'If there are some abandonments in England, the betting industry could well take pounds 5m on the race, and I'd expect it to be in the top 20 races of the year (in terms of turnover),' Paul Austin, for the sponsors, said on Thursday. Lucky them. A morning line which offers the favourite as long as 7-1 is all the evidence you need that, from a punting point of view, the race is as sticky as the Leopardstown turf. Even the riding arrangements are uncertain. If Haydock is abandoned, both Mark Dwyer and Adrian Maguire will change direction, in Maguire's case to partner Dermot Weld's first string, Judicial Field, who was backed to challenge for favouritism yesterday. Dwyer would ride How's The Boss, winner of the race two years ago but out with the 25-1 shots now.
For a chance of a return in this fickle contest, find a well- handicapped horse with a top- class jockey, able to react swiftly as the face of the race changes. Time For A Run is a possibility, but none fits the description so well as Gaelic Myth (2.40). Tommy Stack's gelding was a fast-finishing second to Roll A Dollar in a high-quality novice hurdle at Aintree in April, and is 10lb better off with Land Afar, beaten three quarters of a length in third. Satin Lover, too, was well behind that day.
A light preparation should have him at his peak today. 'This race was always the idea,' Stack said yesterday. 'I wanted to give him a spring campaign rather than an autumn one, because he was gelded after last season and I gave him plenty of time off. He's well handicapped, though the ground's a bit softer than he'd really like. That's the only drawback but you can't have it every way.'
Gaelic Myth needs to be held up for a late run, which is never an easy thing to do in this race but there could be no- one better to try than Declan Murphy, for whom a cantering last-minute appearance is now almost a trademark. In a daunting contest, they are the most plausible combination.
Frost and fog both threaten Haydock, but Sybillin (2.00) would be worth a bet to beat Waterloo Boy if the card itself beats the weather.
In the handicap hurdle, four of five runners are either unconvincing or ungenuine, with Nikitas (1.30) the honourable exception.
He was a winner on similarly demanding ground at Newbury last week, on the same card which saw Midnight Caller make a swift exit when favourite for the big chase. Backers hoping to recover their losses may regret opposing Direct (1.00).