After a bomb scare at the track on Friday morning, Newbury officials will be hoping everything goes off smoothly for tomorrow's 'Super Saturday' meet.
Sixteen have been declared for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury (3.35) with three horses vying for favouritism - Clyne, Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes. I've seen different commentators claim in their turn that each one of the three comes into the race very well handicapped...
A Kempton handicap hurdle won by Bigmartre on December 27th ties in the form of Beltor, Eddiemaurice, Wait For Me and William H Bonney while at Cheltenham four weeks later William H Bonney came home in front of Wait For Me in fifth (and Bigmartre in eighth).
In last season's County Hurdle at the Festival Superb Story ran away from his field; Wait For Me finished fourth that day with Kayf Blanco a creditable seventh at odds of 50/1.
Wait for Me has been sent off favourite on each of his subsequent three starts but Philip Hobbs' charge hasn't quite managed to deliver the goods - the last day at Cheltenham he led approaching the final flight before fading to finish fifth. On occasions his hurdling continues to cause concern.
After what appears one abortive attempt over the larger obstacles, Kayf Blanco finished a four and three quarter lengths third behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown in early December (Zubayr fifth). That reads well given the former is priced up 7/1 for this year's Champion Hurdle and the latter 25/1 for the Neptune; on County Hurdle form Kayf has three lengths to find with Wait For Me.
On his only other run this season Kayf was hampered by a faller three out when racing over an extended trip at Exeter on New Year's Day.
Only two recent winners have carried more than 10-9 to victory (Zarkander with 11-1 in 2012 and My Tent Or Yours with 11-2 in 2013) but of the sixteen just Veinard and Eddiemaurice pass that particular test.
Of course this is an ultra-competitive event and the stats don't appear to favour eight-year-old Kayf Blanco. It's more than ten years since a horse older than six has collected the spoils; in 2004 at the age of nine Geos pulled off the trick for Nicky Henderson. That said, this just doesn't look a typical renewal to me - discounting riders' allowances, threequarters of the field is set to carry more than 11-0.
Kayf Blanco is the each-way suggestion, priced up at 33/1 in places. Most layers are paying a quarter the odds four places provided, of course, the sixteen make it to the start.
Only three go in the Denman (2.25) with the clash between Gold Cup second favourite Native River and Bristol De Mai eagerly awaited.
My marginal preference was for the former before reading a comment from Colin Tizzard to the effect that this two mile seven furlong and 87 yard trip would be the absolute minimum his charge would want.
Of course, with a small field there's the chance of a tactical affair; should Bristol win, he won't be 14/1 for next month's showpiece.
There's another small field for the Game Spirit (3.00) with just five declared and Gino Trail set to run in the Kingmaker at Warwick if that meeting gets the go-ahead.
Altior has been impressive so far this term but on official ratings still has two pounds to find with Fox Norton and seven with Traffic Fluide. Gary Moore's charge returns to the track for the first time in over a year; his performance here will determine plans going forward.
You know, I find it quite incredible that the 2015 Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets is realistically quoted a 33/1 shot.
The handicapper judged that Festival performance worth 171; barely two years on, the horse is given a rating of just 154.