Any time you stray from the 'winning formula' is usually a bad sign, and this was no different. However, all it seems to take to turn things around is to cut stakes in half and get back to basics. All of a sudden the gods are on your side.
And so it was today, sort of. I had a brilliant day at this Aintree meeting last year and although this card was much changed I had a feeling of deja vu on arrival. And while my new found sense of austerity prevented a couple of 'obvious' good bets, it was just good to get a few things right.
A decent maiden hurdle kicked things off and it didn't take a Mississippi lawyer to figure out that Perform would run a massive race. A market drifter, this lovely scopey animal was primed to win first time out for the Hobbs/Johnson combo.
Dickie J gave the beast a most confident ride and you couldn't help be impressed by how he came clear with Knockgraffon, another decent type albeit in the compact/strong mode.
Going For Broke was well backed but I found him a quite disappointing specimen, somewhat mishapen and on edge. He clearly shows plenty at home but I have a suspicion he could want it bottomless.
I had a brilliant each-way bet on Carn Rock in the next - fourth beaten miles. He's a tricky horse because he needs good ground but is a dour stayer who always runs on after hitting a flat spot.
The early fractions did not suit him at all and he may be worth another chance at a stiff track if we get a dry autumn.
It turned into a sprint but the two unexposed horses Optimistic Bias and Sykes came clear. There was not much to say about either, other than they do not look chasing prospects.
I've been watching Tantamount for some time and thought he was a non-stayer over 3m at Newcastle. He came home really well here to suggest he does in fact stay, but I still feel 2m 6f on soft at Kelso would be perfect providing he doesn't get a daft waiting ride from the not-so-cunning D Fox.
I had the veterans chase by the fluff of the scroat the night before when narrowing it down to Ely Brown and Benbens. However, I thought the former looked on the small side in the paddock, a bit dry in the coat and generally sullen, so put a line through him. On paper the punt on him was understandable but he looks to have totally gone.
For a 'veteran' Benbens is remarkably unexposed, being just 2/13 over fences going into the race, with a host of placed efforts including a close third in the Scottish National in April. A repeat of that form would surely be good enough.
Against the names of Lie Forrit, Maggio, Danimix and Russian Regent I had written 'needs a PB', which aged 11/12 was unlikely. Any Currency looked really well and was the only danger for me, although he clearly is less effective away from the Cheltenham circus.
So hooray for me. A winner - although we didn't exactly shout it home.
I had no intention of playing the handicap hurdle as it just wasn't my bag but with three 'nons' it turned into an uncompetitive affair and a very short-priced FAV in recent winner Work In Progress.
As regulars should know I don't follow racing in the 'sarf' so didn't have a clue about the form - all I did know was that Hunters Hoof was a rather fetching sort with lots of scope and fit enough to run it's race.
It came as little surprise then that he gradually wore down the jolly, leaving me somewhat bewildered at the SPs having opted for the burger van rather than the line of bookmakers pre-race.
Next up the Old Roan, which again I had narrowed down to a couple namely Duke Of Navan and Sound Investment.
The former may have to carry the weight of the north over the minimum trip this year having palpably failed to get home here on his first attempt at further. This super jumper and traveller may yet be a potent force over 2m.
Sound Investment had the most progressive profile in the race and with a 4/10 record over fences he was one to have onside. The master trainer had given the beast a spin over timber a fortnight earlier and you just knew this strong, sturdy horse would come on greatly for that.
Sadly he was little more than a saver as the Duke was the main hope here. But baby steps. They all looked really fit and tuned up for this big early season targets - for many this is as good as they are and that includes the plain looking Buywise.
Would you Adam and Eve it I got the next down to two as well and you know their names - Abricot De L'Oasis and Tidestream. This was not as competitive as the numbers suggested but let me just say something you might not read anywhere else - this was a stitch up from the get-go.
Now I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, but when I see a heavily-backed favourite handed an easy six-length lead as the tapes rise I want to call a copper. This thing traded odds-on from the second hurdle, and even when it clouted a couple up the straight first time the other jocks seemed to back off.
What do I know, I'm just saying what I see. I don't think it looks good for the sport though. Play the tape and see what you think.
What wasn't good for the pocket however was the error by Tidestream at the last when about to mount a challenge. This tall, imposing animal was bred in the purple and at appears the penny is starting to drop. Would he have picked up the winner - that is a moot point. It would have been the better result for this column - and how.
The word on the street was that the Greatrex filly La Bague Au Roi was the 'bees knees' in the concluding bumper, and even the one-eyed man with myopia could see she had the tools beforehand.
Well made, a good mover and forward, she travelled like a good thing and never looked like getting beat. Oh it could have been a red letter day! Maybe next time.
For the record, Midnight Velvet was well forward and looked the main threat to the winner as neither Jessber's Dream nor Jessie Webster particularly took the eye - the former rather unfurnished while the latter was a bit on the small side.
I informed clients that Chris Grant's Kalaniti did not look at all out of place in this field and had been told the filly had been working the house down. Make of that what you will, but she could be smart.