Cleeve Hurdle set to be informative trial for Festival stayers’ showpiece

Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham looks like being an informative affair after 12 entries were revealed.

Seen as a notable trial for the World Hurdle in March, the likes of Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s have won both races in the same season.

And Paul Nicholls, trainer of Big Buck’s, is hoping lightning can strike twice with Saphir Du Rheu who is reverting back to hurdles having failed to complete in two of his three outings over fences.

“I was tempted to keep Saphir Du Rheu over fences, but as the World Hurdle looks so open this year and he is rated 165.

“Andy Stewart and I thought it might be worth trying him again over hurdles,” Nicholls told his website.

“As everyone knows, we did the same with Big Buck’s a few years ago after his hiccup in the Hennessy Gold Cup and he went on to dominate the staying division for years.

“We’ll see how Saphir Du Rheu gets on in the Cleeve Hurdle before deciding on future plans.”

Nicky Henderson’s Beat That, a Grade One-winning novice last season, could be out again having made a pleasing enough return over a trip short of his best on New Year’s Day.

Willie Mullins has entered two, Briar Hill and Zaidpour. Both are in the Galmoy Hurdle at Thurles on Thursday. David Pipe announced last week that his expensive purchase Un Temps Pour Tout would run in the Cleeve as a prelude to a World Hurdle bid, while Warren Greatrex’s Cole Harden lost nothing in defeat behind Rock On Ruby last time out and will be more at home over three miles.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell, favourite for the Gold Cup in the summer, is another possible after a lacklustre first half of the season.

At Fishers Cross, the novice Blaklion, Olofi, Reve De Sivola and The Druids Nephew complete the list.

Meanwhile trainer Neil Mulholland has named the RSA Chase as the preferred target for The Young Master at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old has made giant strides in such a short space of time this season that his rating has rocketed up to 151.

Dramatically disqualified from victory at Wincanton when it transpired he was not qualified, his subsequent win in the Listed Mappin & Webb Silver Cup Chase at Ascot last month persuaded Mulholland not to aim the horse at a handicap at the big meeting.

He will also put The Young Master in the four-mile National Hunt Chase, but the RSA on March 11 is the objective and he will not run before then.

“He’s great, we’re just freshening him up for Cheltenham and we’ll go straight there,” the Wiltshire trainer said. “He has previous course form round Cheltenham and he doesn’t need to go to Trials Day (on Saturday).

“He’s had four runs over fences and we’re happy enough to go straight there with him.

“I think he’s got stronger since Ascot – from last year you can’t believe how much a horse has turned inside out.

“He won’t be entered in handicaps. He’ll have two entries – the RSA will be plan A and the National Hunt Chase will probably be plan B.

“Obviously we’ll have to get the horse there first and we can worry about who’s going to ride him closer to the time.

“AP’s (Tony McCoy) rode him once and won on him, Barry (Geraghty) has ridden him twice and finished in front twice.

“He’s quite a straightforward horse to ride and we have a few bridges to cross before we have to worry about that yet.”

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