Well-handicapped Vaniteux hard to oppose in the Greatwood Hurdle

REGULAR readers will know I’m not inclined to put up 7/2 shots in a race as competitive as Sunday’s StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle (3.15pm), but it’s impossible not to side with VANITEUX, even carrying top weight for this big prize.

The rumours emanating from Seven Barrows suggest the Supreme Novices’ third could be a dark horse for the Champion Hurdle at the Festival back here next March.

There’s no doubt a mark of 147 looks surmountable. Vautour, who beat him by six and a half lengths in the Supreme Novices’ is potentially one of the best National Hunt horses we’ve seen in years. He’s a solid 160-rated beast and there’s more to come from Vaniteux on just his fifth start under rules.

The only worry is really soft ground as I wouldn’t expect connections to run him if it got very testing with bigger targets in mind.

If that was the case then the progressive Exitas, a wide-margin winner of his last three starts, would be the pick. Phil Middleton’s four-timer seeking inmate has been well-supported in recent days and off a very low weight his claims are clear. He’s 8/1 with Paddy Power and a real danger to the favourite.

Looking at today’s action and there are two shorties which will be difficult to beat. BLAKLION should take the 3.00pm and complete the five-timer under rules as he marches on to the Neptune next spring.

The 10-year-old BALTHAZAR KING, runner-up in the Grand National, has won nearly £500,000 in prize-money and can add another £15,640 to his haul by repeating his win last year in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at 3.35pm.

As a seven-time winner at Cheltenham, Philip Hobbs’ horse is as reliable as they come. I wouldn’t put anyone off the pair in a double.

ASTRACAD is worth a nibble in the 1.50pm at 14/1. Nigel Twiston-Davies is another running off a decent mark and has plenty of form over the fences here. This race is full of out of form horses or ones coming back from a break and, with fitness on his side, the eight-year-old can go close.

My best of the day, though, is CUP FINAL in the last 4.05pm. Continuing this week’s theme of well-handicapped Henderson-trained hurdlers, this one’s form behind Irving last season is standout here and it’s easy to forgive a poor effort at the Festival in a hot Grade One when last seen.

■ Pointers…
ASTRACAD e/w
1.50pm Cheltenham (today)

BLAKLION
3.00pm Cheltenham (today)

BALTHAZAR KING
3.35pm Cheltenham (today)

CUP FINAL
4.05pm Cheltenham (today)

VANITEUX
3.15pm Cheltenham (Sunday)