Finding winners in the racing world is so often fraught with the difficulty of balancing the importance form already in the book with the potential improvements that younger horses (and sometimes older ones) can find from somewhere.
And the Greatwood Hurdle brings a new twist on that with recent renewals showing that while you are looking for a proven classy campaigner, it often pays to follow those with low mileage to their name.
In the last 15 years nine winners (60 per cent) have been rated 140 or higher and with just 32 per cent of runners falling into that category, it’s wise to take notice.
Furthermore from just half of the total runners the runners, 73 per cent of charges triumphing in the 2m contest since the turn of the century have been aged four or five.
Philip Hobbs’ Garde La Victoire followed up that trend last year before going on to run well in some other big handicap contests en route to a successful chase debut this term.
So, with those two nuggets in our armoury, we can break down the field for Sunday’s big handicap and pick out a quartet of runners that fall into the mould of many Greatwood Hurdle winners before them.
Days of Heaven
Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old was a no show when tried over 2m4f at Aintree on his last appearance, but that could be put down to the trip rather than his quality.
He was a previous winner of the Grade 2 Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton, though how strong that renewal was remains to be seen.
Looking back to his win at Doncaster in January, he had John Ferguson’s Buckwheat, a horse now rated 143 eight lengths in arrears, making his opening handicap mark of 145 look interesting.
The gelding is yet to have a run this term, and with defeats in both his runs off a break of three months or more (although one was on debut), it could be that his big target lies further down the line.
Prestbury Park seems to have brought the best out of the son of Cape Cross, with a very solid fourth in the Triumph Hurdle followed up with a win in a classy Masterson Holdings Hurdle.
That former run could be key with two of the last three four-year-old winners of the Greatwood competing in the juvenile event at that year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Jockey bookings could say an awful lot about his chances, with the gelding one of four entrants remaining in the contest for John Ferguson.
Nevertheless, first string or not, the performance he showed at the Showcase Meeting stood out against some classy competitors like Hargam and Karezak, and if fully wound up looks to have a perfect opportunity to pounce.
The fact that more letters than numbers make up this one’s form figures from his last five runs over hurdles is a worry.
Jonjo O’Neill’s horse has taken a tumble in two of those runs, while he was pulled up in the Ladbroke 11 months ago.
There was one win in that period, coming at Wetherby in October last year, where he saw his handicap mark go up 10lbs. There have been a few winners come out of that race, so while it isn’t anything to get carried away with it wasn’t a bad contest.
What’s more worrying though is that nine lengths is the closest he has got to the winner in six Graded runs so far.
The fact that Paul Nicholls’ representative won a handicap hurdle over course and distance last month could in fact be a negative to his chances of following up.
Only three winners since the turn of the century had previous won a handicap contest, and even though he has gone up eight pounds – potentially lenient after a facile success – the trends don’t speak fondly.
He’s also got some question marks surrounding his quality to answer with no win in company higher than Class 3 to his name as yet.
Nevertheless, with Nicholls’ previous two successes Brampour and Rigmarole both flopping at the Graded level previously, he cannot be easily ignored.
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