Cleeve Hurdle Preview: Young stayers out to prove Cheltenham Festival claimsPublished on: January 22, 2019Author: Jamie Clark
Two progressive, up-and-coming stayers head the betting for the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle over 3m at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day this Saturday (15:35). Paisley Park brings Grade 1 form into what looks an exciting renewal for Wiltshire handler Emma Lavelle, but is challenged by Midnight Shadow, who represents the in-form Sue Smith.
The former followed in the hoofprints of Sam Spinner by landing the Grade 3 staying handicap hurdle on Betfair Chase day at Haydock and then scooped JLT Long Walk glory at Ascot before Christmas. Paisley Park has drawn comparisons to Stayers’ Hurdle legend Big Buck’s in terms of running style, and the British 3m division would certainly benefit from a similar superstar.
With a stamina laden pedigree, connections plotted their course to the Cheltenham Festival for this son of Oscar out of a Presenting mare. As Paisley Park has achieved all his targets en route, he’s entitled to be prominent in the Cleeve Hurdle betting at a best-price 4/1 ante post with Unibet.
The assessor hasn’t overreacted to his two-length Long Walk victory either, putting him up just 4lb to a 156 rating. While that means Paisley Park is officially 2lb inferior to Midnight Shadow, he hasn’t got stamina to prove and retains plenty of scope for further progress.
His mark may actually underestimate his ability, especially as the third horse home Top Notch has come out and won a chase at Kempton since. Paisley Park also looks to have nothing to fear from those re-opposing in this.
There is only one concern; that he ran poorly in the Albert Bartlett over course and distance at last year’s Festival when fitted with a visor and not taking to wearing the headgear. It could be well worth forgiving Paisley Park that performance, however, as it was unusually soft going which he’s unlikely to encounter here.
Midnight Shadow must prove he stays but clear danger
Fresh from saddling Wakanda to Peter Marsh success over fences at Haydock, Yorkshire trainer Smith sends out the aforementioned Midnight Shadow for a first crack over 3m. The six-year-old has relished the step up from two to two-and-a-half miles in winning his last couple of starts.
Those include the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle here on New Year’s Day where he beat course specialist Wholestone by a cosy couple of lengths. As he meets the runner-up on the same terms, albeit over a longer trip, there should be no problem confirming the form.
That vindicated the decision to take this northern raider up in trip after Midnight Shadow was comprehensively outpaced in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at the November Meeting and finished 14th. Victory in the Relkeel has resulted in 12lb ratings increase despite that race being far from a vintage renewal.
It’s quite a severe hike, but Midnight Shadow looks a potentially unexposed stayer in the making and he’s by Midnight Legend. While breeding is no guarantee of stamina, he’s a half-brother to 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Sizing John and should get the trip.
A top-price 9/2 with Betfair represents what Midnight Shadow could be and winning the Cleeve would obviously advertise his Stayers’ Hurdle credentials nicely. That is why he’s challenging Paisley Park for favouritism.
Black Op and Aux Ptit Soins interesting contenders
Chasing hasn’t worked out for Black Op, so the Grade 1 winning novice hurdler reverts to the smaller obstacles here for trainer Tom George. This eight-year-old ran two very solid races in defeat at this venue last season when chasing home Santini in the Classic on this card 12 months ago on desperate ground and when beaten just 2 3/4 lengths by Samcro in the Ballymore at the Festival.
As a runaway 25-length winner of an Irish point-to-point, Black Op shouldn’t find a first start at 3m under rules any problem. His Aintree victory when last over hurdles earned him a mark of 152, which on these terms suggests he may have something to find on the market principals, but he remains an intriguing contender.
Black Op is not alone in that, however, as Aux Ptit Soins scored stylishly over course and distance last time out on his second start since joining Dan Skelton. The nine-year-old is two from three at this venue, having landed the 2015 Coral Cup on his UK debut when with Paul Nicholls.
While Aux Ptit Soins clearly hasn’t been the easiest to train, the way he took things up at the last in that handicap and scored by seven lengths suggest he retains plenty of ability. With no penalty to carry and off a revised mark of 149, the 7/1 with bet365 for him in this is well worth considering provided it’s a going day and he doesn’t bounce.
Wholestone has clearest each-way claims
Two horses in particular have a decent records at the Cotswolds venue. Unowhatimeanharry won this race two years ago, and is three from five over course and distance. The Harry Fry trained veteran may be the oldest in this line-up at 11, but still regained his Long Distance Hurdle crown at the Newbury Winter Carnival last month.
He then fell at the eighth in the Long Walk and is clearly not getting any young. For all his achievements, Unowhatimeanharry now does look vulnerable to unexposed, young and improving horses like Midnight Shadow and Paisley Park, but does have the best Cheltenham strike rate in the field at this grade.
Wholestone is the real course specialist, however, having never finished outside of the first three in nine career starts for Nigel Twiston-Davies. This eight-year-old clearly loves Cheltenham and, although beaten by Agrapart in this 12 months ago, conditions are nothing like as attritional for this renewal.
A line can be put through two disappointing runs at Newbury both this and last season, as there seems to be something about that track that isn’t to his liking. Wholestone comes alive here in contrast and Cheltenham form figures that read 121131232 suggest he’s a solid each-way bet at 8/1 with Ladbrokes.
West Approach best of remainder
The likes of Sam Spinner, who has unseated Joe Colliver on both his starts this season and former Stayers’ Hurdle second Lil Rockerfeller, who switches back from fences have huge questions to answer here. While the former’s hurdling technique has been poor this season, the latter is unattractive due to deliberate, slow jumping over the larger obstacles.
Neither Sam Spinner nor Lil Rockerfeller are fancied on these terms as a result, but West Approach is rated 154 over hurdles and has no penalty to carry. The Colin Tizzard trained half-brother of Thistlecrack was runner-up to Paisley Park last time out and a far from disgraced fifth in the Ladbrokes Trophy.
He now meets the Ascot winner off 6lb better terms for a two-length defeat. Age is against West Approach and he’s not proved the most reliable betting proposition at times in his career, but the nine-year-old is not without each-way claims at a standout 12/1 with Sky Bet here.
Nick Williams trained mudlark Agrapart runs well at the course, but isn’t going to get his ground like he did when winning this 12 months ago. Thomas Campbell, meanwhile, is penalised for a Listed handicap win here last season and continues to suffer for it.
Sykes is 4lb better off with The Mighty Don for a short-head defeat from their last meeting over course and distance. It’s a big ask for both on official figures here, and for all the experience Aye Aye Charlie has at Cheltenham, this Fergal O’Brien trained horse also holds an entry in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster.