Course and distance winner is solid 14/115.00 bet
Menzies' likely runner is overpriced at 40/141.00
The Betfair 'Serial Winners' Stayers' Handicap Hurdle over 3m58yd at 14:20 on Saturday looks top-heavy, with Crambo 5/23.50 and Slate Lane 11/43.75 dominating the market, so I was very hopeful I could find a betting angle into the race.
That is not to say that pair don't hold obvious claims, but they have hardly been missed in the market five days out from the race.
Even if they get to post on Saturday, just how much shorter can they get?
Admittedly, they both trade around 7/24.50 win-only on the Betfair Exchange.
We currently have 20 entries for a maximum field of 17 on the day for the 125k prize, and there is every chance that they will be a fair bit bigger still on the day without the dreaded ante-post no-show looming over them.
In fact, Crambo is also entered at Ascot on Saturday, so he is a definite no-no at the moment - I have seen harder 100k Grade 2s to win than that, with no form stand-out and just nine five-day entries - while Schalke was a Pertemps qualifier at Market Rasen on Thursday.
Wasdell Dundalk is also in a handicap chase on this card and Dubrovnik Harry, rather annoyingly, has the option of fences at Exeter on Sunday.
More of the latter in a moment.
By the way, I reckon the current hurdles description of soft - curiously it has dried up despite 9mm on Sunday and 3mm on Monday - is set to be the case on Saturday, despite an improved forecast for the rest of the week (just a small amount is due on Wednesday now).
Forecasts change daily, though.
Crambo obviously has to be respected, raised 6lb for his reappearance Aintree win from Santos Blue (also in here) last month, but connections could well be tempted by that soft Grade 2 at Ascot. On Twitter on Monday, the trainer reckoned Haydock is currently more likely but added: "It is not set in stone yet."
You could be forgiven for concluding market rival Slate Lane is priced up mainly on his impressive connections (possibly rightly so) and potential, rather than his form claims, as he got smashed 14lb for his Newton Abbot win and this is far, far deeper, though the runner-up has won his last two since being sent over fences.
Not for me.
I would have been all over Dubrovnik Harry at 12/113.00 - he is 16.015/1 on the Exchange - but my double-entry rule means I can't tip him, for all he shaped exceptionally well when fourth and qualifying for the Pertemps final at Cheltenham last month.
He surely has a good handicap hurdle in him off 125 but that novices' handicap chase entry at Exeter on Sunday has to worry you from an ante-post betting perspective this weekend. If people want to tip in these circumstances, then fair enough, but they should give you the negatives as well as the positives.
One for after we know the final field on Thursday.
I am not going to go through all 20 entries, you will be glad to hear.
After Onlymatteroftime continued his wayward tendencies on his first start for Willie Mullins when sent off at 7/24.50 for the Greatwood on Sunday, we have another stable-switcher to Closutton in the shape of Fine Margin.
However, the layers are not overly-concerned by him at this stage, and he is on offer at 12/113.00 with the Sportsbook . That could easily change, though.
Recent Newbury runner-up Emitom looks very solid at 14/115.00 each-way, four places.
He is 3lb well-in here on that Newbury run, the 9yo is 27llb lower than his peak hurdles mark in 2021 and he is a course and distance winner in deep ground, to boot.
He has thrown in the odd stinker in the past but he has obviously done nothing wrong in two starts for Alan King, including a defeat of the hat-trick seeking Hyland in March. He was only denied by a tenacious Harry Derham stable-switcher at Newbury recently, a race in which he traded odds-on in running.
He is obviously vulnerable to a younger improver, such as the front pair, but he is officially the best handicapped horse in here and I will play him each way. I hate to trot out the old he "ticks every box", line, but he does.
I am not sure if he is an intended runner, but I'd be very surprised if he doesn't come here if fit and well. It is not every day you are 3lb well-in for a 125k handicap.
He is currently 19.018/1 on the Betfair Exchange, and that is obviously a very fair win-only price, too. Very fair. As I have previously said though, I can't tip into lightly-traded exchange markets.
Lord Snootie opened up at 25s in two places on Monday afternoon - the Sportsbook were 14s - and that clearly was far too big. The 25s and 20s got gobbled up on Monday and 14s is now the best on offer. And that is fast disappearing.
He was still travelling well on the inside when making an horrendous mistake 2 out in the Galway handicap, which was won by impressive weekend Cheltenham winner Buddy One last month, having previously shaped very well when fifth in a huge field at the Punchestown Festival.
The 14s is fair, even if Christian Williams is having a very quiet time of it, a recent 16/117.00 winner notwithstanding. Just before this column went live though, that 14s became 10s.
Rebecca Menzies could do with a winner, too. She hasn't had a horse finish in the first two over jumps this month, though she has had a scorer on the Flat, but I reckon her Schalke is overpriced at the Sportsbook's 40/141.00 here after news has just arrived that he has been taken out of that Thursday Market Rasen engagement.
A double-entry no longer, then.
Ahead of that, I messaged the trainer on Twitter on Monday afternoon to see if Schalke was an intended runner at Haydock on Saturday and she kindly responded: " Yes, I think he will run."
I had to wait for the Thursday decs, though on Tuesday morning, to make sure. That Market Rasen race cut up to just six runners, after all.
I have a lot of time for Menzies (even before that co-operation with a complete stranger). I thought her 8yo shaped far better than it appeared at Ayr at the start of the month, positioned in rear throughout and not given a hard time on his first start since his fourth in a very valuable handicap at Sandown in February off a 1lb higher mark than this.
I assume he had a problem after Sandown, so that Ayr spin was probably much needed and at least he got dropped 1lb for it.
Prior to that, he won by six lengths in heavy ground at Kelso - the runner-up hasn't run since but the 13 ½ length third has won twice since - and his form figures on heavy and soft ground are 112. There could be more to come from him, given he has very few miles on the clock for a horse of his age.
He looks a tricky sort, and maybe they will consider some form of headgear again, but I am more than willing to take the risk at the price.
Back him at 40/141.00 each-way, four places. But only to small stakes, as he is a far more speculative play than Emitom.
You may want to wait and back him on the Exchange on the day (if entered) as he is the sort to trade at 60+ given his decidedly unsexy profile. It's up to you, but I'm having a small nibble now at 40s, four places.
Right, that's me done until later in the week as nothing appeals in the other ante-post races.
UPDATE (9am Wednesday morning)
I appreciate this warning may be too late for many but it may be best to hold fire on Emitom if you haven't already backed him.
In his Weekender column today, trainer Alan King says he is considering running him at Newbury next week, despite the horse "being in very good form" ahead of Saturday's 125k race, an early-closer in which he is 3lb well-in.
Hopefully, the horse will please him again in a midweek work-out and common sense will prevail. Apologies if it doesn't.