The majestic Thistlecrack on course to win Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials Day

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3.35 Cheltenham, Saturday (Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle) – THISTLECRACK at 8/11 (1.72) Betfair Sportsbook

Cheltenham’s World Hurdle has significantly built in stature during the past 15 years thanks, in part, to the repeat victories of great champions such as Baracouda (2002, 2003), Inglis Drever (2005, 2007, 2008) and Big Bucks (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).

And one would think the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, run over the same course and the same three-mile distance six weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, would be the ideal stepping stone for the staying hurdlers Championship race.  But, strangely enough, it has not been the all-important pinpointer you would imagine.

In 2009 and 2012 Big Bucks did win both races in the same year as did Ingles Drever in 2008 but these are the only three occasions a horse has completed the Cleeve/World Hurdle double in the past 20 years.

Given these stats alone Thistlecrack, the top priced 11/4 favourite (with Paddy Power) for the World Hurdle, looks worth opposing in Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle – if you fancy him for the World Hurdle that is.

However, it must be pointed out that Baracouda never once contested the Cleeve Hurdle, Big Bucks won it the on both occasions he raced in it and Inglis Drever only ran in it twice.  Secondly it is doubtful that Thistlecrack has either read, or has care for, the record books!  

In two races since stepping outside of novice company, which yielded a Grade 1 victory at the Aintree Festival, Thistlecrack has looked majestic in taking both Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle and Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle.  Consequently he is Betfair’s 4/5 favourite for the Cleeve Hurdle.

However, this will be a genuine test of his credentials as the French-bred and former French-trained Camping Ground is set to line-up in opposition.  In a four-race British career this six-year-old has won a mundane handicap chase and fallen in another.  He was also beaten convincingly in a two-mile handicap hurdle,

But, on New Year’s Day upped in trip in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle over 2m 4f at Cheltenham, he beat last season’s World Hurdle winner, Cole Harden, senseless (finished third beaten 20 lengths) and it appeared Saturday’s extra four furlongs would see him an even better light – if that were possible.  Consequently Boylesports 5/2 offer about Camping Ground on Saturday is mighty tempting.

Now this may be a small field but it very much looks like a match-race.  Ptit Zig tackles hurdles for the first time in almost two years after a fruitful season of novice chasing and accident prone second season over the larger obstacles.

Knockara Beau accounted for Big Bucks, At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola when winning this race two years ago as a 66/1 poke.  He will go off at a big price again on Saturday and a repeat victory is as likely as a snowflake in summertime.

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