dream in September. Century Dream has since won another race and Original Choice is only up 2lbs so it's really just the price that is putting me off here.
Big Country, Mr Scaramanga and Constantino are all worth a mention - but one that seems off most people's radar is Mythical Madness, which I'm hoping to back at a nice each-way price of 20/1 or higher if I can get it. I'm usually very cautious backing horses in first-time blinkers, but on occasion, it can help bring on improvement - especially when combined with a drop in the weights.
The selection's latest few runs on the all-weather were nothing to write home about but he's now down 10lbs in the weights to 91 over the space of six races, and I've a feeling his mark is about to bottom out.
1.50 Sandown: Notre Ami (e/w)
2.05 Wolverhampton: Mythical Madness (e/w)
2.25 Sandown: Master Of Irony
3.0 Sandown: Aimee De Sivola
3.15 Wolverhampton: Second Thought
7.15 Chelmsford: Jazirat
Do the double
Priced around 15/8 at the time of writing, I reckon Jazirat is about the best bet you'll get today at Chelmsford in the Going Racing Stay At Channels channelslodge.co.uk Novice Stakes (7.15). Trained by Charlie Appleby, his second place at even-money last month at Lingfield after a seven-month break is forgiven, as he was hampered by the winner.
Jurgen Klopp has guided Liverpool through to the last eight of the Champions League, and the Reds are 10/1 to claim top honours in Europe. Manchester United still have next Tuesday's clash with Sevilla to keep in mind and that might play into Liverpool's hands as the fierce rivals meet at Old Trafford in the Premier League today. It's a Liverpool win for me at 7/4.
* Last week's double delivered at an overall price of just under 3/1.