Nicky Henderson has never won the Greatwood Hurdle, but is set to saddle favourite Verdana Blue in Sunday's renewal of Cheltenham's renown Grade 3 handicap.
With a prize fund of £100,000, the Greatwood Hurdle is no ordinary handicap, attracting scores of talented novices, Graded winners and sometimes those who go on to Champion Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival.
Verdana Blue heads the market at 4/1 with Betway, the mare having beaten males in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last weekend. Her trainer has never won the race, and a mare has never won it either, but her closest rival in the Greatwood Hurdle betting is 7/1.
Verdana Blue's penalty for that Grade 2 win has her racing 1lb below top-weight. The form of top weights reads: 8203108072604 - the winner won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the three placers had placed in Grade 1s, generally at the Cheltenham Festival.
Verdana Blue does not fit that profile, making her too unexposed off a rating of 151. Next in the Greatwood Hurdle betting is Western Ryder, Nube Negra, and Silver Streak, who is on a remarkable run.
Silver Streak (8/1 William Hill) has run nine times in two years, winning five handicap hurdles and going up 49lbs on official ratings. He won well at Ffos Las last time out and relishes good ground, but three of his four wins were carrying less than 10st 10lb, and he's never run a race carrying more than 11st 2lb - 11st 5lb is the burden now.
Nube Negra (9/1 Ladbrokes) off 10st 9lb is a better bet, having been 5th in a Grade 1 at Aintree and third in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in March in just five outings. He could well win first time out, as he did last season, particularly with improvement from a wind operation.
Western Ryder (7/1 BetVictor) is the pick of the favourites though. He's the only runner from any Grade 1 novices' hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, finishing sixth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, which has proven a good guide to Greatwood winners. Gutsy and durable, Western Ryder won't be phased by his handicap debut, and has winning Cheltenham form.
Analysing 10-year trends for the Greatwood Hurdle reveals the winner is a generally a horse in its second season of hurdling, who has run around six times over hurdles, winning no more than four - preferably two. They have run at Cheltenham and have run in a Grade 1, now rated higher than 136, but not carrying top-weight.
Factoring in that 9/10 winners were aged 4-6 and 10/10 had either run in the last 23 days, or not for 190, as well as the trend that 7/10 had not won a handicap, gives you a top five of Western Ryder, Charli Parcs, Nube Negra, Brianstorm and Midnight Shadow.
At the prices, the best bet in the Greatwood Hurdle trends is Midnight Shadow at 14/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying out down to sixth place. He signed off last season with victory in his first handicap hurdle, the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle run over 2m at Ayr.
The five-year-old was beaten a neck on his return at Wetherby last month, by a rival carrying 4lbs less, and has only gone up a total of 7lbs for those two runs, with fitness improvements to come, and no issues with ground.
Profiling the 30 horses who have finished second, third and fourth in the Greatwood Hurdle 10-year trends, shows that unlike winners, placers have generally won a handicap.
They are more exposed, having run more times over hurdles, and in handicaps, but retain a high-level of quality, boasting Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins. Verdana Blue and Old Guard (25/1 Unibet, five places) fit the profile reasonably well, and you can't go wrong with the latter.
The three-time course winner won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2015 rated 145, Harry Cobden claiming 7lbs off, then was third last year rated 149, Bryony Frost claiming 5lbs off.
If you fancy Midnight Shadow, you have to fancy Irish Roe as she was beaten five and a quarter lengths by him at Ayr, giving him 6lbs. She has since dropped 1lb, her rival going up 7lbs. Charli Parcs, fourth that day, has also gone up, and Irish Roe is sporting cheekpieces for the first time.
Her reappearance was uninspiring at Wetherby, but she was beaten at the same course on her first start last season, then won two handicap hurdles, beating Mohaayed, who carried 4lbs more then and carries 7lbs more on Sunday.
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