By Andy Stephens
Just two more sleeps until we learn all the runners for the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The introduction of 48-hour declarations is a massive boost for those of us who enjoy pouring over the form, but I just hope some of the new rules about double declarations do not lead to the odd costly error being made.
Having the complete fields for the first three days of the meeting - before a race has been run - means far more time to get stuck into the big-field handicaps and less reliance on ploughing through the five-day entries.
Before that, some competitive action over jumps and the Flat on Saturday. Fingers crossed we can get some money in the kitty for the punting battles just around the corner.
Those towards the head of the weights have done well in this in recent years and The Russian Doyen can keep up the sequence.
Colin Tizzard’s five-year-old only made his debut in October but he’s two from three over hurdles, again being strong at the finish when scoring over 2m at Taunton last time as befits a gelding out of a dam who was a half-sister to the mighty Denman.
This stiffer test seems certain to play to his strengths and the fact that Tizzard ran him in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle here on only his second start over jumps surely says something for the regard he has for him.
The Russian Doyen finished last but his stable was struggling for winners at that time.
I put up Whatswrongwithyou at 33-1 for the County Hurdle when the Cheltenham weights were revealed last month in the hope his entry for this race was Plan B.
Now, of course, I’m hoping that this is merely the first part of Plan A - win snugly and then bag a £100,000 bonus by following up at the Cheltenham Festival. Easy!
It’s not Nicky Henderson’s usual style to turn horses out again quickly, but perhaps a six-figure carrot will sway him.
Of course, Whatswrongwithyou has to get the first part of the job done. I fancy he will because his wins at Newbury have been stylish - he readily beat a smart stablemate in OK Corral on the first occasion and he coped well with bad ground last time.
Also, the way he travels through his races suggests he is just the type to excel in these big handicaps.
Richard Mitford-Slade has run only five horses under Rules from his base in Somerset but two of them, Samuel Jackson and Applesolutely, have been a great advert for his skills.
Dual point winner Applesolutely scored at 20-1 at Taunton in January and proved that was no fluke when going close behind Good Man Pat over 2m7f at Bangor last time.
The winner has since followed up and, sure to appreciate going back up in distance, the stamina-laden Applesolutely can prove too strong for Just Your Type.
Having started off by tipping a horse related closely to Denman, I’ll end by selecting another whose dam was a half-sister to Kauto Star. It’s not every day you will find symmetry like that.
Kauto Riko is proving a fair performer in his own right, winning four of his past six starts and is unbeaten in two races over fences.
This is a better race than those he has won at Newcastle and Taunton, but the manner in which he travelled and jumped in those contests suggests an aggregate rise of 15lb may not be enough to stop him completing his hat-trick. Be careful, however, as he is doubly declared and could well run at Kelso.
Andy Stephens' How To Bet Your £20 on Saturday:
2.25 Sandown: Whatswrongwithyou £7 win at a generally available 4-1
4.00 Hereford: Applesolutely £2 win at a general 13-8
4.35 Hereford: Kauto Riko £3 win at a general 2-1
plus £2 win treble on last three selections
OPTION TWO: £1.20 Win Licky Fifteen plus £1 each-way fourfold
Select any odd to add a bet