Punters prepared to forgive Vino Griego’s recent trespasses might be rewarded at Doncaster on Saturday.
At first glance, Gary Moore’s 10-year-old would appear an absolute no-hoper in the Skybet Chase.
As quirky as they get in jumps racing, nondescript efforts in the Hennessy and in a handicap chase at Sandown ensure he will be sent on his way at sizeable odds.
But the very lifeblood of Vino Griego, or so it would seem, is to chuck in a load of stinkers before suddenly coming good again.
Now could feasibly be the right time to catch him.
As The Rainbow Hunter’s 25-1 shocker last year solemnly told us, the old cliche about the formbook going out of the window can often be applicable to this Listed affair over three miles.
This season’s renewal looks especially trappy, too, as nearly all of the 13 runners have questions to answer.
Vino Griego falls deeply into that category, of course, but a little bit of hope can be taken from his seasonal debut in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot, when he ran well for a long way before growing a little weary.
Indeed, memories of his run at the National meeting last April should not easily be erased as he got to within a head of Duke Of Lucca in a Listed race over three miles and a furlong.
Versatile in terms of whatever Mother Nature throws at him and with proven stamina, when in the right frame of mind, Vino Griego is, interestingly, back at the same mark off which he ran so well on Merseyside.
And while it still requires a vivid imagination to see him winning, the galloping nature of Doncaster might just quell the enigmatic urges which have continually been his downfall.
Festival trials day at Cheltenham brings with it hope and expectation - none more so than for connections of Smad Place.
Alan King’s striking grey takes his place in the Grade Two BetBright Cup Chase, a recognised prep for the Gold Cup in March, and he must have a smashing chance.
The eight-year-old has not yet bettered his hurdles rating over fences, but it is surely only a matter of time.
Trained by King with typically sangfroid patience, Smad Place has only had five starts within the chasing division, but his neck defeat in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last March was a clearly indicator that there is a great deal more to come.
Indeed, connections must have been fairly cock-a-hoop by his seasonal debut in the Hennessy at Newbury, when he clearly needed the run, yet still finished fifth.
Expect a far sharper animal at Cheltenham, a track at which he barely falters, while all variants of going tend to come the same to him.
In receipt of up to 8lb from all of his rivals, everything looks perfect for a horse who could be going places in a bit of rush.
Blaklion can roar back from his Newbury reverse by winning the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle.
The six-year-old was an accomplished 11-length scorer over course and distance in mid-December, but he could not maintain that winning habit in the Challow Hurdle a few weeks later.
Blaklion ran well enough to finish third behind Parlour Games, but he was done no favours by a sedate pace, which undoubtedly played to the strengths of the winner.
The decision from trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies to drop down in distance to two miles and five furlongs did not appear to suit him, either.
Granted a true-run encounter, the return to three miles over Cheltenham could get thrust into the spotlight before thoughts turn to the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Twiston-Davies could have a good day at his local track, with Astracad taken to cause a bit of an upset in the Grade Three freebets.com Trophy Chase.
The nine-year-old has not won for an age, but he shaped promisingly at Cheltenham last month.This is considerably tougher, but he is teasingly weighted on his best form and will almost certainly enjoy himself over this more demanding test of stamina.
Silverheels can make a successful return to Lingfield in the Ladbrokes Handicap.
Paul Cole’s grey was a big eyecatcher in a much better race than this over course and distance on December 28, when he made lots of late ground to finish third.
* Selections -
Cheltenham: 12.40 Peace And Co, 1.15 Carole’s Destrier, 1.50 SMAD PLACE (NAP), 2.25 Astracad, 3.00 Stilletto, 3.35 Blaklion, 4.10 Dell’ Arca.
Doncaster: 12.25 Mr Shantu, 12.55 Josses Hill, 1.30 Runswick Royal, 2.05 Princess Leya, 2.40 Monbeg Theatre, 3.15 Vino Griego, 3.50 Antartica De Thaix.
Uttoxeter: 1.05 Sweeping Rock, 1.40 Mondo Cane, 2.15 Civil War, 2.50 Our Cat, 3.25 Grab The Glory, 4.00 Hollywood All Star.
Lingfield: 12.50 Pirate Cove, 1.25 Caminel, 2.00 Pathway To Honour, 2.35 Silverheels, 3.10 Maverick Wave, 3.45 Red Stripes, 4.20 True Course.
Double: Smad Place and Vino Griego.