George and Smith mulling Cleeve options as Festival Trials Day approaches at Cheltenham

  Festival Trials Day takes place at Cheltenham on Saturday, January 26 and offers racegoers the final opportunity to visit the Home of Jump Racing ahead of The Festival™ presented by Magners (Tuesday, March 12 to Friday, March 15).
The seven-race programme on Festival Trials Day features the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (2.25pm), staged over three miles and a furlong and a leading trial for the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Looks Like Trouble (2000), Master Oats (1996) and Little Owl (1981) landed both contests in the same season, while the roll of honour also includes another Gold Cup victor in See More Business plus Grand National winners West Tip, Neptune Collonges and Many Clouds.
Last year’s BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase was won by the Brian Ellison-trained Definitly Red, who went on to finish sixth in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and is unbeaten so far this season, with G2 successes at Wetherby and Aintree.
Festival Trial Day also has three more Grade Two races, including the £60,000 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm) over three miles, which often provides valuable pointers to the G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival™ presented by Magners.
Inglis Drever (2008), Big Buck’s (2009 & 2012) and Thistlecrack (2016) won both races in the same season in recent years.
Two horses under consideration for the 2019 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle areBlack Op (Tom George) and Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith).
Black Op enjoyed a great campaign over hurdles last season, taking second behind Samcro in the G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival™ presented by Magners before finishing the campaign with a G1 success in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. His two starts this season have seen him compete in novices’ chases, most recently finishing third in the G2 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Slad-based Tom George reported: “Black Op has come out of the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham fine.
“He ran well to finish third and was not beaten that far on New Year’s Day, despite making a number of jumping errors.
“I talked to his owner Roger Brookhouse, jockey Noel Fehily and Yogi Breisner (jumping guru) and Black Op will spend the remainder of the season over hurdles.
“I think the Cleeve will be his next race back at Cheltenham later this month. He has good form at the track and we are looking forward to the race.
“Hopefully, he can end the season well over hurdles and then he’ll go to Yogi in the summer for further schooling before a further decision about going back to chasing.”
Midnight Shadow was a progressive performer last season, ending the campaign by landing the G2 Scottish Champion Handicap Hurdle at Ayr.
After taking a handicap hurdle at Aintree in December, he progressed to post a career-best performance at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when successful in the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles, defeating the 2018 winner Wholestone by two and a quarter lengths.
West Yorkshire-based Sue Smith reported: “Midnight Shadow has been in good form since Cheltenham.
“We were delighted with the performance on New Year’s Day and he saw the trip out very strongly. He is a horse that just improves the further he goes.
“I think his future at the moment is going to lie over two and a half or three miles. I think as he continues to step up in trip, the better he will become. He is a special horse.
“We have a couple of options and the Rendlesham (February 16) at Haydock or the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham are the main possibilities.”
The seven-race programme at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day runs from 12.40pm to 4.10pm and offers a total of £354,000 in prize money.
Gates open at 10.30am on Festival Trials Day.
Tickets in advance can be purchased via www.cheltenham.co.uk
Accompanied children aged 17 and under attend for FREE and there is also FREE official car parking at the racecourse.
Festival Trials Day
 
Time Race Distance Prize Money
12.40 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Grade 2)  2m 179y £32,000
1.15 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase  2m 4f 127y £27,500
1.50 Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 127y £75,000
2.25 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) 3m 1f 56y £100,000
3.00 Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 4f 56y £32,000
3.35 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y £60,000
4.10 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle  2m 179y £27,500
Total prize money £354,000
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