Wakanda can deliver Sky Bet blow
Ian Ogg looks ahead to the weekend action and has a 20/1 ante-post selection for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
Wakanda (L) sees off Virak and Fingal Bay to win at Ascot
Providing the weather plays ball, there's a fascinating weekend in store on both sides of the Irish Sea but you can't help but feel that it's already job done to a certain extent for Gordon Elliott.
The County Meath based handler has a remarkable 16 entries at Cheltenham on Saturday and some of those must surely have only been put in to find discover the lay of the land with regards to their rating ahead of the Festival in March.
I don't suppose we'll see last weekend's third Tombstone lining up in the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle from his perch of 150 for example but it will still be fascinating to see who ends up where.
Drumcliff is favourite for that particular race as connections seek an alternative option following Ascot's abandonment but only a couple of firms have priced up as is also the case with several other races on the card, including the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase where Ben Linfoot made the case for Burtons Well in this week's Weights & Measures column.
Most firms have priced up the Clarence House Chase, Cleeve Hurdle and Cotswold Chase and while I don't suppose too many are snapping up the odds-on quotes about Un De Sceaux and Thistlecrack, the even money (at the time of writing) about Unowhatimeanharry may appeal to a few more but he'll have to concede weight to Ballyoptic who would have pushed him close at Ascot and it may not be cut and dried.
I'll hold fire for the time being and content myself with a look at Doncaster's Sky Bet Chase or Great Yorkshire Chase as it was once known.
This is often won by an up and coming chaser with Big Fella Thanks successful as a novice in 2009 before going on to finish sixth on the first of his many attempts at the Grand National while An Accordion followed up his 2008 success with victory at the Cheltenham Festival.
The latter's trainer, David Pipe, doesn't feature among the entries but Paul Nicholls does and the Somerset handler has three to choose from but it's not easy to get overly excited about their chances.
The ante-post jolly is Bigbadjohn who thrashed Our Kaempfer on his penultimate start before chasing home Thistlecrack at a respectful distance so it's understandable that he's proved popular from a potentially lenient perch of 133.
A relatively big field handicap will be completely different to five and two runner races around Newbury though and it seems well worth taking him on.
Last year's one-two Ziga Boy and Coologue could be back for more and the former is only 4lbs higher which makes him well worth considering in a race where some of his rivals may be working towards other targets.
They include Hollywell who was pulled up 12 months ago as an 8/1 chance but he could again carry top the handicap which would mean no rise in the weights for stablemate Another Hero who has been a positive mover in the ante-post markets.
He stayed on quite nicely at Ascot in a race won by Regal Encore and remains open to improvement after just five chase starts.
There's no doubt that he could win this while Out Sam and Rock The Kasbah could make light of their handicap marks if they can get their jumping together although frailties in that department didn't prevent the latter's stablemate If In Doubt from winning in 2015.
There are no problems on that score with Wakanda and I think Sue Smith's chaser is worth a small each-way play at the prices despite the likelihood of coming up against a number of lightly raced potential improvers.
The eight-year-old is a 20/1 chance in the ante-post markets, including with race sponsors Sky Bet who offer an alternative market paying non-runner no bet and five places on each-way bets where he is a 16/1 shot.
Of course, he's not chucked in after 16 chase starts and he could bump into a rival that is but he's not badly treated from a rating of 150 which is 1lb below his last winning mark. That success was in a reasonable Ascot handicap against a not incomparable field and saw his rating rise to 155.
Wakanda then failed to complete in the Cotswold Chase, the Aintree Bowl and trailed in last in the Charlie Hall Chase on his reappearance but he is gradually returning to form and there was more to like about his latest run in the Rowland Meyrick where he beat all bar the progressive Definitly Red.
He enjoyed an easy lead last time and it would be a negative if this front-runner got embroiled in a battle for the lead as they can get racing from too far out at Town Moor but hopefully his jockey (Danny Cook presumably) can keep a little up his sleeve for the closing stages.
If he does and if he can take another step forwards from Wetherby, it would be no surprise to see him outrun his 20/1 odds from a mark that he's already proven he can win from.