Solwhit can buck favourite trend
THE LATE British journalist Jeffrey Bernard once pointed out that in most betting shops, you will see three windows marked 'Bet Here' but only one with the legend 'Pay Out.'
For a lot of Irish punters, trips to the 'Pay Out' counter have been few and far between in recent weeks and since the New Year, just 27pc of favourites have won in this country. Normally, the clear favourite has a strike rate of 32pc so a cautious approach must be employed if backing the jolly right now as some trainers are still catching up on missed work due to the snow and ice and not all horses are fully fit.
That sample is small and only covers 47 races, but it goes to show how external factors can play their part and fancied horses don't always run to expectation. While this column shows a modest profit thus far in 2010, a return to a milder climate is welcome.
There's one favourite, however, that I'm more than happy to back this weekend and I see that, for tomorrow's Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, the layers have cut Solwhit into 5/6 (Paddy Power).
OK, it's hardly a working man's price but if I were chalking this one up, I'd have him as low as 8/11 and my own ratings have him at least 2lbs clear of Celestial Halo under these conditions.
He currently trades at 6/1 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but there are still those that believe he'll be vulnerable on the big stage across the water, especially considering his flop in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.
But if you watch that race again, you will see the pace was farcical and I'm completely happy to ignore that form. Indeed, normal service was resumed at Leopardstown over Christmas when he won the December Festival Hurdle.
I know that some punters will never back odds-on but make no mistake, this Charles Byrnes gelding is one serious hurdler and is going to be a major player when the festival comes around in March. Some horses deserve to be odds on and this is one of them.
Back to today and the big race across the water is the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot (2.40). Normally, I try to give a decent-priced animal as my main bet of the day but readers will have to forgive me this week as Twist Magic looks nailed on here priced around 5/4.
The race may be poorer for Master Minded's absence but his trainer Paul Nicholls can still take the prize and conditions look ideal today. The nine-year-old son of Winged Love and Twist Scarlet won his second Tingle Creek in December and I have that performance down as one of his best ever.
There used to be a question mark about his ability to handle testing ground but those assertions were blown out of the water in emphatic fashion at Sandown and it looks like Nicholls may have sorted out his jumping problems too.
He also used to be a weak finisher -- and was punished many times for this flaw -- but age and experience have seen him improve and a win today could boost his Champion Chase claims where current favourite Master Minded looks poor value at 7/4.
I'm expecting Petit Robin to give Twist Magic the most to do today, especially considering Henderson's cracking form of late -- but I reckon the selection's experience will see him thorough. Ruby Walsh knows the horse well and his record on board the eight-year-old now reads '1F1121411'. Expect another number one to be added to the end of that list this afternoon.
For the each-way backers, Benandonner looks a shade overpriced at 6/1 for the View Our 2010 Fixtures At Lingfieldpark.co.uk Handicap (2.45). He can be forgiven for his poor performance last time out at this course as he couldn't get a clear run and ended up in trouble with over a furlong to go. He's not the most consistent sort but he's a better horse than his form figures suggest and is entitled to go well at these weights.
On the same card, Rock A Doodle Doo can defy top weight and take the Marriott Hotel & Country Club Handicap (3.20). Trainer William Jarvis has got the best out of him since making the switch to the all-weather and he may still be a pound or two ahead of the handicapper today.
2.40 Ascot -- Twist Magic
2.55 Haydock -- Punjabi
2.45 Lingfield -- Benandonner (each-way)
3.20 Lingfield -- Rock A Doodle Doo
2.45 Leopardstown (tomorrow) -- Solwhit