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"So follow me, follow, down to hollow and there let us wallow in mud, glorious mud." Flanders and Swann did not envisage Haydock racecourse as the hollow in question. But any horse that wins there on Saturday will have to have the same predilection for mud as their serenading hippopotamuses on the banks of the Shalimar.
For a race tipster, mud sticks the pages of the form book together and renders much of it useless. Backing any horse in Haydock's highlight, the Peter Marsh Chase, will to some extent be an act of faith. The least exposed horse in the field is Take The Stand. He stays four miles and ran a grand race on soft ground in the Welsh National before falling. First Gold can be backed at big prices and is a great, each-way saver.
Trabolgan is a horse to follow and, if he handles the ground, the Northwest Racing Club Novice Chase should be well within his compass. He was second in the Champion Bumper in 2003 and has since had a light, but predominantly successful campaign over hurdles.
The AIG Europe Champion Hurdle, which is run at Leopardstown on Sunday, has been the best trial for Cheltenham in recent years. How informative this race will be is hard to judge as again the ground is barely raceable, and at Cheltenham it is almost certain to be good. Mac's Joy is the one to back on Sunday but Harchibald still looks good for the big one at the Festival in March.
2:10 Haydock - Take The Stand (win)
2:40 Haydock - Trabolgan (win)
2:45 Leopardstown (Sunday) - Mac's Joy (win)