Betfair Chase day at Haydock has been one of the strongest in the north since they merged the Friday and Saturday meetings into one a few years ago, and this season's card promises to be an absolute pearler.
Aside from the obvious attraction to racegoers, if not punters, of the Bristol De Mai vs Lostintranslation match-up - there is plenty to get stuck into with four competitive handicaps including a couple over fences in which I'll definitely be getting involved.
The first of them, at 12.40, is the 0-145 Cashout In Play With Betfair Handicap Chase over a trip just shy of 3m 2f, and immediately I'm drawn to course specialist Captain Redbeard who was sent off favourite for the race last year only to finish a close third behind Vintage Clouds.
That came off a 2lb higher mark on good ground but the Captain has plenty of form on heavy so the softer conditions expected on Saturday will be to his liking, while form figures at the track of 3121236 need little further explanation.
He is 7lb better off with Burtons Well for their reappearance runs at Aintree last month, but I felt the winner that day was much further ahead fitness-wise and Venetia Williams' runner may find his lack of chasing experience against him at this venue.
Venetia also has Didero Vallis entered but I'd expect the six-year-old to take up an alternative engagement in less taxing conditions at Ascot. Similar sentiments applying to the lightly-raced - in the UK at least - Dragon D'Estruval.
The other one of interest here would be Theligny who shapes as though he'll prove much better than his current mark if his unorthodox jumping can hold up under pressure. He has always looked as though he will stay all day and I'd prefer his chances in the slightly lower-graded race over an extended 3m4f that closes the card.
However, that does look the more competitive race at this stage and I really like the chance of Wetherby winner Late Romantic in this. Oliver Greenall's charge looked one to follow when running a big race in the Lincolnshire National on Boxing Day despite a colossal mid-race error.
Later in the season he chased home Ladbrokes Trophy hopeful De Rasher Counter before returning in style earlier this month at Wetherby, benefiting from a drop in class and a mid-summer wind op to belatedly get off the mark under rules.
I've been kicking myself ever since for not backing him that day and I won't be making the same mistake this time.
The Betfair Best Odds Stayers Handicap Hurdle is far more open than the early betting suggests with Umbrigado and Lisnagar Oscar having plenty to prove for very different reasons, while Tedham is expected to be well found in the market once more.
At current prices much I prefer the profile of the Noel Williams-trained Breaking Waves, who finished just ahead of Tedham in fourth place at Cheltenham last month after finding himself too far back to take a hand in the finish.
The nicely-bred five-year-old hasn't done an awful lot wrong in a quietly progressive career over hurdles and, with the step up to three miles likely to suit, I'll be disappointed if he isn't thereabouts at the business end for a trainer going great guns.
There's another five-year-old at the foot of the weights that catches the eye in the form of triple bumper winner Acey Milan, who was more miss than hit in his first season over timber.
Returning to the track following wind surgery, he went down narrowly on his reappearance over an inadequate trip at Plumpton at the start of the month, and he could be a potential handicap blot facing three miles and soft ground for the first time. Trainer Anthony Honeyball has his team in sparkling form and I want this talented horse on my side.
All those I want to back this weekend have had the benefit of a run this season and it's a theme I'll continue to follow for the rest of this month.
Of course, horses regularly win first time out, but backing them involves a little too much guesswork at times and with soft ground pretty much everywhere, I want to be with those I know are race fit.
We saw a good example of this at Wetherby on Saturday when the much-touted Good Boy Bobby obliged at skinny odds of 1-4 against talented opposition in the shape of Ravenhill Road and Albert's Back.
Nigel Twiston-Davies's novice chaser had made Brewin’upastorm pull out all the proverbials at Carlisle just three weeks earlier, and was essentially allowed the run of things by a couple of jockeys intent on giving their mounts a blow-out on their return to racecourse action.
It wasn't the most edifying spectacle for a Saturday afternoon but, putting that to one side, it'll be interesting to see if these horses meet again later in the season. One suspects we'll see a more competitive race and, quite possibly, a different outcome.
I was at Newcastle last Friday where Simply The Betts picked up a second novice handicap chase in 10 days, defying a penalty in a race that didn't take much winning.
Nevertheless, I'm confident trainer Harry Whittington has a very talented individual on his hands and I expect that he'll continue to progress this winter with the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham a potential target.
He only has 10lb to play with if he's to remain eligible for that race so connections will need to be cute if they want to aim him for that race, however it's not beyond the realms that he will develop into more of a JLT prospect if he makes the expected improvement when sent over an extra half mile.
One other thought from last weekend; why did some jockeys persist with the tactic of racing round the outside of the hurdles track at Cheltenham, when the ground looked no better to the naked eye than others parts of the course?
At the last meeting at HQ, the likes of Paddy Brennan rightfully took plaudits for plotting the widest possibly course in desperate ground that quickly became badly churned up down the inner.
However, it looked from an early stage last weekend that the inside wasn't anywhere so bad, with Harry Skelton cutting all corners on the free-going Allmankind in the second race, until tacking across to the universally-favoured stands' side in the straight.
Golan Fortune and Jatiluweh were also taken down orthodox routes when winning later on the card, while on Sunday both Hang In There and Israel Champ made virtually all the running using the Skelton route, while those taken wider seemed to be using up valuable energy just to stay in touch.
Of course, it may turn out that the winners were simply the better horses on the day, but personally I've marked up some of those who I think were at a disadvantage by being taken very wide throughout, most notably the Fergal O'Brien-trained Brief Ambition in the closing bumper.
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