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2019 Cleeve Hurdle tips – 14/1 outsider could Rock rivals on Cheltenham Trial’s Day

A view of the finish at Agrapart (left) beats Wholestone (right) in last year's Cleeve Hurdle.

Our expert takes a look through the ante-post betting for this Grade Two at Cheltenham on provides readers with his tips.

The final Graded race on Cheltenham Trial’s Day is the Cleeve Hurdle, a three-mile Grade Two with a star-studded roll of honour. Lady Rebecca claimed a hat-trick of Cleeve Hurdle victories for Venetia Williams around the turn of the Millennium. Flakey Dove completed the Cleeve, Champion Hurdle double in 1994, with Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever and Thistlecrack taking the more traditional route by winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at that year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Penhill continues to lead the way in the betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, despite not featuring since losing out in the equivalent race at Punchestown last April. I think that says more about the weakness of the division than the strength of last year’s Cheltenham champion, so it’s no surprise to see one of the most open-looking Cleeve’s in recent memory.

Paisley Park (7/2 William Hill) heads the betting, having defeated many possible Cheltenham rivals in the JLT Long Walk at Ascot. Emma Lavelle’s charge has always had talent and has proved it with three straight victories so far this term. That renewal of the Long Walk, however, was a decidedly messy race and all of Paisley Park’s best performances have come on flat tracks – with an uncompetitive effort in last year’s Albert Bartlett another blot in his copybook.

After a tame effort in the Greatwood, Sue Smith decided to step Midnight Shadow (4/1 William Hill) up in trip, with Danny Cook guiding the six-year-old to a solid victory at Aintree. Few fancied the former Scottish Champion Hurdler to make a big impact in the Relkeel Hurdle here at Cheltenham, but Midnight Shadow cruised through the race, picking off Wholestone (13/2 William Hill)  after the last to secure a strong two-length victory.

Wholestone had recovered well from an early mistake to get himself back in contention in the Relkeel, but was found a little wanting for finishing pace in the final stages of that two-and-a-half-mile contest. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ hurdler has an excellent record here at Prestbury Park – a fact which cannot be underplayed. He may have come up short on his last seven attempts at three miles, but he’s a consistent sort who offers each-way value at 8/1.

Like the Long Walk, the Long Distance Hurdle was another calamitous race, which slightly took the gloss off Unowhatimeanharry’s (7/1 William Hill) victory. Harry Fry’s charge looked beaten half-way through, but rolled back the hands of time to secure his first victory in over a year. Despite getting the win that day, it’s now clear the former Grade One winner isn’t the force of old and he has to bounce back from a heavy fall in the Long Walk.

Danny Cook and Midnight Shadow (left) jump the last before beating Wholestone (right) in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Another who failed to complete the race at Ascot was Sam Spinner (9/1 William Hill) who, after a blunder at the first, tried to refuse the second and sent Joe Colliver sprawling to the canvas. That was the second race in succession where Sam Spinner has bowed out early, unseating Colliver again when beaten in the Long Distance Hurdle and last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle favourite returns to Cheltenham with a huge mountain to overcome.

West Approach (10/1 William Hill) was one of the few horses to do themselves justice in the Long Walk, staying on gamely to cross the line a two-length runner-up. That was a first outing over hurdles for 18 months for Colin Tizzard’s charge, who had last been seen finishing fifth in the Ladbrokes Trophy. He’s certainly a sturdy horse to be feared, but the fact that Tizzard chose the JLT over the RSA last spring shows he feels his charge may struggle to see out three miles up the hill at Cheltenham – a sentiment which looked correct as West Approach faded late in a three-mile handicap at the start of the season.

The X-Factor in the race comes courtesy of Black Op (9/2 William Hill), who returns to the hurdling sphere after two unconvincing outings over fences during the winter. Tom George’s charge won the Mersey after finishing second to Samcro in the Ballymore last season and looks to be the sort to relish three miles. That trip, however, remains an unknown and Finian’s Oscar’s performance in the race last year – who was pulled up as the beaten favourite after spending the first half of the season chasing – suggests this won’t be a simple task.

Aux Ptit Soins (6/1 William Hill) got his first victory since December 2016 at Cheltenham on New Years Day, showing plenty of class and staying ability to win a competitive three-mile handicap by seven lengths. Dan Skelton has always kept faith with the former Coral Cup winner and he seems to have retained much of his ability after a lengthy injury lay-off, but he was obviously very well-treated in that handicap and this is a much stiffer task.

Last year’s victor, Agrapart (10/1 William Hill) is always a danger, but Nick Williams’ charge needs to be running on a bog to be at his best. Thomas Campbell (14/1 William Hill) switched back to hurdles from chasing when finishing fourth in the Relkeel and he will really have to up his game if he wants to challenge here.

The Mighty Don (20/1 William Hill) beat Sykes (20/1 William Hill) in a Pertemps Qualifier over course-and-distance in October and has performed well in the Long Distance Hurdle and the Long Walk since. Nick Gifford’s hurdler is still young and can continue to improve, but he never really looked like threatening the winners on either of his starts at this level and offer’s little each-way appeal.

Wayne Hutchinson riding Lil Rockerfeller to victory over fences at Cheltenham earlier in the season.

Midnight Shadow made a fantastic impression when winning the Relkeel and was righly bumped up the handicap by twelve pounds. The history of this race, however, says we should place our faith in a confirmed stayer and Smith’s six-year-old is yet to try his hand at this trip. If I was to place a bet today, I would rather back Midnight Shadow in the Stayers’ Hurdle than the Cleeve.

Considering this race is so open, an each-way punt is surely the way to go. West Approach and Wholestone hold appeal, but I think it could be worth taking a chance on LIL ROCKERFELLER (12/1 William Hill) pulling up some trees on his third visit to Cheltenham this year.

Neil King’s stable star was sent chasing during the autumn and held quotes of 16/1 for the RSA after claiming three straight victories. One of those wins came here at Cheltenham, where Lil Rockerfeller jumped terribly throughout and had to show all his class to pull clear of Treackle Tart – who’s won a handicap chase since – and secure a seven-length victory.

After unseating Wayne Hutchinson early in the Neville Lumb, Lil Rockerfeller ran a decent enough race to place third behind Vinndication and Jerrysback in the Noel Chase at Ascot. It wasn’t the most convincing display, despite only losing by nine lengths and King made the sensible decision to step back to hurdling and target the Stayers’ Hurdle once again.

In 2017, Lil Rockerfeller came within a whisker of winning that historic race, only to be denied in the final 100 yards by Nicholls Canyon. The ground was far too soft for his liking at the Festival last year, but good ground will certainly be in his favour on Trial’s Day and there are no doubts as to whether he will be able to see out the trip.

Lil Rockerfeller is a very likable, but an inconsistent horse. He could be off the bridle after the first circuit and never land a blow. Yet, if he wakes up on the right side of his horse box, King’s eight-year-old has the heart and the ability to win the Cleeve Hurdle. At 14/1, he’s a speculative each-way selection.

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2019 Cleeve Hurdle tips – 14/1 outsider could Rock rivals on Cheltenham Trial’s Day

Our expert takes a look through the ante-post betting for this Grade Two at Cheltenham on provides readers with his tips for Saturday 26th January.

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