Cleeve Hurdle Guide

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Runners:

Black Op looks to get his career back on track by reverting back to hurdles for the Grade Two Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham this weekend.

One of last season's top novices has found life difficult over the larger obstacles at Exeter and here at Cheltenham last time in the Dipper.

A return to timber might bring about Tom George's 8yo back to his best, and push a late statement for a place in the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

He will come up against plenty of proven stayers this term, including Midnight Shadow, who ten months ago was sent off a 1/4f in a Class 3 Novices Hurdle Qualifier at Haydock, and was carried out by Keyboard Gangster unseating Danny Cook.

Fast forward to now, and his fortunes have somewhat turned, and excluding a poor run where he had excuses in the Greatwood, he has been in stunning form and looks a star performer in the division.

After his win at Aintree in December, Sue Smith's Scottish Champion Hurdler landed the Relkeel on New Years Day at Prestbury Park, and has several lengths in hand on some of these rivals he will meet on Saturday.

Must now prove his form overrules that of the JLT Long Walk at Ascot, where Paisley Park looks the main danger.

Emma Lavelle's stable-star is three from three this term, flying home in a Grade 3 at Haydock almost three months ago, before landing the Ascot feature just prior to Christmas.

The form has been boosted by the third Top Notch winning since - albeit over fences, but Paisley Park looks a really interesting contender.

Old favourites Unowhatimeanharry - who won this contest back in 2017 and Sam Spinner are both looking to amend mistakes from their most recent outing, whilst Lil Rockerfeller is also making the transition back to hurdles.

Agrapart - who led home Wholestone in this contest last year, are back in the field once again.

Trends:

Thirteen of the last fourteen winners have ran within the last eight weeks, with seven of those winning on their most recent outing - two extra finishing in second place.

The same number have won at least three times over timber previously, with one less in numbers having had a racing experience around Cheltenham before.

All bar one of the victors since 2005 have been won by a horse aged nine or younger, with the obvious destination the Stayers Final at the Cheltenham Festival.

Eleven of the last fourteen raced in that very contest, with ten finishing in the top four, and four going onto win.

Six favourites have won this contest in the last fourteen years, with an extra two placing.

The same number have been won by a French-bred horse, with Paul Nicholls seeming to be the stable to follow, with three winners since the turn of the century.

There has been no repeat winner of this contest since Big Buck's followed up his 2009 success with another victory on the road to the-then World Hurdle three years later in 2012.

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