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Greatwood Hurdle Preview: Stick with Skelton

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After Andrew Asquith tipped a 14/1 winner in this feature last week, Ben Fearnley previews Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle at the Cheltenham November Meeting and picks out a 12/1 shot.

Dan Skelton isn’t a trainer who wastes entries, but even for such an efficient operation his record with his runners in the Greatwood Hurdle is very impressive. Blue Heron finished fourth in the 2014 renewal (when racing on the unfavoured inside part of the track), Superb Story was second in 2015, and North Hill Harvey went one better last year. Skelton looks set to run just one horse again in this year’s Greatwood, with Mohaayed tasked with continuing the yard’s excellent record in the race.

Mohaayed shares a fairly similar profile to North Hill Harvey in that he would arrive at Cheltenham as a fresh, lightly-raced second-season hurdler. North Hill Harvey was making his handicap debut in the Greatwood but Mohaayed has already had two handicap starts, in the County Hurdle and in the Scottish Champion Hurdle. He shaped well on both occasions, not getting the clearest of runs at Cheltenham (seventh) and then faring best of those held up at Ayr (third behind Chesterfield, who also has an entry here). Mohaayed had looked a lively contender for the Swinton after the latter, but he missed the race in favour of an almost pointless match race at Market Rasen in May – though the race served Mohaayed’s connections well in that they picked up £5,000 in prize money and crucially protected their horse’s handicap mark. Mohaayed hasn’t shown all he can as a hurdler and is an interesting each-way option here at 12/1.

With such a solid case to be made for Mohaayed, why are we getting such big odds? Well, this is one of the most competitive pre-Christmas handicaps around in jumps racing, and we do have a couple of very high-profile runners currently fighting out favouritism at the head of the market.

Currently shading favouritism is last year’s champion juvenile hurdler Defi du Seuil, who won all seven of his starts last term for Philip Hobbs – three of them Grade 1s – in a fantastic season. Top juveniles can face tough tasks when transferring to open company in the following season, but unlike a lot of four-year-old hurdlers, Defi du Seuil is National Hunt-bred and hasn’t had any racing on the Flat, which bodes well for him this season. The main negative with backing him at 4/1 for the Greatwood is his handicap mark of 157, which will require him to produce a big career best on his first start of an already slightly interrupted campaign (was due to run in a four-year-old hurdle race at Cheltenham in October but missed the race due to fast ground).

The other ante-post market leader is at the other end of the handicap. One-time Supreme fancy Jenkins has been given a mark of 137, and though that may seem a shade harsh on the balance of his three hurdling starts to date, his five-length win at Newbury has worked out very well (Bags Groove, Captain Forez and Pingshou have all franked the form since). Jenkins was a smart bumper horse, too, making his mark look all the more attractive, and other than the fact his first season over hurdles ended in something of a whimper (beaten at odds-on at Kempton on Boxing Day, and ended the season by winning a Ffos Las novice in workmanlike fashion) it’s easy to see why he is popular, though it’s hard to argue he should be a whole lot shorter than 5/1 at this stage.

Other than Defi du Seuil, J.P. McManus has a number of other interesting contenders, including County Hurdle sixth Ivanovich Gorbatov for man-of-the-moment Joseph O’Brien. He was gambled on when making his handicap debut in that race and could feature here, though he is 1 lb higher in the weights and didn’t have any obvious excuses that day. O’Brien also has Galway Hurdle winner Tigris River entered, and with only five starts over jumps for the yard, he is a potential improver.

The likes of London Prize and Flying Tiger come out well on ratings after their runs in the Elite at Wincanton on the weekend, but it seems unlikely that they will turn out just eight days later. Also facing a fairly quick turnaround is Elgin, who impressed with his turn of foot when winning a listed hurdle at Ascot at the beginning of the month. He is up 5 lb in the weights for that win but may well have a bigger effort in his locker, while Old Guard is only 4 lb above the mark he defied in this race in 2015 and is another contender having shown his well-being by winning a listed race at Kempton in October.

As should be the case this year’s Greatwood is shaping up to be another deep and fascinating renewal with a number in with strong chances, but there are plenty of reasons to think that Mohaayed will go off a fair bit shorter than 12/1 come Sunday and he looks the bet at this stage.

Recommendation:

Back Mohaayed each-way for the Greatwood Hurdle at 12/1

*please note, ante-post favourite Defi du Seuil has since been ruled out of the race*

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