Greatwood Hurdle: Horse-by-horse
Check out our guide to each and every runner in Sunday's Stanjames.com Greatwood Hurdle.
More Of That and As De Mee (right) locks horns once more this weekend
The StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle is the feature contest on the final day of Cheltenham's Open Meeting, which runs between Friday November 11 and Sunday November 13.
There is a total prize fund of over £90,000 up for grabs in the Grade Three handicap run over two miles and 87 yards of the Old Course at the home of National Hunt racing.
The race is traditionally won by one of the many unexposed hurdlers it tends to attract with four-year-olds having triumphed in three of the last five renewals.
Two of those were trained by Paul Nicholls, who first won the race with 33/1 shot Rigmarole in 2003, while greys Detroit City and Rooster Booster were hugely popular winners for owner Terry Warner.
Supreme Novice Hurdle hero Menorah also took the race under a fine weight-carrying performance in 2010 and stablemate Garde La Victoire, running in the same colours, did so four years later.
Winter Escape tops the antepost market from Sky Bet and this unbeaten youngster could go off a very short price, but it remains a competitive renewal of one of the season's first major handicap hurdles.
A Hare Breath
One of three potential runners for Ben Pauling. Eight years old, but lightly raced with just six starts under Rules and while blotting his copybook at Kempton in March, it's easy to forgive that run especially in light of previous niggles. Goes well fresh having defied an absence of 695 days to land a gamble on his handicap debut over this course and distance and while 17lb higher now, could yet be more to come, especially on a sound surface. Stays further but has a turn of foot and is expected to run a big race with the yard going well.
Five-year-old who has won three of six starts, best effort to date coming last time at the Punchestown Festival when third in a Grade One. Would've been closer there but for mistake at the last but the form is questionable and his revised mark – up 12lb – appears slightly harsh. Must also prove he acts around undulating track like this one but two miles on decent ground is ideal and no concerns around absence. Nicky Henderson yet to win this race; this one probably his best chance of ending that hoodoo despite his future lying over fences.
French import yet to disappoint and was a smooth winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle despite a late mistake. Nothing wrong with that form after third home won the Galway Hurdle and arguably a little unfortunate when attempting to follow up in the Swinton. Shaped as though in need of the run on his return under a big weight at Ascot and can reverse form with the winner, Sternrubin, who benefited from an enterprising ride. Big chance would be enhanced further if forecast rain fails to materialise but will be fine either way.
Started life with Donald McCain and won point-to-point before joining current yard. Little promise in debut over hurdles (2m6f) but then chased home smart O O Seven before winning minor novice from horse with smart bumper form. No impression in Grade One Tolworth but again showed what he can do returned to calmer waters, beating subsequent multiple winner by 19 lengths on the bit. Conditions that day similar to those forecast and comeback run over course and distance bore all the hallmarks of a sighter with this in mind. Interesting at a price for emerging yard.
Top weight was third in 2015 Triumph Hurdle and highly tried since, including when a well-beaten 10th of 12 in last season's Champion Hurdle. No impression on return but improved for the run and better ground when winning at Kempton, first time he'd got his head in front for more than 18 months. Not the biggest to be lumping around 11st12lb but match fitness in his favour and while perhaps hasn't scaled the heights connections had hoped, in relative terms boasts a touch of class. Opposable for win purposes but should run his race with conditions ideal.
Jack The Wire
Off the mark over hurdles at the Galway Festival in July and proved opening handicap mark to be generous when easily landing handicap on next start. Demonstrated versatility with regards underfoot conditions that day but most disappointing at Down Royal last weekend and will need rapid return to best form to be competitive. Connections may have half an eye on a generous chasing mark given he's a point-to-point winner who stays further.
Same mark as when good second to Sternrubin on reappearance last year (soft) and when decent sixth in Scottish Champion Hurdle. Entitled to improve for reappearance behind aforementioned rival and is still a five-year-old, but relatively exposed and likely needs to find improvement to win a race like this one. Disappointed in the County Hurdle so something to prove at the course, too, and easy to leave out at what appears a short enough price.
Fifth in the Triumph and promising second to subsequent winner and Champion Hurdle hope on return. Due to go up a further 5lb after this and young rider now able to utilitise his claim, so a case to be made for a horse who has gone well on all three starts at Cheltenham. Record of four-year-olds of late further underlines each-way chance and while would have to be some concerns as to the inexperience of his jockey, fact that Triumph has worked out so well suggests he could land a nice prize at some stage. Given his mark is about to climb, today could be the day for a trainer with a strong hand.
