Theatre Guide can put on a show for Tizzard
Hennessy runner-up has been waiting in the wings
Champagne West heads the betting for today's big handicap chase at Kempton. Ordinarily, he wouldn't appeal as the most solid market leader for such a competitive three-mile handicap, as his fencing continues to cause problems.
However, the big plus in his favour here is that he represents the in-form Philip Hobbs, who has won the race four times already, although it is interesting to see his trusty ally Richard Johnson replaced here by Tom O'Brien.
Still, you cannot ignore Champagne West's deficiencies. He blundered away his chance at Cheltenham last time and, while he had travelled like a horse going places that day, the staccato nature of the fences at Kempton won't help his cause.
Alan King's Ziga Boy is also to the fore in the betting, having won the Great Yorkshire with some authority last time. He is 8lb higher now, while Le Reve is up 5lb for winning at Sandown earlier in the month.
Just sixth in the Great Yorkshire, Lucy Wadham's charge seems to save his best for Sandown these days. Maybe more to the point, he has only ever won going right-handed, so Kempton will suit better than Doncaster.
Second in this last year, Le Reve again filled the runner-up berth here in January, having won on his only previous outing at the track over flights.
Against Le Reve is that he is in off a career-high rating of 149, 3lb higher than when held by the re-opposing Rocky Creek last year. Still, he will surely run well again, and is not to be ignored for the each-way market at around 7/1.
Venetia Williams' consistent Tenor Nivernais is another that cannot be discounted, but he has been going up in the handicap despite not managing to get his head in front lately.
The one that appeals most at the odds available is Theatre Guide. Trained by man of the moment Colin Tizzard,
Theatre Guide hasn't won since dead-heating here with Fox Appeal in November 2014, when Annacotty was back in third. He had twice run well at the track prior to that, so he certainly goes well here.
Last year, a bit like marquee stablemate Cue Card, Theatre Guide's season never really took off. This term, though, he has been running well, albeit in defeat.
Third on his Wetherby return, he then finished second to Smad Place in the Hennessy Gold Cup, before taking third behind the same horse in the old Pillar Chase at Cheltenham.
Many Clouds was second that day, so, while Djakadam's fall obviously took from the race, it was solid form in the context of an event like this. Granted, Theatre Guide was 36 lengths behind Many Clouds, but he wouldn't have been nearly as effective on the prevailing heavy ground.
Here, off the same rating of 139 for 10st 6lb, he will be happier on the forecast good to soft going.
All told, Theatre Guide, which was placed in the 2013 Hennessy and then at Cheltenham off marks of 145 and 147, looks fairly treated, so he is fancied to have a big say under Paddy Brennan at odds of up to 8/1.
At Newcastle, Patrick Griffin's Portrait King might be worth a speculative each-way venture in the Eider after dropping to the mark that he won the race off in 2012, but a more interesting raider is Not For You in a two-mile chase at Chepstow.
Charles Byrnes' eight-year-old fell at the track when favourite in the autumn. His form is not easy to assess, but Byrnes clearly feels that Paul Moloney's mount can exploit a mark of 90 in Britain.
A year ago, we put Bryan Cooper up as the value option to be crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival.
At the risk of repeating myself, he is worth considering again. In 2015, pretty much everything that could go wrong for Cooper did, with Don Poli his only Festival winner.
However, the Kerryman was frequently in the thick of the action. If things click for him this time, he might be best equipped to give Ruby Walsh a run for his money. Needless to say, Cooper’s book of rides has yet to be finalised, but his mounts will likely include a choice Gold Cup ride on one of the Dons, and possibly Road To Riches or Valseur Lido in the Ryanair Chase.
He will probably be on hot favourite No More Heroes in the RSA, Outlander in the JLT, A Toi Phil in the Neptune, Alpha Des Obeaux in the World and Identity Thief in the Champion Hurdle.
Throw in lively outsiders such as Ball D’Arc, Tombstone, Tycoon Prince and The Game Changer, and there can be little doubt that Cooper has a book of rides of pretty serious calibre.
Clearly, Walsh is worthy of his status as odds-on favourite. At the same time, he could be on the wrong one the odd occasion as well, so offerings of up to 11/1 about Cooper look too big.