Kalashnikov will provide a splash of quality of Monday afternoon when the leading Arkle hope struts his stuff for a second time over fences at Plumpton.
His one serious rival looks Envoye Special, who has shown some ability in France and has his first start for Paul Nicholls. However, his French form does not look anything out of the ordinary – his conquerors have since been exposed – and even in receipt of plenty of weight he will do well to lay a glove on the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up, who did the job well enough on his chasing bow at Warwick.
I’m not telling you don’t already know, though, because Kalashnikov is chalked up at 1-4 to get the job done and give his connections the chance of pocketing a £60,000 bonus should he go on to win at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
I generally like to try and find something at a price – as usual Monday columnist Tony Calvin (away doing his Christmas shopping this week) routinely does – but nothing presented itself, so I’ve ended up with four fancies at relatively short odds.
You have to play the hand you get, though, and I never understand why some bettors will scowl at the prospect of doing doubles and trebles. Would you rather back a 20-1 chance with plenty of risks attached, or have. a double on two solid 4-1 chances? The odds are just about the same.
Royal Claret has come into her own, albeit at a modest level, since tackling stamina tests and this looks a great opportunity given (a) her level of form and (b) lack of solid opposition.
She is only 2lb higher than when chasing home Django Django in what looked a competitive 14-runner contest at Chepstow last month and, if in similar form back against her own sex, should take this with something to spare. I’m surprised she is not odds-on.
Wishicould is half-interesting among the opposition, is able to pick up from where she left off, but she has a 20-month absence to overcome and has been priced up pretty defensively.
I napped/backed (the two invariably follow) Spin The Coin when he made his return at Carlisle a month ago and was on good term with myself two out because he had nosed ahead and was travelling like the winner, reflected in him trading at 2-5 in-running on Betfair.
However, he then wilted quickly, suggesting he either needed the run badly after eight months off, had a breathing issue or bled.
It looks like we can discount the third option because Spin The Coin has since had a wind op and is also equipped with a first-time tongue tie.
If the tinkering works the oracle he might just win this on the bridle because it’s not a great race and, to judge by the way he travelled last time, there are plenty of races in him. The early 4-1 has gone, but he has the potential to get much shorter than 7-2.
Empreinte Reconce’s defeat of Passing Call at Newton Abbot in the summer has worked out well but the favourite’s efforts on slower ground have been underwhelming and, under a penalty, I’m keen to take on the JP McManus-owned filly.
Manning Estate looks a decent alternative. He’s very much bred for jumps, his siblings include useful sorts in Glencove Marina and Theatre Territory, and his two spins in bumpers have offered plenty of promise, especially his latest effort when a close sixth to the exciting Emitom at Ascot.
That race is well worth keeping an eye on – the winner has gone in again for starters – and, given it was his first run for six months, should have teed Manning Estate up perfectly for what he is bred for.
Rosy World, a daughter of 2007 Pertemps Final runner-up Material World, has clearly inherited some of her dam’s willing nature and is feared most, but she lacks a recent run.
I cannot read or say the name John Williams without the theme of The Deer Hunter filling my head but will be worth that melancholic melody bouncing around my cells if the equine version does the business here.
I like the front-runner’s chances, not least because he has won twice around this track (it favours those who race handily when the ground is not testing) and is able to operate off a mark 1lb lower than when going close here in March.
John Williams has struck up a good rapport with Rachael McDonald, although the pair of them probably did a bit too much, too soon when fading to be fifth in deep ground at Ayr.
Civil Unrest, the favourite, could be a hassle upfront, but John Williams is the more accurate jumper of the pair and will take some stopping if getting in an early rhythm.
Select any odd to add a bet