Mad Jack Mytton
Same mark as when second at Cheltenham last December, albeit on New Course. Disappointing for various reasons in next three starts before returning to something like that form when slightly unfortunate fifth at Sandown (5/1 favourite) behind a smart winner. Possibilities if building on that now returning to action but beaten a long way when sent off a 12/1 chance for this race last year and seemingly held no excuses that day.
Backed for this since eye-catching return at Ascot, when beaten less than a length by Sternrubin. Entitled to reverse that form albeit is a horse with his quirks and just possible that he flatters to deceive. Does jump fluently and bumper form, which includes second in the Champion here, suggests he remains well-treated off 140. Has been keen in the past and trainer has long felt a fast-run two miles on good ground should bring out his best. Certainly better than his run in the County Hurdle and disappointing if he's not going well and in with a chance turning for home.
North Hill Harvey
Off since good fourth in Grade One at Aintree and 1lb rise for that perfectly fair. Conditions soft that day and has something to prove should going remain good but did win a point-to-point on decent ground and can be given benefit of the doubt on that score. Chief concern is that he'd been described as a stayer by his astute trainer early last season and on the back of a sixth-month absence, on ground which shouldn't be too testing, perhaps he'll struggle for speed. That said does jump fluently and best is yet to come.
Exposed eight-year-old who still managed to rattle through a four-timer this summer, three at Stratford and one on Jersey. Mark has shot up as a result and clearly this is much tougher. Indeed there's nothing he's done in the past which suggests anything better than a mid-division finish, albeit may have a role to play in terms of forcing a decent pace.
Not seen over hurdles since staying-on fifth in The Ladbroke but that effort, and previous season's third in the Swinton, suggest he could run better than his odds suggest here. Ran well on the Flat last time, third on sole start over course and distance and not without a chance even in a race which tends to go to a rather more obvious candidate. Overpriced.
Tough front-runner whose (favourable) form ties with so many of these. Won Gerry Feilden and The Ladbroke in first two starts last season before excellent third (33/1) in the County Hurdle, and while disappointing in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, returned with a bang to win last time out. Up 3lb and needs to find more improvement from somewhere but is still a five-year-old and has carried a big weight to victory in the past. Work to do to hold off the likes of Modus from these revised terms but isn't to be underestimated having proven, unlikely almost all of his rivals, that he has what it takes to win races like this. No reason he, too, shouldn't improve for that comeback, either.
Six-time winner of hurdles but all at a much lower level than this and, at eight years old, unlikely he's about to take a marked step up. Disappointing in sole start at Cheltenham and beaten a long way off this sort of mark on last two starts. Fact that he's sole runner for Nigel Twiston-Davies is noted but little else to recommend him.
Gambled-on favourite who is unbeaten in three starts and clearly has the potential to rate much higher than an opening mark of 142 – indeed he's as short as 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle. Smooth winner of a bumper (form weak), before beating 130-rated horse with ease (1/5 favourite) on debut over obstacles. Followed that up by winning the Grade Two Dovecote despite still showing signs of inexperience and has reportedly strengthened well having been put away since. This race has long been the target over a decade since high-profile owners last won it and Barry Geraghty's decision to opt for potential over the obvious form claims of Modus is not insignificant. Value long gone but clearly expected to prove hard to beat.
Wolf Of Windlesham
Course and distance winner via the Triumph Hurdle Trial last season and did well to win competitive juvenile handicap hurdle at Sandown off this mark later on. Weighted to beat Tommy Silver again on that form but needs to leave behind modest return. That performance rings alarm bells when coupled with exposed Flat profile and words of trainer, who implied that he'd reached his limit with that win at Sandown and lacked scope to improve further. Will need to defy those expectations to win this.
CONCLUSION: Winter Escape could be several steps ahead of his handicap mark and any bet placed in opposition must take that into account. That said, he's plenty short and can be taken on with CH'TIBELLO, who has the look of a big improver from his decent return to action. Dan Skelton's horse has definite scope to progress again and land another good prize over hurdles before a switch to chasing and can show the benefits of having a run under the belt. Ben Pauling's trio are all interesting, particularly outsider Cyrius Moriviere, while Song Light can outrun massive odds and nick a place.
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