A bumper 56 entries (up from 47 in 2017) are unveiled today for the £100,000 G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, the prestigious race staged over an extended two miles at the Home of Jump Racing on Sunday, November 18, the third and final day of The November Meeting.
Jointly heading the market with sponsor Unibet at 10/1 are If The Cap Fits (Harry Fry) and Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson).
Six-year-old mare Verdana Blue is already on the scoresheet this season, having taken a Listed hurdle race impressively by seven lengths from Old Guard (Paul Nicholls, 16/1) at Kempton Park on October 21.
Champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson, who has yet to win the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, has also entered four-year-old filly Apple's Shakira (12/1), successful twice in G2 company at Cheltenham last season and fourth in the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, two-time Newbury novices' hurdle winner Whatswrongwithyou (12/1), G2 Scottish Champion Handicap Hurdle fourth Charli Parcs (16/1) and Style De Garde (33/1).
If The Cap Fits is unbeaten over hurdles, having won all three of his starts in novice company impressively. However, he has not been seen out since scoring at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. The six-year-old's trainer Harry Fry has also entered Jolly's Cracked It, winner of a valuable handicap hurdle at Ascot in December, 2015, with the nine-year-old only having appeared once since - in the same race a year later.
Western Ryder (Warren Greatrex, 14/1) was a winner at Cheltenham last season, taking a novices' hurdle at The International in December, and went on to perform creditably for the rest of the campaign including when coming home a staying-on sixth behind Summerville Boy in the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at The Festival™.
Lambourn trainer Warren Greatrex believes Western Ryder can develop into a useful performer this season off of his official BHA handicap rating of 145.
Greatrex reported: "Western Ryder is in good form at home and he did well over the summer.
"I think we are looking to begin his campaign in the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham's November Meeting as that looks a good race to aim for.
"He has rated in the mid-140s and I think there is a lot of improvement still to come off that mark - hopefully he will develop into a proper Graded performer.
"He has run well on soft ground, but wouldn't want it bottomless and has done well on better ground. He finished a good sixth in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
"We will start over two miles and two and a half miles is possible later on in the season as I think he should stay that trip."
Old Guard landed the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle back in 2015 and is one five entries for Somerset-based Paul Nicholls in 2018. The 10-time champion Jump trainer has won the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle three times.
Also among his quintet of entries this year are Malaya (14/1), a very useful juvenile last season, and Grand Sancy (16/1), successful in a limited handicap at Chepstow on October 13.
Dan Skelton, who achieved 100 winners for the season in record time at Cheltenham on October 26, has the most entries of any trainer with seven engaged. These are headed by Nube Negra (12/1), who was third in the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at The Festival™.
There have been three winners of the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle trained in Ireland, most recently the great Sizing Europe in 2007. The seven Irish-trained entries in 2018 include Shanning (12/1) and Uradel (14/1) from the yard of Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins.
Shanning was placed in valuable handicap hurdles at Galway and Listowel over the summer while Uradel was last seen when going down by a neck to stable companion Low Sun in the Cesarewitch Handicap on the Flat at Newmarket last month.
The Irish-trained entries also include Off You Go (Charles Byrnes, 14/1), successful in a valuable handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last season and a cosy winner on his return to action at Galway on October 27.
Gordon Elliott's horse were in great form at The Showcase last week and he has entered consistent six-year-old Brelade (14/1).
Other contenders include recent Welsh Champion Hurdle scorer Silver Streak (Evan Williams, 12/1) and Hunters Call (Olly Murphy, 14/1), not seen out since landing the valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas last year.
Weights for the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle will be revealed on Wednesday, November 7.
Ed Nicholson, Unibet's Head of Racing Communications and Sponsorship, said: "The Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle is a recognised early step on the way to The Festival™ present by Magners and is the second of seven races in Unibet's Road to Cheltenham series which culminates with the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle in March.
"The history of the race is plain to see. Celtic Shot claimed the inaugural running of the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in 1987 before taking the coveted hurdling crown itself later that season, while Rooster Booster completed the same feat in 2002.
"Last year's winner, Elgin, finished fifth in the 2018 Unibet Champion Hurdle, while three of the five home in the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle went on to win G2 races.
"Unibet is extremely proud to be supporting the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle again this season.
"In fact, this is the first running in a new extended five-year sponsorship deal and it is marvellous to see such strength in depth among the outstanding entries."
Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle - Unibet prices:
10/1 If The Cap Fits, Verdana Blue; 12/1 Apple's Shakira, Silver Streak, Nube Negra, Shanning, Whatswrongwithyou; 14/1 Brelade, Hunters Call, Off You Go, Western Ryder, Malaya, Uradel; 16/1 Ballymoy, Charli Parcs, Destrier, Global Citizen, Grand Sancy, Old Guard, Storm Rising; 20/1 Brianstorm, Ch'tibello, Cliffs of Dover, Deyrann De Carjac, Divin Bere, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Jolly's Cracked It, Mr Antolini, Tudor City; 25/1 Midnight Shadow, Mohaayed, Redicean, Golden Spear, Irish Roe, Le Patriote, Man of Plenty, Moabit, Nietzsche, Padleyourowncanoe, Simply The Betts, Smaoineamh Alainn, Symphony Of Angels; 33/1 Gumball, Style De Garde, Vado Forte, Caius Marcius, Canyon City, Friday Night Light, Mad Jack Mytton, Not That Fuisse, Notwhatiam; 40/1 Magic Dancer; 50/1 Equus Amadeus, Garo de Juilley, Icario, Potters Story
Each-way ¼ odds, 1-2-3-4
The November Meeting takes place at Cheltenham from Friday, November 16 through to Sunday, November 18 inclusive. Friday, November 16 is Countryside Day while BetVictory Gold Cup Day, November 17, features the £160,000 G3 BetVictor Gold Cup.