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Punting pointers as Verdana Blue bids to overcome quick return in Greatwood

Verdana Blue (right): lands the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton
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3.00 Cheltenham
Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle | Grade 3 | 2m½f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RUK

For Verdana Blue, recent weeks have been a story of making hay while the sun shines and the rain stays away. Yet just eight days on from her latest personal best, can the mare who loves sound ground strike again?

Since winning on the Flat at Chelmsford in late September, Verdana Blue has cruised to an easy Kempton defeat of Old Guard – she now meets him on 12lb worse terms – and posted an authoritative success in Wincanton's Elite Hurdle.

Watch Verdana Blue win the Elite Hurdle

She tackles the £100,000 Unibet Greatwood Hurdle under a 5lb penalty but as she has been raised 5lb by the handicapper she races off her correct mark. She may be far from thrown in, but she could also hardly be in better form as she tries to further advance her claims as a Champion Hurdle outsider alongside Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate Charli Parcs.

Verdana Blue brushed Old Guard aside at Kempton in October

"Her last performance was exceptional – but it was only a week ago, and that's obviously something that has to be taken into account," said Henderson.

"I don't know if she can win a race like this off her weight but we're going to find out.

"She's pleased us through this week, she still seems very well and, crucially, still has her ground. We decided to come here, but if it doesn't rain at Newcastle and we're therefore unable to run Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth, we'll maybe be thinking we should have waited."

Henderson added: "Charli Parcs is going well at home but has always gone well at home. There's a good race in him."

Has Ryder been let in lightly?

As ever, the Greatwood brings together a mix of established high-class handicappers and younger talent. Very much in the latter camp is Western Ryder.

After winning on Cheltenham's New course in December, Richard Johnson's mount went on to run honourably in some of the best races, including when sixth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. He takes on this mission off a mark of 145.

Warren Greatrex is happy with a mark of 145 for Western Ryder

"This has been the plan since the end of last season," said trainer Warren Greatrex.

"He did well as a novice without living up to what I thought he could do. He's in great nick, has good form at Cheltenham, he'll like the ground, and is used to hustle and bustle.

"It all depends on whether his mark is lenient. I feel it could be, as I think there's more to come. He's very unexposed and if there's a horse lurking in the field he could be the one. I think he has a very good chance."

Williams not expecting Silver to win gold

It is always encouraging to hear trainers talking positively; there is also merit in hearing trainers talk down expectations. Silver Streak may be attempting to win his third consecutive major handicap, but Evan Williams is not pretending he fancies him to triumph.

"It's all a bonus now and if we get some money I'll be happy," said Williams.

"The Swinton was the first race in which I thought he'd be really difficult to beat. We then went for the Welsh Champion Hurdle because it's a race that normally has an exposed horse at the top of the weights, so a horse like ours gets a freebie.

"Now he's in a race in which you carry 11st-plus against horses who could be Champion Hurdle class, so I'm under no illusions."

It's fair to say Evan Williams is not confident about Silver Streak winning the Greatwood Hurdle

Summing up nicely how he really is under no illusions, Williams added: "Do I think we're Champion Hurdle class? No, I don't.

"Do I think we're going to be running in the big conditions races? No, I don't.

"Do I think we'll win the Greatwood? No, I don't.

"Having said that, if I get a nice surprise and we do win I'll pretend I expected it all along. I'm that shallow."

What they say

Paul Nicholls, trainer of Old Guard
He's in no man's land with his mark but he'll give his running. He ran very well at the weights at Kempton when second to Verdana Blue and found the ground a little quick at Wetherby last time. It's great to give Lorcan [Williams] a ride in the race – he's been waiting in the wings and with Bryony [Frost] and Harry [Cobden] losing their claims he deserves his chance.

Dan Skelton, trainer of Mohaayed, Nube Negra and Not That Fuisse
Mohaayed ran in this last year and didn't do too well but he loves the track, he's had a prep run at Ffos Las and he's in good form. There are no excuses. Nube Negra ran well in the Fred Winter and got dropped [in the weights] after he ran at Aintree. This has been the plan for a while. The jockey takes 10lb off Not That Fuisse, who won two on the bridle. He struggled against Seddon giving away a double penalty but we expected that. I think he's overpriced if we don't get any rain.

Mohaayed and Bridget Andrews are seeking to follow up their County Hurdle win

Nicky Richards, trainer of Caius Marcius
Since we switched back to hurdles and put the cheekpieces on he has run three very strong races. I'd be very hopeful he can run another strong one here.

Richard Newland, trainer of Storm Rising
He was a revelation on his first run for us and then backed that up at Wetherby. He's now in a better race but he seems in good nick and the ground is in his favour. I expect him to run a big race.

Alan King, trainer of Deyrann De Carjac
We’ve always liked him and given him all the time he needs. I was delighted with his comeback second at Chepstow, where he was giving 6lb to the highly rated Pym. He starts off a mark of 128, which is fair enough, and though he's in with the big boys here and will improve for stepping up in trip later on he's worth his place in the field.

Brian Ellison, trainer of Nietzsche
There has been no sign of any wind issue with him but we tried him in a tongue-tie on the Flat last time and he ran a great race. If he bounced back to his best form he'd have a chance. He was third in the Fred Winter last year and Danny [McMenamin] is claiming a useful 7lb.

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Her last performance was exceptional - but it was only a week ago, and that's obviously something that has to be taken into account
E.W. Terms