Tony Calvin: High hopes for Hobbs' 20/1 shot in the Greatwood Hurdle

Race horse trainer Philip Hobbs
Don't be put off by Philip Hobbs playing down Oakley's chances

Tony Calvin makes the case for backing a promising seven-year-old at double digits in this Sunday's big race at Cheltenham...

"I was going to recommend him win-only (he is 24.023/1 on the Exchange at the time of filing) but the Betfair Sportsbook are top price about him at 20/1 and also offer an extra place, so the obvious option was to tip and back him each way, five places."

There are four consecutive days of ITV Racing from Thursday this week - lucky old you, Ed on the box and me here - so, with nothing immediately catching my eye in the multitude of weekend markets, I had planned to skip the ante-post column this week. No point in forcing it, after all, as a half-hearted tip is no good to anybody bar the layers.

Being the diligent chap I am, however, I got up bright and early on Tuesday morning and had another weekend scan, focusing mainly on Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, a race which has done us a couple of recent favours with Nietzsche and Elgin.

And hopefully I have found another double-digit winner in the shape of Oakley at 20/1.

Cheltenham gate - 1280.jpg

I was initially going to recommend him win-only (he is 24.023/1 on the Exchange at the time of filing) but the Betfair Sportsbook are top price about him at 20/1 and also offer an extra place - something that maybe should be replicated elsewhere to generate more early betting interest - so the obvious option was to tip and back him each way, five places.

A win-only bet at 20s or bigger, on the Exchange and fixed-odds front, is fine too though, especially as I don't know for sure whether he is an intended runner, though with £45k+ to the winner (a prize not to be sniffed at, even if that is understandably around 20% down on last year's purse) you'd be very surprised if he ducked the invitation.

Hobbs' modesty belies horse's promise

His trainer has a good record in this race (more of that later) and this is his only entry.

Not that Philip Hobbs was too bullish about him in a recent Racing Post interview, saying: "We might just keep him in competitive handicap hurdles at the moment but he'll probably be going chasing later in the year."

Hopefully, Hobbs just got out of bed on the downbeat side that morning, or he was hiding his enthusiasm very well, as I would have been more positive about the horse after a very promising return over hurdles at Wetherby last month.

Indeed, it was that run which probably swayed him to giving his horse one last hurrah over hurdles, as another stable tour with ATR in early October (before the Wetherby run) left you in little doubt it was fences all the way this season.

It would be a struggle to call the seven-year-old well handicapped on his hurdling exploits last season, and he is a fair bit higher than for defeats in good-class handicaps here and at Ascot, although he is only 3lb higher than when beaten a neck on the New Course in December on soft ground.

He failed to kick on from there in two subsequent starts - though he was beaten only six lengths in seventh on good ground in the Betfair Hurdle off a 2lb higher than this in February - but he has some good time figures to his name (notably his second here), and it is the Wetherby run that alerts you to his chance here.

What this horse needs is an aggressive ride over 2m, as he is more of a stayer than a speed merchant over this trip, and he didn't get that first time out.

Richard Johnson seemingly had a lot of horse under him throughout but he declined to kick on, and held on to him until after the last, which he didn't meet perfectly.

The response was a touch disappointing given the way he travelled but it could well be that he needed that first outing (his Betfair SP was a point bigger than the industry return, but that is nothing unusual), and he certainly improved for both his 2018 and 2019 comebacks, or that targets further down the line were in their thinking, too.

And the Hobbs yard is in better form now than they were then, too. Yes, a current strike rate of 14% in the past fortnight is nothing to write home about and some have run poorly, but the horses that have been priced to go close have been running well.

In the same period the form figures of those to have gone off at 6/1 or less read: 122723831112. That is a stable in good form, to my eye.

And the handicapper was obviously quite taken by his Wetherby run too, as he actually raised him 1lb for the three-and-a-quarter length defeat.

I imagine Hobbs wouldn't have been overly-amused by that, but the winner followed up over fences at Chepstow on Monday and the runner-up, Proschema, went into that race as seemingly a well-fancied horse and was sent off the 11/8 favourite (and he is set to turn up again here too, and is priced up at just 6/1).

Ground likely to ease at Cheltenham

There is a band of rain set for Cheltenham on Wednesday night, so maybe the current good ground will ease a touch, but Oakley has form on decent and testing ground, so the going shouldn't be an issue either way.

Hobbs took this race in 2010 and 2015 with future Grade 2-winning chasers Menorah and Garde La Victoire respectively - he has also taken it with Detroit City and the mighty Rooster Booster in relatively recent times - so let us hope he has another Greatwood winner on his hands.

At 20/1, I am paying to find out. And I would be willing to at 16s or bigger too, if needed. Oakley is the kind of horse whose betting appeal grows on you the more you dig. You dig?

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