Tony Calvin: Guard a Great-wood Old price for Sunday's feature

Old Guard
Tony fancies Old Guard at a big price to win Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle

Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham is one of the season's first big handicap hurdles, and big-price tipster Tony Calvin is amazed at the price on offer for a former winner...

"...the handicapper has seen fit to drop him 1lb for that run - every little helps in these big handicaps - and I don't think he is at all badly handicapped on a mark of 152. He comes here near the top of his game."

I had to do a double-take when I saw that Old Guard was 40.039/1 on the exchange, and 33/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, for Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle.

Quite frankly, it's a crazy price for a horse of his profile.

Of course, I may be missing something and he may not be an intended runner. But, given his record in the race and the fact that he doesn't hold any other weekend entries, I would be very surprised if he doesn't take up the engagement.

One of his owners is Jeremy Kyle, alongside the Stewart and Brooks families, so I imagine he will be keen to get his ugly mug on ITV on a weekend, too.

Only joking, Jezza.

Course form the obvious starting point

Backers of the favourite Verdana Blue will certainly be hoping he does, as Nicky Henderson was saying at Kempton on Monday that he will be loath to run his mare off top weight given an apparent BHA oversight in the wording of the race conditions.

That's a story for later in the week if it comes to pass, though, so let's concentrate on the claims of Old Guard.

And they are considerable for a horse that is priced up as one of the outsiders.

He has already won this race for starters, back in 2015 when beating Superb Story, who won the County Hurdle on his next start.

He also finished third to Elgin last year and among his other excellent efforts at this course he can number an International Hurdle victory.

So it is pretty fair to say that he loves the place, but he was also in rude health elsewhere last season, when winning off a mark of 149 at Newbury and going on to beat Lil Rockerfeller in the National Spirit in February.

Pre-Santa the time to catch him at his best

His form tailed off afterwards but his record suggests that the time to catch him is before Christmas. I know the Fontwell win came in February, and he has run well in a Lanzarote and a Coral Cup after Santa has been, but the majority of his best efforts have come at this time of the year.

And this season has been no different.

He was attempting the impossible trying to give Verdana Blue (who followed up in the Elite last weekend and is clearly a huge threat here, though that is factored into her price) 13lb on his return at Kempton last month, so a 7-length second there was a fine effort, especially first time out.

Connections upped him to 3m for the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby last time, despite the fact that the jury was still out over whether he stayed the trip.

They probably did so because it looked a very winnable Grade 2 and he certainly saw the distance out okay - and the race was run in a very good time, too - even if he was probably outstayed by a proven three-miler in Nautical Nitwit on the run-in.

I know the winner was rated only 143 going into the race but he is clearly progressive and don't forget that Old Guard was carrying a 6lb penalty there for his Grade 2 National Spirit win.

Even so, the handicapper has seen fit to drop him 1lb for that run - every little helps in these big handicaps - and I don't think he is at all badly handicapped on a mark of 152. He comes here near the top of his game.

Drying ground also a huge plus

It remains to be seen whether Bryony Frost will keep the ride, especially as she lost her claim at Kempton on Monday - though she couldn't draw her 3lb allowance at Wetherby due to the nature of that race - though I suspect Paul Nicholls may look to claim off him using someone like Lorcan Williams.

Everything looks in place for a big run yet again, not least the drying ground which he will love, and don't forget that Old Guard is still only seven. It feels like he has been around for a lot longer.

He rates a great each-way bet at 33/1 to me, and anything bigger than 34.033/1 and upwards should be snapped up, too.

Good luck.

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