Hobbs’s gelding ‘Defi’nitely up for the challenge in Greatwood Hurdle

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By James Daly

Cheltenham’s three-day meeting (formerly the ‘open’ meeting) gets under way today on going likely to be on the easy side of good, so there should be no excuses for any horses .Both tomorrow’s card and Sunday’s card feature horses that could be picking up major prizes at the Festival in March .

On Sunday we will, hopefully, see the return of Defi Du Seuil, currently third favourite for the 2018 Champion Hurdle, in the Grade 3 Greatwood handicap hurdle over two miles .The New One heads the weights presently, so if he is declared, Defi Du Seuil will be running off only 11 stone 6 lbs, with several of his rivals potentially running out of the handicap proper. Trainer Philip Hobbs very much knows the time of day, is in very good form and could be set to win a Grade 3 handicap with a Grade 1 horse . The four year gelding won all his six races last season including a five length win in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival ,with three of his other wins also coming at Cheltenham.

His fitness is not likely to be an issue and he goes well fresh .At around 7/1, Defi looks a bet to nothing to be in the first three .London Prize won nicely at Wincanton last weekend and could be in with a place claim ,if taking his chance so soon after that race, but a more likely player is Alan King’s Elgin .This five year old won a Grade 1 at Ascot recently, off nearly top weight, but is only set to carry 10 stone 6 lbs in the Greatwood .The handicapper could have underestimated him, and at around 14/1, he looks the each way value in the race .

It will be interesting to see(and worth noting), if Melbourne Cup winning trainer Joseph O’ Brien sends over either of his entries, both in the colours of JP McManus, as McManus also owns Defi Du Seuil. Tomorrow’s big race is the Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup (many moons ago known as the Mackeson Gold Cup), a handicap chase over an extended 2 miles 4 furlongs. A pretty open affair, it is set to include both Foxtail Hill and Le Prezien who fought out the finish to a grade 2 over 2 miles at Cheltenham’s October meeting.

Twiston Davies’s Foxtail Hill will prefer the longer trip, but the Nicholl’s trained horse might be more of an improver, although his stamina has to be taken on trust. Lurking further down the weights though, is the Pipe trained Startichect who won his season opener at Stratford nicely enough, and whose stable is in much better form already this season, than last .The six year old has run a couple of fair races at Cheltenham in the past without seeming totally at home on the undulations.

That would be a negative, but with the stable firing in winners, Startictect is probably worth a small each way investment at around 12/1 in this competitive event. On the same card, the Nicky Henderson trained Thomas Campbell won impressively at Cheltenham in October and, if taking his chance in the Listed hurdle, rather than waiting for Haydock the following weekend, could well be more than capable of taking this step up in class.